Ear Candy – Cheltenham Jazz Festival sonic vending machines

I have just completed a commission for Cheltenham Jazz Festival to design and build 250 handmade musical instruments. Each one needed to fit inside a vending machines capsule, for purchase at the festival. Yes, it was as epic a task as it sounds; not least because I was responsible for the concept, management and delivery…as well as checking and maintaining the machines on site.

I developed six different musical instrument designs. It was quite a challenge, given how small they had to be, but the results were pretty playable little things, as demonstrated in the How To video I produced for anyone unsure of what to do with their Ear Candy.

There were three sonic vending machines installed at the festival. One in the VIP lounge, one in the Box Office and this larger one in the public bar area.

As ever, if anything, I over delivered. I even ended up doing the sign-writing for the machines…but despite literally dotting the “i”s, one issue slightly scuppered sales. Somebody decided to issue a new £1 coin. I flagged this early on and took advice on the roll-out schedule but these old machines only provided the option for old or new coins; not both. Sometimes you just have to take a punt…and that aside, things went swimmingly. I received a number of excited tweets and snippets from people enjoying playing the instruments. NICE!

I’d like to give a big shout-out to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival organisers – especially Emily – for sterling project management, assistance and artist care. Top drawer! It really was a lot of fun and I hope it brought joy to those who bought and played them!

Lastly, here is a daft little promo video I did showing me playing four of the instruments together…

Slap organs for Town Hall Symphony Hall Birmingham

Portable slap organ

Portable slap organ - instructions

Following on from my time as Town Hall Symphony Hall Birmingham Artist-in-Residence, I was asked to design and built two slap organs, or thongaphones. They both had novel twists on the established instrument. One featured as part of a garden-based sound installation in a Birmingham school, with the pipes collecting water for the garden. The other was a portable two-player slap organ for use in workshops.

As pictured above, I also provided a novel attachment for the portable slap organ that allowed them to demonstrate what it sounds like when air is blown through the pipes…

St Thomas slap organ

St Thomas slap organ

St Thomas slap organ

EPIC October

I am sat in front of the fire writing this after one of the busiest and most exhilarating months of my life. I guess I have built a bit of a reputation for achieving the unachievable but October 2012 was always going to be a HUGE challenge. So many things had conspired to come to fruition at this time that I knew well in advance what I had to look forward to. What follows is a summary, one with holes in no doubt but I hope it covers most stuff.

This is the longest blog post I have ever written. It is many thousands of words long. I have been doing A LOT of stuff. If you are only interested in pictures, scroll through until you find them. If you want specific content, scroll down to the relevant section headings. If you want a full-on read through all of it then I hope you enjoy it. AND if you want yet more you can read Stuart’s tour diary here and blog posts on the MortonUnderwood website about the Supersonic Noise Boxes and the MU Water Instrument here and here respectively.


October starts as September ends, with me and David Morton (www.mortonunderwood.co.uk) making a water-instrument for Swedish composer Jonas Asplund and building noise boxes for Supersonic Festival, plus all the tuba playing I can fit in. We are pretty flat out, with David staying over at my studio night after night. Things range from highly productive to frankly insane. Lots of fun though and crucially proof that when the fan is covered in poo me and David can work hard together without annoying each other.


Before I could deliver any of the results of this intense phase of production there was the small thing of the start of my time as Artist in Residence at the iShed to consider. I am collaborating with Tim Atack on a project based on my Sonic Graffiti work and his skills in creating narrative structure. We put this little introduction together. Despite only being scheduled for three days at the start of October and being extremely excited by the prospect, I was worried how this would impact on other stuff. David and I were working flat-out in the run up to the first day at iShed. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to adjust to this but actually it was really positive to be able to switch my head on to something else that required my attention. Noise boxes and water-instrument would have to wait whilst me and Tim stroked beards (our own, not each other’s) and talked about pie-in-the-sky instruments and sound art pieces over coffee. Success! I am so happy with how this has progressed so far and I am looking forward to further developments over the coming weeks. More info on this as it happens…

