Here’s the full transcript of my 2011 interview with Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason.
That sound you can hear is one of Pink Floyd fans rejoicing. The 200 million album-selling band and their label, EMI Music, have embarked on Why Pink Floyd?, a full re-issue of all Pink Floyd albums, re-mastered. These are known as the ‘Discovery’ editions, but for more avid fans there will be staggered ‘Immersion’ releases (CD/ DVD/ Blu-ray /memorabilia box sets) and Experience editions (coupling a classic album with a second disc of related content from that album).
Previously unearthed gems have now been made available simply because it’s possible. The Dark Side Of The Moon ‘Immersion’ box includes a Wembley Stadium live concert from 1974, which Mason says couldn’t have been released 10 years ago. Band-endorsed engineers Andy Jackson and James Guthrie repaired and sorted through various recordings, which were then given the all-clear by the three surviving band members, drummer Nick Mason, vocalist/bassist Roger Waters and guitarist/vocalist Dave Gilmour (keyboardist Rick Wright passed away in 2008 and co-founder Syd Barrett left in 1968 and died in 2006).
The band’s long-charting 1973 LP, The Dark Side Of The Moon, was the first to receive this release treatment late last month. The ‘Immersion’ edition of Wish You Were Here is released on November 4 (along with new best-of, A Foot In The Door), with 1979’s The Wall just over the horizon, scheduled for a February 24 issue.
I want to begin by asking you about the fandom; the listening audience of Pink Floyd. You’ve seen the devotion on tour, saw how Dark Side Of The Moon was in the charts for 15 years; but with these re-issues coming up, does the ongoing love of the music and the curiosity as to the background of it, continue to amaze you?
Yes I think it does. Part of the reason for doing this big re-issue is really to cover a number of bases in one go. There’s what’s known as the Immersion versions, which really just apply to the old fans, but there are other parts that are geared to people who really don’t know very much about it. It’s just to give them a taster of what’s available, really. It’s a lovely thing, particularly to have young audiences discovering something they can get something from. We’re all so brought up with the idea that rock’n’roll is ephemeral and only lasts a few years. It’s quite a change, really.
It seems amazing that within the claustrophobia of the studio that things so universal and seemingly eternal can be created…
Yes, I think there’s a couple of things there. In the studio the only thing you can do is please yourself. You can’t even begin to second guess what the public are looking for. What you can try and do is get it right as you see it. The common question for Dark Side Of The Moon, is ‘why has it been around so long?’ and the answer is, ‘there is no simple answer’. It’s a matter of a number of different things which include luck and timing. If there was a simple answer everyone, including us, would have made more records to that formula.
What’s your relationship with the music of Pink Floyd, over all this time?
It’s an odd one, really, because I think people get a lot of pleasure from it and enjoy it. Whereas when I do listen to it I tend to listen to it rather critically. I’m hearing mistakes or things that could have been done better. It’s very difficult to listen to it and go, ‘God, I’m brilliant’. You don’t tend to listen to it and go, ‘oh, yeah, that was really good’. Maybe it’s, ‘well that worked, it was quite good’. You must remember, I first heard these in the recording studio.
How long was this project in planning? It seems overnight when you read about it in a magazine but clearly there’s much more to it…
There is and in fact it was a very painstaking job. An example is that the Wembley live concert from ’74, we couldn’t have released it 10 years ago. It’s really due to advances in digital editing that have made it possible to repair the tape. There were various microphones that hadn’t picked up a bass drum and things like that. (Project directors) Andy Jackson and James Guthrie, between them, have done a fantastic job of repairing some of these things.
Has the passing of Syd Barrett and Rick Wright made this series all the more poignant?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, particularly with Rick because Syd, in a way, had been absent for so long, that was sort of less significant. But Rick was at Live8, we’d seen each other on holidays a year before, so it was very sad. I mean, I’ve known the people in the band longer than almost anyone else in my whole life. That includes people I’ve been married to and my children. I mean, the band’s been around longer than that.
How involved were the band members in the remastering process; was anything remixed, or were the original mixes transferred with updated technology?
