Cre/ation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd

Cre/ation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd

With Floydian Slip's Craig Bailey

Produced by Joyride Media and hosted by Floydian Slip's Craig Bailey, this 60-minute syndicated radio special coincided with the release of "The Early Years: 1965-1972" boxset.

The program contains an interview with Pink Floyd's Nick Mason, and aired on stations in November/December 2016.

Complete program transcript

Nick Mason (NM): We were evolving our own sounds, but also of course, but we were learning how to play the bloody instruments. It was an inevitable development, and yeah, I think it shows throughout that period.

Craig Bailey (CB): Pink floyd was not a band that sprang out into the world fully formed. From their start as a college band in the mid-1960s, Pink Floyd evolved over the years to become what it is. For the next hour, we'll hear how the band came together and more from drummer and founding member Nick Mason. I'm Craig Bailey. Welcome to "Creation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd."

Nick Mason met Roger Waters and Richard Wright at architecture college.

NM: I do remember our first meetings, cause we didn't immediately bond. It wasn't like the Monkees and we became great friends immediately. As far as I remember, Roger tried to borrow my car, and I wouldn't lend it to him, and Roger tried to get a cigarette from Rick, and Rick wouldn't give him a cigarette, so the omens were not good initially, but eventually someone asked us if we'd play a couple of songs that he had written and he wanted to play them to a publisher. So we learned these songs, and obviously sort of became a band because of learning these songs. And the publisher said the songs were quite good, but the band was truly dreadful, which of course fired us to greater things.

At that time, apart from anything else, college was free and you were given a grant. So I remember the day the grant came through for Roger and we went down to Tottencourt Road and bought a bass guitar with it, and the change we used to buy a curry, I think.

CB: Syd Barrett joined the band in 1965. Nick Mason.

NM: First of all, we were a college band consisting of Rick, Roger and myself, and what happened was they knew Syd from Cambridge, not they, Roger in particular knew him, and he was rated as sort of one of the bright young musicians in Cambridge, and he was coming to London to go to art school. So there was a big arrangement, really, that Syd would join the band, and this of course is what transformed us from doing the odd cover to having a repertoire of original songs.

CB: At first, they called themselves The Tea Set, then found out that name was taken. They switched to "The Pink Floyd Sound," taken from two blues musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Eventually, they removed "Sound" from the name.

(Music: Flaming)

CB: "Flaming" played by Pink Floyd on John Peel's BBC show. Pink Floyd's audience grew in London in the mid-1960s, where the drug of choice was LSD. They played psychedelic music along with elaborate light shows at underground clubs like the UFO. EMI Records signed the group in early 1967.

NM: Almost immediately what happened was, we'd done some shows in London, and our career began to take off, we got a record deal, and we were immediately put in the back of a transit van and sent around the north of England. So while all these hippies were dressing in flowered trousers and walking around the streets of London smoking dope, we were somewhere on the M5 on our way to Birmingham to play at some top rank ballroom where the audience was hoping a soul band was turning up and were bitterly disappointed when we appeared.

To try and give you a sort of handle on where England was in early '67 I guess, we did one show, we were a support band to quite a big raft of entertainers and it was in Suffolk, I think, or Essex, anyway we were first or second on the bill, and then Cream was on after us, and then after Cream was Jimi Hendrix, and then after Jimi Hendrix was Gina Washington and the Ramjam Band, who were the biggest act in England at the time, playing Otis Redding songs.

We were playing London at this time, but we were only playing let's say once a week in London and another 6 days of the week around the country, and the London shows would be far more partisan, cause it would be the UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road or places like that that had a very specific audience that was our fan base, really. So that was great, but as I say, once a week is not really good enough if the other 5 days are full of disapproving punters.

(Music [excerpt]: Matilda Mother)

CB: A bit of "Matilda Mother" played by Pink Floyd. You're listening to "Creation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd." I'm Craig Bailey. Pink Floyd's debut album was "Piper at the Gates of Dawn." Drummer Nick Mason.

NM: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn consists of virtually entirely Syd songs, apart from Interstellar Overdrive, which is sort of the four of us basically improvising, and Doctor Doctor, which is not one of Roger's strongest songs, and not really an indicator of how great his songs would become.

