It was the 17th of April 2018, when Nick Mason Pink Floyd founder member and the only musician to appear on every release announced his new band. It was a dark time for me, but the name alone ‘Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets’ lifted the spirits.
I adore Pink Floyd, in all it’s incarnations but my preference doesn’t lie with the blockbusting Dark Side of The Moon, Wish You Were Here or even the wonderfully whimsical and melancholic Gilmour era (although The Division Bell is among my favourite albums of all time.) It’s the unbridled creativity of the early material that stole and retained my heart. The heavier, the more psychedelic and progressive elements.
Led by Nick Mason (drums- Pink Floyd since 1965) joined by Guy Pratt (bass- Pink Floyd replacing Roger Waters from 1987 live, featuring on the live album The Delicate Sound of Thunder and studio album The Division Bell 1994 and solo with David Gilmour.) The rhythm section has worked together for in excess of thirty years. Dom Beken, producer, songwriter and previous co-worker with Pratt in The Orb joins on keyboards, with Lee Harris providing further guitars and lapsteel (The Blockheads). It was the serendipitous moment of watching Gilmour playing vintage Pink Floyd tracks with Pratt, which inspired Harris to ask Mason if he would be interested in playing the older material. (Infuriatingly, post show, Harris confesses to have never played slide or lapsteel guitar prior to the incarnation of the band. I fear a month of intensive tuition would not have such extraordinary effects on mere mortals.)
The lineup is completed by long-time Floyd fan Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet guitarist, lyricist and songwriter.) Vocals are shared between Kemp and Pratt, with backing by Harris and Beken.
But first we have McNally Waters, comprising of veteran songwriter Larry John McNally and on keyboards, Harry Waters (son of Roger Waters, ex-Pink Floyd and founder member.) A full band, playing melodic, vintage tinged Americana originals; with the pop sensibility of Del Amitri and the heart and soul of The Band/ Allman Brothers. McNally is a charismatic frontman, with a darkly melancholic whisky-blues voice enhanced by the emotive touch of Waters. By the end of the set, I couldn’t decide what would be their Dixie Chicken or Dixie Down, but I look forward to finding out.
The lights go down. The band takes to the stage, the oscillating overture of Interstellar Overdrive segues into Astronomy Domine.
It’s energetic, genuine and raw, with more of a stoner metal groove than would have been expected. Pratt’s bass is on fire, bringing a staggering strength and musicality to Waters lines. Mason takes the opportunity to rest up as he can while the ambient spacey effects roll until hard riffing brings us back into the present with Guy Pratt centre stage and bounding with energy. The incredibly modest Nick Mason takes the mic, for a brief introduction assuring the audience that this is not the Roger Waters, Australian Pink Floyd or the Antiques Roadshow. This is Nick Masons Saucerful of Secrets! They had first played Cardiff in 1969, in the Top Rank on a revolving stage where the equipment fell off. Then returned to play with Black Sabbath at Sophia Gardens in 1970 and we would be hearing some of the same tracks that were performed then.
A feisty version of Lucifer Sam with Pratt on vocals and a distinctly surf rock vibe coming from Harris’s guitar work. It’s unexpected, but more than anything else it is engaging and fun. Fearless follows, with it’s rousing backing of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and Kemp’s vocals are a delight. Obscured By Clouds is weightier and followed by When You’re In (as it is on the album.)
Pratt takes to the mic to introduce the next track, about simpler times, looking back as a child. One of special importance as it was written by his sons grandfather. The late, great Richard Wright (Pink Floyd, keyboards). A majestic rendition, of Remember A Day of which I am sure that his former father in-law would have been proud.
It is only while the band commences a glorious version of Arnold Layne that my eyes are drawn to the backdrop of the band logo which is now overlaid with the 1967 music video for the single! When the ambient lighting for your home are Mathmos lava lamp oil projectors, it is easy to overlook. But these magical, abstract evolving patterns are being manually created, live!
Vegetable Man, the Syd Barrett penned semi-autobiographical dig at the music industry, becomes more new-wave and relevant in its delivery. Led by Kemp, the staccato diction echoes another Cambridge-scene troubadour, Daevid Allen (Gong). Sleazier, groovier and unconventionally original!
