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Lee Harris, guitarist with Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets, interviewed Print E-mail
Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 02 October 2019
Lee Harris, Portsmouth, England, September 2018

As many of you now know, the initial idea for Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets came about when guitarist Lee Harris was watching a David Gilmour concert in France, and had a "lightbulb" moment. With the band having recently announced more concerts for 2020, it seemed a good time to quiz Lee about his background, and how the band came together and developed. For the gearheads reading this, there's even a bit of information about his guitars and effects pedals...

Let's start with a bit of family background. You've a long career in music - was there always music in the house?

Indeed there was. I actually have my parents to blame for my taste in music. There would always be something on the record player. From a baby to my teens there was a lot of Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Smith, The Who, Santana, The Allman Brothers Band, Deep Purple, Joe Cocker, Bob Seger, Elvis, Tchaikovsky, Stephen Sondheim, ELP and of course Pink Floyd. We also went to absolutely LOADS of concerts.

You grew up opposite the Royal Albert Hall. How did that feel as a youngster, and what effect did it have on you?

We moved there when I was nearly 11 having previously been in the Fulham area. As my father's career took off so did the postal codes we lived in! The main effect living opposite the Hall was that of going to see so many shows there. When I got my first electric guitar it was in my bedroom at 44 Albert Hall Mansions. I would practice in there whilst looking out on to the Hall and dream that one day I would play there. Which is now going to happen. [BD note: Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets play the Hall as part of their UK tour in 2020]

Your father, Stuart Harris, has worked in film many years. Did that influence you moving into the creative industries?

I think because my father was/is in a creative Industry (and my mother was his agent/manager) my sister and I were never going to have the sort of parents who would talk us out of doing something similar. Weirdly enough I think if I had announced I wanted to become an accountant or something sensible they would have been appalled. Originally I wanted to be a film director but that changed...

Stuart was involved with the High Hopes video, as well as a couple of Pink Floyd television adverts subsequently; what was his role, and how did he get involved with Storm Thorgerson?

I'll let my father explain how he got involved with Storm...

"I first worked for Storm on a sugar commercial in Ireland but our first meeting was explosive. I was called by the production company who told me that Storm wanted to shoot in a large famous pub in Belfast (it was opposite The Europa Hotel and close to the Opera house in the centre of the city).

"Storm was in the middle of shooting and I asked them if he was already shooting why did they want me? They told me the guy they were using, whilst he was happy shooting exteriors, had no confidence in lighting a large interior. The advertising agency did not like the situation and because I was gaining a good reputation and was working on lots of high end commercials I was the name they wanted.

"I didn't like the idea of shooting a colleagues film but I understood their issues and I knew who Storm was and was intrigued to work with him. So they arranged for me to meet him at an appointed café location in Belsize Park where he would be sitting outside. I didn't know what he looked like but when I arrived I immediately noticed a man at a table on his own.

'Hello Storm?'
'Yes.'
'I'm Stuart Harris.'
'Yes. I don’t want to fucking work with you... but I'm told I have to.'
'Well I don't want to fucking work with you.' whereupon Storm looked me in the eye and said 'Right, see you in Belfast' and got up and left. I didn't even get a coffee.

"When I arrived in Belfast some two weeks later he ignored me and made no contact prior to shooting. On the day of the shoot he designed the shot trying to ignore me. It was a most challenging shot but I thrive on challenges. I went to work with my gaffer and electrical crew and when I was finished and ready for filming I shouted over to him 'Ready Napoleon'. He looked at me and glanced around the room. The set had gone silent - he obviously liked what he saw as he then proceeded to laugh and from that moment on I could do no wrong.

"It was the start of one of the most cherished professional relationships that I have had. Working with him was not work, it was a labour of love. I had such amazing times with him and miss him like mad; there was no-one like him and we got on really well together. I knew what he wanted and thankfully he was always happy with the look I gave him."

After this, Dad was the cinematographer on High Hopes. In fact the famous shot of the men with the three flags in the sky was nearly aborted because it was late in the day and the weather had got gloomy. Dad convinced Storm that they could still do it as he could light the flags and thus an iconic Floydian image was born. He also did the Pulse TV Ad and the Remaster ads with the men with bald heads with Storm. Funnily enough I was the runner on those ads! In the Pulse advert I had to 'pulse' the red light across the wall in time with the heartbeat from Speak To Me. The fact that we had no playback and I had to do it by memory and got it right goes towards answering the next question.

Was that your first introduction to the music of Pink Floyd, or did that come earlier?

As you have guessed, no it wasn't! There was a funny instance on the High Hopes shoot when Storm came over to me and asked if I "liked Dave's playing?". I told him I loved it and he gave me his car keys and said I could go and listen to the latest mix of the new album in his car! This was mid January '94 and the album wasn't released for nearly three months. About 50 minutes later he came over to the car and said "I didn't mean the whole thing!" but I think that was more because he was concerned about the car battery...

