Wednesday, 22 April 2015

THAT London

We had been getting so excited to leave England, it had been 6 months together here and NINE for me!  I never thought I would have been back in England for that long, and sometimes it was hard for me to be back in ‘me ol home town’.  When you are travelling - you are discovering, your senses and mind are open to new things, new tastes, new cites, new languages.  When you are at home you have the stuff  that you know so well, the people, the places the language.  You are in a rested and secure state of mind rather than the exciting adrenaline rush of being somewhere new, with new people to meet and new buskers and busking spots.

When I first got back from Argentina I spent a month between Amsterdam and Berlin working the festivals, sleeping the streets, busking and partying but it was torture without Niz.  When May and June had arrived in Argentina I knew the sun would be out, the cities will be buzzing and life would be returning to everything.  I wanted to get back there, and I got there, but without Niz it felt wrong and lonely.  I headed back to Liverpool, lived at my mums and busked every day to save as much money for Niz’s ticket.  All my desires of being in Europe busking in the sun were empty without Niz with me.  It took 2 months to get the ticket and another month till she arrived.

Those 6 months passed and we got through it, it was a hard test for us, me being back at home, the cold streets.  But we did it and now our adventure in Europe could begin together!  The day we were leaving we played a little gig at the very special Back Bone night, which is like a little taste of Amsterdam in Liverpool.  With all our stuff (2 big suitcases, guitar, 2 violins, amp and stands) we made our way to the Caledonia for a few real ales before our 2am bus to London.  I love that feeling!  When everything you own is being pushed, pulled or carried with you every step of the way and you are on the bus for up to 12 hours.  I think that’s why I like taking the Megabus, because it makes me feel like I am travelling far away from home!  1 hour on the plane is nothing, 2 days and 3 different busses makes you feel like never going back.

We got on the bus and after the nights consumption, we slept easily but still always painfully and arrived in London to just see the city waking up.  We had a few missions when we got there. I love calling things you have to do ‘missions’ it suits the exciting and challenged mentality you are in.  Our main mission was to sell Nizha’s old violin and then get to her friends in the evening.  We found a coffee house that had the wifi and I found the location of a cash converters  that was a few miles away.  I phone them up and they tell me that I need a letter with my address on it, I only had my passport but realised I could print a bank statement from online.

Niz waited in the horrifically noisy Victoria Station with an Orwellian female voice spitting orders and Newspeak on a loop while I found a place that printed.  I printed our tickets and the statement then needed to find a way to get to Elephant and Castle tube station.  Niz’s Oyster card was minus in money and I stuck a tenner on it in the hope it would get me there.  The money was flying out of our pockets, coffee, printing, oyster cards, breakfast everything was chipping away at our hard earned pounds.

I arrive at this tube station and walk for about 40 minutes through a very poor area.  There was an old woman with intense staring eyes holding a cup for change pushing it in your face saying ‘mama, mama help me’.  I chucked her 10p and kept walking, the market aromas and sounds all changing every few steps.  I arrive at the Cash Converters and wait in a long line of people selling Ipads, Hifi’s and Phones.  I wait nervously in the hope that they buy it after the journey I had been on to get here.  Things are always harder, heavier and slower after a night on the Megabus Hotel.  I smile at the Slovak looking girl behind the counter and watch her colleagues carry all the goods they buy for buttons to a big dark room behind a locked door. ‘I’m selling this violin’ I say, ‘it did us great on our album we made in the desert!’  Without a word or a  glance she picks up the violin and types the serial number into the computer.  After it loads she looks at me and asks me how much I want. ‘A hundred would be great I said’.  She says that brand new they are going for 240...I smile but try not to look too shocked, and then with a few more taps on her keyboard she says that second hand they are going for 60.  She tilts the screen to show and say that mine in particular is going for 53.  I say ‘Go on, how much will you give me then?’  She softens her eyes and says ‘40’.  I tell her she has a deal and sign my name thankful that she even took it.  

I take the long walk to the station again, but this time stopping for what was a lovely egg and bacon butty from a greasy cafe.  I was so tired and getting irritated by London, the butty helped a fair bit.  After 3 hours I get back to Niz who has been waiting in a Mcdonalds  at the station, falling asleep and being woken by the police telling her to be careful and watch her stuff.  We are both really tired and feeling a little drained now.  There was still no word from her friend who we were staying with that night so we made our way to the internet at the coffee shop, with one of the main missions complete.

We make contact with her friend and get the directions.  You can’t pay on the busses with money anymore, you need an Oyster card.  I queue for an hour in a slow moving and sighing line of tourists with Mrs Newspeak on a loop right down my ear.  There are 2 tills out of the 5 open and people are getting irritated more and more.  The balding men behind the glass sneer and talk patronisingly to the sad eyed Italian family who have to spend 125 pound on a day or two of tube travel.  I finally get to the till and it takes me seconds.  A little angry and irritated I head back to Niz.

