Archive for September, 2007

Cambridge and Dublin added

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

We’ve added two shows to the British leg of the tour! Cambridge UK on Oct 9th, and Dublin, Ireland on Oct 11th. Cambridge is kind of my second home town, as my dad taught classical archaeology at Trinity (well they both have a Trinity College actually but he taught at the English one) and my stepmother and brother still live there. The Irish gig will mean a frantic overnight drive from Islington to catch the morning ferry across the Irish Sea, but it will be worth it. I’ve never played a gig in Dublin—how shameful is that?

The last few N.American gigs in Boston, Toronto and Montreal last night were fabulous. It must have done me a world of good to offload all my s#*t on you the other day, because I played and sang better than I have all tour. We partied hard at Harper’s Ferry before taking off for the Canadian border. I enjoyed finally meeting Crackers for the first time, a long time long distance partner in crime and current owner of my infamous Casio MIDI controller. We wrapped up on Montreal, a cool city with a very European culture. I cracked a few jokes in French, though as we know, non-French speakers making the effort ends to fall on deaf ears! Still, we had a fine time, and I just saw my band and crew off to the US border and said adieu to the tour bus, as I will be staying here the next 24 hours prior to catching a flight back to the UK.

Here are some final US pics, taken by Jeff Wasilko in Boston. Believe me, I felt even tireder than I look!

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Farewell to the USA

Monday, September 24th, 2007

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(Pic by trombonist Adam Theis, onstage at the Iron Horse)

We’re on our way to Boston for tonight’s gig at Harper’s Ferry, that last of the current US tour. After the show tonight we drive north to the Canadian border. As Boston is where we started out two weeks ago, this seems like a good moment to post some thoughts about the tour.

We’ve played eleven shows in the last twelve nights. Mostly I’ve enjoyed myself once I’m onstage and there have been many high points. But I have to say that overall it’s been the most stressful tour I can remember.

It started out with a catastrophic equipment failure that nearly caused me to cancel some or all of the gigs. On Sept 11th (coincidence? I think not…) my gear arrived at Logan Airport by cargo plane. Evidently some security official wanted to look inside the cases. My main Mac G5 computer had been opened up, the hard drives pulled out of their bays, and multipin connectors stuffed back on clumsily, breaking the pins. This meant the computer would not start up at all. A certified Mac genius spent 15 hours trying to get it back, but was only able to retrieve about 40% of the data. I stayed up all night two nights in a row trying to pull the songs back together. As my songs involve many seperate resources like samples, MIDI sequences, hardware patches and preferences etc, almost all of them were irretrievable. And the main backup drive was right there in the Mac and also damaged. I had a second external backup which had older versions of the songs (pre-Horns) but I was still missing many software plugins, preference files and so on.

I’m very embarassed to admit this because it’s such old hat. I’m sure you’ve all had computers go down at one time or another, so you’ll you know how hard it is to maintain a thorough backup policy. And yet there’s almost a tradition among high-tech performers (viz Todd Rundgren, Howard Jones) for gear failures resulting in cancelled shows or worse. I watch that and think, well it would never happen to me because I will be smart about backups, have two of every piece of kit and so on. But I probably had a false sense of security after nearly 70 gigs in the last 18 months with nothing worse than the odd gremlin. When it came down to it I wasn’t as prepared as I thought for the unexpected disaster of Sept 11th.

(I realise my own little 9/11 disaster was a mere trifle compared to that other, more famous one. No offense intended.)

When Peter Gabriel did his ‘in-the-round’ stadium tour a couple of years back he had a dedicated technician under the stage with a twin backup system running the entire show in perfect sync and a giant A>B button which could be automatically or manually flicked at any instant with only a few milliseconds of audio lost.

And yet I remember Roger Waters at The Wall concert in Berlin—a man whose worst waking nightmare is to be left stranded in the spotlight with nothing but a microphone—surrounded by massive production teams with no expense spared, and three songs into the show, guess what happens? A complete failure of the the sound system, and a deathly silence witnessed by millions of people around the world on satellite TV.

What’s most upsetting for a performer is not just the silence—because that’s just a brief moment of embarassment you can usually wave away with a curse or a joke, and the audience just goes with it. What’s upsetting is the haunting feeling that follows you around: at any moment this could all come crashing down around my ears.

It’s so hard to sing your songs and stay emotionally present when that feeling is haunting you. And every other part of your reaction—the stress, lack of sleep, over-eating and drinking, you ultimately forgive yourself for, but what’s sacriligious and unforgivable is being onstage yet not really in the moment along with the audience, sharing that communion, the common love of the music that is so precious. Without that, the whole touring equation doesn’t add up.

BUT! On to the positive side…..

Last night I slept in a comfortable hotel bed, a rarity on a tour when you drive overnight and hope to catch a few winks in the back lounge of the tour bus. I feel relatively rested, and I’m very much looking forward to the Canadian and British dates. The show has settled down and kinks ironed out, and I’ve decided to take this same show to the UK, which will save me re-programming all over again for my solo set. A couple of ‘oddball’ gigs are behind us (Moogfest and the charity show—different songs/guest perfromers etc) This has definitely eased the stress levels and allows me to concentrate on the Sputnik perfromance, for which I need to write a number of instrumental cues. I can use daytime hours to work on those on my laptop.

