Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features bassist Guy Pratt.
When Pink Floyd wrapped up their Wall tour at London’s Earls Court in June 1981, 19-year-old British bass player Guy Pratt sat in the audience, overjoyed to be seeing one his favorite bands live in concert. “I never thought, ‘Wow, that could be you up there,’” says Pratt. “That’s because they had a bass player and he wrote all the lyrics. You never dreamed of playing for Pink Floyd. Why would you?”
But when Floyd returned to the road six years later, Roger Waters was out of the band and Pratt was standing in his spot onstage, bass in hand. He’s remained a key part of the Pink Floyd universe ever since, playing on the 1994 Division Bell album and tour and joining the surviving members for their 2014 instrumental record The Endless River. He also played on David Gilmour’s 2006 LP On an Island and 2015’s Rattle That Lock along with tours supporting them both. In recent years, he’s toured heavily with Floyd drummer Nick Mason in his band Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets.
But Pink Floyd is only a small part of Pratt’s long musical history. He’s also played with Madonna and Michael Jackson, along with Coverdale-Page, Roxy Music, Icehouse, Robert Palmer, and Gary Moore, and spent a very memorable week rehearsing with the Smiths when it seemed like Andy Rourke was going to miss a leg of the Queen Is Dead tour.
Pratt is riding out the lockdown in France, and he called up Rolling Stone to share amazing stories from his long career.
How old were you when you fell in love with music?
I was into music from the age of 11, but I was into Bowie and Slade and stuff like that. But I was more into technology. I was obsessed with Sony cassette players. My actual epiphany was when I was 13 and I heard Who’s Next while I was recovering from having inhaled my first cigarette. That was it. When I heard “Baba O’Riley” for the first time, it was literally everything I knew and cared about thrown out the window because that is what I wanted to do.
What drew you to the bass as an instrument?
Nothing. I had no interest in playing the bass whatsoever. I wanted an electric guitar. But of course my mother said, “Oh, darling, why don’t you get a nice Spanish guitar?” I was like, “Fuck that. It’s the electric bit that I’m interested in.” I thought if I asked for a bass guitar, at least they wouldn’t get me a double bass. I didn’t even know what it was. I never tried them out in guitar shops, but I’d seen them. They were big.
For my 14th birthday, I got a bass guitar. I was incredibly disappointed with it at first until I got back to school after the Christmas holiday. A few people had gotten electric guitars, but if they wanted to be in a band, they needed me. I had my pick. [Laughs]
To flash forward a bit, how did you wind up in the band Icehouse?
I don’t really know. It was basically because a friend of their manager worked for Virgin Records. I used to hang around Virgin Records a lot just trying to steal promo copies of records. They were looking for an English bass player. They couldn’t find a bass player in Australia. Also, it was sort of a pretentious New Wave band. What could be more pretentious than having an English bass player? Their manager said, “I know a British bass player. And frankly, I could do with getting him out of my office.”
I’d never heard of them. They’d toured the U.K. that year with Simple Minds, but they hadn’t registered with me at all. I literally just got on a plane to Australia. We had auditioned drummers in London before that and [lead singer] Iva [Davies] came over to London. I was 20. Australia is the other side of the world, but it was much more the other side of the world then.
What was it like opening for David Bowie on the Serious Moonlight tour with them? Playing to stadiums must have been overwhelming.
We were playings to stadiums that we’re gradually filling up. [Laughs] They were enormous. The first stadium I ever played was the Stadion [Feijenoord] in Rotterdam. I went back there with Pink Floyd five years later. I never had such a profound “Oh, my God” feeling.
That whole Serious Moonlight tour was amazing. I actually got to go out with Bowie and the band one night in Rotterdam. It was quite something. We were doing all these festivals on the same tour, many in Germany. That’s where I met Robert Palmer, who then invited me to the Bahamas, which was a real life-changing experience.
Tell me about the night with Bowie.
It was in Rotterdam. I found myself in the hotel bar with the band. Then they said, “We’re going to this club. Why don’t you come?” I was like, “Wow.” And so I went. Then Bowie showed up and the whole place went mad. He was being attacked and grabbed. It was quite funny. The band was used to this, but I didn’t like it. I was losing my mind. I was screaming at people, “Get off him! Fuck you!”
