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’.

InterRail ticket is booked…

I’m going to blog my travel process in some detail, given that I’m doing my Italy/Germany tour in October via an InterRail ticket – that is, I buy one ticket, and can get through all of France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Greece, Turkey and, er, Luxembourg for 22 days on the train.

I booked the ticket online – nice easy process, though you do need your passport to hand as they want your passport number. The online booking process is fairly non-specific, in that you don’t book a seat on individual trains then, you just choose the zones, your age bracket (under or over 26) and a start date. I’ll be ringing up on Monday morning to get reserved seats from London to Geneva, Geneva to Milan, Milan to Verona, and then after that Verona to Dusseldorf, which is out of my zones (as is Geneva), but I’m hoping I can just pay a coupla quid extra and cross the border, as both are v. close to the French/Dutch borders…

While in Italy, I’m going to take advantage of the free ticket and see if I can get away to Rome for a day between gigs – need to find out how long the train takes from where I’ll be staying…

If this all works out as planned, it’s definitely THE way to tour in Europe – no airplane baggage limits, no 2 hour checkin times, no hassle finding crappy airports 30 miles outside the city centre to be able to get the cheap flights, no trouble if you miss your first train, no problem if a last minute gig comes in and you have to reroute… And to cap it all, plenty of time to see the countries you’re playing in! If the gigs are really well paid and spread out, you can break the journeys over night in interesting cities on the way.

This kind of ticket scheme is available for Americans wanting to travel in Europe too – do a google search and see what y’all can find!

The only limitations I’ve come across so far are that you can’t use it in the country you live in, though you do qualify for cheap tickets to get you out of your own country (£100 return to paris in the eurostar, £80 return to Calais – I’m going to see if I can pick up the TGV in Calais…) and if you want to book a fast train, there’s a booking fee of a couple of quid for the seat. It remains to be seen if you can get on without a booked seat, and just take your chances (or end up standing in the restaurant car for 8 hours – no thanks!)

the big thing I’m hoping for are electrical sockets on the trains near the seats. You get these on British trains now, so hopefully, given that the Europeans seem to do EVERYTHING train-related better than us, they’ll have that, and free wi-fi! At least with the plug socket I’ll be able to spend some time working on transcriptions of my tunes. I’m also going to download a few greenbelt seminars and put them onto my phone to listen to, as well as this year’s Reith Lectures by Daniel Barenboim.

I’ll let you know how the booking of the individual trains and the Eurostar goes on Monday…

October European Tour expands…

Yay! I’ve just been booked for the European Bass Day in Krefeld, Germany on Oct 29th. That’s the week after the Euro Bass Day in Italy (keep up!), which I’m also at, and I’ll be able to get from one to the other on the train, with my Inter Rail ticket! This inter rail thing is definitely looking like THE way to travel round Europe. I’m going to have to start planning European gigs in three week chunks, so I can do this again, rather than flying in for one or two days… it’s just not cost effective, especially when the goons in baggage handling smash up your instruments…

So I’m ‘doing’ Europe by train. I was a little worried at first that the InterRail website hinted that TGVs (the fast trains) cost extra, but after calling their phone booking line, it turns out it’s just a two or three quid booking fee for each journey. Which is nowt in the grand scheme of things. So it’s all go for Europe by rail!

Travelling musicians…

The current clamp-down on carry-on rules for planes is already bollocksing things up for lots of musicians such as these orchestral musicians, destined for the Edinburgh Festival and the Proms.

What a load of balls – are these laws making us safer, or just there to let us know how serious the threat is and make us oh-so-grateful to our loser government for protecting us from a possible attack.

Andrew Collins, whose blog is one of my current faves, highlights the vagueness of the current ‘news’ in this brilliant blog post. Have a read. Let’s see if anyone ends up in court.

