April 15th 6:23 pm on flight to Helsinki
I'm writing this while on my way to Finland. I don't really have any concept of time or place, where I've been or where I am going. I can't really figure out how long I've been in transit either.
Last night Clayton and I parted ways after having one last beer in Toronto. He flew home and I boarded a plane to London England. The flight to England didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would. I got seated next to a nice English gent named graham. His father lived in Canada towards the end of his life and thus he returns twice a year to see friends and in his fathers memory. We ended up talking for a good bit. About our lives and what we do - our countries and the places were from. It's always such a treat to run into someone like this when you're out and about. So unexpected but also so memorable.
I didn't get much sleep last night. I thought I'd be able to sleep a good bit of the way. But I tossed and turned and couldn't find slumber. I maybe had my eyes shut for an hour. Today was a write off. Stumbling around heathrow like a zombie. Trying to make sense of all the sights and sounds. It was definitely a long seven hours in the airport.
I wish you could see what I'm seeing now. We just flew off the coast in England and now were above the ocean. The sun is bright. And I can see ships and vessels on the water below. Making their way to god knows where. I don't have a clue where I am going either to be honest.
I really hope things work out in Finland. It's not that I doubt they will. But I think it's in our human nature (or at least in mine) to have doubts when you're doing something new. Singing for new people. Going somewhere new. Meeting new people who are from totally different walks of life. It's all good really - I know that this is what I should be doing. It's good to remind oneself of that when you're in the thick of it. One foot in front of the other.
April 16th, day one.
After arriving in Helsinki around midnight, I met my host and tour manager Fredde. Fedde is the reason that these shows happened. He booked everything and made it all work and for that I can't thank him enough.
We drove back to Turku from the airport that night, it's about an hour and a half at night when there is not much traffic on the roads. I had been up for a whole day by that poin and was fairly delirious beyond tired. We got to Fredde's home in Turku around 2:00 am or so. And the tour of his home was brief because we were both so tired that we couldn't possible stay up any later. He quickly showed my home for the next week to me and just as quick I fell asleep. I remember sleeping hard in that dark basement that night, I don't think I even tossed or turned.
April 17th, day two.
I remember waking up multiple times the first morning. Realizing that my alarm was still on London time and not Helsinki time. My alarm didn't go off, but eventually I rolled out of bed, showered - just in time for us to hit the road to Helsinki for the first show. Everyone kept saying how important the first show was, in Helsinki in one of Finland most famous and oldest rock clubs called the Tavestia - I didn't think too much of it really. Most venues, important or not, are just another stage to me. I think it's the people involved, the audience, that make the show and the place great. One thing Fredde told me though was that back in the 90s Townes Van Zandt had played on the same stage at the Tavestia, among other great artists that we all know. I was pretty excited when I heard that.
I remember feeling quite nervous when I arrived at the club. I was shaky to begin with, my hands and my mind. Everything felt upside down by that point. We got there during the headliners sound check, and it sounded great. I later got to meet the gents in the Weeping Willows and mostly their frontman Magnus. They're a pretty famous group from Sweden and I have to say that they were some of the nicest and most welcoming people I had ever met.
Soundcheck went good. It was a good sounding room. They told me that they had sold 400 tickets for that show and that did nothing but add to my shakiness. We ate and talked for a while and I spent the rest of the time before the show pacing in the green room until it was show time.
I remember walking out on that stage feeling totally weak, mentally and physically, it felt like the feeling you get at the end of a long run, when you hit that wall and you just have to keep going. It's hard to remember how things really went, but I remember things going pretty well. It took me a couple of minutes to find my bearings, but soon enough the room had filled up and I was singing a Townes song on a stage where he probably sang the same song. It was a pretty big relief once I was done performing. First shows of tours are always like that. If you can make it through the first show and have it go half decent, you'll make it through the rest of the tour.
April 18th, day three.
After the show in Helsinki we packed the van up and headed back to Turku where I would be playing the next night. I remember having a pretty quiet day again. I can't quite remember what all I did in Turku that day, but I'm pretty sure I used the day to catch up on sleep. I don't know if I was quite ready to tackle wandering around my first Finnish town alone. I hadn't quite gotten in the mindset yet.
