Sore fingers and spare change - (journeying through the west of Germany)
I’ve officially been on the road for over a month. In ten years with my last band, the longest we’d ever spent touring music continuously was just over three weeks so it’s nice to cross the mark.
With the initial buzz and high of taking the plunge well and truly behind us, we began a stint of edging our way up the west of Germany from Luxembourg minimising fuel costs by stopping in Heidelberg, Cologne, Dortmund and Munster over a period of just under two weeks operating solely on earnings made on the street.
As we entered our first stop in Germany (Heidelberg) we were met with glorious sunshine and were fortunate to be welcomed with our most successful busking sessions to date however we soon realised this was to be short lived with a turn in the weather.
For every day of sunshine we had, another 3 of grey skies and rain would follow, severely hampering the act of busking and subsequent earnings; pushing us to our limits on a heavy diet of dried-noodles.
Our second stop in Germany was Cologne and we marked the occasion by picking up our long awaited box of physical CDs of the new EP.
It was a pretty amazing feeling to finally have a copy of my first release in my hands. All the hard work, demos, practices, lyrical edits, studio sessions, artwork and months of organising all encapsulated in the form of a glass disc slipped between two sheets of matte cardboard.
Naturally, we celebrated with a few beers on the banks of the Rhine making friends with two guys we met that day who had followed the river all the way down from the North Sea on bicycles.
We awoke the following day itching to get out and finally shift some CDs but were met with grim weather. Such was our determination that when we did eventually make a dash into the city centre during a rare break in the clouds, we were completely caught out by a monsoon style downpour soaking us through. Not a great thing to happen when your entire wardrobe fits into an overhead storage space the size of a beer crate.
When the rain eventually ceased, we thought we’d try some evening busking for the first time however just as we were about to leave our van for the city centre, news filtered through of Cologne being on lockdown due to some armed nutters in a Job Centre.
The next morning, we were left without a choice but to head into town regardless of the weather to scrape some earnings on the street. There was some pretty fierce competition but it was all good natured and I met some really nice musicians offering me advice about places to go. The cathedral in the middle of town is a hugely impressive gothic sight however it is also off limits to buskers.
The rules in Germany state that you can only play for the first 30 minutes of every hour and have to change locations each time. It’s a total ball-ache and can feel pretty draining at the best of times. You find a spot, set up your stuff (merch, mic, amp, harmonicas, sets etc), play for 30 minutes, then pack up, search out some other spot that won’t be a total waste of time or piss anyone off and repeat the process again.
It can also take a while to get your busking bearings when you’re in a city you’re unfamiliar with so occasionally the risk of earning nothing is a very real possibility.
The thought of stopping for food can effectively mean you lose out on 90 minutes of your day which again isn’t the wisest of moves unless of course you can afford it.
I have nothing but the upmost respect for professional buskers. Its a mentally tiring and physically exhausting job to do it well.
In the end, my one and only entire day of busking in Cologne without an amp (I was worried it would get wet) fetched me about 30 euros, enough for a tin of Ravioli and some fuel to get us to our next stop in Dortmund to try our luck there.
Nothing against Cologne, but I was glad to see the back of it, especially once we started busking the following day. We made more money in three half-hour (morning / early afternoon) sessions in Dortmund than we would have had we spent a further full day basked in sunshine in Cologne.
We maxed out our stay in Dortmund which helped get the savings pot up and running again leaving 3 days later.
We decided to head north into Münster figuring there wouldn’t be too much competition in a smaller city however our entire stay was plagued by the sort of weather you’d associate the UK with in late November.
Our time was spent filching off Starbuck’s complimentary internet in order to organise actual gigs further into the year as well as running to certain semi-sheltered spots whenever we thought the weather wasn’t bad enough to damage our things with the aim of scratching a few euros off the passing public at every opportunity.
In the end, our tenacity was certainly repaid although it required more effort than I knew even existed in me as a musician often playing through the pain of flesh exposed finger tips while being wrapped in cold damp clothes.
We made sure that our last busking session, which was inside the sanctuary of a walking commuter tunnel underneath a station, would earn us enough to buy us a pizza and give some money to a homeless person working the same area.
We finished off our month back in Dortmund on the 5th August with a show at a small festival which was a great way to seal weeks of militant styled busking training. Although there are plenty of things to take from busking, it was a bit of a wake up call in realising that my live gigs are a very different animal and it took a little while for me to settle back into my gig routine. Still, it was great to finally play a gig in Germany and am glad to be able to draw things from the experience whilst also ticking off a country I’ve long admired for its support and love for great music.
So with a whole month now under our belts, we come out the other side having played gigs in new territories, new physical CDs and flyers, new friends, a larger profile and countless hours of perfecting my live act on the streets.
Going forward, we also come out with a healthy looking list of gigs and a confirmed release date for the EP (12th Sept).
Despite being miles away from the relative hum-drum comfort zone of London life, its pretty obvious why I took the plunge, trading an underlying and repetitive feeling of dissatisfaction with a forward motion of meaning and purpose that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Onwards and upwards.
Lots of love