Nick Ma­son

Prog - - Contents - Words: David West Images: Jill Fur­manovsky

The drum­mer hits the road with his new Floyd-in­spired out­fit, fea­tur­ing Spandau Bal­let’s Gary Kemp.

“The rea­son for do­ing this is not to get air miles, it’s to en­joy play­ing. If the cost of that is we do it in a tour bus, we do it in a tour bus and I’m happy with it.”

Nick Ma­son

When the drum­mer from one of the big­gest, best­selling bands in the world de­cides to play a pub gig, you know some­thing spe­cial is in the works. Prog talks to Pink Floyd’s Nick Ma­son and his new band mem­bers Gary Kemp and Guy Pratt about their Saucer­ful Of Se­crets su­per­group, the joys of im­pro­vis­ing, and why they def­i­nitely won’t be do­ing Com­fort­ably Numb.

Not many fa­mous mu­si­cians go from play­ing at Live 8 (three mil­lion view­ers glob­ally) and the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the Lon­don Olympics (UK TV au­di­ence of 26 mil­lion) to The Half Moon, Put­ney (ca­pac­ity 250) and Ding­walls, Cam­den (ca­pac­ity 500), but Nick Ma­son seems to be loving ev­ery minute of per­form­ing with his new band. Nick Ma­son’s Saucer­ful Of Se­crets pulls to­gether Gary Kemp from Spandau Bal­let, Pink Floyd tour­ing and record­ing bassist Guy Pratt, gui­tarist Lee Har­ris from the Block­heads and The Orb’s Dom Beken on keys to cel­e­brate Floyd’s ear­li­est work in all its psy­che­delic, freaked-out glory.

It was while par­tic­i­pat­ing in the V&A Mu­seum’s Pink Floyd ex­hi­bi­tion Their Mor­tal Re­mains last year that Ma­son started to feel the itch to dust off the drums and play live again. “There’s a point at which af­ter you’ve done the fourth Q&A, you think, ‘This is all about an­cient his­tory,’” he says. “It’s like talk­ing to some­one from the Sec­ond World War or what­ever. I just felt, God, that hap­pened 40 years ago so I be­gan to think, ‘Ac­tu­ally, I pre­fer the fun of play­ing.’ The tim­ing was re­ally good be­cause Lee Har­ris was talk­ing to Guy Pratt: ‘Do you think Nick would be in­ter­ested?’ Guy said, ‘I’ve no idea, you ask him.’”

Where Ma­son is unas­sum­ing and laid-back in per­son, Gary Kemp pos­i­tively buzzes with en­ergy when talk­ing about the group. “The first song I ever played in a band with any­one was Set The Con­trols For The Heart Of The Sun, and we played it all day long, which it of­ten feels like now on­stage!” he says, laugh­ing. “It’s the com­mit­ment to make this mu­sic fresh, to take in­spi­ra­tion from the tracks but to make it not like a bunch of ses­sion play­ers just try­ing to em­u­late what’s on the record.”

Kemp points to the way that Saucer­ful ap­proach the break­down sec­tions in In­ter­stel­lar Over­drive and Set The Con­trols For The Heart Of Sun, which ex­em­plify early Floyd at their most ex­per­i­men­tal and free-form. “What­ever record­ing you lis­ten to over the years, they’re all dif­fer­ent,” says Kemp. “Im­pro­vi­sa­tion is key. Rather than say­ing, ‘Right, that’s the best one, let’s just copy that,’ the an­swer is, ‘No, im­pro­vise your­self.’ Do­ing stuff that’s mu­si­cally atonal, ab­stract, is very hard for mu­si­cians be­cause we’re used to fol­low­ing the line, play­ing to­gether, get­ting in key, get­ting in the groove, but to ac­tu­ally try to work away from that and be ab­stract, it’s a bit like splash paint­ing, like a mu­si­cal Jack­son Pollock. It’s never go­ing to be the same paint­ing twice.”

Kemp shares the vo­cal du­ties in Saucer­ful with Guy Pratt, who is more than fa­mil­iar with Floyd’s cat­a­logue, hav­ing spent 30-plus years play­ing with Floyd and David Gil­mour’s solo band. “You can’t have a singer be­cause there’s not enough singing,” ob­serves Pratt about the lack of a des­ig­nated front­man. “You can’t have some­one just stand­ing there for 20 min­utes at a time while we’re mess­ing about. I like the fact that it’s mainly about Nick.”

