Originally printed in Zigzag in 1973
(Transcript thanks to Natalie Lyons) Speak To Me
Taken from Mojo: The Who and the Story of 70s Rock. Originally printed in Zigzag in 1973.
In 1973, just as The Dark Side of the Moon was about to eclipse the world, Zigzag magazine’s Connor McKnight cornered Roger Waters and Nick Mason for a rare interview. The topics: Syd Barrett, Marcel Proust, “crumpet” on the road, and much more besides…
Years ago, when Arsenal were an interesting football team, and I had the time, I used to go to see them at Highbury. An old acquaintance of mine from university used to meet me there, and this big tall geezer, who didn’t say much but who looked fairly familiar, often accompanied him. ‘Probably someone else from university,’ I thought.
After about two years of nodding, I eventually asked him what he did for a living. “I’m a musician,” he replied. “Oh yeah, what sort exactly?” I riposted. “I’m in a group called The Pink Floyd,” he said, in much the same way that you might tell someone that you work for J Walter Thompson (the world’s oldest advertising agency). It was Roger Waters.
Eventually I managed to screw up enough effrontery to ask for an interview. The only problem was that he had told Michael Wale in his book Voxpop that he couldn’t stand these people who asked where the group got their name from, and that seemed to me to be exactly the sort of question that I would want to ask, plus a few other not altogether trivial matters that hopefully he could clear up. We finally agreed to meet at his house, but when we arrived we were directed to a Mr Mason’s residence, about 50p’s worth of a taxi away. In conversation with Roger Waters, Pink Floyd’s bassist, and Nick Mason, Pink Floyd’s drummer, the following was gleaned…
Where did you get your name from?
RW: (groans) Oh no… you can make something up.
In an earlier Zigzag, we chronicled the early days of The Pink Floyd. The story was told from the point of view of Peter Jenner, one half of Blackhill Enterprises who discovered Pink Floyd and managed them for a few years. Was the story we ran about the meeting with Peter Jenner the way you remember it?
RW: Yes, as far as I can remember it. He must have come to a gig. Maybe it was one of those funny things at the Marquee. But had and [co-manager] Andrew King approached us and said, “You lads could be bigger than the Beatles”, and we sort of looked at him and replied in a dubious tone, “Yes, well, we’ll see you when we get back from our hols”, because we were all shooting off for some sun on the Continent. We like to think that we would have made it anyway, later on maybe. We definitely don’t believe in the myth of managers making bands.
Were you influenced by American bands, apart from the R&B stuff. For example, Interstellar Overdrive [from Floyd’s first album, 1967’s The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn] seems to me to have a very Velvet Underground feel to it?
NM: We never heard much of that.
RW: hat was nicked from Love wasn’t it? It was a cross between the theme to Steptoe and Son and that Love track on their first album, which I can’t remember.
NM: I’d never heard any of those bands. Someone in the band had Authentic R&B Volumes I to III – lots of Bo Diddley – but we never heard any of the other American stuff… It was a complete amazement to us when we did hear them in the States. There was such confusion. People would come over and talk about those far-out West Coast bands like Jefferson Airplane and Sopwith Camel, a whole string of names, half of which were bubblegum groups.
RW: And the others were country blues bands.
But you were listening to Love, they were pretty unknown at that time.
NM: We weren’t listening to Love. Peter Jenner was. We were listening to Cream and The Who, Hendrix. That was what turned me on to being in a band again.
Was it true, as Jenner was quoted as saying at the time, that he got you to drop the R&B stuff?
RW: No, that’s absolute rubbish. He had little influence over what we played at all. The idea that Peter Jenner steered us away from Roadrunner into a new realm of psychedelia is crap. As Syd [Barrett, Floyd’s original frontman] wrote more songs, we dropped others from the repertoire. But we went on doing Roadrunner and Gimme a Break and all that stuff for years.
What was the UFO Club like for you? Was it as magical as legend now has it?
NM: It’s got rosier with age, but there is a germ of truth in it, because for a brief moment it looked as though there might actually be some combining of activities. People would go down to this place, and a number of people would do a number of things, rather than simply one band performing. There would be some mad actors, a couple of light shows, perhaps the recitation of some poetry or verse, and a lot of wondering about and a lot of cheerful chatter going on.
RW: Mind you, there were still freaks standing at the side of the stage screaming that we’d sold out.
