I once believed that my life as musician meant everything I did would always and exclusively involve music. If I wasn’t busy enough then I wasn’t really putting my best into this career. Musicians work all year round building their skills, image, sound, pocket and working themselves into a one or multiple scenes. Why would I step out and travel abroad, spending virtually every penny I’d saved over the eight or nine working months as a private instructor, and risk losing my coveted gigs and seats in bands? People might forget my sound, people might think I’m always away and I’d lose my ranking, and not to forget the dreaded Fear Of Missing Out. Well, I did it, starting in 2011, and continue to do it every year. And each year brings new friendships, many of which share a degree of love and participation in music, inspiring experiences full of refreshing perspectives and, most of all, endless memories to share. Here’s one for you:
*First, referring a bit more to the title, I was incredibly fortunate enough to be invited to perform for two weeks in beautiful Queensland, Australia. The layers of this story make me so grateful for every single experience that led me to the point in time when Alysha Brilla, amazing and beautiful musician, songwriter, performer, earth-lover, friend and more, emailed me asking if I wanted to go to Australia to perform at what I can only describe as a haven for freedom of expression and thought called the Woodford Folk festival. It turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences I get to include in my Story. The jist of this miracle goes as follows: A beautiful and dear friend of mine (ours) sadly passed away last March 28, 2017, and left us very heartbroken that her life had been cut short, despite it ultimately being a part of her life's journey. She knew I loved traveling and we had made a very loose plan to make it to Australia together. After her passing, I sent the energy out to the universe, "Please, help me find a way to Australia. For me. For Cielo". Months later, I remember talking to other folks I had worked with about making plans to get to Australia. The energy for this plan was real. October rolled around, my departed friend's birthday month, and Alysha sent the email: would you like to play with me in Australia. Wow. It's manifesting. Tear. Then it finally came true. We arrived at the airport and flew out to Australia via Taipei, on my 29th birthday.
I'll write a post about the Australia adventure one of these days.
UK 2018 part 1:
Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?
I was born.
Then, nearing the end of 2013, I received a call from Jason Wilson – the two-time Juno nominated Canadian-Raggae artist. The bass player of Jason’s band, Andrew Stewart, had informed me that Jason was interested in having me join the band, potentially, as the cajon/percussionist/drummer. At the time, I was in my fourth and final year of Humber College’s Bachelor of Music program and on the hunt for projects to help me break through the "recent music school graduate" tag that would surely follow. As you may have seen, my last name is Wilson. I had to wonder, was he a cousin or distant relative? After a quick Google search, I deduced that… yes, he could be a distant distant relative.
Five years, another major album release, Perennials, and dozens of shows later, I find myself preparing to embark a three-week tour around the UK with Jason Wilson and, one other member of his expanding music collective, Marcus Ali, on saxophone and whistles.
It begins with a cold, wintery, blizzardy January night, setting out for a memorial tour playing around the UK, celebrating the musical contributions of fiddle folk legend Dave Swarbrick.
Please note that I’m typically late on the best of days, having a suitcase to check-in with ALL of my music equipment, which I ABSOLUTELY needed for the performance, wouldn’t mean, to me, that I should consider arriving a wee bit earlier. No. So, I, of course, leave little room for error on my way to catch a 9pm flight from YYZ to MAN(chester). I make it to the baggage check-in cut off very VERY close; within no more than five minutes. Phew, the bag is in and I’m on to the security check. Easy peasy. Oh, what’s that? The flight is delayed by about two hours because of the storm and a delayed connecting flight from Montréal? Sure. No problem at all. I was there, checked-in and ready to get across the pond to play music for three straight weeks (so I thought..).
Arrival at Manchester airport is smooth, getting the performance visa approval is easy enough, but for the first time in my life, and conveniently, my checked bag is missing. In retrospect, I was very calm and handled this whole 48-hour ordeal with excellent composure. I mean, I didn’t have a gut feeling or anything that something was about to go awry, not even when I saw that the last suitcase on the conveyor belt wasn’t mine. I kept thinking positive thoughts (oh, the suitcase is stuck on the belt, or maybe it’s on another belt, maybe it got here earlier, DON’T PANIC!): the alternative just wasn’t going to help, not when the first show, which was going to be recorded and filmed by BBC (here, listen for yourself!). I also didn’t lose my cool with the baggage attendant, which was most impressive to me, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the whole situation: I never travel with checked baggage, but the one time I do, and actually really need the contents within, like, REALLY need them, the suitcase gets lost in connection.