One Water, Sweden

The first results of the MortonUnderwood production-blitz were delivered to Sweden on the 11th of October. I flew out Stockholm with the instrument Jonas commissioned for a week of rehearsals before the performance on the 17th. There are lots of ways in which this was scary / unusual for me. For one thing it is only the third short haul flight I have been on since the end of a ten year period in which I didn’t fly short haul for environmental reasons. The trouble is Scandinavia is so damn cool to work in and is such a pig to get any other way in a timely or cost-effective manner. I landed and was greeted by the lovely Annika, who co-ran the project. At the airport I was as much waiting to hear her raucous laugh as see her raucous hair. As she pointed out afterward it was unlikely, even for her, that she would be walking through the airport laughing out loud to herself. On the way back to the flat we called into IKEA to grab a few pieces for the instrument which it made no sense to ship. It didn’t pass us by that getting parts from IKEA for an instrument to be delivered to Swedes was rather amusing but it stems from one of the core features of our approach as instrument makers; make sure you have access to lots of spares and you have considered the various modes of failure.

The next day me and Jonas headed to the studio at EMS in order to rebuild the instrument, ready for rehearsals the following day. I was nervous. All our hard work could come to nothing if I messed up at this stage, or moreover if Jonas didn’t like the look or sound of the instrument in the flesh. Luckily, it all went well on the day and the next day we were both keen to show it off. One thing that was clear to me as soon as I had built it was that, due to a lack of time in the run up, I was going to have to spend time in Sweden learning to play the thing better. In one sense the pressure was off as David pointed out that “at all stages of the learning process you are the world’s leading virtuoso”, but I spent as much time alone with the instrument as I could. I soon worked out that for me it was most naturally played as an odd stringed-water-percussion-instrument. I would play the bowls and the strings mainly with beaters. Another section utilised the two Sustainiac setup we used for this and at BEAM Festival earlier in the year.

The next few days were spent rehearsing. The group was made up of six people who I had met on the PRSF New Music Incubator and two others, a dancer from Finland and a cellist from Columbia. All were fantastic at what they did. I went through short periods feelings ranging from elation and self-doubt but the overriding feeling of working with such a group of professionals was sheer joy. Occasionally I would remind myself that this sort of stuff is now my day job. YESSSSS!

Here are some photographs of the instrument / stage etc. Once more material becomes available I will add it here…

Final test setup in studio

On stage in Sweden

My view from behind the instrument

Much fun was had working on the piece together and we delivered our best performance on the night! We all really played our socks off. The only sad thing was that there were only about 40 people in the audience. I am not sure why this was but I guess sometimes the promotional stuff is last on the to-do list. Also, it seems that might not be so unusual for New Music in Sweden. We were all pretty philosophical about this as it had always been considered a starting point for this project. A very successful one I would say. Also, LOTS of people liked the look and sound of our instrument. We did a few postcards in Swedish for people to take and send back to us with details of any instruments they want made on. We haven’t had any back yet but plenty were taken.

One thing I always try to bring to projects I work on is humour. Not always to everyone’s taste but humour nonetheless. I think this is useful when groups don’t know each other very well, and despite being consummate professionals throughout I had them calling me “The German Muslim” and doing the doom claw regularly by the end of our week together. Oh and one night we went to a bar with a German oompah band. It made us smile so much each time they sparked up that from then on whenever the conversation got heavy we just sang “bom bom bom bombombom bom bom bom” to invoke that feeling again. MOST amusing! No matter how serious the work is what’s the point in not having fun?

So, more success! Jonas and the One Water team were really pleased and I am sure we will all work together again soon. Oh and the cherry on top was that on meeting the head of EMS, Mats Lindström, I was afforded Guest Composer status there, which basically means I can go to use their lovely facilities in Stockholm any time I like. BINGO! *whispers* “They have modular synths…”

More information on this instrument and other pieces at : www.mortonunderwood.co.uk

Supersonic Festival, Birmingham

Next up, Supersonic Festival!!

