Steve’s Gig Diary: 2007 US Tour

Manchester, Tuesday 13th Noveber 2007


 
We jump into a taxi to the airport at the ungodly hour of 730 am. Check-in is good, it's always a worry when there are unusual looking flight cases involved but the baggage restrictions are never quite as stark as they seem on the airline website. We still have to pay excess but this is a small price in both senses of the word. Having waved our precious cargo into the hold we kill the remaining two hours by having breakfast and seeking other new and exciting ways to be relieved of our cash. Idling at our table I spot a guy at the food counter who looks uncannily like Mani from Stone Roses and Primal Scream. He wisely finds a secluded table with his lady and is left in peace to eat. As he's leaving the dining area our curiosity gets the better of us, and without standing on ceremony, Duncan shouts "Mani!" in a hearty manner and the wave back confirms that it is indeed the man himself.

The flight itself is utterly tedious, we're in middle seats and have no view whatsoever . This is fine by Gary who insists that as far as he's concerned he's on a train anyway. The airline staff do everything they can to avoid giving out alcoholic beverages...although I'll be asking for gin and tonic at every opportunity when we go back. "Coffee ?" "Gin and Tonic please". "Orange Juice ?" "Gin and Tonic". "Chicken or Pasta ?" "Gin and Tonic". No wonder there's so much air rage. There's something about the space restriction which does one's tiny head in, and eight hours is a damn long time, surely a few hours of it spent pissed is a good thing.

We land in Philly at 2 in the afternoon their time, and have the treat of a long wait at immigration ahead. Our line is being administered by Mr "I've got all day, and I'm very important so we ain't gonna hurry this" and to make matters worse, a smart young cookie opens a new line next to us while we're not looking and everyone behind us in our queue joins it and sails through at great speed, while we're still waiting on speedy gonzales. Still, any kind of unrest at this juncture could end up with a long vacation in Guantanamo Bay (especially with a band name like ours which could possibly be construed as some kind of outlandish noise-terrorist cell) or a swift return flight to whence we came from in Europe-land, so we keep a lid on the aggravation simmering gently below our calm exteriors. I answer all of my questions in as straightforward and bland a manner as I can muster. Purpose of visit ? "Holiday" End of story. Gary has however neglected to fill in the final part of his visa waiver and is sent back to the ranks of the disillusioned, his head hanging in shame at such a basic and fundamental oversight.

To see the Philly skyline looming on the horizon in sunshine is a welcome sight. One cheeky $70 dollar multipurpose vehicle ride with all our gear later and we're finally ensconced in the Holiday Inn, Historic District, Philadelphia.

I'm barely out of a delicious, life-affirming shower when Duncan calls my room to annouce that he and Gary are halfway out of the door in search of guitar shops, but I decide to stay put and get my bearings. We're on 4th and Arch, so I play safe and later take a few blocks each way up Arch. We are right in the centre of this most appealing city and it feels thrilling to be here once again. I get all sorts of funny looks from people as I dash across the pedestrian crossings English style. "Jaywalking" I believe they call it.

On their return, Duncan and Gary have decided to stay put, be sensible, get a bite and a drink at the hotel and go straight to bed. It's already very late in England. Not me! Oh no. I have plans.

Chuck Van Zyl, calls to take me up to Johnny Brenda's where Euros Childs is playing, the guy is one of my absolute favourite songwriters and singers, who seems to combine unusual chord progressions with a Pop simplicity which make me smile even on a bad day. I love him for it and his magnificent singing voice. He is from Wales, so it's rather fabulous that he's over here on tour too.

It's great to see Chuck again. WXPN Philadelphia legend and host of radio show Stars End, he's the reason we're here in Philly for the third time playing five engagements on the radio and in concert. He opened up a world for us here in the States for which we'll always be grateful. We order some food and great beer and are immediately happy in each other's company. I notice my man Euros sitting at the bar . He looks permanently 18 although he must have been doing this for getting on 15 years now mainly as singer and principal writer in Gorky's Zygotic Mynci ("How could anyone not like them?" John Peel) The music venue's upstairs and after being mistaken for part of the band entourage, the promoter seems somewaht shocked that someone actually wants to pay to get in. We soon see why, as a classy and wonderful looking venue reveals itself to be almost entirely empty. This is ample proof that no-one will ever be able to accuse me of having mainstream tastes in songwriters, and also guarantees us a good table, literally the only one in the place, seeing as it's a standing only venue.

