Halesworth/Ipswich: Guitarist Richard Durrant plucks up courage for 1,000-mile cycle tour

Virtuoso guitarist Richard Durrant is cycling 1,000 miles to perform 36 shows around the UK. Photo: Dawn Lee Virtuoso guitarist Richard Durrant is cycling 1,000 miles to perform 36 shows around the UK. Photo: Dawn Lee

Thursday, June 12, 2014
1:02 PM

Travelling more than 35,000 miles a year to gigs via planes, trains and cars, virtuoso guitarist Richard Durrant decided to give a litle back - setting off on a 1,000 mile cycle concert tour.

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Richard Durrant, in Halesworth tonight and Ipswich tomorrowRichard Durrant, in Halesworth tonight and Ipswich tomorrow

“Touring musicians tend to leave a fairly massive carbon footprint so for me this is payback time. Having been a regular cyclist for years I wanted to see where a tour by bike would take me, both geographically and musically.

“Most of my life is spent driving to gigs and this is very very different. It’s making me think about how much gear I take to concerts, other ways of doing things and it makes me approach the music differently.”

It was a moderately late start for him and good friend turned stage manager Sean Simington when I called. Facing a 30-mile ride to the BBC in Bristol, Richard admits they’re a bit afraid of the hills.

“We took the bikes up Glastonbury Tor yesterday,” laughs Durrant, from Shoreham, in Sussex. “We’re trying to visit sites of interest and get film and photos as we go along. Pushing the bikes up there caused a bit of a stir.”

Cycling guitarist Richard Durrant and Sean Simington on their bikesCycling guitarist Richard Durrant and Sean Simington on their bikes

It’s been two weeks to the day since they started, covering 400 miles of their 1,000-mile target. At the time of writing, they’ve clocked up 950. Durrant admits to falling off a few times along the way.

“Our first Saturday, I had a lunchtime concert and an evening concert. We cycled 60 miles around Sussex and one hill was so steep my wheel went in the air. I couldn’t get my feet out the clips and I just went into a ditch. It was terrible. They had to come ift the bike off me because it’s so heavy.

“If it starts to topple you’ve had it. You have to keep it upright the whole time. Once you’re on it and riding along you can balance it, but you need two hands on the handlebars. You can’t look behind you so I’ve got a mirror. It’s quite extreme.”

Cycling between concert venues with his entire stage show, guitar and lights packed into panniers and a bike trailer. The show equipment is hi-tech, lightweight and low energy.

Simington, from Eccles, in Norfolk, who’s on stage working the lighting and projections during the show, carries all his kit. Durrant looks after the PA, guitar, computers and the mixing desk plus his packed panniers.

“The weight I’m carrying is ridiculously heavy. I’m looking at my bike right now and it looks like you’d never be able to get on it, there’s just so much stuff on it. It’s 35-40 kilos, which is two fully loaded airport suitcases. You know how hard they are to lift when you’re up to your limit.”

Packing for this tour has been a scientific operation, made possible via the very latest hi-tech gear - including creaseproof smart clothes to a specially modified cycle boasting a wide-range of gearing, puncture-resistant tyres and ergo handlebar grips and bar-ends.

Being a guitarist, arriving at gigs with numb fingers or hands was a major worry.

“My good friends Rod and Maria Lambert, who run cycle stores in Sussex, gave me all the kit, making sure we had lots of different positions on the handlebars and I’ve got padded mittens. After our biggest ride, which was 65 miles, I got the guitar out just to see if I could do it and it’s fine. I’m actually feeling quite strong.

“I’ve got this really good sponsorship (deal). I’m wearing Endure cycling clothes which are designed to be worn to work so all I’ve got to do is put my long cycling trousers on and it looks just like my concert outfit,” laughs Durrant.

While the eco message is a large part of the tour, there’s a charitable element too - one close to Simington’s heart. He lost his partner Shirley to cancer last year and 20% of all gig fees will be donated to The Big C Drop-In Centre in Norwich.

A lot of the new accompanying album - which Durrant describes as Steve Reich meets Bradley Wiggins - was written while he trained. It proved key while composing, resulting in an atmospheric blend of acoustic and minimalist music including a percussion section built from bicycle parts.

“The physical aspects of the tour are very hi-tech, so I wanted to match this with my compositional processes. I wrote the music in my head on the bike each day then typed the notes into Sibelius when I got home. I then imported the notes into Logic where the sounds are realised, then I add the guitars and bicycle sounds and finish the arrangement on ProTools. It is a fascinating process that has produced music that seems to travel along, cycling as it goes.”

The gigs are outrageous says Durrant, with the bikes themselves become lighting stands onstage, the guitar acting as a projection screen and on occasion his LED bike headlamp becomes the main spotlight.

“Audiences can expect something very, very unusual, this is no ordinary guitar concert. If you’re interested in music by bicycles you’ve just got to be there,” he laughs.

“The idea was to aim for 36 concerts and the interest has just been amazing. The followers we’ve got on the internet... with Sean wearing a tracker we’ve got people following us around the country. If we pedal fast enough you can see the little blob moving around the map. I don’t know if you’ll see that this morning with the hills we’ve got.”

Cycling Music comes to The Cut, Halesworth, June 12 and Ipswich Town Hall June 13.

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