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Tour Blog Part 19 : Washington D.C.

Theo & Steven

The venue was the Howard Theatre, which was an old place that had in fact been closed for about 40 years but opened again only a year ago and is really nice. Friendly helpful staff, and excellent catering. In fact after the gig one of the big beefy security guards who looked like Mike Tyson in a tight black suit shook my hand and said 'Great job'. That does not usually happen. 

In the morning I went for a coffee with Guthrie. Near the venue was a coffee shop that from the outside looked a bit bleak and rough. Like you would walk in and all sound would stop and people would turn round and stare at you. But we walked in and it was a great cafe, very vibey, excellent coffee and croissant, and cool music on the sound system. Perfect. 

Then back to the venue where I took a shower and caught up on emails etc. I tried Guthrie's TC Electronic 'Ditto' looping pedal. This enables you to play lines, record them and repeat them instantly, then add layers on top. It enables a solo line player (eg. someone with a flute) to create layers and tapestries of sound and play very differently to what you are limited to without such technological assistance. I have done a lot of such playing and recording with other footpedals eg. my solo alto flute album 'Slow Life', and all the performing and recording I have done with Robert Fripp, solo and with Steve Lawson. This new pedal is tiny, pretty intuitive and sonically clean. I was impressed and think it could be a useful addition. 

Dinner was a thoroughly delicious very tender brisket steak and collard greens which I have not had before. Sort of kale/ cabbage type vegetable which I understand is cooked for a long time with bits of turkey in. Then Apple Cobbler and ice cream. Ridiculous (good ridiculous!). We wandered around the dressing room feeling stuffed and joked about feeling so fat we would not be able to play and all the tempos having to be half speed... I did notice on the gig I was very thirsty and drank more water than any other gig we had done on this tour. It could have been because the food had been pretty salty. Maybe. 

The gig itself went very well. Not much to report, but it all felt good. After the gig and going out to sign some CDs and programmes, Adam noticed that in the club next door to our venue was a live band playing 'GoGo' music. Adam explained that GoGo is type of funk that originated in Washington D.C, made famous by Chuck Brown, and what we were hearing was the 'real deal'. We listened outside the fire exit to the band for a while and it did sound great. The easiest way to explain the GoGo rhythm is to point to either Chuck Brown or Grace Jones' 'Slave to the rhythm', on which she used that rhythm borrowing some of the best players from that scene for her song. It is interesting how different parts of America have their own particular grooves and regional music styles: GoGo here, New Orleans has a special shuffle, Chicago has its own thing, etc. 

At about midnight, Harv, our excellent and quirky but uber cool tour manager offered to take us all to a special local bar where they do alcoholic milk shakes. It sounded intriguing so about half a dozen of us went. Someone orders a peanut butter, whisky and cream shake (yes really), someone an avocado, tequila and cream one and a few of us go for the espresso, hazelnut and hennesseys cognac drink. Well I have to say they were most delicious. Rich though with all the thick cream, but ooh yes! Then back to the tour bus, and late night hanging out and chatting till about 3 am before sleep. Next stop, Buffalo, New York.

The Howard Theatre
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Tour Blog Part 18 : Philadelphia, Glenside, Keswick Theatre.

The Keswick Theatre (home of the Pennsy Pops)

So yesterday we had a stop off in North Carolina from 10 am until midnight, so the driver could have his break and sleep. We had hotel rooms but the area did not have much going on except highways, a shopping mall and a cinema. It was good to have time to rest, clean up, have a shower, do emails, have a walk etc. 

We had all heard about the terrible events in Boston, and I have both family and friends there, some close to where it all happened. We saw the news on the hotel lobby TV and were shocked at the events. No one I know was caught up in the bombings, but I was worried as one friend is seriously into running and I thought he might have run the marathon. For a day or two they had to stay home, stay indoors and not go out. Very scary. I am glad it has now been resolved. My thoughts and good wishes go to anyone who has suffered as a result of the bombings.

After having a bath and clean up and catching up on emails (and Facebook!), I tried to write some music as it is definitely time for me to write and record a new instrumental jazz album and tour round the British jazz clubs. 'Double Talk' was my last studio solo album and that was made in 2007! I have some pieces written and some half written ideas that need completing. I have manuscript paper and a keyboard on my iPad so have enough to work some things out. 

