Today I find myself back in Malaga. This time though I’m just sitting at the airport waiting to check in for my flight to Zurich, and then on to Berlin. After four and a half weeks here on the south coast of Spain, I am finally heading home to see my beautiful girlfriend, my friends, my new apartment, in which I’ve spent all of about three weeks since we moved in, and to get back to work. I won’t be home long, I travel back to the UK to build an amp in just over a week, before touring around Germany at the end of November, and then flying back to Australia to be with family for Christmas and to play in the sun once more. But for now, I cannot wait to get back to wonderful Berlin and get stuck into some rehearsals, writing, and recording. And hopefully I can even brave the cold and get in a bit of busking.
Having finished building my guitar on Thursday, I’ve had a few days to relax and reflect on the last four weeks. And, although the whole thing is somewhat of a blur, it has, without a doubt, been four of the most rewarding weeks of my life. Not only did I make a bunch of new friends and a few good contacts, learn how to use an array of different tools and to work with wood, and of course build a new eight string guitar, but I learnt so much about my instrument, my music, and myself, both as a musician and a person.
It may sound a little self indulgent, but the whole experience was something of a mental, almost spiritual, journey. From knowing not even the slightest thing about the process of guitar building, to what was eventually the birth of an instrument perfectly designed and developed to suit my style of music, hand crafted into what I had envisaged from the start. Thanks to Stephen, an Englishman living in Spain, and Pablo, a Spaniard living in England, both highly respected guitar makers with an ever growing list of high profile clients in their books, I’ve managed to make something that just, well, fits. It is a guitar that has grown out of my style, my techniques, and my approach to music, and yet it will allow me to continue to adapt and evolve as a musician, both in composition and performance.
It is however, so much harder to play than I thought it would be. Over the last couple of years doing nothing but playing, it seems my hands have come to know the ins and outs of my instrument without me thinking about it. An extra two strings kind of throws a spanner in the works. One small draw back of this extra difficulty, other than it going to take a while to feel completely comfortable switching between the two guitars, is that no one could play my guitar at the end of course concert. Except me. Or so I was told. So, while the other guitars were played by two of the best professional guitarists I’ve had the pleasure to watch in such an intimate setting, one classical, one flamenco, I had one day to write a tune on an instrument I can’t yet play and perform it in front of about fifty people in a candle lit room of an old castle. And then again at a bar on a beach later in the night, after about five or six beers, and a few wines, and in front of maybe a hundred or so partying spaniards. I don’t get nervous at gigs any more, but I was definitely reminded what butterflies feel like.
All in all though, the playing turned out to be so much fun, and the guitar is perfect. And, over the next six or so months, the wood will continue to settle, the tone will develop further, and the guitar will continue to come into its own. I guess my point in writing this, as well as bragging a little bit about my new baby, is to say that if you are a musician, and you need a new instrument, start looking for a course to learn to build it. Especially if you are a guitarist. It is an amazing experience, and, although it may be expensive, if you find a good course like I did, you will end up with a uniquely personalised instrument, that both looks and sounds amazing. Now I’m just looking forward to going back and doing it all over again in a couple of years to build a harp guitar. I think I need to earn some more money!
Well, after spending three days exploring the streets of Málaga, and attempting to rediscover my outback feet on the hot sandy beaches of Spain’s fourth largest and southern most city, I have made it to La Herradura. While I sit here on the balcony of my home away from home for the next month, looking out over what is a sleepy fishing village built on the hills surrounding a horseshoe ocean bay, I am enjoying the last relaxing day of doing nothing before beginning an intensive four week course in building my own guitar.
Before I made the journey from what is fast becoming a cold and wet Berlin, I really didn’t know what to expect. To be honest, I was so busy writing and recording for my new guitar duo project, moving house, and starting to organise next years Adelaide Fringe production, that it didn’t really occur to me what I was about to undertake until I left. I was so unorganised that, realising I didn’t even know how to say hello, or thank you, in Spanish, I decided to order a Spanish phrase book and a lonely planet guide just a few days before I left. Naturally, with this level of forward thinking, the books will be waiting for me at my apartment back in Berlin when I get back from my adventure, leaving me to stumble along for the next month with the one phrase I did bother to learn, dos cerveza porfevor (luckily for me, when you order a beer here you also get a plate of tapas to go with it, so I at least won’t go hungry or thirsty).