I mean, the funny thing with Syd's songwriting is that it actually encompasses a rather broad range of genres, almost. So you've got these kind of whimsical things, sort of pastoral — The Gnome, Bike, Scarecrow — which are very English accent songs about rural life and they're sort of musings, almost. And then you've got Astronomy Domine, which is a full on rock, space moment. But it's still quite structured, unlike Interstellar Overdrive, for instance, which was basically an opportunity for improvising more or less from beginning to end. So it's very hard, if you're trying to look for who Syd is through his songwriting, it's complicated because it covers so many different areas, almost.

CB: Before the album came out, the band released a couple of singles. The first was "Arnold Layne."

NM: I mean, in some ways it's a funny song, there is an element, it's sort of a true story. Arnold Layne was this guy in Cambridge who'd keep stealing underwear, ladies underwear, from the washing lines, and I didn't feel it was particularly shocking or was going to affect the morals of the young generation, but the BBC, still surprised that the BBC saw fit to ban that, and one of the pirate stations followed suit. Whereas, they were very happy 6 months later to play Walk On The Wild Side by Lou Reed. But that's English morals for you. We can abide all sorts of appalling sort of transsexuals, what have you, but we can not abide the stealing of ladies underwear.

(Music: Arnold Layne)

CB: "Arnold Layne" played by Pink Floyd. The second single that Pink Floyd released in 1967 was "See Emily Play." Drummer and founding member Nick Mason.

NM: I think it is about a girl Syd knew, it's really I'd suppose you'd say it's a love song of sorts, but it was important to us because it was not banned by the BBC and did become a hit. Sadly not a #1, because Procol Harem released Whiter Shade Of Pale and week after week we used to think well surely that'll be dropping and we might go up a notch, and it stuck in there for years, it felt like years. But it was an interesting song because it was very important to us in terms of being successful, and it uses some recording techniques that we'd not come across before, and I think it was Joe Boyd who'd done this double speed piano in the middle of it, which we'd never really encountered that sort of business of being able to manipulate the sound to that extent. So that was a really sort of useful moment where you realize there are so many possibilities in a recording studio.

I think that's one the great things that EMI did for us when they put us in Abbey Road, was they let us learn there. You have to remember that at this point in time, I mean I know a number of my contemporaries who were in successful bands, but were never even allowed in the control room. The engineer and the producer would more or less get them to play the song, then they would send them off the pub and then they would work on how to assemble it. Whereas Abbey Road and EMI absolutely understood that we wanted to learn about how the studio worked. They weren't always so keen for us to touch everything, but they absolutely showed us how things worked and eventually were very happy to let us manipulate the faders or do whatever it was.

(Music: See Emily Play)

CB: "See Emily Play" by Pink Floyd. Coming up, more stories from Nick Mason and a lot of music. I'm Craig Bailey, and you're listening to "Creation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd."


CB: Welcome back to "Creation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd." I'm Craig Bailey. Pink Floyd's main songwriter and front man Syd Barrett began to behave erratically. Sometimes he'd miss a show or just stare off into space. Syd's childhood friend David Gilmour was brought into the band to help as guitarist and singer.They began work on their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets. It included Syd's last song for the band. Drummer Nick Mason.

NM: Well, with Jugband Blues, Syd said that he wanted a proper silver band, it's a very distinctive sound. I mean these bands, there's not so many around, but they tended to be based around factory workers, either that or the Salvation Army and made up entirely of wind instruments, and I don't know who booked them or where they came from or whatever, but they were brought into the studio and set them to work, and it's a curiously mournful sound, isn't it? I think, very distinctive.

(Music: Jugband Blues)

CB: "Jugband Blues" played by Pink Floyd. Because of the way he was acting, the relationship between Syd Barrett and the rest of the band got worse and worse. They tried in their own way to figure it out. Founding member Nick Mason.

NM: Well, rather badly, how we dealt with Syd's condition. Syd was so deteriorating as a member of a band, and we're fond of saying we don't really know what happened, which is true, and saying we think that it was LSD that acted particularly badly on him, which is also true. But I also think there's something else there, which is something we'd absolutely never even crossed our minds, which was that actually Syd had decided he didn't want to be in a rock and roll band. Syd actually was a very talented painter, and I think he thought he'd actually like to go back to art school. But this was so impossible for us to grasp that we assumed he must be ill, which as I say, I think he was as well. So instead of sort of dealing with it in a sensible way, which might have been to say much earlier to him, 'okay fine, you do that, we'll carry on,' we kept sort of trying to work out what the problem was and make him better by having, you know, taking time off or giving him a rest day or whatever. I mean, when I look back on it, it's sort of ludicrous, but we just didn't know any better at the time.

