It’s January, my second album comes out in a fortnight, and I’m driving from my family home in Wales to Edinburgh for the first of two gigs in Scotland, on the first leg of my first UK tour.
2015 was meant to be a year of firsts – first car crash wasn’t supposed to be one of them.
Turns out, Welsh roads in January are treacherous, and going round corners should be treated with utmost caution, lest you do what I did, and spin around a fair bit before crashing into a wall, smashing your driver-side window and losing a few decent records in the process. Was it the most dramatic car crash in the world? The worst? As a friend consistently points out, no, probably not, but still, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. They’re shit.
So that’s how 2015 began. The plan this year was to release a record, tour the absolute fuck out of it, and see where we were at the end. 50 gigs was the aim, just about achievable with a full time job and limited annual leave. I think all bands have a fairly romantic view of “life on the road”, so I thought I’d try and dispel it.
So January. Well, January through March, really. I spent the latter half of 2014 booking UK shows wherever I could, making connections and meeting people along the way. I’ve gigged in London for seven years now, and have played all the smallish venues I can think of, without ever having my “own” show. Thankfully, Camden’s Green Note, recently voted Time Out’s favourite venue in London, took a punt on the album launch. I roped a little band together, had two of my good friends from the scene – Lucy Cait and Sam Beer – opening up, and we sold the place out. Alright, Green Note’s capacity is 60, but still, that was a big deal. A first. The following day I woke up to this five star review in The Telegraph, another first. Well in, January,
The thing is, despite these two things – a great review, a sell out show in London – booking gigs across the UK is hard. There’s definitely an appetite for music, audiences are good, but big cities invariably have brilliant, thriving scenes of their own, so why would they let you in, and give you a show? Each city has its own ladder you need to climb, and what you’re always relying on is promoters or venues who like your stuff, are willing to take a chance , and will throw you come cash towards expenses and a meal.
That’s the reality, and it’s not one I begrudge. What it makes you appreciate is the community of musicians on the same rung as you. I played two shows in January with Siv Jakobsen and Sofia B, two amazing indie-folk songwriters. Siv’s had a good year too, her record The Lingering, led by single How We Used To Love, getting talked about in some good places. Get into it.
The other ambition for this year was to tour abroad. Initially, I aimed for Germany, Holland, and Belgium, three countries with good folk / Americana scenes. The record got some airplay in all those countries, but in the end booking a three country tour was too much, so I stuck with just the one – Germany.
Now, booking shows in Germany is far easier. There’s a real hunger for that kind of music, lots of places to play, and audiences come out, buy music, and are generally quite philanthropic and enthusiastic about the whole thing. There’s a real house concert culture on the continent too, one that is growing in the UK, and I hope gets to the same level. House concerts are golden for acoustic musicians – low stress, captive audience, bed for the night, and you meet good people.
And Germany was great, but like, if I were to do it again I probably wouldn’t book my flight at 5am, knowing that I had a show that evening. Nor would I book my return flight at 2am after a gig, meaning I had to hang around in Frankfurt for 4 hours to wait for the bus to the Ryanair airport. God bless Germans and their lax attitude towards the concept of closing time. God damn airports for not letting me bring Apfelmus back into the country – it’s not a liquid, it’s a non-Newtonian fluid, and it’s fucking delicious and you know it, cunts.
By this point we’ve got to May, and one of the main things I’ve taken from touring alone is this: touring is boring. Not the playing, or the meeting people, but the bits in between. The sitting on trains, the killing time. I was half way through booking another solo tour in Ireland, when I thought it might be a better idea to bring my friend, flatmate, occasional backing singer and great songwriter in her own right, Anna McIvor, along with me.
The Irish tour we did in June was my favourite of the year. We lost money, but by the end of it we’d managed a really tight set that I was dead pleased with, and it was nice hanging out with a mate for a week or so. Felt a lot more like a holiday. Also, it’s hard not to feel part of something bigger playing in Ireland, like you’re playing on hallowed ground. Most venues had stories of when Damien Rice played there, or when Josh Ritter did, or Christy Moore, or Paddy Casey. We finished up at DeBarras in Clonakilty, one of those great rooms in the back of a pub that manages to have an identity all of its own, ivy growing all over the walls, the stage done up like a lounge, audience pouring in from the bar and listening over pints of Guinness. Of all the places I’ve played this year, DeBarras is the one I want to go back to the most.
That said, I’m having to think a lot about touring next year. I don’t know whether it was the wrench of balancing the schedule with work, whether it was the time alone, whether it was performance anxiety, but my head started taking these peaks and troughs that it wasn’t used to. Around this time, Alanna McArdle announced she was leaving Joanna Gruesome for mental-health related reasons, and has spoken publicly – and wonderfully – about how touring exacerbated issues of anxiety and depression. Well, I get that, and I take my hat off to anyone who plays 100+ shows a year, from jobbing function bands to One Direction.
And also, I began to write different kinds of songs. I was listening to bigger, louder music, the kind you want people to jump around to a bit, and I was thinking about a backline. Thinking about drums, and electric guitars, and pedal steels, and going into the studio and taking some time and making a better record, a different kind of record.
I also started writing again with my friend Caroline O’Donoghue, and I think, at some point, both of us realized that the songs we had were not that bad? Maybe quite good? So, we roped in another friend – Ellie Cowan, of Felix Hagan & The Family – and did a show. It was the most fun I’ve had on stage in a long time. Suddenly the landscape of next year looks very different. I have one tour commitment in June, with an amazing American songwriter called Kailynn West, but the rest of the year I want to spend in sound-proof rooms wearing headphones, trying to put something out.
And honestly, I didn’t think this is where I’d be when I started this whole thing, but you can only plan so much as a musician. Things change. You’ll hear an album that’ll blow you away and throw you into a whole new direction. You might stop enjoying it. You might get tired, you might get bored, you might decide to throw in the towel. All that is fine, because you’ve done it – you haven’t talked about doing it, you’ve actually done it. I like people who do stuff, who make stuff, they’re the ones that you wanna keep around.
Next year, the resolution is to make something. Something loud. And, if possible, no more car crashes, cheers. All the best.
Harry's a good lad. Follow him over on Twitter- CmonHarris