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Steven Wilson Tour Blog 2013

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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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Tour Blog Part 15 : Tampa, Florida

Chad Wackerman

​So we have had a 2 week break between the European tour and the American and South American tour which continues for the next 5 weeks. The time off was great and has been busy: a recording session with Dave Sturt for the next Jade Warrior album; sorting out US Visas; a lovely trip to rural Suffolk; a day in central London for a Man Ray photo exhibition and an Alan Bennett play (Untold stories). The day turned out to be international Ben & Jerry's cone day - a day every year when the company thanks all its customers by having its ice cream parlours give out free Ben & Jerry's ice cream all day! Amazing, and very delicious. I also went to the cinema to see 'A late quartet' (loved it), and had various friends and neighbours round for drinks and catching up. Then, as always, lots of general 'stuff' to sort.... 

So we are now all in Tampa, Florida where we start touring around North America (coast to coast) then Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and probably Brazil. We arrived yesterday after an excellent flight that was 80% empty! So I could lie down on a row of 3 empty seats. Most pleasing and comfortable. Woke up for the day at 2.30am thanks to jet lag, and later, after breakfast went for a walk. The hotel is somewhere near the Bay, so I thought I would see if I could find the beach or at least water. Having crossed the main highway, I saw what appeared to be a large family of small white flamingos with duckbill beaks. It was most bizarre as it was in a residential street. I carried on walking and about 10 mins later saw at the side of the road and looking rather forlorn a small animal that I believe was a possum. I guess that was why it was barely moving. I saw a large and beautiful heron too. Porcupine Tree guitarist Wes came by later and he explained about all the wildlife in Florida. Worryingly he told us about all the wild alligators that can be found in the street, in gardens or wandering about - even climbing fences. They travel through the sewers and have been known to attack cats and dogs. Argh! 

Later we went to the rehearsal room and met our new drummer - Chad Wackerman- who is doing this whole part of the tour as Marco is touring with guitarist Joe Satriani in May. We had a grand total of 5 hours for Chad to rehearse the whole set. Not easy as this is very detailed and complicated music. He was incredible and played the entire set first time without making a mistake. He has a different sound to Marco and plays like Chad not like Marco but that is to be expected. Like Marco, he is one of the great drummers of the world and a lovely guy too. There were small stylistic things that were pointed out, and a few key fills that Steven wanted him to play, but these are not major and really just the icing on the cake. He did amazingly well and the gigs are going to be great. Afterwards we all went to the Cheesecake Factory with Wes for dinner. Chad told some amazing stories, eg how he played with Spinal Tap on four hours notice when they had some huge gig in LA and their regular drummer, Rick Parnell, broke his ankle just before soundcheck! Rick is brother of Marc Parnell, my good friend who is another wonderful drummer and who I have played and toured with for over 15 years. After some good food and chat we returned to the hotel for sleep. Looking forward to the gig tomorrow.

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Tour Blog Part 14 : Munich - Zurich

Photo by Diana Nitschke

​Last couple of days have been a bit of a blur, because of a head cold and taking every opportunity to rest more. Although I was not too terrible really, being ill when on the road is not much fun because you are almost always on the go. I seem to be on the mend now, which is good because after tonight's show in Milan, we have an 18 hour drive back to London. 

The gig in Munich was a good one and Marco's parents came along again to this one. My strongest memories of the gig are watching Marco's mum dancing away in the front row like a teenager. I think she is about 75, but she has some cool moves and was grooving way with the kids! 

Post gig bus films were two I had seen before - Scum and Still Crazy. Scum is very good but very gruesome. Hard hitting stuff with a young Ray Winstone and Phil Daniels again. Still Crazy is a bit lighter and good fun about a rock band that gets back together and goes on the road to see if they can still do it. Quite amusing. 

