Travellin’ Light

John Butcher Answers 20 About Life on the Road

John Butcher
John Butcher in Transit.                                             John Butcher©2006

John Butcher is an improvising saxophonist based in London. Since the 1980s, his extensive solo work has explored the extremities of the instrument’s sound production capacity. This endeavor has recently led him to employ saxophone-generated feedback and extraordinary spaces like caves and gigantic oil tanks. Electronics have an increasing profile in his ensemble work with Polweschel, Thermal and Cortet, as well as duo collaborations with Toshimaru Nakamura and Christof Kurzmann. However, improvising with other acoustic instrumentalists still comprises a large portion of his current work, be it in ensembles like Contest of Pleasures or in duos with Paal Nilssen-Love and others. Given the number and occasional nature of most of his projects, it is best to keep track of Butcher’s activities through his extensive, well-designed site:

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

It's down to individuals more than airlines – excepting Ryanair who are reliably horrible. Since this alleged bomb plot last August, it has become nonsensical, although years ago I remember a long argument with an Air France steward, which was only resolved when the captain came from the cockpit and said it was fine to have my instruments on board. No doubt the steward spat in my food before dishing it up later. Our Department of Transport now says I can take one instrument on board (not that it helped in a hours-long confrontation with BMI last month) – so it's tenor or soprano these days. I've checked a well padded soprano in a couple of times when I've needed both. I expect this to be the source of future horror tales.

Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

Air Transat

Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

Recently, Frankfurt, where you have to go through the USA security even changing flights to the UK.
What is the most important thing you ever forgot to pack?

Money and cards. Apart from that I'm perfect.

What is your worst lost baggage story?

Nothing especially disastrous. 3 days wearing a noticeably more fashionable colleague's clothes whilst waiting for my bags in Canada. A day off, on my own, in the cold and rain of Vienna with only a tee shirt. Check in staff, on a St. Louis to Detroit flight, sending my bags to Budapest in someone else's name. I didn't disabuse the agent when he expressed his concern that my tuxedo for the night's concert was lost.
What country hassles musicians the most at customs and passport checks?

USA, for me.

Which city has the worst cab drivers?

I don't know, but the Turkish drivers in some of the small German towns seem to be the most miserable. Probably with good reason.

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

I liked the Imperator, that FMP used to use in Berlin. You could ask for a very superior breakfast any time of day; it was managed by Peter Brotzmann's daughter (I think), and Cecil Taylor splashing about in the bath next door was an added attraction. The 5 star one by the sea in Funchal, Madeira wasn't bad either.

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

I don't have these items.

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

Yes. A portable CD player.

John Butcher
John Butcher upon arrival with Hisashi Terauchi.           John Butcher©2006

Do you do your own laundry on the road?


What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

Hanging about backstage whilst other peoples' sound checks overrun is a regular annoyance.

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

Fortunately, I rarely find food frightening (see below).
What are your three favorite venues?

This has more to do with the situation and people, than with the place as such. Like the Austrian festival trio, Nickelsdorf, Ulrichsberg and Wels. I couldn't whittle it down to just three, but, thinking of the UK: Three defunct places: the Oasis Wine Bar (run by Derek Bailey), the Singapore Padang Chinese Restaurant (run by John Stevens), and the Bonnington (run by the Bohmann Brothers). Then there are some recent Scottish treasures: Lyness Oil Tank on the Isle of Hoy, Hamilton Mausoleum (near Glasgow) and Wormit Reservoir (underground near Fife).

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

I don't know, but the Italian festivals usually seem able to commandeer very convivial places ‘till the small hours.

Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

Surely this only happens in the movies.

What is the best city that closes down too early?


What is the best locale to have a day off?

I'd recommend a visit to one of Japan's many hot-spring baths (onsen). The one I stayed at was based around a traditional hotel with unusual and complex meals - (fried grasshopper, raw eggs etc.) and was a few hours from Sendai. The natural baths were perched up on the mountain side overlooking a river.

What is your cure for jet lag?


What is your best tip for the novice?

Learn to play laptop, and don't underestimate the joys of bedroom music making.

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