Nick Ma­son’s Saucer­ful Of Se­crets

With David Gil­mour and Roger Wa­ters con­tin­u­ing to fire Floyd’s big guns, Nick Ma­son’s Saucer­ful Of Se­crets have set the con­trols for the heart of early Floyd and achieved lift-off.

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Ian Fort­nam

While David Gil­mour and Roger Wa­ters fire Floyd’s big guns, Ma­son’s new band set the con­trols for early Floyd.

Some­where along the line, an enor­mod­ome-based arms race for the hearts, minds and hard cash of the ev­er­faith­ful Pink Floyd fan base came into be­ing. Over re­cent years, Roger Wa­ters and David Gil­mour have both taken to the road seek­ing to ac­cen­tu­ate the ti­tanic scale of the Floyd’s most epic in­car­na­tion along­side con­tem­po­rary solo ma­te­rial; in­ter­lac­ing lasers, trou­bling in­nercity airspace with fly­ing pigs, shin­ing on into in­fin­ity, build­ing bloody great walls and gen­er­ally try­ing to out-Com­fort­ably Numb each other at ev­ery turn.

Which is all very well if dizzy­ing enor­mity is your thing. On Planet Floyd, mind-blow­ing scale has been writ­ten into their modus operandi since The Dark Side Of The Moon toured its in­ex­orable way from Rain­bow The­atre re­hearsals to 741 con­sec­u­tive weeks (that’s 14.25 years, statis­tics fans) on the US Bill­board chart. But prior to their Dark Side-driven pro­mo­tion to the mid-70s’ techno-flash su­per-league, Pink Floyd were some­thing else en­tirely.

“Be­fore Syd [Bar­rett, founder mem­ber, singer, song­writer, gui­tarist] be­came a writer, we – like ev­ery other long-haired band – wanted to play the blues,” chuck­les found­ing Floyd drum­mer Nick Ma­son over his sec­ond Kens­ing­ton cof­fee of the morn­ing. And un­der­stand­ably so – be­ing raised by film-industry share­crop­pers in the harsh cot­ton-fields of Hamp­stead was bound to make its mark.

“The share­crop­pers of North Lon­don,” Ma­son says, laugh­ing. “Rid­ing those Lon­don and Mid­land Rail­way box­cars from Wat­ford down to Eus­ton.”

Fol­low­ing a quan­tum leap from the sting­ing 1966 blues of I’m A King Bee to Syd Bar­rett’s in­spired multi-pur­pose psychedelia (whether fash­ioned into the sharp, if char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ec­cen­tric, pop ge­nius of Arnold Layne or the ex­ten­sive jazz-in­spired in­stru­men­tal im­pro­vi­sa­tions of In­ter­stel­lar Over­drive), Pink Floyd were rapidly adopted as the house band by Lon­don’s scene-lead­ing UFO club: un­der­ground-defin­ing pur­vey­ors of in­ti­mate hap­pen­ings un­der the ego-negat­ing anonymity of Mike Leonard’s pi­o­neer­ing light shows.

But then, as they sat primed to con­quer Amer­ica, Syd suf­fered his much spec­u­lated upon hal­lu­cino­gen (most prob­a­bly, STP)-in­duced psy­cho­log­i­cal ‘break­down’.

“We cer­tainly dealt with it very, very badly.” Ma­son ad­mits. “We thought Syd was mad be­cause he didn’t want to be a pop star any more, whereas it’s ac­tu­ally highly likely that’s the most sane thing he did feel, but we just as­sumed it meant he was ill.”

With Bar­rett, their pri­mary cre­ative force, out of the pic­ture, Ma­son, Wa­ters (bass), Rick Wright (key­boards) and rel­a­tively re­cent re­cruit Gil­mour (now pro­moted, by de­fault, to a gui­tar and vo­cal role) set to work rein­vent­ing and repur­pos­ing the Pink Floyd sound. And over the course of the next four years – while stretch­ing boldly in a va­ri­ety of new and pi­o­neer­ing di­rec­tions – they made some of the most gen­uinely pro­gres­sive, star­tling and ul­ti­mately en­dur­ing mu­sic of the band’s en­tire ca­reer.

But with their re­lent­less for­ward mo­men­tum find­ing fruition with, and lat­terly de­fined, by the world-beat­ing con­cep­tual im­men­sity of Dark Side Of The Moon and its sim­i­larly bank­able suc­ces­sors (Wish You Were Here, An­i­mals and The Wall), it was a for­ma­tive pe­riod that was largely for­got­ten.

“It’s un­nerv­ing as I find my­self in a slightly more se­nior po­si­tion af­ter all these years of be­ing the ship’s cook.” Nick Ma­son

Es­pe­cially when mega-gig set-lists were be­ing com­piled. These were com­po­si­tions crafted with clubs, theatres, con­cert halls and Odeons in mind. When you’re play­ing a Wem­b­ley, you play your brightly shin­ing Crazy Di­a­monds rather than your sub­tler, more ex­per­i­men­tal selections.

