Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason Talks Syd Barrett, Floyd’s Early Years
Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason recently sat down with Rolling Stone for a wide-ranging conversation about the years leading up to Floyd’s 1972 masterpiece, Dark Side of the Moon. The period is lavishly chronicled in a new box set, The Early Years: 1965 – 1972, a 27-disc package that contains roughly seven hours of previously unreleased audio and more than seven hours of never-before-seen film footage. An ambitious Floyd vinyl reissue campaign is currently underway as well.
A good portion of Mason’s comments were centered on Syd Barrett, the band’s brilliant original frontman, who, tragically, was forced to leave the group in 1968 due to his escalating mental instability. “My view [about Syd] is rather different now …,” said Mason. “I remember Roger [Waters] saying to me he’d talked to Ronnie Laing, who was the great psychiatrist of the period, and Roger said, ‘Syd’s going mad.’ And apparently, Laing said to Roger, ‘Are you sure it’s Syd who’s going mad?’”
Mason continued: “… I think perhaps what was happening was Syd had realized he didn’t want to be in a rock band at all. He’d done that, decided it wasn’t really what he wanted to do and probably wanted to go back to art school, but he couldn’t find a way of getting out of it. Certainly, we couldn’t believe that anyone didn’t want to be in a rock band.”
Mason went on to say that Pink Floyd found its footing relatively quickly after Barrett’s departure. “Through all of ‘69, what we were trying to do was build a repertoire that didn’t include Syd’s stuff, so we weren’t reliant on it,” he said. “What’s interesting is how much work we managed to get through in that period… [Obscured By Clouds] was done more or less at the same time as Dark Side. So you look back at it and think, ‘Not only did we put out all this work, but we were also touring.’ I think we had a real appetite for getting on with things.”
Inevitably, talk turned to whether or not a Floyd reunion was in the realm of possibility. Reminded that David Gilmour remains firm in his insistence that the band is “done and over,” Mason said, “Yeah, I understand.” He then added: “[Gilmour] worked really hard [during] the years we did without Roger, the really big tours. And he carried that on his shoulders. It was a hell of a lot easier for me than him. He was in front of it all. But I really respect what he did. I think he really just doesn’t want to go back there. I respect that.”
On a more positive note, Mason said he’s excited about the forthcoming Pink Floyd exhibition – titled “Their Mortal Remains” – that’s slated to open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in May of 2017. The V&A promises the exhibit will be “an immersive, multi-sensory and theatrical journey through Pink Floyd’s extraordinary world.”
“The most exciting things are the hands-on things,” says Mason. “If you’ve been to the Rolling Stones’ exhibition, it seems like what everyone comes back with is the mixing desk where you can fiddle about and actually mix songs. I think if we can do some more of that to show how things work, that’s the best of it.” Meanwhile, the Pink Floyd vinyl reissue campaign continues to keep the band very much in the public eye.