recorded music as an advert for gigs – the death of an artform?

This post started out as a response on the stevelawson.net forum to a comment from lovely Tom who said, “Perhaps the last few decades have been an anomaly and we will go back to live concerts being the mainstay of the music industry”

To which I responded thusly (i’m cross-posting it here, because the notion that records can be given away by all musicians as a way of publicising gigs has become the standard answer to why file-sharing is ‘great!’, even though that’s not what Tom – a vinyl junkie and great supporter of musicians – meant)


Steely Dan would be screwed then… no more Peter Gabriel or Blue Nile albums, no more records that take 3 years of writing and experimentation to come up with…

I think the thing that is being missed here is that recorded music is already an ‘advert’ for live music! And vice versa. A lot of times, the only money I make on a gig is CD money. Take that away, and I don’t make anything. The idea that we’re moving back to a live music economy would be just fine if there was a commensurate shift in the way venues viewed music, but the vast majority of gigging opportunities in cities are about selling beer. So the musicians are in the bar area (or at least ‘a’ bar area), playing to people who are drinking and talking, aren’t paid to be there, and get to do 30 mins max because the higher turnover of musicians means that each of them bring friends along who drink… So the bar makes a few hundred (or a few thousand, in some cases) quid, and pays nothing (and then complains that the PRS are robbing bastards because they charge them a licence for broadcasting music – hah!)

The way that musicians make money is fragmented already – I get paid for gigs, I get paid for CDs, I get paid for teaching, for masterclasses and clinics, occasionally for session work (live or studio, though most of my live work outside of my own music is pro bono for friends), royalties for live performance and radio airplay (thank God for the BBC/PRS) and very occasionally for writing about music. I’ve made money on t-shirts before now (not much), and i’ve received a fair amount of payment in kind from music equipment manufacturers, but precious little towards keeping a roof over my head…

In any one year those levels change throughout the year. This year has been a lot about gigs, music gear demos (did a fair bit for looperlative earlier in the year in Italy and Germany), and so far, not much about music sales (the Calamateur Vs. Steve Lawson album has sold a few copies, but certainly nothing to compare with a ‘proper’ CD release, sadly…)

The beauty of the music scene is its breadth – there are people who are all about the gigs, and people who are all about the studio creations, there are bands who manage to come up with an image and brand that means they make literally thousands a night on merch and live off that money (the Stourbridge scene of the late 80s/early 90s).

If recorded music just becomes an advert for gigs, it will not only be the death of an income stream for musicians, it’ll mean the death of an artform, as album-as-work-of-art become album-as-advert. (whoever heard of a 30 minute ambient advert?) As a synonym, imagine what it would mean for world cinema if all films were given away for free, and paid for by product placement and TV-style ad-breaks?

I seriously want to do more gigs, play more live music, and I would indeed be happy to spend my life just playing live and releasing documents of that process. At least, at the moment I would, because all my albums are essentially live anyway. But there are LOADS of great artists whose contribution to the artistic quilt is their remarkable skill in the studio, a skill that requires time, and money and expertise and training and years of trial and error. All of which need to be paid for somehow, and won’t happen if they are playing 250 nights a year in order to make some dough…

[blog-only addendum]

it’s funny how in the course of the discussion some people look forward to a golden age when all musicians are paid via some kind of music license (Gerd Leonhard et al), despite it meaning that there are going to yet again be middle men creaming it off – interesting that Gerd talks about this being a way for artists to get remunerated directly, but hasn’t yet mentioned the need for a multi-billion dollar intermediary such as google, yahoo, news corps etc…. unless he’s suggesting the setting up of a global non-profit organisation whose sole purpose is to make sure that the new music license (which lots of people will see as a tax) gets distributed fairly… meanwhile, the musicians at the very end of the long tail will just drop off…

One possible scenario that scares me is that we see a ‘mainstream’ licensing scheme, so you can get all the James Blunt you want as part of that license, but running along side it is a sub culture of ‘art music’ performers and recording artists, who still charge, and who operate within a community of arts patrons. To some extent it’s already happening (I’m guessing that people who buy my CDs and downloads, either here or at gigs, do so with a very different sense of investment in what’s going on that even those who by a David Sylvian, Bill Frisell or Blue Nile record in HMV), but the idea of such a schism is unappealing purely due to the implied elitism of the mainstream/art-music split – I don’t really want to be part of some elitist musical world, but I REALLY don’t want to be told by ‘the market’ that need to play shorter snappier tunes, and maybe start singing, in order for my music to connect with an audience fast enough for them to ‘get it’ and come and see me live…

