BACK ON THE ROAD - EUROPE AUTUMN 2017
It had been a while, but it was time for me and Hollowbelly to go back on he road again…the Van Thom Weekender and the German Cigar Box Guitar Festival were happening on two consecutive weekends, so that was the cue to arrange a little tour. We had a contact from a new promoter offering a midweek date between the two weekends, and I managed to arrange some more dates on the way out and back, so we had a viable tour organised. Getting gigs is one thing, but getting shows that pay and work well in terms of the travelling is another, so these things take quite bit of time and effort to pull together.
We met-up at Gordano services near Bristol, as it’s around midway between our respective houses in the midlands and Devon, and headed off to our first engagement in Folkestone. The Chambers is a cool cellar bar, we arrived in good time to get set up, get a drink and something to eat before the show. Chris, the owner at The Chambers had sorted out a hotel for us, so we moved the van, checked in and put the remainder of our gear in the room.
It's a real pain, but a really important think to make sure you don’t leave anything in your van that you can’t do without…just in case it gets broken into. We’ve seen too many appeals for help on Facebook as time after time musicians have their car broken into and their gear stolen. It’s my observation that an empty van doesn't get broken into. It was a great start to the tour…a convenient break, good audience and money in our pockets.
Balcony view over the channel from the hotel.
After the show it was more hard slog as we broke down the backline, found somewhere to park near the hotel and loaded ALL our guitars and amps into the room..we were taking no risks of anything going missing.
Friday morning was a very short drive to the tunnel terminal, but there was an hour delay to our crossing, so we already on the back foot timing wise. There was the usual dreadful journey round the Antwerp ring road, but we’ve had worse, and arrived at our friend and promoter Ozzy van der Loo’s place in Asten with enough time to have something to eat before heading off to Eindhoven. Half an hour down the motorway , we were heading for the amusingly titled “Balls Cafe”, a pool hall cafe.
Cafe Balls, the reflection in the window shows the van parked directly opposite..just how we like it.
It’s only a small place, so we were providing our own PA, and it's a pretty heavy job unloading and rigging the PA, especially with my new (and very heavy) Mackie speakers.
On stage at Cafe Balls, Eindhoven
Our next appointment was in Bremen, north Germany, so we had to be up and doing as we had to get to the Van Thom Weekender that evening. Usually it’s a real drag to get to Bremen, as often we drive from the UK directly their, but this trip it was a lot easier, starting from quite near the Dutch-German border. Apart from a few brief hold-ups on the Autobahn it was an easy drive, but we didn’t have too much time after arriving there before we had to load out our gear into our promotor’s car and head off for a half hour trip from the rural village of Ganderkesee into central Bremen.
Rebels Club in Bremen
Merch table set up..a vital part of any tour.
Mack Drietens..superb acoustic old timey Americana
Authentic rockbilly from the Stringtone Slingers
Hollowbelly headlining the evening.SUNDAY
An early start to the day to get down to the venue in Bremen for a guitar making workshop. All very civilised, a nice steady paced day, then off to a nearby Turkish kebab house for lunch.
Another happy customer!
A day off! We went for a stroll with Andy’s enormous dog, Mofo, a Broholmer-Ridgeback cross..think Scooby Doo and you’ll get the idea!
Camo jackets and Mofo dog
Back to Asten to catch up with Ozzy. Another steady drive and plenty of time to chill out.
At Ozzy's...HB checking out the Pignose amp with my Airline Stratotone.
Day off..a walk in the nearby National Park with a stop for coffee. Takeaway pizza for dinner then we watched the match on TV - Ozzy’s team Feyenoord got hammered 4-0 by Man City, so it was off to t'Spektakel bar afterwards to drown his sorrows! Plenty of Belgian beers on offer.
