So, after seven states, 12 performances, and countless McDonalds’, we arrived in Richmond Kentucky for our final gig of the tour. We could see the university from a mile off, with its huge campus, and, when we arrived, the arts centre certainly didn’t disappoint. As had become second nature after three weeks, we piled into the venue and sought out the green room for snacks and wifi. There’s a lot to be said for the more intimate venues that we’ve played on tour, but there’s nothing quite like walking out onto the stage of a university theatre with its tiered balconies and thousands of seats for the first time. It’s moments like these that make you glad you auditioned for Semi-Toned.
We had the pleasure of being supported by Ekos (pronounced echoes, not eekoss as the group were eager to inform us), a group from the university. In our state of near exhaustion from the string of late nights and interstate travel, their enthusiasm and encouragement during our soundcheck was much appreciated, after which we had lunch with them comparing degree subjects and beatboxing techniques.
Of course, this being our last gig in the states, we wanted to make it a special one. After we’d all warmed up and donned our blazers, we got together in one of the sizeable dressing rooms for a pep talk from Duncan. Sure, we were all tired (physically, mentally, and vocally), but I know I speak for the whole group when I say that we wanted to go out with a bang. So, after a little scare from Sylvan’s faulty microphone, we hit the stage livelier than ever, ready to perform our show for the last time.
Of course, as a semi-professional acappella group, we always put on the best performance we can, but given that this was the last one (and, for several members, their last time performing with Semi-Toned in America) I will admit that we had a little more fun than usual. More or less every running joke of the tour made it into the set in one way or another, whether it be in the aimless running around during the Take On Me choreography, or Jillings’ mention of a sandwich machine (don’t even ask) within his seductive serenade in Bump and Grind. The show felt tight and energetic as ever, but there were countless times when we all had to stifle laughter. Of all the gigs we’ve done on tour, we all enjoyed this one the most.
Getting to spend three weeks with these guys has easily been one of my favourite experiences of the year, and it’s going to be weird not spending 24 hours a day in each other’s company. Hell, I think I’m even going to miss Henry’s passive aggressive Whatsapp messages. After finishing the performance and heading to our hotel just outside of Cincinnati airport, we all gathered in Charlie’s room for one last pizza together. The irritable soundchecks, cancelled flights and countless cramped hours in the minibus were all forgotten as we laughed over our favourite memories from the tour. Soon though, we remembered the 4:45 AM departure time and hastily headed back to our rooms in preparation for the journey home. Now’s usually when I’d give an emotional send off, but we’re going to see each other back in Exeter next week, so I think I can put my Kleenex away.
After the early start, which began in the usual fashion of roughly half the group being there 30 minutes late (just like rehearsals), we made our way to Cincinnati airport. Here we bade farewell to Elio, our delightful tour driver. He certainly brightened the tour for us, be it showing us his drumming videos, coming into our dressing room during the interval to say how good the show was, or just with his perhaps out-of-season but always joyous catchphrase of “Happy New Year!” He also had a long travel day ahead of him too, so set off on his own way.
The two hour flight took us to New York, where we had a few hours to kill. With not much time to see many of the sights, most of the group were content with exploring the various deals at Macy’s, spending the last of their dollars, or walking a short way down Broadway. Henry, obviously relaxing at the end of his Tour Manager duties, struggled to herd the group through the NYC Subways, making us jump from train to train at various stops. However, being the organisational master he is, he left plenty of time for this in the schedule.
The 6 hour flight back to Ireland was the perfect opportunity to get our body clocks re-adjusted to U.K. time by catching up on some sleep. However, some of the longer-legged members of the group struggled to get a wink in, and are definitely paying the consequences now (I needed a nap halfway through writing this sentence).
The quick stop in Ireland gave the more ravenous members of the group the chance for some proper European breakfast. It’s surprising how much one can miss baked beans. We then jumped across the Irish Sea to Heathrow, landing around 9am, which was 4am New York time. Feeling rather dazzled and after lots of hugging, we made our separate ways home across the U.K.
Something I noticed many times during this tour, is that the group feels at its closest now than any time I can remember. Spending every waking (and sleeping) hour with the same group of people can be a real test to how well that group gets on. Not only was there not a single proper falling out, but there was several conversations where everyone in the group was contributing, and we would all be interested in what the others had to say. I am very lucky to be part of such a talented and friendly group of men.
Below are a few of the group’s favourite moments, written in their own words.
Jacob: My favourite part of tour was our free day in San Antonio, TX. The weather was amazing and it gave us the perfect chance to explore the city; specifically The Alamo! The entire day was very relaxed and I enjoyed my very first snow cone!
Alfie: My favourite part of the tour has to be our meal in Tokyo Hibachi, a teppanyaki restaurant in Kentucky. It was a hilarious evening: not only was the food great, but we got to watch a chef juggle huge knives and set shrimp on fire as he made it. What’s not to like? In the end, we’d had a long and tiring day, but still managed to make the most of our time together on the road.
Sylvan: Usually being stuck in an airport, only to find your flight has been cancelled, sounds like an experience you’d remember for all the wrong reasons. However our time in LAX really showed the optimistic and creative sides of everyone. Whilst we waited for our travel to be sorted there was the invention of ‘suitcase curling’, a game I hope lives on as a Semi-Toned travelling tradition (official rules are not yet available). As well as this, some members even took it upon themselves to man the information desk, helping other stranded travellers. Objectively this wasn’t the most thrilling part of our tour but I think it showed such a fantastic approach by everyone in what was a pretty awful scenario.
Charlie: There are many things I will never forget from this tour, but my favourite bit was climbing up to the top of Red rock canyon. The view from the top was incredible!
Henry: Overall, just watching the months of planning for the whole tour become reality was quite incredible! But I think my favourite moment, oddly, was landing back in Heathrow because it made me suddenly appreciate how much we’ve all done on this tour, the amazing 14,000 mile journey we’ve been on and how much I love Semi-Toned. Having my best friends surround me 24/7 for three weeks was never a challenge: only ever a privilege. STUSA17 was the most complicated and challenging project we have ever taken on and I wouldn’t change it for the world!
It has been a pleasure writing and editing the tour blogs for the third year in a row. They have been a great way of keeping track of what we have done each day, and I am sure I will re-read them in future to make me appreciate what a special opportunity this group has been for us all. But now it’s my time to sign off for the final time. I very much look forward to becoming a reader of next years blogs to see what the group continues to get up to.