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What a week…

I have just had the most busy and varied week of musical activities I have had in a long time. Last Monday, Sept 15 was the release date of my latest album – Travis & Fripp 'Discretion' (on the Panegyric label). An album of duets with he who is Robert Fripp, it is our fourth CD release and perhaps our finest. I hope we will do more live performances in the future but at the moment Robert is on tour in the USA with the latest incarnation of King Crimson, playing to sold out houses everywhere. I was fortunate enough to see the band play through their set to an invited audience of about 25 people at Elstree studios as part of their rehearsal process. It was great to hear Mel Collins again (one of my favourite sax and flute players) and I thought the three drummer front line (yes, you heard correctly!) worked very well. Anyway, for now promotional Travis & Fripp gigs will have to wait.

Then on Tues, Weds and Thurs I was working with Trevor Warren on his new album. Trevor is a founding member of a curry club of friends that convenes from time to time with lots of the London jazz guitarists – John Etheridge, John Paricelli, Carl Orr, Trevor and others. It has expanded to now include various musician friends including myself and is always a lot of fun. So the band Trevor put together had one day of rehearsal to play through the ten songs he has written then two days recording. The band was awesome – Trevor on guitar and vocals, Ayo on second guitar, me and the stunning rhythm section of Dudley Phillips on basses (who I toured with with Anja Garbarek) and Nic France (of Steven Wilson/ David Gilmour/lLoose Tubes fame) on drums. We rehearsed at the rather funky Audio Underground studios in Stoke Newington, London, but were recording in Bath. The sound engineer was Stuart Bruce – a great sound engineer who was at Peter Gabriel's Real World for years. We were recording at his own Riverside studios where the facilities were very good, and relaxed too, and there was very comfortable residential accommodation. Stuart was superb and also had some great stories like when he recorded Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al Di Miola and the egos, law suits and even physical punch ups that were involved in those sessions! We arrived at the studio lunch time on the first of the 2 days and were ready to record by about 4.30pm. I thought it would be impossible to actually record 10 songs by the following night then drive back to London, but unbelievably we did. I played tenor and soprano sax and flute and there was a very organic feel to the songs – which were all recorded live, in one, two or occasionally three takes. There was also a lot of space for layers of flute and soprano sax soundscapes and loops which we recorded live in real time and they came out really well. There were also some roaring solos from various members of the band. A very English feel to the songs, I was reminded of Syd Barrett's songs at times. On the evening of the second day, the heavens opened and there was the fiercest thunder and lightning I can ever remember, like from a Hammer Horror film. We were a bit nervous driving back to London but I eventually got back home fine. I am looking forward to hearing the finished album.

Very early the very next morning I had to get up and drive 3 hours to Ironbridge in the Midlands for a dress rehearsal of the Freefall Arts / Cipher Past Lives performance. Past Lives is an archive amateur movie footage and live soundtrack project (www.pastlivesproject.com) which is unusual, inspirational and moving. It involves writing and performing live scores to amazing films of real people and real lives from the Midlands going back to the 1940s/50s and 1960s. Saturday's performance was of a soundtrack written by students from the excellent Abraham Darby Academy in Telford, arranged and organised by Dave Sturt and myself. The music was arranged for brass sextet, percussion ensemble, wind and strings and two duos. Each of the eight pieces had to run sequentially with the film that had been put together from local historical footage and the performers, who were schoolchildren – very proficient and able students, but nevertheless still children – had to get it right. I was conducting the whole thing, so had to carefully follow the tempos with an in-ear click track to make sure the music stayed in sync' with the films. I also needed to see the film as it was running, and conduct, bringing in instrumentalists as required and ensuring all went smoothly. There were about 250 people in the audience so a big occasion for my public conducting debut! Thankfully it went well and there was some excellent feedback. During the second half of the performance I was playing sax, flute and clarinet for the original Past Lives film and live soundtrack composed by Dave Sturt and myself. A great evening and rewarding event, to be followed by the rather dull 3 hour drive home.

