In autumn 2017, Chris Dent, lead singer/songwriter of Auckland trio Albi & The Wolves, embarked on an ambitious month-long European tour alongside former bandmate/friend Zarek Silberschmidt. Chris (Albi) kindly provided NZM with a glimpse into their tour diary – prefaced by some very helpful insights and tips for musical tourists.
Alrighty. Before I start my story of the journey I embarked on the ‘Zarek and Albi’ tour, in which we performed 15 shows across three countries in Europe, I wanted to bullet point some lessons I learned which may just help others. Also as a disclaimer, the last five weeks have possibly been the best five weeks of my life, so you should definitely go, even if these points may discourage you. If you’re not so interested in my tour story then I hope at least these points will be helpful for you and your aspirations.
By that I mean have your tickets booked and your time frame sorted first, and then begin booking shows 12 months in advance. You’ll save money – but more to the point you’d be surprised by how many venues will be booked-in already, that far ahead of time.
Because of the language barrier, even a discussion as simple as what gear is available will be 10-times harder, your understanding of English being completely different to the person you are talking to. Zarek, my bandmate, had found this in his experiences so he compiled a detailed Tech Rider that even covered things as simple as power cables. This diligence saved our bacon more than once.
People won’t get back to you, they won’t hire you if you can’t bring a big audience, they’ll want you but not want to pay you. The initial part of the tour sucked sometimes when we’d fire off hundreds of emails and get nothing back, but you can make things happen if you persist. Also be sure to use your own networks to find out about great places, because warm calls tend to work a little better then cold ones.
If you are going to be having an awesome time on the road you really need to have somewhere decent to be able to get a proper rest. Even if you stay in nice accommodation you will still wind up tired as the constant moving and interaction will be exhausting and when you are close proximity to other people for a period of time those decent sleeps might just be what keeps you together.
Okay. With that out of the way we will start right at the beginning….
I will never forget the sound of rain pouring onto the roof of my plane on my first journey halfway around the world and the anticipation that had built up over my journey. I expect that most of my long lasting memories will be like that. Touching on a feeling even if it’s for only a moment.
Leaving the plane my first steps on European ground were in Basel, Switzerland, where I was greeted by my best friend and bandmate Zarek who had left New Zealand a year earlier to pursue his career in Europe. If you’ve heard of jet lag but you have never experienced it then I tell you it is definitely a thing. I felt so tired then that even with my excitement to see my friend I was basically unable to show it or really even speak sensibly at all.
With a cloudy head and some hefty determination the first few days of my trip were filled with rehearsals, croissants and snippets of Swiss culture. I was surprised though to find people were so much more reserved – at least when compared to Kiwis – in how how they went about their day, and even in the volume they speak with. What terrified me about this was the implications it could have on my performance style, and I was worried that the skills I have practised in NZ were not going to be useful in Europe at all.
So it’s probably not surprising then that at our first show I was so scared it really felt like I was back at school again. I need not have been so afraid because as soon I stepped up beside Zarek things slowly began to fall into place and the show we had toured in NZ began to hum along again.
We have an entertaining show that uses banter between us and crowd interaction a lot. So when jokes started to land, even with the language barrier, I was incredibly relieved. By halfway through the set we had the audience on side. I took a lot of cues from Zarek and somehow we got through the concert unscathed and even had the crowd singing along. This might not seem like such a big thing but apparently it’s huge for Switzerland.
That show felt great, but what I found to be crazy was the fact that I had nothing to gauge how successful the performance had been. This was because I had no previous experiences as everything I had known was so different, even though this was a familiar house concert format. That feeling of uncertainty absolutely sucks but it does promptly leave as you learn to trust your gut – and hopefully that skill will be helpful in the future.
Here I would like to talk a little more about my bandmate as I’ve mentioned his name but not explained who he is. Zarek Silberschmidt is an incredible musician whose life goal is to have a career as a guitarist across almost any genre of music and he is already well on the way to doing this. He is a charismatic and charming performer and also one of the kindest people that I have ever met, so if you are interested in guitar in any sense please look him up. What he can do with his instrument is very inspiring even if you don’t like instrumental music. I know I am singing his praises, but I assure you he’s well worth the time.
Our next show was in Freiburg, Germany, in a tiny little bar called Cafe Ruef. This gig was completely different to the last show and as we looked out into the chirpy crowd, that had squashed in so tightly people had to sit on the floor, we pondered how to start this set.
