Monday, 3 October 2016

Warsaw Is Lost

The only sad thing about Berlin, for me, is the Police..  The only time I see them is when they are stopping buskers!  There are people selling drugs on the streets and they don't seem to bat an eyelid.  But start playing music and they are on you like flies.  Last Sunday at Mauer Park they were ahead of me every few steps and every busker I went to see were just getting told to stop by the police.  But the real sadness for me is the loss of Warschauer Strasse.

It's in the middle of a busy road and S Bahn with no shops or appartments to complain, it is a very loud and noisy spot and last year it was the best stage in the world.  I would excitedly go there most evenings, watch the sun go down and see some of the best buskers in the world ply their trade.  Alice Phoebe Lou, Infidelix, James Tuft, Thor Rixen, Giorgia Job, Alice Hills, David Gaffney, Zicamen and many more brilliant and of course some not so brilliant street artists.

It was a great night of entertainment and a good collection of people.  There were always people rolling a joint that you could have a few drags of and a Sterni for ein euro was a few steps away and there was such a great vibe there.  When we got back here last Autumn I would go until November shivering and still find people playing, but come mid November it was just too cold to stay, and I started dreaming of Spring, as I always do when life comes back to everything.

So, this Spring when I got back I had the same excitement to get there most evenings and hear some great music.  But there was a difference now, a darkness had started to creep in.  The bottle collectors were fighting with eachother, as were the buskers.  There were many fucked up people starting fights and it had a very different atmosphere.  The police were stopping nearly every busker who was playing and there was this sad energy to the place.  I kept hope and still went there quite a bit, but when there is no music, there is no light, just the darkness of the area.

Now it seems all the buskers have dispersed and found U Bahns and other place to play.  But I will always hold a special place in my heart to the Spring and Summer 2015 at Warschauer Strasse where it was the best stage in the world and I met so many incredible and beautiful people.  The last time I went there, there were 5 police cars parked there and a bunch of sad faced buskers who are made to feel like criminals for bringing light and music into a dark noisy place.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Winters Tale

I started writing this, after Niz had been here for 6 weeks, and then just left it.  But best to publish it now as things change quickly with us.....

In the 6 weeks since Niz got back from Nepal and every day has been a beautiful, fruitful one.  We feel the same excitement as when we first met, but with a special closeness and understanding of each other, that only 3 years of loving, living, busking and traveling together will bring you.  We are shining very bright and feeling a special energy and bond.

With this great energy we have, we have been making great steps with the music.  Whenever we play we get a crowd around us, the CD's are flying out and I am really perfecting the introductions of the songs and silver speak in between, Niz is singing like a 1930's angel and I have such a better grip on my crackle voice and my clean voice.  The repertoire is growing and growing and the music is glowing.

I was so nervous meeting her after those long, but thoughtful 4 months apart.  I felt I had looked deep inside myself and realised that all's I want in life is to do my best to make it work with Niz.  Make her smile and laugh all along the road we share.  And on that day she arrived I was full of this optimism and butterflies.  As she stepped through the gate of the airport I felt an even greater excitement hit me.  She was home, and I was gonna do my very best to not lose eachother like we did that Winter.

That Winter was a strange one...We arrived in Berlin in October after spending a few months in Donegal writing and recording our E.P Evergreen Dream.  At that point we had been together virtually every single day for a year.  Busking and making music is a beautiful thing, but it is also quite stressful in ways that creative personalities clash and combine.  I think of that scene in Father Ted where he screams to just "Play the F*****IN NOTE!"

We had gotten like that a little.  We were screaming at eachother a lot in Ireland.  We had a beautiful little isolated barn to live and lots of inspiration from the surroundings, but it was a very strange time creatively.  If I compare it to the desert album, the difference was that there, she would get fiesty and insistent as always, and I just used to laugh and love that side of her, but in Ireland I started reacting to it, and we would end up screaming at eachother.

We would always come back to eachother after a day, maybe 2 maximum, of moods and broods though.  Deep down I wanted Niz to really shine on this E.P..  The first record we made, 'Melodies For The Moon', was mostly me writing and recording the songs in a week, as Niz got herself ill the day we started recording.  Where The Days Have No Name is like our baby, it's the best half of me and the best half of Niz and we came together so beautifully over this album.  Evergreen Dream would be Niz's E.P and I felt I should take a slight back step.

She really pushed herself creatively, doing hundreds of vocal and violin takes.  My idea and love of trusting the first few takes and not losing the feeling was not welcome in that creative process.  I would throw some chords together and write words with her, I just felt a little left out.  But I always gave way to and remembered how I felt I wanted this to be her E.P.  I had to take a step back and let her get out what was inside of her creatively.
We came to Berlin in October with these same mixed energies.  We still had our magic in many ways, but there was something in between us.  Perhaps because I had been a bit left out of Evergreen Dream I was losing touch with myself musically.  I was doubting things quite a lot and needed to re-find something.  After many arguments about me spending the busking money on drinking and going out, I decided to go out busking on my own and make my own money.  After a warm up set at Warschauer Brucke I went to Schleisches Tor and really played well, I had a crowd around me and a new energy.  I made 86 euroes all together and felt like a rich man!

