Never-before-released tapes find the late saxist Gary Windo collaborating between 1976-78 with a group that includes Nick Mason, but don’t go in expecting the visceral prog-influenced prog that marked Pink Floyd’s output of that era.
Instead, the Mason-drummed tracks “Stand Fast” is best described as greasy fusion-fired funk. “Is This the Time?,” which also features lonesome vocal from long-time collaborator Robert Wyatt, undulates with a groovy menace — like a jazzier take on Traffic. The closest Steam Radio Tapes (finally seeing release via Gonzo MultiMedia) gets to Floyd, in fact, might be “Letting Go,” which its David Gilmour-esque gait and bawdy turn from Windo — but, even here, the group features a sultry female voice instead.
The sessions, which Mason co-produced, expand from there to include more from Wyatt, guitarist Steve Hillage and pianist Carla Bley, hinting at the now-forgotten cache that the hard-blowing, yet by turns very sensitive Windo had at one time. He’d also worked with Jack Bruce and Mitch Mitchell before Mason invited Windo to become the first to test drive Britannia Row, Pink Floyd’s then-new studio space. The band’s chief engineer Brian Humphries helped with a portion of the album and then, as recording stretched into 1977, Nick Griffiths (who’d overseen the school choir for Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”) took over some engineering duties.
And yet, Windo oversaw a free-form creative process that grew out of treasured riffs (Pam Windo’s “Is This the Time”), collaborative experiments (Julie Tippetts’ vocal is so unself-conscious on “Letting Go,” it’s like she’s making the lyrics up as she goes), quite personal moments (“Ginkie,” a clarinet-driven dedication to Windo’s grandfather; a treasured cowboy song in “Red River Valley”), and balls-out jams (the propulsive Jimmy Forrest classic “Night Train”). In short, nothing like Mason was used to doing.
“When Pink Floyd records,” Mason once said, “we’re slaves to perfection.” Windo, instead, is a slave to the moment — and Stream Radio Tapes, which unfolds with an old-school looseness and a frisky musical impulsiveness that utterly befits the name, perhaps couldn’t help but suffer for it. Despite Mason’s best efforts, the project went unreleased — that is, until now. This belated find shines new light on Mason’s broad interests outside of Pink Floyd, even as it gives us another chance to marvel at a lost treasure in Windo.