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Steven Wilson Tour Blog 2013

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Tour Blog Part 35 : Sao Paolo, Brazil

Teatro Bradesco, Sao Paolo, Brazil

And so we come to the last gig of this whirlwind tour. 3 continents, 14 countries, 39 cities, 40 concerts, playing to around 60,000 people. It has been one hell of a ride. The final gig was in São Paulo, Brazil. When we landed in São Paulo we went straight to the hotel. Most of us were pretty wiped out, so had room service dinner which was very good. The following day I spent quite a lot of time on FaceTime (which is like Skype but even better and only on Apple Macs) speaking with home in England dealing with family matters.

Eventually I went out for a walk just to take a look around the area local to the hotel. After all, I was in Brazil. At home the stereotypical image of Brazil is sunshine, beautiful beaches like Ipanema, smiling beautiful people and a sun baked outdoor life. Well, on my short walk, the heavens opened and I got drenched with rain. More like Manchester! I did take refuge in Starbucks, also known to some as the American Embassy, had a coffee and then looked around some shops before returning to the hotel. We left for the gig at 5 pm, though the crew had been there all day setting up. Despite the venue being a beautiful and large concert hall which reminded me of the Royal Festival Hall in London, unfortunately the in house crew and technicians were not great. In fact several of our crew, who are all fantastic said they had had the most difficult day of their working lives.

Things not turning up for hours, staff not doing their job, people being generally very unhelpful and chatting with their mates rather than working etc etc. However the two women who were representatives from the Promoter were excellent and very helpful. It is a credit to our guys that Steven did not even know there had been any problem until after the show, because they had made it all happen despite the poor in house crew. In the dressing room, Steven practised his introduction to the audience in Portuguese. He commented just how different it is to Spanish, but I think he did a good job at learning his bit.

Anyway...we went onstage at 9.30 pm. The audience was seated and until Steven asked them to stand, the response was very appreciative but slightly muted. It seems that when an audience stands the level of vocal enthusiasm increases significantly.

Actually the whole subject of how an audience responds is interesting. There were people in the audience who I know were listening intensely to the gig and very much enjoying it. They applauded enthusiastically but did not go crazy. I know this does not mean they liked it any less than those who did go crazy. I myself have been at concerts I loved, but did not go crazy.

For some, or many, listening to music is a very personal experience and an internal and almost solitary experience, even when there is a crowd. Music can affect one deeply and that need not necessarily go hand in hand with whooping and hollering and jumping up and down. So I do very much understand that. However.....standing on stage, it does fire up and inspire the band if the audience does go wild (as opposed to go mild).

I should say that the audiences have been absolutely fabulous on this tour, with special mentions (as far as I can remember in this jet-lagged state) for those in Montreal, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Mexico, Philadelphia, Glasgow and Paris.

So the gig in Sao Paulo went very well. We played well I think, the sound was good, the crowd was lovely. A couple of things did make me laugh out loud (or should I say 'lol'....argh) First of all, in the song 'Watchmaker', the gauze comes down at the front of the stage for the film, then the lights go up on the band and we play behind the gauze. When the lights went up, the gauze was resting on Guthrie's guitar and right in his face. Steven looked like he was sitting in a tent and Nick's tambourine and microphone were completely smothered! Jason and Scott from our crew ran around trying to pull it off them while Steven sang, but I think there was a big smile on his face, as it was all a little 'Spinal Tap'.

The other thing that still makes me smile, even after all these gigs is during the song 'Harmonie Korine', when Nick strikes a certain pose, which I call the 'Bassman of the Apocalypse'. (photo right) It looks like he is in a trance communing with a greater being directly above his head and channeling some incredible energy down the neck of his bass, like a lightening rod. I love it and it does make me chuckle.

