The Bobbo Society For The Arts & Letters
So much going on in 2023!
New album "October" is out in the digital world (click here to listen) and cds and vinyl are being made as we speak.
New t-shirts for "October" are being designed and will be ready for wearing soon.
New cd release show being scheduled.
New tours being scheduled up the west coast, across the US and returning to Europe as well.
That seems like enough for now. I'm tired just thinking of it all!
Train from Eastbourne to Victoria Station, (expect delays) Victoria Station to Plymouth. (Expect delays)
Peter picks me up at the Plymouth train station and we go directly to tonight’s gig at Bar Rakuda. I’ve been here before. He and I played here in the summer of 2017 or 2018.* Colin is the hostess with the most-ess. He makes sure everyone is doing alright, the musicians are taken care of and the ladies have blankets on their laps when it gets chilly. He has worked here forever and is kind of the unofficial mayor of this area. He knows everyone. He has even made himself his own armband with his designation of “host” on it.
Now Bar Rakuda is a bit of a bar crowd of folks that are mostly looking for covers but there’s a few folks here digging the originals. Colin sets me up with a cup of tea and Peter orders us some squid and dipping sauce. It’s tasty. From where we are sitting, the ocean is about 20 meters away, maybe less. It’s nice.
I’m set up in the middle area that is sometimes a stage, sometimes an outside bar and sometimes a DJ booth. There are speakers on all four corners of the stage putting me in 4.1 stereo sound and the really crazy thing is that there is even a monitor at my feet.
Launching into it I have some folks digging it a bunch that are clearly waiting for the DJ to start and a table next to me it’s 4 drunk blokes doing their best to act tough. At one point there is nearly a fight amongst them and Peter sort of positions himself between them and the stage - “just in case” like. When he turns around he laughs himself off. Later on he will describe them as “skinny Harry Potter and Ron Weasley acting tough.” It is funny watching these two dandelions threatening to fight. Later on in my set I will have to cut one of them off from coming on stage with me - mid song - as it occurred to him - in the middle of a song - that that was the best time to make a request for Tom Jones. Yes really. It only took one strong “NO” from me and he nearly fell backwards off the steps.**
There is a woman walking around with a big fancy camera that takes lots of pictures of me performing. I tell her “You’re shooting my bad side.” And she goes to the other side of the stage. “It’s not going to get much better over there.” And we both laugh.
Finishing up and Colin brings me the paper and adds an extra 10 pounds to my take. “Most people just sing, you’re a performer!” And he welcomes me back whenever I’m in town.***
Back at Peter’s, he lays the first bit of food on me. Now I know the Brits get a bad rap when it comes to food but Peter didn’t get that memo. He serves up some sausage stew with mushrooms and focaccia bread. AS A SNACK! Annalisa, AKA Mrs. Peter Crawford, makes it clear that Peter is the cook of the family and does it well. We have a great catch up, talk Annalisa’s books, Doctor Who, Star Wars, we cover a lot of ground and then have a cup of tea before it’s time to fall asleep. Artoo**** is very excited to have someone new in the house and demands to be petted. He’s a good boy but very demanding of pats.
Saturday’s show is an even earlier one as we’re playing Ashtorre Rock from 2-4. It’s a community center of sorts right underneath the famous Brunel Bridge. We pick up pastys on the way there as we are also having a little bit of a band rehearsal first. Peter’s doing a short set solo and then with his group, I play and then we finish up with a few songs together.***** There’s Jim Bloomfield on cajon,
Phil Harwin on bass and Ian Marsh singing and playing guitar. The guys are great and I sit in with them on a handful of songs and I show them a couple of mine and we’re good to go.
At the door is a small kitchen and a woman and her granddaughter are making tea for everyone that wants it and taking donations for biscuits.
This is one of my favorite types of shows - just in a room, people listening, no PA, no mics. Just folks in a room and it’s great. I plink along on my mandolin in a song or two, switch to open E on the acoustic and slide for Man of Constant Sorrow. They all join me on 1, 2, 3 and No Expectations and the room feels like it’s hovering for a few. It’s beautiful.
Post gig has everyone milling about and chatting. I sell my last record I have with me and some other stuff. There’s an old timer in that was sitting in the middle of the room. He was jamming along to everything. Sometimes I’d see him with his head hunched over and just nodding along to the music, toe tapping in time and just grooving. He tells me how much he enjoyed the show. “You have the music in you.” He says and follows it up with “I have the music in me too.” He tells me how he plays guitar and writes and sings and he compliments me and he loves my guitar. “Hold on a sec” and I grab my guitar. “Sit down, play me something.” He takes off his walkers (he just had hip surgery) and starts picking on my guitar. “I’m an old folky” he tells me. “I can tell.” I say again. Then he starts picking out an old tune “Crooked Jack.”
His name is Rob and he’s a local legend. I’ve never heard this song. He tells me it’s about an Irishman that goes over to Wales to get a job and how they put all the work across his back. It’s a fine old tune and I start singing along. Ian gets his guitar out and hands it to me so I can play along with Rog and I start learning this old song and suddenly it hits me…
We all want to be part of a thing. To belong. To be part of something bigger than just ourselves. I’ve had this weird feeling about certain music communities in the states that I wish I could be part of but for whatever reason - I’m just not in that club. And right now in this moment, I find myself as part of the long line of folkies that learn from the older folkies that keep these old songs alive. Just a link in the chain, ya know? But I can feel it and I honor it. Rog is entrusting me with this old song to learn and pass it on. I ask him to play it again and I get the changes and we sing the chorus together, this time he takes the harmony line.
Peter takes the gear back home and Annalisa, Ollie (their son) and I walk to the pub. I’m told that I have to try the cider.****** There’s a new restaurant in town, Foreign Muck, and it’s a score just to get a seat and we sit down and have great food again.
I know my time in Saltash seems like it’s all about food but for crissakes - it is! I mean, the music is great too but Peter tops it all by making a Sunday roast - that he slow cooks for 15 hours. Parsnips, Yorkshire pudding, potato, peas, carrots, stuffing and topped with gravy. I have half a plate left and Annalisa and Peter have clean plates staring at me. I try to eat faster but I just can’t. I do finish it all but I am full. And I have to sing in like 2 hours!
We get to the Carpenter’s Arms just as it starts raining. The sign says “15th Century Pub” and it is for real that. It’s beautiful inside and the folks there are really nice. I’m hit with a strong bit of post meal sleepiness but we set it up and give it a good go. There’s folks here listening too but I feel like I’m a bit of a distraction for some of them. I unplug and finish up my set unplugged. It’s a good go in an old pub. I can feel some show fatigue setting in. I think I need a few days off or something. Fortunately that is what’s ahead.
We drive back to Saltash in the fog and rain and Peter makes tea and crumpets for us all. Seriously getting the full British hospitality here. Annalisa and I trade one of my t-shirts for one of her books.*******I try to convince them to come visit us in California and I know they really want to go to the Star Wars thing at Disneyland. We make morning plans so I can leave after them and drop the key back through the mailbox slot.
I sleep hard and actually wake myself up from a dream. The morning tea is tasty and I walk the almost mile to the train station. My pack is heavy today. I leave Saltash at 10:30 am. I will be in Holyhead by 8:30 pm.
*Time is meaningless.
**I used the Dad voice that Jonathan Grant taught me.
***Actually, only for the next three years as he is planning on retiring in 3 years. I think he is telling everyone this far in advance so he gets a good retirement party.
****Yes, the dog is named after R2-D2.
*****I can’t let my band know about this “pasty during rehearsal” arrangement.
******Cider, in American is - Hard Cider. All other apple juice is just that, juice. Cider is alcoholic. And it’s good.
*******I introduce them both to my “new poetry thru Gatsby” book and as soon as Annalisa gets over the fact that she’s defacing a book - seems to really enjoy it. They both sign the book after making new poetry.
