Thur 6. Nov
I drove back to Germany after picking up my instruments and having a coffee with Edwin - an old friend who had kindly put the gig on. As I crossed the border, the sun suddenly shone brilliantly and I parked the car at an Autobahn Rastätte and went for a walk through flat farmland.
Today’s gig was in Die Sonne in Herne - a place I have played many time before, usually on a Winter Sunday with a certain amount of depression as I sat in the car waiting for the place to open. Only in recent years have I known where I was staying in advance. It seems the gastätte will close at the end of the year, so, after this gig I will not be back again.
The gig started off with Michael Voelkel. The audience really enjoyed his humorous songs though unfortunately they were beyond me but he played a nifty guitar solo that was definitely impressive. I played my two sets and enjoyed them very much as did the audience.
An old friend from 'Irish Folk Festival’ days was there - Nobby. I had not seen him for more than ten years and he told me he had been ill. He gave me a book of Christy Brown’s poetry and an old photograph of me from way back when!
Fri 7. Nov
Nobby told me last night that the railwaymen were on strike and to expect a lot of traffic today. I meant to set out early to counter this but didn’t get away till 11am and in the event, the traffic was no worse than any other Friday.
I don’t play much music when I’m driving, preferring to be in my own head but sometimes it shortens the journey. I have a fairly random collection of CDs in the car and this afternoon I played Caitlín Nic Gabhainn’s lovely concertina album. Caitlín danced me all the way to Hamburg!
An uneventful journey otherwise. The sun shone in a clear blue sky in the afternoon and I got to Bad Bramstedt about 5 o’clock and parked my car opposite what looked like the Schloss where I was playing.
Hans was just coming out and we met with a handshake. Hans has a bookshop in the town which unfortunately he is going to have to close because of loss of business. It seems people don’t read books anymore…
The room where I was playing in the Schloss was very beautiful and a lot of people came so that there was standing room only.
An old friend - ‘Lemmy' (Michael Lempelius) - was there. Good to see him. He played some nice riffs on my Yairi bouzouki after the gig was over. He has been in the well known German band, Liederjahn for a number of years now.
The hotel was just across the road and I bade them all goodnight and retired to my room - to read!
Sat 8. Nov
I drove to Blankanese, a posh suburb of Hamburg, where my old friend Christoph Scheffler lives with his wife, Beate. I know them since the seventies when I used to tour Germany with Mick Hanly. Christoph played with another musician called Klaus and they called themselves Ulenspiegel. We often shared the bill with them.
Christoph is the main man at Schalloch Musik in St Pauli, one of the biggest music stores in Europe. He has the nicest Gibson L0. I have ever heard! I asked him to leave it to me in his will but he’s a bit younger than I, so I’m not expecting it!
Had a calm afternoon and then drove up the road to Heidebargshof where I was to play.
Sold out! Smashing gig! Lovely people! Happy as Larry!
Back to Blankanese and catch up chat with Christoph about the goings on in platdeutsch land. Christoph has been around nearly as long as I and we love to exchange views on our contempories!
Sun 9. Nov
Long drive of about 500kms to Meissen, way out yonder in former East Germany and today was the 25th anniversary of the wall ‘coming down’.
How well I remember the last ‘Irish Folk Festival’ tour I was ever on, with Patrick Street in 1988. We played a number of concerts in East Germany that time and the excitement of the people, mainly students, who were aware of a big change in the air, was unbelievably exciting. The energy in the audience hit us like a wave and we jaded musicians, after a long tour, played out of our skins.
The Centre of Meissen makes you wonder what century you are in. It’s straight out of the 17th century.
Theater Meissen has been operating for 160 years and it’s beautiful baroque architecture is enhanced by a truly theatrical atmosphere. The sound is magic and next time I play there, I really want to record it.
Peter Braukmann and his playing partner, Bernd Goymann played first. They have been playing together for ever as ‘Schnappsack’. I can’t say enough for the sound in the theatre, it was sooo beautiful. It's amazing how well one can play when the sound is perfect!
Tonight's gig underlines what it's all about really. As I drove into Meissen at about five o’clock, the dark of winter made me slightly depressed. The tiredness of the journey, the sound check, the carrying of baggage up hill to my digs & the general exhaustion of the tour, were all blown away by the connection of artist with audience! Meeting people afterwards who say such special things! Surely, "One moment of success is worth the whole damn thing"!!
I was presented, on the stage, by the theatre management with a bottle of Müller Thurgau white wine from Meissen after the show.
