In 1971 director Adrian Maben filmed Pink Floyd over four days in the ancient Roman amphitheatre at Pompeii; footage that was subsequently released as the film Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii in 1972. Over 50 years later Floyd drummer Nick Mason has returned with his band Saucerful of Secrets (a name taken from Floyd’s second studio album) to play Pompeii once again. The show is not in the same amphitheatre as 1971, but in the nearby, and equally stunning, open-air theatre, Teatro Grande.

There have been a number of line-ups featuring original band members, usually led by Roger Waters or Dave Gilmour, but their live sets mostly feature Floyd songs from Dark Side of the Moon and later. The Saucers focus on early-era Floyd songs rarely performed by Gilmour or Waters, and the line-up is Nick Mason (drums), Guy Pratt (bass, vocals), Lee Harris (guitar, backing vocals), Dom Beken (keyboards, backing vocals) and Gary Kemp (guitar, vocals).

Even though the show started just after 9pm the European heatwave means the temperature is still a vivid 30 degrees. The crowd is a pleasing mix of both young and old, united by a love of Pink Floyd and with a vast selection of Floyd/Saucers’ t-shirts on display. There was a palpable sense that everyone there understood how special this concert was and how it created a bridge between 1971 and 2023. When the band walked onto the stage and started with ‘One Of These Days’ and ‘Arnold Layne’ the roar was loud enough to have pleased any Roman Emperor.

Both sets included Pink Floyd’s longform psychedelia as well as Syd Barret’s exquisitely quirky pop songs so you heard ‘Obscured by Clouds’, ‘Atom Heart Mother’, ‘Astronomy Domine’ and ‘Echoes’ (which formed the basis of the 1972 film and ended the second set) alongside ‘Vegetable Man’, Bike’, ‘See Emily Play’ and ‘Candy And A Current Bun’. The standouts for me were a powerful version of ‘Fearless’ (which has definitely been working out in the gym since it was recorded), the brooding thunder of ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ and the shape shifting glory of ‘Lucifer Sam’ with its perfect core riff (NB: I have included the full set list at the bottom of this review).

The Saucers brought enormous energy to their performance and, while they remain true to the spirit of the original recordings, the band are such great musicians they can flex around what was originally recorded to add plenty of their own touches. Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp is not only an excellent lead and rhythm guitarist, who often trades solos back and forth with Lee Harris, but also has a similar vocal register to Syd Barret. Guy Pratt is one of the world’s best bass players* whose playing looks effortless despite playing intricate bass lines, and having toured with Dave Gilmour he is no stranger to Floyd material. His voice worked so well on tracks like ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ and he harmonised beautifully with Kemp’s voice. Producer and composer Dom Beken has the skill and sensitivity to carry off Rick Wright’s playing as well as the eight arms required to play the mission control of keyboards at his disposal.

Lee Harris** is the guitar engine of the band, able to slide like Gilmour or bend it like Clapton and, alongside the fluidity of his playing, can unleash a power chord when needed. But at the (atom) heart of the band is Nick Mason, a drummer who holds everything in lockstep but still managed to retain enough looseness in his playing that sometimes he appeared to hardly touch the skins. He also demonstrated his keen sense of humour by starting the show wearing the same hat he wore in the original Pompeii film and also faked a phone call from Roger Waters who was calling to ask if Mason had seen the gong from the Pompeii film (Waters bangs it in the film, not Mason); he said he hadn’t while it was behind him.

When the show ended at midnight the audience filed out through the excavated ruins buzzing with the knowledge that they had just seen something exceptional. Saucerful of Secrets demonstrated how vibrant and current the early Pink Floyd songs still sound. Psychedelic music is far from being a time machine back to the sixties and you can draw a line from Syd Barrett’s Floyd through Krautrock to the current crop of bands thriving on the indie scene such as Goat, Gnod, Snapped Ankles or King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard who also wig out over motorik beats. I hope that Nick Mason keeps banging his gong with the Saucers for a long time to come.

The band have finished their current European tour and head to Australia for six dates in September, more info here.

*Guy Pratt is a very funny man and it’s worth watching his ‘Lockdown Licks’ breakdown of his bass line to Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’. A fun fact, he is the son of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) actor Mike Pratt.

** I would also advise reading Lee Harris’s interview on the Gilmourish blog to understand more about how the Saucers came about.  

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Set 1:
One of These Days
Arnold Layne
Obscured by Clouds
When You’re In
Candy and a Currant Bun
Vegetable Man
Atom Heart Mother
If (Reprise)
Remember a Day
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

Set 2:
Astronomy Domine
The Nile Song
Burning Bridges
Childhood’s End
Lucifer Sam

See Emily Play
A Saucerful of Secrets

Review by Paul F Cook

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