This leg starts in Cologne where the other night I was traveling and I messaged Tracy to see if she could find me a hotel or something that was close to the Hauptbanhof (train station) and she came thru tops with a place that was 700 feet from the station*, I dropped my bags and hoped on a scooter to find some food. It is still somewhat hard to get used to most things being closed on Sundays in Germany. I mean, it’s nice but as I barely know what day it is anyway - it’s like “oh, that’s today? I really wish I could get some food.”
The trip from the central station to Cologne airport is beyond easy. There’s regular runs seemingly like every 20 minutes or so. Since I’m traveling with a guitar (and purchased a seat for it) I’m planning on getting there extra early because I’m anticipating it not going smoothly.** And sure enough, I’m about 4.5 hours early for my flight which is good because it’s nearly a two mile walk from the train platform to the gates for the planes. There’s a lot of sitting and waiting until the check in counter even opens. As far as I can tell - we are the ONLY EasyJet flight from Cologne today.
When it is finally my turn to check in there’s a long delay because they are asking why I haven’t checked in already online. I explain that the online thing wants to know my guitars Passport number, date of birth and whether it’s male or female. “You bought a seat for you guitar?” He asks almost accusingly. “Yes. I talked to customer service and followed all the guidelines on the EasyJet website. It is all done correctly, I checked before I left with customer service” He just stares at me. I think he’s waiting for me to say “ah, never mind, just check it.” But I don’t. I just wait him out. I can feel chest tightening and myself getting very anxious and nervous and then I tell myself “don’t be nervous. You have done everything they have asked for, you are early, you can wait and let him figure it out.” I take a couple of deep breaths. He’s staring at his screen and looks up again, “You bought a seat for your guitar?” “Yes.” I say calmly and leave it at that. He has the ticket info there. He can figure it out. I’m not the first person to do this. He checks with another agent. He stares at the screen a while longer. He checks with her again and then hands me two tickets, one for me and one for my guitar.
Now going thru security, there was a weird exchange that I wasn’t even going to mention but I was with a line of people walking up to the security checkin metal doctor things and an airline worker pushed ahead of me and stops right in front of me and takes the retractable thingy that makes the aisles and lanes and closes it off right in front of me. So now I have to walk down 10 feet, make a turn and come back 10 feet. It’s silly but whatever, right? I walk around and as I get up to where I had just been standing the same guy closes off my lane and lets some other folks come through. He then opens my lane and I go to get in line behind them because, well, I am the end of the line. And then he closes that lane between himself and me again and tells me to walk down the 20 feet to the next thing down. “Seriously?” I say. “Yes, seriously.” “It’s really hard not to take this personally.” I say to him and a guy that is right next to him in line that saw the whole thing just starts laughing.
I know he’s just doing his job and was oblivious to me, I’m just someone else in line that happened to be next inline 3 times in a row and got the aisle closed to me but I wish I had the cctv footage of it because it was just absurd.
Guitar goes through the scanner thing with my backpack and everything else and my guitar gets pulled aside. “Does your guitar have a battery in it?” “Yes.” “Why is that? It’s an acoustic guitar, why does it need a battery?” I start explaining that it is common and it’s for the pickup and plugging it into a PA and he cuts me off. “We’ve never seen an acoustic guitar that had a battery in it before.” So I decide to go Guitar Geek Warning on him. “You see, an acoustic guitar has a piezo element installed under the bridge and that’s what allows you to plug it in but a piezo element by itself doesn’t have enough gain so it requires a preamp and that’s where the 9 volt comes in and it allows me to shape the eq and get rid of the midrange quackiness inherent in all piezo elements. And I also have a humbucking soundhole pickup with a battery. Do you want to know why I use a humbucker instead of a single coil?”
Honestly, I got most of that out, maybe not that succinctly but it didn’t have to be he glazed over pretty quickly and just handed me my guitar and was like, “oh, ok, yeah…” and walked away.
More than Guitar Geekery it felt like Guitar Jedi. “This is not the guitar you are looking for.”
Outside London Gatwick I take a taxi to my bed and breakfast where I have the smallest room I have ever stayed in reserved for me. It’s totally fine, I’m just sleeping here and it’s only me but the guy at the desk says he doesn’t know if me and my guitar will both fit in the room and offers to let me leave it downstairs.***
The next morning I’m sitting next to a couple from Vancouver who are traveling to Africa. He’s super involved with his local Rotarians and spends most of his retired time getting old medical equipment to be donated to them so they can repurpose them to the developing world that needs medical supplies. They are very nice and even tell me that I sound a bit Canadian.**** I take down their info to share with my uncle Steve who is very involved with the Rotarians in Portland, OR.
From there it’s about a half mile walk to the train station which feels further today with my pack and guitar but with plenty of time I take the train from Gatwick to Eastbourne and then a 6 pound taxi ride to my cousin Natalie’s place.
Natalie and Rik are both working from home and still have work to do and I don’t wan to bug them so I go for a walk down to the ocean and while I’m there I figure - I might as well see if there’s a music shop around so I can replace that broken patch cable from the other night.***** From where I am by the beach the closest music shop I can find is 4 miles away. I start walking.
The gps takes me down roads, side streets, alleyways, bike paths, staircases between buildings, paths between houses, over the train tracks, more staircases, a bike path along the highway, down a dead end street with a step over the barrricade and there is the shop. It’s a nice shop too with good stuff and staff that actually knows shit. There’s one mandolin on the wall and I ask to play it. They tell me they don’t get too many people in there that know what to do with a mandolin. I take it into the acoustic room and give it a good go. It’s a nice one and even stranger - it’s a mandolin in a shop THAT IS IN TUNE. There’s an older dude and a younger one that work there and they come in the acoustic room and start asking me a bunch of questions. “You’re obviously a player. What brings you to Eastbourne?” And we have a nice conversation about traveling and performing and going to out of the way places and long story short, I spend $120 on a new mandolin.******
Rik and Natalie’s place is 4 miles back in the other direction. I message Natalie. They are busy until 5:30. My GPS says I will be there by 5:15. It is but a good stretch of the legs as they say in The Quiet Man.
It’s so good to see and hang out with Natalie and Rik. She actually lived with Tracy and I for a while out in California so I feel very close to her. It’s as much of a sibling relationship that I’ve ever really had and so it’s unique and special to me. It’s a great catch up and she makes a curry for dinner and then inflates my bed and we have great plans to go to Brighton tomorrow.
They have both taken the day off to show me around and we drive down to Sankey Head? Smokey Head? Stoney Head? Shit, I don’t remember the name but it definitely had “Head” in the name. And its a super rocky beach and has those famous white cliffs with the sea and the flung spray and the blown spume and seagulls crying******* and then we go to Brighton and have a great walk around the town where Rik tells great stories about his hometown and where he grew up here and the clubs and the bands they used to go see here and we walk out on the pier and then we head to a small restaurant where they’ve made reservations and Rik and I smash the fish and chips and it’s a fantastic day.
Thursday I take a cab to the venue as Natalie and Rik will be meeting me later and Beerarama is a new little bar in the heart of downtown Eastbourne. Jamie and John are…co-owners? I do meet someone else later who mentions being an owner or investor or something - I’m not sure. But they have made a space for me up front and borrowed a small PA set up.******** It is an oddly well-lit room (that is different for a bar) where you look out at the folks sitting here drinking and think to yourself “I don’t know if they’re ready for me but I’m booked to play, so I’m gonna play.” And it’s not like I’m overplaying the room or whatever - I just do my thing. Not super loud, not all wallflowers like either. Just at volume. This is the show and I’m here to do it.