Off to the middle of Germany for a show…a new town, a new promotor and a new venue. It wasn't far to travel, so there was no rush , with a pretty easy drive down the Autobahn to Mettmann, near Dusseldorf. We rocked up at the hotel, and it turns out to be a 4 Star gaff! We loaded in our gear into the lounge bar (and yes, it did have grand piano) got set up, and as we had some to me to kill, we took a hike into town, but it was pretty nondescript and we couldn't find anywhere decent to eat, although it was still late afternoon, hardly the ideal time, so we trudged wearily back the hotel. By the time we got back the sound engineer, PA and promoter had arrived. Once the PA was set up it didn't take long to sound check, so we drifted into the restaurant and ordered dinner. Bread rolls arrived, with the usual butter, herb butter...and something else to spread on the bread.. we were in Germany, so it was pork dripping with extra ham..delicious! An excellent Weiner Schitzel for me and a good solid veggie hotpot for HB, and we were all set for the show. I tried asking for the bill, as I didn't want to load-up the promoter with any unnecessary expense, but that was all taken care of. The weather took a real turn for the worse and there was absolutely torrential rain, so we were a bit concerned if we’d get an audience..but they started drifting in, and our friends from Wuppertal had made the trip over to support the event, which was great. We had a very receptive audience, and despite Hollowbelly being a bit concerned about connecting with what could have been a reserved audience, he needn’t have worried..it went great. The management and staff were very helpful…we ordered a few drinks, and it was all on the house, all sorted. After the gig I sold a guitar to one of the staff, which was nice bonus, and we got a very decent pay packet - as we’d done this at risk, for accommodation and a door split I was prepared for this to be a low paying gig, but far from it, and we both shifted some merchandise. Huge thanks to Benjamin and his mother for organising the gig.
Posh venue..it's got carpet and a grand piano...and 4 stars!
After a good breakfast we were back on the road under clear sunny skies en route for the German Cigar Box Guitar Festival in Pleutersbach near Heidelberg. I needed to get some more guitar strings, so as we had plenty of time in hand, we stopped off in Heidelberg and got some lunch.
Schnitzel & noodles for lunch in Heidelberg.
Our accommodation was as per last year, in the barn next to the hay loft above the stage, and there were a number of familiar faces, both from Bremen and from last year, with a significant contingent having travelled down all the way from the Netherlands. All very efficiently, we were given the keys to the village hall and we got set-up ready for Saturday's guitar making workshop.
Supper was a campfire barbeque in the orchard, very laid back and relaxed. (photo Julian Kohler)
After a successful first festival last year, we were looking forward to another great event, and we we not to be disappointed. Visitors and performers had come from Belgium, Holland, Italy, UK and from all over Germany. Fabian "Capt'n Catfish" Fahr and his team had done a great job, setting up the stage and the PA, organising workshops , there was good food and good beer a plenty, and generally a great atmosphere of "gemuetlichkeit". We were up early to get the workshop going, we were able to get wrapped up mid afternoon so that everyone could get back down into the village for the rest of the festivities.
View from the workshop
Learning to play after making their own guitars
"O'zapft is!" the official opening of the festival, signified by the tapping of the first barrel.
Running order for Saturday (photo Reinhard Knippen)
Capt'n Catfish and Mrs Nikki opening the event.
Gypsy Rufina from Italy (photo Andy Muehlig)
Onstage at Pleutersbach (photo Freidel Geratsch)
Hollowbelly minding my back while I'm onstage...it's all part of the job
Gumbo & The Monk (photo Freidel Geratsch)
Garage 3 (photo Andy Muehlig)
The packed crowd (photo Andy Muehlig)
The BluesTones (photo Andy Muehlig)
The beer crew...on duty all the time (photo Peter Steiner)
Evening panorama (photo Julian Kohler)
Evening crowd (photo Peter Steiner)
Hollowbelly..onstage viewed from the hayloft
(photo Andy Muehlig)
Another red-hot set from Hollowbelly
Winding down the evening with Mississippi Blues Band jam
Another rest day, and we needed it! We were served breakfast from one of the impromptu street kitchens, caught the end of holy mass, celebrated by the local priest on the street with the church band, then drifted back to the stage and checking out the various guitar sellers stalls on the street on the way.
