Category Archives: Travelling around

Lapping it up – Honeymooning in Finnish Lapland

More wedding blog posts to come. I’m more than a little busy…

Ricky and I don’t really do holidays. Other than grabbing the odd weekend away here and there, jaunts to Toronto to see my sister, or the now-legendary Sunday Driver trip to India for Joel and Chandy’s wedding six years ago, we have neither the time nor the cash for big holidays abroad. In fact, we worked out that our single week of honeymoon in Lapland was the longest we had spent on our own together since we first met.

Lapland signpost


Anyway. Enough whingeing. We had an amazing time in Saariselka, a tiny village in northern Finnish Lapland, which we booked through Inghams. Despite the chilly temperatures – though apparently the -15C nip in the air was “warm for this time of year”, according to the locals – our little log cabin was toasty warm, and we were snug outside in our snowsuits and thermal boots. Only having around 4 hours of daylight was a bit weird though, and really messed about with our body-clocks.

We did downhill skiing, dog-sledding and cross-country skiing (which resulted in me getting a rather painful groin strain – not what you want to pick up on honeymoon…) and spent a lot of time just mooching about in the beautiful snowy landscape.


Cross-country skiing through the forest - groin strain optional

Lapland Landscape

Beautiful, peaceful, perfect snowscape.

Revere and Toumani Diabate tour diary: The last night – Brighton

It was with heavy hearts that we headed down the motorway to Brighton for the last night of the tour, and the sense that something wonderful was coming to an end hung tangibly between us all.

However, this was slightly alleviated by the BEST LOAD-IN EVER. It may seem trivial to you, but after two decades of gigging  it was an absolute dream to be able to park right opposite the stage door and trundle the harp a few feet to the back of the stage. I even took a photo for posterity:

Outside Brighton Corn Exchange

The venue was amazing too – we were playing in the Corn Exchange – part of the venue complex by the Pavilion:

Brighton Dome

Team photo!

Team photo!

Kath checks out the dressing room:

Our dressing room in Brighton

And I check out the rider – they had Montezuma dark chocolate buttons!!

Best rider yet

We went to an amazing toastie shop in the South Lanes for a late lunch:

Stephen, Ryan and Kath waiting for toasties

Awesome hot chocolate!

Hot chocolate!

Unfortunately Stephen came a cropper right before we went on stage, falling down a carelessly opened hatch backstage in the dark and badly grazing and bruising his leg.

Stephen comes a cropper

Like the true professional he is, he carried on regardless and we played really well. Toumani joined us for our last song – the Be Mankan/Love Will Tear Us Apart medley, and our harp/kora duet was probably the best of the tour.

Revere on stage in Brighton

Yet again, Toumani played a corking set:

Toumani Diabate onstage in Brighton

As an encore he was joined on stage by another kora player – Baboucar Konte – and a fantastic singer (who also plays kora), Jali Fily Cissokho. The two harps blended seamlessly together, and the singer’s voice was magical:

Toumani Diabate and his guests

Here’s some Youtube footage of their performance (It’s a bit shakey, mind):

But that wasn’t enough for the last night, so as a final encore Toumani was joined by Stephen for a performance of “their” song:

Toumani Diabate and Stephen in Brighton

And then it was over. All that remained was to head backstage for some sad goodbyes (though we hope they’re more ‘au revoir’ than farewell forever) and take a few photos for posterity:

Revere and Toumani Diabate with his band

Here’s me and the main man: Toumani Diabate – kora maestro and one of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever had the privilege to meet and perform with. And he was *lovely*:

Me and Toumani

Revere and Toumani Diabate tour diary – Union Chapel, London

This was the big one – a sold-out gig in our home town and the penultimate night of the tour.  It’s a fantastic venue that I’ve played in several times before, and it was spinetingling to hear Toumani’s kora echoing round the vaulted ceiling as he and his band did their soundcheck:

Toumani soundchecking at the Union Chapel

Our dressing room was a bit pokey, to be honest:

Backstage at the Union Chapel

I found somewhere handy to keep my backstage pass:

Boob pass!

The band set up the mobile CD pressing plant and got cracking with churning out some CDs as we’d nearly sold out of all the stock we brought on the tour:

The mobile CD pressing plant

Ben Eshmade from Arctic Circle turned up to do an interview with Stephen and Ellie – this picture captures Stephen mid-transition into an acoustic rock god:

Stephen and Ben Eshmade

We played an absolute blinder, and Toumani joined us again onstage for our medley of Be Mankan/Love Will Tear Us Apart, which went down a storm:

Revere onstage at the Union Chapel

As usual, Toumani and his band played a great set:

Toumani Diabate onstage at Union Chapel

And again, Stephen joined Toumani onstage for his encore:

Stephen and Toumani onstage at the Union Chapel

They are totally BFFs now:

Stephen and Toumani

Afterwards we all went out for a celebratory curry in Kentish Town at the Bengal Lancer – it was yummy 🙂

Celebratory curry

The only downside was that it was a pretty late night, yet again, and we had to be up early for a Very Important Day on Saturday…

Revere and Toumani Diabate tour diary – Southampton

It was a long and drizzly drive from Liverpool to Southampton for the next leg of our tour, and we were all feeling pretty tired. Arriving in Southampton didn’t do much to lift our mood as we drove aimlessly round the university campus in search of the Turner Sims concert hall.