Then Monday (yesterday) I got the early train to St Ives in Cornwall to play at the Guildhall as part of the St Ives festival with the mighty Soft Machine Legacy with special guest Keith Tippett on piano. The train should have been five and a half hours but because of a fatality on the railway line (poor sod) the journey was actually seven hours. It did give me some much needed time to try and write a bit more music for a planned instrumental psychadelic Prog- jazz project I have been working on for some time. So out came the manuscript paper and iPad keyboard (I love GarageBand!). I arrived in St Ives time for the soundcheck, quick Mexican dinner, check in at the Western Hotel and then the gig. It was a great gig and everyone was on form (John Etheridge on guitar, Roy Babbington on bass, John Marshall on drums, Keith Tippett on piano and your truly on sax, flute, keyboards and a bit of electronic jiggery-pokery). We went for a quick drink afterwards at the Kettle and Wink pub under our hotel where John Etheridge whipped out his guitar and sat in with the local band to much applause.

So it is now the following day and I have arrived home (late because of another fatality on the railway line…) and ready for a nice cuppa tea….Phew.

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Steven Wilson Tour Blogs book going to the printers

I have now had the final draft of my new book – 'Twice around the world- Steven Wilson tour blogs 2012-2013′ and it is looking fabulous. Initially it is only going to those who pre-ordered through Kickstarter, but it will go on general release through this site probably in September with pre-orders from August. Watch this space. Exciting stuff!
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2014 – so far…

So we are nearing the middle of 2014 already, and the year is flying past. The beginning of the year was taken up with writing and sorting the book I have written of Steven Wilson Tour Blogs 2012 -2013. Titled 'Twice Around the World – Steven Wilson Tour Blogs 2012-2013′, the book is a road diary of the tours with songwriter/composer/producer Steven Wilson over the period and it was very exciting. 21 countries including North and South America, all over Europe, Australia, Israel and two special concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall and Royal Festival Hall (both sold out!). It is largely a photo journal with over 100 photos by the fantastic Lasse Hoile and the wonderful Diana Nitschke, as well as photos by Theo and by other band members and fans. The book is currently in the production stage and copies are expected to be released in July 2014. The first available copies will be going to the subscribers and sponsors who signed up to the successful Kickstarter Campaign.

Soft Machine Legacy has been very active, with a great gig at the Jazz Cafe in London recently, and a week on the 'Cruise to the Edge' progressive rock cruise in April 2014. Miami – Honduras – Cozumel – Miami in the company of the Steve Hackett Band, Yes, Marillion, UK, Tony Levin, Tangerine Dream, the Strawbs, Three Friends, and many others. It was a lot of fun and the Softs played 3 sets to the crowds. There have been other gigs in Lyon and more scheduled in Manchester, Kent, Finland and London. See live dates page for details.

Travis & Fripp will be seeing the release of 'Discretion' on CD and vinyl this summer. This release comprises an album originally released in 2012 as a Bowers and Wilkins speakers subscribers club only release – so very limited. This is the worldwide release of that recording. 

Comprising a set largely of soundscapes but with some surprises in there too, the album starts and ends with a piece featured in some of the duo's live performances in 2010 – 'The Power to Believe' (from the album of the same name), in a stripped down and haunting version.Cipher continue with the expansion of the Past Lives project around the East Midlands – not only more performances, but workshops with local communities, collection of more local amateur vintage film footage and encouraging pride in local heritage and arts.Steven Wilson is talking of more recording in the Autumn and there are two great releases I was involved in that are coming out this summer – Nacaal from Tim Motzer's 'Goldbug' and 'Windjammer' from Echo Engine with Rob Palmer and Daniel Biro. More on those releases later.

Latest listening 

  • David Torn – Tripping over God
  • Soft Machine – Seven
  • Wagner – Tristan and Isolde, Prelude
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The Royal Albert Hall

Here we go, here we go...back on the road with Steven Wilson. So we are now back on he tour bus for another stint touring to promote 'the Raven that refused to sing' album and the new EP/ single 'Drive Home'. In September we went to Australia for 3 gigs. 3 cities, 6 days there, 7 flights and large doses of jetlag. It felt all a bit surreal and if we hadn't stopped by the Sydney Opera House I am not sure it would have felt like we were actually in Australia at all. Hotel, dinner, backstage, gig, bus, airport. It is like travelling in a bubble.

But the gigs were good, and there were some very appreciative fans. Good to see Daevid Allen and Orlando from Gong in Brisbane too (even if Daevid did tell Steven all the things he thought were wrong with the gig!)

