The Australian Pink Floyd Show have been called the world’s greatest tribute band. And they won't get an argument from the real Pink Floyd.
The members of Pink Floyd once flew in from their own tour to hear TAPFS play for one night in London. David Gilmour was so impressed, he asked them to play at his 50th birthday party.
TAPFS have been touring since 1988, but the latest version takes the music of Pink Floyd to a new dimension, literally, as they have become the first band in the world to use 3D lighting and graphics live. On October 7, they start a new tour that includes 25 dates in the United States and three in Canada over the course of a month and a half.
Guitar World recently had the chance to catch up with long-time guitarist Steve Mac and recently added guitarist David Domminney Fowler, who’s been with the band just over a year, as they prepared for a show in Switzerland.
With so many shows in a tour, do you switch up the way you play the solos or the way you set the arrangements for the songs?
David Domminney Fowler (DDF): I’d say a lot of it is pretty fixed because we have crew that have to do things at certain cues. We have the lights and lasers that are programmed. It’s important that the show does stay consistent each night. At the beginning of this year, when I was doing my first tour with the band, we were changing things. And you have to go talk to the lighting guys and the laser guys because they’d have to move their cues for the right bars. So once you’ve settled into something that works, it kind of stays the same.
Steve Mac (SM): This show with that many different departments that have to work together to make everything happen at precisely the right moment, it’s quite a domino effect. We all have our part to play in this big machine. If something works with everything else, we do have to kind of stick to the script. Of course, the script, the blueprint, is Pink Floyd. It’s not something we’re trying to do that they’ve never done. It’s still a tribute show. Not just a tribute show, it’s a Pink Floyd. They’ve created it, we’re trying to imitate it as best as possible.
You include a lot of elements that they used to have, but can you talk about the addition of the 3D element and what sort of experience it brings to the show?
DDF: The audience are looking at the 3D with their glasses on, but for us, we’re all looking at the audience that are all wearing their 3D glasses. That is quite bizarre. Then, you get these moments, where it’s, is this bit 3D or isn’t this bit 3D, and some people take their glasses off. You see the audience all sort of take them off and then put them on at the right points, so it’s quite an interesting thing to watch from the stage. It’s quite humorous. How it actually looks from the front, we can’t actually really say, because as much as we could stand up front during sound check for the 3D section, we can’t see it with the band on stage with the lights going and have the vibe of the room.
SM: I think just from the feedback that we’ve had it obviously adds another dimension to the show. For those people that want a spiritual type experience or journey, the sounds in quadrophonic and you’ve got 3D visuals, so your senses and your mind is getting kind of meddled with to some degree.
One of the things that make Pink Floyd so unique is the soundscape of the music and the depth that’s created. What are some of the biggest challenges to creating the specific sound?
SM: It is a challenge because Pink Floyd did invent their own universe of sound. You put on a Pink Floyd record and you instantly recognize that it’s a Pink Floyd record. They just have their own technique and development. It’s learning through experimentation and research to some degree to try and find all the tools that they used. You’ve also got to have a good ear and the right fingers. I think we’re fortunate enough to have Colin Norfield mixing for us who’s mixed for Pink Floyd and David Gilmour for 20-odd years now. He brings another element. Whatever we do on stage, someone still has to mix it to recreate that soundscape. It’s just a lot of work, many, many years and hours of work.
DDM: It’s not like you turn up with an overdrive pedal and a delay pedal and plug it in and go, oh that’s close enough. There’s a lot of detail that goes into making the sounds, not just guitar, but keyboards and bass.
SM: It’s something that takes years to learn. Even though Dave’s been with us for over a year, he’s been playing Pink Floyd for much of his life. That’s why he was the perfect candidate. Little did we know that Dave came and saw us when he was very young and thought, I want to be in that band one day.
DDM: I went to see them a couple blocks from my house. I think it was in the early days, in the transition from doing smaller gigs to bigger gigs and there was about 1,000 people. I remember watching Steve and thinking he was great and watching the other guy and thinking, I could do that job. I said to myself, by the age of 30, I’m going to be doing his job. Age 31, I joined the band. Actually, technically, at age 30 I joined the band, but I didn’t start gigging till I was 31.
Talking about the equipment, can you give me a rundown of what effects pedals you do use on stage?
