We are on tour… 12.11.16

Back in March this year I received a message from Lobello Records, Would I play a month long tour Italy for a month with my band? Brighton to Sicily and back. Sussex to 150 miles shy of Africa. I was never going to say no. Here’s how week one’s been going…

‘We are in Milan’
Jamie’s flown from London, Freddie and I have driven from Zurich, crossing it’s glossy Lake by ferry, and disappeared into the Gotthard tunnel. We emerge from car doors and foreign apartment foyers with arms open. Tour car BeeGee’s hazards blink, double parked in the concrete city with a pink sky.

‘The  Lion and the Nomad’
Utterly elegant, in the mountains of Lombardy, sits Breganze. Toothless men send us down lanes clinging to hills and beautiful women give us wine. We’re told they make special wine here. We drink it.

‘Say it with Cappuccini’
Refugees welcome, reads the poster on the wall in Arci Chinaski, Sermide. We arrive to a bar full of bearded men with stern faces, there’s a referendum tomorrow. We’re embraced and treated like royalty. We’re told they make special wine here. We drink it.

‘Pictures of pictures etc
A big part of tour is having little to no idea what the next venue’s going to be like. We couldn’t have ever anticipated Ex Cinema Aurora. A cave-like movie theatre of hidden treasures . It was nearly turned into a Chinese Supermarket had it not been for proprietor Jacco. The Chinese supermarket moved in next door instead.

‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’
Today we journeyed down  the shin of the boot. As the rain poured, darkness fell, and drivers casually drifted across the road at 90mph, I reminded myself how beautiful the wine and aubergine was last night. I can forgive anything of the land that brought forth that aubergine. We arrive to Paestum, are greeted by ancient Greek ruins and a Taverna, Casa Rubbini.

‘These arms of mine’
We’re told there are bandits in the southern mountains and we are absolutely crazy to drive from Puglia to Calabria. That we’ve lost our minds and our booking agents are insane. Of course we do it anyway and arrive into the arms of the Ferlaino family. We all shout and kiss in excess. We’re told they make special wine here, we… yup there’s a pattern.

~ ~ ~

We are on tour… 20.11.16

We’ve hit half way. I’m sitting on a floral bedspread at the Lobello Records house in Lecce. Sweet Baby James is playing in the kitchen downstairs. Here’s how week 2 of our trans-Italia voyage went…

‘Banquets & Blonde Bombshells’
This is Gabriella. Chef to the band, the venues many staff and a small film crew, most of whom seem to be related. Clad in exquisite red suede, silk ruffled blouse, and stilettos, she feeds an army and sips on margaritas. We’re starting to understand that everything that happens in Italy involves the help (and intervention) of everyone. That no man is an island here.

‘The Breeze and the Bromads’
Ferry number 2. Aranchinos in one hand, espresso in the other. The Southern most point of the tour awaits us. If you’ve ever uttered the words “wow, I’d have never found this place” (had it not been for the help of someone)…Well, that’s us, minus that someone. Eventually we wind our way up the correct vertical hillside in the darkness and find Villa Ricca, Patti.

‘Brothers in Arms’
William and Franscesco, the Sicilian/Glaswegian brothers are our hosts at Villa Ricca. Situated on the top of the hill, over looking the sea, this place is magic. Closed for November, we are their sole guests and are made to feel at home in our very own Sicilian mansion. We eat wild mushrooms that Fransceso picked and talk at length about our grandparents. We’re told the wine here is special… yeah yeah you go it.

‘When Doves Cry’
I haven’t really talked about the shows. From ancient crypts to suave winebar music venues, old cinemas to dingy clubs, myself, Jamie and Freddie have been belting out ‘Our Good Sides’ night after night. We’ve learned a Prince cover in the car that we never quite have the guts to play. We’ve had our first tears as I got electrocuted, twice, during one soundcheck. But every night our audience have sung along to ‘What I Would Give’. And these two guys are golden.

‘Once upon a time
I’m walking through the streets of Catania with radio presenter Renalto as he regales fairy tales of his city. He begins each story the same way and I’m reminded what a thoroughly good opening ‘Once upon a time’ is. It gradually makes me slightly less thoroughly pissed off that, after a nightmare of a journey, BeeGee’s wing mirror has been smashed into a thousand pieces. As walks back from mechanics go, this is a pretty good one.

‘‘Rescue Me’ (x3)
Matteo Renzi is visiting Palermo. The roads are closed. We plunge into a sea of police cars and scooters. As sirens crescendo, our will to be here dramatically diminishes. Jamie talks to cops. We pray to the satnav. Hazards on, half way up the pavement in a sea of mayhem, we’re out. I call the promoter for tonight’s show. Roberto arrives on his motorbike, a Sicilian, leather clad Viking of a figure, and leads our convoy through the insanity of Palermo in what feels like a Royal escort/ action movie. T.I.S- this is Sicilia.

