The Road Less Travelled.. On Tour With Clare Teal, Part I

It’s been a busy time for the Clare Teal band of late. Having performed a week at London’s prestigious Ronnie Scotts whilst I was on tour with The Divine Comedy and Maggie Reilly a little while ago, Clare has continued zipping up and down the country playing to packed houses.

I really felt compelled to write a little blog about the two shows we just played over the weekend. They really couldn’t have been more different. Serious chalk and cheese scenario. Fantastic blog material! But first, let me tell you about some of the other shows we’ve played recently…

We had a little run starting in Edinburgh’s Queens Hall on the 10th, then coming back down via Bewdley on the 11th to the Cambridge Arts Theatre on the 12th. The first two shows were just Clare and the trio, until we were joined by Colin and AD in Cambridge.
The Queens Hall in Edinburgh is a great venue. Muddy drove Clare, Mike Gorman and myself up to Edinburgh (thank god, it’s a real schlep), to be met by the wonderful Tom Gordon on drums. Tom had played with Clare before with the BBC Big Band. He’s an amazing musician and he played a storming gig. The show was organised by Scottish jazz vocalist Todd Gordon, who took great care of us during our stay. Maggie Reilly and co came over to see the show and meet the band, which was a real treat. It’s always good to see some familiar faces when you’re so far away from home. It was also lovely to finally meet my Twitter buddy Baxter Tocher and his wife Anne. Clare is planning to do more shows in Scotland in the near future, we had a great time and I’m really looking forward to getting up there again soon.
We drove back down to play a show as part of the Bewdley Festival the following day (we really clocked up a few miles that weekend!). The gig was at the Ramada Hotel and was sold out. Which was great. We were lucky to be joined by Ralph Salmins on drums this time. It’s always a joy to play with Ralph.
We’ve played the Cambridge Arts Theatre a number of times before. In fact, I’m guessing Clare plays there at least once every year. It’s a lovely little theatre right in the centre of town. The staff and crew are fantastic, there’s always a really friendly atmosphere at that place. Colin and AD were back with us for the full on show. We’d been incredibly lucky food-wise on this little run and the Cambridge show provided one of highlights thanks to a couple of Clare’s regulars who arrived at the gig with a selection of cakes and muffins they’d baked especially for us. Let me tell you folks, Rocky Road is my new favourite thing. You can’t really go wrong with chocolate, marsh mallows, nuts and rice crispies. Seriously good. They’re coming to the Durham show next week and frankly, I can’t wait to see what delights they have in store for us…
Right then. Down to business. The real meat and potatoes of this blog post…
Last weekend we played two shows that really couldn’t have been more different. The first was up in York at the Theatre Royal. The second was at The Broadway in Barking. You can probably see where this is going…
Playing a one-off show somewhere like York is an all-day affair. It takes over eight hours to drive up there and back, which is a long time to spend in the car when you have to play a show. But it’s part of the job and you soon get used to the driving. To be honest I love driving anyway, it’s where I listen to most of my music. The day I got a new car stereo with an aux. input for my iPod was a seriously happy one and it’s totally revolutionised the whole driving experience. Anyone who knows me well will be aware of my obsessive iPod fixation. It contains my entire music collection meticulously (some may call it anally) organised and labelled so I have everything to hand. I never leave the house without it.

