DAY 1 – Today I left Brenda and Archie at our overwintering campsite near Catral, Spain to head off for the Country Music Meeting in Berlin to be held in just under two weeks’ time. Sad to leave, excited to go. It’s a 3000+ mile there and back trip.
Unfortunately, though I do have a few gigs in Germany, I don’t have gigs booked for Spain or France on the way… Stuff just didn’t work out but I’m gonna fill the days that I’m not gigging as best I can.
Arrived in Barcelona, my first stop and where I will be staying tonight but outside of the city up near the motorway. It’s a city that I have loved since I first came here when I was with the country band ‘Kane & Co’ and playing just north up the coast at a country music festival at El Masnou. I returned here with Brenda last summer, for our wedding anniversary before we picked up our motorcycles to ride them back to the UK via Germany. That’s another story though!
Today was all about kicking a load of miles in the arse but I’m also here in Barcelona to visit El Monument a las Brigades Internacionals, a monument to those who fought against Franco (who was aided by Hitler and Mussolini) and fascism. Something that if you know me and my music you’ll understand my interest in.
The memorial represents the helmet of Goliath, fallen to the ground, and the naked torso of David, with a shield in his hand, on top of a concrete pillar, the winner against the vanquished one, Goliath. The sculpture is eight meters high. It is an homage to the International Brigades by the artist Roy Shifrin.
There is a plaque with an inscription of the speech Dolores Ibarruri ‘La Pasionaria’ made on October 28, 1938, in the farewell to Barcelona of the International Brigades, in compliance with the resolution of the Society of Nations made fifteen days earlier, which prescribed the withdrawal of foreigners from the Spanish civil war.
The memorial was paid for by the American Association of Abraham Lincoln Battalions and the Spanish Civil War Historical Society. The inauguration took place in the presence of survivors and former combatants of the Army of the Republic on October 28, 1988, at the fiftieth anniversary of that event.
I’d had every intention of playing ‘The Volunteer’ my homage to those who fought, those who fell and those who returned to their home countries only to fight fascism once again during World War 2 and that’s just what I did. The positioning of the memorial is amongst busy Barcelona roads, traffic was noisy but I didn’t come here just to take a photo or two. I was here to play my song.
It’s been a long day but I’m now ensconced in my motorway hotel outside Barcelona and sit with a cerveza at hand.
DAY 2 – Over breakfast this morning, I decided to take a detour from the AP7 motorway route from Spain into France. I fancied seeing Portbou, the place I mention during the first part of ‘The Volunteer’. The brigadista I sing about took the train(s) from Paris to Portbou which was a major supply route for the Republicans. Arriving there, he then crosses the mountains and finds his way to Barcelona, so I turned off the AP7 at Figueres, taking the road that would lead me to the coastal town.
Some days are diamonds I wrote in another song and this was to be one of those. The curves in the road started gently enough but once through Llançá the road onwards to Colmer then Portbou itself twisted and turned as it followed the coastline. I had my version of the Nancy Sinatra/John Barry theme to the James Bond movie ‘You Only Live Twice’ playing on the van stereo as I drove my Mazda Bongo through the bends… I know it’s not like Matt Monro singing ‘On Days Like These’ at the beginning of The Italian Job but then again I’m not Rossano Brazzi and I wasn’t driving a Lamborghini Miura.
I drove through Portbou and up to the Spanish/French border where the now unused old border post remains. Also there is a brightly painted Francoist monolith to mark the taking of the important area around Portbou, probably one of the last battles of the Civil War. There is also a much more sombre memorial made up of a plaque and information boards of text and photos documenting ‘La Retirada’, remembering those people who fled Franco’s Spain, soldiers and civilians alike. During January and February 1939 they crossed the border from Spain into France across the area of the Alt Empordà. I carried on through the first town in France, Cebère and on through to Banyuls-sur-Mer as the road twisted and turned even more.
Whilst travelling I’ve been listening to the excellent ‘Homage To Catalonia’ by George Orwell, read by Jeremy Northam, when I’ve not had a track of mine from my Garage Songs album http://stevie-oneblokeonemandolin.bandcamp.com/…/garage…) playing.
After Banyuls-sur-Mer the road started straightening out as I made my way back to the E15 motorway and headed to my overnight stop tonight, just south of Valance. A funny but somewhat synchronistic finish to today’s journey though… My hotel tonight is on the Rue Pierre Seghers which to my ears sounds like Pete Seeger and he sang a Spanish Civil War song or two himself.