Zurich was a lovely theatre venue. It was a standing audience and they loved it. It is noticeable the difference in audience response when they are standing. Very animated, vocal and shouting and cheering. A difficult gig for me, but a very good gig overall I think. Then the Sherlock club convened for one final time on the European tour for the final episode. Adrian, Adam and I have been watching the BBC Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series, 6 episodes in all. I saw them all on TV, but they are so good it was great to see them again. Adam had not seen them before but knows all the original books very well and also the Jeremy Brett TV adaptations. Most excellent and what a cliffhanger at the end! 

And so here we are backstage in Milan. Seems like a massive warehouse type of a place in the middle of nowhere. The rain is beating down on the roof. Last gig of the European leg of the tour. Had some Tortelloni, a nice cuppa tea, a shower, am listening to Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk and feeling a bit human again. Should be good tonight.

View from the stage at Milan
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Tour Blog Part 13 : Stuttgart

Backstage

​The tour bus was scheduled to roll out of Frankfurt at 3 am to drive to Stuttgart, so there was plenty of time after the gig to hang out backstage. I was sitting with Adam and Guthrie and we got onto the subject of Alan Holdsworth, guitarist extraordinaire. I have not met him, but heard innumerable stories about him from the other guys in Soft Machine Legacy who all recorded and toured with him for ages. I introduced both Adam and Guthrie to Alan's amazing solo on Hazard Profile on Soft Machine 'Bundles' which blew them away. Adam also played Proto-cosmos from Tony Williams' 'Believe it'. The thing I love about those solos on Bundles is there is still a gritty earthiness to them. Alan played a Gibson SG guitar then and he 'digs in' with the rhythm section playing very rhythmic phrases that the band latches on to. Later on he became more ethereal and his glistening solos would float high above the rest of any band he played with. Great too - always incredible playing, but to me less connected to the other musicians than on those early to mid 1970s recordings. 

We then had an interesting discussion about great drummers and the difference between drummers with a metric and square approach to time and those with a more circular approach. Subdivision versus alchemy, elasticity versus tight precision and how both approaches work differently in a band context when you are trying to play with them. And between Guthrie, Adam and me we have worked with Marco, Chad Wackerman, Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd, John Marshall - some serious drummers! 

We arrived in Stuttgart for our day off and proceeded to have a 2 hour VISA 'party' with a bunch of us going through the long and complicated online questionnaire together that has to be completed prior to the interview at the US Embassy. Dull but necessary. Fingers crossed I got it right. 

Then chilled in my room and finished reading 'Neverwhere' accompanied by Brian Eno's 'On Land' - one of my favourite albums of all time (yes, really). Great book. I then popped out to get a bite to eat. On the way back I found a stall that sold 'Berliners'. Now famously JFK made a speech in 1963 in which he said 'Ich bin ein Berliner' meaning 'I am a Berliner', trying to show solidarity with the West German people but in fact it meant 'I am a jam doughnut', as a Berliner is indeed a special doughnut (donut if you are American), very soft, round and filled with a strawberry sauce in the middle. Well here it was, and I felt a moral and historical duty to try out this delicacy. It was indeed most delicious. 

Went to sleep - no snow. Woke up the next day, snow everywhere. Just as we thought we were done with it. And it is nearly April. The gig was in a venue we played at last year. Good sound. Full house. I felt rested after a day off. I always particularly enjoy the first few notes of soundcheck after a day off. It feels like 'yes - here we go...' The gig itself went well though there were a couple of technical glitches behind the scenes. Probably nothing that would have been noticed though. Great response by the crowd. I subsequently heard that more UK autumn dates have been announced and posted, including Bristol (15 oct) Wolverhampton (17 oct) Newcastle (18 oct) and the Royal Albert Hall, London (20 oct) That is going to be really special. 

After the gig, the film on the bus was Quadrophenia. Absolutely love it. Love the original album by the Who, love the film. Something important was pointed out to me at the very beginning of the film that I had not seen before. Tonto our excellent guitar technician is a proper mod. Scooter with all the mirrors, trips to Brighton on the bank holidays, has the gear, knows the people and the places. It was great to hear his inside knowledge as I watched the film again. Then I seemed to stay up rather later just chatting on the bus before retiring to bed at 3.30 am.

