Thurs 5 Feb. Amsterdam….I arose at 7am, looked out the window. A thick fog fell over Göteborg. I had a shower a few hours before I hit the deck, but felt I needed another. No time. A quick cup of tea and slice of toast, bag packed from last night, it was time to roll. Minus 6 degrees outside. Took a tram to Central Station, then the half hour bus ride through the snow to Ländvetter Airport and I’m on my way.
Arrived into Brussels and had to walk for about 30 minutes through corridors, up escalators, down escalators, eventually finding the luggage area. Wrong information made me get off the train at the wrong place and I had to double back to the previous station, which was Brussels South. The train pulled out of the station past the red light area, ladies in bikini’s standing in windows looking for business. It was a long slow train ride to Antwerp. On a day like this all you need is a friendly smile or gesture to make things better, and today it came in from a helpful ticket inspector.
We stopped in Weerde, which isn’t weird at all, and a place called Duffle. Further down the line a few people got off in Mortsel. The name rang a bell in my sleepy brain. It took me a few minutes to realize I had played a gig in Mortsel a few years back. On arrival into Antwerp I realized I had a 40-minute stop over. It was time for a quick beer and a phone call. An eccentric old lady wanted to befriend me and beckoned me to join her at her table. I politely declined the offer, indicating I had to catch a train in five minutes, which was the truth.
I eventually got to Amsterdam at around 7pm, twelve hours after I had set out from home. A long day, and not a note played. The Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ ringing through my head. The aroma of dope, white widow weed, black Moroccan hash. Hookers, musicians, head-cases. Amsterdam, hussle and bustle, always an air of something about to happen here. But the conservative government are on everybody’s case these days and the vibe is changing, slowly but surely. Sound check in Mulligans was quick and painless. Lots of folks were talking about the festival in Deventer where I’m due to play on Friday. The gig was ok, sold some CD’s, met people I had met on my last visit back in 2007. Had a few late drinks with Miriam and Barry, and took a taxi to my bed of slumber.
Fri 6 Feb. Deventer…….Had a real long sleep in, as I needed it. Shower, no time for a breakfast, but still Barry showed me around his new recording studio. Maybe some day I’ll record here, who knows. Grabbed a fresh fruit juice drink from a stall in the nearby market and made my way down through Vijzelstraat, up to Munt Plein..Rolled into Deventer, remembering the station on arrival. Last few times I was here, I arrived by train, but the last time I play Burgerweeshuis I recall we arrived by rented station wagon. The glamour of it all ! I was under instructions to meet promoter Mark in De Hemel and this bar I found in a small square, dwarfed by a huge Renaissannce church. A few cool bookshops were in the area, but I had neither time nor inclination for shopping.
The bar was small, packed and smoky. Got myself a beer and got to work putting a new set list together. Within half and hour I was joined by Robin Hurt and Mick from the West Seventies. We talked shop and Mark arrived with a lady from Bord Failte, one of the festivals main sponsors. Darren Byrne arrived, as did Francie Conway, a man I haven’t seen in many a year. Beers were lined up and they were put down. Advice reached my ear. Time to go. I sound checked, had dinner with the local crew at Burgerweisshuis, framed pictures of The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Junior, and Culture gazing down upon us, acts who had previously graced the stage here.
Met a guy at the bar who instantly bought me a beer, although I already had one, and he chatted away. Told me how he was really looking forward to the gig, but later confided that he was a metal fan. That’s fine, I assured him, I like 1970’s reggae, Captain Beefheart, Northern Soul, Southern Soul, old school R n B, and Dark Ambient. Later, he told me he had spent a lot of time living in an insane asylum and was on heavy-duty medication. I told him that many of the musicians I’ve worked with in the past should be on heavy-duty medication.
Eventually I played the gig and sold some CD’s and scribbled my name on the booklets and got paid and I noticed fog had engulfed the square. The hotel was right next-door; a big wooden balcony over looked the foyer. An ideal location for a Hammer Horror movie. Back in De Hemel there was a sort of party atmosphere but everybody seemed the worst for wear. I ended up in Mark Gilligan’s hotel room with a jazz cigarette and Mark’s laptop doing what ever it was doing. I think he was checking emails; it’s all a bit vague. He needed to crash out so I wandered down the corridor trying to locate my room. Couldn’t find it, couldn’t remember the door number. My key was missing. Could Mark help me out ? Of course he could, only I couldn’t find his room either. They all looked the same. I was lost in a labyrinth of corridors, all white, grey carpet, 4 am, not a soul around. I sat on the steps, keyless and clueless and tried to figure it out. A futile exercise. Who was I kidding ? At reception I made a lot of noise and work up the night porter, who checked the log, found my room, opened the door. I thanked him kindly, in a very stoned gentlemanly fashion and fell into bed.
Sat 7 Feb. Brussels….The alarm woke me up, no time for a shower, no time for breakfast. No need to get dressed, I hadn’t bothered to undress. At reception I sat down to contemplate getting a taxi. I spied Phil from Newcastle, who had been at the Amsterdam gig on Thursday. He was checking out . Didn’t know he was in the same hotel, although I knew he was in town as we had met briefly last night. It was pissing down rain so we shared a taxi to the station. We had fifteen minutes to wait. Into the bar, I had a beer, Phil had tea…and he paid. On the train he chatted up some girl a third of his age and got off in some town I’d never heard of.
Around 5pm I arrived into Brussels Central Station. Blue skies overhead, not a cloud to be seen. Wasn’t sure what to do, I had time on my hands. Take a taxi to the venue or go for a ramble. I had no map and no idea if the venue was close by or miles across the city. Found a picturesque square, none of the sleaze one expects from the area around train stations. A lot of tourists, generally not a good sign, but a Greek Bar seemed ok, so in I went. A bunch of English tourists were leaving, so I had a beer. Got chatting to the friendly bar lady, a native of Athens. She knew Café Dada well, and was a regular. Told me it was just across the square, a short walk, and she drew me a map on the back of a beer mat. I think I might have crossed Grote Markt, but I found the place somehow.