Another problem that always arose between us was the money...Since we met we would share everything, it was always our pot of gold and we would hardly begrudge ourselves anything.  But my vices outweighed hers and it was creating tension and arguments between us.  We would argue when I would come home after such a nice night to hear that I am spending all our money.  I just wanted to live and enjoy the moment of being in Berlin in a still quite warm Autumn,  not get stressed about things, just know that the money will come.

Me going busking solved a financial problem, but in the process it also created another by dividing us a little more.  One night we were arguing and I just said "I can't be like this anymore.  I love you, but I can't feel like this.  We need a break from eachother."  We kind of broke up at that point, but deep down I just needed some space to find myself and make her appreciate me again.  From this point we would remain friendly, but with a cold distance between us.

I still loved the girl with all my heart, but couldn't continue like we were as it was breaking my heart and soul.  I would sit in a seperate room and hear her in the other room learning songs on her ukelele Devendra Banharts 'At The Hop' Hauntingly and perfectly became a soundtrack to that moment, with lyrics that touched the feeling so fittingly.We would share a joint and a whiskey on the balcony together being so nice and 'friendly' with eachother,  I wanted to keep it like that and I was afraid of going back to how it was, with us fighting all the time.

The next day on my way to spend my 87 euroes I walked past the station where they give out busking permits for the U bahns and took a chance on 2 stations.  I bought myself a nice bottle of whiskey and a flask. It slowly warmed my chest and heart as I enjoyed the first chilly Autumn day in Berlin.  We had 3 months here and a Berlin Winter to face.  It was getting a little too cold to busk outside.

The permit was for Templehof which is quite a rough station in the East and I went there on my own to play in a slightly warm U bahn, the reverb was beautiful and I played lots of old songs I hadn't played for a while.  I stayed there for about 4 hours happily filling the tunnels with my crackly reverby voice and made 147 Euroes and felt great about myself!

After about a week of playing on my own and making good money I was ready to start playing with Niz again,  a little break and distance did us the world of good. We booked a station and we tried to play the old songs but they weren't working in this new busking environment, so we switched mic's and I did all the songs I had been playing on my own 'St James Infirmary' 'Wayfaring Stranger' 'Tango Till They're Sore' and lots of other dark and old ones.  This this new dynamic worked well for us.  We still had our distance but Niz seemed to be playing with a fire inside her and it was making me fall in love with her all over again.

 One day we had a really bad argument, looking back it was because we were getting so close again, and so I tore myself away, afraid to go back to how it was when we first got here.  Things were friendly and nice with us and I wanted to keep it like that for just a little longer.  We were arguing over something very petty and I said "I am going busking on my own" and with that beautiful fiesty heart of hers, she picked up my guitar and threw it at me.  I grabbed her and pushed her down to the floor and screamed at her...

It's very sad for me to write about this part of our journey, but I feel I need to get it out.  I went busking on my own with a flask of whiskey, a bag of grass and a heavy heart.  Later on I got a call from Anja who is who we had been staying with nearly all our time here in Berlin.  She is a dear friend and almost like a mother to us.  She says that both of us can't stay there anymore because of the arguments, so I agreed to leave the next day.

I carried on busking and drinking the whiskey and feeling as positive as I could about things.  I met this girl who sat with me the whole night singing and drinking, funnily enough she was Argentinian also.  Niz had slept at her friends and so I returned drunk to an empty room with an empty feeling in my heart.  The next morning Anja wakes me and tells me it's time I have to go.  It is a week before Christmas and I have nowhere to stay, 40 euroes in my pocket and a very sad feeling in my stomach.

I went to an internet cafe and searched intensely for a room on air bnb and sent some desperate couch requests.  After a few hours I found a room on Air bnb that was 20 euroes a night in a shared room with other people.  It was good enough for a start and I dragged myself and the busking trolley to Templehof where I had a permit to play that day.  When I got there, there was a homeless guy begging right where I play.  I asked him how long he would be, and he wasn't being very nice so I just setup next to him and started playing.

I was playing really well, considering.  But he was getting more drops than me!  This just disheartened me even further and almost with tears in my eyes I went about to meet the guy who owns the place I could stay.  He was a nice guy, just split up with his girlfriend aswell.  He has a place that is one big room, which he seperates with curtains.  The first night I had the place to myself, but then the next nights there were other guests and you could hear everything.  I can be a very light sleeper and found this very annoying, but still, it was a roof over my head.  I was already preparing to sleep in the U bahns.

After 2 days without Niz, I was completely broken inside.  I had realised so painfully what I had lost.  I missed her in every way and was feeling so stupid about what had happened.  I tried to telephone, they said she was not home.  Was that a lie?  I nearly cried.  I felt so alone and such an outcast.  Sometimes I would go past the house looking up at what I had lost, feeling lost.  I would busk with a broken heart and sing with a broken voice.  I would try and keep optimistic, but felt empty inside.

When I finally got through to Niz I emptied my heart to her and said how sorry and stupid I was to have lost her, I asked her if she would come back out busking with me, she agreed and we started to patch things up.  She moved in to this place I was staying and I was doing my best to make it work.  It was a strange Christmas this one, but we still made it through.  We found a place we could move in to with some musicians and we had a beautiful room to ourselves for a month.