We got to the nights venue, bar kuka, fairly early. It was a smaller bar room. A bar room that you'd find in any city you visit. Young people and older people too. I'm trying to think of a similar venue that it reminds me of... Maybe similar to the front room at the Cameron house in Toronto or maybe the owl in Lethbridge. Either way, I liked it. It was more similar to what I normally play compared to the 800 seat tavestia - not to say that I didn't enjoy that.
The room filled up quick and before I knew it the show had rolled around. I felt a lot better going into this show. Not sure what was so different. But either way, the show went so well. It might have been one of my favourite shows from the tour. People listened. And people talked. The atmosphere was just right and the songs felt right and made sense there. I played a fairly long set. Everything felt a little more in place. I had great conversations with people there. An older gent. A younger couple. I felt at home.
April 19th, day four.
I think it was on this day that I finally worked up the gusto to go out and explore Turku. I wasn't sure how I'd find the city or if it I would be my speed. But I think that I took to it more then the couple of hours I spent in Helsinki. It was smaller. Smaller streets and a river running right through the centre of town. An old church on the one end of downtown and a castle on the other that I think is one if the oldest buildings in Finland. Everything was historic and beautiful. I listened intently to the people. And the sound of the city rustling around me like leaves in the fall.
It just reminded me that my favourite way to experience a city is to sit and breathe it in and to soak in the sounds that surround you. The voices and words that you don't understand as the soundtrack to the film you're watching. Everything jumped off the page, like words from your favourite book.
That night we were set to play in Loimaa, which I was told was a smaller town. Rural. For most of the shows on this tour we were traveling around in Fredde's old Renault van. I'm not quite sure how old it is. But it's old enough to not have seatbelts and to be a crank start. Quite a hilarious tour vehicle. I loved it. The van could only go about 70 km per hour so the relatively short drive to Loimaa ended up taking a little longer then usual. We stopped to cool the engine down at one point because it had started to over heat.
When we did finally make it there, it all made sense what people were saying. Loimaa was a small town, just like the small towns we have back home. It was a Friday night and people were driving around the centre of town in their old cars. The bar I was playing, bar Edgar was already relatively full and was rotating between playing metal and pop songs. It was one of those situations that you don't wake up and plan to find yourself in. In a way it was great.
Playing I'm Finland was quite interesting because I'd get on stage, start playing, mostly with my eyes closed and by the end of the song I open my eyes to find most of the bar standing in front of me, listening and applauding evening though some of them might not understand a thing I'm saying. Every audience I played for was so enthusiastic and kind it was almost overwhelming. Even at bar Edgar in Loimaa, that's how things went. I played to the small town crowd and ended up playing two encores that night. So far Finland was three for three. The show went fairly late and by the time we were done, the past few days of running around had caught up with us. We loaded out into Herman (Fredde's Renault) and made the slow trek home to Turku.
April 20th, day five.
Turku to Loimaa and back to Turku. This day was set to be a busy one. From the get go. Fredde spends most of his time (When he is not being convinced by a random Canadian to go on tour) running his own record shop in Turku, and today was record store day. He had asked if I would play some songs in the afternoon to help celebrate record store day and how could I ever say no! Myself along with a great Finnish artist from Tampere - Joose Keskitalo filled the shop with songs. I also ended up getting a great little treat for record store day, a limited edition pressing of Townes van Zandt live at the whole cafe in Minnesota. If you ever happen to find yourself in Turku, make sure you visit Fredde at 8raita. Tell him I sent you.
After all was said and done with record store day, we loaded up in the Renault and hit the road for Fredde's home town of Parainen. A smaller town nestled on the coast of the Baltic Sea. It was always interesting going into these smaller town shows, because in larger cities things can be somewhat predictable. But you get to the smaller town venues and you're never sure what to expect. We loaded in, I think we were a little late to begin with or something, I remember being on edge a bit. But we got there and saw there room. It was a beautiful little theatre. Maybe 100 seats total or something like that. But I thought it was perfect, for what I do anyways. We set up and sound checked and met the opening act, a local Celtic group called tailsway, they sounded great - so much so that I felt fairly nervous to be playing after them. When it was finally my turn to hit the stage, they announced who I was and that I was from Canada and I was greeted with what was surely the most warm Finnish welcome I had the whole tour. I hadn't seen how many people were there prior, but the place was packed and these folks were excited to see me play despite their not having a clue who I was! It was incredible. Parainen ended up being my favourite show of the tour. I still feel so very fond of that show when I think back.