DAY 3 – Leaving Valence yesterday morning and heading for my overnight stop at Besançon. I drove into Lyon to visit the amphitheatre of Fourvière. The remains have been partially rebuilt and events are held there. Getting there meant driving through Lyon’s traffic and I remembered the tunnel Brenda and myself rode our motorcycles through, when passing through Lyon on our way back to the UK with them, last summer. Heavy traffic and exhaust fumes. I didn’t relish doing that again but fortunately I turned right just before the tunnel’s entrance and wound my way to the top of the hill to the amphitheatre and the fine view it affords of Lyon.
I spent an hour or so there before getting back on the road to Besançon. I booked in at my lodgings for the night and headed into the city. I had a fine evening drinking in the very busy Bar de L’u next door to the theatre. I learned a valuable lesson as well. Booking a cheaper hotel on the outskirts of a city is, by the time you’ve taken a taxi in and out of said city, a false economy.
DAY 4 – My alarm went off at 07.30, the second alarm at 07.35 and a third at 07.40. I really did not want to move. Moving meant pain and my head was pounding. It’s nothing more than a hangover, I told myself but I don’t get hangovers…. well, I bloody well do today. Eventually around 08.30 I dragged myself from my bed, threw some clothes on and went and had breakfast. Check out was at 10am but once checked out, I sat in my van, really not wanting to drive off, so I looked to see what I might do today.
My first gig is booked for Lichtenau on Saturday so I’ve a couple of days to play with. I know I’m going to go to a town called Rust on Friday night to go see friends Ive & T.bo play a gig but what was I going to do today, I wondered. I decided that instead of turning left, after crossing the Rhine river and heading towards Rust and Lichtenau, I would turn right and take a detour to the Black Forest and just as my detour to Portbou a couple of days back, turned out to be a good thing to have done, so was this.
Once off the motorway and onto minor roads, there were more bends to drive and then there was snow at the side of the road and more and more of the white stuff as I went on further. I arrived at my destination in Todtmoos and the owner came out to greet and welcome me to his hotel. I have a lovely inexpensive room there. I’ve had a walk out this evening and just finished a splendid main course. Do I have desert and if so, do I go for the Schwarzwälderkirschtorte or the hausgemachte apfelstrudel. That’s a hard choice!
DAY 5 – I left Todtmoos to head north to a town called Rust where some friends Ive & T.bo would be playing. It was raining and the snow was melting, putting a lot of water on the road. The journey was pleasant enough though and not a long one. I stopped off for lunch and next door was a hotel, the Highway Hotel, all I could hear in my head though as I read it was Bon Scott singing ‘I’m at the Highway Hotel’… Well, it made me laugh.
I had thought of booking in there but had chosen to be closer to where my friends were playing, walking distance from the bar they were playing later at Europa Park, a park that rivals any Disney Park I was told by my friends. The park itself is closed this time of year but some of its hotels are open and Ive & T.bo were already there and ready to play their first set, when I arrived at the 5th floor Colosseo bar. Somewhat swanky but with a load of motor racing and movie memorabilia from the 30s, 40s and 50s. I had a lovely evening through until very late, finally falling into bed at my rented apartment around 3am. A long but good day!
DAY 6 – Gig day. Fisherman’s in Lichtenau. A very short hop. I’ve a bit of a hangover again. Hmmm, not liking this at all. I’ll put it down to a late night, alcohol and a lack of sleep. Anyhow I’m on the road less than an hour, I check out where the gig is and go find my hotel which is less than 5 minutes’ drive away. I get my head down for a few hours, go set up have a good chat with Moriz, the owner and his dad. Two sets enjoyed by the folks there and myself, a chance to play a couple of new songs live to 30 plus folks. It went down well and packed up, I headed back to the hotel around midnight. I was pleased to have had kip in the afternoon because a whole bunch of people were making a racket out in the street until around 3am. Finally, I managed to sleep.