There's another act too, David Kilgour, and he's on first. I'm hoping this is OK with Chuck as he's here largely because I wanted to come but he's had a `chocolate peanut butter bomb' dessert and is a happy man. Kilgour turns out to be utterly fantastic. The kind of artist who grabs the attention from the first song and has me grinning in delight at his magnificently skewed guitar playing hung on songs it is impossible not to like. I later discover he was in The Clean, a New Zealand band with whom I shared a bill in London in 1990 in the heady days of The Honey Smugglers. A damn small world, and at this moment, a fine one too. By now, Chuck and I have been joined by Jeff Towne, another Philly friend, radio engineer and who like Chuck is excellent company.

Euros delivers a fine set of wonderfully unpredictable songs built around chord changes which draw the listener into a unique and bizarre world. It's great to see the new mini-epic `Miracle Inn' in all it's glory. Got to love the guy, but it's uncertain what the Americans make of it all...there are too few of them to tell. The set amazingly finishes with a cover of `Chop Chop' by The Sweet. A B-side so obscure that even a Sweet fan like myself would be hard pressed to name the A-side.

It's a real shame there are so few people here, and I imagine if this is the case across all the US dates Euros is playing, it must be very hard to keep the chin up. As we leave, I see him going about the post gig packing up tedium, (after a show which really can't have been too enjoyable seeing as the place was empty) and introduce myself, hopefully boosting his morale a bit by letting him know he's one of my favourite writers. I'm pretty blasted on brown ale by now, so I give his skinny frame of a body a hug and nearly break him in two..

Chuck and Jeff enjoyed the eccentricity of it all (I think!) and whilst Duncan and Gary would've loved the Kilgour band, I'm pretty sure they would have pilloried me merciless about Euros. Duncan has enough problem with the Welsh as it is.

I'm gratefully conveyed back to the hotel by Jeff and I hit bed just after midnight Philly time, a mere 5am in England. Eeek. I'm advised that early adjustment to Philly time is a good thing, but this hour is possibly not within the realms of good sense.

Philadelphia WXPN Radio Recording, Wednesday 14th November 2007

Awake at 7 and down for breakfast at 10 where I meet Gary already tucking in. We round up Duncan and head out in search of music shops. We spend a couple of hours visiting 8th Street Music (on Arch/10th St naturally) and Bluebond Guitars. The prices of guitars over here are literally half of what they are in the UK helped further by a favourable exchange rate for us, so several likely contenders are shortlisted. Back in `drummer world' I treat myself to a pair of drumsticks, some soft beaters and a wood block. Bluebond is just off South Street, so I head out while they're still plonking away on all manner of planks. I pay a quick visit to the shore and take in the cosmopolitan atmosphere.

For lunch we hit Bridget's near the end of South St where we've been before. The waiter Jeff, is a Radiohead fanatic who even has selected lyrics tattoed on his arms. We discuss favourite Radiohead albums , mine being OK Computer. Like many of our American friends, he enjoys a chat! He says he does a mean Black and Tan so I order one and a Cheese Steak. Halfway through the Black and Tan I hit some sort of wall and all of a sudden feel utterly dreadful, as if I'm going to pass out and throw up. As a consequence I can't eat any of my food. Luckily Duncan hasn't had any breakfast so he's more than grateful to take it off my sorry hands.

We head back to the hotel and pack the gear in anticipation of our trip to WXPN to pre-record Saturday night's Star's End radio session. They have a brand spanking new studio complex with live music venues to boot. A fantastic facility. Unfortunately I am once again on the verge of passing out in the car, and once we get to the station. I walk up and down the long wooden floor trying not to keel over. Not a good time to be punished by jet lag. Eventually I have to find food even though I couldn't eat a thing. The cafe on the top floor at the station serves me a soup and a salad of the day. The cafe has a wonderful panoramic view of the city as I try to keep it together. The soup is sipped gingerly as I sit at my keyboard back in the studio staring into space.

There's an invited audience come to check us out so it feels kind of like a gig but not. Jeff Coulter has brought an AKS synthi for Duncan to try and tame, and it throws out some fearsome shrieks as we embark on the first of two one hour sets. It all starts off fairly lumpy but gains some focus towards the end. My hands are trembling throughout and my guts are churning real bad man! I visit the gents and do the necessary, my fragile state not helped by the nauseating music being piped through the speakers in there. It turns out to be a live string quartet playing.....wait for it....the whole of Radiohead's `OK Computer', in the cafe upstairs in the very same building.