Bowie eventually left. [Guitarist] Carlos Alomar came over and said, “Going out with Bowie is cool. You just have to let him leave.”
How did Robert Palmer change your life?
He took me under his wing. We wrote a lot of songs together that summer, one of which [“Go to Zero”] ended up on the Power Station album. That got me a big publishing deal and quite a bit of money, which was amazing. He was a great, great friend. I got snuck into the Power Station album session just to play on that one song. John Taylor played it on the album, but I had to do a color-by-numbers thing for him. Robert was very particular about how things were played and he thought only I could play that bass line right.
From doing that, I met [Chic’s] Bernard Edwards, who was my absolute hero, my God. Still is. When Robert did the  Riptide album with Bernard producing, Bernard got rid of all his guys and brought his New York team in. But he said, “Get that English kid of yours in. I like him.” I got to play on Riptide. It’s still my proudest bass credit. On that album it says “Bass by Bernard Edwards and Guy Pratt.” I was 22.
Right around that same time, you nearly wound up touring in the Smiths. How did that happen?
This whole five year period was just fuckin’ nuts. By that time, I was working with Bryan Ferry. Myself and [guitarist] Chester Kamen were kind of like his little sorcerer’s apprentices. We were in the studio for like two years with him working on this album [Bête Noire]. One of the songs we were doing was a Smiths instrumental. It was a B side of “Bigmouth Strikes Again” called “Money Changes Everything.”
Bryan, very cleverly, came up with the idea of writing a song over it as a way of tapping into the Smiths audience. We just had trouble getting the sound of it, so Bryan said, “Why don’t we get Johnny Marr to play on it?”
And so Johnny came down to the studio. And Johnny and I kind of fell in love immediately. We had this huge bromance and went around London together, and we played on Kirsty MacColl records. All of this happened when The Queen Is Dead came out and they were having trouble with Andy [Rourke], their bass player. He’d just been busted for drugs and they didn’t know if he’d be able to get a visa for the American tour. And so it was suggested that I stand in for the tour.
I went and did a week’s rehearsal with them. I don’t know whether it was ever in the cards, and everything turned out alright with Andy anyway. I think they were kind of just humoring Johnny so he could have his mate around.
What were those rehearsals like?
Johnny was the bandleader. Everything flowed from him. And Andy was there. He taught me all of his surprisingly sophisticated bass parts. They were really complicated. They sound straightforward, but there are loads of little bits where nothing sounds the same twice. It’s brilliant stuff. I learned a lot.
We were down in the middle of the countryside in Sussex. I drive past it every time I drive from Brighton to London since I live in Brighton. It always makes me think about it. And Morrissey was only there for the last couple of days. It was a party band and Morrissey used to go to bed really early. On the last night, we were up sort of all night. I went to bed and realized I hadn’t finished. I went and banged on what I thought was Johnny’s door. I was like, “Come on, you bastard! Get up!” And it was Morrissey’s door, it turned out. He just got up in the morning, took the train to London, and I just wasn’t doing the tour. [Laughs]
Moving on, how did you enter the world of Pink Floyd?
I knew David [Gilmour] because I was playing for Dream Academy, who he was producing. The first time I ever met David was when this band Television Personalities were supporting him on his  solo tour and they were doing “Arnold Layne” in their set. That was fine. Then they started doing a song called “I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives.” David was like, “Right, that’s it.” [Laughs]
He asked Dream Academy to go support him at a show in Birmingham. And so I went up and had the most excruciating meeting with David in a dressing room backstage. We just both stood there with nothing to say until David walked away. I thought, “Well done, Guy.”
Then he came in to play on the Bryan Ferry album, which was amazing. Chester and I were there in the studio and everyone else came and went. I spent a bit of time with David then. But then I went to holiday in Thailand and when I came back, there were messages on my answering machine from David asking if I’d play with him and Kate Bush at an Amnesty International gig, which happened when I was away. “Noooooooo!”
You’d think I learned my lesson, but I went on holiday to Thailand last year. And I fucking came back to all these messages from Zak Starkey asking me to do a day in the studio with the Who! I really should stop going on holiday to Thailand.
