Pink Floyd drummer on revisiting their early work with new band Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets

Ahead of their Dublin show next month, Richard Purden chats to Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason about revisiting the seminal English psychedelic rockers' early work with his new band Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets

Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets in action at London's Roundhouse. Picture by Jill Furmanovsky
Richard Purden

"I COULD'VE been waiting until we were 100." Nick Mason admits he had become tired waiting for his erstwhile bandmates Roger Waters and David Gilmour to call him about a much hoped for Pink Floyd reunion.

As one of the founding members, which also included the late Syd Barrett and Richard Wright, the drummer had always held out hope for the prospect and he remains the only musician to have played on every Pink Floyd album.

It's now almost two years since he introduced Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets. Joining him, Guy Pratt had previously played bass for Pink Floyd (after Waters departure) on the A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and Division Bell tours, also singing lead for some tracks. Sharing vocals with Pratt is Spandau Ballet's Gary Kemp who also features on guitar.

A forthcoming concert film captures the strange, psychedelic energy of the Syd Barrett period and the influential cult-status long-players that pre-date The Dark Side Of The Moon.

Mason suggests American audiences are "entirely new to the old Pink Floyd material, they started with The Dark Side Of The Moon; we were much less well known there in the early days. In the UK and Europe, it's a more expert audience."

The Live At The Roundhouse album and film captures Mason's return to the scene of a notable early performance by the band.

"The Roundhouse is a very odd building but there's something about these round buildings that have a particular quality. It was originally where they used to turn (railway) engines around and then it was used as storage for Gilbey's Gin.

"When Pink Floyd first played there in 1966, it was an earth floor with nothing whatsoever in it, they had just cleared the last of the gin. It was an ideal party venue to launch the International Times which was the so-called 'underground' newspaper.

"A couple of Beatles turned up and Michelangelo Antonioni (director of Blowup), it was quite a wild evening… a proper night out."

A focus on the early work has brought key Barrett tracks such as Arnold Layne to a modern live setting as well as lesser-known and unfinished songs.

"I think Vegetable Man is interesting because it's almost like a punk record", suggests Mason.

"I think there is a quite a lot of anger in it, but who knows. The problem is, it was never finished or finally mastered and so it's very hard to know what he would have done with it.

"Syd could move between two and three genres, he could write something that was quite whimsical and rural like a folk song such as The Scarecrow but he also put together something like Astronomy Domine."

Barrett's influence was cited by David Bowie who recorded a memorable version of See Emily Play in 1973. Bowie said of him after his death in 2006 that "along with Anthony Newley, he was the first guy I'd heard sing pop or rock with a British accent".

"Yes, there are many people who have cited Syd's influence", says Mason.

"That's a good example with the English accent because we'd all become inured to the idea that any rock 'n' roll song had to be sung like an American and using American language."

Barrett remains one of rock's most enigmatic figures. He would release only two solo albums, both in 1970, and gave his last interview the following year. That was to the photographer Mick Rock who captured the singer looking like, as he suggested, "a beautiful burnt-out rock 'n' roller."

He would tell Rock "I'm disappearing" as he permanently retreated from public life.

"It's a bit like the James Dean thing" suggests Mason.

"The music still has some meaning for people and that keeps him in the public's mind. I think the mystery of Syd is that we still don't know and probably will never know what went wrong for him.

"There are a few different theories as to whether it was overdosing on LSD or some element in him that was already showing some signs of a breakdown. Also to be included is that he didn't actually want to be in a band and wanted to go back to painting.

"I think we were probably very unsympathetic to this because we couldn't imagine anyone wouldn't want to carry on being in a rock n' roll band."

Most would assert Barrett left Pink Floyd with an otherworldly blueprint, steeped in English psychedelia and eccentricity, particularly on their debut long-player The Piper At The Gates of Dawn and a lesser contribution on A Saucerful of Secrets: the latter remains Mason's favourite studio work by the band and he suggests Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun "is one of those tracks that has room to stretch out which is great fun to play live.

"It's open to being reinterpreted every time, you can extend the solos if you want to: it's endless if the audience has an appetite for it."

Roger Waters thrilled fans during a performance of the track last year in New York when he reunited with the 76-year-old drummer to sing lead.

"It was almost a surprise for the rest of us", admits Mason.

"We had spoken about it but not worked out what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. There was an element of real surprise as to how it worked out in the end. It was an absolute delight to have him up there and a special evening."

How do his former band members feel about Mason taking Pink Floyd's early catalogue on the road?

"Roger's seal of approval was coming on stage. David's (Gilmour) been tracking us on YouTube and got in touch with Guy (Pratt) to give some fatherly advice on some aspect of the show. I think generally it's been approval all round."

Before performing with Saucerful of Secrets, Mason's previous live outing had been Pink Floyd's Live 8 performance in 2005.

"That was a very emotional moment and it was for the right reasons. We were able to come together and overcome differences for the common good rather than for money or whatever else."

Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets could be read as the drummer conceding that the original members of Pink Floyd are not likely to perform again.

"Yes, I think it is less and less likely and there is an element of giving up and saying 'let's do something on my own' because I could be waiting until we're 100 – but anything is possible.

"One should never say nothing would happen until we are all gone because there is always a possibility."

:: Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets, April 29, Convention Centre, Dublin. Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Live At The Roundhouse is released on April 17.

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