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Brit Floyd Live in Poughkeepsie, New York Print E-mail
Written by Ed Lopez-Reyes   
Monday, 06 July 2015

Brit Floyd, Ploughkeepsie, New York 2015On the 5th of March, Brit Floyd kicked off its North American tour – the band's most extensive yet. Brain Damage was on hand at its recent Poughkeepsie, New York show:

'Pink Floyd tribute band' can evoke thoughts of a 'poor man's Pink Floyd'.

Of something that comes close but doesn't quite hit the spot.

Or of something so compelling it begs the question: is the concept of 'Pink Floyd tribute band' somehow transcending the second-fiddle status typically reserved for such acts or is this transcendence and elevated domain being conquered by a specific group or two in that pool?

Since the ascent of The Australian Pink Floyd Show in the 1990s a rash of Pink Floyd tribute bands has germinated, potentially diluting audiences' ability to discern uncanny tribute from glorified garage cover stunt. And while many do quite well, both in performance and commercially, few have been able to match the heights of Aussie Floyd.

Enter Brit Floyd.

Brit Floyd has been commanding a similar, competing, and growing presence in the Pink Floyd tribute band arena since it formed in 2010, quickly reaching the heights of Aussie Floyd in all tangible measures.

For those unfamiliar with the detailed history of the two bands, their shared roots are at the nexus of this palpable competition – a (healthy) rivalry that is giving Pink Floyd fans an opportunity to see the original's work performed in impeccable form more frequently and accessibly than ever before.

In all truth, the Pink Floyd tribute band market has largely boiled down to Aussie Floyd and Brit Floyd with a good bunch of honourable mentions not too far behind. But it is a market with limited bandwidth. Longevity in it is still a tremulous proposition teased by the constant threat of an absolute Pink Floyd blackout, i.e., no new Pink Floyd material or tour: a convincing projection until you get something like The Endless River out of nowhere… not to mention solo and remastered albums, films, and corresponding tours and events all in one hit (see Exhibit A: September/October 2015… and brace yourself for 2016).

It seems for now the surviving members of the original cast in the Pink Floyd saga are producing enough to keep enthusiasts busy and leaving only one very obvious vacuum for tribute bands to fill: relentless touring featuring the full flare of the Pink Floyd road show (even if not always on the same scale) as well as pretty comprehensive coverage of the band's work.

Without doubt, Roger Waters' The Wall Live was toured on Pink Floyd's typical grade – but a Waters tour will (obviously) never include music from the longest period in the band's history (albeit, not the one with the largest inventory), giving tribute bands an opportunity to pursue scale and catalog in a balance you barter out when catching one member or another from the original band as a solo act.

Brit Floyd's growing presence and stature should not come as a surprise given its roots in Aussie Floyd and – most specifically – the weight of guitarist, vocalist, and musical director Damian Darlington in these two endeavors (first with Aussie Floyd and now with Brit Floyd). Darlington's ability to harness musicians of depth into Brit Floyd (most boasting Aussie Floyd experience) has played a key role in the band's colossal ascent. Darlington scrutinizes potential band members, musical arrangements, and presentation in a palpably surgical manner.

After joining Australian Pink Floyd in 1994, Darlington played with the band through its most recognized peaks (yet), among them playing for David Gilmour (and with Pink Floyd itself, basically) at a private event in 1996. Since 2010 Darlington has led Brit Floyd with the same commitment to performance quality that put Aussie Floyd over the top.

Inevitably, Brit Floyd will be compared to Aussie Floyd – but it is clear from the moment they step on stage that Brit Floyd has emancipated from the branding weight Aussie Floyd has relied on to develop and preserve its identity in a universe it helped create and that is now saturated with imitators.

In many respects, Brit Floyd capitalizes strongly on Pink Floyd's theatricality – a quality that lends itself to anonymity and to adaptation – in order to confidently navigate the band's catalog without any of the noticeable and distracting self-consciousness that a tribute band can bear. The band confidently introduces itself into the musical and dramatic tapestry the original act has already constructed and executes with great precision, i.e., Brit Floyd's particular charm is its ability to help you forget you are in tribute band territory because it is not preoccupied with reminding you they are a 'tribute' band. If anything, many tribute bands struggle to both pay homage to the original by duplicating style, sound, and delivery while at the same time contriving mechanisms to express their own identity. Too strong an effort on that latter end reminds an audience that does not need reminding that this is, in fact, a 'surrogate' band. Brit Floyd – consciously or not – has mastered avoiding that despite some evidence of its own brand.

Credit goes two ways: the incredible musicianship in Brit Floyd and Pink Floyd's gift in creating something that has so transcended individual band members. It doesn't hurt that the British branding in Brit Floyd underscores something that is very much a part of the collective recognition of Pink Floyd as a brand anyway: its British hue. While on rare occasions any reference to this detail during a Brit Floyd performance may nudge a polite and subtle British nationalism it actually, for the most part, echoes the Pink Floyd culture that we are all familiar with anyway.

In Poughkeepsie, the band deployed into their set with material from Dark Side of the Moon, casting lights, lasers, and screen footage reminiscent of The Division Bell Tour on their audience; the only reminder this was not the original band can be isolated to the venue's capacity and corresponding limited space – which forces the band to scale its visual obeisance accordingly depending on where they are playing.

All this is not to say the band has not developed a space of its own (figuratively): most may not detect it, but there is a slight departure now and then on vocals: nothing that diminishes the quality of the music but rather something that enhances it and reinforces the sense of self-confidence that sustains Brit Floyd's effort successfully. Interestingly, although individual voices may reveal personal stylistic traits to the most discriminating ears, the vocal harmonies are uncanny and are the strongest anchor in Brit Floyd's performance.

While the vocals occasionally summon subtle individual styles, the instrumentation follows a strict trajectory that borrows from studio and live performances that are well-cemented in Pink Floyd fans' minds. And this is precisely where another crucial point manifests: in a Brit Floyd production you will recognize bits and pieces from a wide array of the original band's recorded performances. It is easy to overlook the beauty of the arrangements' construction on any given song because the pieces themselves are so embedded in our memories as fans: these parts are combined to provide fresh context for the audience. Darlington and his bandmates excel at grafting and extrapolating pieces from different Pink Floyd performances of the same song to give their renditions a renewed texture but without departing so dramatically from the band's mission that the audience is consumed in unnecessary critical judgments.

It is interesting to note how the band's performance of a song like Run Like Hell converges nuances and details from the renditions delivered in the Gilmour era of Pink Floyd as well as performances of the song during the recent Waters The Wall Live tour: while the tempo is more similar to the latter the vocal delivery, structure, and overall sound is more reminiscent of the former. How much of this is intentional is difficult to discern – but either way, it is remarkable.

Guitarist Bobby Harrison's sound, like Darlington's, is probably projected through a near-exact replica of Gilmour's own gear set-up: Harrison's and Darlington's impact is most reminiscent of what Gilmour delivered in collaboration with Tim Renwick (and Scott Page, who added a texture in rhythm guitar on the Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour) between the late 80s and through the mid 90s. This is an important detail: Renwick's impact on the band's sound in this era was vigorous and discernible in every official and unofficial live recording from the period; Renwick even played the lead guitar on Learning to Fly during these tours, a fact that is often overlooked by fans.

Bassist and vocalist Ian Cattell delivers not only musically but also in his ability to fill crucial spaces in the aforementioned Pink Floyd theatricality: interestingly, Cattell, who was born in upstate New York, performs throughout this show with a particularly British gusto that facilitates his execution of Waters' The Wall parts with noticeable distinction.

The rest of Brit Floyd is equally talented: great musicians of the same depth and professionalism as those that have fleshed out and commanded a great deal of respect from fans as part of Pink Floyd's latter studio efforts and tours or as part of Gilmour's or Waters' touring bands in recent years. Snowy White, Jon Carin, Tim Renwick, Sam Brown, Tony Levin, Sarah Brown, Gary Wallis, Scott Page, Harry Waters, Guy Pratt, Robbie Wyckoff, Graham Broad, Dave Kilminster, the Lennon brothers, G.E. Smith, etc. (we could go on and on), are all musicians that have collaborated with Pink Floyd or its members as solo acts and have done so successfully and to significant or nearly universal fan acceptance. In the Brit Floyd and Aussie Floyd universe, we are discussing musicians that could easily fit any of these aforementioned efforts: it is that context that should be kept in mind when catching either of these bands live and it is certainly evident in Brit Floyd.

