Our Experiment with Randomness

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!

Hello Japan!

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.

Fabulous Music Video! We Need You!

Friends! Croydon Tourist Office needs your help!

We are looking to make a video for our song Fabulous to coincide with its release as a single.

As you may know, the album Take it Easy with Croydon Tourist Office was largely recorded over lockdown, with everyone working separately and sharing files over the internet to complete the record. The song Fabulous was no different.

So here is where you come in: We are wanting the video for Fabulous to be made in this same lockdown method and we want it to feature as many of our friends as possible, dancing around and maybe even lip synching to the song.

We leave your interpretation completely up to you, but we do have some criteria to follow, should you wish to be involved:

  1. The location you record in should be your own home or somewhere you feel comfortable in
  2. You can use any device to record on, but we do ask that you record in Landscape (horizontal) format so everyone’s contribution is the same dimensions (just think of what the YouTube frame looks like)
  3. The video file you send us is in a universal video format
  4. Your contribution is a single take

We will take care of the rest of the editing, adjusting, realigning, etc. We just need your contribution to make the Fabulous video become truly…. Fabulous!

You can listening to the song here to get your inspiration:

We look forward to hearing from you and seeing what you contribute! You can contact us for more information on any of our social media pages or by emailing: croydontouristoffice@gmail.com

Epicentre Nights Revisited

Epicentre Book Cafe was a Paignton institution that existed from March 2010 to August 2013. It was owned and operated by Croydon Tourist Office member Bryce Dumont and it was intended as a haven for people who were looking for vegetarian food, good coffee, rare and used books, a place to share their art, or all of the above.

Epicentre held a number of writing workshops, book launches, and spoken word performances in those early days. It was a great way for like minded artists to meet up and share their creativity. The cafe was open for just over a year before the Entertainment Law of England allowed music to take place on premises without a special (and costly) license for it, and the first music nights started up shortly after.

As a new enterprise, looking to make the most out of every penny and to funnel it into what we did, Epicentre was never signed up with the Performing Right Society. Fortunately for us, PRS agreed that music could be performed in the space, so long as it was original music with the express permission of the creators of that music that it could be played. So, what better way to handle this than to turn the whole cafe into a writing, performing, and recording space for original music to be made?

We always wanted to call them Jam Nights, but in England, Jam Nights conjured up the idea of people in a pub playing bad Green Day covers, not the California image of musicians getting together and making music in the moment and seeing what sticks.  The Epicentre music nights followed the latter approach as a rule. The music was written in collaboration, quickly rehearsed, and then recorded by Bryce with his extensive recording equipment, often live and generally in the first take.

The first session happened on 14 June 2011.  It was a sunny day. Many musicians and performers were invited but at 7pm, Bryce was only joined by poet Robert Garnham and writer Bob Hill.  Bryce had an acoustic guitar and a melodica while Robert brough a collection of musical toys.  We consider this to be the birth of Croydon Tourist Office, but we didn’t know it at the time.

The writing and recordings brought about the songs, all of which can be heard on the first Croydon Tourist Office album. On some of the quieter songs, you can hear the traffic outside the window and the cafe’s espresso machine heating up:

  1. Three Bears
  2. Ghost Story
  3. Alien Invasion
  4. Mahogany
  5. Bowed

As the sun set, and around the time that Bob Hill departed, Tom Victorio-Jones and Solomon Walter-Kelly arrived with keyboard, melodica and drums to join Robert and Bryce in writing and recording some more music into the evening. This resulted in the recording of:

  1. My Bike, it Only Has Five Gears
  2. The Night That Something Happened at Ed’s Place, of Which We Will Not Speak
  3. Going Out in Limousines
  4. Some Things I Might Do, Being So Happy
  5. Plop
  6. Translations

These recordings, in addition to some sessions that Bryce did with bands and musicians from around the area, became part of the musical backdrop at Epicentre. The more we played the music that was made there, the more people were interested in coming along to the next Music Night.

