First trial on the Emerald Isle
Two days to go before we embark on yet another musical journey, this time around the Emerald Isle and place we’ve always personally wanted to travel and experience.
We’re just about to begin fixing a minor leak in the roof of our van when an alien noise begins to emanate from under the engine. Priorities switch immediately and after heading to the nearest garage, we discover that our vehicle is suffering from what is known as (in Mercedes Sprinter Van circles) ‘Black Death.’ As suggested by the name it was about as morbid a sight as far as engines can go. Under the hood was a splurge of solid carbon black vomit suffocating the internal components of Dr Box’s engine.
With our ferry to Ireland due to leave in under 48 hours and another gig in Brighton thrown in for good measure, there was to be no garage that would see us in time to properly fix the issue so we cut a few corners, got our hands dirty, knowing full well that the upcoming tour would be one of the most challenging ones yet.
Our cabin would be ridden with fumes every time we drove from place to place and if the weather was rainy then we’d have a leak every time we stopped.
The first stop on our trip was down to Brighton for a gig as a support act to the one man looping extravaganza ‘Funke and the Two Tone Baby.’ Soundcheck coincided with me rapidly coming down with a winter bug and my set ended up being a battle against keeping the snot runs at bay.
Watching ‘Funke’ do his thing was hugely rewarding though and the guy never seizes to inspire giving everything he has to his live performances.
With thanks to some pretty bad luck on the motorways, we spent a good 9 hours of the following day driving from Brighton to Birkenhead (near Liverpool) to sleep on a seafront parade only to then be battered by a heavy coastal storm. With just a few hours sleep, we finally hopped on to our ferry for the 7 hour journey from Liverpool to Dublin hoping our luck in Ireland would start to pick up.
Dublin / Navan
One day into our trip and we woke up to find ‘Dr Box’ had been tagged in a pretty thick and stubborn-to -remove permanent ink. The annoying thing is we were probably asleep inside when it happened and though there are worse things that happen in life, having your van graffitied on seemed a fitting way to top off a pretty awful week.
We had a gig that evening after Ireland’s historic rugby match in beating the All Blacks at a really impressive bar called ‘The Barge’ however the set itself wasn’t one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The spectacle was the rugby and not some acoustic playing singer and newcomer to Dublin. A DJ followed with all the usual top twenty drivel probably more suited to the occasion in fairness.
Our second gig was in a town called Navan at a neat little bar called ’The Foundry’ and though it was a fairly quiet evening we had an amazing time making friends with the family that ran the place and firmly cementing a new found love for Guinness.
A few days later, we returned to the venue after being invited to a party where an incredible country band were playing. I was invited up to play a song with them in the second half and decided to try and knock out a rendition of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ - figuring we could all just about navigate ourselves through it despite having never played together before. It was the first time in a long time that I’d felt the weight, muscle and magic of a live band on stage work its way through a song with one united and collective musical push. After playing so many gigs over the last 6 months outside of my comfort zone as a new fledging solo act, I’d almost forgot what I was missing and savoured the feeling as much as I could.
We were truly looked after in Navan and met some of the nicest people in a long time which in all helped to restore our spirits after what was in comparison a fairly grim week.
Waterford / New Ross
The next couple of gigs were over the following weekend in Waterford and nearby New Ross. Waterford is a beautiful port town that’s incredibly rich with history which we discovered whilst aimlessly wandering around before and after the gig at An Uisce Beatha.
The venue in New Ross (Bolg Buì) was quite easily one of the best pubs we’d ever set foot in let alone play. Both gigs were typically boisterous affairs where at times I struggled to captivate the audience (more so in Waterford than New Ross).
This sometimes tends to set off a self-conscious inner dialogue as I continuously question why I can’t single handedly hold the attention of a room of pissed punters - all the while still playing and singing. Maybe it’s my PA? Should I change the set? Is it my image? My Voice? Maybe I’m just not that good. It shouldn't happen but it does. Often I reconcile my mind with my heart by reminding myself that the pay off we get, at the very least, is another gig under the belt, an opportunity to assess what I can improve on, new friends made and some cash to carry doing what we love - music and travelling. These ‘real world’ experiences are what shape musicians and besides, perhaps under such circumstances or environments my inner ambitions are a touch unrealistic to begin with anyway?
We then had around 4 days off between New Ross and our next gig in Killarney so used the opportunity to drop off a few CDs to different pubs and bars as well as sample Ireland as full on tourists.
