I first met Gudrun, my tour manager for January’s German adventures, on an Oxford rooftop one rather chilly September evening after a gig. In the blur of merch sales, a quiet smiley lady approached determinedly and bagged first place in the queue. We hardly spoke that night, but over the coming months it transpired (via facebook) that this woman was not only an incredibly supportive fan, but an avid music blogger and organiser of ‘wohnzimmerkonzert’ aka living room concerts. Several times a month she welcomes strangers into her home for an evening of music: the artist performs for an hour or so, a hat is passed round for donations, and audience and performer then chat and drink late into the evening. And this is how my tour came into being – an offer of a living room concert in the German town of Karlsruhe. Thanks to Gudrun’s hard-work, contacts and sheer kindness, one show soon turned into SIX SHOWS and I found myself boarding the Eurostar, heading for the continent.
Saturday January 4th // Oxford -> Karlsruhe // Eurostar + TGV + Tram
Also known as THE DAY HALF OF EUROPE TRAVELS HOME AFTER CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS. Finally in the early evening I arrive at Karlsruhe HBF, my first time to the city, and only my second real visit to Germany. (Experiencing the Autobahn on the way to Italy and sniggering at the ‘Ausfahrt’ signs as a 12-year old doesn’t count…). Gudrun & I meet as arranged, and after a short tram journey to her family home in the suburb called Waldstadt, I can finally relax. We share supper and chat before a gift of local band CDs bought the previous day in Oxford’s Truck Store bring the night to a close. (CDs included The Knights of Mentis, Samuel Zasada, The August List.)
Sunday January 5th // Living Room Concert #1 @ Karin’s House, Ettlingen
After passing the morning in a post-travel pre-gig limbo, I head by tram to the small town of Ettlingen on the edge of Karlsruhe. Karin welcomes me with open arms as I step on to the platform – tonight is her first ever house concert and soon we’re both as excited as each other. We spend the afternoon chatting as I’m plied with homemade leek and potato soup, pretzels and delicious homemade linzertorte. And are still deep in conversation later as we walk along the river and through the Christmas tree lined streets of her hometown.
There’s so much I could write about this first evening, so many moments that will stay with me. For example the beautiful fabric rose Karin appeared with and placed on her late-husband’s piano as I practiced Harpsichord Row. My much-loved grandmother whom the song is inspired by had died two months previously and so far I hadn’t been able to bring myself to perform it. ‘For your granny’, Karin said.
Or the hilarious lost in translation tangles between myself and the 30 or so audience members. Or when Karin handed out sparklers in the encore and the room lit up with swaying fizzling bright fireworks whilst everyone sang along to my rendition of Frankie Lymon’s ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’. Now that was a moment I’ll never forget: carpet fire fear vs concentrating on performing the song. Finally after playing on and off for nearly 2½ hours, Gudrun (who had joined for the show) and I headed home exhausted.
Monday January 6th // Living Room Concert #2 @ Claudia’s House, Stuttgart
For the next two nights I’m away from Karlsruhe, staying in Stuttgart and Esslingen, a small town just outside of the city. (Yes I played in both Ettlingen and Esslingen much to everyone’s confusion…). It’s the last day of the Christmas holidays but there’s definitely still a party atmosphere in the air as I meet tonight’s hosts Chrissie and Claudia after, it has to be said, a pretty luxurious drive. Claudia’s big spacious house is the venue and I’m full of admiration as a few hours previously she returned from a trip to Laos with her teenage son, she must be jet-lagged.
A bit of furniture moving and candle lighting in the living room before we all sit down together to eat. We’re still finishing off our last mouthfuls as people start to arrive and I quickly sneak off to get changed and warm up for the show. I’ve convinced myself that last night went so well because I was wearing my red skirt so I wear it again, but this time with, quite possibly, an impractical new top.
But onstage I go and wow, I feel so alive, telling stories between the songs and feeling such a buzz from the audience. And my impractical top hasn’t embarrassed me. And the room’s packed – people sitting on the stairs and squeezed on the floor, nearly right up to my feet. All too soon my two 45 minute sets are over and glass of wine in hand, I get to mingle and chat with the guests. As they filter away a few of us remain and we sit chatting round the kitchen table into the night. Eventually I shuffle to bed and count my hat money – my hands shake. Wow.
Tuesday 7th January // Living Room Concert #3 @ Lennart & Stefan’s Flat, Esslingen
In the morning I feel REALLY tired. Not hungover as I hardly drank anything but certainly like I could do with a long sleep. It also feels a little sad to be saying farewell to Claudia as I’m really enjoying chatting to her. Just before we head to the station in her car, she gives me a book ‘Where’d you go Bernadette?’. It’s become a sort of pass-the-parcel gift, a friend gave it to Claudia and I’ll pass it on again after I’ve read it, and so on.
Later that day wearing my newly bought alpaca socks (which possibly win the award for Cosiest Socks Ever) and munching a poppy seed pastry extravaganza, I find myself relaxing in the flat shared by friends Lennart and Stefan. I’ve managed to wander round sunny Stuttgart this morning and explore the beautiful old town of Esslingen this afternoon, and after a quick Skype conversation home, I play a few songs and prepare for tonight’s gig.
Show #3 takes place in the tiny cosy kitchen/living room, and if last night was a squeeze this show is a squash, albeit a warm and friendly and appreciative squash. As I play, the pedal of the digital piano I’m borrowing starts to slide across the floor and my leg stretches out further and further as I try to control it. I’m practically poking a guy in the front row. But all this leads to an intense and enjoyable evening – the audience are just lovely.
During the interval and after the show I seem to chat to a lot of people and within a short space of time have managed to converse about german traditions, german geography and the german education system; dementia care, a small town near Oxford called Eynsham, floods and global warming; my tour, my musical history, my love life, and of course, the town we are in – Esslingen. No wonder tiredness soon creeps up and it’s not long before I find myself saying goodnight to my hosts and slipping away to crawl into bed.
Still to come in part 2 of the tour blog: ghost pianos, german cakes, a visit to Weimar and an Amanda Palmer mug…
HUGE thank you to my house concert hosts so far: Karin, Claudia & Paul, Chrissie, Lennart, Stefan; and to each audience for making the shows so special.
Read Gudrun’s reviews of the first two concerts here:
Photos by Gudrun, Karin and Bethany.