Aaron here!! I’ve been given the honour of writing about the last couple stops of our tour. After a week of exclusively driving everywhere, our next stop, Belton, Texas, meant us taking our first domestic flight of the trip from New York to Dallas/Ft Worth International. And after a very sleepy/antisocial 150-mile drive to our hotel, we arrived in Belton.
With a good night’s sleep for everyone (having had lots of early starts so far on the trip), we headed to the Sue and Frank Mayborn Performing Arts Centre at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor for a masterclass with some students. Me and Simon Minshall were exempt from this masterclass so had the rare treat of being able to do some practice, and also took the time to research the interesting history of the university.
A quick rehearsal (observed by some of the masterclass students) was followed by tucking into our dinner, provided by the university and delivered from a local restaurant to give us our first Texan food fix of the tour! The concert was attended by a large audience with a real mix of ages present, and it was great to meet so many of the enthusiastic students.
After the concert, we headed to a neighbouring town, Temple, for chicken wings, tater tots, beers, and most importantly shuffleboard which I think was one of the group’s highlights wherever we were. On this occasion, a game of trumpets vs low brass saw the trumpets get absolutely demolished… and unfortunately that was the last game of shuffleboard for the trip (you’re only as good as your last game).
The next morning, we had an early rehearsal for the group’s upcoming concerts back in the UK and Germany, which was fuelled by possibly the most hastily eaten breakfast of my life, due to the INCREDIBLY slow service that we received at the hotel. But spirits were lifted with music by Humperdinck and from the Nutcracker, to really get us in a Christmassy mood (despite starting the rehearsal at 9:30am).
To heighten morale even more, we stopped by Rudy’s Bar-B-Q on our way to Dallas airport for our obligatory Texas barbecue experience! And the food was thought to be so good that even a takeaway brisket was purchased for the remaining journey by designated eater Simon Minshall. #busbrisket
Our final destination of the tour was Florida, and landing in Orlando, we had the joy of a long delay as the car rental company had no 12-seater passenger vans available (which was strange since we had booked one). Some expert diplomacy from Pete Smith and Simon Cox resulted in not one but two vehicles: one for trumpets, one for low brass, and a definite improvement on what we’d been expecting. We drove to our accommodation in Kissimmee (via the inevitable burger/wings stop) – no shuffleboard, so table tennis had to take its place.
We were staying in two houses at the Emerald Island Resort, one generously lent to us by our trumpet-playing friends Mike Allen and Julie Ryan (thank you!), and the other just a few doors down, booked through airbnb. Being a stone’s throw away from Walt Disney World, each room in the trumpets’ house was themed on a different Disney film, and I lucked out with a childhood favourite, The Lion King. (Simon claimed to be less pleased with Minnie Mouse and unicorns, although I have my suspicions.)
The next day was finally the point of the tour which where we had a whole day off, even without any travel required. I believe the trombones were slightly more productive with their mornings than we were (except Simon’s visit to the gym), but we eventually all linked up at Universal’s Islands of Adventure , which we’d been reliably informed had the best rollercoaster rides in the area. I got a hard time for not having seen essentially any of the movies that the rides were all based on (to be fair I wasn’t born when Jurassic Park was released), but still managed to have an incredible time. Group consensus was that the Velocicoaster was the best ride of the park, with very close second going to Hagrid’s Motorbike adventure. We joined the queue for the latter with the sun still high in the sky outside, and after mazing around inside for 2.5 hours, were surprised to emerge into the dark for an brilliantly original rollercoaster experience.
The concert day in Florida started very relaxed with some time by the pool, a little food and a relatively short drive (for Septura) from Kissimmee to Indialantic, and St. Mark’s United Methodist Church (just a few minutes’ walk from the beach!)
