The journey home: Turin – Pisa – Rome – Dubai – Melbourne – Castlemaine

We woke early after our show in Rome and began the long drive up to Torino. The journey takes six or seven hours depending on traffic so we settled in and watched as the weather changed out the window. We soon left behind the sunshine of Lazio and Toscana and moved into the colder climes of northern Italy, complete with its grey skies, cold wind and rain.

The hardest thing about being on tour has been being away from our families. It’s a new thing for us, and why we limited the trip to just two weeks. My heart melted earlier this week when I got a picture from home of the calendar with days being crossed off until ‘daddy gets home’. And although regular Facetime and phone calls have made things a little easier, I’m very excited to be heading home soon.

My eldest daughter asked that I bring something back with her name on it. And as Veronica is a popular name in Italy, it seemed a sweet and simple request. So over the last week I’ve been on the lookout for gifts with names on them. I remember seeing them countless times in the past. However, someone must have been one step ahead of me this week, removing all trace of them before I arrived.

I did find a little ceramic tile with Veronica’s name on it but there was no matching one for Isla so I had to let that one pass. I have to make sure my presents are evenly matched otherwise things don’t play out so well. But time was running out…

Finally, on our way to Turin I found a tacky little make-your-own charm bracelet kit with some princess trinkets (that they both love despite my best efforts) and a pack of shiny silver letters. I seized the opportunity even though it’s not the kind of gift I like to buy and set about putting them together in the back of the van. But would you believe it? Despite there being about 200 letters, there was only one A. There were about 10 Ds, Os, Fs and plenty of all the other letters that I didn’t need a duplicate of, but only one A. And A is a pretty popular letter here in Italy! So I had to improvise, flipping a Y upside down for Isla. Thankfully she can’t read yet so I’ll just have to have a quiet word with Ronnie to make sure she doesn’t let on.

We arrived in Turin and enjoyed a great show at Spazio 211, a place we played on our last Italian tour almost exactly ten years ago. A couple of local guys arrived with a laminated photo of us with them from ten years ago. So we headed outside to recreate the picture. We also caught up with some old friends after the show and then headed back to the hotel with the gear. It’s always a weird feeling coming to the end of a tour so its nice to mark the moment somehow.

Unfortunately, usually by the time you’ve loaded out and settled everything with the promoter it’s too late to find anywhere particularly welcoming. So like many previous tours, we ended up at a random old-man bar in the middle of nowhere to celebrate and reflect on the past few weeks. We enjoyed a quiet whiskey in the company of a disinterested Torino barkeep, some old timers, and a few end-of-the-night revellers while the line-up of Italian poker machines provided the mood lighting.

The next morning we began our journey home. And it is a long one: Turin – Pisa – Rome – Dubai – Melbourne, and then the drive up to Castlemaine for me.

We took the coast road down to Pisa from Turin – a route that we have taken many times before and one of my favourites. It’s a magical drive with the hills to the east and the Mediterranean to the west, cruising past the port of Genova and countless seaside towns and hillside villages. It was our last trip with Leonardo, who has been our tour manager for the second part of the tour. It’s been great getting to know him and also get an insight into Italy’s next generation. Like many young people he has a wildly eclectic taste in music that can surprise, inspire and confound an old fella like me.

Our last night in Italy was spent in the company of dear friends in Pisa. We took a stroll through the centre at sundown (passiagata as it is known by the locals), enjoyed a bicicletta (a local drink comprised of Aperol and white wine) in a local bar, and then had dinner at Luca’s house. We grew up with Luca and Enrico from Locusta on the highways of Italy and Europe, and it has been a real blessing to reconnect and share this time with them again.

6.45am arrived far too quickly and soon we were on the road to Rome with Luca. We said our difficult goodbyes at the airport and made our way through the labyrinthine hallways, gates, security checkpoints and shopping malls of Rome airport. It seems that before you’re allowed to do any actual travel, it is necessary to walk through the equivalent of at least five full-size shopping malls.

We settled into the luxury surrounds of the Emirates A380 and I chose the Iranian film Salesman from the some 300 options on offer. The choice is quite overwhelming on this airline but the film was quite the revelation and I’m so glad I was able to catch it. It’s the kind of story that stays with you and I keep thinking back to the various aspects of the film.

