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Tour Blog Part 33 : Santiago, Chile

We left our hotel in Mexico City to head for the airport with plenty of time to spare, given the anticipated lengthy check-in with all our gear. We had been staying in a posh and comfortable hotel, though in some of the rooms the hot water had not worked for some of the time nor the TV. When I checked out of my room, my room bill included a charge for breakfast (even though this was included), a charge for the mini bar (which had been locked the entire time I was there) and a tax payable on the mini bar items which I had not consumed. I was not happy. So after some discussion, all these charges were removed. A bit annoying though.

We left the hotel having posed for photos with a few more fans and headed off through Mexico City for the airport. The traffic was terrible but we had plenty of time and it at least gave me a chance to see some street life in the city. Lots of small shops selling steering wheels, plumbing, clothes, and bric a brac, as well as all the places to eat and drink. There was a constant stream of street sellers walking through the traffic selling amongst other things steering wheels (how many steering wheels can anyone need?), white plastic eggs, toys and flowers.

We got to the airport and Ian, with the help of the rest of our fine crew, dealt with all the check in business. Our plane was delayed by an hour and a half, apparently because a volcano near the airport had erupted...! That did not sound good. The flight was an eight and a half hour overnight flight. That did not sound like fun either. Then we were told there was a further delay, so I played chess with Nick on his computer. The game is yet to be finished. When the plane finally took off at 11.20 pm it was three hours late. The only one good thing about the delay was it meant I sat with Chad and had a good chat about his working with Frank Zappa. Chad was in Frank's band from 1981 to 1988, so had lots to tell. I am a medium but not huge Zappa fan, but was fascinated to hear how things were in the band and what he was like. Zappa was hugely prolific, extremely talented, and built his own audience his own way playing very left-field, complex music that was utterly individual. He really made it work on his own terms and made a success of his music and his band in a way that anyone would have predicted was impossible. And Chad was right there in the middle of it for years. Hearing about that first hand was priceless.

The flight was full and as I am quite tall, not very comfortable. I watched much of the film 'Inception' which is a Christopher Nolan science fiction film with Leonardo de Caprio that Steven had recommended. A thriller about getting inside someones dream (and dream within a dream) in order to plant an idea to change the future for personal and political gain, it is an interesting and very well made film, but by 2am I had had enough and needed to sleep. After dozing but not sleeping for a while and then a sort of rubber scrambled egg breakfast, I revisited Pat Metheny's 'Still Life (Talking) on the in-flight audio system which I loved in the late 1980s and had not heard for years. It is one of his classics. We flew into Chile over the Andes mountains and it was cool to see them as we descended.

When we landed there was concern at the baggage reclaim as Steve's and Guthrie's cases did not appear on the conveyor belt. As someone who has had their baggage lost by an airline before I shared their concern. A couple of years ago I played a jazz festival in Sardinia (with Soft Machine Legacy with special guest Tony Levin) and my suitcase with my soprano sax, pedals and all my personal stuff did not arrive. It had for some reason not been put on the plane. The suitcase did eventually arrive two days later - the day after the gig! Then after 10 mins the baggage belt started again and Guthrie's and Steven's bags did appear. Phew! When we went through customs I knew things were going well when the lady customs official asked if she could pose with Steven and Nick and have her photo taken.

We got to the hotel and the crew only had about 40 mins before turning round and going to the venue to set up. The band had about 4 hours, so I grabbed a bite to eat and went to bed for some much needed sleep.

Later we went to the venue which is the same one we played in last year - a mini arena called Teatro Caupolican which holds about 2200 people. During the soundcheck, quite a lot of adjustments had to be made because there was a lot of hired equipment, not all of which worked. In fact the bass amplifier did not work, a replacement was brought in though one of the speakers on that was held together (just) with sticky tape, so that one had to be replaced too. There were problems with one of Guthrie's guitar amps too. However after a longish soundcheck we got everything working satisfactorily. The sound always changes considerably once an audience is in the room too.

Before we went onstage we could hear the large crowd singing a football chant. They were clearly pumped and were going to have a good time. The gig itself was really great for me. I liked the layout of the venue, the sound was clear, the audience was very enthusiastic and they clearly loved it. I think I played OK too. Afterwards I met some fans and did the autographs and photos thing. After all, how often do I get to play in Chile? We got back to the hotel quite late, but there was just time for last orders and one drink outside in the very pleasant patio area around the fire by the pool. The whole band and several of the crew were there and it was good to relax after a long and tiring two days before turning in. Steven had been given a thick book of romantic classic Chilean poetry and he regaled us with a readIng in his best Spanish. None of us understood a word, but it sounded marvellous. Nick had been given a bottle of some seriously strong local liqueur which smelled so dangerous none of us even dared try it.

