Nick Mason doesn’t have to be here. Instead of hitting the road for the first time in over 20 years, the 74-year-old Pink Floyd drummer could be racing his classic cars, flying his helicopter, crafting a follow up to his meticulous autobiography Inside Out, or, frankly, doing absolutely nothing at all. With a personal fortune of some £90-million, he obviously doesn’t need the money.
Then again, neither does Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, the man behind such perennials as Gold. And yet here he is too, having interrupted his own down time to sing and play on songs that soundtracked his own youth. He first saw The Floyd live in the early ‘70s and at one point confesses that, even as an aspiring guitarist, he couldn’t take his eyes off Mason “mostly because he was the only thing moving on stage”.
Tonight, by contrast, is a display of perpetual motion. Guy Pratt is by far the most animated, with the 56-year-old bass player actually pogoing like a teenager during opener Interstellar Overdrive. But all four men joining Mason in Saucerful Of Secrets are visibly overjoyed to be here.
Slumming it in Hawaiian shirts, they share frequent smiles across the Roundhouse stage, constantly wander over to interact with each other or make a fuss of the drummer, and beam gleefully whenever the crowd erupt in joy, surprise, or both (which is often). Kemp’s grin as the audience spontaneously break into the choral chant of A Saucerful Of Secrets is almost as spectacular as the performance of the song itself.
And at the centre of it all is the sole constant member of Pink Floyd. Early on tonight, he explains his return is due to growing tired of waiting for Roger Waters or David Gilmour to call. Mason’s only half joking: he’s clearly missed the rush of live performance. Unlike many rock stars with a legacy like his, the drummer’s not simply going through the motions, daydreaming about that £30-million Ferrari 250 GTO back in his garage.
Whether he’s acting as MC, standing up from his kit to pay tribute to Syd Barrett or reminisce about playing tonight’s venue back in 1966; peppering a swinging When You’re In with his signature drum fills; or gleefully rumbling the massive gong hanging behind his kit, the gregarious Mason is in his element. He’s having fun with his friends while they channel the innocent, early days of Pink Floyd together.
There’s the simple band-logo-on-a-sheet backdrop (no circular screen, aeroplanes flying overhead, or walls, thank you very much). There’s the era-specific visuals, from the kaleidoscopic colours to the oil-based liquid light shows that were such an integral part of the band’s gigs, pre flying pigs. And, most importantly, there’s the setlist. Distinguishing himself from Waters and Gilmour, whose shows favour the group’s imperial phase (Dark Side Of The Moon to The Wall), Mason’s collective stick to pre-1973 material.
That’s a span of seven albums, from 1967’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn to Obscured By Clouds. It’s also a period of intense creativity for the young musicians as they moved from Barrett’s whimsical psychedelia (via much sonic experimentation and long instrumental workouts) towards the perfectly crafted concept album that would sell over 45 million units.
Mason and his merry men retrace this journey, reviving songs that, mostly, haven’t been performed live by their creators in over 40 years, if at all. Barrett’s jaunty, instantly recognisable ditties, like Arnold Layne, See Emily Play, and Bike, are revived with as much enthusiasm as they warrant. But so is his loose-limbed Vegetable Man, a long-lost, much-bootlegged stomp. Intended for their second LP, it finally saw the light of day on 2016’s Early Years box set and is greeted with gasps from many of the diehards in the audience.
Astronomy Domine (equal parts ethereal and relentless) and the sweeping Interstellar Overdrive, always pulled back to Earth by its jangling guitar riff, highlight their early free-form tendencies. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun and A Saucerful Of Secrets continue the intergalactic voyage (now sans Syd), before the frameworks for later success began to take shape.
The tempestuous The Nile Song (from 1969’s More), performed with all-out flamboyance, could be seen as an early blueprint for later rock workouts like Run Like Hell. The devastating If, from 1970’s Atom Heart Mother and now paired with that album’s instrumental title track, is the sound of Waters taking his first steps towards Brain Damage or Mother. And rousing Waters-Gilmour co-write Fearless reveals that, as early as 1971, the duo had aspirations of hearing their music sung by thousands at once.
It also highlights the diversity of this journey – from turbulent space jams to forlorn ballads – and the musicianship on display tonight.
Mason, whose jazz-influenced playing style was always more Charlie Watts than John Bonham, plays unlike a man who’s been retired for over two decades and has no trouble pummeling his kit when required (as on instrumental wrecking ball One Of These Days, from 1971’s Meddle). Filling in for the late Richard Wright, Dom Beken (whose CV includes The Orb, Johnny Marr, and Wright himself) flits between decks of vintage analogue synthesisers, keyboards, and emulators to recreate the classic organ, piano, and choral sounds so integral to this music.
Kemp, on vocals and guitar, is all calm confidence or, when twiddling a rack of knobs to make his instrument sound like astral travel, a child at play. Former Blockheads guitarist Lee Harris is a perfect foil, the two men as comfortable channeling Barrett’s jangly sound as Gilmour’s fluid, bluesy tone. And Pratt, a member of the Pink Floyd and Gilmour organisations since 1987, shares lead vocal duties and, in close conjunction with Kemp, manages to breathe new life into words originally sung by not one but four different vocalists: Barrett, Waters, Gilmour, and Wright.
Just like the band they’re echoing, there’s no weak link in Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets. Together they ensure that this is as much a rock show as a celebration, a special, once-in-a-lifetime event met with such jubilation that more UK shows are already set for 2019.
Review of Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets at Roundhouse on 24th September 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Jill Furmanovsky.