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News, reviews, music and more about Theo Travis.

2020 – Goodbye to all that

Well that was certainly a year unlike any other and I hope we do not see the likes of that again. Actually 2020 started off pretty well for me. Autumn 2019 saw the most fabulous Soft Machine UK tour with some of our best ever gigs, and then I had a restorative break on the glorious Island of Mull in the Scottish Highlands with the family. In late January 2020 I travelled to beautiful North Yorkshire to visit Andy Tillison (and Sally and Roobarb) for a very enjoyable few days recording all the woodwind parts for the next Tangent album – a particularly strong album which was released in August 2020 and called 'Auto-Reconnaissance'.

I was also looking forward to preparing to record the new Soft Machine studio album as a follow up to Hidden Details which was such a big success.

Then it all started to change and Coronavirus appeared.Initially I think no one had any idea of to what extent the virus would impact the whole world.I did have some nice gigs in Feb/ early March 2020 including the solo appearance at the great Festival of Electronic music in Birmingham UK, and some low key but very rewarding and musically top drawer jazz gigs like the one with Henry Lowther, Tim Wells and David Ingamells in Isleworth.But when we went into lockdown it soon became apparent that in person recordings and all gigs were going to be cancelled and I had a lot of gigs scheduled in my diary including Soft Machine tours of South America, Europe and the UK, plus a bunch of dates with Ben Crosland's great jazz quintet playing the Ray Davies Songbook.

Luckily for me I have private students learning sax and flute and a home studio and all that work continued, with the aid of Zoom, Facetime and Google meet. Additionally I spent a considerable amount of time learning the duduk, a beautiful woodwind instrument that I had bought off Didier Malherbe in Paris, but not spent that much time studying. I took some lessons with the great young duduk master from near Yerevan, Armenia called Arsen Petrosyan, and I got better at it. Quite a lot better I think.I tentatively started making some recordings in my studio and there will be more news about that in 2021.


In March the beautiful 2LP vinyl of Soft Machine – 'Live at the Baked Potato' was released on Tonefloat records. It was subsequently also released on CD in July. I produced the album and so was very involved in the planning, the mixing, song order, mastering, artwork and general organisation. It has had a great response from audience and critics which is fab. The album really does represent what we have been doing live for the last couple of years, so great to have a recorded document of it.  


I did one online solo gig and Q&A session from home for the Soundcellar Jazz Club in Poole, on the south coast of England. It is a fantastic jazz club with a very open minded booking policy and they always programme adventurous interesting music. I did a lot of preparation for the gig as it involved a lot of looping technology, iPads, sound processing pedals and it was an opportunity to try something new. I also played my duduk live (well sort of live) in front of an audience for the very first time. People attended the concert from Peru, San Francisco and Germany as well as Poole, London, Scotland and other places. It all went well and I thank Soundcellar for putting on the gig.

Sadly my father became increasingly ill this year and in October he passed away. The funeral and memorial the family had were very sad occasions. My dad was an amazing man who I loved very much and who also had a big impact on and was an inspiration to a lot of people, myself included. All of that together with the practicalities of sorting out his affairs overshadowed much of this year too.

With so many Soft Machine gigs being cancelled I have had time to write some material for the new album, whenever that actually happens. In November and December we did have two streamed gigs – one from Cambridge Jazz Festival and one from Ronnie Scott's Club in London (which had a real, but reduced and socially distanced live audience too) and it was so great to actually play live as a band again. And playing at Ronnie Scott's is always very special too.

I feel fortunate that I have not suffered with the pandemic as badly as many have. The whole world seems to be in a bit of a mad place at the moment with the craziness of the recent US election and Brexit in the UK on top of Coronavirus and I really hope things get better as we move into a new year. I think now more than ever we need music to calm the soul, inspire and give us strength and shine a light on the humanity in us all.

Thank you for listening, enjoying the music and for your support.

Very best wishes to you all.

Theo

(27 December 2020)

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23 November 23 to 23 December 2020 SALE!!!

For a strictly limited period only, many of my CDs will be sold at the much discounted rate of only £4.99 plus p+p . See SHOP for details.

Just go to the Ordering page to place your order. You can request signed copies too [via info@theotravis.com] and ask for a specific dedication on any item. Please tell your friends too!

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A touch of Eastern flavour

And now, as they say, for something completely different. This is a track I recorded at home today on the duduk. The piece has a Middle Eastern flavour and is something that I have been working on for a while with a wonderful vocal contribution by Gaddy Zerbib. It is my first public outing on the duduk- which is a beautiful double reed woodwind instrument from Armenia. I bought this one in Paris from fellow ex-Gong woodwind man Didier Malherbe and have been enjoying trying to learn its magical and mysterious sounds. I hope you enjoy it.

With thanks to Gaddy Zerbib (Israel), Didier Malherbe (Paris) and recently Arsen Petrosyan (Armenia) for some very helpful playing tips.

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News Update October 2019

Apologies for the lack of updates this year, but things have been busy here and I am afraid I simply have not got round to it until now.

