Baz Francis: ‘Face That Launched A Thousand Shipwrecks World Tour 2017’ Tour Diary Print E-mail
Written by Baz Francis   
Sunday, 18 June 2017 05:00

Around last summer I had an idea that was inspired by looking at the maps in an in-flight magazine and my latest shows in Colombia (which now meant that I had now performed on three of the six inhabited continents of the world). For someone who both solo and with his band is independent in a rather unique self-managed sense, this is actually pretty amazing when I come to thinking about it. So why not take this journey to its next logical step: Continent #4, Africa.

 

Baz performing live at Cairo Jazz Club, Giza (Egypt) (photo by Fady W. Hanna)

 PHOTO CREDIT: Fady W. Hanna

 

I got to work on researching how I might do this, and assistance was sparse. Finally, I received encouraging news from Nigeria; that venue ended up being time-wasters. Then a band in Casablanca, Morocco promised to make a combined concert in their home city happen with me, no matter what. They ended up wasting even more of my time and making themselves look very disingenuous in the process as they lamented over a dying music scene there that they were actively contributing to with their own broken big promises. Finally, a real breakthrough came and in the most amazing of locations: Giza in Egypt.

 

With Finland, Macedonia, England and Spain already in my touring diary for 2017 at this point, Egypt would fall within seven days of my Finnish date, leaving me just enough time to manoeuvre in between the two locations via England and prepare everything accordingly. It was around this time that I had a notion to include Asia in my touring plans as well, and Turkey became my main focus of the ten or so countries that I looked at for this. I didn't want to spread myself too thin across the summer months but this seemed possible for a while then; however, the advent of Ramadan meant that my availability for shows in a handful of those places would not be possible right now due to religious holidays there. There was one venue on the European side of dual-continental Turkey though that had an irresistible charm to its enthusiasm for me to play there, and its only free date... right in the middle of my Finnish and Egyptian connections. To make matters worse, they were situated in Edirne which has no international airport for miles around.

 

Mehmet Linga and I went back and forth for a few days via e-mail, neither one of us thinking a deal possible here. Once I realized his proximity to Istanbul I told him that such a show would not realistically be possible for me as I'd never make the 134-mile commute once in Turkey to play the show there, nor would I then get back in time to make my return flight to England (again) to honour my pre-existing commitment in Egypt. "No problem", he said, "we will collect you and then drop you off at the airport". When someone is willing to drive 536 miles in total to ensure that you come and play for them, who cares if it's convenient to your schedule. If it's possible, I'm always up for the adventure.

 

Baz performing live at Mahzen Cafe & Bar in Edirne (Turkey) (photo by Atakan Grammeşin)

 PHOTO CREDIT: Atakan Grammeşin

 

The last words you want to hear at the end of an international flight that you've just taken and queued for ages at the other end of are, "may I see your visa?", if you had no idea that one was required for you to enter the country. I did not until then. Mercifully, attaining one was not too difficult this time, but my heart briefly sank in this moment. Coming out the other side of Border Control I was even more relieved and happy then to be greeted by the warm welcome of my hosts Mehmet and Atakan Grammeşin, plus their friend Ahmet. I had previously visited another part of Turkey as a kid, and had erroneously expected the trip to Edirne to be amongst arid surroundings. I soon got a proper education on the matter as I arrived at the same time as a huge downpour even London would have been proud of amidst a view of rolling green hills, woodland and lakes. My misconception about the climate also meant that I was a little underdressed here.

 

After nighttime drinks at Mahzen followed by a much-needed night's sleep, the next day I walked around the city and tried to see as much of Edirne during my little time here. By the time the evening came, my soundcheck turned into somewhat of an event in itself as I was first introduced to Mehmet's beautiful family, and then taken on a tour of the other side of the river before tea by the Greek border. Once back at the venue I was able to perform for Nuray and Nilay Linga, as they would not be able to attend the show later on. Just as I was leaving to get ready for the gig, my company was requested for more tea in the house of Mahzen's neighbour, musician, painter, doctor and published author Cihanser Erel, who welcomed me into his home and also presented me with a signed copy of his book, Lider. One stroll later through evening prayers at one of the city's many stunning mosques, and it was showtime.

 

Three hours performing came and went with an array of locals visiting Mahzen to check out the Englishman in town, and if Mehmet's review of proceedings was anything to go by, then the night was a success. We then sat around until the small hours with Harun Filiz and the guys singing sweet Turkish songs to me and encouraging me to busk along too at one point. Harun has a very rich and warm voice, so do look out for him and his talents. 

