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Daevid Allen – A Personal Reflection

Daevid Allen was born in Australia in 1938, but his springboard to musical legend came after he moved to the UK in 1961. He was a founder member of Soft Machine in 1966, but became best known after starting madcap psychedelic rockers Gong. The band are best known for their Radio Gnome Trilogy, made up of the albums Flying Teapots, Angel's Egg and You. Although he left Gong in 1975, he resuscitated the band in 1991 and played with them until their last album 'I See You' in 2014.

I first encountered Daevid Allen in 1999 when, through a series of happy accidents, I joined Gong at short notice for a European Tour filling in for Didier Malherbe, playing saxes and flutes. I had heard little of Gong's music and was barely aware of Daevid though I knew some of Gong member Steve Hillage's music, particularly his album 'Fish Rising' which I thought was great. Joining Gong was a turning point in my musical life. For 10 years I toured the world and recorded with Daevid and the band, playing saxes, flutes and some keyboards and I co-wrote much of the 'Zero to Infinity' album. I recently read of Daevid Allen's music being 'like Sun Ra meets Vivian Stanshall meets DIY punk meets a really big fucking bong' and I think that just about sums it up!

When I met Daevid, I was immediately taken with his openness, his love of music and words and his sense of wonder and almost childlike curiosity about the world. He was continuously excited by all things artistic and creative. He took great delight in words– whether poetry, lyrics, puns, or just the fun of language and games with word play. I spent endless hours with Daevid and Mike Howlett on tour buses around the world joking and playing with words and rhymes.

With Gong, Daevid was very happy to be an equal part of a group and although he was the soul of the band, wrote the majority of the music, did most of the singing and fronted the band, he was very generous with sharing out songs and instrumental solos and encouraged everyone to write music for the group. He also shared out songwriting credits in a far more generous manner than most in his position would.

Daevid was a talented guitarist and a great improviser. There was a wonderful freedom of spirit in his playing which I enjoyed very much – much more than all the technically accomplished rock guitarists who have everything worked out and pre-prepared. I once heard his soloing style described as like an airplane taking off and you never knew how it would land and I think that was right. Anything could happen and his solos were unpredictable. When one is truly improvising, things don't always work out- but that is the risk you take. Daevid was wholeheartedly improvising and some magical music and guitar playing resulted. His glissando guitar technique which he said was inspired by Syd Barrett was wonderful and at times awe inspiring – washes of sound, harmony and textures floating in space. He also said that Syd Barrett was the original inspiration for singing with the strong London accent – a characterful style of singing that he, Robert Wyatt, Richard Sinclair (of Caravan) – and later David Bowie – all adopted, at least for a while.

Daevid not only started off the bands Gong and Soft Machine (both which I have enjoyed playing with for many years) , he also recorded many solo albums, and formed University of Errors, Brainville, Magick Brothers and various other groups. He was a catalyst for an enormous amount of much music making and musicians and poets worldwide were drawn to him for his creativity and his huge enthusiasm for life.

He loved jazz, free form improvisation, songs, experimental music, folk music, nursery rhymes, noise music, chanting and all sorts of fringe musics. He used to wind people (including myself!) up by saying he 'hated the Beatles'. He also said he 'hated Prog'. He embraced punk and new wave music and there was often a youthful and fiery energy to his music, from his band Planet Gong right up to the end. On the very last Gong album – 'I See You' there are almost punk like thrashes that sound like a band of seventeen year olds – not a 76 year old man – and certainly not a music icon from the 1970s.

Daevid was kind, fun, inspiring, encouraging, endlessly creative, and an original thinker. A big fan of the Goon Show, his crazy humour was loved by millions though he also saw it as having a revolutionary edge to it too. I think it was in the subversiveness. The Flying Teapot trilogy, Radio Gnome and the Pot Headed Pixies were all wonderful inventions – charmingly bonkers. He was not one to toe the line and could often be contrary – sometimes infuriatingly so. One funny anecdote I remember was that he went to a legalise cannabis event in Hyde Park in around 2001 as a special guest as he was such a leader of the counter-cultrure movement. You would not believe how many people I have heard say that they had their first trip listening to Gong's music. Anyway Daevid went to this event at Hyde Park and in front of a big crowd, stood up and said 'Ban cannabis! It's terrible for you! And the throng of people in their stoned haze just cheered – 'Yay! Great!' Hilarious and very Daevid.

Of course being the age he was Daevid was right there when it was all happening in the 1960s. He lent Jimi Hendrix his first amp when he came to London, and enjoyed playing chess with him. He played alongside all the rock greats when they were starting out. He was in Paris during the riots in 1968 and the Stonehenge and Glastonbury festivals in the early 1970s. Gong were one of Richard Branson's very first bands on Virgin records. I loved to hear his stories about those times.

I always felt that Daevid was 'the real thing' not someone trying to be a rock star or a poseur. He was living the alternative lifestyle full of music, poetry and life before such a thing was even invented. An artistic beatnik, an intellectual hippie, a comic surrealist and a poetic musician. A true original and an inspiration to so many.

All over the world I have encountered so much love for Daevid and his music. He has now had his last cuppa tea and left us on his flying teapot to another place. Farewell and bon voyage. I feel honoured to have known him. And thank you for the music you daft old bugger.

Theo Travis
March 2015

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Cipher : Pandora's Box


Looking for more Cipher Soundtracks? Click this link to see more!

