Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets
Saturday 23rd April 2022
The Royal Albert Hall, London
Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets twenty-one date UK and Ireland 'Echoes' tour, their largest UK tour to date, commenced on Wednesday 13th April in Dublin and ends tonight on Wednesday 11th May in Croydon, South London. On Saturday 23rd April, the tour stopped off at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London. Their first time playing there and their biggest show so far.
The Saucerful of Secrets were formed in 2018 to perform exclusively pre-Dark Side of the Moon music of Pink Floyd. The band comprises Pink Floyd drummer and co-founder Nick Mason, bassist Guy Pratt (Pink Floyd), guitarists Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet) and Lee Harris (The Blockheads), and keyboardist Dom Beken. The question is, when is a tribute band not a tribute band? Probably when the band consists of at least one original member, even if it is just the drummer!
The band made their live debut on 20th May 2018 at Dingwalls, North London, with a further three pub gigs at the legendary Half Moon, Putney, South West London. After the huge success and positive reviews surrounding those gigs, they went on to embark on a full-on European tour in September 2018 and a North American tour in 2019. In September 2020, the band released a live album and DVD entitled 'Live at the Roundhouse'. Recorded over two sold out nights at this historic North London venue. The original Floyd having played there many times in 1967.
Pink Floyd, one of the most commercially successful and influential Rock bands of all time, were formed in London in 1965 by Syd Barrett (guitar, lead vocals), Nick Mason (drums), Roger Waters (bass guitar, vocals), and Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals). Barrett left in 1968 and was replaced by guitarist David Gilmour; Waters left in 1985 and Wright died in 2008. While Gilmour and Waters continue to perform Pink Floyd material in their solo shows, Mason worked on Pink Floyd reissues and compilations. After assisting with Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, a 2017 museum exhibition about Pink Floyd, Mason said: "You end up feeling like you belong to English Heritage. Everything you talk about and do is something that happened forty years ago. It was actually beginning to make me feel a bit old."
In 2018, the guitarist Lee Harris, formerly of the Blockheads, approached the bassist and Pink Floyd collaborator Guy Pratt about Mason forming a band to perform Pink Floyd's early Psychedelic material, recorded while Barrett was the bandleader. The new band was joined by vocalist and guitarist Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet and keyboardist Dom Beken, a collaborator of Wright. Pratt and Beken previously worked together in the electronic band Transit Kings.
Mason was quite adamant that he did not want to perform as a tribute act similar to the Australian Pink Floyd Show or perform shows similar to those by Waters and Gilmour; the band wanted to "capture the spirit" of the music rather than recreate it. They received the blessings of Gilmour and Waters. The band takes its name from the second Pink Floyd album, 'A Saucerful of Secrets' (1968). On 18th April 2019, Waters surprised the audience at the New York Beacon Theatre by joining the band to sing 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun'. A thirty-nine date European tour set to begin in April 2020 was postponed to April 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A second North American tour was postponed from January 2022 to October.
The performance on this tour consisted of two one hour sets with no support band. The nights proceedings kicked off at 7.45pm sharp, opening with the bass heavy and echo drenched throb of ‘One of These Days' from the 1971 'Meddle' album. Largely an instrumental track except for the one spoken line “One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces”! A hauntingly hypnotic and relentlessly driving piece sets the scene nicely. Trippy psychedelic lights added to the overall mind-expanding effect! Upon the conclusion of this piece Mason stood up from behind the drum kit and gave a speech about the formation and aim of the band before they launched into Floyd's first ever single 'Arnold Layne', written by Syd Barrett in 1967 and going on to reach number 20 in the UK singles chart. “Arnold Layne had a strange hobby, Collecting clothes moonshine washing line, They suit him fine.” Wacky madcap lyrics about a man who likes to collect other people’s clothes off washing lines! Kemp got to sing lead on this one, and did a fine job, with Pratt adding harmony vocals. The important aspect of this band is that they don't try to reproduce the tracks exactly as they were recorded but add their own slant on the arrangements whilst staying true to the main essence of the music. At this point Pratt reminded Kemp that the last time this song was played at this venue was back in 2006 when David Bowie sang it as a guest of David Gilmour. Sadly, that was Bowie's last ever UK public live performance!
Back to the 'Meddle' album for 'Fearless' which includes the “You'll never walk alone” chant. Pratt kept the energy levels up with his energetic leg kicks and leaps off the drum riser! The trippy vibes continued with 'Obscured by Clouds' and 'When You're In' from the 1972 soundtrack album 'Obscured by Clouds'. Not one of Floyd's best albums in my opinion, but by no means bad. Changing the mood once again it was back to one of Syd Barrett's weirdly whimsical numbers, and B-side to their debut single, 'Candy and a Currant Bun'. “Oh, my girl sitting in the sky, Go buy candy and a currant bun, I like to see you run, Lay back.” Again, Kemp got to take the lead on this one and did a worthy job.
Things got even stranger with a rendition of the unreleased Barrett composition 'Vegetable Man'. This song was written towards Barrett's final days with the Floyd in 1968 and sees a man mentally disintegrating. “In yellow shoes I get the blues, Though I walk the streets with my plastic feet, With my blue velvet trousers, make me feel pink, There's a kind of stink about blue velvet trousers, In my paisley shirt I look a jerk, And my turquoise waistcoat is quite out of sight, But oh oh my haircut looks so bad, Vegetable man how are you.” A very tragic demise of a genius songwriter. I feel quite uneasy with this song being in the set plus the arrangement was never perfected at the time and so not necessarily a great live track in its current form. There are many better Barrett tracks that could have been picked.