 

The Mahzen crew in Edirne, Turkey, May 2017 (photographer unknown)

 

My ride to Istanbul was then guaranteed by new friend Fatih Ejder, who also presented me with a watch as a gift, plus a 3a.m. cultural tour of Edirne. Sure, I got no sleep until the early drive to the airport, but all this effort made me feel so privileged to be in my blessed situation. Teşekkür ederim!

 

There's a man I used to know who travelled the world a country at a time, and once visited he would say he'd "ticked the box". I always hated that expression; as if a site, city or country was disposable after one short visit there. Sure, I don't want to live in every place that I go to on my travels, but I always like to treat the friendships that I forge along the way as forever a good reason to make a return to a certain place. Once any gig is done and dusted, you have the videos, photos and most importantly the memories, but each gig should have a unique twist to it that cannot be guaranteed by simply turning up and playing. Sometimes a show needs a different approach to the last one, and who goes to Africa to perform and doesn't at least try and make a live record out of the experience?

 

Both my solo live EP 'Live at Molly Malone's/Los Angeles 2015' and the bulk of Magic Eight Ball's live mini-album 'Richest Men In The Dolls House' had been recorded almost spontaneously, so this attempted live outing was going to be different as it would be planned further in advance. This doesn't really make too much of a difference to the recording, but it meant that I could bring in my engineer of choice for this show. With being a troubadour and a solo artist too, the decision to record my Cairo Jazz Club show was an easy one for me. Of course, I had no way of knowing how the gig night would go, but with recording set up for the trip, I was confident that it would be captured correctly in whichever form it took.

 

Baz performing live at Cairo Jazz Club, Giza (Egypt) (photo by Andrea Duarte) III

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andrea Duarte

 

Joining up with The Desert Meertwat at Heathrow Airport on the Saturday, my wife and I loaded up all the musical gear onto the plane and headed off into something unknown for all 3 of us. Recording the Cairo show was always going to be an added stress, but either way it was going to be a tiring trip, so why not capture it properly for our troubles. 

 

Once in Egypt, we did all want to do the first-timer stuff there, and this probably took us down the less desirable routes around the city, but all the while I was also trying to walk anywhere that I could to give myself an alternate perspective on the place. Sadly though, we just had the worst luck with people whilst out and about, and I ended up getting a bug. A lot now rode on the gig being good.

 

Whilst at the Pyramids on Monday, we were told of the desert oases throughout the Sahara, and when we were brought to Cairo Jazz Club the following night, it was the urban equivalent of that type of sanctuary. This was not just a rare respite from the musical norms in the locality, but the friendliest, cleanest and most beautifully decorated of venues too.

 

Not that we ever thought that our personal experiences in Cairo thus far spoke of the whole population there, Ahmed Abazo and his team certainly were shining examples of what hosts should be, regardless of nationality or profession. It was at our moment of arrival for soundcheck that we all breathed a collective sigh of relief that we had truly landed on our feet with these guys. Just like misery loves company, kindness also attracts its own, and as the evening went on we were exposed to an ever-increasing cast of the best of Cairo. It was simply a joy to play for such a warm crowd, and my decision to have the show recorded will hopefully now have captured that special atmosphere on record for you, even if you weren't there in North Africa to enjoy it with us in person on the night itself.

 

Baz performing live at Cairo Jazz Club, Giza (Egypt) (photo by Andrea Duarte) II

 PHOTO CREDIT: Andrea Duarte

 

My set went from being 75 minutes to an hour and a half (just because), brilliant local band The Meteors Project ended up going on after me instead, and jovial chats with everyone present about our comical misfortunes on our trip leading up to this were laughed at by all. I fought against the bug I had caught on my last day in town for a few more hours until our early morning run to the airport, and the next thing we knew we were on the plane back to London, job done, with smiles on our faces.

 

This means that as of this point, after six months of planning for it, I have now performed live in concert on four of the globe's six inhabited continents, and what a great venue and crowd I had at Cairo Jazz Club to see in this special moment for me. It's also a victory as an independent musician to be able to partake in such an adventure again without major label backing.

 

This is when things got unpleasant. My bug turned my next 48 hours into something rather nasty indeed, and my first night back in England was greeted with a feverish temperature amongst other symptoms. I felt like shit, and following an intense dream (that included my reflections on Kurt Cobain's passing of all things), I woke up physically about 50 per cent better and braved the new day slowly. I then looked on my Instagram and read that Chris Cornell had left us the night before. All of a sudden, the fever didn't seem so bad.

 

When beloved musicians die, amongst the genuine sorrow there is also always a bragging free-for-all of who owns the most t-shirts, who met them the most, conspiracy theories and self-promotion masquerading as grief. I, like many of his fans, never met Chris Cornell personally but I was lucky enough to see him perform live on several occasions. I was just one of the many who had special moments of his life soundtracked by this man's unique talent, and 'Euphoria Mourning' and 'Superunknown' remain two of my favourite albums of all time, so I can't help but be moved by the passing of this musical hero of mine. I can't remember the last time I was so saddened by a musician's death as this. More than all that though, he was a father, husband, brother, son, and from what I could tell, one of the good guys too it would seem. Thank you Chris; we wave goodbye, but only for now.