But even being so disorganised, I have so much to look forward to. Even in the now twenty four hours since I arrived here, I realise just how much I am going to learn, how much I am going to experience, just being in this village, in this country. It is glaringly obvious, just from the few people that I’ve met, just how integral the guitar is in Spanish culture. While I was mingling with expats and spaniards alike at a party last night, watching people improvising flamenco duets, while the audience clapped along in perfect Spanish rhythms, I realised that music, guitar, flamenco, is a way of life here. Everyone spoke of the music, and of the instrument, with such great respect and pride. It is something I have never experienced before, and I feel incredibly honoured and privileged to be submersed in this culture for the coming month.
I will be spending nine hours a day, five days a week, for the next four weeks, in a workshop with five other students learning about my instrument, crafting from nothing my own eight string flamenco guitar. It is something I have been looking forward to for a while, but now that I am here, I realise just how special it will be, after those four intense and tiring weeks, to be able to play an instrument that I have crafted with my own hands, to know every little thing about my instrument inside out. It is going to be a very steep learning curve, and it is going to be exhausting, but I know that it is going to be one of the most rewarding things I have done up until now, and I am looking forward to every minute.
So the Edinburgh Fringe has come and gone for another year. I’m currently sitting on a train travelling between London and Southampton, on my way to relax with friends for a few days before flying back to an incredibly busy month back home. It’s nice, for the moment, just to sit, look out the window over gloomy old London, and reflect on what has been a pretty full on few weeks of Fringe.
A week ago, I was ready to leave. I was sick, the weather was getting on my nerves, my gigs were coming to an end, and I was a bit over playing on the street through my, as I now realise, less than satisfactory equipment. But last night as I was loading onto the overnight bus to come down here, I couldn’t help but feel sad to go.
I realised it wasn’t really about any of that stuff. It didn’t matter if the weather was crap. It didn’t matter if I sold all my CDs. It didn’t matter that my amp needs upgrading. I met some amazing artists, some amazing performers, some amazing people. That’s what Fringe is about. It is the community that comes together once a year, in the biggest arts festival in the world, to showcase their talents, to network, to be with friends, to just be themselves and completely lose themselves in their art.
I went to a workshop a week or so ago presented by a number of promoters, festival organisers, and high ranking Fringe staff from around the world. They were asked a question about what makes the Fringe special for them, why they love the festival. One of them simply answered, ‘because it’s the only time of year when you can sit at a bar next to a festival organiser, a clown, an acrobat, and a patron, have a beer, and chat.’ And it’s true.
The sense of community at the Fringe is something incredible. Until you experience it, until you’re a part of it, it just looks like a whole lot of weird circus freaks in a room. But when you get to know the people involved in these festivals, the people holding the instruments, the people behind the make up and prosthetic body parts, the people behind the piercings and the tattoos and the big hair, you realise they are all the same. Each and every one of the people at the festival are artists, or arts lovers, who are there simply to enjoy and explore their art.
So, I’m not sad to be leaving Edinburgh, I will go back. I’m not sad to stop busking at the festival, I can play in Berlin. I’m not even sad that the festival is over, it will happen again next year, and the year after, and the year after that. But, I am sad that, for another year, I won’t be able to just walk into the City Cafe, grab a beer, and chat to a magician, play pool with an acrobat, swap tips with another musician, get secrets from a promoter, joke with an organiser, exchange stories with an escape artist, laugh with a statue, and learn from a juggler.
The people are what make Edinburgh Fringe the best arts festival in the world, and for them, I can’t wait to come back and do it all again next year.
1 set, 1 gig, 1 show (Mad Tango), 28 albums.
I apologise for the language, but I fucking love the Tron. I played my second day in a row there today, a gig that lasted 2 hours because I had to fill in for the act before me that didn’t show, and it was awesome. The crowds are so appreciative, the sound is awesome every time, and the view from stage is incredible. It is literally my favourite venue I have ever played. I know I have only had a short career, and I’ve therefore played only in relatively small, unknown venues, but it’s amazing. I just want more!
I was having such a lazy day today, only one spot on the mile, waiting around doing not much the rest of the day. Even the gig a the Tron was a laid back, take it as it comes, sort of a gig, and I loved every second of it. I am going to spend the rest of the fest just enjoying what I’m doing, enjoying the atmosphere, enjoying the experience, because it is the best way possible to have fun. Today I met people, played to new audiences, signed CDs for people who thought I might be famous one day, and really just enjoyed being here and playing music. The festival to me is a working holiday, but, after today, I am going to do everything I can to enjoy the shit out of it too!
2 sets, 3 gigs, 1 show (Kunt and the Gang), 23 albums.