“Yeah, OK. What about the music?” It’s coming…
First stop, The Old Stone Trough Inn. Maybe my suitcase is there! No, but I do have WIFI and a nice big bed in which to call up AIR TRANSAT to sort out my little lost baggage situation. How else would you spend the first couple of hours at a picturesque Inn on a beautiful backdrop, unlike anything you’d see back at home. Yeah, right, on the phone with AIR TRANSAT, en français, oui oui.
And we finally met a UK contingent: Simon Swarbrick, Dave Swarbrick's nephew. A nice, quiet fellow with a trunk full of fiddles (that he plays like a total fiddle monster) and amps and the only other part of my full set up, the cajon! We would soon be on our merry way, caravanning and chasing the beautiful clear skies. Then comes the snow storm. The one that delayed our flight. The one we thought we had left behind in Toronto. Well, that storm followed us to the UK, lagging just a few hours behind, and totally blocked us on our way to the venue for our first encounter and rehearsal with the UK contingents of the band. While I was fast asleep in the car (note: you will quickly find that I was actually asleep for MOST of the car rides, so I can’t share much of the in-between journeys), I heard that driving the narrow rural roads, which would have taken 45-minutes on a typical day, quickly became a treacherous task as the roads were covered in snow and ice and proved to be a major risk ESPECIALLY WITHOUT WINTER TIRES (and, again, narrow, backwards-for-Canadians British roads)! Yes, even our Canadian winter preparedness was no match for this storm; A gentleman driving the car behind Simon, and obviously from around the area based on his Yorkshire accent, said it the best: “If the Canadians think it’s bad then it’s bad”. One by one, the three cars started making U-turns. We weren’t going to rehearsing this night.
Driving back to the Inn wasn’t any easier, but at least we already had the tire tracks, which were now slowly being covered by the fresh snow.
I slept a lot on this trip. We got back to the Inn, I had probably fallen asleep on the ride back, we each hopped out of the Mitsubishi SUV and dispersed back to our private rooms, I then fell asleep (it just happens). A little travel note: after a time change, be prepared for sleep, nay, all patterns to change, i.e. falling asleep at 8:45pm, waking up at 3am (10pm back in Toronto), staying up watching Border Security: Canada & Australia's Front Line (I almost never watch TV back at home but it was nice to see what happened to my suitcase!) until the 6:30am breakfast start, then taking a nap after breakfast #1 and back up by 8:30am in time for breakfast last-call and my second serving. Full- Vegetarian. English. Breakfast. Nearly everyday.
The next day, January 17, turned out to be a much nicer day. The sky was clear with no signs of a winter storm having just passed; the snow had nearly entirely melted overnight. It was a beautifully fresh and crisp day, a day for meeting the rest of the band and rehearsing…without my gear, which still hadn’t arrived. At least I still had the cajon. We set out earlier in the afternoon in order to get a longer rehearsal in and compensate for the missed rehearsal from the night before. The drive, during the early afternoon, was still very windy and the roads definitely wouldn’t have been lit like a typical rural street in Ontario. I think we made a good call not trying to trek through the storm the night before. At a certain point during the drive, I, surprise surprise, fell asleep. All I can tell you is that Hebden Bridge is a quaint little town with a really great music venue – Trades Club. The thing about tour life is that you don’t really get to go off and explore much of the city/town/village’s offerings, but as a musician it’s good to know of a good music venue. We were at the one. The meeting of the rest of the band felt like we had all already met before (I suppose we did musically, through the composite making of the album Kailyard Tailes). The most wonderful meeting of this day of encounters was, for me, meeting Jill Swarbrick, the widow of Dave Swarbrick and one of the most genuine, honest and selfless humans to be in the presence of. She, with the help of Jason and the support of several of the bookers, was the reason this tour came to existence. Jill also came with Ruby, more than a fluffy canine, but an old pup full of love, especially for Jill.
