Off on umpteenth European Solo Road Tour! Yippeee! 'Vive les grandes routes… and then as God wills!'
Boat to Holyhead and hellish drive.
I think it’s half-term in England and the world and his wife were out on the roads.
Traffic jams, roadworks, accidents, ambulances, police, blue lights everywhere. With the clock changing, darkness falls early and the last couple of hours on the dark A14 were a bit freaky.
I was knackered by the time I got to Harwich ferry terminal. A long, hard 600kms. However, got on the boat about two hours before sailing and had a snug five hour sleep in my little cabin.
Got off the boat at 8 o'clock this morning and set out through the Rotterdam rush hour for North Germany. Another long day in the saddle - 500kms.
At the German border there was some huge operation in progress with polizei, customs men and dogs everywhere. I was selected for questioning and was glad I remembered to bring car papers & insurance cert. They opened the boot but decided not to make me take everything out.
"Drugs?" one of them asked and we all laughed!
I wonder what all that was about?
I battered on; there was less disruption of roadworks in Germany but it was still heavy going.
My GPS decided it had had enough of autobahns when we were about 50kms from my destination and in the fading light, we drove up farm tracks and through deep countryside till finally arriving at the old farmhouse where my friend Brigitte lives.
The house was bare; she is leaving it and moving in to town in Bremen. All a bit sad as it’s a magnificent building and we’ll see it no more.
I was pretty done in when I got to the gig – Cultimo in Gnarrenburg. The soundcheck was a bit difficult and just before the gig I was in a bit of a panic, looking at a setlist and feeling very unconfident!
It all came together though as soon as I took the stage and I loved the audience and they loved me – by the sound of the applause and the looks on the faces. Very happy going to bed! A job well done and the show up and running.
Another long drive today, about 350kms to Hattingen.
Apart from being Friday afternoon, tomorrow is a bank holiday in Germany and the traffic was heavy.
I went straight to the Avant Garde Hotel – one of my favourite hotels in Europe - and was greeted with their usual grace.
The gig was in the Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) right in the centre of the city. How well Germany looks after it’s old historic buildings in city centres!
My old and dear friend, Axel Schuldes, arrived while I was setting up and it was a great pleasure to see him again and looking so well!
He works for the City Council and tells me they would dearly love to get rid of him and close the venue. He is responsible for cultural events in Hattingen and the council wants to save money by doing away with such unnecessary things!
Same the world over; I hate politicians, both local and national.
They are business men; they regard music and theatre as hobbies, nothing to do with the real world of profit and economical growth.
We need more representation by people who realise the need for colour in our lives. GET RID OF THESE GREY MEN!!
The audience and I sang ‘You fascists bound to lose’ with feeling tonight!
Met Axel for coffee this morning. Such a pleasure!
We first met 38 years ago on the ‘3rd Irish Folk festival’ here in Germany. He was always a favourite of everyone on those tours. He had more ‘sympatico’ than any of the other organisers and a great sense of humour. He’s a fighter too. He’s got two more years till retirement will be forced on him and I’ll bet he keeps the concerts going in the Old Town Hall till then.
I went for a long walk along the Ruhr river. Trying to use this tour as a ‘get fit’ exercise….
Sat. 1 Nov. (Continue from last entry)
Gig in Dorsten was magnificent! Big crowd of enthusiastic people, lovely hall and good sound. I'm still buzzing with the pleasure of the experience!
Dorsten is/was a coal mining town and my songs on the subject were particularly well received.
When things go well and I'm on top of my form, this job is the best in the world...
Sun. 2 Nov.
Went for walk along the Canal path this morning. The sun is beating down, splitting the stones as they used to say. Everybody I met had a happy smile on their face and happy groups were sitting out in beer gardens as if it were the middle of June!
The canal was built to transport coal and huge canal freighters passed quietly by on their way to other Ruhr towns and beyond as far as Holland. Some must have been 150 metres in length.
The gig tonight was a bit disappointing. After the elation of last night comes the other side. A small crowd...I was sorry for Kosta who runs the bistro. He is a lovely young man and I would have liked to have pulled a bigger crowd for him.
