I have some family in America who would like to see these photos I took in Ballyvaughan, our Irish roots on my mother's side. I feel this place in my bones.
AMSTERDAM: Amsterdam was wonderful. I spent 3 days there- one more than planned (cutting my Berlin trip by one day as I was able to fill the date with a gig.) I stayed at a friend of my old NYC roommate- Mariette and her wonderful family- on a house boat that sits on the Amstel River! It was such a treat to stay there. Mariette was generous with her time, knowledge, food (!), and even loaned me her bicycle. I have met wonderful people here. I took a bike ride around this beautiful city during one of the days. I have ever seen anything like it here! The roads are designed to make way for bicycles, trams, pedestrians and cars easily and safely. (Seattle should take a note!). The city was clean, the people friendly. And I was able to track down my package of CDs, which is good because I had run out of them by London.
Zaal 100 is a funky little place. I was one of 3 artists to play that evening. The room was full. The people kind, and I was finally able to meet Jonathan Brown, an artist I quite like, introduced to me via email through our mutual producer, Kramer who got me this gig.
I had sent an email to Max who co-runs a Tuesday night of songwriters on the next eve. He wrote me back that he saw I had joined the page on Facebook and that he looked me up on the internet and had already put me on the bill. When I showed up, he was so welcoming and kind, and gave me an incredibly nice introduction to the audience. What a great event he has there each week, in a wonderful room with a supportive audience. I met a fellow musician there named Otto who offered to walk me over to Anita's where Jonathan was playing. We just missed Jonathan though I saw a great performance by a solo singer/guitarist/songwriter. The audience was so attentive. The musician played squeezed behind a small bar on a little step. Kind of strange set-up, but very special place because of the warm reception the musicians received. No one spoke during the set. I got home early because the early next morning I had to catch a plane to Berlin and play that eve. ( I have to monitor how much sleep I get. When I am sleep deprived my voice feels it!) I had originally wanted to take a train ride from Amsterdam to Berlin, but having another opportunity to play music in Amsterdam nixed that plan. This leg of the tour was the only one I had not secured the travel plans, which allowed me room to change them to no detriment.
BERLIN: My first time in Berlin! I am staying in a very comfortable flat. It's a 4-story walkup so getting my luggage up with my back bothering me was a challenge. But the view is beautiful and the room very large with high ceilings, and a balcony. It is very comfortable there. The woman who rents out the room through Air BnB was very helpful and welcoming.
My first gig in Berlin was at a little spot in Preuzlauer Berg called Intersoup. I had booked this show back in April with a woman named Nina. She was very lovely on the internet and my understanding was that there would be one or two other people on the bill who would bring in a crowd. I was clear this was my first time in Berlin and that I didn't know anyone in the city. She said they did a lot of publicity for their shows and that there are always people at the shows.
It's a cute place- not too small on the main level, made up of little niches of living rooms. It’s dark and smoky and attractive. Downstairs there is one small room where the live music is held. That room is not as nice, or welcoming. The folding chairs are set up in rows. There is not that sense of character that dominates the upstairs. The woman who worked there that eve (not Nina) was merely doing her job. She informed me that I was the only artist, didn't I have friends here and handed me a box of microphones and cords to set up the sound system. One of the speakers didn't work.
It was pouring rain and cold outside this eve (I was told it was the first cold, rainy day of the upcoming autumn). I had walked about 20 minutes and was drenched when I got there. There were 5 people in the whole place. Upstairs. After setting up the broken sound system I walked upstairs and got a nice Belgium beer and started talking with people. Julia owned a little store around the corner. Nina (a different Nina) was a music therapist. They were very nice women and didn't mind my interrupting their evening. We talked for a little while. 3 people left and 2 others arrived. I talked the 4 people who had just come in for a drink into coming downstairs to hear the music. After 5 songs the 2 guys left. But Nina and Julia stayed and they were a great audience.
The next day I got up late to a gray day outside, made coffee and strolled down to the venue for that eve to introduce myself and make sure I knew where it was. Linnen Hotel is a small boutique hotel with a beautiful room next to the bar where they have concerts. I introduced myself to the man smoking outside and he was Bene- the guy who I had been emailing about the show. He has a bright shiny moon face, and warmly greeted me. He was so excited to see me. He kept saying, “I can’t believe you are here!” He told me that a journalist had done some research on me and published a good piece on the show in the local arts paper. He hoped there would be people there. I walked around Preuzlauer Berg all afternoon. The sun came out. It was lovely. I took photos. I sat outside and ate a burger and had a beer. I went back to the flat, changed clothes, grabbed my guitar and went back to Linnen and played a fun show to a small but attentive audience.
