Rolo Tomassi and Blood Command at The Scala, King’s Cross

It’s good for musicians to listen outside their genre. With this maxim in mind, I went to see Rolo Tomassi at The Scala, King’s Cross, London.

The Scala is a building I’ve passed so many times but until recently had never entered. It used to be a cinema and at one point was a primatarium. Cinema goers used to complain about the smell which was sure to detract from their experience unless the film happened to be Planet of the Apes.

The theatre works well as a rock venue. My friends and I parked ourselves in the balcony away from the mosh pit. We were tempted to enter the fray but I suppose it’s an age thing. Up on the balcony we were mistaken for parents of the band members.

Rock music was what originally made me take up guitar so it has always had a special power over me. I know people who work in festivals and they tell me the heavier the rock, the friendlier the people.

Nowadays, I feel short changed if a band is all blokes with their arrays of guitar pedals. It worked well in the past but now it just seems wrong. And boring. But tonight was going to be adorned by two exceptional women.

There were three acts on the bill. I missed the first (sorry Cassus) but arrived in time for Blood Command. Four guitars (including bass) and drums (of course) created a raucous wall of sound. I liked the way the musicians moved around on stage. They put thought into choreography and movement. That’s good. Every now and again they’d lift their left legs up in the air in unison. Not high like a ballerina – that’s hard to do while playing guitar but enough to make an effect. It’s an idea Chico Chica could steal. I might raise it at the next band meeting (the topic that is, not the leg).

Blood Command are fronted by Karina Ljon (pictured). Ljon is a fabulous presence and she naturally stole the show. Afterwards she was meekly sitting behind the merch counter selling CDs and t-shirts and chatting to fans.

The main act always has the advantage of being last. Miles Davis used to prefer to go first when the audience’s ears were still fresh but also so he could finish while the night was still young. But rock is different. The sense of anticipation gives the headline act an unfair advantage. Even so, Rolo Tomassi are brilliant. They can be thrashy and screamy which the crowd loved, but they can suddenly switch to melodious sections with jazzy chords and rhythms.

However, Rolo Tomassi are nothing without the singer Eva Spence. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She also happened to be the main reason I bought a ticket. Screaming works well in rock but less so in other genres. I’m unsure if Ms Spence screams words or just sounds. Not that it really matters.

Occasionally the keyboard player would move centre stage, join in the screaming and try to steal her limelight. Why? How dare he. It came across as macho posturing and a forlorn attempt to bask in the glory of Ms Spence’s luminous aura. Sorry matey. Get back behind that keyboard where you belong.

Rock musicians are able to feel the music from the inside because they commit it all to memory. If they were reading from music stands people would ask for their money back. This is what musicians from other genres should learn. Memorisation of the music is in itself a wow factor and it enables a different type of body language. The more technology we use the less we remember so it is even more important for musicians to buck this trend.

The gig finished at 9:45pm. Now that’s a modern development. It is no doubt to do with legal restrictions. Purists complain that rock should be a late night thing and music is more exciting when it’s played at that time. I don’t see the logic in this view which seems to be a hangover from childhood. Late finishes discourage mature people who, like me, enjoy their mornings. From a promoter’s point of view, excluding a more affluent demographic doesn’t make sense. There is also a greater choice of places to eat as so many close at 11:00pm. I’d better move on to the next paragraph as I’m starting to sound like a grandad.

By the end of the evening I had come to the conclusion that Ms Spence is quite possibly the most wonderful human being alive today. Eva Peron cried for Argentina, Eva Spence screams for England.

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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.

Nice Guy With an Edge

There’s something compelling about an article consisting of ‘do’s and don’ts’. A couple of years ago, I saw one about online dating and being a complete sucker with too much time on his hands, I clicked it. The reader was told not to describe himself as a ‘nice guy with an edge’, presumably because the phrase was too common and it’s important to stand out. The phrase gave me the idea of a setting a fictionalised online dating profile to music. The result is Nice Guy With an Edge, track three of Chico Chica’s album The Glow of Havana released earlier in the year.

 

 

I has absolutely no hand in the either writing or performing the music. Barbara Snow was the composer and she even translated my choruses into Spanish, albeit with the help of bass player Andres Lafone. When performing the song I put the guitar down – I feel I can get a closer connection with the audience when I’m not hiding behind my instrument. 

 

 
The Glow of Havana is an unusual fusion of spoken word with an English sensibility and salsa, complete with percussion, horns and Spanish coros. The album was recorded at Cowshed Studio, London by Joe Leech. Joe has since moved to Western Australia with his family so it is likely to be the last of that happy and fruitful relationship. It can be purchased here

 

Chico Chica will be appearing as a trio at Sicily Restaurant, 2a Elizabeth St, London SW1W 9RB 8pm, Friday 11th November. Roberto, the owner, is really committed to live music and Sicily has now become a key component in the London jazz scene.