NM: Actually, Roger, that was usually the other band. One night we played with a band called The Brothers Grimm, and that night at least, it was either the band or their lady friends. I remember that well because it hit hard.
What about that other great legend, The Great Technicolour Dream [gig at Alexandra Palace, North London, 1967]?
RW: Oh that was a joke.
NM: That was the night we did East Dereham [in Norfolk] as well.
RW: I’ll never forget that night. We did a double header. Firs of all we played to a roomful of about 500 gypsies, hurling abuse and fighting, and then we did Ally Pally… There was so much dope and acid around in those days that I don’t think anyone can remember anything about anything.
What did you think of Pete Murray saying on Juke Box Jury that you were just a cult?
RW: Now he didn’t say that. This is where my memory doesn’t play tricks, because it will always remain crystal clear. (Menacingly) He said we were a con. He thought it was just contrived rubbish to meet some kind of unhealthy demand. Well… the man’s an idiot. A fifth-rate idiot, and always has been.
I remember David Jacobs – or maybe it was Pete Murray – saying, in tones of a magistrate, “I understand that there is a lot of this psychedelic stuff in America, but I very much hope that it doesn’t catch on here.”
NM: That’s fantastic. That programme obviously had a great impact on people. The nice thing is that we can all remember it after all these years, and see that they’ve all been made to look very stupid.
RW: But both our first two singles [Arnold Layne and See Emily Play] were so bloody innocuous, there was nothing difficult about either of them.
NM: But people still say that. You know: ‘I have to listen very carefully, and I can just about understand the music.’
You got hassled by the BBC a couple of times, didn’t you?
RW: We had to change all the lyrics in one song [the B-side to Arnold Layne] because it was about rolling joints. It was called Let’s Roll Another One, and we had to change the title to Candy and a Currant Bun and it had lines in it like…
NM: “Tastes right if you eat it right”.
RW: No, they didn’t like that at all.
Doesn’t that contradict the image of the underground band – that you agreed to change the line?
NM: Christ, no. We were a rock’n’roll band, and if you’re a rock’n’roll band and you’ve got a record that you want to be Number 1, you get it played, and if they say take something out or whatever, you do it. In fact what you do is exactly what was done – you make as much press out of it as possible. You ring up the Evening Standard and say: “Did you know that the BBC won’t play our record because it mentions your paper?”
RW: That line was changed to Daily Standard to appease the BBC, but nobody ever heard it because it was such a lousy record.
You used to slag off a lot of your own records at the time. You once described It Would Be So Nice [Floyd’s fourth UK single] as complete trash, and added that anyone who bought it needed their head looking at.
RW: (Laughing) I think that’s the truth.
NM: It was an awful record, wasn’t it? At that period we had no direction. We were being hustled about to make hit singles. There’s so many people saying it’s important, you start to think it is important.
Did you get upset by the failure of your subsequent singles?
NM: No, I can’t understand why actually, but we didn’t.
You never had a feeling that you were rubbish – that maybe they were right?
NM: We may have thought that we weren’t good musicians but we never thought that they were right. It’s funny, but I never did feel that we’d had it when two singles slumped horribly – that it was all over.
You applied for an Arts Council Grant in 1968. What on earth was that about?
NM: (Amid explosions of laughter) It was another of Peter Jenner’s ideas.
RW: It was a bloody good idea.
NM: But the Arts Council just aren’t into subsidising bands.
RW: Peter is just great for ideas – free bands, free festivals and so on.
NM: There’s much more to it that that. Whatever we say about the now, they did discover us, and to some extent they discovered T-Rex. They definitely have a talent in a way that other people don’t.
But what was the grant meant to be for?
NM: I don’t think anyone really knew – to put on a film or some show, mainly just to keep the finances running, I should think. We’ve been heavily in debt ever since we started – up until a few years ago – and Blackhill was at the height of our indebtness – our debt peak.
RW: At the end of the week we’d all go in to get our cheques, and week by week people would start to go in earlier and earlier. They’d collect their cheque, dash around to their band and have it expressed, because there wasn’t enough to pay everybody, so whoever got their cheque first got their money. Cheques were just bouncing all the time because there wasn’t enough money in the account, and if the bank manager wouldn’t let the overdraft get bigger, then you didn’t get paid.
NM: They were usually seven, eight, maybe nine thousand overdrawn, but they were usually owed a fortune too.
Were Floyd gigs in the early days scary?
