From “Harmonica World” Apr-May 2010
In April 2010 I toured Taiwan for 10 days, invited by Mr Li from the Judy’s Harmonica Ensemble. I’ll fast forward to say that the tour went great, in no small part due to the organistion by my hosts. Nonetheless, some thought lay behind my preparation, the topic of this article.
I played three 90 minute concerts, and was asked what kind of band I wanted. I requested guitar, bass and drums, “OK” was the reply. I wasn’t sure what to expect (fast forward again, they were excellent), or whether we could even communicate (we could). Also, how to program a 90 minute harmonica concert for a Taiwanese audience? The only stipulation was a traditional Taiwanese tune for the encore, a selection of midis was sent to choose from. My wife is Chinese, so I picked two tunes that she recognised. The rest was up to me.
My repertoire is mostly fast Irish and American fiddle tunes, with an occasional traditional ballad. My hosts knew this, however I figured that 90 minutes of it would be tough for the crowd. Asian audiences like slow pop tunes, and love classic Beatles songs. So I added “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude”, as well as “Sailing” by Rod Stewart. I normally wouldn’t play these tunes in a fit, but I wasn’t the one buying tickets. I spaced these tunes strategically, finishing with Hey Jude. I’m a strong (rather than great) blues singer, so I added 3 blues songs and a blues instrumental. Three of my fast fiddle tunes and 3 slow traditional ballads came next. Finally, I included a home touch (I’m Australian), and added “Waltzing Matilda”. Charts and Band in a Box backings for all this were sent over. I crossed my fingers.
Turns out it worked a treat. I played with the MAJAM Jazz band, they had all of my stuff under control when I arrived, helped along by two rehearsals before the first show. The Judy’s Harmonica Ensemble joined me for the last 5 songs in the first concert (in Taipei). These guys had arranged some of my tunes, it felt like Xmas day. The ensemble comprises bass, chord harmonica and 3 chromatics, they go like the clappers, but play beautifully. The picture shows us on stage. Check out the banner.
Next, what gear to take? International flights are strict on the 20 kg luggage limit. Plus I had a job in Perth on the way back (I’m an IT trainer), so I had to pack the course notes. Plus a suit bag with clothes enough to look respectable on stage. I took care to pack two of each instrument that I would be using (just as well, as it turned out), plus all other keys, plus the new Seydel Octave harmonicas I’ve started using. The harmonica case (also from Seydel) was full, so was my suitcase. For a moment I considered trusting the vocal mics on stage, and leaving my geat behind.
Glad I didn’t. Mr Li organised good equipment, with decent folk driving it, but nothing replaces your own pedals and mic. I took my Ibanez Digital delay II, a Boss Fender Bassman pedal and a Behringer Acoustic guitar preamp (ADI 21 Acoustic modeller). People look down on Behringer gear, perhaps due to the low price. My box worked fine, it was nice to have a balanced line out. I took my Audix Fireball V mic with an Audix impedance convertor. The delay pedal gives a clean delay, which suits my style. The Fender Bassman pedal added some grit for the blues tunes, and others when I forgot to turn it off.
So. What can go wrong? Enough as it turned out. The first concert opening tune was a slow one, with just the guitar. The rest of the band came on for the second tune, which I announced as a quick one (translations by the guitar player). I counted the band in, my harmonica didn’t work. Upside down! A quick flip over and I was away, no-one noticed… Next concert was two days later. I came on stage, bowed, picked up my mic, nothing. Soundman shrugged. Audience waiting, no music. I looked down, I’d unplugged the cable from my pre-amp. Bent down, plugged it in, a giant “ger-thump” was my opening. Then we started, all went well thereafter.
I’ve been on many stages over the years, however this extended solo tour was a first. Hopefully more will follow, now I know to plug in and hold the instrument the right way round.