Today was a just one set after the other. After an early start playing at a variety show with a couple of comedians and a magician, I had the Tron from 3:00 to 4:00, a spot on the Mile from 4:15 to 4:45, a gig at Malone’s 5:00 to 6:00, and a spot on the Mound 6:00 to 6:30. It was fun, but I was buggered by the end. I met some good people, earnt some enthusiastic fans, and made a few good contacts.
My personal favourite moment though was when I got down to the Mound to play my busking set. As I was setting up, this drunk older gentleman came over and asked, ‘what are you going to sing?’ So I replied, ‘I don’t sing.’ He was confused for a moment, and asked again, ‘what are you going to sing?’ I said again, ‘I’m sorry mate but I don’t sing, I just play guitar.’ He thought about this for a second and then said, ‘well your not getting any money then’, before yelling to everyone within earshot, ‘don’t give him any money, he doesn’t sing.’ Then I started playing. Within thirty seconds he was dancing and clapping, and before I had even finished the tune he came over and threw a few coins in my case. Some people are amazing.
1 set, 3 shows (Matt Rees and Larry D, Om Nom Nominous, Shaggers), 15 albums.
To be honest, yesterday was a big day. Not only did I play a lot, have a lot of shows, and have to run around like crazy to get to them, but a few things happened that really got to me and made me quite emotional. Not confrontational things, nothing like that, just certain people, and truly beautiful performances, that brought back memories, and brought up issues that are close to me. It was a hard day, and it really took it out of me. Thus, today was slow. I was really tired, and it took a lot of energy to perform. So I didn’t much. I only had the one set, and played only a couple of really short spots outside the Fringe. It was a lazy day, but I couldn’t really do much else.
I am now really looking forward to tomorrow though. With another spot at the Tron, and maybe a couple of other spots in the sun, hopefully I can come back with a big day and kick myself out of this mid fest slump!
1 set, 1 gig, 2 shows (Alex Hynes, the Ruby Darlings), 1 workshop (Fringe around the World), 28 albums.
I started the day with a lecture organised for Fringe participants about touring your show internationally. It was geared towards theatre companies, but I picked up a few tips that will be invaluable for my next fringe show. After my inevitable return to a University lecture theatre, I managed to get kicked out of a pitch near the Underbelly and Assembly George Square Fringe areas, before playing a set nearer the Mile that netted me approximately two pound. A slow start by any standards.
But then I played my gig at the Tron. Again, it started slowly. I’d say it was partly because I followed a dance rap duo singing about wearing headphones sideways over your face in order to look like Bain from the latest Batman film. Needless to say, our crossover audience was minimal. That said, I warmed into the set, and ended up having an amazing crowd that bought albums, came over for a chat, and asked for autographs. It was really good fun.
I then ended the day with a very slow set where I sold only three albums and made a handful of change. It felt ok though, almost like the day had come full circle, ending where I started. Back at the Tron tomorrow before heading to Malones to play my first evening spot. Should be a fun day.
3 sets, 2 gigs, 21 albums.
So slow. I played for an hour and a half on the mound and made three sales. It is kind of soul destroying playing at a festival with thousands upon thousands of people walking around looking for art and artists, and having no one stop. So many people have given up on the Mound pitch for that same reason. Of course me, being my cocky self, thought, “of course I can make money there”.
Wrong. But there is always tomorrow.
2 sets, 1 gig, 1 workshop (Street Artists, Where to next) 1 party (street performers party), 14 albums.
Even worse than yesterday! I did a prime time spot on the Mile and made a six pound hat. Not exactly what I came here for! I do apologise though. I sound like I’m always moaning. I am actually having an amazing time playing here at the Fringe. Yes I would like to make money, sell my CDs, get audiences, but it’s not just about that. The festival is also such a good place to meet new people, make connections, network, research, study performance. It is an invaluable place to further what I’m doing creatively, professionally, and musically. I am seeing as much as I can, meeting as many people as I can, and gathering as much information as I can. It is full on, but I am trying to make the most of it as much as possible. For lack of a better analogy, it’s a little bit like a professional development conference on crack.
1 set, 1 show (Antonio Forcione Group), 26 albums.
Antonio Forcione. Nuff said.
I saw him playing for the first time at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and I will see him whenever and wherever I get the chance from now until I, or he, dies. He is an incredible guitarist, with an almost super human time feel, and a childish sense of fun that so many performer’s of his calibre just don’t possess. Music to him is exactly what it should. It is his job, his life, his passion, but most of all, he just really bloody enjoys playing in front of people. It is people like him, performances like his, that inspire me to strive for his ability, his success, his command of his art. Easily the best performance I have seen this year so far, and the perfect cure for a hang over from the Street Performers Party last night.