 
The second set is a much improved experience for me, the music begins to reach the zone of mystery and I find myself carried away and everything coming easily. We absolutely rock the house, and as Duncan gives it one last big blast, an audience member remarks that we might have to scrape Art the engineer off the studio glass! Everyone's very happy with the performance, and we sign the WXPN wall of fame alongside Sonic Youth, Kaiser Chiefs and World Party ("World Party Next Year !" Karl Wallinger). After some photos outside the station with a little hottie who's turned up with her boyfriend hoping for some live music, I get a lift back with Jeff T and we listen to Echoes radio, the daily syndicated show he engineers and who we will be recording for on Friday....I get back to the hotel and crash out, glad that I somehow made it through and hope that it's the end of the bastard jet lag.

Gagliarchives Radio Recording, Z88.9, Burlington Campus, New Jersey, Thursday 15th November 2007
Waking up after the mandatory `best that can be hoped for in a hotel' six hours sleep, I feel a whole lot better and venture downstairs for another skanky and exceptionally poor value Holiday Inn breakfast. Today's project is a trip to record a session for the Gagliarchives radio show. We've heard many good things about this being the best progressive music show with a wide reach. There have been one or two e-mails with crossed wires prior to our trip regarding the arrangements so we're hoping everything's going to be OK.

Our fine hosts for today are Cyndee Lee Rule and her husband Jeff, who are driving us up to the station some 30 or so miles north on Burlington college campus New Jersey. Cyndee played 5-string Viper Violin on our album via the magic of wav files, and is playing with us for real tonight for the very first time. They meet us outside our hotel and we head for a fine Chinese restaurant they know in the general direction of the radio station. We eat some fine food and enjoy an early glass of red wine or two in good company, it's great to finally raise a glass with the lady who viperised our album. The college campus is enormous and in the middle of a lot of pineland. On arrival, Jeff disappears inside, emerging with Tom Gagliardi, a fine young gregarious Italian guy, we immediately dispel the e-mail mix ups and he assures us that this is largely due to his boss. There's only one initial problem and that is the fact that there is no PA to address the small posse of invited folks who've come to sit in on this radio recording, and we are temporarily faced with the unenviable prospect of putting everything through two guitar amps. Not good. Miraculously, Tom rustles up a PA from somewhere in the building and the show is well and truly on.

We're playing in the college dining area with cables tie-lined through to the small radio studio two floors up. There's plenty of space and a welcoming table of fresh fruit and brownies. Tom is so enthusiastic to have us here and has been a big supporter of our music since he heard the first Cuneiform release. Our album is in their Top 20 out of over 1200 albums, so somebody likes us. We're initiating his new idea of recording radio sessions in front of an invited crowd, and he's really grateful to us for doing it. He spends the whole night buzzing around between the performance area and the radio studio whilst talking ten to the dozen.. We nip out for a crafty ciggie with him and a lady from the station and despite the fact that the campus is about a hundred miles square there is no smoking allowed anywhere. Not even outside ! We sit in his car and pretend we are about to drive off somewhere, without actually moving.

A bunch of people have gathered in readiness and we shake a few hands and meet a couple of familiar names, not least of which, Mike Ostrich who has followed us since day one and who gave our album it's world premiere on his show ProgScape Radio. He immediately goes to the top of our popularity list by reminding us of the promise he made to come to The Gatherings later in the week armed with beverages of our choice. What a gent! Gary and Dunc immediately set him on the Boddingtons trail while I decide to plump for a decent bottle of red to add a much needed air of class to the situation...and because it gets you more pissed. We also meet a fine chap by the name of Floyd who is part of the Mellotron mafia in this part of the world and who will be arranging the loan of one for Sunday's show in Baltimore. We are truly amazed at the generosity of people who are happy to turn up at our gigs with unweildy vintage instruments and ask nothing in return but that we make good use of them. Thanks guys!


 
Tom's dictum of `play what you want for as long as you want' sits nicely with our ethos, and we decide to attempt two forty minute sets, as an hour is a bit too long to go without a smoke when in the creative process! Cyndee slots straight in there like she's been with us for a long time. Her violin is wonder to behold, a work of beautiful craftsmanship, it's pointed and ready to rock your universe. She's directly behind me checking my hands for what key we're in, and a lot of the time I'm just about to play a lead figure only to hear it come flying out of Cyndee's hands first, leaving me free to add another layer. Wonderful stuff. The first set goes well, Tom's over the moon with it, and the second set really hits the zone as we relax into this magical world of music making where the music takes over and unfurls in colour before your ears, singing, dancing and whispering "isn't it good to be alive ?".

