Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets finally make it to Manchester after years of COVID postponements put the show on hold. Was it worth the wait?
Nick Mason’s decision to put forth his solo Floyd act a few years ago was a master stroke. Gone are the gargantuan ‘hits’ of Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall, and in are the tunes that sound tracked Floyd’s formative years. Within the remit is anything from 1965-1972; a glorious period for music, and for Pink Floyd.
Nick Mason and his ‘Saucers’ take the stage in amongst the hum of galactic sound effects leading to a countdown at the grand Manchester Apollo. The Japanese themed backgrounds are adorned with a volcano ready to erupt. Smoke swirls and ambience abounds. As far as setting a tone goes; this is perfect.
The distinctive bass sound and swirling winds of One Of These Days from 1971’s Meddle opens the show. It’s a glorious way to open proceedings. All bluster and fire. Lee Harris plays the solo slide part to perfection. It’s a brilliant opener to get the blood pumping.
As the song concludes, Nick gets straight onto the mic. He welcomes everyone and offers thanks. Nick mentions being at the Apollo with the Jimi Hendrix spectacular in 1967. ‘Was anyone there?!’ he asks. ‘Perhaps you were here but your can’t remember?! At least you can hide your own Easter eggs now,’ jokes Mason. The wry wit from the stage is something that makes this evening so enjoyable. Multiple anecdotes are shared throughout.
Broken into two sets, the new Saucers tour keeps many aspects of the previous tour with many songs coupled together but there is the resurrection of a couple of ‘lost’ songs that make the set again. The ‘never quite finished’ Vegetable Man sticks around and Candy & A Currant Bun is coupled with it. Mason remarks that it was originally entitled Let’s Roll Another One, but the title was frowned upon for people who sought Pink Floyd to be a pop band. It was the B-side to Arnold Layne; another song that wasn’t particularly popular with the BBC!
Tributes to Syd Barrett, musically and anecdotally, are plentiful. The aforementioned Arnold Layne is aired with aplomb with what sounds like a little interpolation of The Who’s 5.15 from messrs Pratt and Harris. Lucifer Sam from Piper At The Gates Of Dawn is a particular highlight with the sinister guitar riff snaking around all corners of the crowd. This is quintessential 60’s psych rock.
Syd Barrett is rightly lauded and spoke of lovingly throughout, but a nod to the sadly departed Richard Wright is shared by an enthusiastic Guy Pratt in introducing Remember A Day from the Saucerful Of Secrets record. Roger Waters gets a mention with Mason and Kemp trading comments in Nick Mason’s band introductions…’Gary Kemp thought he was going to be in a band with Roger Waters,’ quips Mason, ‘…I thought I was going to be in a band with Tony Hadley!’
It is with Roger Waters where Pink Floyd started to pour their sadness at the chemically induced demise of their friend Syd. Wish You Were Here was the album that really threw the spotlight on that hurt but it was prevalent many years beforehand. If, from 1970’s Atom Heart Mother record, is a lyrically devastating paean to Syd. ‘If I go insane, will you still let me join in with the game?’ sing Kemp and Pratt as If bookends an excerpt from the albums sprawling title track. Again, the songs coupled together from different albums/years works like a dream. Atom Heart Mother is a supremely psychedelic trip that still holds sway today.
A genuine delight in The Saucerful Of Secrets canon are the selections from Obscured By Clouds; an understated gem in the pantheon of the Floyd. The title track together with When You’re In is relatively simplistic in its form but the swirling synths and mind bending electronics help showcase just how trailblazing Pink Floyd were. Boundaries were pushed to the limits and this celebration of music continues to keep that at the forefront of everything. The heavy nature of the song also allows the guitarists to cut loose on their preferred six string instruments. Another of those ‘lost’ songs to be resurrected also comes from ‘Obscured’ in the form of Burning Bridges.
Gary Kemp takes the mic to talk about just how incredible the art of the late 60’s was before a blistering rendition of Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun. Guy Pratt gets to smash the gong set behind Mason’s kit. The opening of the song is terrifying; electronics embattled with percussion and the disquiet of the moody guitar melody make for music seldom seen to this standard. For this to be written circa 67/68 is mind blowing and you can see from the stage just how much fun the band are having showcasing this particular work of art.
The pièce de résistance of the whole set is the climax of the second set with the epic, Echoes. Lifted from Meddle, Echoes, for me, is the epitome of Pink Floyd. Written by Waters/Gilmour/Wright/Mason, this song shows the perfect harmony of Pink Floyd; and Lord knows, there wasn’t much of that in the proceeding years. All members of the Saucers excel in their roles in tackling the masterpiece. Dom Beken’s piano thunders around the Apollo after the iconic high pitched note to signal the start of the piece. Has a single note ever been applauded so much?! The groove laden section after the intro is superb as Harris/Pratt/Kemp create a maelstrom of wondrous noise. Glued together by Nick Mason’s drumming, it is a privilege to witness Echoes performed by such esteemed musicians.
Elsewhere in amongst the pomp of the setlist there are classics like Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine and arguably the heaviest Pink Floyd song in the form of The Nile Song; closing out with Bike is also a masterstroke. Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets have the potential to keep building this show even further. There is a plethora of songs that could still be used to keep things fresh, and keep punters coming back.
We’ve had to wait a while to witness this tour due to several postponements, but by God the wait was worth it. For over two hours, this group propelled people back in time to try and give a flavour of what it was like in those heady years. For a man of my 38 years, I can only imagine – but Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets help give a flavour of a time gone by. Long may the Saucers continue to fly.
Check out our gallery from Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets below. All pictures were taken by Mike Ainscoe.
Check out Gary Kemp and Guy Pratt’s brilliant podcast, The Rockonteurs, here.