The thinking goes on…

Loop-Fests and non-music-specific music communities

It’s Loop Fest season again – firstly the daddy of them all, the Y2KLoopFest in Santa Cruz (Y2K7 this year). But this year, Andy Butler is doing a low-key thing in Norwich, which looks like fun. There have been others in Germany and other places in the states – generally smaller affairs, but seemingly most enjoyable.

Rick Walker, the organiser of the Santa Cruz fest, has done an amazing job of turning it into An Event – taking what was originally a way for he and I to do a show in Santa Cruz back in 2000 (with Michael Manring, Max Valentino, Scott Drengen and another guy who’s name completely escapes me, sadly…) and turning it into an annual event that this year has big name headliners in the form of Arild Andersen and Henry Kaiser.

A lot of the momentum for this came out of the rather-wonderful-and-at-times-all-too-serious Looper’s Delight community; a mailing list of people using looping in their music. Lots of great friendships have come from the list, and some fab collaborations (for me, I doubt I’d ever have played in California outside of the NAMM show if it wasn’t for the connection with Rick, and I also met the fabulous Luca Formentini on there too, with whom I’ve recorded a duet album that should be out some time next year).

I’ve always been a little uneasy about the idea that looping is its own genre – it clearly isn’t, any more than ‘repetitive music’ is a genre, or ‘german music’ or ‘music by freakishly tall people’. It has certain characteristics, but those are more to do with the limitations in the imagination of the user rather than any stylistic quality inbuilt in the technology. (though, thanks to the ever-wonderful Robert Fripp’s role as part-pioneer part-populariser of looping as a performance medium, a HUGE number of the loopers around are guitarists doing soundscapes, to varying degrees of success)

But that’s no bad thing – what Rick understood years ago is that audiences like a peg to hang their hat on – it doesn’t matter if it’s a loop fest or an acoustic music fest or a celebration of the music of italy or an electronic music fest – it gives the person marketing it an angle. My own hyper-sensitivity to being pigeonholed means that I bristle at the idea that what I do is defined by the technology, or that there’s some style attached to the instrument (as though solo bass is also a style or genre), but for the audience, it’s just an in road, an opening, a narrowing of focus that allows them engage with what we do, and crucially gives the media something to grab hold of.

Rick has managed to get press coverage for some pretty esoteric music, and even get the clearly-mad-mayor-of-Santa-Cruz to declare each festival day as ‘international live looping day’ (I have a mayoral proclamation hanging on my wall from the inaugural one, that most people think is some kind of weird ironic home-made christmas present. :o)

The point being, these are good things. The role of the curator is to make sure that whatever weird set of assumptions people come to these events with, the music they hear is great. There’s no such style as ‘loop music’ but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put together a coherent program of excellent music featuring looping musicians. The line up at Rick’s fests has gone from being a bunch of bassists who loop at the first one, though a period when it was largely about loopists getting together to ogle each other’s gear, to a place where he’s booking internationally known musicians (albeit from pretty esoteric scenes) for a festival of quality music. Hat’s off to his tenacity, long may it continue.

As I said a couple of weeks ago here looping is no longer a gimmick that will cover the lameness of your music but it can still work as a hook to get people through the door to hear great music.

BTW, It’s also Bass-fest season, though thus far, for the first time in years, I’ve not been invited to play at any of them… we’ll see if that changes, but it might make a nice change to be doing normal gigs at this time of year rather than playing to rooms full of bassists… They are generally enjoyable events, though meeting the people involved is mostly more interesting that listening to a lot of the music…

Putting on gigs

I got an email today via last.fm from a lovely chap who saw me play at the Spitz a few weeks ago, and is wanting to bring over a band from Germany, and was looking for some tips on putting on gig. I got on a bit of a roll with the advice, and so thought I’d copy it over here as the ideas are pretty much applicable across the board. And, in reading them, you can see why house concerts are the way to go – minimal overheads, built in marketing network, bespoke venue, and great place to form cool relationships with your audience (assuming that, like me, you find meeting the lovely people who connect with what you do as interesting as playing it to them).