After the gig I met up with my friend Leonardo Pavkovic from Moonjune records, who is also the manager of Soft Machine Legacy (and Allan Holdsworth and others). He is also a friend of Chad's. He is a top man and works very hard for music he is passionate about. My other guests were Fabio Golfetti and his son who came along with Leonardo. Fabio is the current guitarist in the band Gong, and I met him when I sat in with that band at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London last November. A very good guitarist and lovely bloke he is also involved in record distribution and dealt with distribution of some of the early Porcupine Tree albums in Brazil.

We chatted backstage for a while before going back to the hotel. As it was the last night of the tour we all had a very enjoyable drink in the bar before turning in. Great to talk with Nick (amongst others) about the scene in Birmingham in the early 1980s - the Rum Runner club, Barbarellas, Duran Duran, the group Fashion and the hip Oasis clothes market with its cool stalls where I used to hang out as a young teenager marvelling at the weird beautiful people.

By about 3 am it was time for packing my things for leaving and for sleep. The following morning I hoped to meet my friend Dave Sturt for breakfast as he had flown into São Paulo that morning for a couple of Gong gigs. There was a plan, but as he had just done the overnight flight from the UK, I was not surprised he did not make it. I did meet up with Leonardo again, with Chad and Adam and had a good chat over breakfast. We then said our good byes to the Americans in our group who were flying later and we left for the airport and the flight home. Ahhh......home. Looking forward to that very much.

So there we have it. The end of this amazing tour. I can honestly say that it has been one of the very best tours I have ever had the good fortune to be on. The music is great, the band and all the individual musicians in it are wonderful and I cannot imagine a better crew. It was extremely well organised and managed and we covered a lot of ground. Great to meet so many fans too. Five and half weeks on the road is exhausting, but it was made as comfortable as it can be. Of course it was very difficult being in Argentina so far from home when my mother passed away and I am thankful I could get home so soon after it happened.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I hope you enjoyed the show if you were there. For those who read this blog (and I thank you for all the kind comments I have received), I hope you enjoyed having a ringside seat and a peek behind the scenes. It was a blast. And so I bid you...
Thank you and goodnight!

BUT, that is not in fact it, because there are some summer festival gigs coming up around Europe and then in the autumn the tour starts up again around the UK, Europe and beyond. So do check out the dates at stevenwilsonhq.com

If you have enjoyed this tour blog and/or my honking and tooting, please do visit my own recordings store at the ordering page. There are lots of CDs and vinyl albums both of my solo work and collaborations with Robert Fripp, Soft Machine Legacy, Cipher, Goldbug and others. I thought I would do a special promotion for anyone who has been reading the blog or wants to try some of my music, so I will throw in a signed photo, and for two or more CDs or vinyls I will also throw in an extra CD for free. Just message me through Facebook or the Message page on my website, write 'SWBlog' and say which extra CD you would like. How does that sound? I thank you.


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Tour Blog Part 34 : Buenos Aires, Argentina

Teatro Vorterix, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

As soon as we arrived in Argentina I received a telephone call with the terrible news that my dear mother had suddenly passed away. It was a big shock and very difficult for me being so far away from my family. I would spend the evening and morning speaking to the family in England working out what to do and talking about this awful news. We arrived at our hotel that I remembered from last trip to Buenos Aires. Last time however, I seem to remember having only about 4 hours sleep in the hotel room before a super- early check out for the airport. This time there was more time and I was grateful for that. We have been away for about 5 weeks now and one does really appreciate the private time one has in a hotel room. I had room service dinner which was pleasingly good, and tried to get some sleep.

We went to the venue for soundcheck at 3.30 pm. A high stage in a night club type venue. I think there was a late night disco after our gig too. In the dressing room was a TV and there was a lot of news about the death in prison of the Argentinian dictator Jorge Videla. I had not heard of him but he was prior to Pinochet and we were told by Carlos, our most excellent South American tour manager that he was the most barbaric and evil of the Argentinian dictators. Under his regime between 1976 and 1981 an estimated 30,000 political opponents were rounded up and killed in what became known as "the Dirty War". Practices used against opponents of his military junta included the kidnapping of their new-born children who were later given to members of the army and state officials. Tortured militants were thrown from planes and helicopters into the River Plate so their bodies would never be found. They received the name 'desaparecidos'- the disappeared. He had, however, remained a free man for long after his reign of terror and was only in fact imprisoned last year.

