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


Cue the Cucumber

On Va au Bois

Private Hands

Final Safari


Falling, Falling

The Lizard

Quand Tu Me Touches

Son Tresor

Fingers in The Dark

C’est Ta Chanson

L’Abeille Dansante


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.


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: 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”

Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin0

Every now and again it’s important to do something out of character. So instead of picking up another classic I started reading Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. During my late teens and early twenties, I read a lot of sci-fi such as Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Arthur C. Clarke, Phillip Dick, Michael Moorcroft and others. And then I read Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – after that it’s been dead authors pretty much all the way. Every now and again I read authors who are still walking about. I once met Jonathan Coe and felt embarrassed because I’d never read any of his books. So I read some (they were okay) in the hope I’d be less embarrassed the next time I met him. But I never met him again.

So I delved into Martin’s world which looked a bit like medieval Europe without Christianity. The prose style is ordinary so I tired of the book quickly. The characters were shallow and I really couldn’t care less if they were all devoured by dragons, which alas, they weren’t so I rode on, heroically, through Wolfswood and the Vale of Arryn because I have a Golden Rule: Finish The Book. Luckily, I make up my Golden Rules as I go along so from now on I allow myself to abandon a book if the author is still living.

So on to Pushkin. Anyone who reads Russian novels can not help but notice repeated references to Alexander Pushkin. He is considered to be the man who heralded Russia’s great literary century. Eugene Onegin is a verse novel and I have to say I’m reluctant to read translated verse but there have to be exceptions if the author is a literary giant such as Homer or Dante. I decided to include Pushkin in that pantheon.

The story’s main thrust is the failed dalliance between Eugene Onegin and a woman whose brother he’d recently shot dead in a dual. Oh well, love’s a funny old game.

At first I couldn’t get the verse to sing. The meter is iambic but so many lines have a feminine ending followed by a line with an anacrusis so I kept stumbling when going from one line to the next.

‘The dream alarms her, and not knowing
What hidden meaning in it lies’

I got round this by treating ‘knowing/What’ as a dactyl.

Translated prose is fine but translated verse seems to shout its presence in every clunky line. The stressed ‘a’ before ‘campaign’ really grates;

‘And promised them each year again
A soldier spouse and a campaign.’

And then they’re pre-op feminine endings trying to be masculine such as ‘unfit/exquisite’.

So Pushkin is good but doesn’t translate well which explains why he doesn’t get read much outside Russia.

Chico Chica had a great night at Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec on 5th December – thanks to all you readers and listeners in the audience.

Chico Chica spend every New Year’s Eve at:

Tamarind 20 Queen Street, Mayfair London W1J 5PR
020 7629 3561

Do come along – it’s a fabulous Michelin-starred curry house.

I will be writing one more post before Christmas so the season’s greetings will wait until then.

The Old Man and The Sea, Ernest Hemingway

I’ve never been fishing. The idea of sitting still on a riverbank in wellies on a Saturday afternoon just doesn’t do it for me. But Hemingway’s kind of fishing was different. For him it was skiffs off the coast of Cuba in the warm sea, going out till dusk and being led back by the glow of Havana.

The Old Man and The Sea is about an old man’s fishing trip. He catches a fish which is way too big so he has to tie it to the side of his boat. Now this is the bit I don’t understand. Why did he not chop it up there and then? The last book I read about fishing was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. In that I learnt that the first thing whalers do after a kill is get the whale chopped up and on board as soon as possible or the sharks will have it first. But this  old man, with a long life of fishing experience, seemed to be surprised that he had company for his journey home.

But it’s a good story. Thanks to Hemingway’s artful telling, I really wanted to know if the old man was going to bring home a big fish or a long skeleton. It’s obvious Hemingway knew what he was talking about. He’d lived the life and I began to envy him. I’d like to do that kind of fishing.

 Moby Dick is a  strange combination of essays, story, asides and long passages of poetry without the return key, in other words, disguised as prose.  By contrast, The Old Man and The Sea never wavers from its course. And, as is always the case with Hemingway, there is something about the writing which draws the reader into the story. He was knowledgeable without being encyclopedic, for example he called a dolphin a fish which Melville would never have done.

Here are two members of Chico Chica crossing the Irish Sea after shows in Northern Ireland – note the absence of rods. DSCN1735Chico Chica may be doing some work in the south of France this summer. If it comes about, I just might enquire into the possibility of a fishing trip when I’m down there. At least there are no sharks in the Med.

Chico Chica will be performing at  the White Hart, Mile End Road, London E1 4TP, 8pm Sunday 30th March.

