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Last updated on January 5th, 2021 at 02:28 pm
At the bottom of this article, you can find a Spotify playlist with all the songs that Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets played, plus two bonus tracks. If you haven’t listened to this era of Pink Floyd – an intensely creative period that included psychedelic rock, pop/rock, folk, and experimental music – check it out. It’s like discovering a goldmine.
Roger Waters? David Gilmour? Who needs ‘em!
As iconic as Pink Floyd’s biggest songs are, haven’t we all heard “Wish You Were Here” and “Comfortably Numb” enough times? Floyd drummer Nick Mason must think so, as he and his Saucerful of Secrets band played tracks solely from the period before they hit the stratosphere with Dark Side of the Moon.
What they uncovered was revelatory.
This era of Pink Floyd – from the psychedelic rock of Syd Barrett-led Piper at the Gates of Dawn to undervalued masterpieces Meddle and Obscured by Clouds – is easily as creative and ambitious as Dark Side and the rest of Floyd’s catalog. The variety of sounds and approaches is staggering, ranging from straightforward pop/rock to extended experimental pieces.
The setlist included hit singles, fan favorites, and deep cuts. The muscular five-piece band – Mason along with two guitarists, a keyboard player with an impressive rack of mostly analog equipment, and bassist Guy Pratt (who played with Floyd post-Roger Waters) – were far more active than most bands their age. They practically had a punk rock energy.
Syd Barrett and His Haunting Lost Masterpiece, “Vegetable Man”
The psychedelic Syd Barrett-era was well-represented, ranging from the straight up pop/rock of “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” to experimental freak-outs like set-opening “Interstellar Overdrive.” The second song they played, Piper leadoff track “Astronomy Domine,” is the perfect compromise of these two extremes.
A huge highlight for hardcore Pink Floyd fans was “Vegetable Man.” After the success of “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play,” Floyd’s record label wanted Syd to write more pop songs in that vein. He wasn’t interested. His mental issues and drug use during this era have been discussed ad nauseum, but the biggest factor in his eventual discarding of the rock n’ roll lifestyle was that it didn’t interest him. He thought it was fake and boring.
So when the label asked for another single, he gave them “Vegetable Man,” which mocked the entire game. It’s certainly catchy – it sounds like a pop song – but the lyrics are literally just him describing what he’s wearing (“in yellow shoes/I get the blues/there’s a kind of a stink about blue velvet trousers/in my paisley shirt/I look a jerk”). Add in an intentionally mocking send-up of the Batman theme and you have one of the weirdest songs in pop history.
That’s not to say that it is devoid of meaning. Wrapped in its absurdity is a message about the materialistic superficiality of being a pop star (“all the lot is what I got/it’s what I wear/it’s what you see/it must be me/it’s what I am/vegetable man”). The bridge gets frighteningly real, and points to Syd’s eventual mental breakdown: “I’ve been looking all over the place/for a place for me/but it ain’t anywhere/it just ain’t anywhere.”
All in all, an important, poignant song in the Pink Floyd catalog, and one that Nick Mason should be applauded for introducing to a wider audience.
At the Intersection of Psychedelic, Pop/Rock, and Classical
The rest of the set showed just how expansive Floyd was from the time that Barrett was kicked out of the band in 1969 to right before Dark Side of the Moon. Each album that was released during this time was represented. From their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, they played space rock opener “Let There Be More Light,” the tender pop of “Remember a Day,” middle-Eastern influenced “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” (Roger Waters first masterpiece, which was given an expansive reading), and the title track.
“A Saucerful of Secrets,” which of course gives Mason’s band its name, was done in the arrangement from the album’s follow-up Ummagumma, which was half live/half studio. It shows Floyd at their most classical, moving from section to section effortlessly before a rousing rock n’ roll climax.
Another song in this vein is the title cut from Atom Heart Mother, which they played 15+ minutes of as a medley with Waters’ track on that album, beautiful acoustic track “If.” The 23-minute suite, one of the deepest cuts in Floyd’s catalog, was certainly a surprise to hear.
Undervalued Floyd Masterpieces: More, Obscured by Clouds, Meddle
They followed that up with the proto-hard rock of “The Nile Song,” another lost classic from a nearly forgotten Floyd album, the soundtrack to the film More. The other song they played from it, tender acoustic ballad “Green is the Colour,” showcased just how varied this era of Floyd is.
Meddle and Obscured by Clouds, the two albums the band released before Dark Side, are sometimes overshadowed by what came after it (although they are rightly heralded by hardcore Floyd fans). While they aren’t as well-crafted and filled with hits as their subsequent releases, the albums feature some of Floyd’s most beloved tracks, including “Fearless” (which Mason and the band played early in the set) and “One of these Days” (which they ended their initial set with).
Obscured by Clouds was represented by the two instrumental songs that begin the album and another super deep cut, “Childhood’s End.” The song, which is equal parts folk, pop, and hard rock, has only been played on the current US leg of Mason’s tour. We got lucky, as the enigmatic track is one of Floyd’s best overlooked songs.
All We’ve Got to Say to You is Goodbye
The band ended with “Point Me at the Sky,” which Wikipedia calls “the rarest of all officially released Pink Floyd recordings.” The single was only released in the UK, and the song wasn’t widely available until 2016. The heavy space rock track put the perfect exclamation point on a set filled with many startling examples of just how strong Floyd was during this period.
If you’ve never experienced the music Pink Floyd released from their first album until they hit it big with Dark Side of the Moon, you’re missing some of the best, most varied rock music of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets impressively showed the power of this material. Hopefully this exposes it to a wider audience.
Discover Pink Floyd’s Lost Era
Below is a playlist that features all the songs played at the show, plus two bonus tracks (Meddle opus “Echoes” and Obscured by Clouds folk/rock track “Wots…uh the Deal”). If “Interstellar Overdrive” gets too weird for you, skip to “Astronomy Domine” after it hits the noise part. Bonus points if you can get to the crazy good ending of “Interstellar” though.