Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, review: glam-rock swagger and fierce experimentalism

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'Watch out for some crowd-surfing': Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets - Handout
'Watch out for some crowd-surfing': Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets - Handout

Compering from behind his kit in the faltering tones of a grandpa giving a wedding speech, Nick Mason joked at the outset, “I wonder if any of you were present the first time Pink Floyd played here in 1966 – I think some of you were, but you may have forgotten. We’re certainly over-excited to be here, so watch out for some crowd-surfing!"

In pre-pandemic 2018-9, Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets emerged as the unforeseen success story amongst heritage rock reunions, playing in the US and at festivals across Europe and eliciting rave reviews at every stop.

In an industry predicated on original membership, here was an iteration of prog-rock giants Pink Floyd featuring only their rather sedate drummer, and fronted by Gary Kemp, the seemingly unqualified bassist from New Romantic fops Spandau Ballet. On paper, all marketing rationale on this project would’ve pointed towards catastrophe.

Mason again endearingly quipped of Kemp’s hiring, “It was all rather vague – Gary thought he was going to be working with Roger Waters [Floyd’s long since ostracized founding bassist], and I thought I was getting [Spandau singer] Tony Hadley..."

The canny sticksman’s angle, however, was to use this necessarily reconstituted combo to revisit Floyd’s early repertoire drawn from the seven albums leading up to 1973’s Dark Side Of the Moon – all much loved but long since overlooked in surviving members’ setlists.

That era-defining long-player sent the band on a more bombastic and stadium-pleasing trajectory, increasingly a low-tempo vehicle for guitarist David Gilmour’s protracted soloing, but also one soon dogged by studio and touring inertia. Indeed, that slo-mo, noodle-heavy vibe was very much in evidence a fortnight ago, with the release of the Ukraine war protest song Hey Hey Rise Up, the first track that survivors Mason and Gilmour have released under the Floyd name in 28 years.

By contrast, Saucerful Of Secrets explore the band’s origins in fierce experimentalism. The only concern on this much-postponed second UK lap was whether the pandemic had diffused their initial intensity.

Far from it. The dextrous quintet were soon gleefully blasting forth Arnold Layne, Floyd’s proto-psychedelic debut single from 1967, penned by wayward genius Syd Barrett. Saucerful and latterday Floyd bassist Guy Pratt noted that the song was last aired at this venue by David Bowie circa 1973’s Pin Ups. Kemp, at 62 a connoisseur of pop’s evolution through the 1970s, brought glam-rock swagger and Bowie-esque inner-London phrasing to a sprinkling of Barrett material; a double-whammy of Candy And A Current Bun and Vegetable Man, meanwhile, felt more like fabulous 1976 punk brutalism.

At the other extreme of early Floyd’s zigzag narrative, If and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun each veered from arcane folk-song into pulsating instrumental improvisations. After a half-time breather, the two strains collided on Barrett’s Astronomy Domine, whose tempo-shifting nuttiness seemed to wrong-foot a couple of its players. But Mason, never exactly the wildest tub-thumper, admirably soldiered through like a young ’un.

The show’s crowning glory, freshly unearthed for this tour, was Echoes, the 23-minute progressive bonanza from 1971’s Meddle. Its labyrinthine movements veered from space-station bleeps, through Kemp’s ferocious fret-mangling, to second guitarist Lee Harris seemingly turning his six-string into a theremin. The whole Hall was brought to its feet in awe.

Age, infirmity and inclination permitting, this one’ll run and run.

thesaucerfulofsecrets.com

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