Anyway, this was the first time Clare had played the Theatre Royal. It’s a 1300 seater and we had well over 650 in, which was the largest crowd we’d drawn in York thus far and apparently this was an amazing turnout for that venue… great news! The theatre is a beautiful old Victorian building which has some parts dating back to the eighteenth century (I’m stealing this info from their website, obviously!). Playing in front of such a big crowd with Clare is a riot; she really knows how to handle the audience and she had them in the palm of her hand from start to finish. The staff and crew couldn’t have been more helpful. Also, they have a fantastic scheme in place where their performances are piped live via the local Hospital Radio to the patients. What a great idea! There was a real community spirit and friendliness to the place that made our visit all the more enjoyable. We had some great food, whatever we wanted from the bar, couldn’t have been treated better and the show itself was fantastic with a massive and appreciative audience… You get the picture? Good. Then we went to Barking…
For some reason (and I don’t think it would take a genius to work out what it is..), Barking council have decided to put on a series of shows every Sunday as part of their ‘Molten Festival’ at The Broadway, a little arts centre right in the middle of Barking; just off the North Circular. The aim of these shows it seems is to promote some kind of cross-cultural, multi-disciplinary ‘Say No To Prejudice/Racism/enter Issue here’ hippy love-in, in the form of a mini festival. I say mini festival because essentially the evening was presented like a variety show, and I think ultimately it was the programming that was the night’s downfall..
First on was some kind of African drumming group, closely followed by a whirling dervish. Okay… Then there was some kind of (allegedly) comedic sketch which frankly fell on it’s arse, as did the long-winded performance poetry of the MC who came on afterwards to introduce Clare. After our set was a short break to turn the stage around for, wait for it….. The Blockheads!! O yes! Never before (and probably never again!) have two more dissimilar bands played back to back on one gig.
Baring in mind we’d played to a busy house the previous night and considering the plethora of acts on at the Barking show, the audience was incredibly small. It looked like around sixty people. The festival organisers said they’d sold around two hundred tickets, but there’s no way we had that many in. We were all slightly concerned about going on in front of a potentially hostile group of Blockheads fans (Clare hadn’t even been advertised on the bill until the last minute it seemed). In fact Chris made the bold statement “We’re coming off stage the minute the first bottle hits the stage!” in the green room just before we took to the stage…
We were met largely with disinterest to begin with, but as always Clare managed to win over the crowd during our 45 minute set. It’s virtually impossible not enjoy a Clare Teal gig. Even for a non-jazz crowd, Clare’s mixture of humour combined with a great performance with a top-notch band guarantees a great night out. I know it’s a cliche, but there really is something for everyone (can’t believe I just wrote that.. sorry). 
After we came off stage, one of the organisers came up to me as I packed up my bass and asked me how I thought it went. I told her that it was a bit weird, but I thought the audience had a good time. She replied “Yeah, the poet was having a hard time”. Erm.. Of course the poet had a hard time!!! It really wouldn’t have taken a genius to work out that a performance poet wasn’t going to go down massively well in front of an audience of Blockhead fans. I have no idea where the thinking behind these kind of events comes from. If only local councils would make the effort to bring in somebody with some expertise in the field (ie; some musicians?!), then maybe such terrible programming could be avoided and the shows that they’ve obviously spent a lot of money on would actually draw more of a crowd. If anyone from the festival is reading this (which I doubt very much), then get in touch and I’ll come help you out next year. Very reasonable rates! And I’ll save you a fortune…
It was great to see the legendary Norman Watt-Roy in action, and indeed meet him and have a little chat. Lovely bloke. When I saw the Blockheads at the Wychwood Festival earlier this year, somebody else was playing bass with the band (Mark Snowling?). Norman is a proper bass legend, and it was a real joy to see him live. We also had a great chat in the green room with guitarist John Turnbull, who was showing Clare some tricks on her new ukelele which, according to him, is a good one. Look out for some ukelele action hitting the Clare Teal live show in the near future!
Well, the Teal Tour continues on apace. We’ll be playing the Dorking Halls this Saturday, before embarking on another northern run next week. We play the Plowright Theatre in Scunthorpe on Wednesday 29th, Leeds College of Music on the 30th, then the Gala Theatre in Durham on the 31st. Clare’s latest album ‘Get Happy‘ is due for release in the rest of Europe early in the new year, so we should be out touring on the continent soon. Literally can’t wait!
On another note, for those of you who’ve been to the shows recently and enjoyed Mike’s Cookery Corner (!), go and check out his blog at Jazz Chefs, where he and various other jazz musicians have been posting their recipes. It’s really quite impressive. I did try to add it to my Blogroll, but there’s something iffy going on with the feed, so you’ll just have to go check it out for yourselves.
See y’all soon
Simon x

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