Sunday, 29 September 2019

Underground in Eden

After a hard time getting through the screw ups before the British Airways flight to Prague we finally took off a couple of hours late.I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say the increasingly limited infra structure and reduced airline resources has not limited their greed and tendency to overbook flights while cutting staff and increasing fare prices.

We were met in Prague by Teresa, the promoters daughter and Jimmy her boy friend. What a delightful couple they are and great company. The time would soon come when they returned from Broumov to Prague and we would miss their interpretation skills. Russia was the language people were forced to speak until the regime was finished and so English is spoken mostly by young people.
John my tour manager and I were happy to arrive at our destination near the Polish border after a three hour drive.

stanislav dasha, our hosts, and me

We arrived at the home of our hosts and found ourselves in a lovely garden peopled by strange statues and a very well trained German Shepard, a dog called Franky, short for Frank Zappa, who is one of Stanislavs favourite musicians. Frank was very well thought of in the Czech Republic after the collapse of the Communist regime and was made minister of culture by president Vaclav Havel, the dissident who became Czech President. Stanislav was also a dissident who served his people and went to jail for doing so. Therefore the title Underground Club Eden has a much more relevant meaning than it might in other territories and the term underground and its dissident connotations, still resonates through the Czech society, even though the communist vote in the last election was almost 13 percent. Freedom from communist rule was hard won and is a reminder that freedom should not be taken for granted. 
Stan once invited Havel to a family dinner at a nearby restaurant. The president turned up with a full security and police escort. We watched a video of the event. 

Stan and Dasha's home has a small hotel facility on the upper floor and this is where we all stayed. My good friend Walter Krucker was already waiting for us. We had previously met in Slovenia when Walter arranged for me to play a FDPFAFDW gig. He had arranged this public show also. It was great to meet up again and we were to spend a few long hours in the night chatting and drinking cognac. Dasha spoke some German so Walter a native of Switzerland was able to facilitate some translations through Dasha with Stanislav.

Eden a musical and social paradise

We arrived on the friday and I played the festival at Club Eden on the Saturday. I was concerned before the show that while most of the audience did not speak English my lyrics are important and my stories supplement the songs. I need not have worried the audience was a delight. They were attentive and warm and gave me a very good reception. My encore was Evening Over Rooftops which most of them seemed to know. It was a great experience me for me. The other bands were an interesting mix of mostly underground based music and a very slick top of the bill in the form of ex Lou Reed bass player Fernando Saunders.
The club has a great industrial atmosphere. It was a factory. It retains the post regime vibe and has a wall of pride featuring Havel and others and a wall of shame featuring the despots of the world. It has a few relics from the struggle scattered around the place. For any one interested in modern history and music this is a must visit place. Both John and I are very interested in history so it was a treat to be there.

Below are some of the strange creatures in the garden I referred to earlier. I believe that they are made from materials found at Eden when it was a factory and during its transformation into a club.

abandoned church on a hill

Next day after the gig we visited an abandoned church on a hill near Stan and Dashas house where The band Plastic People of the Universe played. They were jailed during the regimes hold over Czech. It was sad to see the decaying building which will fall to pieces at some time in the future. Some of the ceiling looked decidedly dodgy as we climbed the stairs to the roof. Stanislav had obtained a digital translator which worked well providing we had a phone signal. We also began to use Google translation which worked quite well for a freebie.

In a nearby forest Stan showed us a cross which he had carried there to commemorate the murder of priests by Czech soldiers. Stan is an amazing character.
Later on in the afternoon Stan took John, Walter and me to a carp lake where we chucked in a couple of hooks buried in bread balls and waited as is the way with carp fishing. We didn't catch but that is ok. Its fishing not catching  Its not for me. I like the action involved with Lure fishing and the mobile approach. It was a lovely evening though and very peaceful by the silvery pool in sunshine.
Next day we said goodbye to Walter who was headed home to Vienna. I am sure we shall all meet up again for another episode.

