The sign was pinned to the message board in 'Allans Music', the biggest music store in Adelaide, situated in Gawler Place in the city centre. It was August 1988, and the Adelaide live music scene was thriving. Bands played most nights of the week in venues scattered across the city and through the suburbs, all trying to build up a following and hoping for that big break to come. For a young Adelaide band, even the dream of playing interstate was a big one - Melbourne being the next nearest capital city at around 10 hours by road - and few bands ever managed to achieve it.
The ad had been placed by Lee Smith, a guitarist obsessed with Pink Floyd, and wanting only to play the music he and his peers enjoyed most. Along with drummer Grant Ross and bassist Trevor Turton they sought the extra elements needed to realize their dream. The term 'tribute band' had not been thought of at this stage - bands simply played covers of the music they loved - either by various bands, or by concentrating on only one. Adelaide band 'The Zep Boys' had already started making a mark on the local scene by doing just this. Their renditions of Led Zeppelin classics were packing the crowds in all over Adelaide, and they were soon to gain interest and acclaim interstate.
Steve Mac and Jason Sawford individually answered the ad and both arrived at the Elizabeth South Primary School Drama room, to audition for the band. Lee Smith was amazed that Jason was living on 'Barritt' Street - the connection escaped Jason though, not knowing anything about Syd Barrett at that time! Jason arrived at the audition with a solitary keyboard which he himself admits he didn't know how to work! Steve had already played in a couple of bands and had done various gigs, but what they mainly brought with them was enthusiasm.
The five musicians commenced rehearsals on Saturday afternoons and worked on songs like 'Dogs', 'Shine on you crazy diamond', 'Money' and 'Mother' amongst others. Whilst learning and practicing the songs they constantly referred to Lee's extensive collection of Pink Floyd albums and bootleg recordings. They also started to create the sounds necessary to perform Pink Floyd correctly, and this became, and still is, one of the most important aspects of the band. Early examples included a 'bell' machine which Steve built to replicate the alarms in 'Time' from old alarm clocks and telephones! The ticking was supplied by Jason's old metronome prior to the alarm bells and after Lee and Steve would tap the backs of their guitars to continue the effect. Steve's Korg Poly 800 synthesizer also supplied some sounds like the 'jack hammer crescendo' at the start of 'The Dark Side of the Moon'.
The band soon had enough songs to perform to an audience, and the first opportunity came about a month after that first rehearsal. A group of family and friends were treated to a performance in the rehearsal room. Amongst other songs played, they did 'Darkside' up until the end of 'Great gig in the sky' - Jason playing an out of tune school piano and Steve playing the vocal melody on guitar!!! Amongst others at the performance were Richard Guest and Greg 'Bear' Sutton, both of whom would later feature in the bands future.
The opportunity to start playing to a paying audience soon came along, but first the band needed a name. Ideas were thrown around - 'Pink Bits' was one that didn't get much further and 'Think Floyd' was an early favourite. Around this time the guys heard on the grapevine that there was a Pink Floyd band being formed in Adelaide. They didn't know if the rumour was about them, or somebody else. It turned out that there was indeed another group just starting that planned to use the name 'Think Floyd'. Having decided on this name themselves, Lee, Grant, Trevor, Steve and Jason quickly registered it and became 'Think Floyd' from then on.
The band got its first paying gig at the 'Alma Hotel' on Magill Road, Norwood.
The hotel was a great starting place for many Adelaide bands. More gigs followed including 'The Tivoli' around October 1988. This prestigious venue paid $600 AU, which sounded pretty good to the lads at the time. Interestingly, in the audience of this show was Steve Macs friend Colin Wilson, who had done some promotional artwork for the band.
Response to 'Think Floyd' was positive. People found it hard to believe how authentic to the original recordings they sounded. Little did the paying public know about the hours of rehearsals involved or the incredible attention to detail no matter how minor that this band was to become known for. Lee Smiths vision was coming to fruition and it was down to hard work and passion.
