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So we are nearing the middle of 2014 already, and the year is flying past. The beginning of the year was taken up with writing and sorting the book I have written of Steven Wilson Tour Blogs 2012 -2013. Titled 'Twice Around the World – Steven Wilson Tour Blogs 2012-2013′, the book is a road diary of the tours with songwriter/composer/producer Steven Wilson over the period and it was very exciting. 21 countries including North and South America, all over Europe, Australia, Israel and two special concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall and Royal Festival Hall (both sold out!). It is largely a photo journal with over 100 photos by the fantastic Lasse Hoile and the wonderful Diana Nitschke, as well as photos by Theo and by other band members and fans. The book is currently in the production stage and copies are expected to be released in July 2014. The first available copies will be going to the subscribers and sponsors who signed up to the successful Kickstarter Campaign.
Soft Machine Legacy has been very active, with a great gig at the Jazz Cafe in London recently, and a week on the 'Cruise to the Edge' progressive rock cruise in April 2014. Miami – Honduras – Cozumel – Miami in the company of the Steve Hackett Band, Yes, Marillion, UK, Tony Levin, Tangerine Dream, the Strawbs, Three Friends, and many others. It was a lot of fun and the Softs played 3 sets to the crowds. There have been other gigs in Lyon and more scheduled in Manchester, Kent, Finland and London. See live dates page for details.
Travis & Fripp will be seeing the release of 'Discretion' on CD and vinyl this summer. This release comprises an album originally released in 2012 as a Bowers and Wilkins speakers subscribers club only release – so very limited. This is the worldwide release of that recording.
Comprising a set largely of soundscapes but with some surprises in there too, the album starts and ends with a piece featured in some of the duo's live performances in 2010 – 'The Power to Believe' (from the album of the same name), in a stripped down and haunting version.Cipher continue with the expansion of the Past Lives project around the East Midlands – not only more performances, but workshops with local communities, collection of more local amateur vintage film footage and encouraging pride in local heritage and arts.Steven Wilson is talking of more recording in the Autumn and there are two great releases I was involved in that are coming out this summer – Nacaal from Tim Motzer's 'Goldbug' and 'Windjammer' from Echo Engine with Rob Palmer and Daniel Biro. More on those releases later.
Here we go, here we go...back on the road with Steven Wilson. So we are now back on he tour bus for another stint touring to promote 'the Raven that refused to sing' album and the new EP/ single 'Drive Home'. In September we went to Australia for 3 gigs. 3 cities, 6 days there, 7 flights and large doses of jetlag. It felt all a bit surreal and if we hadn't stopped by the Sydney Opera House I am not sure it would have felt like we were actually in Australia at all. Hotel, dinner, backstage, gig, bus, airport. It is like travelling in a bubble.
But the gigs were good, and there were some very appreciative fans. Good to see Daevid Allen and Orlando from Gong in Brisbane too (even if Daevid did tell Steven all the things he thought were wrong with the gig!)
Then we had the UK dates. I always enjoy touring in the UK. In my jazz life I have played hundreds of gigs around Britain, from jazz clubs to Arts Centres to rooms above pubs; a brewery visitor centre in St Austell, Cornwall to the library on Iona in Scotland. I love it! I seem to have done less of it and have been touring abroad more in the last few years since I have been doing more Prog type gigs (Steven Wilson/Soft Machine Legacy) and also the ambient experimental gigs with either Robert Fripp or Cipher. We had one day rehearsal to learn the new song (which has been going well) and for Chad to play in 'Sectarian' which he had not played with us before. It was good to visit Wolverhampton, Bristol (where I played a lot in the early 1990s with Andy Hague and others), Newcastle (an alreet toon!) and then the Royal Albert Hall, London. The Albert Hall was a highlight for me. Such a stunning venue and big crowd. Lots of friends there (including Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, Steve Hackett, Jakko, Davide Giovannini, Robyn Koh, Maggie Docherty) and my family too - which was lovely. The sound was really good and pleasing to get lots of comments that the flutes and saxes were particularly clear and audible, and we all felt we played pretty well. We all came off feeling really good about it and there was a cool aftershow hang too- one of those special nights.
I have just found out today that there is a four star glowing review of the gig in the Guardian which includes a reference to the 'preposterously honed and proficient band'. Nice. Then a couple of days off before off to Europe for another run - Netherlands, France, Poland, Scandinavia, Austria, Spain and a gig in Tel Aviv, Israel which should be fun. I have not been to Israel since playing at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat in 2000 with my own jazz quartet - which was an amazing experience. The tour has geared up as we are now travelling not just with a night liner tourbus and trailer but a whole other truck carrying our own full PA, lighting rig, and back line, and we have also extra crew to help with all of that. As the backstage rider gets refined I have noticed that it seems to be dividing between the rock 'n roll half and the health farm half - so we have vodka, beer, red wine, rum, and then blueberries, smoothies, nuts, humous and yes, Manuka honey! So on Tue we met up at K- West hotel in Shepherds Bush (named after the sign on the Ziggy Stardust cover) to get on the tour bus to set off to Dover. Adam brought a DVD box set of 'Breaking Bad' which we watched a couple of episodes of (pretty good in a dark sort of way) and at about 11 pm we got the ferry to Calais to continue on to Nijmegenfor the first gig. And here we are, ready to go. Soundcheck in one hour.
We left our hotel in Mexico City to head for the airport with plenty of time to spare, given the anticipated lengthy check-in with all our gear. We had been staying in a posh and comfortable hotel, though in some of the rooms the hot water had not worked for some of the time nor the TV. When I checked out of my room, my room bill included a charge for breakfast (even though this was included), a charge for the mini bar (which had been locked the entire time I was there) and a tax payable on the mini bar items which I had not consumed. I was not happy. So after some discussion, all these charges were removed. A bit annoying though.
