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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Nick Mason: Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports


1) Can't Get My Motor To Start; 2) I Was Wrong; 3) Siam; 4) Hot River; 5) Boo To You Too; 6) Do Ya?; 7) Wervin'; 8) I'm A Mineralist.

General verdict: A super-cool chunk of absurdist art-pop, but be warned — it has (almost) nothing to do with Pink Floyd, so be sure to go in with the right expectations.

Okay, so this record is probably the last one on the mind of the average Pink Floyd fan: of all people, a Nick Mason solo album? Nick Mason, of the ʽGrand Vizier's Garden Partyʼ fame? Not only that, but this isn't really even a true Nick Mason solo album — all the songs here are written by eccentric jazz visionary Carla Bley, sung by eccentric avant-rock visionary Robert Wyatt, and musically dominated by the guitar of session hero Chris Spedding... oh, wait a minute...

...actually, these are the precise reasons why Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports, instead of being merely a rarely visited footnote to Pink Floyd history, should count as an interesting and unique «special project», one of the better ones to come out in the early Eighties. Normally, I shouldn't even be reviewing it: Nick's role here is reduced to drumming and co-producing with Bley, and there is at most one song that even begins to sound anywhere close to Pink Floyd (see below). But formally, this was a Nick Mason album — it did grow out of his own desire to make a record for himself, it just so happened that Carla sent him a demo tape of her songs and he liked it so much that he decided to use it. In the end, it may have been a good deal for everybody: Mason profited by having a good batch of songs to his name that he would not have been able to pen on his own, and Bley profited by gaining a bit more exposure — I mean, this was probably the best chance for a Floyd fan to learn of her existence in the first place.

In any case, since I am not doing a retrospective of Carla Bley's own career anytime soon (a very uneven career, given her radical experimental ambitions, but quite mind-blowing in spots), I might as well compensate for this by giving the proper thumbs up to this little oddity. Despite being formally known as a jazz artist, Bley is really very eclectic when it comes to music-making; her contributions for Mason are in a strictly pop/rock vein, somewhat reminiscent of classic 10cc, Sparks, and other wildly experimental art-pop bands of the Seventies. Yes, Fictitious Sports is a light (not necessarily "lightweight"), often satirical album, whose sense of humor is larger than all the attempts at humor in Floyd history put together, but whose intelligence actually matches, if not surpasses, the average Floyd.

Some of the songs are pure, but thoroughly enjoyable, jokes, like the opening ʽCan't Get My Motor To Startʼ — the basic gag here is to make the guitar and drums sound all the way like what it says in the title, while the lyrics never stray too far away from it, either; or ʽBoo To You Tooʼ, a blues-boogie-rocker providing solid advice for beginning rock bands on what to do when you get booed. Others are parodies — like ʽSiamʼ, poking fun at «Oriental» stereotypes, with snippets of Far Eastern melodies thrown into the grinder (although the real reason behind the song seems to be the alluring phonetic similarity between "Siam" and "I am"). Still others are little odd Randy Newmanesque tales of human weirdness, delivered by Wyatt with the appropriate poker face (ʽI Was Wrongʼ, in which a burnt-out skepticist is finally put to shame by arriving UFOs); and the super-slow ʽDo Ya?ʼ, clad in epic-romantic brass parts, plays out like a send-up of the stereo­typical Euroballad, with the same effect of not knowing whether to laugh or to cry, the same way it often happens with Sparks songs.

However, at the end of each side you are greeted by something slightly more serious. ʽHot Riverʼ is a bizarre (sometimes downright disturbing) sexual-psychedelic fantasy on which they make Chris Spedding give his best Gilmour impression, laying down sharp, slick, cosmic slide guitar lines and having singer Karen Kraft vocalize à la ʽGreat Gig In The Skyʼ — perhaps that, too, is a parody, but it sounds damn serious, and even a little morbid, by the end. And the final song, ʽI'm A Mineralistʼ, employs solemn, almost funereal, piano and organ chords while painting a surreal lyrical portrait of somebody who "will make love to minerals as long as I can" (lyrical highlight: "Erik Satie gets my rocks off, Cage is a dream, Philip Glass is a Mineralist to the extreme"). Both tracks do a good job of steering the record away from pure comedy and into far more nuanced territory — but never abandoning the general irony.

This is not to say that Fictitious Sports is supposed to be anything more than a colorful diversion for all parties involved. But there have always been records that never pretended to being anything other than «intelligent fun», and when these turn out to be genuinely intelligent and genuinely funny, they have to be endorsed and promoted. If you are strictly a Pink Floyd fan, this is as far away from typical Pink Floyd values as possible, so beware. But if, in addition to your favorite pastime of taking pigs (three different ones) on an interstellar overdrive, you also happen to like solid, unpretentious, and stylistically diverse pop music with a twist, be sure not to forget to engage in some fictitious sports with Nick Mason and his unexpected musical allies. Not to mention, of course, checking out the long and winding careers of both Carla Bley and Robert Wyatt — two giants of 20th century music who were, nevertheless, still not above con­cealing their personalities behind that of a guy who didn't even have an ʽOctopus' Gardenʼ to his name.


  1. For me Mason's greatest "solo" moment was producing Wyatt's wonderful Rock Bottom.

  2. Yep, this is the one that had introduced me to Carla, who has become one of my all-time favourite musicians since then...

  3. Good old Georgem still remember this quote on your old site at the beginning of PF solo projects section

    The Floydsters' solo careers aren't particularly rich, nor are they thoroughly impressive. I have reviewed Syd Barrett's two solo albums and a 'posthumous' collection (I mean, he's artistically dead long since, isn't he?) on his own page, but currently I'm not planning to show a similar honour to the more 'mainstream' band members. Presumably, Rick Wright and Nick Mason have both had a couple of records out, but gimme a break... only an absolute fanatic could want to own, let alone review a Nick Mason solo album.

    when i noticed you were covering floyd solo careers now I was wondering if you were going to cross this Rubicon (yeah, I know I am freak for remembering tjat old quote)

    And you did!! You rock my friend. Will stick to your blog till you review tje last ZZ Top record who knows when.

    Btw, never heard this record and now I am curious.

    Greetings from Argentina

    1. I remember this quote from like 10 years ago as well.

      Met my girlfriend in Argentina. Much love

  4. I wonder if George will consider to be the best solo record by a PF member other than Syd Barrett.