I met with Veronique who’s in charge. Dimitree, the guy who booked me is in rehab, but apparently he’s going to be fine. Not many people are there, and there’s no hurry with sound check. I’m sharing the bill with Shaman Festival. While they were setting up I nipped around the corner to De Dolle Moll. Had a few beers, watched youtube which they had hooked up to the stereo and the bar man was Djing using youtube as his collection. Good stuff too, surf, the Kinks, the Stones. A Hope Sandoval look-alike bounced down the stairs and the jukebox in my brain flips on Van singing “Jackie Wilson Said.” I had another beer.Back at Café Dada I played my set. The place was packed, and after a few songs the guitar was feeding back big time, but I used this to my advantage, coaxing more feedback to end songs, the instrument vibrating violently as I rammed it into the front of house stage left. The crowd seemed to like me. Inneke had driven down from Antwerp and gave me a copy of her great new album. We had a chat and the joint was rockin' and later Veronique took me by taxi to her flat. We shard a beer and a smoke and I was convinced there was more people present, but she insisted it was just us two. Those spirits are following me again !
Sun 8 Feb Amsterdam…On arrival into Amsterdam Central I grabbed a bowl of pasta from the subterranean whole food emporium. Washed it down with water. Badly in need of a drink, I took a taxi to Monumentje, located at Westerstraat 120. I’d never been here before, but had heard really good reports. Bar lady Annelie is pleasant, polite and cool all rolled into one. She kept the small little glasses of Dutch beer coming steadily until the grating edges of reality were nicely sculpted into a more acceptable form.
Proprietor Harry is a gentleman and soon its showtime. I really enjoyed the gig and everybody seemed to have a good time. Lots of presents were thrust into my hands afterwards. Dinner was fish with steamed vegetable in a nearby restaurant. With Harry, I went back to the bar for a while, met some good people, and eventually checked into my Hotel. Can’t remember what it was called, I fell into a light sleep, waking up every 10 minutes, crazy dreams, sweat running down my legs.
Mon 9 Feb Tilburg….Got my gear sorted out, made my exit. A final glance out the window brought on vertigo. I wasn’t in the mood for dragging my bag and guitar around Amsterdam in the rain, so I made straight for the station and got the train. The journey to Tilburg was uneventful, the Hotel right across the road from the station. Checked in, had a drink. Took a badly needed shower and nodded off. A ramble around town was a fruitless experience. Down along Langestraat and up through Schouwburgring, there’s not much going on. Folks out shopping. I phoned Åsa and Freja, went back to the hotel, grabbed some more sleep to make up for lost time.
Down at the Paradox club I met up with Sabine, who is responsible for me being here. Last time I played Paradox was with the band about a year ago, although I thought it was 2 years, but Sabine sets me straight on the dates. Her daughter has baked some biscuits for me and they taste great. As does the Indonesian buffet. Various other presents come my way and I enjoyed the gig. Good sound, good vibe and the night is still young. Will was there and Bartho too. Afterwards Sabine insisted I get the acoustic out and do a few songs while 5 or 6 of us hung out around the bar. So I sang some songs and good times were had and I felt at home, although I was a long way from home. Hopefully I’ll be back someday
Tues 9 Feb Gent…A glass of orange juice, three cups of tea, a boiled egg and a slice of bread made for an ideal breakfast. I was ready for the road, back down to Belgium and tonight’s gig at Kinky Star in Gent. I had to change in Roosendaal. The rain had turned to sleet and it was bitter cold. I nearly missed my connecting train, as there was some last minute misinformation. Arrived into Gent with the rain easing off a bit. Got down to the club in Vlasmarkt where I met Luc and crew.I found an intriguing jewellery store, a lot of Asian, Tibetan as well as Celtic merchandise. But they were closed. Thought I could shelter from the rain a bit, maybe buy something with my hard earned cash. Instead I had to settle for a nearby bar. The TV Jukebox played a lot of dodgy Eurodisco, the worst of the late 70’s and early 80’s, some imported from the states. Occasionally something interesting would come up, like Gwen McCrea or Chake Khan. Then Sinatra came on doing ‘My Way. A guy at the end of the bar decided to buy a drink for everybody in the room. I wasn’t going anywhere. The barman explained the situation. A common occurrence apparently. Framed posters of Belgian star Andre Hazes are all over the walls. The barman is a big fan and proves it by putting on a DVD of Hazes. A bell rings, another round of drinks from the happy man at the end of the bar.
Later I find myself over near St Bavo’s Cathedral and the spooky gothic streets that surround the music school. Sexy vampires lurk in the doorways. One looks just like Ingrid Pitt circa 1973, another like Yutte Stensgaard. I could have sworn I saw Mary and Madeleine Collinson run across the courtyard in white nightgowns.I has time for a lie down before dinner, then sound check, then a while sipping bottled beers in the dressing room chatting to crew. The gig was an enjoyable affair, photos were taken, cd’s sold and back at Luc’s place we stayed up late drinking vodka and chatting about films and music. King Automatic gets a spin on the turntable. This French rocker recently had a successful show in Kinky Star. Everybody’s been talking about him. Luc tells me I should have my own radio show and suggests I look into getting set up for a podcast. Maybe I will.In the morning we had breakfast under the shadow of Luc’s mountainous record collection. He kindly drove me to the station and then he was off to the studio to work on his new album. I had the rather tedious chore of making my way to Brussels via Antwerp and catching the flight to Göteborg where snow and bitter cold greeted me at Landvetter.