NM: No, not really. We got jolly annoyed but we weren’t really scared. We just went on and on and on. We never said, “Damn this, let’s pack it in”.
RW: Where was it that we actually had broken beer mugs smashing into the drumkit?
NM: East Dereham, and the California Ballroom, Dunstable.
RW: The California Ballroom was the one where they were pouring pints of beer on to us from the balcony. That was most unpleasant, and very, very dangerous too.
How much were you getting paid for that?
NM: Two hundred and fifty pounds, because we were a hit parade group and we could draw people.
RW: Went down after that, though, to about a ton.
NM: No. It never went down that low, Rog – maybe £135 once or twice.
RW: Actually, I remember the worst thing that ever happened to me was at The Feathers Club in Ealing, which was a penny thrown at me, which made a bloody great cut in the middle of my forehead. I bled quite a lot. And I stood right at the front of the stage, glowering in a real rage, and I was gonna leap out into the audience and get him. Happily, there was one freak who turned up who liked us, so the audience spent the whole evening beating the shit out of him and left us alone.
Have you ever gone in for smashing hotels and things like that?
But what do you do on the road in America to combat the boredom?
RW: Unlike most other bands, we’re not heavily into crumpet on the road. What we’re heavily into is swimming pools and trips to see or do things. If we can get together any kind of activity, we’ll all be into it. We play football, go to American football matches.
NM: And we have crazes like Monopoly and Backgammon. We also tend to work almost daily, which is important because otherwise it is so boring, but none of us are smashers.
In the early days, though, you have toured with other bands?…
NM: We don’t know any other bands really. The nearest we got to that was The Who, where we did about three gigs with them. It’s a whole area of social life that we’ve missed out on.
RW: I think The Who are still my favourite band to meet on the road, because they’re the same kind of people as we are really. They’re not all smashers. Moony’s a smasher, but he’s a very sophisticated smasher – he’s got it down to a fine art. When he’s not smashing, he’s incredibly amusing.
NM: He’s very good company to have a drink with. A lot of people are just drunken maniacs, just lurching about, being boring.
RW: The Who like a good chat, except for Roger Daltrey.
NM: You’ve never recovered from the time he thought Rick [Wright] was Eric Clapton. It was in a band room somewhere.
RW: At the Fillmore.
NM: He came up to Rick and said, “Hello man, good to see you.” And Rick was thinking, “Shit, that’s funny”.
RW: And when he realised he slunk off, and we’ve never seen him since.
In around 1968, you were saying that you wanted to do a rock circus…
NM: The circus was quite advanced in the organisation stage. We actually did have a big top but there was some fantastic reason why the tent people pulled out.
RW: We got a bit of that feel at the Earls Court gigs last week. When we were setting up, I thought that it did look a bit like a circus with all these wires going into the audience. And the plane we used at Earls Court was very like those circus space rockets that people whip round and round in – it was silver and red and about six foot long, like a bloody great aluminium paper dart, flashing lights and smoke, amazing.
What do you feel is the role of sound effects on albums?
RW: Speaking for myself, I’ve always felt that the differentiation between a sound effect and music is all a load of shit. Whether you make a sound on a guitar or a water tap is irrelevant, because it doesn’t make any difference. We started on a piece a while ago which was carrying this to its logical extreme, or one of its logical extremes, where we don’t use any recognisable musical instruments at all – bottles, knives, anything at all, felling axes and stuff like that – which we will complete at some juncture, and it’s turning into a really nice piece.
What’s the lowdown on all this science fiction stuff and space music?
RW: Christ, I hardly ever read science fiction now. I used to read a lot but only occasionally now. I suppose the reason I liked to read science fiction novels was that they give the writer the chance to expound and explore very obvious ideas. Sticking something in the future, or in some different time or place, allows you to examine things without thinking about all the stuff that everybody already knows about, and reacts to automatically, getting in the way. Also, you get some bloody good yarns, and I like a good yarn.
How does that relate to the description on your music as space rock?
RW: Not very much.
NM: That was a convenient tag.
RW: Which was held over for so bloody long. People are still calling it space rock. People come and listen to The Dark Side of the Moon and call it space rock, just because it’s got moon in the title. The other thing that they do is say that we’ve gone from outer space to inner space, which is daft. We haven’t done many tracks that had anything to do with science fiction at all. It just depends on what you read into it. We did three songs, Astronomy Domine, Set The Controls… and Let There Be More Light.
