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Ancient places Bars and cafes Hostels street culture Travel Itinerary Uncategorised

Too crowded and too hot.

My experience of Paris this time was so different. I have no idea how I ended up wandering around with a guitar waiting for a bus at 2.30 in the morning.
The day before, I had arrived at Gare du Nort from Amsterdam at 9.40pm, it was a very warm evening and I walked along the back streets to find my hostel. The Gare du Nort and the Gare de l’Est, strangely, are right beside each other in a drab part of the 10th arrondisement in north east Paris alongside the massive corridor of railway lines. I soon found myself walking past a group of about 100 North Africans sleeping and lounging on the footpath under the watchful eye of the Gendarmiere carrying their compact submachine guns. When I arrived at the Generator hostel, sweating a little, the reception guy had no greeting for me, no smile – he eyed me up and simply said, ‘Passport’.   Welcome to Paris; crowded, dirty, hot and a bit edgy.
The attitude was so different from where I’d recently been. The Scandinavians and Dutch are so courteous and they all speak English, in France they will, but only if they have to. Many can’t speak English at all (and it’s not that they should, but it does says something about the French that speaking English is an option). This does not apply to people in any official capacity dealing with the public with a huge tourist population. On the other hand, for example, a woman in a supermarket working at the checkout did not attempt to speak English. I made the mistake of bringing my fruit selection up to the till where I assumed it would be weighed and priced as they did in other places I’d recently been. In France you weight them yourself and put a sticker on the bag which pops out of the scales machine. It’s all these little things that need to be explained – just once. It was explained to me very clearly and patiently, in French.
I nodded intelligently and there’s always someone around to help, usually a younger person. I just wish I had worked a little more on my French language before coming, although, the phrase, ‘You need to weigh them, press the button and a little sticker comes out that you put on the bag’, may have been a bit beyond my comprehension, anyway.

I would recommend The Generator Hostels to anyone budget travelling in Europe, they’re a new approach to hostels and more like a hotel. They cost about NZ$60 a night. The big difference between these and the usual hostels is there’s no kitchen, no self-catering, no fridges, no food to be brought into the place (but people still do, of course, and take it to their rooms. But the rooms are cleaned everyday, so they’re keeping an eye on it). There is a $NZ14 breakfast available, which is probably better value than you’d get in the local street cafés because it’s self-serve which means you can load up for later. The rooms all have ensuites and the reception areas are very modern with spacious parts set aside on the ground floor with sofas, tables and chairs to hang out with your friends. Generator Hostels are the way of the future I think, they’re all over Europe, referred to as Designer Hostels. The wifi reception is strong everywhere and good in all the rooms – and there’s no password. My room had 3 other women already asleep in the room. There seems to be so many women travelling now, not just as couples but many solo and in pairs, and completely comfortable staying in mixed dorms that they can opt for and get slightly cheaper than a women’s dorm.

I was up and away at 8am before any of my room mates were awake and had a basic plan for the day. First, the nearby Sacre-Coeur for the big view, St Germaine-des-Pres for the street culture, Musée d’Orsay for some art, and to stand beneath the Tour Eiffel. But it didn’t go to plan. I must have taken the wrong streets up to the Basilique. I was wanting some breakfast but the streets were all just drab and faceless apartments – where were the quaint cafés with guys wearing Ray Ban Wayfarers and elegant women wafting perfume walking with poodles that I remembered from 20 years ago?

When I got there I was disappointed I couldn’t walk all the way around the Sacre-Coeur, it’s all gated and locked off, and the only big view available from the front steps didn’t include the Tour Eiffel! What’s the point of taking a photo of the Paris skyline from the top of a hill if you can’t get the Eiffel Tower in it! – ha ha <-;

The cafés I did come across walking up the hill looked a bit tired and were empty – maybe it was still too early. I noticed how the advertised price for a croissant and coffee kept increasing the higher up I walked, and NZ$18 was getting a bit much and I couldn’t really go back down to the cheaper ones so I have up on the idea of breakfast and would wait until I found a place on my way down.

