We played 19 gigs in 7 countries over 6 weeks, and had an amazing time. A gig in a Bohemian castle, 19 days straight of Irish rain, romantic Paris… read the stories and check out some pictures! Blog written by Ed Hanley, Suba Sankaran, and myself.
Chapter One: Tour blog days 1-6
Greetings from Ireland! Clare Island , to be exact.
Left steamy Toronto on Air India for London. Fun flight. The potable water system was broken on the plane. UK immigration was no problem, unlike some other Canadian artists’ experiences… actually, Allison Crowe’s experience, thoroughly documented on her website, comprehensive advice from Tina at T&S immigration and Todd at Vortex Jazz saved us from a similar fate…
Spent the day in London fighting jetlag and trying to locate a pub.
Concert at the Nehru Centre.
Lovely venue, and a healthy audience…CD sales were brisk. We will have to rely on download cards [photo] for the latter part of the trip. Rented gear from the Drum Shack…appreciate Long and McQuade Canadian people….it’s not so easy to rent gear elsewhere. ZeeTV http://www.zeetv.com/ filmed the show for broadcast across Europe. Thanks to Paul for the publicity work. Thanks to Tobias, Ulli and Julie for all their help organizing this tour!
Travel from London to Westport, Ireland.
This was fun. Because we have much luggage, taking the superbudget airlines (RyanAir etc) is not an option (ticket price: free; luggage price: 5 Euros per kilo…uhh…ouch)
So, we took the sail-rail route. It started at 5:30 am with a taxi ride from our hotel to the train station, where we listened to Errol Garner, and the cabbie memorably said “without music, there is no life”. Train from Euston Station, London to Chester (2 hours), leaving us 14 minutes to catch the next train from Chester to Holyhead (2 hours). Short hike to Irish Ferries, and a 2 hour crossing (a slightly rough crossing, I might add, but on a large boat) to Dublin (boat video). Cat, who looked like Santa, drove us to Heuston Station, where we left our luggage, then headed to Ryan’s pub for the inaugural first pint of Guinness.
We then boarded a train for Westport (3.5 hours) and were ‘entertained’ by a rather inebriated gentleman whom we dubbed Seamus O’Cider, after the cans of peach cider he was drinking. It was an unfortunate stereotype.
We took another ferry, smaller this time, across the water from Westport to Clare Island. This was a rougher ride….
We were greeted by Christophe, who gave us a ride to Domenic’s place, the house we stayed at 2 nights ago, and then to their house (which also doubles as a Yoga retreat). We ate an awesome meal, completely grown in Ciara and Christophe’s garden, then got ready for our evening show.
You know it’s a multicultural experience when the yoga instructors are originally from Toledo and Paris, the organic gardeners are German, the cook is Japanese, the clients of the yoga retreat come from all over the world, and they’re in Ireland listening to a Canadian band playing Indo-jazz fusion!
Day 6 Workshop at Clare Island Community Library.
This was a children’s workshop, although a number of adults attended.
We moved into our own cottage and caught up on internet.
In the evening, we attended the biggest event of the year on Clare Island: Big Fat Mamma’s Extravaganzia! Local bands (and one from Cork) performing for an exuberant, youthful crowd at the Bayview Hotel (which, ironically, isn’t a hotel at all).
Day 7 We have a performance at said hotel this afternoon. B.F.M.E! has attracted lots people from the mainland, so we’re promised a large (if slightly hungover) audience.
From remote Clare Island, to Westport, to Belfast, read on about the intrepid foursome as they drink Guinness, get soaked in the neverending rain, and occasionally play!
Chapter Two: Belfast
Hello from Belfast!
Before we get started, we saw this earlier in the trip, on the train from London to Holyhead, and it needed to be shared:
and of course, they have a website:
I kid you not.
anyway, on with the show:
We performed at the Bay View Hotel on Clare Island in what turned out to be a major highlight event. The previous night was the island’s major music festival, Big Fat Mamma’s Extravaganzia!, and there were loads of musicians and music fans around (both from the island, and from up and down the coast). Autorickshaw played a long set to a completely new audience, but that was only the beginning! A band from Cork, called Soup Symphony (Nile, Dave, Dave and Alan), decided to play a set once we were done, to take advantage of the crowd and the listening vibes. These guys were fantastic.
They played for 90 minutes, took a break, and then started again. By this time, word was spreading that BFME! was still alive (it had only finished at 6am that morning…) and people started to pack the pub. A large, santa-esque German priest named George, who lives on the Island, sang an amazing blues tune, after which members of Autorickshaw were invited up to join in on various songs. This continued for another 2 long sets, and we lost count of the number of pints that arrived magically at the stage for the musicians (beer leprechauns?).
