Pink Floyd's Nick Mason tells Jon Perks of the 'painful process' en route to their classic 1975 album, Wish You Were Here.
Plenty of rock bands “experimented” in the 1970s– and a lot of the time it had nothing to do with music.
When it comes to thinking up new ways of making and recording songs, however, Pink Floyd would surely win a medal for their Household Objects project.
Born off the back of the success of multi-million seller The Dark Side Of The Moon, Floyd entered the studio with the aim of recording a collection of songs played, literally, on household appliances and objects. Old hand mixers, rubber bands and wine glasses would all take the place of their conventional set-up of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards.
One of the tracks from these sessions – previously unreleased – finally gets an airing, more than 35 years later, on two new remastered editions of the album that did follow Dark Side – Wish You Were Here, originally released in September 1975.
A new 16-track ‘best of’, A Foot In The Door, has also been released this week.
The five disc “Immersion” and two disc “Experience” editions of Wish You Were Here, Floyd’s ninth studio album, both feature the track, Wine Glasses.
It comes on a bonus CD which also includes tracks recorded live at Wembley in 1974 and alternative versions of Have A Cigar and the title track, Wish You Were Here. The latter features legendary violinist Stéphane Grappelli, who, along with Yehudi Menuhin, had popped in from the studio next door to the Floyd at Abbey Road.
“Unless they’d been stalking us for a while, which is possible but unlikely,” laughs Floyd’s Birmingham-born drummer, Nick Mason.
“It’s something that is far more prevalent in the US than in the UK, that thing of people being in the same studios and popping in, meeting each other and then doing something – which always seems to be very much a Los Angeles concept.”
“The Stéphane Grappelli track is, without doubt, the jewel in the crown,” says Mason of the unlikely collaboration that never made the finished version.
“It was assumed – certainly by me – that we’d lost it when we were making the record, that we’d decided not to use it and consequently we’d wiped it because we were short of tracks, so credit to the engineer.”
Wish You Were Here is generally considered to be one of Floyd’s three greatest albums (the other two, The Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall, have also both been given the “Experience” and “Immersion” treatment).
Weren’t the band a little daunted by the prospect of having to follow such a critical and commercial success as Dark Side?
“I think we felt that we were reasonably confident that we could do something else really good,” says Mason. “We’d sort of got better at the whole thing – by ‘73 we were bordering on becoming professional rather than enormously gifted amateurs.
“Being wise after the event, my thinking now is we just made a big mistake in that we did go back into the studio so quickly... if one knew then what one knows now, what we really should have done was more touring, because we would have developed the show more and learned more about how to make it work properly and not been in the studio casting around for what to do next.
“It was quite a long painful process to get to Wish You Were Here, going through all that Household Objects business – that was very much a case of going into the studio with nothing to actually record.”
While the Grappelli track is a rediscovered joy, Mason admits listening back to the tapes of rubber bands and hand blenders was not such a pleasure: “Just painful really,” he says. “The problem with that is it’s something that can now be done in 10 minutes. It would be really easy to do now – pluck a rubber band, put it into the computer and it’ll give you two octaves of it – whereas we were trying to do it by recording, slowing it down and using a speed adjuster on the recorder to tune it.
“We were years ahead of our time,” he chuckles. “There’s quite a good argument that suggests you shouldn’t necessarily be ahead of your time because, give it long enough, and technology will have moved on.”
The surviving members of Pink Floyd – Mason, Roger Waters and David Gilmour – have been working on this new wave of reissues for more than two years; the final element, the “Experience” and “Immersion” remastered versions of their 1979 opus The Wall, are set for release in February 2012.
“I’m tempted to say we sat in a room and said ‘what on earth can we do now?’” Mason jokes. “The reality is that this whole enterprise was really led by EMI – much as I hate to give credit to the record company, painful though it is.
“EMI learned an awful lot from doing The Beatles Anthology and they did a presentation – which is not something they’ve done in the past with us – on the way it could work, and I think we thought ‘actually, yeah, this could actually be good’ – it did seem to move it on from yet another ‘best of’ – there was a sort of purpose to it, and judging by the response it has worked, because we were wary of being seen to be just repackaging everything again. By the time we’d finished with this and found enough stuff to make it interesting, I am pretty happy with it.”
That’s not to say this whole process hasn’t thrown up a few regrets for the trio – a chance to say “ah, if only we’d...” And doesn’t just mean the abandoned Household Objects experiment.
Mason admits that, unlike what “archivist” Bill Wyman did for The Rolling Stones, neither he, Waters or Gilmour have ever been much good at keeping memorabilia from their 40-plus years career.
In Mason’s case it’s little more than the odd tour T-shirt – but even that’s better than the other two, apparently.
In retrospect he admits they should have kept hold of more “souvenirs”: “We should have done, but we should have done a number of other things,” he says.
“The saddest thing is we never filmed the early Dark Side shows – they’d be a bit antiquated now, but to some extent there were so many things there that would have been quite interesting to look at now.
“But hey, you can’t do everything...”
* The Immersion and Experience editions of Wish You Were Here are out now on EMI A Foot In The Door – The Best of Pink Floyd was also released this week www.pinkfloyd.com
(Rock) star in a reasonably priced car...?
Aside from his work behind the drums for Pink Floyd, Nick Mason’s other passion in life is cars – notably ‘Rosso Corsa’ (race red) Ferraris.
Through his own Ten Tenths company he owns and races several classic cars, including a prized Ferrari 250GTO (valued at over £15 million) and a Ferrari Enzo (one of only 400 made) – which he famously lent to BBC’s Top Gear.
But while his car has been on the popular motoring show, Mason himself has yet to take the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car challenge, despite being invited several times:
“They have asked me, and I have said that at some point I will now,” Mason reveals.
“I used to say I really wasn’t interested because it could only work against me, because everybody knows I do quite a lot of racing and I thought I don’t want to be on the grid with people coming up to me going ‘oh I saw you were beaten by a celeb chef and a comic’, but I am heading towards retirement on the motor racing front, so I am more prepared to make a fool of myself.”