Nick Beggs. Marco Minneman, Theo, Steven Wilson, Adam Holtzman & Guthrie Govan
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Tour Blog Part 12 : Frankfurt

Steven and Theo 'exploring the space' during Raider II

Enter your text here ...Woke up on the bus in Frankfurt feeling a bit rough. Oh dear. Not good at all. With a bit of extra rest, an Aspirin, a walk to get some fresh air and a shower I felt much better and all was fine in time for the soundcheck. Phew. There was a bit of extra pressure on this gig as Steven had decided to film it with a full film crew, not for anything in particular and certainly no plans for a DVD to be released so soon after the last one, but just to have 'in the can'. So we needed to get it right and also soundcheck a bit longer just to make sure that the recording equipment was all functioning 100%.

Anyway, some interesting things happened on the gig. First of all, I have found hearing myself in the monitors quite difficult for my sax solo in 'No Part of Me'. It is during the loud part at the end of the song and there are heavy guitar riffs and the drums go crazy. So although I need to hear myself more, instead of turning me up, we tried turning my whole monitor mix of everything down and hey presto, much better. I could I hear everything more clearly and when we played that song tonight (one of my personal favourites), it felt better than it had done in a while.

Another curious thing occurred to me, which is that with all the very complicated music this band plays with changing time signatures and tricky melodic lines and the big solos I play, the part of the set which I am most nervous about is none of the above but in fact those exposed fragile clarinet notes at the very beginning of Raider 2. Very simple music really, but very exposed, surrounded by silence, and I am, to be honest, less of a clarinet player than a sax player and flautist.

The soprano sax solo in Raider 2 went fine and during it Steven came over, stood right in front of me and started pointing at the ceiling and around the room with a sort of 'explore the space' kind of gesture. Now I did not mind this at all and in fact looked him in the eye and started improvising following his gestures a little. He smiled back and it took the solo somewhere new and fresh. Then it occurred to me that maybe that is the difference between an improviser and a soloist. The soloist will often have their solo ideas largely prepared, a vocabulary of their 'licks' and favourite patterns and deliver them in a musical way that creates the finished product of 'the solo'. The improviser on the other hand is always open to immediate stimuli and will respond to whatever is going on around them - more like a boxer who has to be 100% alert at all times and change direction on a fraction of a moment's notice. I think that I, like many, am a combination of both but it is interesting how different musicians will clearly tend towards one or other approach and respond in different ways when a curve ball is thrown while they are soloing.

Some amusing heckles and shouts tonight by the audience I think Steven responded well and appropriately too. That is quite an art being able to deal with all that stuff on the fly and in the moment and doing it well.

Incidentally, there was a guest of one member of the band who came to a gig a few days ago but who had not seen him for several years. When he asked what they thought of the gig, they responded in luke warm terms. Not 'it was great', not ' I really appreciate the amazing playing and music', not even 'it is not my thing but it was well done '. More just '.....meh' and a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. The musician concerned was taken aback and most unimpressed. We all thought this was v. poor and rude - especially with having had a guest ticket. So '....meh' has become a regular band comment and response - applicable in all situations! What was dinner like '....meh' etc. So while hanging around in the dressing room before the gig today I wrote and recorded this little ditty, with extra production input by Guthrie...the 'Meh song'.


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Tour Blog Part 11 : Berlin - Essen

Huxley's, Berlin

So after a day off in snowy Berlin during which the snow did not stop, half a dozen of us including Steven went for a very pleasant Greek meal and then relaxed in the hotel bar where a live duo was playing a mixture of classic songs and instrumental jazz. The lady drummer/singer who was American walked over to us and said 'You are clearly musicians!' and she seemed most interested in the band and wrote everything down so she could check out the new album later. 

The gig itself was the following day and was in a big hall, where I believe Porcupine Tree have played before. I met fans who had come to the gig from Peru and Brazil! There was a relaxed vibe onstage and I thought it was a good gig. This band is so tight and so professional that the sort of musical disasters that often happen onstage in a band just don't seem to happen with this lot. 