Unfortunately the time didn't seem right in Adelaide. Whilst tributes to Led Zeppelin, AC DC, Deep Purple and Guns 'n ' Roses would eventually do well in Adelaide, the Pink Floyd audience seemed harder to get to. 'Think Floyd' would eventually be forced into hiatus, during which time the members did various other things, including playing in other bands and writing original material.
In 1992, 'Think Floyd' reformed, but without original Bass player Trevor Turton. A replacement was found in the shape of Peter Whitely - a young lad with an uncanny 'Roger Waters' vocal similarity. The band had new energy and decided this time to go bigger with everything - lighting and sound production were developed to better recreate the feel of a Pink Floyd show. It was in this period that 'Think Floyd' often used a quadraphonic sound system. The band had only two or three helpers, so shows often entailed lugging everything themselves, and setting it all up before the show. This was surely the hardest working band in Adelaide!
It was also during 1992 that Steve Mac traveled to England to visit family. Whilst there, he figured he'd make contact with the publishers of 'Brain Damage' magazine, the biggest Pink Floyd fanzine at that time. Glenn Povey, the owner of the magazine was taken with Steve and the recordings he heard of 'Think Floyd'. He was planning to stage a Pink Floyd fan convention at Wembley the following year, and as yet had not decided on a band to perform there. He had already heard tapes Pink Floyd tribute bands from all over the world, but soon decided that 'Think Floyd' was the best and negotiations began to try and get 'Think Floyd' to the UK the following August 1993.
Back in Australia, a tour of the Eastern states was planned in order to help finance the trip to the UK in August. It was to be a long and exhausting journey from Adelaide right up to the Gold Coast playing anywhere that had a stage and were willing to pay the band. The tour tested everybody to their absolute limits. Driving the truck themselves, often having to sleep in it and carrying the large amount of equipment necessary to put on the show often to very few people - to say it was tough would be a huge understatement!
To add to the bands troubles it was during this tour that Peter Whitely decided he would not be able to make the trip to the UK with the band in August. Luckily, Steve knew that Colin Wilson had finished with the band he had been in and might be interested. Steve called from Sydney and explained the situation. The band would travel to the UK for one show in Wembley Conference Centre at the first international Pink Floyd fan convention. The guy organizing it, Glenn Povey would book a few more shows around it if he could, to make it more viable. And so with that information, Colin set about learning the huge Pink Floyd repertoire plus a set of original songs that the band had been performing as 'The Feel'.
The months leading up to the August departure were taken up by almost constant rehearsal, but soon the band was sounding tighter than ever. The arduous eastern states tour had in fact lost money, so a few gigs were booked around Adelaide to earn some money for the journey to the UK. The five band members plus long time 'roadies' Richard Guest and 'Bear' Sutton, plus Lee's then partner Tina Hobley boarded their British Airways flight to London Heathrow on Wednesday August 8, 1993. It was an occasion with mixed emotions. The excitement of opportunity mixed with the fear of the unknown and the tearful farewells from friends and family. None of them knew how long they would be gone for or where this would all lead. It was common at this time for the band members to say that they thought it would last maybe six months and then they would head home.
The bands arrival in England was also to be eventful. British customs decided to impound all the bands equipment at Heathrow! The reality of course was that without this equipment the band was ruined before they'd even started! A few stressful days at the Monksdene Hotel in Harrow followed. Fortunately, Glenn and Steve managed to get the equipment out of customs, and it was shipped to a storage facility in Uxbridge where the band would rehearse for the first UK show, and the convention.
The bands first UK show was booked by Glenn at 'The Old Trout' in Windsor on Friday August 13, 1993. Yes you read that right; Friday the 13th! The show was a sell out and the response from the audience was fantastic. The band that by this time had changed their name to 'The Australian Pink Floyd Show' went down a storm.
The name 'Think Floyd', it was decided, did not sell the 'international' flavour of the band adequately. This was a time in the UK when you could watch 'Neighbours' twice a day on British television, Fosters Lager was making a big push into the UK market, and everybody was talking about 'Crocodile Dundee'. It was marketable to be Australian, so the name was changed to reflect this. There had also been two other tribute bands from Australia that were making waves in the UK. 'The Australian Doors' and 'Bjorn Again', the latter of which remains a worldwide phenomenon to this day. The only other tribute band around at this time in the UK was 'The Bootleg Beatles' themselves hailing from England. The huge Tribute band scene which had started in Australia was now catching on in the UK, and within a couple of years of arriving the venues up and down the UK would be advertising tribute bands on most nights of the week.