Dubai came and went like any other shopping mall and now we are just a couple of hours out of Melbourne. My parents will meet me at the airport and then I will drive an hour and half north to Castlemaine where I live. It’ll be tiring after such a long journey but I can’t wait to walk in my front door and see Eli and my girls again. The girls will be asleep but I’ll kiss them goodnight and look forward to a beautiful day together tomorrow.

Reflections - Pete

We have reached the end of the tour, unscathed and triumphant. I’m in the back of the van in the midst of a slow, cold drive back to Pisa, and its a good chance to capture some reflections about the tour, which I have been thinking about from the perspective of mind, body and soul.

Moments exactly like this - on the road with literally hours to sit and think and write - strikes me as something that has changed a lot in my life since my touring days, where this was how I spent most of my year. Back in Australia I now work as an IT consultant and my job revolves around talking and facilitating meetings and collaborating all day. And as anyone with a young family would know, home life is usually pretty intense and doesn’t leave much spare time or headspace. So it has been an interesting departure to be back in this familiar old space where most of our time is spent travelling in the back of a roaring van, or waiting around at venues or truck stops, with nothing much else to do than think. I would say it has been refreshing, but I also remember how isolating it used to feel at times. Now, with much more miss back home, I can imagine how hard it would be to be away a lot again, especially with so much thinking and waiting time. Even in just two weeks I have seen through the (precious) FaceTime calls all the new changes in my two and half year old daughter, Esther. It wouldn’t take much longer until being apart would start to feel unbearable. I marvel how people with children manage to travel frequently for work - it must be really challenging.

Its amazing to think that we have just played eight shows in nine days. Until now, we played just four live shows in the past three years. The toll on the body has been pretty intense, partly due to a lack of general gig fitness, and nodoubt another key factor is that we are ten years older than when we last toured with any such intensity. Each day involves many hours of travel on the road and lugging of heavy gear in and out of the venue. One saving grace has been that, unlike years gone by, we have been pretty conservative when it comes to partying and carrying on after shows. So at least we haven’t had hangovers to contend with. But I still feel like I have both been through a boxing match and have run a marathon.
Muscle memory is such an incredible thing. When we first started playing the Sodastream songs after a seven year break, there were times where we literally couldn’t remember the name of the song, but the hands just know where to go and what to do. And being on tour has taken that to a new level. Each night our circumstances have varied wildly, from churches to theatres to clubs. There are many aspects to the performance which need to cater for the differences at each venue, such as needing to mute certain strings while playing as to avoid sub harmonic feedback through the PA. Its almost an out of body experience to watch my hands and body know what to do in each situation, especially on the old songs which we have performed live hundreds of times. 

Being immersed in music again for a couple of weeks has been quite a profound experience, and something I think it will take a while to fully unpack and process. As always, the two really strong aspects are forming a connection with the audience, and then connecting with all of the people who we work with while on tour. In both cases there is a very significant foundation of a shared understanding about music and a common world view which we build upon. Many things just don’t need to be said, as we already know that we are coming from the same place. And then there is a feeling, that through the course of our exchange we have provided something with our music, like one unique piece of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Alone, it probably doesn’t change someone’s world. But I feel, and I hope, that we provide some nourishment to people’s soul that isn’t easy to find elsewhere, and that we leave some kind of lasting impact and that somehow help make people whole. And it is that mindset which compels me to put everything I possibly can into every performance, and to get lost deep in every song so as to draw out its essence. 

For me, the rhythm of performing every day boils down to a relatively simple and rewarding existence. My usual work world these days is very complicated, and it often takes weeks or months to reach an outcome. But when Karl and I get up to perform, it is an outcome we own and I have every confidence we can deliver. And it is instantaneous as the exchange occurs within the moment of playing the songs, and then in the conversations after the concert. 

I feel very lucky that we had the opportunity to again bring our music to people who want to hear it, and I hope we are back in Europe again before another 10 years pass.
We are very grateful everyone to helped us along the way and who came to the shows.

 

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Sodastream and our brothers from Locusta

Sodastream and our brothers from Locusta

Family roots in Castiglione

After putting on the show for us in Pescara, our good friend Paolo decided to join us on our journey to Rome and despite it being only 24 hours we certainly packed a lot in. Show nights are always very busy so it is great when you can share some downtime with friends and just catch up without the pressure of performing. We had breakfast in the cafe next to the museum where we played the night before and then took to the highway towards Rome.

