When I first bought my tickets to see Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets last year, I admit my expectations were low. I’ve seen Pink Floyd’s 75 year-old drummer in his prime, first on opening night of The Wall in L.A. circa February 1980 and then several more times, including the San Diego show that inspired the formation of local tribute success story the Pink Floyd Experience.
I wasn’t encouraged when Mason took the stage wearing a button-down shirt, pressed pants, and what looked like loafers. How much of a rock and roll show could this possibly be?
With Saucerful of Secrets, Mason is revisiting pre-Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd, from the early Syd Barrett ditties through symphonic experiments like “Atom Heart Mother” and even unfinished and all but unreleased “lost” singles such as “Vegetable Man.”
Nick Mason "Fearless"
It was when they got to that latter track that made me realize just what an amazing band I was witnessing in action. As previously available on various bootlegs and compilations, “Vegetable Man” was little more than the sketch of a Syd Barrett song, played live only once for a December 1967 BBC broadcast. For years, the band resisted any attempt to issue what was basically their fallen frontman’s failed attempt at writing a single.
As re-imagined by Saucerful of Secrets, “Vegetable Man” now has all the bite and wit that Barrett clearly intended, backed with the bombast of a band at the top of their game, thanks in no small part to including approximately half of Pink Floyd (bassist Guy Pratt was a Floyd member longer than departed bassist Roger Waters). It’s an eye-opening revelation, I couldn’t have imagine THAT was the song hiding inside that omnipresent staple of the bootleg bins.
Nick Mason "See Emily Play"
Mason recently released an archive of one concert, Live at the Roundhouse, that in its own way is the most exciting official Pink Floyd concert recording since that forgotten live side of Ummagumma.
The way Roger Waters’ “If” segues in and out of “Atom Heart Mother” is just one unexpected arrangement that makes spinning through the double-disc CD a joy for any fan of the Floyd canon. Guitarist Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet has just the right roughness in his vocals to take on David Gilmour’s role on many tracks, and also just the right amount of plaintiveness when tackling the Barrett numbers. Keyboardist Dom Beken (who played with Pratt in Transit Kings) was a keyboard tech for the late Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright, and guitarist Lee Harris is best known from Ian Drury and the Blockheads, of “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” fame.
Plenty of these songs were never played live by Pink Floyd, and others quite honestly sound more alive, vital, and even NEW than live recordings of the original foursome in their prime. Roger Waters himself, when he showed up onstage at New York City's Beacon Theater in April 2019 to sing "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun," told the band they sounded better than their inspirations.
Nick Mason "One of These Days"
And Roger's right, I'd rather listen to the Saucerful of Secrets "cover" of "Heart of the Sun" than that NYC guest turn. I love the original, but Rog has sounded bored by his old signature stage number since Jimmy Carter was still president.
There’s also a DVD version of Live at the Roundhouse available, though it should be noted that several complete concerts can be viewed online, with somewhat alternate setlists and surprisingly pro-shot presentations no doubt helped by the producers having the last nine months under quarantine to improve their editing craft.
Nick Mason "Astronomy Domine"
Nick Mason "Green is the Colour"