Brit Floyd – The World’s Greatest Pink Floyd Tribute Show rolls into town on March 22nd at the newly remodeled Landmark Theater. Many fans will recognize members of the band from previous tours under a different moniker, especially Syracuse’s own Ian Cattell on bass and vocals. Cattell’s rise to the top of the tribute industry began right here in Syracuse as a founding member of local favorites, Childhood’s End. For the better part of seven years he has toured the world with Brit Floyd band director/guitarist/vocalist Damian Darlington, now, for the first time bringing their spectacular new tribute band to Ian’s hometown. From their stunning light show, impeccable sound design and note perfect renditions of the timeless Pink Floyd catalog, Brit Floyd brings the audience as close as it will ever get to see the legendary band in concert. This paired with the elegance and beauty of our downtown gem, The Landmark Theater makes for what promises to be an unforgettable evening of audio and visual delights. I’ll save my more in depth reflections on the band for after the interviews, so without further ado let’s get to that.
First is Mr. Damian Darlington, a man whose talents will astound you onstage with his Gilmouresque guitar and lap steel sounds and his readings of the legendary songs vocally. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of sharing company with Damian several times over the last few years and as always it seems like it’s been too long since we last spoke.
Greg Jackson: While you’ve toured North America many times previously, this must be extra special this time, yes?
Damian Darlington: Yes, it definitely does feel more special this time around; it feels newly invigorated now that it’s become Brit Floyd.
GJ: You’ve been in the tribute industry well over twenty years now, are you surprised at how large it’s become?
DD: I suppose I am. When I first joined the Australian Pink Floyd Show back in 1994 the tribute thing was all still very new and on a much smaller scale than it is now. I had no notion that I’d still be here these many years later playing all around the world and in some of the venues and in front of some the crowds that I’ve gotten to play for, it’s pretty wild really when you think about it.
GJ: I’ve seen the band in its former form several times, even without Ian present and in different configurations, what sets Brit Floyd apart from that and what do I have to look forward to?
DD: I think all the guys in Brit Floyd now feel much more a part of what we’re doing and they feel that they have much more of steak in this band. There’s an even stronger commitment and passion for what we’re doing and I think this comes across in our stage performance and helps to hopefully recreate a full and authentic Pink Floyd concert experience for people to enjoy. We never become complacent about what we do; we’re always trying to improve our performances and the show as a whole. I think that the set list that we’re playing on this tour based around Pink Floyd’s new compilation album A Foot in the Door plus other Floyd gems such as Echoes and Pigs, is the best and most representative set list we’ve played to date and I’m sure that you and the rest of the folks in the crowd will enjoy it.
GJ: Although you were musical director and more of your last band, having your name front and center of all things Brit Floyd is a huge accomplishment and responsibility. Do you feel your role is different now or does Chas (Cole – Managing Director of CMP Entertainment) do the real tedious mucking about? (I’m kidding Chas, I kid!)
DD: My role while we’re out on tour is pretty much the same as it has been for some time now, because as the years have gone by I’ve increasingly become involved in all aspects of the show over and above my role as a musician and musical director. I guess I don’t feel like have to look over my shoulder anymore and think about what some other people might think of the choices that are made on how the show is presented, which is a very good feeling. I suppose I am more involved in a lot of the behind the scenes stuff now, but fortunately for me, Chas indeed is the one who has to worry about most of the really tedious day to day stuff.
GJ: As a guitarist, where do you put David Gilmour’s skills on the mountain of all time guitarists?
DD: David Gilmour is most definitely one of the best and most influential guitar players in the history of Rock music. He may not be the most technical of guitar players, but he has a sublime feel and gift for knowing what to play and when to play just the right thing that’s needed.
GJ: Is Acoustic Unlimited still alive and well?
DD: Yes, Acoustic Unlimited is still alive and well. I played a couple of gigs with it just before coming out on this tour. I enjoy it immensely, it’s a chance to play a wide variety of acoustic music which I love to do and it’s great to also get the chance to play some music with my brother Gareth, Brit Floyd’s sound engineer. Gareth is a fine Celtic fiddle player and acoustic guitarist and he also mixes all the audio for our CDs and DVDs. He’s really like another member of the Brit Floyd and as equally important to how we sound as any of the musicians on stage are.
GJ: It’s been a pleasure to chat again and I’m looking forward to seeing the whole band in March, travel safely my friend.
DD: It’s been a pleasure to talk with you too Greg. See you in March.
Last, but certainly not least is my good friend, bassist/vocalist of Brit Floyd, Ian Cattell. Ian’s immaculate bass lines and startlingly accurate vocals have brought him to the pinnacle of the tribute world in Brit Floyd. Ian is a founding member and often time guest performer with Childhood’s End – A Tribute To Pink Floyd.
GJ: Well my friend, you’re finally getting your home show, how great is it that it’s your “own band”?
Ian Cattell: It’s a good feeling. With Brit Floyd, what you see is what you get. There are no unseen band members that will pop out of the woodwork at a later date claiming to be the real Brit Floyd.
GJ: Now that some time and history has passed, tell us about receiving that fateful e-mail that took you away from Syracuse and the audition that followed.