My wife’s mother spent her childhood in a tiny mountain village in Abbruzzo called Castiglione. The village is not far from Pescara and just a short drive off the highway, so we took some time off to explore this place I’ve heard so much about.

Armed with a text message containing the directions to the family house as well as the details of the only restaurant in town – Giacomino’s – we made our way up the bumpy mountain road, taking in the snow-capped peaks, rugged pastoral land and towering granite cliffs on every side. You can’t help but feel humbled by the vast landscape here. Grand and imposing, the area seems untouched by the ravages of the modern age. You can picture what life was like for the peasants who lived here a hundred years ago.

Arriving at the edge of the village, we stopped to marvel at the scene in front of us. The town sits perched on a hillside like something out of a fairy tale, with sweeping views across to the nearby mountains and valley below. Ancient houses line the sides of the narrow road through town and the old walls tell the countless stories from the last few hundred years. Pock marked and cracked, patched and repainted, the houses prop each other up like a row of old teeth, and wrought iron balconies and wooden shutters jut out over the road from above.

The family house was badly damaged during the earthquake some years ago and is apparently still unsafe to live in, as are many other local residences. In fact the village is very quiet now, what with so many house unliveable and a large number of families migrating to Australia, America and Argentina over the last half century.

We found Via Colle Santa Maria and walked around trying to locate the house but had no luck at first. A man on a nearby balcony hadn’t heard of the family before and didn’t seem particularly inclined to help us in our search. Unperturbed, we ventured on and wound our way through the narrow back streets and walkways. Finally we circled back to the main road and found what we thought was the house. I happily took a picture and sent a message to Eli and her mum to say we’d found the house and then we took off in search of Giacomino’s restaurant hoping for a traditional Abruzzo lunch.

Giacomino is a 90-something Castiglione local who owns a restaurant on the main road. The only online reference to the restaurant is a trip advisor listing with a picture of Giacomino literally slaving over hot coals. We walked in and there he was hunched over the old stove, just like his online self. He welcomed us in and then his son showed us to a table in the dining room. And despite the revamped interior (his son now runs the show) it still had that special feeling of a place that’s rooted in the past.

We explained who we were and what our little pilgrimage was about and soon everyone was asking about family names and maiden names, nicknames and children’s names, trying to piece everything together. A couple that were visiting from Canada even came over to join the conversation. Their family migrated in the 50s and they share the same family name as Eli’s mum. They also have relatives in Melbourne, so the connections became even wider.

You don’t order off the menu in a place like Giacomio’s – food just starts arriving and you dig in and try to keep up. Pete, Paolo, Leonardo and I were all smiles as the biggest plate of handmade pasta I’ve ever seen landed on the table. We shared a bottle of local wine and reflected on family histories and the joys of travel. It was great to share the moment with Paolo too, who is especially passionate about Abruzzo’s cultural heritage and always takes the time to give us the background on the different places we visit.

During lunch I got another text message from home saying that we had actually gone to the wrong house so I raced down the hill to try and find the real family house while the guys finished up at the restaurant. I’m sure I raised a few local eyebrows criss-crossing the street and staring into all the different houses. Thankfully I eventually found the right place and managed to grab a few pictures before the tour van cruised down the hill to pick me up. So with bellies full of homemade pasta and local wine, and an hour behind schedule, we raced down the highway to Rome where we were plaything that night.

La bella Roma

The show last night in Rome was quite an amazing experience. The venue was an old church right in the centre the city. In many ways the acoustics of churches make performing challenging when amplified through a PA, but singing in that room was just something else. I guess it stands to reason that the acoustics are specifically designed to carry voice, but you really do feel it when you sing out. Its as though there is a particular character of the sound which its just impossible to create or hear in any other environment.

Just being in Rome is always wonderful. To see the modern meeting with the ancient is something which we are not accustomed to experiencing in Australia. The city feels like a history theme park with another incredible building or monument around every single corner. As usual, we barely had any time to do any sightseeing - just half an hour between soundcheck and the show to walk around. But it was still great to be there.

