Special to the Star
April 12, 2019
Waiting for that Pink Floyd 55th anniversary reunion?
Don’t hold your breath – founding drummer and percussionist Nick Mason isn’t.
“There doesn’t seem to be any plan at the moment to put anything together,” Mason, 75, admits, referring to fellow Floyd members Roger Waters and David Gilmour.
“Part of that is the reason for putting together the Saucerful of Secrets project. I eventually got tired waiting for the phone to ring.”
It has been an extremely long wait: until he launched the five-piece Saucerful of Secrets – appearing at the Sony Centre on April 16, just three days after a remastered 180-gram vinyl mono version of the namesake Pink Floyd album is exclusively released for Record Store Day – in the U.K. just under a year ago, Mason admits over the line from Minneapolis that he had “done nothing” for the past 20 years.
And he missed making music, so at the behest of his fellow Secret bandmates – Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp, keyboardist Dom Beken of British electronica group The Transit Kings, guitarist Lee Harris and bass player Guy Pratt, who toured with Pink Floyd, David Gilmour and has performed and recorded with everyone ranging from Roxy Music, solo Bryan Ferry and Madonna to David Bowie, Tears for Fears and Iggy Pop – he assembled a project dedicated to performing the pre-Dark Side Of The Moon Floyd catalogue and is about 40 gigs in on a 73-date world tour.
Mason says he’s having the time of his life.
“I’m enjoying it so much,” Mason enthuses. “It’s a time machine, really, a sort of throwback – to being in a band, traveling together and a small crew – great venues – I love these sort of midsize venues. I’m having a great time.”
Mason says there are several reasons he decided to focus on arguably the most psychedelic and experimental era of the band’s epic 16-album studio catalogue that has collectively sold an estimated 250 million copies.
“One of the things I didn’t want to do was to go out as more or less a tribute band and try to emulate yet another version of ‘Comfortably Numb,’” he explains.
‘‘’Comfortably Numb’ is a great track, but it’s such an anthem. For me, that’s what David (Gilmour) does absolutely brilliantly. I really didn’t want to go down the best-of route: I wanted to return to where there’s big old space for the musicians to play and alter some of the songs. Some songs are pretty true to the version that was on record, but some are open to any sort of freefall that one wants to put into it.”
He admits that if Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright, who died of cancer in 2008, were still alive, he’d probably be in the band with him.
“Rick would have enjoyed it,” Mason suggests. “Apart from anything else, I think this is a nice sort of tribute in a way – some of it’s to Syd (Barrett, Pink Floyd’s original vocalist who recorded Piper At the Gates Of Dawn and some of A Saucerful Of Secrets before leaving the band in ‘68), some of it’s to Rick. It’s more of a sense of a band instead of it being a Roger or David show.”
And although he’s performing obscure numbers like “Set The Controls for the Heart of The Sun,” “See Emily Play” and “Vegetable Man,” instead of tracks from Wish You Were Here or The Wall, don’t assume this era is Mason’s favourite of the band’s output.
“There isn’t one, because they all have different qualities,” he explains. “ It was as much fun riding around the back of a transit van as slumming around in a private jet, but the joy is when you’re making music and you’ve got an audience – that’s the privilege of it all. It doesn’t have to be huge – it just needs to be there.“
Mason also notes how times have changed from the first time he recorded and performed this music – an era when accessibility was rare and an aura of mystique helped propagate the Pink Floyd legend. Floyd shows post Dark Side were scarce. Media sightings were rare and there was no Internet or social media to offer instant news or exposure to recording acts.
“It’s a very different landscape,” Mason agrees. “When I think of the time we spent trying to stop people from bootlegging our albums – now it’s just a waste of time.
“What’s really bizarre are the people who spend quite a lot of money on a ticket to see a show and then they watch it through the back of their iPhone and record the whole thing. It’s extraordinary how it’s flipped completely with the idea that a CD was for life, and you couldn’t possibly ask for more money for a ticket than you could for a CD.
“Now you can ask for a lot of money for a live performance, which is really sort of transitory – and expect the music more or less for free.”
Mason recalls that when it came to touring, Pink Floyd never played extensively until “post-Roger,” but Toronto was the place they rehearsed for their first big one to promote 1987’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason.
“We rehearsed at a hangar at (Pearson) Airport – which was really good,” he remembers. “And we spent a lot of time in Toronto, which was terrific.”
While he’s obviously known as the rhythmic rudder of Pink Floyd, Mason has also delved into other interesting fields – including avant-garde jazz with ECM label stalwarts Michael Mantler and Carla Bley.
“The Michael Mantler thing came from a very early connection, which was Robert Wyatt,” Mason remembers,
“I did quite a lot of stuff with Robert and produced a record for him, and that led to Mike Mantler and Carla Bley. I’ve always had an affection for that sort of music.
“Warner recently re-released some work I did with Carla and another piece I did with a guy called Rick Fenn from 10 c.c. And the brass things that were written over 30 years ago have lasted incredibly well. I was really surprised – partly to do with the instruments and the fact that they’ve remained the same. If you go back to the ‘80s, you’ll find everything was done on a Moog or a synthesizer of some sort. It has a very dated feel in a way, whereas brass instruments don’t.”
Mason has also indulged a lifelong passion with motor racing – he once competed in the 24-hour Le Mans race against actor Paul Newman – and admits that “most of my ill-gotten gains have gone” to an enviable collection of racing cars worth hundreds of millions that he still owns, a 1961 Maserati Birdcage and a 1962 Ferrari GTO among them.
But he no longer competitively occupies the driver’s seat.
“My daughter and wife both drive and race – and my son-in -law is Manno Franchitti , who is (racing champion) Dario Franchitti’s younger brother. He was a three-time Indy winner.
“I’ve got some good family connections,” he chuckles.