Working on music through the pandemic was a time to bring friends together.
While working on Take it Easy with Croydon Tourist Office, a large collection of music was pulled together for consideration. We opened up the collection to some of our musician and spoken word friends to see what inspired. As things came together, it became more apparent that these collaborations deserved their own collection.
As we pulled everything together, it became clear that this was an opportunity to share with the world some proto-Croydon Tourist Office recordings.
As far back as 1997, Bryce was working with performance poet Mike McGee in a series of bands and recording projects. While most of these recordings stopped in 2003 when Bryce moved to the UK, they would collaborate from time to time, and Lullaby was one of these sessions, the words of which were recorded the day after Mike performed at Glastonbury’s Poetry & Words stage.
Wanting to bring words and music back together when he moved to Devon, Bryce worked with performance poet Chris Brooks on some collaborations as well as putting on some spoken word shows.
Through these spoken words shows and the wider UK spoken word community, Bryce called out for collaborators to add words to some of his music. While Epicentre Book Café had recently opened its doors, some collaborations began to happen, most notably with Helen Johnson, organiser of the Glastonbury festival’s Poetry & Words.
Over the years, Bryce and Robert have hosted and shared stages with a number of spoken word performers and Bryce recorded a number of musicians. This collection is just a small sampling of the truly talented people they have worked with over the years.
The collection will start appearing on streaming sites over the next week or so, but for now you can find it on the Bandcamp page.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of the first session that yielding recordings for both volumes of Epicentre Nights, we have found ourselves going in two directions. One is looking at the past while the other is looking at the future, but both seem to be fairly introspective.
They say that if you want something done, you should speak to a busy person, and busy is what we are these days. Max and Bryce as still listening to old records, Robert is working on preparing his new show, John has been busy with work, Max has been doing university courses, Bryce has also been busy with studies and designing learning courses, Robert has also been busy with work and doing international Zoom poetry shows. But amongst all these, we’re finding little nuggets in our a archives and making new things happen.
Long ago, Bryce has hosting performance gigs that featuring musicians, spoken words artists, performance artists, comedians, and more. As a natural evolution from the spoken-word oriented bands he has been involved in back in California, as owing to his love of John S Hall and King Missile, Bryce proposed a new music and spoken word collaborative project as far back as 2006. And over the years, some things did get recorded, but largely shelved, waiting for a time and an outlet when they could see the light of day.
There is a compulsion to create that lives within every artist. People who aren’t creative never really understand this. An idea, a thought, a scheme forms in our minds, and we need to let it out and see where it goes. This could be a story or a song, a painting or sculpture, a t-shirt design or a wordless poem featuring inanimate objects and a play on the concept of ‘static.’ Whatever it might be, it needs to come out, it has to come out, and only a fellow artist will understand this need, the way an artist will watch something on TV differently from a non-artist, appreciating the work that goes into everything behind the scenes.
A folder on a backup hard drive began at some point: ‘Bryce’s Lost Years,’ it is called. It’s a collection of many hours’ worth of music that was created at a times where Bryce had sudden needs to record the music that formed in his head, but little or no outlet to see it off into the world. It was a time of waiting for other collaborators to come along because like many artists, Bryce has that imposter syndrome that makes him feel like the things that he writes aren’t finished unless collaborated on and approved by other artists. It was a time when the people in Bryce’s life were not creative people; people who didn’t understand the compulsion to create; people who were, though maybe not by intention, roadblocks to the creative process and its outlet.
But Bryce also doesn’t believe in throwing anything away. If it was made out of this need to create, then there must be something within it that is worth saying and showing to the world, even if we don’t know what that is yet. So all of those songs that needed to be recorded in the dead of night when everyone was asleep, whispered into microphones, or recorded with other musicians in sheds or disused sports halls or flat entryways, or composed in MIDI on a sunny Sunday morning and allowed to loop and generate, Brian Eno style, on ancient and struggling computers, they were all saved in the dark recessing of USB hard drives, waiting for the time when other creative types would hear them.
Bryce made various attempts to get things started, sending music out to other musicians and writers and poets, asking if they saw something worth pursuing and if they wanted to contribute. Some of these things got recorded, and the ones that did found their way into the Lost Years Archive. Some others, film scores from films that were never completed or full band recordings that could never be played live, have recently found their way to other performers for collaboration, and all of them have found their way into a new folder, titled Friends of Croydon Tourist Office.
