Saturday, 13 April 2013

When you light your cigarette from a candle, a sailor dies at sea.

When you light your cigarette from a candle, a sailor dies at sea.

That is a Polish superstition.  I was sitting in De Graal yesterday and overheard it.  First I got to tell you about De Graal.  Out of all the Coffee Shop culture in Amsterdam, De Graal is by far the most like I imagined a coffee shop would be in my dreams.  It is like going into a friends house.  Comfy chairs all around, fish tanks, a dancing chameleon who eats grass hoppers, a recording studio and the best coffee and cheapest weed in town!  It really is that good, but not only for those reasons.  It is because it is an environment that nurtures creativity.  Chess and Draught boards everywhere, people writing and drawing.  I have filled almost 2 pads worth with drawings and scribblings.Within the next few days I will be uploading some and putting an artwork section on the website.  I have scribbled some interesting scribblings which make some nice imagery for The Dead Sea Captain.

Sometimes I feel incredibly low and challenged by the uncertainty of my lifestyle.  Everyday your world changes, it is a different day every single day.  You have no financial security whatsoever.  It rains on a blue sky the moment you set out to go busking.  It is completely uncertain.  You can have to find somewhere to sleep at 8pm, and end up shivering in a garden shed.  But it is addictive.  You feel like you are in a different mentality that completely lets go of all your old beliefs, pride, ignorance, politics, everything.  You suddenly just start apprreciating each action that would usually be uniform.  You listen to peoples music, rather than showing your own tastes.  You just open yourself up to this world much wider.

Amsterdam is alive.  Whenever I am at a low the city seems to just pick me up.  By running into someone you know, to making a good earn from busking, to meeting beautiful strangers, a phonecall from a friend, a free drink from a beautiful barmaid, total strangers giving you 50 euroes.  It is an exciting ride Amsterdam, and watching it bloom in the spring is a beautiful harvest for a street musician who spent the Winter in its cold snowy emptiness.  But I still found the challenging beauty shine bright in its deeper layers of people and experiences.  I love this city with all my heart, and respected it.  Tried my best in wonder to understand it.  But just enjoyed and rode the very special experience of this magical city through the 4 seasons.

At this moment I am torn.  It has been a great ride.  But sometimes you have to step off the ride for a bit.  My heart is calling me back to Liverpool.  I want to spend around a month in Liverpool charging my batteries, saving some money, busking with an amp, being around my beautiful friends and going to live music every night.  Going to Sound City. Fill myself up on some comforts of home, without feeling a rush to get back to this mentality.  It is tiring when your plans and day and thoughts change every single day, and you feel you can't do enough to sustain a normal living life.  Though it may be in a romantic musical wrapping, but busking is begging.  And that puts you lower than the task to have your own place and feel a security.  Everything is temporary and unpredictable.

Queens day here is a massive celebration I have heard so much about.  It is a huge celebration over the city, and Beatrix is passing the throne to the new King!  I feel that would be a perfect way to finish the ride at this moment.  I suppose Liverpool will be a good thinking time.  I can plan what I want to do next.  Maybe come back to Amsterdam, Maybe Switzerland, Maybe Berlin or Ireland.  I just don't know at this point.  I just feel tired and a bit down from some experiences here.  I hope my experiences and admiration here is documented as true as I could share in my utter love for this magical and beautiful city.  I fell in love on every level.  I have become a stronger person on so many levels.  I will always be drawn here like a magnet.  But for now, it is time to take an 18 hour bus ride home...........

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Spring Fall Backwards and Forwards

After a year into this journey now, I am starting to realise more and more about myself.  It dawned on me the other day, that these songs I sing.  I don't just wanna sing them, I want to live and feel them.  Simply playing the songs is not enough, I have to feel like I am living them.  I have to attach my own experiences into these songs.  I wondered why that 'Like A Rolling Stone' gets so many drops, and I realised it's because when I sing that chorus, I really mean it!

It was mid-January, I was busking at Max Euwplein and I was shivering as I was playing.  It was snow and ice all around and I had made like ten euroes after nearly an hour.  This Asian guy stopped and just listened for ages, he was taking lots of pictures and I just remember this moment, that on the last verse of 'Like A Rolling Stone' I was really singing it with scorn "Look at all the princess, all the pretty people, all dancing drinking on the steeple, thinking they have got it made" There was just this moment of connection between the song, the environment, and the people walking by.

