Graham Carey, the drummer for the Pink Floyd tribute band Breathe – The Pink Floyd Experience, spoke with XS Noize ahead of the band’s show at The Limelight in Belfast this Saturday.
When did Breathe form?
Breathe formed, God…2015. So, that’s seven years ago, but I think everything is minus two years because of the pandemic, so it feels like it’s been around for five years. It’s one of those situations. But I suppose the follow-on question is, “Why or how did we form?” [Laughs] We’re all full-time musicians, we’re all session musicians down south, playing in various acts, and I was working with the guitarist Karl [Breen] on a show. We were just in rehearsal, and he was noodling on the guitar, and he just started to play the guitar figure from the song “Breathe,” which is the opening track from Dark Side of the Moon.
I adore Pink Floyd, so immediately my ears picked up, and I just said to him – and it was kind of off-the-cuff – “I would love to do a Pink Floyd band,” and I kind of meant, I think, even to stand in for one, to do one show, to play a Pink Floyd set, because I love it so much. A couple of days later, he texted me and said, “Look, were you serious about doing that? Why don’t we do one?” So, I said, “Brilliant, yeah.” So, the idea was, I saw Roger Waters in The Point Depot in Ireland, and he brought a show: Dark Side of the Moon, which was a selection of Pink Floyd hit songs, and one or two solo ones, and then Dark Side of the Moon to finish, in its entirety.
So, I just wanted to do that. And the idea was, “Let’s do one show, and we’ll just play Dark Side of the Moon.” [Laughs] I mean, a vanity project, you know? Just totally about me and wanting to hear Pink Floyd live and play it. So, we did it, and it was just so successful. We said, “Let’s do another!” and it just built from there. So, we all kept going. We had asked between us before we put it together, we said, “Right, well, who are the guys we know that are big Pink Floyd fans?” because that’s very important, I think, when you’re doing a tribute, but you’re doing it properly: it’s very important that you get people who are real, big fans of the music, so then they’ll work and it’s more important to get it right and to be authentic with it and do the best you can with it. So, we just thought about it and thought about the friends who we all worked with down through the years who’d be the best, and we called them, and everybody was like, “Yeah. Yeah, I would love to do it.” So, it’s been a joy to play. [Laughs] The short answer.
Pink Floyd are a difficult band to replicate because they have very odd time signatures, there’s a lot of dexterity required, and in vocal performances, there are a lot of different pitches involved. Once you had everyone together, what was the difficulty of actually trying to nail the songs? Were there any that proved particularly difficult?
Em, let me see. I mean, it’s going to sound odd, or it’s going to sound awful, but it came together very quickly, and I’m going to say that it wasn’t that difficult. I think what I mean by that is, we didn’t come up with the idea and then [said], “Right, let’s get in a rehearsal room next week.” Everyone took a long time working at home. Because all the guys are full-time session musicians, they know what they’re doing, so they’re well-used to being given a set of songs and having to match those live.
So, in terms of playing it for me, personally, I’m the drummer, I know the music so well that now you did have to really dig in you kind of think it’s played one way, but actually, when you listen, it’s played a slightly different way, so there was a bit of journey there for me, but we all, from the start, were dedicated to getting the sounds as close as we could to the album. I suppose the hard part was sourcing some of the instruments, and it would be harder work for, say, the guitarists to do a lot of research and try to discover how David Gilmour got the particular sound for a particular track and the guys were great at that and the keys as well.
There’s a wealth of information on the internet – there’s a lot of forums and a lot of people, and it’s brilliant guitarists who talk about, “Well, David Gilmour’s solo from ‘Time’: this is the guitar he used, and this is how he got the sound.” So there are some vintage instruments, and some instruments are the same as those used on the album. If people know Pink Floyd, our guitarist has a copy of the black Strat custom model, and people will know what that is. And some of the guitar pedals are the same. The hardest part was the kind of joyful part: It was the work. It was the research. Do you know what I mean? Does that make sense?
