South Europe with The Walkabouts - 2002
The Walkabouts and I go back a long, long ways. In fact we met not long after I first moved to Seattle back in 1984 and over the years we've shared a lot adventures, good and bad and all the rest that life friends share with the passing of time. (It's great and lucky that I also happen to be a big fan of the band's music but see my Walkabouts band review later on in this article). I've been proud and lucky to have been able to use Chris as my producer. And not only have I played on their records but Chris, Carla and Glen have contributed their musical talents at various times to my own CD's.
They were the ones who brought me to Europe for the first time as their support act back in 1993 and I do believe that that was the last time we actually shared a stage together (although there had been many, many times before that but that's another story!). Supportive they have always been for me both personally and professionally! Since that long ago first tour we've tried to put some dates together but for some reason or another could never make it happen until this past February.
The Walkabouts in 2002. Left to right:
Chris Eckman, Carla torgerson, Glenn Slater, Terri Moeller, Joe Skyward
Picture courtesy of Glitterhouse Records.
I think using support acts for them is a good move. Not only does an opener loosen the audience up and get them more focused for the headliner but it's also a nice way for the Walkabouts to support other perhaps less well known acts. It gives back to the musical community the same kind of opportunities that the Walkabouts also received when they were a much younger band. I know for a fact that they have never forgotten their own days as "first band up". Basically for this tour in support of their new Cd "Ended A Stranger" they had divided up Europe into blocks and we both agreed that the southern "leg" would be best for me. As I've toured quite extensively in the north of Europe over the years it made more sense for me to travel in those territories where I am not so well known. Thus Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Spain, Portugal and a finishing concert in Turnhout, Belgium would find the Walkabouts and Terry Lee Hale together one more time.
I guess the main reason for me to want an opener slot with them (or any band for that matter) is greater exposure (sic) for my songs and me. The Walkabouts have a much larger audience than I do and the chance to be introduced to that audience is important for me. A larger audience we all can use right? A bonus is that they are my friends and our meetings are few and far between in these times and the chance to hang out together AND make music is one not to be missed! Although the money is almost always never so good for a support act (and that's probably true no matter who you are!), there would be enough in the budget to cover my expenses such as they were. Also I would be able to sleep on the niteliner bus in my own bunk and share meals and beer with them on our workdays. Not so bad a deal really and with the chance to sell CDs after the concerts and, most importantly, to be introduced to the Walks great audiences it would certainly make the trip profitable. I would have 35 minutes per night to yodel away however I choose.
Below you'll find the daily tour diary, which I hope you'll enjoy. I'd like to thank Berthold Seliger (the co-ordination agent?) and his assistant Guido for their help in arranging a place for me at the various venues and, of course, to the local promoters themselves who actually made the shows happen. Also big thanks to Wilem Franken who was the tour manager and Walks soundman (and mine on a couple of nights!). The all-around trouble shooter and make it happen guy. We were all very lucky to have someone of his caliber as a partner. Last but not least a big thanks to Rick ("sleep is good") our niteliner driver (BeatThe Streets Tours) who not only put up with all of us sometimes drunken and crazed musicians but managed to deliver us safely each day to our next concert.
I met many, many kind and friendly people during these past 3 weeks and for that reason alone the whole trip was a good one. The chance to hang out with great friends and be a part of their world, even for such a short while, really meant a lot to me. Most thanks go to Chris, Carla, Joe, Terri, Glen and Ann Marie for the many kindness, support and hospitality. Thanks to Stepan for selling my CD's each night and also to all-around handyman John Parker for his positive energy and assistance. Hey, not only did I get paid at the end of each night; I had a front row listen to a very good rock band playing their very fine music. I was taking notes for sure! My heartfelt best wishes goes to all of them for their continued success and well being!