The second session was recorded on 2 August 2011.  While there were more musicians present, the musical output was a lot less than that first session. Bryce on acoustic guitar, Julian Lee Seager on percussion, Baz Von Strak, a visiting horticultural student, on bass, and Toya Harvey and Em Bullions on vocals on one song.  Robert did not attend the session, but did add some vocals later.

The three recorded songs were:

  1. Flapjacks
  2. It’s a Long Way to Basingstoke
  3. You’re Gonna Die

The third session was recorded on 10 October 2011.  Bob Hill had suggested that some writers from his community arts project come together to join in with a session. He knew a sax player and brought him along to accompany Bryce on acoustic guitar and Robert with his collection of toys. The session took on a much more abstract feel and at times the sax player seemed like he didn’t want to be there.

There were four distinct tracks recorded, but they were mostly meanderings that tried to find themselves.  The most distinct piece of music is a song called Call & Response.

Sometime on a dark night in February 2012, Matt Spalding brought a cello to Epicentre for a music night. Max and Robert came along and were accompanies by Toya, Em, and Holly Collings.

Rather than record a live session, we decided to use Epicentre as our studio, making looped beats by stomping on tables, tapping on teacups, and clapping hands.  We abused the cello and recorded some melodica, we babbled and layered the recording, then Max did some rapping and Robert told a strange story. And that whole session turned into the two-part song My Own God/Warships in South Wales.

Epicentre started doing monthly open mic sessions. Rather than sessions to make new material, these were sessions that allowed artists to try out new material in front of a supportive audience, allowing artist to meet each other and start new collaborations. Like most things at Epicentre, they were all recorded. Robert and John’s improvisation piece It Wasn’t Magic was recorded at one of these sessions.

In April 2012, after a long time of trying to get John involved in the music writing sessions, John brought Maddo Painting, Giles Bown and Paul Caddick from Future Ghosts along to a session. A lot of non-musicians and writers turned up to the session as well.

Going back to the jam nature of the first session, but with a much bigger band, this session recorded:

  1. Scaffolding Poles
  2. A Mouse That Wishes to Be a Cat
  3. It’s All Kicking Off at the Bus Station
  4. Predictable Spoilers
  5. Book Johnson
  6. Goodbye

On 11 September 2012, we did another session which was attended by a lot of people, but very few of them were musicians.  The motivation to get going wasn’t quite there, so in an attempt to get things moving, Bryce pushed the people there who could sing to come up with something.  Jokingly saying, ‘I don’t care what you sing about, it could be apples and oranges for all I care,’ the vocalists were divided into an Apple group and an Oranges group.  As the layers grew, the Green Grocer Song took shape.  Another song was recorded during that session taking up more of the improv style of writing as before, which was titled The Other Song for lack of any other title.

In the autumn of 2012, Epicentre had a live music showcase night with various musicians who had supported Epicentre over the years.  Croydon Tourist Office performed their first proper gig here, but rather than rehearsing and playing any songs that had already been made, they decided the whole set would be written on the spot, just like all of those past sessions. They operated on the pretence of having written thousands of songs on various themes and asked for audience requests for a theme, as they probably had a song that suited.

In this way, the whole 20-minute set was fabricated, featuring Bryce on acoustic guitar and melodic, John on mandolin, Max on his strangely tuned guitar and a keyboard taped to his leg, Robert on vocals, and Matt Spalding on some plastic dish monstrosity that was called The Eliza Mockingham which served as the percussion.

As well as various bits of banter in between songs, the live debut of:

  1. Post Office Mice
  2. Nazi Cow
  3. Sad Dubstep
  4. Croydon Tourist Office
  5. This isn’t Nandos

In 2013, Epicentre began the slow descent to closing its doors.  While the space was used to record elements of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and a few other bits and pieces, no other music nights would take place.

In 2014, about a year after the door closed, Croydon Tourist Office picked the tracks that everyone felt fit best together and the album Epicentre Nights was released as a sort of tribute to those sessions.  It was only at this stage that the idea was cemented the idea that Croydon Tourist Office wasn’t a band that could be defined by its members, as the members were the ones who turned up at the time. During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the remaining Epicentre recordings were dusted off for consideration on Take it Easy with Croydon Tourist Office. When they didn’t seem to fit on that album, it was clear that what the world needed was Epicentre Nights Vol 2.