My first introduction to PF that I remember was when Animals came out. As a child I loved the SFX of the Pigs and Sheep and David's use of the talk box. To this day it's one of my favourites of their albums. Three years later my parents took me to see The Wall being performed at Earls Court (funnily enough Guy was most probably there too). After that, they bought me Relics and Dark Side and that was it. I became obsessed as so many do.

When did you learn to play guitar, and what prompted this decision?

I went to see Dire Straits at Hammersmith Odeon in December 1985. Eric Clapton made an unannounced appearance and the audience went crazy. One of the songs he did was Further On Up The Road and I was mesmerised by his blues playing. That was it for me. I gave up wanting to go into the film business and lusted after a guitar and started listening to blues. I became a bit of a boring (and precociously for a 13 year old) blues purist!

Is it the only instrument you play?

It is although I played violin for a couple of years at the age of 10 and went on to drums at 13 too. I'd love to play piano but I just can't find the co-ordination. I have always wanted to play Bass but didn't have one until Guy gave me a prototype model of his famous '64 Jazz Bass "Betsy" (The Bass Centre will be selling these) when we finished our second night at the Roundhouse in May 2019!

What were your early ambitions musically?

To play blues and to be able to mimic people that I liked. I didn't (and still don't) have the type of fingers that go up and down the neck so fast that one wishes they would just find a note and stay on it so I stuck to bluesy-ish stuff. I used a great deal of tablature to work out riffs and also VHS videos of live concerts always came in handy to see what positions on the neck my heroes were at when playing something.

Prior to the Saucers, you were known for your time with The Blockheads. Prior to that though, what bands did you play in?

I spent the early to mid 90's in many unknown bands on a constant tour... of rehearsal rooms! I opened for Robert Plant at some small secret shows, just me (on acoustic) and my harmonica player, doing some old blues. I also wrote some music for a couple of television adverts but none of my bands achieved success. I actually resorted to working as a 2nd Assistant Director in the film business on commercials, working in a rehearsal studio and eventually in the ticketing industry which is where I was when I found myself embarking on a very fruitful 12 years with another band from my childhood...

That leads me on to this question: how did working with The Blockheads transpire, and what roles did you fulfil for them?

I worked with them from October 2001 thru to December 2013. In early March 2000 I was invited by a good friend (and brilliant drummer) called Billy Freedom to play with Norman Watt-Roy who plays Bass in The Blockheads.

We hit it off immediately and thought about starting a band up. A few weeks later Ian Dury (who was the lead singer and lyricist of the bands material) passed away. I went to see the band do their first shows without Ian (funnily enough the first was at Dingwalls). With my ticketing knowledge I wanted to help them, I suppose, relaunch themselves and get more people to see them and spread the word that they were still about.

What started out as taking photos at gigs to put on their website (that I taught myself to run) eventually saw me picking the money up at gigs, working out setlists, acting as their agent, acting as PR/Marketing and, importantly for me, playing guitar in the band when needed. Basically I managed the band along with Mick Gallagher the keyboard player.

Am I right in thinking you played the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury with them? If so, what was that experience like?

No I played with them on what was called The Acoustic Stage (except we didn't play acoustically!). It was very fulfilling in that I remember coming off stage and Sinead O'Connor came straight over to myself and Dave Lewis (our Saxophonist at that show) and said "How the hell do I follow that?" to which Dave replied "You do your thing just like we did ours!" Haha! I then drove home immediately after just in time to see the presenters on the BBC say we were the highlight of the day! That was a special show in that we only had two original members out of the four and Phill Juputus singing with us. It didn't matter that it wasn't the regular band because the songs are so strong that the audience were still really into it. It felt like a party and celebration of Ian's work. There were about 1500 people in the tent and another 1000 outside trying to get in. Not our biggest festival crowd but a great one!

Lee Harris and Guy Pratt with The Blockheads - Cropredy Festival

Guy played with you in The Blockheads. How did this happen?

I met Guy at Abbey Road when he was the MC for an exhibition of Storm's work. I recognised him and introduced myself. I bought his autobiography the next day and read it in one sitting. To this day I can turn to any page and read it. We became close over the years and when Norman couldn't play with us at Fairport Convention's Cropredy festival I asked Guy to dep for him which he did [see picture, left]. (He subsequently played a couple of other shows with the band too).

How exactly did the idea of the Saucers come about? What inspired it?

I left The Blockheads in 2013. I had met Daniela and we got married the following summer and moved to the far South of France to renovate/build the house we had bought into a holiday rental. After a few months of building (we did this ourselves with our builder) I went to see Guy playing with David Gilmour in Orange on the Rattle That Lock tour. Seeing David again made me realise how much I missed playing and I immediately started buying effects pedals that I knew David used and began playing a lot at home again.

This went on for a year by which time we had finished one part of our building project and Guy returned with David to France. This time they played in Nîmes and I took my dad along. That was particularly nice as Guy introduced him to David whom he had never met despite working on films for him.