Everywhere I went I was searched by security, everyone was, even entering a canal swimming la plage area. Anyway, I sat inside the Basilique and had some snacks and water from my pack looking up at the dome. All the little gates around the pews were locked up, why so many locks everywhere? Twenty years ago I was in awe of the power expressed in the art and architecture of the Roman Catholics – but now, to me it looks different; the biggest and most elaborate con-job in history; cruelty, subjugation, exploitation and the repression of women and science, a relic of the dark ages, and still today expressing it’s medieval mumbo jumbo.

So interesting going on the Metro again, I was amazed they still had the same system with the little paper tickets – I bought the 10 pack, as you do, and watched young guys jump over the turnstyles. I wondered at what age a bloke gives up doing that little athletic move. Other guys enter using the exit gate by reaching their hand around and pressing the button to open it. No wonder they have the Oyster card system in London.
Musée d’Orsay was shut on Monday, so onward to St Germaine. The streets are all so long and there seemed to be so much construction and whole blocks are fenced off. I couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for – so much walking. I chanced upon a small art gallery, the Musée Maillol  with works by Leger, Picasso, Braque, Pissaro and Sisley – my favourite period of French art, roughly 1890-1920.  It was creeping up to 34º and after the gallery I sat at a cafe had a coffee and chatted with the woman opposite me who suggested I go to the Rodin Garden nearby. I was thinking it might be a nice place to have a quiet nap under the trees, – but of course, it was shut on Monday.

Later, I returned to the hostel, the subway was getting really hot and crowded by now and I needed a break. The room was empty and I slept and showered and headed out again with my guitar to an open-mic night on the other side of Paris. When I finally got there the bar manager shrugged his shoulders – there’s was nothing going on. According to my Google search there are plenty on Tuesday and Wednesday night, of course – but only one on Lundi and that wasn’t happening.
I still wanted to get up close to the Tour Eiffel, so more Metro and walking the long boulevards. It was nearing midnight and the place was really crowded and the air so humid. The tower was blocked off with temporary high-fencing and armed guards were all around it. Such a shame, so much has changed because of the Islamic attacks, it seems like the city is now in a permanent kind of low-level, lock-down mode – they’re not taking any chances. Paris seems to be full of people who look like they aren’t there for the cafés and the culture – they’re just milling around, looking a bit out of place  . . nothing to do, just looking  . . looking at you, trying to sell you a souvenir with a flashing light.

The Tour Eiffel looks magnificent when up close, something I never did before. I came towards it from the 16th, west of the Seine across the Pont d’ Lena bridge to the 7th, unfortunately the gardens, the Parc du Champde Mars, wre fenced off. The Metro had stopped, the buses were few and far between, I waited nearly an hour and took a bus all the way across Paris (where would I be without Google maps with bus timetables). I finished the last part of my journey to the hostel with a $12 taxi – the only one I have taken so far on this trip. I didn’t feel all that concerned out late at night, I just figured another 2km walk down these streets holding an iPhone for the map with drunken kids and homeless people sleeping here and there, was just too much.

That was my day in Paris and the best part was meeting the woman at the table in the café who showed me two of her favourite small hidden public gardens nearby, they would have been convent cloisters, I think, they all had fruit trees and vegetable patches. It was nice walking with someone else for a change without having to hold my phone – to just chat away and be shown around a bit. I knew Paris in mid-July was never going to be a great idea and I was glad my plans had only allowed one full day. I was looking forward to getting into the countryside. My accomodation there had a pool and I was really, really looking forward to that pool.

At the moment I’m sitting in a gypsy caravan with that pool outside. I have a brew of coffee going, there’s goodies from the local village boulangerie and patiserrie and I’m listening to RNZ. I’m using the hotspot from my phone on a signal that comes and goes from one dot to three dots out of five. Tomorrow I go to Vienna. It took me hours to figure out how to get there. Originally, I was planning to take a train from nearby Lyon but it takes 13 hours and goes via Frankfurt in north Germany, unbelievable. I considered numerous options, nearly did my head in, it’s like a game of chess.

My journey involves a bus to Roanne, a train to Lyon, the TGV to Paris Charles de Galle, and a flight, and I needed to co-ordinate all those journey times. And of course I was looking for all the cheapest variables. There were no direct flights from Lyon to Vienna either, only ones going via other places and taking 10 hours. It may have been better to hire a car from Lyon to Vienna, I don’t know, but that would result in a different set of costs and issues – and might take two days. The only decent wifi I could do all this research was at the Office d’ Tourisime in the local village of Marcigny. It took me such a long time and they needed to close at 6pm but I continued outside sitting on the step.
Again,  my apologies for the poor grammar and spelling, will tidy up later.

