From first hearing his one-day heroes in the bath to leading one of the best Pink Floyd tributes, Steve Mac is still just a fan at heart. Tim Hughes reports
The sound is unmistakable, the lyrics familiar and the lights, effects and lasers dazzling. There’s no doubting that blend of pop, prog rock and psychedelia that is Pink Floyd. But then… what’s that? Instead of a giant flying pig, there’s a huge inflatable kangaroo – called Skippy!
Welcome to the world of the Australian Pink Floyd Show.
Formed in 1988 when their heroes were still playing, the Antipodean alt-rockers have established a name among the very best tribute bands. So good are they, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour invited them to play his own songs at his 50th birthday party.
Floyd drummer Nick Mason, meanwhile, said they were “very good, probably better than we are!”
The band’s frontman, and Gilmore sound-alike, Steve Mac, admits it’s flattering – but is keeping a level head.
“I’ve heard George Clooney say that his father once told him ‘You’re never as good as they say but you’re never as bad as they say either’. I believe this is a sensible and grounded approach towards comments like that,” says Steve.
“What Nick Mason said is obviously very flattering and encouraging but I’m a Pink Floyd fan first and foremost so I won’t allow myself to ever think like that. We are simply trying to give their creation justice and pay a worthy tribute to their genius and talent.”
For Steve, it all began in Adelaide with his prog rock-loving sister. He explains: “I first heard Pink Floyd when my elder sister brought home The Dark Side Of The Moon after school one day. My parents were both out at work so she put it on very loud. “I was taking a bath at the other end of the house and listened to it from beginning to end. I’d never heard anything else like it before and I was hooked from that moment on.”
He admits he could never have imagined he’d one day be fronting the world’s biggest, and best, Floyd tribute band; an act which, with the original band on permanent hiatus, offers the best chance to hear some of rock’s best-loved tunes played live.
“It is a truly amazing story spanning 26 years now,” says Steve. “We’ve all worked so very hard and continue to do so but I also believe we’ve been incredible lucky and that we came along just at the right time.”
Let’s face it, when it comes to choosing a band to emulate they don’t get much harder to copy than Floyd. So how does a kid from South Australia get to grips with some of rock’s most complex compositions?
“We didn’t have many resources at all back in the 1980s in Adelaide. There was no internet either so we had to learn everything by ear initially. “In fact the first electric guitar I ever bought was a Les Paul copy. I wanted to learn to play the guitar purely because I wanted to play like David Gilmour. Unfortunately the only photograph I’d ever seen of David was with a Les Paul, not a Stratocaster or Telecaster so I bought the Les Paul copy by mistake.
“We had a lot of fun though experimenting with all kinds of equipment and techniques to start the learning process. I say start because it’s a never ending journey.”
How it is possible to emulate that distinctive Gilmour guitar sound?
“I base my guitar, stomp boxes, amps and speakers on David’s set-up,” says Steve. “I do, however, incorporate a lot of other equipment that David doesn’t use to help achieve a wider variety of sounds to hopefully recreate the four decades of Pink Floyd’s sounds. That being said, a lot of David’s tone is from the fingers and how he plays.”
On March 16, he brings his Set the Controls Tour to the New Theatre, Oxford, for a two-hour show borrowing heavily from three of Floyd’s biggest albums – The Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Division Bell – but also including earlier songs dating from their acid-drenched early days.
With the up to 10-piece band playing songs from the whole Pink Floyd era, how do they manage to keep the sound authentic? After all, Gilmour et al constantly switched equipment throughout their careers. Surely they can’t do the same in a two-hour show.
“With great difficulty!” he admits.
“We tend to strive to emulate the sounds from Pink Floyd’s original albums so it does require a different approach to building a guitar rig. It’s more like taking a specialised recording studio on the road.”
And while still loving songs from throughout his heroes’ career, he admits to still having a soft spot for the record that started the whole thing off.
“The Dark Side Of The Moon is still my favourite album of all time,” he says.
“It’s such a powerful piece of music to listen to, especially when listened to in its entirety as Pink Floyd intended.”
The Australian Pink Floyd Show’s Set The Controls UK tour comes to the New Theatre, Oxford, on March 16. Tickets are £28.50/£38.50 from gigsandtours.com