“It’s all about the music”
The lights go up, I can hear the piano kick in, my heart is racing. I’m at the renowned Borderij in Holland. I look around at the amazing venue and out of the corner of my eye I can see Dave Bainbridge smiling at me from over his stack of keyboards. I take a deep breath, tell myself “remember: its all about the music”, and with that I launch into the melody from Star. And with a B note, I kick off my first ever European tour. This is it: I’m doing it!!!
Two years ago, I was depressed and realised it was time to do something about my dream of becoming a full time composer/performer. “Its all about the music” became a mantra. I write guitar fuelled orchestral rock. “Van Halen crossed with Star Wars” one reviewer described it. For me, its not about fame, money or even having the fastest guitar chops in the world… its about writing and performing music that moves and inspires people.
About 2 years ago I plucked up the courage to ask Dave Bainbridge to do a solo on an album I was working on. Dave was my musical hero growing up. I guess he liked the music I wrote because here we are 2 years later playing music on tour.
The band is called GB3. It consists of me, Paul Bielatowicz (Carl Palmer Band), Dave Bainbridge (IONA), and we all shared the same rhythm section consisting of Simon Fitzpatrick on Bass (Jennifer Batten and CP Band) and John Biglands (Drummer/co-writer from my band).
Being on tour is not all glamour…
Are you like me, where your favourite part of a movie or a TV documentary is the “making of/behind the scenes” stuff that they usually tag on the end? I like it because it peels away all the hype and make believe and tells you what its all about. With that in mind I thought that rather than bore you with details of the shows, I’d tell you about what it is really like to be on tour.
Save a penny to make a pound…
The first thing I realised is that in order to make money on a tour, avoiding incurring expenses becomes very important. This is why we are all sharing the same bass player and drummer!
It starts even before getting on tour. You might be surprised to learn some of the savings we had to make!
We looked into booking rehearsal space for the tour. We needed 2 full days rehearsal to learn 4 sets of music. The cost for doing it locally would eat a massive chunk out of our profits for the tour, so we agreed to do a rehearsal in John’s cellar with an electric drum kit (for noise reasons) and then we’d go to Dave Bainbridge’s to have a full volume rehearsal in his studio.
We also needed to save money on accomodation too, so myself and John slept on the floor in an outbuilding at Dave’s. “Its all about the music” I reminded myself! The next day we rehearsed all day, loaded the hire van and my car and set off straight to the over night ferry to holland. My sense of excitement and gratitude turned to my wife and boys who have sacrificed nice holidays and nice things to allow me to get to this point.
May 3rd Gig at the Borderij in Holland
Our cabin was very very tiny. I didn’t really sleep on the crossing… the lack of sleep was to become one of the hardest things of being on tour for me.
Will there be anybody there?
Dave Bainbridge had pretty much sold out the venue when he was here with IONA earlier this year but I was concerned that we hadn’t sold many tickets. GB3 is a new venture so I guess this tour is a bit of an unknown quantity. .
I stared out..the room wasn’t packed but it wasn’t empty either… I was relieved.
I went up to to the dressing room and there was food and a fridge full of beer. Having a proper backstage area felt like my first taste of “rock stardom”. We also had a stage manager with a headset and a mic on, who shouted “go guys have a rocking show!”. He sounded a bit like Goldmember from Austin Powers…that made me laugh and then I laughed at myself for how excited I got, just because we had a stage manager!
The show went well. I felt I could have played better but, my overwhelming feeling was that I felt privileged and full of joy to be playing my music.
I sold a T-shirt!
After the show, we met some of the fans. It seemed to me that the vast majority had come out to see Dave Bainbridge. It’s great to see how many people love his music. I sold my first T-shirt. Paul asked me how it felt to have a pretty girl buy a t-shirt. I realised It seemed really weird to me that a complete stranger would want to wear a T-shirt with my name on it. I quietly pondered if it would be the first of many.
It quickly became apparent that Paul and Simon were experienced touring machines. The Borderij sure looked after us! Simon said that we should grab the food and drink from the dressing room as we would probably need it. We grabbed the fruit, some crisps and houmous and a few beers. I didn’t realise at this point that food on tour would be a very hit and miss thing…scavenging food backstage would become a very important part of tour life!
The hard bits: Unloading and Loading
Packing down all the gear finished about 2am. Between us we have A LOT of gear! Dave has 2 keyboards…2 guitars, an amp, a rack, a guitar synth, a guitar pedal board, a laptop and a partridge in a pear tree! Packing mine and Dave’s gear and all the drums took an age.
It had been a long long day… and we still needed to drive to the hotel. I hoped I wasn’t too tired to drive on the “wrong” side of the road (in the UK we drive on the right, in the EU its the other side). We followed Dave the wrong way down a one way road and then onto a cycle lane…good job there is nobody on the roads as this time, I thought! We arrived at the hotel safely…and I decided to take my guitar out of the van. I hoped none of the gear gets taken… I could only afford to insure my guitar and a couple of my pedals.
Home from home.
