Sunday, October 7, 2012

Australian Pink Floyd Show: Are tribute bands keeping rock alive?


By Ray Shasho

Interview with keyboardist Jason Sawford

The Australian Pink Floyd Show have been echoing legends with virtuoso showmanship and mind-numbing special effects, while steadily expanding a global fanbase who are simply appreciative for keeping the Floyd spirit alive.
Dubbed as “The best tribute band in the world,” the Australian Pink Floyd modestly lofted onto the music scene from Adelaide, South Australia in 1988, and was cofounded by longtime band members, keyboardist Jason Sawford and guitarist Steve Mac.

Although tribute bands may be considered fun and entertaining, some may also say that they shouldn’t be taken too seriously because they don’t write or perform any of their own material. Then again, there are legendary rock configurations with integrity issues, still touring with maybe one or even no original members left in the band, and still performing under the bands legacy trademark. So regarding today’s music standards, tribute bands probably should be taken seriously.

So are tribute bands keeping rock alive or helping to phase it out?
Let’s face it, our rock and roll heroes won’t be around that much longer, and tribute bands may be a way for mature enthusiasts to recapture the days of their youth, while also enlightening the pristine enthusiast. But it may also put an end to any chance for fostering fresh new rock talent. With only a handful of the traditional record companies remaining, the odds for a resurgence of rock and roll are sadly slim. One can only hope that the old adage “history repeats itself” comes true.

As for the real Pink Floyd … In 1994, guitarist David Gilmour attended the performance of Australian Pink Floyd at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, South London. Gilmour invited Aussie Floyd to an end of tour after-show party for The Division Bell tour at Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London. In ‘96, Australian Pink Floyd played for David Gilmour at his 50th birthday party. And over the years various band members of the real Floyd have performed onstage with Aussie Floyd.

