A Dutch Education - (From Dalfsen to Amsterdam)
We began our first stint in Holland with a few days of preparation in a small town called Dalfsen with time primarily spent between hunting for gigs, writing and practicing. The reason we chose to initially reside here was to quite simply make use of a nearby train station cafe/pub’s facilities (mainly being water, a toilet and a wifi connection).
Travelling has a tendency of bringing together people in the most unlikeliest of places and on one of my regular visits to the station on an incredibly sunny afternoon, a local started up a conversation after recognising me as ‘the guy who plays acoustic guitar constantly next to a white van.’ He’d passed by me a few times over the last few days on his own regular pub visits to the station and introduced me to one of his friends at the bar who claimed to own a pretty incredible home studio. I was obviously pretty sceptical, especially being in such a small and somewhat reclusive sort of town but figured it wouldn’t hurt to go check it out as well as just have a change of scenery from a train station carpark. That evening, I went to visit Jaan’s home studio and was shocked to find a world class facility round the back of his house. It was like walking into a giant Nashville studio only with (I kid you not) George Martin’s former mixing desk.
The following afternoon Jaan and his wife kindly took us in for a quick practice and a chance to top up the water supply in the van before we headed off to Rotterdam to play the first of around 7 gigs this month in Holland.
The first gig was at a hostel called Ani & Haakien and I set up round the back in the garden on some decking under a clear summer evening while Suzie, the stunning hostel cat, settled down in the merch box. It was a really nice atmosphere to play in and I was just glad to be testing out my set, making constant mental notes along the way.
The following day we took the opportunity of being in Rotterdam to go for a little walk around the city, totally underestimating its size. Being stubborn and more to the point, pretty broke, the idea of taking public transport wasn’t really something we could entertain just yet and so our legs took the brunt of the distances we covered in spits of rain and glimmers of sunshine.
It was on one of these wandering walks that we came across something hugely suspicious and disturbing. As we crossed a traffic light we couldn’t help but notice a really nice looking Mercedes Sprinter which as so often happens as part of our new found appreciation of these types of vans. We live in one. Anyway, as we crossed we suddenly heard a loud banging coming from the inside, with indents quickly becoming visible on the outside as the vehicle stopped. The driver clocked us and looked even more suspicious, speeding off into the distance at the first opportunity. It was one of those moments where we had to stop and question whether what we’d seen had actually occurred. Was there someone in the back of the van trying to call for help knowing the van was coming to a standstill? Why would separate indents appear from within the body of a van, and an awesome van at that?! We figured it wouldn’t hurt to walk to the nearest police station, which according to our tourist map was about 10 minutes around the corner, but soon learnt the map had lied and no such police station even existed, finally prompting us to just notify the cops on our phones.
The next day we headed to Eindhoven to play an afternoon set at a small coffee bar. The gig was a completely different sort of occasion to all the others that had come before and helped to highlight that sometimes live music can be better to listen to at much lower volumes; something I’m still learning after spending 10 years in a loud rock band.
Being short on cash, we spent the rest of our stay in Eindhoven busking in semi-depressing weather before making our journey to Den Haag in preparation for a few days in a practice studio.
We parked up outside Haag’s Pop Centrum (HPC) in the height of a heatwave and were really lucky to have been quickly taken in by the staff at the music centre, offering us the use of their facilities as well as coffee, water and the use of the one air conditioned room in the building. The temperature on the inside of the van parked out front meanwhile crept into the forties.
I spent the best part of 2 days-solid practicing on my live setup in a sweat box of a studio trying to develop and extend my set further in sweltering temperatures. I was also itching to apply all the things I’d recently learnt with my first two sets in Rotterdam and Eindhoven into the upcoming gigs.
I sweat a lot at the best of times but those few days were unlike any others and it was the best feeling when we finally got to head to the beach in Scheveningen about 15 minutes up the road the following afternoon before setting up to play yet another hostel called Jorplace.
The guys we’d recently befriended from HPC came along to support the cause although the gig itself is probably one I won’t remember for the rest of my life as the numbers were generally pretty low. That said, I could tell it was apparent that the 20 hours or so I’d spent in the HPC practice rooms had gone to good use.
As the week drew to a close, we were booked in to play our next gig at an Irish pub called O’Casey’s in Den Haag. This had been a gig I had been prepping for for a very long time as it would be the first time I played two 45 minute sets of music on my own. The pub itself was incredibly hospitable towards us and the locals were all really friendly and appreciative. The night was a success, I crossed a personal landmark, we sold a bunch of CDs, got paid and we’ve since been booked to come back and play again.
