Tuesday, 28 August 2018

In Trondheim

On the 8th August my tour manager John and I checked into a hotel at Gatwick the evening before our flight to Trondheim in Norway via Oslo. We had intended to chill in the hotel, eat some dinner and sleep. We had only been in our rooms a while when we came to the conclusion that it might be cool to go for a drive rather than sit for a couple of hours in the Travel Lodge. Last year when we stayed at Gatwick, before a flight, we headed for Brighton where we had fish and chips on the beach. For a change I suggested we head for Devils Dyke not far from Brighton. This has many memories for me and was the site of a free EBB gig that landed us in court long a go.


devils dyke

We drove along the lumpy road that leads to a very ugly 60s built pub. It is a monstrosity which seems so out of place in the surrounding beauty of the landscape. John loves his geography so I knew he would be blown away by the huge expanse of chalk hills that rise up and then down abruptly to the valley below the hill we stood on. A skilled operator was showing off his drone which looked quite spectacular against the  fading light and dramatic vista. After the intense heat we had all been suffering from the wind was cold and so we left and headed back for dinner at the hotel.

The flight to Oslo was fairly uneventful though delayed but we made our connection for the flight to Trondheim. The waiting around and delays grow ever more irritating and debilitating so I won't bother recording the details here.  

The flight to Trondheim passed over some of the wild countryside I love and as we landed I felt already at home in my favourite foreign country. John had not been to Norway before and as always, he was devouring the sights and scenes with great relish. Our meeting at the airport was made extra special by the wonderful VW van that was to convey us to the Smeby home.



the edgar mobile

At this stage I want to tell you something about our hosts. Both Jostein and Helena Smeby were Ski Jumpers who competed in national and World championship events and at the Winter Olympics. This was very interesting for John and myself because John is an all round sport fan and I have always watched ski jumping in awe. It seems to me, to be a ludicrously beautiful and dangerous thing. Jostein, who has coached Helena, says he misses the rush and Helena is quite determined to make a return to to the sport.  Meanwhile Jostein is a teacher at a local school and is the leader in the band Arabs In Aspic. Helena is a lab technician at a nearby milk supplier. They have two of the happiest little kids I've ever seen. They are Wilma and Felix.

One of the special things about this trip was that we had been invited to stay for a few days. This is always special giving the opportunity to really engage with folk and get to know them. The next day was supposed to be about sightseeing or fishing but the rain poured down and we became more concerned about the concert in the garden which was to happen on the following day. I felt quite tired so a day lounging around in good company was  very welcome.

A succession of Jostein and Helena's friends came by and it was very convivial and very interesting. They all love 70s music and especially if it is on vinyl. A couple of the younger ones seemed to like some of the music since the 70s so that was cool.  At one point it seemed like every one had ski jumped or was ski jumping. One of the younger jumpers had named his son Edgar. I could never have jumped myself but I like the thought that there might be a ski jumping star of the future, named after me. I wish him health and happiness what ever he does.

After consuming considerable amounts of good cognac and good conversation on the previous evening and into the early hours, John and I cut back on the following evening before the day of the performance and retired a little bit earlier. The rain held off in the morning and by mid day in spite of the odd shower, the sun came out and it seemed we were set to have our gig in the garden as planned.



post performance

A pig was roasting and the garden was a hive of activity. Everyone was working flat out as they had been for many days planning and organising the event. After a sound check with Jostein at the mixer we were ready to roll. The weather stayed warm and bright and I played and song my heart out. Simple as that. There was nothing left after one encore. The audience was as good as it gets. They understood me and that is the key. These people had only really known me through the EBB catalogue but they embraced the re invention with warmth and enthusiasm. Most importantly Jostein and Helena were very happy and satisfied so job done. Mission accomplished.