I then spent some time reading up on the film director Harmonie Korine, and watching YouTube clips of his films and him being interviewed on the David Letterman show. This was because Steven, Adam and I were going to see 'Spring Breakers', the new Harmonie Korine film in the evening. His earlier films are seriously weird, but on Letterman he was really funny. After going to the mall where we found a Ruby Tuesday restaurant, we saw the film. I was pleasantly surprised. It is not in fact weird, but very stylish and beautifully shot. James Franco and the four lead actresses were all excellent. I am not sure what the film 'said', but generally Korine's films are not narratives. Amusingly, on one Letterman interview in 1997, Korine says that his films have a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order! 

So back on the bus at midnight and off to Glenside, near Philadelphia. We arrive in the morning and it is a lovely theatre. Ian Bond, our excellent sound engineer said he did the sound in this same venue for King Crimson in 2008. I went for a coffee near the theatre and the man who served me says "Hey Theo". Fame at last, eh? Back at the venue the facilities were very good and the catering excellent. 

Various friends of the band came to the gig. My band mates from the 'Goldbug' project came along - guitarist Tim Motzer and bass player Barry Mehan. The drummer in the band, Eric Slick was gigging so couldn't make it. We took the opportunity for a photo shoot as our new album is nearly finished. The talented Dejha Ti came and took the various photos. Michelle Moog, daughter of Bob and friend of Adam and Marco came along as did drummer Mike Portnoy. He seems like a nice guy. In publicity photos he always looks mean and fierce, but came over as a lovely guy in real life. I think that is often the way though. I remember well meeting Robert Wyatt for the first time. In photos he always looks like some sort of Greek god - Zeus or Neptune, austere and disapproving with his long thick beard. Then I met him and he giggled a lot and smiled and chuckled constantly. Very different! 

So the gig felt great to me and very enjoyable. Slick, powerful, focused, good solos. All the things you want it to be. Marco was back for this gig and was fabulous as you would expect. When he plays the drums on these songs, he does not just play the parts, he completely inhabits them. He IS them. It is extraordinary. The crowd was great too and super enthusiastic. So ...job done. Next stop, Washington D.C.

The talented Dejha Ti with Theo
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Tour Blog Part 17 : Atlanta, Georgia

Varsity Playhouse

So after the Florida gig, there is a telephone call and some bad news. There follows much discussion and some other calls and emails. For family and private reasons, Chad is going to have to leave the tour, at least for the time being. He will do the next night's gig in Atlanta, then there is a night off and he will fly back to L.A. He will be back, but we are not sure when. To accommodate this, Marco is contacted immediately to see if he can come back until his rehearsals with Joe Satriani start. Very fortunately it turns out that he can. This is of course a huge relief as of course Marco knows this music inside out, was in the band from the beginning and recorded the album etc. Marco and Chad are good friends, so Marco is able to help out and return and the immediate crisis is resolved. Wow! Life. 

So we drive through the night from Florida to Atlanta, Georgia in the Deep South of the US of A. Not that I get to see much of Atlanta. As usual, I wake up in a small bunk on the tour bus in a parking lot. I look out of the bus window and see a brick wall. I put some shoes on and ask where the venue entrance is. So I go through a doorway in the brick wall into a theatre and down some stairs into a nondescript basement dressing room. Bit like Groundhog Day. At least when on tour in America I know what country I am in. When touring round mainland Europe and you do this, it is not uncommon to clamber off the bus and have no idea what country you are in.

The venue is nice, and backstage facilities pretty good. All decent venues have shower facilities backstage so I have a shower and breakfast and catch up on e mails etc. At 4.30 pm there is a good soundcheck, and then off to dinner with Guthrie for a rather tasty hot chicken sandwich with avocado and salad and fries. It is good to go for a brief wander. The area around the venue has a great record shop called Criminal Records and there are lots of cool vintage clothes shops too. The street has a kind of Haight Ashbury vibe and felt pretty hip. 

Before the gig went to a nearby coffee house where there were some curious slogans posted on the wall - like 'Tampons for Jesus'. Eh...?! Also a local magazine called 'Ponce News', and a flyer for a 'Grow your own Marijuana' talk with a picture of a smiling scientist in a white lab coat. Yeah, man... 

