Saturday, September 09, 2006

Nick Mason – Fictitious Sports {UK}(1981) @VBR (Post Progressive Rock or Happy RIO or Rock-Jazz or Hard To Classify, Unfairly Forgotten Masterpiece)

My relation with this album is one of Love At the First Sight (or in this case at the first listen). It came out at the right moment, because by 1981 progressive rock was quite dead (although some might think it wasn’t, for me it was very much deceased and still is).

With Prog out of the equation, things were not easy for avant-rock collectors. Punk was a neat escape valve and valid way to express the anger of a whole generation tired of Cold War and Crooked Politicians. But Punk although beautifully truthful, wasn’t able to fill our musical expectations. Too simple, too noisy. On the other hand, most super bands were half retired, bankrupted or had gone into fusion, many of them repeating cold formulas only to show how fast they could play, or how complex they were.

The other problem was that honesty was hard to find in the music scene in 1981. The excesses of drum machines and sequencers had created a whole generation of Bad Albums.

Few artists were really on the right track, Bauhaus (and most 4AD bands), Einsturzende Neubauten (and most proto industrial bands), Gary Numan ( and a handful of Technoids), Both Peters (Hammill and Gabriel), their protegés, and a short etcetera.

Having in front of us such a deserted scenario, the release of this Nick Mason album was a nice, pleasant and stunning surprise.

I have always thought of Nick Mason as an intellectual and a man with a deep vision of modern music. He might not be the best drummer on earth. Come on… maybe he is just an average drummer in a band that never needed a better drummer, but it is also true that Nick Mason has interesting friends and he has always been close to the most respected musicians of Rock In Oposition and /or Canterbury.

For example, Nick Mason knew Robert Wyatt in the 60’s when he was the drummer of the still very unknown Pink Floyd and Wyatt (not yet paralyzed) was the inventive drummer of Soft Machine. Both bands used to play in the legendary UFO, a venue in London dedicated to psych acts.

When Wyatt was left paralyzed from the waist down in a freak accident, it was Mason who helped him producing the first Wyatt solo album: Rock Bottom, probably one of the 10 most important albums in the history of Art-Rock (Or..maybe The Most Important?). That happened in 1974.

Then Mason surprised us again by producing an album for Gong: the extraordinary Shamal, a magnificient blend of jazz, psych and oriental hallucinations.

Having those masterpieces in his resumé as a producer, it is not a surprise that Mason gave us an album like this, truly far from what he was used to do with Pink Floyd, but nonetheless highly recommended.

Actually this album is so hard to classify that I am not sure if it is rock.

My friends, I am not even sure if it is a Mason album. All the songs (including the crazy lyrics) were composed by the canadian pianist Carla Bley, so technically, this album should be credited to her and not to Mason. But the mystery is that it was Mason who received the starring role.

The lead voice is done extraordinarily well by Wyatt himself and the album’s line up can’t be any better:

Gary Windo, Gary Valente and Mike Mantler on horns, Chris Spedding on Guitar, Carla Bley on Piano, Steve Swallow on bass and some other friends on the rest of the instruments.

Those of you who haven’t heard Fictitious Sports must be asking.. well if it doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd then.. What is it?

That’s a tricky question. It has elements of Jazz but it is not Jazz, the tempos are all twisted. (And here I must contradict myself and say that he is a Great Drummer, a fact which I am sure you will accept after listening to the songs).

The bombastic arrangements could do well in a Ska album but this is not even close to Ska. The rhythms are unbalanced, odd and funny. The performances are impeccable. Actually this album is a lot of fun.

Humor impregnates every song, every chord and every phrase. But hey don’t get confused, this is a serious album. It is seriously hilarious. And it is very good music.

It is as if they had a great time doing it.

I believe you’ll also have great time exposing yourself to this happy madness.

Enjoy and,

Keep Listening.

The links are there, are usual.

Nick Mason - I was Wrong...


Jaime Antonio Alvarez said...

This is the link to Nick Mason's marvelous solo album:

Anonymous said...

Prog rock is not dead, it just smells funny

Jaime Antonio Alvarez said...

Very nice one!

I love making enemies by saying that Prog is dead, now you have given me a way-out-phrase.
I'll say.."ok, ok... it is not dead but you must agree that it smells funny..."



bluesmutt said...

This is great, something I never would have heard if not for your blog.

Thanks, bluesmutt

PS: I see that Terry Adams plays keys and clavinet. There's some of the zaniness of NRBQ in there too.

Anonymous said...

hi and thanks for this post
please note than "rock bottom" is not the first solo album of wyatt. before it was "the end of an ear". tell me if you want a link to listen if you don't know this album

micaus said...

You mention Carla Bley. I actually have this in my mp3 list as a Carla Bley album, so I was surprised to find that it out under Mason's name. It has all the trademarks of Bley nad reminds me of many of her albums, love 'em all! Yes, it is definitely jazz, listen to those arrangements. Bley is an excellent arranger for big bands and you can hear that here. She has also made some fun but quirky ensemble albums, not unlike this one. She clearly assembled the musicians as well, Steve Swallow has been a long time collaborator (and I mean a long time)Other musicians such as the wonderful Howard Johnson confirm this. Most of the band is the cream of British jazz.
I hope this inspires many to seek out Carla Bley, it will be worth it. Note also that she ahs worked several times with Cream's Jack Bruce and even John McLaughlin.

broadwaythehardway1988 said...

This surely is a masterpiece. Bought it on LP when it came out. And yes, It's Carla's album...not Nick's........even he is credited...(for his drumming he deserves it).

Anonymous said...


This is wonderful piece and I'd like to special thank you for the words about prog-rock and Rock Bottom album. Nice to hear own thoughts by someone other's voice.

A bit similar album to this Ficticious Sports I'd mention also terribly underrated Annette Peacock’s X-Dreams from 1978, recently re-released as My Mama Never Taught Me How To Cook - highly recommend!

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