And then, getting into a room and just playing it to get comfortable with it, so you no longer have to think about it. And, in terms of time signatures, there is some odd time signature stuff. It’s not too much, but it’s just playing it repeatedly, where you no longer have to think about it, and you’re not counting bars. And then, some of the other things, I suppose the female vocal on “The Great Gig in the Sky” would be a difficult one, but we have an amazing singer – Sharon Gaynor – who nails it every time, and…the first time she did it, she nailed it. So much so that a video went up online of it, and David Gilmour’s Twitter account liked it. I mean, you can’t get better than that, can you?
I was going to ask: Have you ever heard back from the band? [Laughs]
And there’s another one: because of the video, Sharon got asked to do a show in Norway and on the show was saxophonist Ian Ritchie. People should know him because he has been in Roger Waters’ solo band for years. He’s supposed to be his best mate or his mate, and he produced Radio K.A.O.S. for him. So, we’ve been told that he’s seen the video too, and he likes it, so we know it’s actually been seen by actual Pink Floyd guys, so that’s cool.
There are many Pink Floyd tribute acts, some famous ones being The Australian Pink Floyd and Brit Floyd. How do you guys differentiate yourselves from the other acts?
Oh, that’s a great question. I don’t know that we do because, to be honest – God, this is terrible – I haven’t gone to see them. I’ve seen videos online. The only thing that we can do or the only thing that we represent or present or give to people is picking the Pink Floyd songs we love; we know fans love, and putting them together in a show to get it out there and, I suppose, it’s going to be very similar, because our lives shows are based on Pink Floyd lives shows, as Brit Floyd is going to the same and The Australian Pink Floyd.
So, people sometimes ask, “Oh, what’s it like? The competition?” and I think it’s great. The more bands out there playing this timeless music, the better! It’s great for everyone. Do you know what I mean? God, fans could have a different Pink Floyd show every week if they wished. [Laughs] You know? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that. I love it. I think it's great that there are as many bands out there playing this music, and I did say it was timeless, but I think it’s also. I mean, some of the themes and some of the ideas in Dark Side of the Moon are just very relevant today. As relevant today as they were in the ‘70s. Or, in The Wall, the late ‘70s and the ‘80s. Some of these ideas: the isolation, the disappointment, the post-war dream, all those things are what’s happening now, and I think that resonates with people.
And we found – we’ve played Belfast probably five times now – and from the first time we were in the Cathedral Quarter, the crowds were incredible from the very first time. They know all the words, but they know every note too. So, there’s no messing around, you know? And from the very early on, we knew that you’re not in for improvising anything, and there are no corners cut, or there are no shortcuts in any of this because we wouldn’t like to hear it. I would know, and the crowd would know, and they wouldn’t be short of telling you. The first crowd was incredible in Belfast, but what I was going to say was what I found heart-warming was that it’s cross-generational. You’ve got people from eighteen up to sixty. You’ve got people there who’ve seen Pink Floyd – who’ve seen Pink Floyd live! But, the grandchildren of those people are coming along to the shows now, and it’s just as relevant.
And it’s amazing because it takes me back – I discovered Floyd in the ’90s – and it brings me back to when I discovered Floyd and how my mind was blown and how this incredible music just changed, really for me, everything, you know? So, it’s amazing to play these songs for people, and we know that these songs, I mean, they bookmark really important parts of people’s lives.
Breathe bolsters that it performs songs from the entire Pink Floyd discography, whereas I think many people – especially in pop culture – the cut-off point for Pink Floyd is The Wall.
Yeah, of course it is. I know.
Yeah. The albums post-The Wall are overlooked. What do you think people are missing if they don’t listen to those albums?
