Nick Mason of Pink Floyd

by Corey O'Flanagan

Pink Floyd co-founder Nick Mason picks the definitive songs from two eras of the band and breaks down one of our favorites: the Meddle track "Fearless."

Photo: Saucerful Of Secrets Facebook

Nick Mason is one of the founders of Pink Floyd, with over 50 years of service as their drummer. Since 2018, he's also been performing with his band Saucerful Of Secrets, playing mostly older Floyd songs, some from the Syd Barrett era.

Mason has a unique perspective on Pink Floyd's catalog that he shared with us in this conversation. As he explains, their '60s output with Barrett got swept away when The Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall came along, but those songs were deceptively complex and worth another listen. Mason also indulged us by discussing the song "Fearless" and answering our question about the definitive Pink Floyd song.

Creating "Pockets Of Music" With Roger Waters

It very much happened naturally over time, that relationship between drummer and bass. As my friend Gary Wallis once said, a really good band, it's bass and drums, and then some novelty acts.

When Pink Floyd Knew They Were Onto Something With The Sound

I don't think we ever listened to it thinking of the sound. Particularly in the early days we were more struck by the quality of the sound that we were hearing in a recording studio. The most extraordinary thing is to go back into the control room and listen to whatever rhythm parts you've played coming back at you through top-quality speakers and really good tape.

In talking about "the sound," it's much more listening to the track rather than the specific sound, and whether it sounds professional.

The Pink Floyd Song "Fearless"

It was very much a transition thing, because the song is a much more measured piece than Syd's songs. That idea of using the Kop Choir1 was interesting because it was absolutely about the sound the Kop Choir make, and I say that because it's actually the chant of Liverpool. Roger was an Arsenal supporter - still is, indeed. We were North London guys, so it felt like sacrilege to use the opposition's chanting, but it's very powerful.

We'd used sound effects before, but we hadn't used them in quite that musical way.

Early Pink Floyd Vs. Later Material

They are less professional, the early music. When we started Pink Floyd, none of us had been in a band for very long and we'd certainly not been professional, so we learned on the job.2 We had to do something a bit more creative than becoming a tribute band.

Inevitably, all that early material got swamped by later success. We didn't have time if we were doing a show or doing a tour, to play some of those Syd pieces or stuff from More [1969] or even Meddle [1971]. By then we'd been playing Dark Side, and then it was The Wall and so on. There just wasn't time to do more than that.

But the other thing that was noticeable to us playing it, is how much more room there is in the early material to do something a little bit different, maybe tweak something, play something else. There was a freedom that was there in those original songs in those original times. When playing live, we were expected to put something else in or take something out and rework it.

Corey's wife with her Pink Floyd tattoo. It reads, "We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year," in Sindarin.Corey's wife with her Pink Floyd tattoo. It reads, "We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year," in Sindarin.

Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd Songs

One of the things is how complex Syd's seemingly very simple songs were. They had a slightly different bar structure or slightly different count, or the solo would be a little bit shorter than standard. Not everything was four bars or eight bars or 16 bars. The complexity of that, sometimes it was a bit difficult to get a handle on playing it properly, but it was also an opportunity to look at something and say, "Well, we could do it a slightly different way."

It was just Syd's way of writing. He was not a technical musician but he had a great natural talent, particularly if he was writing and playing. Quite often he would just go for whatever sounded right rather than deliberately making something complex.

The Definitive Pink Floyd Song

It's very difficult to do that because there are different eras. An early song might be "See Emily Play" because it contains all sorts of ideas that we'd develop later. I think that's true of a number of our songs or our pieces. One would have to say "Comfortably Numb" because everyone knows it and loves that guitar solo on the outro, and it's an incredibly interesting piece in terms of the dynamics. The way it starts, it's the most minimal drum track I've ever played. There are all sorts of beats deliberately missing out of it. That's what Pink Floyd could do on a good day.

I'd insist that there isn't one definitive song. Something from an early era could be "Emily," and something later from The Wall, say.

October 14, 2022

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  • 1] The "Kop Choir" are the Liverpool fans, who famously sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" at matches. "Fearless" uses a recording of the fans singing it, which they still do to this day. (back)
  • 2] Mason teamed up with Roger Waters and Richard Wright when they were all University students in London studying architecture, a field they seemed better suited for than music - none of them could play all that well, and they mostly did cover songs of American R&B tunes. When Syd Barrett joined in 1965 they became Pink Floyd and got a lot better. They nearly gave up after about a year but found a manager and started recording in 1967. (back)

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