Random Acts of Kindness - Leg 3 - (Part 2 - Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France
Having just flown back in to the country, my first gig in Germany took place in Hamburg at a pretty stunning venue called Freundlich + Kompetent.
I was really excited to be playing again having had 3 days away from music venues. After the brutal journey we’d made to initially get to Hamburg (and squeezing in a round trip to the UK) my last gig in Utrecht seemed geographically and psychologically a long long time ago.
The gig was running behind schedule and by the time I went on the whole thing seemed a little flat though there were definitely a few people who seemed interested in my sound. We also met some excellent musicians who had turned up for the club’s weekly jam night following my set. Come closing time, a loved up drunken casanova took to the stage to serenade his equally drunk lady. Thankfully most people had left by this point. He was truly awful and it was a miracle that she didn’t just up and leave him. Still, an admirable act none the less all the while reaffirming that love can be blind; or in this case deaf.
The next day, we drove to Hanover to play possibly the most random yet swanky gig on the whole tour. The venue was part of the Sheraton Hotel and in return we were treated to some of their luxuries and comforts. We made the most of it despite feeling like fish out of water. As for the gig, it was exactly what we’d expected. A functional event to mostly uninterested cocktail sipping five star hotel guests but the fact we were clean, showered, had a great bed and had eaten enough food to sustain for another week meant it was totally worth it.
A trip to Luxembourg followed soon after offering possibly one of the most exciting and full 24 hours we’ve ever had. Coming off the back of a 6 hour drive, we used the morning to record a live radio session for one of the city’s largest stations (ARA City Radio).
You can hear some of it here: https://soundcloud.com/aracityradio/will-whisson-performs-a-live-session
When we left the radio station an hour or so later, we headed straight to a world class guitar luthier called Joao Godhino in order to repair an issue on my Taylor pick up system. Over the last few months a strange high pitched ringing has kept rearing its head in certain songs when using a capo.
In fairness to Taylor, they were super helpful and it was them who put me in touch with Joao in the first place and sent me a replacement part in no time at all.
I’ve only had the guitar for about a year and was torn between a Taylor and a Martin 000 before parting with my cash. In the end I chose the Taylor after hearing the ES2 pickup system and after learning that if anything were to go wrong whilst out on the road, Taylor would have your back. They weren’t lying and I wouldn’t want to tour with anything else.
Joao gave the old pickup a good clean in order to get it into a better state for the gig I was playing that evening at The Tube while we waited for the replacement part to come through in the post. He even came down to the gig just to listen further to the problem I was trying to describe which more often than not is most apparent on stage and through certain PA systems.
The gig was a strange one at The Tube and took a little while for the energy in the room to really get going. That said, when it did, it was absolutely packed and there were loads of nice people who were really digging the more upbeat material and the work on the loopstation. We finished late into the night after sinking plenty of beers and many a shot knowing the following day would be a bit of a write off.
When we did eventually wake up, we used the afternoon to check out the UNESCO heritage ‘Casemates’ tunnels and walk around the historical old town of Luxembourg getting away from it’s somewhat superficial town centre. Luxembourg is a stunning place with plenty of history and charm.
The next gig on our schedule was in Munich at an absolutely tiny bar called ’Schorsch Bar.’ Sometimes the smallest places to play can be the most awkward but they can also be the most intimate and easiest to connect with people at. What should have been another random and quiet week night gig in unfamiliar territory ended up being really enjoyable and strangely pretty busy.
We ended up sleeping in the middle of the city that night in anticipation to be the first customer of the following day in my hunt for a new harmonica at a nearby music shop. Come the morning, I spent a good hour wondering why the shop doors wouldn’t open until it dawned on me that it was Easter Friday, which now explains why the turn out at the gig was better than I expected.
We drove to Salzburg next and managed to park up just outside a police station. We figured that being right under the noses of the cops would help us look less suspicious as surely no one in their right mind testing the force of the law would choose here. More to the point, it was also the only location we could find closest to the city centre without paying.
4 days of busking followed with the usual patterns of highs and major frustrations but having come out the other side, Salzburg was overall a real success.
During our stay in Salzburg, the weather was both brilliant and ugly and the van got battered by heavy rains at times causing the ever present leak to make itself really known. We were stuffing more J-clothes into the roof than ever to try and stem the flow.
We then headed to Vienna to try and test my luck on the streets of the capital. It can be massively frustrating when looking for good spots to play when you’re totally alien to new cities. It takes a day to get your bearings however I had no such luxury. Having been handed a ‘guide’ as to where I could play without a full permit I soon realised I was being taken for a prized dickhead on a aimless mission inevitably amounting in a monumental waste of time. Having walked a few miles around Vienna, I headed straight to the city centre and into the main tourist square where I was told ‘music was strictly forbidden.’ With the clock having already hit midday and my earnings still at zilch, I had no other choice but to take my chances and it was a great decision. I did of course eventually have a run-in with a seriously uptight cop but by then the nature of the day had now swung back around in my favour as I talked my way out of my petty ‘crime.’
3 gigs in 3 days followed. First we headed north to Linz in a total snow storm to play at a brilliant venue called ‘CulturCafé Smaragd’.
It ended up being a really successful night and one that definitely made the journey worthwhile. Having spent the best part of the last week busking on the street, it felt amazing to be back on a stage let alone playing to so many good people.
After the gig, we were invited back to stay at someone’s house which was about 12km away and up in the snow capped mountains. We were treated to homemade cider and schnapps and it was here we experienced our first dose of Austrian hospitality. Waking up here is what I imagine waking up in heaven to be like.