The sad thing was, we didn’t even need that Oyster card.  It is easy to bunk on the busses!  Subways no but busses yes.  Another little jab from a London I was becoming sick of.  We find her friends stop in Hackney and walk to her place.  She is a lovely girl, an Argentinean Tango Singer Songwriter called Corina Piatti. We spent a nice few hours of chatting and drinking mate.  She was going to spend the evening out so she gave us her bed for the night and we get ready to sleep Horizontal for the first time in 2 days.  I head out to get us some food, and there was a very nice vibe to the city.  When you are out of that noisy busy and bustling centre it’s a different place, and walking past all the multi cultural shops to find a nice Indian - a little bit of love came over for me for London, which started to heal the days inflictions.

We set the Alarm for 4 am and slept restfully cuddled together between the hot water bottle and our  tired legs.  After a short warm dreamy sleep the alarm buzzes and we pick ourselves out of bed to get all packed and ready to leave again.  It is an hour to the centre and our bus leaves at 7.  We bunk the bus and sell our Oyster cards to a couple of Chinese tourists and start the 12 hour journey out of England and into AMSTERDAM!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Hello Spring

I really can’t believe it’s took me this long to even attempt to write a chapter like this.  Writing has only been a small part of these last five months really.  I think my last entry was still about busking enough to get Niz here. Well... we did it and we have had the most incredible last five months becoming a really brilliant and as close as can be duo in Love, Art, Music and everything else.  We have been playing lots of gigs, busking, writing and learning lots of songs.  Spring is awakening, and the daffodils signal a fresh new year has begun, life returns to everything and everyone.  Those first breaths of Spring - a sunny, yet chilly early Spring day puts such a big smile on my face and in my heart and mind.    Perhaps that’s what has given me the urge to get writing this and turn the winter into a chapter of memories.

The busking was going great in Liverpool.  For the first few months there it was still summer season and what a good summer it was.  Endless weeks of Sunshine and blue skies, I was still on such a high from Argentina.  I was in a great frame of mind and so focused on getting Nizha here.  The goal was to raise £1000 and get her ticket as soon as possible.  I was busking hard and saving hard and doing my best, even when it felt so hard to busk.  

Whenever you do a lot of something you can get tired of it.  And one of the main elements of busking is enjoying it.  If you are, other people will.  It was also hard to go back to playing on my own after having such a great set with Niz.  I did it though, the only thing that got me through was the thought that she would be here soon.  That was enough to get me out nearly every day of the week and make the most of the weekends.  I will write a buskers survival guide on my Liverpool adventurers as a busker soon.  Liverpool is a very generous city to buskers, it is woven into the culture of the city and it was a pleasure to be a part of it.

I had saved over 400 quid, and Niz had managed to get about the same amount and we were getting ready to get the ticket!  It was all in the bank and we were so close to reaching what we had been working so hard for and wanting so much.   Once we got it, then the wheels were in motion.  It’s still another month until she takes the flight, but it’s happening!  I still busked, but I took it a little easier after that.  I needed a little break from too much day busking, but still made sure I got out at the weekends.  The weekend busks were the best.  

I would buy 4 bottles of real ales (Speckled Hen/Bishops Finger/Abbots/HobGoblin) and enjoy the night.  Things would get noisy and buskers would be battling but the banter on the streets is the best.  Liverpool just has such a good energy and people.  A very vibrant city and I never had one bit of trouble or scuffle or harshly bad interactions.  They love buskers in Liverpool and the buskers love Liverpool.  I did and do, don’t I though.

Even if you hate the song ‘Wonderwall’ when you are playing it and the whole street is singing it with you, murdering it with all their love for it it can be quite touching.  After the second ale I am usually nice and warmed up, volume and energy has cranked a little higher as more and more buskers emerge into the night to earn a hat of gold coins.  The Romanians are the problem, no speak English and no care playing ten feet away from you.  When you can’t turn up the volume any higher to drown out the brass you start to sing so loud and with everything you have.  How much energy can you put into the song?  It would sometimes feel like a battle, I would put everything I had in and really crackle my voice and scream the songs, and mostly I would ‘win’.  There was a few nights when I just couldn’t or didn’t want to compete and banked what I had and left a little early. 

By the the 3rd and 4th ale you are in a good flow with the songs.  You bounce off the energy from the people you interact with.  It was these experiences that would shape the night.  You could always feel it turn, sometimes you get calm quiet spells and you really enjoy your set and give the city your heart in music.  Then it turns, and late night in town can be like a jungle full of wild animals.  But it’s a rich jungle and the drops are big if you have the endurance  and strength for it.  I loved it.  Going home with a full bag of gold coins, a belly full of good ales, and a heart full of good experiences of interactions with people as you play music in the streets is a great feeling.