It’s Friday morning, and I am a little stressed. My plan is to leave for Supersonic and not have to return home until after the tour with Oxbow. Having only been home for one day after a week away this no easy task. Given my almost legendary ability to forget my passport when going abroad I triple-check this is packed.
I am used to doing so much stuff at Supersonic that I barely see anything as a punter. This year was no exception but things started nicely with the Companis Sonic Feast in the Old Library. I had never been to a Companis event before but their reputation precedes them, which is why I was VERY SILLY INDEED to wear my white Fantomas t-shirt! When we got there we were asked to don a “bin bag coat” before entering. Uh oh! Given the t-shirt faux pas I chose to keep this on throughout, although I think it was only intended for the gargling session, where a drink (gin?) was poured from aloft into our mouths and we were each asked to gargle a tune. I was too confused to come up with anything decent. The rest of the evening was conducted in a similar vein, it was fantastic. We made a rhythmical salad, popped the bubble-wrap table cloth, burped, slurped and gulped into the microphone on each table. Much fun. We also sang Supersonic Happy Birthday and spent time in the company of ace people. On my table, Niko Werner and Celine of Oxbow, Laura McDermott of Fierce Festival, Frances Morgan of The Wire magazine and Capsule Jenny. Fookin’ marvellous company! Their influence ranged from Laura insisting we blow peas across the room, to me discussing mechanical music and electronics with Frances.

Companis delivered a great event. It was fantastic that Kaye Winwood was there to take some applause and a hug from me. What a star! Next, home to get stuff packed for the remainder of Supersonic and our tour with Oxbow…

Prior to the first rehearsals on Saturday morning I had merchandise to deliver and sort out. This is harder than it sounds but I just about sorted it before heading over to South Birmingham College. This year we had a stack of ORE merchandise (including some bits we forgot to put on the stall) and me and David had built a few MortonUnderwood Austerity Synths to sell alongside the ten hand-painted noise boxes we gave as a present to Supersonic.

Supersonic Noise Boxes

Austerity Synths

The first Oxbow Orchestra rehearsal is scheduled to run from 11-4pm on the Saturday. ORE are first on the scene. It turns out we normally are. I guess that means we are the least rock & roll band going but that’s cool. First up our dual tubas rehearse with Niko. It’s in at the deep-end. Most of the scores came through when I was in Sweden and the last one came through at 2am on the day of this first rehearsal. As someone with limited sight-reading experience this made me rather on edge. Actually, I was really pleasantly surprised by how stuff went. OK, so I hid behind Stuart at times but mostly I went for it, at least making good honest loud mistakes rather than playing too warily. The most noticeable thing from the word go was that everyone just got on with it. It felt like a band pulling in the same direction very quickly. Oh and I bet we had more tattoos between us than any similarly sized orchestra in the world!

The rehearsal runs over. Just time to peg it home with the kit and head back in for some Dylan Carlson after a quick stop off in the artist area, where I chat with Mick Flower – top chap! A theme in the artist area his year it turns out. I head down to Boxxed and Mr Carlson is just taking to the stage. I haven’t been paying enough attention so wasn’t sure what to expect. It came as a surprise, one that left me unable to be objective about what I was listening to. At first, all I could think were top level thoughts like “a laptop?”, “odd singer” etc. BUT in the end I found the section with drummer and singer rather enchanting. I have since listened to the CD and I get it now.

Next up, I was seriously torn. I had long wanted to see Bohren & Der Club of Gore and I had seen Flower/Corsano lots of times. As Flower/Corsano were on first I thought I’d see whether it took off this time. It doesn’t always fully ignite in my experience. They are much like The Necks, when it works it’s astoundingly good and when it doesn’t it’s still fantastic. As it happens I got totally stuck. For me this was their best performance I have witnessed. As you have to be with their stuff, I was in the right mood and I can only describe what happened as transcendental. In particular the penultimate euphoric rise resulted in my arms going numb and me nearly shedding a tear. At the end there was lots of looking at each other in amazement and waxing lyrical about what we had just experienced. For me that was the best musical performance I have experienced in a while.

I caught a bit of Bohren. Sounded cool but I just couldn’t handle the downer after Flower/Corsano, so I retreated to the artist area for a short rest and beard-stroke.

Once recovered, it was time for some Merzbow. He is a noisy fucker. I tend to prefer such things live and I thought it worked really well. I am not sure how much Eugene and Niko from Oxbow really added but it was a welcome presence both visually and musically. They both went for it!

