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Streetpiano Tour of Europe 2023

What happened on tour?

It is nearly time to gon on tour again, and I never even wrote up last year's tour. So here is a comprehensive guide to piano touring - how not to do it! Do some other thing that takes less effort. Or be warned. Just when you thought you got that piano where you want it. You have dealt with permissions and police and navigating the old town and unloading and parking and cobbly streets and finding a free spot to busk. At last you thought you can have a nice afternoon's play. But now it rains. So you pack it all up again and go home. Welcome to the life of the street pianist.

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In the year 2023 I decided to bring my trusty streetpiano out again and travel Europe with it. The last big tour like this happened in 2012. My touring usually begins somewhere in Europe and ends in the Edinburgh Meadows, where open air piano concerts are the most magical.

Piano travels are not an easy feat. I drove over 2,000 miles and busked 10 cities in 4 countries. Some diversions from the plan were necessary as there was flooding in the Czech Republic so we cancelled our trip there. But overall I managed to play most cities I had acquired permissions for.

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Leaving Edinburgh, Great Britain

Already before we set off I realised that my little piano was actually in need of some repair, so my mate Joey came and fixed it up as well as possible. He calls himself the piano doctor, and his healing powers when taking care of old and battered instruments are sublime. Joey has often saved me when my travelling piano broke, and this is no mean feat. I really want it to sound and play fantastic, and it gets loaded and unloaded constantly, and on top of this it experiences all sorts of weathers whilst out and about. This more compact instrument is also is tricky to fix, as the action is below the keys and therefore difficult to access.

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Joey is fixing the wee piano

Early July I phoned round some friends and said, fancy helping me load my piano for the tour? Luckily a couple strong pals were around, and once the piano was in the van we set off. My friend Ines joined me on this adventure, she wanted to go to Nuremberg anyway, and I would just travel on from there. So we set off from Edinburgh, our spirits were high and piano and hat were ready to go.

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Wonderful piano loading friends

However, on the way we managed to find ourselves in THE MOTHER OF ALL TRAFFIC JAMS. It began at 10pm. We weren't even that far from Nuremberg, but got stopped and didn't move again until 4am. Oh no!

 

Of course, we hadn't looked at the app in time. We are idiots, but in my defence I would say, it was night time, we weren't far from our destination, and we were chatting. So after a very long journey, leaving Thursday morning in Edinburgh, I arrived in Germany on Saturday noon and went to bed. I was so knackered we had to move our tour start by one day.

On top of this my little piano had gone out of tune after the long travel to my original home town in Bavaria. Luckily my local piano makers could fit me in for a sponsored emergency tuning. Dani from piano Bredschneider did the deed of tuning it in the van.

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Mobile piano tuning in the van in Rosenheim, Germany

Now the piano sounded good, my friend Karen had arrived and we were off to Reutlingen. My pal Claudia resides there, we could stay in her lovely house and she helped us find a piano playing spot in the shade as it was 39 degrees that day. We played opposite a posh shop, but even though they had Rolexes in the window, no-one put one in my hat. This was a little disappointing. I was however treated to ice cream from a nearby cafe and the reception was very friendly.

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With Claudia in Reutlingen, Germany

Next stop was another old friend of mine. I went to school with Andrea in the eighties. She now lives in Düsseldorf and we did some location scouting the evening before between beers in different bars. When we set off to play the next day it was raining, but luckily it cleared up for my busk. The whole tour was jaded by extreme weather, either very hot and sunny or rainy and even stormy. The worst thing about it was the unpredictability, it was a complete guessing game whether I could play on the days I had planned. But often we still managed, even if I had to cut it short like in Innsbruck where we managed to pack up just before a massive downpour.

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Düsseldorf at the River Rhine, Germany

Next stop was another old friend of mine. I went to school with Andrea in the eighties. She now lives in Düsseldorf with her lovely partner Leander, they are both amazing painters and it was a total joy to spend a day with them. We even did some location scouting the evening before, between beers in different bars. When we set off to play the next day it was raining, but luckily it cleared up for my busk. The whole tour was jaded by extreme weather, either very hot and sunny or rainy and even stormy. The worst thing about it was the unpredictability, it was a complete guessing game whether I could play on the days I had planned. But often we still managed, even if I had to cut it short like in Innsbruck where we managed to pack up just before a massive downpour.