Steven asked the audience whether they liked to sit or stand and in response got everyone to stand up for the songs Harmonie Korine and No Part of Me. In fact I don't think they sat down for the rest of the night. It certainly increased the audible excitement in the room. For the encore we played Radioactive Toy again which worked really well (I thought so anyway). After the gig I went out to the merchandise stall to sign some CDs and programmes etc. 

On the tour bus after the gig the film for the evening was 'the Business' a Danny Dyer film about South London criminals in the Costa del crime and Gibraltar. Not my regular sort of film but I liked it. It was funny and had strong characters. It reminded me of the Phil Daniels character in Quadrophenia and that is a film I love.Then we finished off the Sherlock episode Hound of the Baskervilles before bed. Woke up in Essen. Hey no snow! 

The Essen venue was a huge theatre called the Colosseum. Plush red velvet seats and a massive upper tier too. It was full for the gig and I got that distinct feeling that this band is so good it is ready to take on the world....and win! Very responsive crowd. I am still finding new musical areas to explore during the sax and flute solo sections eg the big soprano sax solo in Raider 2. It is great that these sections change so much every night, and that makes the music feel very much alive.

Colosseum, Essen
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Tour Blog Part 10 : Oslo - Copenhagen

Sentrum Scene

I have played in Oslo many times and always in the same square in the centre of town where there are two venues next to each other (I think run by the same management) called Sentrum Scene and Rockerfeller. Today was at the former where I last played in 2007 with David Sylvian. That Sylvian gig was particularly memorable as the wonderful trumpeter Arve Henriksen sat in on the gig, and came out for a drink afterwards too. Great player with a wonderful sound and very fresh approach to playing the trumpet. 

There was some free time before the gig so I had contacted my friend the singer Anja Garbarek to see if she was free to meet up for a drink. I met Anja in 2001 when Steven Wilson was producing her album 'Smiling and Waving'. Despite her dad being Jan..., she wanted someone else to play flute and sax on the album and Steve brought me in. I was then in her live band and we toured around Europe for a while. It was a really wonderful band and a great experience. Steve Jansen on drums, Dudley Philips on bass, Sue Balingall on additional vocals and guitar amongst others. Everyone got on particularly well and it was very special music. I digress. So Anja was free and we met up for a drink which was great, as she is lovely and I rarely see her. I fear the glass or two of champagne may have adverse affected my performance though as I missed a couple of simple things which I should not have done. 

The sartorially elegant Nick Beggs changed his stage outfit again for the show - from his original dandy highwayman Count von prog, to yer regular rock bass man to the one and only 'Fu Chinn' . Good to see him back say I. Nick's outfits are great. Gig was good and some very appreciative fans. A noticeably younger audience than usual and also a definite higher percentage of males than females for this one. Although progressive rock is well known to be generally more followed by blokes than women, Steven's gigs always have lots of women there. Maybe because his music is not 'traditional' progressive rock, has some short songs, has more thoughtful lyrics than many, or maybe because women think he (and maybe others in the band??) is cute. Dunno. Maybe some women can say why they like SW but not King Crimson, Yes or Gentle Giant... Or maybe I have got it all wrong!

It was a late concert and afterwards we got on the bus to drive through the night to Copenhagen. Woke up feeling a bit rough. Not sure why, but definitely not so good. I had arranged to meet another music friend who I had not seen for years, the Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, who has made lots of ECM albums and famously composed and arranged an award winning album with Miles Davis called Aura. Palle came to London in 2001 to record on my CD 'Heart of the Sun'. It was all a wonderful experience and his contributions are stunning. We have been in touch since but only usually when I have visited Copenhagen on tour. We had time to catch up and grab a coffee and he heard the band too. Really fantastic to see him - a kind, gentle and thoughtful man. We both agreed it would be great if one day we can do something together again. 

The gig was at a grand theatre called VEGA and it was full and enjoyable. Jonas Reingold from the Tangent was my guest and he seemed to like it which was cool. I have not seen him for a few years now but was recording my parts for the new Tangent album listening to his bass parts very recently. Gavin Harrison is on drums on the album and Jonas and Gavin make a formidable rhythm section. 