For anyone who has followed our travels and touring troubles over the years, you will be amused to know that we lost about an hour this morning trying to find a mechanic to investigate the warning light on the dashboard of the van saying that we had too much oil! Apparently you can have too much of a good thing after all. Our tour manager Leonardo is extremely diligent, so it was good to get reassurance as we are currently in the midst of a 7 hour drive to Torino for a our last show of the tour, and we’ll be pleased not to be stuck on the highway, or to blow up yet another van.

A great tradition of touring in Italy which we have been very pleased to see continue is having dinners provided in the venue, where we eat all together with the promoter and the crew. Last night the mother of the promoter made a smorgasbord of typical Roman cuisine and was there to talk us through each of the dishes. And there is nothing like being fed by an Italian mamma. It’s the best. Bologna and Milan were also great for this (although without the mamma). The venues are totally set up for it and someone comes in especially to cook. It creates an atmosphere of communion to eat together, and it is just another part of what makes playing in Italy so special.

Our concert the night before in Pescara was also a really great. It was our fourth time there, and always working with the same promoter, Paolo. Each time we have played in different, interesting places, and this time was no different. We were in a theatre attached to a museum, and we were lucky to get an exclusive tour. Some of the old relics, such as the intricate lace work which the women used to sew, really reminded me of my grandparents who were from Sicily. Paolo was an excellent guide as he took us around the museum, mixing his calm and cool style with a real appreciation for the local history and culture. We were lucky that he had a free day and tagged along with us to Rome, so the great insights and conversations continued all along the road to Rome, and long into the night.

Its hard to believe that the tour is almost over. It has been so good to be back and reconnecting with old friends and fans. It feels like almost everyone has a story of where they saw us over the years, sometimes with photos (actual photos, as our past tours predated smart phones). Last night there was someone who came to see us at Circolo Degli Artisti when she was 15, and she is now an adult. And also there was a couple who bought along their 6 and 4 year old children, who obviously weren’t around when they came to see us before. Its really nice that we are moving through life together with these people, and it seems that somehow our music represents a thread which brings people and memories back together. It will be a privilege, and hopefully an opportunity we an take, to return before too long to continue our story.

Chiesa Evangelica Valdese in Rome

Chiesa Evangelica Valdese in Rome

Karl getting into the swing of things with the pacing and talking on the phone. His transformation into an Italian is almost complete.

Karl getting into the swing of things with the pacing and talking on the phone. His transformation into an Italian is almost complete.

Cena della mamma in Rome, and our friend Marco from Naples who is with Gareth Dickson on tour.

Cena della mamma in Rome, and our friend Marco from Naples who is with Gareth Dickson on tour.

Four mechanics are better than one. Helping us make sure that too much oil won't hinder our progress to Turin

Four mechanics are better than one. Helping us make sure that too much oil won't hinder our progress to Turin

Roma
Paolo di Pescara

Paolo di Pescara

From the mountains to the sea

The first few days in Italy have been quite an experience to say the least. I’ve felt very blessed to be back walking the ancient streets and travelling the highways like Pete and I did so many times. And reconnecting with friends after 10 years away is an amazing thing. You never really know how things will be after so much time apart but we’ve been able to pick up exactly where we left off. Our Italian brothers Luca and Enrico have taken time out to share the journey and it has been a special time for all of us.

The path Pete and I took through the music industry seemed a bit strange to some people and at times a bit ‘unambitious’ but for us it was always about the music and the personal connections we made along the way. And I’m glad we did things our way. The older I get the more I appreciate these special bonds that cut across borders, languages and now decades.

We played at Locomotiv in Bologna last night and were happy to follow in the footsteps of so many great bands. Micah P Hinson and Jens Lekman are both stopping by in the next couple of weeks – both people we have crossed paths with on our travels. Wherever you are in the world it seems the indie world is a small and close-knit community.

There was no support band last night so we had plenty of time to just catch up with old friends from Bologna and Finale Emilia. Steven from The Chemistry Experiment popped in. He has lived in Bologna for five years now and after hanging out with him at the Fortuna Pop gathering in London it was nice to see him on his own turf. Unfortunately he went to leave only to discover his bike had been stolen. Needless to say he was none too pleased as it was 3am and he was ready for home. Turns out there’s a place in town where you can go and buy stolen bikes for 20 euro so hopefully he has some luck finding his bike down there today.

