Two gigs, too many miles…

We’ve had two lovely gigs in the last couple of days, and some stupidly early mornings.

Saturday began with me heading into town to pick up a SatNav thingie – I knew better than to try big drives across Europe with maps and google-directions. So I got us a Garmin 250, which was the cheapest one to have proper European coverage (a lot of the low-end Tom Tom ones seem to have ‘European main roads’ – which is no good if you’re trying to find someone’s house, I guess!)

Saturday night’s gig was a house concert in Deal in Kent, in a beautiful Italian-style house, perfect for a house concert. The event was part-gig, part-church social, and it took a while for it to sink in for some of the people there that it was a ‘gig’ not background music for the party, but by the time Lo. got up to sing, everybody was rapt. All in a most enjoyable evening (and one of the biggest house concerts we’ve done).

Unusually for me, the routing of these two gigs was ideal, in that on Sunday morning we had to be at Dover for a ferry at 7am, and were staying 10 minutes away (anyone who’s ever followed the gig list for any tour I’ve done will know that it usually looks like a 2 year old drew the route with a crayon!) – so we drove to Dover, slept on the ferry, then SaNav’d our way though France, Belgium and Holland up to Amsterdam to the home of the lovely John Lester, and had quite a few hours to relax before heading over to KHL for the gig.

I, dear readers, am ALL about the SatNav – It saved us time, money, stress… it’ll pay for itself in about a month, given how many times I get lost usually on tour… You can program it to avoid toll roads, to tell you were the nearest petrol station is… it’s all good (yeah, I know, the rest of the world discovered SatNav some time in the late 90s, but like iPods and loopers with feedback control, I’m very late into the game…)

Anyway, off to KHL – a lovely venue that John had taken us to on our last visit to Amsterdam. The sunday night singer/songwriters night is booked by a local singer/songwriter Marijn Mijnands, and she was headlining the night with her band Ma Rain. It was just a half hour opening slot, but the reception was really warm, we sold a bunch of CDs, and will be back there sometime in the Spring, hopefully… All good. Ma Rain’s set was lovely too – her keyboard player Nico Brandsen is particularly fab, his choice of sounds for everything was perfect.

And now we’s chillin’ in Amsterdam. The cost of parking anywhere near the middle of the city is so high that we drove the car out to the edge to the Park ‘n’ Ride this morning, and got the tram back in, and then slept for about four hours, catching up on all the missed sleeps after the late nights and early mornings of the last few days…

…did you just call me Pardner???

We’re here in Texas. Plano, just outside Dallas to be precise. It seems like a rather lovely place – still strip-mall-based, like so many american cities, but definitely a better class of strip mall than most (and a huge Whole Foods market to be explored…)

We’s here for a house concert tonight – the house is gorgeous, and the concert is going to be marvellous.

Now where did I blog from last? Ah, yes, Nashville – well the Nashville house concert at Sarah and David’s was a whole lot of fun – we set up on their front porch, blankets were laid out in the yard, and we played for lots of lovely friends, surrounded by fairy lights, candles and the sounds of crickets between songs. A most enjoyable evening was had by all, and the duo stuff between the lovely L and I just gets better and better. Her ability to ‘learn’ a loop after one listen is uncanny, and to stack harmonies on something that seems pretty random… She also bought a gorgeous new guitar – a nylon-strung takamine that sounds incredible. Really relaly lovely, and got for a fantastic bargain at Nashville Used Music, or whatever that big shop out on Nolansville road is called.

So favourite things about Nashville? the people, Fido’s, Baja Burrito, the gig, TOGH being there, The Belcourt (Sheriff ElRon and I went to see Rock The Bells – a film about delusional people putting on the last ever gig by all the members of the Wu Tang Clan (though even with ODB being dead, I’m sure they could just get Shane McGowan to fill in, and people would just think Dirty was looking a little pasty…)… Nashville is a town full of good things (and rubbish, it is the home of CCM too, and therefor plays host to much of the most mediocre nonsense ever produced in the name of popular music, as well as the occasional gem…) and certainly somewhere both L and I could live if pushed…

