Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason talks to Sherna Noah about changes in the music industry and the tour of his supergroup.
Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, 74, is preparing for his first live musical tour in more than 20 years.
And we are talking about whether the industry must face up to problems of sexual harassment, in the way that the movie world has. “Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think the music industry has the same issues, to the same extent,” Mason says. “There is maybe less opportunity to exploit people” and “for music moguls to take advantage”.
The last time Mason went on tour was in 1994, as part of Pink Floyd, who, as well as their hits, were known for staging extraordinary and spectacular live shows. Now the drummer and racing car enthusiast is preparing to tour his new supergroup and he is “practising staying up very late”.
Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets also features Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, Pink Floyd touring bassist Guy Pratt, The Blockheads guitarist Lee Harris and composer Dom Beken.
The band will play the songs Pink Floyd created before everything changed in 1973 with The Dark Side Of The Moon, the groundbreaking masterpiece which catapulted the British group to fame. And Mason says there is a big advantage in selecting tracks from the band’s lesser-known oeuvre.
“The great thing about playing early Pink Floyd material is it’s not really treading on anyone else’s toes,” Mason says.
“We don’t have to be a tribute band. Australian Pink Floyd and Brit Floyd (the tribute bands) are out there all doing Comfortably Numb and Dark Side Of The Moon.
“This is uncharted territory. We don’t have to play the songs exactly. We can reinterpret them and so the playing becomes much fresher. There’s room for improvisation.”
Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets have been inspired by Pink Floyd’s early history, when the group were at the forefront of Britain’s psychedelic era and led by frontman Syd Barrett, who died in 2006. They will play tracks, on six UK dates as well as gigs in Europe, from The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Pink Floyd’s 1967 debut studio album, and the 1968 release A Saucerful Of Secrets.
“In a way, the songs are much freer. They are skeletons for you to be able to put musical ideas on top of,” Mason says. “There’s a lot more freedom than if you’re playing Comfortably Numb. And in some cases,” he adds, “some of those songs really have never been played. We never played them live as Pink Floyd...”
As well as a co-founder of Pink Floyd, Mason was the only constant member of the band, performing on all of their albums, as well as their live shows.But he questions whether the experimental group, which gave the world hits such as Time, Us And Them and The Wall, would have succeeded if they were starting out now, although they “might have found a niche for ourselves”.
“We wouldn’t even have made the first rounds of The X Factor, not a chance,” he says of Pink Floyd. “The X Factor is brilliant in terms of entertainment, but it’s not a great stepping stone to a musical career.”
Since his last tour, the music industry has undergone a dramatic transformation, led by the rise of streaming.
Singers and bands are no longer able to rely on album sales to make money. “Bands are finding it tougher because record companies don’t have the cash that they once had to take a chance,” Mason says.
He says he respects anybody trying to make it in today’s industry. “I admire young musicians, particularly now, because it’s a much harder landscape to make a career in. I am aware of just how many bands were given a chance by the record company, many of them lost without trace. But the record company could afford to take endless bands on and give it a go. Now they operate in a different way. They are the seventh rung of the ladder rather than the first.”
“You already have to have established yourself with a following,” says Mason. “And it’s very hard to get your voice heard in such a noisy environment.”
Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets start their UK tour on September 23 and tickets are available from www.thesaucerfulofsecrets.com