I tried working on my Italian language skills before I left but there’s never enough time to do it properly. I can usually make myself understood by fumbling through a selection of awkward phrases but it’s been fun being immersed in it this week. And people do seem to appreciate the effort even if you don’t get more than one or two words right. I’m in the front of the van with Leonardo – our tour manager for the rest of the tour – and he’s been helping with my Italian while I help him with his English.

The weather here in Italy has been incredible. It’s perfect spring weather with days in the mid 20s and nothing but clear blue skies. It's been great but it’s not something I was expecting at all. I thought I planned well by packing a bunch of warm clothes but instead I’ve had just a few cotton shirts I brought with me on high rotation. I’ve been carting around my heavy jumpers and jackets while my shirts hang out to dry in the back of the van.

Right now we’re travelling down the coast to Pescara where we are playing a show tonight. Paolo the promoter is an old friend and has organised some amazing shows for us in the past. And it was on our first visit to Pescara that Pete enjoyed his greatest ever meal. I can’t remember much about it at all but Pete, who remembers gig by their associated meals, can recall all the details. Anyway, I'm sure another great

The highway to Pescara passes right down near the water here. The blue water of the Adriatic Sea stretches out for miles on one side and white-capped mountains rise up on the other. So I’ll sign off and just soak up the amazing scenery for a while before we arrive.

Pisa to Milan - back in the saddle

Being back in Italy is wonderful. Over the many years that we were touring we spent countless days in Pisa with our good friends and concert promoters Luca and Enrico from Locusta. We started our careers at a similar time at the beginning of the 2000s, and Locusta have now grown to become one of the biggest promoters in Italy. We were in Pisa the day that Luca took delivery of their first van - a sky blue Fiat Ducato - that would become our home away from home while on the road. So being picked up from the airport by Luca in that same van was like stepping into a time capsule. In many ways it feels like barely a day has passed, and we have fast slotted back into the familiar rhythms of touring. Although, van is a little worse for wear, and we of course have 10 years of life to catch each other up on.

Our first Italian show was in an ancient church in Pisa called Cantiere San Bernando. It was active in the 1700s and the frescos on the wall from that period still remain, and then was abandoned for a long time and left to ruin, being overtaken as a place of refuge by pigeons and junkies. Around 15 years ago a group of people started squatting there. They cleaned it up, and commenced a long battle with the municipality to turn in into a cultural space. It is now run by a group of young volunteers who host shows and events of various types. They are known for hosting shows which are 100% acoustic, so this is what we did on Monday night. It was actually a first for us, aside from short performances in record stores and the like, and it was both exhilarating and challenging at the same time. Having just come off the London show where we were fighting a big PA in a massive, echoey room, it was a relief to return to our pure essence - just our instruments and our voices, which is how all Sodastream songs begin. The acoustics of the church are designed to resonate and I think all of us in the room felt that. But it did require us to sing and perform in a way that we are not accustomed to in order to project the sound, which meant we had to dig extra deep.

Being part of the show in Pisa reminded me of something I really love about Italy, which is less common in other parts of Europe, and basically non-existent outside of it. The phenomenon is these associations of volunteers who run venues and shows. Sometimes they get some money from the local government to help put on shows, or otherwise they just make it happen, but either way it is a totally different feel to a commercial operation. And it is such a positive thing for young people to be a part of - to grow culture in their local community, and to experience the responsibility and autonomy of bringing an event to life. There was a particular moment in the church in Pisa where the group of volunteers were working together to move a rickety old piano onto the stage, carrying it together, and then propping it up with pieces of wood (see video below). It just captured the spirit of cooperation and resourcefulness which is unique to the shows put on by these groups of special people. 

Last night we were in Milan, and back into the familiar club style environment - more of our sweet spot in terms of stage, PA and venue size. It was great to meet again with fans who we haven’t seen since many years prior, some asking us to re-autograph well worn and well loved CD sleeves that we had first signed probably 15 years ago. Its nice to think that we are all ageing together, and that the connection still remains after all this time.

Cantiere San Bernando. In the top left of this picture you can see an artwork by Melbourne artist Buff Diss who works with adhesive tape to create his pieces. Amazing that it sits alongside frescos from the 18th century by an artist who also worked on the Vatican.

