The Stuttgart weekend was a fine one.
Leigh flew out to make the duo three, meeting us at the An Sibin Irish pub (run by a Greek, Thanassi, and his lovely, local lady, Claudi), the scene of our first Germany gig in September last year. The welcome from our hosts was heart-warming (Claudi had gone to the trouble of cooking a fabulous chicken curry for us and she and Thanassi gave us beds to use for the compulsory pre-gig afternoon snooze) and the evening was as lively and successful as last year's had been.
BACKNANG: An Sibin
This is far from being a 'concert' gig. There were few of the quieter songs in the set as the situation demands full-on, attention-grabbing material to compete with the friendly hubbub of the bar*. (Though we did give Two Virgins its début run-out to knock off its edges in preparation for the festival gig the following day.) We managed to keep the drinkers in the situ, though. We finished, as last year, with an informal sing-song sitting at the bar. Drinks were liberally supplied and it was only the thought of a four-o-clock afternoon gig the following day that stopped the carousing at 2.00 am. I'm a lightweight - as Leigh likes to remind me.
*(Friends Suzi and Bernhardt, who'd seen us in the Lauffen concert in 2011, were unprepared for the robust nature of the bar gig, expecting the polite attention they'd experienced there. I tried to explain that this was a different contract and required a different performance. I'm not sure they preferred it, though. It was cheering that they made the effort, though. It just goes to show that it's different strokes for different folks.)
Bar regulars who had seen us play last year were there. Two, who I wish I could name-check but can't due to my inability to remember a name for more than three minutes 35 seconds, were very charming with the explanation of their disappointment at our not having played And I Have from The Beautiful and Cruel that they bought at our gig in 2011. We played an acoustic impromptu version of it for them with Leigh on shaky egg and me on guitar and shaky lyrics.
I took the collection hat around after set two of three and the audience were generous. They didn't have much option, though, with a sweaty singer in their face mumbling about children's medical bills and refusing to walk away. And we made good CD sales, too. Very often the merchandising is the difference between profit and loss on a tour, so this was good. The CD box was getting sparse. Perhaps I'd underestimated the demand?
The next day we left Claudi and Thanassi after a fine breakfast (and with Claudi chauffeuring Leigh since we didn't have room for him in the tour car) for the festival gig in Lauffen. Our sound-check, I understood, was at 2.30 and our on-stage time 4.30. I was wondering how I'd fare given the late night we'd had and the prospect of no afternoon-snooze time. In the event, I had the times wrong. We weren't due to sound check until 4.15 and weren't playing until 6.15. So off to snooze.
LAUFFEN: Phoenix Festival
The atmosphere at the festival was great Situated on a rocky promontory over the river Neckar (the Neckartal is a major wine-growing area and produces great wines that we never see here because they drink them themselves!), the site has real charisma. The big question of the moment was whether the forecasted storms would arrive. Whatever spirit that presides over that place must like folk music. It poured everywhere in Germany that day, but the weather stayed elsewhere. By the time we went on at 6.15, the sun was out and the 550 ticket-holders were in place for what I think I can claim was a fine set. We enjoyed it anyway. Klaus Ruesenberg, who runs the Phoenix Pub we played in last year and who is co-organiser of the festival along with Paddy Bort, congratulated us for a 'perfect' opening set. (Paddy - more properly, Eberhart, is a local chap who now lives in Edinburgh and runs the Wee Folk Club there - he was our route to Lauffen - he booked us at the Wee then at the Phoenix.)
Hanging out with the other musos and seeing the different ways they handle being in a social situation with others like them is interesting. Some like it, some seem not to. Every man to his (or her) own.
Didn't sell many CDs. Funny, that. But the audience didn't appear so ready to buy as in the pubs, clubs and smaller concerts.
We enjoyed the rest of the acts and savoured some fine whisky from the specialist bar. I've never seen so many single malts in one place.
Well done Klaus, well done Paddy and well done everyone else who contributed.
WINNENDEN-BIRKMANNSWEILER: House Concert - hosted by Norma Huss
I woke early the following morning suddenly aware that I hadn't arranged for Leigh to get to our next venue. (Car full of gear, two passengers already...) I lay there considering the options. A cab? Expensive. Public transport? Not sure of the practicalities - and it was Sunday. Then the thought occurred: if I drove to Norma's immediately and dropped off the equipment, I could get back in time for breakfast and to collect Andee and Leigh. The only possible problem was whether Norma would be awake at 8.30 on a Sunday morning.
She was, just. And two hours after leaving the hotel I was back in Lauffen having breakfast with A&L.
Norma was the angel who booked us the gig in Backnang last year the day before our concert in Lauffen. Her reward for this kindness was to have us descend on her to play a concert in her living-room to an audience of her chums. She's a muso herself and set the room up brilliantly. We made our stage in the corner, had the prerequisite snooze and bang on 4.00 (they're punctual in Baden-Württemberg) we played set one to a full room.
Lovely people listened intelligently to sometimes demanding material. We discussed the songs: Rope Ladder; Chocolate; Joke; Jeffrey and Robert and I; the tour song No Going Back...
What is it about audiences that listen to this lyric-heavy stuff delivered in a foreign language seemingly more intently and attentively than audiences at home? I thought I found this in Sweden, too, but wondered if I imagined it. But it often seemed to be the case in Germany, as well. Are we less interested in the 'story' here than listeners in other parts of Europe? Andee suggested that in England (not Scotland, though) concert-goers pay more attention to the music, rhythm, harmony, etc, but that in other places we've played in Europe, they are keen to absorb the 'tale', the lyrical content, the narrative. If it's so, it's grist to my mill.
The whole house-concert was a lovely experience and a success on all the levels I'd hope for it. (Yes, the audience dug deep when the hat (well, basket this time) was passed around and by the end of the evening, we'd sold out of three of the seven CDs I've made. Just as well it was the last concert.
A post-gig relaxed musical free-for-all ensued and went into the late evening with Andee and Norma joining me in taking the lead with an array of material covering pop, blues, rockabilly and conventional folk.
A lovely afternoon with lovely people hosted by a special lady. Only a few can run a successful house concert which depends entirely on the persona of the central figure. Well done Norma and thanks for your hospitality.
The next day saw Leigh on the train to Stuttgart airport and Andee and I driving eight hours back to Calais and our ferry. We cut it fine, falling into the we-have-loads-of-time-and-don't-need-to-rush trap. This was probably at least partly because the tour was over and we had relaxed.
We made it though, arriving home tired. But pleased. The trip had paid for itself with a little over that might contribute to the next recording. We've been playing a number of unrecorded songs on the trip and people have been asking for the CD that contains them. They've asked for songs such as Rope Ladder, No Going Back, Chocolate and In Bruges. It's always rewarding when people name-check a particular song, so it's time for another visit to the studio.