When I got back, I read an article in the then-new magazine Q about Pink Floyd getting back together, finishing an album, and going on the road. I thought, “Wow, that’s interesting.” Then sometime in the next week I got a call from David.
He said, “I don’t know if you heard that Pink Floyd are touring?” I said, “Yeah, I might have heard something about that.” He goes, “Are you interested, and are you available?” I said, “Well, it’s possible I can muster some sort of interest.”
I said, “Yeah, I’m available.” He goes, “Then you’re not working?” I said, “Well, no. I’d have to move some things around …” [Laughs] That was it. It’s become the defining gig of my life.
Were you a huge Pink Floyd fan prior to that?
Massive. It’s quite funny. Americans wouldn’t understand, but my generation, the kids who came after punk, it’s hard to say just how uncool Pink Floyd were. Yeah, we loved them, but you didn’t talk about it.
I think of the famous “I Hate Pink Floyd” T-shirt Johnny Rotten wore.
Exactly. Although, someone finally called him on this a few years ago. If you were a kid in the Seventies, your t-shirts were a big deal. They were expensive and had to send off for them and wait three weeks. Someone finally pointed out in an interview with John Lydon, “But you did have a Pink Floyd shirt.” And he said, “I can’t believe it’s taken this long. Of course! I’m a massive Pink Floyd fan!”
I imagine it was somewhat intimidating at first. You’re essentially replacing Roger Waters in the group, at least on bass.
Not really. I had these incredibly conflicting emotions when I first showed up in Toronto for rehearsals. It felt absolutely like home musically, personally, dynamically. I loved these people. It just really felt like home. But then I was also definitely going to get sent home immediately. I was like, “What are you thinking? You’re not going to join Pink Floyd! You’re going to be found out. You’re going to be sent home.” And it’s been like that ever since. [Laughs]
I was very surprised when I first saw the stage setup. I presumed I’d be buried in the back, but I actually wasn’t. I was actually in Roger’s old spot. I was level with David in the front. Of course, the drums were in the middle.
Was it scary to hear that they wanted you to sing Roger’s parts on some of the old songs?
Singing “Run Like Hell” was my audition. I actually turned up after a really big night. I was in terrible shape and was like, “I’ve fuckin’ blown it.” But it was actually because I was so battered that I sang it fantastically. If I was rested, I’d probably have been way too self-conscious. David asked me to go back for a second audition and he was like, “OK, sing it again.” I was like, “Why? I’ve done it once.” Even though I was terrified, I was coming off as cocky. David was like, “Fuck this guy. I’ll risk him.”
I never actually played bass at the auditions. All I did was sing “Run Like Hell.” I don’t know what that says about what David thinks about the complexity of Pink Floyd bass playing. He was just like, “I know you can play the bass.” [Laughs]
This was the first Floyd tour in six years and the first one without Roger Waters. Was there any fear in the camp that the public might not accept the band without Roger?
Not really. The only person [in Pink Floyd] that had any sort of public profile at all was David. That’s because David was always going and playing on other people’s records. People that know Pink Floyd only in these past 30 years will be much more aware of who is in the band than people back then. They were Pink Floyd. That was it.
I never had any thought that I was replacing Roger. David played half the bass on those records and I never thought of Roger as a bass player. He was this sort of grand conceptualist. I used to think it was funny when people said it as a compliment, “You’re as good a bass player as Roger Waters.” It was like, “Well, thanks. I think I’d rather write The Wall.” [Laughs]
The band played 198 shows on that tour. It went two years. That’s a real grind.
It was a real grind. I lost my mind on it. It was just crazy, the fact that it was so long. And of course, the younger you are, the longer that time is. The guys were in their early forties and then they had this kind of baby squad of me, [keyboardist] Jon Carin, and [percussionist] Gary Wallis. It all would have seemed twice as long for us. [Laughs]
It was funny because it was just like a school year. We had autumn term, a break for Christmas and then we went back out, but had the Easter holiday. We finished over the summer. And then we went back out the next year.
How did you almost lose your mind?
It’s the keys to the toy cupboard, isn’t it? It was everything. It’s the ludicrous private plane, the hotels. If you did more than one show in a row it was because you were in the same place and didn’t have to travel. When you’re playing stadiums, you often can’t do two in a row and so you obviously get a day off. There’s not much, especially when you’re young, incentive to go to bed that often. [Laughs]
Right after the tour ended, you played bass on Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” How did that happen?
