Chico Chica’s new album: Birds

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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.

Stile Moderno, Carol Concert at St Cuthbert’s Church, Earl’s Court, London

The Musicians’ Union are at it again – complaining about the loss of venues due mainly to local residents objecting to noise levels. The problem is not the objectors but those who cling on to the old male-dominated guitar band format which insists on loud volumes.

 

But history has taught us that musicians and artists generally have a way of adapting. It just takes courage and imagination. These qualities were on display at last night’s carol concert by Stile Moderno performing at a venue where the locals are in no rush to close down –  St Cuthbert’s Church, Earls Court, London. If you regard Earl’s Court as a drive through district you will probably be unfamiliar to this gem of a church tucked away in a residential area.

 

st_cuthberts_east_and_rood_listed_building_no-_266119Every December, I like to go to at least one Christmas carol concert and, having heard Stilo Moderno at the same venue earlier this year, chose them for 2016. I knew this group was after my heart when I saw my favourite carol in the programme: In The Bleak Midwinter. Despite the writers names being Rossetti and Holz this song always seems to me quintessentially English. The first verse pulls everyone in with its description of a winter scene and then the nativity story comes in the second unsettling the non-believer. All carols should be like that. Stilo Moderne sung four verses: 1) soprano solo 2) ensemble) 3 tenor solo over a humming backdrop 4) Ensemble again. Perfect.

 

It’s natural for the ear to focus on whichever voice holds the melody but the sopranos still deserve special commendation. The programme was perfectly balanced, arrangements ravishing and the execution was delivered with confidence and professionalism.

 

The effect of a concert is often best felt after the event and when I walked out into the cool December night I felt my spirit lifted by the memory of an hour’s choral music by eight young singer’s led by conductor Sam Keeler, and the sense that the world is not as bad as it often seems.  And it is with this feeling I wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

1970 and The Songs of Leonard Cohen

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In the summer of 1970 I stayed with a Parisian family at their house in Normandy. They were friends of my parents and I there was in to improve my French.

 

That August was rainy so killing time between breakfast and lunch presented a problem until I discovered a record in my host’s collection: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. I was taken by this LP and I played it repeatedly while looking at the singer’s unhappy face and reading the sleeve notes.  I was thirteen. Quite apart from the physical changes I underwent that year, there was a growing, open-minded curiosity about what happens over the horizon.
Cohen’s voice and imagery pulled me into a world I’d never known. It was a period when he was very popular in France but barely known in England. I certainly had never heard of him.

 

The two songs I remember also happen to be his most enduring:  Suzanne and So Long Marianne.
Suzanne often pops up in poetry anthologies and I used to remind myself of that long-ago summer by singing it to my young children. And how I loved it when the backing singers came in on the second chorus in So Long Marianne.  Cohen’s world-weary voice gave me an insight into an adult world which I was just about to enter.
I’ve always seen myself as a musician first, and that words merely garnish the melody. I don’t think I have ever actually bought a folk album so I surprised myself by liking this album so much. In my later teens I became obsessed with the rockier part of the spectrum and in adulthood, the jazzier.  In later years, especially with Chico Chica, I have taken a greater interest in appreciating and writing song lyrics. So I was perhaps better in tune with my true self as thirteen year old than I was as a young adult.

 

Cohen’s career and his later work never made an impact on my consciousness and is almost completely unknown apart from  Hallelujah and Dance To The End of Love.  Leonard Cohen was a very personal discovery. None of my friends and family knew about him so I as unable  to discuss or share . It was all so personal and direct. But now it’s different and after his recent death he has been much lauded and many are saying what I have always believed: he was a greater song-writer than Bob Dylan.

Gig On The Coast

Last summer, Chico Chica played a function gig in Folkestone, Kent. Barbara and I, as we walked along the Sandgate Esplanade to where her car was parked, noticed that the Sandgate Hotel hosted live music on Sundays. So we popped in and left a card. The result of that small action was a gig yesterday.

It was Remembrance Sunday and Barbara had a Last Post to play in the morning. Walking to Shepherd’s Bush station with my guitar and cavaquinho, I stopped to watch the remembrance parade. There was a brass band to my right and a bagpiper to my left and I wished one of them would stop. To avoid offence I won’t say which one.

 

The Sandgate overlooks the English Channel. When we arrived, the westering sun was to our right and we looked out at the sea. That’s what people do when they travel to the coast. For some reason I thought of the Russian aircraft carrier which had passed a couple of weeks ago on its way to Syria and wondered if the great plume of black smoke emitting from its funnel  had been visible form Sandgate. Probably not.

 

But we were pushed for time so quickly set the PA up, ordered two glasses of water (one still, one fizzy) and, after ensuring all the cables were in the right sockets and the knobs at the right levels, started playing. The room overlooked the channel and we had our backs to France. There was a log fire and a warm appreciative audience. As the evening progressed the drinkers became drunker and louder and one man wanted to play Barbara’s bongo drums. We ploughed on through the Chico Chica set because that’s what we do. The journeyman musician is often tempted to change according to the room and in the past I would have done this. But Chico Chica is different – we do what we do and that’s it.

 

The show finished at 6pm by which time I was hungry and began to think about what I’d eaten that day – one bowl of porridge and a service station tuna sandwich plus coffees but they don’t count.  There was no rider at the gig so we went in search of fish and chips which I only ever eat when I’m at the seaside. We drove slowly and found a shop. We ordered a portion. Barbara had the fish and I had the chips which reminded me of Mr and Mrs Spratt. We ate in the car and it was a most satisfying repast.

 

Driving back to London after distant gigs gives us an excellent chance to talk and reflect. We chat about our families and then move on to Chico Chica – how to improve the performance, the best way to deal with drunks who want to play the bongos, business matters and the overall artistic direction. On this occasion we decided that getting signed to a record label is our highest priority and we resolved to approach certain individuals over this.

 

But the journey was long and at around the Maidstone turn-off, the conversation lulled. On these occasions I talk about the book I’m reading which happens to be The Story of O by Pauline Reage. I bought a copy the previous day. It was in the Romance section at Foyles, a shelf which I usually ignore.  The story is indeed about love , at least it is so far – I have read ninety pages.  I started describing the story and quickly realised it could prove embarrassing and awkward. It’s not the kind of book to bring up in conversation and I was thankful the M25 junction came into view and we had to concentrate on reading road signs instead. We fell silent again and I reflected on The Story of O and how suffering can be an expression of love and how Christianity and indeed Western civilisation are based on that very idea. And then we discussed next week’s mixing session at Porcupine Studio.

 

Chico Chica’s next show is at Bull’s Head, Barnes, 8.30pm, Thursday 17th November 2016.