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With Andrea and Leander in Düsseldorf, Germany

We continued to Strasbourg. Here I played next to the fanciest cathedral imaginable. Getting the piano there was a feat of endurance, sweat and tears. We fought all the powers that try to thwart streetpiano players. The permission struggles, the most difficult navigation to a town centre, very tricky parking, unloading in the wrong place and with no passers-by, cobbles that tried to push my piano off my trolley, loads of people in the way of moving this heavy piano along a narrow touristy pedestrian street, heat, sun, police! Police checking my permit, police saying you can't play here, police telling me to play elsewhere, three police on bikes! Then playing next to the cathedral where folk actually couldn't hear you as they all had little headphones in their ears to find out how old that cathedral is. And then, to top it all off, a listener clapping to my song and stating very casually, 'I hope that rain won't bother you'. I'm like, what rain, it's hot here. He showed me a weather forecast, and we had 10 minutes! That's not enough. And this is when it all got really bad.

 

Luckily Karen knew a local, Dragan actually saved us when I had to collect that piano fast, this time driving to the actual place where I was playing. There was even a little tourist train in the way, and we absolutely weren't allowed to load where we did. The police were kind though and let us do it anyway.

When we got to our accommodation later we immediately opened a bottle of bubbly and cheersed to the fact that we made it through one of the trickiest days on piano tour ever. Really, we deserved that. And all the drinks on the night out that followed.

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Strasbourg, France

Friends always travel with me as going alone is not an option. I need someone to look after my piano while I take the van away. But for all the hard work of getting the piano there we are rewarded with magical moments.

My next adventure was Austria and Italy. My nephew Richard joined me for these countries. We set off to the little town of Kufstein, right in the mountains. It is near my home town and I had never played there. It was a very special event as the mayor popped by. We had set up right below the castle, and people were having ice cream and dancing along.

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Kufstein, Austria

Our next goal was Italy. Driving there took quite a bit of time, and there are many motorway tolls. We arrived at night, it was dark, and we had booked an airbnb that was hard to find. Once we had located it with the help of the friendly host, she showed us where we could park the van. It seemed impossible to squeeze my vehicle into this tiny space, and going in and out were like little adventures of their own, with sweat and fear every single time.

 

In a strange big police building in Bolzano we met a very friendly police official. He gave me my permission and tips on how to drive to the pedestrian zone. It was all a very complicated process and had to be done during certain hours at an office we really struggled to find. Honestly, I just play piano, but from the official documents you wouldn't think it.

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Bolzano, Italy

We concluded our tour in Innsbruck, where you have to seek permission weeks before and in person. Of course, this is not possible from Scotland, so it was just very lucky that Richard lives in Innsbruck and could do this for me. Sometimes the permissions are the most complicated thing about this piano touring, and I don't even know if you'd always need them. But I don't feel comfortable driving in and unloading my piano with the uncertainty of police maybe chasing me away.

Innsbruck had such bad weather forecast that I decided to play in the morning. Shock, horror! If you know me, you will know what kind of sacrifice this is. It's not that I wanna sleep all morning, I ust wanna be doing mellow things, having cups of tea, preparing my day, that kind of thing. Not dragging pianos through town centres and rocking raggedy ragtime.

Still, we did the right thing, the downpour cut us off, but we had already played under the 'Goldene Dachl'. I even had to fight off competition that morning, they were like, we always play here, and I was like, yes but today I have set up my piano already, I'm just gonna play for an hour if that's okay. Innsbruck is extremely competitive, but also your playing is very appreciated by the crowd.

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Innsbruck, Austria

After my first couple of tour legs I wanted to play my home town. I even managed to play it twice as I really didn't want to miss my home town and the weather was so uncertain. We even cancelled plans of going to Czechia, it was forecast so horrendously. On the second play date in Rosenheim the threats came true, it seemed to drizzle constantly, and since there had been flood warnings on the telly I didn't really dare to set up. My friend Ruth had arrived from Scotland, and we spent a couple of hours fretting and being indecisive whether playing was a good idea.

In the end I drove away, but then I got a call. My mum had arrived in town, looking for me. Now, if an 89-year old can make it, then I can make it, too, right?! So I turned around, went back and got immediate unloading help from Scott, my old trumpet teacher from 30 years ago, and my friend Georg who had travelled 40 miles just to come and see me play. Then my mum and her pals managed to visit me at my piano, and that is the happiest moment for me. She inspired me to play piano in the first placce, so it's wonderful when she can visit my streetpiano.

