On the Road again. Poland, November 2023.

After our successful run of UK dates, we are now embarking on a short tour of Poland starting in Katowice. We flew here on a Ryan Air flight from London Stanstead. As they are so strict with their baggage policy, I had to buy an extra seat for ‘Mr Saxophone Travis’ to sit next to me. However when on the plane I put it in the overhead compartment as I would expect to do and none of the air stewards batted an eyelid. What a business, but I did not want to get caught out, and you do hear terrible stories of instruments having to go in the hold and then being destroyed.

We arrived in Katowice and were met by Wojciech, our tour manager in the van we would be using on the four city tour and we were taken to our hotel which was very comfortable. The following morning a splendid spread at breakfast including fresh fruits; carrots, apples, ginger, beetroot and a juice maker; full cooked breakfasts; nuts, berries, seeds, salad, herring, yoghurts, various breads, cheeses and special Silesia cakes.

We were not being picked up for sound check until 2.45pm, so I returned to my room, caught up on e mails, and on seeing a suggested YouTube video of Leonard Bernstein conducting Mahler second symphony, described as the ‘greatest piece of music ever written’ in one comment I thought I would check it out. That is quite a claim, and I had never heard the piece. I would like to hear the ‘greatest piece of music ever written’! That is, until I saw that the piece is over one and a half hours long. With his very long works, gigantic orchestras, use of unusual instruments like anvils and Celeste , Mahler could definitely be described as the Prog god of the classical world. I scrolled to the finale that is featured in the new Bernstein film ‘Maestro’ (which I plan to see) and watched that. It is indeed pretty awesome and epic. Although we share a birthday(!), I was never that into Mahler until I saw that scene in the TV programme Shtiesel, when the dodgy uncle gets all emotional over the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth symphony. Now that is one hell of a piece of music. I read up a bit about Leonard Bernstein online and he certainly was impressive for what he did, his achievements and his compositions including of course West Side Story. and his own story is fascinating. I noted that he is buried in Brooklyn, USA and in his grave he is buried with a score laid on top of him of the Mahler Adagietto.

I went for a walk around Katowice to see what I could see. The weather was cold and the architecture rather bleak and austere. A bit like how I imagined it might be. I chanced upon some atmospheric cafes and picked up a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel in the Bagel cafe which was delicious. There was a market in the town square with stalls selling all sort of food delicacies and Christmas gifts and there were rides and was a small fair for children. All very seasonal. I have played in Poland several times with Soft Machine, the last trip being for the Summer Fog Prog festival in 2018 which was great. I got to see Nick Masons Saucerful of Secrets Band then which was fab. Plus I met Gary Kemp for the first time and reconnected with Guy Pratt after touring with him with David Gilmour three years previously. I don’t have a strong feel for the country though in fact my great grandparents came from Poland at the end of the nineteenth century. My dad felt a strong connection with Poland and even worked on a long consultancy project in Warsaw in the 1980s advising the government on the country’s tourism strategy. I digress…

The gig itself was in a 110 year old cinema/ concert venue called the Rialto, a beautiful building and room all coloured red. I was thrilled to see that I had been provided with a real Fender Rhodes electric piano for the tour. I usually play these gigs on a digital electric piano which is fine but this is the real thing with so much more depth of sound. Everything went very smoothly and I really felt that the band was getting to a new level now we know the music so well and can freely improvise and spontaneously compose with a collective confidence that just seems to get stronger and stronger. The audience was super appreciative and we got a standing ovation. Fantastic.

Next day was a four hour drive to Warsaw and a gig at the Hybrydy club. The onstage sound was even better and we changed a few things around in the set which worked and was kind of fun. Asaf’s drum solo was exceptional and it was a great gig all round. Another fantastic audience and great night. We are all really enjoying having such a well organised tour and such a great road crew that makes our lives so much easier and let’s us just concentrate on the playing music.

Today I woke up to see snow outside my window. Winter is here!

And now we are off to play in a town called Bydgoszcz.

Photos by Matt Strociak, Leonardo Pavkovic and moi.



Photos by Matt Strociak, Leonardo Pavkovic and moi.