And it goes over. There’s 3 folks sitting right in front, nearly arms length away and the older woman of the group, Beatrice, is clearly enjoying it. She’s probably about my Mom’s age and she is just digging it. “You sound vaguely Eagles.” “Can I quote you on that? Vaguely Eagles?” We all laugh. She has questions in between songs and I tell my long rambling stories and we all have a great time. As I finish my first set they apologize for having to leave but they have reservations. Food always trumps entertainment. I get it. But I’ve made some new fans and then there’s Jake and Sapphire who have shown up. The two both have brand new crocheted hats they are wearing and they work at the record shop around the corner. They are hoping I have vinyl for sale but I only have one left and I it’s back at Rik and Natalie’s place because I really did no anticipate anyone here wanting vinyl. Idiot I am. They are moving to Munich and he is half German and I introduce them to Rik and Natalie and they start speaking German to each other. I sing APB to Jake and we all sing along.
After the second set ends the group of 6 Welsh dudes that were sitting in the middle of the room, alternately listening and chatting - each one of them comes up to tell me how much they enjoyed the music. I’m calling the night a win.
Post show Jamie and John invite me back any time and we make vague plans for next year. Natalie buys pizza and we go home and spend the rest of the night telling great stories about our family and we reminisce a bunch about my dad and it’s a solid end to this stay in Eastbourne.
It’s now Friday and I’m on my third train of the day. I went Eastbourne to Victoria Station and then Victoria Station to Paddington Station and then Paddington to Plymouth in southwest UK. Mostly easy except I was unable to print out my tickets for the train because of twin security systems from different companies not working together. The Trainline Company requires you to put your credit card you purchased the tickets with in the machine along with the confirmation code to print out your tickets and when I bought the tickets my credit card company created a special “online only” number for purchases so sites cannot steal my credit card number. What that amounts to is my actual credit card not being recognized by the company where I bought the tickets from.
Eastbourne station told me to get it sorted at Victoria Station.
Victoria Station told me to get it sorted at Paddington Station.
Paddington Station said “You cannot pass” until I get it sorted with Trainline or my credit card company. Everyone loves making an international phone call for many minutes and being on hold knowing that you’re paying like $2 a minute or something crazy.
I’m nearing Plymouth now and my friend Peter Crawford is picking me up at the station and then I go play Bar Rakuda tonight by the sea. It’s pretty damn close to the ocean and around the corner from there is a plaque from where the original Pilgrims left for the new world in 1492.**********
See you tomorrow.
*Provided you exit the correct side of the Hauptbanhof, otherwise it takes a few annoying minutes to walk around
**This is called “foreshadowing”
***Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen.
****I get this a lot.
*****It’s a 1/4” cable that it’s about 5 inches long and I think from traveling in my bag and being plugged in the whole time it may have put stress on the connectors because it was shorting out. I usually have extra but this one was brand new before the trip. These things cost like $12. EZPZ.
******I know what you’re thinking. “Bobbo, don’t you have a mandolin?” Yes. Of course I do, but I don’t have one with me! “Bobbo, but can you even travel with it? Why do you need it?” Ok, so yeah, it’s going to be a pain in the ass but it’s little and I have that session at Windmill Lane coming up and it would’ve cost $100 to rent a mandolin for the day. “Bobbo, what are you going to do with it after you record at Windmill Lane?” I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead. I mean, maybe I leave it at that studio until the next time I come to Dublin. Who knows? I don’t know! Stop asking so many questions!
*******This may be Wordsworth. Or Emerson. I don’t remember
********One of the smaller PA setups I have ever played through but perfect for this room. There was a floor monitor powered speaker with 1/4” line input, a 4 channel Behringer mixing board and a couple of cables. it took me seconds to dial in and I set the monitor on the floor behind me so I could hear and everyone else could as well. EZPZ.
**********It’s real easy to look at the names of those pilgrims and think - these were the most religious, uptight geezers around. I bet the town was glad to be rid of them. “They’re going to the new world? Ha! I bet they fall off the edge of the world!” Weirdly, they were the kind of people who today would believe the world was flat and yet they knew in 1492 that it wasn’t and that they would find land. And on top of all that, they were so boring and un-original, they left Plymouth and where did they land? Plymouth! No even “New Plymouth” or “Plymouth Jr”. Plymouth. Probably same mail code too.
Friday morning I wake up and have this strange feeling. I’m not used to it. I feel content. I had such an amazing day in the studio yesterday at Hansa. I walked through Potsdamer Platz at night and just floated.
I have felt this way at other times in my life but it’s definitely been a while. There’s always so much running about we tend to lose the moments we’re trying to hold on to. I made a conscious effort yesterday to be in the moment and I’ve been able to sustain it like a high.*
Making my tea I decide to just go explore Berlin like I have not done before. I’ve been here enough that I’m not doing touristy things. I’m just going to walk the city, pick up a scooter** when I get tired of walking and see where I end up. I put a 50 note in my pocket and start heading towards the old section of Prenzleburg. It’s about 3 miles, I walk a bit, I scooter a bit, walk a bit and I’m there in no time.
The Prenzleburg is definitely the “hip” section of town with fancy stores and shops. It was originally a pretty beat up area of town when the wall was here but now it’s thriving.
I don’t really know how far I walked today but I’ve got good tunes in the headphones and it doesn’t matter. Before long I find myself by the East Side Gallery. As I walk along the art gallery that was once the symbol of the Cold War I find myself thinking “when is this wall going to end? I want to get to the river.” And the absurdity of that thought pattern is not lost on me.
The Spree is beautiful today. It’s a perfect day for me to get a Mustafa’s doner, I start walking that way and then just keep going. I wasn’t up for waiting in line for an hour even if it is the best doner in the city, if not the world.
I pick up another scooter and ride a bit. I’m stopped at a red light with about 10 other riders and all of a sudden WHAM! I’ve just been rear ended by a woman on bicycle! I was literally just standing there and she didn’t see everyone stopped or something and crashed into me. I’m fine, the scooter is fine but she went over the handlebars and is, well, she’s fine too but she’s very embarrassed. She’s checking to make sure I’m fine. I think her bike hit the scooter and she hit me in the air.
I know how to keep it interesting.
Back at the Airbnb my hosts have a friend staying and we all talk until after midnight. They have so many questions about the USA. Mostly about gerrymandering*** and the healthcare system.****They tell me how they couldn’t stay in Russia and have a good job because you’d get hassled by the police just for having a car. Police would stop you and just say “do you have money?” And shake you down because they can see you have some money. They would say to them, “You can pay me now or I can find drugs in your car.” “But I don’t have any drugs.” “That doesn’t mean I won’t find drugs.” And it’s just blatant blackmail and extortion. They say the police are different to tourists but it’s very hard to be just a normal person in Russia. This exact scenario has happened to all three of them.
I should’ve been packing and getting ready for my train in the morning but I’m really enjoying these folks. I sign my first album with a Russian “thank you” on the cover. Sleep comes easy.
My train from Berlin to Herdecke is scheduled for 9:42. I’m at the train station by 9:15 and I’m watching the big board. It’s supposed to be on track 14 but at track 14 it’s showing it being late. I’m talking to a doctor and he’s just retiring in 6 months and is taking a long weekend away to see some friends. He asks about what I’m doing in Germany. “If I could do it again, I would have definitely persued music and not medicine. I’ve had a good life but I wish I had stayed with my music.” It’s something I hear all the time and it always makes me sad for them. I mean, I know he’s going to retire and be comfortable and I will most likely never retire - that’s the trade off. He tells me some of the challenges the past two years have been in medicine and he is excited to be retiring while begrudgingly knowing he will contribute to the shortage in the industry.
And then there’s the announcement that ALL Trains are canceled today.