Some interesting peaks in the Poughkeepsie set include On The Turning Away and Louder Than Words.

On The Turning Away is probably the song on Brit Floyd's current set that offers the most proprietary qualities: between the vocal delivery (background vocals included) and a few other elements, the song takes on a unique shape – subtle but distinguished enough.

Their rendition of Louder Than Words, which brings something full circle when we consider Gilmour's intent to close the Pink Floyd story with that album, adds a visceral element of "what’s next" for these tribute bands. If you account for the fact Brit Floyd has been performing the song – a song that Pink Floyd may never perform as a unit in any iteration of its former self – regularly on this tour it serves as a reminder that a band like Brit Floyd is poised to fill a substantial vacuity at some point down the road.

All eras of the band are covered with great success but if there is an era that stands out and deserves recognition as a set high it's their performance of Syd Barrett material – goosebump-inducing, you can't help but walk away with an appetite to explore the Barrett era in greater depth given the fresh but eerily accurate delivery of material from that time.

So where are Pink Floyd tribute bands headed and what particular space will Brit Floyd and Aussie Floyd fit in that ecosystem? That will be difficult to answer as long as solo members of Pink Floyd still have albums and tours in them, as long as a rare Pink Floyd track or another ends up on a new box set or remaster, etc..

If there is one particular void these bands could fill right now that is not as obvious and which might really help pull one act ahead of the rest, it is the amount of rare material that they are willing to cover: how often (if ever) will any of them play Not Now John, Yet Another Movie, Nile Song… or solo material from any of Pink Floyd’s band members' solo albums?

On Gilmour's last tour, his solo material from before On an Island went untouched and it is difficult to imagine who would be bold enough to cover Richard Wright material from Wet Dream or Broken China: both excellent albums on which incredible musicians played but whose material has rarely been seen live. Ever.

Brit Floyd, with its roots in Aussie Floyd and the strong musical leadership of Darlington, has now become as widely recognized and as marketable as Aussie Floyd. The dynamic their co-existence creates will make it difficult for additional Pink Floyd tribute bands to access this market or to reach the artistic strength of the two. Not an impossibility – but something that will be difficult to achieve by mere function of the free market.

The bigger question is: where will these two bands (or the more resilient of the two) end up as "new" Pink Floyd material (whatever may be left) is exhausted and as its individual members begin to scale back solo efforts? That is the plane that tribute bands capitalize on most: when there are long breaks, low activity, and little presence from the Pink Floyd camp for consumers to indulge, Pink Floyd tribute bands gain stronger recognition and respect.

Much the same way we respect a good conductor delivering orchestral performances of Beethoven or Bach, some tribute bands will eventually be perceived as custodians of the live performance of music catalogs that have held a unique place in history.

What could really set one of these bands apart is how they approach those obscure songs fans have rarely or never seen performed live by the original band. It will also be interesting to see whether original compositions by folks like Darlington, Cattell, and Co. begin to manifest on their sets, even if sparingly, as interpretations of how Pink Floyd may have executed those and clearly still in the spirit of "tribute" if boasting the right qualities: an imagination of what new Pink Floyd material would sound like on Brit Floyd's terms.

Brit Floyd certainly boasts the gumption, talent, ambition, and discipline. In Poughkeepsie, it left no doubt of this. Let us keep our fingers crossed the next territory tribute bands navigate includes an amplified sample of obscure songs on their set and let us hope Brit Floyd makes an assertive move into that space. Until then, this really is a show you do not want to miss.

Brit Floyd begins the second leg of its North America 2015 Tour in Orlando, Florida next week, July 15th. You can read more about Brit Floyd and see tour dates at britfloyd.com. The photograph accompanying this article shows Brit Floyd live in Poughkeepsie, New York on May 16, 2015, and was taken by Marie Lopez.

 
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