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Nick Mason on the disastrous time Pink Floyd played reggae

Pink Floyd are one of the most culturally significant bands of the past 60 years. Prog-rock titans, their long career was just as much of an odyssey as their back catalogue, and over the course of the late 1960 and ’70s, they cultivated a cerebral sound, fusing complex philosophical ponderings with atmospheric and futuristic soundscapes, answering many existential questions, and earning legions of fans in the process. 

However, the band weren’t always successful, and in their early days, a time when they were fronted by the unmistakable Syd Barrett, their genre-bending experiments were often too far out for audiences. During a 2020 interview with The Telegraphthe band’s drummer, Nick Mason, recalled the time in the ’60s when he and the original iteration of the band performed a combination of psychedelia and reggae, which audiences consistently hated. 

During the interview, Mason looked back on the time and pondered how he and the band ended up doing something so experimental, saying: “I still don’t quite understand how we got to that point of such free experimentation. We thought of ourselves as an R&B band, playing hits. It was just a bit of fun. We were floundering around. We wanted to be a pop group. We wanted to meet girls and have a wild time and be famous.”

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It was this desire to be famous that caused the band to jump on the bandwagon, ending up with this Frankenstein’s monster of reggae and psychedelic rock. Ever the modest man, Mason revealed that the band were actually pretty terrible at playing reggae, and it was this that caused audiences to boo them during shows. He said: “I think we jumped on the bandwagon. All of those A&R guys at record companies were searching for the next big thing, and it looked like it was a toss-up between psychedelic music and reggae. And you should hear us play reggae. So, so bad.”

Mason then remembered that it was in the north of England that the band drew the ire of audiences most: “The interesting thing is how unpopular we were with our funny old psychedelic music,” he said. “We used to go up north and the crowds would boo. They hated us. I can’t understand why we didn’t just fold it there and then.”

I think it’s safe to say that it’s a miracle that Pink Floyd didn’t pack it in after the terrible receptions they got in the early days. However, it’s a credit to their tenacity that they were able to dodge these initial hurdles by shaking their sound up and eventually proving themselves as one of the greatest bands the world has ever seen.

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