Wednesday, July 5, 2017

America

Heart still skips a beat over this sight at the end of the tunnel

There is still one chapter I need to write to finalize my series of catching up blog posts and what day could be better for this one than the 4th of July?  

Looking back a few months I openly confess that at first I underestimated the impact of what was happening in the US. I will not go too much into detail here, but while I was not a fan of Clinton (and no ... not her emails ... her foreign policy was my problem) I of course thought that the orange something was an un-electable joke. A very bad joke but a joke. Still ... as shocked and disgusted I was on the day after the election - like all the liberal snowflakes (I am wearing that title as a badge of honor) - as much I underestimated what was coming. I kind of thought it would be like a combination of the showman goes politician a la Reagan multiplied with the intellectually challenged appeal of Bush (W) scarily spiced up with some flat earthers which is actually already REALLY bad but still kind of within the boarder of a functional democracy even though in a version me and mine would not like much. Then came inauguration day and it all blew up and got so bad that it is hard to make satire that goes beyond reality.  And it gets worse and worse every day. 


In the middle of realizing how deep we are in shit the Biffy US dates were announced and I booked my flights to the States and planned - finally - my travel pal Gabi's and my return to our beloved Pittsburgh. During the wait time between booking and the actual trip lots of things happened like for example the "travel ban" and several times in those weeks I came very close to cancelling the trip. The USA were transforming into a country I do not want to visit (and yes I am aware of the irony because I live in Brexit Britain and in some aspects it is not much better) but it is still the home of so many people I love and so I wanted to still visit just as much. 

In a way coming to the Pittsburgh (same on the Biffy tour) was soothing because in most aspects daily life in the US still goes its way like it used to. It takes more time to fundamentally change that. Also our friends are still our friends and are as wonderful as they always were. 
The last thing is easily said, but we have not been in Pittsburgh for over three years. That is a long time. Life goes on and you cannot expect that people just wait for you to come back and open up like they would if you had just left the other day but luckily that is exactly what happened. 


Very Pittsburgh view from the bedroom

Life has changed a lot for me as well. A new city sneaked its way into my heart and even became home. My time as a restless wanderer came to an end when I settled down in Scotland. I still travel a lot and I still love it but it is not such an urgent need anymore. Pittsburgh used to be my vanishing point, my home-ish place. I do not need that anymore - at least not as much - and I wondered what that would do with my feelings towards Pittsburgh. 

I am happy to report:  it did nothing to my feelings. They are still the same. The moment we came out of the tunnel I burst into tears. Watching the sunset over the skyline from the parking lot behind our Lawrenceville town house was breathtaking and while it IS a pretty city I still do not know why I love it so much. It just is what it is. Driving around even after the long time away still barely requires a Sat Nav - it is that deep unconscious familiarity that you usually have with the place you grew up at. No idea where that comes from. Maybe reincarnation is a thing and in my last life that was home?  Or that is where I live in another layer of reality? I have no rational clue. 
One thing though changed: when I had to leave in the past and return to Munich I was devastated and used to grieve for weeks and weeks once I was back in Germany. This time as much as I loved being in Pittsburgh and could have well done with another week, I was looking forward to going home as well. I did not cry on the way to airport. It does not make the love for Pittsburgh smaller. It just shows there is more balance in my life and that I found my home and that is a good thing. 


Beauty at night


Rachel Carson Bridge light installation

The focus of our short week in Pittsburgh this time was not on sightseeing and not on sports (I did not even go to the Pens playoff game ... no time for that although it hurt!), but we of course still visited some of our fave places like 


The Strip District
or 


Braddock

And I even managed to stumble into Artisan Tattoo and score a walk in appointment with Kati Zmenkowski to get this lovely new ink based on the Biffy US Tour poster design! 