Spirits are running high as we all pile upstairs to the studio to talk to the irrepressible Mr Gagliardi, and we really do a great interview with lots of fun moments and genuine English humour. It's really nice to get Cyndee involved in the chat too, her being a local musician...interview wrapped up, and daft photos duly taken we graduate towards the cars where we're all still chattering away in the freezing cold. It's big hugs and fast friendship from Tom G and we just know we're going to be seeing more of him in the future.

Although we're petty wrecked by now, we take Cyndee and Jeff up on their offer of a party at theirs. It's a fairly long drive to Trevose but at least we're back in Penn. state. They live in a secluded house where neighbours would not seem to a problem ! They have a large and comfortable living room, and we toast each other with what's left of the wine from the meal earlier. Unfortunately, half of it ended up on the floor of Cyndee's car on the way back when the cork popped out. We have a listen to John Diliberto on Echoes where we'll be headed tomorrow for our next session, as a most unexpected pipe of peace materializes.

Jeff shows us his collection of flutes, and we watch some of Cyndee's videos on Youtube before Jeff cranks up his old record player and we listen to both sides of Hawkwind's `Hall Of The Mountain Grill' the way it was meant to be heard, rough'n'dirty. Time eventually gets the better of us and we're most grateful to be dropped off back at the hotel where we fall into bed in a state of happy exhaustion.

Echoes Radio Recording, Chester Springs, Pa., Friday 16th November 2007

Today we're back in the company of the tireless Chuck Van Zyl who is taking us up to Chester Springs which is out of Philly and in a very pleasant leafy area to the north. After breakfast at the Morning Glory we're rolling up the highway listening to the Dub Side Of The Moon, headed for the domain of Mr John Diliberto, radio legend and all round good guy. Echoes has several USA syndicated broadcasts a week, and our friend Jeff Towne is the engineer, so we know it's going to be a nice visit. It's our first, they visited us on location in Duncan's `ramshackle' flat last year.

The studios are located in a beautiful old wooden house surrounded by green, and I am insanely jealous of these guys' day jobs. It takes John a massive twelve stress-free minutes to get to work! Jeff had made the fatal error of mentioning to me that he had a Rhodes electric piano the other day, immediately guaranteeing I would move heaven and earth to get at it, and true to his word he has it all set up for me. Here we are in the middle of the Pennsylvanian countryside about to record some music for a total audience of 250,000 people, and the sound coming out of this thing makes me want to take it to bed (or as a guy in Baltimore said about Gary's Rory Stratocaster : "I got tight pants when I saw it ")


 
The format is a 30-minute show called The Living Room Concerts where we play live in the studio and in between takes chat to John who sits in the room with us. We're all on headphones which gives a great clarity to things, and due to the length of the show, have to be brief with our improvs, which is an interesting excercise to say the least. We know when we've hit the spot because John has his eyes closed. After a couple of minor technical probs we're in full flow and give them 3 pieces to choose from for the show. The interview goes well except when Gary tunes his guitar in the middle of one of John's silver toned pronouncements. "Don't do that!" It's meant to be as live Mr Houghton! Even though I can see the clock through the studio glass it's actually impossible to recall what the start time was when a piece gets underway, because the act of creation would appear to exist outside of such considerations....but we do our best to trim things to a sensible length, bite sized RMI nuggets to entice the innocent listener to investigate further as we drift out of their radio in North Carolina, South Dakota or the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia or somewhere.

Session over we all head out for more fantastic oriental food, a big round table with us, Chuck, Jeff, John, Kimberley and daughter. It's good leisurely company, and time flies past very quickly. I am gobsmacked when I read my fortune cookie: "Pay attention to your non-verbal cues, and try turning it down". I mean why, how did they know? This advice could have been written for radio massacre international! I keep it to myself, in reserve, to be served on Duncan or Gary during a gig should the need arise.

Once again time has got the better of us and by the time the chatter has ceased, it's getting late. We head back to town with Chuck who, trooper that he is, offers to show us some sights as we ride around in a daze. No matter how tired, it's still impossible to get more than six hours sleep, the room is very cold and the only way to warm it is with a clunky air-con system which sounds like a swarm of jet planes. At least Gary's got his guitar to cuddle up to at night...I'm missing the Rhodes already.

The Gatherings St Mary's Church, University City, Philadelphia, Saturday 17th November 2007

Duncan's grabbing some more shut-eye, but Gary and I's stomachs have other ideas, and we find a great local diner with counter service and a great no-nonsense hostess. "You wanna sit down?" "Yes please", "Well sit down then!" We have the best breakfast of the trip so far and the best priced. Everything you can think of here (and I mean everything) is half the price it is in miserable, outrageously overpriced England.