We finally headed home at about 1am, though the party continued until 5am. Apparently, 7 hours of music were played, when all was said and done.
We were told by a number of people that that evening was going to go down in Clare Island legend, and we’ve not only been invited back to the Island, but to Cork, and a number of other communities.
Many thanks to Rory McCabe who organized the Bay View Hotel gig, and to Ciara and Christophe, who made the whole Clare Island trip a reality.
We had the next day off, and spent it catching up on sleep, hanging about our lovely cottage. It rained. We also decided to use our down time to work on some new repertoire and revisit old songs.
We started the day with a long hike across the island. It rained several times, and we saw sheep (some of whom had invaded our yard that morning). The landscape is lovely, and very green with an amazing blend of flat land, rocky hillside, ocean and mountains. So many things will be etched into our brains of this picturesque island, but three memories in particular stand out: one – the constant howling of the wind, two – looking up every night at the cloudless sky chock full of stars, and three – sheep, sheep and more sheep. That evening, we performed at Christophe and Ciara’s place again for a new batch of Yoga retreaters (after another fantastic all organic vegetarian meal), and premiered a new piece of Autorickshaw rep: Aadu Pambe, which is a Snake Charmer’s song.
After the gig, a bunch of us went down to the community centre pub to see an evening of traditional music This is a gov’t funded monthly event to preserve culture in the community, and it was very well attended. Patrick played several songs on bodhran, and Dylan and Suba performed their arrangement of Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends interspersed with a Bach prelude as a vocal duet!
After our farewells, and the requisite group photos, we boarded the ferry for Westport for our Cabot’s Source gig. It was calmer, and we were on a bigger boat.
Redmond Cabot and his never-absent dog Frodo met us at his restaurant/venue Cabot’s Source (delicious, locally produced food), we set up for the evening gig, then we went to the legendary pub Matt Malloy’s (yes, of the Chieftains fame) for an outstanding pint of black gold.
Spent the night at Redmond’s house in the country. More rain.
The bus ride to Belfast. We had toyed with taking the train to Belfast, but it meant returning to Dublin and changing stations and trains, but a bridge collapse in Dublin convinced us to take the bus. The route: Westport to Sligo, Sligo to Enniskillen, Enniskillen to Belfast. 7.5 hours total travel time, plus 6 bouts of slogging gear on or off busses.
Belfast Mela is housing us at Elms Village, and student residence of Queen’s University, Belfast.
That eve, we went for a meal at the first restaurant we came upon, and it turned out to be a great choice…I’ll let Patrick tell the story:
Our first night in Belfast is hopefully a sign of good things to come…. or at the very least, some fabulous meals ahead. We dined at the Barking Dog, an absolutely smashing restaurant up the road from where we will be staying over the next few days. The spot is very simply laid out, but elegant, recycled wood tables, a kind of un-pretentious, homey Ulster vibe. But make no mistake, this is a great restaurant. Not only was the service really friendly and efficient, the food was honestly fantastic. Almost every item on the menu was Irish-inspired: lamb, prawns, duck, shepherds pie, sweet potato chips, right down to locally brewed Belfast beers. Even gnocchi (OK, not so Irish, but delicious!). It was all perfectly prepared and it all arrived right on time. It is such a great feeling to be in a restaurant that knows how to deliver: taste, service, ambiance…. when you eat on the road all the time, you really, really notice the difference. The four of us all remarked on how awesome it all was- a fine performance indeed. If you visit Belfast, take the Barking Dog out for a stroll: www.barkingdogbelfast.com
Day off. The plan was to get up, shower, do laundry, and explore, but we spent a bit of time rearranging our accommodation due to the lack of any hot water in our building.
We eventually made it out for coffee, and a planned meeting with Debashis Sinha http://www.debsinha.com/ (original Autorickshaw drummer and electronic-music artist) who was in town for an electronic music/art conference. As will happen in situations like this, we bumped into him on the street, and amidst the clock-work downpours of … yes, More Rain!… we started our reunion early with a visit to a couple of Belfast’s finest pubs: The Crown, and Whites (which dates back to 1630).
This is definitely a highlight of the tour so far. Read up on what Suba had to say about the experience.
