The last time the famous Pink Floyd lineup of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason performed together was at the 2005 Live 8 concert in London, the band’s first performance with all four members since 1981.
Yet the band’s legacy lives on, accruing new fans every year, as witnessed by Roger Waters’ very successful touring of The Wall. Simply put, Pink Floyd has generations of fans that have never, or will never, see their favorite band perform live.
Enter the Australian Pink Floyd Show, a band that formed in the late 1980s. Existing solely to perform Pink Floyd’s music live on stage, the group has moved far beyond its humble bar circuit beginnings and become a must-see act for Pink Floyd’s fans throughout the world.
The Australian Pink Floyd Show’s bassist/vocalist, Colin Wilson, told Pollstar about the band’s unusual journey, saying he and his bandmates are quite comfortable with being called a “tribute” act. However, as Wilson points out, there’s a lot more to playing Pink Floyd’s music than playing the right notes and singing the lyrics.
How long were you playing professionally before you joined the band?
I started in quite a few other bands in Australia. The one immediately before this one was actually a Guns N’ Roses tribute band, Appetite For Destruction. Prior to that, several different original bands. Like anybody else we were writing our own music and trying to get a deal but things didn’t work out for us.
So you were a seasoned musician before joining the Australian Pink Floyd Show.
I played a lot of gigs but I was only a semi-professional. And I had a day job. It was only when I joined this band that [I went] full time.
When you joined the group, did you find Pink Floyd’s music difficult to play?
Some Pink Floyd music is deceptively simple. I think you can learn the chord structures and the arrangements pretty quickly. But what I would say is, since I’ve joined, I’ve spent 20 years perfecting it.
As I said, it’s deceptively simple if you can actually get the correct feel in the music, the tempo correct and a lot of the songs have a kind of laid-back kind of feel to them. That sort of stuff takes a lot of discipline and a lot of practice to adapt that style.
I had been playing in a Guns N’ Roses tribute band and playing lots of rock stuff where a lot of the music is quite on the beat, really pushing along. Whereas Pink Floyd stuff tends to be the opposite, almost behind the beat a little bit. It’s between the sound and feeling. If you don’t get that right, you’ll never sound like Pink Floyd.
There has been a lot of bands over the years playing Pink Floyd stuff. They play all the notes right … but it doesn’t sound quite like Pink Floyd.
Do you and your bandmates try to use the same instruments Pink Floyd used while recording and performing this music?
Yeah, for the most part. We’ve certainly studied what equipment they’ve used. Whenever we can, we get [similar] equipment. It’s pretty difficult because some of the things they used were developed for them or customized by them. Nowadays, with the digital stuff that’s available, some of that stuff is technically amazing but doesn’t sound right. Other stuff, we’ve managed to tweak and program … to get it pretty close to the record.
The Australian Pink Floyd show has been praised throughout the world and is the only tribute band performing on a global scale and pushing the envelope of what a tribute band can aspire to. Are you comfortable with the “tribute” tag?
Yeah. When we started off, that phrase [tribute band] didn’t exist. We were simply a cover band, I guess. Instead of playing three Bad Company songs and one different song and one Pink Floyd in a bar, we were playing all Pink Floyd. And the “tribute band” sort of cropped up a few years after we started when it became more commonplace for bands doing it. We’re pretty comfortable with it. We always said that we’re kind of a tribute to Pink Floyd and we’re playing the music as faithfully as we can. The audience gets to hear the music that they love in an authentic way wrapped up in a big show. So we don’t see it as detrimental to be called a tribute band.
You’re creating your own Pink Floyd experience in that the band is selecting the songs for the performance as opposed to reproducing a specific Pink Floyd concert.
We haven’t done that [reproduce a specific concert] although that’s not something we’d rule out for the future. We’ve done complete album shows. And we’ve done “best of” kind of shows. Most of the songs we do in these kind of shows are things that we’re constantly bombarded with requests by the audience.
