Tales from the Rails – spinning out of control and who the hell can afford Switzerland?

My suitcase is broken! The little wheel gave up and split in two during an uphill struggle from Bern station to the venue. The suitcase is too heavy for me to carry along with my guitar and I can’t afford to buy a new one here in Switzerland, so I’m not sure what to do yet. I’m currently sort of tilting it and pulling it along on the one little wheel that’s still soldering on. The wheel may spin no more, but I am in good spirits with four more shows in four more towns and two countries to go before a day off in Berlin. The day had started beautifully. I left sunny Italy and took the slow train to Bern with two stops along the way, allowing for lots of ukulele playing on train station platforms and lots of staring out of the window gazing up at mountainous views. It was a good day and I was a happy traveller.

10993421_10155328107320707_7446744426500711123_nThe last Italy show was great – Twiggy Club is a lovely place full of lovely people – special thanks to Luca for coming along again, to Francesco for looking after me so well and to Fabrizio for the great sound. I was forewarned that audiences in Switzerland can be a bit cold. One ex-swiss person in the audience at the Twiggy Club told me that when he went to see The Rolling Stones perform in Zurich, Mick Jagger swaggered on stage and yellowed out: “Hello Zurich!”, which was met with a stadium of silence and blank stares…

This morning I woke up hungover. Not from alcohol, but from last night’s show, which was awful. Let me precede the account by telling you that I am not the kind of performer who expects undivided attention. I believe you have to earn it. When my: “Good evening, Bern! How are you doing?” was met with icy silence, I knew it was going to be a long evening… I feel you Jagger, I feel you. With the exception of two – three people, the audience had their backs turned to me, they were loud, they didn’t clap and didn’t even react when I addressed them directly. Most of the very noisy people cleared out during the second set, so the evening improved slightly. Somehow, I managed to get people on board for the very last song, ‘Red and White Blood Cells’. Even then, they were notably nervous about singing out of line, at the wrong place or singing the wrong word. Switzerland, it’s OK, you can relax. Very much to my surprise, they then shouted for an encore. For a split second it crossed my mind to say: “No, fuck you. I’m not playing another song after you’ve already totally not listened to the last 15 songs. Obviously I did not do that and I played another two uptempo numbers, like any good performing monkey would.

There was no fee for this show – it was a hat collection gig only and I was already expecting to make a loss. Bizarrely, all those people who did not listen still gave me their money. I was almost a little insulted by this. Don’t get me wrong, I’d obviously rather make a profit than a loss, but why would you show a performer no respect, give them the feeling that they are inconveniencing your evening and then give them lots of money for it? People of Bern, you confuse me.

I know that this is a part of touring life. I was well looked after at the venue and I have to send very special thanks to the lovely Lena, who put me up for the night and was so very kind, making sure I had absolutely everything I needed. Bern was en route and I had confirmed this gig fairly short notice. I don’t wish to appear to be ungrateful – it was good to get my travelling costs back in and have the opportunity to perform rather than to just hang about, but there is a small point to be made here. Dear restaurant owners, don’t have live music at your venue because you think it’ll look good and will attract customers. That’s what happy hour is there for. If you want to host live music, you need to nourish a culture around it. You need to have tables and chairs facing the stage and encourage people to listen. You need to love music to host live music.

Italy, I miss you. Switzerland, I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t like you very much so far. Rather than asking me if I need a hand, you stare at me heaving my suitcase and guitar up the stairs of your train stations. Your gaze is unabashed and without any hint of a smile or willingness to communicate – as if I’m some kind of alien. You are ridiculously expensive. The three hour Italian leg of my journey yesterday cost me €8.50, the one hour swiss part of the trip cost €55. The lady toilets in the train stations cost more than the mens and my tiny cup of coffee cost over €3.50. You are very beautiful and clean, but I don’t buy it – I can’t afford to. Having spouted all that opinion sauce over my blog, I feel that things can still change my mind. I’m in Basel now, making use of the free wifi of the Swiss train stations.
Photo on 2015-03-11 at 16.28
I’m performing at Cafe Salon tonight and the place looks really nice, so here’s to a better night and maybe I’ll find an abandoned suitcase, or at least a wheel somewhere… you never know.

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