Nick Mason on Pink Floyd’s often-forgotten co-founder: We’d have been nothing without Syd Barrett

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Nick Mason, the only member to have appeared in every different configuration of Pink Floyd, credits long-departed co-founder Syd Barrett for giving the band its “liftoff” — even as he expresses regret over how the group parted ways with the troubled singer-songwriter.

“If you just look at that first album (1967’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn), the first songs — which were the things that got us a record contract into Abbey Road and all the rest of it — without Syd, I mean, you wouldn’t even have Interstellar Overdrive,” Mason told IFC. “It’s just impossible to evaluate what would’ve existed without Syd, in my opinion.”

Mason was part of the original Pink Floyd quartet including Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Barrett that lasted from 1965-68. David Gilmour — a friend of Barrett’s from Cambridge Tech — joined for a short-lived five-man version of the band in ’68, before Barrett’s departure. (Both Barrett and Gilmour contributed guitar to the legendary space-rock classic “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.”)

Barrett, however, was already descending into mental illness, reportedly brought on by drug use. Pink Floyd was soon reduced to a second quartet, a group that created a pair of celebrated albums in Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall before dissolving around 1980. They dealt with the loss of Barrett within the song “Shine On Your Crazy Diamond” for 1975’s Wish You Were Here. Pink Floyd later recorded two albums as a three piece (1983’s The Final Cut, without Rick Wright; and 1994’s Division Bell, without Waters) and another as a two-man amalgam (1987’s Momentary Lapse of Reason, with only Gilmour and Mason as official members).

For Mason, however, it all goes back to those heady first days with Barrett: “Don’t forget if we hadn’t had Syd, it wouldn’t have got off the ground in the first place,” Mason said. “There would have been no lift off.”

As for how things went for Barrett, who lived a nomadic life after his ouster before finally passing in 2006, Mason has his share of regrets — just as he does in the way things ended with Waters.

“Oh, God yes. The band politics were handled appallingly from beginning to end. You know, every step of the way. But having said that — we didn’t know any better — is what my lawyer’s going to tell you,” Mason says, and laughs. “I think we all regret that we didn’t know how to look after Syd better. And the split with Roger. If we had all known what we know now, I think we could have dealt with it a hell of a lot better. But we didn’t.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Pink Floyd. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

HAVE A CIGAR!: CELEBRATING PINK FLOYD’S MASSIVE REISSUE PROJECT: Psych-rockers Pink Floyd and EMI are launching an exhaustive re-release campaign. You could say that tickled us … pink. Released under the banner “Why Pink Floyd?,” the band started by issuing remastered editions of all 14 of its albums, with a staggered schedule of unreleased material from its archives for super-deluxe box sets. The remastered studio albums are available either separately or as a box set. To celebrate, we reminisced about a few key cuts from throughout their career.

FORGOTTEN SERIES: PINK FLOYD CO-FOUNDER SYD BARRETT: For fans of the group’s early, more whimsical side, these CDs are simply astounding. Gone is the punky pyschedlia of the early Floyd singles that Syd wrote — like, say, the breakthrough, “Arnold Layne” or “Apples and Oranges.” While it seems deeply influenced by the Beatles, Barrett’s new music was much heavier. His wild-eyed whimsy had evolved into pop songcraft of the highest order. In no way was this morose flower-power stuff, though, even though it has a vague elegiac tone. In fact, believe it or not, Syd sounds tough — and incredibly modern.

GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE PINK FLOYD, WELL, SUCKED: Everybody went through a Pink Floyd phase, right? But, the child is grown; the dream is gone. Let’s face it, some of this stuff, well, sucked. So while we still have a deep respect — and I mean that most sincerely — for, say, Dark Side of the Moon, careful adult inspection reveals that even that psych-masterpiece boasts at least one awful clunker. So, have a cigar, as we count down the stuff that didn’t quite make their hall-of-fame resume — the ones where they were tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit … well, you get the idea.

THE ORB FEATURING DAVID GILMOUR – METALLIC SPHERES (2010): Gilmour’s familiar Fender Stratocaster vibrato effortlessly blends with the Orb’s next-galaxy synthesizer washes, mid-tempo house flourishes and whoa-man effects. And, along the way, helps both Gilmour and the Orb reclaim a measure of their own early promise. In fact, we might just be hearing the best collaboration from any edition of Pink Floyd in the last three decades. Revisiting a pre-Dark Side of the Moon penchant for narrative instrumental musings allows Gilmour a return to his own roots, even as it hurtles him past an impossible talisman in Pink Floyd.

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