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New Double Talk Band Album

Nic ,Theo, Mike, Pete – Koolworld Studios Jan 2015

​Just spent two amazing days in the recording studio with my band Double Talk comprising Mike Outram (guitar), Pete Whittaker (organ) and Nic France (drums and percussion). We recorded various versions of eight tunes including some serious epics and some powerful bluesy prog jazz. Some wonderful playing all round and the tracks are sounding stellar. A few things still to do, but very pleased with the results… Watch this space…

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New Double Talk Band Album

Just spent two amazing days in the recording studio with my band Double Talk comprising Mike Outram (guitar), Pete Whittaker (organ) and Nic France (drums and percussion). We recorded various versions of eight tunes including some serious epics and some powerful bluesy prog jazz. Some wonderful playing all round and the tracks are sounding stellar. A few things still to do, but very pleased with the results… Watch this space…


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What a week…

I have just had the most busy and varied week of musical activities I have had in a long time. Last Monday, Sept 15 was the release date of my latest album – Travis & Fripp 'Discretion' (on the Panegyric label). An album of duets with he who is Robert Fripp, it is our fourth CD release and perhaps our finest. I hope we will do more live performances in the future but at the moment Robert is on tour in the USA with the latest incarnation of King Crimson, playing to sold out houses everywhere. I was fortunate enough to see the band play through their set to an invited audience of about 25 people at Elstree studios as part of their rehearsal process. It was great to hear Mel Collins again (one of my favourite sax and flute players) and I thought the three drummer front line (yes, you heard correctly!) worked very well. Anyway, for now promotional Travis & Fripp gigs will have to wait.

Then on Tues, Weds and Thurs I was working with Trevor Warren on his new album. Trevor is a founding member of a curry club of friends that convenes from time to time with lots of the London jazz guitarists – John Etheridge, John Paricelli, Carl Orr, Trevor and others. It has expanded to now include various musician friends including myself and is always a lot of fun. So the band Trevor put together had one day of rehearsal to play through the ten songs he has written then two days recording. The band was awesome – Trevor on guitar and vocals, Ayo on second guitar, me and the stunning rhythm section of Dudley Phillips on basses (who I toured with with Anja Garbarek) and Nic France (of Steven Wilson/ David Gilmour/lLoose Tubes fame) on drums. We rehearsed at the rather funky Audio Underground studios in Stoke Newington, London, but were recording in Bath. The sound engineer was Stuart Bruce – a great sound engineer who was at Peter Gabriel's Real World for years. We were recording at his own Riverside studios where the facilities were very good, and relaxed too, and there was very comfortable residential accommodation. Stuart was superb and also had some great stories like when he recorded Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al Di Miola and the egos, law suits and even physical punch ups that were involved in those sessions! We arrived at the studio lunch time on the first of the 2 days and were ready to record by about 4.30pm. I thought it would be impossible to actually record 10 songs by the following night then drive back to London, but unbelievably we did. I played tenor and soprano sax and flute and there was a very organic feel to the songs – which were all recorded live, in one, two or occasionally three takes. There was also a lot of space for layers of flute and soprano sax soundscapes and loops which we recorded live in real time and they came out really well. There were also some roaring solos from various members of the band. A very English feel to the songs, I was reminded of Syd Barrett's songs at times. On the evening of the second day, the heavens opened and there was the fiercest thunder and lightning I can ever remember, like from a Hammer Horror film. We were a bit nervous driving back to London but I eventually got back home fine. I am looking forward to hearing the finished album.

Very early the very next morning I had to get up and drive 3 hours to Ironbridge in the Midlands for a dress rehearsal of the Freefall Arts / Cipher Past Lives performance. Past Lives is an archive amateur movie footage and live soundtrack project (www.pastlivesproject.com) which is unusual, inspirational and moving. It involves writing and performing live scores to amazing films of real people and real lives from the Midlands going back to the 1940s/50s and 1960s. Saturday's performance was of a soundtrack written by students from the excellent Abraham Darby Academy in Telford, arranged and organised by Dave Sturt and myself. The music was arranged for brass sextet, percussion ensemble, wind and strings and two duos. Each of the eight pieces had to run sequentially with the film that had been put together from local historical footage and the performers, who were schoolchildren – very proficient and able students, but nevertheless still children – had to get it right. I was conducting the whole thing, so had to carefully follow the tempos with an in-ear click track to make sure the music stayed in sync' with the films. I also needed to see the film as it was running, and conduct, bringing in instrumentalists as required and ensuring all went smoothly. There were about 250 people in the audience so a big occasion for my public conducting debut! Thankfully it went well and there was some excellent feedback. During the second half of the performance I was playing sax, flute and clarinet for the original Past Lives film and live soundtrack composed by Dave Sturt and myself. A great evening and rewarding event, to be followed by the rather dull 3 hour drive home.

Then Monday (yesterday) I got the early train to St Ives in Cornwall to play at the Guildhall as part of the St Ives festival with the mighty Soft Machine Legacy with special guest Keith Tippett on piano. The train should have been five and a half hours but because of a fatality on the railway line (poor sod) the journey was actually seven hours. It did give me some much needed time to try and write a bit more music for a planned instrumental psychadelic Prog- jazz project I have been working on for some time. So out came the manuscript paper and iPad keyboard (I love GarageBand!). I arrived in St Ives time for the soundcheck, quick Mexican dinner, check in at the Western Hotel and then the gig. It was a great gig and everyone was on form (John Etheridge on guitar, Roy Babbington on bass, John Marshall on drums, Keith Tippett on piano and your truly on sax, flute, keyboards and a bit of electronic jiggery-pokery). We went for a quick drink afterwards at the Kettle and Wink pub under our hotel where John Etheridge whipped out his guitar and sat in with the local band to much applause.

So it is now the following day and I have arrived home (late because of another fatality on the railway line…) and ready for a nice cuppa tea….Phew.

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Steven Wilson Tour Blogs book going to the printers

I have now had the final draft of my new book – 'Twice around the world- Steven Wilson tour blogs 2012-2013′ and it is looking fabulous. Initially it is only going to those who pre-ordered through Kickstarter, but it will go on general release through this site probably in September with pre-orders from August. Watch this space. Exciting stuff!
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2014 – so far…

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.