In a way this year is kind of Part 2 of what we did last year. Last year there were a lot of songs people wanted that we couldn’t fit into the two-and-a-half hour show. This year, we’re doing some of those things. There’s so much music to choose from, it’s hard, sometimes, to pick two-and-a-half hours of it.
Are you covering the entire catalog or are you focusing on one particular era?
The majority is probably between Meddle and The Wall. But we also do stuff from before Meddle and after The Wall. There’s at least one Syd Barrett number in the set and there’s also at least one song from The Division Bell. We try to do a broad cross section of everything and keep it balanced and keep it working as a concert set. The songs have to work together, slow and build up when you want it to … and try to do what people want us to do.
Has the band, at one time or another, played every Pink Floyd song?
No. (laughs) There are songs we still have never played. Maybe, one day, we’ll do those. If you put one song in that you’ve never done before, and it’s a bit more of an obscure album track, that means you’re leaving something out that the audience might want to hear.
So your audience is likely to want to hear “Comfortably Numb” more than they want to hear, say, “Careful With That Ax, Eugene.”
Exactly. Although, last year, we did play “Careful With That Ax, Eugene” because we absolutely love to play that song. It goes down really well for conjuring that kind of psychedelic scene. This year we’re doing “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” in that similar kind of era, that early’ 70s era – ’69 through’71 – the pre-Dark Side sort of stuff. We try to get some of that into the set every time.
This year we’re also doing “Echoes.” Not an “Echoes” show, because it (the song) is so long, but we are doing “Echoes” as well for the same reason as we’re doing “Eugene” and “Set The Controls…” I think what we’re doing is right. If, for example, we took “Comfortably Numb” out of the set and put “Corporal Clegg” in, there would be some disappointed people. There are songs that have to be in every set every time we play and “Comfortably Numb “is one of them.
The Australian Pink Floyd Show doesn’t just play Pink Floyd music, you and your band mates have intensely studied the catalog. Do you have any insight as to what the band went through when creating the music?
Yeah. Obviously we’ve read everything written that there is about them – interviews, accounts of what happened in the studio and how they did certain things. I think what we have learned is that certain songs you can almost kind of feel what was happening.
It was very much Syd Barrett’s band in the beginning. He left when he couldn’t contribute any more. Roger Waters stepped up and became, arguably, one of the 20th century’s greatest rock writers. That kind of happened again when Waters left and it became what some people say is David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd. … It’s almost like three completely different bands.
Have you or your bandmates ever seen Pink Floyd perform during its classic lineup of Waters, Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason?
No. We’ve only been playing Pink Floyd (music) since after Roger. We’ve seen Roger Waters solo, but we’ve never seen Pink Floyd with Roger Waters. That’s an unfortunate thing that’s happened because of the age we are. I think they came to Australia and did one concert in 1972 and didn’t come back until 1987. Living in Australia, I guess it’s similar to living in Alaska. You don’t get a lot of the [big] bands.
Do you have more people on stage than Pink Floyd?
Certainly more people than they had in the 1970s. The last Pink Floyd tour, they kind of had two of everything – two drummers, two keyboard players, two guitar players. I think we’re similar to what they had then. We only have one keyboard player and one drummer. In the show there are 10 of us, that’s including our sax player who’s only on for a couple of songs in the set. Actually, it’s very hard to recreate all the stuff that they managed to do on records with less people. If it wasn’t prohibitive cost-wise, we’d probably have a couple of more people.
Over the years your live show has grown in terms of equipment technology and the number of people in the band. When did you realize that the band was taking the tribute concept to another level and be a career onto itself?
I think there were little moments along the way. Nearly 20 years ago, we were playing really small venues and just trying … to make anything out of it. The first time we played a reasonable sized venue and sold a lot of tickets, we thought, “Hey, maybe we have something here. Maybe this could work.”
In 1996 we played for David Gilmour for his 50th birthday. That was a massive [moment] for us. The day after that happened, we were able to say we were the only Pink Floyd tribute band that had actually played for a member of Pink Floyd. That kind of unofficial endorsement. Not only did it make it easier for us to promote ourselves to the venues, promoters and agents, but more importantly, to the Pink Floyd fans.