After the gig more Sherlock on the tour bus and off in the snow to Berlin for a day off and a hotel. Nice.

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Tour Blog Part 9 : Stockholm

Filadelfiakyrkan Rörstrand - Filadelfia Stockholm

The venue in Stockholm was one of the most striking so far. A large church with a very wide stage and a dress circle and top balcony. At the back of the stage were pipes from the organ and in huge letters the word JESUS. The dressing room facilities were lavish with candelabras, comfortable sofas and very ornate fire places. The lift had buttons for floors 1 and a half and 5 and a half too (remember the films Being John Malkovich, and Harry Potter too?)! Not sure what was on those floors, and curiously if you pressed button 5 and a half the lift would not go there. 

The sound was surprisingly good in the room and the audience was pleasingly responsive. 

During the song 'Harmonie Korine' I leave the stage as I do not play on it. Sometimes I watch the video projected on the backdrop as it is great - very strange, evocative and powerful with weird imagery. So I noticed while this was on, I was standing next to a ten foot high wooden cross which seemed to accentuate the symbolism and imagery. "Whoa...talking of what I do during the gig, a few people have asked me what I am doing when I go up to the front of the stage and sit by the keyboard on the song 'the Raven..' Facebook, e mail, computer stuff.? No - I play the extra top line piano part, as Adam is already playing the main piano part which takes two hands. On the last tour I played about three songs on keys, but this tour just the one. I enjoy it. 

After the show and the traditional 'white Russian' drink at the end of the gig, we chilled for a bit then got on the bus as we were heading off to Oslo that night. Had a really interesting chat with our excellent tour manager Harv about his time touring with U2 during the Zooropa tour in the early nineties - a tour I actually saw at Wembley Stadium in London. Interesting to hear from someone what it is like on the inside and at the centre of a tour by such a huge band. Watched the film 'My cousin Vinnie' on the bus then to sleep. 

I woke up in Oslo where we got off the bus at 10 am and checked into our hotel. The snow was deeper here and the temperature lower. As I got to my room, I felt really exhausted and crashed out, not waking till lunchtime. Then I had a shower and started my book - 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman. So far...it is goooood. No gig tonight, so off for a meal with some of the chaps. Looking forward to the Oslo gig tomorrow and catching up with an old friend too.

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Tour Blog Part 8 : Hamburg

Still lots of snow when we reached Hamburg. As we had a day off, we stayed in a hotel - a smart one actually right next to the venue which is very handy. The venue in Hamburg was CCH Saal 2 and it was huge. A large concert hall that looked like it was usually for orchestras or choirs or maybe one of those great German radio bands like the NDR band. As there was the day off beforethe gig I thought I would use my time fruitfully by reading a book. 'The man in the high castle' by Philip K Dick was floating round the bus and it is said to be a classic so I thought I would give that a go. Managed to finish it over a couple of days. A kind of alternate reality book, not really science fiction, but very imaginative. Dick wrote the story that became the Bladerunner film amongst other things and is an iconic author who I have not read before. I enjoyed the book and it was interesting, but not quite my thing. Will probably try 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman next which I brought with me.

Anyway, the gig was seated and as I say in a huge room. These things did not help the vibe, though the sound was good. I think we played well but there was not much of a buzzy atmosphere. Marco's parents came to the gig and they are lovely and were in good spirits. I met some musician friends of Adam's too who were cool. They all enjoyed the gig a lot. After the gig had a nice hang with Guthrie and Marco in the hotel bar and had a good chat with them accompanied by a modest amount of Oban single malt whiskey. Strong stuff. I know the town of Oban quite well having played there once (Corran halls), stayed there a few times and taken the ferry to the island of Mull many times. Then sleep, before our long drive to Stockholm that was going to involve a short ferry ride, a very long tunnel and the huge Malmo bridge taking us to Sweden.