Cantiere San Bernando. In the top left of this picture you can see an artwork by Melbourne artist Buff Diss who works with adhesive tape to create his pieces. Amazing that it sits alongside frescos from the 18th century by an artist who also worked on the Vatican.

The group of volunteers who put on our show in Pisa, triumphant after relocating the piano for us

The group of volunteers who put on our show in Pisa, triumphant after relocating the piano for us

Maurizo who wrote about us in his his book "Vini e vinili", and other friends in Milan

Maurizo who wrote about us in his his book "Vini e vinili", and other friends in Milan

Caro Luca

Caro Luca

Behold the touring machine

The familiar gears of the touring machine are starting to click into place. We started our seven show run with an instore at Rough Trade Records. It was pretty much opposite in every way to our Friday night show - very low key, totally acoustic, and to about 15-20 people. But it was nice to return to that part of town. Our old label (Tugboat - part of Rough Trade) was over there, and we actually played that same record store probably 15 years ago. And after battling on Friday with the PA and the dynamics of a massive room, it was nice to return to the format we know best - just us and our instruments, which is exactly how each of our songs starts out. 

Inevitably, as was the case on I think every tour we have ever done, I have come down with a head cold. Mercifully, I got through our first show just as it was coming on, and will hopefully have the worst of it over and done with before the tour really ramps up.

Having some down time has allowed me to finish a book I’ve been reading - Instrumental by James Rhodes. For the most part it is a harrowing account of his journey surviving serious abuse and mental illness. But the inspiring part of it is that he is a classical pianist who is going against the grain of the traditional classical music industry to bring the music to new and younger audiences. Each chapter starts with the introduction of a new piece of music, an interesting warts and all account of the composer, and how the piece fits into the bigger picture both in James’ life and  for music history more broadly. It reminds me of one of the aspects I loved most about when I was playing in classical music orchestras - the initial unpacking of a piece, where conductor guiding and talks the musicans through it section by section, sometimes bar by bar, to reach a shared understanding and interpretation of what these notes are intended to convey. This occurs before the hard work of refining the mechanics of the performance begins.
For some reason being on the ground in Europe makes me connected to (western) music and its history in a different way. My double bass feels different to play and somehow more alive, which I attribute to the crisper air. And as we walk these streets and play in the historic halls, I can’t help but think about all of our musical predecessors, both recent and not so recent, who did the same. Its all in my mind, but what is music if not where these feelings and experiences and history come together to form a connection amongst us all?

Last night we were there for the final farewell for the Fortuna Pop record label. There were a lot of hugs and a few tears. Its a massive tribute to Sean and all the bands and fans of the label what an amazing community of people has formed around this music. I’ve always had great admiration for all the labels and label managers we have worked with, and it it was great to see such a genuine outpouring of appreciation for the great work Sean has put in over the last 20 years. Sean wisely chose to end proceedings with the label's fresh blood - Martha, Joanna Gruesome, The Spook School and Chorusgirl - to leave every one looking forward towards the future indie music in this scene he has done so much to faster. Fortuna Pop is dead. Long live Fortuna Pop!

Sean Price - the man behind Fortuna Pop

Sean Price - the man behind Fortuna Pop

Kings Cross Station against an spring evening sky

Kings Cross Station against an spring evening sky

Big night

Well after three days of catch-ups with old friends and happy wanderings around this new and refreshed London (a little different from the grit and grime of 15 years ago) we finally headed down to the Islington Assembly Hall for our first show of the tour.

We met the Butterflies of Love outside and have to say we were all mightily impressed by the venue. A beautiful and imposing theatre to say the least and not the place we’re used to performing in. The in-house team were fantastic and helped us settle in. Dressing rooms were allocated. And despite Jeff from the Butterflies insisting that their dressing room was much better because they had a bathroom attached, ours had more homely furnishings and mood lighting so I called it a draw.

Sound check proved a little challenging, as the lads behind the desk couldn’t actually turn on the PA for a good couple of hours… just a lot of furrowed brows and purposeful pacing around. We left them to it while The Butterflies ran through a few numbers on the stage and eventually the PA roared back to life. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief and we raced through sound checks before the doors opened.

With just one Melbourne show under our belt before taking on London I have to say I was feeling pretty nervous. Pete and I opted for a relaxed Mediterranean dinner across the road and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc helped quieten the nerves.