We were in the green! To top it all off, we’d heard from a local that a UK band we knew pretty well called ‘The Urban Voodoo Machine’ were playing down the road so we treated ourselves to catching their set.
We returned back to O’Casey’s in high spirits to pick up the van and head to a discreet spot to sleep the night when 5 minutes into the journey our indicators, hazards and windscreen wipers ceased to work while almost instantly being pulled over by the police in the process. A crushing blow to what was such a positive evening.
We headed to a garage the following day and picked up a 100+ euro bill severely hampering the kitty and as is so accustomed with this venture bringing our spirits rapidly back down to earth when they had only just been risen less than 12 hours before.
Not the best way to set ourselves up for 3 gigs in 4 days in Amsterdam but after playing the first at a hostel called ‘The Flying Pig - Uptown’ our worries seemed long gone playing to a really appreciative and lively audience. The ‘afterparty’ that ensued was typical of a night in Amsterdam with the last thing we remember being chatting nonsense and having a jam outside the gates of Vondelpark at 5am.
The second gig was at one of the best small music venues I’ve ever been in called ‘The Waterhole’ and it was at this gig where I knew I would have a lot to learn from as it was the first venue on this tour where I’d be integrating my live stage setup with the gear of a professional music venue armed with an excellent sound engineer. Without getting into it too much, I knew I needed to split my input and output signals from stage into several different routes to give the sound engineer maximum control of my sound, I just wasn’t sure exactly how. I blagged it about 10 minutes before the gig, however, it would have been much nicer to have sorted this stuff before turning up to the venue. It also felt a little uncomfortable and unnatural to be in a proper music venue doing a soundcheck and prepping for a gig without the other guys from Electric River. Gigwise though, it was another really good night, especially being first on, and the bands that followed weren’t half bad either.
The next and final day in Amsterdam we decided to check ourselves into a campsite to prep ourselves and the van before a long drive over to Copenhagen in the week. The indicators and windscreen wipers decided to cut out again and the campsite we chose was generally a ball-ache to get anything done. They wouldn’t even let us use their phone to call a local garage and I had to really chomp on my tongue dealing with the cocky laced arrogant twat behind the reception desk.
We spent the day frantically sorting out a list of ‘van-must-dos’ that had been growing over the last few weeks and set off into Amsterdam for our third and final gig of our first musical run in this city. What we hadn’t quite realised was that the journey in was to end up taking us over 2 hours which meant I got to the gig 30 minutes before it started having not had time to eat anything.
Much like the day before, this gig was again a very different experience for me in that it was the first time I played in a quiet, respectful and intimate scenario at a bar called ‘De Nieuwe Anita.’
It was only a 20 minute set, so I decided to ditch all the looping tricks and fancy equipment hoping my voice and guitar would be all I needed. I learnt a lot by doing that too however I could feel the hunger pangs making themselves known the further I got into the set.
We left the venue knowing we would have just missed the last metro back to our campsite and after scoffing down a falafel wrap with the gig earnings we headed to a bus stop having walked from one side of Amsterdam to the other in search of it.
When the night-bus did finally show up, we weren’t entirely sure whether we were even going in the right direction until we finally managed to recognise a streetlamp lit road about half an hour into the journey. As we contemplated about exactly what point we should get off, the bus veered into the opposite direction and sped into the darkness with us coming to the sudden realisation that we were now miles away from the area we needed to be once again. We got off the bus near a main highway knowing we had a better chance of working out where we were than we would if we chose some random residential street and began yet another very long and painful walk. When our blistered feet eventually arrived back at the van around an hour later, we realised we had been left our van 7 hours ago and all for a 20 minute set.
That day was probably the worst of the lot since we left home and it was pretty testing of our patience but such is the way we concluded our stay in what is definitely one of my favourite countries in the world.
Aside from all the amazing people we have met, the Netherlands has offered me so many musical experiences and I’m so grateful for all the opportunities that have so far arisen here, especially at such an early stage of my solo venture.
The last few weeks have seen me test my stuff at hostels, high streets, a coffee bar, an Irish pub, a music venue, an intimate acoustic evening and a world class studio. In terms of learning your trade as a musician- you couldn’t really ask for more.
Lots of love from the Netherlands!