As my old friend Al Pacino once said to me, “don’t be a name-dropper, Tom”. But you know what, despite that advice, and that of my other showbiz pals, John Cleese and William Shatner, this week I just can’t help myself. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this week I got to talk to Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason.
The Floyd, as we insiders absolutely never call them, have themselves just surprised the world by releasing their first single in 28 years. Hey Hey Rise Up, featuring Andriy Khlyvnyuk, was released last Friday to raise funds for Ukrainian humanitarian relief and looks set to be their first top ten single in 43 years.
It is an example of the power of Pink Floyd. More than 250 million albums sold and enough classic albums like Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979), to name but two, to fill out an entire season of the Classic Albums Show. Pink Floyd is a Behemoth.
But that was not why Nick (CBE) came to have my mobile number. Nick, the only ever-present member of Pink Floyd, who has featured on every album, was promoting his side project, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, who played the Convention Centre in Dublin earlier this week.
Oddly enough it also features Gary Kemp. Yes, of Spandau Ballet Fame. “I wanted to become a New Romantic,” Nick Laughs, “but he can play different things. Musicians rarely only know one style.”
Which is as good a place to start as any, as when it formed, Pink Floyd were closer to being an R&B band, like their then peers, The Rolling Stones or Them, than the progressive experimental band they would become.
“Yes,” he says, “and for this project [suggested to him by guitarist Lee Harris who said “look, David is touring, Roger is touring, why not you?”] we went to early demos recorded in 1966 when we were trying to get into a beats competition, and yes, we were an R&B band.” “But,” he adds, “if you want to get somewhere, you have to quickly do something else, something original, and that comes down to the writing, the writing of unique songs.”
Pink Floyd of course have been very well served by writers, particularly Roger Waters, Richard Wright and David Gilmour, but initially, too, the enigmatic Syd Barrett.
“I‘d forgotten how complex Syd’s writing was. It was tricky and that was part of its attraction. And extraordinarily varied. Something like Scarecrow is almost pastoral while others are full-on psychedelic, interstellar overdrive. He did a lot of writing in a short time.”
On the experience of playing those songs after such a long time, he says: “I found it delightful. Whatever the problems of working with Syd became, those happy days when we all wanted the same success, travelling in a transit van and playing clubs, there was something very special about it.”
Nick says a thing then that only a member of the later Pink Floyd could say: “It’s lovely to play to an audience that are totally engaged. The problem with bigger venues, auditoriums, is that you know you’ve lost some of them; some of the audience are at the back, playing with frisbees.” The first dates of this project brought him back to tiny venues, Dingwalls in Camden and even The Half Moon in Putney.
“It was a time machine. It took me right back to playing those first gigs in early 1967, and audiences who actually want to hear the music.”
This seemed pointed, but in a time-constrained interview I had to let it go, particularly as these new dates will see a first airing for Echoes, a 23-minute-long song from 1971’s Meddle album. I mean, 23 minutes, how do you even know where you are in the song?
“Some of it is imprinted on me from 45 years ago, but the rest is like geography, if you learn the way home you should be able to find your way there most nights.” Whether they all arrive at the same destination remains to be seen.
Reaction to these shows has been ecstatic. Words like “joyous” and “mesmerising” have been bandied about. One reviewer pondered that it, “makes you wonder whether rock music has progressed very far at all since the Sixties?”
I’m not sure it has, but I think it progressed so quickly and so radically at that time that in truth it is still all we can do to take it all in. And no better man to explain it all than Nick.