Categories
Bars and cafes Hostels Stockholm Uncategorised

The best hostel in Stockholm

City Backpackers voted best in Stockholm 2017

I’m here for a week and I love the place – it’s what all hostels should be. So pleased I picked it on Booking.com many months ago. After you check in at reception a person shows you around and explains the way things work; there’s a no-shoes-policy in the living areas, they give you fresh white linen, the mattresses are new, each bed has two plug sockets and a funky working light with an LED bulb, in the kitchen there’s a bank of fridges, every room has been allocated it’s own fridge.  Access is electronic keypad entry and the outside door code changes everyday. It’s all so well organised, all the fittings are quality, nothing has been done on the cheap, maintenance people along with cleaning staff are on site, and standards are kept high. There are no signs everywhere – the decorative items are carefully chosen and I’d say quite expensive. The central courtyard has live music some nights and a restaurant does subsidised meals for $15. I’ve had the same traditional Swedish meatballs for three nights running now.
The staff are helpful and enthusiastic, one of them helped me decide that I should fly from Stockholm to Amsterdam. I was planning to go overland by rail but the costs and the number of changes and connections I’d have to make would be a mission. I thought there would be just one train all the way – but no, and it’s so much cheaper so I’ve booked the flight now. The wifi here is the fastest I’ve ever used and I base this on the speed I can upload images . . woosh!
The  City Backpackers Hostel  Upplandsgatan 2a, 111 23 Stockholm, Sweden is NZ$403 for 7 nights, that’s $57 a night plus a single additional cost for linen, and breakfasts are 55 Krona NZ$8.80. This hostel is one of a chain of hostels around Europe called Europe’s Famous Hostels and I wish I’d booked the same in Amsterdam and Vienna.
This little example tells you a lot, I put some food in my fridge, (the visit to the local supermarket was an adventure, but that’s another story), and I put the food in the fridge, next morning there were little stickers on my items saying ‘Please label’, meaning, with my name and departure date – now, that’s efficiency, and so polite. There’s also a Free Fridge, plus there’s free pasta if you’re really broke and need a meal – very civilised.
Just a little touch, where you leave your shoes in the alcove area there’s a sign saying, ‘If you love your shoes, take them to your room.‘ Which is so much more pleaseant than the alternative, other places might have a sign in the negitive, eg: ‘Theives operate in this bulding, leave shoes here at your own risk.’  The difference is what makes this place special – everything has been thought about – and that’s good design.
And tomorrow . .  I’m going to the design museum.

The Courtyard where there’s DJs, and tonight, a band from Liverpool is playing, apparently.

 

Reception area with free filter coffee.
Spiral stair going to the office mezzanine.
Reception area instalation – travel theme.
Reception area with longboards for hire.
My comfortable four bed mixed dorm called Drottningholm with view onto the park – shows my privacy curtain invention, borrowed from Luthansa Airways
Even the room name labels have a bit of retro class.
First floor foyer

The foyer area outside my room with a continuous Betty Boop cartoon on a vintage telly.
Kitchen
Every room has an allocated fridge and if you don’t name and date your food, they put a sticker on it to request it is.

Great sinks, tiled floors and always clean.
An iMac with hostel info
IT lounge, fast free wifi throughout
Doesn’t work but looks great.
Breakast choice of a filled bun, cinnamon bun or croissant, plus free yoghurt, meusli and fruit, and filter coffee all day.
Breakfast ready to go.
Fresh yoghurt in the fridge
Foyer installation.

 

Categories
Bars and cafes Concerts street culture Uncategorised

The Footlights and The Reel

The famous Hot Chocolate Deluxe at The Reel in Kirkwall, Orkney – they use thick whipped cream and there’s a load of marshmellow inside.
A street with three possible names – huh?

