The last couple of months have seriously seen all of our efforts finally start to come to fruition.
Brett’s constant work on the mixes for the songs on my upcoming EP, the completion of this website, artwork and photos are just some of what has given us hope and faith with the new project.
But now we take on an entirely different and equally ambitious challenge by deciding to not only move out of our house in London, but trade it for a life of travel in a converted Mercedes Sprinter which we’ve since name ‘Dr Box’.
We bought the van back in April off a guy on eBay knowing it wasn’t in the most ideal of conditions, but it came in at a decent enough price and figured we’d be able to cram in every other spare second we had to working on it ourselves. How wrong we were.
Here’s a list of the things we needed to improve / sort out:
- Extra security / locks. (Learnt this the hard way after Dr Box was broken into. It had been parked on a road near our house for ONE NIGHT!).
- Sliding door didn’t work/open
- Windscreen wiper needed welding together again
- Needed to fit a CD player and Speakers!
- Tap was broken and needed a new one + fitting.
- Swivel chairs didn’t work properly. (One constantly swivelled and the other didn’t at all)
- Front doors leaked water when it rained!
- Sky light above bed leaked after very heavy rain.
- Interior Lighting needed serious improving.
- Dehumidifier (Added to back of van to protect gear)
- Left Wing Mirror kept moving when driving
- Awning - Didn’t roll back into its fitting! - Again - we learnt this the hard way and just removed the whole thing off the side of the van in the end.
- Engine - Fourth and fifth gears lost a lot of power on any sort of upward gradient. (30mph on a motorway isn’t fun)
- Gas System - We wanted changing for an LPG gas system (cheaper to fill up).
- Fridge - Needed installing and be capable of running on gas, 12V and mains.
- Inverter needed in order to charge up laptops when not hooked up.
- Curtains needed to separate front from the living quarters in the back and also to deter thieves.
There were probably more essential things we had on the list but that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head as I look around the van I am currently sitting in typing this out.
3 weeks into having the van parked, this time in an improved albeit illegal parking spot under a CCTV outside our house and somehow managing to evade the inspectors, we realised we were soon running out of time and our limited skills were never going to be up to the task, especially while trying to juggle the moving out of our house process, our jobs, the recordings, the practices, gigs and gig hunting itself.
Admittedly we started to feel a little dejected with the whole van life idea but were so incredibly fortunate to manage to get hold of a guy that happened to live on the Isle of Sheppey - an area we know well - via an incredibly friendly and welcoming facebook group (‘Self Build Campervans’).
Our saving grace was a guy called Steve Ford and with just under a month to go, he kindly took the time out to not just help sort a few things out for us, but do it all in style and at a reasonable price.
The guy can literally do or fix anything campervan related and has played an absolutely massive part in getting us closer to where we want to be. He fixes up vans from a workshop on his own small campsite and he helped fix ours as if it were his own. www.leobay.co.uk is where his contact is at (incase you’ve got a camper with some issues of your own?)
Whilst ‘Dr Box’ was in Steve’s hands, it relieved ourselves of a lot of pressure allowing us to focus on the moving out process.
Because we’ve been so constantly occupied with setting things up whilst moving things out, we haven’t really had too many opportunities to reflect on leaving our home, jobs, and friends, but as the leaving date approached certain things and feelings couldn’t help but surface. Incredible memories and sentiments of housemates been and gone, monstrous parties and gatherings, nights at our neighbours, and anticipating the inescapable end to our close relationship with Bud (our cat) who seemed none the wiser, were just some of what clouded our final days.
With about a week left to go, a bunch of our close (and wood skilled) friends showed up before our leaving party and got to work on the interior of the van, replacing some of the old and tacky cupboard doors with new ones. They also cut us a table in the shape of a surfboard (more space efficient than that of a traditional rectangular one) and installed probably one of the most unique things a camper could have…- A rooftop table screwed into the roof-rack, perfect for a few beers while enjoying a view or just playing guitar. Other little features like shelves and secure storage were welcome improvements to the whole setup.
The final result is a wonderfully refurbished van with plenty of character, efficiency and practicality. There are so many people we have to thank for getting it to where it is today and a lot of the features forever bare their names, characters and stamp.
Our savings for our trip around Europe may have evaporated before we even set off with all the unforeseen work needed on the van but it hasn’t stopped us taking this leap of faith.
Ghent / Brugge (Belgium)
We left Dover on the ferry and headed straight for Belgium via Calais.
The first gig (8th July) was in a tiny bar called ‘Bombardon’ which had an incredible vibe and was clearly a hotspot for local talented musos. My first set ended up becoming a full on jam session and the drinks that followed after with so many hospitable and relaxed people (typically Belgian traits) was the perfect welcome into this beautiful country for which I am so grateful.
The next day we ventured into Brugge nursing pretty severe hangovers to try and suss out the best places to busk as we’d organised ourselves a permit before we set off.
I’ve never busked on my own (I’m barely used to going solo) and it felt pretty daunting to begin with tackling yet another personal baptism of fire but it was good to get going even to if it was to just get a feel of things.
The evening saw me play another bar called ‘Cafe ’T Opkikkertje’ (well worth a visit) and though it wasn’t as mental as the gig at Ghent, it was equally as enjoyable and again made a few more friends.
It’s been interesting hearing what people think about our whole Brexit debacle. There’s an almost unanimous opinion that we’ve turned into a bit of a laughing stock as a country that voted to leave the EU thanks to the campaigning of predominantly two whacky and outspoken nutters who have since washed their hands of any involvement. Its funny and sad at the same time.
Today (10th July), I busked in 3 different locations around Brugge and did ok considering its all new territory for me and I haven’t even got any CDs for sale yet.
Brugge is like walking into a fairytale. The Venice of the north but with added charm.
So far we are getting by ok on the gigs and busking. I know its early days and I’m sure there’ll be many more challenges ahead but I’m glad we’re in the position to be able to face them.
It wasn’t that long ago I was saying to one of my best friends on another repetitive commute to work that all I wanted to do (now that my band (Electric River) was over), is scratch a living playing music regularly and live in a van in order to give me the freedom and travel I was craving.
Jacking in the best and most supportive job I ever had along with a nice house in London and saying bye to close friends (not to mention Bud) haven't been easy decisions to make but I guess that's just the sacrifice I've probably always needed to make in order to push myself further as a musician.
So here I am. Living it, loving it, breathing it and doing it. The price was a ton of hard uphill work but its a price I’m glad I paid now.
The next week will see us take a bit of breather, get some practice in, catch up with some work, do some busking when we need to and hopefully figure a way to being a step closer to releasing some of my music to the wider world.
Lots of love from Belgium,