SM: Pedals-wise, a lot of Pete Cornish gear to some degree. As far as compression, there’s the Boss CS-2, there’s the Ibanez CP-9. There’s a power booster. I use this thing called an Orange treble booster. It adds a character to certain sounds. I use the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff and Ram’s Head. There’s the Pete Cornish P-1, the Pete Cornish P-2. I use a lot of old pedals, the original pedals that Gilmour would’ve used in the '70s and through the '80s.
DDF: I’ve got a lot of the same pedals that Steve’s got. I’ve got some of the same compressors and the Pete Cornish P-2, which is one of my mains of overdrives for the crunch sound. For the in-between sounds, I’ve got Black Star pedals. I’m using Line 6 Pod X3 Pro and a Boss GT Pro to try and fit in those standard guitar effects.
David Gilmour used a Fender Stratocaster for much of his career. Do either of you use the same guitar or something different?
SM: Fender Stratocaster is the guitar to use. All our guitars are modified. We’ve actually been using for quite a number of years Seymour Duncan pickups instead of the stock Fender ones and we use the stacked ones. They’ve still got the staggered holes in them. David Gilmour’s black strat, it’s got that.
DDM: A friend of mine is a master carpenter and makes guitars. When I got this gig, I asked him to make me one. He came out with an instrument that is unbelievable. It’s very heavy. That’s the only thing that annoys me. It hurts my shoulder. But the sustain you get from it is great. It sort of sustains like a Gibson because it’s so heavy. But, because of the pickups, it sounds like a Strat. It’s got that classic Strat tone. For things like "Another Brick in the Wall" solo where you’ve got to get loads of sustain, it manages to do that in a way that my other Strats don’t.
How important was it for you to get the blessing of members of Pink Floyd?
SM: The first time I ever met David Gilmour, we did a show in London at Fairfield Hall in Croyden. We’d finished the show and were sitting backstage in the dressing room and the door cracked open and this head poked around the corner and I instantly recognized it. It took about five or 10 seconds to realize that it was actually David Gilmour and then our mouths dropped. We started talking and had a drink with him and I asked him, are you okay with us doing this? Because it must feel a bit weird for him that we’re pretending to be Pink Floyd to some degree.
That must be how he perceived it as far as what I thought. But he said that he was actually quite flattered by it. He didn’t have a problem with it at all. I think they were touring in Europe at the time and they heard we were playing in London, so they actually flew into London to see us just for that one show. That began a bit of a relationship where they invited us to play at the end of the tour party of their tour. That led on to playing for David at his 50th birthday, which was just like the biggest honor you could ever imagine.
I can picture every minute of that day and night so vividly because it was so incredible to actually be there amongst all these famous people. George Harrison, for example, sat there on a big silk cushion smoking a big spliff and enjoying the show. It was amazing, one of those things you dreamt about doing growing up.
DDM: Since I’ve been in the band, Nick Mason was on the radio and said he liked what we did and that we slavishly copy the music even to the point where we copy some of his mistakes, which is funny. But, he was very complimentary about us and Guy Pratt, who played bass for Pink Floyd after Roger Waters left, came and played with us. It’s difficult to know how to take these things because none of them are official endorsements, but they’re obviously not against what we do. Otherwise, these things wouldn’t happen.
You are obviously big fans of Pink Floyd and your existence and ability to sell out places proves their popularity is still huge. Do you have any sort of insight as to what makes the music so sustainable after some 40-odd years after the first album?
SM: I just think they break the boundaries. They’re not trying to follow a trend or what’s popular in the top 10. I think it’s a very emotional journey and experience. All the countries we play where there’s a big barrier of language and Pink Floyd just seems to cut through that and break the barrier. You don’t need to understand English to get the music. It’s almost like a spiritual experience. You look at the audience and see the looks on their faces and some people are crying and weeping. Not just different countries and races and cultures, but the age group, I think it touches a human nerve.
DDM: All ages come to the show. I think it’s diversity as well. You go back to the '60s era and it’s psychedelic pop and then they’re experimenting and then you start to get to the concept albums and that works its way through and you’ve got a very different album in something like Animals. And then you’ve got The Wall, which is something completely different and then Final Cut and the more Gilmour-era albums. There’s so much variety and material and different styles and eras that even if someone listens to something and says that’s not quite my thing, there is always something there within the Pink Floyd catalogue that will get everyone somewhere along the line.
For more information and tour dates, check out aussiefloyd.com.