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.

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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.

https://www.facebook.com/events/487917774645781/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

Chico Chica – October Newsletter

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MEDICINS SANS FRONTIERES

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.

 

BOOKING AGENT

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 enquiries@vivalivemusic.co.uk 0844 5763015. Susan will be attending WOMEX in Cardiff later in the month.

 

OCTOBER SHOWS

10th October, The Brunswick, 1 Holland Road, Brighton, East Sussex, UK BN3 1JF. 8.00pm. Details are on the Brunswick site: http://www.thebrunswick.net/2013/04/chico-chica-thursday-10th-oct-2013/

and the Facebook Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/598647270180579/

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

 

NEW MATERIAL

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.

 

UK TOUR

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. 

 

SYRIA CRISIS

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.

 

SUMMER SHOWS

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. 

 

FACEBOOK PAGE

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.

 

https://www.facebook.com/Chico1Chica

 

NEW MATERIAL

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.

 

VIDEO RECORDONG

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

 

http://www.youtube.com/tomhannah

 

UK TOUR

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.

 

DEVELOPMENTS

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.

 

SEPTEMBER SHOW

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

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The Chico Chica Story – Introduction

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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.

JazzAhead, Bremen

Chico Chica, that is, Hilary Cameron, Barbara Snow and me, felt we’d reached a time when we should look further afield for our work, and since we sing in a variety of languages, this seems a natural step. But we are more than a trio; we are a business partnership, so I had to convince Hilary and Barbara that a trip abroad would be worthwhile and I promised I’d keep the costs to an absolute minimum.

So, for the first time in my life, and with the advice and encouragement of Jazz Services, I found myself at a music trade fair – JazzAhead in Bremen, Germany. I had a vague notion I would look for a booking agent in each territory, but there were over two hundred of them so I had to filter some out. I remember reading somewhere that to be successful in business you need to recognise patterns and at JazzAhead I spotted a couple: 1) Scandinavian musicians nearly all have bushy beards, 2) The further south you go, the less edgy the music becomes; there’s more singing; more world influences; musicians smile in the photographs and there are more women. So I decided to give the beardies a miss and focus on France, Spain, Italy and Turkey.

But even that doesn’t quite work. I wrote up a list of people to speak to but everybody was wandering around like me so in the end I just spoke to whoever was standing next to me and this is what seems to work best. Work expands to fill the time available for it, so agents will always be too busy to take on new artists but I never let that discourage me

Although I had CDs of the album Mélangerie to give away, the Chico Chica show is a different entity and I took pains to describe the elements which make the band stand out: songs in English, French, Spanish and Arabic; three part harmonies; musicians taking it in turns to sing the lead vocal and performance poetry. The French were particularly interested in the latter – they even have a name for it: Le Slam Jazz.

But after a while I grew tired of selling myself. If I were selling paper clips, I could create a distance between the product and me, but my band is the product. By 5pm, many of the stands provide drinks and nibbles. After a few glasses, my practised spiel became less coherent and I started to ask myself: Is this now a social occasion? If so, I could become one of those bores we try to avoid at parties; those people who bang on about themselves and their careers. I become conscious of how vanity is the prime motive of nearly all human activity and that we mustn’t be too vain to admit it. So before setting out, it’s important to pack a fair amount of self-awareness.

The showcase programme became a welcome distraction away from business. For one thing, it meant I could sit down. But I’m no good at describing music – I end up using words like wonderful and spellbinding. It was great meeting other British musicians there – Zoe Rahman, Idis Rahman, Jim Hart, Georgia Mancio and Robert Mitchell. I gave away all the CDs that Ryanair allowed me to bring and brought back a huge pile of business cards which I need to find the time to follow up. It’s hard to gauge the effect the event will have on Chico Chica’s work but I feel I have made a good start to relationships which will last many years.

An Unfamiliar World

An Unfamiliar World

This is track three form Chico Chica’s album Mélangerie. This was a song I presented to a lyricist on a previous project. These were in fact dummy lyrics, but they were so daft I thought they just might pass off as surreal. I did not want to suggest the rhyme scheme to the lyricist as I thought that was her job so, unusually for me, there is no rhyme in the entire song. As soon as Hilary heard the song she immediately said the last A section should be raised a forth. This never occurred to me and it turned out to be an inspired move because it raises the tension after the bridge.

 

 We recorded two versions, the first was in a Kurt Weill style, with Hilary coming up with some crunchy dissonance. For the outro we went into a fast Free Jazz freak-out – it was supposed to represent the unfamiliar, other-worldliness of the fish’s experience of being pulled out of the water. After the take, as we listened back, there was an uneasy atmosphere. We felt we hadn’t told the fish’s story with enough poignancy.  The whole take was flapping about on the studio floor. We needed to re-cast our musical rod into the lake of our souls. So out of respect for the fish,  someone, I can’t remember who, probably a vegetarian, suggested a Tango version. Hilary immediately came up with the opening motif and followed it with the arresting and dramatic piano intro. She told me afterwards that when she composed the piano introduction, she was thinking of her Argentinian friend Lucia Caruso whom she met in New York while she was at the Manhatten School Of Music.