The fact of the matter is you tend to start when you're young guys and on your own, and eventually you become, you know, you get married, you have children, whatever, and the relationships change. And, of course, it's much easier at the beginning when you share an absolute common goal, and that goal gets a bit fragmented further down the line, different people want different things.

(Music [excerpt]: In The Beechwoods)

CB: With Syd Barrett not part of Pink Floyd, they carried on with David Gilmour.

NM: They didn't restart, they actually sort of seamlessly flowed from one thing to another, or perhaps not entirely seamlessly, but basically it wasn't a restart, it was a transition. It was a fairly rapid transition in terms of live playing, because we did about 3 or 4 gigs with 5 of us playing and that was it. But the actual transition musically took about a year, really, from mid '68 to mid '69. David, the four of us were playing Syd songs, with David singing Syd songs and in some cases, miming to Syd songs.

It's interesting, it's interesting to compare sort of, or to consider a number of bands where the main man has left, and in some cases the band then disappears, but in other cases, it picks itself back up and reinvents itself and carries on — I'm fond of citing Fleetwood Mac, because they had so many people who came and went, and also Genesis, but we were not dissimilar, that we lost our main man, but we actually, with Rick and Roger and David all eventually stepped up and wrote.

CB: Roger Waters and David gGilmour co-wrote a song at the end of 1968 and released it as a single.

(Music: Point Me At The Sky)

CB: "Point Me at the Sky" played by Pink Floyd. You're listening to "Creation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd." I'm Craig Bailey. In 1969, director Barbet Schroeder asked Pink Floyd to create a soundtrack to his film, "More." Drummer Nick Mason.

NM: I think Barbet came to us and said he was a fan and he'd got this movie, and I think we jumped at it, because we were interested in film anyway, but I think also we could see that it would be a really, it would suit the way we like to work, because we were not hooked into having to do songs of a classical setup in terms of verse/chorus/verse/chorus or whatever, middle 8. We were happy to do a sort of 30 second piece of music that had to maybe link a couple of scenes or whatever, and in some cases, the music could be arrhythmic, didn't matter, so it actually the timing was not critical. When we did the first Barbet film, we didn't have access to SMPTE code or anything, sort of time clocks. We'd go into the screening room and simply with a stopwatch and note the amount of time the music was required to cover, and then we'd go away and record it for about that sort of length, and it worked perfectly, actually. Barbet could then edit the film slightly to make sure things fitted properly. But it was a relatively easy job.

CB: Some of the songs found a new life in Pink Floyd's stage show, The Man and The Journey.

NM: Basically it was sort of the beginning of the idea of the concept album, but the concept stage show, and The Man and The Journey was really two parts to a live performance that we gave wherever, I can't remember if it was the Albert Hall or the Queen Elizabeth theater. It had some songs within it, but actually there were a lot of fairly strange sections to it. So it was the beginning of what became Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast on Meddle, it was a more elaborate version where there was a percussion piece where we actually hammered a table together by sawing up wood and nailing it together, then putting a burner on it so we could boil a kettle so that the kettle would then whistle in the right key for the next song to start or whatever. So I say, my memory of it is a little hazy, but it did involve a lot of running around the stage banging, sawing, shouting and being incredibly avant garde.

(Music: Green is the Colour/Careful With That Axe, Eugene)

CB: "Green Is the Colour" and "Careful with That Axe, Eugene" performed by Pink Floyd. Coming up, more music from Pink Floyd and conversation with founding member Nick Mason. I'm Craig Bailey, and you're listening to "Creation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd."


CB: Welcome back to "Creation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd." I'm Craig Bailey.

(Music: On The Highway)

CB: "On the Highway" performed by Pink Floyd. It's one of many songs recorded for the movie "Zabriskie Point," but never made it into the film. Drummer and founding member of Pink Floyd, Nick Mason.

