Back (to the) Stage with Nick Mason
An Interview with Nick Mason (drummer, Pink Floyd, Saucerful Of Secrets) The Roundhouse London 24th September 2018
Interview by Lucie Caswell (CEO Featured Artists Coalition – LC) of Nick Mason (NM) For National Album Day
LC Hello Nick. We are backstage in the iconic London venue, The Roundhouse, tell me why we are here.
NM We are here because I have got a new band, which consists of 4 other players, and we are playing early Pink Floyd. So far, it seems to be going down very well – to the point that we have made the move from the Half Moon pub in Putney, total capacity of 250 to the Roundhouse, which is more like 2,000!
LC Tell me about going back to the Half Moon in Putney with a new band. How did that feel, as the lights were about to go up?
NM It felt remarkably similar to about 1967 or ‘68! It is a small stage, so you are very related to the other players, which I really like, and there is an enthusiasm that maybe, wears off after 40 odd years of the same people!
LC A new found enthusiasm – would you say nerves or just excitement?
NM Not really nerves, I’d say adrenalin. Interestingly, there is an absolute comparison with motor racing: there is a lot of waiting around for those few minutes – or in this case, couple of hours, of action.
LC What inspired you to think about having a new band and going back into small venues?
NM It was suggested by Lee Harris and he approached Guy Pratt (I have worked with Guy for 30 odd years) and Guy thought it was a great idea. That was the support system for me; I thought, if Guy is up for it then it’s probably not a bad idea!
LC How did you form the full band as you have it now?
NM I’m still not quite sure! Gary [Kemp] thought it was a great idea and then we needed a keyboard player and they suggested Dom, who I had never met but, we needed someone pretty good because in the 21st century, the keyboard player is the guy who really does a major part of the work, because they are carrying all those extra sounds and effects that you wouldn’t normally be able to do [live].
LC How was it to come together, as a band?
NM We thought we would just try it. We got together to rehearse, we had a couple of early Pink Floyd songs that we thought that everyone liked and, everyone had a go at sorting out what they thought their part would be and then we just tried playing it – and it worked!
LC I have heard you say that “this is not a tribute band, this is new life into the material”. How important is it to you that there is the aspect of being where you are right now with the material?
NM Very important. The whole idea of trying to slavishly do it as it exactly was done originally is frankly, just not that interesting. But to try to use those original songs as blueprints and then lay onto them something new, is really great. It’s very much closer to the original idea for some of those songs; that they are the skeleton and then you put something on top of it, something personal.
LC I suppose that is the makeup of a band - that every person brings their own perspective and their own energy into the songs.
NM One of the nicest and perhaps a silly thing, in a way, is how surprised people are by how good Gary is! ‘The New Romantics and psychedelia? Can it work?’ But, of course it can work. If people are good musicians and have the enthusiasm, it can.
LC One of the wonderful things about music is that people make it their own. The only difficult thing can be that, once they feel it’s their own and someone does something different with it, it then some people are more open to that than others. Have your fans been generally accepting?
NM You’re absolutely right! If this was football, it would be like going from Arsenal to Man United! But generally they have taken it really well.
LC Is there a view to making new music as a band?
NM Not at the moment, no. What we would like to do is develop what we are doing.
LC You are, by default, creating anew by being new, and breathing new life into these songs. Do you think you will produce a live album?
NM Yes, I think there is scope for that.
LC As we come up to National Album Day, the notion from the FAC community of artists is how important the album is to music makers. Would you agree with that?
NM It is less important in terms of popularity. Everyone has got used to the idea of shuffling and playlisting. But for making music, it is very important. It is the classical way of assembling your work and in some ways, there is an element that it is perhaps a discipline, to ensure that your album is made up of really good material. What’s also important is that, where there is a concept that music can be of any length, there is something nice about assembling something that lasts for 40 minutes or so, rather than just 3.
The album can also tell a story.
LC Of course, part of the reason for artists making albums is for them to make money at their gigs. Alongside the t-shirts, plectrums etc, an album is something fans will buy at a gig and the artists need to connect with their fans in that way and to make money to continue making music. How important do you think the merchandising side of the album is?
NM It is desperately important. Monetising music is so difficult. I’m in the very fortunate position, with a history, that I can monetise relative easily but still, the start-up costs even for us, have been astronomical.
LC You have always been in a very creative band, knowing that your brand and your merchandise, the visual things, are very important. But you also mention how difficult and costly you have found it, even with the gravitas that you carry, to go back into doing these small gigs. Tell us more about how it feels to realise just what it takes to go back out again.
