Wed 15 March....With two rehearsals under our belt, Al Cowan, Brian O Toole and yours truly are in Dublin Airport to catch the 6.50 flight to Frankfurt. Over yonder I spot the guys from Kila. Give the guys a wave, time is tight. Later I see Dee, the bands fiddle player, off to Spain for a few gigs I believe. The queues are the longest I've seen, so Brian's makes a quick call to a friend of his who works here, and we glamorously get to skip the queue by going through some doorway usually reserved (I presume) for politicians, rock stars and perhaps the odd movie star. Bump into Aslan, or rather a few of their roadies, off to the Cayman Islands.
On the plane I drink two ¼ bottles of wine, having downed a pint of lager before boarding, just to keep the edge off reality. Eventually end up on a four hour train ride from Frankfurt, sweeping through the Black Forest area of Deutschland and across the border into Switzerland. Kris Watkins is there to meet us in Solothurn and off we go to Kreigstetten where we play four gigs over the next four days. The Pisonikellar might be a bit on the small side, but the vibe is good and we’re all in good form. I’m in no state to wire a plug, so I quit doing what I'm doing and we proceed with sound check. The PA is good, backline adequate. I nod off to sleep at the table, only to awake 20 minutes later unsure as to where the hell I am." Waterford, Athlone....‘ Somehow or other I end up convincing myself we had just played a gig....in fact there was another hour to showtime. Suffice to say, the gig was fine and after a while Al fell asleep and tumbled off a stool, perhaps an indication to Kris to drive us to our spooky place of rest in Gurlfingen.
Thurs 16 March Kriegstetten......Start the day off by trying to get our bearings. Walk to Biberist , where we’ve played many times over the years. Train into Solothurn and have a drink or two in The Absinth Bar. Al is interested in buying a box set, bottle, sachets of salt, big shiny silver spoon, but I think the price puts him off. The room is great, wonderful chairs, candelabras, a sofa not out of place in a sixteenth century French mansion.The conversation turns quickly to vampire movies, Jean Rollin, and that other guy whose name escapes me...he made Les Vampires Lesbos, or whatever it's called. Only last week I was in discussion with somebody about an idea I had for a sleazy vampire flick, but that idea kind of went out the window when this person rammed one of my flight cases through my front door at 3am. (Fender Performer Amp was in the case too). The cops were called by the neighbours....but lets wrap it up by saying, I wont be working with that mad cunt again. As it turns out, a friend of Al might be interested in my idea. Owns the cameras, editing suite etc. Lets see what happens.
Meet our old friend Jan in Solhear. Have a drink and relocate to the subterranean bar in the train station. Check out the Isabella Cabaret just around the corner. It’s actually a brothel, with one very big lady behind the counter, and seven or eight hookers lined up at the bar, chain smoking looking very bored. I'm in the wrong place.Back in Kriegstetten we play to a small but appreciative crowd, CD’s are sold, stories are told and so ends another day.
Fri 17 March Girlfingun......While waiting for a bus out of this strange little town, I suggest we grab a quick beer in Bosna Bar just across the road. We’ve got twenty minutes to kill so why not. In we walk , I order two beers and one coffee. All eyes are on the foreign boys. The lady behind the bar gives me one of those intense stares , she's got a razor sadness about her, but her stare says“ Don't fuck with me“ In her fifties, no spring chicken, she could have been a porn star in the seventies. The guys in the back room call a halt to their game of pool to come out and stare. It‘s going to be a LONG twenty minutes. The ice is soon broken by Dino, the fat guy in the corner. He shouts over to us in a language that's nether German nor English nor French. We soon realize that we’re in a Croat or Serb joint. Not sure which. Some folks are speaking Russian as Al goes over to introduce himself to Dino, all cheap tattoos, beer gut and a wide sweet smile. He hands me a plastic carrier bag laughing. Its full of porn DVD’s. All elaborate box sets, 20 hours of entertainment in each of the 5 boxes. Soon his brother, name unknown joins us. Dino is sort of out of it, starts shouting out "Elvis Presley, rock n roll“. ....“Shakin Stevens...not music“ We laugh and have to agree. It‘s soon time for our bus, so we split, having made some new friends.Later we play to a full room, sound is good.....ALL is good.