Anyway, here’s the letter…


Putting on gigs is tough, as it’s affected by so many variables. obviously your first thing to add up is how much it’s going to cost in absolute terms – so that includes all travel, accomodation, fees, equipment rental, additional staff needed and venue costs. Obviously, the smaller the band, the more chance you’ve got of keeping those costs down. Anything with a drummer becomes exponentially more complicated, due to the need for a much more complex sound system, and larger stage area in the venue. Travel from mainland Europe to here can be very expensive too, especially if the musicians are bringing instruments – consider the hand baggage and checked baggage limits on the airlines being considered when you’re looking at costs.

Once you’ve looked into that, you need to find a suitable venue. There are some venues that can be had for free – often they are the back room in a pub – but they rarely come with their own PA, and very rarely ever have any kind of built in audience or promotion channel/ticketing mechanism.

As an example, the Recycle Collective is run as cheaply as possible – over time i’ve built up a relationship with the owner of the venue, Darbucka, who now lets me book pretty much whatever I want – at least partly because I have a polite sit-down wine-drinkin’ food-eatin’ audience, who spend way more per head than club-night patrons do. I own a PA that works for what I book (there is one in the venue, I just don’t like it), and I book musicians who are either a) local or b) already on tour. I promise them no guarantee in advance, but split all money equally amongst the performers, minus tangible expenses like congestion charge… For this reason, almost all the musicians I ever book live in London, have their own gear and transport (if someone is getting a taxi each way to the gig, that’s probably going to eat up half of what we’ll make on the gig!)

The alternative is to find a night that already exists and will book them – like the Arctic Circle night that booked Hauschka and Max Richta – while I hadn’t heard of either of them, they clearly have a substantial following that Ben was able to tap into and put on an amazing night, but again, his events have a history and a certain level of ‘regular clientele’ – it’s really tough to put a gig on that makes money without that.

As a bench mark for some of the potential costs involved, 5000 A6 double-sided colour flyers costs about £80-£90 – you might be able to split the cost of that with the band’s record label if you put an ad for their latest album on the other side – you then need to get those distributed, either in bars/clubs/restaurants that have flyers available, or by standing outside targeted gigs, giving them out to people who will hopefully be interested.

Contacting the press is also tricky if you have no pedigree – I’ve finally started getting good write-ups in Time Out after years of them being largely indifferent to what I did, but I think it’s because someone who was already a fan of mine is now handling the jazz listings there.

So who to talk to? Ben Eshmade, for sure. Might also be worth approaching The Vortex in Dalston – they might be interested in helping out. And any other venues where you’ve seen similar gigs – Notting Hill Arts Centre, the Arts Depot, Cargo, The Bill Chill House, possibly the Regal Rooms in Hammersmith…

Bottom line, you can never do too much research, but make sure that you’re not promising something you can’t deliver on – in my head I cut in half the projected audience that anyone says they can bring in if they are putting on a show featuring me – people who like my music always overestimate how interested the general public will be in what I do… They do tend to love it when they get to hear it, but trying to get people out to gigs by people they’ve not heard of before is REALLY difficult.

Tour update… finally!

Right, we’re now in Amsterdam, staying with the marvellous and wonderful John Lester for a couple of days, between the Germany gigs and the Denmark masterclass…

Where did we leave it last time? On the train to Madrid… OK, Madrid – what a great city! I’ve not been to Spain since I was 17, and last time was to a little holiday resort on the South Coast where we went to english-run pubs and sat on the beach, so not really much of Spain was seen. So this was my first proper trip. Madrid’s gorgeous – we were in a hotel right in the middle (thanks to the wonders of Priceline.co.uk), so had ample opportunity to explore.