We’re still adding bits and putting some finishing touches on the recordings, but we have contributions from the likes of Jason Disley, Mike McGee, Helen Johnson, Chris Brooks, and many more and we’ve gotten close enough that we can now share with you the mock up of the cover art (which may still evolve, as this is the way of the creative process).
Partly from the archives and partly from some new recordings, we also have another collection in the works, with the provisional title Croydon Tourist Office is Electric. Stemming from the electropop stylings on our single Fabulous, we have a collection of music that’s in a more electronic format. In the works for this one is an epic, multi-genre song that has been in the works since about 2015 called Sleep Deprivation. But much like Friends of Croydon Tourist Office, Is Electric is still a work in progress, and the 18 minute long beast that is Sleep Deprivation needs more tending to.
So, that’s what we’ve been up to and where we are going. What have you been up to?
Hello to our friends out there.
You might want to have a look at this interview our very own Max did with Dead Chupacabra about where inspiration for his music comes from, some ideas of current music to listen to, why not taking yourself too seriously is a good thing, and a little discussion about Croydon Tourist Office.
For many years, our recording archivist (who sometimes writes in third person) Bryce has been bringing musicians together and recording what happens. Since at least 1992, Bryce has operated on the theory that everything should be recorded. And because of this, there are multiple hard drives containing little heard music, cloud storage filled with shared recordings, and somewhere in his mother’s garage, there’s a box of cassette tapes of some of the very earliest recordings.
The idea has always been that if something is played in a rehearsal or a jam session, but not recorded, it might be forgotten. But if it’s recorded, it can be revived, rewritten, rearranged, and renewed. And it was with this spirit that Croydon Tourist Office was born, nearly 10 years ago, but the recordings of this nature go back so much further.
All of that changed in 2020 when we felt the need to be musically creative, but didn’t have the ability to work how we normally do: all in the same room, surrounded by microphones, tripping over cables, capturing what the spontaneity provided in that moment.
As mentioned in previous blogs, we’re still working on new music, pretty much through the file-sharing method that we’ve been doing lately, but that hasn’t stopped us from considering what we can create when we are able to be back together again.
We have been kicking around ideas for a collaborative record, tentatively called Friends (and Enemies) of Croydon Tourist Office. We have some completed songs for this collection already, featuring either guest musicians or guest spoken word artists, some of the sessions even going back before the Epicentre days. This collection has made us think about what it will be like when we can all be together and maybe even have more musicians around us.
So maybe you’re here, reading this, and thinking, ‘Hey! I’m a musician! Or wordy person! Or noise maker! I could fit in with this!’ Maybe you could fit in with these plans, and we never knew it. If you’ve heard any of the music on Epicentre Nights, Vol 1 or Vol 2 and thought that’s a format you could work in, maybe you should get in touch.
Maybe your someone we haven’t even met in person yet. Maybe you found us by randomly listening to music on your streaming service of choice, or maybe you found us through the Twitter event #CreativeDevon, or maybe you know Bryce, or Robert, or John, or Max. However you found us, or we found you, if you haven’t told us that you are a creative person who might be interested in taking part some day, now is your chance!
There are an astounding number of ways you can get in contact with you. You can comment on this blog itself (do people even do that? why not?), you could message us through the Contact page on this website, or you could comment on the social media post that you found this on in either Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or MySpace. And yes, MySpace still exists. And with so many people getting frustrated with the big social giants, isn’t it time to come back home?
Anyway, there will be a time where we can fill a space with instruments, people, microphones, and creativity. Don’t you want to be there when the time comes?
Hello everyone. This is Bryce here, writing from home. Obviously.
In the UK, it’s now Lockdown 3.0 and who knows when it will end. There are Covid vaccines and people hoping that life will go back to normal, but I just read this morning that vaccinated people can likely still carry and spread the virus, so who knows.
2020 was a busy year for Croydon Tourist Office and in a sense we have Lockdown 1.0 to thank for that. Before lockdown happened, I started working from home. My little home office set up in a spare bedroom which also happens to store my music and recording equipment. There were moments when I was working on designing a training package or doing some admin where I was able to put some music on. Fairly early on, I plugged in a hard drive had contained all of the Croydon Tourist Office unfinished recordings we had since 2011 and I wondered, ‘Why haven’t we finished these?’