Because we had three performances the next day the last act I saw were Drunk in Hell. They sounded as you would expect from the name. Heavy, drunk. I enjoyed their loud-as-fuck, balls-out approach. Simple stuff but very effective. The only thing I was amazed by was quite how full-on the feedback was between tunes. MAD! I guess that’s part of the deal but a mic mute/gate of some kind would’ve been nice.

I was really frustrated to have to leave before Zeni Geva and The Bug but at my age that is how you have to play it with a packed schedule the next day, followed by a tour. The day was nicely topped off by the news that two of the three Austerity Synths had sold. The other was sold that night on Twitter, to the fantastic @MikeWinship. Parts of Sunday were spent demoing the remaining synth, which was destined for Stephen O’Malley in Paris to various people, including KK NULL – see below.

KK NULL, knob-twiddling on one of our Austerity Synths

Sunday, our big day! First up, sound check with Oxbow Orchestra. As with the day before, we arrive early. Everyone else is there on time, including a very tired Sarah Farmer, who has seemingly been even busier than me. We have a bit of time to get to know each other with some great insights from Eugene. We warm up a little too. Then suddenly, we are launched onto the stage and into action. Our soundman (Greg from Them Wolves) quickly puts us at ease, as he did throughout the tour. We sound check and try all we can to get in a bit more rehearsal but the sound check starts so late that in essence our performance at Supersonic will still be a rehearsal of sorts. More on that soon.

ORE rush off stage and straight to Zellig, to provide the doom fanfares for the Tea Party. The lass who meets us can’t work the lift for ages so we consider going up to the fifth floor via the stairs. Luckily I spot the issue and off we go! We play a 20 minute set. We are playing well and it was great fun. Then we visited the Tea Party, which was ace! Think odd bulbous-headed demons and ritual humiliation, and cake. Oh and a really touching tribute to Jenny, who is leaving Capsule soon. What a shocker :(

Time for a rest before our showdown with KK NULL. We went to the Market Place and milled around the artist area but didn’t see many bands. I had planned to go to SONICritual but just needed a bit of space.

So, the time was approaching. We piled all our stuff over from the Warehouse to the Old Library. We got to hear a bit of Ruins Alone from backstage, wicked and bonkers as ever. We got dressed and chatted a bit with Kazuyuki about the plan; 30 minutes of him alone, followed by 10 minutes of ORE with him joining us for our collaborative piece for the last 20 minutes. KK is predictably extremely loud. An impressive cacophony of sound and an engaging stage presence. Stuart’s fiancé manages an impressive seven minutes before leaving. My girlfriend stays but yet again considers herself long-suffering. KK completes his set and we take to the stage. Stuart starts a drone and I go to join him. NOTHING HAPPENS. Mild panic sets in as I look down at my pedals and leads and see that everything seems to be intact. Front row friends to the rescue! I hear a call (or three) from the crowd. “SAM!”, they point to the floor. It transpires that the rumbles from KK’s set have dislodged my main tuning slide. Embarrassing but easily remedied. I push the slide back in and join Stuart in a D drone. The sound is immense, by far the loudest we have played. We play Waltzing into the Doldrums from our Beyond Tree and Stone EP, ending where we started on a drone. Then out of nowhere, like a punch in the face, KK strikes up his army of electronics again. It actually becomes hard to play as the vibration caused through our tubas by KK’s sound drags our lips out of shape. It’s intense. We hang in there and complete the set to rapturous applause. We thoroughly enjoyed it, fucking hardcore! We have things to learn about collaborations at such volume but the only major down-side was missing Lichens ;)

We shift our kit hurriedly back to the Warehouse, hindered slightly (in a good way) by the intense assault on our senses provided by Lash Frenzy. As ever, off the scale!

A bit of Hecker, a bit of Ufomammut and the end of Goat’s set. After which we get ready back stage. The Goat lot pour in and undress. I remark to them that I’d rather be wearing their attire than our suits. Tempting!

We get our shit together, head up on stage and give what feels like a good performance. Yes there are a few glitches, including Stuart testing the strength of his DPA mic twice by tripping over the wire on the way to the piano, but it felt pretty good. The really lovely thing was to play to such an attentive packed house…the best audience of the tour. Even from on stage it felt like a really fitting end to Supersonic. A deep, subtle and at times moving set. Very pleased to have been asked and very proud of what we all achieved given the bonkers schedule.