Everything that goes out was passed by all of us. James is brilliant in that respect,
we all trust his judgment and we all work very well with him. Whatever James did he would then send out to all of us, take the comments back and he was very good if someone was critical or had a suggestion. James was really capable of judging and taking the advice or perhaps not taking the advice (laughs). It was a very good process, mainly creative rather than critical.
The 14 EMI-released studio albums have all been remastered, as part of the Discovery editions. Some are better known than others in a universal sense; what are the albums you’d tell people to have a go at?
I think Dark Side, is always a good start. It’s shorter than something like The Wall, which is a bit more epic, kind of like Wagner’s Ring Cycle (laughs). The Discovery compilation is a bit more than a best-of, it’s meant to be a taster of a number of different albums rather than just taking the most popular tracks. What’s nice is when people find something interesting in some of the less-known ones. For instance, I have a great affection for Saucerful Of Secrets, because there’s some interesting ideas there that were carried on all the way through Pink Floyd history. I also think Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun was one of the really great live Pink Floyd songs.
At the time of Dark Side Of The Moon, how did the musical tastes of the various members overlap? What could they share, and what really set them apart in the music they were each into individually then?
That’s really a fabulous question and I completely unable to answer it (laughs). I’ll try and remember. The answer would be that there was a lot of influences at the time, particularly from what was going on in America. Always one of the great things about going to America was being able to go into American record shops, it was a very different selection of records to the UK. There was a lot of interesting things coming out of America at the time. There was a guy called Moondog. I think he was New York-based, almost a street vagrant. He recorded a lot of street sounds and used them as the background in a lot of his songs.
There was a lot of sharing of music. There was always that thing of listening to stuff together, lending each other records and so on, in that period. In ‘71-‘72 we were still very influenced by all the English bands from the period. Clapton, Cream, Jimi Hendrix in particular; that sort of thing. But there was a lot of stuff coming out of America at the time; slightly more off-the-wall things were going on.
What was it like going in to record an album that had been already performed in entirety 12 months before?
It’s not quite like that. In fact what we had been doing is playing four or five of the songs, in different versions, live. Actually, the way it really came together was more in the studio; because it was there that we actually had the big meeting and decided what it was going to be about. We hadn’t actually decided that in advance. We’d done a number of shows where things were continuous and segued together, but the actual idea for Dark Side came very much when we were in the studio and had started making the record; the idea of linking it all together with the sounds and the cross-fades was later in the process.
It was the album that changed so many things. Did you have an inkling?
I think the answer is we knew we’d done the best work to date and we knew it was good. But the fact that you know it is good doesn’t guarantee any sort of sales at all. You can do something that is really good but there’s a lot of brilliant records out there that no one’s ever heard.
Clare Torry provided some amazing, soulful backing vocals for Great Gig In The Sky. It was a collaboration that ended up in court. How does it feel when a guest comes in to do their piece and 30 years later ends up with a co-writing credit?
Yeah, well she came in for one session and was given some sort of advice – and probably conflicting advice by us – on what it should be and came up with her interpretation of our suggestions. I think she only needed three takes and we kept all three. I think there was a bit of mixing between the different takes. As I say, I think we all had different ideas of what should be done and she came up with her version, which was terrific.
1975’ s Wish You Were Here album was released in the aftermath of Dark Side Of The Moon’s popular and iconic success. So many playing fields had changed; what are your memories?
Well, it was hard work because of exactly what you’re talking about. We were now charged with making the follow-up to a very successful album. So I think we spent quite a lot of time casting around trying to decide what we were going to do. It’s quite well known that we started work on something that was known as The Household Objects project, which really went nowhere. It was just sounds without any real ideas as to what the music should be. We actually ended up spending quite a lot of time on something – a couple of aspects of it ended up getting used. That was not a great step forward.
The new re-issue features a version of Wish You Were Here with the celebrated violinist, Stephane Grappelli. Were you so spoilt for riches that it didn’t make the album release?