The high light of our last day was a visit to the beautiful Benedictine monastery in Broumov. Stan's friend Jacob is a guide at the monastery and John and I were given an exclusive guide to the most beautiful ancient building I have ever seen. It is amazing that this edifice was built in the middle of a wilderness on a single road running through it. The chapel was destroyed by fire and entirely rebuilt in 8 years we seems impossible now, never mimd about back then.

The monastery is huge housing a massive library of books where we looked at ancient maps of Europe including the UK. John is very keen on geography and maps so he was thrilled. The monks were treated very badly by the Russian occupation but the Russians restored rooves to maintain some records which ironically saved much of the brick work below from collapse.
Jacob was so keen to tell us the salient facts in a fairly short time and was a very articulate guide. He speaks for or five languages and loves to practise his English. We met up again for dinner that night and he was very useful as a translator now that Walter had left. 

the abbot with the devil on a chain

So we came to the end of a wonderful trip and after some farewells and photos Stan drove us part way to the airport in Prague. Later we met with one of Stan's daughters and her husband who was to drive us the rest of the way. What a trip! I won't forget a moment. Thanks to Dasha for her kindness and excellent food and thanks to Stan for being a special human being.


Friday, 9 August 2019

Hi folks. Come along to the Half Moon in Putney, London on the 21st of this month. Take a break from the madness of living in the UK and join me in my madness. It’s a more entertaining experience and fun.  
New songs and stories from life. Folk songs for NOW. 
Come along and say hello. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Hi Folks

It’s been a while.
I have spent most of the last six months recording and writing. I think I am more than halfway through a new album. Long way to go though. 

I’ve also played some very enjoyable gigs. We just got back from Clam Rock in Linz, Austria. This was an extra ordinary setting in a castle grounds. Barracuda who promote the festival, provide the best back stage experience for artists I have ever seen. The half hour massage after my show was sublime. It’s nice to be spoiled a bit., once in a while.

Misprint. I hate it when a screw up is down to me. If it’s what I describe as external then I can live with it. The massive anxiety, that used to play a large part in my performing experience, abated over time as I have learned to accept what I can’t change. 
So this down to me. Some time ago I posted new gigs on the site. I mistakenly put the date of the Summer of Love fest in Kent as July 2nd when it should have read August 2nd. Sorry for that.

I intend to begin posting here on a regular basis very soon but I am very busy trying to finish recordings right now.

Take care. Be happy. 


Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Be safe and well and have a massively satisfying new year

Well here we are again. Almost the end of another year. The gigging year ended very nicely for me. A trip to Haugesund for the Haugaland Prog and Rock Festival in November turned out to be special. I did  a few songs with new friends Arabs in Aspic during their show, and I had a great time hanging out with them. It is likely we will collaborate on a recording project next year. It was nice to have the roar of a band behind me and I really had a great time during my solo set at he Record Fair on the following day. I bumped into many old friends and made a few new ones. John and I had a really good time and John has a high opinion of Norway and the people.

Last gig was at the famous Band on the wall venue in Manchester with Focus. I enjoy playing their gigs and I like their audience a lot. I seem to be able to connect with them although my music is very much of a contrast with Focus. It really helps that the band are very friendly as well as interesting.

Apart from this I have been recording and recording. I seem to have become quite obsessed with the entire process and I am pleased with it all. I guess I am almost half way through toward the finished product. Luke will be heading this way soon to help out with some vocals and orchestrations. Certainly writing posts here has taken a back seat to the recording but so has the fishing so you know I am very serious about my next release.


The winner of best caption for the cartoon above will receive a special mystery package in the new year containing a few goodies.
Please write your captions in the comments section below.

Have a fun holiday. Be safe and well and have a massively satisfying new year.


Friday, 5 October 2018

this is the life

I should first explain why I have been so long writing about the Basel adventure at Oli and Angelika's skate boarding park. When John and I returned I had to get back into recording. I am currently working on nine songs at this time and they are all in various states of completion. I'd had a small confidence dip. I love playing live and that is all going as planned but I began to worry about the details of the album taking shape.