Chapter Three: Playing a Bohemian Castle
In the touring life of Autorickshaw, we never thought we would outdo the performance experience and extravagance of playing in Diggi Palace – an oasis in the heart of Rajasthan’s famous pink city of Jaipur in India – back in 2007. The embellished architecture, the sheer height of the palace combined with the striking colours and manicured gardens made us feel as though we were transported into a time of maharajas and maharanis in the royal courts. Like I said, hard to outdo. Enter Grabštejn castle.
The highway drive to Grabštejn from Prague was nothing to write home about until we got to Liberec. A green forest canopy enveloped us as we made our way to this 13th century Medieval palace.
Grabštejn Castle has been transformed from a ruin amidst a military zone to a pearl of the Renaissance in northern Bohemia. The energy of the festival itself – the bustling and friendly patrons as well as the extremely hospitable staff – was amazing, but the historical energy was even more prevalent. Grabštejn was the controlled route into Bohemia from the bordering states Germany and Poland.
It was a late night gig so we weren’t able to see everything Grabštejn castle had to offer, but we walked in the castle interior and spent time after our show in the castle exterior where there was a beer garden and food stalls with room for all to dance to live, traditional Czech music. We performed in one of the rooms in the upper castle for the Grabštejn worldfest – the so-called “smallest world festival in the world!”
illustration by Jiří Vydra
We closed the first night of the festival to a packed house, playing from 11pm-midnight with two encores. From beginning to end, the audience was with us, not to mention the sound being absolutely fantastic (one never knows when playing a cavernous room with extended reverb in a 13th century castle)!!
It was one of those perfect moments when artists, audience and art had joined forces as we created and experienced a Bohemian musical journey together.
Thanks for the hospitality: Marcela and her mixed crew (Sam and Alice), Ondrej – our trooper of a driver and fabulous conversationalist (PS – thanks for the sightseeing tips!), Stepa Kasparova for her organization, and of course, to Jirka Vidra, the presenter of Grabštejn worldfest who brought us to this amazing place. He also designed and illustrated the amazing t-shirts and posters at this festival. And to all of the audience: thank you for making this one of the most memorable gigs in Autorickshaw history.
To conclude the evening, a misty drizzle fell on our heads as we said goodbye to our organizer and hosts and prepared for the drive back to Prague central. With the castle growing smaller in our rear view mirror, and rain falling ever-so-gently on the field, it could have easily been a movie set. Actually, the moment felt like a fairytale.
And Autorickshaw lived happily ever after.
Chapter Four… Neni Pivo Jako
… translates to “There’s No Beer Like Beer”. Follow Autorickshaw to a Prague microbrewery and find out what this really means…
The Czechs have a saying “Kde se pivo vari, tam se dobre dari” (Where beer is brewed, life is good). We Canadian musicians couldn’t agree more, so we set off in search of a nice microbrewery and found Pivovarsky Dum in the Nove Mesto part of town. It was clearly the place to be: it was filled with locals and visitors alike, and it was 20 minutes before the doorman (who looked like an ex-Secret Policeman) could find us a seat. It was worth the wait.
These guys take their beer seriously. Not only do they have about 8 styles of in-house beer to choose from, they also offer beer brandy and beer champagne, and most of the menu items have beer in them. We decided to take the menu for a test-drive.
We started with the “beer sampler”, 8 different beers, each in glasses like this!
(OK… more like this)
It even came with a set of instructions with the proper drinking order. It looked like a board game: Wheel of Beer Fortune.
So, here’s the beers:
- Czech style light – delicious, our favourite. Disturbingly easy-drinking.
- Czech style dark – equally yummy
- Sour Cherry – Halls cough medicine
- Coffee – Two of our favourite food groups put together, and a great pick-me-up halfway through the Beer Tour.
- Wheat Beer – sweet and spicy
- Banana Beer – sounds crazy, but it’s delicious
- Nettle Beer – What the… actually, bitter but good. Like a medicinal tea.
- Blueberry Beer – Ed called it the “perfect breakfast beer”. We’re waiting to see if he tests out his theory.
And then there was the food, almost as good as the beer. Patrick got the pork with thyme and beer sauce. Suba, the vegetarian in the band, got the best veggie plate she’s had all tour. Ed got the venison ragout. (“Hey look, Suba! I’m eating Bambi!” Suba almost stabbed him with her fork.) Dylan got the tried-and-true traditional goulash.
A moment of amusement halfway through the meal, as the waiters brought out plates of food each with a piece of meat the size of a soccer ball and set them in front of some very frightened-looking tourists. Turns out they had ordered “pork knee”, which was, well, exactly what it looked like. Mmmmmmm.