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Tour Blog Part 7 : Antwerp

So this was an interesting gig. A great theatre in the same building complex where I had played at a small festival of experimental music a couple of years ago called the International Festival of Looping. The theatre was all seated, and smaller than last night's gig in Amsterdam. Just before we went on, Steven said that he had read on Facebook that several people said they could not come to the gig because of the bad weather. He was worried the room might be half empty which would be bad as all gigs so far have been full. As it turned out it was fine, and the room looked pretty full to me. This was a relief and the fact that the venue was smaller than previous gigs and was seated made it feel quite relaxed. He said jokingly before we went on 'explore the space, explore the space, man' meaning reach out a bit further musically and 'fill' all the corners of the room. I think it is actually a quote from a film, but not sure which one. So with such encouragement, we tried some different things, and did do a bit of musical exploration. Some really different things were played and improvisations went in new directions. It felt really good, refreshing and fun. Marco also set up his new mini gong in his kit which he bought yesterday from my friend Steve Hubback. He used it in a few choice places (making sure he did not overdo it) and we all agreed it sounded fab! Thanks Steve. Also before we went on, Adam was playing Tale Spinnin' by Weather Report in the dressing room, which is wonderful and quite inspiring too.

At the end of the gig we did a different encore, segueing two of Steven's songs into one in a really cool way. I won't say which ones, but I think it worked.

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Tour Blog Part 6 : Cologne - Amsterdam

Theo on Flute

The Cologne gig went well. I remember the venue from Steven's last tour. A big hall and it was more full this time than last. Particularly memorable was the great catering backstage! Some kind of vegetarian parcel was amazing and the desert was a sort of creamy strawberry tiramisu goo with dark chocolate bits in. Nice. My guest was Luc from the Gong family who enjoyed it and hung out afterwards. Thomas from Inside Out records was also there and after the gig was hanging with the band talking Prog...Inside Out is the label the Tangent is signed to, and I have amazingly played on 7 Tangent albums on the label since 2005 as well as a couple of other independent releases. They are a very effective niche label and Thomas knows his stuff. The gig itself went well and had a large audience. For the first time on this tour, I played the gig without any notes to remind me of things I might forget. There is a lot to remember on a two hour set when you are playing complex music (and six different instruments). So that felt like an achievement. Marco threw in a couple of particularly memorable moments when he started throwing in a disco backbeat in the middle of some wild keyboard solo in Luminol. Very cool. 

Leaving Cologne we watched episode 2 from the fab BBC Sherlock series, the one with the yellow cipher and the smuggling of valuable Chinese antiques. Good stuff.

Woke up in a freezing cold and snow covered Amsterdam outside the Melkveg venue. The band 'Living colour' were also playing in another room in the same venue on the same night. I last played at the Melkveg in November 2006 at the amazing Gong 'Unconvention' which featured about 10 Gong related bands. About 40 musicians and others had piled onto a big bus in London and driven to the ferry and then to Amsterdam. The weekend of gigs culminated with the first concert by the Steve Hillage Band in about 25 years and the first set of him back with Gong in about 29 years. I remember looking out from the stage and seeing people crying with happiness! A DVD was made of the gigs which was fine but it did not capture the magic that was in the air in that room that night. It was quite special. 

Before the gig I met up with my friend Steve Hubback who is a percussionist and ace Gong maker. I had not seen him in some time so we caught up over a pizza near the venue. Steve showed me this great conch shaped Gong he had made which sounded amazing. Actually Marco bought it off Steve after the gig when they met. 

The Amsterdam gig itself was a big one. About 1500 people and the most smiley audience of the tour so far. I don' t know if it was the dope in Amsterdam or if people we just happy, but definitely more smiling all around the audience than previously. It was the second gig of the tour where the audience was standing and that may have contributed to the excited atmosphere. I thought the band played great and after packing up and relaxing a bit after the gig, off into the night towards Antwerp.

