Letter from America 23 October 2023 - Detroit

So after major delays getting our US visas for the Soft Machine tour (7500 dollars fees, 3 months waiting, 1 band member being refused his visa, and a long delay resulting in us missing half the tour), three of us finally received our visas and flew to Detroit, Michigan to play the remaining gigs on our tour. With Fred our bass player facing extra delays with his visa, the only way we could play the gigs was to book a temporary substitute bass player for the shows. After much discussion we decided on our friend Beledo, an exceptional musician from New York - bass player, guitarist, pianist, composer and all round good guy. He is also a Soft Machine fan, so he already knew some of our music (which can be quite complicated in parts).

I arrived in the city of Detroit last Wednesday. I have not been to Detroit for many many years. It is an interesting city with a speckled history - the rise and fall of production line car manufacturing (the home of Henry Ford), Motown and a city whose population has declined since the 1950s from nearly 2 million to 600,000. As a small child on the 1970s I actually came here for 3 months as my dad was working here temporarily, so I went to school here briefly and have hazy but fond childhood memories of it.

On my first full day here, I went for a walk with John Etheridge around Ferndale, the suburb of Detroit where we were staying. We ended up in a funky coffee shop where we met a lovely elderly couple, a retired lawyer and his wife, who we had a really interesting conversation with about the city of a Detroit and it’s fascinating history. They ended up giving us a guided tour of the city, driving us around various areas and telling us amazing stories about Detroit. They even kindly drove us to the Chrysler Elementary school and the Belcrest apartment block where I had stayed as a 6 year old all those years ago. It was quite a trip down memory lane and cool to happen to meet such lovely friendly people.

Later that day the band and our excellent manager Leonardo Pavkovic met at the venue (Token Lounge), and we had a full day of rehearsal. This was crucial for Beledo as he had never played with us before so he needed to go through everything. He did amazingly well, had done his homework and was very well prepared. And he has a great attitude and vibe, which is really important too. After all the delays and the big build up to the tour it was great to actually play some music at last.

The Detroit gig itself went very well. Lots of enthusiastic fans who were so grateful we had made the effort to come to the USA. I do find American audiences very engaged, enthusiastic and knowledgable about the band and out music. And very appreciative.

Next stop was Milwaukee and specifically a venue called Shank Hall which appears in the Spinal Tap movie. I think the venue was actually named after the fictitious venue in the movie rather than the other way round though. Being the second gig on the tour a few rough edges in the set were smoothed out and the band really took off. Beledo is doing a fantastic job and getting deeper into the music every day. It is always a real treat for me to play with the immense talents that are John Etheridge and Asaf Sirkis and I feel very fortunate to be in a band and play regularly with them. There is always an element of surprise and a moment or two in gigs where they do something completely fresh and unexpected that brings a smile to my face. After the gig it was nice to meet some musicians I am Facebook friends with but have never met in person too.

Today we drive to Chicago where we are going to play at Reggie’s, a classic music club there. We played at a festival at Reggie’s in 2018 and it was great. Apparently Chicago has been known as the Windy City since 1876 and a newspaper headline referring to its famed windstorms and also as a put down, insinuating its people were longwinded and full of hot air! The dual meaning seems to have been lost over time but the nickname of the Windy City certainly has stuck.