Two years ago I had arrived from Rotterdam with a broken car window after a robbery and he had organised the repairs for me.
I took the opportunity to play a lot of new songs that needed public performance tonight. I hope the audience didn't mind but I must have played for over two and a half hours!
Some old friends in the audience that I first met so many years ago and a man who came up in the interval and said:
"I first saw you with Planxty in Wetzlar forty years ago". Yeah, been around these parts a long time!
Afterwards, Kosta the Greek, his Swedish girlfriend, another man and I discussed the world's problems over a few libations!
Mon. 3 Nov.
I had breakfast with Kosta & Josephine, booked a quiet hotel near tomorrow's concert and drove there in an hour.
Small, single room, nothing special. I'm the only inhabitant, restaurant closed (Monday – Rest Day), not a lot going on.
My daily walk this afternoon was through a forest in the area called Siebengebirge - Seven Mountains. It would have been better if the rain had not poured down! Spent rest of afternoon trying to dry my clothes on the heater in my hotel room. Had dinner in a nearby restaurant and really enjoyed it as I haven’t been eating many dinners recently.
Tue 4. Nov
I'm writing this after a good soundcheck here in Bad Honnef. It's lashing rain outside which I hope won't have an effect on the size of the audience. I remember playing here four years ago. That day it was recorded by WDR German radio. It's lovely to meet Jutta again, the lady who promotes gigs here. She and her husband, Peter, are a delight.
The weather has changed dramatically in the last day or two. From June skies to endless rain.
Well the gig turned out to be wonderful! Such a bunch of lovely people! There was a big raffle in the interval of items that members of the audience had contributed. I thought I should offer a copy of my 70th Birthday Concert and it was won by a man of senior years who couldn’t find his ticket. For a good five minutes he presented this hilarious 'dumb show’ of emptying pocket after pocket, looking for it. Marcel Marceau could not have bettered it! We had to move on and draw again. By the end of my show he had found it, so I gave him a CD. Good man, Hans!
Wed 5. Nov
Another day of rain. I drove off to Holland.
Stopped and had gulaschsuppe on the autobahn. I haven’t been eating hot food, so really enjoyed it. Not as much, however, as the first time I ate it here in Germany.
Back in 1965 ‘Galway’ Joe Dolan and I with girlfriends, set out to travel to wherever the road would take us, travelling by the ‘sunburnt thumb’.
On a September day, we busked on the street in Schwarbing, Munich and made a hatful of money. We were moved on, eventually, by a couple of friendly policemen and retired to a cafe to count our winnings and eat gulaschsuppe. Best tasting food I can ever remember!
Driving in Holland is somewhat different to driving in Germany where there is no speed limit on autobahns. The Dutch are a very orderly people and speed limits are strictly adhered to. Driving in towns is hazardous though. These towns, like Haarlem where I was playing, were never meant for the motor car and the narrow streets and the odd street markings make for watchful driving. Not to mention that this is the home of the bicycle! They come out of everywhere, racing bikes, mountain bikes and bikes of fine quality with well dressed ladies perched atop. I think it’s a hanging offence to hit one of them.
I was playing a very small gig, acoustically, in an old bakery owned by an Englishman and his Dutch wife - Mike & Ria Cowley.
Mike had heard that my mother was an actress back in the twenties and thirties and showed me a photograph of his grandfather who was part of a double act in England back then. He said they were called Laurel and Lewis and would travel the length and breadth of England singing and dancing and telling jokes in the multifarious theatres that were in existence in those days. In the ‘digs' that these ‘theatricals’ stayed in, they met a fellow performer called Stan Jefferson who was going to America to try his luck. He didn’t want to go as Stan Jefferson and asked if he might use Mike’s grandfather’s name - Laurel! The world knows the rest of the story!
The gig was great, like a party. I was on top form and the small audience enjoyed it as much as did I.
Rens van der Zalm was there at the end and we had a few beers and talked about the great Mozaik tour of last month and Nikola’s brilliant video which can be viewed on my website (I think), if not, on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EtvB0cz6xA
Mike and his dog walked me to my hotel.
As I climbed the sets of tight staircases to the third floor, I wondered how many foreigners had ever been found at the bottom of the stairs with broken necks…