I took my 12-year-old and 19-year-old to see Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets tour (Lauren had choir practice). The band was grizzled, grey, and genial; when Nick closed by saying “We hope you had as much fun as we did” we felt he meant it. Their stage banter was that of well-bred Englishmen, dry and mild.
Nick’s opening remarks: Hi there. This isn’t The Australian Roger Waters or The Danish Dave Gilmours.
For context: Nick Mason is the only drummer Pink Floyd ever had. The concept is that, since the various Floyd incarnations mostly perform numbers starting with Dark Side of the Moon but there was a lot of good pre-Dark Side Floyd, that’s what Nick and the boys are playing. A Saucerful of Secrets, from 1968, was Floyd’s second album, but its songs don’t dominate.
Here are the songs they played (setlist.fm is remarkable). I knew maybe half, where by “knew” means they’re buried in my hindbrain from unimaginably long ago.
Nick: Hi Vancouver, nice to be back. Last time I was here was… 1970. Anyone here remember 1970? Neither do I.
Wikipedia says: “The band includes long-time Pink Floyd and David Gilmour bass player Guy Pratt; Blockheads guitarist Lee Harris; Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp on guitar and vocals; and producer/composer Dom Beken on keyboards.”
Nick: Let me introduce the Saucers.
We were down near the stage, so got too much guitar and not enough drums/voice - on Set the Controls, Nick's epic tom-tom rhythm was sadly dim. The sound would have been guitar-heavy wherever you sat, but (once the sound guys had a chance to settle things down in the early minutes) pretty clean. Well, except for where the band wanted a chaotic noise crescendo.
Nick, introducing Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun: Looking forward to this one. I spent years touring with a fellow - nice guy, wonderful writer — but he was greedy about hitting the gong. Tonight I get my chance!
The highlights were just what you’d expect: Astronomy Domine, Fearless, If, Set the Controls, One of These Days. Then there was this other tune, not that loud, no vocals, and a lovely familiar bass line, but I couldn’t place it. The setlist gave it away: Atom Heart Mother! Of course, when you take away the string section, the horn section, the choir chanting in Basque (or maybe Swahili or Ojibway?), and the lyric soprano, it can't be quite the same.
Guy Pratt, before Nile Song: Let’s play some dumbass rock&roll! After: We were setting up for a David Gilmour tour, and he asked us for song suggestions. I suggested Nile Song, and he suggested I find another band. So I have!
There was a nice tribute to Syd Barrett by way of a performance of Vegetable Man, never performed live by anyone before this tour.
Nick: That sounds unfinished, maybe Sid came to an end before the song did. But none of this would’ve happened if it hadn’t been for him, you know.
Both my kids were rockin’ and rollin’ in their seats, particularly on the closing charge through One of these Days, which works really well live with a lot of heavy guitar. That made me smile.
Gary Kemp: I went and saw Pink Floyd at Wembley Stadium when I was (sorry, Nick) only fourteen, they were playing Dark Side, and I found that I couldn’t stop looking at Nick drumming. Well, to be fair, he was the only person in the room who was moving.
I’ve always loved Set the Controls and I loved hearing it live; the performance wasn’t like any of the recordings I’ve heard, and no, I wouldn’t say it was better than either the UmmaGumma or Live at Pompeii takes, but it was different and fresh and that tune, it’ll be going through my head for weeks.
But what hit me the hardest was If (“If I were a swan, I’d be gone”) which they dressed up with a big high-drama middle-section instrumental. And its closing line speaks directly to me. As I edge into old age, speech becomes more effortful. The inside of my head is a comfy albeit cluttered place to be, and a lot of the things I might want to say would require too much explanation to be easy. But silence is; too easy.
If I were a good man
I’d talk with you
more often than I do.