2019 kicked off with 3 more weeks of Soft Machine in the USA on our 50th Anniversary World tourWe have been continuing to promote the Hidden Details album. We played 2 nights in Los Angeles at the legendary Baked Potato club, 2 nights in Seattle, plus San Francisco, Santa Cruz and then flying to the East Coast of the USA, to Florida sailing from Tampa on the 'Cruise to the Edge', with amazing bands like Yes, Focus, Steve Hackett Band and Brand X. The tour was fantastic and we actually recorded various shows, so there will hopefully be an official live release sometime. Watch this space for news on that.

Apart from Soft Machine there have been some other jazz gigs mainly in and around London and I have also been writing and recording music for a couple of music production companies that supply music for TV programmes, documentaries and films. This has been both solo and collaborating with some wonderful composer/producer friends. That has been very creative and a lot of fun too. I have guested on some cool albums too, mainly recording at my home studio, including for an album by a great young singer/songwriter/guitarist from Yorkshire called Henry Parker who I met at the Trades Club Hebden Bridge when he supported a Soft Machine gig there in 2018. His genre is loosely like early John Martyn or Nick Drake and I think his music is excellent. So it was a real pleasure to contribute to his debut album 'Silent Spring'.

I continue to learn the wonderful musical instrument that is the duduk, a beautiful Armenian wooden woodwind instrument that can make such a mournful and sad yet beautiful sound. If you know either Peter Gabriel's 'Passion' - the soundtrack to the film 'The Last Temptation of Christ', or the soundtrack to the film 'Gladiator' you will probably have heard the evocative sound of the duduk. I have also been playing some guitar again and learning more about the cool music software that is Ableton Live. I have found it a very creative tool for composing new music too.

We are now in the Autumn 2019 UK Soft Machine tour and have introduced some cool new additions to the set, particularly from the album Seven (one of my favourites) which so far have worked well. I have also been writing some new material for the band and there is talk of going into the recording studio sometime next year (2020) for a new studio album which would be great. Hopefully see you somewhere on the tour, and do come and say hello!

Thanks for listening!

Cheers,

Theo

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Memory Lane Monday - 'The Crow Road'


Twenty one years ago I first read the book 'The Crow Road' by Scottish author Iain Banks. I thought the book was fab' as it combined menace, dark humour and an interesting take on the relationships between the characters. I was so taken with the book that I named a track I was writing for my 'Secret Island' album after it. I also thought the title fitted the music because of its multi-layers, its rollercoaster nature and its unusual twists and turns. The Crow Road is actually a road in West Glasgow (which I have subsequently driven on many times on journeys up to the Scottish Highlands) but it is also an expression for death, as in 'He's away the Crow Road'.
I subsequently read many of the author's other great books and through a mutual acquaintance we struck up a brief correspondence and I sent him the album which included the track 'The Crow Road'. He said he liked it which was very gratifying. I got to meet him a couple of times and was invited to one of his birthday parties in a pub in London which was fun.

The track 'The Crow Road' is a bit of a prog jazz epic - at its core it is an up tempo blues but with jagged prog' interludes, changing time signatures, and big solos. There is one particularly tricky gear change (a fast 4/4 modulating to 6/8 for the musos) that was inspired by part of a great old It Bites song ('Screaming On The Beaches' actually). There are other strong musical influences eg of King Crimson and John Coltrane. The whole band plays wonderfully on the recording which was made live in the studio – David Gordon on piano, Rob Statham on bass, and special mention to the special guest John Etheridge on guitar who plays a burning solo. Marc Parnell on drums plays spectacularly throughout. This track and the whole 'Secret Island ' album were recorded in summer 1996 at the now defunct Protocol studios off the Holloway Road, North London, I was very fortunate to have been able to book the wonderful sound engineer Phill Brown to record and mix the album. He had been recommended to me by bassist friend Mario Castronari. I think Phill was in the middle of recording Mark Hollis' classic solo album at the time and he is one of the great sound engineers – having recorded such classic albums as 'Spirit of Eden' and 'Laughing Stock' by Talk Talk, 'Houses of the Holy' by Led Zeppelin and Island records artists like John Martyn and Steve Winwood as well as 'No Woman No Cry' by Bob Marley. All artists and records I love. It was a privilege and a joy to work with Phill on the album and I think he got an amazing sound on it It was wonderful to hear his stories too!

I went to huge lengths for the cover of the album, travelling all over the south coast of England to find a suitable beach location. I was really looking for somewhere as atmospheric and bleak as the beaches in the wonderful 'Quadrophenia' album booklet with its grainy black and white photography by the legendary Ethan A. Russell. I ended up near Seaford in Sussex which had some amazing coastal cliffs and hidden beaches. The album photography was by Brighton based photographer Mark Nelson of (First Light photography) and it was our first collaboration – the first of many as Mark has now shot the covers of no less than fourteen of my albums including my very latest release 'Open Air'.

The track 'The Crow Road' works really well live particularly as a 'set ender' and has been a mainstay of my jazz quartet's live set touring the British jazz clubs for many years. More recently we have played it live with my Double Talk band on some gigs too. I think it still holds up. Hope you like…

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