The second show was the fan convention. The capacity audience at this show was treated to a three hour performance which many UK fans still remember to this day. It served as an important showcase for the band, being that the audience was entirely made up of Pink Floyd fanatics from all over the UK and Europe. It also gave Glenn Povey the enthusiasm to go out and book the band wherever he could, which he would do as their sole booking agent for the next three years.
The band went through a period of homesickness and a severe lack of funds before the year was out. Often staying with relatives wherever they could and regrouping for shows, the band lacked a stable base to live and work from. A trip to Scotland at the end of August and again in November, and shows in Ireland in October helped pick up moral, although playing in Belfast was somewhat of a scary experience in 1993!
The bands debut performance in Belfast was just six days after the IRA had blown up Frizzels Fish and Chip shop on the Shankill Road, killing ten people. To say the band were a little nervous would be an understatement, but in true style the show went ahead much to the delight and appreciation of the Belfast audience. Many people stated at the time that it was great to see the Aussie band at a time when many artists would not play in Northern Ireland. These five Australians certainly had no prior experience of armoured cars patrolling the streets, fortified check points and border controls, or gun fire whilst loading out of the venue!
Thankfully it's a long time since Belfast has been a dangerous city to play in and it is now one of the bands favourite places to perform, with a very strong fan base built up from those early days.
The final show of the year 1993 was held at 'The Royal Court Theatre' in Liverpool, a city that would also come to hold a special significance in later years.
1993 would also sadly hail the departure of band founder and inspiration Lee Smith.
Disillusioned with the future and racked with homesickness, Lee made the difficult decision to return home to Australia. By this time, 'Bear' Sutton and Tina Hobley had also made the return journey. The band needed to find a replacement fast.
1994 began with a changed band. Now the four remaining members plus Richard 'Guesty' Guest were living together in Bexleyheath, Kent in a small house which they could barely afford. They managed to fill the huge hole left by Lee Smith with English guitarist Damian Darlington who would perform for the first time as a member of 'TAPFS' on January 18, 1994 at 'The Limelight' in Belfast. 1994 would be a busy year with the band traveling the whole length and breadth of the UK again and again. They also traveled to mainland Europe for the first time and performed four shows in Germany and Holland.
Most of the venues during this time were fairly small, but the audiences gradually started to grow. Repeat visits to venues consistently brought greater ticket sales with the audience often accusing the 'sound-a-like' Aussies of miming! Venues like 'The Olympia' in Dublin and 'The Royal Court' in Liverpool were two of the biggest venues with the best attendances and would be regular visits on the calendar. These venues gave the band a taste of the bigger stages where they would be able to develop a bigger show in future. Already, as had always been the case with this band, most of the money earned was used to pay for the lighting and sound. The band were still lugging their own stage equipment and hiring transit vans to carry it. Guesty did the front of house sound, drove the van and did just about anything else he was asked to do - all this for little or no money!
It was a show in September of 1994 which would perhaps be the biggest turning point for the band.
On Monday the 26th, at the 'Fairfield Halls' in Croydon, Surrey, the band were paid an unexpected visit backstage. Not long after the show had finished there was a gentle knock on the door; "Is it ok if we come in?" the familiar voice asked. David Gilmour appeared almost like a vision in front of the band in the backstage dressing room.
He had caught the show having been on a night off from the 'Division Bell' tour, and had that day flown back to London from Paris. Introductions followed and he told of his enjoyment of the show - never being able to be in the audience at a Pink Floyd show before! He also commented that they had played at that same venue once many years previous and that he had particularly enjoyed hearing 'Dogs' performed.
Toward the end of the visit he agreed to pose for a photo with the band, and asked if they would be interested in playing at the end of tour party at Earl's court. Of course the band could not contain their enthusiasm and it was left as a 'his people would contact your people' type of thing.
