Regardless of what some may think, Nick Mason is one of the most important drummers of the past six decades. He ballasted Pink Floyd’s mythic prog odyssey, and without his tremendously understated brilliance, they would not have been the same band, particularly throughout their classic 1970s period. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, Mason was the principal mind behind some of their best pieces, including ‘Echoes’ and ‘Speak to Me’, showing just how undervalued he is a drummer and songwriter too.
An accomplished drummer, taking his cues from the likes of Ginger Baker and Gene Krupa, it is actually quite a shocking fact that Mason gets overlooked by the musos of the world, as he was the only member Pink Floyd to feature on all of their albums, even if it was in varying capacities towards the latter stages. Mason was the last man standing from their long adventure that started back in 1965. This is a colossal feat, and the question of just how it has long been forgotten in the dense annals of music history is a real head-scratcher.
Of course, another reason that Mason is overlooked is the virtuosity of his Floyd peers David Gilmour, Roger Waters and Richard Wright. Added to this is the opaque mythos that celebrates the band’s original frontman and founder, Syd Barrett. Barrett’s tragic life and personality has understandably resulted in mountains of discourse that have overshadowed Mason.
Of course, none of this is Mason’s fault, it’s just indicative of how chance can be the defining feature of a musician’s life. We don’t doubt for a second that all Mason wanted was to enjoy artistic and economic success with the band — and for his old friend Syd to have never succumbed to the demons that had long plagued him.
Naturally, given how we consume music, the songwriting partnership of Waters and Gilmour was a spectre that always pushed Mason’s efforts to the side because of the sheer volume of genius music they composed. For instance, Waters and Gilmour wrote the majority of Pink Floyd’s best material, so there’s no surprise why they are the ones constantly lauded in the media. It’s cynical, but frontmen have always been more glamorous to the consumer than drummers.
Of course, to diehard Pink Floyd fans, Mason’s integral stature is fully understood. The son of documentary maker Bill Mason and a self-confessed petrolhead, Mason is a colourful character in his own right and is perhaps the most regular face in the media. He has competed in the lauded 24 Hours of Le Mans race and even owns a stake in Bolton Wanderers football club, just to add more flavour to Mason’s experimental personality — but we digress. This piece is a wake-up call to consumers of rock everywhere. Without Nick Mason, Pink Floyd would not have been the same band. In a way, he set a precedent for future rock drummers-cum-songwriters, including Neil Peart and Dave Grohl. The implications of this last point are huge and cannot be ignored.
If we quickly take a look at a handful of the songs penned by Mason, you realise just how talented of a musician he really is. The gargantuan ‘Echoes’ is without a doubt the masterpiece he helped to create, but there are so many other fan favourites that he personally masterminded. Songs such as ‘One of These Days’, ‘Up the Khyber’, ‘The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party’ all prop up Mason’s best efforts.
Evidently, many can be found during the greener years of Floyd’s career, but this shouldn’t negate his efforts over the years. His collaborative work with Gilmour and Wright on 2014’s ‘Skins’ is a clear example that his talent has not waned over the years, and that, if anything, it has grown.
One of the most underrated musicians in history, it’s about time Nick Mason is shown more love by the music consumer. Much like when Roger Waters left the band, if Mason were the one to walk away, Pink Floyd just wouldn’t have been the same, a testament to his skill.