26 February 2018

Warsaw Prog Days Festival

(Photo: Grzegorz Adamek)

February in Poland. Minus temperatures day and night. The sky is a huge grey slab of stone. From the window of my hotel room I watch the snow falling. On the other side of a six-lane urban freeway I can see the fresh ghost of a failed shopping mall, full of emptiness, teeming with desolation. In the distance, between that glowering monument to misjudgement and the lonely bus station, hulks a large square building, once a factory, now proudly displaying the words 'Progresja Music Zone', writ very large on the outside. What am I doing here?

Michal Wojtas and Colin Bass. (Photo: Dorota Cwiek)

I'd just arrived in this suburban Warsaw wasteland to take part in the Warsaw Prog Days Festival, due to take place in the aforementioned 'Progresja' establishment in a couple of days time.
I was initially asked by my friend Michal Wojtas, the gifted guitarist and composer of the Amarok Music Project, to pop up and sing on the track I'd recorded with him on the latest Amarok album, 'Hunt'. Then it was suggested I could play my own set too as 'special guest'. I said 'Fab' and next thing my name was on the top of the bill, which was fine I suppose. There were just the small details of what I was going to play and who was going to play with me and whether it was going to be at all possible given that I would only have time for minimal rehearsals. But the admirable Amarok told me not to worry, they would prepare whatever songs I suggested and I could just join them for a couple of days rehearsal before the concert. And indeed they did all that and exceedingly well too, in spite of a last-minute departure of a keyboard player (for personal reasons, I was assured, not because he had to play my songs). Fortunately, the last-minute replacement keyboard player turned out to be Maciej Caputa, who is actually a well-known drummer as well as an excellent keyboardist who worked exceptionally hard not only learning all of Amarok's set but also my stuff too. Chapeau!

Mr Caputa's charts and setlist
And more chapeaus (or chapeaux) for the splendid Amarok ensemble, namely: multi-instrumentalist Konrad Pajek (with whom I could swap acoustic guitar and bass playing roles), percussionista Marta Wojtas, drummer Pawel Kowalski and Michal Wojtas on guitars and guiding spirit.

And in the last but not least department: I also invited my friend Maciej Meller to come and join in. Maciej played on my 'An Outcast of the Islands' album way back in 1998, alongside his colleagues in the Quidam band. These days he plays with leading Polish progsters, the mighty Riverside. Luckily he had time to travel to Warsaw and delight us all with his prowess.

l-r: Michal Woltas, Maciej Meller Marta Wojtas and the author. (Photo: Grzegorz Adamek)

 'Twas a great line-up and we all had a very nice time. I was pleased to play some songs live for the first time, such as Walking to Santiago and Nowhere to Run and they seemed to work very well. I enjoyed it anyway. Hope to be able to do it again sometime.

Also, much respect to the three other bands who appeared and were all exceedingly good in very different ways: Galileous, Here On Earth and Coogan's Bluff. Nice to meet all. 

Maciej Meller in the spotlight (photo: Dorota Cwiek)

(photo: Dorota Cwiek)

(photo: Grzegorz Adamek)

(photo: Dorota Cwiek)

And it's Good Night from us! l-r: Pawel Kowalski, Marta Wojtas, Konrad Pajek, myself, Maciej Meller, Michal Wojtas, Maciej Caputa and the entire Progresja audience. Thank You!
Big thanks due also to Progresja chief Marek Laskowski and Beate Reizler at Musicom and all the crew. Until the next time!

9 August 2016

Camel in Japan - May 2016

Camel in Japan - May 2016

It was touch-and-go - like this blog. It almost didn't happen, but thankfully it did. A short tour of Japan. Flagged up to us in late 2015, we immediately fell to discussing the practicalities, the most significant being: who would be the keyboard player? Our dear friend Ton Scherpenzeel, with whom we always have a wonderful time working, is a long-time committed non-flyer and, though he vouchsafed that he would seriously consider a long and arduous journey on the Trans-Siberian railway route, we felt had to look for someone else to take on the task. Thus, through a fortuitous suggestion from a friend of Andrew, we arrived at the virtual doorstep of one Mr Peter Jones.

