Diary of our trip to Germany & Belgium

Day 1:
Wed, 7th Oct, Saarbrucken
A quite stressfree Ryanair flight lands 4 Crows and one little helper (Ray Duffy on sound) in Frankfurt Hahn. We took no chances this time and booked seats for all the instruments as well, so the party was really 9 people.. Ms Cello, Mr Guitar, Mr Fiddle and Ms Mandolin had lovely and relaxing flights, we think, it’s great for them with no legs on the Ryanair seats. Except Ms Cello looked a bit squashed between the seats.
At the airport we were met by Sebastian, our driver for the couple of days in Germany. “Is it true that there’s no speed limits on German motorways?” I asked him on entering the Autobahn. “Yesssss” he shouted as he sped up to 180 mph, at which point I decided it s better to close my eyes and shut up.
The hotel Victor is a lovely establishment with comfy rooms and a big breakfast buffet. There’s a sign at the lift encouraging guests to get fit: “Use the stairs! Do it the healthy way! Do it the Victor way!” While Victor was getting exhausted running up and down stairs we took a lift to the first floor and settled into our comfy rooms.
Temperatures of 21 degrees (after only 5 in Ireland!) encouraged us to eat our dinner of “Dibbelabbels” (or some similar name) al fresco at a centre of town restaurant. We can’t believe the price of a meal here, about 9 Euro gets you a main course, including salad. Great. While our charming hostess Selma explained how to milk cows, (how did we end up at that subject?) we dug into the delicious meal: fried potatoes with dry meat, cheese and eggs, all fried up in a cholesterol friendly mash, served with stewed apples, yumm!
After saying goodnight to Selma we go in search of the Saarbrucken nightlife, following Sebastian’s instructions to find the “Nauwieser” Viertel. “That’s where all the students hang out”, he assures us. Felip’s mapreading skills get us there, and he’s not to be stopped, not even by Eddie’s exclamation of “Hey guys, look, they serve Mojitos for only €4.50 in this Bar, can we go in?” But our guide drags us on to Nauwieser Platz, Eddie longingly looking back at the lonesome bar serving the cheap concoctions.. But instead of the expected blonde young German Girls with legs up to their necks we find – nothing. An empty square. No pub, no music, no legs. Not even a dog or a cat. After closer inspection of the map we decide that the Mojito Bar is actually also in the Student Quarter; to everybody’s relief we go back there and enjoy a Mojito in this quiet pub, contemplating the differences between the Irish and the German idea of a happening spot. In the meantime there actually are a good few people gathered outside the pub across the road, but to the lads’ disappointment the “students” are all about our age and in jeans instead of miniskirts.
Busy day tomorrow, so after another drink in Saarbrucken’s red light district we go back to Victor, who has stopped running up the stairs, and bed.
Day 2
Thurs, 8th Oct, Saarbrucken
We meet the lovely staff at the Theatre (which incidentally was donated to the town by Hitler(!!) and they show us where we’re going to play: Outside the theatre in the square workmen are just putting finishing touches on a “Spiegelzelt”. It’s a beautiful nostalgic multicolored round markee tent, and on the inside the decor is a bit like something out of an old steam train, with little compartments around the edge with red tables, and in the middle small round tables and bar stools, and at one end  a stage and some room for dancing.
It’s a dance festival after all we’re playing for. We didn’t know what to expect, (disco dancing? Rave? Riverdance?), but what it is is actually a Festival of modern dance. Which I always thought I can’t stand, till  I went to see the show tonight, by a dance company from London called Random Dance. The show is “Entity”, with music by Jon Hopkins and Joby Talbot, described as “electronic music meets string quartet”, and it’s the music that really made it for me. Of course none of us had any objections to watching some nice bodies (4 guys and 3 women) moving beautifully at the same time, (what with the absence of legs in the student-hang-out the night before…).Stunning performance! And I’d love to get my hands on some of that music they were dancing to. (Yes, the music. Not the dancers.)
Then over to the Spiegelzelt. Eddie, Felip and I have a special relationship with Spiegelzelts, and were doubly pleased at the sweet revenge of actually going to do a gig in one: 
When No Crows played at “Dranouter an Zee” in Belgium last spring, there was an exact carbon copy of this Spiegelzelt on the grounds, with a big sign saying VIP at the entrance. The three of us waltzed into this Aladdin’s Cave of goodies, food, wine from every corner of the world, beer of all sizes, and deciding not to be too greedy, we ordered 3 pints, which of course came for free. But true to the Aladdin story, no sooner had we lifted the well earned drinks to our lips than a bouncer zoomed in on us and asked us for our VIP passes. We showed him our Artist badges, but he would have none of it, and so it came to pass that 3 top international Stars were unceremonially thrown out of the beautiful Spiegelzelt, which was obviously reserved for world leaders, corrupt bank managers, dictators and secret conspiracy leaders. Feeling like Paul McCartney when he hadn’t enough cash on him to pay for his drink when on holiday in the Carribean, and wasn’t served, we left the tent, but not before we had gulped down our pints. There’s one thing the Irish (whether Irish by birth of naturalisation) don’t do, and that’s to leave drink behind.
Anyway, back to the present, in this slightly less posh Spiegelzelt we were received with open arms, and had a great gig. The Random people started up Irish dancing, the beer kept coming our way and life was good.
Back at the Hotel we met 2 fellow Paddies (you can’t go anywhere) from the Entourage of Random Dance, and Andreas the Barman – who has become our best friend since Steve bought a Brandy (only 2 cl in a huge glass) for 18 Euro a shot – served us an extra late drink.