DAY 7 – It was a short drive of under two hours but crossing back into France and then back into Germany because that’s the shortest route between Lichtenau and Saarbrücken, for my next gig, this one at Wally’s Irish Bar. I stay off the motorway mostly, instead taking the Route de Bitche, it looked a more interesting route and I wanted to see what looked to be a superb citadel above the town of Bitche itself. It’s imposing looking up at it from the Aldi carpark on the edge of town but when you get up to it, it looks formidable. Unfortunately, it’s shut for the winter until March. It is stunning though and definitely on my ‘must visit’ list now…
Arriving in Saarbrücken I found my hotel and sorted what I was going to carry to the acoustic gig, no PA so just the two mandolins, my stand and banner. Wally’s was about 10 minutes away on foot, so it wasn’t long before I was standing outside a somewhat rowdy, rammed pub full of folks watching the France v England rugby match. My gear was stashed safely away and I was given a Guinness Five Nations scarf along with my pint that was not Guinness. It wasn’t looking good for England and I’m not really into sports, so I popped for a bite to eat. By the time I returned to the pub it wasn’t anywhere near as full and they were setting up for a heat of a songwriter competition between a couple of local musicians, there were some rather nice songs played and they were critiqued by two judges. They finished up, I set up and was opening up with Footplate Songs by 9.15pm. Through until midnight I played three sets, moving off the stage area at times into the half filled pub or sitting on a stool at the bar for The Volunteer. A cracking evening was had and considering it was a bar gig, the audience kept a respectful volume on their conversations and then made a good noise at the end of each song.
A couple of whiskeys (for the voice) finished up the evening before heading back to the hotel, this time in a taxi. Bed.
DAY 8 – Today was a free day again, a stop off on my way to Zeitz for tomorrow evening’s gig at the Green Island Pub. One of the more troublesome things I find whilst away gigging, especially at this time of the year, is getting washing done and dried. Finding a laundromat or here, a waschsalon is not often easy but today there was one just around the corner from last night’s hotel. Breakfast, van packed, round to waschsalon.
Wasching done and I was back on the road and off to a town called Schlitz and staying in the old town where I’ve had a pleasant dinner of schnitzel, pfilzen and spatzle washed down with a couple of weißbiers. The old town is rather lovely.
From looking at various Facebook posts, friends Nate Kipp, Mark Stewart (of Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash) and The Thompson Brothers are now on their way to Berlin from the USA. It’s gone midnight, we’re all caught up. I’m done. G’night folks.
DAY 9 – From Shlitz to Zeitz it’s mostly autobahn. Today’s journey then is the 6 then the E40 to Dresden but turning off before at Gera onto the A2 to Zeitz. I stopped in Erfurt for a late lunch, fuel and to call in at the Louis motorcycle accessories shop for some base layer clothing for the chillier days and mornings back in Spain, it may well be sunny much of the time but that doesn’t mean it’s always warm there. Back on the road and an hour and a half later I’m in Zeitz. There’s a PA at the pub but in all honesty the room is small and playing acoustically would be enough. Set up, then dinner and we’ll see what the evening brings.
My lack of German is a hindrance, it’s noticeable too. I can do all the ‘How are you doing’ stuff but I utterly fall down when telling the stories that illuminate the songs. It’s realised in the room too. Everyone is polite enough about it and most stay through to the end of the second set. The third set finishes though to a table of five and some other folk at the bar. I’m told it’s fine. I know I’ve work to do before next time. The songs go down well but the in-between patter in German needs a lot more vocabulary and confidence. Practice, practice, practice and I’ll get there…. even if I have to learn it like a script. It pretty much worked in Poland back in August where I scripted my patter in Polish and had it typed out on my set list to help me but that was for a 5-song set with an intro during Footplate Songs and an outro at the end of Copperhead Road and not 3 x 45-minute sets like I’ve just done tonight. A very enjoyable evening, nonetheless. I didn’t touch a beer until the last set but had a pleasant few afterwards whilst conversing in German and English with a guy called Sven who wanted to practice his English as much as I wanted to practice my German. The bar closed, I had one final Weißbier before heading for my bed. G’night folks
DAY 10 – Aaaaaand here I am in Berlin. The easy couple of hours plus drive from Zeitz this morning meant I reached my hotel around half midday. I had a restful afternoon catching up with a few things before heading for the American Western Saloon this evening to eat and meet up with Marion and Franky, Mark Stuart and the guys from Taneytown.
After that I now find myself at the hotel bar for a Weißbier or two before I head for my pit. It’s been a great road trip of 2021 miles to get here with much the same to do after my weekend here at the Country Music Meeting in Berlin. In the meantime there’s loads of catching up with friends, a gig for myself and a bunch of good times to be had. CHEERS !!
… and The Road Home
DAY 1 – After probably the best Country Music Meeting I have ever had the pleasure of attending, meeting up with many friends, playing my own set, playing in the Tiny/Thompson Band, joining Six String Bar-B-Q twice to play and sing on a song I’ve written for them, playing a few songs in The Secret Stairwell and watching a fair few other bands, I started my journey back to my winter home in Spain.