The time came for a truncated interpretation of the Floyd masterpiece 'Atom Heart Mother' from the 1970 album of the same name, bookended with a beautiful song written by Roger Waters called 'If' also on the 'Atom Heart Mother' album. Once again Kemp takes the lead vocal on 'If' and gets to play some nimbly intricate acoustic guitar picking. The original 'Atom Heart Mother' clocks in at over twenty-three minutes long and is made up of six parts: I. ‘Father's Shout’, II. ‘Breast Milky’, III. ‘Mother Fore’, IV. ‘Funky Dung’, V. ‘Mind Your Throats Please' and VI. ‘Remergence'. The shortened rendition played here clocked in at just over seven minutes with the exuberant performance being sublimely flawless and delectably mind-blowing. One of the many highlights of the set.
The exquisite 'Remember a Day' from the 1968 album 'A Saucerful of Secrets' came next and was originally written and sung by original Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright, on this tour Pratt takes the lead vocal. A delightfully dreamy performance and a very welcome addition to the set. Pratt has a long association with Floyd dating back to 1987 when he joined them for the 'Momentary Lapse of Reason' tour. He has been with them ever since, even playing bass on all of David Gilmour's solo albums and tours. His connection to the band extends even further as he went on to marry Richard Wright's daughter!
The first half concluded with the momentous and haunting Roger Waters penned space epic 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' from the 1968 album 'A Saucerful of Secrets'. Mason joked that for the first time he gets to bash the mighty gong. During the bands heyday Waters would hog the gong! With heads truly blown it was time for a well-earned interval!
The second half opened with the almighty crash, bang, wallop of ‘Interstellar Overdrive' and 'Astronomy Domine' from the 1967 debut album 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn'. Arguably these tracks are the origins of 'Space Rock' as it became to be known. This performance was a full-on mind-expanding sonic trip awash with echo drenched guitars and hypnotising pulses. The sound was loud but clear as a bell. Hats off to the sound men! Pratt then takes the lead on the growling 'The Nile Song' from the 1969 film soundtrack album 'More'. He comments that this was his favorite Floyd song when he first discovered it on the budget priced 'Relics' compilation album back in the day. This track is the closest Floyd got to heavy metal and Pratt delivers it with tremendous fervor, unrelenting punk energy and a gritty snarl!
A couple of curious inclusions came next in the form of 'Burning Bridges' and 'Childhood's End' from the 1972 album 'Obscured by Clouds'. Nice laid-back tunes played with restrain and decorum, but maybe one of those would have been enough and perhaps not this late on in the set! The Floyd’s second single released in 1967, the wonderous 'See Emily Play' lightens the mood and takes us back to Barrett's amusingly whimsical writing style. This single went top ten, reaching number 6 in the UK singles chart. “Emily tries but misunderstands, ah ooh, She's often inclined to borrow somebody's dreams till tomorrow, There is no other day, Let's try it another way.” Kemp once again takes lead vocals for this rendition and does the song justice.
The time had come for the reason everyone is here tonight, the full twenty-three-minute performance of the Floyd masterpiece that is 'Echoes' from the 1971 album 'Meddle'! One of my favourite Floyd songs of all time. 'Echoes' is the point in which the Floyd sound was fully developed and realised, paving the way for what became the 'Dark Side of the Moon' album. A monumental piece that takes the listener through various moods with juxtaposing tempos and grooves. The original mellifluous vocal harmonies were that of David Gilmour and Richard Wright, at this performance Kemp and Pratt had that unenviable task, but I am pleased to say they both did a sterling job. Nick Mason's drumming is uniquely undefinable and without exception integral to the overall Floyd sound that very few can replicate. He continues to play exceptionally well and is clearly enjoying every minute on stage. A truly phenomenal performance from all the band and a standing ovation at the end suggested that everyone in the hall agreed.
For the encore we were treated to the glorious 'Lucifer Sam' from the 1967 debut album 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn'. Another dazzlingly whimsical gem written by the late great Syd Barrett. “Lucifer Sam, Siam cat, Always sitting by your side, Always by your side, That cat's something I can't explain.” Pratt takes the lead on this one and his infectious energy and witty humor shine through. Interestingly, Pratt's other vocation when he is not touring the world as a musician, is stand-up comedy!
The penultimate track of the set was the eleven-minute transcendental epic that is 'A Saucerful of Secrets' from the 1968 album of the same name. A breathtakingly ethereal piece in four parts: I. ‘Something Else’, II. ‘Syncopated Pandemonium’, III. ‘Storm Signal’ and IV. ‘Celestial Voices’. The blend of voices towards the climax of the piece were quite exquisite. Stunning performance from all and another of the many set highlights! The last song of the evening ‘Bike’ is another of Barrett's humorously wacky compositions from the 1967 debut album 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn'. A peculiarly strange little tune and quite a juxtaposition in mood from the previous piece. “I've got a bike, you can ride it if you like, It's got a basket, a bell that rings, And things to make it look good, I'd give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it”!
It is fair to say that they pulled it off! Mason has managed to carve a niche in the Floyd pantheon by concentrating on the early Floyd material that is mostly ignored by the other members of the original band that continue to tour. It is clear to see that Floyd fans are lapping this band up. Long may they run!
Steven C. Gilbert