Sat 18 March. Switzerland....A long sleep in for me., eventually arising at 4pm. After returning from the shop Brian seems a bit freaked out. He tells me he met a guy downstairs who invited him into his apartment, then pulled out a huge knife. At first, the man who Liam Coade describes as the nicest guy in music was unsure if this lunatic wanted to kill him or sell him the knife. Insisting they drink whiskey together, the guy launches into a kick-boxing display. Eventually Brian made his getaway. Didn’t they tell him when he was a young lad not to talk to strangers !!
Al arrives back from a ramble so we drop in to what we now affectionately call Bosnia. The Slavic ice-queen even greets us with a smile. Before long we are joined at our table by a man of few words and many drinks. He’s from Croatia, is called Hans and wants a game of pool. I decline, but we shake hands and communicate in sign language. Hans is interested in the five silver rings on my fingers. He takes off his chunky lapis lazuli ring and hands it to me. I admire it and give it back. He orders beers for us, we repay with a whiskey for himself. A plate of sausages arrive curtsey of our Croatian friend, and strangely a plate of sliced tomatoes when he figures out there's a vegetarian at the table. Its all good fun, the regular customers, aware we are Irish (and NOT English) nod approvingly in our direction.
A fat man at the bar with a motley coloured bandana on his head is teaching his disinterested friend how to count in Italian, the Russian boys are arguing at the pool table as the mustachioed man at the table across from us starts on his sixth hard boiled egg.
The sound is the best so far, the gig rocking, and although its a small crowd for a Saturday night, it is by far, our best performance.
Sunday 19 March Taxi to Solothurn where we meet a man who speaks six languages fluently, and he can prove it. Of this he seems quite proud. He seems equally proud of his beautifully manicured nails, long and sharp as an arrow head, painted in a loud turquoise.
The train ride is uneventful, changing at Olten, then crossing the border into Germany and arriving twenty minutes late in Frieburg. Al and Brian continue on to Frankfurt airport to catch a plane home, I’ve got some solo acoustic gigs to attend to.
To meet me at the station, my old friends Mick Morrissey and Nicol Steiner. Grab something to eat , a quick drink and Nicol drives to Muchart (that's spelt wrong, as is a lot of what I'm writing....no spell check on this strange German lap top). Lie down for a while as it was an early start this morning, but images keep flashing across the flat-screen of my brain, cold sweat down my back, sleep is an illusion.Mick has a gig, so we drive for an hour or so to catch him do his show. Its in Egon 54, where I have a gig myself this night next week, so I get up to do a short set, seven songs I believe. Stomach in bad shape, Spanish brandy does the trick.
Monday 20 March Germany..........Rehearse with piano player Nicol, who will guest with me on the next five up-coming gigs. Have a few runs through the old song 'Million Miles Away‘ which has never been played live before. He‘s got ideas about a few other songs for either piano or organ. Mullheim doesn’t have much going on, so its back to this little country village of Muckhart, where the neighbours keep cows and sheep in the barn across the road. From the balcony I can see the young deer dart here and there. Have a walk with Mick in the Black Forest, making our way down the muddy track flanked by the majestic pine trees. I’ve got my expensive maroon patent leather western boots on. Not the ideal footwear for this place.On reaching a clearing, we find ourselves over-looking Sultzburg. Twilight is upon us. The birds tell us their goodnight stories. The once powerful river that created this deep valley, now little more than a stream. As we make our back through the forest, we get lost. Take a wrong turn or two, but eventually we get back to Nicols place.
Manage to get four hours sleep, spending most of the night reading Annabella Edge’s wonderful novel The Company which is based on the true story of the Batavia, flagship of the Dutch East India Company which foundered off western Australia in 1629. A very dark tale indeed.