It was a nice time in this room, we were making great money on the Ubahns, but there was still this distance between us.  Her visa was up on 21st January and we talked about going to Cyprus, Turkey and Morrocco.  But my heart wasn't really in it.  I wanted her to stay in Berlin but she wouldn't overstay her visa.  She had made some friends with these meditation classes she was taking and they were planning to go to Nepal.  She was toying with the idea, but I didn't think she would actually go.  And then a week before her visa was up she came home and said she had got the ticket.  I was so shocked and couldn't believe it!  We had a strange last week of busking together and as she left that morning I barely opened my eyes, just let her go.

It felt like we were finished for those first few weeks.  I was busking on my own, drinking heavily and feeling like shit.  I felt so alone and drunk and sad.  I needed a change of Scenery.  I found a ride going to Amsterdam and went to stay with my dearest friends, Cato and Hans.  They looked after me like family and nursed me back to strength by believing in me, encouraging me and making lekker Dutch cooking.  I spent most days in the gardenhouse singing my heart out and writing in my journal.  I only drunk about 5 beers in the whole 2 months I was there, I lost my Berlin Belly, rode my back, drew lots of pictures and managed to record an album for Cato.

After 2 months in Amsterdam my 34th Birthday was approaching and I checked the weather radar and Berlin would be in 20 degree sun!  It was also a Sunday so Mauer Park would be alive again.  I decided to hitch hike the day before and get back to Berlin. I woke up a little late on the day I was leaving, had a nice breakfast with Cato and she gave me some chocolate and bananas and some Dutch cheese breads which would prove to be a life saver.  I had about 12 euroes to my name and a little bit of Nepalese hash.

I started my bike ride and approached Amstel station and a car came out of nowhere and hit a cyclist who went flying with his bike in a twist!  He got up OK and started screaming at the driver, I asked him if he was alright and offered him my bike.  He said no, as he was about to take a lot of money from the driver for the incident.  I found a road to hitch hike and waited at the spot with my thumb out and a sign saying Berlin.

It took an hour before someone stopped, it was a woman who was going to a yoga centre, but she could only take me 8km.  I took it, just to start the journey and know that I cant turn back.  She dropped me off at this bleak motorway station and I waited another hour before a ginger guy took me 20 km.  Another car took me 5 km and then a teacher took me 70km close to Appledorn.  Another guy took me to the nearest petrol station 2 km down the way..  It was just starting to get dark and I was just starting to worry.

It had taken me 7 hours to get 120 km out of Amsterdam and as darkness descended I started screaming out all these crazy thoughts in my head.  I would be filled with 5 minutes of complete optimism and positivity followed by 5 minutes of complete despair and fear.  I had no phone, and Niz had said she would phone me on my birthday from Nepal, my laptop had no battery and I had no idea what time it was, just that it was dark and cars wont be stopping for a tall bearded man in the middle of the motorway looking desperate singing and screaming.

The petrol station had closed so I guessed it must have been around 10 o clock.  The hunger started to hit and I remembered the chocolate from Cato, I paced myself with it and just took a few blocks of it and got ready for a night at this wretched motorway stop.  I rolled myself a hash joint and wrote 20 pages in my journal.  I would still try and hitch hike in the dark but it was a waste of energy.

It was just after midnight when the police came to me asking what I was doing.  I was still in good spirits and had a nice chat with them.  I told them it was my birthday and he said 'Do you smoke?'  I said 'Yeah' and he gave me a cigar and said 'Happy Birthday'.  They said they could give me a lift to a train station that would take me to Berlin, but when I said I had no money they said they couldn't do it because they would know I would be bunking and would have to arrest me.

There was a small playground at this station with a slide and stuff, so I lay on the slide and tried to sleep. Just as I got a little comfortable I felt a gentle rain start to fall, so I lay in this doorway shivering with my head in my arms.  I didn't sleep, just lay there uncomfortable and all through this whole experience I was telling myself I would be at Mauer park tomorrow with a beer for my birthday.  I finished every paragraph of my journal with that sentence..'I will be in Mauer Park Tomorrow'.  It was my mantra to get me through.

When the sun started to come up I waited for the gas station to open to drink a coffee and use the toilets and get myself together for another day of standing on a motorway with my thumb out.  I freshened up, brushed my teeth and washed my face and headed once again to the side of the road to begin the day.  The first hour I was so positive, I was screaming out 'Come on, who's going to Berlin.  You got space for one more, hey!'  After an hour and a half a car stopped and it was the police saying I couldn't stand here to hitch hike.  I told them my hard ships of the night and they said they could give me a lift to the train station.  At this point, I couldn't refuse.  I thought I would take my chances bunking rather than waiting in this dank motorway for another moment.

 They took me to the station and showed me where I could get a ticket.  Just as I looked down, I found 5 euroes on the floor!  It was a bit of luck after a hard night.  I pretended to buy a ticket until they left and then went to the platform.  I was building this story in my head for what I would say to the ticket guard.  I waited 40 minutes until the train come and then got on.  Just to see that it said 'Berlin' on the front was enough for me to take my chances.

After about an hour of cruising through the landscape in speed and style, a big German woman came down from the carriage asking for tickets.  She was slowly starting to approach me and my heart was thumping.  I had the story in my head..."Do you speak English?  I have spent the night trying to hitch hike, and it is my birthday today and I really need to get to Berlin!"  She was a few seats away and getting closer and as she got to me I just froze.  I didn't move or look at her and the guy sitting next to me got out his ticket on a sheet of paper.  She looked at it, smiled, and walked straight past me!