London was a bit of a hustle. And joyous. My luggage did not arrive with me on Thursday from Ireland. I just received it last night at midnight- Sunday, mere hours before I left England! It was a nail biter. So I spent three days in the same clothes! I do travel with my toothbrush and mobile items, so it was bearable on that level. You do appreciate very much an ease of traveling once you're separated from the crucial items you've chosen to accompany you for 3 weeks- and faced with the chance of never seeing them again.
Working backwards, I had the joy of spending the weekend in London with my dear 'ole friend Hilde, who flew in from Oslo, Norway. Hilde arranged for us to stay in a suite in a posh hotel near Battersea Park. Thank you Hilde! Her wish, while in London was to experience high tea. And that we did. An incredibly luxurious few hours with amazing food and continuos flow of Laurent Perrier champagne. The earlier part of the day we visited some places together that we used to traipse around during the 80s when we shared a squat in Camden Town. There were no high teas in those days on our radar. The day had its interruptions as I was obsessed with tracking down my bag. Not only wanting my clothes, my books, the few gifts I had brought with me and bought along the way, but I had only a few CDs of my new recording left and wanted them available for the next few shows I have left. I had arranged for a box to be delivered in Amsterdam but they did not arrive at the destination, so it looks like my merchandise has run out.
The other thing I never left from my person were the three Kate Bush tickets. THANK JEEZUZ! I can't imagine the upset if I had packed those tickets!!! OK. Kate Bush. I have purposefully not said too much on Facebook or Twitter. Up til now. (Spoiler alert to anyone who is going and doesn't want details.)
I don't think of myself as being fanatical about anything or anyone really. But I think I might be a fanatic about Kate Bush now. I've always really liked her music, her ingenuity and her integrity. I mean I did buy a ticket to see her in London. But this was hands down the best show I have ever seen in my life. It was the best sounding concert I have ever heard in my life. And I've been to a lot of concerts. It exceeded ALL expectations - and my expectations were very high. I expected multi-media. I expected a great band. I expected to hear great music. I expected great attention to detail. I expected to be wowed by Kate. I did not expect the length to which Kate went, or how much I'd be wowed.
Hilde and Carol (from Chagford) accompanied me to the concert. We walked into the theatre- which had recently been refurbished and is lovely. We were excited to see that our seats were excellent (the venue does not offer a bad seat in the house). The large stage was set up as a standard concert filled to the brim with instruments (including a huge and interesting array of percussion instruments in addition to a full kit. Of course. Kate loves percussion). The band started. The lights went down, the crowd rose to their feet and erupted as Kate walked out waving, with 5 others in a row and began singing Lily." I thought, OK, it's a concert. That's cool. Unexpected, but I was happy. An arched scaffolding that crossed behind the band lit a beautiful lighting display. The band played about 6 songs. They sounded incredible. Her voice was clear and strong- better than I expected after a week plus of shows. No fatigue. After "Running Up That Hill," and then "King of the Mountain" a screen came down and the great percussionist, Omar Hakim came out and whirled above his head a whooser. Smoke billowed and thousands of tiny little pieces of paper were blown all over the audience. They appeared to be hand pressed yellow paper I later found out was a poem from Tennyson calligraphied on each one. Kate is an avid lover of literature (obvious if you know her lyrics). That is the kind of detail that encapsulates the rest of the evening. A large screen came dow and a video of author David Mitchell acted out an impassioned plea for help to the coast guard as a sailor who heard a distress signal from a downed ship. The screen went up and the stage was now the innards of a giant boat. It was obvious at that point we had left normal concert land. Gone was the scaffolding and the band was pushed up stage right. Then a video of Kate floating in the water wearing a life vest with a little red blinking light singing the first song from The Ninth Wave. Thus began the entire 2nd side of the Hounds of Love record, in order, acted out with various sets, each elaborate and gorgeous- with costumed dancers /singers and sophisticated lighting techniques that showed the nightmares and hallucinations of the stranded boat victim. The images were riveting, each one taking my breath away. Images such as: an ocean -complete with realistic looking foam made by fabrics manipulated by the dancers underneath and lighting which created the most authentic ocean I've seen using similar techniques; that frame of the ship; the Dali-esque room of her dwelling with her family (her real son playing her Ninth Wave son) where she visited them as a ghost; the underworld (complete with fish skeleton creatures.) Outside of her dreamscape, the rescuers tried to dig her out of the ice floor with a chain saw. They tried to find her with a friggin helicopter on a dolly from the ceiling that went up and down and whirled throughout the theater; they looked for her from a large floating buoy. She was finally taken by the fish creatures in a funeral procession through the audience. The use of technology, lighting, music, theater was masterful. Then she returned to the stage with the band in a line and sang the last song on the album, the lovely and grateful "Morning Fog" while she "thanked" her mother, brothers, son and everyone on stage. Then she welcomed us back after a 20 minute intermission. I couldn't believe there would be more!