Peter Jones in Tokyo (photo:Lenya Alec Bass)
Although he lost his sight at a very early age, the universe has compensated him by endowing him with a generous array of musical talents (as well as an irrepressible sense of humour), allowing him to impress us all with his soulfully expressive playing on keyboards, saxophone and guitar (played horizontally). Some may already know Pete through his Tiger Moth Tales project or even his time as a finalist on the TV talent show, X-Factor. A man of many parts!

From our first rehearsal it was obvious that this was going to be fun and a refreshing throwback to the good old days of real live four-piece interplay. And with Pete so quick on the uptake we were able to condense our usual pre-tour rehearsal time. An initial 5 days in the interesting city of Nottingham about a month before the off and a three-day wash and brush-up in a convenient studio near Heathrow before heading off into the blue yonder, destination Tokyo, where they had obviously already been warned of our arrival.

1 May 2016

Recording Maija Kauhanen in Helsinki

Earlier this year I enjoyed a one-week visit to Helsinki wearing my producer's hat (furry with ear-muffs), working with the remarkable Maija Kauhanen - expert player of the kantele (Finland's national instrument, British types might call it some kind of zither), singer, percussionist and composer/songwriter of artfully undulating soundscapes, generating sparse skeins of silvery sonority, glittering as snow-dripped pine trees in a Nordic forest in the long sunlight, rising to intense rhythmic blocks of deep texture, channeling the wordless, nature-communing joiking tradition or unflinchingly delineating dark tales of abuse and murder, a lullaby laden with foreboding as well as, of course, a story of the mystery of young love.
Maija at her kantele surrounded by interesting microphones

Recording took place at the excellent Ambient Studios, discreetly located above an auto-mechanics' workshop in an industrial area, and a veritable storehouse of vintage gear including a fine old Neve analogue desk and an exciting stock of microphones including some elderly but still proudly functioning RCA ribbon mics.

Master recording technician Joonas Saikkonen at the Neve desk.

As Maija writes and performs her songs best in organic fashion - singing, playing kantele and percussion at the same time - that was how we recorded her, without (except for one song) the aid of click-tracks. So each song is a performance. There are some with additional overdubs, but everything you hear is sung and played by Maija.

Vintage RCA ribbon microphone used on all vocals

 Mixing is currently drawing to a close between North Wales and Finland. Watch this space for more news!!

The team

3 January 2016

What Happened Next...

...or What Ever Happened to my Blog?

the rock'n'roll bus

Having left my reader(s) hanging off a cliff whilst trundling back to the UK on the rock'n'roll bus, I then proceeded to do nothing in the way of a Blog post up until now. Irresponsible I know but life is what happens when you're busy not writing about it, after all. My apologies to anyone who missed me. I love you too.

Anyway, I awoke early at the end of the gargantuan drive across Europe and stumbled out of the bus to find myself at the place they call The Junction in Cambridge. I wandered in backstage and spent some time contemplating the instructions in the shower.

life is like that sometimes

There were just four more shows on the Camel summer tour, culminating in our appearance challenging The Scorpions in a loudness contest (they won) at the Ramblin' Man Fair. In-between our numbers we were hoping we'd get a chance to whistle along with 'Wind of Change' or something like that. But as it happens the schedule was tight and we had to cut our set to accommodate the local authorities, so we kept up the pace. Was all much fun and it was lovely to see the lovely audience and a great big lovely moon in the sky.

nice photo by Noné Easter

And then it was a bit of convivial celebrating in the pleasant backstage glade before our band of merry travellers began to go their separate ways. Goodbyes were said, hugs were exchanged and undying fealty to each other was sworn. Some were whisked off to airports, others set off to their homes and families until the rock'n'roll bus finally pulled out of the festival site in the early hours with a reduced mannschaft of myself, Andrew, Steve the merchman, dear soundman Bunny and just as dear (but worth every penny) back-line tech supremo, Del. We were heading back to the place from where we started to know it for the umpteenth time (apologies to T S Eliot), namely, Real World Studios, where Del had left his magic van and I was going to get a lift home and this last small company of the road would finally be parted...until the next time.