 

 I personally will be back at the Nova Restaurant, Chiswick High Rd 1pm tomorrow Sunday 30th October. 

The Comedians, Graham Greene

‘Violence can be the expression of love, indifference never. One is the imperfection of charity, the other the perfection of egoism.’

When Chico Chica did our recent UK tour I became aware of how important PR and marketing is. But doing it throws up a big dilemma. I have to boast how good we are so there’s a danger I will be like one of those boring show-offs you try to avoid at parties. People are attracted to ordinariness but expect the extraordinary in art. If I’m trying to sell tickets and CDs, is it better to be admired or liked?

Most musicians (including me) have at least at one time, tended to make the work they do sound a little bit more glamorous than it actually is and are prone to name-dropping. But affecting modesty while paying a publicist to boast on one’s behalf, or writing about oneself in the third person, looks like cheating. Now if I were a paper clip manufacturer I could extol the virtues of my paper clips and then go on to continue my anonymous life. But I’m a performer. I’m selling the product of my imagination. It’s personal.

In Graham Greene’s The Comedians, there are three main characters one of whom is Jones, a likeable boaster. The story is set in the early ‘60s so they are part of the post World War II generation. In those days many men must have been tempted to big up their contribution to the war effort, and without Google, they could easily get away with it. The idea of being found out for telling a lie would, for most people, be too much to bear so it takes courage to boast. Some people starting off in business talk of the ‘future truth’: telling a lie which isn’t really a lie because it will be true in the future. The trouble is, the future may take its time to catch up and verify the story. In The Comedians, Jones’s stories are believed by rebel soldiers, fighting to overthrow the regime of Papa Doc Chevalier and his sunglass-wearing henchmen, the Tontons Macoutes.

I hate preachiness in a story –  when it becomes so obvious the reader is supposed to feel a certain way on an issue. But I do like a story to convey ideas. It’s a hard trick for a writer to pull off. Graham Green does so by putting ideas on the lips of flawed characters.

The book has lit an interest in me for Haiti and I’ve been looking up background information including on the Chevaliers and Aristide and how it came to be the nightmare republic. That’s the great thing about good fiction, it doesn’t make you intelligent, it does something better, it makes you curious.

My previous book was set in the neighbouring island of Cuba but that’s a coincidence. I wasn’t  trying to make this a Caribbean-themed reading thread but now I feel tempted. I may well push Greene’s The Honoury Consul and Our Man Havana  up my list as well as Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not.

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.

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The Trial, Franz Kafka

I read The Trial during Chico Chica’s UK tour. I read it in the back seat of a car on the way to a show at The Fringe in Bristol, a city on flood alert. The weather was absolutely appalling. Valentine’s Night was spent at Bertie’s, Cowes where we had to abandon the show when water starting to lap inside the venue. I read it during the railway journeys to Edinburgh and Glasgow and the ferries to and from Belfast but generally, two prerequisites for a reading habit, solitude and early nights, were in short supply.

We busied ourselves with rehearsing a new song called I’m a Playgirl. I really wanted it included in the later shows. We played it once at Bennigan’s, Derry but it the heady atmosphere of the night, the song got counted in too fast and went a bit mad. We haven’t played it again but I hope to do so at the next show which is at The White Hart, Mile End Road, London 1 Mile End Road London E1 4TP, 8pm, Sunday 30th March.

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The tour culminated with a show at St James Theatre, London and I finished The Trial at about the same time. The book sounds as if it’s a courtroom drama. It isn’t. In fact there is no crime and, as in a dream, there is no coherent logic. The courtroom is not as you would imagine, an ornate building in the city centre. It’s at the top floor of a block of suburban tenement flats. And it’s open on a Sunday. Everything is wrong and  meaningless. Characters don’t act in the way you would expect them to. It all made me wonder how this book was deemed a classic. Who makes these decisions? The Trial is not even a complete novel, some of the chapters were left unfinished and some critics argue about which order they were supposed to be in. The very fact that such an argument occurs doesn’t suggest the book has a great narrative flow. Kafka’s work was never published in his lifetime and he ordered his friend to burn all his work. There’s a lot to be said for obedience.

The novel seems to suit the pre-occupations of academia, I just feel sorry for the poor bastards who have to write essays about it and go on about ‘cultural discourse….blah….human condition….blah’.

Reader, my advice is to visit Foyles, on Charing Cross Road. Go to the fiction section on the ground floor, where you will find a yard of books by Phillip Roth. If you’re lucky, you will also find one or two by Joseph Roth. He, like Kafka, was a product of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was writing during its final years. Roth is a much, much better writer.

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.