There is a mad rush to the ticket machines as folks try to get refunds and other things. My doctor friend and I stand there and watch. I wasn’t clear on what was said but he translates for me. We both just stand there watching everyone scramble. Even the screens aren’t being clear.
I don’t know what I’m going to do but whatever it is, it will work itself out. There’s nothing I can do about it. The Doctor doesn’t know what he’s going to do either, he may just go home. I tell him I’m going to find a seat and have a good think on it.
The line for the automated ticket machine wraps the length of the Hauptbahnhof, turns the width and then back up a bit of the other side. I feel bad for the folks that absolutely have to be somewhere today. I mean, I have a gig but the world isn’t going to end if that doesn’t happen. My absolute first thought is maybe I’ll just stay here two more nights. That’d be ok. And then my phone starts blowing up with folks offering help, info on what happened, different options, places to stay, available flights and my aunt and uncle in Germany even call me.
I feel so loved and I feel so bad - all my friends seem way more concerned about how I’m going to manage than I do! The train got canceled and my number one concern was “where am I going to sit down for a while?”
I could get a flight that would get me closer for about $40, but I’d have to get to the airport and then get another train that may not be running. I could rent a car for 2 days for like $170 a day and drive the 5.5 hours to the show. That doesn’t sound appealing either. I can stay in Berlin for the two nights and take a different train on Monday and that would cost less. It’s nice to have options.*****
I know this is serious at the train station because the announcements that are typically in German and English have stopped being in English and they sound a bit frazzled. My comprehension of the messages is limited but I keep hearing “alle Zuge ausgefallen”(all trains canceled) The updates keep coming in and I hear that they are going to have it fixed today but don’t know when. The info counter only has about a dozen people in line now. I get to the front, ask about my options, get put on a later train and am told that my reserved seat will no longer be reserved and to anticipate the train to be very full.
I wait around a bit, it’s a couple hours actually and go to board the carriage that I have booked but it’s all backed up, the first class carriage is less full. I wander in, find a empty seat, ask the dude sitting next to it if I can sit there. He mistakes my inquiry for me saying “that’s my reserved seat.” And I motion for him to take the second seat. “you are not reserving this one too?” “No, I was supposed to be on an earlier train, I just wandered into first class.” “Me too.” He says. And he and I have a nice comfortable ride in unclaimed first class seats.
This is all good for like two hours or so, I even fall asleep, until we have an unscheduled “everyone off the train” and then it’s pandemonium again. And I have to ask folks what’s happening because my German is not good enough to understand what’s going on. “We all have to get off this nice fast train and get on some shitty slow train.” Says a guy in a nice suit next to me. And it’s standing room only after that as we have 2 more unplanned stops and transfers and all along the way picking up more and more football fans until we are so jammed in, everyone is just leaning on one another. One group has brought a boom box and are playing the psyche up music for Dortmund. It’s shitty techno that the majority of people on this train seem to be enjoying. Most everyone is drinking beer and someone even has an empty plastic bin for collecting empties. For the most part all empties are handed over to the person nearest the bin.
We stop in Dortmund and 90,000 people get off the train. A dude walks thru picking up the empties that didn’t make it to the bin, picks up the bin and the train is nearly clean. I look around and there are 3 of us left in this car. We all look at each other with the looks of survivors.
Herdecke train station is a small stop. I mean, Herdecke is a small town of about 25,000 people. The train stops, I get off, the train pulls away and all that’s here is a small overhang to keep you dry from rain and a ramp to a parking lot.***** I have the advantage of GPS that I didn’t have when I was a kid and the Shakespeare Pub is less than a mile away, GPS says 15-20 minute walk. Easy.
And I swear to dog, gps took me thru some folks backyard trail. It was definitely quicker but I could’ve stayed on the road and the sidewalk.
Nathaniel is waiting for me when I arrive. He owns the Shakespeare Pub. He makes me the BEST cup of tea ever.****** and orders me a pizza. We’re joined by a couple that saw me here the last time I played here…5 years ago - Andreas and Silke. It’s been stumping me about this place - I know I’ve played here and now I’ve been inside and I still have no memory of it. And I remember lots of things. So it’s bugging me. And then it hits me. I didn’t play inside, I played outside. I stop mid conversation and say “Wait a minute, I played right there.” And point to the sidewalk area in front of the pub. Andreas says “Yes. It was too hot to play inside so you just sang on the sidewalk.” Wow. He remembers! They tell me they were excited to see that I was returning and even double checked on my website to make sure it wasn’t a mistake! Having fans is the best.
Inside Nathaniel shows me my green room/bedroom. It’s a couch upstairs and it looks pretty comfortable. He has fresh sheets and blankets for me too. He informs me that there’s a big football match happening tonight and it will likely effect attendance. I am well aware of the football match.*******
When I start playing, it’s not a packed room but near every chair is occupied. I try to tell some of my stories and they seem to be falling flat. There’s less English speaking done here and you can tell. I try to change it up a bit, play one with slower delivery of words and it goes better. I rock it up and they dig that. I take a quick break and talk to folks and they are understanding pretty well, they are just being super duper German reserved. It is a thing and it makes it hard to read a room. With that in mind I launch into set two and have a good go and get a great response. There’s a couple of dudes filming me perform******** and two young guys have popped in and they are really into it. I finish up and make the rounds. There’s a guy on the left that has played in Nashville at Roberts and he was the only one that had heard of Lucinda Williams when I told that story. Then Andreas and Silke, who are so nice, buy a couple of cds before leaving. Nathaniel has stated he’s buying a record and the two young dudes, Philipp and Thomas are pooling money together to get a record too. Philipp has lots of questions about everything. He’s so sweet. He’s a guitar player and he’s trying to get his best friend Thomas to start playing in a band with him. We talk guitars and inspiration. He asks me to recommend some music to him, so I name half a dozen things I dig and he starts following all of them in his phone. He speaks great English. And I mention this because he’s a dude that has decided that he wants to be a musician and a singer/songwriter and knew that if he was ever going to travel with it - singing in English is super helpful for him to reach his goals. He started by watching the Ellen Show to practice his english without an accent. It is truly inspiring to see someone take on a challenge like that for a dream. We talk guitars for a while and he got into the mini acoustic guitars because of Ed Sheeran and confesses to never really playing a big acoustic like mine. “You want to try it?” And you would have thought I gave him a hundred euros. “Serious?” I slide a chair over and he plays my Gibson. Thomas gets his phone out and starts recording him. “The sound is so big and this neck - it’s so easy to play!” And then it goes guitar geek - he’s asking why and how, what’s it made out of and I do my best to teach him and it’s incredibly rewarding. “I will never be as good as you, I started too late.” “When did you start?” “I was 14.” “Well I started when I was 17 so you got three years on me.” Now I don’t know what he will do with it but he acted like I just gave him permission to get good at guitar. I compliment them on their newsboy hats, I get mine out and we snap a photo together.
Nathaniel is turning out the lights and tells them it’s time to go and here I am, closing the bar again, here I am sleeping above the stage, there I go, turn the page.
Nathaniel has an early meeting so he tells me he’ll make me breakfast downstairs in the bar at 8:15 but he has to leave by 9.********* Walking across the old wooden beams he hears every step I make before descending the stairs. He has a cup of tea waiting and we have a nice morning chat. He asks me what I would like to listen to this morning and Sunday mornings for me are made for Kris Kristofferson and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” He cues it up and I sip tea and stare out the window at the Sunday morning sidewalks of Herdecke wearing my cleanest dirty shirt.
His player shuffles to Guy Clark’s “LA Freeway” and my mind travels to Baton Rouge, LA and the Red Dragon Listening Room.********** I show Nathaniel some pictures of the place and he admits that he wishes he had some instruments on his walls for folks to play. I tell him he’ll probably end up with one of my mandolins at some point and that makes him smile.