I have a blissful few hours listening and writing in my room, now that the laptop's here loaded with music, there are our recordings from the trip so far and indeed this august journal to be busy with. I've had my small wav/mp3 recorder with me and have been gathering documentary material and recording all the performances from a room perspective.

(My tour song: `One Man Guy' by Rufus Wainwright, written by his Dad, Loudon III is the perfect `alone in a hotel somewhere' song, and I've found it running through my head constantly. Luckily I have it on my laptop too so it's a happy happy happy hotel room.)

Today we're heading on down to familiar territory, The Gatherings at St Mary's, scene of past triumphs in 2002 and 2004. We're to be at the church by 4pm, and Cyndee is guesting with us on the second set. Cyndee and Jeff collect us from the hotel, the daily search for a loading trolley now becoming a familiar routine as we drag the tools of our trade down again from the third floor.. This time, the world and his wife are checking in to the hotel, so there isn't a chance, so we grab it all by hand and try not to get too many elecric shocks from the lifts. It's a reasonably quick trip up to the church, and a sunny day which is usually good for attendance.

As we load in, Jeff Coulter arrives with two wonderous Mellotrons of beauty and cosmicity, not to mention some unbelievable vintage synthesizers, including two mighty AKS beasts which can turn your ears inside out at ten paces, and even some Moog modular gear. Jeff Towne has kindly brought down the new love of my life, the Rhodes electric piano, and when it's all set up in the church it looks utterly fabulous. It reminds me of early gigs we saw as callow youths in denim, when it was mandatory to gaze longingly at the gear upon entering the concert hall. I feel like a really lucky guy knowing that it's all sitting waiting for me to play in this most beautiful of settings. I wander across to the church Harpsichord and lay down a couple of our recent chord sequences for the benefit of the recorder...you never know when these things will come in handy. I'm buzzing around the place full of ideas and joy at this place.We're approached by Darren Bergstein, a writer who's doing a piece on us for Signal to Noise magazine. He'd like an interview. "Let's do it !" say I and before long, Gary and I are going through the history once again, and it's interesting that when Mark Spybey's name comes up in relation to our very first band, Darren's very familiar with his work. It all goes well and we are assured a photographer called Dustin is being despatched very shortly to portray these three handsome young men from England, UK. When he arrives we pose by the organ pipes, which should look pretty good I would hope.

Sometimes we're so busy being busy with other people and new friends that we hardly get a chance to discuss how we're going to approach the night's performance and spend some time in quiet English contemplation, so we respectfully dip out of the evening's eating plans to find a little sanctuary in the sanctuary. We grab some massive slices of pizza from a local restaurant where the prices are amazing and the staff as rude as hell, but it's just what we need. The church co-ordinator guy shows us to the kitchen where we can even make some tea and we saw that it was good, and lo it shall be said that radio massacre international shall bless this church with a display of colourful and beautiful electronics with a hard centre of pure friction and static. (just a bit of tour madness kicking in there, sorry....)

Ahem. St Mary's is a fantastic place to be, we have the priest's preparation room as our dressing room which means we can nip out the door for a canny smoke whenever we like. University City is thronging with students heading here and there and it's nice to stand and watch them as if having landed from another planet. Chuck comes in and gives us our stage times, and the appointed hour arrives. We take our places after a fabulous introduction from Chuck, and start very quiely so that the hush in the church is magical. We're doing a totally improvised concert and everything feels good from the get go, there have been no nerves at all, and it really feels like this is what we do now on a daily basis. Could there be a better environment for music than this ? The lightshow is phenomenal as Jeff T projects all sorts of fantastic colours and patterns onto the back of the church wall .Time moves fast and slow . When I'm at the Rhodes electric piano it's like playing with liquid gold (although not as hot obviously) the notes ring out and sustain, carried by the wonderful acoustics of the church.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's at times like this I feel truly alive and utterly at home, creating in the moment with a fabulous bed of electronics surrounding me and Gary's guitar soaring all the way to the stained glass...I get a bit crazy as the rhythm gathers pace and give everything I can to the moment. We do a great first set of 50 minutes and leave for the interval to loud applause. We decided beforehand to structure the set in terms of rhythmic and non-rhythmic variation, and it's worked a treat. I found some new bells in the cupboard and these made an appearance near the end of the set having been sitting expectantly atop the Rhodes.