Then today we flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina right over the Andes mountain range for our penultimate concert of this leg of the tour.


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Tour Blog Part 32 : Teatro Metropolitan, Mexico City

Fans in Mexico

Somehow a group of fans found out which hotel we were in and from the time we arrived they were outside waiting for autographs and photos. Some particularly enthusiastic ones seemed to camp out there for 2 whole days! We did meet a lot of them and sign CDs and pose for photos. Clearly the band coming to Mexico was very important to them and they were serious fans. 

Before the gig itself a group of us from the band were going to walk to the venue as it was not far from the hotel, but the throng was so big, if we had gone out the front door we would not have made it in time for the gig, so we sneaked out the back door of the hotel - proper rock star style. This is very different from 'jazz world', and Chad, Adam and I joked about this on our way out. 

The venue is the Teatro Metropolitan, the same theatre where the 'Get all you deserve' DVD was filmed in 2012. It seats 3000 people and was completely sold out. There is a huge and very high balcony as well as the stalls seats. As we had not brought our own amplifiers and equipment eg. Chad's drums, or Steven' s keyboard, these were all rented and so we had a longer soundcheck to check everything was working OK. It was fine, but things did need a bit of tweaking. 

When we walked onstage the roar of the crowd was deafening. Everyone stood up (downstairs at least) immediately and stayed standing up for the rest of the gig. The gig went well and was very well received. Steven even learnt some Spanish phrases to welcome the crowd. That went down well. Playing to a full venue of this size definitely felt different to our usual theatres and rock venues. This felt more like an arena or stadium crowd. Huge and loud. They were clearly listening carefully though as they clapped solos and were totally silent for the very quiet parts of songs (like the beginning of Raider 2). The monitor sound was not the easiest and that combined with not having the usual guitar amps (Marshalls instead of Bad Cats) meant there were some additional challenges. However I don't think the audience would have noticed any of this, and the show was good. I have already received messages from people in the audience from Facebook and my own website saying how much they loved the gig. Next stop....Santiago, Chile.

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Tour Blog Part 31 : LA - Mexico City

Mexico City

The day off in Downtown LA was relaxing. I had planned to meet up with a friend who I last saw in September when we were in L.A recording 'the Raven...' album at East West studios on Sunset Boulevard. However she had to cancel so I just chilled most of the day and was not very sociable. I did get concerned however when from my hotel room I heard some screeching tyres then a very loud bang. It sounded like a nasty traffic accident. I was even more surprised when about 30 mins later I heard another screech of tyres and an equally loud bang. I thought maybe the first accident had been in a hidden spot so someone else had driven straight into them. Ouch! An hour later I heard yet another screech and bang. This was getting weird. I decided to get out of my room and go for a walk to see what downtown LA is like as I have never been here. On the next block was a whole film crew and movie cameras and lots of people milling about with megaphones. It seems that a movie for Universal was being shot right there. Some cops and robbers type thing featuring Ice T and they were filming a scene with screeching cars and an explosion. Well I guess Hollywood is just down the road, so fair enough I thought. 

