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Steven Wilson Tour Blog 2013

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Tour Blog Part 21 : Toronto, Ontario

The Phoenix, Toronto

So the day off in Toronto was relaxing and much needed. I felt pretty exhausted by the time I settled into my hotel room. Later on I went for a walk up the Main Street. - Yonge Street. I passed Massey Hall, venue of one of saxophonist Charlie Parker's legendary concerts and recordings and I think various classic live albums. Soaked up a bit of the Toronto vibe and ate a Johnny Rocket's burger and sweet potato fries which were just what the doctor ordered. 

The next day got to the venue, the Phoenix, early. Outside I noticed a black squirrel. Jet black. I have never seen one like that before, but Guthrie told me they were common in some places and are doing to the grey squirrels what the grey squirrels did to the red ones. Marco later mentioned he had seen a family of giant racoons sitting by the load in door. One just stared him in the eye and carried on his business.

Backstage in the dressing room before the gig, DJ Wilson played some cool tracks. 'One of those days in England' from Bullinamingvase by Roy Harper was fabulous and I only half knew it. I know and love his albums 'Stormcock' and 'Flat, Baroque and Beserk' very well, and other individual songs, but not this one. Beautiful. Then Steven introduced Adam and me to some recent Marillion. I have not previously been much impressed by the music of theirs I have heard. However Steven played something from the new album and it did sound good. I was particularly impressed with Steve Hogarth's voice which sounded magnificent.

After the soundcheck Adam told me some more interesting things about Miles Davis' band, and in particular the sax players in the band who were around when he was. I was also fascinated to hear (Adam I hope you don't mind me sharing...), that having heard the album 'Metal Fatigue', Miles wanted Allan Holdsworth in his band, and asked Adam to call him and ask him to join the band. Adam did indeed make that call, and Allan said he was honoured to have been asked, but due to commitments could not do it. Now if he had joined, that would have been interesting to hear! 

The gig was good fun and the crowd loved it. The venue itself is a long narrow room, So the stage space was tight. In fact I was pretty hemmed in in my corner. Normally I walk offstage for the couple of songs I do not play on, but today I just stayed onstage, looking mean and moody! I wonder if people noticed I was there but did not play on entire songs. It was also hot onstage. Inspired by the enthusiasm and hopes of a fan who I heard was driving a long way to the gig and keen for autographs, I arranged for a few of us to go out and sign CDs and programmes after the show at a table by the merchandise stand. The said fan was most pleased and said they would cherish the signatures for ever! 

Overnight we drove to Montreal and when I got up the bus was on a street next to a 'Sexotheque'. I guess that is like a discotheque, but, um...different. There were also some drug addicts in the street, who did not look well at all. The tour bus stopped where the driver had been told to park by the venue manager. Some van delivery driver then came screaming at the driver saying he couldn't park there, and called the police. After more shenanigans we moved and got dropped off at the hotel, before the bus went and parked somewhere else.

It was a nice boutiquey hotel. The only curiosity was the big mirrors in the shower. As in right in the shower. Now why would you want that? 

Adrian Holmes, our excellent merchandise man, and fellow Brummie, had a spare free ticket to see Muse that evening so I said I was up for it. I have not been wild about what I have heard of their CDs, but footage of them live looked amazing so I thought it would be good to go and see the show. In the afternoon, I watched some recent live youtube clips of the band to check out some songs etc. The arena was big - maybe 8,000 people at a guess. The band were indeed stunning. A fantastic arena or stadium band as they completely fill the space and have an incredible light show. The most impressive I have ever seen (image below)

The music is very strong, a bit like Radiohead with an injection of Queen, and the frontman and lead singer, Matt Bellamy was extraordinary and very commanding. The band comes from Teignmouth, a beautiful small town in Devon, England that I know where I have played many times as they have a great jazz festival and regular jazz club too. They were all at school together there. You could probably fit the whole town in most of the venues the band plays at now! Very enjoyable gig and a good night out.

Muse in Toronto
The Steven Wilson team at The Phoenix, Toronto
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Tour Blog Part 20 : Buffalo, New York

Guthrie Govan
Theo at work

We arrived in Buffalo, NY mid morning. Buffalo is at the top of New York State, and only 5 mins from the Canadian border. The venue, called the Town Ballroom, was a revamped and refurbished old theatre originally called the Town Casino that had been a casino, restaurant/bar and venue. It had hosted John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr amongst others. Al Capone is known to have visited the place too. 

The Niagra Falls are only 20 mins away from the venue, so Marco and Nick went to visit them as they are indeed one of the seven wonders of the world (according to some versions of the list). I did not, as I usually just want to relax and take it easy before a gig. The photos they brought back looked quite amazing though. 