I played 'Girl From The North Country' and then I was just too cold to go on, the Asian guy said, can I buy you something to eat?  I said sure!  I was starving.  He kept asking about the songs, and saying how I was really giving something special into them.  We went to this Japanese restaurant and I ordered some hot soup, Chicken and some beer, he ordered the same, but didn't eat or drink any of it, so I ate his soup and drank his beer.  He seemed fascinated by me, was taking lots of pictures, even as I ate.  I bid farewell to him, and headed home with about 15 euroes and a full belly.

Busking is full of experiences like this, you never know what is gonna happen.  Sometimes you can head out expecting to make nothing, sometimes you can expect lots and make nothing.  Sometimes you meet people who become part of your life, and sometimes you just make people stop and listen for ages, sometimes noone gives a shit if your singing your heart out at all and just passes by.  I have never felt kicks from anything like I have from busking.  It is an exciting way to live your life.  It is hard, and when you make nothing, it makes it harder.  But the only certain thing about busking, is the uncertainty.

I used to get so much satisfaction from recording and producing music, locking myself in my home made studio, oblivious to the weather outside, or the the world.  I was addicted to it!  I became quite good at it to.  But you know what?   After I left England for the first time in 2011, and spent 4 months busking around France and then working the Magneet festival and falling in love with Amsterdam..  I came back a different person.  I HATED recording music once I returned.  It just didn't satisfy me at all in the same way, I found it a chore, that I kind of told myself I should be enjoying, but the sad fact was, I didn't anymore.

After that reggae album experience, it was the final nail in the coffin.  I had wasted my time to come and sit through all these great musicians, but all with very different egos and ideas.  I just thought fuck this.  Anyway, by the end of it.  I had this Mac Book air, which is the lightest and most powerful laptop ever.  It felt strange having this thing, as it was a very covetous item.  Some people were a bit jelous that I just got this computer.  I felt wow, I really have the most powerful tools on this earth to record music.  But the sad thing was, I didn't want to use them!  I hated it, I felt myself getting sucked in to being one of those people that just spend all their time sucked into their phone or laptop.  I felt it took me away from the world I set out to discover.  So, I gave it away.  To someone who really would use it good, and appreciate it.  It was the lightest laptop in the world, but the heaviest burden I have ever had to carry and deal with.  I just thought, would you have seen Woody Guthrie carrying a grands worth of computer as he set out on his travels.  Nah, it just didn't fit the life that I had chose.  And it boils down to which hat do I want to wear.  A humble street musician with just a guitar on his back, or one of these macbook casualtys whose eyes have melted cos it's the only world they see.

Once I got rid of it, I felt this massive burden lift from me!  I felt free and honest again.  Just after the reggae album shambles, I was busking at Waterlooplein, when I seen Dominik, He had just been given a busking permit, to play electric with his PA and Loop station.  I was so happy for him! All through that experience, I had felt Dominik was an ally, on my side.  And when the cancer man was poisoning everyone against me, he stood up for me.  I said I would join him for a set at Rembrandt in an hour or so.  After a Turkish Pizza I set out to meet him, and we played a set together in a light drizzle at Rembrandtplein.  He is a virtuoso trumpet player and even though it was the first time we had ever played together, we clicked great!  We played for 40 minutes and made 80 Euroes!  Some guy gace us 50 euroes, as he just loved it!  It was a good sign.  We were armed with a permit, a PA and the arriving Spring of Amsterdam.  What happned over the next few weeks, again gave me a valuable lesson and understanding about myself, and about how Amsterdam is even more alive than I first felt........

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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Spring Forward and Fall Back - II

Things have been otherwise good though for the last couple of weeks.  It was just yesterday hit me from nowhere, and I had no guard against it.  This last week especially I have refound myself acoustically.  After busking with a PA system and virtuoso trumpet player at all the top spots with a permit.  Riding this huge Bakfiets around and spending good days smoking and drinkin, busking inside central station in the snow and sleet.  But it is a LONG story, so I suppose I better start from the start......