IC: Along with my extended Childhood’s End family, I was at the TAPFS performance at the Landmark in October of 2004. It must have been right at the end of that tour in that the Aussie bass player reached a decision to stay home on future North American tours. Damian then began the search for a replacement. He found videos of my Waters impression on the Childhood’s End website. I think Steve Mac’s response was “get him on a plane”. Shortly after that I received and email with the subject “TAPFS bass player”. I knew what it was without reading further and paced around my room all night. In the midst of their 2005 UK tour, I was to audition on stage during soundcheck in the Royal Albert Hall – no pressure there. As it happened, soundcheck ran long and I auditioned at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge, the home town of Gilmour, Waters, and Barrett – no pressure there either.
GJ: You have quite the Pink Floyd pedigree; please share a bit of that with our readers.
IC: I began playing Pink Floyd in January of 1995 with Crazy Diamond and continued on until late 1997 with P.U.L.S.E..During those three years, we racked up around 300 shows in 35 states and most of Canada. We lived in a truck when we weren’t being crammed 3 to a hotel room, and often were on the road for 2 or 3 months at a time. We played to packed houses of 1000 or more, down to empty clubs with more employees than paid customers. After that, I took a break from full time Floyd, but it wasn’t long before I reunited with some of my favorite Syracuse musicians to form Childhood’s End.
GJ: You have an uncanny ability to re-create the vocals of both Roger Waters and David Gilmour, have you ever screwed up and started a song in the wrong voice?
IC: It’s funny you should ask that. It happened for my audition for TAPFS. I was used to singing Shine On You Crazy
Diamond in as Gilmour (à la the PULSE CD), but TAPFS wanted me for Waters vocals. I realized this at the end of the first verse and tried to change gears, but I think the result was disastrous and sounded like neither. Between that and dropping my pick than having my in-ear monitors yanked out of my head while trying to recover the pick, I really thought I had bombed the audition. If it weren’t for a passable performance of Fletcher Memorial Home, I doubt I’d have the gig today.
GJ: It’s been said that many tribute bands get too involved and start to believe they’re better than the original band. I can’t imagine that from any of your band mates, have you ever seen this behavior before.
IC: One thing I can say for myself, and I’m sure I can speak for all of my Brit Floyd bandmates in this regard, we are all fans of Pink Floyd. While we are proud of the work we have done and continue to do, but in the end, we didn’t write the material. The genius of Floyd’s creative force and ability to produce such a body of work spanning over 2 decades is something of which we could only dream. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
I have seen this in action though. Back in 1996, there was a Doors tribute opening up for P.U.L.S.E. The Jim Morrison character was in full costume including leather pants and wig, and completely plastered by 2 in the afternoon. I’m not sure if he thought he was better than Morrison, or if he thought he really WAS the Lizard King.
GJ: Tell us a bit about the routine on the road. So many music fans have what I believe to be a distorted view of nice hotels and Lear Jets, tell the folks the real deal.
IC: Well, what can I say, only that it’s a Gulf Stream these days… The reality is much more mundane. We usually play for one night in venue often on the outskirts of town. While we do get to see the sights on occasion, there’s little opportunity to take in any of the local scene. We usually just see the inside of the bus, the venue, and on days off, the hotel. On the whole, I really can’t complain. It’s a good gig.
GJ: While it’s easy for casual fans to say, being in a tribute band can actually be more difficult than an original band I believe, your thoughts?
IC: I don’t want to take anything away from an original band’s monumental task of writing, promoting, and performing their own music, often for very little fanfare or money. But at least when you are playing your own music, the people in the audience can’t say you’re doing it wrong. I’ll just say there are some very discerning Floyd fans out there.
GJ: What is your favorite color?
IC: Blue… No! GREEN!!… AAAAHHHHH!
I was first introduced to the whole tribute band industry in early 2005 by my lifelong friend and musical director of Childhood’s End – A Tribute to Pink Floyd, Steve Schad. He was very anxious to show me his new project as we had been out of touch with each other for a while. I freely admit to scoffing at the idea my good friends Steve and guitarist extraordinaire Gregory John were “wasting their talents” in a tribute band. I had no idea what was in store when he put their promo dvd into the player. My first reaction was, “Does the singer always do that with his voice? It’s really irritating!” (meaning singing with a British accent). It didn’t take long to realize how close to the real thing this sounded and by the end of the videos Steve was asking me if I was in, the answer was a fast yes!