Later we all piled into transport to take us to down town Trondheim to a small club in a cellar where  Arabs in Aspic were to perform a free show as a rehearsal. Most of the equipment was set up when we arrived and Jostein set about getting his guitar gear together. Soon they were knocking out their contemporary version of 70s prog rock. The songs are sung in Norwegian as well as English. They have a tough core with tight arrangements and screaming keys with some great vintage style organ licks and impossibly high backing vocals. The drummer and the bass player have obviously been round and round their parts until they seem effortlessly smooth. The whole is not smooth. It has jagged peaks and fat blocky dynamic frequencies at the centre. The percussionist while new to the band has moments which are spell binding. With a little refinement it will be special and unusual.
Josteins guitar playing is unusual in that he rarely plays a double speed part. Actually I get very quickly tired of so much prog guitar that runs around at top speed with no emotional content what so ever. The guitar work is very studied, heavy and some times sweet and melodic and there is an emphasis on precision. This is true of the band in general but not to the exclusion of playing a bit loose in a good way. The lead vocals don't seem to be so importantly stated as the music but that works and the overall vocal delivery fits like a glove with the music.
In many ways their music would not usually be among my fave genres but the Arabs are not just another flabby prog covers band but are a well drilled outfit who love prog and believe in what they do. Back in the day I winced a bit when the term prog was mentioned in the same breath as the EBB. Having said that I can admire such commitment to a time and a vintage sound that stands up today, especially when so much hard work has gone into it all and it rocks. Arabs in Aspic rock.

It looks like we might be rocking together if plots and plans come together for a festival appearance in the winter where it is intended that I sing a couple of songs with them.




our captain

The next we went on a boat trip to a little island that used to be a prison holding the more notoriously dangerous criminals. From the fort we could see where the old viking strongholds had been situated and why they were there. The rain fell a little on the way back but it was a pleasant change from the excessive heat of recent weeks. The buildings along what is essentially a canal are beautiful and protected by law. 



along the canal

After the boat ride we went on a guided tour of an alternative community in a largely industrial area. 





recycled housing

An old German submarine pen dominates the scene on the other side of the community by the water side. Most of the housing in the community is built from re cycled/ up cycled materials. There is a communal garden and a free shop where people take stuff no longer needed and others take it for their own use. There is a cycle repairer who fixes up and build bikes from bits and pieces. The local authority planned to trash the whole area including some old workers housing with a view to housing more industrial facilities. This was overturned and the community arose out of the decision. Can we have more of this please?

After some refreshment at the community pub we headed off to meet with Jostein for dinner at the top of the rotating restaurant that dominates the sky line a mile or so from Jostein and Helena's house. This was so cool watching the city go by as we ate. Eventually we could see the island we had visited by boat earlier. The light is special as the evening wears on. It never really gets dark in the summer unless it is very cloudy.









in the rotating restaurant

Julia is a Polish woman who is an accomplished artist. She had been visiting for the concert and is working on the sleeve design for the new Arabs live album She has made previous art works for Arabs records and is a good friend of Jostein and Helena. Julia was always asking John and me if we needed anything so often that she decided she would be our new "Mom". She was concerned when we told he she could have a day off and then we decided it would be Mothers Day so she could have a day off with a good conscience. It was all great fun. Late one night she began to tell John and I something of her life as a child in Poland and then she told us the story of her grandmother who survived Auschwitz. I have been working on a song and now I had a story which inspired a lyric. We discussed a series of paintings that Julia might make around the story and we both agreed we had provided each other with something to make as creators. Win - win! 

I mention this because this is an example of how travel and engaging with new people can bring great creative possibilities. I have a couple of ideas about re working some of Jostein and the bands work and if all of it comes together in any form this will have been a very productive as well as very satisfying adventure.
We had spent some great days with lovely and clever people. The kindness and hospitality shown to us by everyone was overwhelming at times. Of course our special thanks go to Jostein and Helena for inviting us into their home and for looking after us so well.




Helena, yours truly and Jostein

Arabs in Aspic are
Jostein Smeby: Songwriter/composer, guitarist, vocals and mixing
Eskil Nyhus: Drums
Stig Arve Jørgensen: Keys and vocals
Erik Paulsen: Bass and vocals
Alessandro Elide: Perc

Thanks to Julia for being Mom. Thanks for the boat trip to Boatowners: Thor Erik Larsen and the man with the lamp, logo and everything, Otto Johnsen.

Thanks for the great welcome at the airport with the man with the van local drummer and teacher Trond Bernhard Olsen, who is also the drummer for 5 local bands.

I look forward to the next episode of our adventure.




The Switzerland adventure post will follow in a day or so.


peace

Sunday, 5 August 2018

A working, living church

pic by dave randell


I think I have found my current favourite gig and it stands high among the truly great venues I have played. St John's church in Farncombe is a working, living church and well loved judging by its condition both inside and outside.  We arrived in good time for a sound check. The sun had been punishing in the south for days and only now did a little rain begin to fall from the leaden skies promising some cool relief from the grinding heat. This was another support gig for Focus who I am really warming to, both as performers and people.

