On January 14th, I stepped onto the stage of the Dave Dunnett Theatre in Oak Bay, Victoria to start a three month tour, performing the new songs from Every Soul’s A Sailor. Playing an album’s worth of brand new songs is daunting, but this was also my first show in my new hometown (I moved to Victoria with my wife and daughter in July 2015) and, well… first impressions etc. etc. So I was feeling a certain amount of pressure to live up to the hype and make something special happen. I honestly don’t recall much about that show, some of the songs fluttered a bit, but mostly they flew and at the end of the night I took a bow in front of a sold-out-to-the rafters crowd and felt like I had started something good.
A week later with flu and fever raging through my home, I flew from Victoria to Toronto and then caught a red-eye to Amsterdam to start my tour of The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. There are so many highlights from that leg that it’s difficult to remember it all. Even that first night, when I arrived in Amsterdam without any of my luggage or gear (it didn’t make the close connection in Toronto) was special as Luciano and Sandra (my Dutch promoters) took me to La Vallade (highly recommended) for an exquisite meal and copious bottles of wine to help me overcome my jetlag (worked like a charm!)
Next morning we drove through the mist into Rotterdam, for a live radio recording using Sandra’s guitar (praying that my gear would make it to the gig that night). I was immediately struck by the architecture in Rotterdam – a port town, it was heavily bombed during the war and rebuilt with modern flourishes and a flair that reminded me of Liverpool. The Radio show was startling in how much time I was given, the great equipment and the respect I received as a visiting artist. Here’s a picture of the show script showing the tunes I played. You can listen to the show by following this link.
As soon as I’d approved the playback (sounded dandy), we loaded up and headed out in the van that would be home for the next two weeks – Sandra driving, Luciano playing DJ with his iPod and a large Bluetooth speaker balanced on the dashboard.
The gig that night was part of The Blueroom Sessions at Clubzaal in Den Bosch, a lovely club with a great crowd and a fair indicator of what the rest of the tour would be like – decent attendance with the occasional sell-out, listening audiences who want to talk after the show, know my back catalogue and line up to buy the new one!
After that show it all becomes a bit of a blur… Sandra driving the van down long straight roads between the ever-present canals and drainage ditches with Luciano dishing up a wonderfully eclectic menu of music including (what I came to recognise as his occasional wild-card, something out of left field, like Barry Manilow singing a moving, heartfelt version of Mandy) peppered with everything from Sinatra to Slade. I performed in a 14th Century chapel in Nijmegen that was so vast a space, that the notes would hang in the air as I sang them and create chords on their own. A house concert in Germany where the flu finally got to me and I wondered if I would get through the set without barfing (I did!) but had to decline the late-night feast set out in our honour at Willhelm and Heike’s house up the road (sorry guys). Another German gig, The Wunderbar in Eppstein at an old train station across the valley from an 11th Century Schloss /castle (again, great crowds, great response, great CD sales). The list of gigs is probably still up on my website, but though I instagrammed and Facebooked to the best of my ability (Wifi permitting), it really did become a blur as I sat in the back of the van watching the scenery go by… ahh the scenery! It reminded me of driving through the prairies (flat) but with water everywhere. Everybody knows that most of The Netherlands is below sea level, but that doesn’t really register until you are there and slowly come to grips with the fact that almost everywhere you go there is water, canals, drainage ditches, lagoons and the ocean. I still don’t understand how their basements, underground parking etc. etc stays dry. I have battled floods after heavy rain in NS and wish I had some of that Dutch know-how.
One of the most memorable shows was in Friesland at an old hunting lodge. The gig itself was lovely and followed by the usual post-show get together where everybody (out of courtesy to me) carried on the conversation in English… they all speak English quite fluently, and German and… (as an Anglophone who speaks almost no French from a so-called bi-lingual country, I felt like an idiot in their company). So the gig was the usual delight, but what really stuck with me, was the drive back to Amsterdam the next day, where we took the highway that travels along a 32km stretch of dyke built in the late 1800’s. Imagine the technology they had back then, steam shovels and barges and elbow grease… an astounding achievement and the brainchild of one Cornelius Lely who’s vision to span The Zuider Zee must have seemed completely crazy at the time, but… they did it! If you ever get the chance to drive this stretch of road, take it and be sure to stop at the little café in the middle where you can watch old B&W white footage of the construction whilst eating a great lunch.
I did get to do some sightseeing,with a few days off in Amsterdam, where I wandered through the Van Gogh Museum and The Rijksmuseum coming face to face with Sunflowers and Rembrandts…. simply stunning. I spent hours dodging stoned tourists eating fries, laughing and falling all over themselves. I wandered the canals just soaking it up, until my feet ached and I had to stop for coffee. An astounding city full of art and architecture, crime and passion in a country that walks the line between full on liberalism and staunch conservatism with every single step, amazing.
On another memorable day, I played a gig in The Haag and with time on our hands, we visited The Escher Museum in one of the old Royal Palaces. Like many people, I am familiar with Escher’s prints from college dorms and friend’s apartments back in the day, when I was a young musician staying up late, smoking twigs ‘n seeds and discussing humankind and the universe, whilst staring at those crazy Eshcer staircases going nowhere and the snakes that become butterflies… but I was not familiar with the breath-taking pen and ink landscapes that hung in this museum. Better still, the staff were happy to let us take pictures.
And so the days went by with the repetition of eat/drive/play/sleep as the tour slowly became one journey, rather than a series of specific event.
There was the daytime radio show I did in Holland, which was held at a local café. The celebrity being interviewed before me…. was a dog, I was careful not to use the same mic. Shades of Spinal Tap and the puppet show marquee.
Before I was really aware of it, I had played twelve shows and was back at Schiphol Airport watching the fleet of Tesla Taxis circling whilst I waited to board my flight to Heathrow and the next leg of the tour. After being chauffeured around The Netherlands, this would be a return to my usual DIY mode of touring and I must admit, some much needed solitude. I’ve spent most of my life touring alone and… I like it!
The first gig was at The Edinburgh Folk Club and sold out. Yes, it was a relief to be back in a country where English is the first language and to be among the Scots? Even better. A lot of laughter and banter with the audience that night and after the show, some great craic at The Sandy Bell (the birthplace of the contemporary Scottish folk scene I’m told) – great company, pies and pints. Edinburgh is a crazy city built on top of itself it seems and clearly a strong influence on JK Rowling’s esthetic for Hogwarts, as I found out the next day when, with a few hours off, I stumbled upon the Greyfriars Cemetery in the heart of the city. Apparently Rowling, who wrote her early drafts nearby, spent quite a bit of time in Greyfriars and took several character’s names from some of the headstones. The cememtery boasts many tombs and a lot of them built into the surrounding walls, which means that the restaurants, houses and businesses on the other side of those walls, are literally separated by a foot of limestone, if that. Ghosts abound and the veil between the living and the dead is very thin indeed. With great reluctance, I got in my overly complicated rental car and hit the road for Eyemouth (named because it is situated at the mouth of the river Eye (of course!)
Eyemouth is on the border lands on the Scottish east coast. A used-to-be bustling fishing village with a rich history and many stories – it’s proximity ensured that all sorts of smuggling went on back in the day. I played a small show at a venue situated in an old seaman’s mission hall and slept like a baby that night as the wind and the waves fought in the harbour outside my window.