Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets @ Brisbane Convention Centre, 19.09.2023
Photo: Will Ireland
After the band play ‘The Nile Song’, bassist Guy Pratt says that he always wanted to play the song and recounts preparing to go out in tour with David Gilmour in 2006. “David asked for suggestions for songs to play on the tour. I suggested ‘The Nile Song’. David suggested that I join another band. And I did!”
Bands often shun certain sections of their back-catalogue. It goes one of two ways, avoid the stuff from before they hit the big time that they’re a bit embarrassed about or play little from the time after their peak because everyone’s come to see them play the old hits. In this age, it’s seems unfathomable that Pink Floyd got until album Number 8 to find a fame and fortune that’s never left them. The band and its estranged frontmen have occasionally dipped into songs from their earlier days. The last incarnation of the group and Gilmour’s post-band solo tours have included the likes of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and ‘Astronomy Domine’ into their sets to make sure that Syd Barrett kept getting an income from his invaluable contribution to the band. Roger Waters generally sticks to his own songs and the 1973-1979 Pink Floyd period but according to Setlist.fm, ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is currently his 29th most played song. But much of those seven albums before Dark Side of the Moon has been consciously avoided by all and sundry.
The brilliance of Pink Floyd has always been that despite only having ever had five core members, that they never remained the same band for very long, they’ve always been in a state of constant flux. The early Syd Barret days, leading into the initial post-Barrett phase, into album Number 6, ‘Meddle’ and the start of the band’s early-to-late ‘70s imperial period, morphing into the Water’s apparent dictatorship for ‘The Wall’ and especially ‘The Final Cut’, and then the final three-piece band for a last couple of albums and the posthumous ‘The Endless River’, after the sad death of Rickard Wright.
Most bands have a selection of what these days gets termed as ‘Deep Cuts’ on their albums; Pink Floyd have whole albums worth of these songs. If anyone was going to do it, you felt it was always going to be Nick Mason who chose to revisit the band’s early days. This was Mason in his drumming prime; watching the Live At Pompeii film for the first time was a real eye opener with regard to his drumming prowess.
All of which brings us to the Brisbane Convention Centre for Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets.
Having said all that about Pink Floyd and its various parts largely ignoring songs from the early days, tonight they start with one of the few songs that everyone has included in their setlists at some point, and more often than not, as a regular song. It has that honour as ‘One Of These Days’ is one of the band’s best. It might be veering into territory that probably should have seen it excluded from the setlist but its is perfect opener, Guy Pratt’s pulsating bass, Lee Harris’s slide guitar, Dom Beken’s keyboard stabs, and Nick Mason’s warped vocal line, delivered via sample rather than in real time. Say what you like about the Brisbane Convention Centre, as it is a soulless space fare better saved for trade shows, but it always has immaculate sound.
After quick sojourn into the Syd Barret era, with ‘Arnold Lane, ‘Meddle’ makes a quick return to the setlist with ‘Fearless’. The field recording of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Anfield is too loud in the mix at the start of the song, which is a slight shame as the song has such a glorious and understated introduction.
It’s always a surprise that given it’s placing between Meddle and Darkside of the Moon, that the 1972’s Obscured by Clouds album has become a forgotten album. So many of its songs fit so perfectly together with the songs that the band wrote over the next few years. The title track that segues effortlessly into ‘When You’re In’ are such archetypal-sounding Pink Floyd songs that easily stand-up when compared to the better known songs that were to come over the rest of the 1970s. In the second half of the show, the band also play the album’s ‘Burning Bridges’ and ‘Childhoods End’, again played back-to-back and again giving that that all important sense of coherence that runs through all the best of Pink Floyd.