We found it in the end, after some Fargo-esque banter with a local:


Ellie and Kath wait under the posters of Toumani:


When we eventually got to the venue things got worse, as they hadn’t got the right backline for Toumani’s band, we didn’t have a proper dressing room, the staff were less than helpful, and our soundcheck was dogged by technical problems.

The look on Ellie’s face here pretty much sums up our attitude to the soundcheck:


As a result, we were a bit more apprehensive about the gig than usual.


Luckily it went really well, although my onstage monitor was crackling the entire way through, which was very off-putting. Still, Toumani’s set was amazing, and Stephen joined him onstage for another performance of the song they’re been writing together this week:


We retired to the dressing room afterwards to listen to Chris’ diatribe about the state of European politics. Ellie and Kath were clearly fascinated:


Then it was time to get back in the van and haul ass to London to sleep in our own beds at last in preparation for the next gig – one of the highest-profile nights of the tour at a sold-out Union Chapel in Islington. Eeeek!

Revere and Toumani Diabate tour diary – Manchester

I’ve lost count of what day we’re on with this tour, on account of spending three days at the NCRI Cancer Conference while the rest of the band – including my harp – went up to Edinburgh and Kendal without me.

I picked up the tour again in Manchester, playing in the Concert Hall at the Royal Northern College of Music:

In case we forgot

Here’s all our stuff, including the harp safely back from her solo adventures. Thanks to stand-in harpist Camilla Pay for looking after her and playing her beautifully, by all accounts:

Our stuff!

Toumani came on stage to join us for the end of our set – we did his song Be Mankan and an amazing acoustic cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. And he and Steve wrote a song together which they did as Toumani’s encore – here they are soundchecking:

Toumani and Steve soundchecking

We had a huge backstage room!

Backstage at RNCM

Here we are live on stage:

Revere live on stage at RNCM

The venue didn’t provide any food, but we managed to track down a phenomenally greasy pizza and some wine after the gig:

Post-gig nutrition - yummy, but not healthy

And then we headed back to Stephen’s parents’ place in Liverpool to stay the night and play with their little dog Penny:

More puppy love!

Next stop Southampton!

Revere and Toumani tour diary day 3 – Leeds

Our next destination was Leeds – city of goths and gorgeous Yorkshire accents.

The gig was in the Howard Assembly rooms – a smaller venue than the previous two nights. We were dogged by problems in our soundcheck, which made us feel very apprehensive about the gig. Toumani and his band also had a few problems with the sound, and ended up borrowing cellist Kath’s DI box.

Toumani soundchecking in Leeds

But then our nerves were forgotten when Stephen and Kath ended up in Toumani’s dressing room jamming with him! It was such a privilege to watch them playing together, and we’re now working on a very special mashup to play at our gig in Manchester on Wednesday. If you look carfeully in the pics below, you may be able to see that Stephen nearly wet his pants with excitement…

Jamming backstage with Toumani 3

Jamming backstage with Toumani 1

Despite the dodgy sound and our nerves, our gig went well – check out the relieved faces!

Revere backstage in Leeds

We snuck in through the Grand Theatre to watch the end of Toumani’s set:

Kath and Steve outside the Leeds Grand Theatre

Yet again, he and his band were incredible. Watch this space for a sneaky video of his encore, as soon as I’m somewhere with decent internet access!

Toumani in Leeds

After another night in a Travelodge (we went for the super-budget option of all sleeping in one room), Kath, Ellie and Stephen got in the van and headed to Edinburgh with my harp but without me. I trekked off to Liverpool to spend three days at the NCRI Cancer Conference with my work hat on, but felt absolutely gutted not to be going with them. Meh.

I’m blogging from the conference and producing audio and video coverage on behalf of Cancer Research UK and the NCRI.  Although it’s nowhere nearly as much fun as being on tour, our Science Update blog has been nominated for a Pfizer Excellence in Oncology award so I’m looking forward to the awards ceremony on Tuesday night. Fingers crossed!

NCRI banner

I'm now at the NCRI Cancer Conference. It's nowhere as cool as being on tour

Revere and Toumani tour diary Day 2 – Birmingham

After a cracking breakfast, courtesy of Steve’s mum, we headed back down the motorway to Birmingham, and an even bigger venue – the Town Hall.  We had a lovely backstage room, complete with goodie bags on the rider!

Birmingham rider!

