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Since 1988, The Australian Pink Floyd has been recreating the ethereal sounds and complicated musicality of one of England’s most revered bands.
Though it started as a typical cover band – a five-piece of guys obsessed with Pink Floyd – the band has become an international force, and one so respected by Floyd fans that even David Gilmour has given his blessing (the band actually performed at his 50th birthday party)
Jason Sawford, keyboardist for TAPF (also known as The Australian Pink Floyd Show), was one of the originals to sign up, answering an ad in Allan’s Music store in Adelaide, South Australia, looking for a vocalist and keyboardist to join a band that only played Pink Floyd. He fit the latter qualifications.
Sawford is still joined by original member Steve Mac on guitar/vocals and, since 1993, Colin Wilson on bass/vocals. Drummer Paul Bonney has been with the band since 1998 and sax player Mike Kidson since 2003. Newer recruits are David Domminney Fowler (guitar/vocals), Alex McNamara (vocals) and Lorelei McBroom, Emily Lynn and Lara Smiles (who performed with Pink Floyd) on backing vocals.
Every year TAPF strives to change and embellish its live shows (last year’s tour included 3D elements created by a Hollywood animator), though dreamy lasers and top-notch multimedia elements – often modeled after Pink Floyd’s own shows – are the norm.
Sometimes TAPF will tackle entire albums from the band, particularly on anniversary years of famed recordings. But for this tour – including Saturday’s stop at the Fox Theatre – the full Floyd catalog will get the tribute treatment.
Sawford checked in recently during a day off from Lubbock, Texas, to discuss what fans can expect on this run, how they choose which Pink Floyd songs to perform and whether or not they have something special planned for next year’s anniversary of “Dark Side of the Moon.”
Q. You’re an original member. How have you seen audiences change?
A. We get fans who follow us all over the place, people who saw us play in the early ‘90s and are still fans today. Every year they come and see our gigs. We’ve had people travel from England to Poland to see us play and people of all ages come to see us. We used to play to middle aged blokes, but now it’s a family thing; we see grandparents who saw Pink Floyd the first time around.
Q. It seems as if you’ve graduated from playing big clubs to some theaters and arenas…how have you kept up with the production?
A. It’s an ongoing challenge. In 1988 it was five guys, but over the years as we got bigger, we recruited other people. With the lights and the lasers, you need a team of people to do that. We have meetings with the creative people and discuss what are we going to do for the next tour? It’s a big production. Every year we try to do something new. This year we redesigned the show. It’s a new light show, new projections, some film material, some animation. It’s a well-balanced fit that represents Floyd in all their eras. We try to cover a bit of everything and cover all the basics.
Q. How often do you decide to work up a new song, or do you even do that anymore?
A. Every year we might introduce a song we haven’t played for awhile or not at all. The ones we haven’t done are the more obscure ones and we have to think, if you’re playing an arena, should be play this for 5,000 people? It’s always good to do the favorites, but we want to tuck in something unusual.
Q. How do you feel about being known as the pre-eminent tribute band? And is that even the right term for what you do?
A. It’s hard to know what to call us. We started as a tribute band but we don’t put on wigs. It’s a big concert production, it’s something in its own rights; we have our own imagery associated with ourselves
Q. Do you get offended if people refer to you as a cover band?
A. No not particularly. I don’t know what else to call us.
Q. You have David Gilmour’s blessing and respect, but did you ever have to get permission from the band to do anything?
A. When we started no, not particularly. But when we met him we asked and he said he was fine with what you’re doing. You just have to pay the royalties. You play his songs and he gets the money.
Q. Have you seen Roger Waters’ ‘The Wall’ tour?
A. Yes, I saw it at the London O2 Arena. It was really quite striking.
Q. What does it take, keyboard-wise to get that Pink Floyd sound?
A. I have loads. My keyboards tend to change and after awhile they die because we tour so much. There are some tribute bands who say let’s use all authentic equipment, but if it falls apart you can’t replace it. I use four keyboards on the road, special equipment with samplers and sound units, it’s pretty complicated. It can be challenging, but we’re always working at it. It’s very time consuming. Even when we have our time off, that’s when we’re putting the show together.
Q. What are the most challenging songs to do?
A. It depends. Some songs from ‘Animals’ are interesting with those sound effects. A lot is going on in those songs. But every song has its challenge. ‘Sheep’ might be difficult for me, but for a guitarist it might be ‘Comfortably Numb.’
Q. You’ve got a big tour coming up next year with the 40th anniversary of ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ Have anything special in the works?
A. We’re discussing how to present the music and themes and ideas. We’re always thinking of what we’re going to do, so we’re still working on it. We’re going to have a busy year. We’ve got some time off in January, but that’s when we’ll put this next tour together.
Q. It appears the band now has worldwide appeal.
A. Yes, South America, Israel, all sorts of places we’ve played. We haven’t done Japan yet. Pink Floyd is music that seems to appeal to everyone. I was watching a program on the Middle East the other day and in the background they were playing Pink Floyd.
The Australian Pink Floyd plays the Fox Theatre at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $39.50-$49.50 and can be purchased at www.foxatltix.com or by calling 1-855-ATL-TIXX.