The response to our Supersonic shows was fantastic. We made a number of festival highlight lists, twice, which is all we could ask for. This means a lot and doesn’t go unnoticed, even if we aren’t always able to respond. We had a wicked time, plus we sold lots of merch and took a number of orders for noise boxes. Cracking! I’d like to thank the Supersonic team who looked after the stall for us, you rock!

Lastly, I’d like to thank the Capsule massive for yet another sterling festival. Amazing stuff, as ever! Here’s to another 10! Oh and I can’t quite believe Jenny is leaving. This messed my head up a couple of times during the weekend. May everything turn out as you wish Jenny! Much love to you.

Oxbow Tour: London/Paris/Brussels

So starts the Oxbow Orchestra tour. I think at this stage it’s best if I switch to tour diary mode

Monday – Union Chapel, London
I get to Stuart’s early to help load up the tour Land Rover but to my astonishment he has already almost entirely done so himself. Good man! Only the roof bag to go. I get my ratchet straps out the van, climb up on the back and then promptly slip off, nearly taking the back door with me. So, I scale the wheels and sort the straps, getting absolutely covered in muck in the process. Onwards to pick up the others – Sam Wooster (Little Woo as he becomes known to distinguish him from me), Sarah and David. Pleasant bunch. Pleasant journey, although me and Stuart roll our eyes a couple of times when Coldplay are mentioned without the obligatory hate-filled rant attached. We are only just getting to know each other but there is no doubt this is going to be fun. For some reason we start to sing conversations with each other. This becomes one of many themes on our journey. The weather is ORE weather, pea-soup.

We make London unscathed, unlike the other van which is partly held together by electrical tape by the time we get down there. Me and Stuart have a short while to head to the hotel before sound check. We spot Ed Balls getting into a car. Luckily I am sober. I email Stephen O’Malley from the taxi to confirm meeting up in Paris so I can give him his Noise Box synth. We reach the hotel, make arrangements for later and then we head back to the Union Chapel.

To my suprise, as we chat in the chapel foyer a voice from above shouts “Hey Sam, what are you doing here?”. It’s my dear friend Claire Singer. We embrace. I’d like to hug her for longer but then I realise this is seemingly her place of work so best not overdo it. It transpires she has recently become the Musical Director there. This can only end well ;)

As we are supporting as well tonight ORE and the Oxbow Orchestra sound check. We consider playing acoustically but take the advice of those not sat directly next to our huge vibrating horns and add a bit of reinforcement through the PA. The contrast with our KK NULL rinse-out of yesterday causes us some amusement.

Sound check


More rehearsal

A bit more rehearsal

The time comes, but we have a shock just before going on stage when Stuart goes to pay the Congestion Charge. It seems we are also liable for a Low Emissions Zone Charge of £100 per day for the two days we will be in London. Why did nobody tell us about this? ;) This was going to put paid to any idea of breaking even for the tour. Frustrated by this we take to the stage and plough straight into a deep, meditative drone. This lasts a long while and I can see a couple of punters getting a little restless. That’s cool, it’s the nature of our music, it requires patience. Such a delightful acoustic. We play well and receive warm applause. We pop to the merch stand as soon as we can and find that our stuff has been selling. This is the theme throughout the night and some people that speak with us are clearly both patient listeners and very into what we do. Nice!

The Oxbow set works well. Everyone rises to the venue and despite a couple of technical hitches we deliver a decent performance. We are working more and more as a band now. Well done everyone! The audience are attentive again. Oh and the Union Chapel is such a great venue, with lovely staff, facilities and food. I hope ORE will be back there soon.

Check out THAT ceiling!

Of course it wouldn’t be very rock and roll if everything went to plan. Marie, a French film-maker travelling with the group doesn’t have anywhere to stay. Apparently she had planned to go back on a flight in the morning but was asked to stay. It isn’t until very late in the day that we find out she has nowhere to sleep. Eugene and Kasia also seem to be homeless but he’s sorting that out. Nobody seems to be sorting a solution for Marie, so in the end me and Greg (who was going to try to sneak into our hotel room) decide to sleep in the van by the venue. This seems like the obvious, if slightly uncomfortable, solution. I am used to sleeping in my van, albeit with a sleeping bag and mattress, and Marie is putting us up in Paris the next day, so it seems only fair that she has somewhere to stay.