As soon as we entered the church it felt very welcoming and it was obvious that the assembled crew and helpers were well used to putting on gigs here. Julian, the promoter has been putting on shows here for 11 years which amounts to over 200 shows.  That says a lot for the church and relationship between the organisers, church and community. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this gig. Everything was well honed and my sound check took little time at all. I was very happy. As soon as the sound check was finished it was outside in the cool air in the midst of a soft cool shower. Getting a little damp was a pleasure. The high temperature began to slowly drop a little and I think all in attendance were thankful.

The dressing room was the vestry in the church and was filled with the trappings and garments of the clergy. This was an indication of the kinds of acts playing at St John's and the respect and trust shown by all to all. I must admit I have come across a few acts who might not have shown the same respect in such an environment. Perhaps I am being a little harsh. No I am not. I have just thought of one hooligan band I would be reluctant to share any space with.

                                                            pic by dave randell

The church soon filled and what a delightful audience they were. There were a few of my fans there and a few more who might have heard something of me but I soon realised most had not seen me before. This always presents something of a challenge but one that I embrace. It is a good opportunity to test new songs as well as the few old songs I still play.
The sound in the church was simply perfect and I revelled in it. Everything sounded so clear and the natural reverberations in the building were exquisite. I played for 45 minutes and I think my only error was not playing The Sound Don't Come. The audience was so nice to me and I left the stage buzzing all over. Job done.

                                                            pic by dave randell

Focus soon followed and they were on really good form. The crowd loved it and I could see why. Actually they are a class act and better than all the other prog acts I have supported in the past few years. Most of them are like pale cover bands of themselves and one band I played with last year was just an hilarious parody of better days.

So time to hit the road and back to London with Ramblin' at the wheel. It rained some more but as we entered London it was clear no rain had fallen and another boiling humid night was coming. 

I really enjoyed this gig so much. It doesn't get any better and if you ever get the chance to get out to Farncombe for a show don't pass it up.

Since the gig I have been mostly recording and trying to keep cool. The recording is going well but I get blocks every so often and lose faith in things. It doesn't last. I know it is part of the process, for me,  so I quickly get back in the stream of things. I'm off to Norway at the end of the week for a few days and the from there to Switzerland for a couple of days. I must admit I am starting to look forward to everything these days. I don't want to miss anything.

Thanks to Dave for looking after me and for the photos.




peace







Wednesday, 18 July 2018

a dream summers night



a dream summers night

In sweltering, humid heat my tour manager John picked me up to drive us to 
Heathrow for the next adventure in Switzerland. We like to stay in a hotel the night before departure. I also try to arrange a flight after mid day. I remember when air travel was much more enjoyable and faster. The time spent hanging around and the increased number of delays is as a direct result of more people travelling with less resources on the ground. In other words, the inconvenience experienced by air travellers is caused by simple greed.

Our flight was delayed by about forty five minutes so not the best start but at least the show was not scheduled until the following day. Our next adventure in Switzerland will be one where we fly in, play the same day and return on the following day. That will be a bit more pressured but do able. The train ride from Zurich to our destination was a treat. The trains are modern, run on time and are very comfortable. The contrast with recent rail debacles here is massive. I like travelling by train and would do so more but for the poor reliability here in the UK.

Our host Kurt Mathis picked us up at the station in Kreuzlingen which is near Lake Constance. The area is very scenic and very clean. People do not drop litter here or anywhere else.
I never know what to expect when I am travelling to a private show but I am never disappointed. Kurt turned out to be a very pleasant and interesting host. I had met him previously at one of the Chappo gigs at the Shepards Bush o2 show but only briefly. Kurt took us into town for dinner. John and I went for the Perch Frites made from the fish called Zander. Delicious.

After our dinner we sat up until around five in the morning drinking fine cognac and getting to know each other. part of the night was spent around the fire Kurt had made in his garden. We all acknowledged the power of fire and how we all gravitate towards a fire in the open, no matter where we come from on the planet. It was a great night. I don't do this often these days although John and I have had a few similar sessions over the years we have been working together. So finally, to bed and I slept like a log.

I'd had all sorts of plans to visit places of local interest but it was so hot I opted to loaf around as preparations were being made for the evening party. The stage was the decking under a balcony of the new house Kurt's brother is building. The garden is large and the whole place was once a factory. A very neat PA system was set up and a hunt for a suitable seat for me was set in motion. Soon I had sound checked the system and I was very pleased with the sound. The sun was hot but there was plenty of shade.
The time passed steadily. My bedroom was a 2 minute walk from the stage so it was perfect for preparing for the show.Kurt had hired a woman to run a bar and a couple who served the best barbecue ever.