On The Bus - January 25/Zagreb, Croatia
I'd taken a train down here from Ljubljana (about 4 hours I think) where I'd been visiting for 3 days. I arrived I guess about 18H00 and took a taxi over to the club/disco Tvornica. As I was getting out of the taxicab the driver asked me if I was playing at the club that night (a natural assumption I guess, me with my guitar and suitcase) and of course I said yes. After I had paid the fare he handed me a little sticker with HR printed on it. He had noticed that my guitar case was lacking the sticker from his country and he had an extra one in his cab and he just handed it too me! For those of you who don't know, many European drivers put these little stickers on their bumbers so everyone will know their nationality (D- for Deutchland, F for France, I-Italy, DK- Denmark ect.). After I play in a country I like to put a sticker of that country on my case and I have quite a collection now. I had played in Croatia before but had never found one of those stickers! That's for my main guitar. On another guitar case I'm starting band stickers and I'd love to get stencels on my 12 string case. Kinda stupid I guess but it passes the time and gives folks something to stare at on the train.
Oh yeah, back on the bus... So... there I was at last and in I walked. The Walks were all on stage just starting their soundcheck. Hi, hi, hello, greetings, shaking hands, kisses and hugs all around. Met Anne Marie (violin) for the first time as well as tour manager/soundman Wilem. On the bus were also Joe Skyward (bass), Terri Moeller (drums), Carla Torgerson (guitar, keyboards), Chris Eckman (guitars), Stepan Suchoschleb (merchandiser) and John Parker (guitar technician and roadie). Oh yeah, don't forget our English driver Rick- a very important person! Anyway- I was introduced to my bed (bunk actually 2m x 80cm x 80 high) on the bus, given a key to the door (we each had one- $25 if lost!), showed where to stow my gear, given a tour book (arrival and departure times, soundcheck and show times ect ect) and left to my own devices. A typical schedule would look something like this:
|Get in 11H00
|Sound Check 17H00 Walkabouts
|Sound Check 19H00 TLH
|Doors Open 20H00
|Showtime 20H30 TLH
|Showtime 21H15 Walkabouts
Curfew midnight (at this show there would be a disco following the concert, a not so uncommon occurance in Europe. Usually the band would have to be off the stage and out the door before this started up otherwise it could be a horror trying to get all the guitars and gear through crowds of dancing kids)! As the band would normally sleep on the bus, showers would often be taken at the club (yes this actually happens in Europe. Clubs are built with musicians in mind!). It's one way the band can afford to travel on a niteliner. Instead of the club/promoter paying for hotel rooms for the band (usually the case), they pay the band that money directly and then the band can use this towards the cost of the niteliner. Cool huh! For instance it is my understanding that the bus rental, driver, tolls, ferry's and gas included for this niteliner company was about 500 eu's a day. Not an outrages price I think. Certainly it's a luxurious way to travel (try putting 10 people in a van!) and given some of the hangovers that inflict normal "day-drive bands" it's a hell of a lot safer! These drivers are professionals and used to the night drives and the rest that goes into taking care of R & R bands.
On the days when the band does not have a gig or the club has no showers a "day room" is rented at a hotel and there the band all piles into one room and takes a turn in the shower. Romantic huh! Works out pretty good though and everyone understands the system so folks are cool and polite as they must be. Dinners were often served at the clubs or a nearby restaurant or we would get a "buyout" which means we would each be given some money and then we would have to discover our own place to eat. What else? My sound checks would normally take about 30 minutes as I only used one guitar. I'm pretty "easy on - easy off" a stage. I would use the house soundman as Wilem responsibilites were for the Walkabouts sound and not the opener but mostly that was not a problem. The two times there were problems Wilem kindly stepped in and did the job for me.