I check my email. I wrote to Windmill Lane Studios*********** in Dublin asking about a studio tour, told him who I was and what-not and he said “You know we have a three hour block open that day if you want to put something down.” I, of course, said yes. So I have that going for me, which is nice. Now I have to write another song or two to record there. Be great if I could find another mandolin before then.
Nathaniel hands me the front door key and tells me to lock it up when I leave and drop the key in his mailbox. He leaves and I feel like I should sweep the floor or something. Instead I pack up my bags and walk the 15 minutes journey to the train station, but it takes 20 minutes - it’s all uphill this way and the pack and guitar are feeling pretty heavy this morning. The train and I are both early and it’s an easy ride into Cologne where I sit in the shadow of the Köln Dom Katedral (big church), drink tea and write this book wishing lord that I was stoned.
*Kind of like the character in Office Space when he gets hypnotized at the beginning of the movie. At least that’s what I think of. The only other time that I can remember this feeling lasting like this was the week we got married.
**There’s the rechargeable scooters all over Berlin. I downloaded the Tier app and there has been a scooter seemingly whenever I look for one. It’s super easy and you just stay in the bike lane, obey the bike lane rules and stoplights and you’re good to go.
***Using three envelopes on the table I’m able to explain how one envelope can be split by the other two and lose and be underrepresented. It’s a simple explanation that I’m quite pleased with how I pulled together quickly and they are both like, “that shouldn’t be allowed.” ‘Yes, I agree and most people agree but they aren’t able to get in a place to change it because they keep voting themselves in.” “That’s messed up.” Yes. It is.
***When I explain how a “fee schedule” works and how if you don’t have insurance a hospital can pretty much charge you whatever they want. It blows their minds. “But that’s unethical.” Yeah. It is.
**** That’s a Slap Shot Ned Bredon quote.
*****This reminds me of a 1990 concert that Jeff, Dennis Hart and I went to in Boston. We saw the Church with the Blue Aeroplanes opening. It was an absolutely spellbinding concert, Def Marty Willson-Piper tore all the strings off a guitar and sent it sliding across the stage in the solo for Hotel Womb. I couldn’t believe that kind of intensity in playing guitar. We left the Orpheum and started walking across Boston to get to North Station but for some reason decided to stop at the Hard Rock Cafe on our way there. We chatted up a couple of girls who offered to drive us home. That’s cool, means we don’t have to rush to catch the last 11:59 train back to Billerica. Dennis and Jeff order steamers. The plate of crustaceans arrive and they dive in. The two girls look at the steamed clams and decide they no longer want to hang out with us and split. The three of us pretty much run from the Hard Rock to North Station and arrive just in time to see our train pulling away. Dennis is pissed at us. I don’t know why. It was just as much his idea to stop for food but now he’s comically pissed at Jeff and I. We survey our options. We can call home and tell our folks that we missed the train or we can problem solve ourselves but we’re not yet smart and we’re only 17 years old. We see there’s another train leaving for Fitchburg in 10 minutes and we can take that one, get off in Littleton near route 495 because surely that is closer than Boston to Billerica.
There’s only the three of us in this train car and Dennis won’t sit with us because he’s so mad. The last thing his mother said to him was “don’t miss the last train home.” We get off the train in Littleton, the train pulls away and all light is gone. We’re in an empty parking lot and don’t even know which way anything is. This may have been a bad idea. Picking a direction based solely on where it looked like light was coming from, we start walking. And walking and walking until we find an office complex and a night security guard that I convince to let me come in and use a phone. Where I do not call home but instead call my friend Brian Major. It is past 2 am and he answers the phone. “Hello?” “Brian it’s Bobbo.” “Where are you?” “Littleton.” “What the fuck are you doing in…you need a ride don’t you?” “Yes.” There’s a pause. “Ok, where in Littleton?” And he comes and gets us. My parents were pissed. Jeff’s parents didn’t wake up and Dennis’ mother asked him what happened and he said “You don’t want to know.” And so she didn’t ask any further questions.
******The Rare Tea company’s “Speedy Breakfast” blend.
********I always wonder what happens with all that footage. I see phones out all the time and recording going on. But I never see what is filmed. It’s a weird thought to think that there is video of you existing in other people’s phones all over the world. Like, that is the world we live in and it is both cool and weird.
*********The couch was incredibly comfortable. Sometimes I think I’m made for couch sleeping.
**********The Red Dragon was a great room already but Guy Clark telling folks about it really put it on the map. So much so that they still have a sign out front that says “Reserved Parking for Guy Clark” even though Guy Clark died in 2016.
***********Windmill Lane Studios is where U2 recorded their first three albums, The Waterboys. Van Morrison, Kate Bush, Rolling Stones, Cranberries, Sinead O’Conner, Elvis Costello and many many more.
I wake up super early. It’s like recording Christmas.
I’m recording at Hansa today.
For those of you reading that don’t know what Hansa is- here’s the footnote*
I’m making my breakfast tea and talking to Andre’. He and his wife own this flat and I’m AirBnBing it here. He asks me what’s going on and I tell him I’m recording, he asks where, I tell him Hansa and his whole facial expression changes. “Are you famous?” I tell him I am not. He starts looking me up on his phone. It’s nice. He knows what this place is. I tell him goodbye and that I won’t be back until late.
I booked this place because it’s close to Hansa. It’s a half mile away. I get there in about 20-ish minutes walking.
Rocco books the studio and we’ve been chatting back and forth, he asked me what my plan was and this is a tip for folks recording because I always have people asking me “how long will it take?” “How much will it cost?” And I didn’t want to waste a single moment in here so I came in prepared.
I told Rocco that I would be recording 3-5 songs. I have the BPM worked out and have drum loops on my phone that I can export into their system and play to. I’d like a big stereo sound for my acoustic. I will track acoustic first, then vocals and then I have some guitar overdubs to do. Would prefer things at 44.1 and I will have a thumb drive to transfer the tracks to.
This is super helpful. They are nearly set up when I arrive.
Arne is the engineer and Marion is his assistant. We hit it off immediately and start mapping things out. He asks me how I normally record my acoustic and I tell him “I know how I do it, do it the way YOU do it.” And he’s got it. I came here to get out of my head. He sets up some KM 86 microphones in stereo. A Neumann SM2 stereo mic and a Neumann U67 mic.**
Initially they have a ProTools problem with the sync clock not syncing and they have to reboot and stuff and it’s so refreshing to see a big studio having a stupid annoying thing like this happen to them too.
Arne is showing me stuff. This is the piano that Martin Gore recorded at naked for a Depeche Mode album. This is the stuff Nick Cave used… and so on. I ask about U2 and he points to my vocal mic and says Bono used that. And I’m psyched about that.
Arne and I set up the session. Song name, bpm, here’s the drum loop I will be playing to, Bam, next… And things are sailing along.
It takes us about 15 minutes to dial in the acoustic sound with the mics and positioning. I do a take and don’t like the timber of my guitar, change to a lighter guitar pick and it sounds much sweeter and softer.
On my first take Arne tells me that I’m pushing the beat a little bit and to relax. And this is normally the type of thing that I have to play back to hear and then start over but today I’m just in the artist chair. I don’t have to be engineer too. I can tell he’s looking for the words to soften what he’s telling me and I tell him not to. Just tell me straight. And that makes things easier all around. I do another take and it’s perfect.
In one hour I did 5 songs. I did two takes of each song.
I knew I wanted to have something brand new and fresh to record so I wrote two songs yesterday. One is an instrumental and that’s kind of a new thing for me but I was practicing another song in double drop D and started messing with some fingerpicking and it just sounded…pretty. The other new one I finished writing at about 9 pm last night and I did a quick voice memo whispery version of it to remind myself how it goes and that one takes 3 takes. This could be nearly the shortest amount of time between written and recorded that I’ve ever done.