So the gig felt really good. I did have some monitoring problems as there was some loud interference in the radio frequency used for my in ear monitors. It was manageable though. Chad was superb and everyone played well. In my soprano sax solo on Raider 2, there is some cool rhythmic interaction with the keyboards and drums. After the solo, I look over at Chad and he looks up and gives me a smile. I think that meant he liked it, and that felt great. Sometimes the smallest looks, nods, eyebrow movements on stage between musicians can communicate so much. Approval from Chad Wackerman. Cool. Steven was fantastic and as usual was great talking to the audience. He seems so natural doing it - Informative, funny, interacting with hecklers, being spontaneous. It sounds so natural and that is hard to do. I know from fronting my own band. Sometimes I spend half a song thinking what I am going to say, then I say something completely different to what I intended because something or someone in the audience diverts my attention. Then it comes out all wrong and I talk gibberish. So I have a lot of respect for people who can chat to the audience in a relaxed manner in between songs. And from being in an audience myself, I know this can add a lot to a gig. After all, you have heard the music on CD or record before, but you haven't necessarily heard the artist talk, and certainly not to you on that specific evening. I think it is a unique and special part of seeing a favourite artist live. So nice one, Steve. And as I say, he can be very funny. 

Hung out a bit after the gig and nice to see and chat with Andre Cholmondeley from 'Project Object' again. He is friends with Adam and Marco and I had met him at various European festivals and gigs before. He is currently tour managing Greg Lake. Good guy and some interesting chat. He also informed me that the David Bowie exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in London, which I was planning on going to is sold out until August. Most annoying. 

Then back on the bus for the long drive to Philadelphia. In fact we are driving through the night, then from 10am until tomorrow midnight we are in a hotel somewhere while the driver has a break, then back on the bus at midnight to complete the drive to Philly. Steven suggests if possible we could go and see the new Harmonie Korine film 'Spring Breakers' which is on general release and is the director's first mainstream film. Sounds like a good plan to me. 'Harmonie Korine' is the name of one of Steven's songs that we play in the set. I believe the song is named after him just because it is a beautiful name, not because the lyrics have anything to do with him. I subsequently spend some time online checking out the weird world of Harmonie Korine.

Theo with Steven Wilson
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Tour Blog Part 16 : St Petersburg, Florida, not Russia

​So the first gig of the US tour was just outside Tampa, Florida. A black box type rock venue and the back stage facilities were not great to be honest, and there was no rider. Not the best start. There were some technical problems and it was not possible to put up the gauze for the front and back projections which are important eg for 'Index' and 'The Watchmaker', so we were to do the gig without this. Incidentally Steven posted today on YouTube the live video of the band playing 'the Watchmaker' live in Germany from the recent Neu-Isenberg gig (see below). I think it looks and sounds pretty good. 

Before the gig I went to eat at a Thai place near the venue with Guthrie and Chad and had a good chat. Some more great stories from Chad about touring with James Taylor (the American 'Sweet Baby James' one not the English acid jazz one) which sounds amazing and extraordinary. Also heard some good Zappa stories, like when you auditioned for his band, he would say 'Do something fantastic for me'. This could be musical, technical, theatrical or off the wall and if he liked it and you were 'in' he would compose something to incorporate your special fantastic thing into the music for the band. 

It was Chad's first gig with the band so I think he was a little apprehensive as there is an enormous amount to remember, even with reminder notes. Well, he was extraordinary. Absolutely superb. Hats off to him. I was very impressed and loved what he did. 

The crowd went wild and that was very encouraging and positive. Especially as it was hot onstage and there had been some problems. I got a surprise during my alto flute improv' on the acoustic section of Raider 2, when I felt drops of water landing on my shoulder. Very off putting. It happened again in 'the Raven' and 'Radioactive Toy', though then it was dripping on my head. I looked up but could not see anything, so maybe it was leaking air conditioning or something. Anyway, these things happen and you can't let them put you off. The cheers at the end of the gig were amazing. We all got a nice surprise when during the band introductions we saw on the screen that a sketch by Hajo of Chad had been done to accompany his introduction and bow. Lovely touch.

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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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