That was because I knew [producer] Pat Leonard. He’d been brought in to write songs for Bryan Ferry. I became friends with Pat before the Pink Floyd thing. And Pat was everywhere in those days. He was the absolute Warner Bros. golden boy. He’d actually co-written a song [“Yet Another Move”] on the Floyd album. He also says that he suggested me as a bass player to David.
Pat and I were friends and he came to a show somewhere and said, “What are you doing when this is over?” He was the first person to ask me this. I went, “Fuck!” I felt like [Robert Duvall’s character Lieutenant] Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. “One day this war is going to end …” [Laughs] I said, “I have no idea.” He said, “Do you want to come and play on a Madonna record?” “Fuck! Are you kidding?”
When I did that, I don’t think she’d actually had a bass player on a record before. Maybe one track on Like a Virgin. Everything else had been machines and keyboards up until then.
Did “Like a Prayer” seem like a classic when you were making it?
All of the songs back then were amazing. “Oh Father” is an amazing song. But no, not really. What’s funny is that of all the recordings, “Like a Prayer” is the one I remember least. I know that I went in and did that bass part after the band had been recorded. It was just me and Pat in the studio, but I don’t really remember it.
What’s funny is I went back to L.A. the next year to do a project with Pat. It’s when they were mixing “Like a Prayer” and Madonna kindly invited me to the mix. She sat me down next to her and had this really loud playback of “Like a Prayer.” I didn’t remember it. I just thought, “This is fucking amazing. That bass is amazing. It sounds like me, but it cannot be me because it’s just way above my pay grade. I’m not allowed to do things like that on a Madonna record.”
At the end of it, I said to her genuinely, “Madonna, that is the best thing you have ever done. That bass is insane. Who is it?” She went, “You!”
That’s crazy. What do you play on Michael Jackson’s HIStory?
How did that happen?
That came because Bill Bottrell, who engineered the Madonna album, was producing Michael Jackson. I happened to be in L.A. doing Storyville, the Robbie Robertson album. This whole period was just nuts. I’ve got to say that my impostor syndrome was through the roof the whole time.
What happened was, I got a call from Bill during the session asking if I could come down. I was like, “I’m kind of busy.” He said, “It’s Michael Jackson.” I was like, “Hang on a second.” It was just one of those moments where I hold my hand over the receiver. I said to Robbie Robertson, “Robbie, is it OK if I leave a bit early this evening? I’ve got an invitation to go do a Michael Jackson session.” He said, “Well, what am I supposed to say!”
Was Michael there?
I ended up going back about three times and Michael wasn’t there. They kept saying, “Michael wants this and Michael wants that.” The last day I said, “If Michael was here, he could just tell me what he wants.” Bill then calls and says, “Guy, come down to the studio. Michael is here and he’s not leaving.” I got down to the studio and Michael wasn’t there. He’d just left. He’d always just left.
But there was this new supposedly “engineer” that was this huge Samoan bloke that looked like a bodyguard. He was down at one end of the mixing desk, but he didn’t let me get down there. I was trying to get an ashtray or something. Those were the days you could smoke in studios.
He kept telling me what he thought Michael would think until it became very apparent that he was actually talking to someone behind the mixing desk. In fact, Michael Jackson was hiding behind the mixing desk, telling this guy what to tell me. It was purely ridiculous, but I just had to go along with it and pretend that Michael Jackson wasn’t there.
You didn’t actually meet him?
No. I never acknowledged that he was in the room even though he clearly was. He was doing that a lot at the time, apparently. He had a meeting with Nile Rodgers where he just hid under the desk until it got so embarrassing and awful that Nile just left.
How did you wind up on the David Coverdale/Jimmy Page tour?
Yeah, how did I? [Laughs] That came through Jimmy’s guitar tech, Lionel [Ward], who looked after me when I did Knebworth with Pink Floyd in 1990. It was very hush-hush. Lionel kept saying, “I’ve got this project and you’d be great for it.” I said, “Great.” But he wouldn’t tell me who it was. I was like, “I can’t just agree without you saying who it is. What if it’s [‘The Lady in Red’ singer] Chris de Burgh?”