Working on my own I had expected to find a few blank days along the way and a little self questioning is grist to the mill. Then some thing extra ordinary happened. I was working on a song called Eulia which is a combination of the word eulogy and the name Julia. I knew the song was important which is not a word I use with regard to my own material. Any way I had been listening to the song and others when I decided to turn the vocal up a good deal more than I usually would. I was astonished. Small imperfections in guitar parts disappeared and as I did this with all of the songs so, they all sounded much better. I was very pleased and all my doubts vanished.
People have commented that they could not distinguish words clearly enough in the past but I guarantee this will not be the case with these recordings.

So just before my annual, seriously obsessive fishing trip, I felt happy with all the hard work done on the recordings and I felt I deserved the coming adventure. All good. 
Dorset, South Devon and the Norfolk Broads were the venues for the best fishing ever. The trip was a mega fishing adventure with beautiful scenery and decent weather. It was blissful. So many high lights.There was time to write a new song and complete the lyric for another. This is the life.

John and I arrived in Basel on a warm late afternoon. It was unusual because I was to play on the same day we flew in which I dont usually do. We drove directly to the skate board park where I was to play for Oli and Angelika and their friends. It was Angelika's birthday.
The skate boarding park was built by Oli and Angelika and the skating community, on land provided by the local authority. There is a few years left on the lease deal after which they will move to another site, again provide by the local authority.
My first impression as we drove into the area was the warmth and friendliness of every one around. Some people were already skate boarding around the tracks and jumps. It was fascinating to me, as some one who has never been on a skate board, to see the ease with which they seemed to float around effortlessly with the odd unavoidable glitch.

After some wood fired pizza and some sparkling water I was ready for action and feeling good. The skate boarding park also housed a variety of small buildings and caravan like structures that reminded me of the recycled/upcycled dwellings John and I visited in Trondheim. Music floated out of one and some one was playing keyboards with a north African wind instrument. It was like a fragment of Free Town Chritiania, the community in Denmark. It was very nice to see a place for artists and others together in a great space. There was a small bar and some food was available in a couple of small cafe areas. As it grew dark the lights on the skate board park added a fiesta effect and the music playing for the skate boarders was very cool and appropriate for the activity. A great atmosphere, very nice people. I was very relaxed.

Angelika, yours truly and Oli

I was to use the PA system provided by a local punk band who were really hot and nice guys. They played before me in a container. I was astonished to hear how loud they played in a metal box and I pulled out wanting to protect and sustain my fairly good hearing after years of massive volumes of sound abuse.
Even more astonishing was how good it sounded outside.
I was ready. It felt a little strange at first but I got into my stride and had a great time. It ws so hot with every one packed into the container. Some one opened a side door and cool air rushed in. It was magical and I got lost in it all. I poured it all out and I was exhausted at the end. The bottle of cold water that John handed me at the end was like manna from heaven. It was a long way to go and I am always the guest of the best kind of hosts so I have to try very hard to touch people or it fails. Job done.

Oli dropped us off at our hotel after a couple of cognacs and after a well earned sleep we met up with Oli and Angelika who drove us to a superb family restaraunt just over the German border. We ate a fine lunch and then headed back into Switzerland to a magnificent Roman amphi theatre. 

amphi theater

The semi ruined structures have been cleverly restored and the ampi theatre is used for a variety of performances. Nearby there is a museum which depects how dwellings were laid out and it houses some extra ordinary artifacts and fine metal work in bronze, gold and silver. 

A very fine gold roman plate. probably 
a gift to a person of importance

It showed a good deal about the Roman way of life in very accessible way. We also looked inside a a nearby Roman baths. There was good information about the way the baths were used and who used them. It was a fascinating little tour. John and I are both interested in history and the landscape it lives in.

the roman baths

We'd had a great time. I'd enjoyed my gig and playing for my hosts. It was a great pleasure to meet Oli and Angelika. They are very cool people and are making a positive difference for folk while enjoying their sport. May they flourish. It was a strange and happy coincidence that our hosts in Norway were ski jumpers and our next hosts were skate boarders. Thank you Oli and Angelika for a very special time.