A lot of writers have used analogies with painting to describe their feelings about your music. Do you share that at all?
RW: Maybe. I think that sometimes there may be something that isn’t inherently apparent in the piece because of the lyrics, so it becomes very easy to let your imagination go.
NM: People often listen to the music and come up with a visualisation about what it is about, and when they’ve had it they think they’ve got it, they’ve discovered the secret. Sometimes they even bother to write to us and say, “I’ve got it – I’ve got the answer. It’s cornfields, isn’t it?”
RW: And when they say it to us, we tell them the truth. We just say, “If that’s what it is to you, then that’s what it is.” But it can be whatever you want – it doesn’t matter what you visualise, it’s not important.
NM: And they’re invariably disappointed.
RW: The way our music impinges on your mind makes it very easy to conjure up some vision, very easy to imagine some scene. If you’re listening to John Cage or Stockhausen it’s very difficult, because the music is all squeaks and bubbles. It’s more like hard-edge, real, abstract painting. There are definite things in it like triangles and squares. It doesn’t give you an overall impression of The Battle of Waterloo or whatever, it’s triangles and squares, that you respond to in an intellectual way. Our music is non-intellectual, it is straight emotional response gear.
Why did Syd Barrett leave – what’s the true story?
NM: What true story would you like? Have you heard the one about how he threatened us with a gun?
RW: That’s a good one.
NM: Do you want the story behind the facts?
What were your feelings about it?
NM: We staggered on, thinking to ourselves that we couldn’t carry on without Syd, so we put up with what can only be described as an unreliable maniac. We didn’t choose to use those words, but I think he was.
RW: Syd turned into a very strange person. Whether he was sick in any way or not is not for us to say in these days of dispute about the nature of madness. All that I know is that he was murder to live and work with.
RW: We definitely reached a stage where all of us were getting very depressed just because it was a terrible mistake to go on trying to do it. He had become completely incapable of working in the group.
NM: And it seemed his whole bent was on frustrating us.
Yet you helped him on his solo album?
RW: That was because – and I still believe this now – he is one of the three best songwriters in the world.
What’s he doing now?
RW: I don’t know. Not very much, that’s why we worked on the album. There was a great plan to expand the group, to get in two other geezers – some two freaks that he’d met somewhere or other. One of them played the banjo and the other played the saxophone. We weren’t into that at all, and it was obvious the crunch had finally come. One evening we went to UFO to do a gig and Syd didn’t turn up, so we did it alone and it was great. We went down well and we enjoyed playing together.
NM: That’s fantastic because I don’t think it’s true.
RW: Don’t you, didn’t you think it was good?
NM: No, I think you’re imagining a situation that never happened. Syd arrived, but his arms hung by his side, with the occasional strumming. That was the night of doing…
RW: …Saturday Club.
NM: Right, which was the breakdown, but that wasn’t the end of it all. That evening was something referred to four months later.
RW: Anyway, and Nick’s almost certainly right, because my memory’s a bit dodgy. It was more or less that we did a gig without Syd. He may have been on the stage but we really did it without him, he just stood there with the guitar hanging around his neck, which was something he was prone to do after that we realised we could manage.
NM: But we didn’t do anything about it for some months. We had a long think at Christmas.
RW: So it must have been over that Christmas that we got in touch with Dave (Gilmour) and said, “Whooaa Dave, wink wink!”
NM: So we were teaching Dave the numbers with the idea that we were going to be a five-piece. But Syd came in with some new material. The song went Have You Got It Yet, and he kept changing it so that no one could learn it.
RW: It was a real act of mad genius. The interesting thing about it was that I didn’t suss it out at all. I stood there for about an hour while he was singing, “Have you got it yet”, trying to explain that he was changing it all the time so I couldn’t follow it. He’d sing, “Have you got it yet” and I’d sing, “No, no”. Terrific.
What happened to the ballet Pink Floyd were supposed to be making? It was based on Proust, wasn’t it?
RW: It never happened. First of all it was Proust, then it was Aladdin, then it was something else. We had this great lunch one day, me, Nick and Steve [O’Rourke, Floyd’s manager], with Nureyev, Roman Polanski, Roland Petit, some film producer of other. It was to talk about us doing the music for a ballet, and Roland choreographing it, and Rudy being the star, and Roman Polanski directing the film, and making this fantastic ballet film. It was a complete joke because no one had any idea what they wanted to do.