He basically said, “Come down to the rehearsal studio.” I walked in and there was fuckin’ Jimmy Page and David Coverdale! I nearly shat myself. That was amazing. From that, I wound up doing quite a few things with Jimmy over the years. And I wound up on a Whitesnake album! I am definitely the only person who has been in the Smiths and Whitesnake. [Laughs]
How was the Coverdale/Page tour? Playing all those Zeppelin songs must have been a real thrill.
It was an absolute thrill, total thrill. It was amazing working with Jimmy. He absolutely is an alchemist onstage. He’s quite brilliant. It was great fun. It was the closest to an actual rock & roll band I’d ever been in. I’ve never really done that. Everyone else I’d worked with had been rather genteel, middle-class English people like Pink Floyd. This was rock & roll!
That was one of the first times that Jimmy toured and did Zeppelin songs. The Firm didn’t do any of them.
That’s a good point. What was interesting is that when we were rehearsing … because obviously we did a lot of Whitesnake stuff as well. I was thinking, “How the hell is Jimmy going to get the hang of this Whitensake stuff?” And, of course, I completely forgot that Jimmy is the ultimate session dog. He had those songs down in a second.
Why was the tour so short? It was just Japan.
Well, it was originally seen as this big American tour in arenas. Then it didn’t quite sell, so it was down to sheds. Then it was going to be theaters. The thing is that Jimmy was fine with that because he’s Jimmy Page and he’s always going to be Jimmy Page and nothing is going to take away from him being Jimmy Page wherever he played.
I think for David, who is only a few years back and had only just slogged his way up to arena status, he was damned if he was going to step down now, especially with Jimmy Page. I can kind of see his point. It was a shame because it kind of needed that production. That’s why it was only Japan.
I don’t buy this for a second, but I’ve read conspiracy theories online that Jimmy Page only did that tour to pressure Robert Plant into agreeing to a reunion, which he did the following year.
Ummm … I don’t think it was that. I think it was a lot more to do with Coverdale applying pressure to Jimmy than Jimmy having some Machiavellian backstory. [Laughs]
How was the Pink Floyd Division Bell tour in comparison to the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour for you?
It was completely different. They’d proved their point. Pink Floyd had gone out and it worked. The first tour was very much the Four Musketeers and we were all rousing behind David to support him and make this thing work. It was one big happy family. And then the Division Bell tour was slightly more band-like.
It was interesting. There was more tension. It wasn’t as much fun. Everyone was a bit older. It wasn’t the party tour like the one before. But musically, it was infinitely better. Infinitely. That’s because you need a bit of tension. You can’t be too happy and play that music. It’s going to show. [Laughs]
What was the source of the tension?
It was just a general thing. I don’t know. It just felt slightly different. But it was all good. Also, it was a shame we didn’t do enough of that. It was only Europe and America. We didn’t go to the Far East or anywhere interesting.
I feel like you guys sort of invented the concept of playing a classic album straight through on that tour when you started doing Dark Side of the Moon near the end. I can’t think of anyone beyond the Who playing Tommy in 1989 to do anything like that.
That’s a good point. I think that’s because we did so many songs from Dark Side anyway in the second act. It was actually Polly Samson who said, “Why don’t you just do the whole thing?” What is really interesting is that when you play Dark Side as a piece, you play the songs different. There is no way I can explain in what ways you do. If you play “Us and Them” as a song on its own, it feels one way. If you play it and it’s part of the narrative flow of Dark Side of the Moon, it’s different.
The tour ended in October 1994 at Earls Court. Did David indicate to anyone at that time that he was done with Pink Floyd as a touring band?
No. Not at all. No. I didn’t really think about it. Frankly, I had been really surprised when the whole thing started up. The whole Division Bell period was really nice. Obviously on Momentary Lapse, the album was done when I got involved. This was really nice to come in at the very beginning. I was there during the writing process. I was in the studio with the three of them for a week just kind of moving about.
It was fantastic. That’s what makes it so special to me. It’s the one Pink Floyd thing where I was there from the inception to the live album [Pulse] at the end of it.
Pink Floyd could have become the Rolling Stones after 1994, where David brought it on the road every three years and packed stadiums everywhere.
