Dutch travels, the French Alps, and the end of an 18 month apprenticeship. (European Winter Tour - F
Friday 2nd Feb 2018 - The morning of departure and despite my best efforts, I’m running behind schedule, frantically preparing the van into a habitable state - not that my standards are particularly high. Still, filling up the water tank, sorting the engine, packing clothes and equipment all takes a bit of time.
We’d just started renting a flat in the countryside after 18 months of predominantly residing in the van, so I’d just been treated to concepts like space, oven cooked meals, warmth and showers. Just a week and a half later and my homely luxuries were to be snatched away in place for another 5 weeks back in the van gigging around mainland Europe and Holland in particular. I left with a feeling of nervousness, knowing this would be the first tour I’d do completely on my own. I’d got so used to being on the road with a band initially, to only then became fully accustomed to doing it with my girlfriend that I guess it was only natural to feel a little uneasy prior to going the whole hog alone.
In the end, I got to Dover docks a couple of minutes late, and then got directed into what seemed like a weird quarantine hangar out of Men in Black. Given the ‘breaking bad’ aesthetic of my van, this kind of thing never surprises me as I bumbled my way through obligatory questions in yet another routine police check.
Fortunately, I just about made the ferry which then led me on to what ended up becoming a 9 and a half hour journey (with thanks to terrible traffic around Antwerp). When I finally reached my destination (a few miles south of Utrecht), I almost felt sick with the van now being stationary. A similar sensation to that of a sailor suffering from land sickness. Winter had also just started to properly kick in though it was nothing compared to latter stages of the tour.
And so the next morning began the first of what ended up being seventeen gigs over the next 4 weeks.
Utrecht on the Saturday night and Amsterdam on the Sunday morning were both fairly low key affairs but were a good way to get things rolling.
Once in the flow of things, I headed back into Belgium to play at one of my favourite places, Cafe De Loge in Ghent. It’s the most refreshing thing as a musician to play a small venue with an attentive and respectful audience right from the off. I’ve written about this place before and I’m glad nothing has changed. It’s a beacon for musicians like myself on the lower rungs of the gigging ladder.
The morning after, I drove to my number one support hub in the Netherlands - Haags Pop Centrum (HPC) in Den Haag and used the following few days to catch up with friends, rehearse and get on with some admin related work. HPC are an absolute lifeline to me and on top of everything else they have already done and continue to do for me, they also don’t mind me living in their carpark. Its a massive luxury knowing you have somewhere to stay with the camper van, especially when it’s literally outside a music centre.
During my time there, I was lucky enough to be invited to a jam session / party in a neighbouring town which presented the opportunity to mingle with other local musicians who I now consider to be good friends. It took place in an old abandoned gymnasium so noise was never going to be an issue and we played long into the night.
The following day, I headed back to my spot at HPC to play a gig in their small venue / bar. I supported a young band called ‘The Runaway Boys’ who packed out the room however once they were finished, so too was their audience and I was left to play to just a few friends. It actually ended up being a lot of fun and I was able to test out songs I normally wouldn’t.
When I left Den Haag, I headed to Amsterdam for a couple of days of Busking. Though it was bright, it was also bitterly cold and the biting wind compounded things further. I found it tough busking in Amsterdam but made enough to grab some food and retreat back to the van with my tail between my legs.
During my time there, I also filmed a live video session with the Rockstone Sessions. I hadn’t really concerned myself with the scale of their work and as soon as I walked into their office was amazed at the amount of artists I admired who had already crossed paths with with them.
I played 2 songs, both in a single take and they seemed to come out pretty well. We’ll see the evidence at a later date when it gets published on their YouTube channel.
That same evening of the Rockstone session and I played the first of 4 gigs in 4 days at De Nieuwe Anita; another venue that truly supports art for what it is. I then proceeded on to Epe (a tiny place in the middle of a forest), Den Haag (to play in an Irish pub) and finished back once again in Amsterdam (Checkpoint Charlie) for a Sunday session.
The following 2 days were specifically dedicated to enjoying the fruits of Amsterdam and I used my time by bowling about the city on a bike, spending a lot of time in Concerto (an incredible record store) and the Van Gogh museum; getting lost in sound and colour respectively.
Next up - the concluding leg of Dutch gig dates which in all honesty were probably the most rewarding.
I started off in the North of Holland in a place called Assen at a pub called The Bullseye. It ended up being the messiest night of the entire tour and a classic pub lock-in on a monumental scale took place. I was ruined. Considering I’d been on the road for over 2 weeks by this point, it almost felt due although I felt the repercussions well into the following day.
Luckily, I got over my hangover in time for soundcheck at the next gig at De Bunker (Gemert). It was a stunning venue and I was grateful to play to yet another attentive audience. What I didn’t know was that the upscale of venue would be the perfect warm-up for the following night where I was due to play 2 gigs (60km apart) in the same evening.
I called in a friend to help with the cause and he was a life-saver helping me with merchandise, equipment as well as being good company in what naturally could have been a very stressful night.
The first show was in Hilversum at De Vorstin and I was supporting an amazing band called the LSB Experience on possibly the largest stage I’ve been on since taking the solo plunge.