To do the latter (and after yet another amateur mechanical check-up / clean up with Dr Box’s engine) we spent a few days driving around the Ring of Kerry - something I’d recommend to anyone looking to forget the strain of life’s commitments and reunite with the spectacle that is mother nature. Untouched and unspoilt, the Ring of Kerry is one of the most awe inspiring places we’ve travelled to and we were forced many a time to sit back, soak up the views and absorb the atmosphere.
We concluded our mini break with a day in Killarney’s stunning national park before searching out a carpark in the winter afternoon darkness that wasn’t under surveillance. Having pulled up in the pitch black, we didn’t really know where we were until we woke up and discovered we had parked outside a castle with a hugely convenient complimentary public toilet.
On one of my expeditions to the loo, I came face to face with a stag and for a split second was unsure whether I’d soon be dangling off an antler before the animal fortunately darted away in the opposite direction.
Finally - we headed into Killarney’s town centre refreshed ready to get back to business playing a Thursday night at Courtney’s Bar, another cosy and vibrant Irish pub.
For a Thursday night, this place was thriving, kicking up a great atmosphere all the while. Once again, the usual challenges presented themselves but I was fortunate that there were just enough people engaged with what I was doing in the bar that it meant my set had at least some sense of purpose.
Derry / Portadown
We drove through some of the night from Killarney to Derry when the temperature suddenly plummeted and the winter switch firmly turned itself on, experiencing the first snowfall of the season. We precariously meandered our way through mountains and hillsides, at one point we followed a snowy white owl, before stopping for some rest at around 2am outside a leisure centre in order to have a shower the following morning.
When we did eventually get to Derry the next day we were shattered but excited to be loading in to Bennigan’s - a proper music bar with a neat setup run by really good people.
The gig itself certainly wasn’t as packed as the night before, perhaps something to do with the cold and wet weather that had blown in over the last 24 hours, but I did my thing as I have so many times before, with the intention of just improving my set.
Our second date in Derry (Grand Central Bar) certainly felt very different and we were in for one of the most memorable all round nights since we left. The gig certainly had a lot more energy, vigour and feel about it and after making friends with some wonderful people, we eventually headed to bed at about 8am. Derry / Londonderry / Stroke City is definitely somewhere we are looking forward to returning to and is a really beautiful town filled with tons of artistic, kind hearted and interesting characters.
The very final gig on our first run of Irish dates saw us end up at a coffee house (Tin House Coffee) on a Sunday night in Portadown. It was one of the nicest ways to wind things down and I was hugely grateful to play to such a pretty respectful and attentive audience.
We sold more CDs on that last night than any other date and were offered a room in a Castle (I kid you not) that belonged to a charitable organisation affiliated with ‘Tin House Coffee,’ which we graciously accepted.
When we woke up, we looked around the castle grounds and spent a few hours with the interns of the charity (Drop Inn Ministries) packing and boxing up Christmas presents that were to be sent out to those less fortunate just a month later all over the world. We met incredibly kind hearted and selfless people here and the whole occasion was the perfect way to wrap things up (excuse the pun).
Final thoughts then….
Having spent the last 3 and half weeks in Ireland, I return with nothing but love for the place. It’s incredibly stunning scenery, ridiculously rich history, and cosy inspiring and welcoming pubs all tug at my heart strings but it’s the people that win it for me. The Irish are right up there with the most friendly and welcoming people we’ve come across on our travels. The fact that 8 different venues booked an unknown acoustic new-kid-on-the-block speak volumes and I’ll always be grateful to the places that have just given me a shot to do my thing in their country let alone the many pints of complimentary Guinness.
The Irish must also be the race with the quickest and sharpest wit ensuring never a dull moment.
We’re lucky we get to head out there again in Feb 2017 to try and build on the work we put into this tour and are already looking forward to it.
That’s basically it for us this year, in terms of touring at least, and we can look back at the last 6 months as the ultimate learning curve, launching and building our profile in 8 different countries.
Though the journey has had (and will continue to serve up) its ups and downs, the pay off is that we ultimately enrich ourselves with experiences, memories and friends. It’s not all been plain sailing and I’ve tried to be as honest as possible in this blog.
As always - I’m truly thankful for your support and your interest in this project. It goes a long way.
Time to hole up and get on with some new songs before we set off on the road next year to do it all again!
Over and out (and with lots of love),