Nick Mason on the moment Pink Floyd became Pink Floyd: ‘We sort of really did transition’

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Pink Floyd had made its share of singles, and even a full-length album, going into the sessions for 1968’s Saucerful of Secrets. But, with Syd Barrett still then firmly in control of the band’s creative direction, Pink Floyd wasn’t yet what it would become.

Nick Mason, the only member to appear on every one of the group’s studio projects, places the line of demarcation between that era and the far more well-known one to follow at a single song from those sessions for Saucerful, a record that saw both the arrival of David Gilmour and the beginnings of a creative ascension of another Pink Floyd member.

“It really happened on Saucerful of Secrets,” Nick Mason tells Technics, “which is the moment where we sort of really did transition from what we’d done on [the 1967 Barrett-dominated Pink Floyd debut] Piper [at the Gates of Dawn] into the slightly more extraordinary extended pieces of music.”

Specifically, he cites “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” one of the earliest compositions from Roger Waters — who would eventually emerge as Pink Floyd’s principal composer during its peak years. (Waters had had just one song on Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the blatantly morbid “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.”) The song also showcases Nick Mason’s interest in non-rock forms.

“It has a number of aspects to it,” Nick Mason adds. “One is, it’s the beginning of Roger’s writing. The other thing is that the drum part on it is slightly unusual. It was something that was based, really, on a drummer called Chico Hamilton. There’s a drum solo in a film called Jazz on a Summer’s Day that was made a long time ago. It’s got some lovely music on it, some really interesting pieces. And Chico plays this drum solo, with mallets, and that was really the inspiration for the part that takes place on ‘Set the Controls.'”

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