Not everything works from the early days of Pink Floyd hold ups. The likes of ‘Arnold Layne’, ‘See Emily Play’ are timeless Syd Barret pop songs and ‘Lucifer Sam’ sounds so much richer than the album version but there’s a line of whimsiness that ‘Candy and a Currant Bun’ and ‘Vegetable Man’ cross that mark them out as oddities amongst the other songs. There’s a time and place and Brisbane at 8pm on a Tuesday night in 2023 playing to an audience of who have to get up in the morning and go to their corporate jobs probably isn’t it. I would have said that everyone’s far too straight for these songs but at the interval I find myself in the near vicinity of a woman who looks old enough to have seen Pink Floyd in their early days who’s so saturated with the smell of weed that you can smell it from metres away.
‘Atom Heart Mother’ is sandwiched between ‘If’ and it’s one of those songs where everyone is at the top of their game. Dom Beken gets to take centre stage for the middle section (“He’s got 300 keys that he can press at anytime so either he’s very talented or very lucky,” Mason notes during the band introductions). Lee Harris and Gary Kemp combine superbly to provide a twin guitar attack over Guy Pratt’s melodic bassline, while Mason adds his unmistakable tom tom fills. Mason’s excellent drumming continues in ‘Remember A Day’, dedicated by Guy Pratt to Richard Wright.
The first half ends with ‘Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun’, introduced by means of a joke mobile phone call from Roger Waters enquiring about the gong, with Mason telling to check with Kylie. The song, once again really showcases Mason’s drumming in the early days of Pink Floyd and the aforementioned gong goes to prove that nothing sounds quite like a gong.
The second half of the show starts with ‘Astronomy Domine’, one of Syd Barrett’s greatest songs, the song worthy of being the first song on their first album, and one of the few that the band kept playing in their later days and ends with ‘Echoes’. The fact that it’s called ‘The Echoes Tour’ is a bit of a giveaway that it was going to be a keystone song in the setlist but it’s hard not to feel slightly conflicted about it’s inclusion. I mean it’s magnificent, worthy of the standing ovation that it gets at its culmination but it doesn’t stop it from feeling sacrilegious, as despite everyone else going on in its 23 minutes, it’ll forever be the sheer beauty of Richard Wright and David Gilmour’s harmonies. The band do everything else absolutely perfectly but that’s the one thing they can’t replicate even though Gary Kemp and Guy Pratt do all they can.
Kemp is a revelation throughout the evening; “From a New Romantic to a Prog Rock God,” as Nick Mason describes him in the band introductions. Later on, Kemp mentions all the band t-shirts he’s seen being worn by the audience and jokingly complaints that he hasn’t seen any Spandau Ballet shirts. The last time I saw Gary Kemp, it was when Spandau Ballet played at the BEC in April 2010, which, I’m guessing, probably puts me into a very exclusive club in tonight’s crowd. He takes on the lead guitar parts in ‘Echoes’, and, as throughout, his playing is excellent. He really seems to be relishing playing these songs, and, to be far, so do the rest of the band. There’s an obvious camaraderie, especially between Kemp and Pratt, that the band they’re playing tribute to has never been exactly well known for.
The bass frequencies in ‘Echoes’ are insane, it’s so rare these days that you get that feeling of everything vibrating so much it feels like the whole room is shaking. When it comes to Nick Mason ‘s reverberated drum fills in the middle, you can fell both the collective thrill that you’re getting to see this in such close quarters and the collective will for him to not stop, keep going. For someone who’s only a few months shy of their 80th birthday, playing for two hours a night, and playing some of his demanding drum parts is astonishing. And there’s still time for a three song encore of ‘See Emily Play’, ‘A Saucerful of Secrets, and ‘Bike’.
At the start of the night, Nick Mason ruminates on whether you can be in your own tribute band. “If the band you’re in starts playing different tunes,” as was written shortly after the period that tonight’s show highlights, I think it’s probably ok to be in your own tribute band. But either way, what a tribute band to be playing in. Coming away at the end of the night of two hours of Pink Floyd songs, there’s not even the slightest pang of yearning that the evening could or would have been improved by hearing ‘Comfortably Numb’ or ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. Instead, it just makes you want to get back and start listening to Pink Floyd’s first seven albums with a new found sense of rediscovery.