The first gig however, did not go well – it was booked at the very last minute (actually, it was booked, cancelled, and finally rebooked on another day at the last minute) and the venue hadn’t really told anyone about us being there… so no-one showed. Yup, no-one. A gig for the people who worked there. Who enjoyed it. But that really doesn’t pay the bills. Anyway, it was a good warm-up, and thankfully, the second gig was pretty full, very much appreciated, we played well, sold a load of CDs, and all was well. We’ll be back in Spain, again with the wonderful Charlie Moreno (whose set was excellent), in October… Got a bit of a shock when I had to send out all my CD orders from Spain – international postage rates from Spain are nuts! Note to self – never try and run a mail order business from Spain…

After that it was back to Geneva to see the lovely Paul and Rachel again for a couple of days, then onto Magdeburg, where L had organised a gig through some friends of hers – the marvellous blokes of Studio 201, who were fantastic hosts, great fun, and exemplify the concept of ‘work hard, party hard’ like nobody I’ve ever met before. Deadly serious about having fun, as Michael Franti might say. Anyway, the gig was at UrBar, a very cool music bar/venue in the gorgeous city of Magdeburg, and much fun was had, CDs sold, and plans for a return made. Favourite thing about Magdeburg was Green Citadel, designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser – definitely in my top 5 wishlist of places to live one day!

From Magdeburg it was to Kleve and a return trip for me to the truly marvellous XOX Theatre – I played there last October, and it was such a treat to go back and take L. with me. I did the first set solo (including a massively extended improv on the end of Amo Amatis Amare – will be doing that one again!) and then L joined me for the second set, which went amazingly well – once again lots of CDs sold, and amazingly for me (cos I hate the damn things) we did two encores, the second one being a very impromptu version of Stand By Me (!!)

So some fab gigs, lots of lovely people, a whole mix of languages (French being the most comfortable, my German was coming back after 4 days there, Italian I’m still working on, Spanish was pretty much a right-off, given that the Spanish L. learnt at school was Mexican Spanish which is very different from Madrid Spanish, and now dutch where I know how to say please, thankyou and byeee!)

And tomorrow we head to Denmark for a couple of days… We’re racking up the miles, and definitely getting the most from our interrail tickets, watching a lot of films on the laptop on the train (I’d forgotten just what a great film The Hudsucker Proxy is!!)

So, films watched so far – The aforementioned Hudsucker Proxy, Withnail and I, Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire, Peep Show series 1, Wedding Singer, Dodgeball, The Life Aquatic and Jump London.

MamaYo gig




MamaYo live in London

Originally uploaded by solobasssteve.

Went to a fab gig this evening – MamaYo at Jerusalem, on Rathbone Place in London. Cool venue. Had arranged to meet Yo and Miles before the gig, but thanks to their phone being on vibrate and in the wrong pocket it took 20 minutes to find them… Anyway, once I did, dinner was had, and then back to the venue. I very much doubt there are two nicer people on the planet – both utterly lovely, and as tonight’s gig more than ably proved, awesome musicians. Yolanda is without doubt one of the best funk bassists in the country. That she’s now getting to grips with playing like that AND singing at the same time is too much. Tonight’s gig was a trio gig – they were a quartet last time I saw them play in Manchester at Bass Day, but I think I prefer the more open trio sound – all three are such great players that it just gives everyone more room to shine.

Anyway, a fab night. In fact, my second fab night out in a row, cos last night was Seth Horan at which a very, er, ‘select’ audience were treated to some amazing playing and singing from the man himself. Seth’s definitely one of my favourite bassist/singers, and deserved a bigger crowd (don’t we all), but put on a great show, as did his guitar monkey for the evening, Peter Fisher – a really talent germany guitarist. Very nice to see Seth as always, and looking forward to seeing him again at NAMM in January.

Those of you that missed it, shame on you! Make sure you go see him next time he’s in London…

Here's the press release for this month's Recycle gig… don't miss it!

1/11/06 Press release – Recycle Collective first
anniversary special, featuring Cleveland Watkiss,
Huw Warren and Steve Lawson

This November is the first anniversary of the beginning of the Recycle Collective. In the last 12 months, we’ve played host to some of the finest improvising musicians in the UK and beyond, and had many memorable nights of beautiful unique music.

Our first anniversary boasts another stunning line-up as solo bassist and Recycle Collective curator Steve Lawson is joined by singer/beatboxer/MC Cleveland
Watkiss and pianist Huw Warren.

Both Cleveland and Huw have been mainstays on the UK jazz scene for almost 20 years, celebrated for their inventive compositions and stunning improvisational ability. Cleveland’s recent focus on solo voice and live looping performances has added yet another layer to an already multifaceted career, ranging from jazz to opera, hip-hop to ambient electronica. Without doubt one of the most talented and versatile vocalists the UK has ever produced.