Latest listening 

  • David Torn – Tripping over God
  • Soft Machine – Seven
  • Wagner – Tristan and Isolde, Prelude
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The Royal Albert Hall

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!)

Royal Albert Hall 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.

Encore at the Royal Albert HallI 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. 

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Tour Blog Part 33 : Santiago, Chile

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.

The flight was full and as I am quite tall, not very comfortable. I watched much of the film 'Inception' which is a Christopher Nolan science fiction film with Leonardo de Caprio that Steven had recommended. A thriller about getting inside someones dream (and dream within a dream) in order to plant an idea to change the future for personal and political gain, it is an interesting and very well made film, but by 2am I had had enough and needed to sleep. After dozing but not sleeping for a while and then a sort of rubber scrambled egg breakfast, I revisited Pat Metheny's 'Still Life (Talking) on the in-flight audio system which I loved in the late 1980s and had not heard for years. It is one of his classics. We flew into Chile over the Andes mountains and it was cool to see them as we descended.

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.


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Tour Blog Part 32 : Teatro Metropolitan, Mexico City

Fans in Mexico

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.

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Tour Blog Part 31 : LA - Mexico City

Mexico City

The day off in Downtown LA was relaxing. I had planned to meet up with a friend who I last saw in September when we were in L.A recording 'the Raven...' album at East West studios on Sunset Boulevard. However she had to cancel so I just chilled most of the day and was not very sociable. I did get concerned however when from my hotel room I heard some screeching tyres then a very loud bang. It sounded like a nasty traffic accident. I was even more surprised when about 30 mins later I heard another screech of tyres and an equally loud bang. I thought maybe the first accident had been in a hidden spot so someone else had driven straight into them. Ouch! An hour later I heard yet another screech and bang. This was getting weird. I decided to get out of my room and go for a walk to see what downtown LA is like as I have never been here. On the next block was a whole film crew and movie cameras and lots of people milling about with megaphones. It seems that a movie for Universal was being shot right there. Some cops and robbers type thing featuring Ice T and they were filming a scene with screeching cars and an explosion. Well I guess Hollywood is just down the road, so fair enough I thought. 

I took a long walk down 7th Street, past the Jewellery district and the Fashion district. On Broadway I saw some historic movie houses that have been renovated, some as performance spaces. Some of the buildings and shops looked pretty run down, and others just old. There has been a lot of renovation however including lots of new Loft space apartments. I chanced upon an interesting alley called St Vincent's Court (photo right), which has a slightly surreal feel to it and doesn't seem to fit with neighbouring 7th St. A cobbled street mainly full of Mediterranean and European small eateries it has a quaintness unlike any of the surrounding area and feels a little like a slice of Victorian London or Paris. I did find an amazing 'Juice Crafters' bar nearby and bought what is called an 'Oh yes', which was quite delicious. I later bought a light Mexican dinner which was a) not great but OK, and b) pretty dumb considering I was flying to Mexico the next day. Seemed like the right thing at the time, though... The following morning our lobby call was 6.45 am. This is a bit of a change from getting up on the tour bus at around 10.30 am. As we were flying, we had to take all the stage equipment with us, so all the guitars, basses, pedal boards, effects, lights, microphones, stage backdrop etc had to be checked in as baggage. We needed to allow some extra time for this as it can get complicated, especially if the airport staff at check-in happen to have got out of bed on the wrong side and decide to take it out on you. So we got to LAX airport and checked in etc and thankfully it was not too bad. The flight was completely full, so although I took my tenor sax as hand luggage, there was no room for it in the overhead lockers, and the air stewardess took it from me to put it somewhere - I assumed a cupboard or something. The flight itself was 3.5 hours and was OK. When we landed that was when the fun started. First of all, I was told my tenor sax was not in a cupboard but had been put in the hold. I have heard several stories of a saxophone going into the hold of an aircraft and coming out trashed, or flattened, or separate from its case. So I was indeed concerned. Then when we got out of the plane, it took 75 minutes to get through passport control. Argh! Luckily my sax was OK, but when we reached customs they decided to ask for every case to be opened, all the equipment to be explained and listed - every pedal and lead and instrument and light, and relevant forms to be filled in. This took an extra hour. Ian our front of house sound man stepped up as acting tour manager and dealt with it all very well without visibly showing the annoyance I am sure he was feeling! 

Finally we arrived at our hotel and after briefly freshening up, a few of us went out to dinner, before strolling round the square across the road, where there was a buzzing market place. Tacos stands, jewellery, dodgy DVDs, trinkets, food and three big dance floors full of people salsa dancing the night away. Very cool. Welcome to Mexico!

St Vincent's
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Tour Blog Part 30 : San Francisco - Club Nokia, Los Angeles, California

Adam and Theo
Club Nokia
The gig at the Fillmore is the last one with Marco (at least for a while), so it gave it an extra poignancy. Plus of course it is such a classic venue. You cannot but be humbled walking around the backstage area, seeing posters of Miles Davis, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, Sly Stone, the Mahavishnu Orchestra etc etc. So it was going to be a special gig. When we hit the stage it was interesting to see all the familiar faces of the fans we had met and spoken to at the Amoeba Records performance and signing. I felt like I knew half the audience! And there was the girl with the Steven Wilson tattoo on her arm in the middle of the front row. Maybe I should not be surprised because it was San Francisco but I do believe I could smell dope wafting across the stage during the show.