Certain members of the band also got quite excited at the voluptuous and sexy news readers! Nick amused us with his alien mask. One fan had given Steven gifts including an Astor Piazzolla CD. Steven was not aware of his music so played the CD and we all talked a little about him. I was very aware of his music, have various recordings at home and have played and taught some of his pieces for saxophone eg 'Histoire du Tango'. It was good to hear some of this music, especially being here in Argentina. A quick but amusing game of the A-Z of bass players and it was just about time to go onstage.

The club was rammed and the audience was super excited. Loud unison football chants before we went on, in between numbers and when the gig ended. The monitoring levels felt slightly different tonight and I particularly got a good level of drums in my mix. I thought Chad played amazingly and particularly enjoyed listening to him tonight - his rhythmic 'feel', his responsiveness, his groove and with a huge sound. It seems this band does not drop below a certain very high level. Most groups have nights when something goes badly wrong, and although minor things do go wrong with this group (one song had to be restarted tonight), they are tiny, the playing level is always stellar and the lights, sound and technical side of the production are always under control and right.

After the gig there were a lot of fans clambering for autographs. When we went out to the bus to get back to the hotel, we had to be escorted by security and then fans surrounded the bus and were knocking on the windows. It was never threatening but certainly seemed like the next level. Amusingly Adam has started getting his own back on all the fans who want photos, by asking groups of fans to stand together while he takes a photo of them. It then became more convoluted, as a fan took a photo of Adam taking a photo of the fans! So I guess the next layer is for Adam to capture a photo of a fan taking a photo of Adam taking a photo of the fans!
Had a good quiet chat and a 'wee dram' before turning in, then sleep.

Today got up quite early for breakfast and more joyous airport check-in shenanigans. We arrived in plenty of time and Ian and the crew sorted everything out and got the boarding passes. Since the slight problem with getting my tenor sax on the plane as hand luggage and kept out of the hold (as happened on the LA-Mexico flight), I have a new cunning plan. When walking through security, and standing in the various queues on the way to the plane under the constant scrutiny of airport staff, I hold the sax upright in its rectangular box and hide it behind my leg while I walk with a rather rigid straight leg - a bit like a man with a wooden leg. No one sees it...no one asks me to check it in... Marvellous! It worked again today.

The flight itself was fine. I watched the episode of 'Glee' with Gwyneth Paltrow as a substitute teacher, and although the programme was very silly, it did remind me how inspiring and rewarding it can be working with music with young people. I run a large jazz group and a saxophone quartet at a school in Highgate, London. We have a jazz evening every year when I combine them with my professional jazz quartet. It is wonderful hearing them play together and great to hear the students' joy at playing at such a high musical level. Truly inspiring.

We touched down, spent ages getting through customs and immigration and finally got into the van and to the hotel. Phew... So, tomorrow is our gig here in Sao Paolo, Brazil - the last of the 40 gigs of this stretch of this amazing tour.

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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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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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Tour Blog Part 19 : Washington D.C.

Theo & Steven

The venue was the Howard Theatre, which was an old place that had in fact been closed for about 40 years but opened again only a year ago and is really nice. Friendly helpful staff, and excellent catering. In fact after the gig one of the big beefy security guards who looked like Mike Tyson in a tight black suit shook my hand and said 'Great job'. That does not usually happen. 

In the morning I went for a coffee with Guthrie. Near the venue was a coffee shop that from the outside looked a bit bleak and rough. Like you would walk in and all sound would stop and people would turn round and stare at you. But we walked in and it was a great cafe, very vibey, excellent coffee and croissant, and cool music on the sound system. Perfect. 

