The Billy Shinbone Show

People & cars.

 

Time is much quicker than I have time for, so my little tour diary is becoming a feat of memory, a sort of autobiographical lucky dip through the sawdust of my mind. So anyway, I'll tell you a little about how come I'm touring in Germany. I'm playing as part of Nick Parker & the False Alarms, & with that comes the opportunity, usually, to open the show with my own solo set, make some friends, scout for suitable venues for my own tour later in the year, as well as playing Nick's fabulous songs. He writes songs that seem like happy-go-lucky folk pop ditties about ordinary, unglamorous life that are actually lyrically & musically complex enigmas that reward the careful listener. He is also a very funny man onstage & even moreso off stage, in a car, a hotel room, a service station.  He makes very filthy jokes sound very innocent & vice-versa. The rest of the False Alarms are my Flipron bandmate Tom Granville- a wizard of bass excellence & apparently impenetrable smiley sensibleness. But that's just a veil to disguise the cheery hellraiser that rages beneath. I have seen him smoke a cigarette. This man has no boundaries. Drumming with us is Kyle Cullen, an amazing musician, drum teacher, drumming writer whose percussive talents are only eclipsed by an ability to fall in love, often profoundly, but always with an incandescent optimism that cannot be crushed until finally it is. Kyle knows how to have fun with drinks. Then there is Brad Lister on guitar, bandleader of Glastonbury blues monsters Swampgrass. Brad is an amzing musician who has learnt all the folk fiddle reels from Nick's last album & belts them out on his Telecaster whilst grinning happily under a little hat making sure that every note he plays makes people feel good about their lives, even if only for a moment.

We are all five of us travelling in a Seat Alhambra with two guitar combos, a bass cab & head, a bass, three guitars, a drum kit, a mandolin, an accordion, a lap steel & a banjo, plus cables, other devices, mic stands, rucksacks, spare shoes (me) suits (me). We are squashed in like marshmallows into the mouth of a greedy child. But it's OK. We're happy.

February in Germany

 

It's quite cold. I've done a lot of driving & haven't had a chance to write until now. I remember these things: In Aachen, when we got to the venue I was given a cup of tea that is, I gather, a local speciality. It's called, roughly translated, Aachener Thinking Tea. Sort of an infusion based cocktail thing with lemongrass & some other stuff. I drank it & the tiny gears of my brain whirred a little & I did indeed think. That might have happened anyway, so I'm not sure I can vouch for its efficacy with any degree of whole-heartedness. In Offenburg, we played in an Irish Pub called Dubliner, run by a Frenchman called Pascal, who loves jazz & has battered white baby grand in the corner for his impromptu flourishes of exotic jazz virtuosity, - we were treated to one. Also of an impromptu nature was our accommodation - we slept at the large & comfortable house of a local girl's (Roberta) family who didn't even see any of the sets that we/I played. (I'm an opening act for & musician in my fried Nick Parker's band.) We were invited in the late night drinking & singing session that followed the planned music. In the morning, we persuaded Roberta's dad to play us some of his amazing Brazilian choro  music on guitar. He was amazing. Then we drove to Kafe Kapillo in Langenau, a suburb of Ulm, in the south. This café is a lovely place to play music. We were treated to a fabulously over the top PA system that catered for every detail of ours & our audience's musical needs. But really what stands out is that every inch of the cafe's interior surface, including floor & ceiling, are covered in owner Dmitri's wild psychedelic folk-art paintings, drawings, doodles & fantasies. He made for us huge plates of Greek salad & sausages (a winning combination) & though I began my set with all the urgency & swagger of a man stuffed full of sausages & feta cheese, the evening ended with the raucous unhinge-ing of musical doors & a hotel with a white plastic cuckoo clock & pictures of little ponies on the toilet paper. For fans of cockney rhyming slang such as myself, this is little short of poetic. More soon.....

DIY Recording

 

I have no proper home studio, but I have a laptop & a single microphone. My temporary recording space, my vocal booth, my live room, whatever you want to call it, is a little alcove in my house that I rig up with duvets, cushions, bits of foam & blankets to make an acoustically neutral space in which to make noises. There is no power here, so I have to run a cable from the other side of the room for the laptop etc. The laptop sits on a chair outside the duvet/curtained-off alcove, which I reach out to hit buttons on when I'm ready. Inside I'm crouched on a camping stool, (a low noise, uncreaky sort of camping stool) with a microphone on a little desktop cradle perched on top of an amp. Then I sing & play & howl, trying not to let the sound of click track bleed into the microphone.... In spite of the headphones being quite nice AKG enclosed headphones, it bleeds into everything. I'm just about to try out my latest attempted solution, replacing all the clicks with muffled beats on a blanket covered cardboard box so I have a basic tempo skeleton with which to stop myself getting way too fast on every song.... I'll let you know how it goes!

Rostock, Lubeck, Bremen & Hanover.

