Letter from America 3. New York, New York

Our gig at the Irving theatre, Indianapolis went very well. The venue is run by a particularly nice guy Mark Gasper and he has a lovely team with him. We have played this venue before, back in 2018. It is a high stage and a large room. The thing that I remembered most about the venue was the fact that the stage was the actual last stage that Elvis Presley ever performed on, on 26 June 1977 (there are videos of the concert on YouTube). We were literally standing on the stage that Elvis did his legendary final performance on. The story is that the stage was part of the portable stage from the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis where the said performance took place. When the arena was closed, the stage was divided up and sold off in sections. One section was bought by the Irving Theatre. Since watching the recent fantastic Elvis biopic (with Austin Butler and Tom Hanks) on a flight with the band to Chile, I became fascinated by Elvis again, so this was definitely something! The gig itself went down very well and we met two people in the audience who had been at Soft Machine gigs back in 1968 when the band had toured with and shared the bill with Jimi Hendrix.

After Indianapolis we flew to New York for our gigs at the Iridium, just off Times Square right in the centre of Manhattan. The gigs had fortunately been able to be rescheduled, since our visas had not arrived when we were supposed to be playing there on October 6 and 7. As a British jazz musician, coming to New York to perform is always a bit of a thrill. Especially when it is with a band that you co-lead and playing music that you either wrote or have a deep connection with as I do with Soft Machine music.

After arriving at night at the smart refurbished New York La Guardia airport, we braved the heavy traffic in a yellow New York taxi with a clueless driver who neither knew the hotel we were going to or used a Sat Nav to work out his route. So this ended up costing us about 50% more than it should have done. The hotel itself was just off Wall St in Lower Manhattan, about 10 minutes walk from the tip of Manhattan. The following morning I did that 10 min walk, saw the Statue of Liberty from afar and passed a street celebration of Native American culture outside the ‘National Museum of the American Indian’ as it is called. I am interested in Native America culture (though know little about it) - their traditions, philosophies, music and art, so visited the museum with John the next day. In fact the Soft Machine ‘Other Doors’ album starts with a track called ‘Careless Eyes’ on which I play the Native American flute.

The first gig at the Iridium was a blast. My friend Adam Holzman, keyboard player extraordinaire who I toured a lot with in Steven Wilson’s band guested on two tracks- Gesolreut and Fell to Earth and it was really fantastic having him adding so much to the band sound for those tunes. The club had a large Triton keyboard which sounded good and was a welcome change from the small portable iRig keyboard set up I have been using on the tour. The rest of the gig went great too and we got a standing ovation. For the second night there was not much to set up as everything was already go to go. We changed some of the tunes in the set for the second night, so we rehearsed those. But with some time to kill we just played some jazz - after all we were right in the middle of New York City, the epicentre of modern jazz. We played through some classic jazz standards and also burned through some up tempo pieces (we hit about 340bpm at one point)! The gig was fine and it was good to play some different tracks. The free improvisation leading into the ‘Crooked Usage’ melody was really cool. It felt like the whole band was improvising as one - an integrated sound of musicians spontaneously creating something together all on the same wavelength. The set was a bit longer tonight and by the end I was knackered! Home tomorrow after what had been a very successful run of shows. I look forward to coming back to the USA for more touring next summer. When I get home it will be good to catch up on some rest before embarking on the UK and European dates.