Not to step on anyone toes or anything but I have never heard the Walkabouts sound so good as they did on this tour. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the maturity of the band themselves. Also the band is playing in better clubs than they used too and so have better systems to amplify the sound but of course much of the credit has to be given to the soundman and Wilem's the Man. You can have all the nice gear in the world and without someone working the board who has good ears and the technical expertise it's useless. Perhaps even worse than uselss because it's wastefull. Often times the band would leave to eat their dinner just when my sound check began. As I don't like to eat directly before my show either I would ask the kitchen to keep my plate warm or I would just have to find a sandwhich or something later. No problem though and it didn't happen much. Usually there was enough time. Anyway..... To the shows:
25.01.02 Tvornica, Zagreb
A very large venue both for disco and live music and with a capacity of 1000! Even after all these years of performing I was a bit nervous about tonight's show. What songs should I play? Fast or slow? New or old? I guess the main challenge with being the opener is that you really don't have very long to make an impact and it's easy to get drowned out by the talking if they don't like you. This talking can happen to any act too. One of the most discomforting times I've ever seen is watching Victoria Williams get booed as the opening act for a Neil Young solo show in Seattle. Victoria was good too but that audience just didn't like her one little bit. Sometimes there is nothing you can do accept do your job then get off the stage. You want to get people's attention and I suppose there are as many different ways to do that as there are performers. When I was first starting out and for many years I would come out and try to knock people on the head with volume, speed and power. Sometimes this is necessary (especially as a solo act!) and a matter of just physical survival, especially with a large and noisy rock audience. One great thing about the Walkabouts crowd though is that although they still want to rock, they will listen and so I had the freedom to choose a quieter set list if I wanted. (It's a fine balance though, picking the right songs to play and I'm gonna write an article on set list choice at a later date).
If you do start quieter though you can actually draw them into your music and if you do it right it can be a big success. So after all that advice........... Tonight I went for the quiet approach and I probably should have been a little more aggressive. You never know though and sometimes it's just a guess as to which way to go. It was a large (750) and loud Friday night type crowd and they wanted to party. I was a bit nervous as well, especially as this was my first night and I was shaky throughout and I'm sure they could sense that. I didn't play bad though but I was disappointed in my performance although I did get them to shut up for "Ragged Caravan". If I remember right, even the Walks had a tough night with the audience noise. It's extremely difficult to be intimate with a huge room. Still, 750 are lot folks and I was very impressed that they are drawing these numbers. I guess this club is not doing too badly either because after our show another 1000 people showed up to disco the night away. It was early to bed for me as I was tired from the travel and all the excitement.
26.01.02 Ljubljana @ Linhart Hall
A short drive of only 145km was a nice way to start the tour for me. The bus is real comfortable and even with all the people on board it never really feels too crowded. Usually a few people are sleeping in their bunks and there is a front seating area where you can chill out. The main gathering space is in the back of the bus where there is a stereo, video, table and seating area where you can visit or whatever. Also with two refrigerators on board, a microwave oven, coffee machine and toilet it's basically just like home except it's almost always in motion. Very enjoyable way to fall asleep once you get used to it! Anyway.... Tonight's show was in a large theater (cap.600) with modern equipment and wonderful acoustics. A sit-down audience and tonight I think I got back on tract. I started quietly and played well and everyone seemed to love it (35 minutes sure does go fast though!). The Walkabouts were wonderful and a guest appearance by Vlado Kreslin for a couple of songs really brought the house down and to their feet. I needed this show too especially after last night's performance and I was all confidence again. As always after any Walkabouts concert there were lots of friends, fans and well wishers backstage to greet and party with. We all stayed up late this night but tomorrow and the next 3 days were "off" days. Read on about the glory of life in a modern rock and roll band!
31.01.02 Bilbao, Spain @Kafe Antzokia
I awoke this morning in Bilbao and my first sight looking out the front window was the marvelous Guggenheim museum! What an awesome building!! I was excited too because we would get to play music again tonight and I know we were all looking forward to it. 4 days off in the middle of a tour is ridiculous and frustrating! I think this was the Walks first time to play here in Bilbao but it was my second and I remembered my previous show as having been very warm and friendly. Glad to be back!! Checked into the hotel where our day room was and which was right next to the venue (this was about 10AM). Cool. Went to the café which is a large and beautiful (Cap.700) old theater. In the day it was a café but at night the tables disappeared and it was used for music. I ate some wonderful tortillas (not like in Mexico but more like a potato and egg quiche in a way), fresh squeezed O.J., cappuccino and all that for less than 5 euro's (one euro is appx. 10% less than the dollar. If your on a budget I think this part of the world is for you!).