Iron­i­cally, this com­mer­cially mod­est era of cre­ative meta­mor­pho­sis came to se­cure its own con­stituency when bun­dled with the cream of the Bar­rett era on 1971’s bud­get-priced Relics com­pi­la­tion al­bum. While cash-rich 70s sixth for­m­ers and gain­fully em­ployed heads could pore re­lent­lessly over their dope-burn-scarred Dark Side, their cash-strapped younger sib­lings passed the in­ter­minable down time be­tween glam dy­ing and punk hap­pen­ing lis­ten­ing to Bike, See Emily Play and The Nile Song on Relics (re-re­leased to­ward the mid­dle of the decade by Mu­sic For Plea­sure for less than a quid).

And so, as vast are­nas of ex­ul­tant pun­ters down the decades echoed to ‘Is there any­body out there?’ a rich, un­tapped vein of time­less clas­sics lay half­for­got­ten in the mem­ory banks of lit­er­ally mil­lions of Floyd-hun­gry pun­ters: un­played, frozen in time… Relics.

But now, thank­fully and at last, a new band are here to change all that: the ap­pro­pri­ately-named Nick Ma­son’s Saucer­ful Of Se­crets.

Lee Har­ris grew up with Wish You Were Here. His par­ents took him to see Floyd’s The Wall show at Earls Court on their 1980/81 tour when he was eight. When his dad bought him a cas­sette of Relics he thought it was “sort of scary”. Har­ris grew up to play gui­tar for The Block­heads, and upon leav­ing the band in 2013, de­cided to ex­am­ine some of life’s other pos­si­bil­i­ties. He mar­ried, moved to France and ren­o­vated prop­erty. He’d pretty much hung up his gui­tar for good. But a for­tu­itous call from an old chum, Guy Pratt (Pink Floyd’s bas­sist since 1987), to say he was play­ing lo­cally with David Gil­mour and invit­ing Lee to see the show, set un­likely con­cep­tual wheels in mo­tion.

“Com­ing home from the gig, I re­alised how much I loved David Gil­mour’s gui­tar,” Har­ris re­calls. “So I took a year out play­ing along to Pink Floyd records in my bed­room, work­ing out how to use all these dif­fer­ent ped­als.”

The fol­low­ing year, when Har­ris and Pratt met again at yet an­other lo­cal Gil­mour show, Har­ris

was de­ter­mined to work with Pratt on suit­able Floyd ma­te­rial. But what ex­actly?

“It couldn’t be Com­fort­ably Numb, that’d just be silly. Then a light bulb went off in my head: The

Early Years box set’s just com­ing out, and what’s Nick Ma­son do­ing? So I said to Guy: ‘I’ve got an idea of Nick play­ing stuff that isn’t played live much – all the Syd Bar­rett songs and ev­ery­thing up to Ob­scured By Clouds. Do you think he’d go for it?’

And Guy said: ‘Write it out prop­erly and I’ll get it to him.’ Which I did, he did, and here we are.”

“If Lee had writ­ten to me cold, it wouldn’t have hap­pened,” says Nick Ma­son, a warm, self-ef­fac­ing, good-hu­moured sort, ca­su­ally at­tired in a crisply ironed open-necked white shirt “I didn’t know him, but that Guy was up for it made a big dif­fer­ence, be­cause I’ve spent as much time play­ing drums with Guy as I did with Roger [Wa­ters], and it tends to be quite bond­ing.”

Tim­ing was an­other con­tribut­ing fac­tor. Ma­son had just fin­ished pro­mot­ing Pink Floyd’s Their Mor­tal Re­mains ex­hi­bi­tion at the Vic­to­ria And Al­bert Musuem in Lon­don and was start­ing to feel like a dusty mu­seum ex­hibit him­self. “I was be­gin­ning to feel as if I be­longed to English Her­itage, part of an­cient his­tory, and that slightly aca­demic ap­proach had to be bal­anced by some ac­tual play­ing. I re­alised I’d done vir­tu­ally noth­ing where I ac­tu­ally felt tired at the end of a show for years. It was al­ways guest spots, two num­bers or some­thing, plenty of adren­a­line then very lit­tle to ac­tu­ally re­lease it on.”

