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Steven Wilson Tour Blog 2013

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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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