Chico Chica has been in existence for a mere three years so it’s time I told our story. So, in between other musings on books, music and ideas, I present a chronicle of the meeting of three North European musical minds – two blondes and a redhead – playing latin jazz music. So sing heavenly muse and help me produce this account of the three different, distinct and long paths, these minds have travelled. Unlike many bands that start off, the Chico Chica members are in their fifties so we have stories to tell.
These come in two types. The first is the story of our inner lives: friendships, love affairs, families, marriages, children and the passage of time. These stories we convey in our music, so allow me to refer you to Mélangerie, the band’s first album. The second type is the story of our musical development and it is this that I will be covering here. But this division is not quite as tidy as you may think. Music is not like other professions. It becomes part of the fabric of life and governs how we relate to people. For this reason, it is hard for me to decide what to put in and what to leave out of these posts.
In the band biography which every band website and agent requires, instead of giving the usual bland descriptions, I chose a semi-fictionalised account of that evening.
“On one auspicious, balmy July evening in 2010, chance brought together Hilary Cameron (piano), Barbara Snow (flugelhorn) and Tom Hannah (guitar) on a casual engagement at a private party. Such was the magic of the synergy, that Hilary, with the warm evening air creating a frisson of movement in her flame-red hair, and in a low musical voice, poured out words in a tone of passionate pleading: ‘This is no ordinary combination – it has a musical energy which I have never experienced before.’
Tom, his steely blue eyes gazing at the night sky, took a sip of his whisky and soda and declared: ‘I feel a creative vibration full of star-bursting promise,’ his voice quivering in the darkness.
But it was Barbara who had the imagination and vision to recognise the momentous importance of the occasion. Her fingers drummed a tattoo on the metal table and the others could not help but notice the inflection of its 3:2 clavé. Ever-thoughtful, she spoke with a resolute chime in her voice: ‘Then this is the group we have been waiting to form all our lives. It will be jazz-pop band with a strong latin influence.’ She became animated, her flowing silk dress reflecting the moonlight. ‘We will write songs that capture the spirit of the age and vibrate to the energy of an impeccable world and stuff.’ Tom and Hilary nodded in rapturous agreement. And at the very moment, in a distant copse, a nightingale sang. Remarkably, it was a tune not that dissimilar to Isla Soñada. Chico Chica was born.”
These remarks set off a sequence of events that put Chico Chica hurtling headlong into a fabulous future. By 2011, they had recorded Mélangerie, a scintillating collection of original songs in English, Spanish and French. In 2012, they took their show – featuring three-part vocal harmonies, dazzling instrumental improvisation and performance poetry – on an extensive tour around the British Isles. In 2013, Hilary, Barbara and Tom started work on the second album.
I have used some poetic licence to describe the effect these words had on Barbara and me. We started Chico Chica in our fifties. It’s hard to tell if this is an advantage or not, but whatever it is, it’s going to be interesting.
There is nothing remarkable about a celebrity publishing an autobiography but a an obscurity doing the same is certainly is. Some may wonder what the motive is so I might as well state it here. There are three: firstly, we want to sell tickets and CDs and engaging an audience with our stories will help this. Secondly, I want to present this as a statement of intent – a kind of band manifesto. This I hope, will strengthen the members’ commitment to the band. Thirdly , it has a cathartic value for me as I cover events and feelings in my life that I rarely talk about.
