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
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
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!