Back to where it all began - Leg 3 (part 1- Belgium and Holland)
Pissed off, tired, frustrated, broke and beginning to question why we’ve ended up putting ourselves in such a vulnerable and naive position.
Last night we were moved on by the police after overstaying our welcome in a neighbourhood outside my favourite practice studios in Den Haag. As we abruptly set off in search of new ground somewhere near Amsterdam, Dr Box decided it’d be a fitting time to compound the situation by deciding to struggle with the task of accelerating past 35mph. This morning, the bill for the engine repair has meant that the majority of the money we’d made since setting off on tour (5 weeks and 22 gigs ago) disappeared in one foul swoop. I guess we should have known with Dr Box’s track record, that another visit to the garage was on the cards but yet somehow each time it shocks us even more as the list and variety of problems we encounter grows ever longer. Yet again, another obligatory mechanical nightmare.
We began in Belgium, the country where the first seeds of this project were laid. Kicking off in Mechelen, at a stunning venue called Kuub, we were welcomed by one of the friendliest and most hospitable hosts going, feeding us sushi before the gig (which is a first) and setting the bar very high for every other venue we were yet to play. That night, I fused my excitement with a little too much booze and was absolutely ruined by the time I hit the sack in the early hours of the morning.
The hangover that followed polluted the majority of the next day up until I hit the stage again to play in Ghent at a music venue called The Cover. We slept in the van that night in the centre of the city and were super lucky to have found a parking space, even if it meant the van was pretty tilted being stationed in the gutter of a road. Still, after a good 5 hour kip, we were off again in the early morning, to try and make our early afternoon slots at a festival/market in Eindhoven just across the Belgian border.
Our third gig in as many days was easily the best and though the weather was a little hit and miss, the overall positive atmosphere was never in any doubt. ‘FeelGood Market’ is made up of loads of unique, independent food, arts and crafts stalls not far from the centre of the city. Situated in the middle of the site was a stage area equipped with a proper P.A. rig and where I ended up playing for a good few hours. It was an amazing show of faith for the organisers to have actually booked me after I popped over there last summer to pass on a demo and personally ask for a slot. To hear back from them 6 months later was a really nice surprise. We sold more CDs than ever before and the whole event really put us in high spirits.
Following a day of chores and laundry on a quiet campsite we headed back into Belgium to play my first gig in Antwerp. The bar was called Elfde Gebod (which translates into - The Eleventh Commandment) and has the most eery decor and vibe I’ve ever witnessed in a bar. Adorning every wall of the venue are hundreds of little religious figures and statues so it makes having a drink there a pretty cool experience, let alone playing music.
Next, another visit back to Ghent, where I played at a small venue called Cafe de Loge. Despite it being a pretty low key affair, it was one of my favourite gigs and I was chuffed they agreed to have me play their music night which is clearly respected by the locals who turned up genuinely interested in what my music had to offer despite it being a bit of an unknown commodity. As a musician, you can’t ask for more than that, and these sorts of gigs (especially when you’re starting off) are like gold dust.
Our final gig in Belgium was in the capital (Brussels) at an underground bar called La Porte Noire and was one of the first places I’d played on this tour run where I’d actually recognised some familiar faces from my previous jaunt around mainland Europe. It was a really nice way to seal things off.
The next morning, we once again crossed the border back into Holland to visit the musical hub of Haag’s Pop Centrum in Den Haag for a studio rehearsal session in preparation for the gig we had booked in their main bar area the following day.
The numbers were incredibly low and I felt terrible given that my name was highest on the bill and I’d literally failed to bring anyone apart from a trusty old Irish friend of whom I’d met a few times on my musical travels. The two support acts were really classy as well. Knowing the awkwardness of the whole situation, I did my best to connect with everyone in the room on an individual level so as not to waste anyone’s time. Weirdly, come the end of the gig, we sold more CDs than average even despite the numbers in the room being well below normal.
The surprising spikes in CD sales since leaving the UK had put us in a position we’d never been in before. Obviously, we’re getting more gigs and therefore gig fees now - but that generally covers the essentials like fuel, guitar strings and our fairly basic diet of dried noodles, rice and beans. But with the increase of CD sales, we were now able to make a start at a decent saving pot (mostly for studio time) and all while doing the two things we love, music and travelling!
We were finally starting to feel like our pipe dream was morphing into reality - that is until Dr Box decided to get in on the act soon after the gig at HPC. Following the minor run-in with Dutch police over spending one too many days in the HPC neighbourhood, our notorious engine began playing up.
