I arrived in Milan on Sunday evening (last weekend) after my second cross-country trek in as many days. I found somewhere convenient to put my car (my very first impression of the city was that there were far more cars than there were parking spaces) and made my way to Mirko’s apartment. I was welcomed in and after brief chat I had to run off to find the venue for my show that night.
Zog (the venue) is situated along the canal of the Navigli river which runs through the city. The area is pedestrianised so I had to park at the station a few hundred meters away and walk the rest. Arriving at the venue I was warmly greeted by Michele, the sound guy, and the barmen Fabio and Mirko ( for the purposes of this story, Mirko II). I set up and then went and found a quite place in the back to try and have a moment to relax and clear my head of a fair amount of exhaustion. I had a few minutes to myself before I was joined by Mirko II and we had a really nice chat about music and travelling while he ate his dinner. Then a few other patrons came in to the room and we chatted about the usefulness of English and the fact that it is not taught well enough in schools in Italy (which echoed a conversation I had had in Jessica’s apartment with the Spaniards who had said the same thing about Spain).
Gig time arrived and it was the kind of show were most (probably all) of the audience are just there by chance. They paid attention for the first two or three songs and then went back to their conversations. It is quite easy to get dispirited during these kinds of shows, especially when you are only being paid a nominal fee or taking the hat, but the thing to remember is that there are still probably one or two people paying attention and that the effort is still worth it for them. In this case, the one or two people were Polina, a Russian actress and media worker. She – and Michele, Mirko II and Fabio – were all super complimentary after the show.
In one funny way, the success of a gig can be measured in the amount of Facebook friends I make on the night. (This is different from getting a Facebook ‘like’, but at this point I get few enough of them to be any use as a measurement tool). By this point of reference, the worst kind of show is one when I arrive, am pointed in the direction of the stage by a staff member, set up, play to the smattering of people who were there anyway, and leave without making a real connection with anyone. No conversations, maybe a brief ‘thanks for the show’, but that’s about it. The best kind of show, or at least the best of what I can reasonably expect at this point, is one where the owners and/or staff are really welcoming, there are 20 or 30 people in the audience who have come specifically to the music, everyone listens and claps, after the show couple CDs are sold and there are enough appreciative conversations with the venue personnel, audience members and perhaps fellow musicians to feel that a variety of connections have been made and that perhaps I will be remembered beyond the night – and the easiest way to acknowledge this potential is the Facebook friend request.
So the Zog show was somewhere in between, tending toward the bottom of the scale. Maybe a couple people paid attention, I sold one CD and became Facebook friends with Polina, Michele, Mirko II and Fabio – with all four of whom I felt I shared a genuine moment of camaraderie. So, for me, although the show itself might not have been the most spectacular, I left with a good feeling and enough new contacts that the night could still have a benefit somewhere down the line – certainly beyond the €50 I earned for pitching up.
Once my set was over, Mirko arrived with a friend who was celebrating his 40th birthday. We left Zog and after Mirko took us (via the Cape Town bar, just to see) to a great cocktail bar which resembled something between an apothecary and a library with the barmen mixing the drinks right in front of you out of hand-labeled bottles. We then went back to Mirko’s apartment for a final shot of rum before I climbed into bed for a long, long, long awaited sleep.
The next morning I woke to clear-skied winter morning. I had been expecting to be woken at 8am (and to have to leave the house at 8:30am), when Mirko was leaving for work, but the clock said 11:30am and I found Mirko mercifully working from home for the day. I caught up on some emails and then we had a lunch of pasta and salad before heading out for a walk. Mirko lives quite close to set of ultra modern buildings in the centre of Milan and our walk took these in before we detour to the train station to collect his girlfriend, Valeria, who was arriving back from a few days in Rome. Together we returned to their apartment before I left for my second show in Milan.
The way that this second show had come about was that, having booked the show at Zog but still having the next day free, I had asked Julien (my press agent) if he had any contacts who might the able to help me out. Julien has passed me on to another associate who had passed me onto Barnaba, a local promoter, who had offered me a unpaid slot opening for Ofeliadorne, an electro/rock outfit from Bologna (think Kate Bush as the singer of Mazzy Star with some modern electronica thrown in).
The venue was a restaurant called Gatto and the front section had been cleared of tables and turned into an temporary performance space. As soon as I arrived I was warmly greeted by Francesca, the band’s vocalist and guitarist, setting the tone for what turned out to be an extra special evening. I played a 25 minute opening set which was well received before Ofeliadorne played to a rapt audience. Afterwards I fell into a long conversation with Michele, Ofeliadorne’s drummer, while all the chairs were cleared and a long table was set out and laid with dinner for the performers and organisers. I meet a lot of really great people along the way but this night felt like an extra special meeting of like minds and I will make a big effort to get down to Bologna on my next tour and hopefully reconnect with the band.
That night I stayed at the flat in Milan’s Chinatown that Barnaba shares with his girlfriend. After a great night’s sleep, an easy breakfast and receiving a gift of a couple CDs from Barnaba’s label Sangue Disken I jumped back in the car to head back north to Zurich. Along the way I had a sweet little moment when, having to stop to pay the Swiss road tolls, the border official asked what the music I was listing to was – Feist’s Let It Die – before she went to get a pen to write it down.
I arrived in Zurich in the evening, feeling a bit exhausted again after missing the turnoff, landing up in rush-hour traffic, then having to go back on myself for about 10km before I could turn around only to find myself in more traffic and, finally, the regular frustration of what seems to be the general scarcity of parking in any European city centre. The gig itself, in the bar of a hostel called Langstars, was quiet. A Tuesday night with not much going on and just a few random patrons in the bar. I did have a couple nice chats afterwards and was well looked after but I didn’t feel I generated much interest at all and so mostly the show came and went without much to write about.
And this sort of marked the end of the first section of the tour. It was a bit more difficult than expect given all the extra driving that I had to do but most it went well and I met lot of really great people. Up next is ten days in France (of which I am already half-way through, as I write this from the dinning room table of a really great bunch of couch surfing hosts in Amiens) but I will leave that for the next post or two. See you then!