The first stop would be with the guys from Six String Bar-B-Q at Rosrath near Cologne on Monday night so I would be able to play and sing on their recording of the song I’d written for them.
Driving from Berlin took an age as the weather was appalling. Having driven through the rain and 75 mile an hour winds known as Storm Sabine in Germany (Hurricane Ciara in the UK), I arrived eleven hours after I had set off on what should’ve been a five and a half hour journey. We ate, had a beer and whisky and it was time to get some sleep.
DAY 2 – Had great fun doing the recording and using a historically fantastic microphone to record with.
I set off for my overnight stop in Thionville, France. The journey was utterly plagued with roadworks and more hailstorms with added thunder and lightning. I arrived eventually, dropped my gear off in my room and popped over the road to an Italian restaurant. I’m getting my head down as there’s another long drive ahead of me tomorrow as I head south across France toward the Spanish border.
DAY3 – The next two days were about nothing more than munching through the miles. From Thionville down to Nimes took from morning through to early evening. I had stayed in a very basic Fasthotel at Thionville and an F1 Hotel which was even more basic at Nimes. It was just about somewhere to get my head down before moving on. The weather was improving as I drove south though and that was a good thing after the journey from Berlin to Rosrath and then from Cologne to Thionville. My accompaniment along the way was Alec Baldwin’s ‘Here’s The Thing’ podcast. Musicians, film makers, actors, politicians, writers, chefs and more. During the two days I listened to so many superb interviews by Baldwin, I can highly recommend this podcast.
DAY 4 – Leaving Nimes on Thursday morning I wasn’t sure but thought if all was going well by 4pm that I would try to get back to our winter home at Catral, sometime early evening. I reached the French/Spanish border quicker that I thought I would but it was still nearly two hours to Barcelona and at least five hours on from there.
Munching miles, munching miles. Onward to Catral, the decision was made. I was stopping every hour, if only briefly, at this point but then after Valencia, rather than taking the AP7 I took the A7, still with the same destination in mind. BIG MISTAKE. Roadworks, lots of roadworks and diversions. Bloody hell I was tired, this wasn’t good, time was ticking, it was after dark and all I wanted was to get back to Brenda and Archie. The diversion signage was crap but I recognised a town eventually and headed for that, reset my satnav and set off. At one point the satnav took me across and out the back of a garage forecourt as if it was a road.
Running about two hours later than I thought, I finally arrived on site and was soon parked at our caravan. I hadn’t told Brenda that I was going to try to get back that night, in case I decided to stop one more night, before the final push for home. Both were more than a little pleased to see me. I had driven 621 miles on this last day. I can honestly say right now I will never do that again. Even after 24 hours passed, I still felt drained.
It has been a fantastic journey though, to and from and in Berlin. Great places visited and good people chatted to. I’ve been complimented on my French accent and language, even though it is meagre at best. My German has improved again. I’ve had good gigs along the way, my own and with others. I’ve made new friends, renewed acquaintances with friends of some years and done the thing I love doing most…. singing and playing my songs to folks. It ain’t always this great but when it is, there is nothing, nothing I would rather be doing.
Fair travels and fine times to you all on your own adventures.
2642km from Catral to Berlin
3431km from Berlin to Catral
6073km in total (3773 miles)
Over the following two weeks, after arriving back home, I was feeling really tired. That last day’s drive, including the detour, was just short of 1000km and had knackered me. I had aches and pains in my shoulders, side and chest which I attributed to being in the driving seat so long. I was also finding myself very short of breath and I finally made the decision to go to the hospital after a really bad night of intense, uncontrollable shivering, even though I felt really hot. It was a good decision though, as over the next couple of days the hospital took bloods, stuck swabs up my nose (I didn’t know something could be pushed that far up it), gave me x-rays, an ECG and a CAT scan.
I tested negative for the Corona virus but the not so good news they told me was that I had pneumonia and pleurisy.
I was in the Hospital Universitario del Vinolopo in Elche for over two weeks during which time I had another CAT scan, my lungs drained twice, bloods taken near on daily as they decided it wasn’t pneumonia but a different, unfathomable infection and so many more x-rays, that I was expecting to have superpowers by now. It can only be said that the hospital staff were fantastic though I could not say the same for the food there.
As I write this postscript, nearly a year after the event, I still have twinges in my chest when yawning or breathing. I tested positive for Covid just after Christmas but only had a very mild version of it. One wonders if what I had back in February may well have been that after all.