Pink Floyd is one of the most iconic bands of all time, a pioneer in both the psychedelic and progressive rock styles. Casual fans know their hits off 1973’s "Dark Side Of The Moon" and 1979’s "The Wall," but hardcore enthusiasts love the really weird stuff that was done while guitarist and vocalist Syd Barrett was at the creative helm during the late 1960s.
Since 2018, drummer Nick Mason has been leading a band that puts an improvisational spin on Pink Floyd’s music from this era, called Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets. As part of their "Echoes Tour," they’ll be taking the stage at the Providence Performing Arts Center on Sept. 25.
Mason, who was part of Pink Floyd in its various incarnations, along with Barrett, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist David Gilmour, bassist and guitarist Roger Waters and keyboardist Richard Wright, said the motivation for his current band sprang from his desire to start performing again, and to reacquaint audiences with Pink Floyd’s early catalog.
“I think in America particularly, there’s still a belief that Pink Floyd started with 'Dark Side of the Moon,' and so there was almost like a fresh audience for the early material,” he says. “ ... What I wanted to do was restrict it a bit so we wouldn’t find ourselves becoming a tribute band doing ‘Comfortably Numb,’ ‘Another Brick in the Wall,’ and so on. We actually have more room to play the way we did in 1967, which was to play the song but actually have room to improvise a bit and change things on stage rather than in rehearsal.”
This improvisational approach practically guarantees that songs won’t be played the same way twice. Mason says this could be just from minor tweaks or from an element of a song being played differently.
“Sometimes it’s quite subtly different," he says, "but other times there will be some specific thing, like a particular guitar solo and certainly some of the few things that I play, which I absolutely would never dream of playing the same way twice, because I don’t have that sort of memory.”
As for how the project came together, with Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp, longtime Pink Floyd touring bassist Guy Pratt, guitarist Lee Harris and keyboardist Dom Beken, Mason says, "I actually didn’t really do very much at all. The band formed itself around me."
“It was actually Lee Harris’ idea to do this sort of early [Pink] Floyd thing. If he had come to me on his own, I probably would have told him I wasn’t interested, but he very wisely got hold of Guy Pratt and said to Guy, ‘Why doesn’t Nick do this?’ With Guy involved, I felt much more confident, and I have great respect for what he’s done over 30-plus years. ...
There was something particularly fun about the fact that we actually got someone each from more or less certainly the era of punk, with Lee being a part of Ian Dury & The Blockheads, and sort of trance dance music with Dom Beken from The Orb. Then the real wildcard was Gary Kemp, who’s a New Romantic, a great songwriter, loves the Syd catalog, and he just dropped straight into it. I was astonished by how it all just sort of fell into place.”
Mason doesn’t have any other projects going on alongside Saucerful Of Secrets, but he says he’d really like to tour with the band outside of America and Europe. He has a few regions in mind, which he plans to get sorted out in 2023.
“I feel that this project has been held up by COVID-19, lockdowns and so on for so long, that I think there’s still quite a lot to do with what we got here,” he says. “We did Europe over the last few months, which was terrific, great fun. ... After we tour America I’d quite like to go somewhere more exotic that Pink Floyd never really got to, like South America, which I think would be fun. It would be great to go back to Japan and some of those other places, but the other thing that would be nice to do would be some festivals, maybe in Europe or in America. ... I think there’s still quite a lot of playing we’d like to do.”
If you go ...
What: "Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets"
When: Sept. 25, 8 p.m.
Where: Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence
COVID safety: Masks are recommended but not required.
Info: ppacri.org, (401) 421-2787
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets revisits dawn of Pink Floyd