That is something to talk about too really as making the best of each scenario really depended on having a broad repertoire to choose from. For that show we started with a groovy version of No Diggity which is quite upbeat, but it still gave us a little leeway to bring some dynamic onto our set. In a nutshell that means we had room to raise the tempo, feel, or intensity at any time if necessary rather then going all in from the start. This is especially important when there are two 45-minute sets to fill up with content that creates a climax each time they end.
The next two shows were back in Basel, and the for the next gig Zarek and entered us into a songwriting competition, which completely threw me. After a small injury that Zarek acquired I had to do this solo and here the crowd and the MC spoke almost entirely in Swiss-German. It was terrifying, but man it felt good afterward – and on top of this I managed to win the competition which certainly helped my mood too!
Next we performed to our first Swiss bar, called Conto 4056, and man what a show. The audience came around in the end and what was awesome was the crowd didn’t get smaller. In fact we kept watching the back filling up and filling up until there wasn’t much room for more people. We knew at this point we were in sync again and I remembered the enjoyment I got playing alongside Zarek, and just how crazy and different each gig is.
We reached Berlin after an eight hour train ride and I think my first impression of that city will stick with me forever. Basically, it’s huge. You really do feel a little like a country kid when you sit on a train for 40 minutes, inside the city, and all you can see is high-rise after high-rise. Berlin alone has a population that is nearly bigger then NZ and it really is hard to fathom just how big it is until you get there. Our next gig wasn’t for a week or so so we just basked in the culture.
The next three shows were in three different cities in Germany and each one was different to the one before. Alovely highlight was a show in a university bar called Oililio, in a town called called Bremen. At that show we called out, more as a joke then anything, to the audience to go to their apartments to bring their friends down for the second half of the show. Unbelievably they did, and they brought a lot of people with them!
A lesson we learned in this leg of the tour was about travel and the impact it can have on your performance. Our Berlin show suffered a bit from having two eight-hour train trips with a gig in the middle the night before. Then lugging packs around the city and finding the venue on top of that left us feeling really, really exhausted before we even got to play. In hindsight we both agreed to never do that again.
This weekend was truly crazy and if we thought we would be tired before we were about to travel through four countries to play three different shows in three days. It was going to be epic but I was more exhausted after getting back to our accom in Birmingham than I have been in my entire life.
Our first stint took us from Bremen, Germany, back to Basel for our final Switzerland show. This gorgeous venue had us play two sets outside on a glorious spring afternoon. It was nice way to say farewell to Switzerland and the many wicked people I had met there.
The following morning we raced to the airport and even though we allowed a lot of time we still ended up tearing through the airport in our socks. Beware folks that your security checks and customs can take a lot longer then you ever expect.
Fortunately though we made the plane to London and there a great friend of our picked us up and we drove for four hours to Caerphilly, Wales, for a covers style gig to get some pounds in the bank. If you’ve seen Shaun Of The Dead then you’ll know how what this pub might have looked and felt like. I’ll be honest and say that gig was not glamorous but it was helping us along the way and the next two gigs in Wales were pretty special.
The first was at a hostel and the second was an acoustic gig hosted out the back of a deli that was home to delicious treats and baked camembert. The community we met welcomed us with open arms so even though it’s a little out of the way Cardiff is a place you should definitely play in.
Our last weekend was spent in a truly glorious wine region back in Germany in a little village that was situated approximately an hour’s drive from Luxembourg. A friend had convinced his uncle to have us play at a yearly celebration where the vineyard opens its gates and hosts a wicked party that all the other villages can attend. The food was absolutely delicious and so was the wine and it was here we were able to play our last weekend of music together.
The family looked after us incredibly well so we played again on the final night of the event to say thank you, and to say farewell to one another. That was a bitter sweet but fantastic gig, and even though we just played what we wanted people lapped it up, even commenting that this show was better then our first night.
It’s only been two weeks but I already miss the wonderful folks I met whilst I was travelling, the old friends I got to see along the way, and most of all my bandmate who put up with me and who shared some of what might just be the highlights of my life.
We did the unthinkable by creating a tour in three months but we did it and not only that but the whole thing was a success. I am a better musician for having played these shows and I think my character has changed somewhat too. So I implore you, start booking a tour, even though it’s going to take hundreds of emails and calls, and get cracking. You will never regret it.