But the revisit to Croydon Tourist Office started a bit differently. It started with a question on how do we write together in the normal way that we would, if we’re all in different places. That day, Max sent me a recording that he did on a guitar that only had two-strings and I quickly added a keyboard part. It sounded like something that would fit in a David Lynch film. Robert added some words to it, and suddenly we had our first lockdown song: Eugene.
We discussed opening the project up to anyone else who was feeling like they were stuck at home and wanted to be creative. A few people did send us some bits of audio, but very little of that was ready in time for the release of Take it Easy with Croydon Tourist Office, but will likely come together for a release or collaborative work we have done.
We continued to clean up and release work from the archives, particularly with Epicentre Nights Vol 2, but we also wondered what 2021 would have in store for us. We talked about what we would do the first time we could all be in the same location again, we talked about imposing limitations on ourselves (such as recording everything to only 4 tracks, because if the Beatles could do it….), but at this stage, we don’t know when that will be.
In October, a friend of mine needed more space at home for their thriving chilli growing and needed to clear out some old records they used for arts workshops. I quickly messaged them and said I would be happy to give the records a home, so in addition to listening to music from our personal archives, I found myself immersed in a forgotten collection of music. This made me reminisce on my days back in California when I would go digging through records for odd sounds I could incorporate into the things I was making. I still have a large box of records at my mom’s house in California (the photo on the right), but now I had a much bigger collection of vinyl in my house (the photo on the left)!
The records are very similar to some of the things I have in California: obscure records from around the world, odd spoken word records, a few jazzy things. My love of this sort of thing definitely came from my Grandfather who had a habit of collecting records from places that he visited. What better way to know the world (especially when you can’t currently travel) than by listening to its music?
I’ve been digitising and uploading the cleaned up record to a shared drive that we use, so we can all listen to the collection. It’s astounding how so many records that take up so much space can be shrunk to fit onto a USB drive that can fit in your pocket.
In April, we started streaming our music on various online providers and it has been interesting to see where our music is being listened to and what songs get played most. While most of our listeners are in the UK and the USA (which doesn’t surprise us), it’s fun to see people in Canada, Australia, Germany, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Mexico and a few other countries listening as well. By far, the most popular song is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, with Fabulous in second place.
Possibly the most odd thing that 2020 has brought to us is the number of visitors to our website from China. We haven’t had anyone in China stream out music, but nearly 40% of the visitors to this website were people in China who found the website on a search engine. I’m a bit worried that these people are planning to visit Croydon and are looking for something to do whilst there. If that is the case, we are truly sorry for the confusion, but simultaneously hoping that they discover the music.
We are still working on new things (and even discussing what a Croydon Tourist Office movie might be like) and the eventual sound of the next album might be influenced by some of these records we’ve been listening to. While Take it Easy fluctuated between pastoral and electronic menace (which we felt was the sound of 2020), the music that seems to be coming together now is a lot more bouncy and bright. We’ve never given ourselves any restrictions to what our sound would be like, so here’s to 2021! Let’s see what it brings and how soon it takes before life goes back to some sense of normal.
But then, what is normal?
Do you use Bandcamp?
If the answer is yes, why not give us a follow? We put our music on our Bandcamp page before it appears on the various streaming sites, and if you follow us, you’ll get notified of when there’s a new release. Those that do may have noticed we were a bit sneaky last month, and released a second album of Epicentre Book Cafe recordings without making a big fuss about it.
We also have an exclusive Bandcamp offer at the moment! We are offering a 25% discount on our entire released discography. That means you can have all 50 songs we’ve officially released so far for only £17.25!
If you are a band or musician who has music up on Bandcamp, let us know! We’d love to follow you as well.
Oh, by the way: Santa Fell Down Sizewell B has been officially released today, so you can now have a listen to that ditty as well!
There is one constant every Holiday Season: Inescapable, upbeat Christmas tunes. Famous musicians, from Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby to Mariah Carey and Slade, have all tried their hands at writing Christmas songs. And why not, it’s a lucrative market. It’s been reported that Mariah Carey earns royalties every year of around half a million dollars just from All I Want for Christmas is You.
Christmas is big in America, but the concept of the Christmas Number One single has been a source of great interest for Bryce. He didn’t come to the UK until 2003, the year that Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ cover of the Tears for Fears song Mad World top the charts on the week of Christmas. The British music buy public had grown tired of the cynical attempt to cash in on the Christmas singles market by the likes of TV show Pop Idol, and in the wake of the invasion of Iraq a song recorded for the Donnie Darko soundtrack just seemed to fit.
