Damian Darlington remembers the first time he heard the music of Pink Floyd. He was about 10 years old when the band’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” single was catapulting to the top of the British (and later, American) charts.
The song, with its resigned Roger Waters vocals, bitter anti-school and mind oppression lyrics, hooky schoolkid-sung chorus, and peerless David Gilmour guitar solo, was admittedly a lot to absorb for the English boy – and millions of others.
“I wasn’t quite prepared for them at that age!” he laughs today. “And it took me a few years before I heard the album The Wall in its entirety. One of my friends sort of presented it to me, and I was instantly captivated by the music and the cool artwork in the gatefold sleeve and the Gerald Scarfe illustrations and the narrative. I was already playing guitar at that point, and tried to play these David Gilmour solos. And that was the stepping stone to Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.”
Flash forward to 2019 and Darlington gets to relieve a chunk of the album almost every night as the leader and singer/guitarist for Brit Floyd, perhaps the world’s premier Pink Floyd tribute band.
For their current tour to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Wall, a good chunk of the setlist comes from the double album. Though audiences will also hear cuts spanning from Meddle to The Division Bell. Brit Floyd plays the Smart Financial Centre on June 25.
And it’s not just about a recreation of the music for Darlington (who also handles the bulk of the “David Gilmour” vocals). The visual aspect for Brit Floyd – like Pink Floyd – is almost as important.
“It’s something that Pink Floyd is synonymous with. They were pioneers in so many ways when it came to the presentation of their show and their experimentation. They did so many things first before anybody else did,” he says. “So to recreate it, that side of the show has to be there. The onus is on us to recreate that. The lights, The lasers, the inflatables, the circular screen—all of those ingredients that people expect to see.”
But that doesn’t mean Brit Floyd can’t put their own flourish on some of the material. As the band’s musical director, Darlington can draw inspiration for a tune from a studio, live, or even bootleg version. “We are trying to recreate this music faithfully, but that doesn't mean there isn’t some room to put sort of our collective music personalities on what we do,” he offers. “And that makes us gel together as a band rather than just a collection of musicians. And I think the audience can appreciate that.”
The rest of Brit Floyd includes Rob Stringer (keyboards), Ian Cattell (bass, and the voice of “Roger Waters”), Edo Scordo (guitar), Arran Ahmun (drums), Thomas Ashbrook (keyboards), and backup singers Ola Bienkowska, Angela Cervantes, Roberta Freeman, Emily Jollands, and Jacquie Williams.
And while Darlington started Brit Floyd in 2011 in Liverpool, he’s had plenty of previous Floydian experience, having been a key member of the well-regarded Australian Pink Floyd Show tribute band since 1994. But he has no regrets about breaking off to start his own, competing act.
“Fundamentally, I felt that I could do a better job of recreating this music, whether it be the performance itself or the production. And hopefully, that’s what we’ve achieved,” he says. “It’s a subjective thing, but you sort of have to pin your flag to the mast. I spent 17 years doing the Australian Pink Floyd Show, and sort of feel that I served my apprenticeship to some extent learning how to do this in the right way.”
The last time Pink Floyd did an actual tour (albeit without the long-departed Waters) was in 1994 in support of The Division Bell (captured on the Pulse DVD). Darlington says he sees plenty of Gen Zs and Millennials in the audience who may not have even been born then. On the other end of the age spectrum, he’s also talked with audience members in their 60s and 70s who grew up with Pink Floyd. And when they begin to tell Darlington how much the music means to them and how great it is to hear it played live, that’s when he says he knows that Brit Floyd is “doing something really worthwhile.”
Finally, Damian Darlington can tell you something about feeling Floyd pressure. It’s one thing to play for a paying audience. And another, higher level playing for fellow musicians. But imagine being in a Pink Floyd tribute band and your booking is a private gig playing…Pink Floyd member David Gilmour’s 50th birthday party. Which must have been both thrilling and scary as shit.
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“All of the above!” Darlington laughs. “Definitely the most nerve-wracking experience as a musician that I’ve ever had, especially the first 15 minutes of standing on that stage. But then I relaxed and got into it. It was a bizarre feeling to get booked to play somebody’s music for them on their birthday and get paid for it!”
As if that weren’t enough pressure, also at the party watching and listening were Pink Floyd members Nick Mason and Richard Wright. Also Kate Bush, Roger Taylor from Queen, and a freaking Beatle in the form of George Harrison. Toward the end of the set, Wright himself appeared onstage with Darlington and the rest of the band. He had just one request as they were about to launch into their closer “Comfortably Numb,” one of The Wall’s – and Pink Floyd’s – most iconic songs.
“He just sort of quietly came up to the stage and very, very politely asked if he could possibly play along to on song,” Darlington recalls. “Because he had played it once or twice before!”
Brit Floyd plays 8 p.m., June 25, at the Smart Financial Centre, 18111 Lexington. $39.50-$169.50. For more info call 281-207-6278 or visit SmartFinancialCentre.com. For more in Brit Floyd, visit BritFloyd.com