It all started when I met Dominik, I was playing one morning at Waterlooplein and it was goin slow, but I was stickin through.  He rolled up pushing a scooter and says he has a busking band, I should come meet up with them the next day.  He was eager for me to, so I went along to the coffeeshop Siberia the next day, and I met with a homeless polish guy who played bass, a German who played slide guitar, and Dominik on Trumpet.  They were waiting on their Cajon player.  It was drizzling rain, so instead of them playing, we smoked a joint and I made lots of sense to them about the process of recording, and busking the certain circuit.  I said I would record them, just give me a call when you are ready.

It was while I was at Rons that he called about ten days later, and said he will pass me on to his manager.  I spoke to this 'Gabriel' and he said how much would I charge for coming down and recording, I said Ahh hundred euroes.  He tells me he is starting a new record label called 'One Root Records' and would I be the producer.  I said sure, I will come down and record.  I had just finished recording my album at Jaspers, so the next day I picked up my 16 track and got a ride to Ganzenhoef in The Bijlmer.  It is on the outskirts of Amsterdam and it is 99% black.  We get there, and there is a strange vibe, this Garbriel who is in bed when we arrive comes upstairs ten minutes later holding his video phone and talking all this smarmy shit about this film he is making about Gabriel Cage and how he got some hotties to come down for an audition the next day.  There was also an Italian drummer called Virgilio, an absolutely brilliant natural musician and traveller.  And then the Reggae singer 'One Root Freeman' came later.  We set about recording, and I did a really great job of capturing and building an idea into a song.  There was a great vibe, and they loved how I was producing the music, Gabriel would go and constantly buy lots of weed, alcohol, beers on these credit cards, and at the end of the day he tells me that he cant get no more money out of the bank, but he can buy stuff.  So if he buys me a mac computer, will I record the album.  I say, sure, still unsure exactly what to make of the situation.

All 5 of us take the metro to Amsterdam and it's still all a bit weird on the way, Gabriel is speaking to random girls trying to get them to audition for his 'movie'.  We get to this second hand shop and they have 2 macs in one Macbook air for 750e or a big one for 1700.  He says he will take the Macbook Air, and then he also buys a pair of sunglasses for 80 euroes.  I think he must be a credit card fraudster.  I was watching his face as he was trying to buy the mac, and his first card refused, and then I watched his face as the second one was tried.......His relief when it went through showed.  He handed me this macbook air.  After a day of drinking so much black label vodka and whisky and beer and weed, and recording a  great reggae track, I headed home with a smile, laughing at the craziness of life.

The next day, I said I would go back there and we would record another session.  I thought I could ride it, but ended up getting lost and riding for hours, nearly 40 km I rode.  I finally bunked the Metro and got there.We recorded Virgilio playing his percussion set with Didgeredoo, but since One Root wasnt there, we didn't get nothing finished.  Isaid I would come back later with my girl to the party.  Gabriel is saying only girls get in free, and men pay 30e to get in, this is after he has auditioned the girls.  It hit me, that he is just like Johnson from Peep Show.

I returned later, and he tells me the girls have just gone, infact they never turned up. Noone turned up except us. We went in and drunk some nice whisky and smoked some nice joints.  It was a good night, we had some good discussions, and then me and Virgilio jammed, and I really connected with the songs.and felt good about the whole project.  I thought yeah, good musicians to make music with.  I said give me a couple of days to set the mac up as a studio and on Tuesday I will come down and get started.  I was in such good spirits about it all, telling everyone about this great experience and great musicians.

I got there on Tuesday and it was just Dominik there, he had just spent 1500 euroes on a portable PA system and a Roland loop station.  I was set up to record, but Dominik just wanted to play with his loops.  Virgilio was out busking, and One Root was just out doin his business.  When Virgilio returned at 11 he had his 2 friends from Italy with him.  One was an amazing guitar player, and the other just a bright eyed  young lad.  It had all just changed atmosphere, I was asking Virgilio if he wants to lay some drums down, and he kept putting it off, and saying his friend will do the computer ableton.  The next day we managed to get some things layed down, but it was hard work.  Everyone was just pulling in differerent directions.  Domink doing his trumpet loops, Virgilio doing Meditaranean grooves and One Root just wanting to do Reggae.  I was just left recording bits an pieces, then their live jams.  There was a seediness about the place.  I didn't know who was sleeping with who, or what the fuck was going on.  I just kept my guard up and slept with one eye open.

