posted by: Lunesse
“Silk pyjamas, silk pyjamas
He was wearing silk pyjamas”
posted by: Lunesse
“Silk pyjamas, silk pyjamas
He was wearing silk pyjamas”
No question, last night at the Independent in San Francisco was my favourite show of the tour so far. It was sold out well in advance, and there were scalpers offering tickets on Craig’s List. Someone outside was offering four times face value to buy a ticket, but no-one would sell! Everything worked (almost), the sound and lights were great, Kathleen and lots of my friends were in the audience. I was on form, in a good mood, and determined not to be fazed by any glitches that cropped up.
Among the audience were several notable software designers who have been responsible in some way for the technology I use. Steve Hales was there. Steve created the Beatnik engine (originally ‘Igor’) and is a superstar among game programmers, having been the creator of code for such classics as Prince of Persia and Lemmings. He now runs the game group at Danger Inc, the company that makes the awesome T-Mobile Sidekick which has been my organizer/phone of choice for the last 4 years. Steve and others integrated Beatnik into the Sidekick and it is by far the best-sounding device out there, due in no small part to Steve’s insistence that Danger use a hi-quality speaker. (I wish other Beatnik-enabled phones would follow suit–the Asian manufacturers are far better at acoustic design and speaker components than Nokia et al.)
Chris Van Rensburg was also in attendance. He is an amazing maverick programmer, a fine musician and painter, an all-round renaissance man. He wrote to me out of the blue about 12 years ago, then a recently transplanted South African, and launched into a rant about the screens on handheld devices used in Star Trek: The Next Generation. A self-taught computer scientist, he had coded vast programs on his own in Cobol and Basic. At Headspace/Beatnik he authored an interactive scripting language called musicObject, which became adopted by Netscape and (indirectly) Sun for the audio portion of Java. Check out his stuff here.
Doug Wyatt and Gerhard Lengeling were there from Apple. Gerhard was the founder of eMagic, which made the Logic music sequencer for the Atari, and later PC and Mac. Apple acquired them a few years back and Gerhard and his family moved to the US. Logic is now fully itegrated as an Apple Pro app and is improving with each revision. I can’t wait until I’m able to do everythign I need to do on a MacBook, instead of a G5. Logic’s already there (and apparently kicks butt in Universal mode) but the 3rd party plugins I use are slower to follow suit. Doug Wyatt I have known for over 15 years as a programmer and musician, since his early days at Opcode as a Vision programmer, but now he’s at Apple where he was the author of Core Audio and Audio/MIDI Setup.
Despite the presence of all this programming greatness, the evening was not totally bug-free. When I played ‘Airhead’ for the encore, I was mysteriously missing the bass line. This is not an optimal situation for a funk groove, as my friend George Clinton will attest. Maybe I needed to invoke the spirit of Bootsy Collins. He almost appears to be chanelling through me in the pic below, taken by my mate Clif Brigden after one too many glasses of Cabernet at my rehearsal last week. Doug Wyatt emailed me today and said he would have happily jumped up onstage to play the part. That would have worked better than me trying to play it myself while singing and playing the right hand of the piano, and triggering sample loops and fills on my Novation SL25.
But I can’t complain, it was a great night and I’m delighted it coincided with me being on ‘home turf’ in SF, where I’ve now played 3 gigs already this year!
posted by: Lunesse
I have a story from this week I want to tell. Today, Easter, it is a day “off” for me, though I still have a lot of work to do. But in all the craziness of this first week on tour, there were definitely a few moments that are worth sharing, I think. Here is one of them.
On the day of the first show, I flew into the John Wayne Airport since the show that night was in Anaheim. However, the only flight I could get nonstop from home arrived before ten in the morning, leaving me with more than 6 hours before everyone else would be showing up in Downtown Disney. Thomas encouraged me to take a shuttle from the airport all the way out to Santa Monica to see Ashes and Snow with him before driving all the way back to Anaheim. I ordered an Express Shuttle to go from the airport clear over to the Santa Monica Pier. When I arrived and got in the shuttle, it was empty. Of course it was, what other idiot besides me would fly into Orange County and then want to go to Santa Monica?
As we drove I talked to my driver, nice guy. Chit chat. He wasn’t familiar with Thomas or his music, but thought it was exciting that a tour was starting that day. My phone rang, and it was our Tshirt guy, saying that there was no way he would be able to deliver the tour shirts, he couldn’t get anyone to drive out there. Great. First day of the tour and my first day to tour manage in person and already a pretty hefty snafu. He said he’d keep trying to find someone to take them over, but no one was calling him back. I tried to stay cool. “Well, if we have to, we can get a courier I guess. It will be expensive…”
He promised to keep trying. I hung up and thought. My driver turned down the light jazz on the radio. “I can do that for you. I can drop them off.”
