After touring Europe I am now back to my life in Edinburgh, practising photography, shooting babies, playing piano in Susi's Diner, playing accordion wherever I get away with it, bouncing wee Sophie to nursery and home again, going to Sandy Bells, going to the Royal Oak, going to the Jazzbar even, and doing other stuff like that. Sometimes I give people in suits the chance to humiliate me by not giving me a grant I have asked for.
My summerly adventures seem far away already, so to remind myself and recent loaders and listeners of this tour I wrote some sort of summary with all I remember. Please feel free to read this and come along with me on tour.
Tour of Europe 2006
Going round Europe in a minibus with a piano was an amazing adventure.
I covered about 5000 miles in 5 and a half weeks and loaded and unloaded the piano 40 times, playing 16 cities in 6 countries.
To count France as a played country is a bit cheeky as it was maybe fifteen minutes of playing, but the location was spectacular and it was worth getting the piano out. I will start at the beginning of the journey now and take you through it. If you get bored reading this, please dont switch off to play FreeCell yet, but skip this stuff and read on to where it says THANK YOU... to find out about all the people involved in making this tour happen.
So ...first of all Joffy my dedicated tour helper had to fly in from Germany and Ilse my mum also crossed the channel in order to fly back with Sophie my beautiful and luckily easy going daughter. Joffy and I started the tour on the 18th of July and drove off down South to Manchester where Henry, a local stride piano player, helped us find the right spot to play in. We then drove on to Oxford where we stayed the night in my favourite Oxford Backpackers. Rules are very relaxed there and you can drink until the early hours - an important thing when housing Vroni and friends. It was very hot and the G&Ts with lots of ice went down very well.
When setting up to play the next day we learned very quickly that buskers in this town compete for pitches, and the rule of one hour busking is taken very seriously. When I played a bit longer a local didgeridoo and percussion busker barked at me to stop. When I asked whether he didnt think it was kinda special to have a piano in town for one day, he said 'I dont care' and proceeded to explain that he was setting up here at a certain time like every day. I didn't share with him that office workers had come over to tell me how glad they were for someone else to play, and could I keep playing as long as possible?
Driven away by the punctual hippie busker I then moved to another spot where, while waiting for a slot to become free, a very drunk man managed to sneak himself into said pitch and started singing and hitting a tambourine as if there were no tomorrow. Although quite funny it was what one would probably consider noise harassment so I couldnt believe when he told us he was here for the token hour. Another lager swigging fella then intervened to try and help us and while they were arguing another busker approached us asking whether he could have the pitch after us. I thought, this is crazy I'm out a here which made Mr Drunk Tambourine reconsider, so I got to play on the sought after pitch after all. I dont know if I'll go back to Oxford to play there. I'd have to be in the mood for a fight.
Manchester 18/7/06 [photo-Joffy Himmler]
The next day we caught a ferry to Calais after staying in Eastbourne for the night where yet again we managed to drink ourselves silly. Great little seaside town by the way, beautiful Pier and lovely beaches.
Once we had arrived on the mainland we made our way to Paris where we found out that we didnt have any of the appropriate permissions we'd need to play anywhere. Knowing French police we were a bit nervous about just setting up anyway, but in the end decided to go for it as we had nothing to lose really. (well, they're not gonna confiscate a piano, are they?)
So we set up behind the Eiffel Tower and played for a lovely 15 minutes, making 3 Euro in the process. We then saw the park guard arrive, he had beaten the police to it and told us we couldnt play there. Surprise. Then the police arrived to confirm this, but with more serious faces. How can you take someone serious who cycles around with shorts on, but guns in their pockets? There were even roller blade police, just short of space hopper police. I mean, come on.
Okay, fair enough, no more playing in Paris then. We had a great time anyway, particularly once we found a lovely lake and went on boats rides (we'd had every intention to play there, of course, but were informed that lake sides need permissions, too). One evening we went out with our friend Zoubida. After some terrible food in a tourist dedicated area we managed to find a bar with a piano in it, and I surprised the Parisians with my usual: Fats Waller and Bavarian Yodelling. Both were well received, although I didnt manage to get them to French yodel, would have loved to experience that. Next time maybe. After Paris we drove towards Germany with a stop in Strasbourg. Lovely city. Shame about the missing permission. The arrival in Schoemberg at Joffy's sister Irmi was late and exhausted, that might have been the longest drive of about 10 hours that day. Irmi lives near Tuebingen so we decided to play there, and it was great!
