Between tours….

We’ve been back from North America for a few weeks now and our Japanese trip is still a few days off. Perhaps now’s the time to sum up our fortnight’s passage across the pond.

The tour was hugely enjoyable on a social/experience level and also great from a playing point of view.

We’d done our initial rehearsals some weeks before the start of the tour, in an intense three day bash in Birmingham, the point of equidistance between our respective homes. Guy wasn’t there for the first day, so HB and I had the somewhat strange experience of hearing *exactly* what each other was playing without any covering smear of percussion. Fascinating, especially in the time-slip passages of things like “Interference Patterns” or “All Over the Place”…strangely convincing!

It was also, of course, our first opportunity to put together our respective homework on “Flight”. We’d mooted doing this for some time and our preparation had been under way for a month at least. A lot of musical archaeology was involved! There was also the question of which we should regard as the definitive earlier version, the solo album or the k group live, since they’re markedly different. Brain had also managed to unearth a bootleg of an even wilder duo version from WOMAD, which brought a smile and a fond few memories.

Eventually, with a mixture of muscle memory and diligent research, often involving swapping MIDI files for each other to play along to at distance, we came down to the definitive stuff. That still required a lot of home study to beat into even provisional shape, mind, and some mysteries were only finally revealed when we were all together in Birmingham. It seems – surprise, surprise – that I’ve got a tendency to put in half-beats here and there if I’m doing a left-hand pulse patterns. Well I never!

Putting something like “Flight” in obviously meant that the sets would be structured around it, so we didn’t attempt any other new stuff. One point though (and if I’ve made this before please forgive and bear with me): once we’ve decided to commit to a piece it becomes part of VdGG repertoire and we no longer think about its original provenance, be it solo or group. Nor do we really think overmuch about the age of individual pieces in a set. And happily as a result of this attitude I feel that we’re really achieving some kind of modern homogeneous VdGG sound and stamp across all the tunes….

Moving leisurely on, a month later we found ourselves once again in Bethlehem, PA, thanks to the Nearfest organisation. I can’t stress too highly how influential they’ve been in  getting first me and then VdGG over to play in the US in recent years. Apart from their invitations and enthusiasm they’ve also dealt with the crucial Visa issues. It’s become harder and harder – and more and more expensive – to get through the hoops of these, both in the US and the UK and time and again Nearfest pulled through for us.

They’ve also provided a rehearsal space for the two VdGG appearances on the day before our shows so that we had at least a chance of getting up to speed – very welcome and very useful. This time, we dealt with things -including “Flight” – pretty speedily.

There’s always been something of a “we’re all in this together” atmosphere at Nearfest and it was particularly pronounced this year in view of the fact that this was, definitively, the last one ever. Most people involved stay in the same hotel and so we met up with many familiar faces and also got on well with new acquaintances.

Among whom were Aranis, a really great group who played before us on Friday night. Their music is genre-bending and it was an inspired piece of programming to put the two of us together.

Once we began playing the following night it was as though we’d hardly missed a beat since the last time, to be honest….

And then onward, this time in a van and trailer rather than overnight bus: the budget simply wouldn’t run to that this time out. Our first four days were leisurely, a couple of shows and then a couple of days off in Annapolis. Then we headed out on some serious travelling: do a show, drive a couple of hours, find hotel, sleep, drive five or six hours, do a show and so on. Everyone became a little glazed in the midst of this but actually got used to the routine pretty quickly. We were, incidentally, extremely lucky to leave just before a major storm hit Delaware and DC – if we’d been stuck there just a few hours more….well, basically the netire tour would’ve been scuppered.

Anyway, before we knew it…well, actually we knew *quite* a lot about the ten hour journey it took to get us there…we were in Quebec City for an evening off and almost at the end of the tour. Beautiful weather in a beautiful city and we had a really good time in the show the next night, including the obligatory once-a-tour appearance of “Gog”. Maybe one day we’ll play it more than once!!

We had time aplenty to get to Montreal for the final show as part of the Jazz festival but traffic extended the journey no end. There were still hours to spare before the show but, for me, at least, it suddenly seemed to rush up at us post sound-check. It’s an honour to play at this event and I’m pretty sure we did ourselves justice, especially in the totally improvised parts of “Lemmings”. This, incidentally, was one of the tunes which seemed to get a second breath on this tour whenever we played it. But to be honest there weren’t any songs which seemed laborious to play, hard to get going, at any show. Thta’s really something.

And then, along a number of different routes, we were on our way home. To our usual team of Ed, Will and Carl we’d added the great Ethan Kairer, who’s now, I suppose, the honourable holder of the VdGG Crew Flag in the US. Heroic drives, great good humour and a crash course in VdGG lighting, all wonderfully done.

The next time? Who knows, though, indeed, who knows where we’ll play/what we’ll do next after the upcoming Japanese shows. Of course, we can’t prejudge and of course it’s a difficult thing logistically and financially to keep this show going.

But it certainly feels like a vibrant ongoing show at the moment…next!