Name: Nicholas Berkeley Mason
DOB: 27 January 1944
Place of birth: Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
Mr. Mason, as the drummer for Pink Floyd for over 30 years, how would you describe the feeling of performing on stage for tens of thousands of people?
I think it’s different for everyone, but for me, there is something intrinsically exciting about it. It’s partly to do with the crowd being there for their own reasons almost, it’s like a big tribal meeting… Sometimes just the actual venue can be special. I remember a show we played in Venice in 1989 which was perhaps the most extraordinary of all the shows we’ve done to big crowds. It wasn’t necessarily our best show but that was the sort of unforgettable one.
It was a really unusual idea where we actually played on a raft that was floated off Saint Marc’s Square — we were on a barge playing to a crowd that was on the land, and I mean, it looked fantastic. Venice is an extraordinary place anyway… Those sort of events, I think, are the ones where the venue adds so much to the moment.
“You can be as nervous in front of 300 people as you’d be in front of 90 thousand people.”
I’m sure the size also added to the excitement. Apparently that concert was attended by 200,000 people and broadcast live to a million more.
The size… I mean, yes, it matters in terms of all sorts of reasons including financial. But for me, the reality is an audience is an audience. And you can be as nervous in front of 300 people as you’d be in front of 90 thousand people. In fact, you are actually dealing with the entire audience when you’re in small club or a theater, whereas if you’re in a stadium, you are actually only dealing with 70 or 80 percent. There’s a lot of other people in the back who are either doing drugs or playing Frisbee. (Laughs) It’s a bit of a disconnect, I think. A big audience is a great thing but it’s partly because a bigger audience has a life of its own but it isn’t quite as important as that eye contact that you’d get in a live theater show.
Still, it must have been overwhelming when you played those stadium shows for the first time in your early days.
Well, you get used to it because you get into it quite gently, you know? The standard routing really is you start in clubs then you move up to theaters then to big theaters then eventually into arenas and then from arenas into stadiums. You get lowered gently into it rather than it being something that hits you suddenly. But the last 20 odd years of Pink Floyd were those kind of big stadiums with big stages, so you almost lose eye contact with the other musicians whereas what I’m doing now, touring with my own band, is kind of a return to something how we were in 1967. It’s more intense in a way because you’re not only sensing the audience but also you’re much closer to the rest of the band.
How is it for you touring in your seventies these days? Do you feel 40 years younger?
It certainly doesn’t feel like a vacation. It’s harder work than that. But I’ll tell you what, it’s very joyful. There is of course an element of work to it, but what it comes down to is this: it is travelling with a group of friends doing something you really enjoy doing… I think probably I get my energy for the music from the rest of the band. Being in a band is a very powerful energizer. The actual moment of playing a particular song live with the audience in front of you and the band arranged around you… That makes all the rest of it worthwhile; all the travel and the rehearsals and the equipment…
Recently your bandmate Gary Kemp said that with this tour, it feels like you are finally getting the recognition you deserve.
I’m enjoying it but I don’t have any sense of “I should have been here before.” I was perfectly happy with my role in Pink Floyd. But I am enjoying the way this new enterprise operates because it’s still a band, we still make a lot of decisions as a band rather than me dictating anything.
I guess that can also be a risk when you’re working in a band — decisions have to be made together or not at all.
It’s sort of interesting, isn’t it? Some bands just do fold out, but others continue in very different ways. I think the examples of a band like Genesis with Peter leaving, or even Fleetwood Mac who moved from being an RnB band into being something completely different. And they still continue now, Lindsey Buckingham is now out again and it’s just a different mix. Each individual is entitled to do whatever they want and you can’t expect people to stay together if they don’t want to.
Was it difficult to accept that situation with Pink Floyd?
I’ve never really felt that it was difficult because I would never feel that they had any obligation to look after me. The way the band changed with Syd leaving and then with Rick being out of it and then Roger leaving and then Rick coming back and then… There were just so many variations, I’ve never really sort of thought that much about whether it’s working or not. No one owes anyone else anything in this voyage. Everyone has to remain free to do what they want.
“These days music really gives me the sense of being fortunate. There’s nothing else I would rather do.”
It must be easier to avoid those altercations these days though because for your most recent tour, you were playing Pink Floyd’s early music only.
Right, we don’t work on new material. It was Lee Harris who came along with the idea and suggested it would be interesting or fun to do something concentrating on the early work. I hadn’t really thought it through that hard but it sort of made perfect sense because I think I would not have wished to do another tribute band playing best of Pink Floyd, or doing another version of “Comfortably Numb.”
There’s enough of them already, I guess.
There’s more than enough! The earlier stuff also gives us more freedom to actually play the music in the spirit of the music without necessarily slavishly trying to copy the records of the time. So, the solos are different… Obviously the lyrics remain the same but there’s still plenty of room for interpretation. And I’m loving it, I’m enjoying it. You know, there’s so many people doing so many things that they don’t particularly enjoy or don’t like doing at all… These days music really gives me the sense of being fortunate. There’s nothing else I would rather do, and that’s probably the greatest gift.