Ten years ago (11th November 2013) I went to see Think Floyd, who made the claims ‘the UK’s premier Pink Floyd tribute band’ and ‘the definitive Pink Floyd Experience.’ Last month I went to see The UK Pink Floyd Experience, an entirely different set of musicians, because I’m never going to see the genuine Pink Floyd ever again, because 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of The Dark Side of the Moon, and because the gig was local and relatively inexpensive.
UK Pink Floyd Experience, Ashcroft Theatre 25th October 2023
Like for millions of other people, Dark Side holds a strong resonance for me, so much so that the LPs, CDs and DVDs have been supplemented with books, T-shirts, mugs, coasters, an Animals-printed wall clock, framed Wish You Were Here music and an early Hastings gig advert, and a limited edition presentation set of Pink Floyd-themed Royal Mail stamps. I was 13 years old when Dark Side was released and I’d been listening to progressive rock for barely six months. My first copy of the album was bought in 1973 for £2 from a local record shop when my record collection didn’t even stretch to double figures; the posters and stickers that came with the LP graced my walls for many years, the exotic and mysterious pyramids having captured my imagination and the prism motif tapped into my interest in physics. The iconic simplicity of the record’s artwork matched the easy-to-grasp lyrics and clarity of the production and the whole concept had a remarkable cohesion down to the triangle mandala on the label in the centre of the vinyl. There wasn’t a poor note on the entire album and their vision coalesced in a way they could hardly have dreamed of.
ProgBlog's Pink Floyd library
My first Pink Floyd purchase was actually the cut-price Relics and I subsequently borrowed Dark Side and a couple of Floyd bootlegs from a school friend. The first two LPs repackaged as A Nice Pair followed Dark Side and Atom Heart Mother, Meddle and Wish You Were Here, bought on the day of its release, came next. I have a soft spot for the Barrett-era Floyd where psychedelic whimsy is tinged with a darker edge. I also love the space-rock era Floyd, the sonic pioneers moving from A Saucerful of Secrets through Atom Heart Mother and Meddle and I believe it’s possible to detect motifs first aired on the title track of their second album, through the Gilmour and Wright studio tracks on Ummagumma, on through the title piece of Atom Heart Mother and Echoes into Dark Side. I’d class this material as proggy, though with the exception of Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast and One of These Days the songs on side two of Atom Heart Mother and side one of Meddle, along with the film soundtrack Obscured by Clouds, don’t register as progressive rock. My appreciation of space-rock era Pink Floyd was cemented at my first live experience of the group; a screening of the 1974 re-edit of Live at Pompeii at the local cinema which had such an impression on me that the ruined city was an essential destination on my first Inter Rail trek around Europe in 1980.
In search of the Floyd. The amphitheatre, Pompeii 30th August 1980
Friends travelled down to Stafford to see the tour promoting Animals but I didn’t get to see the band until 6th August 1980 at Earls Court for the third of the UK Wall tour dates. I wasn’t a great fan of The Wall as a piece of music – I’ve only listened to the original recording a handful of times since 1980 – having noticed a trend away from explorative music towards straightforward rock beginning with Wish You Were Here. Dark Side’s follow-up marks the end of their collaborative approach to writing and is admirable only thanks to Shine On You Crazy Diamond. It’s on the title track that the seeds were sown for the descent from progressive visionaries to the mainstream, something that in my opinion is of lesser musical interest, where the instrument of change was the strummed acoustic guitar and where Roger Waters’ entirely rational dig at the music industry on Welcome to the Machine and Have a Cigar heralded something of a ‘one man raging at the world’ feel. Unlike most of the rest of humankind, I really don’t like the track Wish You Were Here and from then on simple acoustic guitar took more of a central role, bookending Animals but also appearing on the track Dogs before simplistic acoustic guitar riffs formed an integral part of The Wall, The Final Cut and inevitably, the first Roger Waters solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.