Whilst watching that show I started thinking about playing PF music with Guy. One thing I didn't want to do was play obvious things like Comfortably Numb as all the tribute bands play that stuff and do a good job of it. As I was watching an original member of PF it made me think of Nick and the fact that he should be playing. I then had the idea of putting together a project with Nick and Guy focusing on only early PF material. It made sense for it to be the 'early years' as the box set was just about to come out [in November 2016] and to my mind it was the era that Nick could make his own whilst Roger and David went around playing all the other material from Dark Side onwards.

Did the band assemble fairly quickly?

We did. Although it is interesting to point out that the four of us without Nick all attended and played together (funnily enough) with David at Guy's 50th birthday party.

Guy and I met with Nick in February 2017. At that meeting Nick put Gary forward, and Guy put Dom forward. That was it really. Gary and I got together a couple of months later to make sure we could make it work, and we got on musically instantly. There was then a bit of a break whilst Nick had the Pink Floyd Exhibition activity at the V & A in London to deal with, then it was summer, so the five of us eventually got into a rehearsal room in November of that year, and again the following month, had a showcase in January 2018 and then launched our first shows in May that year.

Were there other band names under consideration?

Nothing too concrete. I know I made a list of things but none of them worth sharing. It was Gary who came up with our name.

How were the initial song selections decided on?

As it was my idea initially I had made a list of songs that I thought would work, and those are all what we did in our preliminary rehearsals and ended up in the set. Once we became a band and had our launch shows, at that point it would be me putting ideas to Gary who would either veto or not. Then I would go to the others and see if they were happy with the choices, and invariably they were. As the band has gone on, the process has become more democratic. For instance, Guy put forward Remember A Day. Gary had the idea to marry If with Atom Heart. Nick put forward Childhoods End. Dom has been great with (re)arrangements.

What was the feeling in the early rehearsals?

Excitement that we were onto something!

This is actually a wonderful band to be in because of the friendships within it. For instance I didn't know Nick but he was very close with Guy (obviously). Gary didn't know Dom but again they were both very close with Guy. He's the common bond in the band.

What was the reaction of each of you after the first four shows, at Dingwalls and The Half Moon?

We were all very happy with the reception. I remember the day after Dingwalls there were 4 and 5 star reviews in broadsheets. I hadn't taken into account that there would even be reviews! The one thing that I knew would get noticed was the fact that Gary could actually play guitar! I don't know what all those people think he was doing for the last 40 years. He brings an innate sense of melody to his playing (which I think is obvious from the songs he has written for Spandau Ballet) and it was so cool to see him being taken seriously as a guitarist finally.

What has surprised you most about the experience so far?

How incredibly hard our crew work. They sometimes have to get the show up and down 3 times in 3 days in 3 different cities. They are the best.

Can you tell us a bit about your guitars and effects?

I use Telecasters for songs that Syd wrote, and Stratocasters on David's tunes.

One of my Telecaster's was made for me by Thomas Gray of Gray Guitars. The other is actually a reproduction of Syd's mirrored Esquire and was made for me by Phil Taylor (who many will know as David's technician and head of PF's backline). This was actually given to me as a present by Nick (Gary got one too).

Amongst my Stratocasters is a reissue of a 50's Strat that I have had modded with gold hardware and different pickups, and an acrylic Strat that Scott Buehl from the Fender Custom Shop made for me. I have wanted a see through guitar ever since seeing Nile Rodgers with one many years ago. To have one made for me by Fender is very special. They tell me there are only another five in the world (at the moment).

My amplifier and cabinet which are really the guts of the sound you hear, are made by Hi Tone. It is a replica of the Hi Watt equipment that David uses to this day.

Effects... I have documented them a few times via Instagram. I am currently downsizing from 14 pedals down to a much more manageable 7! They are all looped in a G2 Switcher made by The Gigrig which I find extremely easy to operate. I endorse Free The Tone, Electronic Orange and Dawner Prince effects but as I say if anybody wants to know more there's plenty on my social media [details below], and I implore all guitarists to check out Analog Man pedals. Mike Piera is a guru of distortion!

How has life on the road with the band been? Any shows that have surprised you, or surpassed expectations?

Our life on the road is a very happy one. I did find myself making a Freudian slip (or Floydian slip?) to my wife last week when I was telling her about something Nick said to me on our July tour except I said "when Nick and I were on holiday..."

Playing Nîmes was very special as it was in the Amphitheater that I had the original idea. The Beacon in New York was also very much so, as my sister and her family are New Yorkers and they came to see us the night that Roger guested on Set The Controls.

Finally, what are your hopes for the band?

That we carry on playing as long as people want to come and see us. We really do love playing this music and playing it together.

Our thanks to Lee for taking the time to answer our questions. To catch Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets next year, check out one (or more) shows on their upcoming tour. Connect with Lee on Facebook at Facebook.com/Lee.Harris.Official or via Instagram at Instagram.com/MrLeeHarris.

 
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