And this post by Bruce Schneier highlights the utter uselessness of basing security measures on what the ‘terrorists’ have already planned. Here’s a couple of choice quotes –

None of the airplane security measures implemented because of 9/11 — no-fly lists, secondary screening, prohibitions against pocket knives and corkscrews — had anything to do with last week’s arrests. And they wouldn’t have prevented the planned attacks, had the terrorists not been arrested. A national ID card wouldn’t have made a difference, either.

and

Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-ons won’t make us safer, either. It’s not just that there are ways around the rules, it’s that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition.

It’s easy to defend against what the terrorists planned last time, but it’s shortsighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we’ve wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we’ve wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets — stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people before airport security — and too many ways to kill people.

Security measures that require us to guess correctly don’t work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It’s not security, it’s security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer.

And meanwhile, thousands of travellers the world over are having their livelihoods screwed up by the legislation. I’m all for getting people to stop taking short-haul flights, but not just by fucking up their travel plans. That’s hardly an integrated transport policy!

But, it looks likely that I’ll be getting the train to Italy in October – with this inter-rail ticket it looks like I’ll be able to get a 22 day ticket for £295, which’ll get me all over France, Italy, Belgium and Holland, so I’ll need to get a ticket from London to Paris, and a ticket from Holland to Viersen just over the border in Germany (if I end up playing at the European Bass Day in Germany). Which will work out OK, financially, be better for the enviroment, give me plenty of time for reading books, transcribing tunes and relaxing, and will mean I can take two basses with me, without the fear that some loser at an airport is going to try to see if my basses bounce…

This disturbing case of Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith

This has been in the news a lot of late, the case of an RAF Doctor who has refused to go back to Basra on moral and ethical grounds. Jyoti’s blog on this is a fantastic piece of journalism so go and read that first.

He was quoted from the trial, in The Guardian as saying,

“I have evidence that the Americans were on a par with Nazi Germany with its actions in the Persian Gulf. I have documents in my possession which support my assertions,” he told the court. “This is on the basis that on-going acts of aggression in Iraq and systematically applied war crimes provide a moral equivalent between the US and Nazi Germany.”

How much more damning could an assessment be? This isn’t some peacenik, this isn’t me calling the government fascist scum, this isn’t John Pilger getting all hot and bothered again about some foreign place where people are dying. No, THIS IS A MILITARY DOCTOR, WHO HAS ALREADY BEEN TO IRAQ TWICE. He’s seen this shit with his own eyes. He’s just put his total career on the line in order to follow his conscience, a conscience that previously led him to join the RAF. That is a huge huge thing.

And that the legal system in this country (I initially wrote ‘our country’ there, but who are we kidding?) would jail him for this rather than applaud him and have him head up an investigation into the war crimes he says he can document (along with those that are already only-too-well documented), is a tragic tragic indictment. What a hateful regime. How can that happen? He’s apparently appealing the sentence, I just hope he can appeal to a civilian court where he might get a fairer hearing at least, if not a standing ovation for exposing the corruption, murder and deceit that is the illegal occupation in Iraq.

Make Poverty History campaign goes global.

So finally, the Make Poverty History campaign is spreading out across the planet – in the US, it’s the One campaign, with its own white wrist bands and choice celebs. Click here to check out the One video – it’s good (though it did make me balk seeing Pat Robertson on it… guess it just goes to show how far this campaign is stretching across political divides!)

And that’s not all – there are now nationally focussed campaigns in Germany, France, Canada – Click here to see a list of all the partner campaigns

No excuses not to get involved, people…

Soundtrack – Kings X, ‘Live’; Talk Talk, ‘Spirit Of Eden’; Stevie Wonder; ‘Songs In the Key Of Life’; Renaud Garcia Fons, ‘Entremundo’; Tom Waits, ‘Asylum Years’; Bobby McFerrin, ‘The Voice’.

General update…

OK, I’ll fill you in on general goings on over the last week or so.