Lots of friends from the old days began arriving and there was a magical feeling in the room as we watched Darren Hayman do his thing. Great tunes and lovely to hear them live after such a long break. Next up was Flowers – part of Fortuna Pop’s next generation – and their cinematic sound filled the room. I hadn’t heard much of their stuff before but their beautiful vocals and epic guitar sound was something special.

Then it was our turn. I did my final warm-ups in the kitchen under the stage. And with all the steel cabinets and cooktops it was kind of like being in a reverb chamber – perfect for my weird vocal exercises.

It was strange walking out onto our first London stage since 2007 but it wasn’t long before we felt right at home. It always takes me a song or two to find my feet but once the nerves settle I can lose myself in the moment and just enjoy being wrapped up in the songs for an hour. It is a real blessing having the opportunity to play music both at home and abroad, and the older I get the more I appreciate what a gift it is.

The set flew by and it wasn’t long before we were playing our final song. I looked out to Sean, the man who put this whole crazy thing together and who has been the epicentre of this eclectic community of music fanatics for the last 20 years. It was then that the emotion of the moment really hit me. He’s off to Japan in a few months and after this weekend Fortuna Pop will close up shop and everyone will disperse. But whatever happens next, this ‘little label that could’ will hold a special place in the hearts of people from all over – from London, New Haven and Kentucky to Melbourne, Innsbruck and New York City. 

As much as I love performing, I have to say I also love that moment right after a show when you can relax and in an ideal scenario (like it was the other night) get to watch another band do their thing. And what a treat The Butterflies of Love were. Wild, unruly and thoroughly engaging, they kicked their way through a set of amazing songs. With both Dan and Jeff in fine voice (why we all used to smoke so much as singers I’ll never know) the songs really came alive… and Jeff’s engaging monologues are a sure sign that a career in politics awaits.  

After the final chords rang out it was time to relax and continue the catch-ups with friends. Celebrations continued on into the wee hours and finally came to a close in the salubrious surrounds of the Walthamstow Travelodge Hotel bar. Needless to say heads were a little heavy yesterday morning but there wasn’t too much time to feel sorry for ourselves as the next Fortuna Pop show was kicking off in the afternoon down at Tufnell Green.

The calm before

It was great to be back at Bush Hall last night. Nice memories flooded back of when we played there in 2003. We really enjoyed the set by Pete Astor - reminiscent of Velvet Underground at times, and a great show.

There is an impending sense of excitement and nerves (in a good way) as the tour is about to kick into gear. These last few days have been an unusual and rare treat - to have some days off, and to be staying in a hotel. It only occurred to us last night when we ducked off early from the Bush Hall show so as to ensure that we are well rested for the big show today, that in years gone by we didn’t usually have that option. We were always crashing on people’s floors, so we would often be moving at someone else’s pace. So there is some benefit in getting older and being able to afford to move ease into things.

I started my day today with a delightful FaceTime call with my daughter Esther and partner Michelle who are back home in Melbourne. The time difference is working in our favour and we seem to be able to manage a call just as I wake and they prepare for bedtime. Esther turns 2.5 in a couple of days, and having FaceTime is really helping her understand that I’m away. Pete from the Butterflies of Love flew in from the USA yesterday, and likewise at the Bush Hall gig last night he was on FaceTime with his little boy, passing the phone around so he could say hi to all the other guys in the band. I guess all of our priorities have changed since we last on the road together 14 years ago, and its nice that technology has kept up and is helping us feel connected to the ones that we love. I certainly don’t miss the days of dealing with phone cards and Internet cafes - it feels like a miracle we ever got anything achieved or ourselves from A to B.

Rehearsing in the hotel room these past few days has provided some fortuitous and timely preparation for our next two shows after tonight, which will be 100% acoustic with no PA or amplifiers - Sunday an in a tiny West London record store, and Monday in an ancient church in Pisa. Lately we have been rehearsing plugged in to get ready for bigger stages. Its all part of the excitement and challenge of being on tour, with such wild extremes to deal with. 

Time now to get the mind ready for what will hopefully be a great show. The venue looks amazing, and there are lots of old friends coming along. Can’t wait!

We are becoming locals in "The Stow"

We are becoming locals in "The Stow"

Thankful we packed the hats and scarves. Just a bit chilly compared to Melbourne!