From there we embarked on what i think is the longest drive of my life (yup, I just checked, this was the previous winner) – 700 and something miles from Nashville to Lake Charles Louisiana. Which was, to be honest, a pretty easy drive. Freeways here are much much clearer in general than motorways in the UK, (if you’re not in or around NYC, LA, Chicago or San Francisco), so we never seem to hit much traffic, and just drive from one place to another at 70 mph all the way. In our extensive research, we’ve discovered that IHOP and Denny’s do the best options for vegetarians on the highways of the US. TGI Fridays is shit, Waffle House isn’t actually food, and the burger places are all horrible, with indie places being either non-existent, or really risky in their quality… so we’re happy for IHOP and Denny’s.

The trip to Louisiana was for a house concert at Trip Wamsley’s house – Trip, as y’all know, is one of my most favouritest solo bassists in the world, and fun to hang out with too… it was nice to witness him in his natural habitat, for sure.

The gig was really lovely – Trip played first, and played really well, as always, then L and I got to do our thing, and had much fun, sold a load of CDs, and all was good.

On Sunday, i put down a load of bass tracks for a track on Trip’s new album, and realised just what a HUGE improvement putting this ART tube preamp in the FX loop on my Lexicon has made. It sounded incredible. I can’t wait to hear what Trip does with it. The evening was spent watching Ross Noble DVDs, and hanging out. Much fun at the Trip-house with Trip, Mrs Trip and lil’ Bubba Trip.

And so on into Texas, heading from Chez Trip to Plano TX, from where I’m writing this, trying to decide whether to walk or drive to Whole Foods – how far was it again??

Oh, and the title? We stopped in a auto-mart or some such place, to get directions, and the dude behind the counter actually called me ‘Pardner’ (as in Partner with a silly accent, for all you Englishes) – indeed. He sadly didn’t say ‘you ain’t from around here are you boy?’, but there’s still time for that…

InterRail travel plans pt 2…

OK, just booked my tickets for the first leg of my trip to Europe… Here’s how it’s working so far:

With your interrail ticket, you get cheap tickets on the Eurostar (£50 each way), so I’ve booked to Paris.

From there, because my next stint takes me out of my allocated zones, I had to pay a little more to Geneva – it should’ve been £15, but there were no standard class tickets left, so Paris to Geneva is costing me £23.

From Geneva to Milan goes through a whole load of Switzerland, so it’s costing me £26 (a ticket type for ‘journeys where your pass only covers part of the journey’) – after that, the internal Italian journeys will be free, and seat bookings for the longer TGV journeys, as long as I don’t go outside my zones, will be about £4 per journey.

So, first lesson is that if I was planning on doing loads of journeys outside my zones, it’s clearly going to be better to get the full euro-pass for £110 more. I won’t use that much (as the next bit where I go out of the country is just a jolly across the dutch/german border which won’t come to £50), but it’s worth thinking ahead… If I bought the £405 all-zones pass, it also lasts for 30 days not 22…

In other news, as per usual, TSP is using me going away as an excuse to invite her lovely friends to stay, so I once again miss out on a week of fun in London, but I’m sure sailing through the french, swiss, italian, belgian, dutch and german countryside on a train will comfort me. Maybe I can convince nice friends to stay a day or so after I get back as well, just so I get to go for curry!

So total expense for today, for Eurostar, paris-geneva, geneva-paris +booking fee + registered post – £110.

Total travel costs so far £410. Number of gigs I’ll be able to do for that amount of expenditure – 4, possibly 6 (two still waiting for confirmation in Italy, which works out to a maximum £102.50 per gig in travel so far, with three days in Geneva thrown in, and the possibility of a day out in either Rome or Venice just for fun, and the chance to take two basses with me, more CDs for sale (which=more income without having to ship them ahead – a box of 45 CDs costs about £20 to send to Italy), and no excess baggage charges at the airport (last time I flew Ryanair to France, with no CDs, one bass, and stripped down bass rig, it cost me £40 in excess baggage, £13 each way on the train to Stansted, and £45 for the ticket – £111 total…

this train thing is looking good!

