Euroblog #7

Euroblog 7

Right, lesson #1 from all this has been to get the complete Europass whatever you’re doing. OK, so it costs about £100 more, but it gives you way more options, and stops you getting stung the way I have been just now.

Having bought my tickets in Venice on Thursday, on the train just now, I discovered that all the woman had done was reserve the seats for me, and charge me a booking fee, not actually sell me the sodding tickets! She’s listed them as though I had a pass for the whole of Europe, rather than one that doesn’t cover Switzerland and Germany. so I’ve just been stung for another $50 for the Swiss bit of the journey. I think the same is likely to happen in Germany too… eeek. I mean, it’s not going to break the bank, but it’s a total pain in the arse to have been sold the wrong tickets. I think I might go into the Rail Europe offices in London when I get back and complain – it’s not that I would have minded paying the extra – indeed, I was surprised when she told me the price of the tickets from Milan to Amsterdam via Switzerland and Germany – but the hassle of being sold one lot of stuff, then finding out that it’s not valid is just nonsense.

Other than that, it’s all going fine. I’m on train two out of a five train series – this one’s a local Swiss train, from Arth to Olten, and then I change and get on a train to Mannheim, then to Koln, and thence to Amsterdam. It’s funny, traveling on trains takes a lot longer, but is way less tiring than flying. I’m much more relaxed, can get up and wander around, and can watch some of the most beautiful scenery in the world whistle past the window, safe in the knowledge that my eco-monkey credentials are improving by the second. Also got to meet a couple of lovely americans from Portland Oregon, on their way home after a trip round Italy – always nice to meet fellow travellers, have a chat and move on. It’s great the way orbits intersect like this on the road. Sometimes they cross and merge, as with Luca and I, where we end up working together for years to come. Other times, it’s just a 20 minute chat on a train or plane and away you go.

Current Listening – Tollak, Walk This World – he’s the harp-monkey from EuroBassDay, and this record of his is lovely. It’s kind of classic singer/songwriter stuff, in the big emotional 80s songwriter vein, with a fairly major chunk of Beatles harmony.

Update – now on the train from Olten to Mannheim – I think I managed to flummox the ticket inspector with the number of bits of paper I thrust at her – my inter rail pass, my swiss ticket (which says it’s for Basel but I haven’t been there), my seat reservation, and the following tickets through to Amsterdam, and she just tapped some information into her over-sized palm pilot thingie, thanked me and left. So so long as she wasn’t sending messages to marksmen in Mannheim saying I should be shot on sight when I leave the train, I think I’m OK… We’ll see. More news at the top of the hour.

In other train related news, met two more lovely Americans on the last leg of the trip – two girls from Seattle backpacking round Europe.

And Swiss trains officially kick the arse of all other trains. They’re fantastic! I thought I’d wandered into first class by mistake. But no, this is my seat. yay! However, they still haven’t cottoned onto the idea that a power-point next to each seat is a really great idea for laptop users. I guess i’m the only one… riiiight. Also finally managed to find something veggie to eat in a shop on Olten station – a cheese and jalapeno tortilla wrap! Molto picante e bueno. or something.

The big problem with Switzerland is the language thing – with bits of it being Italian speaking, German Speaking, French Speaking, and Swiss-German speaking. My brain hasn’t at all been able to switch to German thus far… I got to the point where I could hold basic conversations when I toured in Germany a lot in the early 90s, but it’s going to take a bit of work to get it back into shape…

[second update] I take back what I said about Swiss trains, I’m stucking in a fucking smoking carriage, and am going to end up smelling disgusting by the end of this, and feeling rather sick. What kind of loser train network lets people smoke on trains? What more’s the point, what kind of loser ticket agent books a seat for a non-smoker in a smoking carriage! The kind of moron that works at Venice station and doesn’t actually book me any tickets, just seat reservations, that’s who… grrrr.

EuroBlog #4

So, Monday – when Oteil and Barri eventually surface, we head into town, and find that Monday is a pretty mellow day in Verona. It’s a bit rainy, but we find a cool little buffet lunch place in the big square outside the Palazzio and have lunch. A lovely couple from San Diego recognise Oteil (he’s in the Allman Brothers Band, who are HUGE in the US…) and we have a nice chat with them.