Ali’s Song (You Won’t Believe What I Have Seen) a song from Chico Chica.

Ali’s Song (You Won’t Believe What I Have Seen)  a song from Chico Chica.

Proceeds of the sales go to the Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders Syria Crisis Appeal.

In order to help keep this humanitarian tragedy in the public consciousness and to highlight the crucial work MSF are going there,  Chico Chica will launch their poignant song with a performance at: Midday, Friday 1st November 2013

Small Barb (ali's)

Launch location:  Potters Fields Park, London SE1 2AA – that’s the park between City Hall and Tower Bridge. Nearest Tube: Tower Hill Call Tom on 07772 995945 if you can’t find it.

In the summer of 2013, singer and trumpeter Barbara Snow heard a BBC Radio 4 item on the work of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders  in the Syrian civil war. They told the story of a boy called Ali, who told them ‘you won’t believe what I have seen’. These words inspired Snow to write and record a song with her band Chico Chica and donate the proceeds of the sales to the Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders Syria Crisis Appeal.

Barbara Snow has toured with Paul Weller, Jools Holland, Maxi Priest and The Blow Monkeys before forming Chico Chica, a world-pop band along with pianist Hilary Cameron and guitarist Tom Hannah.

Syria is in danger of falling off the radar but the suffering is getting worse so do bring this song to the world’s attention. Come along for the launch on the 1st November. Musicians are especially welcome but let us know so we can prepare parts for you.

Chico Chica – October Newsletter



Ali’s Song (You Won’t Believe What I Have Seen), will be released on 1st November. It will take place at Potters Hill Park between City Hall and Tower Bridge, London at midday. Chico Chica will perform the song, along with lots of young brass and percussion players, and some special guests. The video is a series of MSF photos but if you know an animator who could come up with something quickly please do put us in touch.



Chico Chica are delighted to be working with Susan Heaton-Wright at Viva Live. Susan has been a great friend and champion of Chico Chica’s since the early days. She will be booking dates for the five-piece band for 2014. This marks a big new chapter in the Chico Chica story. Susan can be contacted at 0844 5763015. Susan will be attending WOMEX in Cardiff later in the month.



10th October, The Brunswick, 1 Holland Road, Brighton, East Sussex, UK BN3 1JF. 8.00pm. Details are on the Brunswick site:

and the Facebook Event page:

11th and 24th October, The Brasserie, The Cumberland Hotel, Great Cumberland Place, London W1H 7DL.

27th October, The White Hart, 1 Mile End Rd London E1 4TP



We have selected six new songs for recording sometime this autumn. Two of them, Casa Flamenco and Nice Guy With An Edge are already in the show. We are now refining them and thinking hard about how they will be arranged.



The UK tour for February 2014 now includes confirmed bookings in Colchester, Deal, Crawley, Isle of Wight, Westcliff, London, Edinburgh, Cambletown and Lichfield. The list is continuing to grow. 





Chico Chica – September Newsletter

These are interesting times for Chico Chica. 



Recent developments in the news have forced me to put this at the top. Barbara, Hilary and I have written and recorded a charity single in aid of the Medicins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) Syria Crisis Appeal. In view of the serious nature of the situation in Syria, we will be releasing this as soon as we can. I will contact you as soon as this happens.



The summer we brought the Chico Chica show, with its mix of world influnces such as samba, flamenco and tango.  to Chichester, the West Country, Bedford, Rye and of course, London. In the process we picked up many new friends in the process. So thank you if you were one of those who came along. I have been keeping a photographic record of our travels and I upload it to Facebook. 



If you haven’t done so already, and you feel inclined,  please ‘like’ the Chico Chica Facebook Page as, in the eyes of some promoters and journalists, this adds a certain weight to the group’s profile.



We have been busy writing, arranging and demo-recording new songs. There are about forty altogether though some of these will be rejected. We are continuing to write fresh words and tunes. The difficulty is selecting which ones to record when we go into the studio next month.



We also recorded a video of a live performance at the Map Café in London. You can see these on the YouTube channel at:



We have been busy planning a UK tour for February 2014, taking in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. We plan to include outreach and workshop engagements.



The world of Chico Chica is astir with other possibilities: a new booking agent, a new website, a new central London residency and we hope to be expanding the current trio to a five or six piece for the 2014 festival season.



If you live in East London or Essex you may be interested in catching this Chico Chica show:


 8pm September 18, 2013 at St Anthony’s Club, Red House, 13 Upton Avenue (Corner of Upton Lane), Forest Gate, London E7 9PJ 02084723028