Then back to the venue where I took a shower and caught up on emails etc. I tried Guthrie's TC Electronic 'Ditto' looping pedal. This enables you to play lines, record them and repeat them instantly, then add layers on top. It enables a solo line player (eg. someone with a flute) to create layers and tapestries of sound and play very differently to what you are limited to without such technological assistance. I have done a lot of such playing and recording with other footpedals eg. my solo alto flute album 'Slow Life', and all the performing and recording I have done with Robert Fripp, solo and with Steve Lawson. This new pedal is tiny, pretty intuitive and sonically clean. I was impressed and think it could be a useful addition. 

Dinner was a thoroughly delicious very tender brisket steak and collard greens which I have not had before. Sort of kale/ cabbage type vegetable which I understand is cooked for a long time with bits of turkey in. Then Apple Cobbler and ice cream. Ridiculous (good ridiculous!). We wandered around the dressing room feeling stuffed and joked about feeling so fat we would not be able to play and all the tempos having to be half speed... I did notice on the gig I was very thirsty and drank more water than any other gig we had done on this tour. It could have been because the food had been pretty salty. Maybe. 

The gig itself went very well. Not much to report, but it all felt good. After the gig and going out to sign some CDs and programmes, Adam noticed that in the club next door to our venue was a live band playing 'GoGo' music. Adam explained that GoGo is type of funk that originated in Washington D.C, made famous by Chuck Brown, and what we were hearing was the 'real deal'. We listened outside the fire exit to the band for a while and it did sound great. The easiest way to explain the GoGo rhythm is to point to either Chuck Brown or Grace Jones' 'Slave to the rhythm', on which she used that rhythm borrowing some of the best players from that scene for her song. It is interesting how different parts of America have their own particular grooves and regional music styles: GoGo here, New Orleans has a special shuffle, Chicago has its own thing, etc. 

At about midnight, Harv, our excellent and quirky but uber cool tour manager offered to take us all to a special local bar where they do alcoholic milk shakes. It sounded intriguing so about half a dozen of us went. Someone orders a peanut butter, whisky and cream shake (yes really), someone an avocado, tequila and cream one and a few of us go for the espresso, hazelnut and hennesseys cognac drink. Well I have to say they were most delicious. Rich though with all the thick cream, but ooh yes! Then back to the tour bus, and late night hanging out and chatting till about 3 am before sleep. Next stop, Buffalo, New York.

The Howard Theatre
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Tour Blog Part 18 : Philadelphia, Glenside, Keswick Theatre.

The Keswick Theatre (home of the Pennsy Pops)

So yesterday we had a stop off in North Carolina from 10 am until midnight, so the driver could have his break and sleep. We had hotel rooms but the area did not have much going on except highways, a shopping mall and a cinema. It was good to have time to rest, clean up, have a shower, do emails, have a walk etc. 

We had all heard about the terrible events in Boston, and I have both family and friends there, some close to where it all happened. We saw the news on the hotel lobby TV and were shocked at the events. No one I know was caught up in the bombings, but I was worried as one friend is seriously into running and I thought he might have run the marathon. For a day or two they had to stay home, stay indoors and not go out. Very scary. I am glad it has now been resolved. My thoughts and good wishes go to anyone who has suffered as a result of the bombings.

After having a bath and clean up and catching up on emails (and Facebook!), I tried to write some music as it is definitely time for me to write and record a new instrumental jazz album and tour round the British jazz clubs. 'Double Talk' was my last studio solo album and that was made in 2007! I have some pieces written and some half written ideas that need completing. I have manuscript paper and a keyboard on my iPad so have enough to work some things out. 

I then spent some time reading up on the film director Harmonie Korine, and watching YouTube clips of his films and him being interviewed on the David Letterman show. This was because Steven, Adam and I were going to see 'Spring Breakers', the new Harmonie Korine film in the evening. His earlier films are seriously weird, but on Letterman he was really funny. After going to the mall where we found a Ruby Tuesday restaurant, we saw the film. I was pleasantly surprised. It is not in fact weird, but very stylish and beautifully shot. James Franco and the four lead actresses were all excellent. I am not sure what the film 'said', but generally Korine's films are not narratives. Amusingly, on one Letterman interview in 1997, Korine says that his films have a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order! 