“When I was at school, Pink Floyd were The Nile Song,” says Pratt, who went to school with Alex Pat­ter­son later of The Orb, and fu­ture Killing Joke bas­sist and Pink

Floyd pro­ducer Youth. Af­ter Pratt got a bass for Christ­mas and Youth a gui­tar, they formed A Nice Pair Of

Three. “I’ve al­ways wanted to do The

Nile Song, but David’s never been keen on it”

If you want to know what Pratt looks like, open a dic­tionary and you should find a pic­ture of him next to the word ‘gar­ru­lous’. Apart from the Floyd, he’s played with a long-as-your-arm list of artists that in­cludes Roxy Mu­sic, Madonna, David Bowie and Michael Jack­son, and if you want an anec­dote, then roll up, roll up, be­cause he’s got plenty to spare. His ca­sual charm and easy wit is like cat­nip to mu­si­cians, so with an in­com­pa­ra­ble ad­dress book at his dis­posal, putting to­gether a band around Ma­son, Har­ris and him­self was never go­ing to present too much of a chal­lenge.

“The first name I sug­gested was Dom.”

Key­board whizz Dom Beken and Pratt have en­joyed a work­ing re­la­tion­ship for years, and it was through Pratt that Beken ended up work­ing with The Orb and, most sig­nif­i­cantly, late Pink Floyd key­board player Rick Wright. “About thir­teen years ago,” Beken ex­plains, “Rick asked Guy – who was his son-in-law – if he knew some­one who could help him re­build a home stu­dio, work with him on some new ma­te­rial and buff up some old stuff.”

Since Wright’s death in 2008, Beken has con­tin­ued to main­tain Wright’s ex­ten­sive archive,

“It’s so great to re­con­nect with the Pink Floyd when they were just find­ing their way, where ev­ery­thing wasn’t so important.” Guy Pratt

so prob­a­bly has a closer un­der­stand­ing of Wright’s play­ing style than any­one else alive. He is even able to closely repli­cate his char­ac­ter­is­tic im­pro­vi­sa­tional style.

“Be­ing Floyd’s sole prop­erly trained mu­si­cian, Rick was the only band mem­ber with a mas­tery of al­ter­na­tive modes and ways of adding char­ac­ter and in­ter­est to what Roger, David and Syd were do­ing in the early days,” says Beken. “So by search­ing through the archive and lis­ten­ing to his multi-tracks, I’ve been try­ing to play in char­ac­ter, but not copy note-for-note what he did be­cause the vibe was dif­fer­ent ev­ery time they played.”

“Rick was adorable,” Pratt con­tin­ues. “But very few peo­ple got to know him, so hav­ing some­one who ac­tu­ally did is such a re­source. So that’s why Dom’s in.”

And to com­plete the team? On the face of it, a sur­pris­ing choice, but ex­am­ine all avail­able ev­i­dence and Gary Kemp, found­ing song­writer/ gui­tarist with Span­dau Bal­let and one-time Ron­nie Kray, is a shoo-in for Syd.

“Gary’s pretty much my best friend,” says Pratt. “But he’s also a friend of Nick’s. So it was Nick that asked Gary. Which is just bril­liant, in­spired.”

Gary Kemp has the de­meanour of a man who doesn’t have to try too hard to be cool. His ca­sual de­ploy­ment of a polka-dot Dolce & Gab­bana silk scarf speaks vol­umes. And when the sub­ject of pop­u­lar cul­ture and tribal youth move­ments of the 60s and 70s comes up, so does he. He ex­pounds

with an in­formed schol­arly en­thu­si­asm on the sub­jects of mod, psych, glam, prog, punk, Bowie, Bolan, Hum­ble Pie, Kraftwerk, Mid­dle Earth,

The Roxy… That he and Pratt are best friends is quite as­ton­ish­ing.

When do ei­ther of them find time to breathe? Kemp hasn’t just stud­ied the chap­ter and verse of Lon­don’s un­der­ground cul­ture, he’s part of its his­tory. The par­al­lels be­tween Floyd and Span­dau Bal­let’s begin­nings are clear, so it’s no real sur­prise that Ma­son and Kemp find so much in com­mon.

“When Span­dau be­came the house band at The Blitz and found our­selves at the fore­front of a new pop/rock wave or youth move­ment, it was ex­actly what hap­pened with the Floyd at the UFO club on Tot­ten­ham Court Road. And that ba­ton con­tin­ued to be passed down through the years in Lon­don, dif­fer­ent clubs, dif­fer­ent scenes: Mid­dle Earth and glam; The Roxy and punk; The Blitz club and new ro­man­tics. And it’s not a long leap. I went to Billy’s, Steve Strange’s first club, in 1978, so that’s only eleven years af­ter Syd was play­ing at the UFO club. It’s noth­ing, is it?”

With the five-piece line-up of Nick Ma­son’s Saucer­ful Of Se­crets fi­nally in place (“A dream team, re­ally,” ac­cord­ing to Pratt), cer­tain es­sen­tial lo­gis­tics had to be taken care of. Not least, who – other than Ma­son and Beken – was go­ing to be who?