Huw Warren’s skills are equally diverse – whether free improvising with german double bassist Peter Herbert, playing Hymns from the Welsh Revival with Lleuwen Steffan, or writing music for the Scottish and Welsh Chamber Orchestras, through to accompanying singers June Tabor and Christine Tobin, he’s renowned for always playing the right thing at the right time. Effortlessly tasteful and prodigiously gifted, Huw’s presence at the Recycle Collective is very warmly anticipated.

Fresh back from a solo tour of Italy and Germany, Steve Lawson has steered the Recycle Collective to being one of London’s finest monthly live music events. Combining his own looped and layered bass work with the contributions of myriad fellow recyclists.

So come, bring friends, and be prepared for amazing music, special guests and a night of musical surprises in the perfect surroundings of Darbucka World Music Bar.

Date – Nov 15th Time – doors 7pm, music 8pm
Venue – Darbucka World Music Bar, Clerkenwell, London, EC1 4JZ
Nearest Tube – Farringdon
Tickets – £7/£5 concessions.

www.stevelawson.net www.clevelandwatkiss.com www.huwwarren.com
www.recyclecollective.com

Home now

Home now, after a very easy trip indeed – lunch in Roosendaal station, met a very lovely Horn player on the train from Roosendaal to Brussels called Helen MacDougall (my record on meeting lovely people on trains on this trip has been outstanding, smoking losers in Germany and Switzerland notwithstanding). Eurostar doesn’t take long, so home late afternoon. And it’s good to be home! Oh yes, knowing that I don’t have to drag two basses around on my back, towing a suitcase and a rolling rack behind me.

All in, a great tour. A GREAT tour. Loads of great gigs with fantastic people in great venues. A load of great new friends, and some old friends reacquainted. The train thing really worked, though I learned a couple of lessons for next time –

1) get an all-europe pass whatever, it’ll make life much easier
2) book any long distance journeys as far in advance as possible (just book the seat anyway, cos even if you cancel, it’s only going to cost you a couple of quid to make the booking…
3) I’m going to find a way to get all my stuff into one bigger bag, rather than two smaller ones.

Beyond those, it was perfect, and all being well, I’ll be back touring in Europe in March, so if you’re anywhere in the general European area (basically anywhere between Turkey, in the south, Poland in the east, Finland in the North and Portugal in the west) and want to book me, or know a venue I could play, drop me a line!

My next gig is on Friday in South Wales, so I’ve got a couple of days of chilling and recouping before that…

Euroblog #932

Home stretch! I’m on the train from Nijmegen to Rosendaal in Holland, having played in Kleve in Germany last night. The Kleve experience was one I won’t forget for a while…

So yesterday morning, the morning after European Bass Day, had breakfast with all the bass peoples who were at Bass Day, in the hotel, then got a lift down to Krefeld Haupt BanHof, (that’s train station to you), and got the train to Kleve. For some stupid reason I’d left it til that morning to email the owner of the theatre I was playing in, but I sent him my phone number and the email address that goes straight to my phone, and thought that the worst case scenario was that I’d end up meeting him at the venue when he got there to set up. I had the map from the venue website to be able to find the place, and was happy to have a look round Kleve and check into a hotel in the afternoon.

I get to Kleve, find a town map outside the station, and set off in the direction of the venue. I walk for about 5 minutes and a car pulls up alongside and asks me in German if I want any help. I answer in English, and the driver then guesses that I’m doing the concert at the theatre, as she’d read about it in the paper that morning (a very good sign), it turns out she knows the guy who owns it and his family, and offers to give me a lift first to the theatre, and then to the house of the owner when there’s no-one there! As a general rule, I don’t advise getting into stranger’s cars, but Oopie (I’m assuming that’s how it’s spelt) clearly did know the theatre people, and the Serendipity of the situation seemed way too go to pass up… Thank God for slightly nuts people in small-town Germany who are willing to stop and help lost looking musicians!

So we go the house of the theatre owner, Wolfgang, he’s not there, but his family take v. good care of me, speak excellent english, and prove to be utterly delightful, interesting, funny and wonderful people – just the kind of people that would make all of this worthwhile even if I didn’t enjoy the music. That I get to play music I love and meet people like this makes me a most happy and lucky bunny.