Mason explains that Arnold Layne was the first Pink Floyd single, but it was banned by the BBC due to its lyrics… Vegetable Man did not get finished in time for A Saucerful of Secrets and had never actually been played live by Pink Floyd. Sweetly he deadpans ‘whether Syd ran out on the band, or whether the band ran out of Syd. He was the man that made it happen.’ The band is introduced with true fondness.
A sublime version of If shifts into the title track of Atom Heart Mother before returning, with the dulcet acoustic tones ringing out in a perfect balance of strings.
The dynamic changes, as we are promised some dumb ass rock and roll by Pratt, while Kemp introduces a heritage guitar. One which belonged to Micky Jones from Man. His son, George Jones (Son of Man) brought it along for him this evening. So it’s out for thrashiest, loudest song that they do. Here’s to Micky Jones. The band launches into an epic rendition of The Nile Song. It’s glorious, the acid rock becomes almost heavy metal in its translation to a live arena. Pratt quips that when David Gilmour asked for song suggestions from the back catalogue to which he put forward The Nile Song, he was told to find another band! The tempo slows for a mesmerising version of Green Is The Colour. Let There Be More Light is delivered with a thunderous groove and Childhood’s End becomes more menacing. The title is from an Arthur C. Clarke novel which also inspired the Hipgnosis designed Houses of the Holy album artwork for Led Zeppelin!
A sinister heartbeat, pared back psychedelia, that slowly builds. Primal and rousing. Invoking ancient and forgotten gods of distant galaxies. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun is sublime, the addition of an original wailing guitar solo by Kemp is both eerie, discordant and hypnotic enhancing a personal favourite. See Emily Play is genuinely uplifting in its psychedelic wholesomeness and the air of innocence presides through the upbeat whimsy of Bike. One Of These Days chills to the bone, the whooshing wind whistles providing extra-auditory goosebumps. Sadly for my humble tastes, the Dr. Wh theme was less prevalent and Nick did not recite that menacing line live! A very minor grumble. Returning to encore with a heavily truncated A Saucerful Of Secrets which lacks THE drums, but remains remarkably stirring and concluding with Point Me At The Sky with a thrilling guitar solo by Kemp.
The show was profound. Remarkable in a manner that takes material so familiar and rather than regurgitating the goods, reinterprets the music and gives it a more modern spin. Unexpectedly heavier, more assertive (certainly not aggressive) with a pervading sense of respect and joy. Looking back through the prism from Dark Side Of The Moon, towards The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn with a more mature eye, its a beautiful and different perspective. If you are a fan of early Floyd, even if you are not. I wholeheartedly recommend trying to catch A Saucerful of Secrets live.
- Interstellar Overdrive (1967, The Piper At the gates of Dawn) Barrett, Waters, Wright
- Astronomy Domine (1967, TPATGOD) Barrett, Wright
- Lucifer Sam (1967, TPATGOD) Barrett
- Fearless (1971, Meddle)
- Obscured By Clouds (1972, Obscured By Clouds) Gilmour, Waters
- When You’re In (1972, Obscured By Clouds) Gilmour, Water, Wright, Mason
- Remember A Day (1968, ASOS) Wright
- Arnold Layne (1967, first single release. 1971, Relics) Barrett
- Vegetable Man (1967. 2016 The Early Years 1965-1972) Barrett
- If (1970, Atom Heart Mother ) Waters
- Atom Heart Mother (1970, AHM )
- The Nile Song (1969, More) Waters
- Green Is The Colour (1969, More) Waters
- Let There Be More Light (1968, ASOS)
- Childhood’s End (1972, OBC) Gilmour
- Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun (1968, ASOS)
- See Emily Play (1967, TPATGOD)
- Bike (1967, TPATGOD
- One Of These Days (1971, Meddle) Gilmour, Waters, Wright, Mason
- A Saucerful of Secrets (1968, ASOS)
- Point Me At The Sky (1968, fifth single)
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