With Saucer­ful, Ma­son and co are only ex­plor­ing Floyd’s out­put pre-Dark Side Of The Moon, and their setlist for the first four shows

at Dingwall’s and The Half Moon was drawn from Med­dle, More, Ob­scured By Clouds, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and the Saucer­ful Of Se­crets al­bums.

“I’ve only played three of these songs ever in my 32 years’ as­so­ci­a­tion with them,” says Pratt, who had worked pre­vi­ously with Kemp as a writ­ing part­ner, but never in a band. “His man­ager was an old friend of mine and when Gary did his solo al­bum, I was brought in to help him put a band to­gether and or­gan­ise ev­ery­thing. We got on so well we had this idea of writ­ing a mu­si­cal to­gether. Then we did an­other mu­si­cal for the Na­tional Theatre youth pro­gramme, so we’ve never done any rock’n’roll to­gether. We’ve only re­ally known each other as West End Wendies. He’s got this fan­tas­tic rock’n’roll front­man in him, which he’s never got to let out and he’s so good at it. That’s the thing, ev­ery­one is get­ting to do stuff they never did. Nick’s get­ting to do stuff he hasn’t done for years.”

With Wa­ters and Gil­mour both still ac­tive, Ma­son wasn’t look­ing to draw com­par­isons with the other Floyd alumni. “I wanted to avoid be­ing judged on how good a ver­sion of Com­fort­ably Numb we did. I didn’t want to go there. I think as soon as you get into all that stuff, then you start think­ing, ‘Well, we’ll need some film and this, that and the other.’

“What I re­ally like is go­ing back to the idea of ac­tu­ally im­pro­vis­ing,” adds Ma­son, who is only too aware of the flour­ish­ing in­dus­try built around Pink Floyd trib­ute bands. “First of all, there are peo­ple care­fully study­ing ev­ery mis­take I’ve ever made and recre­at­ing it. Al­though my favourite is still The Aus­tralian Pink Floyd, who had mu­si­cal dif­fer­ences and split into the Brit Floyd. You’d have thought they’d have seen it com­ing. They do a great job, it’s not that I want to stop them, but I still have that rather pa­thetic no­tion that rock mu­sic is a sort of op­por­tu­nity to ex­press your­self. It’s this lib­er­at­ing thing, a bit loose and a bit wild, an op­por­tu­nity for lots of new ideas, so in many ways I’m more com­fort­able when peo­ple take some­thing and re­work it. I thought Dub Side Of The Moon was ter­rific.”

From play­ing blue-eyed soul and pop in Spandau Bal­let, Gary Kemp might not look like the ob­vi­ous choice to cel­e­brate Syd Bar­rett and early Floyd, but he’s proved to be the per­fect fit. “In a way the last thing you need is some­body who has spent the last 50 years study­ing Pink Floyd,” says Ma­son, al­though that might be short-chang­ing Kemp, who grew up on ev­ery­thing from Marc Bolan and Bowie to ELP, Yes and Gen­e­sis.

While the ad­vent of punk saw Kemp sell his prog al­bums to Cheapo Cheapo Records in Soho, he never parted with his Floyd records (and fear not, he’s since re­built his prog col­lec­tion). And he clearly has a great love for the Syd Bar­rett era.

“Prob­a­bly the first great British glam rock pop star was Syd,” says Kemp. “There would have been no Bowie if it wasn’t for Syd. Bowie wouldn’t have cut his hair like that. There would have been no Johnny Rot­ten cut­ting his hair like that if it hadn’t been for the way Syd looked. Syd was our Velvet Un­der­ground, re­ally. He was art school, he was dan­ger­ous, he was beau­ti­ful, he was liv­ing on the edge – all of those things that we find deadly at­trac­tive as rock mu­si­cians.”

Then there’s Bar­rett’s ground­break­ing work weav­ing sound­scapes out of his Bin­son Echorec to con­sider. “He was more than a mu­si­cian, more than a song­writer or per­former – he was a per­for­mance artist ma­nip­u­lat­ing sound in a way I don’t think any­one had done be­fore,” says Kemp. “Sure, The Bea­tles were do­ing stuff on Sgt. Pep­per’s… in the stu­dio, ma­nip­u­lat­ing sound, so I think that was an in­spi­ra­tion, but Syd was go­ing out there and do­ing that live.”