Croydon Tourist Office is more about the spirit of the project. It can feature any style, any instrument, and any combination of musicians or non-musicians.  If it feels right, then it is Croydon Tourist Office.

Our Attempt at Welsh

With Take it Easy with Croydon Tourist Office now on various streaming platforms, we took a moment to reflect on where some of these things came from. We thought we would share with you some of the stories about the births of these songs.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, famous for the longest place name in Great Britain, became the subject for a song when John had the idea in 2012 for a song where the town’s name was the entirety of the chorus. Robert went over to John’s house and together they bashed out a demo where Robert spoke the verses and John sang the chorus, complete with it’s fourteen chord change

John emailed Bryce the demo and he instantly heard an idea for the arrangement.

Bryce took the demo and cut it up to set it to a tempo that would make it easier for other musicians to overdub to. Bryce worked out the chord changes and added the bass line to the demo, but it needed drums.

Fortunately, Bryce had a stash of drums from various past recording sessions. In 2010, Bryce had recorded Scott Morton, now of the band Tourists, in a demo session and one of the songs had really sparse drum hits, which made them easy to correct to the tempo of the demo.

Bryce had been running Epicentre Book Cafe at the time, which was used as a recording studio for various things after hours. John overdubbed two acoustic guitar parts one afternoon, followed by Robert’s spoken vocals and John’s singing. We put together a quick mix of the new guitar, bass, drums, and vocal version, but something seemed to be missing.

Trying to figure out what was missing, we mixed in a little bit of the original demo and we heard Robert’s original vocal echoing from a speaker on the other side of the cafe since the words on the original demo were in a slightly different time to the newly recorded words. It added a charm that the song called out for, so we decided to also keep John’s original vocals from the demo as a backing vocal for the chorus.

A few weeks later, John’s friend Richard came over with a mandolin that he was learning how to play and we recorded his part. We thought it seemed to be the perfect kind of song where we could throw in more and more layers as we built up the song: A sort of ‘Kitchen Sink’ song.

One afternoon, John came into the cafe with a Dictaphone and announced that he was working on recording Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Part 2. We expected it to be like a reprise, but John said he had some big surprises for us, which largely involved people shouting letters into his recorder. Paul Caddick added keyboards to both Part 1 and Part 2, and that’s where the song stayed for many years.

Epicentre Nights came together from recordings entirely made and recorded live at Epicentre. Llanfair (as it came to be know in our shorthand) didn’t fit as it wasn’t recorded live and we still didn’t feel that it was done.

Epicentre closed, Bryce moved to Exeter and a couple years went by where everyone was fairly busy; Bryce with his new job, Robert performing poetry around the country and Max writing for his other projects. Until one day, when Bryce was on a business trip to London in 2016 for a week and found some time in the evenings to start putting together some music.

The idea of recording an EP worth of music came up, but it was quickly agreed that Llanfair needed to be on the second album. We thought maybe this second album would quickly follow the EP. During the sessions for the EP, Bryce added a Mellotron to the end of the song. And then the song sat for a little bit longer.

Covid 19 lockdown happened and everyone decided it was time to get back to work on the music. Bryce added an ebow to the end from Max’s suggestion and sang some backup parts and at last, eight years after it began, the song finally seemed to be complete.

While some of the music on Take it Easy was written before Llanfair began, this song is easily one of our favourites and certainly the song that we have spent the most time working on. For a band known for writing songs on the spot, eight years is a long time.

It’s only recently come to our attention that we may have mispronounced the town’s name. We’d like to offer our humblest apologies to Wales and to the Welsh people in general.

Album Countdown

We would like to make an announcment!

After spending the last three months of lockdown collaborating via shared files on Dropbox, we can now announce that Take it Easy with Croydon Tourist Office will be released to the general public on 4 July 2020!

Some of the music on this collection we have been working on since 2012, though some of the original recordings go back as far as 2005, while others are very fresh, having only been written and recorded a few weeks ago.

We will release the recordings on our Bandcamp page first, followed by all the usual streaming platforms a couple weeks after that.