“As far as who sang what went,” says Pratt, “that just sort of hap­pened. When play­ing with David and Floyd I tended to do Roger parts. And while

I’m not the best singer in the world, be­cause I’ve been around for a while at least there’s a ring of fa­mil­iar­ity. It’s a voice peo­ple have heard on Pulse and The Del­i­cate Sound Of Thun­der.”

Kemp was the ob­vi­ous choice to in­ter­pret Syd’s ma­te­rial. Again, the lin­eage was clear: “If it hadn’t been for Syd there would have been no Ziggy, if it hadn’t been for both of those guys there would have been no Johnny Rot­ten. There’s prob­a­bly only three de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion be­tween me and Syd vo­cally. Bowie’s voice def­i­nitely echoes Syd’s, and the first time I heard See Emily Play it was Bowie’s ver­sion on Pin-Ups.”

No sur­prise, then, that Kemp uses Mick Ron­son’s gui­tar parts when he plays Emily.

Divvy­ing up Bar­rett and Gil­mour riffs be­tween Har­ris and Kemp also needed con­sid­er­a­tion.

“We had to be­come the Keith and Ron­nie of

Pink Floyd,” Har­ris says. “We all even­tu­ally got in a room to­gether last Oc­to­ber, and at the end of that first re­hearsal, Nick came over to me and said:

‘Well done, thank you,’ and I re­alised he’d re­ally en­joyed him­self, which was great.”

Nick Ma­son’s Saucer­ful Of Se­crets made their live de­but over four suc­ces­sive sold­out nights in Lon­don in May at Cam­den Dingwall’s and the Put­ney Half Moon to packed and rap­tur­ous au­di­ences.

Vin­tage ma­te­rial, long-since frozen in time by fa­mil­iar stu­dio record­ings, breathed anew in in­vig­o­rat­ing con­tem­po­rary ar­range­ments. Half­cen­tury-old songs, some de­fined by pe­riod quaint­ness, snapped into sharp, vi­tal fo­cus, in­formed by glam, punk, trance and am­bi­ent el­e­ments. Years of de­hu­man­is­ing dis­tance dis­solved as Nick Ma­son faced an au­di­ence close enough for him to see the whites of their eyes for the first time in decades.

“It felt great,” Pratt says. “I’ve only played three of these songs live dur­ing my years with Floyd. A lot of them have never been played live and I can’t re­ally un­der­stand why. There’s so much to love about it, not least look­ing back and see­ing Nick grin­ning like an id­iot. He’s just hav­ing the time of his life. What’s lovely is see­ing that guy on the stage at a pub, re­con­nect­ing with that guy on the stage of the UFO. Be­cause I’ve only ever known sta­dium Nick, and as long as I’ve worked with Floyd ev­ery­thing’s been so important, and it’s so great to re­con­nect with the Pink Floyd where it wasn’t, when they were just find­ing their way, and their hu­mour. Be­cause Pink Floyd aren’t ex­actly known for their knock­about hu­mour.”

So far, Saucer­ful have un­veiled their Arnold Layne, their See Emily Play, Bike, In­ter­stel­lar Over­drive (ini­tially a snappy four min­utes, al­ready edg­ing to­wards the epic), Lu­cifer Sam, Ob­scured By Clouds, One Of These Days (the whole set’s all over the net for those who need it). They’re work­ing on ex­pand­ing their reper­toire for forth­com­ing Septem­ber dates, to in­clude Care­ful With That Axe, Eu­gene and Veg­etable Man. What, no Scream Thy Last Scream, the great, lost Syd-era sin­gle on which Ma­son took lead vo­cal?

“Sadly, no,” Ma­son says with a twin­kle. “I bring bad news to your read­ers. I’m not very keen on the song or hav­ing to try to sing and play it si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It was an ex­per­i­ment that gave clear in­di­ca­tion as to why I prob­a­bly shouldn’t.” You seem to be hav­ing an aw­ful lot of fun.

“I’m hav­ing a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ma­son con­cludes with an­other broad grin, “be­cause it’s all about me rather than all about Pink Floyd, and it’s rather un­nerv­ing as I find my­self in a slightly more se­nior po­si­tion af­ter all these years of be­ing the ship’s cook.”

Pho­tos: Jill Fur­manovsky

Nick Ma­son’s Saucer­ful Of Se­crets: (l-r) Guy Pratt, Lee Har­ris, Gary Kemp, Dom Beken, Nick Ma­son.

The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn Floyd: (l-r) Roger Wa­ters, Nick Ma­son, Syd Bar­rett, Richard Wright.

Ma­son is “hav­ing the time of his life” in his new band,says bas­sist Guy Pratt.

While Gil­mour and Wa­ters go for big­ger and big­ger bangs, Ma­son is go­ing back to Floyd’s roots.“I was be­gin­ning to feel as if I be­longed to English Her­itage,part of an­cient his­tory.”Nick Ma­son

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