Then to shopping. This time, instead of being honourary girl, I’m hanging outside the shops with Oteil while Barri heads for the boutiques. It’s one of those things about living in London – I forget that if you’re from small town Alabama, shopping in Verona is pretty damned amazing. Being from London, it’s less of a novelty. But a day spent walking the gorgeous historic streets of Verona with Oteil and Barri is a day very well spent – many laughs, lovely snacks, and a last drink at a pavement cafe. Just as I’m leaving we run into the rest of the Epifani crowd, and as I head off to the train station to head back to Luca and Gio’s, Oteil and Barri have found their ride back to the hotel! Hurrah for coincidence!

Back with L and G, and all is well with the world. A gorgeous dinner and onto mixing the record that Luca and I recorded back in July. And Wow! The tracks sound really great. I remember there being some good stuff, but not this good. This is some really exciting music. The blend of our sounds is amazing, and we bring out different sides in eachother’s playing. I’m drawn into some darker sounding stuff, and Luca is inspired to more melodic playing. We’re constantly swapping roles on these tunes, and the editing and mixing goes pretty smoothly.

Today (Tuesday) I’ve been carrying on with the mixing, while Luca was out at work, and after a pizza with Luca and Andrea Nones (from the Ground Collective – the wonderful chap who keeps booking me for gigs in Brescia), it’s back to mixing. We’ve now got about 40 minutes of really great music. So are pretty much there for the album. I’ll be back here late Thursday to finish off the ‘shaping’ of the tracks, with just polishing to be done before mastering. When it will get released is anybody’s guess, but hopefully we’ll at least have a myspace page before too long!

Italy is such a great place to come and visit – the people here are some of the most open, warm and friendly I’ve ever encountered, the audiences are wide-eared and accepting, the musicians are creative and expressive, the language sounds like song, and the scenery is gorgeous. I think I’d struggle with living here, given the tangled web of beaurocracy that seems to surround everything here, unless you have an old boys network to deal with it, but I look forward to coming back from the day I leave.

Having said that, I’ve now been away from home for over a week, and I’m starting to miss TSP and the Fairly Aged Feline quite a lot. My love of Italy is balanced by the novelty of touring having worn off years ago… ideally, I’ll have to work out a way to bring both of them with me, but methinks the Fairly Aged one would take to journeys across the continent.

Tomorrow, it’s off to Venice for my last Italian gig of this tour… Exciting stuff!

EuroBlog #2

Right, bit of a catch up.

Milan first – got the train from Geneva to Milan, which rode through the Swiss Alps on a journey that was beautiful even with loads of low lying fog and rain.

Got to Milan, and was picked up at the airport by Nic Angileri and taken to the masterclass. As soon as I had started the clinic, it was obvious that something was up with the Looperlative. The screen kept shutting down, and while the audio was working fine, there was no MIDI control for a few minutes at a time… big big problem. Was fine for a clinic, as I just demonstrated other things, but didn’t bode well for the gig in the evening…

The gig was at a really cute little venue in the city called Atmosphere Live – we set up, and the Looperlative was misbehaving in the soundcheck, and continued to behave weirdly into the gig – I ended up finishing the gig with a couple of chord melody jazz things and a three bass jam with Nic Angileri and Fabio Rigamonti, both very fine players. As it was, I ended up selling more CDs at the gig, than I have at any gig for quite a while, so either it was pity and I should break my gear more often, or my musicalness came across even with the broked stuffs. I prefer the latter. ;o)

Friday morning, I visited Mollinelli (sp?) guitars with Nic, makers of some beautiful handmade instruments. Italy has a fabulous luthery tradition, and most of the builders here seem to combine beauty with a strong experimental design aesthetic. Good stuff.

Back onto the train to Desenzano, and onto my Italian ‘home’ with Luca and Gio, two of my favouritest people in the world.