Our turbo sensors were so dirty (from the previous ‘black death’ mechanical problem we thought we’d tackled 3 months ago) that it meant the engine lost half of its power, forcing our hand to part ways with most of our earnings.
Looking on the bright side though, at least we were in a position to get ourselves out of trouble and able to make it to our next few gigs in Amsterdam. Still it was hard not to feel bitter about the whole thing as we had a planned day off in our sights, just after our two upcoming gigs in Amsterdam, to indulge (ever so slightly) in the act of being good old fashioned tourists.
Both gigs in Amsterdam were in places we’d come to know on our initial travels last year. The Waterhole is one of the coolest music bars in the city and I shared the bill with another English act called ‘Elles Bailey.’ She was absolute class and possesses a really rich voice while her band had some seriously tight Nashville bluesy vibes.
The next evening, I played in the hostel bar (Clink Noord) that was putting us up. We took advantage of their ‘stay and play’ program which meant we got a little bit of luxury (mainly in the form of showering) in exchange for the me playing the gig and we met loads of great people there (as so often is the case in decent hostels).
Our final two gigs in the Netherlands were both in Utrecht a day after each other. The first was in a cafe / bar called the Hofman Cafe and I was supported by a seriously talented singer/songwriter called Judy Blank. Sadly, the gig was hampered by a bit of an uninterested audience which didn’t help Judy’s more delicate set and intimate vocal style. It wouldn’t have mattered if Norah Jones was playing that night… it was just one of those situations. I guess that’s why I appreciate having the loopstation and harmonica in my bag of tricks. They once again helped to dig me out of trouble - though Judy was the real talent.
Utrecht (for me) will be remembered for the second show I played there, at a place called Kargadoor. This was a proper event with a very up close and personal atmosphere; the very opposite from the night before. Had I been playing here just 6 months prior, I think I probably would have bottled it a bit. This time, I was the opening act supporting a group called Madison and Haigh and once again come the end of the evening, we managed to shift more CDs than we’d expected helping to slowly rebuild the savings kitty.
And that concluded our stay in the Netherlands. I said my goodbyes to one of my favourite countries by drinking a fair few dutch beers with new friends late into the night, stupidly only allowing myself 2.5 hours of sleep before having to tackle a seven hour drive to Hamburg airport! Battling through sleep deprivation and a grim hangover, we eventually caught a flight for a fleeting visit back to the UK in order to make the funeral of my Aunt. We travelled a total of 14 painful hours that day.
Thanks to everyone who caught me live in Belgium and Holland. It's a real pleasure to be given so many opportunities as a musician to learn my craft as well as make so many good friends. Despite some of the lows on our journey, we're still truly grateful to be making the most of our European travel freedoms while we still can and hope to be back again soon,
P.S. - Here are some of the great musicians I’ve met / come across in Belgium / Holland who are well worth checking out:
Rosemary Blue (BE)- Hung out with an amazing character/singer after a gig in Ghent who enlightened us to her project after a few beers back at our van. https://www.facebook.com/rosemaryblue.info/
Kenny (NE)- I was blessed to have this guy support me in Den Haag. Bluesy chords, a commanding Jamie Cullum-esque vocal and an all round musical talent. https://www.facebook.com/kennyartistpage/
Elles Bailey (U.K.)- I supported fellow Brit 'Elles Bailey' in Amsterdam and she was definitely one of the most professional musicians I’ve shared a stage with. Amazing vocalist with an equally brilliant band kicking out a Nashville influenced bluesy rock’n’roll that tours endlessly! https://www.ellesbailey.com/
Judy Blank (NE)- Judy supported me at a gig in Utrecht and deserves a lot of success and credit. She’s got a really sweet delicate vocal and knocked out the most amazing version of Dylan’s ‘It ain’t me Babe’ during her set that night. https://www.facebook.com/judyblankmusic/
Madison and Haigh (NE)- Shared the stage with these guys once again in Utrecht. An acoustic orientated trio with clever harmonies and a set that mixed their own stuff with really interesting and unexpected covers. https://www.facebook.com/MadisonHaigMusic/
#WillWhisson #EuropeanTour #DrBox #MercedesSprinter #Mechelin #FeelGoodMarket #Antwerp #CafeDeLoge #HPC #TheWaterhole #ClinkHostels #Kargadoor #ht #RosemaryBlue #KennyArtist #EllesBailey #JudyBlank #MadisonHaigh