Slowly Kurt's guests began to arrive and the  DJ kicked off with a good old selection of the good old days tunes. After sampling the barbecue it was time to perform. As always I had compiled a set list before setting out but I never keep to it. Of course this is not really possible with a band where things are set out with specific keyboard sounds and other constraining but necessary chronological events in mind. Occasionally I would change a song order on stage but rarely.

Halfway through my set some young people began heckling from a garden nearby. I returned fire with some very strange universal/ non language based noise which my audience joined in with. We all had a laugh about that and I continued. My audience was so very attentive and very appreciative. John reckons I played the definitive version of Belle of Trevelyan. I had been recording vocals on it some days before the trip so that seems to have helped. 

The recording of the new album is going well but slowly and I don't mind. It will be finished when I am totally satisfied with it. It is a lot to do by myself but I am enjoying it very much. I do intend to collaborate with a few others as things develop but there is a way to go before that. My mate Ramblin has dropped by to do backing vocals and we have been having fun recording his Korg drum. It is an amazing tool filled with exotic sounds and designed as an instrument to be played rather than programmed. Excellent!

I have been editing my novel The Instantanium and writing new sections. It has been a retreat for me for many years. Somewhere to go to when I need or want to. Now it is time to finish the thing. I could go on and on with it but the time has come to call a halt.

The temperature in Kurt's lovely garden dropped a little as I worked through my set. The audience called for an encore. Actually I felt exhausted. I had poured myself into the songs but I had to return to the stage for my lovely audience. I cracked out a version of There's a hole in it and that was me done. All good. I think most had a good time and I know Kurt had the best time. he had gone to enormous lengths to make this party and my stay with him a success and it was that in spades. My hosts always look after me very well and this was no exception. I had a really great time.

Sitting around the fire again after most people had left was a lovely way to come down after a gig and the company was special. The people who hang around in the early hours are always cool to me. They are still awake for a start and they usually have great tales and wisdom to share. After a few more glasses of cognac and some great interactions I left for my bed. I wanted to be fairly fresh for the flight home.

Next day I got up at about midday and made my way into the sun baked garden. John was about with Kurt. We took a few photos, breakfasted and Kurt took us to the train headed back to Zurich. Everything went smoothly after that and we arrived back at Heathrow on time, collected the car from our hotel and headed to London.

After dropping me off John was heading home to Cornwall. He is one of the few men I know who still loves to drive and he is as good a driver as I have ever had the pleasure to be driven by.  He texted me at around 2.30 am to let me know he was home safe. All good.
We'd had a great time. I like travelling with John and he looks after me very well. We are off to Trondheim in the north of Norway for a few days next and then on to Switzerland again a couple of days later. Thanks from both of us to Kurt who made it all worthwhile.

peace

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

tantula



tantulas in bloom

Hi all. I know a few folk have been concerned about the lack of blog posts and why they have gone away for a time. I can assure you all is well with me. As always, thank you for your kind consideration and support.

I decided to take a break from my usual activities including writing here. A change or two is as good as a rest and feeds the musical brain and connections with the muse. Sometimes I come to a point where I am doing what I am doing because I've been doing it, not because I am developing something. The development is important along with new things to know and assimilate such as how to propagate the tantula (see above).  

I have been recording the new album and not doing much of anything else. It is going well if a little slowly at times.
Early on  I realised that this album will be a first, in so far that this is the first time I am making exactly what I want. That presents a new challenge around the responsibility for the end result. It is some times daunting but also exhilarating. I think and hope the result will be surprising in some ways. While some of the songs will be familiar, others will be new and very different from my usual music. I'm having a great time playing with technology and exploring new toys. It is a lot of fun and I do get lost in it all at times. It is a great place to hang out, somewhere in an unfinished song. 

Even fishing has taken a back seat to recording time. Actually the weather hasn't been great for fishing and now it is too hot but I am not complaining. When I look around me today I see every reason to be thankful for my lot. I seem to be increasingly more able to accept the relatively small inconveniences I experience, without complaint. 

