HOW many tribute bands get to play at a birthday party hosted by a member of the band they are paying homage to, but it happened to The Australian Pink Floyd Show, when they were asked by Pink Floyd’s guitarist David Gilmour to play at his 50th birthday party.
And what’s more, Gilmour got up on the stage and played alongside them.
The Australian Pink Floyd Show is widely recognised as being the best Pink Floyd tribute act. Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason has gone on record to say “they’re probably better than we were”.
Aussie Floyd, as the band is now affectionately known is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year and a huge UK tour is taking place in November and December.
“When we started 30 years ago, I never expected it would last this long,” says founder member and keyboard player Jason Sawford. “I thought we would just end up going around the pubs.”
Formed in Adelaide in 1988, the band also still has two founder members in its ranks – Sawford and guitarist Steve Mac – and Sawford tells me it wasn’t easy.
We did about four years in Australia, then we came to the UK. We spent about five years on the breadline here. Yes, it was difficult for a few years.Jason Sawford
“No, but we persisted. We did about four years in Australia, then we came to the UK. We spent about five years on the breadline here. Yes, it was difficult for a few years.”
Sawford and co built the act up, adding members – one of their backing vocalists actually sang with Pink Floyd, and some of the backroom staff worked with the prog rock legends too – and perfecting the music until the point where the band is note-perfect. Close your eyes and you could believe that it is the original band.
They have also developed their visuals, with inflatables (including a giant inflatable kangaroo), lasers and even 3D!
The band has gone from playing pubs and clubs around Adelaide, to filling arenas around the world.
There are many highlights from the last three decades, as Sawford tell me.
“There’s been so many,” he says. “Obviously when we played at David Gilmour’s 50th party, playing the Royal Albert Hall, the Arena Tours and playing in front of 10000 people in Montreal.”
Some of Pink Floyd’s music is quite intricate, and Sawford says that there are some difficult songs, as well as some he loves to play.
“It varies with whoever is playing,” he says. “For me, I find Sheep quite challenging; there’s a lot that goes on in that song.
“For the girls, it’s Great Gig In The Sky, with the vocal solos.
“As for the enjoyable songs, I really enjoy Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
And the learning process can take ages for each new song, Sawford says.
“Well, it depends on the song. For instance, for the song Fat Old Sun I had to listen to a BBC Bootleg live version which has a big solo part for me.
“Then we do it in stages; we learn our individual parts, then play it as a full band, then we add the production bits and of course we work hard with our front of house sound people to get it right.”
And who chooses which new songs to learn?
“That’s a group thing. Someone will suggest something, we’ll have a discussion and then vote – it’s all very democratic.”
There are some songs that Sawford would especially like to tackle.
“I’d love to do Atom Heart Mother, it’s pretty ambitious, though. And Marooned.”
But as you add new songs, you have to cut some out.
“That’s right. We did have to cut the set-list, so we rotated the songs. But because of the lighting and effects, everything has to be planned ahead.
“They are all great songs, and a lot are quite long. However, there are some songs that we have to play at every show.”
And for this tour?
“We’re playing the usual big numbers and also going back to the roots a little bit with See Emily Play and some of Obscured By Clouds. But we cover all the periods of Pink Floyd’s career.”
Sawfod adds: “We’ve made some improvements to the special effects – and we play behind a curtain on Obscured By Clouds.”
I wondered if the surviving members had been in touch to congratulate Aussie Floyd on their anniversary.
“We’ve not had any yet, but we saw drummer Nick Mason recently and he thanked us for keeping the music alive.”
After 30 years, Sawford still enjoys performing the music of Pink Floyd.
“There’s nothing quite like it, but it’s always nice to get home after a long tour,” he laughs.
And the future?
“We have shows booked for next year. Chile for one, that’s somewhere we’ve never been before. And of course another UK tour. We’re also planning a live DVD for next year.”
The Australian Pink Floyd Show will be celebrating their 30th anniversary of recreating the music of Pink Floyd at Harrogate International Centre on Thursday December 13, Sheffield City Hall on Friday December 14 and Hull Bonus Arena on Saturday December 15. www.aussiefloyd.com