The best of the best things in this awesome week though was seeing our friends - you know who you are ;).  I am so grateful that everyone made time for us although we were not around during a weekend which made it harder for everyone. I cannot express how much that means to me and Gabi as well. We loved every minute we spent with you and we missed the ones we did not manage to see due to the really short stay of only 5 proper days.
When the trains come into Glasgow Central Station they pass the big "PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW" graffiti and it really fits so well to Pittsburgh, too because "PEOPLE MAKE PITTSBURGH". 


Coming back to where I started though ... the 4th of July. America. 
Times have changed and that includes Pittsburgh. Said Pittsburgh that Mr. Trump wants to represent instead of Paris. That Pittsburgh that is not having that AT ALL and rather joins forces with Paris than the White House at its recent state. 

My bubble is scarily intact. While I did nothing to actively prevent it I was not properly confronted with one single Trump supporter in all 11 days.  All I saw were some Trump / Pence signs splattered over the countryside outside the city levels (and ONE in the Strip).  It is ALMOST as if it wasn't real although it painfully enough is. I say almost because below the surface of normality the difference is tangible. 


What I always adored in the past in my US friends was this optimism, the trust in the future and their own ability to make things happen and make things work that enabled them do things I am too fearful for. I always felt that this mentality and the energy in it was what made the United States so special and in a way inspiring.  Lots of that spirit is gone now. In the many talks I had over the days I could hear and feel a lot more fear about the future, unpredictability, confusion, pessimism. While the surface so far appears still intact, the foundation is shaken.

Make America great again? All I can see in my version of the matrix, in my bubble is the total opposite. I honestly hope it is over soon. It will already take a lot more time to fix all the damage that was done and it will cost even more time and effort to resolve the deep division that is destroying the society - not only in the US but momentarily most significantly there.

Happy birthday, America,  I still adore you and I hope you make it out there alive. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lots of Biff and an Augustine - Roadside Ramblings

If you know me a little you will be not surprised to hear that sightseeing and eating were not the only things on the schedule for Rome back in February and that there was also this guy with his band mates: 



And from Rome we went to Bochum ... 


and from Bochum to Brussles ... 


and from Brussels to Hannover ...



and from Hannover with a short break to London where Biffy supported Biffy with a mind melting set of early songs played old school as a three piece ... 



before they played a full regular set. I was so exhausted at the end I could not feel my legs properly anymore. It was wonderful. 




Of course this fine gentleman and also the one at the keys were back for the 2nd set: 




Then there were a few weeks break and then I went to New York ....




and from New York to a radio station in Philadelphia ... 



and from the radio station to a proper venue in Philadelphia ... 




and finally from Philadephia to Washington DC.



Of course a lot could be said about all those gigs. I could spend days of writing down all the things that happened, post set lists, point out rarities like the sudden appearance of "A Whole Child Ago" in Bochum or the wonderful "Wave Upon Wave" in DC plus all the things that happend aside of the gigs itself, but I won't. I have done this before and you are aware how much I love this band. No need to repeat that, right? 

So only a few words about what is going on here especially for the readers who never toured with a band.

All of these gigs were amazing, all of these gigs were different. It is never boring. I strongly feel that no day off work, none of the spent money, no mile traveled, no sweat, no hours in the cold, no tears, no invested energy was ever wasted on tour and that is not only for the incredible music but also for those wonderful human beings who deserve everything and more.
Even though this does apply especially to this band they are of course not the only ones. There are many talented, hard working, kind hearted people out there on the road who deserve that you stop by for their shows - and if you like it - maybe even for a second or ... lots of times. 



Since I witnessed several discussions about photos lately I
want to point out that no musician was harmed or hunted 
down for this picture. We just paused for a second in a longer
conversation which was neither the first nor the last one we had.

Touring with a band is a completely different experience than going to a single show. You move on to a parallel universe made of travels, wait time, build up, adrenaline and endorphine rush .... and REPEAT. It does not matter if you are in Bochum or New York - you barely feel the difference because you operate in a mobile microcosm with its own rhythm, schedule and rules. It is the quite ultimate escape from the ordinary world which is a huge blessing and a curse at the same time. More about that later. 