So back on the bus at midnight and off to Glenside, near Philadelphia. We arrive in the morning and it is a lovely theatre. Ian Bond, our excellent sound engineer said he did the sound in this same venue for King Crimson in 2008. I went for a coffee near the theatre and the man who served me says "Hey Theo". Fame at last, eh? Back at the venue the facilities were very good and the catering excellent. 

Various friends of the band came to the gig. My band mates from the 'Goldbug' project came along - guitarist Tim Motzer and bass player Barry Mehan. The drummer in the band, Eric Slick was gigging so couldn't make it. We took the opportunity for a photo shoot as our new album is nearly finished. The talented Dejha Ti came and took the various photos. Michelle Moog, daughter of Bob and friend of Adam and Marco came along as did drummer Mike Portnoy. He seems like a nice guy. In publicity photos he always looks mean and fierce, but came over as a lovely guy in real life. I think that is often the way though. I remember well meeting Robert Wyatt for the first time. In photos he always looks like some sort of Greek god - Zeus or Neptune, austere and disapproving with his long thick beard. Then I met him and he giggled a lot and smiled and chuckled constantly. Very different! 

So the gig felt great to me and very enjoyable. Slick, powerful, focused, good solos. All the things you want it to be. Marco was back for this gig and was fabulous as you would expect. When he plays the drums on these songs, he does not just play the parts, he completely inhabits them. He IS them. It is extraordinary. The crowd was great too and super enthusiastic. So ...job done. Next stop, Washington D.C.

The talented Dejha Ti with Theo
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Tour Blog Part 17 : Atlanta, Georgia

Varsity Playhouse

So after the Florida gig, there is a telephone call and some bad news. There follows much discussion and some other calls and emails. For family and private reasons, Chad is going to have to leave the tour, at least for the time being. He will do the next night's gig in Atlanta, then there is a night off and he will fly back to L.A. He will be back, but we are not sure when. To accommodate this, Marco is contacted immediately to see if he can come back until his rehearsals with Joe Satriani start. Very fortunately it turns out that he can. This is of course a huge relief as of course Marco knows this music inside out, was in the band from the beginning and recorded the album etc. Marco and Chad are good friends, so Marco is able to help out and return and the immediate crisis is resolved. Wow! Life. 

So we drive through the night from Florida to Atlanta, Georgia in the Deep South of the US of A. Not that I get to see much of Atlanta. As usual, I wake up in a small bunk on the tour bus in a parking lot. I look out of the bus window and see a brick wall. I put some shoes on and ask where the venue entrance is. So I go through a doorway in the brick wall into a theatre and down some stairs into a nondescript basement dressing room. Bit like Groundhog Day. At least when on tour in America I know what country I am in. When touring round mainland Europe and you do this, it is not uncommon to clamber off the bus and have no idea what country you are in.

The venue is nice, and backstage facilities pretty good. All decent venues have shower facilities backstage so I have a shower and breakfast and catch up on e mails etc. At 4.30 pm there is a good soundcheck, and then off to dinner with Guthrie for a rather tasty hot chicken sandwich with avocado and salad and fries. It is good to go for a brief wander. The area around the venue has a great record shop called Criminal Records and there are lots of cool vintage clothes shops too. The street has a kind of Haight Ashbury vibe and felt pretty hip. 

Before the gig went to a nearby coffee house where there were some curious slogans posted on the wall - like 'Tampons for Jesus'. Eh...?! Also a local magazine called 'Ponce News', and a flyer for a 'Grow your own Marijuana' talk with a picture of a smiling scientist in a white lab coat. Yeah, man... 

