Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s new project mines the music the band made before 1973s The Dark Side of the Moon.
Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets
When: March 12, 8 p.m.
Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Tickets and info: From $72, at ticketmaster.com
In a way, there are two bands called Pink Floyd.
The genius group that released The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973 and generated concept albums such as Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall is legendary. The tripped-out, swaggering psychedelic underground London club quartet formed in 1965 by Syd Barrett (guitar/lead vocals), Roger Waters (bass/vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards/vocals) and Nick Mason (drums) is another thing entirely.
Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets was formed to celebrate the music made by during that 1965-1972 period.
The group takes its name from Pink Floyd’s second album and the setlist features acid era fan faves from the 1967 The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, soundtracks for the movies More (1969) and Obscured By Clouds (1972) as well as Ummagumma (1969), Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971). The early-Floyd classic Echoes is one of Mason’s few writing credits with the band.
“There is certainly a school of thought out there that really believes the first Pink Floyd record was the Dark Side of the Moon, because that is when a lot of people first discovered us,” said Mason. “But there are seven albums that come before that which really was, is, an essential part of the band. That some of my personal favourites of all time came out of that time period is quite a bonus as well.”
But Saucerful of Secrets wasn’t his idea.
“It wasn’t me leading on this actually, but Lee Harris (guitarist for Ian Drury & the Blockheads) who thought it would be a brilliant idea to do something like this and talked to Guy Pratt (longtime Pink Floyd touring bassist),” he said. “I’ve worked with Guy for 30 years and have immense respect for him, so when he said he liked it, I was, ‘Oh, alright then, let’s have a go.’”
Mason, Pratt and Harris only needed to find someone to take on the incredibly challenging seat filled first by Syd Barrett and then by the brilliant guitarist/vocalist David Gilmore. In a seemingly impossible pairing, New Romantic-era heartthrob and Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp signed on.
“I would have never expected him to be so enthusiastic, coming as he did from a different genre and era with an impressive list of credits of his own, but he was so excited,” said Mason. “All we needed was a keyboardist, and Gary and Guy recommended Dom Beaken, who had actually worked with Rick Wright extensively, which was a great synergy. We got together, rehearsed a couple of days, listened to ourselves and liked it.”
Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets debuted on May 21, 2018 at Dingwalls, a small London club. Three more shows at the Half Moon, Putney, followed before the band embarked on a European tour in September. It was Mason’s first road trip since Pink Floyd’s 1994 farewell tour in support of the Division Bell.
The Daily Telegraph’s Neil McCormick noted in his review of the debut concert that “Pink Floyd’s underemployed drummer had assembled a group of (inter)stellar musicians to recreate a set of his band’s early psychedelic rock.” The setlist opened with the throbbing Intersteller Overdrive and included some almost never performed songs such as The Nile Song from the More soundtrack, which all agree is the heaviest song ever penned by Pink Floyd.
Mason says that the early material is really fun to play. It’s a great deal less structured than the meticulous orchestrations of Shine On, You Crazy Diamond or Money.
“Something like Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun is still one of my favourites to play, because you can vary it a lot,” he said. “Drummers do like to bash about a bit and you can on that one and a lot of the other early stuff. We’re doing this early music is a slightly more open way and not slavishly follow ever single detail of the original recordings and people really seem to have an appetite for it.”
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Although he only has one solo record to his credit — Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports in 1981 — Mason has been featured on a great many musicians’ projects such as 10cc’s Rick Fenn, American jazz trumpeter Michael Mantler and fellow prog rock icon Robert Wyatt, among others. He has also produced a wide range of artists including UK punk legends The Damned. He says he very rarely turns anything down for fear of missing out on a learning experience.
“Working with the Damned was fantastic although I think I got more out of it than they did as they were having serious musical differences at the time,” he said. “When you’ve spent days in studio just to get one drum sound down right and then you work with the Damned and get an entire record done in less time, it’s fantastic. I’m afraid we never learned to do that in Pink Floyd.”
To lessen the pressures of those endless studio sessions, Mason pursued a passion for vintage cars. The drummer has written two well-reviewed books on classic cars that shaped motorsport and has an impressive collection of cars including a McLaren F1 GTR and a “fleet of Ferraris.” His daughter races and his son-in-law Marino Franchetti is a pro driver and brother of three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti. Jeff Beck has inspired Mason to “dip his toes into the murky waters of hot rod building.”
When he isn’t rehearsing with Saucerful of Secrets, he can be found driving a Renault Alpine.
That there just happens to be a global explosion of bands playing psychedelic rock in a similar vein to early Pink Floyd at the moment certainly makes forming this group timely. But the 75 year-old drummer says that really had nothing to do with it or taking the group out on the road. OK, maybe he felt a bit like getting back behind the kit after the spectacular Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2017. He loved working on the show and doing press around it.
“But it probably has a lot to do with why I’m doing this now too, because after the opening and doing a lot of press, I began to feel more and more like this ancient monument myself,” said Mason. “What I’m enjoying so much now is not just talking about the past but playing it.”