Since forming in the early 1990’s, Old Blind Dogs have stood on the cutting edge of Scotlands roots revival. The band has developed its own trademark style with an energetic mix of songs and tunes. Dynamic percussion, polished vocals, soaring fiddle and stirring pipes fuel the delicately-phrased melodies and traditional songs. Litha is a fantastic collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Claire Mann and award winning German duo Deitsch. 2012 will see them launch the follow up to their critically acclaimed debut ‘Until The Cows Come Home’.
As well as being an official accompanist for the BBC Young Traditional Scottish Musician of the Year Awards for several years, Aaron was voted Instrumentalist of the Year in a public vote at the 2005 Scots Trad Music Awards.
With huge amounts of experience in touring both the UK and abroad. We caught up with Aaron Jones of Old Blind Dogs and Litha to get some valuable tips and advice on touring and to find out what it is really like to be in a touring band.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
My name in Aaron Jones and I have been a professional ‘folk’ musician for fifteen years. I am currently a full time member of the award winning Scottish band ‘Old Blind Dogs’ and also tour in a collaboration with German musicians called ‘Litha’. I also perform and record as a free lance musician and in 2012 I have worked with several bands and musicians including the Irish band ‘Teada’ (featuring Seamus Begley) and the fabulous English singer/songwriter ‘Kate Rusby’. My main instruments are ten-string bouzouki, acoustic guitar and vocals. Throughout most of my career I have been a Musicians Union member becoming more involved laterally as a committee member with the Folk, Roots and Traditional Section as well as my regional Scotland and Northern Ireland Section on which I still currently sit.
2. We understand that you tour abroad quite extensively. Can you share with us some of your experiences?
Since 1997 I have spent the vast majority of each year on the road. I have toured mostly in the USA performing in all but two of the States as well as touring extensively in Europe and Australia. Throughout the years of touring I have never ceased to be amazed at the kindness and helpfulness of strangers. I’m a great believer in travel karma – be good to travellers here and when you find yourself lost or stranded abroad it’ll come back to help you. Whether it’s been coping abroad with instruments broken by airlines, being grounded by volcanoes, finding yourself in the wrong part of town or falling ill, human kindness always seems to find you and get you through. I have the opportunity to travel and do what I love for a living so I find myself in a very lucky position and have made many long standing and solid friendships with promoters, agent and fellow musicians over the years.
3. What is the most enjoyable thing about touring abroad?
The opportunity to see new, interesting and beautiful places and meet and befriend incredible new people. It’s very important to remember that you are a cultural ambassador for your country and as a ‘traditional’ musician I have the opportunity to take my music and culture and perform it for people all over the place which is a real privilege. In return I often get the chance to immerse myself in other cultures and music which is a great perk of touring. I’ve played at the top of mountains, at 50 degrees in the middle of a desert, in vineyards at sunset and on the ocean… every new place and concert is still an exciting adventure after all these years touring. It doesn’t get much more enjoyable than that.
4. Will you be doing anything differently for future bookings abroad?
Over the years I have tried to streamline the booking processes and the admin – it’s the part all jobbing musicians hate. It’s been very useful to set up database driven programmes that allow you to keep track of where you’ve played and make notes on PA quality, fees, crowd response, logistical problems you encountered, good places to eat and stay and local radio and promotional opportunities so I would recommend doing that from the outset. I used to be below average when it came to accurate book keeping but touring has become a lot easier from a business perspective since I got on top of that. Keeping accurate records and accounts on the road makes life so much easier when you get home. Otherwise, it is important to remain ambitious. I’m always trying to think about how I can get those extra bums on seats, move up to the bigger venue up the road or break into new territories.
5. Based on this experience, what would you say is the single most important thing a new band must consider when embarking on their first tour abroad?
Make sure you play by the rules and obtain all the correct paperwork and visas. Too many artists grudge the up front overheads of touring whether it’s visas, travel or accommodation costs and many grudge filing tax returns and try to avoid them. One slip up in this regard and you can find yourself banned from working abroad – no matter how good or how famous you are – and it’s just not worth it. If you want to be treated like a professional, act like one. Keep accurate accounts and play by the rules abroad and the administration side of touring becomes a breeze and allows you to focus on and enjoy your performances and the places you visit.
6. Anything you would like to add?
Remember when abroad that you represent your country and your upbringing and act accordingly. It’s OK to be folk’n’roll now and again but if you want to be respected and taken seriously by promoters, agents and fans abroad then act and behave like a professional and everything will fall into place. Try to be articulate and friendly with all the people you meet and work with and they’ll remember you. Try to remember names at each venue and thank everyone. It pays to keep the sound engineer sweet too so make sure and learn few key soundcheck phrases if you’re travelling to somewhere where English is not the first language.
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