1 set, 14 albums.
I’ve decided I wouldn’t ever move to Edinburgh. It is a beautiful city, with amazing old buildings, full of history. But it’s bloody cold! It’s summer, and, while back home in Berlin it is mid twenties every day and sunny, and back home in Adelaide it is winter and still high teens and occasionally wet, here it is low teens and always threatening to rain. And this is the best weather they’ve had for the festival in many years! To be fair we have been very lucky this year. I personally have only been rained out twice I think. But all in all I don’t think I could handle it. The winter in Berlin is simply horrendous, but at least you know it will last a few months, and then there will be some nice weather. Here, the seasons change from shit, to not quite as shit, with one or two nice days just to install that glimmer of hope.
So, being used to nice weather, I’ve developed a cold. It’s not just the weather obviously. I think the nightly drinking sessions with the other street performers, and seeing shows every day until the wee hours probably hasn’t helped. But how often do I get to completely submerse myself in culture and the arts twenty four seven, network with promoters and bookers from festivals all around the world, and learn from some of the best performers on the planet.
I think I can put up with a bit of shit weather, a slight cold, and a few nights of only a few hours sleep.
2 sets, 1 gig, 1 show (Andrew Maxwell: Banana Kingdom), 19 albums.
I’ve seen comedians get heckled, I’ve seen comedians come back from bad support acts, I’ve seen comedians deal with situations you thought they couldn’t possibly come back from, but I’ve never seen a comedian stop in the middle of a show and say, “what the fuck part of my show made you think you could say that?”
Andrew Maxwell was one of the smartest, funniest, most worldly comedians I’ve seen, and yet some drunk yobbo decided to yell out, half way through the show during a segment about the audiences in Norway, “and they’ve got all those bastard Somalians there too.”
To be honest I don’t really understand racism. I mean, when it is solely based on stereotypical characteristics or regional commonalities, I can at least understand where it comes from. I don’t agree with it obviously, but at the very least I understand where the bias is from, how the person internally justifies it. But when the racism is simply based on skin colour, I can’t understand, for the life of me, on what the discrimination is based, or what can possibly justify it. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I do take comfort though, in the fact that when one person says something like that, something so glaringly racist or bigoted, something so uneducated, that the rest of the few hundred strong audience turns to look straight at the perpetrator, with disgust and shame, and boos.
1 set, 27 albums.
I’m sorry, but I’m going to sound slightly negative today. I love this festival, I love the arts, I love creative people, but this festival, more than anywhere I’ve ever been in my life, reminds me how few sincere and truly talented, artistic, and meaningfully creative people there are in the world. Or rather, how many people simply exploit it. I hope like hell that when people see me playing, they think to themselves, “he is trying to play music that means something to him, means something to me, and is truly an expression of his self”.
There are so many people at this festival, some getting five star ratings, some selling out crowds and getting standing ovations, that are doing remake after remake of a fricking Shakespeare play, singing the entire fucking Mumford and Sons back catalogue, or playing the shit out of a Bach prelude. Yes, cover bands serve a purpose, and remakes of plays have their audiences. It takes years of practise to be able to play a classical sonata. Those things can all be amazing in their own right. But they’ve been done. Over, and over again.
Then, there are the people with original works, original music, original acts, that think they are God’s gift to the world. They act their parts, they play their instruments, they yell at the top of their lungs, without any care for who is in ear shot. They act for themselves, thinking, “I don’t care if nobody likes it, I am an artist, and what I do matters”. It’s all bullshit. Yes, come up with something new. Please. Pour your heart and soul into it. Take out three loans, put your house on the market, do whatever it takes to get your art out there. But, for fuck sake, be humble about it. You are just someone who has come up with something creative, something original, maybe something unique, maybe something worth shouting about, but something that, in all honesty, is just that, your creation. I’m not saying artists shouldn’t believe in their work, I think the opposite, but don’t assume that it is worth anything. Ever. It is a privilege to be able to perform in front of people, it is a privilege to be able to make money doing what you love, and it is a privilege simply being able to be an artist. Don’t hide behind the notion of “Art” and exploit it for your own personal gain. That’s not what it is to be an artist.
I hope like hell people don’t see me and think that I’m doing this for the money, or to one day be famous, or to further my standing in life in any way. I want people to know that I am doing this because I think it means something to me, I think it means something to other people, and I think it is important, to at least someone other than myself. As soon as my music means anything less, I give my word, I will stop playing for ever.
