It’s an overcast Saturday afternoon en route to Cologne - the first gig we’ve done in the western area of Nordrhein Westfalen - the most densely populated state in Germany. I see green fields and at least 50 giant wind turbines. Germany are heavily into the green energy - since typing this sentence there’s another 100 more in the distance on either side.
We’re in great spirits from our gig last night in Kassel (gig 22 of 28) where we played a fancy jazz club with impeccable sound, live-streaming cameras (the family was watching back home which made it extra special) and a great engineer called Rolf who toured with synthman Rick Wakeman in the 80s.
Rolf had a vintage 70’s Fender Rhodes available that I played all night with a big smile on my face - if you don’t know what it sounds like, think the intro of ‘Riders on the storm’ or ‘Still crazy after all these years’ - it sounds like sunshine. Ironically, lots of older German men who come to our shows look a bit like Rick, and my expanding multi-keyboard setup has started to resemble his a bit.
Yesterday was a bit of a disaster pre-gig, we rolled back into a car (no one hurt, minimal damage) that happened to be driven by a German Army man who had to call his superior and we were left waiting for ages beside a busy road. A few pre-gig OHM breaths and we were grand.
Today Lisa’s brother is making a surprise visit to Cologne - well it’s a surprise for Lisa, so we left our lush 4-star hotel early today under the guise of trying to arrive early to see this mega music store in Cologne, truthfully I can’t wait to try out some guitars in that store.
[Nerdy aside: I’ve been using my computer as a mixing hub for the different sounds that I need, but I’ve realised I could use a sweet new guitar - for some reason I’ve never invested in a really fancy instrument as I’m usually more focused on the group experience rather than being seen as a ‘guitarist’. Now I’m using Logic MainStage to process my dry DI guitar sound (yuk) through a convolution sample of a Taylor guitar (€€€), so it’s a bit of revelation as the sound is extra lush. If you want more info on this just ask I’ll explain what works for me]
We’ve had the audiobook of the story of Ernest Shackleton playing in the van - Kildare-born Shackleton spent 3 years enduring incredible hardship with his men ensuring they got home safely after his expedition failed and the ship sank in antarctic ice. Comparatively, this epic level of endurance has provided considerable strength to the band whenever we have to drive for a few hours without food - we’ve taken to narrating our own scenes in an audiobook voice to stave off feeling sorry for ourselves.
The best part of this whole experience is the joy of playing every night after barely playing for 2 years, it’s put so much stuff into perspective. I'm starting to believe that when we start to analyse or judge music as a thing and not as an experience it ignores the feeling of exponential energy in a room, the congregation and shared journey that many of us live off of. Is shared connection the most powerful human force? It feels like it at the end of every show because even when it’s not our greatest night there’s always people who are ecstatic to have been there. Good times
Another joy is that every night I play an African instrumental tune that I used to play a lot and it's given me the freedom to accept a younger version of myself. I'm probably guilty of taking the writers advice to kill your darlings too far, having drawn a line around some things that I used to love playing but didn't fit the new brief.
Stylistically, this gig with Lisa Canny is so varied but, it doesn't really matter, just like borders on a map look like like definite hard boundaries different genres can seem opposed: rock vs country vs RnB vs traditional - we're playing all of those things. As long as there's a tiny bit of context it doesn't really matter what you play! Anyway, did you know that the banjo originally came from Africa? I invite you to expand the definition of yourself, soften the edges and let some stuff in that feels good.