I was nearly crying with joy, she must have thought the guys ticket was for 2 passengers!  It was a 5 hour journey though and I knew she would be coming back at some point.  But at least I was in motion, getting closer to Berlin.  I tried to sleep on the train, but I was still uneasy about the ticket situation so I just calmly watched out the window us crossing the border between Holland and Germany.  After about another hour she came back from the other side.  They original guy next to me had gotten off the train and someone else was sitting by me.  She got closer and closer, and as she got to us, she just walked past!  I think it was just the energy I was emitting.  Sheer desperation to get to Berlin.  Maybe she sensed this and that's why I was able to make it to Berlin in 5 hours.

Pulling in at Berlin Haubtbanhof, I couldn't contain my joy!  I was tired and weary but so happy to have made it here.  I had 7 euroes to my name.  Enough for 2 beers and a Doner.  I went to the nearest Doner stand and ordered a special.  It tasted fantastic.  I then jumped the train for Mauer park taking in the atmosphere of this great city.  It was raining and cloudy in Holland when I jumped the train, and now it was sunny and hot with fluffy clouds floating around the new Spring sky.  I bought 2 beers, a Berliner Kindl and a Pilsener and made the ten minute walk to the very special place and finishing line 'Mauer Park'.

The first thing I did was throw my stuff down, lie on the grass take a swig of beer and write in my journal in shaky victorious handwriting "I did it!!!  You see, life.  I did it!"  I met an old busking pal, Zicamen the Brazilian who was just starting.  When he finished we smoked a nice joint together and I told him my story.  The sun was shining nice, and after a cold dark winter I could feel the first warm suns of Spring break through the darkness and sweep the Winter away.

I finished my beers and got ready to make it to Anja's.  The boys were already so excited to see me again, and I hadn't turned up the day I was supposed to.  I got on the S Bahn and started the journey,  a few stops into it a bunch of ticket collectors jumped on in plain clothing and started asking for tickets.  Again, I just froze.  I didn't do anything and they just passed me by!  I couldn't believe it!  Twice in a day my luck had saved me.  Elated, I made it to Anja's, gave the boys a big hug and rested well, knowing that I had made it to my destination at last.

In the 2 months I spent there before Niz got back, I just took it easy with the busking.  I would go when I needed to, and when I wanted to enjoy it.  When I had no money, I would busk and then just enjoy Warschauer Strasse or go to a music bar.  Buy a big cigar and a few beers and just be a nice presence in Berlin.  One day I was going through the second hand shops and found a very stylish brown suit that fitted perfectly!  I took it as meant to be and bought it for 24 Euroes and looked very stylish in the process.

I just drifted along like this for these 2 months, counting down, but appreciating the days until Niz got here.  It was hard to busk outside again after playing in the reverby Ubahns.  I struggled at times but had to make the shift as the weather was so beautiful.  I spent a lot of time with the boys, taking them to the playground and writing in my journal.  The weeks passed quickly and soon it would be time to meet Niz at the airport and see how we felt with eachother.  I nervously sat at the airport looking at every face that was passing through, meeting up with loved ones and smiling and kissing.  Just when the last few were coming out, there she was, shining brightly.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Let the world know you are here

The sun is getting warmer and the tulips and daffodils are in bloom, that can mean only one thing.  The darkness of Winter is receding, making way for the best season....Spring!  It is still in battle though, one day will be sunny and warm and you think it will be like this always, and then the next day is cold, dank and miserable.  I love to see how the seasons battle with each other.  You can feel the warm sun of Spring, mixed with the cold winter winds.  But we are on the cusp of the start of the brand new season of sunshine and adventure with much more music and memories to make.

I have been using my time well here in Amsterdam, having a little inner journey myself.  Not drinking alcohol and I am thinking a lot about the future and my life.  I want to spend the rest of my thirties seeing as much of the world as possible and not giving up on my dream.  When I first started playing music and believing in myself, all's I wanted to do was travel the world and play music.  I thought I would be playing big stadiums and living in a tour bus.  I am still living that dream albeit busking to hundreds of passers by's a day and hitch hiking from city to city.

 When you stop dreaming, you age very quickly.  You have gotta have something to live for, and even if you never make it, it is much more fun spending your life trying to!  I couldn't imagine doing anything else.  When Niz first left, I looked at jobs and ways to make money and take a rest from living this life.  But I quickly realised I could never do anything else.  I am too selfish with my time.  I believe that is our sacred gift and it is how you spend your time that really matters,.

I love to wake up on a Monday morning, smoke a little joint draw a picture in my book, write in my notebook and play and sing my heart out.  I love the notion of filling notebooks with drawings, lyrics, and ideas.  It is as exciting to start a new notebook as it is to fill in the last page.  It is leaving a part of you on this world after you die.  The same with music.  Songs you record live much longer than you and your great grand-kids or relatives can listen in the future and build a picture of you.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Berlin Got The Best Of Me

Bit by bit I am putting myself back together…It has been over a month since Niz left for Nepal and the first two weeks were the hardest, I was broken inside.  Busking with a broken heart can be slow and painful and after having such a great set and sound together, it was sad and lonely on my own.  But now I am feeling better and better every day and seeing how this brave decision she made was the best thing she ever could have done for us.  We had spent an incredible year together - living, loving, busking and drifting and being so close, but the last 3 months something had been wrong between us and we were pushing each other away more and more.