Chris and I walked over to the Guggenheim (about 10 minutes) and spent a couple of hours checking out this building. Designed by the architect Frank Geary it is really a must see sight. As cool as it is outside, inside is no less stunning. Always interesting spaces with great sight lines and surprising angles and shapes. Like all museums there are rotating exhibit's and we were lucky to visit when Mr. Geary's own exhibition was there. Really, to see all his different buildings, the progression of his work and discover this interesting architects work was a lucky stroke. I understand that Seattle now has their very own Geary building housing the Jimi Hendrix museum among other things. Looking forward to seeing that on my return there this summer. Back to the club to get ready for sound check and we discover that Carla, Anne Marie, and Terri have all taken sick from some food (some meat we think) they ate the night before.
Although Anne Marie and Terri were also sick, Carla got hit the worst and had been been throwing up all day long! She could barely stand up, was running a high fever and nobody knew if she would even be able to make the show that night. Without Carla there would be no show! They did set up though, did their soundcheck without her and then we just crossed out fingers. She did make it (barely) to the microphone though and it turned out to be a good show. As is often the case when someone is weak the others stepped up and took up the slack. A redesigned set list in which Chris sang the bulk of the songs and they were off and running. The audience certainly didn't know anything was amiss and I tip my hat to Carla for her guts and professionalism at making the show. I played well too and afterwards met some nice folks that had been at my previous show there one year before. I think I drank a little bit too much wine this night but I did have fun. I can't wait to return.
01.02.02 Madrid @ Moby Dick
Arrived around 09H00 and checked into a hotel not so far from the town center. I had the whole afternoon to myself and so decided to go the Prado museum which is Spain's version of the Louvre (or vice versa?). Really a beautiful world class museum and with the emphasis on Spanish painters and paintings (of course!). They have all the Spanish "greats" and I was lucky enough to see a quite extensive Goya exhibition. (Strange man I think but a great painter, especially his later works). I spent a couple of hours there but was pretty tired today and headed back to the hotel for a short nap. Carla's voice was very bad today and it was doubtful that she would be able to sing. She lay in bed all day resting and even went OT a doctor to see if he could help but it looked doubtful. I had played Moby Dick's on my previous tour here and was looking forward to a return. It's a real "rock" club. Not so big but with the audience able to press right up to the stage. We left Carla at the hotel and went to the club for a "Carlaless" sound check. I did mine and then we went to have dinner. Later it was back to the venue for a short wait before it was decided to cancel tonight's show. There was just no chance at all that she would be able to sing. We considered letting the people in for free and for me to do a solo thing with perhaps a jam with the remaining Walkabouts at the end but it was decided to perhaps try and stop back in Madrid next Monday (on our way from Lisbon to Barcelona) to do this concert then. Bad luck indeed as I know we all wanted to play (Carla included!!). An early night for us all and then it was time for the long drive to Lisbon.
03.02.02 Lisboa @Paradise Garage
Drove all night again. Awoke to blue skies and the rolling hills of Portugal. I saw my first cork trees (how do they find enough cork for all the worlds wine bottles if you can only harvest the bark every 7-8 years? Shit, now I have something else to worry about). We parked right in front of the club around 9 in the morning as people were just leaving! Portugal cha-cha. After talking with the promoters and club people it was decided to postpone tonight's show until tomorrow to give Carla more time to rest. She was feeling better in the stomach but her voice was still very hoarse. I spent the day walking around Lisbon and discovering some of her charms and beauties. Met the rest of the Walkabouts at 20H30 and Chris (who had previously lived in Lisbon for 6 months) took us to listen to a Fado club.