Came home up the hill and had a glass of red wine with my hostess - Moni, who is lovely, then retired to my room and drank the Müller Thurgau while watching the rather disappointing Sunderland 1 Everton 1.
Mon 10. Nov
Back to the theatre to pack up my gear and say goodbye to Peter, Bernd and the great soundman, Haiko.
Day off. Headed east.
I’ve never been in Poland before and decided this was to be the day! I’d booked a hotel in the stare miesto (old town) and got there about 3pm. Absolutely no sign of border control on the autobahn between Germany and Poland. Put your passport back in your pocket.
My first impressions of Poland – or maybe I should limit it to Wrocław – are very positive. No problem with language. I was well greeted at hotel, went for a walk around the beautiful baroque old town and eventually wound up in a restaurant – Kurna Chata. Great place, lovely waitresses, food tasty but bloody heavy! Came out scarcely able to walk having ordered too much.
Now quiet night off in lovely hotel room with Wi-Fi and all mod cons (the mod con is merlot!)
Tue 11. Nov.
Long day at the wheel. 500kms from Wrocłav to Göttingen. Göttingen is probably a town I have played more times than any other in Germany.
From the old days of the 'Nörgelbuff' to present days in the Apex. I got there at about ten past five and parked illegally outside, waiting for a space opposite to become vacant.
My long time agent, Gabi, was promoting the gig. I have known Gabi since I went on the 3rd Irish Folk Festival tour in 1976.
The audience seemed a bit reserved and I couldn't tell if they liked it or not - until the second encore!
I drove Gabi back to her old farmhouse about 30kms from town and we drank some nice white wine and ate bread & cheese.
Wed 12. Nov.
Gabi went off to work in the morning and I took it easy, answering emails.
DVD of Birthday gig nearly ready. It's taken a long time but should be out by next week.
I set off for the south in my long suffering Toyota which now has 277,000 kms on the clock & is beginning to sound more and more like a small airplane! The gig in Weilburg is truly tiny - a bit like a house concert. Acoustic and nice ambience. I kept making mistakes in the first half - not major blunders but annoying little lapses of concentration. I was a lot better in the second half.
Thurs. 13. Nov.
Another 500ks next day - down to Austria.
Small town on Bodensee (Lake Constance) just passed Bregenz. I was reminded of a gig I played many years ago in Bregenz where the audience was very reserved and bourgeois.
For my last song I decided to play something really fast and spectacular to try and get something out of them, finally. I went great guns and I could feel the audience melting a little. I hit the last chord expecting thunderous applause but on the very last stroke, the chair I was sitting on collapsed. Legs in the air, bouzouki thrown over my shoulder, sound of wood splitting! I don't know if the audience thought I was drunk or if they were just horrified by the spectacle but by the time I got myself the right way up, they were gone!
It was a lovely gig but I was aware that most people were not understanding my introductions, so I hauled out my trusty translations and did the second half reading German. It was a great stroke as the audience warmed to me and laughed at the jokes (thanks Christoph Scheffler) I went to a restaurant with the promoter, Heribert, afterwards and had a few ‘achtels' of red wine before staggering off to the hotel nearby.
Fri 14. Nov.
Back to Germany.
Strongly recommend (?) Hotel Vetter in Nürtingen for reasons that will become clear in a minute!
Checked in and had a couple of hours rest before driving down to Club Kuckucksei, which means Cuckoo’s Egg, I think.
Have played here many times before and always enjoyed it. It is run by Johannes Single, a social worker and a man of great ‘simpatico’.
My good friend Sebastian Barwinek is there and also Claus Hahn; together with Johannes, they form the support band - 'Cake of Brandy’.
They give the evening a really good start and are much appreciated by the audience. The gig goes well for me too and there are a lot of friends, old and new, in the interval and at the end. After the chat and a beer or two, I pack up my stuff and leave it on the stage till morning.
I’ve decided to leave the car as well and I walk the mile or so back to the hotel. Once back in my room, I ponder the possibility of another drink. There is a sign to say that cold drinks are available from the fridge next to the breakfast room. I wander down through the silent hotel and lo and behold! There is everything one would wish for a midnight feast! I remove a bottle of red wine, a host of salted peanuts and a kit kat and repair to my room to watch Ireland play Scotland in the Euro qualifier.
I have a piece of equipment set up at home called a Slingbox which allows me to record and later, watch my own TV wherever I am in the world. I watch the game, eat the peanuts and drink the wine and suddenly it’s close to 4am. Not good.
