Monday, 31 August 2009


One of the questions people ask me, after how long have you been playing music, and where is the rest of the foundation, is where do you sleep when you're on the road? In Germany the venues provide accommodation, except Berlin as with most big cities. Sometimes (if you're very lucky) it's a hotel, sometimes with the bar owner or booker, or sometimes a band apartment. Last night was the latter.

The show was better than expected only because I had such low expectations. Chemnitz is pretty rundown East German city but the Subway to Peter brings the neighbourhood down. I'd played there before to just the barmaid so wasn't expecting much this time around, thankfully some people did come down and I even sold a couple of CDs. I was the only non-punk rock act playing there this month. The band apartment is the pits. The walls and ceiling are covered with the posters, scrawls and stains of every band to have passed through. I've got to start bringing my own mattress. Another black mark against the booker.

Today was a day off! A good and bad thing. You can relax but there's nowhere to stay. I weighed up the many options: couchsurfing, stay with friends, another night in Chemntiz (no!), early to tomorrow's Stuttgart host, a hostel in a city along the way?... etc. The mind boggled for a bit and then I plumped for a nice hotel in the countryside 4 hours down the autobahn. Ah, the luxury, if only every night was like this.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Ode to Berlin

I can't leave Berlin without saying how good it is.

It's very good.

The booking

To give you an idea of where my head is at, it's in booking. This life is 80% booking 10% driving and 0.01% music unfortunately. It's the price of the ticket. I have to do it all myself because I finally realised that no one else is going to do it for me, however much I think they should be!

So I may be sitting in Berlin now but my head is in Italy in February wondering which day of the week I should start there after Slovenia, which date hasn't been fixed yet and what would be the best route to take.

I can't describe the complexities involved. Before I started doing booking myself I thought that my booker's greatest pleasure in life was making me drive huge distances in one direction and then turn around and come back the next day. Hunched behind the steering wheel, fighting the cramps, with matchsticks between my eyes, I'd have hallucinations of them sitting in their office in Kassel, gathered around a scale model of Germany, laughing hysterically as they planned where to book me.

Only last week I had to drive from Stuttgart to Feldberger Seenlandschaft (don't ask) in one day. 750km. With road works and diversions it too me 11 hours. I got out of the car, hobbled around the back of the building with my guitar and got a round of applause from the people sitting there waiting for me.

Anyway, of the complexities involved... booking, it sounds easy, but when you have to sit there with a list of possible venues and plan a route it is a problem of combinatorial optimization that is even more complex than the Travelling Salesman problem or Hamiltonian Path studied in operations research and theoretical computer science. The reason being that not do have to plot the optimal route, but each location has date restrictions, e.g. one venue can only have me on the 14th or 16th, one venue only books music Fridays and Saturdays.

I'm sure this isn't interesting to most people. I write it just to express my amazement and how mind-blowingly difficult it is. You can buy computer programs to help, punching in the parameters, but you have so many 'not quite offers' and 'possibles' that it quickly becomes a mess. Old fashioned spreadsheets work the best.

My plan...

August - Germany
September - US
October - US
November - New York for 10 days, then fly to Texas
December - The Netherlands and Belgium, Christmas in UK, New Year in Copenhagen
January - Down through Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia
February - Across Italy, Spain, France
March - Texas and Southern US (buy a car)
April - More Southern states and Colorado
May - Up to Northern California and Washington and into Canada
June - Across Canada, Chicago, Montreal, down to New York and back to Austin (sell the car)
July - Holiday (plus any festivals)
August - Holiday (plus any festivals)
September - Scandinavia
October - Germany, Poland
November - The Netherlands, Belgium
December - A deserted beach on a quiet island, with no bars, cafes and above all no music.

So giving up your apartment and travelling the world playing music isn't quite the life of freedom that it might be, because it's all nailed down. Not spontaneity. No unpredictability.

The blog

A lot of friends have been asking me if I was going to keep a blog of my touring adventures and I've finally decided it might be nice. I fear they will be disappointed at the life though! I will exaggerate and embelish wherever I can. I will also use it to thank the many people who help me on my travels, without whose generosity none of this would be possible. (Firstly Julia who gave up her Berlin apartment for me for four days)

To recap... I gave up my apartment in Amsterdam on 5th August to tour full time. I've been touring Germany since then and am now in Berlin. The shows so far have been very good. There are some photos on my myspace.

I thought I had a show tonight in Grosshennersdorf near the border with Poland. I was sitting in the Stafford-mobile, ready to type the address into Tom Tom, my trusty computer co-pilot, when the page was nowhere to be found in the Tourbook. I made a b-line for the nearest wifi cafe to have my fears confirmed. Crossed wires. No show.

So I've nowhere to go and no place to go. I've texted my friends Ben and Innes (who I just had lunch with, and said a long goodbye, because I won't be back to Berlin until October next year) to ask if I can crash at their place tonight.

Nothing to do but start a blog.