Me and Greg head to a nearby bar to bang a couple of layers of (Leffe) beer-blanket in us. We end up having a really cool chat. I think I talked too much but it was ace. TOP CHAP. After they wouldn’t serve us a third, despite still serving others, we headed back to the van. We lay down across the seats and chatted some more. Apparently I was snoring like a demon only a couple of minutes after we said goodnight. Greg got his own back though as his snoring woke me up at 5am and I retired to the back of the van, to spend the rest of the night on a keyboard hard case. Comfy!? NO, really not comfy.

Also, sadly, at this point we lost our second trumpet player, Simon Gray. Well, we didn’t lose him…he had to go home. BYE BYE SIMON!

Tuesday – Glaz’art, Paris
I get awoken around 7am by someone opening the back of the van. Luckily, it’s Alexis the cellist. A nice cheery face to see in the morning, even if she was bemused to see me in there, as they left to go to their accommodation before Marie got stranded.

Various fools went to McDonalds for plop with a side order of shit. Me and David walked a little further round the corner and found an Italian deli established in 1958. Top coffee and a breakfast cob. WE WIN!

Off we go to Folkestone. David leaves us for this leg in favour of the van. The mood in the Land Rover is upbeat, if tired. Like me, Little Woo is a cheeky bugger and the band banter starts to ferment. One uncharacteristic moment of seriousness is when I use my charm to get the Low Emission Zone charge waived. Actually, there seemed little I could do until I persisted and mentioned that Stuart had read somewhere that a warning letter might be sent for a first offence. A brief “I’ll check with my manager” and BINGO! We’ll know for next time.

When we get to Folkestone we discuss with Eugene how they will pay for our crossings. I get bollocked for waking across the barrier but this means the lady at least comes and sorts stuff out for us, as we are in a lane we shouldn’t be in. Various things go wrong and we end up rather late for our crossing. Then Stuart risks a finger up the bum by rolling his window down and saying “Hello, we haven’t got any!” to the lady standing by a sign reading “Please declare all firearms”. He then goes on to nearly run over a burley French policeman by which point we are all beside ourselves with laughter.

We miss our slot. When it’s time to go, the light is green and the barrier up for ages before any of us notice, Stuart races to the train. Some official tells us to stop and Stuart absentmindedly nearly totals the side of his car, which is across our path. By this point it is clear that this is the vehicle to be travelling in. The others report very little to get excited about in their van when we meet up later.

Some more mess ups on the crossing, including the now infamous setting off of the alarm and WE ARE IN FRANCE!

First stop in France is a service station for some fodder. This also represents my first chance to drive. YES, an huge and unfamiliar vehicle, on the wrong side of the road, to a venue in the middle of Parish. Let’s go! OH, um, I can’t start it. Stuart helps, setting off the alarm in the process. Twice round the carpark for luck, as I miss the exit and we are off. The Land Rover feels like nothing I have driven before. I have driven big vans and small lorries but this is a weird experience. Not helped by the fact that EVERY TIME I indicate I put the horn on. It has a spring missing and is on the same stem as the indicator. The French, presumably, think we are English fuckwits.

Time to pay our first motorway toll. I pull up at what I realise at the last minute is the wrong booth. There only seem to be lorries coming through this part. The sleeping beauties in the back wake up to hear Stuart exclaim “I really don’t know what to do”. He runs to a nearby Gendarmerie. Nobody home. So we both peg over a couple of barriers to another booth. The lady there says just go back and call for help where we are. We do so. Stuart calls the assistant and asks me to turn the engine off so he can hear. It rings but no-one answers. Stuart just shoves the ticket and his card in and it all just works. WE ARE OFF! Um, no we are not. I can’t start the Land Rover. Stuart does so and sets off the alarm in the process. The barrier is up and everyone is shouting “GO!”. I bang it into gear and off we go. I catch the horn in the process and yet again we are the English Fuckwits!