Sat 15. Nov.
Yes, bit of a hangover today! The combined cost of my midnight feast comes to €14.50 and I realise I have to walk back to Club Kuckucksei with my computer, roller bag and another shopping bag. Of course I get lost and walk about a mile in the wrong direction!
When I finally get back to the club, I consider that my day’s exercise.
Sebastian, Claus and Johannes are all there and upon request, I teach the first two my accompaniment to ‘The Highwayman”.
They are all coming to the next gig as support band in Geislingen which is just 45kms away.
I decide to head off and have a bit of a rest in the hotel there. Hotel Krone. Lovely old hotel a mere spit from the gig. Good rest and revival.
I haven’t played here for about six years and it doesn’t strike any chords in my memory. Soundman, Olli, is very good and the soundcheck takes a short enough time that I can walk back to the hotel and have a bit more of a rest. ‘Cake of Brandy’ open up with the same set and I do the rest in two sets. Nice people and quite early night.
Sun 16. Nov.
I’m pretty exhausted but just two more to go. 300km drive to the lovely old town of Büdingen, about 40km from Frankfurt, where Sebastian has organised an acoustic concert in a small cafe bistro called ‘Hexenstübchen’. We meet at 4.30pm, me and Cake of Brandy and have a meal together in an Italian restaurant. The crack is mighty. A good laugh.
We’re talking about names for bands and how hard it is to find a good name. Claus relates how he was in a band once that got a gig shortly after forming and the promoter wanted to know what the band was called. So they had a meeting to discuss a name and the band broke up over it! Also discussing the Indonesian Kopi Luwak where cats eat the coffee beans and shit them out. It’s supposed to be great coffee!
We got a good mileage of jokes out of that!
I knew quite a few of the people at the gig; Christoph Scheffler’s son, Kolja was there with his girlfriend, Meike.
A girl I knew back in 1971 when she came with two friends on holiday to Dublin - Sabine Möller and her husband, Volker and my old friend, the ethnomusicologist who teaches at University in Salzburg - Manfred Bartmann. It was lovely to play acoustically and I played on and on…
Finished by playing ‘Come to the Bower’ with Cake of Brandy and everyone was happy. Manfred was staying the night at the same hotel before catching a train back to Austria and we agreed to meet for breakfast.
Mon 17. Nov.
I had a really stimulating ‘intellectual’ talk with ‘mad’ Manfred at breakfast this morning. Have to say he did most of the intellectual talking.
Manfred is the Karl-Heinz Stockhausen of Ethno music and his album which came out a couple of years ago and which, shamefully I had only listened to quite recently, is called “Frisia Orientalis” and is quite fascinating.
The CD is of music but also, if inserted into a computer, a CD-ROM containing videos, notes, photos and probably a full lecture by Manfred.
I haven’t yet had a chance to view the ROM part but I think the music is great! It’s definitely bizarre and way out there but not necessarily as complex to listen to as it probably will become after reading the ethnic notes on the making of it and its concept.
It combines his ethnomusical recordings with studio recording and is largely sung in the Low German of his native place in Ostfriesland. It is really a tour de force and I’m sorry it’s not been a financial success but that’s what you get!
He told me this story:
He comes from a small town - Norden - way up north nearly on the North Sea and when he was about twelve his father came home one day to say that a storm tide was blowing and that one of the boats was still out. He took Manfred and they went the couple of kilometres to the sea to the top of the dyke where they looked down upon families weeping and they realised the boat had been lost.
Manfred was keen that they should go down and offer consolation to these people. But the father said “No," he said," no but make sure that they see us here on the top of the dyke against the twilight sky and always remember that these are our people”. The ‘dykers’ as they were called by the townspeople were a very separate community, shunned, it seems by the town for they spoke Low German (Plattdeutsch) and were common people, uneducated fisher folk whereas the town people spoke High German and were bourgeoisie.
Sometime later, Manfred decided to get on his bicycle and cycle to the Dyke. This was a risky and dangerous venture as any boy who did that might expect to get beaten up very seriously by the young men of the dyke. When Manfred got there he was surrounded by these toughs, a little bit older than himself and very threatening. He went to the most threatening looking one and he said:
“Please take me see your mother and please take care of my bicycle, you may use it if you wish but I do want it back"…and he said it in Low German. The tough ‘dyker’ kids were totally confused by this, as they did not realise anybody from the town spoke their language.
