The equivalent would be along the lines of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak contacting Eli Yatzpan and saying that he loved Yatzpan's imitation of him and inviting the comic to his palace for a command performance. If a rock tribute band was looking for a seal of approval, what better endorsement could there be than from a member of the original group they were aping? It happened to The Australian Pink Floyd, one of the most successful and accomplished touring acts devoted to the music of the British classic progressive rockers: Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour stopped in on one of the band's London performances in 1994. "Unbeknownst to us, Gilmour came to see us during an off-night in their Division Bell tour. He turned up backstage afterwards with his entourage and introduced himself, and told us how much he enjoyed the show," recalled Jason Sawford, 42, TAPF's keyboard player since its inception in 1988. Two years later, that contact resulted in Gilmour asking the band to perform at his 50th birthday party, a gala affair in London. Before the end of the evening, Gilmour and Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright joined the band onstage for such hits as "Money" and "What Do You Want From Me?" "Evidently, he enjoys listening to his own music," said Sawford wryly, adding that the evening was a magical moment for the band and provided justification that it was on the right track. Sawford, a classically trained pianist, saw his career path laid out before him when he answered a notice posted in Adelaide's biggest music store saying "Keyboardist required for bandâ€¦ We only play Pink Floyd." THROUGHOUT THE 1980s, the idea of tribute bands had grown from a small trickle into a cottage industry, especially in the US. Fueled by the success of Beatlemania and the fact that many of the classic rock acts of the '70s like Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The Who either were long defunct or toured rarely, tribute bands filled a gap for fans who were willing to suspend their beliefs for an evening and imagine that their heroes were once again onstage. The trend also spread across the seas, all the way to Australia, where a band called The Zep Boys were packing them in at local Adelaide clubs. Guitarist Lee Smith, drummer Grant Ross and bassist Trevor Burton were obsessed with Pink Floyd and envisioned forming a Floyd tribute band. The addition of Sawford and vocalist/guitarist Steve Mac crystallized their dream, and the band - coined "Think Floyd" - began rehearsing and performing in earnest. For Sawford, learning the Floyd canon was a great challenge. "I'm a classical man, really. I was familiar with the whole era of classic rock which Pink Floyd belongs to. But when I joined the band, I didn't know most of their material," he said in a phone conversation from his home in London. Quickly becoming proficient with the Pink Floyd catalogue, the band soon became a staple in its native land, and within a few years dared to test the waters in Floyd's stomping grounds of England. Deciding to capitalize on the "hot" name that Australia possessed in the early '90s with the success of Crocodile Dundee, Fosters Lager and two other tribute bands making waves in the UK - The Australian Doors and Bjorn Again (Abba) - the band changed its name to The Australian Pink Floyd. The jaunt to England proved a mixed blessing, as the band was well-received but soon faced a difference of opinion on whether to remain in Europe or return to Australia - which led to some personnel changes when England won out. "We came over here and expected to stay for a year. The main reason we ended up staying was that we couldn't afford to get back to Australia," laughed Sawford, adding that the band has been based in London ever since, while retaining its Australian name. ARGUABLY THE premier Pink Floyd touring band active today, TAPF will be performing on May 22 at the Ra'anana Amphitheater in special show in honor of the 35th anniversary of the landmark Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon. Sawford, who never expected the gig to last so long and set aside his own composing aspirations in the process, is grateful rather than bitter at performing someone else's music for a living. "In the early days, I did try to write music with the idea of concentrating on that, and supporting myself playing Pink Floyd. But that fell by the wayside and Pink took over. We gave up that dream, but in the process became professional musicians," he said. Sawford expressed pride in what he does, comparing it to concert pianists or symphony orchestras who regularly interpret classical pieces. "It's really no different, is it? We're playing classic music by a classic band, in the same way that an orchestra plays passages by Beethoven or Bach," he said. With Pink Floyd's musical catalogue being so large and diverse, Sawford said that the band doesn't get tired of the music and has a number of shows it can perform, besides the Dark Side of the Moon show the Ra'anana audience will experience. "In the UK, we've been doing a lot of shows based on The Wall. Usually our shows consist of one album performed in full and then a selection from the different eras, even the early period. We've done material like "Astronomy Domine," "Arnold Layne" and "Careful with That Axe, Eugene" from the Syd Barrett era, and we always get a good reaction, even though it is less well-known," he said, referring to the late, original leader of the band. Even though he's been playing Pink Floyd songs for two decades now, Sawford can't put his finger on what has made Floyd stand out from the plethora of spacey, instrumental-heavy bands from the '60s and '70s. "Pink Floyd was one of those unusual bands that played progressive rock but became commercially popular. It's an interesting sound with a soaring feel to it that struck a chord with people. It sort of puts an audience in a spell," said Sawford. "People have said when they see us for the first time, they get the same feeling they get when listening to Pink Floyd."