The gig felt good and relaxed. The advantage of doing 70 plus shows with the same band is that you become very comfortable with the material, even when it is complicated music. So you can relax more and feel less and less tense about forgetting something or not being able to play a certain part correctly. And for the improvised solo sections, you dig deep to find different things to play each night, because I generally want to repeat myself as little as possible. I can only remember one time in my life when I played the exact same solo each night, and it was when I filled in to help out a Pink Floyd tribute band called 'In the Flesh' for about 8 gigs in 2010. The job there was to play Dick Parry's solos on 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' and 'Money' note for note and to be honest I was more than happy to do so as I had known those iconic sax solos since childhood and always loved them. In fact when I first started out, I am sure I stood in my bedroom and played the 'Shine on..' sax solo along with the record 'Wish You Were Here' pretending I was in Pink Floyd. My version of the solo is on youtube actually. I think it is not bad (even if I do say so myself)... see video:

The coach home


However, I digress... After the SF gig I went out with Nick to sign CDs and programmes and meet and greet. It was good to meet fans and get feedback on everything. Then there was a backstage 'hang' with various friends of the band. I had the pleasure of meeting the third member of Marco and Guthrie's band the Aristocrats - Bryan Beller who is an excellent bass player and a very nice chap to boot. Also there was the very talented Mike Keneally who is playing with Marco and Bryan in the Joe Satriani Band. Innerviews writer Anil Prasad and his wife and a friend were there too. 

This was to be our last night on the tour bus as from LA on, it is to be all planes and hotels. After the LA gig we fly to Mexico, then to Chile, then to Brazil. I have got used to the bus and sleep fine on it. It is also nice being able to sleep in in the mornings and have your little travelling house (photo right) with you on the road and backstage too . So we drove overnight to LA and in the morning left the bus for our hotel which we are in for 2 nights. After checking in and relaxing for a bit, it was off to the Nokia Theatre for soundcheck and gig. Chad Wackerman was back with us now, so we had an extra long soundcheck for him to run through some of the songs. After all, this is complicated music and he has not played with us for nearly a month. Amazingly he has now learnt all the music off by heart and was to play without any reminder notes to refer to. The soundcheck was fine although I was not sure how it was going to be without Marco. There was then hours of waiting around until the gig. This was a little dull as the gig was a late one and we were not going on till after 9pm. 

The gig itself was surprisingly good. We wondered if the audience would be a bit "LA" and laid back, but they were very responsive. Steven talked a lot on the microphone and was very funny. He mentioned before we went on that this is the last English speaking audience for this part tour, so he thought he would go that extra mile with the chat and anecdotes. He is very good at all of that. Chad was absolutely superb. Not only had he learnt all the parts perfectly, he played with a lot of fire and added his own personal sound and groove to the songs. Very impressive and we all commented afterwards what enjoyable gig it had been.

In the VIP lounge it was good to see Rob Trujillo again. He is the bass player with the band Metallica, knows Nick and is a big fan of this band. He was raving about our gig when he came to the show last year at the House of Blues, LA and he thought tonight had taken it up a level. When a member of Metallica, who are one of the heaviest bands on the planet, thinks your band really rocks, that is one heck of an endorsement! Alan Parsons and his band also came along too, though by the time I got to the party, they had already left. Oh well. So day off now, then off to Mexico. Hola amigos!

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Tour Blog Part 29 : The Fillmore, San Francisco

So we left the strange world of the Nevada desert hotel/casino with the endless corridors in which it was very hard to find lifts and when you did, most of them only took you to the casino on floor 3 and not the ground floor reception and exit, with its thousands of fruit machines and neon lights. Strange to see people smoking indoors again as they seem to be allowed to there, and why was no one smiling anywhere? Curious place. 

We drove over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, passing the small island on the way in where the famous Alcatraz prison had been. The weather was like your average grey day in London in March. We were staying in a part of San Francisco called Little Saigon in a funky hotel with rooms around a pool and bar area. My room has a radio alarm and with a nature sounds option which I put on out of curiosity. Wind chimes, birds, and some sea sounds. Ahh. Very relaxing while I read the hotel manual:

 "California is prone to earthquakes. If one should occur, hotel guests should crawl under a solid table or piece of furniture, or stand under an open doorway, or get on your knees and bend down, cover yourself with blankets and wait for the earthquake to end." .....OK..! 

The whole band was performing a short set in Amoeba records, a wonderful and huge independent record store on legendary Haight St. We arrived early to set up and it was a very stripped down affair with just our basic equipment. I personally find it a lot of fun performing in this way. A kind of back to basics type gig. There was quite a bit of free time and the store very kindly gave us each a $40 to spend on whatever we liked. I met my friend the writer Anil Prasad who made some suggestions and I eventually decided on Pharoah Sanders - Thembi, Terye Rypdal - Crime Scene, XTC - Skylarking, and Oregon - Beyond Words. Have now given them a spin at the hotel and so far enjoying them a lot - particularly Thembi. The band performance was fun and I thought went well. We then spent over an hour signing people's albums in the store. Steven certainly has a lot of dedicated fans. One had a tattoo of Steven' s face on her arm. 

Eventually we got back to the hotel and after freshening up, Adam, Nick, Steven, Anil and I went out for an excellent meal at a nearby vegetarian Thai restaurant. Good food and some most interesting stories and talk. Then a late hang in the groovy hotel bar where the walls were lined with shelves stacked full of vinyl albums and more good talk. 

In the morning I took a stroll up to Mel's diner which is a classic 1950s style American diner, the sort featured in the film 'American Graffiti'. Lots of 1950s style artwork and Americana. Happy smiling all American families and shiny pink Buicks and Cadillacs. I ate some pretty average eggs and toast and strolled back passing the Great American Music Hall. I remember well playing there with Gong on the ill-fated US tour of 2000. Actually that gig was pretty good for us, but I do remember the support act which was Kevin Ayers and band. Back in the 1960s he was in the original Soft Machine with Daevid Allen and he had a rich baritone voice and some strong songs. However that night, he had to be helped onto the stage and after his set practically carried off the stage because he had taken some horse tranquillisers (ketamine) which he said was..err...accidental. Needless to say, it was not his finest performance. 