Dessert consisted of a crepe with – you guessed it – two kinds of beer jelly. It was out of this world.
Fully stuffed, we eventually hauled ourselves out of there and into a beautiful Prague night.
So if you ever find yourselves in Prague, check it out. Between this place, and Prague’s own (non-beer-related) beauty, you may never leave.
Chapter 5: Vortex Jazz Club, London
… possibly our favourite gig on the tour!
As mentioned in a previous blog, we began this 6-week tour in London at the Nehru Centre performing for a predominantly south Asian audience. With a good house, including interviews and live coverage by ZEE TV (Zed TV in Canada) and a very enthusiastic crowd, the tour felt like it got to an auspicious start.
Fast forward to September 2nd where we completed our first UK leg of the tour in London with our performance at the Vortex Jazz Club.
This club was hidden within Gillett Square.
Navigational note: Don’t try and “feel” your way by foot anywhere in London – take a map, watch the street signs, ask for directions and question every move! A straightforward 10-minute walk to the club ended up taking us 22 minutes with 6 detours!
After a very drawn out sound check and no time to eat, we scurried to the stage to do our first set. The sound was amazingly good – transparent and warm and everything quite balanced. We had a few technical issues but managed to make it part of the act (which the audience thoroughly enjoyed).
One thing that stood out for me was the story of this jazz club: The Vortex is run as a not-for-profit organization. All surplus money is invested back into the club to improve facilities and keep the club as one of the best in the world. The staff volunteer their time and efforts. Here’s a link to the history of the Vortex Jazz Club: http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/history-of-the-vortex.html
The vibe in this warm and hip listening room was amazing: a discerning audience (many of whom were musicians themselves) who truly cared about jazz and the brand of fusion we were bringing to them.
In the second set, we collaborated with Belgium beatboxing champion Roxorloops who kicked some butt in his own solo, then melded beautifully into our original song, So The Journey Goes with a call-response duet with Ed on tabla.. He is a vocal drumming force to reckon with, so do check out: http://www.myspace.com/the_original_roxorloops
This gig was very special on so many levels: the people who brought us (a huge shout out to the amazing Tobias Hug and Ulli Meinke who helped organize both gigs in London as well as other upcoming UK dates);
Thanasis for his great photos, check them out at: http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/lomefoto/AutoRickShawVortexLondon2009# ; to Todd Wills, owner of the Vortex and the man who batted for us to get certificates of sponsorship supporting our entire UK portion of the tour; the volunteer staff who clearly have a love for art and the artists who make it; the musical sparks that fly when musicians collaborate for the first time, and again, the very discerning audience who helped us set and continually raise the bar at this show. It really was a personal and musical highlight.
Post-show mortem: We always strive to have some sort of seemingly authentic experience when we go to other countries, especially on our last night. I think we found it: one of the coolest bars in London if you want an intimate, underground experience with great music, a small dance floor, room to sprawl on a couple of couches and choice cocktails, simply called Jazz Bar, around the corner from the Vortex.
Chapter 6: A Wee Melange
Some on-the-road fun, written by Ed.
I’d like to point out that I’m posting this blog from a train, while it’s moving, like, a brazillion km/h. Well, we’re not actually going that fast right now, but we will…
I love VIA Rail as much as anyone, but VIA, can we go faster? Can we please have a dining car like this one?
Next on the Discovery Channel: NASA has started printing Spacebucks (pounds in spaaaaace):
Trivia: did you know that in Northern Ireland, the banks print their own money (like the Northern Bank above)? How scary is that…”I’m sorry sir, your bank has folded…your money is no good anymore”. Horror. And that when you leave Northern Ireland, and go back to London, everyone looks at you like some sort of inept counterfeiter when you try to pay for things? “Cute! He’s trying to pay with space money”.
Musical instrument Museum, Prague. Très cool. From a piano that Mozart played on to 1950’s Russian synthesizer technology, from a quarter-tone piano to more sackbuts than will slide in a sack (oh, I’m good…), from a modern audio-visual installation to multiple calliopes and automated one-man band machines, this place is not to be missed.
Things that go well with beer.
Things for bands to do together:
• Go for a paddle boat ride on the Vltava river.
•Go to Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris.
• Stand on the odd cliff.
• Herd some sheep
These things will make a happy band.
Hot Water: Not as easy to come by as you might think. I am going to make my hot water heater a nice dinner when I get home.
And finally…henceforth, the following photo replaces our backstage rider completely. Just do it like this. This was nice. Thanks to Borek and the Respect Music crew at Palác Akropolis in Prague.