2 sets, 1 show (Paul Mooners), 18 Albums.
And I’m done! I sold my last album today, played my last set of the Fringe for this year, and had a jam with a friend, and amazing bass player, that I met at the festival last year. An awesome way to end an incredibly tiring, but extremely enjoyable and productive festival. Now I get to relax for a few days before I head down south to spend some time with some friends in Southampton. And then it’s back to a busy September; moving house, working back in Berlin, recording with my band and guitar duo, writing, and getting ready for my one month guitar building course starting in October.
Before I sign off for this year though, I want to mention one more thing. At the start of the festival I knew I was going to get lot’s of donations in coins. I decided that anything less than 10 cents I would keep and at the end of the festival I would find a charity to give it to. Today I counted what I had collected, and it worked out to be just over thirty six pounds. Not bad for coppers - just in case you hadn’t realised, if that was all just one penny coins, it would total over three thousand six hundred coins! After walking around trying to find a charity I wanted to donate to, I stumbled across Marie Curie Hospice. After going through the final stages of cancer with my Dad, and experiencing just how important the Hospice was for us, I don’t think there is any more deserving place. I know it’s not much, but hopefully next year I can come back and earn some more for them.
So, until next year, thank you Edinburgh for the mazing three weeks. The Fringe never ceases to amaze and inspire me. It is the greatest arts festival in the world, and I look forward to doing it all again next year.
So I have made it back to Edinburgh for another year. Once again I am here to play at the largest open access arts festival in the world. This year there are over two thousand eight hundred separate productions over three and a half weeks. I have already spent a crazy ten days here enjoying what Edinburgh has to offer.
I thought this year I would write a little diary, just to share with you what I get up to on my little business trips. Here is the first ten days worth of entries:
So the journey begins. Today I flew into Glasgow. Luckily I have a friend here and am lucky enough to have an incredibly comfortable couch to sleep on, in what apparently used to be an old Dentist practise. So far I haven’t done a thing, except walk a couple of hundred metres to the shops and watched my host, the lovely Carmen, bake the biggest, and most sugary bowl of Butter Icing I’ve ever seen. It is my day of rest before I start my month long journey delving deep into what is the worlds largest open access arts festival, with over two and a half thousand theatre and production companies, and somewhere in the realm of eight thousand shows in just under four weeks.
2 sets, 1 gig, 1 show (Anil Desai), 11 albums.
The first day of the Fringe for 2013. My crazy festival month has started, but a little slowly. It seems like Edinburgh hasn’t yet reached capacity, and the people who are here seem to be holding onto their money for dear life, saving it up incase they see something better. It was pretty much as I remember it, albeit with a slightly strange first day vibe, but still immensely enjoyable. I played to crowds on the street, watched a free comedy show, had some beers with friends I haven’t seen since last years fringe, and played a late night set at a four hundred year old church come club. Not a bad start to my adventure.
2 sets, 2 shows (Jonny Awsum, Jennifer Wong), 37 albums.
Slightly better. Actually, a lot better. The crowds today, at least around mid afternoon, were amazing. Every act that I saw around that time managed to attract a huge audience. The whole vibe was completely different to yesterday. The acts were warmed up, the people were in Festival mode, and it was like one big party, all over again. I had a lot of fun, playing to a lot of people. If the rest of the fest goes anything like today, I will be a very happy man.
1 set, 1 show (Marcel Lucont’s Cabaret Fantastique), 28 albums.
A hard day, but I managed to make it work. With so many buskers I need to work a lot outside of the Fringe in order to meet my targets. I enjoy getting off the mile, seeing new places, playing to different crowds, but I would love to get more sets on the pitches.
2 sets, 1 show (Dave Callan), 19 albums.
Probably the hardest day so far. The weather decided to come in a little, so working the pitches outside the Fringe became a little harder. It took a lot more work to sell a lot less albums. The people seemed not to be interested at all the whole day. Even the organised pitches pulled smaller crowds, with even less people willing to part with cash. Overall not a great day, but topped off with one of the best Burgers I have had in a long time, and a pretty good stand up show by an Aussie. I’d still call it a success.
1 set, 1 gig, 1 show (Ian Cognito), 22 albums.
At no other time of the year do I get to spend my days playing music, and my nights playing pool, having a few quiet beers with jugglers, acrobats, and magicians, and watching late night stand up comedy in a boxy sauna like cellar under a cafe. Even if the busking is slow, or I am buggered after a long day of working crowds and playing for hours on end, there is always something on at the Fringe to enjoy. It is a surreal place to be, and to be a part of, and I love it.
