Review: A Saucerful of Secrets

Newcastle City Hall, 3 May 2022

Oh, to be 17 in 1967, down at UFO or any number of the other groovy happenings in the Summer of Love. For those of us too young to have ever been there (i.e anyone under about 70), this is the closest we’ll ever come, even though there’s no smell of incense, weed or patchouli oil to sharpen the senses at this scene, maaaan.

Let’s get a minor gripe out of the way first: they didn’t have the tie-dyed blue Hokkusai styled t-shirt design I wanted in 2XL. This was in spite of the stall saying they had the size available. Later checks on the website seemed to suggest XL was the biggest they stocked. I was more than a bit disappointed because it was a very beautiful thing. In the end, I had to make do with the tour shirt. Oh! The humanity!

City Hall has many seen nights like this, over the years¹, as Nick himself mentions, recalling the night Pink Floyd played the venue (4 Dec , 1967 as it happens) with Jimi Hendrix, amongst others. I’m down in row H in the main seating area, on the end of a row, The view, as you can see from the photos wasn’t too bad at all, even though I was nestling under a balcony. For the second half I do manage to squirrel my way up onto the upper level as it wasn’t being policed really. It was a good way to get an alternative view, and one which was closer to the stage, and the performance, all of which brings us to the band itself. It is pretty much a collection of old hands and friends. Nick, in a between-song interlude, says that the whole idea originated with Lee Harris, erstwhile Blockheads guitarist, which everyone seemed to think was a nice excuse for at least enjoying a nice lunch together. Guy Pratt has been Pink Floyd’s bass player for far longer than Roger Waters ever was², and has been playing with Nick for 36 years now³. At this point I’ll quite happily admit that Spandau Ballet were never a particular favourite of mine, but Gary Kemp is no slouch. The only minor criticism I had was the slightly mannered style of his vocal on Arnold Layne⁴, but even that wasn’t what you’d call glaring, and certainly not a deal breaker. It’s also clear that he’s as happy as a pig in shit playing in this set up. Then again, so is Dom Beken, who’s not had that bad a career, either. It’s a nice array of talent standing up there. But I’m getting ahead of myself with tunes. Proceedings start with One of These Days, which is still one of my goto pissed off, angry tunes. It sounds fabulous, with deep crisp bass, and it sets the tone for the rest of the night, actually. The atmosphere works perfectly, and the visuals (in a nod to the early years) mesh perfectly to the music, and in some cases are done manually, live.

The night is pretty specifically designed to showcase songs from Pink Floyd’s early years, up to, but not including, Dark Side of the Moon. And it’s so nice to hear some of this stuff played in the wild. Because it’s a showcase of the earlier material, there’s an acknowledgment of absent friends, specifically Syd. They play several Syd-era songs (including one of my absolute favourites later) including Candy and a Currant Bun⁵, and Vegetable Man.

There are also excursions for things which didn’t really turn up on what most people would call “mainstream” albums, but did show up on soundtracks and curios, like The Nile Song (from 1969's More, which Guy tells us is the first Floyd song he ever learned because he had a copy of Relics), and Childhood’s End, and Burning Bridges to go with the title track from Obscured By Clouds. The only minor disappointment for me there was that they didn’t manage to play Free Four, but maybe that’s because it’s a very Roger song in tone lyrically, and very much a precursor of what was to come later.

But all the really big guns, such as Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun, which closes up the first half, and Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine which together open the second are scattered liberally through the running order. And they all, without exception, sound amazing. It also means Nick gets to play the gong a bit. If I was mildly disappointed about not having Free Four, I was grinning like an utter bloody loon when they played Piper’s Lucifer Sam⁶, towards the end. It’s a song I’ve loved since first hearing it back at University⁷, for reasons I can’t quite properly pin down. Maybe it’s the hint of old school Danger Man in the guitar riff. Who can say? We also got a very nice run through of Atom Heart Mother in the first half, bookended by Gary doing sterling vocal duties on If…

The main set finishes with a properly wonderful Echoes, and the gap before the final three song encore is short and loud because the audience defintely, definitely want more. And what a final three songs they play: See Emily Play, then Saucerful itself, the song that gave the band, and the tour its name, before the evening comes to a close with Bike, which is still every bit as gloriously unhinged, silly and heartwarmingly childlike today, as it was 55 ago on its release. The warmth and joy in the room was a wonderful thing to be enveloped in because everyone was having a brilliant time, and that includes the band. It was a bloody wonderful evening, actually.

Setlist

  • One of These Days
  • Arnold Layne
  • Fearless
  • Obscured by Clouds
  • Candy and a Currant Bun
  • Vegetable Man
  • If / Atom Heart Mother / If (reprise)
  • Remember a Day
  • Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

Interval

  • Interstellar Overdrive
  • Astronomy Domine
  • The Nile Song
  • Burning Bridges
  • Childhood’s End
  • Lucifer Sam
  • Echoes

Encore

  • See Emily Play
  • A Saucerful of Secrets
  • Bike

¹ I’ve even been to a few myself 🙂

² Not a pop at Roger at all, really. More a pop at the miserable bastard blowhards who say that “Floyd’s not Floyd without Waters.”. Yarbles to them, say I.

³ Terrifyingly (for me at least), it’s nearly 28 years since I saw him playing on the Division Bell tour.

It reminds me slightly of David Bowie’s vocal on a live version with David Gilmour. Who’d have thought that Gary might be influenced by Bowie, eh? Perish the thought.

Nick explains that this song mostly kiboshed their early ambitions to have hit singles when the BBC discovered its original title was Let’s Roll Another One, which is what they play here.

Which I’m still convinced Billie Eilish must have heard subliminally, because Bad Guy has a hint of it in there in places.

Thanks, Kieron!

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