The concert was such a nice end to the trip with another receptive and eager audience – many of them hadn’t been to a brass concert before, but left converted to the world of brass chamber music. Our last night involved some food, drink, and even dancing, but what goes on tour stays on tour…
Our last morning was again spent next to pool before a very important mini golf tournament with Minshall taking home the 1st prize, recovering in style from his spectacular 20-over-par 3rd hole the previous day. After lunch, we drove back to Orlando for our flight home. Some final souvenir shopping was done in the airport’s many Disney shops before boarding the plane for our 8-hour journey back to London. Landing in London at around 7:30am (which felt like 3:30am to us) wasn’t the most pleasant, and in our hazy, sleepy state we collected our suitcases and said our goodbyes before all heading our separate ways.
This was my first ever trip to America and quite honestly, I don’t think I could have asked for a better way of doing it! Thanks to all you guys for inviting me to play and for putting up with me for two weeks! Looking forward to the next one ✌🏾
The midpoint of our tour was our visit to NYC. This had much potential: we were performing in central Manhattan just down the road from Times Square, it was an early afternoon performance so we had some serious post show activities to plan, and we also had a free morning to explore or lounge about in our plush hotel.
Now about that hotel…
We pulled up at the Ramada Hotel, New Jersey to be greeted by the dopiest, most disorganised, check-in staff in a hotel that would be more fitting in a horror movie. This was the least of our issues. My room had clearly hosted an all night vigil to the weed gods, Si Minshall opened up his room to find someone already in it, and Knighty’s bathroom seemed to be locked from the inside. It was not a good start. We then headed into Manhattan for what (in my opinion) was one of the worst burgers I’ve ever eaten and served by dope-headed waiters – the legalisation of cannabis in NY appears to be at odds to their tipping culture. The only good thing that came from the meal is that James and Simon managed to secure refunds for the second night in Hotel Horror and instead book us into the Hilton Garden Inn just down from Central Park. It was game on.
Pete and I woke up bright and early to go into Manhattan and catch-up with friends, James was woken up by workmen, banging their way through the paper thin walls, but everyone else seemed to sleep fitfully. We met for a sound check in the Town Hall, a fantastic venue just down the road from Times Square and performed the Copland programme to a wonderfully full and receptive audience. Many of them hadn’t heard a brass chamber concert before, and it’s fair to say we confounded expectations with Appalachian Spring in particular, which requires all the finesse we can muster to bring to life. Spirits were high.
After checking in to our much-improved hotel, we headed up out for the obligatory visit to PJ Clarkes; an institution, a must visit every time we go to NYC (with these incredible, listed toilets). A little of the black stuff held off our pangs of hunger until our visit to Quality Meats, one of NYC’s celebrated steak restaurants. On the way we dived into a very nice cocktail bar, which required a small amount of remortgaging to experience, but the drinks were worth it; the Pisco Sour a particular highlight, this white beauty really getting us in the mood for the ensuing feast. The food at Quality Meats was exceptional, any mid-tour blues were blown away.
Games have been keenly embraced on this tour, and with that in mind we headed to Cellar Dog, NY’s famous Jazz and Games Bar. Pool, Table Tennis and Shuffleboard were all fiercely played, everyone’s competitiveness paling into insignificance as Matt Knight dictated, changed rules to suit him, and generally ruled with an obnoxious, iron fist.
The Stonewall Inn was our final stop of the night. An historic venue, the site of the 1969 riots which launched the gay rights movement. After a nightcap here it was definitely time to call it a night, and we headed off to our comfortable hotel. There was a twist in the tail however, as an early morning fire alarm roused us from our slumber. My gilet seemed to be the obvious attire in which to head down to the foyer, causing much amusement to the rest of the septet. I don’t really see what all the fuss was about.
We were flying to Texas later that day, but we still had time to enjoy Manhattan, some of the group choosing to cycle around Central Park, others heading off down to China Town for an absolutely fantastic lunch, followed by a moving visit to the 9/11 Memorial. All in all our visit to New York reminded us all how lucky we are to do this for a job, to tour and perform great music with such good friends.
So Texas was up next. Minshall was particularly excited; it was news to me that he holds a firearms licence!