~ ~ ~

We are on tour… 27.11.16

We’ve just eaten beans in tea cups. The guys are napping before we go to soundcheck, and someone is playing ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ on a beaten up Spanish guitar outside my window. Here are the tour tales from our penultimate week on the road

‘Nice One’
We play our last show in Cosenza with Jamie before he has to fly back to the UK. Things we will miss about this guy: His Mrs Doubtfire voice impersonations. Having him as our awesome sound tech. His Italian language skills. His bear hugs and enthusiastic congratulations on anything from a good belch (sorry Mums) to a touching moment in a song that we all nailed.

‘At home with the Todiscos’
2 hours sleep. 1 mad pyjama dash in freezing fog to let Freddie in through our accommodation’s compound gates after he went to a party in an underground car park and got locked out. 6 hours of driving across the bad lands of bandits. We make it to Lecce and into the arms of the Todisco family and their 2 new rescue puppies- ‘Luna’ and ‘Elton John’.

‘Martyna in concert’
Second tears of tour. A rare night off coincides with my dear friend Martyna Jatkauskaite coming from Berlin to give a concert in Lecce. Some things are meant to be. I’ve seen Martyna play before but tonight was something special. And as she played her encore (which I later found out was written by Mihali, her husband) the tears were streaming down my cheeks.

‘Singing on Water’
Cecilia cooks for 200 people and Lobello Records host our house concert. The Masseria is full of Salento’s beautiful people, including some familiar faces from the ‘Singing on Water’ artist residency I did there 2 years ago. Our rooms are directly above a disco ball which we are performing beneath, and I drink Limoncello made by someone’s 90 year old Grandmother.

‘Music Hotel’
Once this was the hotel of Salima’s Grandmother. Returning to Soar, her home town, after a jet-setting career in fashion, Salima re-opened the boarded up hotel and turned it into a music venue. We drink passion fruit from pewter chalices and learn Italian tongue twisters. I especially like everyone’s hands in this photo.

‘We are in Rome’
Alex join us from Germany to play bass for the last leg of the tour! I learn that tomorrow’s venue has just lost it’s licence. That means no show, no accommodation and that we won’t be getting paid. 100 phone calls are placed, all to no avail. But Rome makes up for it. We stroll past the Coliseum and play a sold out show. Everything is totally surreal. I utter 3 little words to myself “We’re. So. Cool.”

~ ~ ~

We are home!… 7.12.16

It’s Sunday morning. I’m listening to Cerys Matthews on 6music, chugging ginger tea and working my way through a box of tissues. I managed to learn an astonishingly small amount of Italian on tour, but I did learn a new English word- Apricity. And that’s what I’m doing right now, basking in the winter sun. Sitting in my window, looking out to sea, I thank this stonking head-cold for waiting until the tour had finished. Even if did missing last night’s party. (I’m so pissed of I missed last night’s party. I’m no at all thankful to this stonking head-cold.) So! Here’s how our homeward chapter unfurled…

‘All roads lead to Rome’
Alex wasn’t the only international arrival to our show in Rome. Rikki-Lee and Nat, being the intrepid kiwis that they are, jumped on a flight from London and rocked up, just before we went onstage, to sip Gin cocktails at our show. First girlfriend hang out in 25 days. The next day we strolled around the Pantheon and ordered Aperol Spritzs the size of our heads before I joined the guys to drive to get on the road, and Rikki-Lee and Nat spontaneously joined a demonstration for gender equality. All in a day.

‘The kindness of strangers’
What do you do when a show cancels and one of you goes down with tonsillitis? Find kind people. Eat good food with them. We’re out of pocket for the most expensive leg of the tour and Alex has a fever. We’re taken in by utterly kind friends of friends and we eat Bolognese in Bologna (except, news flash-‘Bolognese’ is actually ‘Ragù’). Restored, we make it to play our last show in Italy and eat the best pizza we’ve ever had, washed down with Grapa that tastes like Whisky.

‘How do you say goodbye in a photo?’
We drive 638km from Trebaseleghe to Grenoble. We crawl around Milan, skies grey, trees bare. Stopping at a service station for a quick coffee, we check where we’ve reached on the map and realise that, all of a sudden, we’re about to leave Italy. We crack out the camera and Freddie asks “How do you say goodbye in a photograph?”. It hasn’t yet sunk in quite yet, what all those places and people have meant to me. We leave through doorways in mountains.

‘We are in France’
We emerge. The light at the end of the tunnel approaches and we enter France. We pass new faces, new architecture, new words, and arrive to play a house concert in Grenoble. Welcomed into the beautiful loft home of Gregory, Isa and their family, we are held in the heart of the city. Positioned in the centre of town, up on the rooftops, towered over by the mountains, we play an unplugged show. We’re told they make special wine here…

‘Once, my arm was swallowed by a Giraffe’
When you can play a show in Paris, you play a show in Paris. I knew coming here, at the very end of an enormous tour, would be both stressful and exhausting. It was. The major cities of the world aren’t impressed by what you’ve achieved, they’re busy. They’re excellent. So what, you just played the biggest tour of your life? This is Paris and you’re certainly not special. Paris, however, is. Everything about our show is difficult and everything about being here is fabulous. And I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

‘If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.’
David Bowie.

~ ~ ~