Interview: Pink Floyd's Nick Mason, Engineer John Leckie Discuss the Making of 'Meddle'
But the group didn’t simply stumble onto this new musical path. According to drummer Nick Mason, he and his bandmates sized up the strengths and weaknesses of their previous experimental efforts—namely Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother—and discovered something instructive: both albums were divided between tracks written by the full band and by individual members—and the band-composed tunes were the best.
“We’d done the individual solo tracks and decided that we worked better together,” Mason says when we meet up with him in his North London offices. “There wasn’t any great plan when we did Meddle other than it would be a group effort. There was no concept. I don’t think we had anything already written when we went into studio. After Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother, we thought that we should make a group album, something that was maybe a reflection of where we were going live.”
Certainly, by the end of the Sixties, Pink Floyd had developed into a formidable live touring band. They remained as adventurous and experimental as they’d been in their Syd days, but they were also more structured and stable. Although Meddle reveled in its use of the recording studio, it was the first Pink Floyd album to capture some of the potency and excitement of their live shows.
According to Mason, the band’s label, EMI, had no grand ambitions for the album. “We weren’t under any pressure from EMI to release anything,” he says. EMI, for that matter, didn’t seem to have a clue about Pink Floyd, other than that they sold lots of records, and so the label left them to their own devices. “We had just signed a new contract that gave us a slightly reduced royalty in return for unlimited studio time,” Mason says. “I think only the Beatles had a similar deal at the time.”
“They were left alone,” confirms John Leckie. “Colin Miles, who was the only person at EMI who could ‘relate’ to Pink Floyd, used to turn up occasionally with a couple of bottles of wine. Maybe some spliff. They worked hard, though; it wasn’t a party.”
Work on the album began in January, when Pink Floyd returned from a tour of the U.S. In the early stage of making Meddle, the band recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, sometimes bringing in ideas that they had worked on at home. Leckie and Peter Bown, who had worked with them on Atom Heart Mother, recorded and engineered the Abbey Road sessions.
Leckie remembers that the atmosphere in the studio was good: “They weren’t really different from any other band,” he says. “It was quite energetic, everyone had a say. Nick came up with a lot of the crazier ideas. It’s his voice through a ring modulator that you hear on ‘One of These Days,’ saying, ‘One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces.’ Rick contributed a lot. Roger and Dave were running the show, but everybody was contributing.”
They continued to gig, setting up their gear in the studio then going off at night to play headline shows at colleges and universities. “We were trying out a lot of stuff live at that time,” Mason says. “Echoes” in its developmental stage was a series of unconnected parts, each of which was labeled, from “Nothing Part One” to “Nothing Part 36.”
It began to take shape when Floyd debuted it live at a gig in Norwich in April. It was still listed under its working title “Return of the Son of Nothing.”
But the band was now pushing the possibilities of the studio. Mason remembers, “Abbey Road had invested in an eight-track, but we were ready to go 16-track. So we went to AIR studios, which was great.” AIR—Associated Independent Recording—was established by Beatles producer George Martin in 1965 after he left Abbey Road and became an independent producer.
“A very different atmosphere to EMI,” Mason says. “EMI was very established, had the big canteen [cafeteria]…there was already a lot of change, though. The Beatles did that a few years before. But AIR was state-of-the-art.”
It was the possibilities offered by 16-track that changed everything. “Yes, by definition, though unfortunately it made the process of recording slower. There were almost too many options,” Mason says. “Mixing took a hell of a lot longer.” Leckie and Bown handled sessions at AIR, as they had at Abbey Road, but they relinquished their duties to Rob Black and Roger Quested when Pink Floyd moved their sessions to a third studio: Morgan, in Willesden.
“Morgan was one of the first British studios to go 24-track, though not at that time,” Leckie says. “Later, I recorded some of the first Stone Roses tracks there, when it was called Battery.”