At 2:30 am we got to the hotel. After sleeping on the floor on thursday and the tin can ferry accommodation, this was a beautiful room, it has a window sill with like a mattress on it where I’m typing this blog. The Borderij have really looked after us today and the hotel room they organised is the icing on the cake.
Its funny, I’ve always thought having a nice room in a hotel was something a bit silly and extravagant. In my mind I’ve always thought “whats the point of a nice room when all you need really is somewhere to sleep”. I have to say that for the first time ever in my life I felt so glad to have a nice room. Home from home… its the small things that make a difference.
More pictures of this gig in a review here: http://www.progwereld.org/cms/concert/gb3-2-mei-2015-boerderij-zoetermeer/
May 4th :W2 Poppodium in Den Bosch
I woke up at 6:30… I can’t believe it. Just 3 hours sleep again! Breakfast at the hotel was great. I ate as much as I could manage as I am starting to realise that finding time/places for food is a bit of a luxury.
We arrive at the venue and its in an old cigar factory, very cool building. I realise we were spoilt at the Borderij. Here we had no help to unload the gear into the venue. It took ages!!! The manager was a really nice smily guy who did his best to sort us out.
The venue was more like the kind of place I’d play at in the UK. The luxury of the Borderij now seemed like a distant memory!
The numbers game
As I looked out, my heart sank a bit… the venue looked empty. I had a word with myself and launched into the first song. The tone coming from my guitar amp sounded great, I could hear Dave’s amazing keys clearly. I looked over and saw Dave Bainbridge smiling at me. I suddenly remembered what a privilege it is to be here. I played my heart out, and although I made quite a few silly mistakes I really enjoyed myself.
Pack down was hard. It took two hours to get everything into the van. We got to the hotel at 3am… It was a little motel, nothing fancy…but I didn’t care… too tired to think.
Here is a video of one of our “Jam” songs at the end of the set when we all play a few songs together.
This video and more can be found in this gig review http://www.backgroundmagazine.nl/Gigreviews/20150503GB3.html
May 5th Travel back to the UK:
Live n Die by WIFI
Just 3 hours sleep again! I was starting to feel really excited about getting home again. Its been an interesting feature of the tour that all of us have been asking. “Do you have WIFI?” On tour you are so dependant on WIFI signal. Not just for emails, facebook etc, but also for contacting family. Not being able to contact my family was frustrating for me, as I always try to make sure I call Heather and the boys at bedtime when I’m away. I put it to the back of my mind. I’ll be seeing them all tomorrow.
We had an entire day to get to the ferry… so we drove through a national park and got thoroughly lost. So lost in fact, that we almost missed the ferry!
As the evening closed in we had a beer together. What a great bunch of people!
I decided to take a moment to try to take in everything that had happened, I felt so alive, a bit like those long summer nights as a teenager where it felt like it would never end. “Enjoy this” I thought, “it might be the first and last tour”.
May 6th Back to real life
The next day I drove off the ferry and returned home. I was greeted like a returning war hero by my two young boys… This is what life is about. Great to be missed!
Teaching in the broom cupboard
I was very tired but I did an evening of guitar teaching. Despite being on tour, I can’t really afford to just take the whole week off teaching.
On Wednesday, I came back down to earth with a bump. I spent all day teaching guitar/drums in a storage cupboard in a school. Thoughts of my blog “saving to do what I really loved”, came into my mind. I’m so tired I could sleep standing up but this is saving for doing what I really love: Playing my music!
On Thursday, I had another run through the set to fix any errors from the first leg of the tour and then I spent all day tidying the house and got a nice meal together for Heather. I knew she’d had to work extra hard while I was away. I can’t do this music thing without her support.
May 8th Trading Boundaries
I picked John, Paul, and Simon up and set off towards London.
There are venues and VENUES!
We arrived at the venue after a 5 hour drive to see a GB3 banner up! These guys were serious! The venue was unlike anywhere I’ve played at before. Its like an ancient furniture shop with a live stage and a restaurant. We are treated so nicely by all the staff. The food was amazing the. The sound and lighting was fantastic. And the owners had really gone to a massive effort to promote the gig and create a very special event for the concert goers. There was art all over the place by the guy that does the Asia album covers and the place just felt kind of mystical.
For me, this was my favourite gig on the tour. The variations in welcome between venues is surprising. The guys at Trading Boundaries, made us feel so welcome, it was very special.
A guy called Bryce had come to the gig to watch me purely from coming across my music on the internet. He was coming to see me and not Dave or Paul…It was humbling that someone would come out just to hear my music.
At the end of the gig we all lined up and greeted everyone as they left the venue. It felt like a wedding line up!
People were unbelievably gushing about the music: “great guitar tone” ,”amazing music”,”beautiful songs”.
I shot a video to give you an idea of what the venue was like and what we do backstage while there is a solo spot going on:
For this gig, we had two of Dave’s fans come to run the merch table. We sold a lot of merchandise compared to other gigs. I’m starting to realise how important Merch is to making money on tour.