My road crew have been great through all this. Jeff Kaplan and Mike Klooster, and Rick our driver, have worked overtime to adjust to the messed up schedule. Many times they’ve kept it together in the early hours of the morning when I was at my wits’ end and ready to throw in the towel.

And the Jazz Mafia Horns have been fantastic. Their playing goes from strength to strength. Like Rebirth and those other New Orleans brass combos they admire, they play super-tight but loose at the same time, reading flawlessly from charts but weaving improvised licks in an out of the written parts. Adam, Joe and Rich are gifted section players and soloists, and very dedicated to their craft—they can often be heard of a morning wandering around some back alleyway practising scales, and presumably nursing a hangover from the previous night’s partying!

I’m also feeling better having unloaded this on you. There’s an argument that says, never tell the audience about the problems and they will never know the difference. But I’ve always been quite candid on this blog and I think you should know what goes on behind the scenes. I’m amazed and quite proud that we pulled them all off, considering the situation. Nigel Tufnell put it succinctly: “I won’t let it affect my professionalism”.

In any case, if you saw one of the shows or are coming to see one, please put all this crap out of your mind and just enjoy the music!

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my next laptop

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Well, I doubt it’s for sale, but if it were I’d snap it up. It has a morse code generator fer crissake!

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Marriage proposal!

Friday, September 21st, 2007

At my Sellersville show last night, someone proposed to his girlfriend during my set! And it’s already on YouTube…

Pics from Philly

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Later on I’ll post some notes and thoughts about the tour so far, which is now going great, despite a tricky beginning! In the meantime, here are some neat pics that Doug Seymour snapped at the World Cafe in Philadelphia on Sept 13th. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version.

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back in circulation!

Friday, September 7th, 2007

It seems an age since I’ve posted, for which I apologise. In only a few days I’ll be getting on a plane to Boston for the start of my fall US tour, so it’s high time I updated my blog.

The steamer trip was fantastic. I brought my family across from New York to Southampton on the Queen Mary 2. First time I’ve ever done it by ship, and it was terrific. Instead of arriving jetlagged and losing several days to fatigue (and nights to sleeplessness), we arrived refreshed, entertained and well-fed. My favourite part of the trip was an ancient maritime historian who lectured each morning in the Planetarium on the Golden Age of Ocean Liners. Among the eye-openers was the fact that at the end of the ninettenth century I had an (almost) namesake writer Morgan Robertson, who (a) invented the persicope! and (b) in 1898 wrote a novel about a giant luxury ocean liner which hit an iceberg and sank at great loss of human life, and was named…. HMS Titan!

“Well, that was in Chapter One”, said our lecturer. “In Chapter Two it turned out the iceberg was home to a tribe of neolithic eskimos, and the whole thing went to pot. He was really a dreadful writer.” I accosted him afterwards and told him that my name is Thomas Morgan Robertson, and he immediately got terribly defensive, worrying that I must be descended from said rotten novelist. I reassured him that although I was named after an ancestor called Morgan, he had been dead for many years before this guy got famous.

So. Here we are in England. It’s great here and we’ll be staying for a year. My kids have just started school, and are loving it; California schools being what they are, this is a big step up. The weather’s very warm and pleasant, and our house in the country is surrounded by green fields, marshlands full of migrating birds, and we see more Thames Barges out our window than cars.

I’ve been gearing up to start on my new album. As was ‘leaked’ a few days ago, I have this plan to record it using only solar and wind energy. This will be hard to pull off, but it’ll be the culmination of many years’ ambition. It may be perceived by some as me jumping on the current green bandwagon, but that’s really not the case. For a start my wife and kids have all been passionate about reducing our carbon footprint for many years. We bought our first all-electric car in 1990 and now have two Priuses. The five of us usually generate half a trash bag of rubbish per week, the rest going to compost and recycling. Yet I think the other major part of my contribution is via my music and lyrics. As you recall, I wrote a song in 1980 called ‘Windpower’ and I’ve been interested in alternative energy ever since. Sun spots are also an area of great intrigue for me. Wind and sun can be harnessed not only for energy to power my recording, but also as variables that can affect the music itself. Obviously the seasons, tides and equinoxes will all affect my mood emotionally—but I can also use several parameters as input to the music directly, a form of sonification on a large scale.

This is a long-term project, and I’m planning on documenting the whole process. It will take time to get right, and some outside money to set it up, but I’m fortunate in that the TED Conference community includes many of the most brilliant thinkers, inventors, architects and scientist on the planet, and many are willing to help me with my project.

But first, off on tour. I’m heading to New England for the first leg, with the Jazz Mafia Horns, whom I’ve never brought to the NE USA before. Very much looking forward to jamming with them, and trying out a couple of new songs I’ve been working on. We can work on them on the tour bus and in sound checks, and hopefully work them into the set. I feel kinda guilty that I STILL don’t have a whole new slew of songs to play live—but I don’t feel like I’m retreading old ground, as this month a whole new set of audiences will get to experience the fab Jazz Mafia Horns. And then I’m back off to London for some UK dates. As you know I only played a couple in the UK in 2006, which went very well, so this is a chance for regional audiences to check out my solo one-man show.

It’s nice to be back online!