It became quite apparent when we did his 2006 solo tour, which was fantastic and just a fantastic final tour for Rick [Wright], that David didn’t like the responsibility. The responsibility is huge. You’re talking about 100 trucks. You’re talking about hundreds of people. It’s like you’re going from sitting at home to being the chairman of Pepsi. [Laughs] A lot of people thrive on that. Roger Waters thrives on that. Mick Jagger thrives on that. The bigger it is, the better. But I think that responsibility gets to David.
It’s the same with his solo stuff. He won’t get out unless he’s got something to say. There has to be a new record. I think it’s very, very easy when you’re middle-aged and clearly don’t have to work where you can easily say, “Oh, God. Do I want to go through all of that?” The payoff is great, but you work for it.
How was your Roxy Music experience?
It was fantastic. I’ve had an on-off thing with Bryan since 1986. It’s interesting because Bryan and Roxy are two different things. I love touring with Bryan, but it seems to be once every seven years. The Roxy thing was great. They are all good friends. Andy Mackay is my neighbor down in Brighton and Phil Manzanera is a really dear friend. And it’s those songs. Come on.
Yeah. Just standing onstage at the Isle of Wight and playing “Love Is the Drug” with those guys …
It’s so amazing, but there’s so many of those songs. I did Live 8 with them. That’s the classic, “Wait all day for a bus and two show up at once.” That’s because I had been asked to play with Pink Floyd at Live 8 because Roger was going to play acoustic. But I was already booked to play the Berlin one with Roxy Music. I was like, “Fuck!”
Remember at Live Aid when Phil Collins went from London to New York on Concorde? I was like, “Can’t I do a sort of pound shop version of Phil Collins and fly EasyJet from Berlin to London?” [Laughs]
I’m sure the David Gilmour On an Island tour was a great experience. He was out playing theaters like Radio City Music Hall when he could easily have been at Madison Square Garden.
There are certain places David has a real emotional attachment to. Radio City is one. I don’t know if there was a particularly important Pink Floyd show there, but he gets attached to venues. And what was great about that tour is you realized that the dynamic of that show, rather than the endless David vs. Roger argument, was to see how important the musical conversation was between David and Rick. It’s a fundamental part [of Pink Floyd] that got overlooked for years.
Seeing them play “Echoes” on that tour was just sensational.
It was amazing. And it was amazing for me. When we were in New York, we stayed there for about two weeks. Of course, I was married to Rick’s daughter Gala. She had to go away for a week, so Stanley, our son — he was only four at the time — he had to come out to New York and stay with me. His best friend was Romany, David’s daughter, and there’s only a few weeks between them. And so Stanley comes over and he’s got his best mate, his dad, and his grandad. It was literally like this whole tour was a jolly just set up for Stanley.
Tell me about playing with David Bowie at the Royal Albert Hall.
That was incredible. We now know that was a trip where David was in London because he knew he was ill and he brought his family over to show them the places where he grew up. Our tour manager, Nick Belshaw, was David Bowie’s production manager. He said, “Should I try and get Bowie to come and sing?” We went, “Yeah. Sure.” As if he would! And then it was like, “Yeah.” It was to be his penultimate live performance ever.
What was extraordinary about that is that as David Gilmour has often said, “No Syd [Barrett], no Bowie.” Bowie’s admiration for Syd Barrett is very well known. What was incredible is when he got up to do “Arnold Layne,” he knew that song inside, outside, upside down. It was like he had been singing it every night for his whole life. He just knew it so well.
Then you kind of got the impression that he didn’t really know “Comfortably Numb.” [Laughs] What was funny was that Rick, who had to be bullied into singing the verses at the start of the tour, was now kind of loath to give them up. We were like, “For fuck’s sake, Rick, it’s Bowie!” [Laughs] Of course, Bowie sang amazingly on it.
Flashing forward to Rattle That Lock, it must have been weird at first to be playing with David and not have Rick there.
Yeah. That was. Although we did that song every night, “A Boat Lies Waiting,” which is about Rick and there’s a sample of Rick talking at the beginning of it. I used to get quite emotional. That was sad. It’s what it is. What are you going to do?
How was the tour besides that? I thought the Garden show was exceptional.