 

As a prelude to my appearance at Basingstoke Festival on 8 July, I made it four gigs in four countries in two weeks by partaking in the festival organiser Shani Saunders' Acoustic Soup at The Tart! night at The White Hart in Basingstoke on the Saturday. My two sets there (amongst strong local talent) have made me even more excited about Shani's big event, where you can catch me on the Unplged Stage from 7:50 in the evening.

 

Now, in 2010 as some of you who know me may be aware, I had a musical epiphany and her name was Big Star. Properly introduced to this fine band at such a sad time in their history, yet overcome by the beauty of their craft, I was inspired to write a song in which I used the term 'Big Star' as an analogy for good things.

 

Whilst completing Magic Eight Ball's 'Mother Nature's Candy' EP (our first release on which that song would appear) in 2011, I travelled out to Utrecht in The Netherlands to see the surviving members of the aforementioned great band perform their songs in a church there. It was also here that I met original member, drummer, and all-round charming gentleman, Jody Stephens. I explained who I was and what I was doing with my then work-in-progress, and we corresponded a few times after the show including when he made my day a few months later by telling me that he enjoyed the final result of my own little 'Big Star'.

 

Coming back from Cairo sick as a parrot the previous week, I really wasn't in the mood for anymore travelling then, but when I saw Jody was in town with his new Americana outfit Those Pretty Wrongs, I made a few enquiries about getting on the bill at one of the remaining venues on their UK tour. The Maze in Nottingham obliged, and with my mum along for the night we headed north for what was a lovely evening.

 

Baz opening for Those Pretty Wrongs at The Maze in Nottingham, 25th May 2017 (photo by Mary Jack)

 PHOTO CREDIT: Mary Jack

 

The team at The Maze were just so welcoming to mum and I that we felt right at home there. What a venue. I re-introduced myself to Jody (who was gracious again both before and after my performance), the audience were so respectful and kind towards me, and Those Pretty Wrongs were incredible. Jody's voice and Luther's killer guitar work blew me away, and the inclusion of a few Big Star songs at the end of their set were very welcome but not the centre piece, as here was a great band in their own right. I was proud to open for them, and despite my reservations about doing so, I felt that I couldn't leave out my own 'Big Star' in my set on such an occasion. There are some artists you forget distances and your ailments for. These guys sit comfortably within those ranks.

 

My focus was then allowed to be placed back upon my live record. When Magic Eight Ball released our live mini-album 'Richest Men In The Dolls House' last year, I felt that that presented an interesting and different take on the band's sound. What I soon learnt with this however was that interesting and different recordings aren't always made for repeated listens. Raw, warts n' all live records have their place, but I was much happier with my subsequent release (my solo live EP 'Live at Molly Malone's / Los Angeles 2015'), and so I wanted whatever I came back from Egypt with to channel some of the clarity from my previous solo effort, whilst maintaining some of the energy from the band's live outing.

 

I was conscious of two things this time: that this collection would have to be mixed objectively outside of my immediate post-gig buzz, and that a shorter yet stronger release would be better than a lengthier one that didn't stand the test of time so well. After editing and working on the available material, the final 14 songs (11 live tracks and three bonus acoustic sessions) were carefully selected and felt totally right together as one. On the two month-iversary of 'Face That Launched A Thousands Shipwrecks' then, on 24 June, I release my Egyptian live album, 'Trainwrecks In The Desert/Giza 2017' (available on iTunes and the like through Magic Cat Records). After all the drama leading up to its creation, it felt totally apt to call it that!

 

Now back in England, I was able to visit my old friend Andreas George Wood at SUSY Radio in Surrey for a live session and personalised Chris Cornell-only request playlist, then head over to perform at Oakfest in Buckinghamshire a few days later to introduce myself to the lovely Iola Seaton-Reid, who shall also be hosting Magic Eight Ball at the Haddenham Summerfest 2017 on 1 July. For now though, I have a certain Guns N' Roses to watch in London! Life is good.

 

Baz

 

Baz Francis's first solo album 'Face That Launched A Thousand Shipwrecks' is OUT NOW through Magic Cat Records Limited. You can buy it on CD HERE or download it HERE.

 

'Trainwrecks In The Desert / Giza 2017' can be downloaded from the Baz Francis iTunes Store et al from next Saturday (24 June).

 

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Baz Francis World Tour 2017 confirmed dates poster