NM: Well, Zabriskie Point was, by then we were working with proper time code and everything else, but we were also working with a director who, I won't say was less of a fan, but wanted much more control, which meant that even if we'd done a piece of music and it seemed to work, he needed us to do it again and again so that he could then choose one of the versions in order to retain control. And in some cases, we'd do a number of different versions of it, and he'd end up using the Grateful Dead anyway. So it was hard work, Zabriskie Point, but there were ideas that were developed for Zabriskie that ended up on Dark Side, so nothing is ever wasted, we recycle.

(Music: The Riot Scene)

CB: "The Riot Scene" played by Pink Floyd for the Zabriskie Point soundtrack. It never made it to the film, but became the basis for the song "Us and Them" on the album "Dark Side of the Moon." Pink Floyd's sound grew and changed through the late '60s and early '70s. Drummer Nick Mason.

NM: We were evolving our own sounds, but also of course, but we were learning how to play the bloody instruments. At the point at which we signed our record contract, I'd played a bit of drums, but only a bit, but 2 years later, I'd done 250 shows and spent I don't know how many hours in the recording studio, so I'd finally learned how to hold on to my sticks without dropping them all the time. It was an inevitable development, and yeah, I think it shows throughout that period.

CB: The band recorded this version of "Embryo" in 1968 for a record company promotional album.

(Music [excerpt]: Embryo)

CB: Two years later, Pink Floyd played "Embryo" live on the BBC.

(Music [excerpt]: Embryo

CB: A bit of "Embryo" performed by Pink Floyd. You're listening to "Creation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd." I'm Craig Bailey. 1970 was also the year that Pink Floyd created Atom Heart Mother, a multi-part instrumental piece.

(Music [excerpt]: Atom Heart Mother)

CB: Nick Mason.

NM: I think we always maintained an interest in sort of long-form music, and certainly with Saucerful of Secrets, it's one of the tracks that I'm really rather proud of, is the title track, because I think the way it's actually assembled and the way it runs through 3 sort of entirely different movements, really, is something that was to continue on through almost everything else we ever did.

We were discovering a lot about sound at the time. Most of it would be discovered in the recording studio, because it was really, we'd suddenly gone from 4 track to 8 track, and there were all sorts of new noise controlling Dolby system noise reduction, Aphex noise reduction, limiters, compressors, there was a whole new world of guitar pedals and voice treatments that were coming out at the time, so it was absolutely down our street, really.

CB: Pink Floyd experimented in the studio a lot. This next song was a work in progress that would eventually turn into the 23 minute epic called "Echoes."

(Music: Nothing, Pt. 14)

CB: "Nothing, Part 14" performed by Pink Floyd. It later became the song "Echoes" on the album "Meddle." Work on "Dark Side of the Moon" started in mid-1972, but before that, Barbet Schroeder called on Pink Floyd again. He wanted songs for a new film called "The Valley." Because of a fight with the film company, the band released the soundtrack with the title "Obscured by Clouds." Drummer Nick Mason.

NM: Obscured By Clouds I'd say was very similar to More in that we now knew Barbet quite well and knew roughly what he liked and wanted. Again, it was a very easy process, really. We did most of the recording at Strawberry Studios, Chateau Arrivale, just outside Paris, and I wouldn't say it was easy, but it was amazing how quickly it was all done, I mean it was about 2 or 3 weeks work, I think.

CB: One song was by David Gilmour, and it would be the last Pink Floyd tune written only by him. He also took a break from writing lyrics after this — for 15 years. "Childhood's End" was based on a science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Again, Nick Mason.

NM: We moved as a herd, or a pack, and yeah there was a big interest in sci-fi and we'd all have the books and then we'd swap books, you know, and then it was fringe jackets and we wanted to look like cowboys and then I can't remember what followed that, but yeah. If one person was into it, usually we all were for a while. Southern Comfort was also another big enthusiasm for a while.

(Music: Childhood's End)

CB: "Childhood's End" performed by Pink Floyd in 1972. "Creation: The Early Years of Pink Floyd" was produced by Joyride Media. Our executive producers are Greg Linn and Eric Molk. Our associate producer is Andy Cahn. All songs on this program can be found on the Pink Floyd Records/Columbia Records release "Cre/ation — Pink Floyd: The Early Years, 1967-1972." Special thanks go to Paul Loasby, Andy Murray, Elena Bello, Jo Greenwood, Tony Smith, Adam Block, Greg Linn, Charlie Stanford, Elliott Stubbs, Angela Sabetta, Tom Cording and Fran Defeo. I'm Craig Bailey, and thanks for listening.