As the 'Division Bell' tour approached it's end, there had been no further contact made, and the band started to think that it would not happen. Unbelievably a message on Colin's answer phone from David Gilmour's office graciously explained that they were very sorry but the gig could not take place due to noise restrictions around Earl's Court after a certain time at night. However, the offer was made of concert tickets and invitations to the end of tour party as guests! Needless to say the occasion was incredible. The Aussies felt they had come a long way and were now mixing with the members of Pink Floyd, their families and many other celebrities including Sting, Brian May and Kate Bush to name but three.
This was not to be the only contact with David Gilmour.
Contact from David Gilmour's office came again in early 1996. David was to turn 50 on March 6th, 1996 and apparently he wanted The Australian Pink Floyd Show to perform a hand picked set for him! The event was held at the Fulham Town Hall, London, amidst intense security. The band was advised that under no circumstances were they to leak a word of it to anybody, and so they did not, fearing above all that they may risk losing the gig! On the night they were ushered into a back stage area and asked to not mingle with the guests. Being the good mannered lads that they are they were happy to abide by this, but it didn't mean that they didn't see the who's who of the entertainment industry that arrived for the party.
The 'Bootleg Beatles' performed first, followed by a magician. The night was then rounded off with The Australian Pink Floyd Show performing Pink Floyd to the members of Pink Floyd amongst others! Toward the end of the performance Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt, in shall we say a 'party' mood joined the band on stage along with Rick Wright for a rendition of 'Comfortably Numb'. This was followed by David Gilmour, Gary Wallis, Tim Renwick and Claudia Fontaine along with Guy and Rick, performing a number of edited versions of Floyd songs including 'Money' and 'What do you want from me'. It was an incredible ending to an unbelievable night.
The following years saw TAPFS touring regularly throughout the UK, building an ever increasing following of dedicated fans. A highlight at the very end of 1997 came in the form of a show at Battersea Power station - the iconic building known to all Pink Floyd fans as the 'Animals' album cover, and the scene of the famous floating pig.
The Australian Pink Floyd Shows similar image of a floating kangaroo over Battersea Power station had been used to promote the band since the early days of 1994 and was already well known to the fans.
1998 saw The Australian Pink Floyd Show play at the world renowned Glastonbury Music Festival. In a year that became known for the rain and mud, the band performed an hour long set in one of the only dry stages, the 'acoustic' stage.
The show which was packed out with punters trying to keep dry was undoubtedly a fantastic showcase for the band, and many of the audience members that day had never heard of the Aussies. Humorously, a vivid image in the bands memory was that of Rolf Harris, fellow Aussie, helping to push the bands truck out of the mud!
Unfortunately, this was to be Guesty's last show with the band, choosing to return to Australia. He up until this point had been responsible for the front of house sound mix at every show, and his buoyant personality would be missed by all.
That was not to be 1998's only personnel change. Founder member Grant Ross also decided, like Lee before him, to call it a day and return to Australia. His final show was in Penzance, Cornwall on July 12, 1998. The loss of another founder member was bad, but any band will tell you that replacing a drummer can be very difficult.
Auditions were held, and Paul Bonney, a young drummer from Salford, Manchester instantly stood out from the crowd with his Nick Mason playing style. Paul had two drum kits at the time and these were put together to form the twin bass drum setup that Nick Mason was known for. It looked right, but more importantly Paul sounded right.
The 1998 UK Winter Tour was a successful one and the new band line up would remain unchanged through the next TAPFS era.
1999 and 2000 saw the band criss crossing the UK twice each year. The seemingly endless motorways of the UK led to increased ticket sales almost everywhere they went, but it felt as though they had settled into a routine. The rumours of Pink Floyd playing a show on Millennium Eve at the Pyramids of Giza was on everybody's minds, but it turned out that neither band performed that night. The touring schedules paid dividends in the tightness of the band, and the constant improving and building of the light show under the direction of Steve Ellerington, a mainstay of the touring party since mid 1995, all contributed to the growing reputation of TAPFS.
