Baz Francis: ‘Face That Launched A Thousand Shipwrecks World Tour 2017’ Tour Diary Print E-mail
Written by Baz Francis   
Sunday, 21 May 2017 04:30

The most frequently asked question to me regarding my music over the last six months has undoubtedly been, "so what's the difference between a Magic Eight Ball record and a Baz Francis solo one?". Given that my roles and involvement levels in both are identical, I think that this is a fair question, but the distinction is there to be made and has hopefully been aided for some now that my début solo album 'Face That Launched A Thousand Shipwrecks' has finally been released.

 

One thing that I have loved about this year so far is that as I've been making my first solo record, I have been simultaneously busy making music with Magic Eight Ball and had the wonderful support and encouragement for my new work from my bandmates Robbie and PD. They understand that my solo efforts are as important to me as Magic Eight Ball and vice versa, and long shall both continue from hereon in.

 

 

What has been hard though you might not have thought would’ve been. I've been performing solo acoustic shows for 16 years now at the various stages of Magic Eight Ball's conception and lifespan, and having the duality between both roles for the last 11 of those years has always felt right, but it's a whole different experience it would appear not going out as 'the singer from a band' but as 'the singer from a band doing his solo material too now'. It's like you’re introducing yourself for the first time again, and although my current solo live sets are still predominantly using those songs that I wrote for Magic Eight Ball, there will now be an ever-expanding number of my solo tracks in there until one day you might come and see me play and not hear a single one from my Magic Eight Ball canon. At the end of the day, these are all my songs, but as people have noted with these latest tracks of mine, I'm going down a different path with my adjacent discography to that with my band.

 

Having your individual name on promotional material and record sleeves puts you in a whole new firing line for people's criticism too, and without the band or Donnie (Vie) by my side up onstage, it's really challenging for me to be doing this right now and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm putting myself out there, open and exposed, so why not take this tour to the least obvious places and make it twice as daunting. OK then, it's on!

 

Once Magic Eight Ball returned from what felt like a triumphant show in Barcelona in March, it was time to complete my latest album and record my first solo music video in Wales no sooner had I arrived back in the UK from that Catalan excursion. On a relevant aside, if you ever want to see how a true music lover behaves then look up Miguel Angel Tovar. He had started my gigging year off by setting the bar really high for what I expect from people, or maybe everyone should just share in his ethics. Either way, what a guy.

 

As always, at the close of one year and the start of another I look ahead and ask myself what I can do next to push my limits and excite myself again through music. Travelling has long been a key component in challenging myself, and rather than use my new found cache of goodwill to only gig upon a set circuit around the country or continent, I have continually sought to go beyond that and use my music as a passport to not only play, but also visit some countries for the first time. Up then stepped Macedonia…

 

Skopje gig flyer 1st April 2017

 

This part of the Balkans is a place that I've wanted to visit for years now, and when an opportunity came up for me to go and play in Macedonia, I did all that I could to make it a reality. With the loving aid and support of my hosts Aleksandar Andonovski and Sofi Skenderovska, I was welcomed into a country proud of its heritage dating back to Alexander The Great, as well as loving towards its other most famous resident, Mother Teresa. The capital Skopje is also a city moving into a new modern era at the same time as celebrating its past.

 

I don't think that my new friends from Skopje would mind me saying that their often beautiful city is not without its occasional opulent displays of wealth to differentiate itself from the former Yugoslavian era as well. Even if the classical music being pumped out via speakers by the river where lovers go to copulate in the dark, or one of their bridges alone is so crammed with golden statues that it's a miracle it still stands, even at its most ostentatious Skopje is still an impressive spectacle to behold, and its surrounding countryside I was lucky enough to see is stunning too.

 

Having familiarised myself with Old School Café over the days leading up to my gig there, I was by the time I got to play there on good terms with the great crew behind this safe haven for rock n' roll in a very club-oriented city it would seem. I began my first of three sets there on my last night in town, and with the start time delayed slightly this meant that I played into the early hours of the Sunday too. It would be here in Skopje that I would first perform songs from my still forthcoming solo album live in public for the first time, and it was around midnight I would say that the atmosphere suddenly clicked, and the evening went from being pleasant to simply awesome.

 

Baz live at Old School Cafe Skopje Macedonia early 2nd April 2017 by Andrea Duarte

PHOTO CREDIT: Andrea Duarte

 

In between sets I was introduced to a local musician Adi Imeri, who's band The Black & Vice Social Club I had been enjoying the car ride from the airport days beforehand. We spoke of Led Zeppelin and he requested 'The Rain Song' in my set; my favourite song of theirs yet one that I know not the chords too. I said to Adi that if he knew the chords, for the encore we could perform that as a final song, and so 2 hours into me playing solo we made this special duet happen. As we both searched for the right thing to play, it wasn't the notes that were perfect, but as this impromptu performance spiralled off into some wonderful new interpretation, that for me was perfection indeed. After the emotional farewells that followed, it left all of 1 hour to sleep before leaving for the flight home. Macedonia was well worth the red eyes the next day though.