I'll finish with a couple of random snaps from the road.

just a selfie at sound-check

Andrew's amp

and then there was the night on the bus when Denis got out his excellent collection of false moustaches.

I'll leave you with a portrait of Wing Commander Derek 'Where Del?' Haggar, TCP and Mars Bar.

Roger Wilco, over and out.

22 July 2015

Camel Tour 2015 part 3

taking a bow at the Loreley Night of the Prog fest

From Utrecht to the spectacular scenery of the Rheinland for our performance at the Night of the Prog Festival in Loreley. Yet another day of high temperatures which had cooled only slightly by the time we took the stage at 11pm, following a brio-laden performance from the Neil Morse Band with the redoutable Mike Portnoy on drums. We walked on to a rapturous welcome from the several thousands of spectators and the several millions of bugs attracted by the stage lights on what continued to be a warm, balmy night. Band, audience and bugs all had a jolly good time. Great festival, lovely environment, excellent organisatiion. 

waiting to go on in Loreley

Another long overnight drive ensued through Germany to Poznan for the first of two Polish gigs, arriving in time for half a day off and a some welcome recuperation at an agreeable Hotel Poshki.
Andy, Ton, Denis and myself took a Saturday evening stroll around the charming old town centre and enjoyed an excellent slap-up dinner at the highly recommended Ratuszova restaurant on the Stary Rynek, during which we failed to see the famous Poznan goats emerge from their lair in the clock tower of the Town Hall upon the stroke of the hour. 

a balmy evening in Poznan Old Town

 Sunday saw us playing at the IMTP2 hall – a cavernous exhibition hall with high undraped windows which ensured that a good deal of the set was performed in evening light and Paddy our lighting chap was unable to use any projections. Special mention must be given to a pretty spectacular tropical-style storm that suddenly erupted during our afternoon soundcheck turning the surrounding walkways into fast-moving rivers and sending umbrellas, outdoor furniture and other unsecured items careening through the air. All soon returned to normal and a large and lovely crowd came out on a sunny evening to spur us on through another fun gig. And I'll make another special mention for the excellent new pre-amp that my friends at Taurus Amplification – the Polish company making world-class bass and guitar amps - had delivered to me at the soundcheck which has greatly enhanced the sound of my fretless bass.

the cavernous space of the Poznan place

A marathon hand-shaking, autograph-signing and please-can-i-make-a-photo session followed the show before another overnighter to Krakow, where we were pleased to enjoy the shiny and ample backstage facilities of the impressive new concert hall of the ICE Congress Centre. The hall itself is very attractively designed with lots of wood. Not sure exactly how many seats they have there but by stage time every one of them was occupied right up to the gods. What a lovely audience they were too. 

Krakow concert hall at soundcheck
later that same evening
Our visuals were especially good tonight thanks to some excellent hi-tech projectors and I was pleased to finally get incorporated some stunning images of the moon taken by my friend John Lawrence. Apart from being a celebrated Welsh singer/songwriter and bandleader (Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Infinity Chimps), he's also an amateur astronomer and space photographer who manages to take some extraordinary photos of the universe from his mountain fastness in Snowdonia. Many thanks to him for giving us the moon.

checking the new moon at soundcheck

Both Polish concerts were very nicely organised by Piotr Kosinski and stage managed by our old friend Stefan Perskiewicz, who remains unforgettable for his distinctive hearty laugh and unshakeable bonhomie. 

blogging from my bunk while trundling across Europe
At time of writing we are still trundling our way across Germany and France on the road back to the UK for the final four gigs of the tour: Cambridge, Wolverhampton, Norwich and the grande finale at the Ramblin' Man Festival in Kent on Saturday.

More later...

16 July 2015

Camel tour 2015 part 2 - the story so far...