We needed some space and to digest the last year together….And what a year it was!  After busking enough to get her ticket over here we got through Autumn and Winter in Liverpool by playing lots of gigs and drinking tea with Michael Phoenix.  Spring took us to Amsterdam for a few weeks where we played on the Moet Chandon boat and wrote some nice songs in the Gardenhouse.  Then we spent an incredible 3 months in Berlin - seeing the best buskers in the world, meeting crazy and beautiful people and staying with a very special family.  Summer took us to Galway where the busking was wet but the people so warm.  Then we stayed on a few boats in the brightness and sunshine of the beaches of Brighton and THEN headed to an old barn in County Donegal to record an e.p and play some very nice gigs in the legendary bars of Ireland.  Autumn and winter took us back to Berlin to busking in the U bahns, and all along this journey we have made great friends, had our ups and our downs but sung all the way!

Although it was hard without Niz at the start I am re finding myself more and more.  I got rid of my tramps coat and shoes and got a nice new pair of leather boots, a long dark green coat with gloves to match, a stylish Van Gils jacket and a few new shirts.  When you’re looking good, you’re feeling good.  When you are looking like a tramp the people in the shops pull their dogs away from you, you feel even lower.  I am using my time well here and enjoying being me again.  After a hard 2 weeks in Berlin on my own, I decided to come to my second home ‘Amsterdam’ to see my old friends and see in Spring in the flat lands.  I have been riding my bike, drinking lots of water and working hard at the garden-house in the day time writing and getting a new set together with the Spanish guitar I bought in Berlin. In the evenings I go to DeGraal to meet nice people and draw some pictures and smoke a joint.

In Berlin, I fell into a trap that a lot of performers, buskers, artists fall into.  I started relying on beer, whisky, wine and weed for inspiration and energy whilst busking and performing.  I would drink a beer on the way to the busk and then buy another 2, play for an hour and then smoke a joint.   Then I would have a little break and get some more beer in and do the last set of the evening smoking many, many rollies in between. Doing this for 4 nights a week will take its toll, and it did.  We were making great money, music and memories together though.  We could be quite distant with eachother when we were home, but when we busked we had a special energy and people felt it, we sold hundreds of CD’s in a few months.  But it was the end of a chapter.  I was drinking too much and smoking and though I didn’t see it then, I think that is what caused the distance between us.

I came to Amsterdam with only my Spanish guitar ‘Misty’, and have been trying to write and learn a whole new set.  It feels like a whole new instrument to me and my voice has changed to match it.  In Berlin I was singing lots of Tom Waits songs with a whisky, weed, and pilsener gravel to the voice - really trying to crack it, with a little touch of over drive for the guitar on the amp and the wonderful reverb of the U bahns of Berlin.  But now I am projecting my voice in a cleaner, more powerful way, and it sounds quite old fashioned and different but I like it.  It has been my mission to write a set that will move me on from busking and get me in the bars and I am making great progress.

I have always enjoyed the safety of busking, no one is judging you and you can do what you want.  I started to prefer busking for passing people than playing intimate shows.  But now I feel I am ready.  I have learned a lot from busking these last 4 years and especially a lot being with Niz, so now it’s time to digest that knowledge and make something great I can be even more proud of.  And the Gardenhouse is the perfect place for it.  You can sing as loud as you want and really practice taking your voice out.  Being here has been just what I needed.  I know that Niz and I have more music and memories to make, but right now I am just enjoying and appreciating each day without thinking too far forward.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Busking in Berlin - Laws, Permits and Best Spots.

Of all the places we have busked in the world...Berlin is the best! People here really support and sustain the street music scene.  They love to buy CD's like nowhere else we have been and sit and listen and tell you how special it was to hear you play.  They pass you beers and joints and we really felt wanted.  We have sold hundreds of CD's and made such nice memories here and so I will share all the things we learned about Busking in Berlin.

In the Spring and Summer it was the markets that would keep us in  good coin.  Hackesher Market on Thursday's and Saturdays was a great place to play.  There are also buskers who play on the terraces of the restaurants but we found our best spot was just as you come out of the S Bahn the path that leads into the market.  It was by a restaurant also and they would always ask us to come and play in their terraces, which we would and then put the hat round.  Friday was not a market day but we would play and still do good there.

We went to Alexanderplatz a few times and never liked the cold atmosphere of the place.  People say it's the best spot...But for us, it was always a slow slug.  We stayed clear of that place after a few times trying it.  But if you have a big show and big sound I'm sure you can pull a crowd there and do good.  We hear mixed stories about the police giving out fines of 5000 and taking gear.  But you never know what to believe with those stories, you have to try it for yourself.

Warschauer Strasse was a strange one...It was the busking hq of Berlin and people were lined up to play an hour there.  It is a great meeting place, but busking spot I am not sure.  I would watch good artists with good sounds play for an hour to do nothing more than 10 - 20 euroes of slow drops.  It all depends if you can pull the constant flood of passing traffic into your music.  If you do, it's a big hat.  If you don't, you are just a background noise to an already noisy part of the city.

Schleiesches Tor is much better.  Perhaps because it is sheltered a little bit and the sound carries more.  It has a nice atmosphere to the place and I did very good there on my own - pulling a crowd and selling CD's and meeting people.  It has main roads all around and is quite noisy, but if you have a little street cube you can rise above it nicely.  You can get a lot of police and community police passing by, and if they are in that mood they can stop you, but it is well worth a try.