So I am sitting backstage at the Fillmore, San Francisco waiting for soundcheck. This is a classic venue and the walls are lined with posters of all the great bands that have played here over the years.

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Tour Blog Part 28 : Minneapolis - Boulder

Group photo by Diana Nitschke

The gig in Minneapolis was at Fine Line Music Cafe - a smaller venue than usual for this band. The upside was that there was an intimate atmosphere and it was like an atmospheric pub. The downside was that the stage was small, and being at the back and at the side, I had quite a lot less space than usual. The gig went well. I noticed someone on the front row wearing a 'The World is Everything' David Sylvian 2007 tour T-shirt. That was the tour I played on, though only the first couple of weeks as I was a last minute addition to the line up and I had a Soft Machine Legacy tour I was already committed to that clashed with David's dates. The gigs I did do were fabulous and a real treat. Also in the front row were four of Steven's biggest fans who I subsequently discovered had been to the gigs in Boston, Albany, Chicago and now Minneapolis. That is some travelling! I also heard that some people travelled a very long way to this particular gig, because it was such a small venue. I did wonder if Prince might wander in to the gig, as I had heard that that was exactly the sort of thing he would do if in town - just turn up and check out bands. But he did not.

Fine Line Music Cafe
Boulder Theatre

After the gig, DJ Wilson played some great tracks in the dressing room, including some by Pete Townsend, the Carpenters and a very interesting album by the guitarist from the Swedish metal band Meshuggah, Fredrik Thordendal called 'Sol Niger Within'.

Once back on the bus, I stayed up quite late chatting to Adrian who had asked for my recommendations for great jazz albums that might interest him, given his general musical taste (which includes lots of progressive rock) and the albums he already has (which include various by Weather Report and Pat Metheny). A list was duly discussed and compiled.

Then went to sleep somewhere just outside Minneapolis and woke up in Omaha, Nebraska, once called the 'Gateway to the West', where we had day rooms in a hotel whilst the driver had his 14 hour break. An interesting place, it was once vital for transportation routes across the US and meatpacking plants and had huge stockyards and a big railroad industry. It was where the Enola Gay plane was built and it is one of the fastest regenerating cities in America. I went for a wander and a coffee with Guthrie which was most pleasant. There was an 'OK Corral' feel to the tourist section where we were, and a lovely riverfront too, on the banks of the Missouri. Notable people from Omaha - Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire, Warren Buffet and Elliot Smith. Had a good day off and at midnight we rolled out of town for Boulder, Colorado.

The gig was in a lovely theatre called the Boulder Theatre (photo right). It has a very nice layout and reminded me of the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, near Philadelphia. The town itself is beautiful and the whole pedestrian central part in downtown Boulder has a wonderful feel to it. Lots of Arts and Crafts shops, jewellery shops, vintage clothing places, funky cafes and eateries and very clean. Interestingly we saw no McDonalds or other fast food chains, a couple of hiking shops and very few overweight people! The weather was good, but I was subsequently informed there had been 5 inches of snow only a few days before. I noticed the air being thin and indeed we were 5400 feet above sea level. So after a coffee with Nick sitting out in the main drag, and mooching around in the dressing room and backstage, I had a shower and then went for a walk, looking in some of the crafts shops and got back for soundcheck at 4.30pm. Despite it being a soundcheck after a day off which is usually a recipe for fun for all and having a cool jam, we did not today, and it felt a bit flat (as soundchecks go). No idea why. After that Steven, Adam, Guthrie and I went to find a restaurant for dinner and we found a great vegetarian restaurant called Aji at 1601 Pearl St where we had a delicious meal, possibly the best dinner of the US tour so far. Two of us had a Pad Thai and Steven had something called 'forbidden black rice' that sounded so intriguing he felt compelled to order it.

The gig itself felt really good. Despite some of the guys in the band not feeling 100% (though you would not have known from their performances), I think we all played well and the audience was really fantastic.

Back on the bus, we left about 1 am and I woke up somewhere in the desert in Utah. The driver was having his break and so we had day rooms in a massive hotel and casino in the middle of nowhere. I think we were not too far from Wendover, near Salt Lake City. Thousands of fruit machines by the hotel reception, thousands of rooms, hotel corridors a mile long and nothing but wide open desert outside the windows. Roll on San Francisco....

Utah
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Tour Blog Part 27 : Park West, Chicago, Illinois

Park West

The venue Park West is nicely laid out. The dressing room is not very large, but the backstage bathroom and shower were good (best tiling of any on the tour so far!). We set up on what is a wide but shallow stage with access only on the side that I am not on. The previous gig at the Cleveland House of Blues had a very deep stage and good access at both sides. Much easier for getting on and off for the songs I do not play on. The shallow stage in Chicago meant the audience felt very close to the band. We could see the whites of their eyes and I certainly felt more visible too. 

Oh yes. One thing I forgot to say about the Cleveland gig was that I found a room backstage to do some clarinet practice. As a woodwind player, particularly a reeds player, one really does need to practice to keep one's sound, embouchure, and general technique. I am much less of a clarinet player than a sax and flute player, so it was very useful to do some practice. The benefit of the practice was very noticeable to me on both the Cleveland and Chicago shows. I wish I could do it every day when on tour, but the facilities generally are just not there. I am sure it would be very annoying to the other guys in the band if in a small dressing room I was practising my scales up and down and squeaking away on those high notes when they were trying to chill out. 