I’ve been pretty lucky finding places to play some songs. I can Google Open Mics Nights, ask in a music store, spot a sign outside a bar, or like on the Islands of Orkney, just start chatting to people on the bus.
In Edinburgh I played four songs at the Footlights Pub on Spittal St in the Old Town ending with The Immigrant Song, (the opening track on Led Zeppelin III) which always goes down well. I do a folky acoustic version, slower and of course sing it down a whole octave from Robert Plant.

In Orkney I attended the Sunday night jam, met some interetsing people who all seemed to know the same Scottish traditional tunes. We sat in a semi circle and there were four fiddles playing at one point, tin and wooden whistles, a recorder, two mandolins, a banjo, guitars, a piano and one bodhrum drum. We sat in a semi circle and one person would start playing and everyone else would join in. They all seemed to know the tunes and I strummed along keeping an eye on the chords of another guitar. Most of the tunes where in A and D and it was so enjoyable, there was no pressure and I felt right at home, I couldn’t believe I was sitting in a pub in Kirkwall jamming Scottish traditional music with the locals – I felt like I was part of the family. At one point they turned to me and asked me to play a tune. I decided  on Stars Align which has a kind of fancy finger picking part at the beginning. I was feeling a bit run down and had a cold from two days of poor sleep and really early morning starts followed by some longs days so my voice was weak and I was all nasally. The whole pub listened in silence and they applauded at the end so it must have been ok. The other singer had only done one song so I though I wouldn’t push my luck and soon another Scottish tune was struck up.

The Reel Cafe, Pub, Restaurant, Live Venue, and Music shop – Kirkwall, Orkney Mainland
Good to see they not afraid to serve Fly Cemetry – best name yet.

Two days previously I had to get up at 6am in Edinburgh to catch the 8.30am train to Inverness, and after a night in a 4 bed dorm in Inverness I rose at 5.30am to catch the 7am train to Thurso at the northern tip of Scotland. There didn’t seem to be a bus connection between Thurso and the ferry terminal at Scrabster so three of us decided to get a taxi to travel the 5 miles. The terminal was cold and had no facilities and the incoming ferry was late due to high seas. Three hours later we were in the warmth and comfort of a large NorthLink ferry to Stromness on Orkney Mainland. Arriving at 6pm there was a vicious northerly blowing and it was raining and we had to wait again in a bus shelter for the next bus. By the time I crossed the island to Kirkwall and checked into my room I was pretty worn out. I slept for an hour and headed to The Reel with my guitar to play with the Orkney locals and I was so pleased to play one of my songs.

 

 

 

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Bars and cafes London Markets street culture Uncategorised

30 degrees in Brixton

It’s an odd feeling sitting in a cafe looking out on Haddington Place in Central Edinburgh writing about Brixton because it’s feels so far away now. The crowds, the heat, the diversity, and so many people just milling about and hanging out on the streets. It was so hot you’d perspire just walking down the street – I like this warmth, actually. In Brixton it’s like being in another country  – and I know there are racial problems but the more amazing thing is the tolerance and acceptance, at least on a surface level.
 