Of course there is Mauer Park on a Sunday it has a great big flea market and music every couple of meters.  You will need a big sound here though because the last time we were there bands were mic'ing up the drum kits and playing full shows with full PA systems.  Very loud.  We use to do our busking week at the markets then go to Maur Park just to enjoy the day and find so many great buskers.

There is a lovely terrace outside Wittenbergplatz by the fountain which is a great outdoor spot to play.  It has lovely fountains around and has a very nice atmosphere.  There is traffic around you, but not so loud so you can cut through with a cube nicely.

There are markets all over Berlin and most of them really appreciate music there.  Just find the market meister and ask if you can play for an hour.  Maybachufer market has a stage and you can put your name down to play and someone goes round with the hat.

Frankfurter Allee is another good spot even for acoustic.  It is where the S Bahn meets the U bahn and has a lot of passing people.

Rathaus Steglitz is another spot in the West where the S meets the U and between those two lines is a good spot for acoustic or with an amp.

When Autumn slowly turned to Winter it was too cold to play outdoors anymore.  The markets shrunk and became hard places to play.  I looked at getting a permit to play on the u-bahns and it turned out to be a great investment.  There are a few things you should know about how it works, but for the last 3 months it has kept us going in the cold Winter.

To get a permit to play in the U-bahns is a great way to put some structure into an otherwise random profession.  Instead of spending hours trying to find a spot and doing an hour here and there, you can buy a permit for a warm U-bahn station and spend the whole day playing as the trains pipe beautiful Berliners past you at regular intervals.   You are not supposed to use an amp, but if you keep it at low volume, it is OK.

You need to show up at Wittenbergplatz U-bahn every Wednesday morning at 06.30 am.  You will find a congregation of Russian accordionists and Singer Songer writers loitering about drinking a coffee.  You find the list where everyone puts their name and you put your name down.  At 06.45 the draw is made and everyone picks a number at random.  The number you pick is your place in the queue, so if you pick number 1, you get the choice of the prime stations.  If you get above 20, its can be a 4 hour wait and there are only the scraps left, but you can still find some good stations. 

Once your place in the queue is up you choose from a list of stations that they allow busking in.  It is a list of about 40 stations and the best ones are highlighted in blue.  They are Alexanderplatz, Stadtmitte and Hallesches Tor.  You can only pick one of these a week and then any number of the others.  Other great ones we have found were Templehof, Eisenacher Strasse, Bayerischerstr, Walter Schreiber Platz.  But it's nice to pick a station at random and see how it works for you.  If you get a good number it is wise to buy the week in advance.  Then you are always ahead of yourself.

It costs 7.50 a day and you can play there from 6am until 10pm.  The BVG cant stop you and it is much warmer than playing outdoors.  We made a very good living over the Winter playing in the U-bahns and I would highly reccomend it to any buskers coming here to try it.  It's great playing on the streets also, but the Ubahns are constantly piping people in and out of the city, so as always..If you can pull them into your music you can fill your hat and feel great about what you do.

Change your brown money – Like all buskers, I accrue a steady amount of brown geld and small coins.  There is a great service here where you can take all of your battered brown and small coins to the Bundesbank which is close to the station Deutsche Oper.  You climb the stairs of this church like financial building and press the button on the wall near to the door.  It will spit out a number which is your place in the queue.  Once your number is up you go through the doors into a room where through the bulletproof glass you see brand new minted monopoly money in vast amounts.  They pass you a box and you empty your geld into it.  A few moments later they return with freshly minted clean smelling money for you.  It is a great laundry service for the busker.

If this has helped in any way, it would be great if you could return the love and give me a little likey on Facey.  Danke :)

There are so many buskers and musicians here, it feels like home.  There are multiple open mics and jam sessions every night of the week.  You are never far away from any of them with the Ubahn.  It is such an alive and great city that it sometimes feels like what NYC must have been like in the 50s.  Full of art and different people all expressing themselves by playing on the streets or drawing on the wall.  I wish you the best of luck if you are heading there as a busker, and if you see us, then do say hello!

If ever you get stopped by the BVG, Police or Ordenaangsamft.  Smile and be nice as nice as you can from the first moment.  This helps to break through the uniform and disarm them a little.  If you are aggressive with them because you feel you “deserve” to be able to busk where you want – they will make an example of you and fine you and other nasty things.  A smile and a bit of charm helps you much more than getting angry with them.

Make a nice display case.  Don't just put a hat in front of you on the floor that people are going to walk past.  If you use your guitar case as a platform and then put a nice coloured scarf over it and then on top of that put a nice hat and your CD's and business cards about, it creates a focus point for people walking by.  When people use their hard cases as hats, I put money in and it bounces out.  So find a hat with a soft bottom and the geld will just drop in like a feather.

Brighten Brighton

It was a good 15 hours to Brighton and we were so used to the long Megabus rides now, that it flew by.  It was nice taking the ferry across the Irish Sea, that breaks up the journey a little and you enjoy the ride a bit more.  After a bumpy half sleep we start to arrive in Brighton and as we went along a road that had 5 charity shops on it we were smiling already!  The sun was shining and we could feel ourselves getting closer to the sea.  Going past all these wonderful buildings and colourful people Brighton was revealing itself to us as a very beautiful place.