The Chicago gig was apparently gig number 75 that this band has done since starting in October 2011. That is a lot! We toured Oct/Nov 2011, April/May 2012, and now. Steven, Nick, Adam and I have done every gig. Marco didn't do the couple Chad Wackerman did (and Chad is coming back soon) and there have been four guitarists, so Guthrie is the new boy. I remember well the gig we did at Chicago Park West on 18 Nov 2011, as it was the last gig we did with the guitarist John Wesley and the final gig on that first tour. Also, after the gig Steven's manager Andy Leff sat each member of the band down in the venue and told us how much Steven had loved that tour and playing with the band and how he wanted to continue with it and do more - and were we interested? Until then it had really just been an experiment to see how it all went. So here we are 18 months later with the new album which we recorded together in Los Angeles doing very well and the band going from strength to strength. 

The Chicago gig went down a storm and the audience was excellent. We did the song 'Sectarian' tonight but instead of the gauze at the front of the stage dropping in the middle of the song, it was decided to drop it after the end of the song. This was because with the curved shape of the front of the stage and the way the gauze was hung, it was thought that when it fell it might land on Steven, Guthrie and Nick's heads, and it might turn into an unplanned comedy moment. It would have looked ridiculous if Steven was walking around onstage with a white sheet on his head! When the gauze did come down, this did not infact happen, but it could have, so it was probably a wise precaution. 

After the encore, I went out to meet and greet fans again and sign autographs. Nice to meet the good people of Chicago and beyond and talk to some very appreciative fans who had clearly loved the show. 

Back onto the bus for another Jeremy Brett episode of Sherlock Holmes (the Solitary Cyclist) on DVD and then to bed. Next stop Minneapolis, home of the legendary artist known as Prince. Tried to check out some of his stuff on Youtube, but there is actually not so much there. Apparently he has his lawyers take down as many unauthorised clips as they can. Some random Prince information - In 2001 he became a Jehovah's Witness and he still sometimes knocks on people's doors to discuss his faith. He is a vegetarian and in 2006 was voted 'Worlds sexiest vegetarian'. His releases have sold over 80 million copies and he has won 7 Grammys. He was called 'Skipper' when he was a little boy. 

I went for a short walk to grab a coffee, and saw two strange things: a 'Pedal Pub', which is a bike for 10 people with a bar; and the Target Centre (or Center) which is a big arena for basketball and concerts and on the entrances are signs 'No guns are allowed on the premises'. Welcome to America.

Pedal Pub
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Tour Blog Part 26 : House of Blues, Cleveland, Ohio

The House of Blues

The venue was the Cleveland 'House of Blues'. This is a chain and on previous US tours with Steven we played a few of these - LA, Dallas and Orlando come to mind. Many years ago I played at the one in Harvard Square, Boston with the band Gong, and I remember seeing Dan Aykroyd there chatting to someone. I think that was actually the original one and he started the chain with John Belushi and others. These venues are nicely laid out and the facilities are usually pretty good. This one was no exception. 

So the Soundcheck-After-Day-Off (SADO?) was again a good one. After the usual checks of the system, equipment and monitors, we launched into an instrumental jam that was pretty happening. Definitely musically a notch up from previous ones. Mainly open improvs with grooves and there was one piece that referenced Miles' track Tutu. Adam was of course on that original album. There was an electric Miles vibe to some other parts, and overall some good music was made, methinks. Much fun too. 

The gig was not till 9pm so there was a long gap after the soundcheck. We ordered dinner to be delivered backstage and I ordered a Buttermilk Grilled Chicken which was so ridiculously large I barely managed to eat half of it before feeling totally stuffed. Marco has a USB memory stick full of Hitchcock movies, so I took the opportunity to watch on the bus 'Frenzy' which I had not seen. It is a classic Hitchcock film from 1972 and very much a London film, made largely around Covent Garden when it was still a fruit and veg market. It was Hitchcock's first film back in London after having filmed many in America and great to see Covent Garden and central London as it was in 1972. Interestingly, the directors own father had worked in that market and Hitchcock wanted to capture film of the market as a working fruit and veg market before that was all transferred elsewhere, which happened in 1974. It is about a serial killer and is a thriller. A great film - I enjoyed it very much.

The gig itself was good. A very enthusiastic audience verging on rowdy at times, and in fact Steven did say at one point "Are you listening to me?" as a few members of the audience seemed to be going over the top. However when Steven asked for quiet for the opening section of the song 'Raider 2' which has long quiet pauses in, the audience was completely silent. I was impressed. We played the slightly different set to the night before as there were fans that were attending both shows. Afterwards a few of us went out to the merch' table to autograph CDs etc and shake some hands.

Then onto the bus for the overnight drive to Chicago. The bus has two lounges both with TV and DVD players, a bathroom, small kitchen with sink, fridge, freezer, microwave and kettle, lots of storage and also comfy seats/sofas and twelve bunks which are not huge but comfortable. Each bunk has a curtain for privacy. I sleep fine on the bus and it makes complete sense to tour like this, doing the big drives while we sleep. I took a couple of photos to let you have a peek into our private bus world.

We rolled into a rainy Chicago this morning for our first time zone change of the tour. Clocks one hour back. The venue is Park West and is another good one. Should be fun tonight.

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Tour Blog Part 25 : Mr. Small's Funhouse, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia

Mr. Small's Funhouse, Pittsburgh

Day off. Hurrah. After a relaxing day of rest, emails, a shower and general catching up on stuff, I wanted to go out to get something to eat. There had been some emails going around mid afternoon suggesting going out for a meal, but these seemed to stop around 5 pm. I assumed either my email was not working or people had gone off separately and I was not invited. So I leave my room around 7.30pm to wander off all by my lonesome..., and then I bump into Nick in the lift. Turns out he is going to get something to eat on his own. So we wander out together. Great. We find a cafe that looks nice and take a look inside. Hey - there is Harv and Adrian. We ask if they want to eat and Harv does so comes along with us. We find a cool bar that does pizzas and light bites and go in and sit by the window and order. Five minutes later there are 3 more of the guys and some friends standing outside the window on their way to dinner. Adam leaves them and joins our growing party. So it is quite a gathering now. We are sitting at our table by the window and ten minutes later, there is Steven outside wandering down the street on his own. We wave him in pleased to see him. "Hey guys, no one invited me out to dinner! " he says. So I explain that no one asked anyone, and by chance we all met up and he joins us and a good time was had by all.