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Tour Blog Part 5 : Paris - Cologne

Theo and Guthrie

The venue in Paris, called Le Trianon, was familiar as we played there last year. It is a rather grand music hall type theatre, situated in Montmartre by the Sacre-Coeur. The onstage sound was good and in the soundcheck we had a pretty good jam as well as checking the things that needed checking. The gig itself felt good with no technical glitches and a relaxed vibe. Everyone played well and Steven seemed to have a good time. The audience was the first standing audience of the tour and I think that probably contributed to the excited and upbeat atmosphere. The crowd was really enthusiastic and we all appreciated that.

Afterwards, had a good chat with some of Steven's Scottish fans who are very nice and who I have met several times. They had come over specially for the gig and made a weekend of it. Then back onto the tour bus and we rolled out of Paris and off to Cologne in Germany. Adrian, our splendid merchandise man and fellow Brummie had brought the DVDs of the recent Sherlock Holmes BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch so we watched one of those (though I could barely keep awake!) which was very good. Then to bed and I woke up in Cologne where the bus had pulled up by our hotel which was situated next to the staggeringly impressive cathedral. We checked in and the rest of the day was off duty, so I took it pretty easy as was feeling a little rough. Grabbed a coffee, managed to catch up on some e mails and had a bit of a rest to the soundtrack of 'Man' by Francis Dunnery, 'Nine Lives' by Steve Winwood and 'On Land' by Brian Eno. All great albums. I did have a wander round the centre of Cologne later and went to look inside the cathedral too. What an amazing building. There was a plan for everyone to go for a Japanese meal that evening, but the restaurant that some of the guys knew of was full. So I ended up going for a Thai meal with Adam which was most tasty.

Sunday now, and having made a couple of Mother's Day phone calls to my mum and to my lovely wife am ready now to go for a walk, then to soundcheck and tonight's gig. Then Amsterdam tomorrow.

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Tour Blog Part 4 : London - Paris

Theo during Soundchecks

Monday March 4 was the Royal Festival Hall gig in London. It is a great venue for classical, jazz and rock music and I have been many times to see some great gigs eg. Van Der Graf Generator reunion gig, Dave Gilmour, Chick Corea Electric Band, the Brecker Brothers, Stan Getz etc. I live quite near the centre of London so I took the tube to the gig which only took about 30 mins. I get off at Embankment station and walk over Hungerford Bridge from which you get a fantastic view of London, the river Thames and the South Bank where the venue is.

We played in the main hall of the RFH and I think it was completely full. Sold out. Amazing. Soundcheck was fine and we checked a few things in the set as well as the monitors ensuring we could hear properly. The gig itself felt really good to me. Good sound, good response from the audience, Steve seemed relaxed and was very funny on the microphone with his between song chat (not easy to do!). I think we played pretty OK.

At a 'hometown show' there are usually various friends and family who come along. So there was John Etheridge, Tim Bowness, Jakko Jaksyzck, Steve Hackett, Steve Rothery, Nik Kershaw, Robyn Koh, Steve's lovely mum and various others. Great to see them all at the after show party.

Afterwards, I put some of my things on the tour bus which was driving to Paris and then walked back over the bridge and headed home on the tube.

The next couple of days involved running around like a crazy person, teaching students and sorting stuff and life and everything before the European leg of the tour. Thursday was particularly crazy (and exhausting) but finishing with a wonderful jazz gig in Highgate, London.

Meanwhile Steven's new album 'the Raven that refused to sing (and other stories)' is receiving superb reviews. The Guardian gave it five stars out of five, and magazines and papers around the world have been saying it is the ..err....best thing ever. Steve mentioned that one magazine stated 'if there is only one album you ever own it should be this one..!' Others have been giving it 10/10 and 5/5. In the national album charts it has gone in at number 28 and in the rock album charts - number 1, above Muse, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Wow. First time I think I have been on an album that has been in the national top 40!

So now I am on the Eurostar to Paris for the next gig which is tonight.

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Tour Blog Part 3 : Glasgow (Part 2)

Steven with Nick and Marco in the background

Last night we played Glasgow ABC and we all loved it. The nerves and glitches of the first night were gone. The audience were well up for it and noisily enthusiastic (which we like!) In fact Marco had not been feeling well during the day, but he said that when he sat down to play the first number he felt great again. The power of music! The sound was good onstage and I think we all felt more relaxed. Everyone played great and Adam and Guthrie did some particularly good solos. It was good to see some friendly faces in the crowd who I remember from the Grace for Drowning tour too. We changed the encore last night to try something different and played a very old Porcupine Tree song called 'Radioactive Toy' which worked really well. The audience loved it.

