Travellin’ Light

Paul Lytton
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Paul Lytton
Paul Lytton                                                                                                          Laurence Svirchev©2009

Paul Lytton first made his mark in the London improvised music scene of the late 1960s, primarily in a duo with Evan Parker. Not only did he expand the conventional drum kit to environmental proportions, Lytton also was also an early exponent of electronics and one-of-a-kind handmade instruments. In addition to being a founding member of the London Musicians Coop and the Aachen Musicians Cooperative, he also co-founded Po Torch Records with Paul Lovens in 1976. While he is perhaps best known for his work with the trio Parker/Guy/Lytton, Lytton also has an extensive discography with improvising orchestras, including the Barry Guy-directed London Jazz Composers Orchestra and New Orchestra, King Ubu Orchestru and, more recently, Globe Unity Orchestra.  In the past decade, Lytton has been enlisted for several of Ken Vandermark’s going concerns, including Territory Band and CINC, a trio rounded out by another of Lytton’s long-time collaborators, Philipp Wachsmann. While much of Lytton’s current activities are with established units like the trio with Guy and Marilyn Crispell, he continues to form new collaborations, most notably a duo with Nate Wooley. As Lytton does not maintain his own Web site, the European Free Improvisation Pages ( is recommended for biographical and discographical information.
What is the most difficult airline to deal with in terms of instruments and equipment?

All the airlines are difficult these days… Like everyone else, I am always under pressure to take as little as possible which, depending on the musical situation, can make things more or less interesting for me. My live electronic equipment usually has to be flown as freight as it is too expensive as XS baggage and most airlines are not prepared to deal with it. This means having the bother of taking the stuff to the airport 3 or 4 days earlier for customs formalities and getting it picked up at the other end and the same procedure for getting it back … a complete pain! And there are only certain airlines which freight and the costs are very variable.

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

I am quite tall although I have shrunk and I have found that pretty much all the cheap airlines have terrible seats and NO food.

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

London Airport.

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

My amplifier for my electronics.

What is your worst lost baggage story?

I have had my share of baggage problems but the one that took the cake was the return flight from a gig with T .Kondo and Paul Lovens in Japan in the mid 80’s. We had had a lot of trouble organising things from the start. We didn’t know if the tour was going to happen till the last minute partly because of problems with the amount of baggage. I was supposed to take my complete kit including live electronics, about 250 kilos including cases. There was no time to freight the stuff so I had to take it XS baggage (per kilo 1% of the FIRST class fare about 12000 D marks there and back).It was a huge hassle for different reasons. There were, I think, 6 cases which were very large, painted black and covered with huge red FRAGILE stickers … you could see them from the moon and on the way back to Amsterdam they lost the whole lot for about 2 weeks …. turned out that they were stuck in a warehouse in Schiphol and nobody noticed them.

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

Recently I would say for immigration routines definitely the USA, but I’ve been hassled by the UK customs and immigration, otherwise I would say that it depends as much on one’s own behaviour. Used to be Greece…they would put lead seals on everything, even drum sticks and cymbals if it were possible.

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

Don’t take too many taxis but often get problems in France if I need to take a cab only a short distance. Had one or two real scream ups.

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

There have been quite a few good hotels over the years … can’t think of a specific one. Am not so fussy as long as it is clean, quiet and a good breakfast.

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

Don’t travel with either, thank goodness and very rarely check my emails unless I really have to.

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

I sometimes listen to music and use a portable CD player.

 Do you do your own laundry on the road?

If the tour lasts more than a week I’ll definitely do my laundry if I can or, under extenuating circumstances, I’ll get it done by the hotel service.

What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

I generally try to avoid sound checks if possible. Sometimes they are unavoidable. The sound check which still sticks in my mind was in the late `70s with Evan Parker. It was a festival in Imola in Italy and I was using a really huge kit, all natural heads, no plastic and my electronics .. took well over an hour to set up and we were playing outside in a kind of amphitheatre. The sound system was a JBL speaker system with Crown amps, the state of the art in those days, clean No hiss, incredible .. multiple suspended horns and the kitchen sink     incredible We set up in the early afternoon bright sunlight, hot…the drums sounded fantastic  (natural heads are very sensitive to the weather especially humidity) so we decided on one mike for the saxophone and no mikes on the percussion, in spite of the advice from the sound crew. Well, who ended up with egg on his face .. when we played it was evening…no sun, the heads had de-tensioned, sounded like old cardboard and all you could hear was saxophones with a flat rumble. So much for sound checks!

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

A promoter in France had some food cooked privately after the gig. About 30 years ago. Coquille St Jacques (shell fish). They were off and I was in the middle of a tour with food poisoning and wanted to die… Made the rest of the tour with some difficulty but the silver lining was that after that I gave up smoking… from then on I couldn’t stand the smell of a cigarette. Very weird.

What are your three favorite venues?

I suppose The Vortex in London, The Loft in Cologne and then I don’t know

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

London, New York, Chicago, Barcelona.

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

Don’t get involved in after hour sessions usually, so I couldn’t say.

What is the best city that closes down too early?

In my experience all cities seem to close down too early…On my first trip to New York many years ago, which had//has the reputation of being a late city… I saw that off to sleep. Much to my disappointment.

What is the best locale to have a day off?

Don’t really like days off…Energy too often dissipates.

What is your cure for jet lag?

More jet lag. As my close friends know I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep for x years.

What is your best tip for the novice?

I am rather loath to give any one advice … (other than myself and with out much success either) … I guess paragraphs could be written on this subject but to make it short … learn how to wait … PATIENCE … also with one’s self.

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