Follow me on Twitter


Tuesday, 17 July 2012


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.


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.

Thursday, 12 July 2012


The gig on 10th July was organised by m'lady's sister Christine at her tennis club in Deisenhofen, just south of Munich.

Her efforts on behalf of the arts (well, the work of yours truly) was well above and beyond the call of duty. It was a kind of house concert away from home, with Christine organising the venue, publicity and all else besides.

I was shown the room the night before and immediately created a reputation for myself as a <künstler>, or artist - in the sense of 'you must excuse him, he's an artist' - by immediately making a list of demands (reasonable suggestions in my eyes) regarding the layout of the room and its decoration if it were to be rendered fit for accommodating a concert. The result, I think, justified my suggestions.

In the event it was a fabulous evening. The tables were arranged around the 'stage' and decorated with candles and flowers (well done Christine, Angelika and the members of the Deisenhofen tennis club!) and the improvised lighting picked out the stage, creating the neccessary distinction between it and the 'audience zone'. The room was filled with the most attentive audience I can remember who voiced their appreciation of the music on offer and were generous in their purchasing of the wares on offer in the mobile cd and t-shirt emporium.

The tour finances strengthen gig by gig.

On the 11th, the following evening's gig, 45 minutes drive from home (Deisenhofen, in the form of m'lady's mum, the magnificant Hilde, is home for these few days), was in the Pirate bar in nearby Rosenheim.

Here I discovered a particularity of German law: you can recieve a parking ticket for parking in a legitimate parking space but facing the wrong way. Ho hum.

The crowd was sparse but enthusiastic and Petra an efficient hostess who surely knows her stuff after 28 years running the bar. Some evenings energy seems to be at a premium and this was one such. On these occasions the performer has to dig deep and I think Andee and I did what we had to do. Shortage of audience numbers (it was a wet Mittwoch during the holiday season) were compensated for by the words of enthusiasm for my work from those who stopped to talk and buy CDs. (CD sales were encouraging and hugely disproportionate to crowd numbers.) It is always welcome when fans take the time to offer encouragement. It's the audience response that is the reason for doing this, after all.

So, one more night with the Bavarian hostess with the mostest (Hilde is Austrian, really, but naturalised Bayerisch by now I think) then off north-west to Stuttgart.


Wednesday, 11 July 2012


Well, we got the gear in the car and, despite a satnav malfunction (or perhaps the user was at fault), arrived at the first gig in Hattingen to find that the host had not prepared for our arrival. The evening was predictably not great. We did our stuff to a small audience, choosing to look on it as a warm-up for the later gigs.

On to Luett Mattens in Garding - five hours north and beyond Hamburg. Rainer runs a great musikantenkneipe (musician's bar) with a great p.a. system (a Bose column system that Andee covets). The evening was great, the audience responding to their host's infectious enthusiasm. Having not made any money the night before, the generous collection was welcome as were the CD and T-Shirt sales.

The following evening we played at the Cafe Instinkt in St Peter-Ording, the social centre in an oncology clinic. It's a lovely place and we found the audience engaged with the flurry of songs of romance and philosophy we threw at them with intelligence and enthusiasm. One volunteered to manage the 'shop' in the break and took a record amount. The tour may fund itself yet.

(St Peter-Ording is a lovely seaside holiday town with the biggest, flattest beach you've ever seen and we happened upon it during the world cup of kite-surfing competition. No action though, due to insufficient wind.)

The following day we turned up in Kappeln. St P. is on the western, North Sea side of the Schleswig-Holstein area of Germany that leads to Denmark: Kappeln in on the eastern, Baltic side. It's a river port and our venue, Pallette, is just off the riverfront. It's an art and music bar run by the magnificently cool Hans-Peter. He gave us his bar to play in, his audience to play to, the tastiest food you could ask for and his bed to sleep in. Great bloke, great vibe, great food and a fine gig. (Andee's improvising during Bell the Cat is growing gig by gig and is worth the entrance money by itself - in Palette it was a piece of genius.)

Now we were faced with a ten-hour drive to Deisenhofen just south of Munich and set off at 6.30. This was a trial for Andee whose metabolism refuses to recognise a time earlier than 9.30. But stalwart we were and determined (thanks J.R.R. Tolkien) and we rolled up just 11 hours after we set off.

Half-way through the tour and, after a dodgy start, it's picked up with three great gigs that have all paid well and with merch selling well the portents for the finances are looking good.

More to follow...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Germany 2012: #nogoingbacktour1

Well, here we go.

Will all the gear fit in the car? Will we have to (leave behind and then) borrow guitar amps in Stuttgart when Leigh joins us for the 'Trio Weekend'? Will the newly-loaded Garmin sat-nav maps of our host country work when we get there or will we be reduced to using what (in the old days) used to be quaintly known as 'road maps'? Will our audiences be wowed by our playing of my songs? Will they turn up? Will we turn a profit? Will we make enough money to cover the expenses of the trip?

All this and more will be revealed as the 'Germany 2012: The 'No Going Back' Tour' unfolds.

Watch this space!

Tonight: ...