The next "act" began with Kate at the piano. And then the full "Sky Of Honey" suite from her gorgeous, "Aerial" release, complete with scenic accompaniment of a 40 foot door; a huge gold- framed painting that was ever changing through elaborate video editing; gorgeous images of slow motion birds in flight. Feathers floated down from the ceiling; a giant birch tree penetrated the grand piano. A fantastically elaborate black winged Kate fought a guitarist in a bird head; and she literally flew (although I think they blew the lighting cue). It was just gorgeous.
There were flaws in this act- but not many. The extra singers/dancers in these scenes as park visitors got in the way for me. Her son, Bertie had a solo. He is clearly young- I think only 16 (a magnificent primer for him with his mother as mentor.) And I thought the puppet and man attached to him roaming around the musicians was a bit distracting. I interpreted the puppet as a young boy- representing her son and perhaps his roaming around her music represented both literally and figuratively their relationship to music and her relationship to music in his life. There were so many layers of intentional symbolic meaning throughout the show. It was clear that every choice was deliberate, and all executed to perfection. There was even an encore -of a gentle piano solo from her latest record, and the band playing "Cloudbursting". The whole show from start to finish clocked at 3 hours. I was full and felt exhilarated afterwards. My ears were not ringing. It truly was an incredible sound. I thought often through this show when she wore the head mic (that she had made for her first tour in 1979) why Broadway can't get their head mics right? Clearly the technology is there, but the vocals in Broadway musicals sound tinny and horrible. This show had the perfect volume, the perfect mix. My ears were not ringing after leaving the theatre.
Continuing from the Kate show and moving backwards...directly before I went to see an osteopath on the other side of London, which took half a day. (It is very time-consuming to travel in London. AND VERY EXPENSIVE. And extremely crowded.) I really messed up my back with a fall in March and after the long flight coming over to Europe and carrying my guitar around, I was in a good amount of pain. The osteopath was very informative. It's little looser now. The day I landed in London -later than scheduled and without my bag that had mouthwash spilled in it- I had begun to think that my Irish craic had run out (that's luck), but even before we landed, there was a young Irish girl about 4 years old who screamed: "Muuummmmyy...WOW...Look!...there are stars on the ground!"
At the airport in Dublin. (Flying in London.) I had a wonderful time in Dublin. It was only 24 hours, but it was action packed. I met some lovely people and partied heartedly. I was in Galway yesterday and was invited on a radio show to play today, but I had to be in Dublin, so we arranged for a phone interview which happened today from Galway, to be aired on Galway Bay FM. It looked like the interview might not happen for about a half hour because the phone connection kept dropping out. I thought for a moment I was losing my "craic." But just as we were going to give up and even after a Skype attempt, I said a prayer to the leprechauns who have guided me thus far in Ireland and then phone call number 5 worked! The faeries have been everywhere for me in Ireland. Most of the people I speak with volunteer that magic does exist in Ireland and that time exists on a whole different plane here. That is accurate to my experiences. It's a very beautiful, mythical, magical place. It has welcomed me with open arms, and as my newly found 89 year old cousin 3 or 4 times removed said to me in a thick Irish brogue on Monday, "you've come home."