In New York City (sadly no info about the photographer)

The US tour .... this was such a special time. One aspect was of course that the venues were so small - about 1.500 on average for my gigs. That feels "a bit" different compared to 15,000 to 20,000 people per venue on the arena tour!
Easily as important as the people on stage though are the people off stage when you are touring. I would never ever do that alone and I luckily do not have to. Music is absolutely magical when it comes to bringing people together. I really wish for everyone to experience that kind of friendship and support. 
I am blessed with wonderful friends and gig buddies in Europe and now as well in the US. I mean ... how amazing is it to fly around the globe and just as if it was nothing to become part of squad of the best people? Of course ... some of my lovely US pals I knew before from their visits on our side of the pond but by far not everyone and yet it felt like a strong bond right away.
It was very special when at the final gig in Washington our group basically made up the whole barrier and build a chain of holding hands from left to right for "Different People". I could see the faces of the band on stage as well and it was one of these moments to hold on to for all of us. 



DC pre-gig barrier selfie by Nicci Bard

So baby won't you take my hand?
So we can do what the others can
We are alive tonight, we are alive tonight
I am going home forever and ever more
No I was never born and there's no such
thing as home
We used to stand so strong
That's why the others have gone
(Different People / Biffy Clyro)


And now let's have a look at the dark side of the moon.


Touring is a very intense experience and as wonderful and gratifying it is as exhausting it is. It also takes you out off what everyone else calls "normal life" or "reality". The come down is hard. It is hard after half a dozen of gigs as a fan and that gives you small teaser of how hard it is for the musicians and crew who tour a lot more and longer and venture much deeper into that parallel universe. The price you pay is called post tour depression and it is a real thing. Sometimes it lasts just a day or two and you can adjust quickly. Sometimes it lasts longer and you stumble through the busy world of regular daily life feeling sad, disoriented and weirdly alone. Your brain literally has to withdraw from that adrenaline / endorphine peak roller coaster. It is not just mind tricking - it is proper chemistry. Ever wondered why so many performing artists have problems to balance themselves? There you go - that's one of the main reasons.

I am always dreading the end of tour like hellfire because I am one of those who struggle. Good byes - even temporary ones - were never my strength and it breaks my heart a little every time. I developed my rituals to keep myself in check though ... with varying results. 


After the US tour I could postpone the worst part with extending my holiday for few days in Pittsburgh to see my friends (more about that in another post).
Then however came the flight back - on my own because most friends stayed behind and my travel pal went on a different plane. Post tour come down alone on a transatlantic over night flight. Awesome. Not. 


One of the rules I have for myself for these situations is to not listen to the same music like on the road because that makes it usually worse at least for while. As a result I found myself sitting there with the earbuds in switching through the music files on my phone looking for some saviors but the usual suspects did not work for several reasons. My choice finally fell on my Augustines playlist because I would go and see Billy McCarthy again only a few days later in Glasgow. I thought I better get myself in the mood instead of standing at the show still mentally offroad like a deer in the headlight. So I finally rolled up in my tiny economy seat and closed my eyes. And ... it worked! 
I slept(-ish) basically the whole 6.5 hours flight in a cloud of music on repeat. I know that might sound weird for some people but I at times have a hard time sleeping (not just on planes) and music helps me to relax and it does not need to be quiet music. I slept through Biffy's "Live at Wembley" so many nights or through Sucioperro's "Pain Agency" and "Fused" which are not exactly lullabies either. BUT it by far does not work with all music ... it is rather rare and I had never tried with Augustines before but now they are part of that small and very exclusive snooze club ;).

The logical consequence was obviously to ignore jet leg and exhaustion and buy another gig ticket and see Billy as well in Edinburgh. Two gigs are better than one gig, right? Right!
And ... it definitely was although I personally found the rather quiet crowd in Edinburgh a bit irritating, but I enjoyed it nonetheless because the gig itself was great. The show on the next day in Glasgow (I love my hometown crowds) then was bloody amazing and caused another proper gig high!!!





