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Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason: My Five Favorite Syd Barrett Songs

“I realize now how young and immature we were and how hopeless we were at coming to grips with Syd’s breakdown,” drummer says

Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets - Nick MasonNick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets in concert, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK - 25 Sep 2018

Jason Sheldon/REX/Shutterstock

For the past two decades, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason was forced to watch from the sidelines while Roger Waters and David Gilmour launched their own wildly-successful solo tours with sets packed full of Floyd classics. Last year, he decided to finally put together his own touring unit called Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, but he’s putting a unique spin on things by exclusively playing songs the group wrote before their 1973 commercial breakthrough Dark Side of the Moon. Many of those tunes were written by Syd Barrett, and we spoke to Mason about five of his favorite songs by the madcap founder of the group.

“Astronomy Domine”
This is such a great drum track in an interesting time signature. I also think it’s got a great science fiction vibe to it. It’s interstellar, but it’s also a bit more astrology. And then there’s a fantastic bit of Sixties philosophy mixed with a sort of psychedelic lyric. For me, it’s also really fun to play because of the tempo. It reminds me a little bit of Ginger Baker, who was a huge influence on me. There’s a Ginger Baker-style of drum fill in this song. The track begins with our manager reading the names of the planets. Those were the days when management was involved in the artistic decisions as well as the business.

“Bike”
From what I remember about this song, all of the clocks on it were recorded for real. The lyrics to this are so very Syd, astonishingly clever. It’s fun, but there’s a depth of sadness to them. When I listen to it now, I realize how young and immature we were and how hopeless we were at coming to grips with Syd’s breakdown.

“Interstellar Overdrive”
This is a track that is open to improvisation and reinterpretation. When you play the opening riffs, you can freestyle it so many different ways. At the moment, we have one way of playing it, but I think once we get back on the road, I’m hoping it will take some other directions.

“Vegetable Man”
A wonderful song. It sounds relatively simple, but it’s actually a bit more complicated and almost punk. It’s sort of four snare beats to the bar, which is a very sort of punk way of drumming. So many songs were written by Syd in such a short time period. It was less than two years from our first public show in October of 1967. At that time we only had two or three original songs. And just about a year later, it was already sort of burning out.

“Arnold Layne”
This is a really unusual song. It’s part of the late-1960s thing where suddenly songs are more than just “I’m gonna get you, babe.” The weird thing is that I think back in 67, and the end of 66, we thought we wanted to be an R&B band, and somehow got completely distracted by writings songs like this and “Bike” and “The Gnome” and that whole rather weird English way of life.

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