We left the hotel having posed for photos with a few more fans and headed off through Mexico City for the airport. The traffic was terrible but we had plenty of time and it at least gave me a chance to see some street life in the city. Lots of small shops selling steering wheels, plumbing, clothes, and bric a brac, as well as all the places to eat and drink. There was a constant stream of street sellers walking through the traffic selling amongst other things steering wheels (how many steering wheels can anyone need?), white plastic eggs, toys and flowers.We got to the airport and Ian, with the help of the rest of our fine crew, dealt with all the check in business. Our plane was delayed by an hour and a half, apparently because a volcano near the airport had erupted...! That did not sound good. The flight was an eight and a half hour overnight flight. That did not sound like fun either. Then we were told there was a further delay, so I played chess with Nick on his computer. The game is yet to be finished. When the plane finally took off at 11.20 pm it was three hours late. The only one good thing about the delay was it meant I sat with Chad and had a good chat about his working with Frank Zappa. Chad was in Frank's band from 1981 to 1988, so had lots to tell. I am a medium but not huge Zappa fan, but was fascinated to hear how things were in the band and what he was like. Zappa was hugely prolific, extremely talented, and built his own audience his own way playing very left-field, complex music that was utterly individual. He really made it work on his own terms and made a success of his music and his band in a way that anyone would have predicted was impossible. And Chad was right there in the middle of it for years. Hearing about that first hand was priceless.
When we landed there was concern at the baggage reclaim as Steve's and Guthrie's cases did not appear on the conveyor belt. As someone who has had their baggage lost by an airline before I shared their concern. A couple of years ago I played a jazz festival in Sardinia (with Soft Machine Legacy with special guest Tony Levin) and my suitcase with my soprano sax, pedals and all my personal stuff did not arrive. It had for some reason not been put on the plane. The suitcase did eventually arrive two days later - the day after the gig! Then after 10 mins the baggage belt started again and Guthrie's and Steven's bags did appear. Phew! When we went through customs I knew things were going well when the lady customs official asked if she could pose with Steven and Nick and have her photo taken.
We got to the hotel and the crew only had about 40 mins before turning round and going to the venue to set up. The band had about 4 hours, so I grabbed a bite to eat and went to bed for some much needed sleep.
Later we went to the venue which is the same one we played in last year - a mini arena called Teatro Caupolican which holds about 2200 people. During the soundcheck, quite a lot of adjustments had to be made because there was a lot of hired equipment, not all of which worked. In fact the bass amplifier did not work, a replacement was brought in though one of the speakers on that was held together (just) with sticky tape, so that one had to be replaced too. There were problems with one of Guthrie's guitar amps too. However after a longish soundcheck we got everything working satisfactorily. The sound always changes considerably once an audience is in the room too.
Before we went onstage we could hear the large crowd singing a football chant. They were clearly pumped and were going to have a good time. The gig itself was really great for me. I liked the layout of the venue, the sound was clear, the audience was very enthusiastic and they clearly loved it. I think I played OK too. Afterwards I met some fans and did the autographs and photos thing. After all, how often do I get to play in Chile? We got back to the hotel quite late, but there was just time for last orders and one drink outside in the very pleasant patio area around the fire by the pool. The whole band and several of the crew were there and it was good to relax after a long and tiring two days before turning in. Steven had been given a thick book of romantic classic Chilean poetry and he regaled us with a readIng in his best Spanish. None of us understood a word, but it sounded marvellous. Nick had been given a bottle of some seriously strong local liqueur which smelled so dangerous none of us even dared try it.
Then today we flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina right over the Andes mountain range for our penultimate concert of this leg of the tour.
Somehow a group of fans found out which hotel we were in and from the time we arrived they were outside waiting for autographs and photos. Some particularly enthusiastic ones seemed to camp out there for 2 whole days! We did meet a lot of them and sign CDs and pose for photos. Clearly the band coming to Mexico was very important to them and they were serious fans.
Before the gig itself a group of us from the band were going to walk to the venue as it was not far from the hotel, but the throng was so big, if we had gone out the front door we would not have made it in time for the gig, so we sneaked out the back door of the hotel - proper rock star style. This is very different from 'jazz world', and Chad, Adam and I joked about this on our way out.
The venue is the Teatro Metropolitan, the same theatre where the 'Get all you deserve' DVD was filmed in 2012. It seats 3000 people and was completely sold out. There is a huge and very high balcony as well as the stalls seats. As we had not brought our own amplifiers and equipment eg. Chad's drums, or Steven' s keyboard, these were all rented and so we had a longer soundcheck to check everything was working OK. It was fine, but things did need a bit of tweaking.
When we walked onstage the roar of the crowd was deafening. Everyone stood up (downstairs at least) immediately and stayed standing up for the rest of the gig. The gig went well and was very well received. Steven even learnt some Spanish phrases to welcome the crowd. That went down well. Playing to a full venue of this size definitely felt different to our usual theatres and rock venues. This felt more like an arena or stadium crowd. Huge and loud. They were clearly listening carefully though as they clapped solos and were totally silent for the very quiet parts of songs (like the beginning of Raider 2). The monitor sound was not the easiest and that combined with not having the usual guitar amps (Marshalls instead of Bad Cats) meant there were some additional challenges. However I don't think the audience would have noticed any of this, and the show was good. I have already received messages from people in the audience from Facebook and my own website saying how much they loved the gig. Next stop....Santiago, Chile.