2 sets, 2 shows (Jen Carnovale, Alex Williamson), 21 albums.
Just my luck. I’ve been waiting for five days to get a second pitch at the draw. Every day it gets back around to me and all the amplified pitches have been filled. Today was different. It got back to me, and there was still a spot down on the Mound. Not the bet place to do a late slot, but it’s better than nothing. I got there early, I was already in the area, to watch the act before me. It was a mash up of hip hop, break dancing, beat boxing, and mime. An awesome premise, terribly executed. It felt like the half hour went for a few hours. But then, finally, it got to me. It was my turn do my first second pitch in almost a week. I even had a family watching that had been waiting around for an hour just to see me. I started playing, I got my crowd, I was working my pitch. And then it rained. Bloody Edinburgh.
Again, it was a slowish day, but it was fun. One of those days where I was just kind of in a trance. I did whatever I wanted and forgot about wanting to make money. I played a few things I haven’t played in months, I made some stuff up, and I just tried to enjoy being in Edinburgh. It is a good head space, one which I try to get to every day, at least when I remember. Now I just need to get in that head space, but on a day when everyone wants an album. That is the dream.
1 set, 1 show (Laughing Horse Comedy Selection), 21 albums.
Never before have I seen a comedy act pulled off stage because it was so awkward that people were leaving and the act was abusing them for it. From the moment the guy walked up to a girl in the audience, who wasn’t clapping as he walked out onto stage, and yelled, as loud as he could, “Fucking Clap!”, he pretty much lost the entire audience. Actually, he definitely lost ALL of the audience. For obvious reasons. But that is the Fringe. There are some of the best acts in the world, in venues, on the streets, anywhere people will watch, but there are also, I guess, study cases. What not to do when talking to an audience. What not to do ever. It was a very awkward, very sad, but very interesting thing to watch, and it beat the previous worst ever show I’ve seen - also at the Fringe, and also a ‘Best of the Fest’ style comedy show. My advice; you may as well go to the Best of the Fest - it may not always be the best of the fest, but at the very least you’ll find out what it’s like to watch another human implode.
4 sets, 2 shows (Totally Ninja Naked, Three Men in a Joke), 22 albums.
What a strange day. I played a lot. It was one of those days where everything just went slowly. The sales were slow, the crowds were small, the hats weren’t overly impressive (a hat is what we make outside of sales). But I didn’t really care. I just played around, improvised a bit, played stuff I wanted, and managed to make it work. It felt similar to a couple of days ago. Luckily though, I did manage to pick up a back to back slot on the mile when two people didn’t show. Turned out I needed the bonus. My final scheduled spot was ten metres away from Los Ciguenos, a four piece spanish band with two guitars, a cajon, and a saxophone, and they all sing. They are really quite good, and really quite loud, and their own volume, coupled with their cheering crowd, was slightly too much to handle for my tiny little street cube battery powered amplifier. It really wasn’t a good set.
But now it is time to relax. Time to wander around, find something for dinner, and stumble across a show worth seeing - it turns out that, even with over two and a half thousand shows on this month, it is still quite hard to simply stumble across something awesome, and cheap. But I’ve been giving it my best shot.
1 set, 1 gig, 1 show (the absolute best of the absolute best of absolute beginners), 29 albums.
Last year the BBC ran a series based around buskers, focusing on sifting through the crap to show people that there is talent on the streets out there. After last years success they were given another season, and today they were following me. I met them at the draw, did a few atmos and interview shots and then saw them again at my 3.45 slot on the mile.
It was a weird set. Because they had three cameras and a sound guy it took them a little while to set up. But because they had three cameras and a sound guy I got a crowd. A big crowd. But I couldn’t start until they were ready. Luckily I was in a talkative mood and I spent five minutes making jokes and getting the crowd ready. Then I started. Good sound, good response, massive crowd, good for the camera, hardly any sales, very strange. I thought people would want to get on TV and come and give me money, but it was almost the opposite. It generated a assize crowd, and gave me something to play off with my banter, but everyone wanted to stay out of shot.
Luckily though, for income’s sake, I had a set at the Tron Kirk lined up. It turned out to be one of the most fun gigs I have played. Period. The sound was good, the crowd, again, was awesome, and big, and I ended up selling a whole bunch of albums. I even had a lady come up to me on stage after the show and give me three hugs. I really can’t wait for my gig there tomorrow.