Twenty years ago, apart from the crusty white guys with dogs on a string (but not as many of those these days), it was mainly Rastas, and they’re still selling racks of clothes with images of Bob Marley outside the Rec Centre in the market but now there seems to be so many more Africans, and everywhere, women in headscarfs. I needed to post home a package of clothes to lighten my load and the Jamaican people in the Post Office recognised me as if I was an old friend when I came back a few days later with my second parcel, they were so happy to talk about anything, chatting away while six people stood in the line waiting. Everyone seems to enjoy the energy of a life and a world full of people – and it seems to work, but personally I find it a little exhausting and was grateful to have the quiet haven of Leo’s flat. People say that Brixton has been gentrified but parts of it, especially in the area around the railway arches are still as dirty, smelly and rundown as it ever was. Coldharbour Lane has certainly been left behind but when I walked around some back streets of Brixton and Camberwell suddenly it changes and I think it would be a very nice place to live with the parks and trees everywhere. There have been all kinds of initiatives; a pony club stable has been created right in the middle of the housing estates – it looks new and well organised, there’s sign saying it has been funded by the lotteries commission. There’s also plots with co-operative vegetable gardens with sculpture and artwork. Leo and a friend have a commission to paint a mural on the side of a railway bridge. There is not only murals everywhere but in underpasses that used to be smelly dank places for drunks to sleep are now ceramic sculpture plaques fixed to the walls and good lighting. Leo managed to get his motorbike going, a 600cc Yamaha that had been unridden for 6 months because of some fault he couldn’t figure out – turns out was a tiny problem with a wire connection, and that night the two of us roared off to a venue in East Dulich called The Cherry Tree so I could play music. It was so nice riding around in the warm air with my guitar on my back. I met up with Allan Evans again and we were able to listen to each other play our original songs. I got to play two sets and I joined Allan singing an old Louis Jordan song we used to play together that I haven’t sang in years – Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby. I’m getting a much more positive response to my music than I ever did in Auckland – people seem to be genuinely enthusiastic. It’s so interesting hearing grown men standing around talking about music and arguing the finer points and trivial issues about which album from an artist was better– it made me realise that I’m not alone, people in Britain are really serious about music – it’s important! I decided to fly British Airways from Heathrow to Edinburgh. It’s only a few pounds more expensive than the other airlines like Easyjet that actually end up costing the same because they charge much more for checked luggage. I’d say most people these days travel with cabin luggage only and some actually carry two large pieces – much more than what is advertised on the websites and around the terminal.  The regulation allowance is ONE piece of cabin luggage and ONE personal item like a handbag or a laptop satchel –  but no way, generally it’s one big piece of cabin luggage and one full backpack. Some people carry two pieces of full size cabin luggage.

It’s been said before but it needs to be said again, getting to Heathrow is cheap, fast and reliable on the Underground and I wish Auckland Council and the Government had the collective vision to stop faffing around build a smart new fast train link from Auckland Airport to Britomart – it’s essential in big any city. Instead, we’re always stuck in traffic or crawling along with trucks around industrial areas of South Auckland – it’s pathetic.  I have heard a rumour that a big part of the problem is that the trucking companies are big funders of the National Party and believe rail would undermine their dominance in the transport business. This is selfish thinking and a Governmnet or Council needs to rise above private business interests and have the guts to serve the needs of everyone, because so many people are travelling by air to and from New Zealand and they want to get to the airport on time without having to worry whether the motorway will be blocked, again. Terminal 5 at Heathrow is state-of-the-art terminal design. There is nothing to confuse anyone – plain signage, no advertising, no clutter, clear instructions and directions, and a layout that leads you where you need to go – brilliant design. The other airport I found good was Frankfurt which is beyond enormous – I must have walked 2 km in a big curve to contect between my flights. I have been trying to load more images to this post all morning but the wifi is very slow here at the hostel and I really need to get out and about  now so will add more pics later. Also, sorry about the bad grammar, poor sentance contaruction and random syntax, was rushing, (Anne, please, I need you to proof read and sub edit). 

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Ancient places Bars and cafes guitar shops London street culture Uncategorised

Choose one thing in London.

Standing on the South Bank in the morning sun I needed to choose at least one significant place to visit in London. I’m only here for a few days before and after my side trip to the Isle of Wight. I strolled along the embankment and considered the options. Living in London for about six years back in the early 90’s I stopped doing those ‘touristy’ things – but now I have no qualms about it. The National Theatre has two plays that interested me: Salome and a new one called Common set in early 1800’s – and they’d both be superb, of course. I have no interest in the big musicals but the wacky London Dungeon show looks like the kind of cheap gory slapstick I’d enjoy. I immediately ruled out the London Eye and the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace is never going to be on the list. I settled on St Paul’s Cathedral because I’ve never been inside – I spent two amazing hours there, even climbing the stairs to the upper outdoor balcony.
Entrance is £16 and includes a headset and a very hi tech visual hand unit about the size of an iPhone 7 with videos and information that’s really easy to use. I normally hate these fiddley things with a commentary but some clever tech team has designed something quite amazing because you choose the bits you want to hear and there’s short videos.
I used my binoculars and learned the story of each panel in the main dome. Paul’s journey to Christianity and his spreading of the word. I have looked closely at a few ancient religious story panels recently and realise the faith was primarily based on a few clever conjuring tricks; getting bitten by a snake and not dying, making someone instantly blind, and curing a cripple (‘look he’s walking!’) is all the proof you need. One of the panels in the great dome shows Paul burning the books of other pagan belief structures of the time – way to go. Religious mythology aside you can’t help but be completely blown away by the architecture, art and music it produced – and I speak as a person who studied and still enjoys listening to Palestrina plainsong, that’s the spooky male-choir music they use all the way through movies like The DaVinci Code.
It was a big day; I bought advance tickets for my journey to the Isle of Wight at Waterloo Station in person so I could talk about the options. It’s one of the wonderful things about Britain, and I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s latest book while travelling and he says the same things but much better – Britain is charming. London is full of people and yet it feels safe, sensible and civilised. It’s a good change from the grim and menacing hordes of homeless on the street corners in Portland. I only saw a few individual beggars in London, apparently, Boris Johnson ‘got rid of them’.
I enjoyed wandering through Soho, had a bite at a restaurant called Kricket where Luca used to work, chanced on a Kath Kidson shop and bought something for Julia. After St Paul’s I travelled to Brixton to meet Allan Evans, a New Zealander who stayed on in London and whom I used to play in a duo with, 20 years later we picked up like it was yesterday.