When two musicians meet it is very common for one to say: ‘We should do some gigs together’ in the hope, though not the expectation, that the other will find the work. There is a strange dynamic when two men form a duo and it is what I call the Baker Brothers Syndrome. In the film The Fabulous Baker Brothers, which was very popular with musicians at the time, there were two archetypes: one was married, harassed and stressed out. He had to teach piano in order to keep up the mortgage payments on his suburban house, and he had to hustle around for the gigs because he was desperate for the work. The brother by contrast, was cool, handsome, moody, charismatic, lived in a downtown apartment, more talented, and of course, gets the girl – which happens to be Michelle Pfeiffer. Sub-consciously, and for obvious reasons, male musicians like to identify with the latter and avoid the fate of the former, so all-male duos are difficult units to work with. Luckily, Chico Chica is a trio, and trios have a different dynamic, and the fact that it is two thirds female, means it became a BBS-free zone. Artist archetypes are absurd because they are rooted in a 19th Century Romantic view of the artist as someone who must never sully his rarified mind with vulgar notions such as commerce. It’s complete bollocks. Rolling Stone Keith Richard once sneered at Mick Jagger has someone who writes a to-do list as soon as he wakes up. Well I sympathise with Mick because I too write a to-do list in the morning and have a feeling that Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Miles Davis did the same. I felt that there was something genuine and special in our desires to make something of this line-up. After the cancellation of my Memory Trust work (I will report on this in another post) I was looking for something to take my mind off the frustration and disappointment. My marriage had broken down and I was now a single parent with children in their late teens. As they grew, I found I did not have to be at home so much looking after them. I was ready for a new challenge and this Chico Chica idea seemed like a dangling jewel reflecting myriad possibilities.
In telling my story, I’m aware of how vanity can play tricks with memory and will try to avoid this. During the 1990s, I was a great fan of the telly series I’m Alan Partridge. I too, occupy the nether regions of the entertainment industry, and I am astutely aware of Partridge’s faults. The character has become for me, a filter mechanism with which I can check on my self-awareness levels. A spit second before making a remark, I find myself thinking: ‘would Alan Partridge say this?’. Likewise with these pages, and for the sake of my self-esteem, I hope I have avoided those pitfalls.
Rather than making this merely a list of inputs and outputs, I, with help from my colleagues, hope to describe a musical journey which is currently at a place called Chico Chica. Undertaking the task of bringing a band’s conception, to the reality of a professional recording and performing entity, requires a degree of obsessive single-mindedness which may worry family and friends. For those who have had the misfortune of hearing me endlessly talking about the emergence of Chico Chica, and the writing of this account, I apologise.
One trend I have noticed, is that guarantees given to performing bands from promoters, are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Lots of musicians complain about this but we have to ask ourselves what we would do in their position. There is a growing onus on the band to market its concerts by developing a fan base. This is not easy. I thought a way to engage audiences, whether it is in conversation or music, is to tell my story. Writing about our lives allows us to identify the patterns and stories which culminated in the emergence of Chico Chica in 2010. We are quite happy to borrow Michael Jackson’s phrase from 2009, the previous year: This Is It.
Many writers set out to create a short story but end up with a full-length novel. Something similar happened here. This was meant to be a couple of sheets of A4 but you, lucky reader, get a great deal more and I will be posting them from time to time.
So what am I to include? Everything? Surely not. When we meet friends, we learn about them gradually. It’s a little like a jigsaw puzzle – the pieces come at random and in time a picture emerges. Chico Chica is not a single album project. This is our first step and there is no hurry. There are areas – I’m speaking personally here – that I may reveal at a later stage. Sometimes in life we keep things to ourselves and there are other periods when we like to tell more. Though I refer to my inner life, I do try to respect the privacy of close friends and family who are not directly associated with my musical development, while at the same time, striving to maintain interest. I want the reader to join us on the Chico Chica journey and become part of the story. By writing this, I have become aware of how Chico Chica has become the apogee of my career. It is as if all the threads have come together to form a glorious musical tapestry. Forgive me for sounding over-excited. Also, dividing the timeline into projects or bands, is simply a tidying-up exercise because there was a lot of over-lapping and I can’t always remember when things started and finished.
In music, when beats come in threes, there is an emphasis on the first. The same things happens with this story. I have described my story first and it is by far the most elaborate of the three. But I am not claiming a pre-eminent position in the Chico Chica firmament – it is merely a natural result of my role as the band’s principal story-teller.