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Steven Wilson Tour Blog 2013

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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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