On New Years Day 2007 Louis found himself walking along the Coastal Path through the forest from Ventnor to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. He had played at a New Years Event at The Hambrough Hotel the night before. A three-piece suit was hardly ideal garb for the mud he encountered so he was cheered by the sight of three revellers, still dressed to the nines slithering down the slope towards him. "The morning after the night before?" he asked. 'Something like that" they responded and the heavens opened. Half an hour later, ruminating alone over a pot of tea watching a grey, storm tossed sea-front he reflected that there were worse ways of starting a New Year.
And many things happened. In March the British Association of Journalists voted Radio Four's 'Down the Line' as 'Best Radio Comedy' . Ironic given that certain sections of the press had been duped into thinking it was actually a serious phone in.
Louis also commenced studying music at the Open University which was nothing short of life transforming. The highlight of these studies was a week's Summer School in Durham. This he described as wall to wall fun: "The thrill of a day beginning with a recital and discussion of Listz's B Minor Sonata in a beautiful Georgian room and ending with a rendition of 'Danny Boy' on Theramin in the university bar takes some beating." The final exam for this module was on October 16th after which he went to Paris for a day and drank some wine (the first alcohol he'd had for a year and a half) with a fantastic steak on the Ile St Louis. Of course unprepared for the stimulation of this he returned on Eurostar gloriously happy (or drunk, if you prefer). Needing 85% to get a Distinction he got 83.4%. Very good but he was heard to mutter 'the swines' under his breath.
At the same time Louis continued to record with Mike Pelanconi. One track - 'Midnight in Havana' - had the benefit of some Cuban percussion and Cuba started to figure in Louis' mind as a place he had to visit. Events conspired to transform what had started as a wistful idea into unavoidable reality in startlingly short order. Jody Yebge (his 'oldest and best' friend) of the Brighton Festival put him in touch with Sara McGuiness>, a Brixton-based musician and authority on Cuban Music who, in turn, put him in touch with Carlos Puisseaux with a view to his staying at his Casa in Havana. Carlos, the Guiro player on the 'Introducing Ruben Gonzalez' album and founding member of the top 1920's 'son' band, 'Sierra Maestra' agreed and Louis flew to Havana at the end of October 2008 to experience something that entirely changed his life.
His first night was spent celebrating Carlos's mothers 82nd birthday. His Casa was still occupied so he had arranged that Louis stay at a friends Casa for a couple of nights. The following morning Louis was visited by a youth called Milton who said that Carlos had had to go to hospital and that, as his nephew, he'd been asked to show Louis around Havana - specifically the Egram Recording Studios. Carlos wanted him to assure Louis that there was nothing to worry about; just something routine Carlos had to deal with and he sent his apologies. This was too good to miss so Louis was escorted there followed by a look at the Restaurant that had featured in the film 'Frais Y Chocolat' . At around lunchtime they repaired to a bar where they had a mojito and chatted. Milton was a student studying Psychology. At one point the waiter entered and apologised profusely to Louis who asked Milton why he was apologising. "He is sorry that you are paying double. Do you not have local Cuban money?" Louis shook his head, "Only Convertibles". Milton then said that Carlos had said that he had to help him convert some if he needed to.
They set off in a taxi and eventually reached a bank. Milton changed the money and insisted Louis count it. The exchange rate was three to one. They were now in the southern suburbs of Havana and Milton said that they would now go to a Salsa Festival. This was the life! Louis marveled at the tropical plants and trees and multi coloured facades of the one and two storey stucco houses they passed and eventually they reached a square where Milton excused himself to go to the toilet and Louis settled onto a bench under the shade of a huge tree to keep out of the midday sun and drank in the atmosphere. Time passed... half an hour ... three quarters of an hour. Louis looked around anxiously feeling increasingly conspicuous. This wasn't a tourist spot and people were taking an increasing interest in this foreigner sitting on a bench who looked less care-free by the minute. It felt a momentous decision but Louis stood up. Milton was not going to return. But how on earth did he know Carlos, know his name, know they were musicians? Even know Carlos's religion! He tried to buy an orange juice from a stall but his new Cuban money was refused. He was in a suburb of Havana with no money, little idea of how to get back to the centre of town, no Spanish to speak of and the sun beating down relentlessly between occasional Tropical downpours. On top of that his sandals chose that moment to break. He looked at the sky: 'That's at least a 2:1, if not a First in Psychology, Milton'.
Three hours later, using the direction of the sun and the increasing size of the buildings as guide-lines he reached Centro Havana dusty and tired and found his Casa. It later transpired that 'Milton' had obviously been listening to Louis and Carlos in the shadows the night before as they had bidden each other goodnight, learning all he needed to know to perpetrate what Louis had to concede was an admirable scam. The exchange rate wasn't three to one but twenty-four to one. Thankfully Louis had not lost all the money he had brought with him but in Cuban terms it was a small fortune.
Understandably Carlos was distressed at his name having been used so they consulted the police. At the station as Carlos described what had happened in rapid-fire Spanish to a succession of policemen a routine was established: as Carlos reached a particularly outrageous part of the story the officer concerned would lean back in his chair exhale and examine Louis briefly who would improvise a response such as a shrug (indicating 'Yes I know - stupid'.) As the story reached a climax the officer would shake his head, take his glasses off and again look at Louis (this time Louis might shake his head with a 'Can you believe it?' expression.) They set off into the warm night bumping over pot holes in the road in a police car to revisit the scenes of the crime. The police frequently stopped to chat to groups of girls in the streets and everything seemed relaxed and happy. On reaching the bar they all walked in to the surprise of the clientele. The officer in charge asked Louis to indicate the table where Milton had told him he could help him change some money. Louis indicated an empty table in the back room. The group surrounded the table and the policeman pointed at it and asked again 'This table?'. Louis agreed: it was this table. They all looked at the table grimly. Louis later swore that, had the table been a suspect it would have cowered, screaming for forgiveness in a corner. But it was only a table. They then returned to the station. Apart from helping the police do a photfit of the suspect that was effectively the end of the investigation. Well worth the money I lost, Louis later said. 'Two guided tours of Havana and a great story too'.
Predictably the music in Havana was (and is) nothing short of world class. Standing in a deserted shop front on a high street in Centro watching Sierra Maestra rehearse as stray dogs wandered in and out and passers by paused with bags of fruit to watch, Louis had to pinch himself; he felt he had entered the film 'The Buena Vista Social Club'. Louis has made many friends there - not least Carlos, his lovely wife Vivian and their children. He will be returning.
Back in London Louis had talks with 'Lockout Music' regarding a Publishing Deal. Alistair Norbury, formally head of Publishing at Island Records, had joined forces with Carly Martin to form Lockout Music and were enthusiastic about the potential of Louis' music. The legalities ironed out a contract was signed over lunch at The Riverside Studios Restaurant on January 17th 2008.