Never Lose Eye Contact
75 Years, 75 Moments: NICK MASON
How do you describe a music career that spans 60 years in 500 words? Let’s start with the here and now. Nick Mason is constantly on the go. The tour of his band, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, is due to start soon and there is still a lot to organize. Together with his bandmates, he performs the early Pink Floyd songs. So it’s a cover band? Nick laughs. Sort of. Because Nick was a founding member of the groundbreaking band and the only one to be featured on all of their albums released to date. “Sometimes I actually do feel like I’m performing cover versions of our own songs.”
Nick explains why he loves going on tour with the early songs from the 60s and 70s: “The songs on the later albums are such a big part of our culture that fans want to hear them exactly the way they were produced for the records. In our earlier recordings, we had much more freedom during the live performances. With Atom Heart Mother, we took out some of the reprises and shortened the piece. With Interstellar Overdrive, we took a much freer approach and the arrangement can change from night to night very much as it was played in 1967. Or I try to echo part of the songs on my drums so that it sounds more organic.” And how has the audience changed compared to the old days? “Well, of course they got older just like we did, but now they bring their kids with them. That creates a fantastic and totally diverse audience, which is great fun.”
Nick came up with the idea of touring again during his longstanding collaboration with the globally successful Pink Floyd—Their Mortal Remains exhibition, where he represented the band and which premiered at the renowned Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This unique exhibition presented a technical challenge that required cooperation from many parties. Sennheiser was involved as a sound partner and ensured that the exhibition became an immersive audio experience thanks to AMBEO technology. “After all the press appointments and interviews, I almost felt like an exhibit myself. Then it dawned on me that I wanted to play live again.” We want to know what it felt like for a member of the band to walk through all the rooms and look at the installations and exhibits. Nick says: “Of course that was a very special experience for me. It was almost like the ultimate audio-visual diary. Some exhibits also took me by surprise. We had Rogers’ school penal book (the cane was still used at that time), old instruments that I didn’t even know existed and so much more.” The Victoria and Albert Museum, which had already curated the successful David Bowie exhibition, also started looking for old stage outfits. “Apart from a coat belonging to Roger, they couldn’t really find anything until this I hate Pink Floyd t-shirt appeared similar to one that belonged to Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols.”
Another thought came to Nick when he visited the exhibition that started in London before moving to Rome, Dortmund and Madrid: “The presentation of the concept albums and milestones of our career were so much more structured than they were in reality. Everything seemed much more coherent and linear. At that time we took a different approach when recording each new album. With The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Syd [Barrett] had the most creative input whereas [A Saucerful of] Secrets was a transition from Syd to the rest of the band and the introduction of David Gilmour. The Final Cut was more like a Roger Waters solo album, whereas our last record, The Endless River in 2014, took advantage of some material from The Division Bell sessions that had been written and recorded 20 years earlier. ”Even though our question about his personal favorite album makes us sound like a star-struck fan, we still want to know. “We tried a lot of interesting approaches on A Saucerful of Secrets. Musically, it is our most organic and versatile album.” The fact that there was so much going on behind the scenes, yet Pink Floyd still managed to put on a united front was clearly a factor in the choice of name for the current band. And it’s the feeling of being part of a band that drives Nick, because “it doesn’t matter whether you perform in front of 50 people or a million, it’s the thrill of the interaction. The only difference is the size of the stage. Large stages produce their own problems, I still feel it is really important to be able to make eye contact with your fellow musicians. All it takes is one glance and you communicate without words. The bigger the stage, the more you have to search the other band members out and communicate over a long distance.”
Communication is key. But it’s no secret that the members of Pink Floyd haven’t always seen eye to eye. Bob Geldof knew that when he set his sights on getting Pink Floyd back on stage for the first time in 25 years to perform three songs in their legendary line-up for the 2005 Live 8 concert in London.
“Bob called David [Gilmour] first, he said it would never happen then he called me. I then spoke to Roger and he convinced David.” The communication chain was a success. The band members rehearsed for a week and finally fell into a rhythm of performing together, but creating music together is actually only half the battle. The technical side with the backline equipment, the monitor mixes and the FOH mixing plus any visual effects are a massive enterprise in their own right. And of course eye contact is still crucial. As we all know, the Live 8 stage was not small.
The band’s legendary appearance certainly raised the hopes of the fans that Pink Floyd would perform together again live. This is a question Nick has to answer almost every day so we choose our words very carefully: So Nick, what is the situation now? Will you do it all again? “I understand the fans are hopeful, but as much as we love our fans, you can’t just do it to please everyone. We have to be motivated to do it, we have to want it from the bottom of our hearts. We dealt with friction between very dominant personalities for such a long time, it probably seemed too exhausting to return to the fray.
As quickly as 60 years of music history pass, 500 words become thousands of words and 45 minutes seem to pass in the blink of an eye. For our final question, we have to rewind from the here and now right back to the beginning. When and why did Nick Mason decide to become a drummer? His answer is both unexpected and humble. “I discovered rock and roll when I was 14. When I formed the first band with my friends, the guitar was already taken, I didn’t want the bass—so that left only the drums. And so I became a drummer who was constantly working on improving his drum set. And you never stop learning, I can still pick up new tricks even after all these years. When I watch the bands today, and the drummers in particular, I can honestly say almost everyone has something to offer.”
And now it’s time for Nick to go. The tour is calling. The coronavirus, which is currently sweeping the globe, doesn’t exactly make the organization any easier. He hopes that all of the shows can go ahead as planned. We will keep our fingers crossed and quickly take this opportunity to offer the services of our colleagues Torsten Grenz and Frank Weissberg from Sennheiser Controlling should the band be in need of a guitarist. But what would we give to see Pink Floyd making eye contact across the stage one last time? We hang up and are infinitely grateful.
Here you can find more stories from the Sennheiser crew.