Byron Bay Blues Fest, with Tom & the Blind Boys Of Alabama

The Spring tour with Sir Tom was sadly cut short with the news that his wife of 59 years, Linda, was seriously unwell. She passed away shortly after, on April 10th.  Thoughts are with Tom and his family at this difficult time.

Up to the point we learned the tragic news, the tour was going great and Tom was in fine voice.  Here’s a few pictures I took from the trip to give you a little glimpse of it from my perspective. I didn’t have my camera on me a lot of the time, so it’s a little selective and of course no incriminating evidence of any kind ; ) I wanted to take some pictures of the crew, the guys who work the hardest out of anyone and seem to be rarely caught in shot.

We kicked off in Perth after a pretty purgatorial flight – I was ill and it felt like forever. But had a couple of fairly chilled (40 degrees!) days of laid-back rehearsal to recover so by the end of our stay in Perth I was feeling back in the game. Rehearsals were at a super cool studio, Kingdom Studios, normally a recording studio with all the valve and vintage gear you could ever dream of. Tom was on form and there was a nice air of expectation about the tour. The gig was in the botanical gardens, lovely outdoor vibe by a lake.

Adelaide was fun, had a good 30km bike ride down to the sea on the free city bikes – a great scheme. Unfortunately, Joe was behind us and his chain fell off without us noticing. We looked back after a while and couldn’t see him behind us. He didn’t answer his phone and we stupidly assumed he’d just decided to go home, so we carried on to the beach and had a nice time of it.  About an hour later we saw him dejectedly wheeling his bike in the 40 degree heat along the esplanade, head bowed having walked the last few kilometres.  Poor sod. Sorry Joe. He got a taxi back to town.

Good fish & chips in Hobart by the harbour. Had a nice walk up Mount Wellington, thighs destroyed from a swift descent to make the soundcheck leave-time. Walking down stairs was painful for a few days. Great views from the top though and could see pretty much to the other side of Tasmania.

I spent my birthday travelling then had a night in Sydney, found a pub open late down the road from our high-end but corporate casino digs. Ended up in the casino for some late food and nightcap – strange place, lots of miserable looking people at slot machines having their life and money sapped slowly but surely away, profits siphoned back to China: the house always wins overall. Some pretty cool gigs in town unfortunately at the same time as ours – D’Angelo was playing at the Opera House on our first gig, and Tedeschi-Trucks were playing same time as our second gig.  Seemed like everyone was in town, and on tours around the Byron Bay Festival period. Met up with an old friend of mine from Dorset, a good catch up but also uncovered a quite bizarre coincidence that unbeknownst to either of us his uncle drives my Grandma to church every Sunday back in London!

Hey, what’s up with the early closing times and all the rules and regulations in Australia? Can’t stand and drink, can’t sit and smoke.  I mean, what if you wanted to stand, smoke and drink?! Not that I would of course. Perish the thought. Can’t order a double after midnight, can’t order more than a 4 drink round after 11pm, can’t go to a different bar after 1pm, must stay where you are or go home (at least in some places in Sydney with lock-out laws).  We battled through the often nanny state anti-fun attitude and managed to have some quite fantastic times of course. As a touring musician, you only get brief glimpses of places so please forgive me picking up on some of what we thought to be the negative sides of the country.

Auckland had a totally different vibe about it.  Much more relaxed, more integrated.  In comparison, sadly and truthfully, the ONLY aboriginals I saw in Australia were begging or drunk in the street. My God, what an awful state of affairs, a shameful situation.

Melbourne was a lot more my kind of town. Great food and vibe everywhere. We were staying at the top of Chapel St so made the most of the nightlife down there. The Boston Sub was pretty fun, a bar through a fridge door in a sub/chip shop. Went for a long run down the Yarra River to Dights Falls and back, and then another one through the pretty spectacular and well-kept botanical gardens. We also managed to go to an Aussie Rules football match at the MCG, a real down to the last moment match between Melbourne demons and GWS Giants. Understood enough by the end to get excited.

We had about about 30hrs in Byron Bay, not enough : ( The hotel was pretty special, and had only been open for a month or so. Made the most of the beautiful beach and pool in the short time we had, and squeezed in a game of tennis. There was a river that flowed into the sea that was a very dark brown colour – full of tea tree oil from the inland forests, a natural anaesthetic, so had a nice little bath in that.  Headed to the festival on the night we arrived and bumped into Cody and Luther Dickinson, great to catch up after doing a few gigs with Ian Siegal together. Also a nice surprise to see Eugene Hideaway Bridges, played so many gigs with him back in the day. Still the same! We also got to see Brian Wilson perform the whole of Pet Sounds, pretty special. But the highlight was being joined by the Blind Boys of Alabama for ‘Didn’t It Rain’, a moment I’ll never forget. What a great festival, get thee there if ye have the fortune!

Slight shame we had to head straight from the gig to the Brisbane airport for our flight to Singapore, but we packed as much of the rider as we could and steadily got through it on the 2 hour bus ride. The half-way piss-stop under a motorway bridge wasn’t pretty…

The start of the next leg was Singapore, and I found it very curious and a little alien. Very different to any city I’ve been to – the architecture and urban planning was impressive, with a massive emphasis on integrating the buildings with the plants and fauna. Greenery everywhere made even the most built up parts very leafy and pleasant. Many of the buildings had ‘sky gardens’ on the roof or whole floors allocated as a garden. In the centre, there seemed to be a whole city underground too, going down several levels – a whole hive of life underneath the streets. The humidity was pretty stifling but I went for a run the day we got there, clothes instantly sodden wet with sweat. The gig was an interesting one, a beautiful modern theatre, and an audience split between British ex-pats going mental like they were on day release, and the much more reserved Singaporeans.

Manila was something else entirely – a massive dirty sprawling mess of social dichotomy…concentrated malls with Gucci, Prada, Gap, H&M etc. contrasting with huge slums. We had a police escort from the airport, taking the wrong way up the highway – an exciting moment, and glad we did otherwise it could have taken hours to get the few kilometres to the hotel. We went to a fun restaurant who’s manager clocked us as Tom Jones’ band straight away – sure enough, a few moments later, the piano player let loose with Delilah…Trev sat in on right hand piano, trying to crowbar the theme to ‘This Morning’ in (the in-joke at my expense that seems to keep on giving). Ended up in a local karaoke bar, with girls in skimpy red dresses that seemed to be hired for moral support for the singers (and nothing else as far as we could tell)…slightly odd seeing girls holding old dudes’ hands while they murder an never ending set list of ballads. Our requests never got called out so we left after a few beers.

The next day was to be the gig at the Arenata Coliseum where the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier took place, an epic venue. There was a real buzz around the arena too. But shortly after soundcheck we were told the news that the rest of the tour was cancelled and we’d be going home the next day, a shame on every of course. 24 hours later and I was back in sunny Walthamstow.  I was glad to be back home with my family when a bus piled into my next door neighbours’ house the following week but that’s another story.

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