The Road Home - (Copenhagen to Kent)
The drive to Copenhagen from Amsterdam took a lot longer than expected. We were however treated to the spectacle of several monumental Danish bridges on the final approach into the capital in return for our 11 hour effort. With 60 Euros and our spirits awakened we were excited to finally get our first taste of Scandinavia. Then came the toll charge. We arrived into Copenhagen with 5 Euros remaining but were fortunate to have been looked after by the venue we were playing that night.
‘Bar 25’ was definitely the most swanky place I’d played all summer. An upmarket cocktail bar in the heart of the capital and probably not graced too often by travelling musicians in dirt covered trainers.
Despite it being pretty quiet, the set went well and we were paid enough to keep us going for a few days and just about be able to cover the fuel costs for our return journey back out of Denmark.
During our stay in the Danish capital, we parked up our van at a place called Christiania; a former military barracks that became occupied by hippies in the 70’s after the army vacated the site and has since become a respected self-governed commune and thus the only place remotely close to the centre of Copenhagen that wasn’t actively going to harass us for parking our van, let alone sleep in it.
Christiania is a phenomenon in itself and as we walked around its artsy streets and festival-esque areas, we couldn’t help but notice there was a bit of a sombre and tense atmosphere overriding it. We came to realise, that just a day before, there had been a shooting when the police came in to show their presence trying to tackle dealers selling hash under the safety net of Christiania’s liberal freedoms and principles. Two police officers were seriously injured, so too was a bystander and the dealer was eventually killed after fleeing the site. It’s sad that such an outcome can result from something as harmless as hash. Apparently ISIS claimed responsibility, but I’m not so sure.
From what I can gather, the true residents of the commune would much prefer Christiania to not be rife with gangs and dealers as it taints the reputation of what really is a truly independent, admirable and self-sustained movement. Anyway, it probably wasn’t the best time to be tourists but we still appreciated the eye opening experience and artistic ambience of the place.
Our final day in Copenhagen was spent busking around the capital solely to make 55 Euros after we realised we’d be charged the same amount on the toll leaving the damn place. Fortunately it was a Saturday and though finding a decent spot was tough, we managed to hit our target.
We left Copenhagen that night and drove for around 3 or 4 hours in pretty horrible conditions stopping off under a pretty awe inspiring bridge overlooking some water. We’d also discovered a leak coming through the roof. Cold and somewhat fed-up after a pretty long day, we fell asleep in preparation for the next leg of our drive into Hamburg the following morning. We woke up fairly early to the sound of drips falling into a small bucket behind the passenger seat while the weather outside continued to pour its misery. As I looked out across the bay whilst still lying in bed, my eye caught the silhouette of a Dolphin passing by. With a log on the fire, and breakfast on the go, we spent the morning watching several Dolphins on their morning swim.
All other things like our tiredness or the poor weather and subsequent leak had now become somewhat irrelevant as we witnessed this marvel.
After hearing so many great things from other musicians about Hamburg, we decided to go and try our luck their with a few days of busking. I got off to a terrible start when we arrived by reversing the van’s roof rack into a protruding guttering outside a bank in a tight carpark. To compound misery further, it just so happened that the bank manager was walking out to her car during this unfortunate event. It was comical, frustrating and sad at the same time.
I spent the rest of the first day figuring out potential spots in the city so that things went smoothly for the following 2 days. Day 1 of busking couldn’t have gone much better and it was clear that the research I’d put in the day before was truly worthwhile even if I did get moved on a few times. I headed back to the van with the largest loot I’d made on the street since we’d left the UK, two and half months prior.
I figured I’d just repeat the process again the following day. Riding my luck and dodging the metro fare on my commute in with everyone else during rush hour, I could not have foreseen how much of a ballache I was in for over that morning and early afternoon.
I got to my favourite lucrative spot early and kept an eye on the police patrolling the area as I started up my songs. Luckily I managed to play around 20 minutes, before I got busted (for having an amp) by the same officer from the previous day who was this time far less forgiving. I proceeded elsewhere on a day where every busker and his dog were out. Every time I set up somewhere, I’d be moved on and be packing down again within 10 - 15 minutes.
This must have happened about 5 or 6 times over 4 hours. Walk a lot, find a spot, set up and almost instantly pack down.
On the last occasion, I went to another busker and asked if I could share her spot as I was having such a bad day. She was local to the area, incredibly friendly and said I could have it after her next set, reassuring me that it was one of the only ‘safe’ places in Hamburg. As I set up my things and before I’d even played a note, someone from the council intervened saying I couldn’t play any amplified music or sell CDs on the street. I’d already been moved on by this person earlier in the day. I looked at my new busker friend and just laughed. ‘One of those days.’
That day, I realised that if it wasn’t for playing/singing Jeff Buckley’s version of ’Hallelujah’ I would have gone home empty handed. It’s the last song on earth I wanted to prostitute but when you’re having days like I was having, you can understand why it had gone from occasionally being one of the last songs on my busking sets to a regular opener.
But that’s what busking is like. One day it can be amazing, and the next it seems the world has put on some steel toe-cap boots to relentlessly and consistently kick you in the nuts using all its muscle.
A day later, we headed back into the safe haven of Holland once again spending a few days in a practice studio that has since become a bit of a second home (HPC in Den Haag) before returning to play at O’Casey’s Irish pub, our first repeat booking. I played 3 sets that day in between 3 massive premier league matches of football. Win win for us as we got to watch our beloved teams play live for the first time this season as well as get looked after by really good people for the day.