The Garden was great because the Garden is very, very special. And Pompeii was fantastic. That was a big deal, although the actual mechanics of it were awful since we had to stay in hotels that were two and a half hours away. We had to do that drive twice a day sometimes. The annoying thing is that once we’d done that gig, the people that ran the stadium were like, “Oh, now we can put gigs on here.” Now everyone plays there. It’s just another fucking gig. The Saucerful of Secrets were like, “We should play Pompeii.” It was like, “Why? Every fucker plays Pompeii!”
Midway through that tour, a lot of the band left without explanation, including Jon Carin and Phil Manzanera. What happened?
Uh … I’d rather not go into that. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. You might have to wait for the book for that, but for a while there I wasn’t in the band either.
It was just 50 shows. I imagine that David wasn’t interested in doing much more than that.
That’s the difference between him and the Saucers. David doesn’t really embrace touring. He wants it to be very much on his terms, and that’s very fair. But it means you get this rather stop-start–y thing. Now that I’m an older man, when I’m on tour, I like to be on tour. With the Saucers, we play practically every fuckin’ night. That works.
I really understand now why Robert Palmer had a thing where he wouldn’t have days off. He felt they were the most destructive thing for a tour. He was actually right. If he ever had a day off, he would get them to set up in the bar of whatever hotel they were staying in and they would do a fuckin’ show.
Let’s talk about the Saucers. The first time you heard that Nick wanted to play concerts, did that surprise you?
It came from [guitarist] Lee Harris, who is my old mate. He moved to the middle-of-nowhere France and he came to the Gilmour show in Orange and the next year he came to Nîmes. He had this idea. “Why doesn’t Nick go out and do the early stuff that no one is doing?” I said, “That’s a brilliant idea, but he’ll never go for it.” I don’t know why I thought that. But I said, “Write it up and I’ll put it to him.”
Nick said, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” I still said, “Oh, it’ll still never happen, but it’s a good excuse to have lunch with Nick.” And suddenly it was on. It then happened really quickly. At the first meeting we had, we picked all the people. It was weird. We didn’t even have to think about it. It’s like everyone was sitting in the ether waiting to do this.
We just did two days in a shitty, little rehearsal room and then within six weeks or something we did our first pub gig. Then within a couple of months of that we were off on the road.
Confining the setlist to pre–Dark Side songs makes so much sense. Those songs are incredible and you never hear them.
What’s great is that I’d only played three of those songs [“One of These Days,” “Arnold Layne,” and “Astronomy Domine”] before. To me, it’s a new band. And a lot of them have never been played before, so it feels really fresh. It’s really punk-y and Krautrock-y. It’s got all sorts of different energies in it.
It’s also Pink Floyd before it was all so fuckin’ important. It’s a pop group. That’s why Nick wants everyone to interact with the audience as much as they can. We chat, we mess around with the songs. It completely evolves on the road. If you listen to tape of us at the Roundhouse and compare it to the end of a tour, it’ll be completely different. And the schedule we have is grueling. The thing I love is that it’s the first time that Nick has ever slept on a tour bus.
His last tour was The Division Bell in 1994. That was a time of private jets and everything.
We have a bus and stay at a lot of DoubleTree by Hilton hotels. [Laughs] There’s a lot of self-service breakfasts.
You guys have to toast your own bagels in the lobby.
Exactly. Nick loves it. You never hear a peep out of him. He doesn’t complain about anything. He genuinely loves it. And he’s playing better than I’ve ever known him. It is Nick Mason, Boy Drummer.
I imagine at some point a concert promoter will come to you guys and say, “If you do Dark Side of the Moon straight through, I’ll book you for 20 nights at the Royal Albert Hall.” But that’s not going to happen, right?
No. Absolutely not. There’s no point. Within a 100 miles of where I am — obviously not right now because of the lockdown — but normally within 100 miles of where I am and within 100 miles of where you are, there are five people playing Dark Side of the Moon live.
What’s interesting is that the Pink Floyd tribute industry is actually an industry. It’s a subset of the music industry, isn’t it? [Pink Floyd backing vocalist] Durga McBroom now lives in Italy and does all these vast Pink Floyd tribute things. Good luck to her. Why not?
Was the Saucers show at the Beacon your first time sharing the stage with Roger Waters?