Did I mention I got stopped by the police that day? My vehicle with piano and dithery Vroni hanging around had caused suspicion and they made me get out all my papers and totally freaked me out. I got a cold sore that eve and had it until I was back in Scotland, and I blame the Rosenheim police. Just leave little buskers alone, they do no harm.

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Rosenheim, Germany

Having said that, it was wonderful to play Rosenheim in the end. Folk were so interested and stopped for a long time to listen. I am always grateful to be given such a kind reception when I play my home town.

 

With Ruth and my friend Joffy we then travelled to Burghausen. In this little town, famous for it's jazz festival every year, we had some very happy spontaneous dancers and people enjoyed the music so much that they wanted to hire me on the spot.

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Piano move with Sepp and Joffy in Burghausen, Germany

What a lovely and music-friendly little town. A special moment happened when Sepp and Manu from the Bründlmusikanten visited me. We met for the first time here and would go on to play Bavarian music in Scotland together later that year.

 

We also made Burghausen a little holiday by visiting their longest castle in Europe before my busk. I don't usually manage any sight-seeing when travelling with my piano, so this was a lucky occasion for once.

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Burghausen, Germany

After Burghausen we began our journey home towards Scotland. On our next trip we thought we'd do a drive-by-playing, and I tell you, this ain't the easiest of things. So you rock into a big city and try and navigate yourself to the town square where you have permission to play. The man in the Augsburg office had been so incredible friendly, he said, sorry that I can't come along, but I'm on holiday that day. Very rare that officials try and pop by to see the fruits of their bureaucratic work, it did happen once in Milano, but I really had to persuade them in the first place to please, please, please give me permission to play.

So we were still trying to drive into the market square, but reader, we did not succeed. We just ended up in little alleys of the old town, again and again. So we played behind the Rathaus rather than in front of it, still pretty funky. And after a few hours of playing in the hot sun we just drove off, waved our goodbye to Augsburg, and continued on our journey.

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Augsburg, Germany

Next we hit Bayreuth, the birth town of my little piano. Here the papers wrote about my tour with this special little Steingraeber piano and for the first time an enthusiastic taxi driver gave me a tip directly from his cab. He drove towards the hat and I got VERY worried, but it turned out he was just trying to manouver around it so he could put money in the hat without getting out of his vehicle. Hats off to that, I laughed a lot about that.I love quirky people, they are the best.

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Bayreuth, Germany

Bayreuth also had a great night out for us, as we had managed to meet my old friend Derek here. Derek loves this town as he loves Richard Wagner, and comes to the Wagner Festival every year. This time we timed it so he could help with some piano loading and then we ended up late night in that Italian bar drinking all that green schnapps.

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With Ruth on our travels through Freudenstadt which means City of Joy

So now it was going to be Scotland, so I said to Ruth, can we play another city on the way to the ferry? And she had to say, think about this. You want to play whilst driving 800 miles with a deadline to be at the ferry on a certain day. So no, you can't play somewhere on the way! I've got to say, my friends are very sensible. Thanks Ruth. And for being a lovely pal on tour, what a special adventure. On the ferry we got the guitar out and sang some songs, so even there the music was our focus. So lovely.

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Edinburgh Meadows, Great Britain

Back in Scotland it was the Meadows waiting for me. I love playing there. Green grass, trees and birdsong. The ideal surroundings for a beautiful afternoon of busking with my piano. People can sit and listen, read books and drink beer. It is life as it should be.

At some point on my trip I looked up whether I had played a certain city already. I came upon a list of cities I had written down after a big tour and discovered that I have actually played my little piano in 85 cities by now! It seems unbelievable to me that my piano would have been transported to all these amazing places. Once I discovered this it is now obviously my aim to play in 88 cities, as many as keys on a piano. I have a bottle of champagne ready to celebrate this moment with my tour buddy.

So watch this space for my next tour of Europe. I have been doing streetpiano for a long time now, over 20 years, and in many places all over Europe. I wouldn't say it becomes easier. In some ways it even becomes harder as rules and regulations in different cities change and sometimes become stricter. But the reward is a happy spontaneous audience and sometimes a whole pedestrian zone clapping.

 

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Thank you

A big thank you to all my friends who came on this adventure with me, all who helped me load and unload my piano and those who fixed and tuned my little piano. Many thanks also to photographers and filmers on this trip, and to my mum who sponsored some of it. Thanks to my van for not breaking down, and to my little piano for playing so well whilst enduring all the wrong weather conditions.

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