I Record Heroes last and it is really pushing me vocally, Arne asks if I want to do another take. “Yes.” As the music starts I look around the room. Enjoy this moment. I tell myself. And I go for it. When the song ends I have nothing left in the tank. I couldn’t do another take, my voice is actually hoarse.
Heroes is a David Bowie song that was famously recorded here. I’m feeling pretty audacious to even attempt this. I’m no Bowie. I am well aware of this. After I finish it up Arne says to me “I’ve heard many people cover that song and they just copy it but they way you made it your own was the best way to do it.”.
We take a short break to prep for guitar overdubs and I set up my acoustic in the control room. They’re looking at me kind of confused. I ask Marion if they have any distortion pedals. He disappears for five minutes and comes back with a handful of pedals. “Let’s make it nasty.” And they are on board. There’s a Big Muff fuzz overdrive and I plug into that and then into a pair of delay pedals. Arne is surprised by the sound I’m getting. We rock through the first song and I tell him I need his help. Again he looks confused. “After the bridge I need you to start turning all the knobs on the pedals.” “I can do that!” And he looks a bit excited to be doing something so unorthodox and he gets down on his knees and starts turning all the knobs creating a nice bit of chaos.
For Heroes I am doing some e-bow effects with some whacked out modulation effect. It’s cool. It’s not what was done originally but is definitely inspired by. I swap out the Big Muff and use another overdrive that I’ve never seen before and play the solo that I sort of worked out last night for the new song. Marion says the part sounds more like a lap steel than acoustic guitar and I agree. They tell me that they’ve never seen anyone get sounds like this out of an acoustic. And so, I taught them something too.
Arne looks at the clock. It’s near 5 pm. “Five o’clock, I thought it was about three. Must be good, I’ve lost track of time.”
I’m done. I’m spent. I have nothing left. I came here to record 5 songs and I recorded all 5. I had my shit together and nailed it and that’s a fucking great feeling. After a few photographs and well wishing we say goodbye. Rocco invites me back whenever. I feel like I was something different than what they usually do.
I feel like I didn’t take enough pictures or something but at the same time I know that I was truly in the moment for all of today. I was trying to capture that. Be in this place with such incredible energy and borrow some of that and leave some of my own.
And I did.
As I exit the building there is some black tie event happening on the first floor. People see me exiting the studio and I’m immediately asked a sort of “who are you? Are you famous? Should we know you?” And it’s kind of funny and I trudge up the street, guitar in hand and cross over in front of Potsdamer Platz.
Back at the Airbnb I’m greeted by Rosina and Andre’. “I’ve been listening to your music all day.” Says Rosina excitedly. “Would you like a glass of wine?” And we sit down and have a great conversation. They are both native Russians living here in Germany for like many years. Rosina has been here since she was 11. They want to buy my record and I have them help me write things out in Russian. “You should tour in Russia, I mean, not right now but you know, someday. They would love you.” And I’m being treated like a celebrity in this house. Their two kids are running around semi naked and we talk life, jobs, music, spouses, America, how they like living in Berlin and so much more. I share my chocolate with them to go with the wine and it’s a great end of the day.
*Hansa Studios is in Berlin. David Bowie did his Berlin trilogy of albums here including the album Heroes. U2 did Actung Baby here. The song “One” was written in the room I was in today. So many great acts. I was here to soak up the atmosphere and get some great sounds. Where it’s located is right near where the Wall used to be in East Berlin. When the wall fell, this area became some of the hottest property around. Previous to that it was pretty run down. But the studio has fantastic old gear and big rooms and just oodles of vibe - which is really hard to quantify.
**During a break I go on Reverb.com and just look up these microphones. I mean, I knew these vintage mics were expensive but holy shit I wasn’t prepared for roughly $30k in microphones on me.
Waking up in Walsrode, Bernd has gone to get some breakfast rolls for us. We make a big pot of tea pulling from his extensive tea collection and have a leisurely morning breakfast. Tonight we play in Verden but first we’r going to visit our friends Jeanette and Paul who live near Verden. (And Jeanette booked this show as well)
My dizziness seems to be better this morning and it’s an easy drive. In my head I’m trying to figure out the cause. Was it the wild mushrooms? No, Tracy had those too. Was it the whiskey? No, I had it before that. Was it the long drive? That seems unlikely as I do those all the time. My current theory is the new sunglasses. I mean, it was cheaper to buy them with someone else’s prescription but maybe that was a bad idea.*
Jeanette has made us Indian food for lunch and Paul has cooked, seemingly, all the rice in their house. It is delicious and great conversation that covers everything from King Charles apparently being a dick to the booking guy from my first show also being quite a dick and harassing Jeanette about getting the GEMA** form from me and bad mouthing my friends that played with me.
Then we play with their kittens. Maine Cooncat kittens. Super adorable. Jeanette looks at us and says “Do you want to take a nap?” And it’s those little things. She knows we’ve been traveling and performing and can just see in our faces that we are beat. “Yes, please.” She readies the guest room and Tracy and I take off our boots and crash for about an hour.
GPS to Bootshaus in Verden is…more of a suggestion than an exact directionally aid. Twice Google tries to send us down one-way streets and once even a bike path. But we get there and it’s a small bar on the bank of the river. Folks outside smoking and chatting. Reiner (our best guess on the owner’s name) shows us the stage. He’s a very sarcastic and boisterous dude. There’s a plank of wood about 6 inches wide by the back wall. “There’s your stage!” As he points to the thin strip of wood. He’s funny, I like him.
As we’re setting up we see some familiar faces coming in Manuela and her boyfriend, Heike***, Sonja and Barbara, Jeanette, Ina and her boyfriend and a bunch of folks we don’t know.
Now the challenge when you play a bunch of shows for the same group of people is keeping it different enough. I mean, we kind of have a core group of songs we’re playing and when we’re playing two sets - it’s roughly about 25 songs we’re doing and most are going to be the same night to night. We’ve been starting with “Massachusetts”**** and then “When we ride” and it’s a good duo for Tracy and I because it gets our fingers moving and us singing together from the get-go. From there we mix it up a bit. Not a ton but “favorite photograph” and “big damn hero” and a few others. We give “cold war” a good kicking and it nearly comes apart at looping part but we hold it together. That’s part of my favorite bit of that song is how holding it together is so…precarious. It’s walking a tightrope for sure.
There are two sing alongs tonight, there’s hijinx and laughter and all around great show. Sonja has brought us Franzbrotchen for breakfast tomorrow and we make plans for next summer when they are in SoCal. And Ina shows us a picture of a pair of birds she has rescued and asks if she can name them after us. Manuela gets a t-shirt and a big hug. Just all around goodness.
We make a good noise tonight and for the first time in all the shows - we had a group of folks talking through our set. I don’t want to make a big deal of it, they were kind of in the adjacent room to where we were performing and I think they thought it meant no one could hear them but they were wrong. I could visually see it annoying folks as we played, especially during our quieter songs.
There was a full room of people listening to us and yet the 5 people outside the room were distracting everyone else just by ignoring what was going on and being oblivious to their surroundings. You kind of just wanted to say to them - can’t you tell that you are the only folks talking right now? I was going to say something to them but Tracy tells me not to and she’s probably right.
Finishing up with “Jolene” and Tracy really gives it hell. It’s one of the best versions we’ve ever done of it. I look over at the outside table who have stopped talking during the first verse, get distracted and then continue talking. Nothing is going to reach them.
Reiner has a special hat for passing around. He takes it out of it’s hard shell case and goes around and tosses a 50 note on top and tells us to come back any time. Jeanette takes a picture of the tip hat and says she’s going to use that picture so people know what a full tip hat is supposed to look like.
