“Welcome to Switzerland”, the train conductor announced as we pulled into a station that for all I knew could have been yet another stop in South Germany. I had eagerly awaited the little, crooked man behind the coffee trolly to pass through my compartment. This announcement seemed to have been his cue, seeing as he could now charge Swiss Franks, meaning I had to part with over 4 euros for a tiny, Styrofoam cup of coffee flavoured water. My switzerland debut took me to Thun, a pretty town in the German part of the country. The venue, Mundwerk, is cavern-like with a cool little stage and a really nice team of people behind it. The gig was recommended to me by Steven Burch (The Great Park), a UK ex-pat living in Germany. Independent music making is all about sharing gig contacts and this one was certainly a good tip. The audience was great and I found it quite a good combination being able to speak German and perform in English, most if the Swiss crowd understanding both. They do have rather strange people on their money though.. I now have a bunch of these and will hang onto them before I go back for more shows in 2015.
The Alps are a more obvious, natural border. The train ride from Thun to Milan was weird and beautiful. I was surrounded by four languages, french, German, English and Italian. It felt a little like being in a space-station – so many different people from all walks of life, packed together in a little train compartment, mostly en route to holiday destinations, all being fairly chatty and friendly as the cloudy mountaintops rolled past the windows. On the other side, the architecture and the green itself felt distinctly more Mediterranean, “welcome to Italy”, the announcement followed.
How was your tour in Europe? I was asked yesterday. To which I replied, we are in Europe. It’s no wonder that people of the United Kingdom feel less European. After all, we are cut off by water. More importantly, we have to show our passports at policed borders when we enter a country. Having grown up in two different countries, I’ve always felt more European and can’t identify with any one nation state (in fact, I don’t believe in the concept of a nation state – it’s fickle and causes nothing but anguish). It’s a great to be able to travel from culture to culture freely, without having to declare yourself.
But yes, so how was the tour? Gigging in Italy has been a clear highlight this year. After my first tour in June, Davide of Hang the DJ had offered to book a return tour for me – I had six shows lined up, stretching from North to South corners of the country.
There are so many impressions floating around in my mind. I’ve seen so many rural, unashamedly ugly corners, so many breathtakingly beautiful buildings and views, driving up and down so many ridiculous mountains that made me put down my camera, for it would never be able to capture the depth or clarity they offer. I’ve seen decaying roadkill and unfortunate women in neon coloured hot-pants along the side of the “free”, pot-holed highways. I’ve seen lizards weaving in and out of abandoned kitchen utilities in the afternoon heat. I’ve found ancient towns glistening privately behind gleaming white city walls, crumbling forts and bastions, proudly perched on the peaks, staring defiantly out into the sea despite their age. I’ve met people who understand me, although they do not speak my language. On this trip I also met people who I didn’t understand although our language was shared. Mostly though, I met those who are happy to help, to point me in the right direction, to host me and listen to my songs, share with me who they are and what they do, who sing with me and want to stay in touch. That is one of the best things about my job, if one can even call it that.
I got to play on the radio and not have a clue what the presenters were saying, I had song requests from people who had never seen me perform before (which meant I had to play Buckle Up, which I hadn’t played for at least two years!) and I got to perform in beautiful town squares with churches and fountains. I felt at home in the 1960’s themed Twiggy Cafe in the North and was impressed by the cool, eco-library and performace space in the South. However, It was worth going back to Italy for the show at Tolleranza Zero alone. I was looking forward to seeing all the lovely people I had met in June, but I did not expect the evening to be quite so magical. We were still sound checking when smiling girls and boys bounced into the room to greet me, to say they’d like my new CD (now, before the show, so I get one before they’re all gone!). I was presented with this amazing painting that Marieangela had painted after the last gig in Foggia – I was asked to sign tickets and to take pictures. I stayed up into the small hours, drinking and laughing, listening to stories. I was so moved and can’t thank you all enough. In my last blog post about this venue, I asked: “How many lovely people can you fit into one small room?” The answer is roughly 72. The show was sold out and, according to the owners Davide and Marta, it was the busiest show they’ve ever had. All I can say is thank you for having me and for being so kind.
This feeling of being on familiar, European ground fades the further South you venture in Italy. The earth somehow looks a little more harsh, the coffee is stronger (and now costs only one euro) and old men sit on plastic chairs outside rickety stores and bars and look at you with a “you’re not from around here” face. “There’s no such thing as Italy”, someone had said and it’s easy to understand what they mean. There’s a universe between Milano and Naples. Perhaps we should rethink this dividing up the world with a ruler thing. I’m now back in London on this fairly nondescript rainy night, letting all the images of the past month of traveling whirl around in my mind… I think it will be a while yet before they settle and can be swept up into songs, but I look forward to sharing them with you once they’ve come along.