NM Slightly alarming! It really is. In 1967 we had a £5,000 advance from the record company, we bought a transit van, got some sponsorship from one of the PA companies, and we went on the road with two road crew and the band in one van. Costs were relatively reasonable. Now, it’s a truck and a coach for the crew (at least) and a lot of kit! We can’t ask one tech to look after 3 guitars, assorted keyboards and a large drumkit, drive the van and sell merch and choc-ices in the interval these days – or, not if you expect to do more than a 2 day tour!
LC A lot of the young bands are driving their own vans and being their own techs but part of that is purely because of costs.
NM Of course but, they are still going to need front of house and probably a monitor mixer. So, there are always costs.
LC We like to think it’s a thing of the past but we as the FAC still continue to fight ‘pay to play’, including where those extra costs negate any fee. Small venues often say they need to apply those extra charges because they are looking for ways to make money themselves. Do you think that the record labels (and sponsors) should still be responsible for supporting touring costs or should artists be finding other funding avenues?
NM It would be nice if the record companies would invest but as venture capital rather than private equity, because at the moment they will only take the band on if they have already reached a lucrative stage and the band have already done all the work.
LC Indeed - as you say, the labels wait longer to invest now and for the growing artists, digital takes longer to earn money from so, the irony of the digital age is that it reinforces the importance of live, for artists to earn their money. A bit of a catch 22 to get to the label if the gigs get you there but you can’t afford the gigs. Perhaps a label fund or backline support for small venues might help?
NM This goes back to the album – it used to be that you could release a record and if it really took off then you could be global pretty quickly. If you have to focus on playing small venues, then it’s a much longer-term project.
LC Costs aside, do you think there is something artistically important for growing artists to do the small venue tours and to take that time?
NM If you want to develop as a performer, absolutely. There is so much more than just playing the song. Maybe you interact with the audience, maybe you don’t but it teaches you to get over the big mistakes, to get over when things go wrong. It toughens you up.
Everything is 30% louder, 30% faster live than when you are practicing!
LC A general rule for music and motor-racing!
NM I think it’s also a reason a lot of us go into it [performing] in the first place – to show off!
LC As a new collective in a band, do those characters, those ‘show-offs’ have to shake down together over the course of doing the gigs?
NM There is enough room onstage for everyone to show-off in their own way. Look at all the classic bands. Roger Daltrey doesn’t compete with Pete Townsend, they have their own performing thing. That’s one of the things that makes a good band. You can build on that. The audience love the idea of interaction on stage.
LC Everyone likes to have a ‘favourite’ in a band, to relate to the band. Do you have a build and a long-term idea for this new band?
NM I don’t have a stop point. We will continue as long as people enjoy it and stop when they don’t.
LC Given the number of people out there tonight [at the Roundhouse], I think you’ll be going for quite some time!
Speaking of a long time, I believe it’s 40 years since the release of Animal [Pink Floyd album], is that right? How do you find it to think in those terms or to have to talk about something you made that time ago? Is it still relevant to you?
NM It would be entirely wrong to say that I’m not interested in the past but, this band is the perfect antidote to that. Having spent some years on the V&A Exhibition [a major Pink Floyd retrospective exhibition], which was entirely memory-lane, it makes it easier for me to do two things, one is new, a performance with adrenalin and the other was a really interesting thing of using graphics and telling stories.
LC Some growing artists want to move on quickly from past material and have to be persuaded to rework or monetise it. As a musician, is it creatively important or rather, is it important for creatives, to keep that sense of forward motion? Is it part of the reason for the new band ?
NM Yes I do – although moving forwards rather slowly, given that it’s taken 25 years since the last time! It’s down to every artist to decide what they want to do and how they want to do it. Some have made a complete career out of a few hit songs and have played those songs ever since. And that works, it entertains them and their audience.
We were a bit worried about [the audience welcoming it], but the great thing about social media is that most people have a pretty good idea of what the show is before they come. We used to have to rely on the Melody Maker review to explain what we were doing!
Since the fragmentation of the band [Pink Floyd], we are all doing something and we have all used it to explain what we are up to, on our own.
LC Has it been nice, carving out the Nick Mason space?
NM Absolutely fantastic. It has taken a long time to get there but it’s about finding the right space, at the right time, with the right people.
LC It’s the time for you to get to a stage. How are you feeling about tonight?
NM Good. Slightly nervous – excited, nervous, whatever ‘it’ is. Every performance is a performance and there is the opportunity for everything to go dreadfully wrong. If you’re not nervous and excited, you’re in the wrong job.
LC Are there any bits of advice you would give to young artists doing this, for the first or second tour?
NM It’s all about learning. And finding good people who can muck in and be part of a team. Good people are really good and remember them when you are doing it – not only the musicians, but the tech guys and of course, the caterers!
Full information on National Album Day is available here http://www.nationalalbumday.co.uk