Photo: Wikipedia

Nick Mason and a trip down Pink Floyd’s memory lane

We once had a colleague, a Motoring Writer in Newcastle, Australia, who was on a trip to England in the 1990s and went to have a look around the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon village, Warwickshire. He began chatting to a fellow enthusiast, and the bloke said he was in a band, a drummer. Our man asked if it was anyone he might know. “Pink Floyd,” replied the fellow. Nick Mason.

Great story, and as Floyd fans (early and middle era fans) we wish it had been us it happened to, but that doesn’t stop us repeating the anecdote on occasion. And it came to mind again recently when we noted that Mason will be in town on May 30 with his band Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, formed in 2018, “Playing the Early Music of Pink Floyd” on their Echoes Tour when it reaches Budapest Park.

Unfortunately our Motoring Writer’s middling salary (and probably some resistance on the part of his wife) put an expensive Aston Martin pretty much out of reach. Mason, on the other hand, has an estimated wealth of USD 180,000,000 according to three wesbites that profess to know about these things (private though they may be) and for him an Aston would be merely another bauble.  (A couple of lesser dollar estimates can also be seen on Google but we like the big figure.)

Still, such rarefied numbers are often flexible and conveniently rounded off, and we also find estimates that Pink Floyd’s 15 studio albums have sold somewhere around 250 million copies, and the royalties from these and world-conquering stadium tours have allowed Mason to indulge his passion as a petrolhead of the highest order. He owns a hugely valuable collection of sensational machinery, some 40-plus classic cars.

Surprisingly perhaps, as the band’s resident timekeeper it is Mason who is actually the only member of the hugely successful rock group to have been a constant throughout its career, deploying his sticks on every album from the debut effort, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” in 1967, through to “The Endless River” in 2014. And even if he’s banked the full USD 180,000,000 he’s still the “poorest” of the four key members, having the least songwriting royalties.

Nicholas Berkeley Mason was born on January 27, 1944, in Edgbaston, Birmingham, England, the son of documentary filmmaker Bill Mason and Sally Mason. Young Nick was raised in Hampstead, London, and after school he went on to study architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic, now the University of Westminster.

Here Mason teamed up with Roger Waters, Richard Wright and others in 1964 to form the rudimentary rhythm and blues group Sigma 6, and then a year later The Abdabs, or Screaming Abdabs. These were the predecessors to Pink Floyd, which got under way in 1965 with the addition of Syd Barrett. Soon, the band’s extended compositions, sonic experimentation and psychedelic light show made them a leading exemplar of the English underground music scene. Band and fans alike enjoyed wacky bakky and dodgy blotting paper.

Mason gave up studying architecture in 1966 when the fledgling Floyd signed their first management deal. He always planned to go back to it if playing drums in a progressive rock band didn’t work out. It did. Over the years, Pink Floyd became one of the most commercially successful and musically influential groups in the history of rock music. The studio releases that brought them real worldwide success were “The Dark Side of the Moon” (1973), “Wish You Were Here” (1975), “Animals” (1977) and “The Wall” (1979).

The songs that are solely credited to Mason include “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party Parts 1-3” (from “Ummagumma”) and “Speak to Me” (from “The Dark Side of the Moon”). “Speak to Me” is mainly spoken snippets by various people around the band and wasn’t really “composed” as such; Mason reportedly got the songwriting credit to boost his income compared with the band’s real songwriters, Waters, Wright and David Gilmour, who had replaced Barrett in 1967. The latter’s drug use and increasingly fractious state of mind had rendered him a liability.

Mason once moaned in an interview about the huge number of Floyd bootlegs, from which the band received no money. Waters simply commented that collecting bootlegs seemed like “a perfectly healthy hobby”. The Budapest Times confesses here to a nice little collection of such bootlegs, containing live performances and studio rarities, and we apologise to Mason for not adding to his USD 180,000,000.

Outside his Floyd career, Mason released one solo studio album, the forgotten “Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports”, in 1981. He wrote the books “Into the Red, Twenty-two classic cars that shaped a century of motor sport”, published in 1998, and “Inside Out. A Personal History of Pink Floyd”, the only autobiography from a band member, published in 2005.

In 2012 Mason received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Westminster at the presentation ceremony of the School of Architecture and Built Environment, in recognition of his architecture studies. In 2019 he officially became a part of the British royal order, being awarded Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his outstanding work in music spanning more than five decades.

As the owner of his eclectic collection of priceless automobiles, Mason commented: “Cars are my thing. Originally when they told me I’d got this award they said it’s for music – I thought they were going to say it’s for services to the used-car trade.”

He competes in motor racing and fun events, such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, London to Brighton veteran car run and Goodwood Festival of Speed/ Goodwood Members’ Meeting. Perhaps the highlight of his fabled collection is a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, which is one of just 36 built and now worth more than £40,000,000 after he bought it for £37,000 in the 1970s on the back of the massive success enjoyed by “The Dark Side of the Moon”.

This is considered to be one of the most valued cars for collectors. Others he owns are a 1957 Maserati 250F, which is one of just 26 made and was voted “the world’s greatest racing car” in 2009, a 1955 Jaguar D-Type, 1927 Bugatti Type 35B, 1953 Ferrari 250MM, 1901 Panhard 5-litre, 1996 McLaren F1 GTR and a 1935 Aston Martin Ulster. We read he also has a Wartburg, Trabant and a Model-T that belonged to Laurel and Hardy.

His own musical outfit, Saucerful of Secrets, is named after the Floyd’s second album, released in June 1968. His talented friends in the band are guitarists Lee Harris and Gary Kemp, keyboardist Dom Beken and longtime Floyd associate Guy Pratt on bass. They focus only on pre-“Dark Side” material. Expect “Interstellar Overdrive”, “Astronomy Domine”, “Lucifer Sam”, “Fearless”, “Remember a Day”, “Arnold Layne”, “Vegetable Man”, “If”, “Atom Heart Mother”, “The Nile Song”, “Green Is the Colour”, “Let There Be More Light”, “Childhood’s End”, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, “See Emily Play”, “Bike”, “One of These Days”, “Saucerful of Secrets” and “Point Me at the Sky”. Not “Another Brick in the Wall” or “Comfortably Numb”.

At 78 years of age Mason obviously still enjoys the band life, rather than adding to his bank account.

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