Australian Pink Floyd ‘Exposed in the Light World Tour 2012’ will be performing at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Friday October 12th. It will be the productions’ fifth area appearance at the Hall.
The Australian Pink Floyd Show is a magnificent onstage production mechanized by amazing musicians. But you also wonder what these virtuosos are capable of creating musically when out of their realm.
This week, I had the opportunity to chat with keyboardist Jason Sawford about the bands incredible journey since its inception in 1988.
Here’s my interview with keyboardist and founding member of Australian Pink Floyd … JASON SAWFORD.
Ray Shasho: Hello Jason! Thank you for being on the call today. How’s the tour going?
Jason Sawford: “Really well, we’re in Austin, Texas at the moment and we’ve had some great gigs.
Ray Shasho: I’ve always been amazed over the way they setup these shows, especially a show of your size, and you’re doing back- to- back performances each night.
Jason Sawford: “There’s a lot of logistics involved … I’ve finally figured out how they do it. They work really hard. They get up really early in the morning and go to bed really late.”
Ray Shasho: Then the soundcheck is still a very important part of the process.
Jason Sawford: Soundchecks are still pretty important, when you get into a schedule soundchecks get shorter. At the beginning of the tour soundchecks are longer because you’re getting the sound equipment right and all the settings. Once that’s all in place, you get a schedule and the show goes ahead pretty smoothly.”
Ray Shasho: Jason your accent sounds very English, are you from England?
Jason Sawford: “I live in England and have lived there for a number of years because it’s just easier to tour. We started in Australia and moved to England in 1992, so we do have Australian roots. That’s why we call it The Australian Pink Floyd Show. But we’re based in England now and work with a lot of English people.”
Ray Shasho: What were you doing before joining the band?
Jason Sawford: “I was a student at University and doing a science degree in biochemistry and genetics … that kind of thing, and the Floyd thing was like a little band on the side that I did. I also studied a bit of music but didn’t finish the music degree because we decided to move to England. So we took all our equipment and that’s when I concentrated on what I was doing and just made a career out of it.”
Ray Shasho: Are you surprised over the bands success?
Jason Sawford: “Oh yea, I would have never of imagined. Twenty four years ago when I started, I was just playing around pubs; it was just something to do, just playing for fun …and it changed my life.”
Ray Shasho: At what age did you start playing Pink Floyd music?
Jason Sawford: “I was in the early 20s and I’m 45 now, so it’s been a long time.”
Ray Shasho: Were you primarily influenced by progressive rock music while growing up?
Jason Sawford: “Yea, you could say that. When I was in my teens I was actually into classical music. But it was actually Pink Floyd that kind of got me into more of these other progressive rockers as well. I’d listen to Atom Heart Mother that had this orchestra opening and then the rock band would kick in and it works together really well, and I really liked it. So I kind of got into it from that angle.”
Ray Shasho: So how many times have you seen the real Floyd in concert?
Jason Sawford: “They Performed in Adelaide in 1988, which was the year we actually formed, and I saw them at Earls Court in 1994, and saw them a couple of times there. Obviously, I didn’t see them with Roger playing because this was the post Roger band when I saw them play. But it was a fantastic concert and I was quite moved … it was an emotional experience.”
Ray Shasho: The first time I saw Floyd was the Wish You Were Here tour … so I was fortunate to see Roger in the band. It’s something to see the band transform itself from a simple four-man setup with back-up singers to almost a mini orchestra. Why do you think Floyd added so many additional musicians to the band … I thought the original four sounded really tight musically.
Jason Sawford: “Yea, they basically have two of everything now, the more musicians you put in, the bigger the sound, and maybe it looks more interesting …I don’t know. But the music became more complex and required more musicians. Our basic band is just five people; their albums are double- tracks so it was pretty hard to do with just four … we’ve got two guitarists because you need two guitarists. It’s just gotten more involved, so you need more people.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve talked with a lot of legendary artists who are concerned over touring with a large band. After paying everyone and travel expenses –it’s just not cost effective.
Jason Sawford: “It is difficult, our production is pretty expensive. You’ve really got to have a handle on the budget to make sure we don’t overspend here or there, because if things go wrong and if you have to replace equipment or whatever …it just eats up the funds.”
Ray Shasho: Does Pink Floyd get their check from you guys every time you play a gig?
Jason Sawford: “Yes, we do pay royalties to them; I’m not sure how that’s handled our management deals with that side of things.”
Ray Shasho: Aussie Floyd actually played at David Gilmour’s birthday party?
Jason Sawford: “Yes we did, we played for him in person at his birthday party a few years ago. He came to one of our gigs and we didn’t know he was there. He was just sitting in the balcony and he turned up after our show … a head popped out from around the corner and it was David Gilmour, and he shook our hand and asked if we’d play a party or something. So a couple of years later we ended up playing his birthday party. He actually saw us play at the Royal Albert Hall as well and again didn’t tell us he was there in the balcony. (Laughing)”
Ray Shasho: Did David Gilmour make any comments about the show?
Jason Sawford: “He said it was a lot of fun, and I think he enjoyed it. I think his wife also bought a number of T-shirts. (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: You guys also had some Pink Floyd band members join you onstage?
Jason Sawford: “On this particular tour we’re joined with Lorelei McBroom who toured with Pink Floyd on The Delicate Sound of Thunder tour. She’s the sister of Durga McBroom who used to work with Pink Floyd. We’ve also played with Guy Pratt as well.”
Ray Shasho: Did you ever get the opportunity to meet with Richard Wright?
Jason Sawford: “I did at the birthday party. It was a great memory of mine, we were doing the show and towards the end he came to the front of the stage and asked me politely if he could play my Hammond. He was very polite, came up on stage, and said you play the synthesizer and I’ll play the Hammond. And I was next to him shoulder to shoulder while playing “Comfortably Numb” together. And he was doing all this crazy stuff on the Hammond …and it was great.”
Ray Shasho: Obviously, Richard Wright was always one of your favorite keyboardists?
Jason Sawford: “Oh yea … his playing was very subtle, and used all these strange chords and things. He wasn’t someone like Jon Lord… very fast playing. He was just very subtle and a great player. And he was so important to the Floyd family. Pink Floyd would not be Pink Floyd without Rick Wright.”
Ray Shasho: Have you met Roger Waters?
Jason Sawford: “I’ve never met Roger. I’d like to but he’s the only one I haven’t met. And apart from Syd Barrett and of course I’ll never meet him now.”
Ray Shasho: Are there specific Pink Floyd tours, specific years, or setlists that you perform each year, or do you create and mix your own setlists?
Jason Sawford: “We kind of design a setlist every year basically; we might have one or two alternating sets. We’ve covered albums in its entirety; we’ve done … Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall has been done in its entirety. But of course if you do that you’re kind of limited in what else you could put in. So we’re trying to do a more well- balanced set that includes a little bit of everything. You’ve got to have certain songs in there that all the Floyd fans want to here. But we do like to put in some more unusual numbers like “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and songs from the Animals album like “Sheep” or “Pigs on the Wing” and “The Fletcher Memorial Home” from The Final Cut. And we just have to put it together in a way that works, and I think we’ve got a really good setlist.”
Ray Shasho: I think the Animals album was more popular than a lot of people thought.
Jason Sawford: “It’s a great album. It’s probably my favorite in a way; because I think it’s one of their purest albums …it’s just the band Floyd. Just a lot of great instrumental parts as well as cutting lyrics, and it’s a real rocking album. Anytime we play songs from the album it goes down really well.”
Ray Shasho: Jason, what’s your favorite piece to perform … I’m guessing “Echoes?”
Jason Sawford: “Echoes” is great and one of my favorites, but it’s such a long song and we can’t do it every time. I love it and it’s a fantastic track. But I think one of my favorites is “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” For a keyboardist, it has great keyboard parts … especially the mysterious opening and that little duet between guitar and keyboards. It’s wonderful, I love playing that.”
Ray Shasho: It’s amazing when you think how much of Pink Floyd’s sound was about keyboards and synthesizers.
Jason Sawford: “I’m the only one who’s on the stage all the time… they’ll be gaps when there’s no bass, no guitar, or no drums on certain songs …but there’s always keyboards. And it’s always in the background, people don’t always notice it. It just creates that mood and atmosphere.”
Ray Shasho: Any plans to record and release original material?
Jason Sawford: “People do ask about it. We do have ideas and they are in our archives. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do it because we’re pretty busy touring all the time. And when you’re off tour you think, do I really want to hang out with Steve after finishing a long tour? (All laughing) I want a bit of a break.”
Ray Shasho: Jason thank you so much for being on the call today, we’re looking forward to the show at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Friday, October 12th.
Jason Sawford: “Thanks Ray!”

The Australian Pink Floyd official website
Pink Floyd official website
The Australian Pink Floyd Show Live at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fl on Friday, October 12th, tickets available at or call 727-791-7400 for more information.

Coming up … an interview with Maria Muldaur!

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