On to Paris, plenty more fuckwittedness on the way. It’s a free-for-all on the Paris roads but we are in a massive old Land Rover. WE WIN! After a bit of driving round shouting my catchphrase out the window “Sorry, we are English” we arrive at the venue. It’s a metal club with a seaside resort vibe outside. Cool but a country-mile from what we had experienced the night before. Posters on the walls for Obituary &c. Actually, this represents a change of venue as the previous venue was no go due to an incident there the night before. This also means that we are not on a bill with Six Organs of Admittance but Ufomammut and another band whose name I can’t recall. Much to our amusement, the bass player from the support band does the whole Spinal Tap “Has anyone seem my bass?” thing whilst running around like a nutter. This was only really funny once we found his bass!

A bit of rest, food and then we sound check. My lip is not feeling great by this point.

Ufomammut sound great. I head back stage to get ready as it sounds like they are winding down. They play for at least another hour! They really go for it. I wonder how our more delicate vibe will go down. Hard to be objective about it to be honest. The audience chatter more than at the previous two gigs. Eugene rises to the occasion. More confrontational than the previous sets. Great stuff. Personally, I was struggling at the start. My lip was shot. This was in part due to me having a week away from my tuba before the tour. BUT the band were really working well together. For example, Niko had an issue with his guitar and we all improvised a filler. In the end it felt great. Everyone was buoyant.

We sold next to no merchandise, as we weren’t supporting…but Eugene did blag a shirt and I got this photo of him.

Eugene showing ORE some love

Having seen a photograph of Chris Brumcast wearing an ORE t-shirt at Supersonic Festival we suddenly realised that this could become a meme; people we admire showing off our wares.

Back to Marie’s flat for a long night of drinks and conversation. Beautiful stuff but things got heavy a few times with stories of depression and other sicknesses. At times I longed for an oompah band to spark up. At least when bedtime came Little Woo, who had the most intense tales to tell, got to sleep in a bed full of cuddly toys, with a huge teddy bear as a cover. Rock and roll!

We slept about 3 hours for the third night running, before arising to rendezvous with Stephen O’Malley…

Wednesday – VK, Brussels
The beginning of the end. Our last two gigs of the tour this evening. So far we have played six gigs in three days. We are shattered, but we have to see a man about a synth.

First though, let’s have a barney with some Parisians over a parking space. They accuse us of moving their bollards to fit the Landy in. Bollards! we say BUT rather than remonstrate we move on and find another space.

We head over to our rendezvous venue, a lovely café the other side of the canal. We wait. The coffee is GREAT! We have lots of coffee. We wait. We spot a man dressed as the devil and ask him to pose for us.

It’s not even 10am

We wait. Then a call from Stephen. I assume he is around the corner but he is in fact just leaving his flat. Oh well, everyone else will have to wait for us for once. Nobody hurries the Godfather of Doom!

Stephen arrives and as expected is a gentleman. OK, we have brought him a synth and some ORE stuff as a gift but I knew he was going to be lovely based on our prior exchanges, and so he was. Having read my tweet the day before, mentioning how everything had gone Spinal Tap he said that everyone thinks it’s over the top fiction, when in fact it is basically a documentary. We were living the Spinal Tap dream, hooray! Oh and we got a photograph of Stephen holding his new synth and the ORE album, upside down!

Stephen O’Malley, holding our stuff…upside down

We say goodbye to Stephen who kindly gets the tab for the umpteen coffees we had.

We pop with everyone else to grab some food and we are off to Belgium, this time with Marie in the back. By this point travel in the Land Rover has become pretty surreal. At almost any opportunity Stuart shouts “Rock and Roll” out the window and I “Sorry, we are English”. I don’t know what the point is anymore but it amuses us. Marie seems utterly bemused.

Some singing and pointing at brutalist architecture on the way and we enter Brussels. We struggle to find the venue and I take to saying “Salut” to the children that look on astounded at what we are driving.

Eventually we arrive and unload. We sound check with Oxbow and then ORE have a short sound check too. We also arrange for Greg to record our show and for Niko Werner and Little Woo to join us on stage for the last tune, a cover of Charioteer by Earth. Food, then off we go again!