Fado is the traditional folk music of Portugal. Very emotional and blues like. Generally played on acoustic instruments with the emphasis on the vocals and lyrics. Everybody in Portugal listens and understands Fado. At the restaurant they serve the meal and then, starting around 21H00 and every 20 minutes or so after that, one singer either man or woman would come out and sing for 10-20 minutes. The lights would go down, everyone would stop eating, out came the singer and the accompagning guitarist and Portuguese guitarist (a smaller guitar kinda like a mandolin). Transfixion. The audience sang along on a lot of the songs. Shit, I was singing along! 15 minutes later back came the lights and we all resumed eating until the next act came up. This wasn't on a stage either but right in the middle of this room. This went on all night. Good strong red wine. Good strong life! Emotion and blues to be shared, not hidden away in some dark corner. We were all the same- human beings, alive and happy for it! I think there were about 6 different acts that I saw. All excellent. Old, young, men and women. The tears were rolling down my face. Wonderful, wonderful. Fado is impossible to ignore. A real night to remember for sure. Afterwards we took a nice walking tour of the city and ended up on another hill with thousands of folks standing out on the streets drinking and partying. All the bars have large windows and doors and much of life here I think happens in the streets. Given the heat of this place much of the year it is understandable. I can imagine what the summers are like here.
Finally got to play our show last night. Friendly and appreciative audience and quite understanding really at having to wait an extra night for the show. I played well and I think folks were quite surprised. I'm not sure they had ever seen one man and his guitar make so much noise before. Many compliments and I sold the most CD's on this night I think. Terry Lee who? Who was that masked man? The Walks played very well too. Carla's voice was hoarse but usable. After the show we all walked with some friends to a nightclub not too far away. The boys wanted to watch the superbowl. I wanted to talk with the beautiful woman. Everybody got his or her wish. Fun night and glad to be playing again!! Hurrah for Carla! A real professional for sure!!
04.02.02 Outskirts of Madrid
Another night drive and with a stop on the outskirts of Madrid at midday. I guess we're not gonna make up that lost Madrid show on this night. Carla's voice is still pretty rough and the decision was made to rest it some more. After I leave the band they have 3 more weeks of touring and with shows almost every night. She must be rested and in better form before then. So here we are in the middle of nowhereland at another Ibis. Shopping malls in the distance, McDonalds down the highway, Buffalo Grill next door and nothing to do today but wait for the leaving. Ah the romance of it all...
05.02.02 Barcelona @Razzmataz 3
Arrived early at 9AM and we were able to park the bus directly next to the club. I had the day to myself (before 19H00 soundcheck !) and so just started walking. Of course I saw the Gaudi church (AMAZING but difficult to get a good perspective on I think. The city presses right in on it) and city center. Barcelona is a beautiful city, friendly and courteous people and I really like the vibe here. Much more relaxed then say Paris or Hamburg. Lots of different kinds, colors and nationalities. I found it quite fascinating (of course this is after only one afternoon of walking don't forget!). Razzmataz is a nice, big and professional rock club. A real appreciative audience (am I starting to sound repetitious here? Once again proof that playing good music draws good folks!). For some reason not a very good show for me tonight. I did well by the end I think but I felt like I had two left feet if you know what I mean. Folks were friendly though and I guess if folks are friendly then I am more than halfway to having a good night right ? Don't forget that it' s not just the musicians that make a night "magic". I'm looking forward to my return to this very fair city on the Mediterranean.
06.02.02 Off day near Valence, France
Another off day. We couldn't make the drive from Barcelona to Zurich in less than 10 hours so here we were in a day room near Valence. Freeway parked next to the bus at another Ibis hotel. Hang out. Check out the mall. Sleep, read, watch video's, talk with friends.
07.02.02 Zurich, CH. @Moods
Back to the Northland and winter it seems (I can surely understand why ducks fly south in the wintertime!). Gray, damp and cold here today. Hey but we get to play music! Moods is a large and converted warehouse/factory. 3 star restaurant (it seems) in one part, small theater for drama in another and a large and very nice rock and cabaret venue. As you might expect from one of Europe's most expensive cities, it's a totally professional and well maintained club. I played well again I think which is good (duh). You know one thing about these opening slots is that you really have no excuse for fucking up. You choose your best songs and go for it and everybody has 6 good songs right? I tried to play different songs every night to make it more challenging for myself. Here's the set I played tonight :
|Where The Weeds Grow
|All For You
With the talking and tuning that's about 35 minutes! It goes fast believe me.