We hope we see you there!

Bloggings and Musings

It’s been decided. This blog needs to happen more frequently.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown began, we’re been going through the archives of our recorded material. There were many almost-completed songs and many more fragments waiting for a direction. Looking back through it all has made us realise how much we have done together and how much we’ve forgotten about.

Our last blog post was published on the 9th anniversary of the very beginnings of Croydon Tourist Office. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like that long ago, but at the same time, it seems like ages ago that we had the free time to pop along to the cafe after closing time and record the sounds that we would make. But then, life is like that.

We are currently in the final stages of mixing and mastering our second album. While the album’s songs are sourced from various eras of our past as well as the present, the general nature of it all came together in the theme of the global pandemic. And as Robert told the rest of us after reviewing the current master test, there’s ‘such an underlying hint of menace. It seems like the perfect comment on the world today. But so much humour too.’

Some of the songs, like the ones about Belgium and unpronounceable Welsh town names, original came to life 8 years ago, while tinkering with ideas at Epicentre. Others, like the songs about Russian Dolls and Rum & Coke started coming together 4 years ago when we were making our last EP, but we knew they would be set aside for a second full length album. And others, like the songs about broccoli and falcons, came about purely through isolation and what happens when we throw each other ideas via broadband.

The nearly hour long collection features sixteen songs, but we ended up unearthing so many more in the process. We will hopefully have an EP of related material that will appear shortly after the album, and possible some additional surprises as well. But this first release will be a concentrated result of what the last three months of lockdown have brought together.

We should have more information for you in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, be sure to enjoy Robert Garnham’s solo release, Aviator.



Isn’t murmur such a great word?

Life has been busy for all involved in Croydon Tourist Office. But that all changed for pretty much everyone in March of this year, where lockdown meant working from home, staying in doors, and finding new virtual ways to do things.

We were all just as busy as ever, but suddenly there was a need to be creative and if being creative meant that we needed to do everything via the Internet, then so be it.

We realised that others that we know would be just as isolated as we were, so we opened the doors to collaboration to anyone who wanted to be involved. It was like a virtual way of working that’s similar in a lot more ways than we thought to the way we used to work when stringing microphone cables around a little cafe in Paignton all those years ago.

9 years ago when Robert and Bryce wrote and recorded Three Bears, we had no idea what would lay ahead. And to be honest, we still don’t know what lies ahead. We just know that Croydon Tourist Office generate things that we never expected and certainly never things that we would come up with individually.

Over the past three months of social distancing, we have been more productive than we have been in awhile. We signed up with a distribution company so our music can now be heard in pretty much any place you can hear music and we revisited music we were working on for the second album and finally made sense of it all. In as much as we make sense of anything, that is.

And then we remembered we had this blog, which hasn’t been touched in about three years. Sorry about that. Life did pull us in other ways for a bit. We never stopped sharing ideas with each other. We just needed to wait for it to be the right now.

So, the murmurs are correct. The right time finally arrived.

Radio Show and Album 2

On a snowy Saturday morning, Bryce and Felix hosted their first radio show, which features some Croydon Tourist Office and friends. You can listen to it on the link below.

After the show, John and Bryce met up to discuss contenders for album 2.  15 new songs are in the works, including what looks like be our most epic work so far. Some of these tracks we’ve been working on for the last 5 years, so it will be great for the world to finally hear them!

In the meantime, enjoy the radioshow!


Events and Videos!

Hello everybody!

Things have been busy in the office lately. So busy, we haven’t posted in a little while.

So, some things have happened recently.

Following the release of our new EP, we went back and made a music video to Book Johnson, that classic track off our first record. You can watch the video in all its technicolor glory here:

In other news, there is a gig happening in Torquay, at the wonderful Blue Walnut cafe very soon! We will be opening for Project Adorno with a multimedia extravaganza in the cafe’s 24 seat cinema.

Sadly, Bryce will be in Asia for the gig, but he will be with us via satellite link. We’ve managed to set up a new internet venture with some recycled communication equipment, so we will be testing the technology out at at the event! Here’s hoping that it works…