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Steven Wilson Tour Blog 2013

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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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