Off to Belgium tomorrow, Goodnight Saarbrucken
Day 3
Fri, 9th Oct, Brussels
In the morning we say a tearful goodbye to Sebastian and Selma (only joking) and travel by bus to Luxembourg. The driver won’t let Steve bring his fiddle on the bus and insists it has to go in the hold. “It’s forbidden by the police”. When Steve pleas that it’s a very expensive fiddle and could be stolen out of the hold, all he has to say to that is “It’s forbidden by the police in Germany.” I don’t think police in any country encourage the theft of fiddles. Banjos maybe… How and ever, fiddle and all arrive safely at Luxembourg where we get on a train and look forward to a bit of lunch during the 3 hour journey to Brussels. Alas, there’s no trolley or restaurant on the train, unbelievably…And I thought the Belgians like their food…
1255423236_resizedIn Brussels we’re met by our friends and agents Fabienne and Rik. Off to the hotel, which is in the suburb of a suburb called “Grimbergen”, and grim indeed it is: No pub, only one little cornershop, and the grey weather doesn’t help. After inspecting the surrounding area for a splash of colour we meet our photographer friend Lieve, and we have the longed for food, which is really nice. They do know how to cook in Belgium. Back to Irish prices here, and after lovely dessert and Grappa we’re off to bed. Early start tomorrow. Very early.
Day 4
Sat, 10 Oct, Brussels, Wervik

And indeed at 6.40 in the morning a quartet of Crows and Ray (who is sleepy looking at the best of times, and like a zombie this morning) meet in the hotel lobby, complete with entourage of their loyal belgian friends who drive them to the Radio Station, to what must be the earliest gig ever in history for an Irish band. (Could we get into the Guinness Book of records? Must look into it ).
1255423303_resized7 a.m soundcheck, and at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, unbelievably, the studio is packed with a live audience of early rising Belgians, who are here to watch the proceedings! It’s radio2 National Belgian Radio by the way, a programme called “En nu series”, obviously quite funny, there’s a lot of laughing going on. We play 2 tunes, an abbreviated radio – friendly version of Magpie somewhere in the middle, and “Crowswing” to play them out. Felip even has to say a few words and describes our music right to the point with the precision of a doctor of musicology as “Happy and Sad”. I’ve never heard him say anything this early in the morning, so I suppose it’s a wonder he’s even able to talk. While the show goes on Steve and I try to keep ourselves awake by him teaching me a new tune of his, which I thought would take me a year to learn. It’s a great way to keep the mind alert. Eddie joins us and comes up with the most beautiful backing line. And then goes on to play and teach us a tune that he has composed! We decide that we should always work at 7 in the morning (well, maybe not ). Let’s just hope we can remember the tunes when we’re not in Radio 2 and it’s not 7 a.m. Fabienne tells us there’s a listenership of 1000000 (that’s one million, for those of you who like me can’t count all the zeros) people (!!!!!!) who listen to this programme. In fact this morning there are 1000001 (that’s one million and one), as Eddie’s old school pal Carl who lives in Brussels will have tuned into the show.
Belgium is great: Food, food, drink, and more food. And a bit of sleep. Well deserved sleep, especially for Fab, Rik and Felip, who stayed up till quarter to one last night waiting for the hired double bass to arrive. When are they going to invent a blow up bass that tunes itself?  Between our new Crowsnest Belgium friends Nicole and Geert, and Fab and Rik, all 5 of us are transported to Lichtervelde, where we go to SLEEP for a few hours in Hilda’s lovely B&B, which feels like a home by now, we’ve been here so many times. It’s in a rural area, and after an hour’s kip I take a walk and meet Felip’s old friend the neighbour’s dog who barks his head off. That’s when it feels like home, when the same dog barks at you. Like my neighbour’s dog at home. Every day. Every time. Does he not know me by now? But if he didn’t bark there’d be something wrong.
Anyway, in Wervik we play in a pub/restaurant called “t Isermal”, which in direct translation means “Iron meal”. Funnily enough they don’t serve cabbage though, but the usual delicious fare, and it doesn’t taste like Iron at all. Punters have to make up for the lack of Iron intake in the food by having a few pints of Guinness which they serve here.
The gig is great! We were a bit dubious about the stage set up: the stage is in the middle of the room, with people all sides , behind, in front and above you. Not below. Unless they have some dungeons they didn’t tell us about. Anyway, after a brilliant support act (forgot their name, sorry, someone tell me please), we’re on, and the audience are just great. They tick all the right boxes: They clap and shout for the lively tunes, they’re dead quiet for the solemn ones… Why can’t we have audiences like that in Ireland? (Well, here I’d like to apologize to all our dedicated music lover listeners in Ireland. I don’t mean you, you’re great. I mean the people who shout over the music, have their backs to the band and don’t even notice the live music. Then they might be back the next week, with the exact same musicians playing, and it happens to be a sort of a listening crowd, they get into listening to the stuff, they come up to you at the end of the night and say ” hey, you guys are brilliant! I’ve never seen anything like it before!” Yes you have seen it, you think. Last week. Only you didn’t notice. They’re a bit like my neighbour’s dog. Short term memory.)
Anyway, back to Belgium. Even with a stage in the middle of the room it works out here. We place ourselves one in each corner of the stage, facing each other, and those of us who can move while playing turn around every now and again, so everyone gets the benefit of seeing our beautiful selves (not). And Ray plays a blinder behind the desk. Thanks to Fab and Rik and all at Crowsnest Belgium for making this possible for us!  Great beer, great food, great concert goers. We’ll be back again!
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