On 1st July 2016 in the pouring rain, our two minibuses, ‘Party Bus’ and ‘Stealth Bus’ set off from Imperial College. Windscreen wipers on full pelt, it was a truly British start to the Great British Big Band Tour. Over the next 10 days we would travel through rain, shine and everything in between for a total of 2494 cumulative minibus miles, entertaining people across the country and revelling in British culture as we went!
Our first gig found us in Edinburgh. After a very early start (the kind of which does not sit well with many jazz musicians) we drove up from Newcastle with some stunning coastal views along the A1. We spent the morning exploring a very windy Edinburgh Castle, before heading to the Jazz Bar. Despite a modest audience, this was a great gig to kick tour off with. The crowd were enthusiastic and appreciative, and the tour band had a good chance to find its feet.
The day we hit Blackpool was probably my favourite day of tour. This was actually the day I had dreaded the most, it being so heavily weather dependent. Learning to control the weather took my organisational, logistical and scientific skills to a new level, but boy was it worth it! We stopped off for lunch in the gorgeous Williamson Park – beautiful gardens and space for Frisbee in the sunshine, not to mention the perfect picnic with all the trimmings! Our second gig of tour took us to our second park of the day. The bandstand in Stanley Park is set amongst grassy gardens, beside a boating lake. It was the perfect venue, and the gig went down a treat with the locals, young and old. Still buzzing, we headed to the beach. Unphased by the early evening breeze, two intrepid tour-goers even donned their swimwear, though the chilly Blackpool waters quickly saw them back on dry land.
Sheffield and Manchester saw us playing two more successful gigs! The Big Swing at Cubana bar, Sheffield, was a brilliant night – it’s always great to have people dancing along and really loving the music you’re playing! The final gig of tour was at the Zombie Shack in Manchester; a cool little venue for an intimate gig. Many thanks to Adam whose swathes of relatives made up the majority of the audience!
At this point, I decided the tour-goers needed a real taste of raw British countryside. With that in mind, we set off for Imperial’s Snowdon hut. A break from the urban settings of previous nights, we took a stroll around the wonderful Welsh countryside, finding much amusement in our ovine neighbours. Evening highlights included a tour quiz, and a bonfire under the stars. Whilst most of us left Snowdonia refreshed, unfortunately Miguel was left with limited sanity after the experience – it’s scary what lack of phone signal can do to a man!
The next day had a slow, bacon, sausage and baked bean-filled start. The only plan for the day was tour dinner, which would mark the end to a hugely successful tour! I was ready to breathe a sigh of relief at the trip going without a single mishap, but alas. On route to Birmingham, Party Bus’ party came to an abrupt halt with a flat tyre. Thanks to the RAC we restarted the party and were back on the road within the hour, arriving at the Old Joint Stock just in time for dinner! Tour speeches and awards were accompanied by much fun and laughter, before heading out on the town…
Many of us feeling a little worse for wear, the following morning we set out on what was undoubtedly the best course of action. A trip to Cadbury World! The big kid in all of us was brought out, with the cocoa bean ride a particular highlight, especially for Pat.
So what did we learn from the GBBBT? Well we learnt that Rob has a caravan on Mersey Island (ladies, control yourselves), Julian should find himself some longer swimming trunks, there is no limit on how many times you can have fish and chips in a week, and finally, we learnt that friendships forged in IC Big Band are not just any friendships. Whether or not you’re In The Mood, When You’re Smiling or when you just feel like Moanin’, these are friendships that’ll last, Against All Odds.
A couple of months later, and the post-tour blues have well and truly set in. After so many months of intense planning, it’s strange to talk about tour in the past tense. It’s strange too, to think that some of us have now left Imperial as new IC Big Band alumni. But no one really ‘leaves’ IC Big Band; we may have left the band, but we haven’t left the family.
Published on behalf of Issie Barrett, mother big band, and now alumnus.