The next few days were still very weird and seedy, I just didn't know what was going there, but I felt bound there as I had just been bought a macbook!  But I just wanted to get away from there.  By Friday, I was fed up of being in the middle of 4 musicians who all wanted to do different things, there was nothing worthy coming through in the recordings, and my friend Jasper phoned me and told me about this 'Foreign Legion' Meal gathering at his.  It sounded perfect so I left the flat and went to Jaspers.

It was a great party that I will never forget, watching a sticky sunrise melt through the windows.  I said I would go and do some more recording on Sunday, but I was still so tired and effected from the party, after a strange twist of emotions I just couldnt get there, and ended up not showing up.  I went the next day, and now the atmosphere and attitude had gotten even worser towards me.  There was this guy 'Raffa' who was dying of Cancer (but I think he is just a conman myself) Said he did the drums for Seal and all other types of mainstream artists because his dad was 'a very powerful man'.  He didn't like me from the start, and he was posion to the others.  I just couldnt win this battle.  I was getting the blame for their not being no results to show.  They called me round and said they wanted to take the computer back.  I took that as an insult for what I had had to sit through this last week.  I started to lose my temper when the Rasta was screaming at me that I had to do his vocal in a certain way. I was screaming back that I aint gonna be fucked over, when I have wasted my time coming and sitting through all these different people coming in and all wanting to do different things, fuck that, I aint no miracle worker.   I can't make magic appear out of the egos of four musicians.  I felt it was right I should keep the laptop, as my time is what they hired me for.  I said I would spend a week with them recording, and I did.  But if all they make is disagreements, what can I do?  I felt like they were conning me, but I stood up for myself and screamed even angrier at them. 

Ok, there will be a 3rd part of this, but for now let's just leave it there.
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Fall Back and Spring Forward

I feel empty. My pants are nothing but rags, every sock I have has holes in it. Everything I own is scattered around different places. It took a lot of energy to get through this Winter. When you look outside and the wind is howling and snow a falling, it takes a lot of strength to pack your guitar and head out singing in the streets. You just wanna curl up in the warm. It was a heavy and rewarding experience, but it has just left me empty. I feel I need to find the strength to jump into Spring.

Yesterday was my birthday. It was the most loneliest I have ever experienced. I spent the whole day on my own, I spent my last few coins on a few beers and sat in a cold Vondel Park, and watched the thin blue sky make the still bare trees almost silhouetted. I was feeling very low and alone, and just thought of Liverpool, and how there is always a gig on, your mates are always in town, drinking or gigging. I missed home badly, but I got ready to do the evening shift at Max Eiweplein, and tried to pick myself up a bit. I played for just over an hour, and made ten euroes. At least I had enough to go and buy a nice glass of beer at The Ness.

My body was cold to the bones. I got to the Ness and felt this blanket of warmth hit me. I was on quite good spirits after the busk, really feeling these new songs I have been learning. I asked the Barmaid for a glass of Leffe, and she said she wouldnt serve me, because of how I was walking when I came in. I took a deep breath, and said I am very dissapointed by this. I told her about my day, and the fact that standing out in the cold for 5 hours makes your bones stiff. That after a year of being a street musician, I spend my birthday completely on my own, and now I am being asked to dance for a fuckin beer. I had tears welling up in my eyes, and my voice was becoming more angry. She apologised and said this one is on me. I sat outside and drank the beer. Suddenly it hit me, and in floods of tears I just thought about my life, what I'm doing, still living out of a carrier bag, begging for money on the streets, wearing the same pair of pants everyday for a year. Then right on time, when I needed someone more than anything, my girl walked through the doors.

 I tell myself that it's good to taste lifes tears. That this is what I set out for. I try and tell myself to find some strength and pick myself up. Which I will! But I just gotta accept it when sometimes life, and things floor you. I am heading to Italy for 8 days in mid April, and then I think a little week long recharge in Liverpool is needed. I still have lots to document about the Winter. I lost and found myself over the last few months with a crazy experience in the black ghettos of Amsterdam. I settled a score with 'The Terd' but for now, my 31st year on this earth is just for this chapter.

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Zappas Vibrations

Although I speak with so much love for my studio space, it does come with its challenging sides; mainly, the noise. You can have it all cos...