I took a long walk down 7th Street, past the Jewellery district and the Fashion district. On Broadway I saw some historic movie houses that have been renovated, some as performance spaces. Some of the buildings and shops looked pretty run down, and others just old. There has been a lot of renovation however including lots of new Loft space apartments. I chanced upon an interesting alley called St Vincent's Court (photo right), which has a slightly surreal feel to it and doesn't seem to fit with neighbouring 7th St. A cobbled street mainly full of Mediterranean and European small eateries it has a quaintness unlike any of the surrounding area and feels a little like a slice of Victorian London or Paris. I did find an amazing 'Juice Crafters' bar nearby and bought what is called an 'Oh yes', which was quite delicious. I later bought a light Mexican dinner which was a) not great but OK, and b) pretty dumb considering I was flying to Mexico the next day. Seemed like the right thing at the time, though... The following morning our lobby call was 6.45 am. This is a bit of a change from getting up on the tour bus at around 10.30 am. As we were flying, we had to take all the stage equipment with us, so all the guitars, basses, pedal boards, effects, lights, microphones, stage backdrop etc had to be checked in as baggage. We needed to allow some extra time for this as it can get complicated, especially if the airport staff at check-in happen to have got out of bed on the wrong side and decide to take it out on you. So we got to LAX airport and checked in etc and thankfully it was not too bad. The flight was completely full, so although I took my tenor sax as hand luggage, there was no room for it in the overhead lockers, and the air stewardess took it from me to put it somewhere - I assumed a cupboard or something. The flight itself was 3.5 hours and was OK. When we landed that was when the fun started. First of all, I was told my tenor sax was not in a cupboard but had been put in the hold. I have heard several stories of a saxophone going into the hold of an aircraft and coming out trashed, or flattened, or separate from its case. So I was indeed concerned. Then when we got out of the plane, it took 75 minutes to get through passport control. Argh! Luckily my sax was OK, but when we reached customs they decided to ask for every case to be opened, all the equipment to be explained and listed - every pedal and lead and instrument and light, and relevant forms to be filled in. This took an extra hour. Ian our front of house sound man stepped up as acting tour manager and dealt with it all very well without visibly showing the annoyance I am sure he was feeling! 

Finally we arrived at our hotel and after briefly freshening up, a few of us went out to dinner, before strolling round the square across the road, where there was a buzzing market place. Tacos stands, jewellery, dodgy DVDs, trinkets, food and three big dance floors full of people salsa dancing the night away. Very cool. Welcome to Mexico!

St Vincent's
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Tour Blog Part 30 : San Francisco - Club Nokia, Los Angeles, California

Adam and Theo
Club Nokia
The gig at the Fillmore is the last one with Marco (at least for a while), so it gave it an extra poignancy. Plus of course it is such a classic venue. You cannot but be humbled walking around the backstage area, seeing posters of Miles Davis, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, Sly Stone, the Mahavishnu Orchestra etc etc. So it was going to be a special gig. When we hit the stage it was interesting to see all the familiar faces of the fans we had met and spoken to at the Amoeba Records performance and signing. I felt like I knew half the audience! And there was the girl with the Steven Wilson tattoo on her arm in the middle of the front row. Maybe I should not be surprised because it was San Francisco but I do believe I could smell dope wafting across the stage during the show.

The gig felt good and relaxed. The advantage of doing 70 plus shows with the same band is that you become very comfortable with the material, even when it is complicated music. So you can relax more and feel less and less tense about forgetting something or not being able to play a certain part correctly. And for the improvised solo sections, you dig deep to find different things to play each night, because I generally want to repeat myself as little as possible. I can only remember one time in my life when I played the exact same solo each night, and it was when I filled in to help out a Pink Floyd tribute band called 'In the Flesh' for about 8 gigs in 2010. The job there was to play Dick Parry's solos on 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' and 'Money' note for note and to be honest I was more than happy to do so as I had known those iconic sax solos since childhood and always loved them. In fact when I first started out, I am sure I stood in my bedroom and played the 'Shine on..' sax solo along with the record 'Wish You Were Here' pretending I was in Pink Floyd. My version of the solo is on youtube actually. I think it is not bad (even if I do say so myself)... see video:

The coach home


However, I digress... After the SF gig I went out with Nick to sign CDs and programmes and meet and greet. It was good to meet fans and get feedback on everything. Then there was a backstage 'hang' with various friends of the band. I had the pleasure of meeting the third member of Marco and Guthrie's band the Aristocrats - Bryan Beller who is an excellent bass player and a very nice chap to boot. Also there was the very talented Mike Keneally who is playing with Marco and Bryan in the Joe Satriani Band. Innerviews writer Anil Prasad and his wife and a friend were there too. 

This was to be our last night on the tour bus as from LA on, it is to be all planes and hotels. After the LA gig we fly to Mexico, then to Chile, then to Brazil. I have got used to the bus and sleep fine on it. It is also nice being able to sleep in in the mornings and have your little travelling house (photo right) with you on the road and backstage too . So we drove overnight to LA and in the morning left the bus for our hotel which we are in for 2 nights. After checking in and relaxing for a bit, it was off to the Nokia Theatre for soundcheck and gig. Chad Wackerman was back with us now, so we had an extra long soundcheck for him to run through some of the songs. After all, this is complicated music and he has not played with us for nearly a month. Amazingly he has now learnt all the music off by heart and was to play without any reminder notes to refer to. The soundcheck was fine although I was not sure how it was going to be without Marco. There was then hours of waiting around until the gig. This was a little dull as the gig was a late one and we were not going on till after 9pm. 