InterRail ticket is booked…

I’m going to blog my travel process in some detail, given that I’m doing my Italy/Germany tour in October via an InterRail ticket – that is, I buy one ticket, and can get through all of France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Greece, Turkey and, er, Luxembourg for 22 days on the train.

I booked the ticket online – nice easy process, though you do need your passport to hand as they want your passport number. The online booking process is fairly non-specific, in that you don’t book a seat on individual trains then, you just choose the zones, your age bracket (under or over 26) and a start date. I’ll be ringing up on Monday morning to get reserved seats from London to Geneva, Geneva to Milan, Milan to Verona, and then after that Verona to Dusseldorf, which is out of my zones (as is Geneva), but I’m hoping I can just pay a coupla quid extra and cross the border, as both are v. close to the French/Dutch borders…

While in Italy, I’m going to take advantage of the free ticket and see if I can get away to Rome for a day between gigs – need to find out how long the train takes from where I’ll be staying…

If this all works out as planned, it’s definitely THE way to tour in Europe – no airplane baggage limits, no 2 hour checkin times, no hassle finding crappy airports 30 miles outside the city centre to be able to get the cheap flights, no trouble if you miss your first train, no problem if a last minute gig comes in and you have to reroute… And to cap it all, plenty of time to see the countries you’re playing in! If the gigs are really well paid and spread out, you can break the journeys over night in interesting cities on the way.

This kind of ticket scheme is available for Americans wanting to travel in Europe too – do a google search and see what y’all can find!

The only limitations I’ve come across so far are that you can’t use it in the country you live in, though you do qualify for cheap tickets to get you out of your own country (£100 return to paris in the eurostar, £80 return to Calais – I’m going to see if I can pick up the TGV in Calais…) and if you want to book a fast train, there’s a booking fee of a couple of quid for the seat. It remains to be seen if you can get on without a booked seat, and just take your chances (or end up standing in the restaurant car for 8 hours – no thanks!)

the big thing I’m hoping for are electrical sockets on the trains near the seats. You get these on British trains now, so hopefully, given that the Europeans seem to do EVERYTHING train-related better than us, they’ll have that, and free wi-fi! At least with the plug socket I’ll be able to spend some time working on transcriptions of my tunes. I’m also going to download a few greenbelt seminars and put them onto my phone to listen to, as well as this year’s Reith Lectures by Daniel Barenboim.

I’ll let you know how the booking of the individual trains and the Eurostar goes on Monday…

Ned Evett Trio At The Troubadour

Back-pedalling to Monday night, I headed down to the Troubadour (home of my first ever solo gig) to see Ned Evett play with his trio. I’d only ever seen Ned play solo before… actually, that’s not true, i did see Ned with a couple of other musicians when I first met him at La Nuit De La Fretlesse in Mende, France, back in… 2001?

anyway, it’s a long time since I’ve seen Ned play with a band, so it was great to hear what he sounds like in that setting. The only problem was that their bags were lost on the flight over, so Ned was completely without his pedal board and two of his guitars. Yup. My. Worst. Nightmare. Well, not quite on a par with world war, or UKIP winning a general election, but still a pretty fearful thought for any musician.

Still, Ned did a fabulous job with just his one guitar, a rented amp and a delay pedal. The juxtaposition of Ned’s fretless guitar and the upright bass is an inspired combination, and Ned’s well developed dynamic control with his voice was ably supported by the rhythm section. A great night out.

If you get a chance to see them play, don’t miss it!

Travelling musicians…

The current clamp-down on carry-on rules for planes is already bollocksing things up for lots of musicians such as these orchestral musicians, destined for the Edinburgh Festival and the Proms.

What a load of balls – are these laws making us safer, or just there to let us know how serious the threat is and make us oh-so-grateful to our loser government for protecting us from a possible attack.

Andrew Collins, whose blog is one of my current faves, highlights the vagueness of the current ‘news’ in this brilliant blog post. Have a read. Let’s see if anyone ends up in court.