 
Back in the priest's room for the interval, Mike Ostrich turns up with Boddingtons for the boys and a bottle of Merlot for me. What a star this man is, and we're glad that we were able to appoint him our new webmaster. He's a `can do' guy, and great fun with it....and we just know that our relationship will be long and fruitful. We've asked Chuck to discourage people from visiting the sanctuary during the break as we can be in danger of having no time to concentrate on the set ahead of us, so we're very relaxed and in the right headspace in readiness for the second set.

Cyndee is joining us again on Viper 5-string violin so we beckon her backstage to feel the vibe, and once again she plays really well, adding another dimension and indeed a further lead instrument. This frees me up to explore chords a little more, and is a winning formula. She also looks damn cool in her shades and I admire her confidently executed stagecraft. There's a great symmetry and interaction between her and Gary. Music is the best language.

The second set passes as magnificently as the first, we seem to have the church in the palm of our hands, as we blast its cold dark corners with sound colours. Churches somehow seem to be made for electronics. A great reception and we're really pleased with the second set too. This is feeling like a really special gig, and we're proving to ourselves that doing this every day only enhances the quality of our work. The 20 minute encore rounds things off nicely and we retreat to the priest room to crack open the beer and wine. The great thing about being in a church is that there's always a bottle opener handy.

There is a sizeable gathering of fine people wanting to talk to us when we emerge after calming down, and I can't tell you how great this feels, not in an egotistical way, but that our music has managed to bring so many people together. There are lots of CD's to sign and questions to be answered. In the midst of it all I meet Chad, the main man at NEARfest who confirms that it's all on for an RMI appearance next June. Everyone we have told about this is very excited about it, and it's obviously a big deal. We seem to have gathered so much momentum recently and we're more than ready to take it to the bridge.

Gary gets stuck into the Boddingtons and I have a generous slug of wine as we are interviewed by Bill Fox backstage. Gary not unreasonably dumps his empty cans in the bin, but gets into trouble about this with the church guy! It's the priest's bin! Eeek. Guess it'll have to be re-consecrated now...

As we emerge from talking to Bill, the gear has been packed already, and as we get outside there's a tailgate party going on outside the church with our Gagliarchives session from Thursday on the car radios! We have a wonderful experience riding in convoy through the city with the skyline lit up at night listening to us coming out of the radio. When it gets to the funny chat parts of the interview there are signals and waves from car to car in amusement!

We hit the hotel just before 1am, and there's a further treat in-store, as our session recorded Wednesday for Chuck is airing at 2am. We part company at our private end of the hotel corridor (I'm in 424, Gary and Duncan directly below in 324 and 325, with fire stairs to zip up and down. It's a regular home from home).

When Chuck comes on I run down the corridor in my socks, fill the ice bucket, and pour myself a duty free Jack Daniels to enjoy the sound of our set, replete with sirens outside the hotel which blend in perfectly with the swooping noises coming from the radio. It's a real taste of Philly outside and in, and as I gaze from my 4th floor window onto Arch St I wonder if any of the cars below me have got it on. I listen for an hour to this set before turning off and going to bed...it's pretty hard to turn your own music off when you're live on the radio! There's another set at 4 but I won't be hearing it.Chuck says some nice things and mentions that we're in town playing some dates which feels good. I love this touring lark, and I have always relished the times I've had. There's something about being so far away from home, with no day to day bullshit to deal with and only music to think about, which is totally liberating.

Orion Studios, Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday 20th November 2007

Boy, now we really are on a roll. In the midst of a dream there are regular outbreaks of bizarre and annoying cheering, and it turns out that the mysterious blue line in the road which appeared yesterday was to mark out the route for a marathon being run at some ridiculously early hour. Quiet! Rockstars sleeping already! We head out to the diner again, this time there's the added attraction of a cute blonde waitress with a red Barbie T-shirt bouncing pertly about the place.

Back in the lobby as we wait for Cyndee and Jeff, the proud marathon competitors are arriving back, some in a pretty advanced state of exhaustion. I bend and pick up something that some poor soul draped in one of those post race blanket things has dropped. If she'd got down herself she might not have got back up.

Cyndee and Jeff arrive with our reeds player for tonight, Premik Russell Tubbs. He has come down from Queen's NYC just for us. What a tall, warm and funny man he is. He's in the back of Cyndee's car with me in the front so I look forward to passing the journey together. Cyndee has some great sounds lined up to blast us along on our way south to Baltimore. We're talking about being nervous before appearing onstage, and Premik happens to mention that when he joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1975, he was somewhat nervous at the tender age of 22 to find that his first gig was to be the Royal Albert Hall in London. He's also on a very famous Whitney Houston record which sees our `degrees of separation' credibility soar instantly through the roof!