The day before Niz was due to arrive I had been busking a bit in the day and was finding it hard.  I had nothing to eat, I was shaking a bit, I was so zapped of energy.  Trying to find the energy to sing in the streets was proving too much.  But I set up on Bold street and just about managed a version of wish you were here and made 7 quid, enough for something to eat and a few beers to do the night shift.  I ate some chips but still wasn't feeling much better. 

 I set up to play at the bottom of Church street and already had competition from the black guy who just pretends to play guitar over a CD of songs, with a very loud P.A.  But I had to carry on, I needed to make some money to take down to London to meet Niz with.  I was playing and just not having much energy, but the more and more I played the more energy I got!  It is the energy from the people you interact with as you play (as well as a few beers perhaps) that puts you on a high.  I ended up having a great night and making over a hundred quid to take to London and see my girl after nearly 4 months apart!

I climb the escalator to the airport lobby and there she is!!!  I run and grab her and lift her up and pulling her close we kiss and hold eachother feeling so happy that we did it.  We had a little walk around London, said hello to the Queen and sat and watched the Autumn leaves drip and drop around us.  We had missed the summer months, but an Indian Summer was waiting just for us.  We took the bus to Liverpool and GOD did it feel good to be back with her.  

It was a couple of days until we went busking for the first time, we had a little practise in the greenhouse before we set out.  It was still quite warm but a cold wind was creepin’, we looked and found our spot close to St Johns Precinct.  The sound wasn’t that great, the e.qs and levels were muffled as there was a lot going through the amp, but people all around were stopping and gathering, people were throwing in lots of paper money and giving us wonderful compliments.  We made 85 quid in just over an hour, got 2 gigs from it and it felt great to be back!

One of the gigs was at a birthday party in Maghul, they wanted us to play some Liverpool Irish tunes for it.  We had a few under our belt and started to listen to and learn lots more.  We had planned a little trip to Ireland once Niz had got here, but Liverpool really seemed to want us here and it felt right to stay for a bit longer.  But Ireland has been a part of our time here.  We have been finding some great songs to play by listening to lot of The Pogues/Dubliners/Christy/Orthadox Celts and watching all of the Father Teds and many films about the Republic and the music.  It was our own little dose of Ireland before we go there.  And there are also so many Irish in Liverpool, some say it is another city of Ireland.

It was nice to be making a nice little bit of money with Niz, to be playing and sounding great.  England had saved some sunshine for us, it was the warmest October and November ever.  We were having some great experiences from busking in the city.  We had saved a bit of money and we started to buy some stuff we had always wanted - A very decent camera for Niz, with good quality video and photo because Niz is a great photographer and we can make some music videos and document our journey together in a creative way.  I got a portable studio ZOOM recorder.  This thing is incredible, 2 built in condenser mics, 2 extra XLR inputs, multi tracking and also acts as an audio interface!  All in the palm of your hand and battery operated, so now we have a studio and good photo and film wherever we go.  We can record all the street music of the world.

It was approaching December and it was turning a little icy.  We had been saying that we really need a booking agency, someone who will get the gigs and already knows the people and the bars.  After a slow and cold busk in Chester we went round every pub and cafe in the city asking for gigs.  The last one we went to took a chance on us and gave us a gig.  A few days later we were busking and enjoying the set when a guy came up and put a card in our hat and said ‘If you are after any work, then give us a call’.  It was a booking agency!  Once again what we had visualised had come true.
We gave them a call and the gigs came in thick and fast, we were only using the little busking amp and it just couldn’t cut it at the bars, so with the help of the lovely Johnny Ackroyd we got a nice little PA for the gigs, it was sounding much better and the gigs were making us rehearse hard.  We were learning lots of new songs and becoming much tighter as a duo.  Christmas came and went and a cold grey January awaited us, the first few weeks are always the hardest, it is the hangover after Christmas, no one has any money and the streets are like a ghost town.  After a very cold busk we went to our dear friend Michael Phoenix’s.

We meet Michael back in November when we needed to get Nizha’s violin fixed, we instantly loved the man.  The way he spoke with such love and knowledge about violins was inspirational; we knew we had met someone special.  He is full of positivity and generosity and makes a perfect cuppa tea.  Whenever we felt down and cold it would only take a cuppa tea with Mike to fill us with inspiration.  He believed in us and our music and got us regular slots playing on Radio Merseyside, he fixed my guitar, gave me a big bag of clothes, fed us when we were hungry, filled our hearts with warmth and became a very special friend to us, and was a true angel in our life and journey. 

January and February passed and we started to get excited for Spring.  We had been doing lots of gigs and getting by nicely.  We booked a ticket to Amsterdam for the 5th April and started to see Spring awaken with daffodils and Spring Blossom trees.  The busking was going really good and the last 5 months of playing together were showing its rewards, we were feeling and sounding great!

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