The ride back to Bremen is quiet. Tracy and I are spent. We’ve done over 1000 miles in the past 8 days. We need down time.
Back at the hotel we’re told the garage is full and I have to find parking somewhere else. I tell the guy we have musical equipment in the car and is there anything he can do. He tells us that there is technically one space left but a Mercedes has parked so far over that he doesn’t think we can fit. And get this, he says - “I’ll show you and if you can fit without hitting that car, you can park there.” Now I know going into this that I’m going to be able to fit. I will crawl out the back if I have to. God damn Mercedes. Long and short of that - it was easy. I got into the spot but he definitely had a hard time getting in the driver side.
Is it Sunday already? We sleep hard. Wake up for the breakfast buffet that is totally packed, return to our room and go back to sleep until near 1 pm. We bring our PA and mic stands to Heike’s house and leave them here until next year. She has made us pumpkin soup for lunch and gives us a “Moin” kitchen towel, magnet and some chocolate as a parting gift.
The love we are shown is so humbling and beautiful. Es ist sehr schön!
Dropping off Tracy’s bass, bass amp, my telecaster and pedals at Niklas’ studio***** and I’m struck by how at home I am in Bremen. And things like leaving equipment here means that we are of course coming back. And folks that help us with that - that makes it possible. It’s like in the Goodbye Girl when she realizes he’s left his guitar behind.
We love you Bremen, we’re coming back.
Tomorrow Tracy flies west to home and I catch a train east to Berlin.
I’m a few days away from the halfway point of my tour.
*I joke. I didn’t buy used sunglasses. It’s just a minor plot point of The Darjeeling Limited.
**Gema is the performing rights organization here in Germany. I fill out forms everywhere I go with the song list of what I played so not only will I get paid but the folks whose songs I cover get paid too. Everywhere that requires a form, has a form for me to fill out. He did not have one and I told him it would take me a while to find a printer to fill one out and email him a picture of it. Stupid shit, not a big deal, it got done but JFC!
***Heike is currently in the lead for most shows seen this tour - this is her fourth!
****We figured out how to make this word easier for German speaking folks to pronounce - you have them say “Tschüss” first and then “Mass-A-Tschüss-etts”. It works!
*****I finally figured out what happened to this broken mandolin. It was at a Riddle & The Stars Breminale show where I tossed it off stage and the neck went flying off. I re-glued it and it lasted a little while but the re-glue didn’t hold. It is now in Niklas’ possession to do with what he pleases.
We wake up in Kühlungsborn. Tillmann has an AirBnB in their house that they let us stay in. It’s super cute and has a loft bed. Tracy and I sleep cozy and don’t want to get up but I got a message saying “come over for breakfast.”^
Not only did the dude make us dinner at his restaurant last night but today he has made us breakfast in his kitchen. Across the street from their house is a cafe that they also own and run and I mistake his “come over” for the cafe and so we cross the street looking for him. His wife Pairat runs the cafe and I message him back and says “bring m wife with you.” So we all sit down in their kitchen and eat poached eggs, Thai rice with pineapple, rolls and cups of coffee and tea.
I don’t even know how long we ate breakfast for but I know that I didn’t want to leave. The incredible conversation we had and the learning about so much. They have the cafe across the street and this year it’s really picked up. But there’s no tangible reason as to why now. It has existed for almost a decade but now it’s busy. I don’t know why either. Tracy and Pairat go outside and pick some apples off the tree and as we sit and watch Tracy cut the apple with a knife I mention to Tillmann that I hate watching Tracy use a kitchen knife as I think she’s doing it wrong and it makes me nervous for fingers. And he says the most amazing thing to me - he tells me how he has spent a lot of time in Thailand with his wife and seeing how other folks do kitchen things, like cutting things with knives, and how they are positioned - on the floor or sitting low - it changes what is “the right way” to do it. Because you’re not standing up or have what we think of as a “traditional” cutting area. So what is “right” is not standard everywhere. I’m doing a shit job of explaining it but it was insightful.
Pairat gifts Tracy a scarf and some fabric and it’s so sweet. We have to get going now and just had an amazing stay in this little corner of the world.
Today we are driving to Walsrode and Bernd and the Church with the flying Angel. It’s about a 3.5 hour drive but today we will do it in 5.5 because of traffic thru Hamburg, construction, a couple of accidents as well as an off ramp that we can’t get to that Google apparently doesn’t know about.
It’s a lot of driving in stop and go and by the time we get to Walsrode we’re both feeling a little woozy. I feel slightly carsick with a little bit of dizziness and I don’t like it. We set up in the church and meet with Bernd and we have cups of tea and feel better.
Now I feel kind of oblivious about some things like - what denomination of church this is. I’m pretty sure it’s Christian based but beyond that - I have no idea. Seventh day, twelfth night, Adventist, latter day, monitors? No idea. And this is like my 4th or 5th time here so it’s way beyond when I can ask. I’m sure I was told once.
It is one of the few that still has the working angel for baptisms. It raises and lowers from the ceiling for the ceremony and that’s pretty cool.* (see pics from Sonja)
This is one of those shows where you’re sitting there hoping people show up. It’s a church in a little town. Are they really going to show up to hear us? Yes. Is the church full? No but I count 50 people that have come to hear us here and that is amazing.
We put on a good show. Some big songs, some quiet. We unplug and perform one song just in the room with no amplification and I felt like I was levitating. We finish up and get an encore and again during the encore I really felt like we were soaring with the angel above our head. Was magical.
At this point I should say that my buddy Boris is always giving me shit for not recording any of these shows. He says things like “they just get lost to the ether.” And he’s right but at the same time - we are in this moment. If I’m concerning myself with capturing the thing, I’m going to miss it. And being in the moment is what it is all about.
And there’s a lot that goes into touring and performing and if you add in setting up a camera to video the show to the list, something else is going to be lost or forgotten. I am not capable of performing AND being videographer.
Folks are super nice here. We sell some cds and sign them and there’s a couple of folks that saw Riddle & The Stars perform here 6 or 7 years ago. That’s amazing. And they share their pics and remembrances and how they saw me here last year…
We pack up the gear and drive the 100 meters to Bernd’s house and I’m remembering walking this street with members of Rivers of England after a very whiskey soaked night. Robin and I were both pissed off at all our band mates as we were the only sober ones and had to drive back to Bremen after the show.
I’m very happy to be sleeping here tonight.
Bernd has made us homemade pizza and he is graciously sharing some of his recent whiskey and favorites. Daisy Chapman is on the stereo and he talks about the whiskey and where it comes from and the subtle notes and how they are distilled and barrels and casks and we drink a whiskey/sherry combination that is two bottles, one is the sherry and the other is the whiskey that was stored in the sherry cask after the sherry was distilled out of it. And I don’t really drink whiskey or sherry for that matter but this is all amazing. The Nick Drake album “Pink Moon” has just finished playing and he puts on a Gary Moore solo album. I ask him “Did this come out in 1987?” He looks at the cd and confirms that date. We all have our skill sets. From here I tell him about recording techniques that make the sound of this record sound like 1987 as well as a short explanation of “gated reverb.”
Bernd is a fascinating dude. I tend to think of pastors as being kind of stuffy but Bernd breaks all those preconceptions. Just recently he was working at a Heavy Metal festival and he plays us some Arch Enemy “eagle flies alone.”** and tells us how he got into a discussion about a Rammstein song that is a nice song about religion but is theologically wrong.
It’s great when your preconceptions get smashed to bits in front of you.
Tracy and I are pretty much falling asleep in the chairs and I don’t even remember getting into bed.
Whiskey dreams of gated reverb.
^Tracy and I also have a discussion about which toothbrush belongs to who and I lose this non-argument and concede that I have been using what is technically the “wrong” toothbrush. Enough years between us, neither one of us is surprised or disgusted by this discovery.
