Touring Plans – 2019

As a child, I remember a board game called Touring Scotland. It’s a racing, dice game. Each player has a metal car and starts off at Berwick-on-Tweed. He is dealt cards with the names of the towns he has to visit before going back home. touringscotlandA bad hand would include a town which needed a ferry to get to and that meant having to throw a six. The game is out of print but can be bought second hand.

This early training has stood me in good stead because I am in the process of organising a Chico Chica tour. We will have an album out later this year and, as is the convention, the release will be followed by a series of dates – starting on 21stAugust, culminating in the Bull’s Head on 15thNovember. This last date would part of the London Jazz Festival.

I have earmarked fifty-two potential dates and this will be my target. We will be returning to venues that know us well but there will be a few new ones.

When organising tours it’s important to make a decision on where the band will be at a particular time and stick with it. This may mean turning down offers from places which are too far – in this sense it’s a bit like Aboriginal songlines. Something can be good, but only if it’s at a particular location and point in time.

So the plan is, (notice I said ‘plan’, not ‘hope’ – a plan is more likely to happen. A hope is just that – it could be forlorn). There will be six legs to the tour. I’m trying to include a head, thorax and abdomen but I’m unsure how to do this. And yes, it will have wings. Chico Chica will be creating a buzz in these areas:

21st– 25thAugust: Wales

27th-30thAugust: Cornwall

1st– 7thSeptember: West and South England

Every Wed-Sun between 11thSeptember – 13thOctober: London and Home Counties

19th – 27th October: other regions (North East, East Anglia, Kent, West country again.

Every Wed-Sun between 30thOctober and 15thNovember: London and Home Counties.

The album will be called Café d’amour though this has yet to be formally agreed. All the songs are in French and it seems only natural one leg of the tour should include France. The will is there but alas, I couldn’t get the figures to add up. Chico Chica has yet to sing a song in the land whose music has inspired us so much. It will have to wait for another year. To tour at a loss is easy – a bit like writing free verse. Chico Chica is a professional band. Making a profit concentrates the mind and improves the music. We live in London and there are thirty million people living with a two hour drive so we’re sure to find our fabled 1,000 true fans within this radius.

Setting up all these dates is something most musicians would run a mile from. But, in a weird way, it appeals to my nerdy side. To minimise travel costs, there has to be a geographic logic and for this reason, I am forever referring to maps.

When the dates are organised, and I look at the long itinerary, I feel a certain pride of accomplishment as well as excitement about the fun ahead.

Once the dates are in place, aspects such as logistics, accommodation and travel arrangements are handled by others. This is because, in my anxiety to minimise costs, I ‘m quite happy to slum it and this may cause friction even among the easy going members of Chico Chica. Also, I don’t drive.

So if you know any promoters in those areas, and who may relish the opportunity to be part of this memorable and exciting adventure, do put them in touch with me.

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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.