Devon and Cornwall Tour – August/September 2018

It was mid afternoon on August Bank Holiday. Sun visors down, the two cars set out for Chico Chica’s Devon and Cornwall Tour. Double bassist Alison Rayner is driving her leather-seated Volvo, instruments in the back, me in the shotgun seat.

As the mobile world of leather rolls along the M4 I discover Alison, as a bandleader herself, is a useful source of advice and sympathy. After coffee at Newbury I enter a reflective mood.

Tours take a lot of time to organise. Fees are no higher then those that can be earned within our usual gigging radius. The added expenses of travel and accommodation make a serious dent in the earnings.

And yet…there’s something that compels a band to strike out into the unknown. It might be that no-man-is-a-prophet-in-his-own-land thing. Or wanderlust. Could it be, what in the corporate world they call, a team building experience? Perhaps we’re subconsciously inspired by the wandering troubadours of long ago. There seems to be a feeling that a band is not really a band unless it tours.

Our first stay was in a forest in deepest Devon. Using a star to guide us (it was actually a satellite which is a kind of star) we find our AirBnb destination. We drive along a rough forest path, passing piles of logs. Twilight adds to the general Hansel and Gretal/Blair Witch mood. We were greeted by Fred who is in the process of converting an abandoned mill compound into something habitable, one building at a time. Fred keeps birds that don’t fly much. Swans and ducks in the pond, a peacock which wanders around the yard who’s frankly a bit arrogant and a cock who does a proper crow at around 7 am and then again twenty minutes later as a kind of snooze alarm.

In the morning we head to The Bude Jazz Festival. Every band needs friends and champions. Chico Chica are lucky to have Rosie and Matt who come to the gig and treat us to pasties and whitebait at The Brendon Arms. We stroll to the beach and watch the waves, imagining what it would be like to surf them.

The set list for the tour is:

This is My Heart

Mon Oiseau C’est Enfui

Cuando Sali de Cuba

Casa Flamenco

Vanity

Cue the Cucumber

On Va au Bois

Private Hands

Final Safari

Cinderella

Falling, Falling

The Lizard

Quand Tu Me Touches

Son Tresor

Fingers in The Dark

C’est Ta Chanson

L’Abeille Dansante

Goodnight

The mainstay of the set is Chico Chica’s French collection which the band plans to record in the near future. There are a few old favourites from previous albums, others from a future flamenco project and one cover. Variety is key to the Chico Chica show: in singers, instrumentation, keys, feels, moods, tempos, languages and subject matter.

But would a Cornwall jazz festival audience accept such a radical departure from the usual mainstream jazz? Happily, the reaction is positive. The pattern here is set for the rest of the tour: surprisingly large audiences and CD sales.

After Bude the band drive to The George, South Molton. and then back to our forest den chez Fred. On the next day we motor west once more. Destination: Penzance. It is Chico Chica’s most westerly gig to date. Now there’s a fact you won’t find on Wikipedia.

On the following morning, on our way to Falmouth, I’m on BBC Radio Cornwall but the presenter has his interviewees muddled up and I am introduced as the man who has survived seven lightning strikes. While waiting for my time to speak I learn that Cornwall is England’s longest county.

A tour feels a little bit like a holiday but of course it isn’t. The schedule is tightly packed with little space for downtime. But it’s Devon and Cornwall in August so it’s hard not to feel like a holidaymaker and resist the urge to visit beaches. The picture shows Hilary and Barbara in front of the St Michael’s Mount which is Cornwall’s rather lacklustre answer to Brittany’s Mont St Michel.  

The 31st August is often regarded as the last day of summer. This year it coincides with caravan turnaround day and we celebrate it by travelling most of Cornwall’s fabled length, through Devon and into Somerset. The tedium of the traffic jams is mitigated by the spectacular scenery.

The last gig was St James Wine Vaults in Bath and from there we returned home to do a cluster of dates in London including the Bull’s Head which is a kind of homecoming gig for me.

Advertisements

My Edinburgh Fringe 2018

A feature of our age, so we’ve been told, is that categories are breaking down. That’s why ‘generic’ has become a term of derision. And yet The Edinburgh Fringe Guide is separated in to categories.

TomHannahFringe2018_022_CroppedSmallerSize
Photo: Aiden Sun

My show is not theatrical enough for Theatre and not comedic enough for Comedy. Cabaret seems to be another word for Burlesque and I had every intention of keeping my clothes on. How we define Spoken Word, Poetry and Talks is anyone’s guess so I fell back on my professional identity and chose Music with the description jazz rap.