I suppose people themselves know. You’re missing some great tracks off…let me see. This is hard to say [Laughs]. I suppose the period we’re talking about is Pink Floyd’s purple patch. And people consider that from after Syd Barrett was gone, up [until when] Roger Waters left. But, The Final Cut – that’s after The Wall –and there are some great tracks on that, like “Not Now John”, that we do live. “When the Tigers Broke Free,” and “Southampton Dock,” there are some incredible songs on it. I know why the albums aren’t as popular as some others.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason has some great tunes on it, which we do: “Learning to Fly,” “Sorrow,” and we do some tracks from The Division Bell. I think the difference between the albums is while those three albums have great songs on them. Those albums aren’t as complete, say, as the other albums. You know, you can take four, five, six songs off, like, The Final Cut, while every song is fantastic off Dark Side or The Wall. And the same with A Momentary Lapse of Reason and the same with The Division Bell: you’ve got great moments, you’ve got strong Pink Floyd moments, but I think the real love is that middle period - fans call it “Pink Floyd Mark II” – but, we thought it would be very easy to do a show that’s just that period, and we thought about it, but we’ve gone back – and this is particularly relevant because Nick Mason is now out on tour with his band, Saucerful of Secrets, and they play songs from the first album up to Obscured By Clouds.
He played in Dublin a couple of weeks ago. We were playing the next night, so we purposefully brought out more Syd Barrett tunes, and they went down so well, so we’re going to be doing that in Belfast, as well: we’re going to do a handful from the very early records when Syd Barrett was there. So, I think it’s important to give a good mix, but most of the set is going to be that middle period, and that’s what most people kind of want to hear, but I think you’ve got to pay respect and pay homage to the early period and some of the later period stuff.
You guys have played some big stages, like Vicar Street in Dublin and the Cork Opera House. The Limelight in Belfast is a much smaller stage; how do you adapt the stage production?
That’s a great question. The Limelight stage isn’t that small; it’s pretty cool. The funny thing is when you have a huge stage, we kind of put everything close together because as a band, we like to play close together and Floyd kind of did that too. As I said, I play the drums, but I like to be close to the amps and the guys, so we all kind of come in, anyway. The Limelight’s a great venue because some of the other ones – the big stages, the big theatres, and they’re all seated – so I love that it’s standing up, but the people are close. And they come close, you know? And even you can see before we’ve started, they’ll come up to the barrier, take pictures of the guitar pedalboard, and see what instrumentation is being used and have a quick look at the setlist; we love that.
I think it’s fabulous, I think it’s much better: The Limelight, compared to some of the other venues, to be honest, and I think there’s a freedom to standing up, and I think people can let go a little bit more. Some of the theatre shows: it’s amazing, and the theatre experience is a bit different, but people want to let go, and you can tell. We’ve all been to a show: “Oh, God. I just want to stand up here and move about,” you know, and you can’t! While you’ve got that freedom in The Limelight from the beginning, so everybody’s loose from the top. I love it; I love it. I think it’s one of the real joys when we come out to do a few shows, to come to Belfast. It really is.
And that’s the final question: What can people expect if they come out to the show on Saturday?
The setlist hasn’t been decided, which is great [Laughs]. What can people expect? People can expect to hear eight musicians who love Pink Floyd, playing the songs of Pink Floyd as close as one can get to the record, with real passion and energy and commitment and with real respect to the music we love; we know the crowd love. They’ll come and hear the range of songs from, as I said, the setlist’s not picked, but, look, there’s stuff from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, right up until the end.
There are visuals to go along with a light show because Pink Floyd was a visual band as well: they’re very much – especially in the ‘70s – they’re very much anonymous in themselves, I think. It wasn’t until The Wall that people knew what they looked like a little bit more, but there’s a great, apocryphal story where they did a show in London in the mid-‘70s, and parts of the staging blew away, so they had to cancel the show, and the band walked out through the crowd. Nobody stopped them. They weren’t recognised because it was everything else that people knew, and I thought that’s a fabulous story [Laughs].
So, in other words, what I’m saying is that the show is immersive, we hope. With a great light show and great visuals that complement the music, we would hope – I mean, it’s my real wish – that people could suspend reality, just for that split second, and close their eyes and think they’re at a Pink Floyd show. And that would be magic for me. That’s really the aim. I think people can expect to see that. A good, high-energy performance, as well.
Thanks very much for your time. I appreciate it.
You’re very, very welcome. Absolutely. It was great talking with you. Thank you very much.
Breathe – The Pink Floyd Experience play The Limelight in Belfast this Saturday, May 7th. Tickets can be purchased here.