First tour since covid! I forgot I even had a tour blog. “Blog”. What a hideous word. Sounds like something you forcefully evacuate from a choking trout.
Okay, intro sorted, let’s get into it.
Joe Marshall and I decided we’d tour together in his spacious camper van “Bog”. Yes, it’s called Bog. What of it? We sat in Café Rix, sipped pilsners, and sent group emails to bars, cafes and venues throughout the country and were pleasantly surprised by the uptake. A lot of people responded, saying yes, or some version of a “we’d love to have you but we’re booked – and you should probably be planning this more than two months ahead, you ding-bats” type of response.
We bundled bags and guitars and mics and sandwiches into the Nugget – yes, the bog also goes by Nugget – and went on our way, out of Neukolln at dawn on route to Ettenheim in the south of Germany.
It would take 12 hours. Joe was so exhausted, as the sole driver on our trip, he fainted while sitting, onto our dining table after we arrived, ate and had nestled into panic mode over our impending gig. But, that’s neither here nor there, we’d made it! A twix and a few waters later, we played for a handful of elder, short-clad gentlemen and ladies and found out half way though the gig we were actually in Ettenheim’s neighbouring town M-something.
It’s hard to keep up with where you are when you’re travelling day in day out.
Germany is VAST. You get to see roaming hells, black forests, thick with bush and bramble, countless villages with one closed café – the mirage of the de-caffeinated driver – and, if you’re on the auto bahn, a never-ending caravan of trucks.
Trucks! Going everywhere! It’s bizarre. Packed so tight together it looks like a train on wheels. So many. So monotonous. Jaysus, we buy some amount of crap! And someone has got to drive that crap the width and breadth of the country. Drive as trains cost more to hog it. I don’t know how you could do it. The autobahn bleeds you dry of energy if you have to lug weight. You watch Ferarris and Geil Autos speed past on your left, and all you can do is watch the equally heavy barge of crap in front of you trudge on.
All we were hocking was my artbooks. I brought about 30. Sold 2 by the end of the tour. One short-clad man in not Ettenheim said it “looked too dark to buy, after the two years we just had”. Dark folk is truly a pre-covid type of music. From now on I’ll push the genre as “Breezy Blues”, as, well, he kinda has a point.
We only had four actual gigs. So, in between we busked, unamplified, in places like Freiburg and Marburg – anything with a Burg is generally how we’d fix it, and then we’d park up our Bog in some blisteringly beautiful spot amid fields and forests.
You don’t realise how lacking we are in the cities until you cook up pasta on a gas stove and eat it, watching over birds of prey looking for mice, hearing the howl of a whole forest of leaves wisping with the wind.
Our eyes would start sinking with the sun, and we’d be in bed by eleven. Cortisol levels deplete to nothing, and all you worry about is where’s the next good spot.
Which brings us to Darmstadt. We found a quiet place to park beside a graveyard, huge, and full of singing birds, waking hornets in the dirt, and swinging silk worms. Onwards we went to our next gig.
It was happy hour when we arrived. Seven seventy year olds rammed at least eight shots of tequila, lemons and salt to boot, in while we sat on and looked. One squealed out this ungodly wincing retching tone after every one. That’s how I counted them, trying to avert my gaze as much as possible, lest they include us.
Finally, happy hour ended, and all but one man was left. His face had changed to a dark shade of purple. “Is he going to die?” I asked Joe, as he stood and walked the uneven wood to the bathroom and down the stairs. He didn’t.
We played that Monday night in Darmstadt’s drinking man’s bar. Shot drinkers. All of them. We had a few onlookers, there for music, but mainly drinkers tolerated the musical interruption to squealing tequilas.
I got so ill at ease watching Joe’s set, wherein the drinkers took shot after shot, and cackled through songs, that I found myself drumming applause on the table, shouting support at the end of one particular banger of Joe’s – and finally the sauced-up noticed he was playing, and became somewhat of an audience.
We had two more sets to go. And we won them round in the end, thankfully. It brought my mind back to the Irish Pub gigs I used to do on occasion for extra cash. One time, in Hildesheim, I think, I had to compete with a team of football fans singing their favourite anthems. I don’t know how exactly, but, I suspect the sheer Drogheda in me unleashed somekind of spell on them – the bile of centuries worth of vexation left in the people of a town utterly obliterated by Cromwell. It could silence a storm. And every Droghedian is equipped with it. The trick is you carry on, loudly and proudly, smiling all the while doing it. It works. They go quiet.
“That guy’s your homie, then?” said a man in a toilet, noticeably dismayed I interrupted their cackling shots session. Sure is! The Marshall, the lawman! A great man to have by you on tour. As, well, it doesn’t always go to plan. And a strange night in Darmstadt is comical once you sleep and start dissecting events together over morning coffee: like the old lady who laughed at us for missing our tram, or the beer drinking man who sneered Joe away for inquiring which Spati was open, or the purple-faced man, and so on. Those lonely little events add up to pure bitterness and spite if you’re touring solo.
Surviving the strangeness together just makes the night overlooking nature more impactful. After Darmstadt, we had a day of busking in picturesque Marburg, a blissful mountainous university town with a castle like a cheery on top.
And well, it’s all a beautiful mess after that. It melds together. The caravan of trucks, busking in small towns, like Gottingen, chatting to the locals, cooking a stir-fry by a lake near Hannover, as mosquitos made their attempts on us, and the rain pelted through the night.
It was Vatertag (Father’s Day) when we played Hannover. All through the beautiful winding country roads we saw groups of boys trekking trolleys of beer into the woods, as is the tradition. We knew some people in Hamburg, who’d come to our gig after their Vatertag BBQ.
The rain was relentless. The town was dead when we arrived. Everyone gone for the long weekend. But people turned up during the show, people who’d evidentially started drinking at noon. One bald man came up on stage and tried to grab the mic. Unprecedented, but somehow expected – due to the sheer drunkenness all around us.
Hushing the audience, I said this man “was my father and has something special to say, something important”. The man tried to voice anything, any word, any sound – and was utterly stumped. I thanked “my father”, wished everyone happy Vatertag once more and we got on with the gig.
I sold two artbooks that night. A couple sat up front and acted as if an actual attentive date was possible, enjoying the music and pushing off my drunken “father” who’d occasionally stagger toward them. A drunken friend of a friend passed the hat and insulted many patrons, and was asked to leave by the bar staff, who were furious at his drunken behaviour. Suffice to say, things were going well!
We spent the next day with my friend, took in Hamburg and walked to the harbour, passed the red-light district where the Beatles played daily 8 hour sets, all the while hopped up on speed from the apotheke. You have to earn your stripes somewhere. Wonder how many drunks Paul had to push off the stage over those few years?
Joe had to leave the tour early, and so it was left with me to finish off our tour in Kiel. Vanless, I booked an airbnb and arrived in such exhaustion all I could do was lie down and look out the window, thankful for the buckets of rain coming down, that a big walking tour of the city wasn’t exactly feasible.
I played Prinz Willy Café the following eve. The place was lovely, and the people kind, attentive and caring.
A lady from Shang-Hai, “stuck in Kiel because of Corona measures back home” put me up for the night. We drank sekt and listened to Chinese and Mongolian music.
I took the train back the following morning. Joe and I are already planning the tour for next year. A little earlier planning is always a better idea. Though, the spontaneity of it all is what you’ll miss if you get to regimented. So long as the bog is chugging along, and we’re positive, there’s nothing better. Returning with money in your pocket is a plus. I still can’t believe I get to do this. Any guise of it. It’s a dream. It’s a challenge. It’s a life.