‘The band just took a different route': Nick Mason on Pink Floyd’s early free-form triumphs with Joe Boyd

Pink Floyd worked with Norman Smith on all of its non-soundtrack albums through 1970’s Atom Heart Mother, establishing their early sound even as he acted as an almost defacto extra member while the band matured. But he wasn’t Pink Floyd’s first producer. That honor goes to the far more free-form Joe Boyd, who helmed their Syd Barrett-penned debut single, “Arnold Layne.”

“He did great work for us,” Floyd’s Nick Mason says in a newly released extended interview, including as bonus material on The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story from Eagle Rock. “It’s hard to sit here and say, ‘Well, it could have all worked out so well,’ because the band just took a different route. But it would have been interesting, if we had stuck with Joe as a producer.”

Boyd met the youthful members of Pink Floyd as owner of the UFO Club, the first psych-rock space in London. He also produced Fairport Convention, Soft Machine and Richard Thompson over the years. “Arnold Layne” (which was backed by the Boyd-produced “Candy and a Currant Bun”) reached No. 20 in the UK in 1967, despite a trippy narrative involving a transvestite that was rather risque for the times. Pink Floyd’s record label later stepped in, however, and paired them with Smith.

“Joe was terrific for us, and he produced two really good singles, and then it all went a different way,” Mason adds. “He was inevitably a little more loose, because Norman was brought in by EMI, very much to follow a more corporate approach to the whole thing. They’d seen how George Martin had worked with the Beatles, and they saw a really terrific partnership. I think they hoped to do the same sort of thing with us and us. They saw someone who would be part arranger, part producer and part sort of musical advisor. … Norman was good, but in a totally different way. It sort of took us down another route, for a year or two. All of these influences do sort of push bands in different ways.”

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