Tuesday March 21 Muckhardt........Early rehearsal, trying to figure out which songs work with piano. I reckon Nicol will play on perhaps four songs leaving the rest of the set to me an my guitar. Its very good of Nicol to put up with me all this week. He has very little English and I don't have a word of German. Still, we communicate with the few words we have and a lot of gestures...the odd poke in the dictionary.
Out for a walk for a while, I write up this stuff, attend to emails, nibble at bread and cheese. It’s 2 pm as I write. I think we will watch a movie later, eat dinner, take it easy. Tomorrow is the start of five gigs in five days in five different towns. What adventures lie ahead ??
Thurs 23 March Played Kandern last night. Driving through the darkness, rain lashing down, cars and trucks hiss by at alarming speed. Past the blue lights of the filling stations, off the side roads. Past signs pointing to Frieburg, Lörrach, places I've played in a previous life.A good gig...a great gig. Just as I took the stage the audience burst into spontaneous applause, a great feeling. Obviously they remembered me from the last time. Nicol Steiner chickened out of playing piano with me. Being classically trained, he's not cool with my country turn-arounds. He says he'll play trumpet on a few songs...we'll see what happens. Because the reaction was so good last night, I ended up playing for an hour and a half. Value for money is a phrase that comes to mind. Breakfast is down the hatch....gotta run.....
10.30 finds Nicol and I rehearsing again, this time with my kind host and comrade on trumpet. Later, I'm on the 1.04 train from Müllheim to Freiburg, text messages bouncing across continental Europe from the Emerald Isle in a vain attempt to get not only tickets, but a plan of action vis a vis New York. Eventually it seems to be sorted. Wander around, viewing what's left of the centuries old buildings, the ones that escaped the vicious allied bombing campaign during the second world war. Eventually drop in to Atlantik, feeling a little world weary. A beer and food are in order as I take a seat near the Revenge From Mars pinball machine. Read a bit from my book.
Later I meet up with Mick in Jos Fritz Cafe over on Willehstrasse, where we played a gig a little less than a year ago. Get chatting to local musician/playwright Garrit. Re-locate to Egon 54, before being picked up by Nicol and on the road we go. The gig in Denzlingen is good, nice crowd. Meet my old friend Wolfgang, have a chat , hang out. Tonight, Nicol finds the courage to get up onstage and plays trumpet on Don't believe What They're saying and Million Miles Away, a song that has never been played live before.
FRI 24 March Our Volks Wagon Estate weaves it's way through the mountain range past Denzlingen. A snow-covered landscape engulfs us. We're in the middle of Christian Heartland here, there's no mistaking. Most of the farmhouses have specially constructed grotto's out front. Built like a bird house, roofed, but with a crucifix where you would expect to see sparrows, goldfinches and blackbirds share a communal meal. Nicol reckons the isolation and loneliness of life in such terrain creates a need for Jesus as a friend. If I lived up here I would seek solace in the mountains and the forest, Mama nature herself would give me peace of mind. A thirty minute walk down by the river would make anybody feel good about the world, but that's the pagan in me coming out. A dead Palestinian nailed to a cross, that's a fucking bundle of laughs !
Pedal to the metal, deep ravines, towering spires of rock, we drive past chaotic saw-mills, through the town of St. Peter with it's huge church, stopping at St Margen to consult the map. Banks of snow 10 feet tall either side of the road frozen hard as marble. Not a great place to crash a car. Moving down into the valley I can smell silage and I'm instantly transported to the Mayo of my youth a million miles away and seven lives ago. Dusk descends, and rounding a sharp corner we're confronted by four surreal pyramids, all lit-up against a sky of Prussian blue. Before long we're in Villingen. The gig is right beside the prison. Eat, perform, meet up with our host Marco. We had met before in Staufen two years ago. Chat to Hartmut, a man in love with Catherine, a lady of few words, a lady who possesses more than a passing resemblance to Princess Diana. After the gig we ramble off into the night. I'm eager to check out Cafe Limba, tomorrows venue. Arriving, it seems ideal. Limba certainly seems to be goverened by some sort of lunar law. Beelzebulb in all his glory, hanging out in the toilets, ready to sweep down on your piss stains. The great god Pan sitting at the bar, cloven hoofs dark as the grave, no need for high heeled cowboy boots. He's got grace, and I don't mean that grace the Xtians go on about, the one that supposedly comes through forgiveness and redemption. Fuck forgiveness. That's the message from the street.
