Discovering Nick Mason

I must first confess that I am late to the party when it comes to Nick Mason. I’ve heard and admired plenty of Pink Floyd songs over the years (including owning the live album A Delicate Sound of Thunder). My dad is a huge Pink Floyd fan, so their music was in my house while growing up. That said, I never fully appreciated the drumming of Nick Mason until recently. Mason is a founding member the progressive rock band, the only member to feature on every Pink Floyd album, and the only constant member since its formation in 1965. Listen to any song off The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon and you’ll hear Mason’s masterful drumming, dynamic at times and delicate at others.

Clearly Mason was influenced by the swing era. His abstract approach to the drums and open tuning is part of his signature. His kits are also an extension of the big band approach as he uses both single and double headed concert toms for that huge sound. Many of his performances sound as though he is sitting in an enormous studio with lots of echo. He also uses percussion, electronic drums and Rototoms as an extension of his sound. Mason used these when soloing within the band’s songs. This includes Nick’s Boogie, A Saucer of Secrets, The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party, Skins, and Time. Due to the more energetic live performances of Pink Floyd, Mason’s style was more complex live, and can be heard on such albums as Ummagumma and Live at Pompeii.

In an article for Financial Times. Mason described his laid-back style: “That’s my natural way of playing. I was never a technical drummer or a student of drumming. I’m a worrier. I’ve always had a low opinion of my drumming skills, I suppose because I don’t have the technical background. I do realize that what I do works and now I am comfortable with it, but I always felt a bit ill at ease about it. I only took up drumming in the first place because someone else had got a guitar and we were forming a band and I was buggered if I was going to be the bass player. That’s the truth. I like the drums, but that was more or less how it panned out.”

I would describe Mason’s style as the gravy that pours over your food. It’s so smooth and compliments everything it touches. It’s easy to overlook what can be considered as “simple” drum parts but there are two factors that remain. 1. It unselfishly compliments the song. And 2. Someone had to ingeniously compose that part to begin with. Mason’s drum parts are exactly what the song calls for. An uneducated ear might call some of them “lazy” while musicians refer to them as “genius.” The Rototom intro to Time for instance is so simple yet brilliant (see below).

Pink Floyd stopped performing together officially in 2008. In 2018 Mason announced his new band, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. The band focuses on performing tracks from Pink Floyd’s emergent years of 1967-1972. Drumming has taken Mason far beyond his bands. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2019 New Year Honours, “for services to music” and was presented with the award by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace on May 2, 2019.

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