But you said at the time that you’d just been out and bought the entire works of Proust to study.
RW: I did.
NM: But nobody read anything. David did the worst – he only read the first 18 pages.
RW: I read the second volume of Swann’s Way, and when I got to the end of it I thought, “Oh what, I’m not reading any more, I can’t handle it.” It just went too slowly for me.
NM: It just went on for two years, this idea of doing a ballet, with no one coming up with any ideas, us not setting aside any time because there was nothing specific, until in a desperate moment, Roland devised a ballet to some existing music, which I think was a good idea. It’s looked upon a bit sourly now.
RW: We all sat around this table until someone thumped the table and said, “What’s the idea then?” and everyone just sat there drinking this wine and getting more and more drunk, with more and more poovery going on around the table, until someone suggested Frankenstein and Nureyev started getting a bit worried. They talked about Frankenstein for a bit – I was just sitting there enjoying the meat and the vibes, saying nothing…
NM: Yes, with Roland’s hand upon your knee.
RW: …And when Polanski was drunk enough he started to suggest that we make the blue movie to end all blue movies, and then it all petered out into cognac and coffee, and then we jumped into our cars and split. God knows what happened after we left.
How did Floyd’s soundtrack to the Zabriskie Point movie come about?
RW: We went to Rome and stayed in this posh hotel. Every day we would get up at about 4:30 in the afternoon, we’d pop into the bar, and sit there until about seven. Then we’d stagger into the restaurant, where we’d eat for about two hours, and drink. By about halfway through the two weeks, the guy there was beginning to suss out what we wanted; we kept asking for these ridiculous wines, so by the end he was coming up with these really insane wines. Anyway, we’d finished eating – the crepes suzettes would finally slide down by about a quarter to nine.
NM: The peach Melba was good too. I used to start with sole Bonne Femme, followed by the roast leg of lamb cooked with rosemary, and then a peach Melba or a crepes suzettes… Or perhaps both.
RW: We’d start work at about nine. The studio was a few minutes walk down the road, so we’d stagger down. We could have finished the whole thing in about five days because there wasn’t much to do. Antonioni was there and we did some great stuff, but he’d listen and go – and I remember he had this terrible twitch – “Eet’s very beauteeful, but eet’s too sad” or “Eets too strroong”. It was always wrong consistently. There was always something that stopped it from being perfect. You’d change whatever was wrong and he’d still be unhappy. It was hell. He’d sit there and fall asleep every so often, and we’d go on working till about seven or eight in the morning, go back and have breakfast, go to bed, get up and then back into the bar.
What was your reaction to the review in Rolling Stone recently? [After years of their reporters not showing up for pre-arranged interviews, nor apologising, Floyd told RS to get lost when, in the wake of Dark Side…, they asked again. The paper carried a vitriolic attack on the band’s gig in New York in the next issue…]
RW: Well, I’m sure you know the story. [The magazine’s writer] never got into the band room – everybody else did, but we do draw the line at people from Rolling Stone. It’s hard to generalise about them all because I don’t know all of them, but from my experience of meeting people from there, they’re all a bunch of power-mad maniacs. They are completely carried away with the idea that the media surrounding rock’n’roll, or at least their corner of it, is more important than the actual thing. Though they did print a letter in the most recent issue from someone saying, “Dear Ed, if you didn’t’ like it then you were in the minority of one”, which is something the Melody Maker wouldn’t do in similar circumstances, I can assure you.
Why didn’t you attend the [Dark Side Of The Moon] press reception at the London Planetarium?
RW: Nicky and Dave and I thought that it was so daft that we tried to get it stopped, and when they refused to stop it, we refused to go to it. I think it was pathetic.
NM: The intention was to have the Planetarium with a quadraphonic mix, which I would have been into, but there wasn’t a quadraphonic mix, there was only a stereo mix, and they’d got the most terrible speakers. I heard that it was stereo, not very well done, with cold chicken and rice on paper plates.
RW: The only point of it was to make a really first-class presentation of a quadraphonic mix of the album, so that it was something special. We didn’t have time to do that, so we said, “You can’t do it.” But EMI wanted to do something, so they went ahead. Obviously we couldn’t stop them from doing it, but I thought it was daft.
Final question: What would you say is the meaning of your music… No, I’m just kidding – let’s go and have a beer.
This is an abridged version of an interview that first appeared in Zigzag 32, 1973.