 
On the way, we pop in to collect another Mellotron for tonight, this time from a guy who has the most amazing collection of vintage keys in his house, and Duncan emerges triumphant with a Mini-Moog too. Back on the freeway and it's not long until we reach Baltimore and tonight's venue. It's in stark contrast to the church, being a large square room in a rehearsal studio complex, with a great club feeling to it. Mike our sound man and main man at the place greets us and we're soon surveying the stage for positions. I've been given a huge `rock-out' style drum kit, which I manage to reduce down by about half to a size more appropriate for our relatively ego-free music. My kit's on a riser and the only way for me to get out is to move the hi-hat, so it looks like I'll be trying to stay put behind the kit as much as possible. Duncan is extolling the virtues of Gary's Jam-Man repeater device to Cyndee, "you'll have to get one"......."then you'll be Cyndee Looper !" I hilariously chip in.

Cyndee's immediately in front of me, with Premik to the far left of the stage. With Gary in front of me to the right, so we have an unprecedented frontline of 3 soloists lined up for the second set! Premik wanders around warming up on a fine selection of instruments he's brought, including tenor and alto saxes, a wind synthesizer and even a Saxello. There's a corridor with nice acoustics so he's happily blowing away, while I phone `Mr big bad record label boss man' Steve Feigenbaum who's coming down tonight. Jeff and Floyd very kindly go off in search of food while we get the soundcheck proper under way. The engineering booth is up a ladder in the roof somewhere...I love this room, it has had a lot of love poured into it, and is covered in posters and decoration. We have a merch table so I scribble out some prices and arrange the CD's on it as quickly as I can.

By the time we're through soundchecking, the food's gone cold. Cold veggie burger and chips, not good, but there is other food for all comers later so I decide to wait for that. I'm not really hungry anyway. While we're hanging around outside smoking as usual, Steve Feigenbaum and his charming wife Joyce arrive and it's great to meet them and chat with them. Joyce has with her a fabulous `gig-pack' affair made up of reviews, sleeve art and merch templates, in fact everything we'd need to be out on the road. A record company who cares!! There's even a charming note from their interns wishing us luck. Mike Ostrich once again turns up with Boddingtons and Red Wine, making us happy men once again. We also get him to look after our merch! He's the man....where's he been all our life??

The place is really lively, packed with great folk who all want to talk to us, and as there is nowhere private to go we wilfully abandon plans for quiet time, and go with it. I love the pre-gig buzz there's nothing like it and the anticipation. We're introduced onstgae by Mike Ostrich who also announces our addition to the bill of NEARfest, which actually gets a round of applause! The first set is a bit shakey, the first half of it starts well and we hold our own with the electronics and into a couple of the set pieces. We're supposed to stop after the first C improv but don't, which is annoying. Then the second sequencer section for some reason sounds like shit, so we abandon it and zone out into some kind of meditative section to take us through to the `So It Goes' reprise with full bass and drums, this also ends sloppily but gets a fantastic reaction from the audience which perhaps we don't really deserve.

"That's the best soundcheck I ever heard!" declares Premik who has been watching with Cyndee, and I crack up accordingly. We spend a lively interval, zap outside for a smoke and get talking to Paul Sears of The Muffins, a local hero, who spent years playing with English experimental guitar legend Fred Frith amongst other exciting things. In fact there's some of Fred's old kit down here tonight too. He now apparently is a professor of music at a girl's college in California, which doesn't sound half bad work if you can get it.


 
Our plan for the second set is to have a good few gulps of wine/beer and go for it. We're performing the album with our guests and it's our last set here so it's gotta be good. It is! We're really on it, Gary and the front line are all blowing fantastically. Gary disappears for another can of beer before emerging triumphantly to conduct the two soloists towards the end of the set. It's great fun and the audience love it too. We're buzzing so much at the end that we undergo a most unexpected set of group hugs onstage! What a joy it's been to play with our guests and make RMI into a truly international band.

On the way back to Philly it's pouring with rain and pretty hazardous driving, which we attempt to alleviate by listening to Steve Hillage's `Green' (one of Cyndee's all time favourite albums) and we stop for coffee at a service station. As I get back in to Cyndee's car I promptly spill the entire contents of my cup into my lap and all over the seat. Mmmm...warm..... then cold for the entire rest of the journey. Now the front of Cyndee's car smells of coffee and the back of red wine from the other day. We wave Cyndee, Jeff, Premik and Floyd off from the hotel and thank them again for everything. Way to go people! You're the best.