The gig itself was surprisingly good. We wondered if the audience would be a bit "LA" and laid back, but they were very responsive. Steven talked a lot on the microphone and was very funny. He mentioned before we went on that this is the last English speaking audience for this part tour, so he thought he would go that extra mile with the chat and anecdotes. He is very good at all of that. Chad was absolutely superb. Not only had he learnt all the parts perfectly, he played with a lot of fire and added his own personal sound and groove to the songs. Very impressive and we all commented afterwards what enjoyable gig it had been.

In the VIP lounge it was good to see Rob Trujillo again. He is the bass player with the band Metallica, knows Nick and is a big fan of this band. He was raving about our gig when he came to the show last year at the House of Blues, LA and he thought tonight had taken it up a level. When a member of Metallica, who are one of the heaviest bands on the planet, thinks your band really rocks, that is one heck of an endorsement! Alan Parsons and his band also came along too, though by the time I got to the party, they had already left. Oh well. So day off now, then off to Mexico. Hola amigos!

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Tour Blog Part 29 : The Fillmore, San Francisco

So we left the strange world of the Nevada desert hotel/casino with the endless corridors in which it was very hard to find lifts and when you did, most of them only took you to the casino on floor 3 and not the ground floor reception and exit, with its thousands of fruit machines and neon lights. Strange to see people smoking indoors again as they seem to be allowed to there, and why was no one smiling anywhere? Curious place. 

We drove over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, passing the small island on the way in where the famous Alcatraz prison had been. The weather was like your average grey day in London in March. We were staying in a part of San Francisco called Little Saigon in a funky hotel with rooms around a pool and bar area. My room has a radio alarm and with a nature sounds option which I put on out of curiosity. Wind chimes, birds, and some sea sounds. Ahh. Very relaxing while I read the hotel manual:

 "California is prone to earthquakes. If one should occur, hotel guests should crawl under a solid table or piece of furniture, or stand under an open doorway, or get on your knees and bend down, cover yourself with blankets and wait for the earthquake to end." .....OK..! 

The whole band was performing a short set in Amoeba records, a wonderful and huge independent record store on legendary Haight St. We arrived early to set up and it was a very stripped down affair with just our basic equipment. I personally find it a lot of fun performing in this way. A kind of back to basics type gig. There was quite a bit of free time and the store very kindly gave us each a $40 to spend on whatever we liked. I met my friend the writer Anil Prasad who made some suggestions and I eventually decided on Pharoah Sanders - Thembi, Terye Rypdal - Crime Scene, XTC - Skylarking, and Oregon - Beyond Words. Have now given them a spin at the hotel and so far enjoying them a lot - particularly Thembi. The band performance was fun and I thought went well. We then spent over an hour signing people's albums in the store. Steven certainly has a lot of dedicated fans. One had a tattoo of Steven' s face on her arm. 

Eventually we got back to the hotel and after freshening up, Adam, Nick, Steven, Anil and I went out for an excellent meal at a nearby vegetarian Thai restaurant. Good food and some most interesting stories and talk. Then a late hang in the groovy hotel bar where the walls were lined with shelves stacked full of vinyl albums and more good talk. 

In the morning I took a stroll up to Mel's diner which is a classic 1950s style American diner, the sort featured in the film 'American Graffiti'. Lots of 1950s style artwork and Americana. Happy smiling all American families and shiny pink Buicks and Cadillacs. I ate some pretty average eggs and toast and strolled back passing the Great American Music Hall. I remember well playing there with Gong on the ill-fated US tour of 2000. Actually that gig was pretty good for us, but I do remember the support act which was Kevin Ayers and band. Back in the 1960s he was in the original Soft Machine with Daevid Allen and he had a rich baritone voice and some strong songs. However that night, he had to be helped onto the stage and after his set practically carried off the stage because he had taken some horse tranquillisers (ketamine) which he said was..err...accidental. Needless to say, it was not his finest performance. 

So I am sitting backstage at the Fillmore, San Francisco waiting for soundcheck. This is a classic venue and the walls are lined with posters of all the great bands that have played here over the years.

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