Friday, 17 October 2014

The Cheese and Tulip Tour

"We need a disaster!" we all shouted in unison walking down The Rokin towards an oncoming tram! Tempting fate, courting disaster, call it what you want, we found ourselves in the bizarre situation where we'd welcome a catastrophe! "Perhaps we'll have a puncture when we get back to the van?" said the piano player, "or better still, it will have rolled into the canal!"
"Yeah that'd be cool!" said the bass player. The tram was getting nearer. "Don't bell the cat just yet boys, we've still got another whole day to get through" the guitar player reasoned. I thought about pushing the piano player in front of the tram but realised that murder was perhaps a little bit more than we were after. Sorry I killed the pianist but it made a great a film! So the tram sped past and the impending danger receded away and we were left dodging cyclists instead.

It's true that everything that could go right had gone right. It was the complete opposite of the last film we made where we left the guitar at home, fashioned mic stands out of branches, slept in piano cases, took every wrong turn possible, played to sparse audiences and made a large financial loss. 
This time we forgot nothing, arrived on time (sometimes early!), had good healthy crowds, didn't lose anything, sold buckets of CD's and came home with a profit. This was a reverse of fortunes. If the last film was called    
How NOT to be in a Band; The Wrong way round, this should be called  
How to be in a Band; The Right way round!

(( I've been in two minds about writing this blog as I thought it could spoil the film a little but I want to convey the gratitude we have towards the people that made it possible and those that supported us. Not that I think that the film will leave those details out, but sometimes you can express things better in writing than playacting. ))

It was 4.30am on saturday morning and the guitar player was knocking on the front door. Not surprisingly I didn't hear it. My flatmate eventually let him in, flashing the drummer on her the way down the stairs as she hastily rushed on a top. I woke. The bass player woke. The piano player woke then fell away again. The cameraman arrived, busying himself with a goPro on the van. We did some contents checks in the kitchen, even though we were on the ball and it was the piano player who needed it most. We woke the piano player again. We left just before 5am, striding Beatles-esque from the house to the van. It was to become our walk of the weekend. The drummer and guitar player, pilot and co-pilot, steered the wagon into the sunrise. I slept by the window. The boys played ukulele's in the back. 

We hit Folkestone on time, driving onto the Eurostar train which resembled a silver cigar case. It creaked a lot. "I doesn't look very safe" I said. "I hope it can withstand the water!".

I took the wheel in Calais; we guessed all the capitals in Europe, then the world, then all the American States. 

We arrived in Raamsdonk at The Swamp Studios and were greeted by Jo van Strien and Stephen van Haestregt, the owner and programmer of this smart recording studio/music venue. Inside was a decent stage, well-lit; a bar in the corner well-stocked, and upstairs were 6 little beds well-made. We spent a while sound checking, plugging into the tidy sound system, our ears purring at the quality. We were so welcomed. Made to feel like stars. Downstairs was free beers. Upstairs was bowls of soup. 'Vegetable soup' that was full of meat! People started arriving. A lot of the drummer's friends from previous tours in past bands. But a gathering of my friends too. Friends I'd made growing up on Judi's campsite and kept as they returned year after year. We opened with Franz Kafka, which was controversial, The Sailing Song shunted from his first position to somewhere in the middle of the set. He didn't take it well and was the worst performer. But opening with Franz Kafka was an inspired selection, the parting mantra of "yes it's over, now it's over, oh yes it's over now..." allowed us to pretend that it really was the last song. "And it's over folks! Thank you very much and goodnight" we said as the song finished, much to the amusement of the crowd. A lovely little ice breaker. We ploughed through our set, wrapping to lengthy applause, sold 9 CD's and networked our way around the studio under the influence of a conveyor belt of half pints of Grolsh. Stephen's wife, Veroniek, who had made the soup, ordered us 3 late night pizzas, even though we only asked for 1. We ate them all and most of us climbed the spiral staircase to bed. All except the drummer who it seems was the man in charge of the conveyor belt of Grolsh and sat sipping long into the night. 

As we pulled out of Raamsdonk the following morning we all felt a sense of real purpose. We were primed. We were eager. We couldn't wait to begin again. Perhaps it was the reception of the fans or the quality of the sound, or more likely the constructive criticism by Stephen over breakfast. With a CV as long as your leg, the well-honed ear of a sound-man and the brave patience of a recording engineer, he really was a man to be reckoned with. And his overall prognosis was glowing. A couple of key points per person that we all took on the stubble of our chins. Food for thought and it had certainly got us thinking. 