Room 424, Holiday Inn, Historic District, Philadelphia, Monday 19th November 2007

As I sit here at 15.41 at the laptop with a Starbucks cappuccino and a club sandwich, I am a happy man, we're having a day to vibrate gently and recover some energy after five days of playing in a row, we always wanted to do that, and it felt wonderful. The notice in the hotel lift says `no conferences scheduled, please enjoy the hotel'. Will do!


 
Gary and I went to the local diner for the third day in a row but made the fatal mistake of sitting at a counter served by an old 5ft Greek woman with an unintelligble voice, and motherly somewhat bossy manner., only to find out when it was too late that `Barbie' was waiting the other counter. Damn! Still, the food's great even if I do get told unceremoniously to eat up my toast!

We spend a great day at the hotel, and despite having previously made some outlandish plans for recreation, including a tattoo each from a guy we met on Saturday at the concert, the day passes peacefully, until we head out with Chuck and Jeff in the evening to the Standard Tap, for food and drink. The Tap is like an English pub, but obviously with better food! I have clam chowder and a great steak, and several pints which go down really well, so that I'm buzzing once more. It's 11 o'clock before we know it, and several people are more tired than I so we decide to retire, and say our farewells to Jeff once again.

Philadelphia to Manchester, Tuesday November 20th 2007

Reality check. We have to leave today. We divide the dollars between the three of us before leaving the hotel, and head out with Chuck onto the streets of Philly to try and spend some of it before our flight at 2105 tonight. We hit the best CD shop which turns out to be very near our hotel indeed. Although the net has taken away some of the thrill of CD buying, it's still great to come across some items I'd forgotten I wanted. I leave with 8 or 9 titles of varying types. We also head back to 8th street music again, and Duncan goes for a Moog phase pedal. Anything with the late Dr Robert's name on it has got to be worth having. We end up at the indoor market in Chinatown and have a great Hot Chocolate with whipped cream. As we head back to the hotel, it seems that as America is getting ready for Thanksgiving on Thursday, the Christmas decorations are slowly appearing too...even the hotel has a tree with lights which I swear wasn't there this morning.


 
We load up Chuck's car for the dreaded trip to the airport...the traffic's bad but we've got plenty of time luckily. At the airport we get the flight cases checked in by the skyporter guys they have here. We tip him well and it seems to do the trick, we get it all on with a minimum of fuss, and say farewell to our man Chuck, who has been so kind to us over the days we've been here. Cabin check-in is about as horrible as it gets. Shoes and socks off, Duncan's Iced Tea confisticated before he's had chance to even finish it, and much general confusion as we try and retrieve our scattered worldy posessions from those grey trays floating by, whilst simultaneously trying to refasten our belts, tie our laces and put one foot after the other.

Composure is resumed as we realise there's some seriously good fresh food available at the airport. I have a big slice of pizza and also get stuck into some Chinese. Wow, so much better than the hydrogenated crap they'll be serving at the other side of the Atlantic and as usual, ridiculously good value. The flight's a bit more comfortable, with more empty seats and room to spread out, and it seems to go a lot quicker too. I venture into business class on one of my leg stretching excursions, and seem to be given the nod to do this by the flight attendant who obviously recognizes class when she sees it. Unfortunately there's a `Mr serious attitude problem in a uniform' sitting at the front who watches me incredulously for a full minute as I happily try the huge seats for size and make myself comfortable for a while. "Who are YOU?" is his charming opening gambit. I tell him the flight attendant said it was OK to come in, but as far as he's concerned I have committed a most heinous crime. I wonder what it's like to have a brain that small, and maintaining eye contact long enough to suggest contempt, I back off, remembering where I am. Jeez, it's the same lump of metal hurtling through the sky, and I only wanted to look at the sunrise for a bit, but I guess these guys need their rules to get all excited about, or maybe he was the pilot or summat. Whatever.

We arrive on an inevitably damp Wednesday morning in Manchester, the night has dissolved somewhere in a black hole. We eventually make it back to Gary's where I dive straight into the shower, before dropping Duncan off for his train to London and praying that I can stay awake until I get to Harrogate, given that I am driving.


Do Electric Sheep Dream Of Space Rock?

 
This hour long collage of Radio Massacre International material consists of previously unreleased material from various sessions between 2003-15, and might be seen as their version of `The Faust Tapes' in its construction. Endlessly fascinating, playing as a continuous suite, it is an unpredictable journey through many of the places RMI have found themselves in whilst working and improvising together.


Purchase the CD-R now!

 
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