Everything from the soundcheck, to catering, to the monitoring to the lighting was top notch and I was gutted I had to shoot off immediately after coming off stage. We bundled the gear in the back of the van and bombed it down the motorway to get to the next gig at another great venue called ‘So What’ in Gouda.
We arrived 15 minutes before I was due to play and managed to get setup and line-checked before knocking out another 30 minute set to a packed out room. I was supporting an amazing indie-folk band called ‘Cookhouse’ as part of their EP launch night and was already familiar with a few of their songs. ‘Old Friend’ is a beautiful track of theirs that you should definitely check out.
The whole evening felt like an absolute whirlwind. We’d crammed in a hell of a lot in a very short amount of time and felt we’d earned ourselves a few beers afterwards.
I finished my stint of gigs in the Netherlands in Eindhoven at FeelGood Market which gave me the perfect excuse to eat some great food and pick up a few quirky things to take back to the UK with me.
I was a little sad leaving Holland the next morning and drove on to Luxembourg for probably the coldest spell on the whole tour. The whole month had been challenging at times but once I was used to things, bearable. I remember at the beginning of the tour thinking a temperature of 0 degrees was crazy in the van, but that was nothing compared to waking up to -9 outside of the comfort of my duvet and layers of numerous fleeces and clothes.
I played at The Tube on a Tuesday evening and as always, had a great time. They’ve also supporting me from day 1 and were one of the first places to listen to my demo and agree to have me play when I first started.
Luxembourg was also the perfect half-way point before heading further South into the French Alps, my final destination.
The Alps is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go even if just to stare at snow capped mountains and is a place that has been firmly been on my bucket list for years. The drive alone was a rewarding enough experience and I rocked up to the place I was due to play (Kitsch Inn) 2 days earlier than expected.
My initial intention was to just get an idea of the venue and location as I was passing through the area scouring places to try and inconspicuously park up. Upon arrival, I was greeted with a pint and within the hour was up playing with the band that were performing for the apres ski session. It was an amazing way to start things.
On the day of the gig itself, I took myself up on the cable car to attempt to learn how to ski for the first time. I didn't really have the right clothes for it either nor did I have anyone to show me the ropes.
In all honesty, I just wanted to ride on a cable car and catch a view from the top of the mountain, but figured it would be weird to return from the Alps and not say I'd actually experienced any skiing, so that's what I attempted to address.
When I got to the top, I stepped out into a mini blizzard and could barely see a thing. The next hour or two was spent trying to survive. I was a fish out of water and didn’t even know the technique required for braking. After sliding down a few hills on my arse and wrestling with keeping my skis on my feet it ended up being a lot of fun. For a while I was totally lost on the mountain but loved the white serenity and innocence of the adventure.
Now that I’ve done it - I wouldn’t recommend learning to ski on your own as I can now see on reflection that with a little bit of guidance, I could have shaved off some time and accelerated the learning process in order to get to the fun part a lot sooner. Still, no complaints (or broken bones) and by the time I found my way back to the van at the bottom of the mountain I’d had a pretty full-on day. The gig that followed that evening didn’t disappoint either and was probably one of my favourites on the entire run. It was a fitting way to end my 3 day stay at the Kitsch Inn in Les Houches.
I finished my stint in the Alps the next day in Morzine at The Cavern and played 4 sets in total (2 in the late afternoon and 2 more at night). It was a nice way to close proceedings on the gig front in mainland Europe.
And so the next morning, I headed on out of my little mini-alpine bubble picking up a hitchhiker on the way. He had a guitar and a little busking amp with him so I felt it was my duty as a fellow musician to reciprocate all the help others had given me over the course of the last month.
The company was great and helped to make the first 3 hours of my 12 hour journey back to the UK a little more entertaining.
I arrived back into Dover the next day reflecting on what had been a surprisingly smooth 4-5 weeks on the road. The fact I haven’t had to mention about some mechanical failure on the van seems odd especially given some of the weather conditions.
The hardest part was getting through the cold temperatures but it was all part of the adventure and with it being the first time I’ve travelled meaningfully on my own, I felt I was able to reconnect with myself a little bit too. I was also able to really appreciate the company of catching up with old friends as well as make new ones all the while still gigging hard and developing myself on stage. The tour definitely struck a nice balance; professional in terms of its operation but still offering opportunities to enjoy myself. A lot of that probably stems from getting through previous challenges on other tours (whether that’s in terms of the music or lifestyle) that now things naturally feel a lot more comfortable. It’s a good place to be.
Most of the things that have happened over the last 18 months have been a mix of calculated hard work and some luck. I always said from the off that I’d need 12 - 18 months to find my feet on the road and lay the foundations to the project with a couple of EP releases and a relentless gig list. I haven't exactly done it all on my own either and have been blessed to have a really supportive network of friends who are happy to be involved.
For now, I’m gonna ease off on the touring for a little while and burrow my head a little to focus more on writing, with the intention of eventually putting out a full album. II have the space to do it and I definitely feel a lot more qualified within myself to set my sights on the next chapter.
As always, thank you for your support. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you in the near future.