 

There is a reason that the sentence "let's go to rural Belgium over a public holiday to really get the party started" is seldom uttered anywhere. For my next trip, my wife and I would have to drive over to easternmost Holland (just shy of the German border) for my show there with the amazing Robby Valentine and his marvellous band in Hardenberg. Rewind back to December of last year, and I was invited to sing on a new Valentine track, and so I flew out to The Netherlands to lay down my vocals for it just before Christmas. Whilst there, Robby and his partner in music and life, Maria Catharina, also sang on my song 'Saving Graces' from my new album. Having had Donnie as a guest vocalist on my first album with Magic Eight Ball, Rik Mayall on the second, followed by a respectful omission of such an appearance on my third, it was going to take musical pedigree of a special kind to feel right to feature on my fourth, and these guys have those particularly impressive credentials.

 

So, when I was asked to open for and sing with Valentine in April of this year, I of course said "yes". After a day of taking in the locality, once the show date finally arrived I opened up the gig in the spacious Podium venue before retreating backstage afterwards to leave my hosts to hit the stage. To have Robby then announce to the crowd that I was his favourite singer of the moment was both very humbling given his own colossal talent, but also a reflection of the dear friend that I have made in him, once again through music. I was then welcomed back to the stage later on to share vocal responsibilities with Robby and the firecracker that is Maria on his beautiful 'Angel Of My Heart' (from the album 'The Magic Infinity'), an honour duly noted and accepted with glee.

 

Baz singing Angel Of My Heart with Valentine at Podium Hardenberg in The Netherlands 15th April 2017 by Marc Van Peski

PHOTO CREDIT: Marc Van Peski

 

When you go out and play these fairly remote towns that are predominantly not geared towards the music that you play, I always take comfort in the thought that if someone does like what you but doesn't happen to live in a big and trendy city, then in bringing your music to them you are at least part of the solution rather than the problem. Robby, Marlies and their band are the finest ambassadors for bringing their music to their people, and not just the ones in the fashionable hot spots. For those guys, I'd travel anywhere to play with them.

 

Now, there is one thing that I am usually always careful not to do, and that is talk ill of small businesses or my fellow artists. We all have our own battles to deal with and I salute the hard working man or woman wherever he or she may be. That said, and without naming names, some people epitomise what is actually killing live music; not the big super arenas or McStar-bucks sponsored TV shows, but the self-proclaimed boutique arts venues who treat their visiting entertainers with as much disrespect (if not more) than some of the aforementioned megadomes. Let's just say that my Newquay date on this tour was a perfect example of how not to run a musical event, how extremely friendly correspondence before a show doesn't count for anything if the senders don't have any plans of even crossing the street to greet you at their venue after your 200 mile drive to get there, and why paying the artist fairly for their efforts is always a good marker stick for how seriously said venue takes the issue of keeping music live AND alive within their four walls.

 

I of course honoured my commitment to the crowd gathered here in Cornwall to see me play by performing without a PA system, totally acoustic amongst my audience as the staff continued to smash glasses and move in the following DJ's equipment to the now unused stage whilst I was playing a mere 5 feet in front of it. Going from playing a packed-out Whitby Goth Weekend with Magic Eight Ball one week beforehand to this particular situation not only highlighted the deficit between the events' standards, but also shone a light once more on how superbly WGW was organised by Jo Hampshire and her team. Moving on, I've got a plane to Helsinki to catch.

 

Baz performing live at Bar Loosister Helsinki 6th May 2017 by Andrea Duarte

PHOTO CREDIT: Andrea Duarte

 

I've had a musical relationship with Finland since 2010 when I first visited the country on my way back from performing in Russia the first time around. Knowing I'd be in town for a day then, I found myself a gig at Bar Loose in Helsinki on the return leg of my journey and have been back many times since, like when I sang in Levi up Lapland shortly before the aurora borealis came into life outside, or when I wrote the bulk of my song 'Red Hair Wrapped Around Her Neck' in and about the town of Hämeenlinna right down the other end of the country.

 

A large part of why I've always kept coming back to Finland since though is because at that fateful gig in Bar Loose all those years ago, I began a conversation with the two kindest people towards me in the room that night, Veera Sydänmaanlakka and Susanna Verlinna. Little did I know then what dear friends Veera and Susanna would remain to me all these years later, and that chance meeting with them also remains pretty much my favourite gigging story and a symbol of the real benefit of doing what I do in taking my music to the road: love. Whether it be a love for the songs, the love of the journey, or my love for friends old and new, if you are motivated by this then you can never fail.

 

I felt it was more than needed then to bring the ‘Face That Launched A Thousand Shipwrecks’ tour to Finland, at Bar Loose's new sister venue Bar Loosister no less. Situated on the other side of the city centre, the atmosphere was immediately different to Bar Loose, but whether or not this would work in my favour remained to be seen as loud neutral Saturday night crowds aren't always easy to please. This one however was onboard with me from start to finish. After last weekend's experience and a few other little things on top of that, I needed this gig to pick me up, and raise me on its shoulders it certainly did. Faced once more by a gathering of beautiful Finnish friends I have made since my first gig here, the gang of course had to include Veera and Susanna for further reminder that Helsinki can always welcome me like home these days. Hats off to Mirva as well for being a fine hostess to us all and showing how a venue should be run.

 

By the time you read this, things will have gone into new realms of the unknown for me with shows in Turkey and Egypt, something that I shall be back on Über Röck to discuss in part two of my World Tour diary next month. Until then, I'm off to see George Clinton play in Helsinki tonight!

 

Baz Francis (7 May 2017)

 

Baz Francis's first solo album 'Face That Launched A Thousand Shipwrecks' is OUT NOW through Magic Cat Records Limited. You can buy your copy HERE or download it HERE. And you can read our review HERE.

 

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Baz Francis World Tour 2017 confirmed dates poster