And if I thought the night couldn't better, I was wrong. We made the short drive out to Fredde's cabin on the Baltic Sea, lit the woodstove, drank and ate, and talked and sang. I met some truly great folks that night. Fredde was so exhausted that he passed right out, I wasn't too far off either. I felt drunk on Finland, intoxicated in its beauty. The beer was working too.
April 21st, day six.
This was to be the longest day of the tour. From Parainen to Vaasa. The longest drive of the tour which amounted to about 350 kilometres. We traded the Renault for a car that could drive faster then 60 and hit the road. We took are time, took some back roads. Saw some more of the Finnish country side. The further north we went, the more of a prairie we saw. There were lots of small towns. And houses that people had simply left because the work had all dried up. It was saw to see all of those houses standing there, in the country, with no one to live in them. It makes a musicians mind start turning.
We eventually made it up to Vaasa to the Irish pub where I was to be playing, and to no surprise, it was like every other Irish pub I had been to, and the bar tender was from England. In a weird way, it felt like home. It could have been o'hanlons or any other place I've been before. The folks up there were especially nice. The sound guy - the staff, Fredde's friend jerry who is also a country singer. I also ended up meeting an American gent, around my age from Philadelphia, I think he was a soccer player who was over there playing. I reckon he'd come to the show because he heard I was Canadian. We revelled in a full Anglo conversation. Talking about our respective experiences in Finland. And it turns out we both were fairly in love with the place.
The show went about how it should, the songs seemed to fit in that place despite the odd drunk person being thrown out of the bar, right in front of the stage. Maybe that made the songs feel all the better, it's hard to say.
I remember feeling tired but not wanting to give in, we drank until the bar closed that night, till they wouldn't let us. I wanted to soak in every last drop. The taste and the smell, the sounds, everything that was Finland. I felt tired. From the Canadian shows, and from the amazing time I had touring around and singing for folks in Finland. I felt tired. But good. I slept hard that night.
April 22nd 1:05 pm bus from Turku.
Just got on the bus in Turku. Tour is over and and all of my songs have been sung in Finland. Feels weird to be leaving this town, Turku. It's been my home for the past few days. I've only been here for a week but it's been a very intense seven days. Shows every single day, sometimes two shows. Constantly seeing new things and meeting new people. My sight feels refreshed. And despite how tired I really feel from the last week of shows, I feel refreshed and new.
I think that it's been years since I've felt this way. Since I moved to Australia. Just goes to say that we should probably all get on a plane once and a while, and go somewhere we don't know the language. It's good to get out of our comfort zones sometimes.
Thanks for the good times Turku. I'll most likely see you sooner then later. Now for some time in Helsinki before leaving!
April 23rd 10:16 am bus to terminal two, Helsinki Airport.
Helsinki was everything and more I expected it to be. At first I thought I might stay in Turku another day but when a friend of a friend of a friend, kept offering to show me the city I thought that I better go see it.
I'm at this point, on this trip especially where I'm realizing how important things like this are on tour. To not just check into the venue and play the show but to also be in the city and among the people. To flow in the current on a city. And we did that in Helsinki. We saw the city on the seat of a bicycle. The oldest church, Parliament, the sea from multiple places. Drank beers in some Helsinki park (a giant rock). Apparently all Helsinki is built on rocks and they've slowly been getting rid of them. Ate dinner at a falafel place called fafas. And got to meet some more of Jenni and Veera's friends, really nice folks. Ended the night on some Helsinki beach. Drinking the last of the beers we had. Listening to the water. And the pulse of the city.
There is something really beautiful and creative about this city. I can't pin point it right now. I might have to come back a second time to really figure out what it is.
April 23rd 1:09 pm New York time. Plane from Helsinki.
I've been once plane home from Helsinki for some time now. We're currently flying over goose bay Labrador. Another place I can say I've seen from the air. The time change is quite difficult to process tat the moment. 8:09 pm in Helsinki and merely 1:09 pm in New York. A flight like this gives a person lots of time to think. Quite possibly too much time. I've already begun to think about how I can get back to Finland and Europe sooner then I had originally planned.
I'm really trying to envision how the next few weeks will go, and what it'll be like to be back playing shows in Canada and the drive home, and what is waiting for me there. It's all hard to say at this point, but I reckon It will end up as a very quiet summer.