The day after we played a little German town called Balingen (there was a bit of press contact there, so we didnt want to miss it, even if it was so hot that the town was kinda deserted and all its people had gone for a swim somewhere else...) and then arrived back in Rosenheim which is my lovely hometown.
Rosenheim 16/8/06 [photo-Bobo Carrington]
Two days were spent drinking with old friends and getting my piano stool repaired by my dad who doesnt think being 78 should stop you from doing any wood-joining jobs well. Then my old pal Stina and I went off to Austria.
This little country is full of mountains (this we knew) and the loveliest people (this we found out). We started our tour in Speyer, a small tourist place outside Linz. The sun was again trying to roast us medium, and the residents were a bit surprised that we were so active playing piano. Just when a few more people would have come out of their cool houses to explore the world again, and my piano playing in the process, a thunderstorm came about that was heavier than any I'd seen in a long time. Torrential rain missed my piano by minutes, and while we were driving out, the fire engines arrived to help people and their vehicles with puddles growing into lakes and such...
Off we went that night to Linz, a big city where we had no accommodation. We parked our van and thought, oh well, its big enough to sleep in aint it. So we took great care where to park it as we were planning to go and get drunk instead of running around trying to find accommodation. We found some lovely watering holes, amongst them a great live music place called Smaragd, and returned drunken and late to our van. We then found out we had parked it somewhat unsafely as the lady standing next to it didnt look like a police woman at all. This made us a little nervous, but what could we do, we thought, as long as no-one knocks on our window looking for sexual services, cause all we had to offer was some ragtime piano playing services. And I wanna see the guy who will prefer that to you-know-what.
Anyway, we woke up the next morning to a bright day and played Linz town square where we met the loveliest Linzers, being Guenter, who contributed to the project greatly by securing accommodation and a photo shoot for us, and Philip and friends, who were pivotal in getting me to experience a hard core techno bunker which reminded me so much of the love parade I experienced one year with my friend Zuecki. This is another story altogether, but remind me to show you the photos....
rubbish in Linz 16/8/06 [photo-Stina Schwertl]
Lets see. One more night in Linz and off we went to Salzburg, city of Mozart any time you go there - but no, really city of Mozart, this particular year. Try walking through with your eyes closed to avoid him and someone will come and prise them open and shout: Mozart balls, buy them now, obstructing your way with a life size cut out of Mozart. So no surprise that the Salzburgians were very happy to hear some Boogie Woogie. It was very complicated to play there though, you can only play in certain places, we of course had to find out the hard way by, yet again, being told by bicycle police (this time looking nothing like police at all) that "you can busk in a few places in Salzburg. This is not one of them." So we trolleyed our piano elsewhere as, much to our amusement, you are allowed to busk on the Mozart Platz just in front of the Mozart Statue. Now I had tourists trying to snap left, right and through me to photograph their beloved Mozart. But we won, within half an hour we had a nice crowd listening and clapping in the blistering heat, and then Peter came along to save the day in a Boogie Woogie kind of way, like a clown with no make-up making us laugh, and we arranged to meet him and his girlfriend Heidi later in the evening for some live music.
This worked out, once we'd counted our money and relaxed a bit we went into Salzburg town and found no live music, but Dirk and his lovely little tourist restaurant. There was an outside bit, and there Peter's saxophone and my wee accordion made noises together that you will never hear again. This musical jumble was encouraged by Dirk's Schnapps and the surrounding people who clapped away and joined in the yodelling. In fact, there was some expert yodelling going on, not the 10-strong Italian family at the table next to us of course, but a Tiroler Lady in Loden gear who happened to be passing. It made me very happy and taught me a thing or two. Mainly, that some more practising will have to be done in that department, particularly if I wanna keep on yodelling all over the place. (This vocation was actually never planned in my life, but rather happened to me. Still, a bit of fault lies with my dad who taught me the Jodelsong - actually Tirolerlied - in a ski lift some years ago. Ever since I've had outbursts of it in all sorts of unfitting places, mostly Scottish pubs...)
Then the police came. I obviously made more police contact on this tour then usually in 5 years, but I was lucky, it was Peter who was asked, saxophone in hand, by a very concerned police officer: "are you the one playing the saxophone?" What do you say to that? Anyway, name and details taken and Peter reassured that if nothing further happened (like more cheeky saxophone playing) he wouldnt be thrown in jail, we continued by drinking ourselves silly. There was more red wine in the van, which is always a dangerous thing as Joffy was going to find out soon as well. (always treat your tour partners the same, they will thank you for it once the hangover has eased...)
Where was I? In Salzburg, city of Mozart, of course. Well, we left the place the next morning and drove home via Linz - that doesnt make any sense, as it is a detour of about 4 hours. But we had of course forgotten the bag with all the money in it, how clever, but luckily Guenter had kept it safe and all was well. We used the unforeseen opportunity to be back in Linz by setting up for a photo shoot at the Danube, where we entertained a fantastic crowd of 6, and were in turn entertained by a one toothed gipsy fiddler, and later went for a swim in the big river. That was the Austrian tour pretty much finished and when arriving back in Rosenheim I started planning Italy straight away.
Except for that it rained and rained which dampened our spirits, and that we found out that, yet again, we hadnt managed to sort out our permissions. This was not our fault, the Italians make it as tricky as they can.
fiddling at the Danube 31/7/06 [photo-Günter Touschek]
So we drove off a day late and in a bit of a mood towards Bolzano. Here we found with much difficulty the office that apparently gives licences to busking piano players. It was the local city police and it was closed. It was Friday afternoon and it wouldnt re-open for three days. Now completely disheartened we drove on and I tried to persuade Joffy to go all the way to Lucca, some 5 hours away, and try our luck there. An Italian friend had been on the phone in search of cities that would give permissions on the day, and found three out of 7 he phoned, one of them Lucca. But Joffy was like, lets go to Merano, that's not so far. It
wasnt at all far, but I had not much hope we'd get lucky there, it being so close to the closed-on-Fridays Bolzano.
Fortunately I was wrong and we found an open office, with a lovely man in it who said: sorry that you have to pay 14 Europe and 63 cent in a tobacco shop to acquire a stamp which will give me permission to give you a licence to busk for a day, but because I like you I'll give it to you for two days, and you dont have to pay again. His voice became a whisper: 'You could even play the third day, the police isn't very sharp that day.' Excellent, we thought. We then found out that you're only allowed to play one hour in the morning and one and a half in the afternoon, crazy, but we did it, and the people of Merano loved it. And so did apparently the city mayor of Innsbruck, an Austrian town, who happened to walk past and said: come to Innsbruck. Thank you, I think I will. Anyway, we played there for two days, it being so lovely, and with a lovely campsite to match. Its anyway an amazing town surrounded by mountains. Will go there again.
Merano 4/8/06 [photo-Joffy Himmler]
After our Suedtiroler adventure, where we admittedly still spoke the native language as it is German next to Italian, we felt more adventurous and drove to proper Italy, via Torbole at the Lago di Garda, the beautiful Italian lake where we got so drunk we had to stay for a day to recover. No harm done, what a great excuse to hang out in paradise on earth...
For the next play time Milano was our town of choice as it was also supposed to give permissions on the day. But, our luck had to run out, because this is not the case. After finding the massive police station we found the right department for 'artisti di strada' and explained that we were looking for a licence for the day. They looked somewhat puzzled and once they had found an English speaking policeman somewhere in the house (and a very handsome one, too...) he told us we could get a licence for the strada allright, but it wouldnt be for today, but for in three days. And then it would last for another 4 days. Why make it so complicated when I roll into town wanting to entertain somewhat? So the answer was no. We left, and while Joffy went to get tea (for me) and ice cream (for himself) I had the bright idea to go back in to the intimidating building and ask about next time. Was there any way I could pre-pay if I came through again, lets say next year? The charming English speaking policeman from the wrong department listened to my ideas and questions for a while, and then said: have you really got a piano in the van to play in the town square? Wait here, I'll go talk to them. And so he organised a licence for me, just like that, in a couple of minutes. He just kept saying: only this once, not again and so on. Well, fine with me, as long as I get the damn licence.
Milan 7/8/06 [photo-Joffy Himmler]
So, once Joffy had found his way round this not so small city, we set up right next to the cathedral and played. It was amazing to say the least. We left town in good spirits and drove on to Switzerland.
Which meant that in the one day we drove about 5 hours from Merano to Milan, got permission, unloaded the piano, played, loaded up again, and drove maybe another 5 hours on to Zurich, where we arrived at about midnight. Bit of a long day, that one - and there's always traffic jams around Milan...
My friend Philipp took us in, made us tea, gave us beds, in the morning an amazing breakfast, and off we went to Zurich lake where I played to the kind of introverted Swiss people. Their reluctance to communicate might just be because when they speak its in the cutest accent, and maybe they cant cope with me falling in love with their amazing accent all the time. Alright, questionable theory, but I find it that cute that I asked Philipp for some Swiss rap, and now have three Swiss hip hop CDs in my already weird CD collection. The next day we drove home and it was quite nice to be back actually. I even saw my wee daughter for a few days, wow.
This was mid August and my birthday was looming. I wasn't gonna let that one go quietly so organised a barbecue for all my pals, Joffy was making Steckerlfisch, which is simply the best fish you could ever try, and our dentist brought his baby twins. (don't you love the details in this tour log)
But before all this happened I had to play the local scene. Munich was first as I had discovered that they wouldn't send the police after me for busking as long as I'd play on a holiday. Munich is actually just as bad as the whole of Italy, with even stranger and stricter busking rules, like having to queue at an office for two hours at 8.00 in the morning, which is obviously when all happy buskers are up and about. Needless to say I never managed that one yet, but phoned them up to find the loopholes, and hey presto: We don't care if you play on a Sunday or a holiday! We are closed then! I was so happy, I would have jumped up and down with joy, if I was a 3-year old that is. So off I went with Zuecki who took time out from pottering, and we actually had the whole Marienplatz to ourselves. Most buskers probably don't know this exception from the rule, just like I didn't for 5 years. The sun was shining, I made the most money in one afternoon ever, and, of course, the highlight: The whole big famous town square full of tourists yodelling along to my little piano and me. Feckin great.
Munich 15 /8/06 [photo-Manuela Zückert]
Came home very happy indeed and got ready to play Rosenheim, my little home town itself. My old friend, former roadie, drumming band mate and travelling musician Bobo found the time between concerts to come along on that sentimental journey. It was great, the local paper even did a little article, and I was very proud. Even better for a couple of old class mates to pop along and say, hey remember us? We were watching you from over there. One minute later they were the latest piano loading victims on a trail of poor helpful souls...
The next thing that happened was a bit of bad news: my tour partner for the trip home had to cancel. This now left me with a travel of 1700 miles with a detour via Berlin for more playing and a concert, to be completed in 6 days and on my own. I thought: Oh well, there goes Holland. No way will I go and play in Holland in circumstances like this! Now the people in Amsterdam might never now what it's like to come across a ragtime playing German and her little friend, the Steingraeber pianoforte.
To do this extended trip without the planned travel partner I had to plan quite thoroughly and started phoning up friends on the way and potential helpers. At which point Christine, my friend in Berlin, became my rescuing angel. She would help me play Berlin's streets and phone around for people who might fancy a trip to Edinburgh at very short notice. As it turned out, nobody could be persuaded to climb into the van for a sudden three day trip, I was gonna have to do it alone.
So first of all I drove to Halle, cause the Hallensers are close to my heart and I had to look them up. The next day I continued to Berlin and found the church in which I was playing the concert in the evening. It was absolutely amazing to play Ragtime, Boogie Woogie and Stride in a church setting, and a nice crowd came along and hopefully enjoyed it as much as I did. Although I do always think concerts are not for me, but as soon as they're over, just like with child birth, you forget the pain and love the result. Some folk danced and we had some champagne afterwards in a little Berlin Hinterhof where Ralf, the concert organiser, told me all about Berlin's history.
I then had a night out in Berlin and wished I was there more often. The next day Christine and me went on a quest to find a busy street for busking, and found instead a busy bridge! We set up and had a great reception, it was amazing right until the rain storm came and tried to wash us away. But we are made to last and got the piano into the van safely, although this last exit was somewhat dramatic. It was my last 'on tour' gig and I feel sad thinking about it even now.
the van rocks home [photo-Joffy Himmler]
After another night out in Berlin I had to leave that great place and strap the piano in well for the bumpy journey home. Once the very complicated rebooking of the ferry on the Monday morning was completed I set off towards Cologne where another good old friend resides, Petra. She of course didn't know I was coming until that day, but quickly included me in her plans and probably just thought, that's how I know the girl, ever so pain-in-the-arse spontaneous... Anyways, to my annoyance it was a very long trip full of traffic jams and road works, and I made it to Petra's flat mighty late. Still caught her up and awake though, and its always great to see people you haven't seen in donkey's years.
The next morning I went to the ferry, which I caught in the evening dutifully. For some reason I had access to the 'Club Lounge' with free Champagne and stuff like that. I wonder if they could tell I don't belong there, I felt quite out of place, loving it though...
I then drove up to Edinburgh and that's that.
Well, okay, took another day and a half, but I arrived just in time to meet my mum and Sophie who had arrived at the same time by plane (this was where careful planning was rewarded). Sophie had been celebrating her fourth birthday the previous day, and what I did to compensate for a lack of mummy or daddy on her birthday, was to fill my mums house with wee Sophie's little friends and lots of party things. I hate kids parties myself, now being an adult I don't know how to enjoy them, and not being there was the perfect excuse to have one. My poor mum. But Ilse took it in her stride and said, oh well, I'll tidy up when I get back from Edinburgh...
Back to the whole point of the tour though, the piano playing.
The next day I obviously thought I'd got away with it and went playing in Edinburgh's beautiful meadows. And the next day again. At which point my body exclaimed: 'Enough! Stop pretending you never need a break.'
And slowly all the wired up energy left me and was replaced by total exhaustion. This lasted a few weeks (although I did stubbornly play quite a few more occasions when the sun was luring me out of my paralysis) and that's where I am now. Back in Scotland. Happy to be back. Sad its over. And glad it all went well.
A few incidents made playing the Meadows in the weeks after the tour very memorable. There was the lady who put 20 dollars in my hat. Thank you very much. And there was the dodgy guy who decided to throw up right in front of my piano when I happened to be playing some beautiful Chopin. I couldn't have come up with a more unsuitable sound track and found the situation extremely surreal. Anyway, he staggered on, and I kept playing lovely Chopin. As if nothing had happened...
I shall leave you with that one and wish you all the best,
So long, Vroni
a lot of thorough planning and support from my friends allowed me to make this tour happen. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who helped me:
a big thank you to Joffy and Stina for touring with me;
to Zuecki, Bobo and Christine for help on the day;
to Caro for popping by;
to Henry, Guenter and Henry for suggesting locations and helping load;
to Lee, Zoubida, Irmi, Guenter, Philipp, Olaf, Christine and Petra for letting me stay in your lovely homes; to everybody who turned photographer when supporting my project and Guenter in particular for taking some really special photographs;
to Irmi and Bobo for press contact (which I'm still useless at lets face it);
to Andrea for finding out where we can and cant play in Italy and how to try and achieve permission;
to Cecile for finding out for us whether we were too late to get permission to play in France (we were);
another big thank you to Ilse for endless loans (particularly those 2000 Euro for the MOT which will take me a hundred years to pay off... or some very sunny seasons...);
to Joe for setting up last minute the possibility of some kind of weblog, and to Gary for designing and updating the news site over the five weeks;
to Bob Allan and Herrn Auer the piano tuners who tune my piano against all odds of it staying in tune longer than a day;
to Gebhard for fixing my piano stool;
to everybody who helped loading and unloading my wee piano a thousand times;
to the rain for staying away a fair bit and the sun shining for us on many occasions;
to Ilse, Brian and the O'Riordans for looking after my daughter while I was on tour;
to Sue for looking after Zoubidus the cat;
to whoever I forgot to mention here and who gave me any kind of moral, emotional, financial or musical support;
and to Sophie for being a super toddler who puts up with all of mummy's antics, thinking to herself, well, as long as I get the best of all worlds its alright...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Saturday, August 26 2006
Monday, August 21 2006
Before going home...
Sunday, August 20 2006
Saturday, August 19 2006
Thursday, August 17 2006
Tuesday, August 15 2006
Saturday, August 12 2006
Bavaria in the rain
I will now hopefully set up in Munich on Tuesday and play Rosenheim on Wednesday, so please keep all fingers crossed for me that the plants had enough water by then and that the sun will shine on us...
Thursday, August 10 2006
Tuesday, August 8 2006
Sunday, August 6 2006
Lago di Garda
Saturday, August 5 2006
We were so happy and played the crazy hours they allowed us - one in the morning, one and a half in the afternoon, except for that we missed the morning one, I never get up in time.
The reception was amazing and we made some money... Roll on more towns like this...
Wednesday, August 2 2006
Back in Bavaria now preparing for piano playing in Italy...
Monday, July 31 2006
Sunday, July 30 2006
Linz ist meine lieblings stadt...
Tuesday, July 25 2006
Saturday, July 22 2006
Thursday, July 20 2006
Busking in Oxford
Wednesday, July 19 2006
Manchester to Oxford
Monday, July 17 2006
In the beginning...
I will have to go now and buy some sun cream.