We sat in a place called Brixton Box, a cluster of containers around a court yard that’s definitely the hang out for the new young Brixton arrivées – arty and edgy, and a bit rough and ready. Brixton is still the same, lots of West Indian people playing reggae, it’s still grubby, but lovely.
People ask me if I think London has changed, well, yes and no, there are all new shops, people have phones in their hands rather than A to Z map books, there’s more people I guess, but to me, it feels and looks more or less the the same. It was the smell inside the Underground that brought it all back – I really, really like London . . to visit. I’m so lucky to be able to stay with Leo, an expat in Brixton just a short walk from the Underground. He is renovating a flat and being an artist it’s going to have some very tasteful features. It’s so good to have a friendly kitchen table to sit at – because onwards from here it’s going to be crowded hostels and cheap hotels.

Categories
Bars and cafes street culture teahouse Uncategorised

Six lasting impressions.

As I prepare to leave Portland it’s time to keep or delete the images on my phone and I have chosen six that I like as a sort of summary. I mainly used public transport, which is very good in Portland, and with the iPhone maps and apps everything is so easy and I got a good feel for the city. The troubled and dispossessed are everywhere, there are groups sitting on street corners and encampments in underpasses. The streets in the area of the NorthEast where I stayed are leafy and tree-lined, the houses all big and comfortable. The shopping is great – there’s so much stuff to buy. Everyone I met was friendly and keen to engage. There is definitely an easy-going, counter-culture community spirit in Portland, and there’s a T-shirt slogan you often see – Keep Portland Weird, but it’s not that weird – it’s nice.

The Japanese Gardens are five acres of manicured perfection.
At Skidmore metro stop near the Downtown sleeps a true patriot.
Every time I passed Voodoo Donuts there was a line outside – try to think of the sickest and weirdest flavoured donut possible, and they’ll have it.
They call them Outdoor Shops and they’re full of cowboy boots, cowboy hats, big jackets and the best denim brands – and all very cheap.
Electric bikes for $2.50 an hour or $10 for the day with a solar panel on the back – you just download the app of course, no helmet required.
The best bookshop in the world, they claim, it takes up an entire block, always full of people and I stayed 2 hours – the music section is staggering.

 

Categories
Bars and cafes street culture

Walking Hawthorne St

Today I walked the length of Hawthorne Street where’s there’s coffee shops, vintage clothes shops, bookshops, coffee shops, restaurants in every flavour, a cluster of food trucks, coffee shops, meditation centres, bars and cafes, vinyl record stores, a music school, a hat shop, guitar repairers, and did I mention coffee shops?
I came across Crossroads Music with an adaption of that picture of Robert Johnson. Inside I heard
about the songwriters night on later in the evening.
There’s something of an old-fashioned alternative culture in this part of Portland as if the 60’s
and 70’s are still very much alive. It’s a bit earthy and very organic, there are racks of rental bikes with tiny solar panels, Crosby, Stills and Nash was playing on one sound system and the cafes are full of people sitting on their MacBooks drinking Kombuca.