Royal Albert Hall Then we had the UK dates. I always enjoy touring in the UK. In my jazz life I have played hundreds of gigs around Britain, from jazz clubs to Arts Centres to rooms above pubs; a brewery visitor centre in St Austell, Cornwall to the library on Iona in Scotland. I love it! I seem to have done less of it and have been touring abroad more in the last few years since I have been doing more Prog type gigs (Steven Wilson/Soft Machine Legacy) and also the ambient experimental gigs with either Robert Fripp or Cipher. We had one day rehearsal to learn the new song (which has been going well) and for Chad to play in 'Sectarian' which he had not played with us before. It was good to visit Wolverhampton, Bristol (where I played a lot in the early 1990s with Andy Hague and others), Newcastle (an alreet toon!) and then the Royal Albert Hall, London. The Albert Hall was a highlight for me. Such a stunning venue and big crowd. Lots of friends there (including Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, Steve Hackett, Jakko, Davide Giovannini, Robyn Koh, Maggie Docherty) and my family too - which was lovely. The sound was really good and pleasing to get lots of comments that the flutes and saxes were particularly clear and audible, and we all felt we played pretty well. We all came off feeling really good about it and there was a cool aftershow hang too- one of those special nights.

Encore at the Royal Albert HallI have just found out today that there is a four star glowing review of the gig in the Guardian which includes a reference to the 'preposterously honed and proficient band'. Nice. Then a couple of days off before off to Europe for another run - Netherlands, France, Poland, Scandinavia, Austria, Spain and a gig in Tel Aviv, Israel which should be fun. I have not been to Israel since playing at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat in 2000 with my own jazz quartet - which was an amazing experience. The tour has geared up as we are now travelling not just with a night liner tourbus and trailer but a whole other truck carrying our own full PA, lighting rig, and back line, and we have also extra crew to help with all of that. As the backstage rider gets refined I have noticed that it seems to be dividing between the rock 'n roll half and the health farm half - so we have vodka, beer, red wine, rum, and then blueberries, smoothies, nuts, humous and yes, Manuka honey! So on Tue we met up at K- West hotel in Shepherds Bush (named after the sign on the Ziggy Stardust cover) to get on the tour bus to set off to Dover. Adam brought a DVD box set of 'Breaking Bad' which we watched a couple of episodes of (pretty good in a dark sort of way) and at about 11 pm we got the ferry to Calais to continue on to Nijmegenfor the first gig. And here we are, ready to go. Soundcheck in one hour. 

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Tour Blog Part 35 : Sao Paolo, Brazil

Teatro Bradesco, Sao Paolo, Brazil

And so we come to the last gig of this whirlwind tour. 3 continents, 14 countries, 39 cities, 40 concerts, playing to around 60,000 people. It has been one hell of a ride. The final gig was in São Paulo, Brazil. When we landed in São Paulo we went straight to the hotel. Most of us were pretty wiped out, so had room service dinner which was very good. The following day I spent quite a lot of time on FaceTime (which is like Skype but even better and only on Apple Macs) speaking with home in England dealing with family matters.

Eventually I went out for a walk just to take a look around the area local to the hotel. After all, I was in Brazil. At home the stereotypical image of Brazil is sunshine, beautiful beaches like Ipanema, smiling beautiful people and a sun baked outdoor life. Well, on my short walk, the heavens opened and I got drenched with rain. More like Manchester! I did take refuge in Starbucks, also known to some as the American Embassy, had a coffee and then looked around some shops before returning to the hotel. We left for the gig at 5 pm, though the crew had been there all day setting up. Despite the venue being a beautiful and large concert hall which reminded me of the Royal Festival Hall in London, unfortunately the in house crew and technicians were not great. In fact several of our crew, who are all fantastic said they had had the most difficult day of their working lives.

Things not turning up for hours, staff not doing their job, people being generally very unhelpful and chatting with their mates rather than working etc etc. However the two women who were representatives from the Promoter were excellent and very helpful. It is a credit to our guys that Steven did not even know there had been any problem until after the show, because they had made it all happen despite the poor in house crew. In the dressing room, Steven practised his introduction to the audience in Portuguese. He commented just how different it is to Spanish, but I think he did a good job at learning his bit.

Anyway...we went onstage at 9.30 pm. The audience was seated and until Steven asked them to stand, the response was very appreciative but slightly muted. It seems that when an audience stands the level of vocal enthusiasm increases significantly.

Actually the whole subject of how an audience responds is interesting. There were people in the audience who I know were listening intensely to the gig and very much enjoying it. They applauded enthusiastically but did not go crazy. I know this does not mean they liked it any less than those who did go crazy. I myself have been at concerts I loved, but did not go crazy.