I kept myself busy knitting a pair of stripey socks, made from some beautiful handpainted Misti Alpaca (the colour is called Reggaeton, for all you music fans out there!):

tour sock number 1

I was impressed by the technical wizardry in the Town Hall – the monitor mix engineer did everything with an iPad, which was brilliant, as he could just wander round stage and talk to us, rather than shouting across the stage. Here he is in action with Toumani Diabate and his band during their soundcheck:

Toumani soundchecking in Birmingham 2

It was a big gig for us – there were around 1,200 people in the audience, but we played really well and it was a fantastic venue. Here are our instruments on stage, waiting for us to bring them to life:

Our stuff onstage in Birmingham Town Hall

Afterwards, we headed off to our luxury accommodation (aka Travelodge) somewhere in the wilds of Derbyshire. next stop – Leeds!

Revere &Toumani tour diary – Day 1, Liverpool

The Revere tour, supporting Toumani Diabate around the UK, started on Thursday with me sitting for an hour on the stairs like an over-excited 5-year-old, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the rest of the band.

Once we’d unpacked and repacked the van in the pissing rain, we set off for Liverpool. The venue for our first gig, St George’s Hall, was more than a little imposing:

St Georges Hall, Liverpool

We escaped backstage to our huge dressing room to chill out/panic (delete as applicable):

Revere on tour

I snuck out to watch Toumani Diabate and his band soundchecking:

Toumani soundchecking - Liverpool

It was a fantastic venue to kick off our tour, with an amazing chandelier:

Shiny! The chandelier in St Georges Hall

Our gig went brilliantly well, especially considering it was the first time we’d performed our acoustic set. I was nervous as hell as I was doing the set from memory for the first time too, but the audience reception was wonderful. Kath and Ellie from the band were suitable relieved afterwards:

Ellie and Kath breathe a sigh of relief after our first gig

Booking agent Charlie and manager Chris were also pleased with our performance:

Booking agent Charlie looking imposing

Manager Chris, online as usual

We also got to hear Toumani’s set, and it was incredible. I love the sound of the kora, and his playing is superb.

Toumani on stage in Liverpool

Overall – a great start. We headed back to Steve’s parents’ house on the Wirral for a late-night snack and some puppy love:

Enjoying a midnight snack at Steve's parents' house

Doggy!! Kath and Penny the dog

Next stop, Birmingham!

I’m going on tour! With Revere, supporting Toumani Diabate


Toumani Diabate in action

It started innocently enough with a tweet from Stephen, lead singer with the brilliant acoustic pop/indie band Revere. Regular readers may remember that the Shadow Orchestra played with them at the Tabernacle almost exactly a year ago, and a jolly good time we had too.

He asked if I liked the famous Malian kora player Toumani Diabate – the kora is a rather bizarre harp-like instrument. I love Toumani, and his album In The Heart of The Moon with Ali Farka Toure is on heavy rotation on my CD player.

Next thing I know, I’m being invited to join Revere on tour around the UK, supporting Toumani! EeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeee!!

We’ve been rehearsing hard for several weeks and our set sounds fantastic, so I’m really looking forward to getting out on the road. We head off on Thursday (that’s tomorrow – argh):

  • 3rd November – St George’s Hall, Liverpool
  • 4th November – Birmingham Town Hall
  • 5th November – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
  • 7th November – Usher Hall, Edinburgh (I’m not playing this one, I have to go to a conference for work)
  • 8th November – Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal (not doing this one either)
  • 9th November – Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (I’m back for this one!)
  • 10th November – Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton
  • 11th November – Union Chapel, London (sold out)
  • 13th November -Brighton Corn Exchange

I’ll try and blog from the tour, so watch this space.

Inselsommer 2011: Cowpats, corsets and culture in the Rhein Valley

A week or so ago, Sunday Driver packed our bags and headed off to Ludwigshafen on the Rhein for the last ever Inselsommer  festival.

We went there two years ago, and were thrilled to be invited back for what was billed as the “best of the best” from the past 10 years – huge thanks to Eleonore Hefner for inviting us and sorting everything out. I’ve already posted links to some pictures from the gig – it was brilliant!


While the rest of the band went by Ryanair to Frankfurt Hahn – the German equivalent of “London” Stansted, Amit and I took the posh route to Deutschland and flew from City airport to Frankfurt and hopped on a train to Mannheim. Very civilised.


There may have been a few beers involved…



Ludwigshafen is a charming little town…


…which featured a lady making cowpats as an art statement (as far as I could tell, from my poor translation of the leaflets she was giving out):


Cowpats aside, I highly recommend the home-made lemonade in the Koenig’s Cafe:


All dressed up and ready to play a gig:



Looking good, girlfriend:


Guten abend, Ludwigshafen!


We played a blinder. There may have been more beers afterwards…


After our gig, we were treated to a fantastic set by a band called (I believe) Ziegauner. from southern Germany. They played great funk/ska type stuff, and we were right down the front dancing our socks off:


As well as the music side of it, Inselsommer is a festival that celebrates all aspects of culture. There were some lovely artworks on site which gave the whole proceedings a really magical feeling – here are just a few of them:



I love this picture: