Following the completion of the Swiss leg of the tour it was back to France for one final show before Italy.
The drive was long and winding as the journey travelled over mountains and through valleys.
It was out to West France to play an english run pub in the small town of Charroux.
It was surprising to find the audience was 95% English. Wonderful and friendly but very weird at the same time. What was a pleasure was to see some familiar faces from the UK who were now living out there. Familiar faces on the road is almost always a bonus.
The Show was chance to try some very new and untested songs. Amongst the full set 6 songs were unreleased.
Following this we begun the trip towards Italy. Stopping at many places along the way including the Lot Valley, Ariege, Aude, Carcasson and finally in the far South West where my brother and his wife were staying.
Asmara took some further shots of our journey:
Now going back to what I was saying about familiar faces. To see your own family in the middle of a tour which has taken you round many new and unknown places for me was the best example of this. We chilled and chatted as well as ate and were merry. Just a perfect break from the transience and random.
Every once in a while we would stop and try to take a dip in a river. Sadly this one was PRETTY DAMN COLD!!!
I am joined by my partner Asmara in Zurich. She has flown out from London following her completion of her commitments to studying. From Zurich to Luzern driving took a couple of hours and we parked up outside the city in the camper van in what looked like the car park for an old peoples home.
The following day we woke following a stress free sleep and ventured into the beautiful lakeside City.
We parked up and managed to get into our hotel. The weather at this time was beautiful and the setting seemed perfect for my outside early evening concert – HOW IT WOULD CHANGE!!!!!
This festival for me was of the upmost importance. I had been booked many months before and based the majority of my 3 months mainland Europe trip around this. I was also sharing the festival billing with many “famous” names from the music world and weather or not I let it. That still becomes a factor on how one approaches a show.
The days performances for me would include 3 hours stage time. Divided into 3 sets. For the 1st time in years. I made some plans for what I would play and when. It was integral that I was punctual.
So we arrived at my place of performance. A massive outside area overlooking the lake and covered by an enormous roof that stretched out about 2 metres over hanging the stage. This looked and felt like a mighty grand location to play and set up with nerves and excitement.
Sadly this is when the weather turned nasty :(.
Within a matter of minutes the sun vanished behind black clouds and a storm picked up at a tremendous speed and people were running for somewhere dry. Unfortunately at this time I was left standing on the stage surrounded by electronics ready to begin my soundcheck. The rain and wind swept under the roof and drenched me my guitar and all the electronic equipment on the stage. With the help of Asmara I begun to dismantle everything with some hope of saving it from ruin. It was around now that I begun to get pretty damn stressed as the reality of the situation was hitting home. Maybe I won’t play today. Maybe I won’t play again on this tour. All my equipment is drenched.
None the less I moved everything inside and hoped for the best. I watched as water was pouring out of my power supply unit. We proceeded to take the equipment inside. Then we dismantled what we could and started drying everything with a cloth in the hope it was not broken.
Eventually after 30 mins of storm checking the stage was wiped dry and I once again set up. Soundcheck was rushed as my show was already due to start. I was a mess. Playing badly and with little discipline for the 1st couple of numbers. The sound was all over the place and I felt ready to cry by the end of set 1.
During the break I had a long talk with the sound man who was also stressed as his equipment too had taken the brunt of the weather.
He was very accommodating to my heightened stress levels and together we worked on tweaking the sound to work with the looping set up. From the start of set 2. Things became easier.
The tours will often find themselves flowing in fits and bursts. Live music is more in demand around a weekend so to speak as the population is generally more free and available to devote some time to it.
This little burst of 3 shows braggingly boasted to be in the 3 different countries is actually no more than 3 – 5 hours apart from one another as I weave my way along borderlines. Often the change is not dramatic (none more than a EU sign to say you are entering of leaving Germany or France.) However upon reaching the Swiss border one is always encountering queues. No so much for Border checks although they do occasionally happen. But more because of people stopping to invest in an annual highway pass for their vehicle.
As my stay is brief inside the swiss border I try my hand for a 2nd year at avoiding the highways and simply venturing through the smaller roads. Which can prove to be a real a challenge to navigate avoiding the state highway.
Anyway I ramble ahead of myself because first was Strasbourg, France. A sweet little club called Mudd. The owners were hip hop Dj’s among other things and the environment as a whole encouraged me to blare out the electronic material. A couple of familiar faces were there amongst the numbers whom I had met through Dutch bookings a year prior.
One of whom Malika ( a musician and performer herself) gave me some cherished an honest advice regarding the set up of my show. I used to always play with my chimes set to the side. She said that every time I turned side on to play it loses something in the show. I was pleased to be able to show her I have taken her advice and shifted my rig around.
Next came a house concert. In Germany, A small quaint place Markdorff. I knew the house owners who had booked me a couple of times for a festival back in 2013 & 14. To see them again was great and the warmth and familiarity of their characters brought comfort to my road trip mindset. Amazing food was also on the menu and a Vegan feast was had :P.
Finally was onto Switzerland where I returned to Zurich for my 3rd show there in less than a year.
The location was a bohemian bar called Am Damm Fur Dich. The place is small and compact inside but because of the awesome weather I was asked to play in their large outside garden. This was a total joy to do and small panic hit me shortly after I finished when a sudden storm blew in. Suddenly I had to get all my equipment inside double fast. I don’t think there has been any damage.
My first day off since arriving in Zurich has been spent swimming in the river close by. Truly beautiful and almost unbelievable to be swimming in such clean water in the centre of the city.
Next stop will be playing alongside Damien Rice at the Blue Balls festival in Luzern, Switzerland
I have just taken a walk round the lake in Gerardmer. A solitary stroll with my tunes spinning on random on a sunny day has done wonders for my soul.
Truth be told that was kinda what I needed following my nightmare journey to the venue. I played a private concert in London during the daytime of the 9th July when I was scheduled to board the boat in the evening. Sadly due to the tube strike the London roads were chaos and a 2 hour journey took 6 to get to the port. The concert it’s self was a pleasure as I ran only the new material. But the drive was exhausting. Once I made it to France I rested for the night but found myself at a standstill with traffic as I was passing through Luxembourg. I did make soundcheck but time was tight and 2 x 6 hour drives in 2 days was not ideal.
I played my debut show of the 3 month Euro tour in Gerardmer @ Le Grattoir. As always the venue staff were wonderfully welcoming and some familiar faces returned to show their support.
I threw myself in the deep end opening the show with 2 new songs fresh in the setlist for this tour. Also I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Tenor Saxophonist Alain Barbiéro. He came and introduced himself upon arrival and brought fantastic musicianship and improvisation to my songs.
The following day I ventured East towards the German border where I played the sleepy town of Sarreguemines. After a couple of year away it was a pleasure to see not too much had changed. The people were still warm as friendly as was the weather at about 35 degrees.
The set list was pretty different from the previous days as I switched more new songs into the set. Playing the new songs still baffles and scares me at times. But the more they get spun the easier it becomes (hey that rhymes).
From there I had a couple of days downtime before the return to Gerardmer brought about a surprise 2nd gig. It was July 14th and a day of national holiday in France. Fireworks were scaring animals far and wide for hours and the Tuesday outpouring of people pushed me to ask Le Grattoir manager Pascal if he would mind me playing an acoustic set. That eventually turned into 3:
Set 1: We’re on Fire (Crashland Cover), When you Go Home, That Cough You Gave Me, Note That Says, Modern Life, Breathing Without Living (My Pet Junkie Cover)
Set 2: Compromise, You Know The Score, Distance From Ear To Ear, Initiate
Set 3: Map of Shibuya, Sleep Tight, Along The Way (Unreleased) / Suburban Sway
So 4 shows into the tour and happily moving forward as best I know how.
Next sees me play 3 shows in 3 countries in 3 days as I jaunt around the Swiss, German, Franch Border.
So a song that started as a lazy free session with my friend Ollie in Brighton went from having no explicit plan and ended up being released 2 years later on my ‘Bright’ album in 2012.
I then began touring the material and when on the road in New Zealand I had the chance to rehearse for a couple of days. I took this as an opportunity to attempt to make ‘Ons’ a part of the live set through the use of live looping. 3 days later I Debuted ‘Ons’ live at a show in Auckland. Ons went onto be performed in Asia and Europe.
When I returned to the UK this live video was made:
In 2014 I received a message from a musician I respect and admire very deeply. Her name is ‘Haco’ and she had contacted me to request that I send the sound files for ‘Ons’ to her so she can work them into her own music.
About 18 months later I received further correspondence from Haco, She had finished her new album ‘Secret Garden’ and wanted to released ‘Ons’ with her on vocals. Renamed ‘Whitening Shadows’.
In 2015 Haco toured the UK and we performed the song together.
I found it wonderful to think back on the journey the recording had made from Brighton out to Australiasia and then into collaboration in Japan. But the travel did not stop there.
The filmmaker Karen Vanderborght who is based in Toronto had contacted ‘Haco’ expressing a desire to make a video to the song.
And so here it is:
So from 2010 to 2015 and from Brighton to Toronto via Asia what started as an off the cuff jam session has sprouted wings.
Maybe this is not the end of the journey for the Ons. But I must remember it all started with my good friend Ollie.
Sometimes a song just takes on a life of it’s own. I cannot begin to understand it but there is a special something in a recording that cannot be replicated and gives a piece of music it’s own lease of life.
I have been lucky enough to see a song released under my own name (but not written alone) venture from the UK to Japan and then onwards to Canada. In this 2 part blog I will attempt to breakdown the journey of the most well travelled song I have ever been involved with.
In 2010 when touring through the UK stopped at a friends place in the City of Brighton for a couple of days. I was relieved to have a place to stay (sleeping on the sofa in a front room of a shared house) which got me out of the tour van.
I was visiting my good friend and fellow musician Ollie George.
Ollie and myself have been good friends for a number of years. Meeting through music and especially in the early days of my touring career we shared the road.
As our friendship grew we begun to influence each other musically introducing each other to bands and artists that we admired. One of whom was ‘Haco’; a musician from Japan who’s influence had been significant for me. Naturally we begun to collaborate when time allowed; and over those days in 2010 in Brighton we layed down the basics for the track ‘Ons’. It was a very carefree session and we would swap instruments amongst us to record specific parts. Ollie chose the title of the song ‘Ons’ as a reference to Ollie n’ Stu. But since it’s release I toured the Netherlands to discover it translates as ‘Us’ in Dutch. It is also accidentally fits with the abbreviations used by the UK Government for the Office for National Statistics. This too has some lyrical relevance to a degree.
The song lay dormant for a couple of years whilst I was on the road out of the UK. But even in it’s demo form I was hooked to spinning it to myself. Ollie had stamped his mark all over a tune that I don’t feel would have existed without his input. Not only did he compose the original Keys (hook) line. But he also insisted I don’t sing too many lyrics keeping the song simple.
In 2012 I took the session to a producer I was working with called Craig Harris. He added extra keys and drums to the tune tastefully completing it ready for release. It would be released on the album ‘Bright’ in October of 2012.
‘Ons’ was used by college students for a video project:
Please check back for (part 2) in a couple of days time where the story of ‘Ons’ makes it’s way out of the UK round Asia, Australasia and ends up in Canada.
This night was nearly the grand finale to being out here touring. The Korean adventure had educated me quickly on the nature of place so removed from the UK. I had only just begun to understand how things worked and I was due to fly home. My final night was back in Seoul and sharing the billing was Nick Aka GT Arp who had worked to make wonderful things happen to allow me to come and perform. I had played 8 shows in 8 days and this was the penultimate leg.
I was asked for an interview which I happily accepted. You can listen to it here:
Around about the middle of the set 2 drunk Korean businessman came into the venue and were loudly shouting at each other during a quiet song. I asked then to respect the atmosphere of the concert from the stage but out made little difference. Later the venue staff and the audience began to more bluntly demand that they shut up or leave. This caused nearly a physical fight as one audience member begun to usher them out the door. The older and drunker of the two men in suits began shouting abuse at the venue staff. Eventually they did depart but it caused 10 mins of the set to be put on hold until the situation was resolved. What really warmed my heart was how apologetic the Korean audience were and supportive they were to ensure the concert was not disturbed any further by these alcohol fuelled morons. I assured them the same thing happens in the UK from time to time and it is a world wide epidemic of cultural ignorance. Still to this day even at concerts of hugely popular bands such as Radiohead and Wilco I have seem the performers stop to request people not to talk over the more mellow or acoustic numbers. It amazes me how some folks cannot be aware of the situation.
Following my show in Jeonju the day before I slept in the venue saving me vital funds on accommodation.
We also stayed awake drinking and chilling. A great way to finish a night.
The following day was a traditional Korean Lunch. Being a vegetarian limited me a little. But I LOVE Kim Chi (Korean Pickles). So I consumed this en mass.
Getting to the Daejeon Cantina was a mission for sure as I took a national bus and then a (heavily crowded) local bus getting me to the closest stop. From there I had written directions which I followed to the venue. I arrived in good time and then had time to hang with the venue staff and the other bands. One of them was a great bunch of guys called The Primary. They had just finished their debut album and were working hard to get the music out there round Korea.
(click links below for studio versions of the songs)
Before Your Very Eyes (Atoms for Peace Cover Version)
The reaction from the Daejeon locals was encouraging and one of the audience members uploaded a couple of videos to youtube stating “This guy, Stuart O’Connor, was insane! Loved it!” – They are only recorded to a phone but you a feeling for the concert.
Only a couple of days into the tour and my fatigue was already beginning to show. I slept for an hour or so of my long bus ride to the most southern city of the tour. From there I was able to get a taxi and by showing him print outs of maps we made it to the location of the venue.
Radio Star was a wonderful live space run by Inyeol. A great drummer and passionate musician. Clearly into the music of the right reasons. I shared the billing with a host of Korean and International artists but felt very much like the special guest. It always make one feel like the hours of flying and driving are worth it when you arrive to a warm welcome.
The venue was a great space and the audience were there for the music. It was exactly the kind of show you hope to find when touring through.
(click links below for studio versions of the songs)
Following the show there were queues of people buying CD’s and even getting me to sign them. I was honoured to be in so far from home and so accepted for the songs that had been written in my London bedroom.
Following the show I went for food with some of the members of the other bands. A great feeling of camaraderie was in the air and I learnt how it was to be an English or American musician living in S.Korea. It was a chance to really get to understand the difference between Korean Culture (which I knew little) and Japanese Cunlture (which I feel I knew much better).
S.Korea is very much a Catholic country and age is a major part of social standing. If you have grey hair then you are very likely to be treated well. I would learn more of this as the tour would progress. My next show will be in a new city again and so I was lucky to have the venue offer to let me sleep inside. Cheap accommodation is a major part of the trip. 🙂
OK so I know these shows happened nearly a year ago. But I started writing blogs for them and just got distracted with life. So here I am recapping what was a very unique tour experience.
Gangneung was my furthest north into South Korea. Apparently I was not so far from the North Korea border and I met many who had travelled up just to see it. But time limited me so from the perspective of tourism. I was on a busy schedule that involved me playing 8 shows in 8 different cities over 8 days.
For my time tonight I was simply playing an acoustic set. The PA set up in the cafe was fairly limited so I was taking the chance to air strictly my acoustic side. I used to play a lot of shows this way in the early days. especially at student run events at universities where there not even be a microphone on occasion. This was such an occasion 🙂
Any way I was surprised to see so many English and American folks on my travels and this performance was more of an english audience than Korean. This was a rare chance to bust out some poetry. So for the first time in some time I recited words from ‘Misfit Theatre’ a poem that became the secret track to my 2nd album. (It remains the only secret track I have released).
So Zacs was run by a lovely couple getting ready to have their first child. They were most welcoming and picked me up from the bus station. My journey there had been from Seoul and I had many hours checking out the land scape. Many mountains and wonderful views.
I also decided to play a cover version as a part of my set. An obscure song by a band called Crashland. They released 1 album back in 2000 and I still recommend it to this day.
Following the concert I was taken to a Jimjilbang. A Korean bathhouse where you can wash and sleep at your leisure. I was personally exhausted and then when I found out I had to share the floor with many randoms I was a little phased. But eventually I fell asleep. I awoke many hours later to discover one of the staff had put extra covers on me to keep me warm. Very nice.