For some, or many, listening to music is a very personal experience and an internal and almost solitary experience, even when there is a crowd. Music can affect one deeply and that need not necessarily go hand in hand with whooping and hollering and jumping up and down. So I do very much understand that. However.....standing on stage, it does fire up and inspire the band if the audience does go wild (as opposed to go mild).

I should say that the audiences have been absolutely fabulous on this tour, with special mentions (as far as I can remember in this jet-lagged state) for those in Montreal, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Mexico, Philadelphia, Glasgow and Paris.

So the gig in Sao Paulo went very well. We played well I think, the sound was good, the crowd was lovely. A couple of things did make me laugh out loud (or should I say 'lol'....argh) First of all, in the song 'Watchmaker', the gauze comes down at the front of the stage for the film, then the lights go up on the band and we play behind the gauze. When the lights went up, the gauze was resting on Guthrie's guitar and right in his face. Steven looked like he was sitting in a tent and Nick's tambourine and microphone were completely smothered! Jason and Scott from our crew ran around trying to pull it off them while Steven sang, but I think there was a big smile on his face, as it was all a little 'Spinal Tap'.

The other thing that still makes me smile, even after all these gigs is during the song 'Harmonie Korine', when Nick strikes a certain pose, which I call the 'Bassman of the Apocalypse'. (photo right) It looks like he is in a trance communing with a greater being directly above his head and channeling some incredible energy down the neck of his bass, like a lightening rod. I love it and it does make me chuckle.

After the gig I met up with my friend Leonardo Pavkovic from Moonjune records, who is also the manager of Soft Machine Legacy (and Allan Holdsworth and others). He is also a friend of Chad's. He is a top man and works very hard for music he is passionate about. My other guests were Fabio Golfetti and his son who came along with Leonardo. Fabio is the current guitarist in the band Gong, and I met him when I sat in with that band at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London last November. A very good guitarist and lovely bloke he is also involved in record distribution and dealt with distribution of some of the early Porcupine Tree albums in Brazil.

We chatted backstage for a while before going back to the hotel. As it was the last night of the tour we all had a very enjoyable drink in the bar before turning in. Great to talk with Nick (amongst others) about the scene in Birmingham in the early 1980s - the Rum Runner club, Barbarellas, Duran Duran, the group Fashion and the hip Oasis clothes market with its cool stalls where I used to hang out as a young teenager marvelling at the weird beautiful people.

By about 3 am it was time for packing my things for leaving and for sleep. The following morning I hoped to meet my friend Dave Sturt for breakfast as he had flown into São Paulo that morning for a couple of Gong gigs. There was a plan, but as he had just done the overnight flight from the UK, I was not surprised he did not make it. I did meet up with Leonardo again, with Chad and Adam and had a good chat over breakfast. We then said our good byes to the Americans in our group who were flying later and we left for the airport and the flight home. Ahhh......home. Looking forward to that very much.

So there we have it. The end of this amazing tour. I can honestly say that it has been one of the very best tours I have ever had the good fortune to be on. The music is great, the band and all the individual musicians in it are wonderful and I cannot imagine a better crew. It was extremely well organised and managed and we covered a lot of ground. Great to meet so many fans too. Five and half weeks on the road is exhausting, but it was made as comfortable as it can be. Of course it was very difficult being in Argentina so far from home when my mother passed away and I am thankful I could get home so soon after it happened.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I hope you enjoyed the show if you were there. For those who read this blog (and I thank you for all the kind comments I have received), I hope you enjoyed having a ringside seat and a peek behind the scenes. It was a blast. And so I bid you...
Thank you and goodnight!

BUT, that is not in fact it, because there are some summer festival gigs coming up around Europe and then in the autumn the tour starts up again around the UK, Europe and beyond. So do check out the dates at stevenwilsonhq.com

If you have enjoyed this tour blog and/or my honking and tooting, please do visit my own recordings store at the ordering page. There are lots of CDs and vinyl albums both of my solo work and collaborations with Robert Fripp, Soft Machine Legacy, Cipher, Goldbug and others. I thought I would do a special promotion for anyone who has been reading the blog or wants to try some of my music, so I will throw in a signed photo, and for two or more CDs or vinyls I will also throw in an extra CD for free. Just message me through Facebook or the Message page on my website, write 'SWBlog' and say which extra CD you would like. How does that sound? I thank you.


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