Pink Floyd fans were more than a little surprised when the long-defunct band’s drummer, Nick Mason, began performing four years ago in Saucerful of Secrets, a group devoted to showcasing the music Pink Floyd made between 1967 and 1972. But not nearly as surprised as Mason, whose debut gig with Saucerful was in London in May 2018.
“For 15 years before that it had never occurred to me, because I was not in a place where I wanted to put a band together,” said the affable drummer, currently on tour with Saucerful.
Pink Floyd’s final tour concluded in 1994, two years before the enormously influential English band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Mason reunited for a four-song set at the 2005 Live 8 charity concert with Pink Floyd’s two other co-founders — bassist-singer Roger Waters and keyboardist Rick Wright (who died in 2008) — and guitarist-singer David Gilmour, who in 1968 replaced Floyd’s fourth co-founder, Syd Barrett (who died in 2006). The only time Mason, Gilmour and Waters have been on stage together since 2005 was in 2011, when they performed a single number at the conclusion of a London concert by Waters.
According to Mason, the idea for Saucerful was covertly hatched by guitarist Lee Harris. A lifelong Pink Floyd fan, Harris enlisted the help of former Pink Floyd touring member Guy Pratt, who has also been featured on Gilmour’s subsequent solo tours and albums.
“What happened is that Lee more or less formed a band around me, without me noticing!” Mason said, speaking by phone from Virginia.
How did Harris — a former member of Ian Dury & The Blockheads — convince the drummer to join Saucerful?
“It was a very specific sort of pitch Lee made to me,” he replied. “And he went about it in a very smart way by talking to Guy about it first. Actually, it was a little bit vague. But it was specific about the idea of playing the early Floyd music, which I thought was engaging.
“Because what I didn’t want to do was the entire Floyd catalog and be a tribute band playing all the hits. David (Gilmour) and Roger (Waters) do that very well already, so a third version of the band seemed — to me — like madness, really.
“The fact Guy approved of the idea and thought it would be nice to get involved made me feel like: ‘Well, if he’s up for it, we can make it work in some way, shape or form.’ As soon as we took a few days to play together and see how we felt about it, l came away thinking: ‘That worked really well.’ And we all got along well, which is important.”
Mason, 78, is all too familiar with being in a band whose members don’t get along.
The acrimony between Waters and the other members of Pink Floyd — during and after Waters’ tenure in the band (which concluded with a flurry of lawsuits) — is near-legendary.
Waters was responsible for forcing Wright to resign from Pink Floyd and work as a hired hand during the group’s 1980 and ‘81 “The Wall” concert tour.
‘Peace in our time’
After Waters left the band in 1985, he sued the remaining members in an unsuccessful bid to prevent them from continuing to tour or record using the Pink Floyd name. The insults Waters and Gilmour subsequently exchanged in respective interviews were scathing and then some.
More recently, the 2018 release of the remixed version of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album, “Animals,” was delayed by four years because of disputes between Waters and Gilmour.
Or, as Mason — who somehow still gets along with both — noted in a September Union-Tribune interview: “I think (that delay was) because of musical differences between Roger and David. They argued about the (‘Animals’ album) sleeve notes for two years. … I feel like (former British Prime Minster and Nazi appeaser) Neville Chamberlain in 1939, (declaring) ‘Peace in our time’ and waving a white flag!”
Pink Floyd’s fractious history makes it easy to appreciate why the warm rapport Mason has with Saucerful’s other members is so appealing to him. In addition to guitarist Harris and bassist Pratt, the band’s lineup includes keyboardist Dom Beken and former Spandau Ballet singer-guitarist Gary Kemp.
Together as Saucerful, the five pay tribute to Pink Floyd’s legacy without — as Mason is quick to note — being a tribute band.
What’s the difference?
“I think we can take more liberties,” Mason replied. “The early Pink Floyd material lends itself much more to the idea of improvising guitar solos and dynamics.
“Saucerful is not trying to be a perfect version of the real thing. We can not only play some of Floyd’s music properly, but we can also play with the same sort of attitude that was around at the time when these pieces were new.”
What Saucerful does not do, he stressed, is perform any music Pink Floyd released after 1972. That means any fans hoping to hear songs from the band’s best-known albums — 1973’s “The Dark Side of The Moon,” 1975’s “Wish You Were Here,” 1977’s “Animals” and 1979’s “The Wall” — will be out of luck.
“A lot of Americans still believe Floyd began with ‘The Dark Side of the Moon,” which was a really successful record,” Mason said.
Mason spoke to the Union-Tribune for half an hour. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
Pink Floyd’s last tour was in 1994. Since then, how often did you drum purely for your own enjoyment?
I tried to stay in shape, drumming-wise. But it’s difficult. The problem is that while you can practice, that doesn’t prepare you for the reality of doing shows and how hard you hit the drums, and how much you do. I’m definitely not a good “practicer,” but I probably did more with an electronic drum kit over that period. The one good thing about an electronic kit is there’s enough variety that, rather than playing exercises, you can feel like you’re playing a lot of new things.
Did you at any point lose your callouses?
I don’t have callouses. I won’t say I’m a light player, but I use a light stick. But as soon as we have completed the first two dates on a tour, there will be a blister.