And this post by Bruce Schneier highlights the utter uselessness of basing security measures on what the ‘terrorists’ have already planned. Here’s a couple of choice quotes –

None of the airplane security measures implemented because of 9/11 — no-fly lists, secondary screening, prohibitions against pocket knives and corkscrews — had anything to do with last week’s arrests. And they wouldn’t have prevented the planned attacks, had the terrorists not been arrested. A national ID card wouldn’t have made a difference, either.

and

Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-ons won’t make us safer, either. It’s not just that there are ways around the rules, it’s that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition.

It’s easy to defend against what the terrorists planned last time, but it’s shortsighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we’ve wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we’ve wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets — stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people before airport security — and too many ways to kill people.

Security measures that require us to guess correctly don’t work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It’s not security, it’s security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer.

And meanwhile, thousands of travellers the world over are having their livelihoods screwed up by the legislation. I’m all for getting people to stop taking short-haul flights, but not just by fucking up their travel plans. That’s hardly an integrated transport policy!

But, it looks likely that I’ll be getting the train to Italy in October – with this inter-rail ticket it looks like I’ll be able to get a 22 day ticket for £295, which’ll get me all over France, Italy, Belgium and Holland, so I’ll need to get a ticket from London to Paris, and a ticket from Holland to Viersen just over the border in Germany (if I end up playing at the European Bass Day in Germany). Which will work out OK, financially, be better for the enviroment, give me plenty of time for reading books, transcribing tunes and relaxing, and will mean I can take two basses with me, without the fear that some loser at an airport is going to try to see if my basses bounce…

The king of herbal/fruit teas

I’m now coming up to my first anniversary of being caffeine-free – I had my last cup of caffeinated coffee on Dec 31st last year, and haven’t had any all this year. My only caffeine intake has been the trace amounts in decaf coffee, and even then I very rarely have more than one cup in day, often going a week or more without that.

The upshot is that I’ve become a connoisseur of herbal tea.

at the very bottom of the pile of so-called fruit teas is the Lipton mint-tea that you get in road-side cafes and cafes in the south of France. It’s shit, like some straight black tea that someone has dribbled into after chewing spearmint gum. Filth, and not fit to be thought of as mint-tea.

In the more than acceptable category come the likes of Heath And Heather and Twinings – both make a fine mint tea, and are to be celebrated when offered in a cafe or restaurant, fo’ sho’.

However, the king of herb and fruit tea is definitely Dr Stuart – I dunno what the good doctor does to make his tasty teas all the more tasty and infused with delicious tea-ness, but he’s doing it right, and it works for me. His mint tea is more minty, his peach spice is both spicy and peachy, and all the others I’ve tried have been much lovely too. Definitely just what the doctor ordered.

'…fire in the sky'

How on earth did no-one get killed???

A fuel depot in Hemel Hempstead blows up, the blast is heard IN FRANCE (!!), windows and doors are blown out in houses surround the site, and yet no-one is killed. That’s amazing. A lot of amazing unthinkable things have happened in Britain of late. That no-one died in this disaster is one of the best bits of news for a long time. The blast itself is clearly not good news – the environmental impact is going to be outrageous, not to mention the huge disruption to those whose houses have been damaged in the blast – but the zero loss of life is amazing. Apparently there have only been two serious casualties so far.

The fire services are warning of potential further explosions, while the firemen and women are there working like mad to get the fire under control and out – that’s got to be one scary job! Hurrah for the fire-service.

Reports suggest that some people have been panic buying petrol, afraid of a shortage, even though a) most of the fuel burning is aviation fuel b) it’s only the fifth largest depot in the country c) if there’s a fuel shortage, USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT – don’t drive to the petrol station to make the situation worse, you morons.

SoundtrackStuart Ryan, ‘The Coast Road’ (fabulous solo acoustic guitarist – he played at the Eric Roche tribute gig last week, and was one of Eric’s favourite guitarists. From this CD, it’s easy to see why).

the Vortex

Been spending far too much time at The New Vortex this last couple of weeks – last week I was there for Dudley Philips album launch gig, then Tuesday I went to see Lleuwen Steffan and her band. Last night was the Works.