They did take him to the mother of this boy. There he experienced for the first time how these common people lived. They did not have cups or glasses but used buttermilk cartons and he was offered a half a glass of coca cola and he said it might as well have been champagne considering the little that they had to buy such luxuries.
All these large breasted women assembled in the kitchen of this house. They asked him how he came to speak Low German and he said he had learned it from his father. They brought these official letters that had been sent to them by the Department of social welfare or whatever. They were unopened as no one could read them and they asked him to read them, which he did.
He told them his father worked in that department in the town and “What you must do and there’s no danger in it, what you must do, is go in with these letters and ask for him." I don’t remember what the letters were about but the end of the story was that the father came home one evening a little later, saying how a ‘dyker’ woman had come in and asked for him and how he had been able to satisfy her on whatever the matter concerned.
The father was amazed by this because it was the first real contact that the ‘dykers’ had made with the institutions of the town.
After that, Manfred spent his time cycling round different communities where Low German was spoken and from there came his interest in ethnographic studies and later, as a musician, in ethnomusicology.
A taxi came for him and he vanished as quickly as he had appeared.
Longish drive down to Munich.
I was listening to a CD of ‘Buda Folk Band’. Young lads from Budapest, two of whom are sons of members of the band - ‘Muzsikás'.
The album is very much in the tradition of Hungarian Folk Music as brought to our notice all those years ago by Muzsikás and others but with a few modern touches that ‘update' the music. I saw them play in Budapest in the Summer and the energy and musical skill was in full evidence.
I was staying with Pityu from Muzsikás, whose son, Marci is in the band and who I know since he was a small boy. I asked Pityu if he liked his son’s music. “Yes", he said, “mostly”.
Marci stayed with my daughter, Willow, in London a few years ago, studying English. She said he appeared to exist on a diet of beer, cigarettes and baked beans!
I like the album a lot; the girl singer is in a direct line from Márta Sebestyén and the fiddle playing is of a high quality.
Csoóri Sándor looks and sings exactly like his father and the music does odd unexpected little things like the jazzy coda to one of the traditional songs.
My GPS system brought me unerringly to Frank and Alison’s house in the south east of Munich. Great to see them again!
It had been six years. Frank washed my clothes and hung them out to dry downstairs and Alison made coffee. Their sitting room is wall-to-wall books - they are both translators and language teachers - and I commented on how much I liked the look of that.
Frank said - ‘Yes, and free insulation! The people who live in the houses either side of us have their heat turned on and we don’t have to turn ours on.”
We got a taxi into the gig - a small theatre in a complex that was, until quite recently, a working farm in the middle of the city!
It was a lovely way to end the tour. I used to play in Munich annually - more or less - since 1977 and before that I used to busk in Scwarbing on my way to Eastern Europe.
I wasn’t a very good busker, I’d sit in a doorway, playing, eyes closed and my mandolin case open with a sign saying ‘IRELAND”.
It was a great way to practise though and the money never let me down.
I remember one time playing the Blacksmith, eyes firmly shut. After each verse there was the clink of coins going into the case.
I opened my eyes and there was a lovely brown haired girl, dropping one and two mark pieces into my mandolin case.
I broke off the song and said:
"You don’t have to put so much in!”
She said: “But I like it so much!”
So I continued with renewed vigour, planning to ask her to go for a drink afterwards!
I played the instrumental at the end as if I was Jimi Hendrix, finished with a mandolin power chord (!) and looked up, beaming.
She had gone. And in her place was a smiling German policeman who said:
“Very nice music but unfortunately forbidden in Munich!!”
Lovely gig, old friends, sold out.
Got back to the house and had a bite to eat, a couple of glasses of wine and good conversation with Frank and Alison.
Time marched on and it was soon into the small hours.
I had to leave at 5am for the long drive to pick up my wife, Kumiko, at an airport in Berlin and onwards to the ferry at Rostock to Denmark and ever onwards to the south of Sweden to visit my son, Cian and his girlfriend, Astrid.
Tue 18. Nov.
The rain had been lashing down all night and the morning was dark and dangerous. Even at 5am the traffic was quite heavy as people left the city to go to their places of employment in neighbouring towns. It only started to become day at 7 and the first two hours were a bit scary.
I had had about an hour and a half of sleep and had to have a power nap after a few hours.
Amazing how 12 minutes deep sleep can revive a body!
Got to Berlin and there was Kumiko. I think the sight of her spelt the end of the tour!
Thanks to Gabi, my beloved agent and all who made the tour a success - which it was!