We step off the bus, gather all our luggage and walk around the corner to see an incredible site.  Brighton Pier reaches out through this clear blue sea and there is the smell of candy floss, hot dogs, chips and that salty fresh sea air.  It took half an hour of walking on the pier until I had to jump in that sea.  Niz minded the cases whilst I stripped to my undies, found a towel and jumped in to the fresh eternal ocean that covers our globe.

You really feel small when you swim out to sea.  Your feet can just about touch the pebbly floor and you look out for miles and miles at this eternal ocean.  The ebbe and the flow of the waves pulling you too and fro.  A big one hits you and you get your breathe and spit out the salt water and then another is soon on the way.  It is a mighty and grand world of water that covers our world and standing on the shores of it I feel that grandness.

Feeling so much fresher and charged by an hours swim in the sea I return to Niz and we make a plan.  We still have a few hours to fill until we meet a guy called 'Olly' who has said we can stay at his for a few days.  We meet a busker who is playing on the entrance to the pier he is playing a great repatoir on a ukelele and really singing well.  We speak to him for a bit and he tells us it's a great busking city and we get even more excited by being here.

We take a little walk through the winding, curving and steep paths through lots of different shops, restaurants and streets.  It's slow when you are carrying as much luggage as we are so we just eat some very tasty fish and chips (without the fish) and drink a coffee.  We get in touch with Olly and find out where to go.  It's a little bus ride outside of the city to a town called 'Shoreham'.  So we take the bus and haul our luggage with us once again.

We arrive in Shoreham and walk over this glass bridge accross the estuary to 'The River Pikey' community.  It is a stretch of about 40 boats of all different shapes, sizes and histories.  There are old German battleships, old freight boats, fishing boats, house boats and more.  They have all been converted into houses that people live on.  We were amazed as we walked along the path finding out which one was Olly's.

His was a big old blue and green wooden one and he welcomed us in like friends. He is a baker by trade and was hand making the dough for a pizza, as we got to chatting we loved him immediately.  Especially when the 'Old Speckled Hens' came out and we shared in our love for the
Real Ale and just had good talks all evening about all sorts.  A great sense of humour and soul and we felt like we made a good friend.  That's what summer is about for us..Making music, making new friends, making memories and discovering new places.

Converting our Euroes into Pounds didn't yield good results, so we would need to go busking soon, but right now we would just enjoy being in this great place, with great company in great weather.  As we sat on the hull of the ship watching the tide roll away, with a starry warm evening sky above us we got ready for what would be an unforgettable month in Brighton.

Download the fanastic album 'Where The Days Have No Name' and pay whatever you wish..

Sunday, 31 January 2016

I'll follow the sun.

I guess it's time to try and write about the end of an era with Niz and I.  Who knows if we will make music again?  At this moment I am a bit hurt and low and wondering what to do with myself.  It is a long story so I will do my best to take it from the summer....

We left for Ireland in July and after a heat wave in Amsterdam and great music and memories in Berlin we touched down in Galway where the rain was coming sideways with the wind.  It wasn't as much rain..It was like a heavy drizzle.  Soaking you but not raining.  We thought Galway would be much bigger, but everywhere in Ireland the towns and cities are quite tiny.  It had a great atmosphere to the place though and we loved it.  We had a soup and a coffee and the people serving us felt like relatives feeding us after a long journey.

And a long journey it had been!  12 hours from Amsterdam to London..Then a 5 hour wait whilst we slept in the park.  Then a 15 hour bus ride from London to Galway with 3 changes in between.  We had chosen Galway because there was a chance we would be helping out at this farm.  They wouldn't give us any concrete information on what was expected of us, or if we could stay there for sure.  They just lured us in by saying how does a caravan with a wood fire and a small garden sound?  It sounded great enough for us to take the journey there.

We had nowhere to stay whilst we were on the bus and when we took the ferry we got some good news.  We had posted a few requests on Couch surfing and none had accepted then we received this message from a beautiful soul saying that she just had the urge to log on to CS and see if anyone needed her help.  So she sent us a message saying we could stay with her.  We ended making a great friend in Giulia La Bianca.

The other good piece of news was that there was a barn in Donegal that we could look after for a few months from August.  We breathed a sigh of relief as we were worried where we would stay once we got to Galway and our lucky stars looked after us again.   The farm in Galway turned out to be a dead end.  It was owned by a drug using juggler called Jimi.  He sent us this video when we were asking about the place and we watched it in horror when we got to Galway. 'I'd just like to recommend drugs, heroin for breakfast, cocaine for dinner and life is a struggle if you don't juggle.  He didn't have a nice face and we were glad we didn't go down that road.

After waiting at the train station for around 6 or 7 hours we finally met Giulia.  She was a bright eyed Sicilian with a warm smile and heart and we felt once again like we were meeting an old friend.  We made the 40 minute walk to her place in the rain me carrying the big case through the muddy paths and woods and then finally made it.  She cooked us some nice veggie food and we chatted about life and all kinds.  We were too tired to go busking and plus it was still raining.

We ended up spending a week with Giulia and meeting some of her really nice friends.  The rain stopped enough for us to do a bit of busking and make some money and the busking in Galway was fantastic.  Even though there were buskers every ten meters or so, people were really generous.  They really appreciate it the Irish.  Music is a sacred thing to them.  And we met some nice buskers a long the way.  One guy was playing Pink Floyd's Breathe' so beautifully and softly and had such a nice sound and voice.  I asked him where he got the chips he was eating and he just gave me them.  The Irish are very generous and good hearted people.

