USA 2020 Part 1 (by Matthew Gee)

It was two years since our last tour around the USA. The previous one – an epic ten day dash, many six hour drives, culminating in some remarkable, against-all-odds concerts – had left us with some great memories, but a little anxious as to what might be letting ourselves into this time. 

On paper it looked tough: three weeks, one day off, the biggest test of our stamina yet. The only time we could rehearse was on the morning of the flight, so we all braved rush hour laden with instruments, mutes and suitcases for a 9am start at a church near Gloucester Road. Pete unveiled his newly pimped tuba – a modification job gleaming in gold and sure to bring tuba aficionados flocking to Pete with questions throughout the tour.

I surprised everyone by announcing that I was going vegetarian for the month. ‘In America…no chance’, I hear. Peals of laughter, mocking and the general lack of support suggested that they were intent of breaking me. Well played them – trash talking me typically steadies my resolve, so their witty banter was actually doing me a favour. 

Huw making sure to keep his lips well hydrated with a gender-neutral lipstick on the plane

Happily the rest of the day went as you would expect. Ubers to London Heathrow, a quick Bloody Mary and then a nice quiet flight over to Atlanta. We obviously had to endure the usual palava when checking in Pete’s tuba, but that is just expected now. Upon arrival we picked up the first of our minibuses. Traditionally they don’t seem to fair too well in our hands, and sure enough a few miles into our journey to Clemson we lost part of the boot. A few hours later, tired and hungry, we arrived at our hotel. Some of us popped out for a slice of pizza and then all crashed for some much needed sleep.

The author sensibly catching up on some sleep before an action-packed few weeks
Picking up the 2020 battle bus at Atlanta airport

A few of the group woke in the night to colossal claps of thunder, and sure enough the morning brought with it phone alerts warning us of flooding and tornadoes in the area. Sure, it was raining quite hard, but we had all expirienced far worse during the British Summer! We went about our morning relaxing, exercising, catching-up with admin and chatting to family back home before heading down to the concert hall for our first concert. However, disaster was around the corner. Halfway through our rehearsal we were interrupted by some very glum faces. The gig was to be cancelled. The Brooks Center had been ordered to close because of the weather. We couldn’t believe it, it was a mere shower – I dread to think what a dusting of snow would do to the place. The group was upset. We had been looking forward to getting the tour started, and at the eleventh hour it had been snatched away from us. It was a shame for everyone, not least the expected seven-hundred strong audience, one of whom had flown in from Florida, and trumpet legend Phil Smith, who was planning to bring his entire trumpet class up from the University of Georgia. 

We hunkered down in the hotel after this warning arrived on our phones

So we did what any group would have done in these circumstances and retired to the safety of the pub. The promoter very kindly took us out for a meal which we washed down with some local beer, before popping across the road to a classic American bar, to assault our senses watching sport we don’t quite understand, playing pool and computer games. Simon surprised everyone (even himself) when his thin, feeble frame somehow managed to win most powerful punch on the boxing game. 

Simon’s winning punch
Dan had a slightly different approach

We got chatting to the uber driver on our way back to the hotel. He very proudly spoke of how back in the ‘70s he had played soccer for Chelsea. He moved to Leicester first – my hometown, ‘go on, tell us more’ – and was picked up by a scout having never played professionally. It was only right at the end of the conversation that he dropped in that it was just once… for the second team. 

The venue for our first 2020 performance

The next day dawned bright and sunny, and we departed the hotel around 8:30am to head for the Hartness Performing Arts Center where we were to perform a short forty-five minute concert to high school kids. We took the opportunity to give the other tour programme, ‘Borrowed Boroque’, an outing. Some of the audience from the previous night had heard about this short performance and managed to come along, so hopefully they have not left Clemsen too disappointed.

So the tour is up and running, Davidson in North Carolina is up next which, barring another force majeure, should see the first performance of our latest programme ‘One Equal Music’, which you can also catch in the Wigmore Hall on February 27.