 I chose the local speciality pizza which was with spicy chicken and peppers and with French fries actually on the pizza. Then we shared some pieces of deep fried cheesecake. I know, it all sounds a bit Glasgow, but it tasted pretty good actually. 

The next day the van picked us up to take us to the venue, Mr Small's which is a converted church. On the way to the venue we saw another converted church, that one converted to a brewery. I have not seen that before. Drink of the devil indeed... 

There was some free time before the soundcheck so a few of us went to an amazing nearby record store called Attic Records. Wow. It was huge and had thousands of vinyl albums, and some really obscure CDs and records and multiple copies of rare records. The helpful proprietor explained there was even more stock in a separate building. I don't think I can ever remember seeing more vinyl in a record store. I was particularly interested in seeing some rare jazz flute albums, but didn't buy anything as I would have to carry it round South America and my baggage weight allowance is already up to the max. 

The gig itself was good. We dropped 'No part of me' and brought back 'Sectarian' which worked well. Sectarian is played mainly behind the gauze and amusingly Steven larked about a bit during it. I think it is great that even though he has so much on his shoulders with the concerts and the organisation of the tour and he is so focused and acutely aware of everything going on onstage, he can still relax and have a bit of a laugh during the gig. 

Before playing 'Harmonie Korine' Steven asked the audience who had seen the extraordinary new film 'Springbreakers' as it was directed by him and is his first mainstream movie. He mentioned the scene in which a Britney Spears song is sung by the James Franco character, and it reminded me of the incredible cover of a Britney Spears song that my friend Andy Tillison introduced me to. It is by the Swedish trio 'Dirty Loops' and I think it is stunning how they have transformed what for me is a very produced computer assembled sounding track that is lifeless and dull, into a fantastic song that totally comes alive when played by this killing young band. It sounds like they are having a ball too. It has to be one of the best cover versions I have heard and in my humble opinion wipes the floor with the original. See what you think. 

At the beginning of the encore we tried an alternative version of 'Luminol' inspired by the band The Shaggs. I am not sure how that went down, but it was fun to do and unusual...Then we played 'Remainder the black dog' and 'No Twilight'. Again I went out to the merchandise table after the gig for photos and to sign autographs as did some of the others. We left for Cleveland after the gig, and at 4 am I got up to go to the bathroom on the bus, and I bumped into Marco, who said the three magic words 'Rooms are ready'. We had actually reached the hotel in Cleveland by 4 am and could check in to our rooms already. Splendid.
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Tour Blog Part 24 : Upstate Concert Hall, Albany, New York

​After another night drive we arrived in Albany, New York for the triple bill with Opeth and Katatonia. I rolled out of the tour bus and into the venue and bumped into Opeth's leader, guitarist and frontman Mikael Akerfeldt. We had not met before but we knew who each other were. Mikael immediately said how much he loves Stevens album 'the Raven that refused to sing', and we both said how much we were looking forward to hearing each other's band live. Seems like a nice guy. 

After much hanging around, we sound checked at about 4pm. We ran the usual couple of songs to check everything was working and for Ian, our front of house sound engineer to fine tune the sound. We take our own mixing desk and cables and microphones on the road with us, but not stage monitors (for those who do not use in ear monitors) or PA system. So everything needs checking but Ian and the crew are extremely good and it is all done quickly and efficiently. 

One thing I have been enjoying recently onstage is the small spinning conch shaped gong that Marco bought in Amsterdam off my friend Steve Hubback which he has incorporated into his drum kit. It has a beautiful and enchanting sound and when it is struck it spins around as does the sound it makes. Marco usually strikes it at certain particular points in the show like at the end of the song 'Index' and the sound always shines through. It always makes me smile. 

The first band on was Katatonia who are a Swedish metal band. I only heard a bit of their set which sounded OK but not particularly for me. We then went onstage at 8 pm. The crowd was packed into the space and there were a lot of people there. With a low ceiling and a packed club you might expect it to be very hot and sweaty onstage, but the air conditioning was so powerful I was actually cold onstage as gusts of Arctic-like wind blew down on my head. It felt rather strange. Our set was shorter than normal because of the triple bill, so we had to lose a few songs. It all went well though and we got a great response. 

After a quick changeover, Opeth came onstage. I have not head their music before, but have been aware of them for years as Steven has produced some of their albums, is a good friend of Mikael and also collaborated with him on the 'Storm Corrosion' project. Their set was very varied and included some very heavy songs with what is called 'death growl' vocals, which sounds to you and me like the Cookie Monster from the Muppets. Actually I have never experienced this live before and it was not as silly sounding as I expected. Some heavy metal has high pitched screaming and that can sound even more ridiculous. The death growling was only on the heaviest of songs and it does kind of work with the music. The following day I even checked out the 'How to death growl' videos on Youtube out of curiosity. Looks like you make a sort of clearing your throat sound, and then speak or sing as low as possible and loud. Hmm...Then there was a track called 'Atonement' which was introduced as their psychedelic song and I thought it did have a '60s psychedelia vibe to it. Then some strong acoustic guitar songs which were still dark and ominous sounding and also a beautiful song from their recent Heritage album. So a huge range and because of that, everything made everything else sound more dramatic and interesting. There was also space in the music and everything was very well played. I saw just about the whole set and was impressed and enjoyed it. 

A friend of Steven's who was hanging out backstage said she was from New Jersey and when I said I had spent some time there and has been to Point Pleasant Beach she told me of the devastation there and along the coast at Seaside Heights from Hurricane Sandy. I remember that beach well and was shocked to see some photos of the destruction caused. 