No, it wasn’t. I actually put the band together for this children’s charity called Hope for Palestine. Apparently, David agreed to do it if Roger would sing a duet on “To Know Him Is to Love Him.” [Laughs] Pink Floyd apparently used to do that as a soundcheck number.
When I put the band together, I had to do this incredibly fine balancing act of picking people who either played for both or weren’t too much on one side or the other.
I’m sure it was great to finally be with both of them after all these years.
That was nice. What was funny, though, is the final condition of Roger doing that show … It was when Roger was doing the Wall tour. David agreed to come and play “Comfortably Numb” one night. Roger then, wisely, announced it. And so imagine that every night he’d be doing the show and it would get to that bit in “Comfortably Numb” and the spotlight goes to the top of the wall and there’s Dave Kilminster. The audience goes, “Awww.” [Laughs]
Back then, they were friendly enough to play together at shows like that. What happened? They seem to truly hate each other again.
It’s really not in a good place now. I don’t know. It’s best I don’t talk about it.
One of my favorite concerts moments in recent memory was watching Roger play “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” at the Beacon Theater with you and Nick. Walk me through how that happened.
It was great. We do this thing every night where Nick asks Lee the first time Pink Floyd played whatever town we were in. Lee gave this whole thing about when Pink Floyd first played New York. And then Roger came up and said, “No, you’re wrong, Lee. This is what happened when we first played New York and this is what happened.” And Lee was right! [Laughs]
“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” to me, is the greatest song that Joy Division never wrote. You can slip that song into the middle of Unknown Pleasures and it would fit right in. No one would notice. It’s like the first great post-punk song.
Did you guys rehearse with Roger?
No. We didn’t even do a soundcheck. It was very impressive. The funny thing is the big gag we had before that song is Nick saying how he was never allowed to play the gong. Of course, Roger came over, played the gong and broke his beater. It was brilliant, fantastic. He was so powerful. It was great. Those things always happen in London or New York. If that had been Cambridge, it would have been so amazing.
How is Nick different as a bandleader than David?
That’s very, very interesting. It’s not really fair to compare. It’s a much, much smaller operation. But Nick is an incredible, benevolent bandleader. If we get a night off, then we take the crew out to dinner. It’s a very, very happy set. My tech says the crew bus is the happiest bus he’s ever been on. That stuff flows from the top.
Do you think that after the pandemic you’ll be back on the road?
Oh, God, please. Please. We just re-booked our English and American tour for the third time now for next spring. I don’t know if our American tour has actually been canceled. I presume it has. We were supposed to be there in October and November. You may well have degenerated into full Mad Max by then.
How is Nick doing?
We have a Zoom band meeting every week. He’s down in the country. He’s raising sheep during the lockdown. He’s been keeping us up to date about that.
How is your lockdown? Are you getting bored? Restless? Do you miss being onstage?
Yeah. I’m bored. I’m restless. I find it very hard to concentrate. I’m a news obsessive. I’m quite vocal on Twitter. But I’ve been doing my Lockdown Licks, which has been really nice. I do these YouTube videos that I’ve been playing on. That’s been nice and I get a lot of positive responses from people who I’ve cheered up. That I really, really like. The worst thing is feeling you aren’t of any use.
Are you hopeful about 2021?
Uhh … For the world, I’m hopeful, but that depends on what happens on November 3rd where you are. But yeah, I’m hopeful. As musicians, we are absolutely the last people on earth to go back to work. Everyone is back at work before we are. There’s all these talks of socially distanced gigs, but are we going to play something that looks like the White House press conference?
I can’t picture that.
At a theater, it would maybe work because you don’t have to actually engage with the audience. But we just have to hope for a vaccine.
Do you think that David Gilmour still has one more tour inside of him?
He’s certainly got one inside of him. The question is, does he have an album? David is not interested in touring without an album. David is very, very productive in lockdown. He did those lovely songs for Polly’s book and that fantastic sound design for her book. It was fantastic. David has had a fairly good lockdown.
I’ll wrap in a second here, but tell me what you hope to accomplish in the next five or so years.
I want the Saucers to go out again. I want to get [my second] book done. If I could get someone else to write it, I would. [Laughs] I wouldn’t do that, actually. I’m not a natural writer, so I’m having to force myself to do that. But I just want things back to normal, whatever that is.