How Nick Mason Brought Back a Lost Pink Floyd Song: Exclusive Interview
Pink Floyd's first attempt at recording a follow-up to "See Emily Play" in October 1967 ended with a shower of laughter. Maybe they never really got serious about "Vegetable Man," though at one point it was apparently scheduled as a B-side.
The Syd Barrett song ended up sitting unfinished and unreleased for decades. Then drummer Nick Mason stumbled across "Vegetable Man" as part of Pink Floyd's 2016 retrospective The Early Years: 1965-1972. Intrigued, Mason started playing it with his new band Saucerful of Secrets, who are now set to release Live at the Roundhouse.
Due Sept. 18, the concert film finds Mason, Gary Kemp, Guy Pratt, Dom Beken and Lee Harris exploring Pink Floyd's rich pre-Dark Side of the Moon discography – including the once-lost "Vegetable Man." Mason discusses the archival find, how Saucerful of Secrets get their interpretative ideas and what it felt like to lose his friend Barrett to mental illness in an exclusive interview below.
You pulled out and finished “Vegetable Man,” which had never been played live by Pink Floyd in a concert. What was it like preparing that one for the live set?
That is sort of extraordinary. It’s sort of an unfinished work, really. It’s that thing about whether one should put more into it or whatever. But in a way, it’s a nice little cameo of what Syd did. One of the strange things, looking at Syd’s work, is the variety of music styles. Because some people, I think, point at “Vegetable Man” as a sort of early punk thing in a way, which it is. It’s got that driving four-to-the-floor sort of beat. But also then there’d be the rural, almost fairy story – "Gnome," "Scarecrow"-type of songs. Or “Bike” even. And then there’d be some wilder [songs like] “Interstellar Overdrive,” with improvised sections and, for rock 'n' roll, really unusual things where the rhythm breaks down and you’re left with a sort of soundscape for maybe five or 10 minutes.
Listen to an Early Version of Pink Floyd's 'Vegetable Man'
I loved reading in the liner notes that you guys went into the archives, and Dom Beken finds a version of “Atom Heart Mother” that’s just you and [Pink Floyd keyboardist] Rick [Wright] playing together, which provides a really important bit of inspiration for the version that the band ends up playing. What was the source material for that stuff? Did you and the band members literally have access to the old session tapes? It didn’t sound like Beken was accessing a version of "Atom Heart Mother" that was released on one of the box sets.
No, it wasn’t. I’ll tell you exactly what he was accessing, which is bootlegs! [Laughs.] Bootlegs of past performances. I mean, virtually everything. We do occasionally go back into our own archives for bits and pieces or a sound effect or something like that. But in general, it’s one of those things [we use] for working out how much improvisation to do with any given song. [We] listen to some of these bootlegs – to see the variation, really, on what’s done and what we did.
Syd Barrett really gets his moment of spotlight in these shows. Going back to his songs, what did that draw out for you? What sort of perspective did you have on Barrett both as an artist and a songwriter, as you return to some of these songs decades later?
I think there’s a lot of mixed emotions with the whole Syd thing. Because in some ways, he was so smart in so many ways. I think there’s a bit of sadness now looking back on it – and a little bit of guilt. Not really guilt, but we handled Syd very badly. We had no idea – and still don’t really know – what the real problem was, whether it was LSD or whether it was something in his character anyway. Or whether, in fact, he was probably clearer than we ever perceived and he just didn’t actually want to be in a band, necessarily. While we thought if he didn’t want to be in a band, it was a sign of madness – because we were all at that point, absolutely committed to doing it. But I think he maybe just thought, "Well, I’ve done that. I don’t really want to do anymore of it." But instead of just going ... we should have probably let him go much earlier or separated from him earlier. But as I say, we had no idea at the time.
Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Discuss Syd Barrett
You said during a Saucerful of Secrets show, “We ran out of Syd, or perhaps he ran out on us.”
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s it. Absolutely.
I smiled. It was a poignant way of looking at things.
Yeah, but I think it’s great to celebrate the work that he did do. I don’t think we’ve ever wanted to hide it, but I think it just got buried underneath all of the successful later Pink Floyd stuff and hopefully it’s of real interest to people who listen to it now.