French for Rabbits are vocalist Brooke Singer and jazz guitarist John Fitzgerald, out of Waikuku Beach, just north of Christchurch, and currently taking Europe by dream-folk storm. The haunting songs of longing and regret on their debut EP, ’Claimed By The Sea’, saw them in the final running for the 2013 Folk Tui award and stimulated interest from BBC radio. Brooke Singer’s raw voice has been described as having ’…the kind of vulnerability most of us keep hidden deep down inside’. Last year they travelled to Europe for the first time, performing house concerts and small festivals. In 2014 they have spent six weeks (27 shows) touring from England to the Czech Republic, kicking their European sojourn off with appearances at The Great Escape in Brighton. Brooke very kindly provided NZM with this wonderful insight.
Today we are driving to Stuttgart, Germany from the most beautiful city we have visited on our tour in Europe, Brugue. The charming Belgium city is an UNESCO World Heritage site full of cobbled streets, ancient buildings and inexplicably a large quantity of fairground rides, and candyfloss stands.
Right now, I am wondering why I agreed to writing an article for NZ Musician magazine in the midst of a non-stop 33-date tour around Europe… but let me do my best to take you back over some of the highlights (and low-lights!) of our tour and impart our rather limited but ever expanding knowledge of touring in Europe.
Being a musician means being an excellent communicator, administrator, marketing genius, and event co-ordinator all in one! I dont think its for the fainthearted. If it is your first time heading over to Europe or America a good resource is Blink’s DIY touring book, which you can get online for free. I spent a couple of months leading into the tour spending far too much time writing emails, while looking wistfully outside.
The Great Escape is a festival for new music, held in the seaside city of Brighton. Its a lovely little place and it is a vegetarians heaven, with little lanes of shops and cafes to explore. While the festival is on, every second person in the place seems to be a musician of some sort. For the record, Google maps are VERY optimistic with driving times and we only just made it in time for our sound check.
For the shows we had a makeshift “one day old band.” We can’t say enough about how hilarious, kind and onto it our friends Fraser Ross and Amos Memon are. They played the songs perfectly and we had a lovely audience who swarmed in before the show and sat on the floor of the Spiegeltent. The show was part of a New Zealand showcase organised by the NZ Music Commission. We were playing alongside new friends Black City Lights, and two Auckland bands Glass Owls and Ezra Vine. Thanks NZMC!
After a Friday evening spent watching a few bands I have been keen to see for ages, meeting up with old friends (New Zealanders are everywhere), fox spotting (a most exciting past-time) and a day wandering around Brighton we played our second Great Escape show. Huck Magazine hosted this show, and we played before US singer Young Summer and a UK band called Blessa, who were both very good.
This show was by far our favourite show of the tour so far. We played to a packed bar with an attentive audience who were really lovely and enthusiastic.
This show was perhaps the opposite of The Great Escape. Wakefield is a gritty working class town in northern England. Boarded up shops, and drunk people on the street at 6pm were not a good sign.
The turn out for a Monday night show for an unknown band was unsurprisingly not very high, but we did have a friendly promoter, and the people who came enjoyed the show. We were a little bit nervous for our French car when a street brawl outside our hotel window woke us up at 4am. There was still music blaring from the nightclub around the road. It was certainly a curious site watching the Coronation St-like girls, in shiny miniskirts and plastered-on make-up, trying to coerce the drunken men apart.
In contrast to Wakefield, York is a neat, historical English town, and we had the good fortune of staying with some nice people from couchsurfing – a mathematician and a medieval historian! Our show had an okay turnout, although we were beset with a few sound problems in the rather strangely shaped venue. One thing we will do on future tours is try and get our music on all the regional radio stations around the UK, as it will (hopefully!) help to attract more people along.
Imagine now, the prettiest rolling English countryside, little stone buildings are dotted amongst the green. At the end of a village there is a little tin hall, the doors flung open. Its a sunny day and when we enter the cool interior we see little wooden seats set up in rows and a wooden stage at one end. This place is called the Band Room and it has been described by the Handsome Family band as the best little venue in the world. It is pretty special, and reminds us a little bit of St Peters Hall in Paekakariki.
We play a great show here opening for a UK band called Maia. There is a tradition that everyone who plays at the Band Room does a Bob Dylan cover, so we throw together a version of Knocking On Heavens Door, which surprisingly, we pull off! The promoter Nigel invites us back to play a headline show next time we are in the UK.
We couldn’t tour in the UK without a show in London. (John thinks this is unfortunate!) It’s a rather big city, and seemingly contains nowhere to park a car. But after a small parking disaster (ended successfully, dont worry!), we brought all our gear into the Finsbury Pub.
It is quite a popular place and is a well-known music venue. Our London drummer Amos joined us for the show, which was nice, and the audience were quiet as mice.
Last year while we were in Portugal we were volunteering at a surf camp, which was run by two Austrian guys. So when we were offered a show not far from their hometown in Austria we were excited. It sounded like an idyllic place where everyone grows up to be scarily good fussball players.
When we arrived I felt like wed walked onto the set of a Wes Anderson film. The colours were lush, majestic mountains, green forests, and churches atop tiny steep hills. They definitely look after musicians infinitely better in continental Europe than the UK. We were taken out for dinner and put up in an antique-laden hotel with wooden walls, which seemed luxurious after quite a few nights on foldout couches and air mattresses. We played on the final night of a three-day festival at a little music venue in the town. It was the second time on tour that we had a grand piano, which Im always way too excited about.
We played to a nice audience, and the opening act, La Petite Rouge, a 17-year old girl from Karlsruhe in Germany, was super-talented. She played the best set we had seen by anyone since wed arrived in Europe – so we can’t wait to see what she does next.
We will leave you here. We are on the road again – to play a house concert tonight in Germany. We have a few more shows to go before we head back to NZ. We’ll be visiting Switzerland, Austria again, Italy, Czech Republic and Croatia. Somehow we will be leaving the middle of a European summer for a winter. A good bit of planning there…