Lleuwen is the singer on that welsh hymns album I was raving about last week – still getting lots of airplay here, definitely in my top 5 of the year. The gig on Tuesday was with her band, Acoustique, which featured, unbenownst to me until I got there, my buddy Owen Lloyd Evans on bass. Their set didn’t feature any of the hymn tunes, but did have a lot of originals, sung in Welsh that sounded a bit like a more funky, acoustic Bjork. Lovely stuff. They did a couple of standards, which were fine, but it was the welsh language stuff that really shone. Definitely one to look out for and see if you can.

the Works, formerly known as WoodWorks, is Patrick Wood’s marvellous band – Patrick is surprisingly little-known on the London jazz scene, despite his band acting as breeding ground for so many great musicians in the city – the list of who’s been in the band at one time or another is nuts, from John Etheridge to Andy Gangadeen, Cleveland Watkiss to Tony Remy.

The current line-up is Patrick on keys and guitar, Mark Lockheart on saxes and bass clarinet, Neville Malcom on bass and Nic France on drums. The tunes are lovely open forms that the band jam on and stretch out live – lots of eye contact and hardcore listening going on. The small audience were much appreciative, and hopefully they’ll be playing again soon so you can go see them too!

Both these gigs are yet more evidence that the London jazz scene is producing music of a quality to rival any jazz city on the planet. the Vortex is such a vital venue, and after the sadness of the original vortex closing, it’s great to have it back with the same eclectic booking policy in a great new venue in Stoke Newington. check out their online programme on the website and go see some stuff there!

I’ll almost certainly be back there tonight for Ingrid Laubrook’s quartet, featuring the marvellous Seb Rochford on drums.

And keep an eye out for Theo and I playing there in February.

Plan for today – some teaching this morning, Theo round this afternoon to plan our february tour promotion etc. Some bass practice/R&D for the album after that, and then to see Ingrid play tonight.

Soundtrack – The Pixies, ‘Bossanova’.

Dudley Philips at the Vortex last night

Yesterday day time was spent finishing off the mastering of Julie McKee’s live album from the Edinburgh Festival. Julie’s a fabulous singer – we’ve been working on some duet ideas between doing the mastering, the latest of which is to do the entire soundtrack to ‘Bugsy Malone’…! the mastering went pretty well, considering the source material. Sadly, the guy who recorded it didn’t send the multitrack sessions, just his own mixdown, so we were limited in terms of what we could do, but some compression, stereo expansion, judicious reverb and the tidying up of the bits where the recording had clipped have made it just fine. We compared it to a few other live recordings, from Donny Hathaway’s live album to my first album, and it stands up well, despite the odd pop ‘n’ crackle. Anyway, isn’t that what live albums are all about? There’s squealing feedback in the middle of Bob Marley’s live version of ‘No Woman No Cry’ and that was released as single!

Anyway, that was the daytime. Yesterday evening involved a trip down to The New Vortex in Stoke Newington to see Dudley Philips launch his album Life Without Trousers. I’ve had a copy of the album for a few weeks, and am loving it, so was excited to go and see the gig. The place was pleasingly full, lots of musicians in – Julie McKee, Orphy Robinson, Filomena Campus, John Parricelli and others, as well as friends of Dudley’s there to celebrate the album coming out.

The gig was marvellous – Nic France, Mark Lockheart and Carl Orr were the band, along with Dudley on 4/6 string electric and upright bass. great tunes, great playing, all in all a fab night out. The Vortex is such a great venue, and a vital part of the london jazz scene. I’ll be back down there next Thursday to see the Works – Patrick Wood’s band who played such a spellbinding set at Greenbelt in the summer. Please come down if you can! While you’re at it, check out the rest of the programme for December on the Vortex website, they’ve got so much great stuff on!

I also picked up a new CD while I was there, which was playing before the gig – it’s a collection of hymns sung in welsh, by LLeuwen Steffan, Huw Warren and Mark Lockheart. A truly beautiful album, on the oh-so-cool Babel Label – Babel are putting out so many great albums of late, go and check out their website and have a browse around. Marvellous stuff!

SoundtrackSteffan/Warren/Lockheart, ‘God Only Knows’.