Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets
Live At The Roundhouse
A couple of years back I read about Nick Mason’s new group – Saucerful of Secrets. He was tackling the pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, the Syd Barrett years and some of the early years of when Roger Waters started to steer the ship. Essentially the pre-fame era. Certainly the pre-stadium/arena years.
After my initial dive into the big albums by Floyd I regularly found the most comfort with the material from 1967-1972; an extraordinary body of work, the band at its most prolific and diverse. So I was into the idea. But of course I worried it was a little bit sad also. As soon as I saw some footage of this brilliant line-up I was not only relieved I was super-intrigued.
Here’s the proof now for everyone, from the shows recorded at the Roundhouse last year (available as a DVD also).
It makes sense for Mason to play the early hit-less Floyd material live – Waters and David Gilmour do their big stadium shows still, the Floyd songs dominating amongst their soundalike solo sketches. But Mason was never a songwriter. Just a drummer in the band. By the time that Gilmour had assumed leadership Mason seemed barely interested in doing much behind the drums. He was a business partner in Pink Floyd, Inc. And he swung lightly on a ride cymbal and left a lot of space. But his playing on the early material is creative, interesting and he effortlessly moves around within all sorts of time signatures – since both Roger and Syd were never too interested in sticking with one groove; both wildly different writers though their one similarity is in character, belligerently doing as only they please.
So right away in hearing the 1967-1972 material live with a new line-up we can hear and feel (and see, if you get the DVD) that Mason can still play all of this stuff. He’s happy driving the band. He’s paying tribute to fallen soldier Barrett and to the spirit of the band in its oddly “forgotten” years.
It’s a great band too – Lee Harris (a one-time Blockhead) is a massive Floyd fan. He’s on the guitars, alongside fellow Floyd disciple Gary Kemp. You know him from his acting career. And from that little band he used to front and write the songs for, Spandau Ballet. Here he’s absolutely fantastic in the lead – as a Floyd fanatic. He sings the hell out of this stuff and is a shit hot guitarist to boot.
In the rhythm section we get the closest connections to Floyd, drummer Nick obviously. But the bassist is Guy Pratt (a touring Floyd big band member in the 80s and 90s) and keyboardist Dom Beken is one of those journeyman session stalwarts that’s played every genre, produced and programmed, written video game scores and even worked closely with Floyd’s keyboardist Richard Wright. Learning first hand about those huge chord progressions, the changing time signatures, the thick soup of melody and texture and rhythm that Wright added into the mix.
It’s a great lineup.
And, Careful With That Setlist, You Genius! We get all the obvious things from early on in the Floyd Canon – Remember A Day, Arnold Layne, See Emily Play, Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine. But we also get a few rarities and deeper deep-cuts – When You’re In, Vegetable Man, Green Is The Colour, even Atom Heart Mother, trimmed of its full orchestra bombast but stunning across seven (reduced) minutes for showcasing the great instrumental skills of every player in this band.
It’s not all arty whimsy though. We get the clanging-good rock of The Nile Song – a Gilmour staple from the early days. And Roger’s folksy, pastoral If.
And, sure, it’s a bit weird hearing something as bonkers as Barrett’s Bike being treated to an audience singalong but arguing about what fits in, or what’s even real in 2020 is null and void. Also, bands – or versions of what is left of bands have been finding fame late in life with big shows. It does happen. Hearing Barrett’s best madness-in-song appreciated on this level seems no different than when Arthur Lee toured as Love and released concert films albums of sell-out shows.
What’s remarkable to me is that really the only double-up at all with the Waters or Gilmour touring version of a Floyd sideshow is a rendition of One Of These Days. And I like that Mason and his crew hit at it. Lovely to hear Fearless too. And Lucifer Sam.
This is a brilliant, vital set of songs from a just slick-enough unit. I’m way more into this than I ever might have dreamed.
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