On stage at the Be Prog! My Friend festival, Barcelona
The story so far...

It was a great relief to finally get out of our charming but ultimately windowless box in the pleasant, albeit seldom glimpsed, surroundings of Real World Studios and head off to St Albans in the big red bus. It was a good first night methinks and a lot of nice people were out in force to help us enjoy it, setting a pattern for the next two days at Bath and York. All very enjoyable gigs with, though I say it myself, the band in pretty good form. 

sound check at Bath Forum

sound check at York Barbican

After York we set off into the night for the long journey to Barcelona, catching an early ferry at Dover and continuing on our merry way for the rest of the day and night, finally arriving at the site of the unusually named Be Prog! My Friend festival the next morning. Venue was at the Poble Espanya, an open-air museum, built in 1929, with 117 buildings showcasing Spain's typical regional architecture. A large stage was erected in the main square for the festival. 

setting up the stage in Barcelona

It was hot and getting hotter so we were glad to be whisked away to sample the hospitality of the Hotel el Posh and enjoy a welcome night in a stationary bed.
Next day, Denis and I broke free and negotiated the Barcelona Metro down to Barceloneta, Barcelona's beach area. It was Saturday. It was extremely hot. At a likely looking Tapaseria we found an agreeable table in the shade and an enjoyable lunch ensued. Suitably fortified, we headed back to the festival site where, I have to say, we all were rapidly getting the feeling we had got off the bus at the wrong stop, as it were. We do like to think we can, in our role as travelling minstrels, bring some light and positive energy to the people who come to see us, but every other band seemed to be mining the same seam of dark energy, snarling and growling, bent on pillage and destruction (or at least the pretence of it) and playing at maximum volume from start to finish - oh yes and the smoke-spewing guitars and the strobe lights, the strobe lights... 
We felt rather parochial by comparison and were a little trepidatious about facing the audience. I even left my trainers on for the gig in case we needed a quick getaway but our fears were laid to rest by a sizable and extremely friendly crowd who seemed rather pleased to see us, as we were them. It was actually rather a splendid gig and a good time was had by most (as far as I could see).

Be Prog! My Friend festival Barcelona

Be Prog! My Friend festival Barcelona

Be Prog! My Friend festival Barcelona

After the show it was hurry up and wait time, until 4 am in this case, and then off on another fabulous overnight drive, this time to Zurich, where we thoroughly enjoyed the intimate stage set up with the intimate proximity of the standing audience at the Kaufleuten, a charming wood-lined fancy function room. We were treated to some excellent hospitality and had a grand old rocknroll style sweaty gig.

inside the Kaufleuten, Zurich

Off to sleepy old Limbourg in Belgium to once again tread the creaking boards of the old Kursaal theatre. We were cheerfully greeted by the veteran promoter of the famous Spirit of 66 club, Francois Geron. He was as surprised as we were to find that the venue had printed up some posters for the show bearing our name and personnel but matching us with an old photograph of the band Argent. Hmmmm....
who is that band?
Nevermind, it was another most enjoyable gig for another wonderfully friendly audience. 
Then on the bus again for a drive to Holland. It's all go...

At time of writing we are about to take the stage of the fabulous Tivoli in Utrecht, a super concert hall with capacious backstage facilities including a washing machine and a tumble dryer. Much relief all round at getting our laundry done. It's a glamorous life on the road...

more later...

20 June 2015

Meanwhile, somewhere in Southern England...

...something is stirring.

Camel tour team 2015: l-r: myself. Jason Hart, Andrew Latimer, Denis Clement, Ton Scherpenzeel

And it stirred and simmered and the fullness of its flavour was savoured - at least by us. Now we hope that the dear audiences will enjoy it too. The big bus has arrived and we're about to depart on what looks set to be a pretty arduous trek. Quite a few long journeys. I hope my bunk is comfortable.

In the meantime, some photos from three weeks rehearsing in the friendly environs of Real World Studios, set amongst the rolling hills of leafy Wiltshire...

inside the windowless black box within the giant Nissen hut