One of the several stalls selling CBGs (photo Blues Bones)
Hubi, the irrepressible one man band entertaining in the cow shed bier keller
We got lunch beirkeller style, chips and Bratwurst, sitting outside one of the cowbarns on long benches, shared companiably with the locals, and listening to the Musikkapelle Kleiner Odenwald..a traditional southern German brass band, all rigged out in traditional “Tracht” regional dress, and led by the splendid Dennis Nussbeutel.
HB, Dennis Nussbeutel and me, Pleutersbach
Our merchandise had been on sale on the communal info point and shop, so both Hollowbelly and me were handed some cash as they’d done a great good job of selling stuff - this really helps boost the income and helps make a tour like this properly viable.
Sunday afternoon jam (photo Andy Muellig)
We took it easy on the free beer, as we had the longest journey of our tour to make the next day, so we got all the gear packed away into the van, then early to bed and early to rise.
Breakfast around the farmhouse kitchen table with other visitors, and then away, managing to get through Heidelberg without too many hold-ups, and a steady day on the Autobahn. It was a remarkably stress free drive up to Herselt in Belgium, where we were meeting our old friend Hans, boss of the Pallieter Cafe.
My early days...
He’s moved location about 5 miles to a neighbouring town, but the reception and atmosphere was typically Belgian…laid back, comfortable and friendly. Belgian is one of our favorite places to visit - friendl people and great beer, so it was good to be back.
Opening the evening at Pallieter Cafe (photo Nathan van der Velde)
Hollowbelly at Pallieter Cafe (photo Nathan van der Velde)
Toasts all round...a late finish 2.30am on a weekday..only in Belgium...Gezellig! (photo Nathan van der Velde)
Yet another early start, as we need to get to the channel tunnel by lunchtime, and we have the prospect of Antwerp to get round/through or avoid. I tried setting the satnav to give us some waypoints to avoid Antwerp, but it was giving alarmingly late arrival times, so just set it to fastest journey time. We ended in in Antwerp, but strangely enough, we went direct to the very centre, passed above the ringroad in fairly slow moving but not gridlocked traffic, and drove out into a freely moving traffic on the ringroad out of the city…all in all not too bad. Yet again, the channel tunnel shuttle was running late, this time with no explanation or apology offerred..pretty dire customer service. I asked the lady on the information desk and it appeared that I’d disturbed her doing the soduku and keeping her manicure up to scratch, as she offered no explanation as to why we hadn’t been called to embark despite the following two trains seemed to have already loaded. The French can be so good at insulting foreign visitors with minimal effort, and she was absolutely top drawer material. It was no better after we’d gone through UK passport control and finally got in the queue…the young woman marshalling the queues was studiously avoiding coming anywhere near us for a good 20 minutes as she ushered line after line of cars towards the waiting trains. We’d got wind that there was a problem after I saw some camper vans and a bus coming back up the loading ramp 15 minutes after they’d gone down to the platform for loading. I had to resort to honking the horn and waving her over to ask for some sort of explanation as to why the they were boarding tickets C, D and E, whilst our ticket B seemed to have been forgotten. As if by magic the trafic lights turned green, the barrier lifted and we were away, an hour late and nicely on target for hitting the M25 at afternoon rush hour. I suspect that the carriages are getting past their best and minor technical failures are beginning to affect what had previously been a swift and efficient service. Traffic wasn’t too bad, and we were at Gordano services for about 6.30pm to meet Hollowbelly’s family, and then on our separate ways back home.
So 12 days on the road, 2000+ kilometres , and a pretty successful trip all round. We made plenty of new friends, met a lot of old ones too and came back with a decent pay packet. A huge thanks to everyone who made our tour a success - audiences, fans, friends, promoters and venues. Touring is no picnic, the money is hard won, the hours are long, but on some days it doesn’t seem like a bad job at all.
- John Wormald