I blinked. “Oh, that is so sweet. But I’m sure we will get this sorted out. How kind of you to offer!”
As he left me in front of the giant, Nomadic Museum by the pier, he made me take down his phone number. “I have to go back towards Anaheim anyway, I could just pick them up and drop them off there for you.” I smiled and wrote down the number. “Thanks so much for offering and the nice drive. I can’t thank you enough for your offer of help. But I’m sure I’ll be ok.”
Forty minutes later I was back on the phone, Thomas sitting across the lunch table as I gave him directions to an address in East LA. All attempts to get someone to deliver the shirts had failed. I thanked my driver profusely, and put him on the guest list. “Come see the show in thanks for being so helpful!” I left it in the hands of a man I didn’t know, who just happened to be driving me from the airport.
When I was at the merch table later that evening, one of the staff questioned me about the man delivering shirts. “What was with the airport shuttle van? He really didn’t seem to know where to go.”
He was just my hero for the day, helping me make the whole tour start off on the right foot. A guy who offered to help a stranger, and take time out of his day for no recompense other than my gratitude! Not only did he help just one stranger, me, but every person that evening who bought a Thomas Dolby shirt. I didn’t see him again, so I don’t know if he showed up or not. Still. Even without being a fan Thomas has the nicest support group in the world. Thanks, Bryan.
I guess my arriving in Orange County was a good thing, afterall.
I was honoured by a visit last night from Paul McCartney who knows Colin Hay and has a house in Malibu not far from the Canyon Club. I’d heard he was going to be there–didn’t really believe it–but sure enough, after the show I walked into the backstage VIP area and there he was. I guess I must have cast my eyes around for an old guy but Paul looks fantastic. Mick Jagger could be his grandad! It was a bit weird because I don’t think he realized I was the guy he just saw play a concert. But someone else told me they saw him grooving and singing along to ‘Hyperactive’. I told Paul I saw him play live in 1963 (aged 5) at the Beatles’ Christmas Concert at Hammersmith Odean in London. ‘It’s quite possible’, he said–as if he had no recollection of the gig ever happening. How curious, I thought. Almost any serious Beatles fan knows about that gig, as the poster is so famous–Freddie and the Dreamers, the Dave Clark 5, etc. Yet Paul doesn’t remember. That’s a pretty good lesson for me. Fans often cite gigs or obscure records I made that I’ve forgotten all about.
Another great crowd last night. I was revisited by some gremlins, which in this instance required a total reboot of the Mac after one song. Then one of my keyboards came unplugged. And the battery pack came of my belt, meaning my headgear got yanked and I had to fiddle with my headset mic all night. VERY frustrating, but I’d made a deal with the audience that I would throw out some free t-shirts if that happened. I hope that took the sting out. Several people said they didn’t really care. You try to jump right back on the horse, but it’s pretty uncomfortable. I wish I was more thick-skinned. But in the grand scheme of things, the show is getting pretty good and hey, you win some you lose some. An ex-Beatle singing along to my set: it doesn’t get much better than that!
Photo by Robert Leslie
The Key Club went very well. When I arrived at the club I was given a choice: (a) set up at the front of the stage, then strike my gear after soundcheck so the support bands had space or (b) set up on the drum riser at the back of the stage. I opted for (b) because that meant we would draw a curtain across my rig, so I could keep programming on headphones while the other bands played. I felt I needed the extra time so I was willing to sacrifice being close to the audience. It must have been a bit strange for the folks who had waited patiently in the front row, but at least the whole club had a good view.
Of the twelve or so nagging problems I had on the first night, I managed to eradicate all but three. It’s a process of two steps forward and one step back. Mercifully I found a fix for the ‘piano tuner!’ crisis in the quiet ballad, which was my biggest concern. It was just sacriledge to have to restart that one in the middle. In fixing that bug I somehow contrived to mute my piano channel in the bridges, which was upsetting, but at least it’s doubled there with an acoustic guitar patch so it was not silent. Some other mix issues got sorted out, the bass was booming to much on a couple of songs. I know people have commented here that they got a thrill from it, but IMO it was overwhelming some other important sounds. The other misfire last night was the brass solo in Windpower which went completely AWOL. In sound check today I think I retrieved the lost elements, so maybe tonight it will all go swimmingly and I can really start to have fun!
I’m pleased with how it’s working overall. The downside last night was feeling a little removed from the audience. Being back on the drum riser felt like playing a stadium gig, without the stadium volume.
