Let’s start by focussing on the positives. 12 months, 10 countries, 95 gigs, 1,000 followers on Facebook and nearly the same amount of copies of my debut CD sold. What a year.
On the 7th July 2016 we set sail from Calais into mainland Europe and headed into Belgium to begin laying down the foundations to this new project / life. We had absolutely no idea at the time that the journey would end up in Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg Germany, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Ireland and the UK!
On top of many a busking session, we played 95 gigs over the last 12 months and I’ve been so lucky to learn things from each and every one of them. We also happened to hit another mini target we set ourselves when we initially set off in that we wanted to see whether we could get 1,000 people to follow the project on Facebook in a year. We did it with a week to spare.
Though I’m at odds with Facebook and social media in general, the superficial nature of this game relies on numbers a lot of the time. Numbers of views, number of streams and numbers of followers are all things industry folk like to take into consideration to pass judgment so I’m super grateful to have hit the mark.
Looking back over the last year is a total blur. It seems like a lifetime ago when we were desperately bodging the van together before our departure date while the first 20 - 30 gigs saw me either wrestling with nerves or wrestling with my loop station (or both).
The change of lifestyle in living out of a camper van full-time also took a little while to adjust to as did the change in driving a larger vehicle on unfamiliar European roads. I hadn’t had my license long and had only just about figured out how not to drive my car like a dickhead when we decided to swap it for a long wheel base Mercedes Sprinter. Obviously now, these details seem pretty trivial but it wasn’t that long ago when they seemed like uphill challenges.
Taking the plunge and doing this project has completely pushed us to our limits, built up our characters and opened our eyes to so many incredible places, cultures and in particular, people. From the initial sounds and artwork of my CDs, to the making of my first music video, to the venues who have taken a chance on me, to the people who have opened their doors to us, to the support we’ve had online, right through to the campsite we’re staying on now - it’s the help and support of others that have really made the difference.
The highs have been some of the best highs of our lives but the same can be said about the low points too. Our lives are in constant oscillation which naturally makes things exciting although sometimes the pressures can be so tough, you can’t help but question whether its worth the stresses; which in our case predominantly revolve around our van (Dr Box).
Last night was yet another prime example as we crossed the 1 year mark in a spectacularly disappointing way. We were due to mark the occasion by playing a gig in Broadstairs for the first time and instead spent the evening on the side of the M2. Having left our current base in Sheppey with plenty of time to spare at around 6pm the van suddenly lost acceleration and subsequently all of its engine capabilities just as I’d got us cruising along the motorway about 30 minutes into our journey. Breakdown recovery took over an hour and there was no easy fix that could be identified to get us up and running again. Now if there’s one thing I’ve learnt recently, it’s that the worst time to break down is a Saturday night as no garage, let alone yard, is open until Monday morning which would usually mean you’d have to get it towed to a safe location first and then pay a large fee (depending on your breakdown cover) for your vehicle to be re-towed somewhere else when the working week resumes. Luckily for us, we knew of one place we could go but only after searching for a few other places first.
As a musician, there’s nothing worse than cancelling a gig, especially when they’re still quite hard to secure in the first place and when you're largely dependent on the work. You feel like a monumental fuck-up and a let down to everyone involved with the venue or pub that put their trust in booking you. On top of that, the last excuse you want to give is the age old cliche of ‘my van has broken down.’ Naturally, having a duff vehicle also doesn't do your reputation any favours. Maybe I shouldn't write about it so much.
You spend so long practicing your craft and developing your set that all you really want to do is put your efforts to the test in the same way a footballer would look forward to Saturday coming around.
Breaking down en route to the gig last night, that let’s face it was booked in part to help raise money for food, petrol and studio time only resurfaced feelings that now seem sadly familiar.
Not only have we lost out on our earnings but the engine fix that looms over us is like a big scary black cloud. Reading up on google, it seems the issue could be one of only (get ready)…. four thousand potential possibilities. It could be something obvious and simple, or it could be the kiss of death on a Mercedes Sprinter which would ultimately spell the demise of this project in any serious capacity.
We rely on the van for everything. Our home, our office, our work vehicle and our basic transport. You don’t really consider the disadvantages of putting all your eggs into one mechanical basket when you’re swept up by the romanticism and initial advantages of getting a camper van in the first place but here we are. The big idea with living out of the van was to bring down our living costs in every way imaginable so that we would be able to put our time and pennies back into the project. It seems the simplicity of our lives and a lot of the dietary sacrifices we've made have mostly been for the sake of our engine. What started as such a catalyst for us may soon become the same thing that holds us back.
Yes we have some amazing stories and experiences in our back pocket but on the other hand, we are constantly grappling with uncertainty, financial anxiety, and instability. 12 months on and nothing has changed in those departments. You can’t have everything in life. I guess we just have to be grateful that we’ve even had the opportunity to fully commit to following a dream down the rabbit hole which is more than most people get. Though our journey has come to surpass most of our expectations, the trade-offs are there for all to see.
I was going to conclude this 1 year review with some awesome news about new recordings and a new release but everything now hinges on what we hear back from the garage this week.
I’m desperate to write a blog post that doesn’t have to include our van and isn’t so fucking depressing all the time as I realise it’s all starting to sound like a bit of a broken record. Fingers crossed things change soon and I'm just being pummelled by a false sense of fear.
So let’s end by focussing on the positives. 12 months, 10 countries, 95 gigs, 1,000 followers on Facebook and nearly the same amount of copies of my debut CD sold. What a year.
Forever grateful to you all and hope I can pass on nothing but good news this week.