Jason, Marcus, Simon and myself all, at our own time, met the other Swarb associates: John Kirkpatrick, performing on the accordion and concertina, a very tall, witty, endearingly unabashed speaker with a deep and summoning voice. Then there’s Martin Carthy, one of Dave's long-time friend and musical collaborator, a kind, softer-spoken, entertaining story-teller who drew us all in with the first of many tales: how he acquired the blotches of red-purple bruising, which to me looked like perfectly and conveniently positioned upside-down triangles that one might wear if they were trying to resemble a clown. Martin was going out to get some fish and chips from the best fish and chips shop near his home, and not more than about two weeks before the start of this tour. It was a bit slippery and icy in areas, but nothing too dangerous. He reached the restaurant and saw that they were closed. No warning, the shop was just closed for a break period. Now, I’m not the story-teller, I’m just the mediocre story re-teller. The next part goes something like this: next thing Martin new he’d woken up to find himself sprawled on the ground and slowly being assisted back up to his feet by a young lad. Somewhere in between those two events, the brick wall of the restaurant had managed to kiss his face before he gracefully made his way to the cement ground. An icy patch or two had been involved.
Martin, if you’re reading this, please feel free to amend any lost or untold story bits.
With that, we took to our first and last official rehearsal before the very first show the next evening. I was still without my suitcase full of auxiliary percussion but luckily had a cajon. The update was that they had located the suitcase…BACK IN TORONTO, and that it had been shipped out to UK that same day. The only problem, the only BIG problem, was that it was being transported to London Gatwick and we were only a few hours north...OF MANCHESTER, which is already a few hours north of London. This is when I channeled Frauline Maria from The Sound of Music and decided I had to be firm yet kind with Air Transat and their getting my suitcase right to me by January 18 between noon and 4pm. Please and thank you :).
Now, my memory is not the greatest, it’s a little funny and I have funny ways of retrieving stored information either by counting through the alphabet, if I’m looking for names of places of people, or by the food consumed that day. I can remember most days of the tour by the delicious or not so delicious meals we ate. This day, we had, in my opinion, the best fish & chips and mushy peas. Mostly I enjoyed the fish, which was rock fish (I’d had this for the first time about two months earlier with my good friends, and amazing cooks, back in Toronto) and is a fine tasting fish. It was a funny meal as well because of Martin’s story and how he finally got some fish & chips that didn’t involve icy patches or face planting onto brick walls and cement sidewalks.
Back to the rehearsal: The rehearsal was full of beautiful surprises. For me, hearing how amazing this cast of musicians sounded individually and then together and how we all fit in with each other sonically was perfect. I’m glad we have this BBC professionally recorded first time performance available to share with all those who couldn’t physically be present. It’ll certainly remain a fond memory of this amazing opportunity.
A funny anecdote about the drive back to our Inn was that Martin joined our car for the ride back. I, not so much a surprise anymore, fell asleep. When we arrived at the Inn, Martin says to me he couldn’t believe how quickly I’d fallen asleep on the ride back. He said we were talking and, just like that, in the middle of the conversation I was fast asleep, gently snoring (later on, I find out he’s not much different than I when it comes to falling asleep in cars).
The following day, January 18, was the day of our first performance. Also the day I’d better be receiving a special delivery.
It had arrived! It had actually arrived at 11pm the following evening. I must have sounded urgent in my email.
I’d never been so pleased to see this silver, 26” Swiss Gear suitcase. It was time to get this show on the road.
We met up to run through the two-set show once more, enjoyed the in-house meal of butter chicken and rice, shared few more laughs then played through the first of 14 performances.
It was pure magic. The audience, a nearly sold-out packed house mixed with seat-warmers and dancers at the back of the hall, all in a state of reverie of their early memories of Fairport Convention. Here is the BBC captured concert (the highlights).
The show was very warming to participate in and observe from atop the Cajon I was loaned (I sadly had to leave my beautiful black Gon Bops "El Toro" back in Toronto since there aren’t any travel cases for that specific cajon *ahem* nor was I able to get an “El Toro” loaner in the UK **ahem ahem**). Fast forwarding, it was really nice to play nearly 14 sold-out shows to patrons who loved Fairport, Dave, or trusted the musical opinions of some of the promoters, and to share the stage with such incredible kind and inspiring musicians. Here are some reviews of the show. The three-weeks went by really fast; it was full of full English breakfasts, really discovering the music of Fairport Convention and its gem Sandy Denny (covers of some of her songs to come!), in and outs of hotels (oh, the hotel hopping experiences…) looping around roundabouts, GREGG’s, slowly but not quite feeling comfortable on other side of the road, how low the Canadian dollar is to the pound, the list goes on…