The Edinburgh Fringe, being an open-access festival, is whatever its participants want it to be. A browse through the Fringe Guide will establish the fact that comedy and theatre predominate so what is there for the musician?

Chico Chica is a vocal jazz band playing original songs. In order to add variety to the live show, I perform the odd (sometimes very odd) rap song. This year it seemed a good idea to gather these together to form a one man show. The Edinburgh Fringe seemed a natural outlet for this. The idea was to raise my profile, have the show filmed and to see as many other shows as I could.

Being my first time, I decided to do the Edinburgh Fringe on a shoe string, taking a cheap 35 seater, slightly off the beaten track. This turned out to be a false economy. I needed to average twelve people per show to make a profit. During the many conversations I had during the three weeks, I learnt that the average audience number is twelve. So for me it was a struggle getting into double figures. It was only in the last few days I was able to pull more than twenty. If I were to return I’d choose a more centrally located venue and spend money on advertising and PR.

Flyering is integral to the EdFringe experience but limited in its efficacy. In the first week people take them out of politeness but by the third, flyer fatigue sets in and people learn to blank out efforts to get their attention. It is more effective to see other shows and talk to fellow audience members.

It’s easy for the performer to retreat into his bubble, but this is missing out on where the Fringe comes into its own. In order to improve as a performer and writer, we need to see how best it is done (or not). With over 4,000 shows, the EdFringe can be overwhelming. After a couple days trusting serendipity I decided to make some serious filtering decisions. You might want to take these as a guide for next year.

Favour gravitas over levitas. The stand up comedian character type reminds me of that of the school bully. The type of person I avoid. Much of the comedy drama has crude sexual humour and I find myself the only person the audience not laughing. I prefer the subtle depiction of repressed characters we find in Bennet, Ayckbourne, Orton and Rattigan. This year I learnt that actors love playing the Upper Class Twit more than any other stereotype and Trump is the favourite subject for political satire but I suppose you kind of know that already.

Favour original over heritage. There is an enormous amount of tribute acts. All are well publicised and attract big audiences. This year I saw imposter posters for Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Carole King, Eva Cassidy, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and Carly Simon.

Favour professional over amateur. There are many one person shows that could be titled ‘My Miserable Life’. I’m not sure how these performers plan to proceed with their careers as they only have one life. Perhaps it’s a kind of therapy. Many university performance arts courses require students to bring a show to Edinburgh as part of their degree course. This is an excellent form of education because only by doing can a student realise how hard it is to write an entertaining play.

The age group of my audiences reflected mine. This seems obvious really and I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before. A musician needs to pursue not just those with a similar taste but also those with a similar age. The formative years for the generation just coming to retirement age were the early seventies when originality was everything. They can be just as hungry for new ideas as anyone.

So should a professional musician go to the Edinburgh Fringe? I would say yes if you have a clear goal of the kind of work you want post Fringe. It’s more viable to be on your own. A duo doesn’t sell twice as many tickets as a solo performer. You can save on the cost of rights by playing your own material. If you are lucky enough to be able to rent your home out while you’re away you can offset your accommodation expenses.

 

Most importantly, you should love performance art generally especially theatre.

Birds – Chico Chica’s Third Album

Birds is Chico Chica’s third album and we have to say, we are inordinately proud of it.

Here is a sample:

 

You can buy downloads here: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/chicochica5 and CDs here or else purchase a copy at one of our upcoming shows:

 

22nd-27th May 2017:  Brasserie Zedel, Sherwood Street, London W1
1st June 2017: Bull’s Head, Barnes.

 

You should be able to listen on Spotify as well. And while you’re listening you may like to read these album notes:

 

Since the band’s inception in 2010, Barbara Snow and Tom Hannah have been diligently combining original song and spoken word with textures, sounds and rhythms from around the Western Hemisphere. Snow has a very direct approach to her composition, eschewing obscurity and aiming to please the public while maintaining a high degree of artistic integrity.

 

For this album, Chico Chica enlisted the help of an all-Brazilian rhythm section to help bring about a truly exceptional work. It marks a growing maturity in this song-writing partnership. Tom Hannah’s perceptive and well-crafted lyrics are the perfect companion to Barbara Snow’s beguiling melodies and arrangements.

