October 11, 2018
“Hello darkness my old friend.”
- Sarah, singing, with the most peculiar smile on her face ….
There was going to be a lyrical bit today but I lost it.
At some point last night I was at our show and a line popped into my head that I really liked. That’s the way it tends to go with these things. There’s a line. I grab onto it. It’s the first teasing string I pull that lifts the curtain on a passage or vignette that feels profound to me. Alas, I didn’t have a chance to write down the line and forgot it, so whatever I was going to write will have to wait for another time.
Still, all the feels this morning.
Yesterday was extra fun for a lot of good reasons. We bid adieu to Friesland in the morning, which wasn’t one of the fun things, but we were bound for the German town of Leer and the Texas River Ranch. Last year we played there at the peak of the Virus of the Van and had to modify the setlist to save Sarah’s voice. As I said yesterday, I took a turn on lead vocals, as did the other guys in the band. It turned out to be a unique and memorable gig. Last night was unique and memorable too for similar reasons (though, thankfully, none had to do with the “V’ word).
First, it was our Canadian friend Pamela’s 50th birthday celebration, which brought a bus load of Frieslanders to the gig. I can’t name everyone, but it was the first appearance for the beautiful Jikke, and it was great to finally see her again. Many of our German fans were there too. We arrived in the afternoon to set up and then were able to grab a bit of time at our hotel.
We returned to the venue for dinner and the lads once again indulged some incredible steaks. The Texas River Ranch is a Texas-themed steakhouse that features fabulous food. Its proprietor, Bernie, is a great guy who really looks after us.
After dinner we went up to play. The first set was kind of gentle (people were still eating dinner), but we ramped things up in the second set. That’s when we went a bit off script. For starters, the Ken the Zen and Johnny Strange duo made its European debut, singing the “Mean Mr. Mustard” trilogy by The Beatles in honour of Pam’s birthday. The trilogy includes "Mean Mr. Mustard," “Polythene Pam,” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” We’ve done it acoustically at London Beatlesfest a couple of times and it brought back some fond memories. Ken and I play together a lot in different configurations. It gave me a fuzzy feeling last night to bust out the bad Liverpool accents and do our duo thing.
Deni also had his moment to shine with a couple of solo songs that, as you might expect, went over extremely well. He's developing quite a little following in Europe and it wouldn't surprise me if he started playing more over here as a solo artist. Hey, maybe he'll even need a percussionist ....
Later, Pam’s husband Rob came up, strapped on a guitar, and did “Hard Day’s Night” with us. I gather he hasn’t done a lot of performing in front of people, so it took courage to step up in that room and play. He did great and the band had a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure Pam did too. As ever, it’s compelling to watch the way Sarah connects people. I see it everywhere we go. Last night we had Canadians and Germans and Dutch people, all of whom have come to know each other through Sarah’s music. That’s a cool and powerful legacy.
We finished the show and were able to spend some time with the fans again, taking photos and signing things. It’s become a tradition – twice in a row makes a tradition, right? – for everyone to gather around the table in the middle of the restaurant for a group photo after these Texas River Ranch gigs. We did so last night and it’s a memory we’ll all cherish I’m sure.
Also, Tanja bought me a cool hat with a skull on it. Thank you!
After the show it was back to the hotel for nightcaps and chats. These are the times that really build the bonds. On stage we’re concentrating on our playing and putting on a show. In the room, in the van, the performance part goes away. The walls come down and we can just talk. The bonding process accelerates for a band on the road. You become close very quickly and you learn to rely on each other. Those moments have made us better on stage together. Something to do with trust, probably. It’s important for bands to build that trust and it’s those quiet times, when there’s no pressure or pretense, that the deeper connections are made.
But what was that lyrical sentence?
It wouldn’t work now anyway. I’ve said before that those passages need to come from a moment of inspiration. You can’t manufacture them. It’s not just the sentence that’s lost. It’s the moment. The feeling. The impulse. This is my practical lesson of the day for all of you writers and musicians and lyricists: Write the stuff down! Hum into your phone. Make a note. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dragged myself out of bed in the middle of the night to capture a melody or write something out. There’s gold in those little creative pushes if you learn how to mine them.
I’m blathering now. Sorry. We’re back in the van, headed to Blind Baby Squid’s place under an almost cloudless German sky. The highway is lined with tall evergreens and maples and who knows what else. Here and there I see the most brilliant flashes of fall colour. In a week or two this whole country will be ablaze with reds and oranges and yellows. Chances are I won’t see it.
Good thing I’m going home to a place with some the most beautiful fall colours in the world.
But not yet. We have more work to do before we head west again. Tonight it's a sold-out show in Gladbeck, Germany.
I've been working on my "Liverpool" just in case.