So Amrit Sond sends me an email saying "Mate, if you're going to be over here, I can get you some gigs." Amrit lives in a London suburb, his dad was born in Tanzania and his mom is from India, and he's an astonishingly original guitar player. He is also my friend.
My wife, Rachelle Thiewes, and I had planned a trip to the UK to visit some people, hike around, and see the sights. Now this was going to add a whole new dimension to the adventure. Rachelle would understand the business part, being a professional artist, and sure enough she managed to do some work as well. I guess that's the good and the bad about being an artist (I include musicians in here) - you're always working it.
So as Amrit would get more dates confirmed(we ended up with five), I got more keyed up. It finally hit me - I would be performing in London.
The first date was at The Windsor Arts Center, an evening performance on Tuesday, Jan 6. I was the opener for Amrit and his trio. It was in a great little hall in the Center, but maybe it wasn't the best gig to start the "tour" with. Why? Because I'm used to playing bar and restaurant type crowds that can get a bit noisy - these folks were there to listen. Listen as in "hear a pin drop, hanging on my every note...GULP!" But that's what a musician lives for so once I got into it, I was in heaven. In fact, two things amazed me about this trip...how closely the audiences listened and how friendly everyone was - the crowd, promoters, other musicians, bartenders, you name it. They made an Texas boy feel welcome.
The Wednesday gig was at the Grey Horse in Kingston. Amrit was also on the bill, solo this night, and his playing made time stand still - a tough act to follow. For me it was one of those magical nights when the crowd is into it and you're up to the task. It's a gig I'll remember for a long time and I'm glad I have the photos to remind me. There were some other acts that night that contributed to a memorable evening.
Number three, Thursday, was at The Wheat Sheaf in Parsons Green, a real pub gig. It was the one performance where the crowd was a bit noisy. Actually, the audience was great, but the listening area isn't separated from the pool tables and general bar chatter. After two gigs I was already developing an attitude! At those types of venues I just lower my head and wail away - the bulldozer approach.
Friday there were no performances scheduled, so Amrit and I spent the day in Covent Garden and Leicester Square, an area where you will find a Mecca for guitar players - Denmark Street - lined on both sides with guitar shops. I got into a jam session with a pleasant chap in the upstairs acoustic room at Andy's, playing some old swing stuff on a wacky looking English guitar built in the 1930's.
Back to The Windsor Arts Center for the Saturday gigs at their Platfest, a jazz festival. I had a solo performance scheduled, plus a Composing seminar with Amrit. As I listened to the bands earlier in the day I thought, "Man, there are some good players here!" Keeping with the jazz tradition of "sitting in", I invited the bass player and drummer from the act before me to stick around, then rounded up four other guitar players, the oldest born in 1929, the youngest in his twenties (maybe thirties). With five guitar players of widely diverse backgrounds ( all accomplished musicians), it made for some exciting music. Amrit, sitting in the audience, said it was the best set of the afternoon. I hadn't known these guys an hour beforehand, yet we were able to have some fun and put on an entertaining show - chalk one up to the power of music.
The seminar with Amrit was a treat, I feel humbled and shallow sitting next to such a unique player and individual. His spiritual approach to music and life reminds me of Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane, two of my favorite musicians.
After saying my goodbye's to all the fine people I'd met in Windsor, it was time to take the train to Victoria Station, then the Underground to meet and sit in with a new acquaintance playing at the Britannia Hotel in Swiss Cottage. I played "Heard It Through The Grapevine", then went into one of my wild percussive tunes. It was here that several customers came up to me afterwards and said something to the effect of, "That was bloody amazing, mate!" Even one of the bartenders (a usually jaded lot) made a special point of coming around from behind the bar and going on about how much he liked my playing. So this short session at the hotel was a fitting end to the trip - a good send off.
Then it was on home to my regular playing jobs at The High Desert Brewery in Las Cruces, NM - a rockin' night with pals Tim Lyons (percussion) and Gordon Butler (violin), and The Magic Pan in El Paso, TX - always good to see Annette Lawrence, the owner. The trip made me even more appreciative of the support she's given me over the years.
I've received an email from John Skates, the drummer who played the set in Windsor, "Really enjoyed performing in the band with you at the Windsor arts platfest. It really was a great pleasure for a hobby drummer to get the chance to work with a real professional. Your approach to music is so refreshing." Great people, great musicians (John doesn't give himself enough credit), and the opportunity to play for new audiences...I'm already making plans for the next time!