Thankful we packed the hats and scarves. Just a bit chilly compared to Melbourne!

Pete Astor ripping it up at the amazing Bush Hall

Pete Astor ripping it up at the amazing Bush Hall

Can we take these guys home with us. Loving our reuinion with dear friends The Butterflies of Love.

Can we take these guys home with us. Loving our reuinion with dear friends The Butterflies of Love.

Butterflies, breakfasts and tin hats

Well it’s been a fun and entertaining start to our London adventure. We’re into day two now and feeling pretty relaxed about things.

I had an illuminating chat with my Uber driver on our way to the hotel from the airport. Despite his relative youth (27) he was able to set me straight on a wide range of subjects – apparently Brexit is an amazing opportunity for everyone in the UK; it’s impossible to win an argument with a woman; and if you invest in real estate you’re guaranteed a 200% return on your investment. Who knew I was wrong on so many fronts? Needless to say the hour-long drive didn’t exactly fly by, but I did enjoy taking in the sights of London out the window. 

As Pete mentioned, we’re staying in Walthamstow, and it seems like the place to be right now. Reminds me a little of Preston or Reservoir back home in Melbourne: a nice mix of local markets, mum-and-pop shops and little cafes and bakeries with good coffee….  just with a few extra double decker buses cruising around. And although we’ve barely left the area we’ve managed to catch up with a bunch of old friends we haven’t seen in such a long time.

The Butterflies of Love barrelled into town yesterday bringing with them their own special brand of chaos. They arrived in London on three separate flights as they’re spread between Boston, New Jersey and Connecticut now. Since then, we’ve been sharing our various life stories from the last ten years. Kids, new music projects and London’s changing culinary identity have dominated the conversations so far. There’s been a bit of debate about how London’s new breakfasts compare with the classic fry-ups. My spinach and ricotta quiche with rocket at this morning’s gathering at Today Bread was ok but the toasties (a favourite of the locals) got a lukewarm response from our American friends. We’ll see how things play out.

After an afternoon rehearsal in the hotel room yesterday, we rode the overground train out to Hackney for a vegan dinner with a friend at The Black Cat (an old anarchist club that’s been given a new-London makeover) and then the Twenty Years of Trouble opening party at The Moth.

The Moth stands for ‘Memorable Order of the Tin Hats’, a club for military veterans that’s been around since 1927. The place now has a second life as a popular indie venue and its sparkling gold ceiling certainly helps create a festive vibe.

Inside we caught up with Sean Price, the man of the hour and Fortuna Pop kingpin who’s orchestrated this whole thing and who we have to thank for bringing everyone together this week. Over the last 20 years he’s released some 200 records on Fortuna Pop and put on countless shows. It’s an amazing achievement and I guess he does deserve a bit of a break after such a big effort. Music was played; drinks were drunk, and stories were shared – all round a great start to proceedings and we’re looking forward to the first of the full shows tonight at Bush Hall.

London calling

So we have landed in one piece, gear intact, and feeling strangely refreshed. We were lucky with the flights, and after years of enduring sleep deprivation on the home front courtesy of young children, a long haul flight is suddenly a walk in the park.

London greeted us with a familiar arctic blast of cold air. We are staying in an area called Walthamstow, and all feels remarkably clean and gentrified compared to neighbourhoods we used to knock about in. Or more likely London has just moved on with the rest of the world and we weren’t here to witness it. All I know is that I had a very Melbourne style breakfast of avocado and eggs on toast, and a real proper flat white - a far cry from the greasy spoon style two eggs on toast and a molten hot instant coffee which we became accustomed to in years gone by! I’ll be disappointed, to be honest, if we don’t manage to squeeze in a greasy spoon style breakfast… just for old time’s sake.

We met up with our wonderful UK publicist Lucy this morning - the first of many reunions to look forward to over the coming days. Its a strange world these days where we can collaborate on something as complex as an album release from across the world, and not have actually spoken since we last met over 10 years ago. Its one of the things I’m looking forward to most about this tour - to actually meet up in the flesh with all these folks that we know so well.

Looking forward to the first of the Fortuna Pop! shows tonight, and to the Butterflies of Love arriving at some point today. Let the games begin!

Great to see Lucy from But I Like You PR

Great to see Lucy from But I Like You PR