Wolfgang arrives, matches his family for friendliness and all-round wonderfulness, and we head down to the venue – xox theatre (xox is actually a word, not just X O X, which I thought it was… xox, pronounced like ‘socks’ with an x in front, was a biscuit manufacturer, and the theatre is on the top floor of the old converted factory.) It’s a gorgeous little theatre, with great lighting and 99 raked seats. Just perfect for a StevieGig.

The house PA proves most satisfactory, and I set up and soundcheck with tonnes of time to spare, and meet Theo from MySpace, the guy who set all this up in the first place.

The gig itself was pretty small (the big problem with being on the road is that’s pretty tough to keep track of all the promo stuff for each gig, and make sure everyone has everything they need), but the people there were hugely generous in their appreciation for the music, I sold a lot of CDs (on this tour I sold out of all the copies of both Behind Every Word and Grace And Gratitude that I bought with me, and have only a couple of the other two left each!), and met a whole host of utterly delightful people. Is there anyone horrible in Kleve, or are you interviewed to measure you general niceness level before moving in? All in, one of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve had in a long time, and the theatre want to book me again early next year and do it again with a bigger build-up. What fun!

So I’m back on the train, heading home, via Brussels and the Eurostar, looking forward to a couple of days off before my gig in Wales on Friday. Time to regroup, send out the CD orders that have come in online while I’ve been on tour, sleep A LOT catch up on all the teaching-related email that I’ve neglected, and generally relax.

But, barring some kind of utter disaster today, this training-it round Europe thing is definitely the way to go. Book a month of gigs at a time, fill in off-nights with as much fun as possible, the more gigs you do, the cheaper the travel works out per-gig, you can play in Italy one night and Portugal the next , and all it’ll cost you is the food on the train and a cheap hotel if you don’t have someone to stay with… I can’t understand why the trains of Europe aren’t chock full of musicians on tour!

So who wants to help book a gig in Europe in March? :o)

Euroblog #7

Euroblog 7

Right, lesson #1 from all this has been to get the complete Europass whatever you’re doing. OK, so it costs about £100 more, but it gives you way more options, and stops you getting stung the way I have been just now.

Having bought my tickets in Venice on Thursday, on the train just now, I discovered that all the woman had done was reserve the seats for me, and charge me a booking fee, not actually sell me the sodding tickets! She’s listed them as though I had a pass for the whole of Europe, rather than one that doesn’t cover Switzerland and Germany. so I’ve just been stung for another $50 for the Swiss bit of the journey. I think the same is likely to happen in Germany too… eeek. I mean, it’s not going to break the bank, but it’s a total pain in the arse to have been sold the wrong tickets. I think I might go into the Rail Europe offices in London when I get back and complain – it’s not that I would have minded paying the extra – indeed, I was surprised when she told me the price of the tickets from Milan to Amsterdam via Switzerland and Germany – but the hassle of being sold one lot of stuff, then finding out that it’s not valid is just nonsense.

Other than that, it’s all going fine. I’m on train two out of a five train series – this one’s a local Swiss train, from Arth to Olten, and then I change and get on a train to Mannheim, then to Koln, and thence to Amsterdam. It’s funny, traveling on trains takes a lot longer, but is way less tiring than flying. I’m much more relaxed, can get up and wander around, and can watch some of the most beautiful scenery in the world whistle past the window, safe in the knowledge that my eco-monkey credentials are improving by the second. Also got to meet a couple of lovely americans from Portland Oregon, on their way home after a trip round Italy – always nice to meet fellow travellers, have a chat and move on. It’s great the way orbits intersect like this on the road. Sometimes they cross and merge, as with Luca and I, where we end up working together for years to come. Other times, it’s just a 20 minute chat on a train or plane and away you go.

Current Listening – Tollak, Walk This World – he’s the harp-monkey from EuroBassDay, and this record of his is lovely. It’s kind of classic singer/songwriter stuff, in the big emotional 80s songwriter vein, with a fairly major chunk of Beatles harmony.

Update – now on the train from Olten to Mannheim – I think I managed to flummox the ticket inspector with the number of bits of paper I thrust at her – my inter rail pass, my swiss ticket (which says it’s for Basel but I haven’t been there), my seat reservation, and the following tickets through to Amsterdam, and she just tapped some information into her over-sized palm pilot thingie, thanked me and left. So so long as she wasn’t sending messages to marksmen in Mannheim saying I should be shot on sight when I leave the train, I think I’m OK… We’ll see. More news at the top of the hour.