 

Falling, Falling is a lament for the demise of what was once a soaring love affair. The creamy vocalising here is reminiscent of Sergio Mendes.

 

The idea for title song Birds came about after Barbara Snow had a period of convalescence. She was lying on a bed next to a garden window. It was May and she listened to birdsong all day. The song is about what birds already know and that is, the limitation of words. The song culminates in a ‘la la’ section alternating with instrumental solos including one on marimba by Rob Millett.

 

Ever Since You Found Me starts with bold percussive brushstrokes and leads on to catchy instrumental sections and a spirited flute solo from Hiilary Cameron. She and Barbara Snow share the lead vocal and this gives the song a soulful emphasis. The song is an expression of  anticipation and desire.

 

The Happy Pain of Love is a tightly arranged pop song is an expression of new love from the viewpoint of a world-weary realist. Barbara Snow sings the lead and plays a flugelhorn solo which is a model of pace, poise and energy.

 

Flauta Charona is a rare Chico Chica instrumental. The interplay between Carlos Straatman’s bass guitar and Hilary Cameron’s flute is the essence of this jaunty melody which sounds as if it could be a theme tune for a light-hearted children’s cartoon.

 

Words and music by Chico Chica

 

Chico Chica are:

 

Hilary Cameron – voice, piano, keyboard, flute
Tom Hannah – voice cavaquinho
Barbara Snow – voice, flugelhorn

 

Additional musicians:

 

Carlos Straatman – electric bass
Jansen Santana – percussion
Xande -Oliveira – drums
Rob Millett – marimba

 

Recorded at Porcupine Studios, London
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Nick Taylor with the help of Barbara Snow and Carlos Straatman.

 

Picture by Phil Bartle


Continue reading “Birds – Chico Chica’s Third Album”

Chico Chica’s new album: Birds

birdswithwords

 

This blog is essentially a chronicle of all things Chico Chica. Admittedly, I lapse into silence but when something as important as an album launch comes along, well I have no choice but to post.

Chico Chica’s show at The Pheasantry tomorrow (today?), Wednesday 19th April, serves as a launch for Birds – our latest batch of songs which we have been performing regularly but has now been committed to record.
We thought long and hard about how to  release the album – we could have waited until more is recorded until we make a full length CD, or a vinyl release like the last one The Glow of Havana. We decided on a digital release and once again, to enlist Phil Bartle to paint and design the cover.
For the record, the songs are:
Falling, Falling
Ever Since I Met You
Birds
The Happy Pain of Love
Flauta Charona
The album was recorded, mixed and mastered by Nick Taylor at Porcupine Studios, London and the musicians were:
Barbara Snow – flugelhorn, voice
Tom Hannah – cavaquinho, voice
Hilary Cameron – piano, flute, voice
Carlos Straatman – electric bass, voice
Xande Oliveira – drums
Jansen Santana – percussion
Rob Millett – marimba
It will be released on our Bandcamp page here:
 so do go there and buy your tracks. It will not be released on any streaming services until a later date.
Now there are probably better ways of going about things but when I speak to the conflicting views of musicians and industry figures I realise no-one has a clue. So there’s no alternative but to keep writing, keep recording, keep performing and put the stuff out there for people to buy and listen to.
We’re very proud of these songs – they have a distinct Brazilian sound and yet still maintain the Chico Chica ethos and English sensibility.