The gig had an intimate atmosphere and the front of the stage was a semi-circle, so at the sides the audience were closer to us than usual. The band played well and the audience were pumped and very vocal in their enthusiasm. Steven asked them to control themselves for the beginning of Raider 2, where there are long pauses between the opening sparse and quiet notes. Impressively, they did and there was complete audience silence for that section of the music. Clearly respect was being shown. I think Guthrie was probably the man of the match tonight. I am not sure if he played any better than normal, because to be honest his guitar playing is always spectacular. However, his solos got a particularly good response from the audience. I noticed there were some people standing right in front of him whose facial expressions seemed to follow every musical phrase he played. As he ratcheted up the intensity, so these fans got more and more excited until they looked like they were going to hyperventilate and possibly explode. Fortunately there were no such medical emergencies. In fact there was a lot of applause not just after everyone's solos, but even after phrases within solos. This crowd was really listening! We may be a long way from Manhattan but maybe there was still a bit of downtown New York in these guys. Very exciting. Overall I think it was another very good gig. 

Our dinner had been ordered long before the gig, but for some reason it didn't arrive until after we had gone onstage, so we had to eat it afterwards which was not ideal. Afterwards, I met some fans and signed some CDs which was fine except for some bloke who asked me if I was the bass player. When his friends told him I was the flute player, he then asked if I was the keyboard player. I said I played one track on the keyboard but mainly I played flute and sax, to which he responded, 'Yes, but are you the keyboard player ?' Sometimes I wonder.... 

So once we were all loaded up we left to cross the border to Canada as next gig is in Toronto. We reached the border about 1.45 am by which time about half the band were in their bunks sleeping. The lady border guard came onto bus to check all our passports. The tour manager explained to her that quite a few people were in bed, but maybe she could walk down the bus with the passports and people could poke their heads out of their bunks so she could check the faces against the passport photos. She said 'that sounds kind of creepy' and laughed, so everyone got up and presented themselves to her. After we were through, I went to sleep and woke up in Toronto for a day and night off and in a hotel before the gig day. Hurrah! Not so good was when in the hotel I heard that there had been a foiled major terrorist attack on a train in Toronto. Today. 

I took the time to listen again to the final mixes of the new album by the Tangent which I have played on. The Tangent is a progressive rock band from England led by the inimitable Andy Tillison, which I have played with since 2004. I say it is from England, but it has had an ever changing line up and often included members from Sweden. Andy is a prolific writer and producer and since 2004, I have played on 6 studio albums, 2 live DVDs, and various gigs in the UK, mainland Europe and very memorably the Rosfest festival in Philadelphia, USA in 2005 which was a blast. Anyway, the new album which is on Inside Out records is called 'Le Sacre du Travail' and musically references Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring' (Le Sacre du Printemps) in a clever and very musical way. The lyrics of the album, instead of being about the primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring and a dance to the death of a sacrificial victim, are about the more mundane rituals of getting out of bed in the morning, getting in your car, going to work, sitting in the traffic, coming home and the tedious treadmill of the everyday life of the working person. One of the hallmarks of Andy's lyrics is the very down to earth nature of them. No hobbits and space travel, but songs referencing for example getting on the Number 11 bus, being lost in London, getting up for work, stealing clothes from C&A, listening to Radio 2, selling things on ebay etc. There is a stellar line up for this album of Gavin Harrison on drums (from Porcupine Tree), Jonas Reingold on bass (from the Flower Kings), Jakko Jakszyk on additional vocals and guitar delivering some excellent solos, Andy on keyboards, guitars and lead vocals, and me on blowy things. There are also some guest vocals by David Longdon of Big Big Train. I recorded my parts at Andy's studio in Yorkshire at the beginning of this year and had a lot of fun doing so. The final album has come out very well and Andy has integrated the rock band and the orchestral parts brilliantly. Apart from my flutes, clarinets and saxes, there are bassoons, oboes and some lower brass playing melodic and contrapuntal parts. These parts are integral to the whole and it is not a case of overlaying swathes of strings onto slow songs for extra texture. I am also very happy with how Andy incorporated my woodwind parts. So watch out for that one... 

The skype in the hotel was a bit rubbish which is very frustrating. Skype generally is such a godsend when you are on tour. Wherever you are in the world you can have a video call to home (or anywhere else) for either no cost or practically no cost. It is truly amazing and proof that some things in life just get better and better. But...frustrating when it does not work. 

Oh yes. Random interesting musical fact of the day. I read in Classic Rock Magazine on the tour bus that when David Bowie was in his glorious Ziggy Stardust phase, he was constantly fascinated by and inspired by the early Van Der Graaf Generator albums like 'H to He, Who am the Only One' and 'Pawn Hearts' . I thought this really interesting and if you have heard those albums or the unique voice of Peter Hamill it makes complete sense.

The Town Ballroom
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