No matter how far away a gig is, so long as it’s in Germany I’ll go. That’s the new, borderline psychotic deal I’ve made with myself. It’s justified 8 hour bus rides, each way, in the span of a single day with only a mantra in my head for comfort – “suffer now, money later. One gig now, more tours later”.
Really, I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. I say I’m building a network of venues that know me, so I can book easier next time. But, it’s hard to know if that’s a solid plan, or just a way of excusing bad planning. But, one thing’s certain, if I’m really going to be a working musician, who plays original music, and doesn’t starve to death, or ask for copious amounts of hand-outs, I gotta do something. “There’s no money in Berlin” – so every musician hears after a month here, but takes a year to learn. But, out of town is a different story.
In Mannheim I played support for a Danish psychedelic rock group. Performing is alright when you’re groggy after transit, it’s finding the venue that always gets me. That walk from the bus or the train to your venue is a series of ambivalent stirrings in your stomach. You wanna appreciate the town, you wanna eat, you wanna stick to the map, but you don’t wanna look too much like a tourist – especially around a train station, the Alma-mater of down-and-outs your sleepy brain is assured want your wallet. They certainly don’t – not much in it. But sleepy brains, in new places are quicker to judge.
Venue owner, Brandherd, was a gem – telling me to head down the street and join the band for vegan burgers on him.
“How’ll I know them?”
“They’ll be the only ones there with long hair.”
Bit presumptuous, ‘cept he was completely right. Why is that a thing? I have long hair. Always meant to cut it, till one day it crept past the point of irritating my eyes, hid neatly behind the ears, and is still stowing away now. They’re crafty, them curls. Maybe it’s a type of subconscious tribal signaling: “Hey – everyone, I’m a musician, I swear”. Everybody groups-up eventually. Goths express their uniqueness by dressing identically, Berliners wear black, and that one bag from Scandinavia with a fox on it for some ungodly reason, and most musicians have long hair at one point in their lives. Just the way it is.
Wuppertal was close to perfect. I got to play as long as I want. The room was full. The food and wine was good, and the people looking after me, Jonas and Liam, were caring souls. Jonas seemed to smile serving what looked like a hundred people, without feeling the stress of it. Liam came later and right away I knew he was Irish. But, you don’t say it straight away. Everybody knows it. No need to say it. We’ve had the conversation a thousand times.
“Where you from in Ireland?”
“I’m from Y.”
“Oh, I’ve never been.”
“Oh, It’s nice.”
“How long you here?”
And then you actually start talking. You learn what happened at home, what happened here, how difficult and fun it was – all the ambivalence, nuance, pain and beauty of moving away. I always love it in the end. You feel adventurous comparing travels. You remind yourself you’ve done something, though you didn’t think you were doing much of anything in the moment, or, worse, you thought it a failing – not something worth speaking of, let alone writing about. But as a song-writer you at least get to know the latter isn’t a thing. All the good tunes come out of nowhere – “I can’t actually write about that, that doesn’t mean anything.” Not true. Everything means something. You can get juice out of a stone as long as you’re not too literal.
The journey back is better when you can sleep. That was the case for Wuppertal. Mannheim wasn’t as smooth. I had slept a handful of hours sharing a flat with the Danish psyche-rock band, just enough to keep me from slumber for a full to capacity eight hour bus ride back to Berlin. I had no phone, and was sat at the very back, right between an elderly lady knitting and a middle aged man, and behind a family of sleeping Roma. As most dozed and dreamed, I struggled to remember what humans did before phones – mine having died a death as soon as I boarded.
At first my thoughts were frantic, irritated with the fact I’d be stuck like a sardine with nothing but a cripplingly heavy Dostoyevski novel for entertainment. He’s tough most of the time, our Dusty, but with very little sleep, no coffee or elbow space, he’s damned near impossible.
So there I sat, alone in my thoughts, and realised we’d be strangers for a considerable while. When you’ve got something to be doing, thoughts don’t stray much from that. And when thoughts have no time to stray, they’re not your own. They’re clinging onto something external, something other than yourself. How long had it been sense I hadn’t reached for a phone when a millisecond of time to reflect came about. How often did I cram a podcast or song in my ear to stave off boredom, not knowing what boredom breeds: creativity, insight, reflection – all the things you like to think make you up, too.
Soon as I realised this, my thoughts relaxed and were my own again. I thought about everything, and everyone, and what I’m doing and not doing – and I enjoyed every minute after that. That’s something.
Next stop: Stuttgart
Want to support making my debut album? It’s damn-near finished – but it’s a costly bugger to do right. See how you can help at kilkelly.net/support