The beer was so expensive though.  And the food.  Everything was really.  I lost 4 kilos in a week!  The rain would stop for a few hours each day maximum.  When it did, we would rush out on the 40 minute walk to go busking and then it would start again.  We were getting a little disheartened and we would fight a little bit and storm off on eachother.  Like we have done all through our journey together.  As much as we felt so close with eachother there were times we would scream at eachother and really feel distant from eachother.

I just took it as a consequence of the life we lead.  The highs are beautiful and the lows are hard.  We would always come back to eachother though and always be strong.  But after a week in Galway we were so disheartened by the rain that we decided to leave for wherever the weather radar map showed there was sun.  Brighton was to be our next destination.  We still had a month before we returned to Ireland to look after the barn but for now, we needed a bit more sunshine.  Once again, we would meet legendary people, make great music and memories and really feel a part of the place we are in.

Download the fanastic album 'Where The Days Have No Name' and pay whatever you wish..

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Candlelight and Creativity

We found a ride going from Berlin to Amsterdam, which wasn't hard as it's the most traversed route in Europe!  Two very special cities joined together by a 6 hour drive.  We arrived in Amsterdam and felt the difference in the atmosphere immediately, Berlin is buzzing.  Everywhere you go you feel how the streets are alive,  Amsterdam is quiet and slow tempo.  But we both felt we needed this, my dear friend Cato said we could stay in her beautiful garden house while we were there, and after such an extreme adventure in Berlin we were excited to get there.

Through all the time I spent in Amsterdam I had two anchors, Cato in the East and Bart in the West.  They have helped me and looked after me so much, and always been there when I have needed it most.  This time was no different - Bart lent me a bike and we had a great night catching up with the Deeb.  Johnny Deeb is a very positive, energetic traveling candy man, and we spent some good days and crazy nights in Amsterdam together when Niz first went back to Argentina.  That was when I needed my mates more than ever and in Dominic, Deeb, Cato and Bart I had the best.

We made it to Cato's pulling all our luggage and instruments.  By now we were very heavy loaded.  We had a suitcase each, busking amp, 2 mic stands, guitar, violin, uke, 3 laptops, lots of books and other bits and bobs that made it a slow and heavy walk.  Cato has been with a great guy for the last year, Hans.  They both welcomed us in so warmly and we enjoyed a beer, smoke and nice food while talking of our Berlin adventure.

We had lived so well in Berlin, making great money, good friends and really feeling a part of the wonderful and celebrated street music scene.  We had saved 600 euroes, bought the uke and the laptop and ate the best falafel in the world.  The music scene was buzzing there, and we knew Amsterdam didn't quite match it but we would do our best and enjoy our time here.  After busking in Berlin with the amp and feeling so welcome and wanted, it was back to the streets to play acoustically.

After a few days with Cato we set out to the Garden House to write some songs, learn some new ones and practise some vocalisations.  It was well needed, we never really had our own space in Berlin.  We would go to the park to learn some new songs, but it wasn't the same as being very isolated and spending hours smoking and learning and singing.  The gardenhouse is the perfect place for it and we immediately felt this wave of creativity hit us.  We have a portable studio that can run for 5 hours on battery, so we would lay some strings and vocals down, go to the city and recharge them.

That was the best thing about the garden house, no electricity and no distractions!  Whenever we would come home the first thing I would do is pick up the guitar and start playing, practicing finger picking and singing.  The first thing I do (sadly) when I am staying at a house is pick up the laptop and go online.  We wrote and recorded a very nice song and put the Uke to work for the first time for the Caravan.  It was an amazing time and we really appreciated being there.  A heatwave hit us for the ten days we were there and we didn't even attempt to leave the gardenhouse until 6pm.

We had tried busking on the streets and it was OK, a little slow going after Berlin but we found a way to relly enjoy playing music for Amsterdam.  The Champagne Boat is a luxury boat tour that serves Moet Chandon and is run by a group of friends.  We would play on this and then put the hat round afterwards.  We were making at least 50 for a tour, which was a nice 50 to make.  Sailing around the beautiful canals and playing Blue Moon and Moon River and people really enjoying and listening.  Amsterdam was still eating at our savings a little bit though, but we were doing OK.

One day the sun was shining bright and with Cato and Hans we decided to go to the beach, it was a lovely day so we packed some Nepalese hash, some Dutch Bread and Cheese and a few Brand Beers into a beach bag and made the hour drive North to the beach, as soon as we got there people were leaving in droves, shivering.  We stepped out of the VW van and seen why.  The wind was howling and cold and the sky was grey.  But the European spirit is to see it through and make the most of it.  After half an hour of trying roll in the wind Hans remembers he has a wind shelter and we set it up.  Ahhhh, bliss.  We have our wind shelter and picnic and are very cosy, then the moment you step up the wind blasts you and you get back in saying 'Lets never go out there!'  I did though, I took a big run and just jumped into the cold sea

We were starting to prepare ourselves for Ireland.  We didn't really know what to expect as we were still in a European mindset, but it was the next step and we had to get ready to say farewell to Amsterdam

Download the fanastic album 'Where The Days Have No Name' and pay whatever you wish..

Zappas Vibrations

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