"Clog Me Up, Beeyatch!!!"..a short tour of the Low Countries
Well that just about wraps up the touring schedule for 2014 for me and Mr Belly..a quick trip over to Belgium and the Netherlands for 3 gigs and 2 workshops, and a mere 1300 miles under the wheels. Huge thanks to Ozzy VanDer Loo of Chulahoma Music and Hans Singers of Cafe Pallieter who arranged things for us, and for all who came along to make guitars and to listen to us. It was, in the words of Mr HB's song, a Long, Long Road, but worth the effort and time taken to drive through 4 countries and back for a weekend's work. Things didn't start too auspiciously, after a 4.00am start from the Hollowhaus, we had to drive cautiously through Stygian darkness and thick mist...with Mr HB feeling increasingly groggy and car-sick...then hammering round the M25 with him hanging out of the passenger window until we managed to find a stop. Fortunately the rest of the day wasn't too bad..apart from dreadful traffic at Antwerp, this time the satnav tried to avoid the worst of the ring road...but we were still about 1 1/2 hours behind schedule when we arrived at our promotor's gaff in the Netherlands, So with only the briefest of breaks, we transferred some gear into Ozzy's van and headed down the megacity 6 lane motorway to Rotterdam for what seemed like an interminable stop-start trip. We were booked in at a really nice place, Dizzys jazz club and had a wonderfully warm welcome from the lady who ran the place (having learned the correct etiquette in the Netherlands of the three kisses always works well when greeting a lady). We managed to shoehorn Ozzys long wheelbase van into a parking space right outside the venue, but this is one of the problems with big city gigs - the difficulty of finding a parking space can be really stressful, and fitting in a 2.7tonne Merc van into a regular car parking space required nerves of steel and a lot of to-and-froing.
Still, ensconced in the bar with a slap up feed of excellent local grub, we had a cracking gig...a fairly small audience (yes, there was a big football match on that night...and last time we were up against a Seasick Steve concert), but to their credit they all came right to the front of the room to hear us play. A steady drive home saw us back at base at 2.00am...600 miles covered and a 22 hours working day to kick off the tour.
We had Friday off..so a we went to see the the National War and Resistance Museum at Overloon, the scene of one of the largest tank battles of WWII. I found that parts of it reduced me to tears, particularly the sections about the "hunger winter" and the forced labour factories, as I have connections thru' my wife with Dutch family members who suffered dreadfully during this terrible period of conflict. Ozzy also has direct family connections with this time, as do so many Dutch people, as his grandfather was in the resistance, and climbed up the church steeple of Asten to watch the Germans advancing towards the town across the flat terrain. We finished the day with a quick shopping trip to stock up with all those foodstuffs that I can't get in the UK, but which my family love. I'm sure most of it will seem unpalatable and weird (apart from the strong Dutch and Belgian Trappist beers)...fritessauce (sweet mayo for putting on French fries), salt licorice drops, oyster flavoured prawn crackers, hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles for putting on bread at breakfast), sweet & spicy "ketjap" soy sauce, extra hot chilli "sambal" paste, syrup waffles, Spekulaas ginger biscuits...basically, loads of sugar, salt, fat and alcohol...Dutch health food, that's what makes them the tallest people in Europe!
So off to Belgium early next morning for a small workshop held at the local folk music centre. They have a whole building devoted to promoting folk music and traditions, and we were treated to a lovely impromptu recital at lunchtime on the hammered dulcimer and the Hommel, a short of short scale dulcimer. We also heard some cracking dance tunes during the afternoon played on accordian and spoons.
Trying out the instruments made by members of Westelfolk - Hollowbelly with a diatonic diddley bow and me trying the Hommel - that's a hammered dulcimer in the foreground.
Learning to solder a pickup.
As soon as we had finished, it was off to Cafe Pallieter to get set up for the gig...although quite a bit of the bar was occupied by a brand new Ducati sports tourer and a beautiful vintage 500cc Royal Enfield, owned by Hans, the gaffer at the bar.
Bikes duly pushed outside, we set up for the evening...including our own PA, which we usually carry to cover these sort of small town bars. We got rolling, and by the time I was into my set, the place was pretty busy, with several people in the house who had seen us before, including some from Brussels, which is a fair step away. With another heavy day ahead of us, we got to bed at a respectable hour - we were staying in the attic room above the bar..so very convenient, apart from two flights of near-vertical staircases which are typical of these old buildings.
In the morning, it was easy hour's drive, under grey winter skies through the Flanders countryside back into Dutch Brabant, to met up with our promotor Ozzy at Cafe t'Spektakel, at typical traditional "bruin cafe" in Asten.
A full house for the workshop kept us busy all day, interrupted by the bizzare visit by Sinterklaas's (Santa Claus) little helpers, the "Zwarte Pieten", spreading jollity and handing out sweeties and gingerbread cookies.. In the Low Countries, Santa arrives earlier than in the UK, the 5th December being Sinterklassavond (St Nicholas' Night), on a white horse, by boat from Spain, accompanied by moorish black-faced helpers..."Black Pete", dressed in full renaissance get-up with silk doublet and feathered cap. In recent years this traditional character has been the cause of increasing controversy, as may well be imagined, so the days of this tradition may well be numbered.
With a lunch of sandwiches and a delicious homeade pumpkin soup under our belts, we carried on and got 22 guitars completed, and Hollowbelly then taught everyone how to play - all in all a tiring but very satisfying day's work. A quick sprint back to Ozzy's for dinner, then back to the bar to soundcheck at 6.00pm.
Opening for Hollowbelly at Cafe t'Spektakel
Main set by Hollowbelly...playing to a good crowd...fans came from as far afield as Germany for the evening. We enjoyed a great sound both on-stage and in the room, due to a super PA, and most importantly a great sound engineer (top tip for budding performers...always thank the sound engineer, they are a vital part of your performance, so don't forget to tell them so).
This Sunday night gig started at an early hour, so we were off stage by a very civilised 9.20pm. Here's Hollowbelly after the gig making his selection from the extensive range of fine beers on offer. I was drinking only coke (yes, it really is rock 'n' roll, but driving safe and legally are all part of the deal of being on tour), so we packed everything into the car and drove back to Ozzy's to wind down and relax. We did, I must admit, somewhat over-indulge ourselves a little after such a hard few days, one bottle of Jack Daniels having it's neck thoroughly wrung dry, and Ozzy asking me to make glass after glass of White Russians, but I reckon we'd earned it. So, after sleeping the sleep of the righteous, we were back on the road late morning and on our way...a smooth circuit of the sometimes appallingly congested Antwerp ring road, a quick diversion to a French supermarket to stock up on more Belgian beer and good French wine at excellent prices and we arrived in time for an early crossing thru' the Channel tunnel.
Our wheels hit Blighty's shores around 4.30pm, and we were again blessed by the traffic gods, having a very steady transit of the M25, and we were back at the Hollowhaus by 10.00pm. I stopped over and was on my way back to Birmingham, after fixing Mr HBs main stage 3 string guitar, and with the Pyronator 4 string resonator left in my charge for a bit of an overhaul and repair...countless gigs, rehearsals...and a bit of contact with the stage and microphone stands takes their toll on a gigging instrument.
So, 2 workshops, 3 gigs and 1300 miles in a weekend...."Doesn't it sometimes feel like work?" I was asked by a member of the audience at the bar of the Cafe Pallieter....damned right it does, but it's what we do. Prettige Kerstdagen en een Gelukkig Niewjaar! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!
- John Wormald