In December 2016, Robert sent Bryce a poem that he had a little tune for. Without any instruments to hand, Bryce made a quick arrangement on iPad and sent to back to the rest of the band for consideration. John recorded a guitar part and everyone started throwing around a flurry of ideas, but the song didn’t get finished in time for Christmas 2016. But it did push Bryce into purchasing a Bad Christmas Jumper purely for the sleigh bells attached so he could add that icon sound to the song.
Four years went by and each year, Croydon Tourist Office revisited the song, adding something new here, tweaked something old there, but it was never finished in time for the Christmas release.
Until this year!
That’s right, after four years of tinkering with the song, Croydon Tourist Office will release their first Christmas single. Will it be a Number One? Time will tell.
So, stay turned for a different sort of Christmas song.
It’s been three months to the day since Take it Easy with Croydon Tourist Office came out. Time moves quite oddly these days.
We had a few bits and pieces left over that wouldn’t fit on the album, but felt like good friends with the song Fabulous. Our idea all along had been to put together a video for the song and then release an EP of mostly electronic-tinged songs, but finding the right material for the video proved to be a bit tricky.
Until recently that is, when Bryce remembered some video footage from 2012 which, considering the theme of the song being a look back at a time when one was younger, seemed to fit the song rather well. It was very much our surprise to find that Robert’s dance was in time to the song!
So, as we enter the autumn of 2020, Covid-19 cases are on the rise, the American president is rushed to hospital, and the world hasn’t quite recovered from its madness, what better time to release upon the world the music video for Fabulous as well as the EP which you can download?
As with all of our releases, the EP is now available from our Bandcamp page for streaming or purchase (only £2.50) and will soon be available on all of the various streaming sites you can possibly imagine (and some that you can’t).
For now, please enjoy the official video for the song itself:
Life has a funny way of getting away from you sometimes. When you feel like you’ve got everything figured out, sometimes the floor drops out from under you and you discover how much you still need to learn. To quote one of John’s songs from his band Future Ghosts: ‘An adult is just a bigger child.’
In 2013, Epicentre, the place where Croydon Tourist Office was born, closed down and Bryce had one of those moments. Figuring out his next move was more important than the next Croydon Tourist Office session. Things quickly came together over the next few months, but everyone started getting busy in different ways: Robert was touring his poetry more, Max was focusing on recording some of his solo projects, and John’s workplace was in a state of uncertainty. It seemed like for all of us, the time to bring Croydon Tourist Office back together was a little way off.
In early 2014, we were invited to open for Manchester poet Tony Walsh in Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre. We got together, we chose which of our songs we were to perform, we rehearsed (unusual for us) and we did a 15 minute set, which Tony described as ‘What it must have been like to witness the early days of Velvet Underground.’ Of course, we took that as a compliment!
We played four songs that night: The Other Song, Croydon Tourist Office, Book Johnson, and Post Office Mice. Two songs from Epicentre Nights, and two songs we hadn’t even recorded yet, but which we had written live at a previous gig. We talked about how we needed to fix that.
Bryce moved to Exeter and life became a little bit more stable, but getting together was not as regular as it once was. And so, we sent each other demos of what we had been working on. Max and John had recorded some ambient things, Robert had written the vocal melody for a dance track and Bryce picked up his bass and started writing things that were only bass and drums, with the hopes of the others adding in the rest of the instruments.
Little did we know that this file-sharing approach would be so important during the days of lockdown.
On 18 March 2014, John sent Bryce a demo of a song called Punch it in Our Hearts. A pretty odd title with even stranger words in the lyrics. His email was accompanied by the warning ‘Sorry about my vocal. I think I’m coming down with a cold.’
It turned out that the words had largely come together from Max playing around with an artificial intelligence-like auto-word-generator. He sent the words to John, John added the music and made a quick demo.
A couple of years went by. Bryce got a new job and quickly worked his way into the learning department, designing and delivering training material, Robert continued to tour, John’s job seemed to be more stable, and Max was still working on various things and playing with noise generating toys.
Sometimes busy people take on more stuff when they are busy, and that’s exactly what happened. In the spring of 2016, Bryce was heading out to a business trip to London and he brought with him a load of recordings that were being considered for potential CTO tracks.
