Travellin’ Light

Iain Ballamy
Answers 20 Questions about Life on the Road

Iain Ballamy

In addition to being a saxophonist, composer and bandleader, Iain Ballamy is the house shrink for Jazz UK.

What is the most difficult airline to deal with in terms of instruments and equipment?

You can never really tell how it’s going to go as it’s an elaborate ritual that begins with hiding the horn behind a pillar at check in, followed by slinging it low on the back into the stewards “blind” spot as you hand over the boarding pass. Assuming you make it that far there are now more dangers:-

1. There is no space left in the overhead lockers because you are last on and the “important” business people have brought their golf clubs and non-fragile overnight luggage on as hand baggage so they can make a speedy departure on arrival. Fruitless pacing and searching. (Lufthansa).

2. You are first on but you need to make sure the above mentioned important clubs and baggage is not then forcefully wedged onto ones irreplaceable vintage tenor in it’s slim soft leather bag which is essential as part of the elaborate optical illusion mentioned above. (Any airline can provide this experience.)

3. After intense desperate pleading and begging, the steward(ess) then phones through to mission control to ask if the horn can go on a spare seat and the answer comes through “we only allow that if it is a Cello”. Is that not prejudiced I wonder? “It sounds as nice as a Cello when I play it,” I reply and receive a blank expression until somebody takes pity on me and agrees to share the flight with my tenor as a co-passenger and I live to play another day. (British Airways, knights of the sky)

4. The lady in charge at the gate filters you off to one side, keeps you until last when there is definitely no luggage space, then tells you either the horn travels in the hold (but will be lovingly retrieved at the other end) or you don’t take the flight. The next time I see my horn is with heavy suitcases crashing onto it at JFK on the carousel. The horn is unplayable and I am desolate. I call the airline helpline as soon as I arrive at the hotel and am tactfully informed that I am entitled to compensation at $5.75 per kilo to a maximum of 25 kilos (Virgin).

5. The security staff confiscates your instruments claiming you brought them in Romania while you were there and need to pay $1500 export duty. Cigarettes offered by the British council as a bribe fail to help. All instruments arrive home damaged by Swissair cargo three weeks later. (Tarom)

I have discovered business class seems to alleviate these problems as if by magic if you are upgraded in freak circumstances.

Can I stop now? – I feel sick! Do you have a chapel, Valium or a counsellor to hand?

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

Ryan Air as they charge extra you for water, air, a smile and even try to flog you a cheap ticket into town to go with your expensive stale sandwich.

What is the most important thing you ever forgot to pack?

A sense of humour, a left shoe, dental floss, my phone charger or continental adaptor, the music…….(bad!)

What is your worst lost baggage story?

Lied to in Oslo as to whether my baggage was on the plane (Austrian Airlines London to obscure crevice in Finland) to get me on board quickly.
My baggage spent 3 days chasing me until it arrived after I was back home again.

I went back to Oslo looking for the woman’s head on a stick but luckily it was her day off!

What country hassles musicians the most at customs and passport checks?

Funnily enough that’s rarely a problem. When we came back from Bogata we expected to have a full examination (literally!) but the chap just said “Bogata? Lovely! Off you go!”

Going to Israel is a fucking nightmare and I recommend avoiding it at all costs.

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

Istanbul and Calcutta rank highly!

What is the best hotel that a presenter has provided for you?

Somewhere in Austria but we only had 3 hours to enjoy it!

Do you travel with a laptop or a PDA? If so, how many times a day do you check your e-mail?

I take all that stuff but it’s not always a success. The cell phone is better but expensive (very) so I try to minimise expenditure and come home in credit.

Could I also add that I feel that internet and romantic TV should be free in hotels!

Do you listen to music on the road? If so, what device do you use?

Not really – my heads too full already but I have an Ipod and laptop for emergencies.

Is this sounding boring? Can’t you ask me questions about the virtues of real ale or my passion for treasure hunting which led me to be thrown out of a 10 foot hole by two policemen on horseback instead?
Does music reflect life or itself?

Do you do your own laundry on the road?

No I take an incinerator.

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

Any soundcheck with Django Bates. (sorry Jeremy!)

What is the scariest food that has been laid out for you backstage?

Invisible food.

What are your three favorite venues?

The Bayreuth Opera House, The Barbican Hall, Wakefield Sports and Rugby Club.

Which cities have the best restaurants for late after-gig meals?

Madrid, Rome and Paris.

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

No idea – why would I want to do that?

What is the best city that closes down too early?

It’s a close tie between London, London and London.

What is the best locale to have a day off?


What is your cure for jet lag?

It’s simple – a hi carb lo-sodium vegan kosher halal Asiatic organic wheat and dairy free diet for two weeks before travel followed by an enema and foot massage and a one day fast. Then grape diet (seedless) for one day. Go to bed at seven pm after drinking a glass of your own urine with a flapjack and a raw egg with a dash of Worcester sauce.

By the time you arrive you will feel like you were just let out of a torture camp and the relief will cancel the jetlag as if by magic!

What is your best tip for the novice?

Never put in a dep that is better than you and never try to eat anything larger than your head.


Dom Minasi


> back to contents