What happens on tour…
We stumbled into a BnB at 3am. The venue had organised it and it was an amazing place! We let ourselves in. It looked like a 15th century mansion, and were met by a dog, the owners were asleep. All the doors were the same so we couldn’t find the stairs. After walking into a cupboard and a pantry we finally found the door to the stairs.
Woke up to an amazing view and the poshest people I’d ever met. The grounds had a tennis court and a swimming pool in it. A pipe smoking bloke greeted us and a lovely lady made us fried breakfast. One of the highlights of being on tour is all the lovely and interesting people we have met.
May 9th Classic Rock Society.
Once again I had had hardly any sleep. I had a headache and felt rubbish but there is no time to dwell on this. Time to get on the road.We drove all day to get to the Classic Rock Society in Maltby, Yorkshire.
What’s in a name?
The organisers from CRS were lovely and kind but the soundman made me feel nervous. The venue didn’t have a built in PA so the the sound guy had to set it all up himself. Maybe that is why he seemed in a bit of a bad mood! He didn’t use our names and kept calling Dave Bainbridge “keyboard man”. Dave is too humble to be bothered by it it, but I was annoyed as I have been a fan of his music for 20 years and I felt it was pretty rude. I made a mental note, “I must make sure that I always learn the names of the crew at gigs, it makes a big difference.”
Check one two
We ran out of time to soundcheck properly. I was nervous that the gig was going to be too loud for the audience. I was also nervous as we have so much gear that there was hardly any space to move on stage. Actually, I almost fell off the stage later in the gig! One thing that I have learnt is how important getting control over your guitar sound is. I worked really hard on this before going on tour. My sound onstage was pretty consistent from gig to gig. This is largely down to using a box by Two Notes called the Torpedo Live, which sent my exact sound to the sound engineer without relying on mics etc.
In the end, the sound was very good out front. Maybe I shouldn’t have stressed about it… hopefully I will get less flustered in future!
The guitarist from Saxon turned up: Paul Quinn. He had come all the way from Heathrow and was flying out to do a US tour after the gig. It felt crazy that such a famous guy was coming to our little gig. I didn’t really know what to say…I was panicked about the gig, I worried that he might have thought I was being a bit rude. He bought a T-shirt, which was a nice thing for him to do.
Then Heather turned up. This is the first gig that Heather has come to see. Being married to a musician must be weird cos you get to hear the practising but rarely get to see the performances due to childcare etc. Another highlight was seeing Tim R for the first time in 15 years. I went to the Guitar institute with him. The fact that people had driven hours to see us was very humbling.
Kind words go a long way
One feature of this tour that surprised me is that despite being a guitar instrumental group most of our audiences have not been guitar players. To be honest I think this is a good thing as guitar players can be a bit of strange audience at times! With this in mind it was nice that a few really good guitar players said they loved my guitar tone and my songs. I know it sounds a bit insecure to say this, but peoples compliments really help me feel like I’m on the right track with what I’m doing.
A guy called John E. said he was almost moved to tears by my music and he loved the stories behind the songs. This compliment meant so much to me and I will treasure it for a long time to come.
May 10th Leeds Masterclass at Music Nation
I was hugely excited to be teaching a masterclass at music nation. To be following in the footsteps of hugely succesful and talented musicians like Stu Hamm, Guthrie Govan, Tom Quayle and Jon Gomm felt like a really big deal.
We managed to cram all our gear into the small room and did some teaching interspersed with playing our music.
I really enjoyed the masterclass. I did a session on “composing from the void”. I improvised composition by dropping pick and asked the audience to pick items in the room and I improvised melody lines based on their shape.
I learned a lot from Dave’s session on note and chord choice. It reminded me again what a privilege it is to be playing with such amazing musicians.
Jonathan Vipond at Music Nation really looked after us and it was nice to have a chilled out enjoyable ending to the tour.
Married to the band
Went for Curry together. When you are on the road you spend more time with your bandmates than you would with your wife at home. In some ways it feels like being married, as these guys see you under stress, for really long days and also when you are really tired at 2 am packing away gear! I have to say that we all got on really well. There was no competition or egos in the band. I felt like we were all really supportive of each other.
The Pizza incident
Its easy to put your foot in it when you are super tired or just have your mind elsewhere due to pre gig nerves. At the CRS gig I accidentally ate almost all the veggie pizza. This was a bad move because Dave and Paul are veggies and there was not much food for them. As I have mentioned in this blog, getting time to eat food on the road is quite a commodity. Thankfully, Dave gently (he’s such a nice guy!) pointed out that I was scoffing the veggie option before I ate it all. I felt really bad: how could I have been so stupid? Its these small things that can really cause friction when you are tired! I’m so glad that we all get on well. Being on tour with people you don’t like must be one of the worst things ever!
The show will go on
We all enjoyed the tour and we made a profit! Two years ago, I could have only dreamed that I’d be doing something like this. Dave wants to do another leg of the tour later this year, and thinks we should look into a US tour… This is the start of something new. I’m really excited for what is ahead.