by David Chiu
Photo of Nick Mason By Phil Guest via Wikimedia commons.
As Pink Floyd is on hiatus as an active band, its drummer Nick Mason probably would’ve been just content being on the sidelines while his erstwhile band colleagues, David Gilmour and Roger Waters, continue to pursue their own solo projects. So it was quite surprising when it was announced earlier this year that Mason – the only longest-serving member of Pink Floyd – formed his own band, Saucerful of Secrets, playing old songs from the Syd Barrett/pre-Dark Side of the Moon era of Floyd’s history. Coinciding with Saucerful of Secrets’ current European tour (and perhaps hopefully a future U.S. jaunt) was the recent release of Unattended Luggage, a new boxed set of Mason’s solo works from the 1980s that are finally seeing the light once again.
1981’s Fictitious Sports is a very unique record in that while it features Mason’s name on the album and his drumming, all the songs were written by avant-garde composer Carla Bley and mostly sung by Soft Machine’s Robert Wyatt; the music was a chaotic but still likable and daring mix of art rock and jazz. The progressive jazz rock-sounding “Can’t Get My Motor to Start” is a quirky opener, while “Siam” is a smoldering subdued track with a stirring sax solo; the swoony ballad “Do Ya” sounds like something Roy Harper might have recorded; and the rhythmic and danceable “Wervin’” is the result of what you get when you mix Talking Heads and disco. Only the majestic “Hot River,” with its soaring guitar solo, evokes the sound of Mason’s regular band. Fictitious Sports a quite unique solo outing, albeit underrated.
Mason’s two next projects, Profiles and White of the Eye, both collaborations with 10cc guitarist Rick Fenn, definitely sound like they were recorded in the ’80s thanks to their reliance on sleek production, stirring rock guitar, and electric drum and synthesizers sounds. Profiles from 1985 is indicative of that approach: a mostly-instrumental record that certainly aims for something accessible (the duo initially started working together on advertising and short film projects). Some of the record’s highlights include the very Goth-heavy “Black Ice”, which may have been something out of the Sisters of Mercy’s playbook; the serene and elegant ballad “Rhoda”; the soulful and funky “Mumbo Jumbo”; and the majestic epic two-part title track. Only two tracks on the album carry vocals: the poppy “Lie for a Lie,” featuring Gilmour and Maggie Reilly; and the driving “Israel,” sung by UFO’s Danny Peryronel.
White of the Eye is the soundtrack to a 1987 film by Donald Cammel, best known for his work on the classic 1970 picture Performance. Sonically this all-instrumental work doesn’t depart much from Profiles other than perhaps incorporating some blues influences—as indicated on “Where Are You Joany,” “Anne Mason” (which evokes a scene from a prison chain gang movie), and the title song; the soulful and sexy “Thrift Store” would’ve been tailored-made for Tom Jones, and “Dry Junk” possesses this rootsy and country twang. Yet the atmospheric and tense songs like “Prelude and Ritual,” “Discovery and Recoil,” “A World of Appearance,” and “Present” could’ve easily fitted onto the latter Pink Floyd albums A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell.
Certainly Unattended Luggage and its individual records would most likely appeal to only Floyd’s die-hard fans and completists. But if anything, to the casual listener, this set demonstrates that Gilmour, Waters, and the late Richard Wright and Syd Barrett weren’t the only main creative forces in Pink Floyd; on his own, Mason has delivered a body of work that is quite unpredictable and adventurous.