Coming Out Into The Cold…

Heading back out into touring in late January is one of my favourite times to get back out there…

It was quite a laid-back flight to Nürnberg in terms of the flight schedule time around the 5pm mark (17 Euro time) on another Ryanair flight. I do my best to try not to fly with this company, not just for their exploitative attitudes to staff but also their unprofessionalism during the flight. My last flight from Nürnberg to Manchester started with an announcement from one of the staff (before the safety demonstration) talking about his mother selling some meat on the plane as she is a pig farmer and if you don’t buy it ”she will be very upset’…but when the alternative is 6x the amount of Ryanair, (excluding instrument) there isn’t much choice in arriving in relative comfort.

I meet my tour buddy Jan (The Black Elephant Band) and we’re going to be on the road for around two weeks across Germany, Czech and Austria across places old and new. I’ve not toured with him before, merely spent a drunken night together in Nürnberg where from then we solidified the tour details.

On this tour I am performing 18 shows, not all with BEB as I head to Finland two weeks later. For me, one of the highlights of the German part of the tour was Leipzig as we meet up with Thomas who is organising a house show for us. Thomas brought us together as when I was at his last time where he played some BEB to which I had to ask ”Who is this?” and checked him out when I got home. In many ways it was the perfect house show, and why I like doing them. All the people there because they WANTED to be there and quiet in the right moments and raucous in others. If you’ve not been to one, go. And then start your own.

But instead of me writing why the tour was so cool (which is pretty fucking boring) and tour life isn’t ALL sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, I wanted to mention why I like touring at this time of year.

czech brno

Reading a satirical cartoon in Czech. The humour was lost on me. 

By late January, we’re all quite sick of the cold and the constant drip-feed of tabloids claiming an ice age will wipe out Britain. The slushy snow and misery. For me, I might as well be out there gigging so it takes my mind off the weather. But I was really interested to see Finland in February. Known as one of the most miserable and gloomy folk, (stereotype…perhaps) with a high proportion of dark and disturbing metal bands, I last toured Finland in June 2016. The weather was breaking records in the high 30s. This time they were having snowfall like they knew when they were kids.

I got off the plane and waited for the bus at Helsinki airport. I remembered it vividly from the previous time….there was a playback of birds tweeting in the toilets at the airport…

This false sense of security of some deafening Dawn Chorus outside with the sun blazing quickly became a childish notion as the biting wind seized my hands up as I brushed off the fresh snow from the faded timetable. I stared and peeked in a confused fashion at the Finnish timetable, almost like looking at the can at the percentage of a cheap Polish lager after the seven pint mark. It was needlessly complicated and I asked the person waiting for the bus when it was due to arrive. Finns can typically give a little bit of time before answering a question (if they want to answer) and I got a sufficient reply. The culture here of those little bits cultural differences and manners is different to the UK. Whilst we are polite in an obvious and sometimes over-bearing way, you may have to look in a different way for obvious politeness here.

The shows in Helsinki, Turku and Jyväskylä were all different but typically Finnish. Folk up for good craic but not the most forthcoming. Slack Bird and Lifelong Hangover who were my tour buddies for the shows pointed out how folk aren’t the best at instant responses or jokes, but perhaps at the end they might give you something. Being an isolated country in the depths of Winter most of the year influences your attitudes.

finnish forest

Afternoon yomp before the final show in Tampere.

What I love about touring around this time is the adversity of gig goers, and especially in Finland, where obvious weather can impede the day. But more than that, I find that it lends a certain atmosphere to the music. I noticed watching Slack Bird perform (who if you’ve not heard them, check it out) the droney, long, dark songs seem fitting to the background and lend themselves well to each other.

As I leave Helsinki after spending a couple of days filming a video with friend and fellow musician Onni, part of what I like about touring around this time is seeing places when they are the most ‘real’. When the cities aren’t putting on a show for the Summer tourists and the lack of tacky tourist nonsense festooned across busy high streets with holidaymakers all searching for the real experience. The REAL experience is off-season where you hit the towns off the beaten track and the folks there ask ”Why are you here?”

Sometimes I ask myself the same question.

Johnny x

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