I got off the small plane from Bristol last Saturday, and was absolutely shocked at the exorbitant prices of rental cars at the airport, but got one anyway and white knuckled it for an hour from Shannon Airport to Kinvara where I booked an AirBnB. Driving on the left side of the road in the right side of the car was challenging at first. By the second day, I was totally comfortable- a duck in water. Maybe being left/right dyslexic came in handy in this situation? (When not a debilitating challenge, it is often mildly annoying to me, and usually funny to my friends.) I plopped my stuff down at the B&B, threw my travel guitar on my back and walked down to a pub to find a jam. Steam and screams poured out of the first place I opened the door to. Big match between rivals Mayo and Kerry counties. (This Irish football is quite a bit different than European futbol / soccer. They get pretty physical and hold the ball, and kick it over the goal and the different angles and distances to the goal result in various points. Since I couldn't get in past the front door of this pub, I walked back outside and started talking to a few guys sitting on kegs outside drinking a pint. "Play us a song." So I did. Half time miraculously forced the innards of the smelly confines to the street right in the middle of "Breathe." "Play another one!" "What kind of guitar is that?" The guitar was passed around and soon the entire lot of us were singing Green Day, of all things, at the top of our lungs. (The young ones often consider Green Day to be old school). The guys were on their way down the coast to the matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna and invited me to go along with them. Ha ha. As they boarded the bus a bunch of these guys started throwing money at me (unsolicited - I didn't put out a hat), thanking me for the songs, which bought me a lovely dinner.
Later on I walked to a different pub where I heard a traditional session was going on. The guy playing the button accordion invited me over to play. And we did- together for 3 non-stop hours. Really good players. It was thrilling for me to be in Ireland remembering songs from the Stevedore days and just playing by ear and following them without too much embarrassment.
The next day I drove into Ballyvaughan where rumor had it my great grandfather was born. This little fishing village on the coast is as cute as Kinvara, which I absolutely love ((I hear John Pryne lives there.) I took a long walk toward the water and spoke to my dead relatives- my ancestors and my mother, my grandfather and aunts. I asked them to help me find some relatives. I walked into a pub and walked directly out again. I wasn't feeling it. I walked into another. There were 3 older gentlemen sitting at the bar in suits drinking whiskey and pints. The barmaid said hello and I announced that I was looking for my family. She responded, "Oh no. Where did you see them last?" I chuckled they were dead. After divulging what little information I had on the family they wrote down a name of a B&B and pointed me toward it and said to talk to a woman named Breada. Then I was shown the church announcement welcoming home the Keane family. Apparently Keanes from all over were embarking on Ballyvaughan the next day. (My family spelled their name "Kane," the way the guys at the bar pronounced the name.) I went to the referred B&B and met an American woman and an Irish man. Breada was not there but they told me to come back at 5pm. They showed me a picture of Breada's father who, to me, looked a lot like my grandfather. But I still wasn't sure that I had the right family. There was a painting on the wall of an old thatched roof farmhouse that Breada grew up in. It looked familiar for reason I couldn't describe. I knew there was a thatched roof house that was most likely still in the family. I left the house after a cup of tea. I wandered over to the church I assumed my great grandfather was baptized in. (I thought he had left America when he was teenager and got married in Worcester MA.) I am not a practicing Catholic, but my ancestors were. I lit a candle for them. I wandered around some more, trying to feel the village. I went back to Breada's a few hours later and as we chatted we both felt fairly certain that we were from the same family. She invited me back the next day to meet her mother, Mary Keane and to visit the farmhouse and to extend my visit an extra day (she would arrange a room for me) to meet "The Americans" for the reunion, and especially Aggie who kept all of the stories. I would lose my money on the AirBnB in Dublin by staying, but I thought it was worth it. And Breada was arranging for my accommodations in Ballyvaughan. The next day I met Aggie's son, Michael who opened up an ancestor.com site. And there it was confirmed. My mother's name, her brother's name, my grandfather and his three sisters. His youngest brother was missing. And rows and rows and columns and columns of Keanes and Kanes. We think that when my great great grandmother mother came over to US with her younger children, she probably didn't read and write English. It sounded like "Kane." The American Keane's are my great grandfather's older brothers who arrived earlier. One of the brother's Michael, stayed behind in Ballyvaughan to care for the farm. That is Breada's lineage.
So...a woman walks into a pub...in Ireland....magic happened.