We are tired but we go for it, resolute as ever in our approach. A dense drone descends on Brussels. The audience filter in, the mood starts to set. Then, all of a sudden my phone starts to make an RFI noise through the PA. We use my phone as a timer and I had put it on our mixing desk but had forgotten to switch to Aeroplane mode. Oh well, that has borked the recording. Apparently Greg looked at the in-house lighting guys and shrugged ;) Such is my general state of mind on stage these days that I didn’t let it phase me. This represents great progress as once upon a time that would’ve messed me up for the whole rest of the gig. Some people there enjoyed it, including a couple of people who congratulate us afterwards. We find out later that one review is scathing, describing us as “blowing porridge in tubas”. Oh well…

Straight into the final Oxbow Orchestra set. We play pretty well considering how little sleep we have had and how far we have travelled. I guess this is the norm on a tour but it felt a little taxing by this point. To me the mood felt a little odd. Not sure why. Stuart plays a stormer, which is pretty amazing after how much playing we have done. I struggle, my lip is shot. It was a fun gig though!

Afterwards, we get drunk. Well, most of us do. Stuart and Alexis have to drive so they remain sober. In fact, Alexis has to drive back to England that night. HARDCORE! I have refused drinks so far that night, partly because as a rule I don’t drink before gigs and partly because I am not drinking Stella in a country with so many fantastic beers. In the end the best I can find is Leffe. That will do. We have a lot of fun in the venue. I find a food trolley to surf around the vast space on…before dragging other people around on it at great speed. Oh and at one point I fake a move on Eugene. He has been on very good behaviour throughout the tour but it’s made pretty clear that he will break me in two if I actually try it on, haha! ;)

Back to the last hotel, a cheapo joint in downtown Brussels. Poor Stuart has to put up with a now drunken navigator. We get both vehicles there and unload the Land Rover. As we wait to sort out the rooms there is a shriek from outside. We rush out. Someone has tried to blag Alexis’ handbag. She searches for her passport but can’t find it. I run down the road in the hope of retrieving it. After a bit I get called back, she found it. What a horrible end to our time together. I offer to travel back with Alexis the next day if she wants to book into the hotel rather than driving through the area tonight. She says the van has to be back so we hug and she sets off. This is one of a number of really rather deep and meaningful moments on our tour. We have become close in a remarkably short time. That feels good, even if the events and topics of discussion that made us so were not always very pleasant. Where _is_ that oompah band!?

Us lot

The crew!

Thursday – homeward bound
Two and a half hours sleep and we are off. Me and Stuart keep each other awake talking shite whilst the rest sleep in the back.


It’s such fun aboard the tour Land Rover. We make it across with the usual level of incidents en route, such as Stuart going for a pee whilst the barrier for our lane raises at the Chunnel. People hoot, we laugh and shout “Sorry, we are English”.

The crossing allows Stuart some time for a comfortable nap…


Finally, back in the UK and only another three hours driving left. I am driving. Everyone falls asleep, including me briefly. I just can’t shake it so I stop for caffeine and sugar. It works but I still insist people sing the rest of the way home. Everything from delightful English folk song renditions to Beyonce is belted out. Oh and Stuart has a propensity to break into Muslamic Rayguns from time to time. Finally, we sing the wheels on the bus, taking the opportunity to reflect, with hilarious results, on the personalities and contributions of everyone onboard. Laugh, we nearly shat!

We drop everyone off and say our farewells, having decided to stay in touch and work together again. In the meantime there are plans being discussed for some sort of musical collective. ACE!

We learnt a lot, grew close to each other and had a lot of laughs. It’s safe to say that any ORE tour would be better organised than this but we’ll never forget the time we had.

Personally, I am so chuffed with how far I have come. It was only six years ago that I found the stress surrounding live performance almost crippling. I have gone from that to playing eight gigs in four nights on and instrument I have barely scratched the surface of and with large parts of it notated, which is frankly very unnatural to me still. OK, if you listen back to my tuba on the recordings you might wonder what planet I was on at times but it’s all about pushing yourself to do new stuff, no matter how scary it is. I did that. OH, AND I met a cracking bunch of people in the process!