Transformers

For last week’s Chico Chica gig at the Long Room Bar and Mitre Hotel, Tooting,  I arrived early and ordered the Cumberland sausages. The plate arrived and I was delighted to see how the three of them were arranged in a Mercedes Benz logo pattern. The sculptural qualities alone would make the dish worthy of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Instead they had to sate my more immediate appetite. Butchers in Cumbria are applying to have their bangers given Protected Geographical Status as is afforded to Champagne and Camembert, and I wholeheartedly support this. I’m not so keen on Richmond sausages and I am unaware of any pending PGS application from west London butchers. For drinks I decided to go for something locally sourced so chose the Wimbledon Lager, also very good.
I was giving my dinner more than usual attention in order to stop myself being distracted by the possibility of something going wrong. The little black box needed to power Hilary’s electric piano was missing so a replacement needed buying. Urgently.
Now this may sound conceited, but I do try to live the life of the artist which some people call ‘being lazy’. I am a long-term devotee to beditation which is basically having a lie-in without feeling guilty. This surfeit of free time means I get called on in emergencies. So I was despatched to Maplins to buy something which I wasn’t even sure what to call. Is it a power supply, an adaptor or a transformer? Hilary texted the specifications but, like a lot of artists who affect a lack of interest in the prosaic wiring behind a star-bursting performance, she and I were confused about the difference between an amp, a volt and a watt.  I chose something with multiple settings and sockets but left the shop wondering whether it would work.
Hilary is a Very Busy Woman which means she is sometimes late. This adds drama and tension to life as well as to her performances and I greatly appreciate that. But contractual obligations need to be honoured so we started the show while she was still trying to get her keyboard working.  I opened the singing with The Perfect Moment. This is a guitar-driven, slightly rocky arrangement so the piano wasn’t essential.
 The song starts with a metaphysical mood where the tense is ambiguous:.
‘The future and the past won’t exist’
I looked to Hilary to my left and her face was a picture of despairing concern mixed in with a hint of concerning despair.
‘Not if this moment we kissed’.
The negativity in the two opening lines was reflected in Hilary’s demeanour. In the final chorus I decided to channel my anxiety by making it more rousing than usual.  With an emotional quivering in my voice I sang:
‘The perfect moment is now’
I looked again and a magical, radiant, red light shone forth from the Technics SX-P30, evincing a properly functioning AC DC current, an input of  100-200VAC 50-60Hz
and the transformative power of transformers.

Hot Orange at The Hideaway

There are times when professional jazz musicians come close to despair at the difficulty of making a living. Every year the music colleges unleash (I was going to say churn out) another generation of hungry, talented, heal-snapping individuals. To make matters worse, musicians don’t retire and on many occasions their last breath is into a horn.

But thankfully, there are musicians who challenge this negative view and who turn the defiance of economic logic into an elaborate art form. One such is Dave Hammer whose seventeen piece Big Band, Hot Orange, I saw at The Hideaway in Streatham, London (Sunday 8th January 2017).

The Hideaway, for a non-motoring denizen of West London like me, is a pain to get to. Since they closed down the coffee shop which fronted the venue, it has become even more hidden away than ever. But it’s well worth a visit. Everything about the design and layout is just right for this kind of music and it is popular –  on this occasion it was almost full.

Hammer has managed to assemble the cream of London jazz talent by giving the musicians the chance to play music they love. The show got off to a rousing start with my favourite Charles Mingus tune, Fables of Faubus and carried on with a dazzling variety of styles including arrangements of One Note Samba, ‘Round Midnight and The Chicken.

To say some performers were outstanding would suggest others were out stood. And I would lazily choose those musicians whom I know and have worked with. So instead I leave you with a hearty recommendation.

The Three Sisters

 

 

With a new writing project on the go (details later), I am trying to improve my efficiency.
So recently I have started stand-up working. The computer is now in the utility room where I keep the washing machine because that is what a computer is – a utility. And the very act of standing makes me more focussed on work and less distracted. That’s the theory anyway. I will report on the efficacy of the idea at a later date.

 

To those who don’t mind taking on yet another Direct Debit, Netflix is bringing sumptuous period dramas costing up to £100 million. But there was a time when television companies seemed to gather theatre actors in a painted room , set up some mikes and let them act out a classic play. I don’t have Netflix, neither do I have a TV but my desk top computer has a big screen – bought a few years ago for home studio purposes. There’s no speaker on it so I put it through my guitar amp.

 

I remember some of these plays when they were on the telly the first time round.
Anton Chekhov is good source of TV drama so I browsed YouTube for one of his plays I haven’t previously seen and clicked on The Three Sisters.

 

If you’re used to high standards of cinematography the experience may take some getting used to but I recommend it. The first thing I noticed was the poor sound quality. This improved a little after I turned down the reverb on my amp.

 

It’s a straight ahead production – no gimmickry, just excellent acting getting the very best out of the text. Chekov’s take on life is not full of sunshine and hope. His characters are in the main, beautiful, intelligent, leisured and rich but just can’t quite get a hang on this happiness thing. But they can think and their lines are full of insight

 

Reader, you’re obviously a person of good judgement and taste otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this but if, perish the thought, you happen to be one of those who go woozy inside when you hear the name of a famous actor, I should add that Anthony Hopkins is in it. He sounded a lot more Wesh in those days.

 

So in this holiday period, if you’ve got a couple of hours to spare and really don’t like the idea of being lumbered with another D/D, explore the delights of classic 1970s drama.