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I climb into the Bellybus, beneath rainy British skies and set off for Europe.Little do I know the rain wont stop for the entire trip.Tonight I'll be staying 200 miles away at DJ Hillfunks gaff in Kent before we both head on out to Europe.That evening Hilly takes me to play a short set at a bar in Kent.The bar owner looks chuffed to nick to have me there, and it serves me well as a warm up for tomorrows festival.
The next day we cross beneath the English channel, the Eurotunnel is gift for people like me as I only have to look at a boat to get seasick.We are on foreign soil in no time, and after a short while driving along the French coast we head southeast and cross the border into Belgium.We arrive at the festival site-there are flightcases upon flightcases of gear getting unloaded from big trucks-its all very pro.We are greeted warmly and looked after as one is at such events-handed backstage passes,drinks,complimentary tees,a gift of Belgian beers and so on.I'm told they found me on the internet and 'like the honesty of what I do'.The main hall is huge and this is where the main acts will play-my job consists of playing three sets throughout the evening in the adjacent tent/marquee-the idea being that as they change gear on the main stage between acts they need someone to fill the downtime-thats me.some punters will drift into the tent and watch me before returning for the next main act in the hall.
The possible problems I might face start to surface in my mind..am I supposed to do 3 identical sets, as different punters will drift in each time-or am I supposed to do 3 different sets? I have 45 minutes worth of material and three 30 minute sets to do- do the maths and I'm in deep doo doo.What if the second set attracts half of people who have already seen me and half who haven't-do I tell them who I am again, do I talk about cbg's again or not bother-it seems a little no win..if I talk to them about cigarbox nation I risk boring the people who have heard it before,but if I dont mention it again the punters who didn't hear my first set will miss out.hhmmm.
Well I play my first set-it goes great-I finish with "I think I'm coming home' and 'Black dog', telling them about hospital visits and clinical depression-as some of you may know its pretty intense and I come offstage shaken-my blues (pain) have been delivered and they loved it but as I come offstage with watering eyes I know I wont be singing those songs twice more-its draining and its not an act.As I pass through the crowd that Belgian hospitality/warmth is firmly in evidence-someone thrusts a piece of paper in my hand-on it it he's written 'your belly is maybe empty but your heart is full of blues', I'm extraordinarily touched.Another guy says 'can I give you something?' I say sure and he says 'a hug'-I look at his warm open face and we hug- it is very unbritish and I enjoy the breakdown of the stupid social norm-it doesn't matter that we are men-we are two humans consoling each other.Another guy presses a gift of a bottleneck in my palm.After I've calmed down I sell the first batch of many,many cd's-they all want them signed and it starts to feel normal signing stuff.
I'm due back on in 40 minutes..I still have 6 songs they haven't heard but as you know they're short songs! I pick others from the first set to make up the 30 minutes and decide honesty is the best policy.I get the nod from the soundman and the circus rolls on-I'm pretty proud of the way it gets handled-this set is more light hearted-I tell the audience of my predicament and they smile-this fest has a 10 year history and they probably know the score for the guy in the tent! I tell them its radio hollowbelly on strict rotation-they laugh.some have returned some are new-they clap along, stomp, woop-that damn song 'southside girl' goes down a storm and defies yet again my secret desire to drop it from my set.It goes well and the crowd are with me once more.More cd's get sold, more tees..as I walk into the main hall to grab a quick look at the main acts the size of the place and the turnout is incredible.As I push past the punters I can see people nudging each other and pointing at me, mouthing Hollowbelly and suchlike.People pat me on the back.
At midnight I drift back and stand at the side of the stage like a tired boxer who's past his prime-holy cow there's another round coming up-I'm not Bruce Springsteen, and I curse myself bitterly for not writing/playing the laid back traditional 12 bar blues I've witnessed elsewhere..on the other hand I feel like a pro-its up against the wall time and I like it-I'm working, I'm earning great money and of course this is what its about-hard graft..I'm not in the realms of the bedroom guitar hero no more-this is what its like to earn a living wage no matter what business you're in-it involves good old fashioned hard work.I go back on and play again-I'm tired but I get through it-I give it my last ounce, then there's yet more cd selling and yet more Belgians saying beautiful things..we hear theres a backstage party but its 2am and all I want is my hotel bed.We get back to the castlelike hotel, Hilly clambers into his bed opposite and as I lie in mine I'm aching from the neck down-my head is buzzing but I eventually drift off.
Well dear reader, I met some wonderful people-the Festival organisers were consumately professional and treated me wonderfully.If you ever get the chance to play Blaublues then take it.I would especially like to thank the Belgian people for their support, warmth, enthusiasm, honesty, and passion.It was an absolute honour to play there.