My #1 concern was still the Looperlative, and I plugged it in, took it out of the rack, and just as a precaution, took the lid off to see if anything had worked loose (you can see how desperate I was, given my previous track record with blowing up the LP1 whenever I take the lid off) – I made sure that all the cables and connectors were seated OK, and put the lid back…

Gig that night was in Brescia, a little way out of the main town, in the basement of a modern bar in a village – not at all the kind of place you’d expect to find an experimental electronica night. But then, Andrea Nones, who runs the Ground Collective in Brescia is no ordinary promoter. For a start he’s also an excellent musician (he was playing at the gig as well), but has an amazing ability to turn experimental music into something that everyone would want to hear! The night started with DJs and a free buffet (a great idea to make sure everyone arrives at the start of the gig!) and then moved onto a range of different acts, from a solo guitarist with a Frisell fixation, to a duo of electronics and acoustic piano, a vocalist or two, and a lovely solo set by a guy playing a homemade Warr-Guitar-style tapping thing. Very nice indeed.

Then the last act – me and Luca! We’ve recorded a lot together, but never played live, but Luca’s a fantastic and sensitive improvisor with an amazing palette of sounds. The Looperlative behaved very well, and the set was really nice. Lots of interesting twists and turns, and I did a solo version of ‘Behind Every Word’ in the middle. A successful show, and a handful of CD sales.

So the Looperlative seems to be fixed, but Bob in his usual ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ way had already shipped a new one out to Italy to arrive monday…

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…

October European Tour expands…

Yay! I’ve just been booked for the European Bass Day in Krefeld, Germany on Oct 29th. That’s the week after the Euro Bass Day in Italy (keep up!), which I’m also at, and I’ll be able to get from one to the other on the train, with my Inter Rail ticket! This inter rail thing is definitely looking like THE way to travel round Europe. I’m going to have to start planning European gigs in three week chunks, so I can do this again, rather than flying in for one or two days… it’s just not cost effective, especially when the goons in baggage handling smash up your instruments…

So I’m ‘doing’ Europe by train. I was a little worried at first that the InterRail website hinted that TGVs (the fast trains) cost extra, but after calling their phone booking line, it turns out it’s just a two or three quid booking fee for each journey. Which is nowt in the grand scheme of things. So it’s all go for Europe by rail!

Mixing new music

Today, I’ve been mixing some of the duets I recorded with Luca Formentini in Italy back in July. Luca’s a fantastically creative guitar player, and our two sound-worlds meld together really well. I’ve done preliminary mixes/edits on three tracks so far and all are really lovely. I’ll set up a MySpace page for them as soon as I can, so that there’s some stuff out there to listen to for y’all, and hopefully it’ll be released on CD before too long…

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…

Home again…

Back home in North London now. It’s a quieter Giz-less place, and it’s now a bit more real that the little furry chap has gone. V. sad. The other fairly aged feline (tabby model) is very clingy at the moment, which is nice from a lots-of-cuddles point of view, but possibly suggests that he’s missing his ginger buddy…

The last gig on Saturday was great – our biggest audience, and a wonderful reaction from the crowd. I managed to dish out almost every flyer and poster we had (despite being handed a ‘hidden’ stack of flyers at 10pm!) and we played well, again. We didn’t really have an off-night, musically – Thursday was the least marvellous as I think we were both pretty tired by then but even then we played well.

So now I’m back, nursing my knackered knee, having had a mostly fantastic time at the Fringe, met some lovely people, caught up with lovely old friends, played some great fun cabaret shows, seen a few marvellous shows, flyered and postered like a mad thing, and done as much as I could to make the whole thing a success. Which it was. It could’ve been bigger, but with TSP coming back half-way through the week, and julie and her hubby for some reason not really believing in the usefulness of flyering, it was a tough one too. that many days pounding the streets of edinburgh, followed by setting up all the gear, packing down the gear, playing the late night shows was exhausting. But the music was fantastic – it’s a set I’m very proud of, and Julie’s got an amazing voice and sang the songs so well.