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

In Trondheim

On the 8th August my tour manager John and I checked into a hotel at Gatwick the evening before our flight to Trondheim in Norway via Oslo. We had intended to chill in the hotel, eat some dinner and sleep. We had only been in our rooms a while when we came to the conclusion that it might be cool to go for a drive rather than sit for a couple of hours in the Travel Lodge. Last year when we stayed at Gatwick, before a flight, we headed for Brighton where we had fish and chips on the beach. For a change I suggested we head for Devils Dyke not far from Brighton. This has many memories for me and was the site of a free EBB gig that landed us in court long a go.

devils dyke

We drove along the lumpy road that leads to a very ugly 60s built pub. It is a monstrosity which seems so out of place in the surrounding beauty of the landscape. John loves his geography so I knew he would be blown away by the huge expanse of chalk hills that rise up and then down abruptly to the valley below the hill we stood on. A skilled operator was showing off his drone which looked quite spectacular against the  fading light and dramatic vista. After the intense heat we had all been suffering from the wind was cold and so we left and headed back for dinner at the hotel.

The flight to Oslo was fairly uneventful though delayed but we made our connection for the flight to Trondheim. The waiting around and delays grow ever more irritating and debilitating so I won't bother recording the details here.  

The flight to Trondheim passed over some of the wild countryside I love and as we landed I felt already at home in my favourite foreign country. John had not been to Norway before and as always, he was devouring the sights and scenes with great relish. Our meeting at the airport was made extra special by the wonderful VW van that was to convey us to the Smeby home.

the edgar mobile

At this stage I want to tell you something about our hosts. Both Jostein and Helena Smeby were Ski Jumpers who competed in national and World championship events and at the Winter Olympics. This was very interesting for John and myself because John is an all round sport fan and I have always watched ski jumping in awe. It seems to me, to be a ludicrously beautiful and dangerous thing. Jostein, who has coached Helena, says he misses the rush and Helena is quite determined to make a return to to the sport.  Meanwhile Jostein is a teacher at a local school and is the leader in the band Arabs In Aspic. Helena is a lab technician at a nearby milk supplier. They have two of the happiest little kids I've ever seen. They are Wilma and Felix.

One of the special things about this trip was that we had been invited to stay for a few days. This is always special giving the opportunity to really engage with folk and get to know them. The next day was supposed to be about sightseeing or fishing but the rain poured down and we became more concerned about the concert in the garden which was to happen on the following day. I felt quite tired so a day lounging around in good company was  very welcome.

A succession of Jostein and Helena's friends came by and it was very convivial and very interesting. They all love 70s music and especially if it is on vinyl. A couple of the younger ones seemed to like some of the music since the 70s so that was cool.  At one point it seemed like every one had ski jumped or was ski jumping. One of the younger jumpers had named his son Edgar. I could never have jumped myself but I like the thought that there might be a ski jumping star of the future, named after me. I wish him health and happiness what ever he does.

After consuming considerable amounts of good cognac and good conversation on the previous evening and into the early hours, John and I cut back on the following evening before the day of the performance and retired a little bit earlier. The rain held off in the morning and by mid day in spite of the odd shower, the sun came out and it seemed we were set to have our gig in the garden as planned.

post performance

A pig was roasting and the garden was a hive of activity. Everyone was working flat out as they had been for many days planning and organising the event. After a sound check with Jostein at the mixer we were ready to roll. The weather stayed warm and bright and I played and sang my heart out. Simple as that. There was nothing left after one encore. The audience was as good as it gets. They understood me and that is the key. These people had only really known me through the EBB catalogue but they embraced the re invention with warmth and enthusiasm. Most importantly Jostein and Helena were very happy and satisfied so job done. Mission accomplished.