We pulled into Amsterdam on time into a parking space directly opposite the venue. We made contact with the helpful barman, unloaded our gear with ease and bounded out into the not-quite sunshine. Things were all a little too easy. Surely there'd be a disaster around the corner, something to make some drama for the film! But no; we booked into a clean hostel, ate some cheap pasta and made our way back to the Cafe Langereis with time to spare; stopping off to showcase our new Beatles-esque walk across the zebra crossing. We found ourselves overcome by the cliches; filming tulips, clogs, cheese, coffee shops and red lights.
All we needed was a windmill!

The gig was better than we expected. The cafe was small but packed full of appreciation. We toned down some of our faster numbers and I'd go as far as saying it was the tightest gig we've done. With the piano player on a real piano, 
we played just above the acoustic level which brings out the best of us. Too much amplification and we loose our
delicacy, we believe ourselves to be a rock band and we force things. But sitting pretty on a subtle sound and we were 'cooking'. We wrapped to loud applause. Another 9 CD sales, many of them signed, and the purr of the audience left us giddy. Many friends from Judi's campsite came and spread their enthusiasm. Many of them I didn't know, but they knew me and their words were warm. Many new fans too, random people who'd ducked in to see what all the fuss was about and had stayed and smiled and drank with us outside by the candlelit tables.

We rolled home, by the light of the silvery moon. I say home, I mean a cheap and slightly brash hostel where we slept like schoolboys in bunk beds. But increasingly this tour was feeling more and more like home. Like we'd found our calling. Sod off England with your too trodden roads, with your fever of folk bands and your parsimonious patrons, we'd found warmth in Holland, from the tall people in the low country...

We left Amsterdam in the spitting rain. Still disaster-less. Still on budget and most annoyingly still on time. Staging a shot of us all leaving a 24 hour sex show was as controversial as we got! We drove all day, getting lost en route to a lunch date; that received a huge cheer! We still had it. The magic. Getting lost with a satnav! We got lost in Antwerp that evening too, driving round and round the old town until we ditched the satnav and found the venue with our eyes. Cafe Den Hopsack was a old building and a simple enough venue but full of character. The back of the long room was a raised stage with a piano in the corner. A bar ran along one side of the room and was stocked with what looked like all the beers in the world but was in fact only a fraction of those in Belgium! The landlady was very welcoming and poured us half pints of Ename Tripple and then cooked us baked chicory wrapped in ham and drenched in cheese sauce. Jan Van Den Bossche breezed in full of smiles and good humour. He had organised the Belgian leg of the tour and was our self declared European agent. "Next year it'll be 40,000 people at a
festival!". The gig itself once again surpassed all expectations. The cafe was packed to capacity and beyond, which is crazy considering it was a monday night! The rapturous response was somewhat overwhelming and we were all made to feel 5 times our worth. Having played to so many different audiences and many larger than the 150 people packed into Den Hopsack, I can't think of a crowd more appreciative of us and our music. We were really humbled as we sold our 9 CD's after the show and socialised with them all. 

Outside the heavens had opened and we slid back to Jan's house in the driving rain. Lieve, his wife, made us French (Belgian) fries and we raised a few glasses, cutting loose for the first time because it was the last night.
It was short lived. We were beyond tired. I sat with the cameraman dipping fries into Joppi sauce and we spoke of what was next. An interview or two. A little peek down memory lane to Judi's campsite. Her friends that leave each year all with our CD forced upon them. They are the ones that made this tour possible. 70% of them Dutch. They became our fans. Became the readers of this blog. Them and their friends and their friends of friends and their brothers and uncles and colleagues and teammates. They became the 802 people in the Netherlands that read this medium. We researched the readership, thought 'Christ there's hundreds of the buggers in Holland, lets go there!' and the rest is history. There are also almost a 100 in Russia which is slightly worrying. Not because we don't like Russians, but because I doubt we'd come home with a profit on that one! Yes, we came home with a profit. Can you believe it!? Another unnatural aspect of this tour.
The Right Way Round it was! Everything went right. We played to packed cafes. We played our socks off. Spread our music. Wrote new material. We didn't break down, didn't fall out, didn't lose anything. Instead we gained things; new fans, broadened horizons, band solidarity. And all three venues invited us back too. And even some neighbouring bars tried to poach us!
Yet even after all of this, still there was a sense of failure, like we'd somehow failed our image. We are The Odd Folk, we get things hopelessly wrong but we're a likeable bunch and we cobble together and play good music. But this was almost a little too smooth. 
It was one disaster short of being perfect!

I scooped another handful of fries and Joppi sauce. "It's great that people see you moving on and making progress." said the cameraman, "Compare this to a year ago! It's really powerful. And like you said in the last film, 'there are certain things we can't continue to do' well your not doing them anymore and look where it's taking you!" and he was right. He packed up the camera and placed it into its flight case. "And that's a wrap!" he said and winked.