 

Ah yes, I haven't posted for a couple of days, it's been busy & I haven't had a chance to sit down & think or anything. So where were we? As yes, a Sunday evening in the one-time East German Baltic Sea port of Rostock. Yes I know it's still a port on the Baltic Sea, but it's now in a re-unified Germany. I have never seen such a collection of terrifying concrete prison blocks, unlit empty car parks & wasteland that makes for the cosy suburbs of Rostock. But this is where we were staying. But it's all just a ruse. Inside the horror block which was to be our cell for the night it was warm & bright & full of plants & pictures with delicious food smells & clean bathrooms & huge bosomy sofas to fall into. Our hosts were also warm & bright & friendly & clean & clever & funny. The gig was in town, much more appealing than the suburbs. A wohnzimmer gig. That's a gig in somebody's sitting room. The sitting room of some medical students. Once they'd taken our pulses & made a few basic examinations & probes we had FABULOUS fun singing without microphones & amps set to just under one. It was just like being a student again, if I'd been one in the first place, which I haven't. (I chose the dole instead. Happy days!) Thanks to Phil for sorting it all out & Mandy for her kind & attentive beer chilling activities.  Next night was a gig in an anarchist-squat-collective-community-café-meets-trailer-park-thing on the edge of Lubeck. Sorry folks, there's an umlaut needed there but I haven't a clue where to find it. Lubeck is a beautiful medieval city built entirely of marzipan & it looks gorgeous even when it's PISSING DOWN with rain. Gig was fun & the vegan chilli was a welcome break from the pork, preservatives & pizza regime that we've been sticking to (quite literally in some cases) for the past few days. There's a picture of me standing amongst some community anarcho-vegan bits & pieces with a morning after look on my face. We'd all slept in a giant communal bunk bed the night before. No joke. One bunk bed big enough for for twelve people! Guess how fresh & floral it smelled after a drunken rock'n'roll band had been sleeping in it? Then on to Bremen, well, a suburb of Bremen called Stuhr. I didn't play a Shinbone gig here as there was a built in support band at this venue which was a music school. Squeaky clean, grey carpeted, hoovered & hoovered again, fresh flowers & lots of brand new guitars everywhere. The support were a bunch of teenage students from the school. Wish I'd been as good at age 14 as these kids were! Then we drove straight to Hanover for comfy beds. Next day Nick, Robin & Tom (my fellow False Alarms) went for a swim & a speeding ticket whilst I wandered round town with our host Olly & found a little bar that brewed it's own rather delicious beer. The gig though was in an Irish bar. Fabulous. The Shinbone gigs are getting better & better & I'm growing in confidence as a solo act, & the Nick Parker & the False Alarms gig was great as ever. In this band I play guitar, banjo, lap steel, mandolin, accordion & harmonica & sing back-up so it takes me forever to set up & forever to pack down. Whilst I'm still coiling up cables & putting instruments in cases our drummer Robin is already half-way through relieving the bar of its unnecessary over-stock of Jack Daniels. OK, that's the catch up. I'm going to work my way through this cup of tea & choose something from the newly clean laundry. They even have washing machines here! Thanks to Hardy, Olly & the gang for being such generous hosts for the past couple of days. x  

Neubrandenburg

 

I've played a few strange venues in my time, but last night's gig in a ranch-themed bicycle shop & bar is one I'm unlikely to forget. I played a short Shinbone opening set without any problems. But when we played the band set the acoustic properties of a ranch-themed bicycle & bar became apparent. We battled with feedback through most of the gig. Nick broke a string mid-song but, rather heroically, managed to change it & tune up again before the song had finished. The after show party was so fabulous & fun that we'd have to rebrand the gig a before-party show. So many lovely people to talk to by the fire outside & a seemingly inexhaustible fridge full of Astra beer. Thank you to Hartmut from the bike shop for throwing such great party & to Jason from Last Orders for his work, help & hospitality here. On to Rostock for a private gig in a house tonight...

Update from Germany

 

Well that's two gigs done. Hamburg & Neubrandenburg. The first was a little fraught as we'd driven for eight hours straight to the gig, then set up & played almost without pause. Mentally I was somewhat ill prepared to entertain a bar full of drinkers, but the cogs whirred & the set ticked its way to the end without major accidents & I enjoyed the encouragement of a man whose enthusiasm for dancing & clapping to the music was unfettered by his apparent difficulty to do either with any great style. He should be on a stage, -he's got more guts than me. The set with Nick & the False Alarms went a little better. I slept on cushions from the bar seating on the floor in the back room, BUT we were left on our own all night in the bar & told to help ourselves to drinks. Yes, you heard right. Locked in a bar & told to help ourselves to drinks. But to be truthful we were already well watered & far too tired to have more than one before we all just fell asleep. Last night in Neubrandenburg was a fabulous gig though, a lovely crowd, great sound & atmosphere. This was a smoking venue, so today my clothes smell like they used to do after gigs & nights out in the past. I felt all nostalgic for stinking smoky jackets & coats & hair.... Neubrandenburg is a former East German town, with huge ugly concrete monoliths overlooking half-empty car parks & rail depots. However, we found a Netto Supermarket & I bought sweets for my kids & a bottle of Bourbon for 6 Euros! I suspect it's not really one to savour... Tonight, we're playing in a bicycle shop in the same town. Yes, a bicycle shop, & yes, a long story that isn't very interesting. But the gig might be....

German & Slightly Belgian Tour

 

I'll be playing some dates in Germany & one in Belgium over the next few days. I'll be playing 40 minute solo sets as support to Nick Parker & the False Alarms, as well as playing in Nick's band. All the dates are on the calendar. I enjoy German food & drink, especially the wheat beers & the delicate Rieslings of the Mosel Saar Ruwer region, which are famed for their steely acidity, intense perfume & extraordinary longevity. Yup, I likes a bit of that. Should you wish me to come & play round your neck of the woods, let me know by email or facebook or twitter or whatever. I'd love to here from you!

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