Later we all piled into transport to take us to down town Trondheim to a small club in a cellar where  Arabs in Aspic were to perform a free show as a rehearsal. Most of the equipment was set up when we arrived and Jostein set about getting his guitar gear together. Soon they were knocking out their contemporary version of 70s prog rock. The songs are sung in Norwegian as well as English. They have a tough core with tight arrangements and screaming keys with some great vintage style organ licks and impossibly high backing vocals. The drummer and the bass player have obviously been round and round their parts until they seem effortlessly smooth. The whole is not smooth. It has jagged peaks and fat blocky dynamic frequencies at the centre. The percussionist while new to the band has moments which are spell binding. With a little refinement it will be special and unusual.
Josteins guitar playing is unusual in that he rarely plays a double speed part. Actually I get very quickly tired of so much prog guitar that runs around at top speed with no emotional content what so ever. The guitar work is very studied, heavy and some times sweet and melodic and there is an emphasis on precision. This is true of the band in general but not to the exclusion of playing a bit loose in a good way. The lead vocals don't seem to be so importantly stated as the music but that works and the overall vocal delivery fits like a glove with the music.
In many ways their music would not usually be among my fave genres but the Arabs are not just another flabby prog covers band but are a well drilled outfit who love prog and believe in what they do. Back in the day I winced a bit when the term prog was mentioned in the same breath as the EBB. Having said that I can admire such commitment to a time and a vintage sound that stands up today, especially when so much hard work has gone into it all and it rocks. Arabs in Aspic rock.

It looks like we might be rocking together if plots and plans come together for a festival appearance in the winter where it is intended that I sing a couple of songs with them.

our captain

The next day we went on a boat trip to a little island that used to be a prison holding the more notoriously dangerous criminals. From the fort we could see where the old viking strongholds had been situated and why they were there. The rain fell a little on the way back but it was a pleasant change from the excessive heat of recent weeks. The buildings along what is essentially a canal are beautiful and protected by law. 

along the canal

After the boat ride we went on a guided tour of an alternative community in a largely industrial area. 

recycled housing

An old German submarine pen dominates the scene on the other side of the community by the water side. Most of the housing in the community is built from re cycled/ up cycled materials. There is a communal garden and a free shop where people take stuff no longer needed and others take it for their own use. There is a cycle repairer who fixes up and build bikes from bits and pieces. The local authority planned to trash the whole area including some old workers housing with a view to housing more industrial facilities. This was overturned and the community arose out of the decision. Can we have more of this please?

After some refreshment at the community pub we headed off to meet with Jostein for dinner at the top of the rotating restaurant that dominates the sky line a mile or so from Jostein and Helena's house. This was so cool watching the city go by as we ate. Eventually we could see the island we had visited by boat earlier. The light is special as the evening wears on. It never really gets dark in the summer unless it is very cloudy.

in the rotating restaurant

Julia is a Polish woman who is an accomplished artist. She had been visiting for the concert and is working on the sleeve design for the new Arabs live album She has made previous art works for Arabs records and is a good friend of Jostein and Helena. Julia was always asking John and me if we needed anything so often that she decided she would be our new "Mom". She was concerned when we told he she could have a day off and then we decided it would be Mothers Day so she could have a day off with a good conscience. It was all great fun. Late one night she began to tell John and I something of her life as a child in Poland and then she told us the story of her grandmother who survived Auschwitz. I have been working on a song and now I had a story which inspired a lyric. We discussed a series of paintings that Julia might make around the story and we both agreed we had provided each other with something to make as creators. Win - win! 

I mention this because this is an example of how travel and engaging with new people can bring great creative possibilities. I have a couple of ideas about re working some of Jostein and the bands work and if all of it comes together in any form this will have been a very productive as well as very satisfying adventure.
We had spent some great days with lovely and clever people. The kindness and hospitality shown to us by everyone was overwhelming at times. Of course our special thanks go to Jostein and Helena for inviting us into their home and for looking after us so well.

Helena, yours truly and Jostein

Arabs in Aspic are
Jostein Smeby: Songwriter/composer, guitarist, vocals and mixing
Eskil Nyhus: Drums
Stig Arve Jørgensen: Keys and vocals
Erik Paulsen: Bass and vocals
Alessandro Elide: Perc

Thanks to Julia for being Mom. Thanks for the boat trip to Boatowners: Thor Erik Larsen and the man with the lamp, logo and everything, Otto Johnsen.

Thanks for the great welcome at the airport with the man with the van local drummer and teacher Trond Bernhard Olsen, who is also the drummer for 5 local bands.

I look forward to the next episode of our adventure.

The Switzerland adventure post will follow in a day or so.