Afterwards we hung out for a while meeting friends and fans and just chatting backstage. Some interesting issues came up and it was good to talk through them. Someone mentioned to Marco the Glaswegian speciality of 'deep fried Mars Bar' which is basically a Mars Bar deep fried in batter. Err...sounds a bit strange to me! Ever the adventurer, Marco went out into the night in search of one of these delicacies and indeed found one. I think he found it 'interesting'....

Another night on the bus and back to London for our Royal Festival Hall gig on Monday. Now that is something I am really looking forward to. I last played there in 2007 with David Sylvian on his world tour which I enjoyed hugely and I am sure this is going to be just as special. The Festival Hall is a great venue and being right in the middle of London on e South Bank of the Thames feels like you are playing at the centre of everything.

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Tour Blog Part 2 : Glasgow

Beggs and Govan

So last night was the first gig. Manchester Academy 1. A good venue and sold out. The band was a bit nervous as there is a lot of new material which we have not played live before. We went on a 8 pm and in the first number there was a small technical glitch with some sounds which was off-putting but not disastrous.

The set seemed to settle in as it went on and the new songs got a very good response. I thought the band was on fire and Guthrie did an amazing job on his first gig with the band. Nick Beggs excelled himself with his sartorial elegance unveiling a brand new outfit - a mix of Dickensian grandness and Count von Dracula! Marco played with his usual fire but perfect precision.

Speaking to people afterwards who had also seen the Grace for Drowning tour, the opinion was that this set was even stronger and more focused, which is great. And I think as the tour goes on, it will get better and better. Nice to hang out with my friend Dave Sturt and brother Sandy afterwards.

After the gig I had a wander around Oxford Rd in Manchester as this was exactly where I had been a music student all those years ago and even went to see my old music department in Denmark Rd which felt weird (Micaela- are you there?!).

In fact the venue was right next to the Whitworth Park halls of residence where I had lived and opposite the Contact Theatre where I did my first ever demo tape of my own band. The bus set off late and we rolled into Glasgow early this morning. I slept pretty well, but sleeping on band tour buses is a little strange as the bunks are very small, and there is not even room to sit up. so not good for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.

With time to kill this morning I wandered around Sauciehall St (pronounced Sock-- ee-hall I believe) and grabbed a coffee and porridge at Starbucks. And now, the sun seems to have come out.

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Tour Blog Part 1 : On the road

Day One...

So today is the day it all kicks off. Yesterday was our final day of rehearsal and it was great. All the songs we are playing from the new album are sounding fantastic and the band is smoking...I mean really smoking. I have played with a lot of excellent bands but this is something else. Just to name check everyone there is Guthrie Govan on guitar (new boy!), Adam Holzman on keys, Nick Beggs on bass and Chapman stick, the amazing Marco Minneman on drums, SW centre stage and yours truly blowing things.

We left London late last night travelling through the night on our night liner tour bus and arrived in Manchester early this morning ready for an early get in and sound check and production rehearsal. We are playing in the Academy 1, which is next to the University Union - the University where I attended late last century (!) to study music (all classical and specialising in Shostakovich actually) .

Funny coming back here again. The last couple of gigs I did in Manchester were with the mighty Soft Machine Legacy at the wonderful Band on the Wall (by the way new album coming out 'Burden of proof' March 25) and Gong at Academy 2 which is next door. Both good but very different gigs. Nice to be back here and a few friends coming along tonight.

There is excitement in the air as this is a new set, new line up, new show and much anticipation.

The response and reviews of SW's new album have been really excellent so far, including the five star review in the Guardian newspaper. Let's hope people dig the gigs too. Sitting backstage now waiting for soundcheck. Not long now....


Best wishes

Theo

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