Thinking about how Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch had come together from a rebuilding of a rough demo, we thought we would do the same with Punch it in Our Hearts. Only, there was something in John’s vocal, especially the scream at the end, that couldn’t be recreated. So Bryce went about correcting some of the timings in the original demo and working out a tempo map for the song.
Late one night in a dingy hotel in Bloomsbury, Bryce took a cajon track from a song that was recorded at Epicentre, cut it up, and made it be the drums to the song. The following morning, the bass line came to him, but rather than play it on a bass, he plays it on the lower keys on a piano, to give it extra punch.
John and Max then took the track and added some electric guitars. After some EQ treatments to the original vocal and guitar demo, things seemed to be sitting well together.
With the training that Bryce was doing mostly being in the evenings, he spent the days before going into work adding bits to the song, including some vocal parts. It really seemed like the chorus needed to be a sing-along, so Max and Bryce added some layers there. The middle-8 seemed too empty, so an organ was added. A mellotron was added to the end where things build, which went along with Bryce’s little three-part choir and Max’s random phrases.
We all agreed that it needed something bigger for the ending, so in October 2016, we called upon our friend Richard Nicholson for a couple of intertwining guitar solos for the end of the track, nicely engineered by Felix, Bryce’s son, who set up the microphone placement and set the levels.
After a lot of mixing and the death of two computers in the process, we finally got a mix that we liked, but something was still missing.
Somewhere along the way, we decided that what we were putting together was an EP which would come out before the second album, since we had a number of tracks for that on the go as well. All we needed to do to finish it off was have one more session where we were all together.
So, we arranged a morning to meet up at Max’s flat. We would bring along our usual recording equipment and anything else that we felt might come in handy. John showed off his new guitar that was made from an old Cricket bat. Max showed us some of his new noise making toys.
We had Robert record vocals to the new version of the song Croydon Tourist Office, which had as much of an improv-feel as we could make it with Bryce’s bass and drums recorded in one session and Max and John’s guitars recorded in another session. Max and John added guitars to The Shoes while Robert just said ‘shoes’ every time Bryce said the word. John sat on one side of the floor, and Robert on the other, each with a microphone, as they had a conversation about the nutritional values on some food wrappers they had found, which was recorded over the song Kerchunk. which had started life as a demo of Bryce’s distorted sampler in the late 90s with Max’s guitar added in much later.
Max would record distorted vocals though one of his toys over the track Rock!!! which itself was a short drum recording that was processed through a distorted synth. Post Office Mice was recorded entirely live, to try to capture the feel of when it was first made up on stage.
The only thing left was to figure out what Robert’s part on Punch it in Our Hearts might be. He turned out to be what was missing. His falsetto vocals added to the big chorus sound and the fact that he tried to sing another round of the chorus after the song had ended just made for a perfect little ending.
All of this would make up the EP Physical Trauma to Wash Your Waffles, which was the line in the middle-8 that John refused to sing on Punch it in Our Hearts.
If anything, what the recording of all these tracks told us is that its best to not force things. The right inspiration for a track will come around at the right time, even if it means that the recording process for a single song takes place over the course of two or three years.
So that’s our message for today: Let inspiration come when it wants to, but don’t throw anything away. One day, that little burst of an idea that you had might finally turn into something much bigger!
As you probably know, the music of Croydon Tourist Office can be heard on variously streaming sites, including Apple Music.
Apple Music has a feature where it will recommend music for you based on what you listen to. They also have a Radio feature where you can listening to a song, press the Create Station button, and then you have your own personal radio station based on music that Apple Music think are similar to that particular song and artists.
So, we decided to try this out this week, and we noticed a theme: Nearly all of the artists that Apple Music think Croydon Tourist Office is similar to are from Japan!
At first, we wondered what the universe was trying to tell us? Will the good people of Japan like our music? Should we plan a tour of Japan at some point?
So far, only one member of Croydon Tourist Office has been to Japan, and he even based the book Reception on the adventure. Perhaps it’s time to think about heading back, at a point when international travel is possible again.
One thing we can say for certain is that we are discovering a wide range of bands and musicians who are new to us and we’re discovered some great stuff. And in a way, we can see some of the comparison with our own music and the music we’ve now discovered.
So, we thought we would share this fascinating insight with our fans, as well as say hello to some of the other artists we have discovered this week:
We thought there would be more spoke-word oriented music in the mix, but it was a pleasant musical journey nonetheless.