Floyd survivor tells it all
Pink Floyd are among the world’s biggest rock bands and attract a legion of fans and now there's a chance in Norwich to meet drummer Nick Mason, who has been there to observe it all.
The story of Pink Floyd has been one of the most tumultuous in rock, taking in acid trips and ego trips, eccentric English whimsy and overpowering stadium rock.
It's a saga that began in Cambridge in the early 1960s among a group of architecture students with a passion for R&B, and continues to this day, as the band retain a massive following eager to know whether they will tour or record together again.
And there is no one better placed to tell the tale than drummer Nick Mason, the only man to remain a band member throughout, who will sign copies of his new history of Pink Floyd in Norwich on Thursday.
Syd Barrett, the psychedelic pioneer of the early days, was booted out for his chaotic behaviour in the late 1960s after taking several acid tabs too many and now lives a secluded life in Cambridge. Apart from Mason, all the other members – singer and bass guitarist Roger Waters, guitarist David Gilmour and keyboard player Rick Wright – have left in fits of pique and returned.
“We don't have any plans for touring and I don't think we will have until David decides he would like to, which I don't think will happen soon,” says Mason. “But we do have a DVD, which I'm sure we will release next year, of Pulse, the live concert film, in 5.1 stereo.”
Intra-band rivalries have been rife since Waters usurped Barrett as the chief creative force and gradually imposed what bandmates have called a dictatorial style of leadership.
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He led the band through triumphs such as Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, but his perceived arrogance alienated his colleagues.
Mason's book, Inside Out: a Personal History of Pink Floyd, is a handsome coffee table tome a decade in the making, allegedly because of disagreements in the band. “That would be an understatement. It was really only David who was not happy, and with hindsight he was right.
“The way I kicked off was that this would be the ultimate history and I let him see a couple of drafts,” he says. “He felt it was not an official history, it was my version, and he was right.
“The way forward was to make it my story. I started in 1994 and did a lot of work right at the beginning, for five or six months, then messed about.
“There were a couple of other elements. Last year Steve O'Rourke, who had been our manager for 35 years, suddenly keeled over and died.
“He had been a great friend and had been around for all the events. I realised this was going to keep happening, and eventually it would happen to me.”
Seeing the book published is a “fantastic” feeling, and now he's on the promotional circuit. Sadly the plan for him to descend on Norwich by helicopter has been scrapped owing to a lack of a suitable landing space – “we didn't feel we could land on the roof of Ottakars,” he laughs – so he'll have to come by car.
Mason, who was born in Birmingham in January 1944, is only slightly less well known for his collection of racing cars as for being a rock drummer. He reels off a list, starting with his early 1900s London to Brighton racing cars, through his 1920s Bugattis, pre-war Aston Martins, “a Maserati as driven by Fangio and Stirling Moss,” up to the present Formula One McLaren GTR.
He has competed in five Le Mans 24-hour races. The ability to indulge this passion for racing cars is testament to the success enjoyed by Pink Floyd over their near 40-year career. But what gives him the greatest sense of pride in terms of the music?
“Sticking it out!” he laughs. “I don't think there's a single achievement. With these questions – I expect you'll ask me what my favourite album is next – well, there are elements one likes in certain albums. It's about doing good work that has that sort of longevity.”
But surely there must have been moments that cause him to cringe?
“Not really, there's good stuff and bad stuff. But most of it was approached, particularly by Roger, in a fairly serious way.
“I don't think we ever felt 'let's just do that'. If it wasn't good enough we didn't release it.”
Whether any more Pink Floyd songs will be good enough for Pink Floyd to record is another question.
Inside Out is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, priced £30. Nick Mason will sign copies from 5-6pm at Ottakar's in Norwich on Thursday, November 11.