In other train related news, met two more lovely Americans on the last leg of the trip – two girls from Seattle backpacking round Europe.

And Swiss trains officially kick the arse of all other trains. They’re fantastic! I thought I’d wandered into first class by mistake. But no, this is my seat. yay! However, they still haven’t cottoned onto the idea that a power-point next to each seat is a really great idea for laptop users. I guess i’m the only one… riiiight. Also finally managed to find something veggie to eat in a shop on Olten station – a cheese and jalapeno tortilla wrap! Molto picante e bueno. or something.

The big problem with Switzerland is the language thing – with bits of it being Italian speaking, German Speaking, French Speaking, and Swiss-German speaking. My brain hasn’t at all been able to switch to German thus far… I got to the point where I could hold basic conversations when I toured in Germany a lot in the early 90s, but it’s going to take a bit of work to get it back into shape…

[second update] I take back what I said about Swiss trains, I’m stucking in a fucking smoking carriage, and am going to end up smelling disgusting by the end of this, and feeling rather sick. What kind of loser train network lets people smoke on trains? What more’s the point, what kind of loser ticket agent books a seat for a non-smoker in a smoking carriage! The kind of moron that works at Venice station and doesn’t actually book me any tickets, just seat reservations, that’s who… grrrr.

Euroblog #5

Venice. Wow. What a place. I’m sure I’m the last one to get here, but if you’ve not been, it’s great.

The first thing I had to do when I got here was book my ticket to Amsterdam for Saturday. Sounds easy. Is it bollocks. I go to the ticket office, ask for the ticket but get sent to the information desk to get the train times, get them printed out and take them back to the ticket office. Back to the ticket office, that train is fully booked. So back to the information desk for more trains. WTF? Two completely independent computer systems for tickets and time-table!!! 95 minutes later and I’ve got tickets booked for the train up through Switzerland and Germany, but still only costing an extra 20-odd Euros, and actually saving me about three hours on the time it would take via Paris. Worth 20 Euros of anyone’s money.

Anyway, after that, my fantastic host here in Venice, Daniel Deluve takes us to the hotel where the gig is happening. Swanky doesn’t even scratch the surface of how posh this hotel is. 495€ a night posh. Just nuts. Venice, having no roads, is a nuts place to get to, and we travel to the gig by boat (this is definitely the only gig I’ve ever done where the PA and bass rig have been delivered by boat (is it just me, or am I writing in some weird pidgin english? All I can hear in my head is the kind of bizarre simplified english that I use to speak to Italians who speak slight more english that I speak Italian… sorry if all this sounds a bit odd..)

Anyway, we dump the stuff at the hotel and head off for lunch and a wander round this gorgeous city. It’s nuts. it’s one big cliche, in the best sense of the word – gondolas, canals, street musicians playing lutes, and chock full of loud obnoxious tourists. Yay for the English speaking world and our bizarre relationship with the beautiful parts of the planet.

Anyway, the gig was great fun. A mix of residents in the hotel, friends of Daniel and some tourists (including an american dude who lives in Cornwall and is a David Torn and David Sylvian fan – restoring my faith in tourists as people of taste and discernment). All in a great time had by me, and seemingly by everyone else too. nice to get to play two 40 minutes sets too.

Then the journey home, back on the boat with PA and bass rig. Suddenly the boat is invaded by four completely hammered tourist losers from Bolton. Incoherently drunk, singing and dancing, and making me oh-so-proud to be English. One pissed lady comes to talk to me, so I pretend to be Italian – ‘no parlo inglesi’ – shows just how hammered she was that my crap Italian grammar and piss poor accent fooled her. But it was great to have some English buffoon shouting ‘ARE YOU A MUSICIAN? MUSIC? LA-LA-LA???’ in my face while I look blank, and ask my Italian friend to translate for me, then tell her I’m a pianist, despite the fact that I’ve got a bass gig bag leaning against me. Fun with drunks.

So today, I’m heading back to Luca’s to mix the last of the tunes for the album, the tomorrow onto Milan.

I love my life – as John Lester commented on my MySpace page, ‘That ain’t working, that’s the way you do it’.