I absolutely cannot understand why we would have discarded it. It’s terrific. As you say we were spoilt for riches, but even so we were absolutely convinced that we should try and make the album ourselves. We didn’t want the other people… but weirdly, we ended up using Roy Harper (on Have A Cigar), so we were open to using other people. I mean that, to me, is a bit of a mystery.
Syd Barrett visited the studio during those sessions…
Yeah, that was very odd. It was all a bit of a puzzle, I think, for all of us. It was upsetting for all of us, actually. But in a way that became the catalyst to give some real point to the record.
Is it true that he came in at the very time you were recording Shine On You Crazy Diamond (a song penned in dedication to him)?
No. Well, the answer is no one really knows. Everyone’s got a different version of it. I just cannot remember for the life of me if he did come to that session or whether it was something else. I suspect we were recording something else, partly because I was in the studio at the time and the drum track was laid down early on. I suspect that we were working on some other song at the time.
What are your memories of recording The Wall (1979)? Were things, in every aspect, getting more complex?
Actually most of The Wall recording was quite good. It must have taken a year of recording and most of that was spent with everyone working quite well on it. The politics of working together became difficult, just in the summer, when Rick wanted to go on holiday and CBS had just said they’d give us a lot of extra money if we finished it in time for Christmas. That sort of drove Roger demented. But in general most of The Wall recording was rather good because we were quite spoilt and our accountants – who turned out to be crooked – told us we might be in for a massive tax bill. We were suddenly forced to really concentrate. We left England to record abroad for the tax breaks and there was no more messing about, really. We were there to make the record and that was it. There was no going off and doing something else.
You can possibly make sense of your life and career in a way that many people can’t, what with people throwing it back at you in interviews and all sorts. Do you have it all rather sorted out and in context because of all this re-examination?
The problem is really I can’t answer that; I’ll have to put you onto my psychiatrist to respond on my behalf (laughs). But the answer, like most people who do peculiar things, is that for me it’s normal. It’s what I’ve done for the last 40 years. I remember quite a lot of it, which seems to make some sort of sense. For the most part it’s been great fun and I really enjoy it. There’s the odd moments where you think, ‘God that was pretty dreadful’, but on balance what you do realise is how lucky you are, having a career doing something that you really enjoy, that a lot of people think you’re rather clever for doing. So, no complaints from me (laughs), but also I’ve been lucky with my motor racing and cars and so on. That’s given me a counter- balance for what rock’n’roll is like. So, I’ve had a world outside music.
What’s it like, when at Live8 in 2005, or at Roger Water’s show in May, when you gather to perform? Surreal, or familiar?
I think it’s more that thing of feeling great in familiar territory. That’s what I’ve really enjoyed when playing with Roger, for instance. Coming back and playing with the same bass player I worked with for so long. There’s a source of music that you fall into, and you might like it or you might hate it, whatever, but it’s a source of something natural. It’s the way you feel easiest, I suppose. It’s comfortable. That’s the thing. It’s not actually a sort of high pressure thing at all. It’s more a case of, ‘oh yeah, I know how to do this’.
Now, the most predictable question…
What are the chances of the three of you going out again as Pink Floyd?
I don’t think it’s very likely, but my own prognosis is that the one thing that could make it happen would not be money. It would be a Nelson Mandela or Bill Clinton type figure, and some sort of reason why us playing together would change the world or enhance some peace process. Whether music is capable of doing that, who knows? But for reasons beyond other things, Live8 was like a junior version of that, if you see what I mean. It would be an enhanced version of Live8, I would have thought that Roger and David would find hard to refuse.
Well there’ll possibly be people hoping something will go wrong somewhere…
Oh no we can’t have that (laughs). I can see the mad scientists threatening nuclear holocausts unless the band plays. Dr Evil won’t make this happen. Let’s just go and correct something that’s wrong already.
Speaking of Dr Evil, has the flashing light on your copy of (grandly packaged 1994 live LP) Pulse gone out yet?
I think, by now, it must have gone, on every copy that everyone’s got. So no one is being tape-recorded anymore. The microphones are gone (laughs)