ProgBlog's ticket for The Wall concert at Earls Court on 6th August 1980
I find it interesting that Waters is on record commenting on the lack of musical input from Wright and Mason during Animals and subsequently because the Floyd had been road-testing Raving and Drooling, a prototype Dogs, during the live shows to promote Wish You Were Here. Surely that would have included input from the keyboard player and to a lesser extent, the drummer? Furthermore, if it’s true that The Wall was presented to the band as an almost complete concept, there really can’t have been much opportunity for input and consequently the lack of material supplied by Wright in particular reflects the qualitative difference between Dark Side and The Wall. Journalist Chris Welch suggested that Waters was seeking a more direct sound in response to the rise of punk and new wave, and was less inclined to want to include Wright’s jazz or symphonic flourishes, even though these were a defining part of the Pink Floyd sound up to Wish You Were Here.
I actually enjoyed The Wall show as a piece of musical theatre. Building a physical wall to separate the band from the audience and being able to see snapshots of Pink’s life within was quite brilliant, as were the puppets and the animated film segments, but I can’t forgive album producer Bob Ezrin for turning Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) into a disco single after he’d suggested that the band check out what was happening in clubs during recording sessions. Up to that point, Pink Floyd were regarded as a band that didn’t release singles but they recorded a version of Another Brick in the Wall with a four-to-the-bar bass drum part which was subsequently edited into a hit, becoming the UK Christmas 1979 no. 1 and the last chart-topper of the 70s. I also like the Alan Parker cinematic version of The Wall, despite my chagrin with the choice of actor to play the role of Pink, having managed to attend one of the first showings at the Empire Theatre Leicester Square.
I went to see a David Gilmour performance promoting About Face at the Hammersmith Odeon in April 1984 and having never seen any Floyd material other than The Wall played live before, Roger Waters on his Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking tour at Earls Court just a couple of months later when the evening was divided into two sets, one for a selection of Pink Floyd material and one for a full run-through of his solo album. Waters’ band included some instantly recognisable names and though I enjoyed the performance I couldn’t quite process listening to The Dark Side of the Moon material without Mason, Wright and especially Gilmour. My next attendance at a Pink Floyd show was at Wembley Stadium on 5th August 1988, part of the A Momentary Lapse of Reason tour which served as an advert for both the album released the previous year and an unbelievably successful Waters-less Pink Floyd. I’d bought the LP (one of my last new vinyl purchases until I discovered the btf website in 2015) at HMV in Exeter, possibly on the day of its release, during a trip to Devon in September 1987, an album that embraced prog sensibilities once more whether or not you wanted to describe it as a Gilmour solo project; the music and the staging of the show were equally incredible.
David Gilmour and Roger Waters concert tickets, 1984
With Richard Wright firmly back in the fold for 1994’s The Division Bell, the Floyd bandwagon appeared unstoppable. The epic High Hopes was as good as anything the band had created in its career and I’m a big fan of the two instrumentals Cluster One and Marooned but overall I still prefer its immediate predecessor, though this didn’t stop me going to see them at Earls Court on the second of night of their 14-performance residency, the intended opening night having been cancelled after temporary seating collapsed. It was around this time that I began to divest myself of (what I believed to be) value-less vinyl I’d bought in the mid-70s as I commenced replacing LPs with shiny remastered and repackaged compact discs. The most foolhardy virtual giveaway to Beanos, once the largest second-hand record shop in Europe, was my near perfect copy of In the Court of the Crimson King but equally regrettable nearly 30 years on, was getting only a couple of pounds for Atom Heart Mother, Meddle, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals, all of which were well looked after. My replacement Dark Side CD was the boxed XX anniversary edition bought from Tower Records on Piccadilly Circus, I may have bought Animals in the US (my 1994 Deluxe CD is on Columbia) and the other substitutes, all 2014 remasters, were bought in HMV in Croydon, where I sourced all my replacement Pink Floyd vinyl. I kept my A Nice Pair 2LP but my CD of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the 40th anniversary three-disc book from 2007 and my A Saucerful of Secrets CD is a 2014 remaster; my CD of Ummagumma (a remaster in a green slip-case) came before I invested in a second hand vinyl copy.