Bar­rett’s idio­syn­cratic song­writ­ing is very ev­i­dent in the track Bike, which all three agree is one of the trick­i­est songs in the Saucer­ful set. “That’s the Pink Floyd that Blur and ev­ery­one comes from,” says Pratt. “The funny thing is, it’s in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to play be­cause the end of ev­ery verse is dif­fer­ent. It’s in Syd time. It took us ages to work it out, whereas for Nick it poses no prob­lem at all. He plays right through it and is com­pletely on it. It’s great to play stuff that’s silly as op­posed to all the Pink Floyd I’m used to play­ing, which is so im­por­tant and weighty.”

“Bike is ac­tu­ally great fun,” con­firms Ma­son, “but Bike is a funny one where there’s no way you can freestyle off it. It’s a par­tic­u­lar song in its own right, but the way we do it is a slightly harder ver­sion and that’s true of prob­a­bly Arnold Layne and See Emily Play. To some ex­tent they need to be done as the sin­gles. I say that – don’t hold me to ac­count when you come to a show and we do a 20-minute ver­sion of Arnold Layne! We’ve only done four shows – it’s not very many re­ally. We’re still for­get­ting things.”

They may be hav­ing a blast, but that’s not to say the band are light­weight and fluffy. Far from it. “We’ve been start­ing these shows with In­ter­stel­lar Over­drive,” says Kemp. “We lay down our marker from the be­gin­ning. This is what we’re about, guys – we’re tak­ing risks on­stage. We’re do­ing an eight-minute ver­sion. It’s not the long­est

“We’ve been start­ing these shows with

In­ter­stel­lar Over­drive. We lay down our marker from the be­gin­ning. This is what we’re about, guys – we’re tak­ing risks on­stage.”

Gary Kemp

ver­sion you’re ever go­ing to hear be­cause we’re just start­ing off, but it has a com­plete freak-out in it. We don’t do all the pretty stuff first and save the dif­fi­cult stuff for the end. In­ter­stel­lar… is one of the great­est riffs of all time. That riff is up there with Black Sab­bath’s Para­noid and

Smoke On The Wa­ter, one of the great­est gui­tar riffs ever writ­ten.”

And digging deeper into the vaults, there’s The Nile Song from More in all its crush­ing, scream­ing heav­i­ness. “I don’t think The Nile Song was ever played live by Floyd, so it gives us some­thing unique and of course it’s all about Nick’s drum­ming,” says Kemp. “For me, Nick’s drum­ming on the early stuff is much more ap­par­ent. He was much more into a jazz style of mal­lets and free-flow­ing tom-tom work. I think later on, Dark

Side… and on­wards, it set­tled down into a much more solid groove, but the early stuff was much more in­spired and im­pro­vi­sa­tional.

“I think he’s en­joy­ing go­ing back to those be­cause he’s the fo­cus of our at­ten­tion. I’m just try­ing to get him to do Scream Thy Last Scream but I’m not sure he’s up for singing!”

Fol­low­ing their de­but four-gig run, Saucer­ful will be un­der­tak­ing a month-long Euro­pean tour in Septem­ber play­ing the­atres and mid-sized venues, a far cry from Floyd’s sta­dium-pack­ing hey­day. Not that Ma­son seems to mind one bit.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to it, ill-ad­vis­edly,” he says. “Maybe I’ll be go­ing, ‘Where’s the jet?’ I’m re­ally en­joy­ing this. It goes with play­ing the mu­sic like this. If we’re not do­ing sta­di­ums then there prob­a­bly isn’t the bud­get for the jet, so if that’s the deal, that’s the deal. The rea­son for do­ing this is not to get air miles, it’s to en­joy play­ing. If the cost of that is we do it in a tour bus, we do it in a tour bus and I’m happy with it.”

Nick Ma­son’s Saucer­ful Of Se­crets will be on tour through­out Septem­ber. For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.the­saucer­fulof­se­crets.com.

SE­CRETS SO­CI­ETY, L-R:GUY PRATT, LEE HAR­RIS, GARY KEMP, DOM BEKEN, NICK MA­SON.

LET THERE BE LIGHTS: SAUCER­FUL LIVE AT THE HALF MOON IN PUT­NEY.

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