I completely NAILED one of my roadies, Justin. When he took my piano stool off the stage before Windpower, one of the castor wheels dropped off. I grabbed it and called after him. I could barely see him in the shadows. I tossed the castor after him at exactly the moment he turned towards me, and the next thing I knew, he was clutching his left eye and doubled up in agony. I carried on playing, without giving it much thought; but when I came off before the encore, his mate Darin told me he was really badly hurt, too dizzy to stand, and he might have to go to the emergency room. He never saw the castor coming, and it hit him full on the iris, tearing his contact into pieces. I had to go do a ‘meet and greet’ but I was feeling terrible about Justin. Thankfully, by the time the truck was ready to get loaded, Juastin was feeling a lot better, and today though his eye is purple and bruised, his vision is ok and he was able to work. Thanks for being a trooper Justin!
Robert Leslie is a Brit that I know from the TED Conference where he’s the official photographer. He was at the Key Club last night, and snapped these beautiful shots. It’s funny, it felt so dark onstage I could hardly see my hands, but the lighting and video look really epic in these shots. Click on a thumbnail to see a bigger version.
posted by: Lunesse
Last night was the second show of the tour, happening at the Key Club in Hollywood.
Along with working as Thomas’ Tour Manager, I am responsible for selling all the merchandise at the shows. This is a lot of work for one person, but I am staying afloat so far! Every show is different in terms of where they put the merchandise table. At the House of Blues in Anaheim, I was one level up from the stage, just about eye level with the large video screens hanging on either side of the stage. It was simple enough to walk a few feet to see them and get an idea what was going on visually. At the Key Club they had me down in a space I quickly starting calling “the pit.” It was downstairs from the stage, completely separated off by two doors and next to where the bathrooms were located.
Earlier, during soundcheck, I did watch as Thomas gave an interview and was filmed as he soundchecked. It was all I was going to get to see of Thomas onstage.
Thomas was set up a little further back on stage than the previous night, which I’m sure was a distance he felt, probably the audience too. But each gig has a different layout and number of opening bands, etc. Logistics!
Once the doors opened and I stood by my table down in “the pit,” I couldn’t see a thing. But I could hear, and what I heard last night was amazing, muffled as it was by the doors.
What I heard while I was down there trying to organize my mountain of t-shirts (everyone was watching Thomas of course, so I had a bit of a breather) was the audience. Lots of applause and cheers. Everyone clapping along during several songs. And the joy that was in the air. I swear I could feel it. It was infectious and even down in the dark, where the shirts shone under blacklight because the lamp attached to the ceiling was broken, where the music from the small lounge that also had a live act going on clashed with the powerful chords and thumps from Thomas a level above me, it was impossible not to smile as I heard what must have been an incredible show. It’s clear that there is a real give and take going on between Thomas and his audience, without even being able to physically see it.
Tonight the Sole Inhabitant Tour moves on to the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, and then tomorrow we must all leave this wonderful house we have been staying at during the Los Angeles dates. Looking up and seeing the ocean certainly has me spoiled. Right now it is raining, didn’t Steve Martin say in movie once “It never rains in LA?”
It’s been wonderful meeting so many fans, they have been so nice, considerate, and truly appreciative of the music Thomas creates, and it’s easy to see he has some of the best fans around.
The first night of the tour went off pretty well. It was a great audience, very receptive. I played for 75 mins and felt on form. The new/old songs I’ve added all sounded good, and are fun to play and sing. There were a few glitches of course, the annoying kind that are unrepeatable in rehearsal but always crop up during the show. There was the usual idiot who yells out “Play ‘Science’!” two songs in to the set. (Does that guy comes to every gig?) Above is a pic snapped by Monya De who was in the front row.
I woke up again to the sound of the Malibu waves breaking on the rocks under my friend Nick Turner’s house. Lunesse and Johnny from my crew are staying here too. Huge bonus to be here for a week instead of a hotel. I’m heading into Hollywood now for a TV interview at the Key Club followed by soundcheck. Will try to iron out these stupid bugs. Last night’s crowd were very good sports. I had to restart one song twice. And in ‘Hyperactive’ my Mac went–well, hyperactive on me, and almost ground to a complete stop. The top people at Apple are looking into it, in fact three of them are taking me out to dinner next week in SF to see how I think they could improve Logic 7.2 as a live performance vehicle.
Oh, and the t-shirts arrived! They look fantastic, and Lunesse is selling them from a stall at the gigs. If you get a special receipt with a purple stamp on it you get to come backstage and I’ll autograph it for you!