I'm off to Switzerland tomorrow with my mate John Bradshaw to play a private gig which promises to be very special. So life is good. When I get back I will resume here with a post about our trip.




peace

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

on the road again


bridge fly by

It seems a long time ago when my friend and road manager John picked me up for a mini tour of the north. He drove from Cornwall on Wednesday morning last week and we drove to a Travel Lodge near York where we holed up until Thursday. It was a couple of hours drive to Newcastle for the next date of The Roger Chapman family and friends tour. I had already played Leicester and London the week before. Two thoroughly enjoyable shows for me. I've decided the Shepards Bush 02 gig is my favourite UK venue. I love the sound in there and the Edwardian interior that still looks fabulous.

The weather forecast for our journeying for the next few days looked a bit rough with snow and ice predicted on all sides. As it turned out, for the entire journey, we some how avoided driving in snow. It threatened to fall in Newcastle but didn't. We'd booked a late leave time so it was around 2pm as we headed for Newcastle on Thursday. We had a great gig there and set out for Kinross in Scotland immediatly after my set. We arrived at around midnight. By now a good few inches of snow had fallen but the roads were clear. The Green Hotel in kinross is home to The Backstage venue. It is a cosy 120 seater with a unique, museum like collection of rock memorabilia put together by promoter Dave Mundell. Dave is one of those guys who brings some thing special to the music scene because it's obvious that he really cares.

After a decent sleep John and I hung out in the rather plush if tired hotel. It is huge and rambling with nearby golf greens and a trout lake. Next time at the gig I shall get some fishing in. We sound checked at around 6 0clock after a splendid lunch. John had fish and chips and I had Scottish mussels in a chilli sauce with chips and delicious bread. They served a very nice pint of bitter so I was very happy. So nice to be able to eat and sleep so close to the venue. In this case the door of my room opened onto a staircase that lead down one flight to the entrance to the venue. This was perfect on a harsh wintery day when the venue would usually be a distance from the hotel. So, my very large bedroom was a very luxurious dressing room.

We were wondering if any one would make it on such a wintery night but we need not have worried. The lovely enthusiastic audience were a delight and it was very different and enjoyable for me to play a full set of material as distinct from a short support set for Chappo. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoy playing a support role. I like the lack of pressure and I enjoy playing a short set also.

The show went very well and I think I moved it it all forward during this one performance. Like having an extra gear. I played the sequel to Evening Over Rooftops for the first time and that was well received. The song is called A Bowl of Flowers. I also played In The Half Light which I hadn't played for a long time. I've decided to include it more often. I was determined to utilise freshly discovered possibilities at the next gig at the British Rock and Blues Fest in Skegness. We had a day between the Back Stage gig and Skeggy so that was good. We would be staying in Skegness at the Butlins Holiday venue the night before my afternoon performance next day.




in the half light


The weather forecasts were still a bit grim but still our road was clear as we drove out of Kinross. The miles flew by and after flat acres of grim, desert like agricultural Lincolnshire country side we arrived at Butlins. After struggling to find the block our apartment was in on the Butlins site, we eventually found it. The apartment was a pleasant surprise once we were installed. 

An early night was order of the day with a 9 am alarm to get to an 11 am sound check. It is not my idea of fun but it is different and I like different. The night before John had scouted the venue and returned with news that it was a cavernous room that would need 800 folk to make any kind of atmosphere. That was a bit daunting but I don't let things like that worry me these days.We arrived at the gig in perfect time and within ten minutes i was doing my sound check with a top pro crew. It took minutes for a big grin to grow on my face as the lush sound of the big rig filled the stage. 
In this cavernous cold place the heating was only just coming on but the dressing room was cosy. The time flew by and soon the very nice young woman who was stage manager called me with five minutes to go. As for the previous, recent shows I had no nerves, just the desire to sing and play.
I peeped through the side curtain and there they were. An audience of about 1800. Now I really wanted to play. I walked out onto the stage and into my second home where I think I gave the best solo performance so far. I feel sure the audience got it and they got me. Enough said.

It was 1.45pm and the rain outside the venue was turning to sleet. Should we stay to spend our artiste food allowances or hit the road. A combination of leaving for every where as soon as possible and a semi intelligent SAT navigation system had served us well so we decided in favour of covering miles as soon a possible. The sleet turned to snow as we drove but didn't settle on the road. It calmed down as we approached Boston and cleared for a while. Driving rain seemed acceptable given all the snow we had managed to avoid. By the time we were in London the rain was gone and that boded well for John's trip home to Cornwall. I guess the total mileage for this trip was around 1500.

Thanks to every one who came and made it a buzzing time. I really had the best time. There were no problems worth a mention. All good. Now a few days off with a little first fishing of 20018 and then I will be recording through February and much of March. 


Peace