2001 again began with the usual touring schedule, but the real highlight of the year came in November when on the 26th of that month, the band became the first (and only) Pink Floyd tribute to play their own show at London's prestigious Royal Albert Hall. The show seemed like a real turning point for the band, and they received critical acclaim for the performance which included playing 'Another Brick in the Wall' with children from the Islington Green School Choir - the same choir that had sung on the original song.
2002 would have the band playing at their first Liverpool Summer Pops in July, and a second Royal Albert Hall performance in October. Both shows again receiving fantastic reviews and proving that this tribute band was far more than just that. The already strong and dedicated UK fan base was growing show by show, and these fans knew that their secret was not going to stay that way for much longer. The next few years would see the biggest growth the band had ever experienced.
It was now in 2003, that the band were faced with a choice. They could either keep doing the same as they had been doing for the past 10 years, or they could step things up a gear. TAPFS made a big decision and decided to embarked on the most ambitious period to date. (Perhaps rivaled in commitment only by the bands initial decision in 1993 to emigrate to the UK and risk everything!)
The first show of the year was a showcase performance at the 'House of Blues' on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. Attracting the attention of many North American promoters and booking agents, it paved the way for the bands entry into North America.
2003 was the 30th Anniversary of Pink Floyds landmark album 'The Darkside of the Moon', and it was decided that there was no better time for TAPFS to perform this album in its entirety. Backing vocalists and Saxophone were added to the onstage band line up and new improved animations were produced by American animator, Bryan Kolupski to be projected onto the new circular screen.
The band toured 'TDSOTM' throughout 2003 and into 2004, taking the whole show to North America for their first full tour, and continuing in Europe. Everywhere the band played they received incredible reviews and it seemed the world had now fully embraced TAPFS.
The tour culminated with the filming of the bands first DVD at the Liverpool Summer Pops on July 16th. Featuring the full 'Darkside of the Moon' first set, plus a selection of other Pink Floyd classics from the second set on the night, the DVD stands as a true testament to the hard work of all involved on those long tours of 2003/04. This was not however to be all for 2004 - by year's end they had done a second sell out 43 date tour of North America and a return visit to Germany and were now firmly established there.
2005 would again be a busy year for the band, carrying over from the momentum built the year before. A UK tour in April and May celebrated the 30th anniversary of the legendary 'Wish You Were Here' and was followed up by a tour in South America.
Shows in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil gave the band a taste first hand of the very enthusiastic Latin audiences.
June 2005 brought a one off show on the Mediterranean island of Malta. A sellout audience at the Luxol Grounds in St. Andrews reacted to the band as if they were in fact Pink Floyd. Close to 10,000 people around the outside of the open air venue couldn't even get tickets, and the promoter declared it to be the countries largest ever paying audience at a concert! So impressive was the occasion that the Maltese Prime minister even paid the band a visit backstage!
The annual Liverpool Summer Pops in July 2005 gave the opportunity for TAPFS to make another first. On July 15th the band performed and recorded 'Wish You Were Here' and on the following night performed 'Animals' in it's entirety for the first time. This was also recorded and the two are now available on CD.
The end of 2005 saw TAPFS back in North America for a 35 date tour. This time, Colin Wilson elected to take a leave of absence and was replaced by Ian Cattell.
Even better ticket sales than the previous year and a growing fan base secured the bands hold on North America and the reviews stated that this was indeed 'the best tribute band in the world'.
Whilst the band remains unchanged in the UK and Europe, North America has seen a further line up change for 2006. This time Steve Mac has joined Colin in taking time off - whilst both actually spending a lot of time on management matters behind the scenes - and has been replaced by Jamie Humphries on guitar.
Concern that the North American audiences would not warm to these line up changes have proved unfounded as rave reviews from across the continent poured in to the bands official website. Considerable time and effort spent during the pre tour rehearsals by all concerned paid off in dividends and further confirmed the fact that The Australian Pink Floyd Shows' work ethic and that good old fashioned attention to detail that was first implemented by Lee, Grant, Trevor, Steve and Jason in 1988, is still paying off to this very day.
It is still all about the music - Pink Floyd - and delivering the absolute best performance each and every night.
The future looks bright for TAPFS and Pink Floyd fans worldwide.
To be continued...