Categories
Bars and cafes Equipment The Songs

The Kingslander show

The Kingslander is generally known as a sports bar and even though the management ‘tries music’ occasionally, priority will always be given to any significant sports event. But lately they have taken a serious approach to the Thursday Open Mic night with the inclusion of a massive PA system, a row of monitors and a two person team, one to co-ordinate performers and the other to tech the sound. They still keep all the screens around the room live with Sky Sport on various channels, on mute, so the patrons can keep an eye on the latest Thursday night sporting events which happened to be Woman’s Boxing, Motorsport and Australian League.
There’s a very nice full drum kit on stage but Al was told, when taking to the stage, not to play too loud, as a result he played too soft and I could barely hear him. I played two songs using the looper which I realise now is not a good match with a live drummer because loops never loop perfectly and the groove can get a bit jumbled – but we rocked on. After two songs, Ramp It Up and Glow, Lydia, the host, asked us to wrap it up. I said we’d only played two songs and the slot is for three, admittedly both extended versions, and I insisted on finishing with a slow one, Centre Of The Groove, which I shortened down to a two minutes. It felt good to end on a more harmonic note but I came off stage feeling a bit rattled. I think the tech had put a heavy compressor on my guitar because it ducked in and out of volume. Al said, ‘I wish the sound on stage was like the practise room’. It’s true, it always sounds weird on stage and over the years I have never got totally used to it – I just rock on.

Categories
Bars and cafes The Songs

Portland Public House

Allan and I opened the evening at the Portland Public House last night and the place was humming.

I tried three different songs; a rocker called Ramp It Up  . . ‘she looks so good playin’ guitarrr’, and then a funk groove, Glow  . . ‘how da riddem makes u wana burn down slow’, and country style slow number, Waiting For The Stars To Align . . ‘no-one reads the manual, you figure it out yourself’. I looped a central section of each song and was glad Jono managed to get some bass out of the system working that sub at the Porty – oomph, oomph. It was so much better with Allan playing along on the bongos.

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Bars and cafes Equipment The Songs

The Grand Central in Auckland

Last night I played at Grand Central on Ponsonby Road and had a good night probably because my guitar was up nice and loud.
There’s no stage monitor but one of the front of house speakers is behind you to one side so it sort of works as a monitor. I practised with my looping pedal, a Boss RC30, earlier in the day and worked on two
funk numbers: basically two chord grooves with a turnaround whenever I feel the groove is running out of steam. It was a good night with all the regulars turning up; Nick the knowledgable finger-style player with his beautiful collectors’ Martin, Warren, Jono, Graeme and his group, and Eddie Gaiger who runs it so well. Ed never introduces anyone or thanks anyone, he leaves the performer to create their own space on stage, that’s the way it should be, a performer needs to ‘own’ the stage and create their moment themselves – I like that. Stage craft is a real thing and I’m still hopeless at it but I try. I think a short greeting is enough and then maybe a bit of chat after the first song about the next song. The funk numbers I played were my own, Glow and Floating In the Air. Each one lasted about 8 minutes. I let the looper go on endless overdud and created a blurring mass of sound, punched it off and sang the last verse clean. I thought two numbers was enough but Ed suggested one more and I de-tuned the B string down to A and played Hold Down Love – finally singing it the way I had been meaning to for ages, hitting that first note up an octave to give it a stronger opening – it worked, I think.
This week I’m playing The Portland at 8pm, The Clare on Wednesday and the Kingsland and 121 Ponsonby Road on Thursday, and intend to play a different set for each venue.

Categories
Bars and cafes The Songs Travel Itinerary

Choosing seven songs I wrote.

There are seven songs of mine that generally go well in just about any situation but the hardest part is choosing which one to start with. Do I open with something raw and rocking or something slow and expressive with jazz chords? I have a personal theory that an audience who has never seen or heard you before will decide within about 10 seconds if they like you. I spend a great deal of my practise time working on my openings. Choosing the right song is even more important. My friend Caitlin Smith says you should never second guess the audience’s taste – she says they just want ‘amazing’ – no pressure.  I have a country pickin’ one, a funk groove, a light reggae, a slow blues-infused rocker, a bright swing number, a songbook style ballad and a rootsy boogie stomp.  Seven hats. Currently, I’m opening with the blues-infused slow rocker called Hold Down Love with re-tuning of the b string down a tone to A.