When we left the next morning we returned back to Vienna for a gig at an arts and creative hub cafe called Cafe Au. The gig firmly brought us back down to earth with an incredibly low turnout in what was a pretty dark and cold room. After the gig, we were handed the address of someone who offered to put us up for the night. We hadn’t even met her as she couldn’t make the gig but the promoter told us she insisted she wanted to help us out. So off we went into the middle of the capital to knock on the front door of a stranger’s flat with the time now well past midnight. Sure enough and once again, we were welcomed in and knew almost instantly that we’d made a new friend.
Our final gig in Austria was at a place called ‘Vertigo Music Bar’ in Klagenfurt. For any music fan (let alone musician), this was one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been too. Upon arrival we were greeted to an amazing playlist of music that included the music of ‘Arcade Fire’ right through to ’Broken Hands’ who are also from Canterbury (and one of the most exciting bands in Kent at the moment). ‘Frank Turner’ even popped into ‘Vertigo Music Bar’ just a week or two prior. The guys running the bar are proper music fans and you can really feel their passion for it by the way the whole place is structured.
The gig was a pleasure to play and we drank late into the night and all in the company of really friendly and kind hearted people.
We used the next day to drive south towards our next show in Italy but first stopped off to take in some Austrian air and soak up some stunning views.
We climbed an amazing tower which offers a great panoramic view point at the top. To get back down, there's an insanely long slide you can choose to take. I duly obliged in the hope that the thrill might miraculously cure my hangover. It was a flawed theory and if anything, I just felt more sorry for myself from there on.
Our one and only gig in Italy was in Treviso at a bar called ‘Dump.’ The furniture was all recycled and given a new lease of life from the local dump (hence the name). Less about turds and more about recycling. Our main contact in Treviso took us out to see the town passing on local knowledge and tips before offering us a really nice meal. Yet again, another person we were glad to get to know who went above and beyond the call of duty in terms of looking after us.
The pleasure and reward of the gig in Treviso was all mine as its not that often I get to play to an audience so positive, appreciative and animated.
We spent the next couple of days checking out Venice and Milano partly as tourists and partly in a desperate search for a mechanic to replace the van’s now failing brakes. Once again, we braced ourselves knowing the kitty would be taking another mechanical hit - though we were grateful to see both cities albeit briefly.
With the fresh brakes fitted, we headed through the mountains into Switzerland where we had 2 gigs (Basel and Geneva) and a bout of busking planned.
The first gig in Basel was in a really cool arts cafe / building located in an amazing artistic and creative area.
Most people there had come specifically to dine on cheese fondue so the room smelt pretty funky when I started my set. Having just eaten their dinner, I was a bit like a musical dessert which I’m not sure they were entirely sure on or ready to digest. Still, we were well looked after and it was another stunning place to play though the weather outside couldn’t help but play on my mind as I wondered just how much damage was now occurring with the poxy roof leak in the van.
It ended up being the final straw and the next morning we decided to finally invest in a giant tarpaulin which we then strapped onto the roof rack using a combination of cable-ties and bungy cords.
With the whole van starting to also smell like a mixture of a giant nappy and dirty laundry we then took ourselves to a nearby campsite for a day of much needed sanitation. Once there, I struck up a conversation with the guys running the site who suspected I was a musician. Through the shameful amount of French I know - we managed to organise a mini spontaneous gig for the fellow campers and in return we were able to stay and use their facilities for free which was an absolute touch! We even managed to sell a whole bunch of CDs and were also given some wine for the effort made.
We used the next few days to go busking while the weather brightened up and though Basel was a bit of a challenge, I managed to come away with a decent amount of earnings.
We concluded our visit to Switzerland in Geneva where we spent one night beside the lake and another playing our final show on our gig run at a small bar in the city centre called La Bretelle.
Though the gig didn’t exactly hit the same heights as some of the others on the tour it was still a good one to get under my belt especially as it sparked another chain of unforeseen events. Having just about packed away I met a really charismatic french guy who offered for us to freshen up, have a haircut and use the showers at his hair salon in the beautiful old town of Geneva. The following morning we tried our luck to see whether he’d be true to his word or whether it was just a drunken promise. Sure enough, he treated us both to the full works all whilst sipping great coffee. To top off this totally random start to the day, with scissors in hand, he also managed to ring up a friend in his hometown who happened to run a bar and set us up with another gig that very same evening. The bar also happened to be in the area we were going to drive to as our half way point that day on our way back to Holland.
9 hours later, we rocked up into Saint Avold in France and introduced ourselves. Upon arrival, we were treated to an amazing meal before setting up to play one of the best gigs on the entire tour. The fact it wasn’t even planned until that very morning made it all the more sweeter as it helped to cover our costs and allowed us to make new friends in a place that clearly appreciates its music. The spontaneous gig in Saint Avold felt like it was worthy of ending our gig run.
We had to pinch ourselves to think that we started the day in a hair salon in Geneva and finished it in Saint Avold watching the sun come up after heading back to someone’s house for a bit of an after party. The whole thing came out of thin air.
From France, we drove straight up into the Netherlands and headed into an incredible recording studio to spend a day capturing and filming a live acoustic session. The opportunity came through a friend I made last year after randomly getting to know him over a beer at a train station (I wrote about it on a previous blog entry after my first visit to the Netherlands). I’ll be sharing the results of the studio session later in the year.
And that sealed off our 3 months on the road. It blows my mind to think we started in Ireland and ended up playing in England, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France!
You can see some live footage from a few of the gigs we played here:
I’ve been blessed to have been on the receiving end of so many random acts of kindness and to have met so many nice people. It really does restore your faith in humanity, especially now that we live in such an uncertain, turbulent and volatile time.
Thanks to those who have caught me playing live, to those who bought a CD and to you for reading this.
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