Last weekend was spent in Holland and Germany. The event I went over for was the European Bass Day, run by Marco Schoots, who publishes the Dutch bass mag, and runs a record label – an amazing guy. I was booked to play solo (actually, I was booked to play last year, but there was a pretty major breakdown in communication with the people who had offered to fund the trip, and I ended up not going… but that’s a whole other story…) Anyway, I was booked to play solo, and also with one of my favourite singers/bassists, John Lester – John, as you’ll know is the guy that opened for Michael Manring and I back in March on our tour here in England, and neither Michael nor I can work out why he isn’t a megastar yet – amazing voice, great songs, friendly engaging stage presence and a fabulous bassist… I’ll never understand this industry…

So, I went over to Amsterdam a day early to see John, to rehearse a few of his tunes and hang out in Amsterdam (oh, life is hard for your friendly neighbourhood solo bassist!). That was Saturday, and Sunday we drove to Viersen, just over the German border, where the Bass Day was being held.

My feelings about bass-days in general are mixed – I really like the idea of getting together with a load of bassists, and I love the chance to catch up with all my bass-chums that are at these events. But I really can’t cope with listening to hours and hours of machine gun slapping; after about half an hour it all starts to sound like someone drilling for oil. I guess it’s just me, ‘cos lots of people seemed to really be into it, but it really gets tired pretty quick. Guitar-fests and drum-fests are the same.

On a gigging level, it tends to work in my favour, as I’m often there as the alternative to the slap-monsters, and certainly both my set and John Lester’s went down really well – good crowds, well received, and quite a few CDs sold.

And it was great to see so many friends there – Stefan Redtenbacher, Jan Olof Strandberg, Jono Heale, Stevie Williams, amd even one very nice guy who’d travelled from Germany to see the gig with Michael Manring in London a couple of weeks ago!

So a fine time was had, and we stayed up in a bar back in Venlo til the early hours of the morning.

Monday was back to England, and Tuesday we collected the cats. So the rest of the week has been pretty cat-centric for The Small Person and I, discovering that these truly are remarkable, friendly and utterly adorable little animals. How anyone could have given them up is beyond either of us. It’s been a week of many snuggles with our new feline family. We always felt so lucky to have had five years with The Aged Feline, and there’s no way that any new cats could replace him, but it’s great to be able to give a home to more abandoned cats, and to then find that they have personalities bigger than most drummers is such a great bonus!

Teaching has gone mad of late – I’ve been doing loads and getting loads more emails from people wanting to learn, travelling from all over the southern half of england, and wales! I really really enjoy teaching, so it’s great to be in demand, but I don’t want to get into a position where I have to start turning people away… maybe I should make street-team membership a prerequisite of having lessons, and whittle them down a bit that way! :o)

Which brings us up to Friday night, when I went to a comedy gig – I’m a big fan of Rich Hall, but this was the first time I’d seen him live, doing his ‘Otis Lee Crenshaw’ failed country singer routine. Very very funny indeed, don’t miss him if he’s gigging near you. He was on at Club Senseless, which is hosted by Ronnie Golden – a comedy songwriter, who plays at the club with his band Ronnie and The Rex – he’s great, very funny, very clever. My only problem with the club is the amount of smoke. The Kings Head in Crouch End has a very low ceiling and really shitty air conditioning, so I end up leaving half way through anything I go to there, choking to death. BRING ON THE SMOKING BAN, says I.

And Yesterday, after a 7 hour teaching day, I went over to Oxford to see Jez and Susan Enan. I hadn’t seen Susan in ages, probably not since I played on her EP, but she’s been very busy working on a new album, getting a management deal and is about to move to the states and become a star. She fab, and it was very very nice to catch up with her and hear a few of the rough mixes from the new CD.

But I got back so late that I slept in and missed church today… doh!

anyway, here’s another piccie of the Fairly Aged Felines –

Soundtrack – Keith Jarrett Trio, ‘Tokyo 96’; Julie Lee, ‘Stillhouse Road’; Eric Roche, ‘The Perc U lator’; John Martyn, ‘Solid Air’; Lifehouse, ‘Stanley Climbfall’.