*While waiting to start playing Tracy and I discuss, for possibly too long, the engineering behind an angel’s ability to fly and how they don’t have dorsal feathers or anything acting as a rudder so it seems unlikely that they would be able to fly with any sort of agility like a bird. And having wings AND arms is also quite a different biology. Like I said, we analyzed it for far too long.
**Look it up on YouTube. Some things will be expected and other things will not.
We really didn’t want to get out of the super duper comfy bed at Harrier Hof but when they asked us if we wanted breakfast at 9 am we said yes and we KNOW that our breakfast will be ready at 9 am.
They have a small breakfast room for guests set up and today I think we may be the only guests. Bleary eyed we show up at 9:05 and the table is set and waiting for us. Rolls, meats, cheeses, a parfait dessert type thing, a bowl of scrambled eggs, coffee an tea and orange juice and a smiling face welcoming us to Frühstück.
If you ever get to Brake, Germany - you have to stop in to Harrier Hof. Tell Micheal we sent you.
Rebekka had given us the name of a doner shop nearby but we’re going to miss eating lunch there as we are too full from breakfast. Instead we hit the Autobahn and drive for 4 hours to the small vacation town of Kuhlingsborn and Tillmann Hahns Gasthaus.
My tour diaries are about touring and music but the food yesterday and today is too good not to tell you about. We met Tillmann a bunch of years ago and have been returning nearly every year. I’ve played outside on a stage, on the patio as well as inside when it’s raining. Tonight it’s not raining (yet) but it’s cold enough outside for us to be inside.
Tracy and I load the stuff in, do a quick soundcheck, have a great catch up with Tillmann in the cafe with tea and cake, get the info for his Airbnb, go stand on the pier in the Baltic Sea and then go back to the Airbnb for a little rest before we play.
I feel special because Tillmann lets me load in thru the kitchen. I feel like he knows that I’ve spent some time working in restaurants in my youth and knows that I’m ready to clear a table or two if needed.
Every time I sit with Tillmann I learn more details about cooking and really just food in general. He’s this dude with his own cookbook and restaurant and you can tell that he has a real passion for food and learning new things. A few years ago he taught me all about goats because I had mentioned having goat curry at a house concert. He has a source for goat meat locally and they are the goats raised for eating. Did you know that? No, of course not. Today he was explaining to Tracy and I the differences in Thai cuisine and what gets spicy and not and the different ingredients. I love the learning.
When we return he goes over the menu with us and Tracy gets the pork with potatoes and he explains what cut of meat it is and how it’s prepared and the wild mushrooms that come with it and I cannot do it justice because I really can’t remember but holy crap was it good. I get a beef and vegetables dish that he explains is traditional Austrian fare. It has a side of horseradish sauce for dipping the meat in. So good. SO GOOD.
Then we played a bunch of music.
We were fine but the star of the show is Tillmann Hahns food.
There was a moment when we were sitting there eating dinner that it hit me - I will never be as rich or as famous as some of my heroes and friends but we have something totally different. We can travel to remote places and be treated like rock stars, sing and perform for folks that dig us and we don’t have the paparazzi or the trappings of fame. Sure we don’t get the Grammys or whatever but we’ve created this other thing - this life that is pretty damn cool.
There is a couple sitting in front of us and the guy is wearing an Einstürzende Neubauten t-shirt.* I tell him I like his shirt. He says he likes my Berlin Bear tattoo. Tracy and I have a good first set and end with Cold War - probably the loudest song in our set. A couple have gotten up and left and they tell Tillmann that we’re too loud. No one else seems to mind, in fact they really dig this one. I ask Tillmann if we’re too loud during our break. “It’s not too loud for me. I don’t want you to be background music, this is a concert. I want you to be comfortable.”
And there it is and it makes all the difference. You set up to play and sometimes you’re in an environment that makes you think, oh, I better tone it down. But no. Be you. Do what you do. I mean, I didn’t crank up the volume or anything but it lowers that feeling of “am I too much for this room” feeling. No. I am enough.
I don’t care how many shows you do - there will be a time when you’re playing somewhere and think that what you do is too much. And to be told in the bluntest, kindest way that we want what you do. It’s everything.
After the show I talk with Einstruzende Neubauten guy and it turns out that he’s childhood friends with one of the founding members of that band. We talk about Berlin and my tattoo and the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire that was shot in Berlin and he mentions that the drummer from his 80s band is in that movie and his friend’s little girl is in the opening scene.
What? Serious? The world is a weird wacky place.
Also here tonight is Dietmar Kampf, the artist whose work is on the walls. They range from traditional seascapes to avant-garde expressionism and we have a good talk about the artist life and then Tillmann’s wife an son are here too and really we just sat and talked for about an hour. Such lovely people.
I load the gear out through the kitchen and it’s time to leave.
*pretty much THE German noise rock industrial band. I think they invented industrial rock in the 80s in Berlin. I like them but it’s NOT for everyone. They came about in West Berlin in the 80s when they couldn’t get proper musical equipment so sometimes they used whatever could be found, a hammer, some pipes, a jackhammer… It’s fascinating what people can do with what they have available and are hell bent on creating art. They opened a bunch of shows for U2 in the early 90s and it did not go well.
Checking out of the hotel and we have accrued some charges. Apparently “Parking Available” does not mean the same thing as “free parking”. I thought when I booked it that parking was included but they say it most definitely was not. $19 a day adds up.
And again, it’s not so much that we have to pay it but the way it’s worded to make it cloudy and vague that pisses you off.
Quick stop for lunch and some laundry and then we’re on our way north to Brake. For all our non-German speaking friends it is not pronounced “break”. It is pronounced like “bra” (women’s undergarment) and then how a Bostonian would say “car” or Cah. Bra-Cah.
I feel good about how I explained that.
In Brake, (say it with me) is the Harrier Hof. It’s a small hotel/restaurant/event space/bar run by Michael and I’ve been coming here for years now but tonight we are the first musical act he’s had in three (3!) years because of, well. Because of…
Our friend Rebekka is joining us for dinner. We met Rebekka here in Brake about 10 years ago. She is also a Firefly fan and she designed the album covers for all of our Leaves on the Wind releases. It’s great catching up with her and we get some Championschnitzel* and it’s out of this world delicious.
Then Sonja and her mother Pamela arrive and join us. We actually performed for them this past summer in south Orange County so it’s great to see them again. And then Heike walks through the door. And then Meike joins us with a few friends and Jan is here - Jan wrote a song based off of our song “Massachusetts”** and that’s just incredible to inspire like that. And we talk about the podcast I did with Dan Krikorian and the show with Nico Rivers & Emily Graham-Handley at a church in…ah! I forget the name but how I was asked not to stand on the pews the next time I play there and the pastor that passed away and the replacements and and. A lot.
The room is small. The room is full. We know everyone in this room. Even Swantje shows up - she works here but is off tonight and she’s stopped in to hear us.
Tracy and I have a moment where we are kind of dumbfounded by how we’ve got this group of people that have come to see us here in this small little town on the North Sea and there’s a bit of “how did this happen?” that we are feeling. Oh yeah, we built it by coming here and returning and these folks are amazing and we connected and here we are in this little room together.
Before we start we have a few requests. Some Dam, The Sea, APB, Massachusetts, Eveline, Goodnight Kiss and one request to NOT play Mexican home because it always makes her cry and she doesn’t want to cry tonight.
We play for about 2 hours and finish up with an encore and we are tired. This was a good set tonight. Hell, Tracy played Eveline flawlessly having not played it in easily a year or two.
We sign some records and give away some stickers and it’s a good night.
Es ist gut. Guten Nacht Brake.
*I know Roman. Schnitzel shouldn’t have mushroom gravy on it.
**I can’t find it to share.