This is the first time I’ve written anything since I arrived back in Berlin. It’s nice, to write again. And, for that matter, to be back in Berlin.
There is something comfortable about Berlin. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I just like being here. It’s strange. Even though I don’t yet fully understand the language, and there is so much I don’t know about it’s past, or it’s present, Berlin feels like home to me. Just as when I arrived back in Adelaide in January, and I wrote about the familiarity, the comfort, the contentment I have in the place, Berlin has come to feel the same. It’s completely natural to be back. And I’m enjoying it.
I have been here for about three weeks now, and yet I have only really been busking about six or seven times. Not through lack of want, or will, and not even due to a waning pleasure in street life; I enjoy it more now than I did a year ago. Rather, it is due largely to the weather, my legal commitments as a returning ‘Berlin resident’, and, of course, my re-found social life here.
Since I am planning on spending much of the foreseeable future in Europe, I want to do everything properly. This means I have now found my own apartment, I have registered as a resident, I will open a bank account, and apply for a Steuernummer (the German equivalent of a tax file number). I am essentially becoming a part time European on paper, as opposed to solely in my head. Unfortunately though, in a city of just under four million people, and yet a limited number of social offices, this all takes time. Even as I write these first few paragraphs, I find myself sitting in the waiting room of the Friedrchshain/Kreuzberg Bürgeramt, (the ‘citizens office’ of the area in which I currently reside) waiting to officially register where I live. It all takes time, but it has to be done.
Even when I have had the time to go busking, the, let’s say, less than desirable spring weather, even for Europe, has been somewhat trying. Although interspersed with days of beautiful blue skies and twenty something degree temperatures, overall it has been wet, and cold. Even the nice days don’t promise to stay that way for long. During one set at Eberswalderstr. Bahnhof, it went from a twenty degree day with blue skies, to hailing, within half an hour.
Life on the street has been somewhat intermittent.
But the few times I have made it out…they’ve been amazing. Although it has been different to what I remembered, imagined, or expected, I have enjoyed every moment even more than I thought I would. I’ve had smaller audiences than I remember, but I’ve sold more albums than I did before I left. I’ve met fewer promoters and cultural entrepreneurs, but I’ve met and played with more musicians. I’ve found fewer external opportunities, but the interactions I’ve had have been more intense, and, more fulfilling. It feels as if the Berlin I knew previously, although still delicately attached by the brittle imagery and memories of what it was, has evolved, even in only a short few months, into something bigger, brighter, more fulfilling. I know deep down, that it is simply me that has evolved, in my perceptions and experiences, but it comforts, and excites me, to indulge my imagination, to let myself believe Berlin, the cultural mecca that it is, growing with me, manifesting itself into whatever I want it to become.
I feel too, that I am slowly becoming more accepted here. Not for the way I act, or dress, or anything like that, but simply in the fact that my music feels as if it fits, among the cars, the trams, the people. So often, the noise from all around grows and grows, swelling around me until there is nothing at all but just that, noise. And then, as if all of a sudden, the lights will turn, or the train will pass, and, nothing. Silence, for a moment. Letting my music spread out into the street, washing over my makeshift audience. It’s as if Berlin is playing with me, adding in its own crescendos and dynamics.
For the most part too, while I’m working, I try to speak in german. I feel so much more at home, talking about my music, interacting with my audience, in their language. It makes me feel like I am slipping further into the culture, forcing my way behind the facade, and slowly beginning to see the city as an insider. I still have a long way to go, but it’s a start, and it gives me a taste of what’s still to come.
A few days ago I was being interviewed by an Argentinian film maker who was working on a project comparing street culture in Europe and South America. He asked me simply, “why Berlin?”, so I gave him my usual answer of, “well, Berlin is Berlin!” I spoke of how the constant influx of creatives, the seemingly endless collaboration possibilities, the myriad inspirations the city throws up daily, make it maybe the perfect place to be at this stage of my career.
But he continued in his questioning, looking for a deeper understanding, and asked me, “ok, so why not anywhere else?” This question, as innocuous as it was intended, made me think. And, even long after I had answered the question, I started to realise that maybe Berlin is what it is to me simply because it is not Adelaide. Although I love Adelaide, and look forward to going back, Berlin was, and is, a place that offers me what I can’t get there, a place that allows me the creative comforts I was searching for. The question made me doubt whether Berlin was everything I thought it was, and whether or not my impressions of the place were clouded by the fact Berlin was the first place I went in my search for something else; a kind of grass is always greener, or rose coloured glasses type of thing. I started to think, maybe I haven’t yet made it to the right place, maybe I should go some place else.