Within the week I’d been introduced to bassist/vocalist Ian Cattell and drummer Eric Garboushian and my education in the depth of the tribute band industry began. I was absolutely astounded at the talent out there showing respect and admiration for the bands they pay tribute to besides the amazing production values they held. In order to appreciate where Childhood’s End stood in hierarchy I needed to learn who was on top and where we stood against that benchmark. I quickly found out that despite a fabulous light show, great sound and fantastic musicians we were well down the totem pole from others who had been in the game much longer. This path led me directly to The Australian Pink Floyd Show (TAPFS), at the time they were hands down the best in the world. It was and is remarkable how precise and authentic their readings of the songs are not to even mention the extensive production values they have, I dubbed them “Pink Floyd Lite” in jest, not knowing at the time just how much this band would effect and ultimately mean to me within a very short time. It was clear Childhood’s End had a long way to go, but musically I’d have pitted us against anyone with equal production. Our biggest advantage was Ian’s voice and the band’s overall musicianship, I said it before and I’ll say it again, “No one does it better than Ian, no one”. This leads us to the next chapter and I’m going to skim over a lot of what happened out of respect to the friends I’ve met through Ian’s rise to the top. I’ve been very fortunate to see him perform with TAPFS half a dozen times and have seen the band without him once. From here on out this will tell the story from my point of view with the help of Ian and guitarist/vocalist/musical director of Brit Floyd and former member of TAPFS, Damian Darlington. I apologize for any inaccuracies in the story, but I promise they’re unintentional and the guys will help me out later.
Through the spring of ’05 and into the summer I studied and developed a great respect for most of the other tributes plying their trade around the world, little did I know just how much this would effect the future of Childhood’s End. This reality came to the forefront when Ian didn’t show one night for rehearsal, I’m not sure any of us would’ve believed him anyway, but here’s the first major twist to the story. As it turns out, after 20 years of touring worldwide a few members of TAPFS were finding their North American tours too long to be away from their families and other personal reasons. Not wanting to stop these tours the band went in search of some surrogate players so to speak and the first one they needed was a bassist/vocalist which led them to CE’s front door and Ian’s obvious talents. The night he missed rehearsal he was in London, auditioning for TAPFS at The Royal Albert Hall, quite the huge step-up from Syracuse. They had discovered Ian on the Childhood’s End website, internet good/internet bad! To trim the story Ian was offered the tour and we put CE on hold while he chased the dream. While there were certainly mixed emotions in our camp I immediately supported it, it could only mean good things for Ian and our band right? I quickly found out just how serious bands this large are about how information is shared and how secretive some members can be. CE went on practicing and refining production with the idea of Ian returning after this tour. It took some time to acclimate to his new position, but by the time the tour ended he had cemented himself into the role, eventually being brought on board with TAPFS for the bulk of their tours and in the early summer of ‘06 CE went on hiatus as Ian was off to tour the world with The Aussies. I quickly fell out of favor with several members of his new band due to my openness regarding what they were doing internally, but the bonus was that a few of them supported me and appreciated how Childhood’s End and I handled the situation. In the fall of ’06 I had the distinct pleasure of following the band for a couple of shows in Florida, they treated me like an old friend, especially Damian, Gareth Darlington (Sound Designer, F.O.H. engineer and purveyor of set lists, Brit Floyd ) and Jason Sawford (keyboards/TAPFS), Mike Kidson (sax/TAPFS), Paul Bonney (drums/TAPFS). Jason was the only original Australian still touring with TAPFS in North America by this time. The band was a spectacle to behold in performance, the note for note replications and stunning production was second only to the real thing. Something many have never had the chance to see and never will. I became one of their biggest fans. I know I’m leaving out some very important people in the story and certainly no disrespect is meant. Steve Mac and Colin Wilson from TAPFS and all of the former members of TAPFS who now constitute Brit Floyd, especially Ola, Jacquie, Amy and Emily, the brilliant ladies who’ve been so sweet to Sandra and I over the years. Within the next few years the only remaining TAPFS band members touring in the U.S. and Canada were Damian and the ladies, this led to the biggest change and the new band we’ll see here in Syracuse on March 22nd, Brit Floyd. I’ll leave the story blank here besides stating that a split occurred between management and the three Australian members of TAPFS which ended with former TAPFS manager Chas Cole of CMP Entertainment and Damian forming Brit Floyd along with the members of the former TAPFS North American touring band and crew, with The Aussies continuing on with new management, the original band members and a brilliant new production. To me personally it’s a double the pleasure situation although my loyalties fall firmly in the Brit Floyd camp. I still hold great respect for TAPFS and their members I consider friends to this day and I can’t wait for the chance to see them perform again. For TAPFS fans on our continent seeing Brit Floyd this is really not much more than a band changing names, but they could well go to a TAPFS show now and say, ”Who the hell are these guys!” If you’ve become a fan over the last five years or so not much will be different besides the name, it’s the same fantastic band performing the music of Pink Floyd in a way that places them firmly on top of the heap in the Floyd tribute world in my opinion. If you’ve never seen them and are even a casual fan of Pink Floyd, the show at The Landmark Theater on March 22nd and any other tour date near you is a must see for any Floyd fan.
It’s been my abject pleasure getting to know the members of Brit Floyd over the years and I’m greatly looking forward to the show. It’s been quite a while since the fall of 2010 when I saw them last, there’s the new name and new production, but that same familiar fiery band of driven musicians eager to make their mark in the tribute industry, besides being one of the coolest bunch of folks I’ve ever met. It’s only three weeks away, go get your tickets at www.landmarktheatre.org and prepare yourselves for a magical evening of Floydian majesty!
Keep up with Brit Floyd at www.britfloyd.com and find them on facebook as BritFloyd.
[Words by Greg Jackson, Photos by Sandra Jackson]