2 days later, the EP was released! Even if we’d been selling it at gigs and on the streets for over a month, it felt like a new official beginning for us to finally build on. The release coincided with a visit to Utrecht, definitely one of the most beautiful cities we’d been to.
The only sour point about the place is that after getting a permit, street musicians can only perform 15 minute sets. The layout of Utrecht isn’t particularly conducive to busking either but then I guess its nice to be in a place that doesn’t focus its city centre on a large high street of all the same chains and shops. I gave it a go during a lunch hour and made about 70 cents.
Luckily, I had a gig at a place called ‘Eetcafe Stathe’ and though it was a fairly quiet evening, it was one of my favourite gigs I’d played.
Following Utrecht we headed back to Amsterdam to play our second stint of gigs there.
The first was at a hostel called ‘ClinkNOORD’ which offered us a bit of cash, a private room for a few nights, somewhere to park our van and some food / drink in return for an hour’s set in their bar. It was obvious they’d also done their best in promoting the gig to their guests with posters decorating every wall and the sound of my EP being played in reception over a few days.
They run a program called ‘Stay and Play’ for artists and musicians so that they can travel and showcase their work to people from all nationalities and backgrounds. I have nothing but love and respect for this idea and it is nice that someone out there is encouraging the need for art to spread its seed as far as possible.
The next day we headed into the centre to play ‘The Flying Pig Hostel’ (Downtown) while the final date in Amsterdam was in a small residential bar called ‘Cafe De Pianist’ where in the first half I played to 2 people.
Following Utrecht and Amsterdam, we didn’t have another gig for a good week, so we used the time to wisely catching up on some admin and practice at an incredibly peaceful place called Vianen.
Having only been doing this properly for a matter of months, my live set was and still is a work in progress. I’m getting closer.
When the next gig did come round on the 27th Sept, it was in Luxembourg at a bar called ‘The Tube.’ It coincided yet again with a football night but worked well, with us managing to make new friends and shift a bunch of CDs.
The following day was a bit of a hungover write-off, yet we still managed to drive over to Ghent in Belgium parking up at a beautiful spot overlooking a canal. It also happened to be the spot where some local drunks decided to have a get together at 4am heavily disrupting our sleep with shouting and random primal noises.
Our last gig on the mainland was at a place called ‘Cafe De Kleine Kunst’ and the room was filled with plenty of attentive and appreciative people which made it a pleasure to play. As is so customary in mainland Europe, we were looked after well with food and drink and after a hat was passed around at the end of my set, we made more than we would have had we requested our usual gig fee. It was a really nice way to end our stay in mainland Europe and we toasted many a drink to the weird and wonderful experiences our journey had offered us.
Passing Calais once again, we were reminded of the reality and injustice of the refugee crisis. It seems entirely unfair that I myself happened to win some parental lottery that now allows me complete freedom to cross European borders as I seek new beginnings in my own life. And it’s not even like my hand was forced by poverty, oppression or war. That said, after the Brexit vote - how long that European freedom of travel will last is hard to tell.
I would have loved it if Boris and Nigel could have gone and spent a day at The Jungle before they embarked on a campaign that was largely centred around immigration concerns. I’m not sure that even they would have endorsed the promotional images that cropped up showing queues of desperate and objectified people as a threat to their beloved and now more than ever (dis)United Kingdom had they sampled some of the reality of the crisis.
When we saw how other European countries and places have accommodated those in need, it really doesn’t paint us in the best of lights. Working on the same streets when busking and speaking to some of those that made it over, only made us feel even more ashamed that in this day and age we can’t find a solution for our fellow man's plight and yet somehow still a large proportion of us prefer to turn a blind eye or opt for patriotism and ignorance instead of offering compassion, sympathy, support and love.
The first two days of October offered us two gigs on UK soil and we started in London at another Clink hostel in Kings Cross. The bar was called ‘Clash Bar’ paying homage to one of my favourite bands and the same deal we had in Amsterdam applied once again.
The second was a bit of a homecoming gig at a scenic Kent pub called ‘The Tickled Trout’ and the experience truly rewarded us for our 3 month tour and risk. Being surrounded by friends and family for the first time at a gig generated the best atmosphere to date and it was nice to showcase what we’d been working on over the summer to those that cared most. It was the nicest welcome home we could have asked for and one we’ll remember for a very long time.
And so that concluded the fourth gig in 6 days spanning dates from Luxembourg to the UK with a date in Belgium sandwiched in the middle.
It also concluded our travels and ever evolving European tour. We set off in July with just 3 gigs booked in Belgium and with nothing but the sole intention of thickening up my musical skin, improving my live set, learning more about our brilliant continent and making loads of new friends on the way. The Tickled Trout just happened to be gig number 23 on a trip that ended up spanning six countries.
So what’s next?!
October sees us play a handful of dates across the UK including London (6th), Canterbury (14th), Norwich (15th), Oxford (20th) and Guildford (21st).
November (2nd) begins with a show in Brighton supporting one of my inspirations and fellow Kent cat (Funke and the Two Tone Baby) before we set off for 2 and a half week tour in Ireland.
I know this project is in its infancy so I truly thank each and everyone of you for your support and continued interest in this blog. Hope to catch up with some of you guys over a pint somewhere on the road.