The Roundhouse’s Special Meaning for Pink Floyd and Nick Mason: Exclusive Interview
For Nick Mason, everything old is new again.
He's leading Saucerful of Secrets through a return trip to his pre-Dark Side of the Moon days with Pink Floyd, but – as the recently released Live at the Roundhouse project shows – this isn't another snoozy rerun.
They're adding fresh perspective while making bold choices. Songs that had not been played live in decades resurfaced in the set list, mixed in with some rarities like Syd Barrett's "Vegetable Man."
"It’s been absolutely great fun," Mason tells UCR. "It’s all of the good stuff of being in a band, really, all over again."
Guitarist Gary Kemp and late-era Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt split the vocal duties, joined by keyboardists Dom Beken and Lee Harris, the latter of whom also adds vocal support. They all work together as a unit with Mason to breathe new life into the classic material, recreating certain elements from scratch and flying in other parts from a variety of sources.
Mason's approach quickly earned the praise of surviving Pink Floyd bandmates Roger Waters and David Gilmour. Waters even sat in for one show.
"They’ve been brilliant," Mason enthuses. "It’s one of those things where they might disapprove, but they wouldn’t stop me. But, on the other hand, to get their approval makes it so much nicer. David was really helpful, lending equipment. Actually, David still, every now and again, emails advice to Guy on what he’s doing. And frankly, to get the seal of approval from Roger, with him coming onstage, was just fantastic."
The first Saucerful of Secrets tour included nearly two hours of music and anecdotes. The audio and visuals were stunning. It was an experience that finally offered music lovers the chance to immerse themselves in an era of Pink Floyd’s work that hasn’t gotten as much exposure as the albums and songs that came later.
Watch Saucerful of Secrets Perform at the Roundhouse
Before moving to theaters, they tried out the sets in clubs. It was the first time Mason had played in those smaller settings since the late '60s.
"It was very strange for me, because I have to say, I’d not really thought about it very hard," Mason says. "I just sort of got on with trying to make it work. But there was no doubt - more or less the first few notes of the first show, I had that real deja vu sort of sense. It reminded me so much of going out for the first times with Pink Floyd. I think it’s partly the music, but it was also something being in an environment that I’d not been in for a very long time."
It was a heady experience for all involved, as Pratt adds in the liner notes to Live at the Roundhouse.
“We were elated,” Pratt tells journalist Michael Hann. “Because I’d only ever been on arena or stadium stages with Nick, I’d never seen him in the context of just a bloke in a band. He has always been part of this vast edifice. But suddenly, I saw for the first time that kid onstage at the UFO club. And that had the knock-on effect of reconnecting me with the 17-year-old me in my first band, onstage at the Marquee. It was a brilliant circle of revitalization.”
Filming at the Roundhouse also brought things full circle. Pink Floyd performed there in 1966 before the venue was even properly finished. They appeared on a makeshift stage, with power running in from an outside source. As Mason shares in the film, they were onstage for only an hour or so and would have happily gone longer than that – but Pink Floyd had blown all of the fuses.
"Oh yeah, it’s a remarkable building," Mason recalls. "What’s nice about it is that weirdly it still has some of the character that it had when it was – well, originally, it was an engine shed where they turned the engines around. And then it was used as a warehouse for gin for years. Really, it was just had a floor and nothing to it."
That space has since undergone a sweeping makeover. "The Roundhouse now is an absolutely stunning venue – and actually, it’s a really interesting place," Mason adds. "Although the venue upstairs works really well, the under-craft is divided up into small studios and all of the local kids are able to come and borrow guitars or get some help in learning to play. It’s a very worthy sort of entertainment center, as well."
Whatever the technical issues, Pink Floyd's stop at the Roundhouse remained historic, since it was their "first actual real gig to more than 50 people," as Mason recalled in an interview celebrating the club's 50th anniversary.
Listen to Saucerful of Secrets' 'Interstellar Overdrive'
Only four of the songs on Live at the Roundhouse have appeared on previous concert releases by Pink Floyd or any other member. The rest was played for the first time or for the first time since their long-ago original live performances.
Even more familiar tracks, like the opening "Interstellar Overdrive," had been retired from the Pink Floyd concert repertoire for 50 years. "I think it’s a sort of mission statement in a way," Mason says with a laugh. "You know, it sort of sets the scene."
Placing "Interstellar Overdrive" so early in the show also helps set Saucerful of Secrets apart, he notes. "I think one of the things that worried us all to begin with was that people would think – I mean, I don’t mean this in too derogatory of a way, but it was going to be another tribute band playing 'Money' and 'Comfortably Numb' and 'Another Brick,' and so on. I think that whole thing of 'Interstellar,' with its breakdown and all of the rest of it, it shows basically what we have in mind for the rest of the evening."
Like most bands, Saucerful of Secrets are off the road as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but they have concert dates rescheduled for 2021 – and plans to dig further into the catalog. After all, as Mason points out in the Live at the Roundhouse liner notes, they’ve done only 15 percent of the songs. “There’s still a lot of stuff there,” he notes.
That includes both recorded favorites and songs that have never been officially released. The only thing that guides their choices, Mason says, is how the band interacts with the material.
"I think the thing we’re most thinking about is 'Echoes,' which we’d really like to have a go at," Mason says. "But there are some other less well-known things. There’s a couple of things from demos that were done sort of before we had the record deal that we’d like to have a look at. To some extent, we won’t even know until we’ve tried them out. Because it’s extraordinary how you remember the basics of the song, but until you actually get it there and play it as a band, you can’t really tell if it works or not."