The first thing I saw this morning was two dolphins swimming past my window. I’m not a superstitious person but I challenge anyone to not feel they’re going to have a great day when this is what you wake up to.
Tonight is the first concert of the Sole Inhabitant Tour 2006. It’s at the House of Blues in Anaheim, California. I’m feeling good, and very excited to be face to face with an audience again. I played there ten weeks ago as a special guest with The English Beat, but it feels like tonight is the first real gig that has my name on it. I know that people are travelliing from all over to see this show. I hear a bunch of fans are meeting up beforehand and hoping to ‘meet and greet’ me and get some records signed, which I will certainly do if time permits.
The last two days of rehearsal in LA have been intense. We did a final run-through last night, and like all good dress rehearsals it left us scatching our heads as to how the hell we’re going to get through the show tonight. At one point I was playing a ballad and when I got to the chorus the piano decided to drift wildly out of tune, as if every note had one string out by a halftone. Call for the piano tuner! Only thing is, this is a digitally sampled running in Kompakt on my G5….
But breakdowns are all part of the fun. I’ve added several new songs to the set I played in January, and incorporated video projection into the set, which off course is a whole new level of complexity. Johnny Dekam and Brian Ziffer built a video rig basically from scratch: A brand new Mac G5 and a drive array, a Roland video switcher, a MIDI keyboard, and a massive Panasonic projector that Johnny says is the best he’s ever worked with. They use their own software though–Johnny is a programming genius and highly rated by VJs everywhere. (I’ll ask them for a breakdown of their set-up in a future blog.) They are using live cams onstage, mixing them with ‘canned’ footage. I can’t see the full effect myself, but I had some friends down to watch and they were suitably impressed. My friend Kreppel took these shots.
The Sole Inhabitant Tour is decamping from Northern California and heading for L.A. for a couple of days’ rehearsal before the first gig! Some vital pieces of equipment we ordered almost didn’t make it in time: two video screens that were supposed to be delivered in the middle of last week had still not shown up by the weekend. Turned out the freighting company had subcontracted to a smaller company in San Jose, who found my small seaside town ‘too remote’ to deliver to, but omitted to tell anyone. Fortunately they’re open Sundays, so my roadies were able to pick up the screens on their way south.
A friend has lent me and my crew his beach house in Malibu for a week while we’re in S.Cal. Nice! Last night the waves were smashing up under the floorboards. It’s a wonder these stilt houses stay up (I guess they don’t, always.)
I am very pleased with my electric keyboard stand. I mainly stand when I’m playing live, but when I’m writing or programming I prefer to sit. It’s great to be able to move the whole rig up and down at the touch of a pedal. I found the company by accident. When I ordered the stand (from a nice lady in Carolina or somewhere) I expressed surprise that there was much of a market for a $700 electric keyboard stand. It seemed unlikely that the average keyboardist would spend the money when that amount will buy you three or four softsynths. ‘Most of our customers are churches’, she said. ‘Many pastors give sermons and also play the organ. Would you like to buy our add-on bible stand accessory?’ I’ll have to save up for that, I said. But I did go for the add-on mic and sheet music stands, and very handy they are too.
They should make it MIDI-programmable. Then at a certain point in a song it could go up or down automatically… brew me a cup of tea…. bring on the bust of Beethoven…
It’s curious the way news spreads over the Internet. One bona fide news site reports an event correctly. Nine more web sites quote the first site verbatim. But the tenth adds a little wrinkle of its own to the story, a white lie. The next twenty sites that report the story include the white lie. And all of a sudden, the white lie has become a fact.
That’s what happened to me this week. MTV News published a story, ostensibly about a row between me and another musician. At the end they mentioned that I am about to go out on tour, which is true. At least a dozen web sites and blogs picked up on the MTV story, and quoted from it directly. So far so good.
Then Steven D Levitt, brilliant author of the bestselling ‘Freakonomics’, mentioned in his widely-read blog that he had lunch with me in Oxford last summer. As a footnote he stated that I’m back with my first album in 15 years.
Hold on–did someone say ‘album’? This is the first I’ve heard of it. But since Steven’s blog, I’ve seen at least 5 mentions of my new album–and in fact two of the journalists I did interviews with this week asked me whether I’ll be playing songs from the new album in my live show.
Next my agent called and said he has two labels interested in distributing me. I’m not kidding.
All this has happened in the space of three days. I think I like this accelerated way of working! At this rate I’ll be able to skip the laborious part where you have to actually write and record the songs, and fast forward to the bit where I’m sitting on a white sand beach with a long drink, reading all the great reviews and admiring my fat royalty check.