So the gig felt really good. I did have some monitoring problems as there was some loud interference in the radio frequency used for my in ear monitors. It was manageable though. Chad was superb and everyone played well. In my soprano sax solo on Raider 2, there is some cool rhythmic interaction with the keyboards and drums. After the solo, I look over at Chad and he looks up and gives me a smile. I think that meant he liked it, and that felt great. Sometimes the smallest looks, nods, eyebrow movements on stage between musicians can communicate so much. Approval from Chad Wackerman. Cool. Steven was fantastic and as usual was great talking to the audience. He seems so natural doing it - Informative, funny, interacting with hecklers, being spontaneous. It sounds so natural and that is hard to do. I know from fronting my own band. Sometimes I spend half a song thinking what I am going to say, then I say something completely different to what I intended because something or someone in the audience diverts my attention. Then it comes out all wrong and I talk gibberish. So I have a lot of respect for people who can chat to the audience in a relaxed manner in between songs. And from being in an audience myself, I know this can add a lot to a gig. After all, you have heard the music on CD or record before, but you haven't necessarily heard the artist talk, and certainly not to you on that specific evening. I think it is a unique and special part of seeing a favourite artist live. So nice one, Steve. And as I say, he can be very funny. 

Hung out a bit after the gig and nice to see and chat with Andre Cholmondeley from 'Project Object' again. He is friends with Adam and Marco and I had met him at various European festivals and gigs before. He is currently tour managing Greg Lake. Good guy and some interesting chat. He also informed me that the David Bowie exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in London, which I was planning on going to is sold out until August. Most annoying. 

Then back on the bus for the long drive to Philadelphia. In fact we are driving through the night, then from 10am until tomorrow midnight we are in a hotel somewhere while the driver has a break, then back on the bus at midnight to complete the drive to Philly. Steven suggests if possible we could go and see the new Harmonie Korine film 'Spring Breakers' which is on general release and is the director's first mainstream film. Sounds like a good plan to me. 'Harmonie Korine' is the name of one of Steven's songs that we play in the set. I believe the song is named after him just because it is a beautiful name, not because the lyrics have anything to do with him. I subsequently spend some time online checking out the weird world of Harmonie Korine.

Theo with Steven Wilson
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Tour Blog Part 16 : St Petersburg, Florida, not Russia

​So the first gig of the US tour was just outside Tampa, Florida. A black box type rock venue and the back stage facilities were not great to be honest, and there was no rider. Not the best start. There were some technical problems and it was not possible to put up the gauze for the front and back projections which are important eg for 'Index' and 'The Watchmaker', so we were to do the gig without this. Incidentally Steven posted today on YouTube the live video of the band playing 'the Watchmaker' live in Germany from the recent Neu-Isenberg gig (see below). I think it looks and sounds pretty good. 

Before the gig I went to eat at a Thai place near the venue with Guthrie and Chad and had a good chat. Some more great stories from Chad about touring with James Taylor (the American 'Sweet Baby James' one not the English acid jazz one) which sounds amazing and extraordinary. Also heard some good Zappa stories, like when you auditioned for his band, he would say 'Do something fantastic for me'. This could be musical, technical, theatrical or off the wall and if he liked it and you were 'in' he would compose something to incorporate your special fantastic thing into the music for the band. 

It was Chad's first gig with the band so I think he was a little apprehensive as there is an enormous amount to remember, even with reminder notes. Well, he was extraordinary. Absolutely superb. Hats off to him. I was very impressed and loved what he did. 

The crowd went wild and that was very encouraging and positive. Especially as it was hot onstage and there had been some problems. I got a surprise during my alto flute improv' on the acoustic section of Raider 2, when I felt drops of water landing on my shoulder. Very off putting. It happened again in 'the Raven' and 'Radioactive Toy', though then it was dripping on my head. I looked up but could not see anything, so maybe it was leaking air conditioning or something. Anyway, these things happen and you can't let them put you off. The cheers at the end of the gig were amazing. We all got a nice surprise when during the band introductions we saw on the screen that a sketch by Hajo of Chad had been done to accompany his introduction and bow. Lovely touch.

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