I'm at home in Limba. Our genial and diminutive Sardinian host Mario (or Super Mario as he likes to be called) plies us with Rothaus, a local brew, shots of tequila and grappa, all on the house. Some people are dancing, others playing the shaky table-football game, but most just prop up the bar. A roomful of the dissolute, but danger is not on the menu. All and sundry are in good spirits, total strangers greet me like an old friend. Nobody brings anything small into a place like this.
SAT 25 March Villingen.....Had a late one last night. Arise for breakfast at midday, sharing orange juice, bread, cheese and a pot of tea with Nicol, Hardmut, Marco and his lady Jutte. We all go back to bed again for the afternoon.
By 4pm I'm on a solitary ramble around this mountain top town. Wonderful Gothic buildings sit side by side with modern shopping areas. The town walls are still in place, Watchtowers at the four cardinal points. I think I hear a choir sing in an unknown tongue.. Following my ear I reach a huge church, go inside and its like the 9 Choirs of Angels have accidentally left a door open in the Heavens. My legs are tired, I take a seat to rest. Such Gothic splendour for a Saturday afternoon choir practice. How much blood was spilt for the this ostentatious display of gold ? The air is heavy with frankincense. The stations of the cross make my stomach turn. On my way to the door there's a life-size sculpture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsename . His three disciples have nodded off to sleep. JC is deep in prayer pleading with an Angel who has appeared . What a useless God. He wouldn't even save his own son.
The gig a wonderful . A small room, and with standing room only, once all the furniture is thrown out. Great reaction from a listening audience. We end with Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" , Nicol blowing trumpet that transports me to Spanish deserts, Andalusia, riding a horse past a majestic white-washed bodega. Sell CD's , hang out and chat to people. Later there's a party to attend, more folks to meet.
SUN 26 March Villingen.....Long drive back to Staufen, drop off the P.A. onwards to Muckhardt. Write a song, mentioning Villingen and Muckhart. Don't have a title yet, but it;s a good one, a suitable sad ballad for a Sunday afternoon. Realizing I've been to the Black Forest area of Germany three times now, and have yet to sample any of their famous Black Forest cake. Drive to Mullheim, where a street festival is in full swing. Get the cake, wash it down with a beer....time for a nap. Shower, and off again, this time bound for Freiburg and tonight's gig at Egon 54, where I meet Frank and his buddies, many of whom were at my gig at Jos Fritz last year. Nice to see the guys again.
TUES 28 March Dublin...The sad news reaches me first thing in the morning. Nikki Sudden has died in New York. Only a few weeks ago he was here with me and Åsa, drinking, telling stories, having a great time and living up to his reputation as a great English eccentric rock 'n' roller. He made a big impression. Charmed everyone he met.I had organized his first Irish tour since 1989, and he had a ball, playing four gigs in five days, hooking up with old friends and making new ones along the way. His Dublin show was recorded, and the day before he set off for New York, we recorded a new song with Paul Thomas engineering. It's called either "Smoky Haze" or "Smoking in Dublin". A great, sad, world weary ballad. Nikki sang it wonderfully and played electric guitar, I played acoustic guitar and harmonica. We had already talked about some more Irish shows for the end of the summer. ..."stay forever beautiful..."Nikki Sudden July 19 1956 - March 26 2006 Rest In Peace.