In some ways I wish I was still up there – I’ve never been to the Fringe just as a punter, and it’s clearly the single coolest place in the world to go for a holiday, except Greenbelt. I’d love to stay and hang out for a few days, but no time for that – bassists need to be taught, Recycle gigs need to be organised and promoted, Greenbelt needs to be prepared for, and my Italy trip in October needs sorting out… now more than ever, it’s looking like I’ll probably take the train, given that you can’t even take books on the plane (supposedly because you might decide to bored the passengers to death with a reading from Midnight’s Children?)

I’ve also got to sort out some more solo gigs! I’ve had a new album come out, done a launch gig, but don’t have anything as yet planned for the UK – all this New Standard stuff has taken over, and I think it would be prudent for me to work on some more me-gigs for a while!

If you’ve just found this after coming to see us at the Fringe – thanks so much for coming, it was a real pleasure to play for you, and to meet some many lovely people in the audience. I’ll be back there next year for sure. Feel free to join the mailing list to keep up to date with goings on through the year… xx

back from Italy

Back from a fantastic trip to Italy – a hugely enjoyable and creative time with Luca Formentini – a fabulous guitarist, and a great friend.

The trip started with a gig in Brescia, playing a soundtrack to a silent film, ‘The Unknown’ by Todd Browning. I’m not much of a silent/old film buff (I’ve seen Dodgeball more times that I care to remember but had never heard of Todd Browning before, and have never even seen Citizen Kane), but I really enjoyed this film. For the soundtrack I was joined by an Italian guitarist, who did a good job (though the circumstances surrounding him playing in the first place were a little more murky – I’ll save that blog-story ’til an email or two have been sent), and the whole thing was well received.

the plan for the weekend was to record a load of duo stuff with Luca – we’d recorded together before, and one of the tracks has ended up on a compilation of Italian electronica artists (Stefano Lawsoni? perhaps…) – the last time we recorded was certainly interesting enough to warrant a repeat session. With both of us being loopers, it always takes a few sessions to settle into roles and what to do with all the shared sonic space.

However, before that, we had a total nightmare with getting soundcards sorted out – Luca had ordered a new RME card, which wasn’t available in time, so his local music shop (the remarkable Musical Box in Verona) were lending us a card. First up, we took a MOTU 828, which just wouldn’t work at all. No good. Not happy running with Audition on a PC.

Back to Musical Box, and swap it for a PreSonus FirePod. Once again, not happy with the PC set up. Which eventually led to Luca swapping over his looping laptop with the Pc, so he did all his loopage on the desktop and we recorded onto the laptop, finally using Cubase LE.

Much stress and lack of sleep was the result for Luca, so it took us another half a day to settle into playing, but from there on, we got a lot of great music recorded. Whereas the first session was predominantly dark ambient, this time we were more melodically driven with more groove oriented stuff. I’m really looking forward to mixing these tracks…

So lots of recording lovely music was punctuated by regular swims in the pool, great food, much inspiring conversation, cuddling the cats, and generally having a totally wonderful time in Italy…

those of you of a sports-fan persuasion will already have worked out that I was there for the football final on Sunday night, when we decamped to a local restaurant to eat great food and watch the game. Penalties are officially a really shit way to end a football match. I reckon widening the goals by a foot every 10 minutes, and tying one of the goalies hands behind his back to speed up the chance of a goal would be better… I was really glad Italy won, though Zidane’s headbutt aside, the French played MUCH better football in the second half and in extra time…

Tuesday morning I got the train back to Musical Box to talk with the owner about playing at EuroBassDay in October, which is booked now, and to show him and the rest of the guys who work in the shop the looperlative, which naturally they all thought was amazing (because it is).

Then Tuesday afternoon I was special guest at a week-long intensive english language camp for teenagers, playing some tunes and having them interview me about what I do, about live in england and generally allowing them to try their english and stretch them in trying to understand me. A hugely enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, which I hope to get to do again.

And Tuesday night, as if all this wasn’t enough, Luca, Gio and I had dinner with Roberto Zorzi – a fantastic improv guitarist and fascinating bloke all round. Another magical Italy evening.

Got back Wednesday night, and poor TSP drove to Gatwick to pick me up in an overheating car. Need to get that fixed ASAP.

All in a marvellous week in Italy. It’s such a great country, the people are generous and positive to a fault, and the climate is just amazing. Love it.