Several times each year I leave the stillness of my home to travel, sharing my songs with audiences in various parts of the world. Though somewhat strange for a “professional musician”, I have never made it my habit to solicit performances or even proactively promote myself as other singer-songwriters do. My life is truly rooted in devoting time to my family and my passions for being outdoors, writing and recording music. If/when I am invited to sing for audiences, it is an honour to oblige, however (with all due respect to supporters and concert goers) I am much more comfortable in my back garden hanging laundry to dry than on a stage. Very much an introvert with frequent bouts of agoraphobia, it is always a struggle for me to mentally prepare for highly social events and the environments associated with the life of a roving minstrel: airports, train stations, community centres, theatres, universities, schools, green rooms and the like.
There have been many tours over the years where I have held out 15 or 20 days, only to emotionally crash ~ having to be whisked away to gather myself together in privacy before carrying on with public demands. Over the years I have tried to minimize the stress by marking my territory with simple but private hotel rooms, ensuring appropriate time between venues for walks alone with my pipe (in nature preferably) or rest. It has also proven helpful to be rigid with a healthy diet while on the road (cutting back over the years on candy bars, sugar, coffee, meat, excessive eating or late meals), and strict with myself and others about catching enough sleep. Getting older, I’ve found that tight routines at home and while on the road, really help me to keep balanced. As a result, tours these past few years having been going very smoothly ~ that is to say, I’m pretty sane embarking upon travel, somewhat sane during travel and relatively sane upon returning home.
Indeed, I have always taken the experience of traveling to share my music with audiences as a great privileged and blessing ~ regardless of how many people may or may not be in attendance. Admittedly though, as my travel anxiety and stress grew over the years I became very fixated on just “getting through” the tours… ticking off the days in my notebook and counting down the number of clean sock changes before I’d be back on a plane to home. That didn’t sit well with me. Others telling me how much they would love to travel as much as I do would remind me of how blessed I truly am, while simultaneously tweaking guilt in me over how often I grumble about immigration hassles, lost luggage or being bitten by strange insects in nasty hotel rooms.
These last few years that my journeys have been noticeably less chaotic and better managed (thus, less stressful), I have made it my intention to enjoy the process of travel with more graciousness, humility and renewed sense of adventure.
On my last tour to the UK (35 shows in 20 days ~ bouncing up and down Queen Lizzy’s glorious Isle) I had many delightful stories to document, of which four seemed fitting to report here:
1. Between performances in Luton, a dear friend whisked me away to the former home of writer George Bernard Shaw in Hertfordshire. Upon his passing, Shaw left his estate to the Nation Trust as a historic museum, with the stipulation that nothing should be excessively changed. As a result, Shaw’s Corner has been immaculately kept, with the author’s bedroom, office and even his writing hut (uniquely built on a turntable, to be rotated manually with the sun’s movement for optimum lighting) all appearing much as they would have been during his last days. It was pleasing for me to learn about some of the author’s interesting life-style choices, many being similar to my own: his love of simplicity, his passion for writing in nature, his pastime of photography, his vegetarianism, his year-round choice of wool for blankets and clothing…and of course, his delightfully long beard. We also shared similar opinions on gender equality and rights safeguarding the working class from exploitation.
2. Between venues in Manchester I had the pleasure of visiting Shakespeare House Community Centre’s fabulous garden allotment. Upon my I arrival, there were several families all digging, weeding, watering and worm-wiggling with smiles on their faces and picnic sandwiches in their hands. It was sweet to meet such earth loving moms, dads and kids ~ all excited about their gardens and growing together as a community.
3. Landing in Glasgow, with three hours to kill before my sound check, a gentleman sent by venue organizers to meet me at the airport, greeted me for the first time in my life. Within seconds though, I felt as if he had been a long-lost, childhood friend. With the spirit of Zorba The Greek and the accent of Harry Lauder, he insisted on going somewhere special for lunch as he mocked the egg-salad sandwich I had purchased after disembarking from my flight. “Loch Lomond!” he exclaimed as he fired up his mobile phone and told the stage manager that he was taking me out for a meal on the bonnie banks of the famed lake, 20 minutes north. All of my backpacking trips through Scotland in my early 20’s were by foot and rail, with the trek to Lomond’s shores too far off the beaten track for a 110lb kid, slouching under a 40lb back-pack and carrying a 15lb guitar case. 20 years later, my new friend and I drove through the scenic Scottish hills under a bubblegum blue sky to enjoy plates of incredible fish and chips at a restaurant overlooking the gorgeous lake I had so often sang about but had never seen. Kicking off our shoes to wade in the legendary body of water and skip stones after lunch was the fruition of a personal desire and a perfect way to prep for an evening performance. (Incidentally, I later gave the egg-salad sandwich to a thankful sound engineer who hadn’t eaten all day.)
4. The tour finished and I had one day of perspective adventure left before heading back home to Canada. A good friend and talented artist Jag Lall met me in central London where we meandered in Soho guitar shops and stumbled upon The Phoenix Garden, hidden down an alleyway in amongst brown stone buildings. The hide-away was in full bloom with colourful flowers, birds, bees and blessed conversation between us about our ongoing independent and collaborative work. Parting ways, I caught a 45 minute train north for a meeting with a sweet soul mate I had not seen in over two years. We drank green tea at a charming old inn, nestled amongst stone cottages with thatched roofs and discussed life, faith and the beauty of friendship that rekindles warmly, even after life’s drizzle has left one feeling as if all sparks of hope have been drowned.
Back at my home now in Canada, I have been diligently at work on fortifying my vegetable garden from hungry rabbits, preparing to launch into the recording of my next original CD and ~ at long last ~ commencing one of my life long dreams ~ a hobby also shared by Mr George Bernard Shaw: Bee-keeping.