08.02.02 Rubigen, CH. @Hunziger Muhle
A short drive this morning which was good. Hunzinger Muhle is a strange club located just outside of Bern. Not strange in a bad way either. It's in an old mill that has been converted into a first class music venue. Not so much rock and roll as jazz seems to be the music of choice but I guess the Walkabouts were a requested act by the ownership. It's hard for me to explain this place but the owner has either got a great imagination and vision or way too much time and money on his hands. One of the best sound systems available which tells you something of his dedication to presenting good music to hear. This works for the band AND the audience. How many times have I wished other club owners would learn that a good sound system is better for everyone especially their clients!!
I was very nervous tonight for some reason. Basically I think I started out with the wrong song ('Control' followed by 'Who Is He') and that started me out on the wrong foot and then I just kinda sunk for about 4 or 5 songs. I couldn't get the audience on my side. (Afterwards Joe told me that even HE was looking for the hook!). I finally did pull up from the nose dive though and by the end of my 45 minute (!) set people were smiling and calling for more (« Michigan Weather » was the song that turned it around!).As Chris said after my show , it's not how you start that's important but how you finish that matters! There were people from all over the world at this club and I think after the show we met them all! Very impressive indeed. One lesson I learned tonight though was to start simple, at least for your first song. "Control" is a good song and one I usually really enjoy playing but it was just too ambitious for an already nervous Terry Lee Hale.
O9.02.02 Turnhout Belgium
A long drive from Switzerland to Belgium but Rick made the time just fine. Gary skies and rain all day. Arrived in this city in the north of Belgium about midday and we all checked into Turnhouts 3 star Hotel. This tour was winding down for me and after tomorrow nights show the Walks would drive off into Germany to continue their tour and I would return to France. Really not much to do today but rest. Carla is feeling better and better. We all met for a nice dinner and then I think everyone went to their bed early tonight. A night in a nice hotel is a luxury even WITH the bus. I like this country by the way. Folks seem much more 'get up and go" and are very friendly. It"s a 'look you in the eye' kind of country and I like and appreciate that. I had a girlfriend here once but that"s another story.....
10.02.02 Turnhout @De Warande
A full schedule for tonight's performance. Willard Grant Conspiracy was on the bill and also a new local Belgium band that would play in the intermission between Willard Grant and the Walkabouts. It was a great venue though. A large auditorium with 747 seats. Maybe about 600+ showed up for this great night of music. Because of the long show I had to cut my set so I only played 30 minutes. I guess Willard Grant did about an hour and even the Walks had to cut their set short a bit. The night before had been Carnival night (Mardi Gras) but folks were still in a good and festive spirit. Everyone had fun (except W. Grant who had technical problems during their performance). I admit that I drank a bit too much nice red wine but hey, it was the last night!
So that's all! It was hard to say goodbye to everyone but one thing you learn quickly as a touring musician is that good-bye's are a regular part of your life. I had a really good time with my friends and I'd like to think they enjoyed my company too. It's not always the easiest time when you're traveling and gigging and often times the pressures can get to everyone. These last 2 plus weeks had more than the normal portion of problems and I was really impressed by the how professional all the Walkabouts and the crew were in dealing with the various adversities that beset my very short time with them. Believe me when I tell you that I've seen much, much worse behavior from other musicians in even less stressful situations and I include myself in that list as well!
The Walkabouts generosity of spirit, innate kindness and genuine warmth and hospitality made my shared time with them speed by much too fast. This atmosphere not only made it easier to deal with the day to day travails that life on the road can be but also made the playing and presenting of my songs and music a pleasure to do and something I looked forward to each and every night. That they were willing to share this space with me (and others!) is just another mark of their worth and importance as an rock and roll band. That they are my friends makes me proud! Thank you Walkabouts, John, Stepan, Rick and Wilem and I' ll see ya all down the road!