I had an early- ish night and awoke in Pittsburgh in the rain where we are having a day off in a hotel. Yeah! Random piece of band information for the day...most quoted film this week - 'Withnail and I'.

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Tour Blog Part 23 : New York - Boston

Best Buy Theatre

Before the New York gig I met up with Leonardo Pavkovic of MoonJune records and manager of Soft Machine Legacy . He brought me some copies of our new album 'Burden of Proof' which I had not seen yet and wanted to have for myself and also to sell on this tour. The music is kind of ' psychedelic free improv' bluesy progressive jazz', so should be of interest to some fans of Steven's band. We went out for coffee and some proper New York cheesecake which was good but pretty rich! Good to catch up on news too. 

The gig itself went well. A big crowd which was actually about 50% bigger than last time. The audience was enthusiastic and speaking to people later they all said they really enjoyed it, but compared to the Montreal audience they were notably quieter. There were some loud heckles too and we even had to restart one song. Adam had lots of friends, family and students at the show and he played particularly well I thought. Afterwards, I saw my friend the singer songwriter and jazz bass player John Lester who moved to New York not long ago, and is about to move back to San Francisco. He made a jazz quartet album in London called 'Jazz?' recently that I featured on with great jazz arrangements of rock songs by artists like the Cure, Tori Amos, the Police, Crowded House and others. 

After the show I started to feel a sore throat coming on. The following morning when I woke up in Boston I felt a bit rough and it did not improve much during the day. I was supposed to meet some good friends for dinner but cancelled as I just needed to chill out and try and feel better for the gig. I did meet up with my sister in law and her children in the afternoon for coffee and that was really nice. She said they live 3 minutes from where the Boston bombers lived and the kids go to school in Watertown, Boston where the bombs went off. Fortunately they are all fine though. 

Sometimes when you feel a bit rough on tour and there is no hotel so you just have to hang around backstage or on the tour bus it can be a bit of a drag. I later heard that Marco did not feel so good during the day either. However when we walked onstage at 8pm, I felt OK. The gig was at the Berklee Performance Centre, which is the concert hall at the Berklee College of music. It is world famous for its jazz course and there are a lot of famous jazz musicians who have attended the college like Branford Marsalis, Keith Jarrett and Gary Burton. Some well known rock musicians too like Mike Portnoy and Steve Vai. So we were very aware that there were going to be lots of musicians in the audience and indeed there were. Maybe it was the contrast with the rest of the day, but for whatever reason it felt fantastic walking onstage. The fun we had been having on the soundcheck on 'Luminol' seemed to be creeping into the gig version, and it sounded totally on fire to me. The audience was really stoked and very enthusiastic. The show itself went very well I thought and for the first part of the encore we did something very unusual and a bit crazy but both amusing and actually pretty musical in a very off the wall way. I won't say any more...Then we played the more usual encore medley of 'Remainder the black dog' into 'No Twilight'. 

Afterwards I went out to sign CDs and programmes etc with Nick and we met and chatted with some fans. One guy had flown all the way from Australia for the gig! 

Tomorrow Albany, New York for a triple bill with Opeth (who I have not seen or heard before but heard lots about) and Katatonia. Apparently Albany is the capital of New York State, not New York City. Seems odd, but maybe it is a way to share out things bit. It will be interesting to see how it works having three bands all setting up, soundchecking and performing on the same bill. Could be interesting (or chaos!).

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Tour Blog Part 22 : Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Club Soda, Montreal
Theo on Soprano Sax

So on gig day we arrived at the venue about 2.30 pm. I set up my instruments, then met up with the great music writer John Kelman and his friend and a few of us went out for coffee, cake and chat which was nice. We came back for the soundcheck and played through 'Luminol' first. There is something that happens when we play that song on the soundcheck after a day off, particularly during the keyboard solo section near the beginning. We all go a bit crazy, let off steam and play with a really powerful energy just enjoying being back on the stage and playing again with this wonderful group of musicians. 

In the dressing room, Steven mentioned that the new album has now sold 8000 copies on vinyl alone. This is obviously a small fraction of total sales, but it is lot of vinyl copies, and would have been unthinkable 15 years ago. Interesting just how much there is a resurgence of interest in vinyl. The gig itself was amazing. The audience was ridiculous (good ridiculous!). We walked onstage to a deafening roar which kept going for quite a while. I looked out and saw half the front row all were wearing black 'Raven' T-shirts. The enthusiasm continued throughout the gig. It was nice to get some applause after my sax solo in the song 'Pindrop'. At the end of the gig after the encore, the audience was so enthusiastic Steven decided to go back on for a second encore. We have not done this before and it was not planned. I think it took the crew by surprise, but with an audience response like that we had to do something. After it was all over I went out to the merchandise stand to sign autographs and where I sold over double the number of copies of my CD 'Follow' than on any other gig to date. Good to meet some fans and Facebook 'friends' too. 

After the gig we headed off back to America. It was going to take an hour to reach the border crossing, so we watched one of the Jeremy Brett episodes of Sherlock Holmes that Adam had brought on DVD called The Dancing Men. Most enjoyable. We reached the border at about 2.45 am and it took an hour to get through everything, so I finally got to bed at 3.45am exhausted. 

I woke up whilst the tour bus was driving into New York. There is something very exciting about driving into Manhattan on a tour bus on the way to a gig there. I remember well driving into New York in 2000 with the band Gong on a converted Greyhound bus listening to a great McCoy Tyner CD 'Infinity' on the way to our gig at the hip venue/club called the Knitting Factory (now no more). As a British jazz musician, gigging in New York is always going to feel really special. We drove through the Bronx and Harlem and down Broadway towards Times Square where we are playing tonight at the Best Buy Theatre.

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