A lot of Pink Floyd fans were very skeptical and didn’t want to see a tribute band, suddenly thought if Gilmour had them play at his birthday, they must be doing something right.
I think it took a lot of time to convert the mindset of Pink Floyd fans. I think they’re the most fanatical fans on the planet. A lot of bands would say that about their fans, but a lot musicians are Pink Floyd fans and they’re very good at standing in the back of the room with their arms folded waiting for you to do something wrong. And we felt that very acutely, that people were checking us out. “You say you can be Pink Floyd, but we’re going to see if you really can be Pink Floyd.”
I think even today, even after this long, there are a lot of Pink Floyd fans who haven’t seen us. And a lot who have seen us once and thought, “Why didn’t I go earlier? This is great.”
What you said about Pink Floyd fans standing in the back of the room waiting for you to make a mistake? They used to do that during Pink Floyd concerts as well, and would notice if a note was flat or if there was a lyric change.
We feel that every single time we step on stage. We know those people in the front block know Pink Floyd as well as we do. They’ve been listening to the band their whole life. They’ve probably been listening to Pink Floyd the whole day and in the car on the way to the theatre. We have to get out there and absolutely do justice to it 100 percent. Otherwise they’re not going come back and we won’t have a band anymore.
We’re lucky we realized that early on. It’s made us very particular about everything. It makes us very self-critical. We’re constantly recording ourselves and watching and listening to it back and seeing what can be improved. We’re still learning stuff about Pink Floyd as well. We’re still listening to a Pink Floyd song and hearing what we missed. It’s incredible how some of the music is so involved. Like I said, it’s deceptively simple, but there’s a lot of stuff going on.
Pink Floyd wasn’t exactly known for recording short, radio-friendly songs. Is it difficult to build a set list that fits into a two-hour performance and doesn’t result in a four- or five-hour show?
It’s very difficult. We do a two-and-a-half hour show and that gives us a reasonable scope to put quite a few songs in there. We did some festivals during the summer in Europe and we were restricted to a one-hour set. We were literally playing six songs.
We’ll be doing “Echoes” on some of the nights on the upcoming U.S. tour and that takes, like, 27 minutes. We do two sets a night and “Echoes” takes up half of one of those sets. We’re doing it because so many people want us to do it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other people who may not want us to do it. So we can’t do “Echoes” every single night.
We did “Dogs” all of last year. Basically, “Dogs” took up the space that we now play “Pigs” and “Sheep.”
What’s next for the band?
We’re continuously analyzing what we’re doing, trying to improve everything. Next year, 2013, is the 40th anniversary of Dark Side Of The Moon, so we’re definitely going to be doing some kind of tribute to that, whether it’s performing the whole album, I’m not quite sure. Or maybe do something interesting spread out over the two sets.
[The band] is one of these things where the audience still wants us to do it. We’re going to keep doing it and keep trying to make it better every year. It’s hard to say “bigger and better” because it’s pretty big already. What we do is really dependent on the audience. If we felt what we’re doing is not working then we have to listen to what they are saying and try to tailor it towards them a little more.
We’ve talked about reproducing Pink Floyd’s music, but what about the visual? Have you and the band tried to reproduce the special effects the band used over the years?
Yeah. We used to use some of their stage as a mode … at least as a guide. Technology moves so quickly, it’s a question of looking at what is [available] and how that fits into a Pink Floyd light show.
One thing we’re doing this year, more than we’ve done before, is to do a light show on a song-by-song basis. If we’re doing a song like “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” we don’t want it to be like a 2012 light show. We want it to look like a 1970s light show.
What would you like to tell the world about the Australian Pink Floyd show that folks may not be aware of?
I think that the message we want to put out, really, is to come and give us a go. I think once people see and hear us for the first time, they’re [usually] blown away. Nobody ever expects a tribute band to be as big or sound as good this band does. I’m really proud to stand on stage with those other nine musicians. They’re all amazing players. Even if you’re not the biggest Pink Floyd fan in the world, you’ll be happy to watch good music and a good stage production. So, come out and check it out.