Only downside ... I of course felt rotten after two more gig nights and tried to squeeze in more but there was just no way. Let's see if I can make Belladrum Festival work though - there might be still a chance.

The call of the road ... it just never ever dies down.

For now stay tuned for the next post about my return to Pittsburgh and later in the summer you will also hear and read more about Billy as that fits right in with one of my main topics here about music, music industry and independent artists.


In the meantime have a look here:  
William McCarthy - Official Website
William McCarthy on Patreon
Rise : The Story Of Augustines 
 
Eric Sanderson

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Rome

I can't believe it ... did I really not post a single update yet this year?
Shame on me, but time is honestly just flying by. That seems to get worse with age, a lot worse.

I also have to admit that I struggled the first 2-3 months of the year. While I really, really do not want to live anywhere else in the world, the Scottish winter got me. It is the darkness, I guess, because the SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), my not so dear old friend, made a powerful return. Since the light saving day  though and the return of proper evening daylight I am fine again - like nothing ever happened. That means I need to better prepare for next winter, possibly plan a vacation in January or February somewhere in the sun to fill up those vitamin D depots and get some endorphin going.  Oh well ... lesson learned. 


The SAD (what an appropriate abbreviation) did not help my productivity when it comes to writing. You do not want to spill your frustration, anxiety and pessimistic world view (Hello 45, you are NOT helping!) all over the internet. It is bad enough when it crumbles your own mind.

BUT of course not everything was shit in early 2017. One thing was particularly awesome and that was the year's first trip to Rome although I was severely handicapped. How do you even get ill when you are working from a home office and barely even leave the house? Well ... I managed to do that and got the cold from hell 1.5 day before leaving for Italy. But that journey which also included a few more countries and a lot of Biffy gigs was too important to give in to the evil virus attack and so a funky mix made out of Sudafed, Benadryl and Ibuprofen kept me rocking. I do not recommend really, but I survived and it was worth it.

Rome though ....




I really don't know why it took me so long to finally make it to Rome. I always wanted to go but then again there were always other plans and it somehow never happened. What shall I say? I absolutely LOVED it.  I mean .. look at it: 







Basically everything you hear about Rome is true ... there is so much to see, everything is incredibly old and incredibly beautiful. If you have a hotel in the center you can walk to almost all the amazing places.  I enjoyed walking around all the narrow little streets and squares with fountains and restaurants and cafés so much. If you go ... do not rush. Allow yourself the time to get lost a bit and stop for another coffee or gelato or suppli or biscotti or ..... And in related advice: do not try to be on a diet because everything you heard about the food like  "You have never tasted real pizza or pasta before you did not have it in Italy." is true as well. Try to get away from the main tourist hot spots where they shove you selfie sticks in the face and look out for the places where folks working in the city go for lunch or after work and you will find heavenly food and wine and sweets. 


Our hotel was called Regula Suite (I can recommend!). It is located near Campo de' Fiori and I loved that area so much. Especially on the last day the weather was nice enough for lunch outside and sitting there with some amazing pasta, looking over the buzzing square and the ridiculously blue sky was absolutely priceless. 



Of all the sightseeing things I liked the Pantheon the most. It is one of the few places you can visit without booking in advance.  I got shivers down the spine in that main room. You feel the weight of the centuries and the magical energy of the place. 


We only booked the tickets for the Vatican Museums ahead of time and when I go back I would definitely plan better and book more. The queues at all the main places are hilariously long - even at some random week days in February - and the selfie stick sellers are incredibly annoying; almost as annoying as the people who actually buy and use those damn sticks and then walk through a museum in slow motion filming and with no pain in the brain blocking the way for hundreds of people piling up behind them like in this place ... 



As it was to expect the few days spent in Rome barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer but it was just right to get a feel and it was a damn good feel. It is an absolutely gorgeous place and I really, really want to go back soon.