But then I realised, it really doesn’t matter. So what if there is somewhere else in the world, physically or musically or psychologically better suited to what I need? Berlin is what it is, for all the things I like about it. And, regardless of what it is really, it has just become that manifestation, a semi-conscious dream, the catalyst for my creative yearnings. It is, and can be, everything I need right now. Maybe things will change, maybe one day I’ll find a new place to mould into my own, but right now, at this point in time, Berlin is my home.
My Dad never played an instrument, he never pushed me into playing guitar, and we never really had a common taste in music. He wasn’t even one of those parents that was constantly playing music while I was growing up, hoping it would just wash over me and one day embed itself deep in my subconscious. But nevertheless he played a much bigger part in my musical development, and my career, than I ever cared to let on.
One evening, back when I was only about twelve or thirteen, maybe younger, Dad sat me down in front of his record player, pulled out an old dusty vinyl record from the shelf, and played me one of his favourite pieces of music. This wasn’t a common occurrence, it may have been the only time he ever sat me down for the sole purpose of listening to something, but it was something he thought I needed to hear. Something he thought everyone should hear. And he was right. It was the first time I ever heard Mike Oldfield’s, Tubular Bells; the single most influential piece of music I have ever listened to.
Whether or not it is a good thing I don’t know, but since hearing that piece of music, it has influenced everything I’ve ever written, at least in some way. The ideas and techniques that Oldfield uses are essentially at the core of my, for lack of a better term, musical and compositional philosophy. From form structures and melodic techniques, right through to time feel and subtle nuances in dynamics. I know I would have heard it eventually anyway, but it never would have made such an impact if it weren’t for Dad sitting me down that night, and letting me in on what he knew. And I will always be thankful for that.
Dad influenced me in other ways too. Even just simply telling me how much he liked something I’d written, or how much he didn’t, gave me such great pride in what I was doing. Being an artist himself, he knew what it was like to build something out of nothing, and being at the mercy of an audience. He knew how much courage it takes, and how much self doubt goes into fully immersing yourself and believing whole-heartedly in something you’ve created. His constant respect and pride in my music meant the world to me, and on more than one occasion was the catalyst for the confidence I needed to show my art to other people.
He was also one of the deciding factors in me finally giving up university and becoming a musician. Albeit somewhat indirectly. A little over three years ago, my Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and was told by his doctor he had four months to live. Saying it was a shock is somewhat of an understatement. It is hard to describe what it’s like to get news like that, and until you face it, it is impossible to know how you are going to react. Fortunately, we are a very close family, and we set about facing the unknown together.
Although he was an incredibly talented artist in his own right, Dad worked his whole life as a teacher, inspiring and helping students young and old, to follow their creative passions. He chose, happily I might add, to sacrifice his own creative yearnings, knowing that he would one day be able to retire and produce his own works. It is somewhat of a cliche, but seeing him miss out on that opportunity, and knowing he will never get to grow old with Mum, made me want to spend my life doing something I love. I’m not saying that Dad didn’t love teaching. He did. He devoted more than thirty years to it. But I know there are things he wanted to do, things he wished he could do, things he never will.
It is impossible to watch someone you love go through such an impossibly hard situation and not reevaluate your own life, to sit down and really work out what’s important. It made me realise, that sometimes shit things do happen to good people, and life can change in an instant. It made me promise to myself never to put anything important off for tomorrow, never to sacrifice the things or people that matter to me, and never to stop chasing my dreams.
About a month ago now, just over three years since his initial diagnosis, the doctors told us there was nothing more they could do, and that Dad could expect a few days at best. He lasted another two weeks before finally passing away a day before his fifty eighth birthday. I was sitting by his bed holding his hand when he took his final breath, and I consider it an honour and a privilege to have spent those last two weeks by his side, along with my mum and my brother.
In those last two weeks, at a time when one may be forgiven for becoming depressed, or angry, or simply not coping with the situation, Dad stayed unbelievably strong. He fought, with everything he had, and never gave up. He kept his sense of humour, he told his friends how much they meant to him, and he let us know exactly how much he cared about us.
I will never forget the myriad ways in which he inspired me, taught me, respected me,and shaped me into the man I am today. And, the strength and courage he showed, as he faced his own mortality, will continue to inspire and shape me for the rest of my life. I loved my Dad, with all my heart, and every time I sit down to play my guitar, to create my art, I will think of him.