ProgBlog's Pink Floyd CD collection
Before the editing of outtakes that turned into the excellent The Endless River (my review can be found here progblog.co.uk/copy-of-pink-floyd-the-endless-river) I’d been to see three different Floyd tribute acts; Ummagummaa in 2004, The Australian Pink Floyd Show in 2009 and Think Floyd, as mentioned above, in 2013. After the Ummagummaa concert I swore I’d never go to see another tribute band but capitulated when acclaimed Genesis recreationists The Musical Box were booked to play in Croydon in 2008. I imagined Ummagummaa would recreate early Floyd songs as closely as possible – they played nothing more recent than Meddle – but much like the fledgling Pink Floyd when no two versions of a track were ever the same, they improvised extensively and impressively. I suspect the inclusion of If and San Tropez, tracks I found most off-putting, was the reason I left feeling somewhat disappointed but I hadn’t really known what to expect. The Australian Pink Floyd Show was part of their The Wall tour and apart from subtle prop alterations like kangaroos, not ducks on the living room wall, I remember little except a good show with great sound. That would have been a 30th anniversary show, and Think Floyd’s 2013 performance marked the 40th anniversary of The Dark Side of the Moon. The four member band, augmented with a female vocalist who made all the right moves and a saxophonist managed a convincing live recreation of the album. Apart from performing all of Dark Side they covered a wide range of the Pink Floyd canon, from See Emily Play up to What do you Want from Me from The Division Bell and including some carefully planned songs along with the crowd-pleasers, the unusual medley Green is the Colour/Careful with that Axe, Eugene which was pertinent because it had been played by the real Floyd at the Fairfield Halls in 1970, and an acknowledgement of their status as a tribute band, In the Flesh. From the outset it was obvious that the band had worked hard on the sound and if you closed your eyes the trademark armour-plated guitar could have been David Gilmour playing; the drumming was very much like Nick Mason; the keyboard parts included what would have been Gilmour’s overdubbed guitar and employed all the pertinent authentic sounds; bassist Lewis Hall took on the main vocal duties and put in an excellent performance, keeping in tune throughout. If there was something lacking it was a decent vocal harmony which would have added to the sound. The light effects and general production standards were equally impressive. Before attending I was uncertain if I’d to enjoy the show; going to see the real article is an event, preceded by a sense of anticipation tempered with a level of expectation. Think Floyd may not have written the material but they played the music really well and managed to recreate something of a Pink Floyd experience.
This was somewhat better than the next Floyd covers band I saw, Outside The Wall, at the Porto Antico Prog Fest in 2018. Billed as Italy’s ‘First Tribute To Pink Floyd’ there were too many forgotten words, too many unnecessary funky bass fills, some poor time-keeping by the drummer and when the crowd asked for Animals, we got songs from The Wall! They played most of Dark Side, with supporting sax from Genoa-based Martin Grice (La Maschera di Cera, Delirium) and an absolutely stunning Great Gig in the Sky vocal from Elisabetta Rondanina. I’d have preferred a festival with local bands playing original music but the organisers seemed to know what they were doing putting on an evening with one local band (Ancient Veil), a local Black Widow Records-signed act (Sophya Baccini’s Aradia), a Genesis tribute act (Get ‘em Out) and headliners Outside the Wall. The evening was a resounding success.
Pink Floyd tribute acts
I stupidly turned down the opportunity to see Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets on their opening tour, unwilling to join the on-line queue and pay what I thought was rather a lot of money to stand and watch a band that included an ex-member of Spandau Ballet. I reconsidered for the 2019 tour, reasoning that £50 for a seat at the Roundhouse wasn’t too bad and the chance to see one original band member performing early Floyd material at a venue with strong associations to Pink Floyd was too good to miss, especially as filming for a subsequent DVD release had been scheduled for the Roundhouse dates. I must have become aware of the Chalk Farm Roundhouse from browsing music weeklies in the mid 70s but it’s unlikely I made the connection to the Pink Floyd story until sometime later, including its significance to the beginnings of UK counterculture. The first cultural use of the Roundhouse was as the venue for the launch party of the International Times (IT) in October 1966, a multi-media all-night rave and happening billed as a ‘pop-op-costume-masque-drag ball’, featuring performances from Pink Floyd and Soft Machine plus screenings of films and poetry readings.
Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Live at The Roundhouse
It’s appropriate to mention the Pink Floyd association with architecture at this point. Mason was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the architecture faculty of Westminster University (formerly Regent Street Polytechnic) in 2012. A former student, along with Waters and Richard Wright, he had to abandon his architecture degree a year before completion due to band commitments. The Roundhouse has been recognised as a notable example of mid-19th century railway architecture, listed in 1954 and subsequently amended to Grade II* in January 1999, then declared a National Heritage Site in 2010. It was built between 1846-7 for the London and North Western Railway by Branson & Gwyther as a building for turning round railway engines with 24 cast-iron Doric columns arranged around the original locomotive spaces supporting a conical slate roof. The columns are braced with a framework of curved ribs, imbuing the internal space with a distinctive industrial Victoriana. A recent refurbishment respects the structure while making it fit for purpose as an events space, which I voted my ‘venue of the year’ in the 2018 Prog magazine readers’ poll.
Waiting for Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets, The Roundhouse 3rd May 2019
While I was pleased I’d gone to the gig, I ended up being a little disappointed. The sound quality for the first few numbers was poor and Mason’s inaudible announcements prompted a degree of unrest from the crowd. My other gripes included the presentation of Syd Barrett-era songs which were sung without conviction or Barrett’s sense of wonderment and the selection of ‘early’ material which spanned up to Obscured by Clouds. On the other hand, Mason’s drumming was the best I’d heard it and it was good to hear material like Lucifer Sam, See Emily Play and Vegetable Man being given an airing. It probably goes without saying that I enjoyed Interstellar Overdrive, Astronomy Domine, One of These Days, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, A Saucerful of Secrets and perhaps most of all, the excerpt from Atom Heart Mother.
If the Royal Mail's issue of stamps commemorating the works of Pink Floyd in 2016 wasn't enough recognition of their impression on the cultural landscape, the 2017 V&A Museum exhibition Their Mortal Remains, designed to coincide with the band's 50th anniversary, did the trick. This was a well-conceived and slickly executed presentation that charted their history, illustrated with a mixture of personal items, musical hardware and hi-tech displays linked to distinct cultural references, something I classed as being essential viewing for any Floyd fan (the review can be seen here: https://www.progblog.co.uk/pink-floyd-their-mortal-remains). I took the opportunity to indulge in some memorabilia; the official book of the event, a previously unreleased version of Interstellar Overdrive on vinyl and a plectrum or two.
The association between the band and Battersea Power Station has been thoroughly exploited by both camps since the refit and opening of the former power station as a retail and social venue in 2022. The entrance to Lift 109, the tourist attraction which affords views over London from the top of one of its chimneys, features an exhibition about the life of the building that includes a section on its musical and cinematic associations where Animals is referenced along with the prog-referencing film Children of Men. Despite the lack of anything remotely interesting in the retail space, the restricted opening hours of the food outlets and the lack of access to details of the art deco interior I'd still recommend going to Battersea for Lift 109, where the shop at the exit is full of official Pink Floyd merchandise!
V&A advert for The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains
Last month’s gig by The UK Pink Floyd Experience was good by any standard. It's an easy walk from ProgBlog Central to Croydon's Fairfield Halls and an even easier bus journey so I had no excuse for not going. The set composition was similar to that of Think Floyd ten years ago, ranging from See Emily Play, the only Barrett song they played, to Keep Talking from The Division Bell. It’s hardly surprising that a lot of material from The Wall and on its 50th anniversary, The Dark Side of the Moon was featured and while the musicianship was excellent, special mention must go to Joanne Paterson-Neild's sax and Emma Street's Great Gig in the Sky vocal, though my personal favourites were a brilliant rendition of Echoes, which was closest to the Live at Pompeii version, and Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The band quite rightly thanked the two members of the team not on stage, lighting designer Stu Hunt and the sound engineer Dave Woodfield for the epic visuals and the best balanced sound I've experienced at a gig for a long time.
The band's 50th anniversary triggered a series of expansive box sets which featured previously unreleased music and unseen footage, no doubt aided by the required research into 2017’s V&A exhibition, and the 50 years of The Dark Side of the Moon milestone this year spawned yet more music previously only available from unofficial sources (I was given a copy of the recently released LP The Dark Side of the Moon Live At Wembley 1974 as a birthday present this year) plus a Roger Waters re-imagined Dark Side that may only appeal to completists.
The Pink Floyd experience shows no sign of stopping.
Portions of this blog were sourced from How Good is Dark Side, originally posted on 13th October 2013 shortly after I’d been to see tribute band Think Floyd and Early Floyd posted on 13th May 2019