Meanderings

The Gig That Wasn't.

Hospice Gig.

Irish Harp

Regensburg

Nov 2011

Well me and Ronan left Burghausen around 1pm and after 3 train journeys we arrived in Regensburg around 4:15. Zigi had just finished work and was nice enough to meet us unexpectedly at the station with Lucky the dog. We all walked back to her place together which was about 15 minutes away.

Hil had been in Munich all day and she telephoned to say she wouldn’t make it to Regensburg till after 7pm.

So Ronan stayed with Zigi and Simon while I walked back into town to meet Hil and we went straight to the Harp.

The evening was dedicated to raise money for charity. There was a whole bunch of musicians set to play and there was a cover charge at the door. This was also a sort of wake party for our old friend Rik who had recently passed away. It promised to be a big night.

The Harp was busy and getting busier. I spoke to a musician or two but no one seemed to know what was going on. There didn’t appear to be a music roster. No one had drawn up a schedule. It was every man for himself.

I put my guitar on stage but that was the last I touched it till I took it home around 1 AM. I didn’t even take it out the case.

The evening began and it was frantic stuff. The stage was like a land grab. No sooner was one act over when another was already kicking them off. I guess they all knew each other. I hadn’t been on that stage for 15 years. This was now a new musician generation. It was definitely their night. I felt that I would have been gate crashing the party if I’d asked to play a song even though I’d probably known Rik longer than anyone there.

Still the harp was jammed like it was Paddy’s Night and with a 5 Euro door charge, there must have been a good sum raised for the Hospice. And that’s what it was all about. Plus Rik got another decent send off.

 

Well I guess I should talk about Rik. I don’t know where or how to start. He had his good points and his bad points. But don’t we all? Actually some of us have no good points at all. So I’d file Rik in the good guys section.

 

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On my way to the Hospice gig, I changed trains in the town of Landshut. It was there on a frosty Winter morning that I first met Rik. 24 years ago almost to the day……..

That same year about 6 weeks earlier, I’d also first met PJ and we’d been busking for a month up around Amberg, Weiden and Bamberg. PJ had given me a list of small towns to try out. One of them was Landshut. He warned me not to tell anyone how I’d heard of these places as some buskers could be very possessive about their favourite towns.

So there I was walking through Landshut and discovering it actually had no pedestrian zone at all. I stopped at a road junction and glanced to my left. I saw a guy about my age leaning against a wall rolling a cigarette. At his side was his guitar also leaned against the wall. It was still in its case. The guy was standing on one leg with his other foot flat against the wall. He had a bogart hat like mine but newer or at least in better condition. We nodded a silent greeting then I crossed the road.

A few seconds later I heard an English accent in my ear. “Are you going to play man? I was going to play”, followed by a sniff through one nostril.

That’s a translation. What he really said was, “Au  yow gowing to ploi? Oi was gowing to ploi (sniff).”

And those were the first words Rik ever said to me.

I told him that I was thinking about it. (trans; Ah wis thinkin aboot it.)

Rik said, “You can play the bus stop. I’m going to play by the bank machine.” I couldn’t help feeling I’d been subtly shafted. I wanted to say, ”Well, I’ll race you there and first to set up gets the pitch”. That would have been the gentlemanly thing to do but I didn’t really care. I wasn’t too desperate yet.

So while Rik went off to “ploi” beside the bank machine under the arches, I went down the street and busked the bus stop which wasn’t as bad as I’d have thought.

We met up afterwards and exchanged tabacco and busking talk. He said he was from Devon and lived up in Regensburg about an hour north of Landshut by train.

He remarked that he’d never really met another busker in Landshut before and was curious how I’d heard of it.

I just shrugged and said vaguely, “Oh, some guy somewhere mentioned it…..”

Rik abruptly interrupted my sentence. “Red haired little guy? Irish? PJ. That little bastard! I knew it. I knew it. I should never have told him. Fucker. Did he tell you about Weiden too? And Amberg? He did, didn’t he? Jeezus.

All I could do was laugh and say “ Eh well I take it that you know him then?”

 

Rik went back to Regensburg that night while I slept under a foggy bridge on the edge of Landshut. I did a morning pitch then decided to go to Straubing for the afternoon. By accident I ended up in Regensburg (I was supposed to change train there but didn’t realize it) and walked into town where I met PJ and Rik just finishing a pitch. PJ was counting the money in the case. Rik was leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette. PJ was looking up at him and saying “20 marks. Not bad for Regensburg.”

We all went for a coffee (and Tea for PJ) and arranged to meet in Landshut in a few days.

This we did, and after a morning pitch each, we went to a bar and got pissed out of our brains. Me and Rik at least managed to stagger out to do a pitch each but PJ didn’t even make it to the door. In fairness there were barely 2 decent pitches in town unless we busked each other. I guess PJ took one for the team. It's a hard life.

This was the day a friendly policeman came up to me as I was singing at the bus stop and said, ”Hello Bob Dylan. If I see you here again I will be inviting you down the station for a cup of tea. Is that clear?” I got the message. Indeed that may well have been the last time I was ever in Landshut.

Technically you needed permission to play street music in Landshut but if you sought it out, the guy at city hall would simply  say, “Yes, go play”.

And the busker would say, ”Uh don’t I get a signed piece of paper or something to show to policemen?

“No. Just tell them Herr Rathaus said it’s ok”.

So you see it was kind of a loose arrangement with room for miscommunication.

 

Meanwhile over by the bank machine, Rik had a great pitch. Fueled on alcohol, he blew his pan pipes inside out and thrashed his little nylon string guitar ragged. His signature tune back then was the theme to “The Odd Couple”. He would put the pipes in a harmonica holder and toot and strum. He did a good rendition. Any time I heard him play that tune, it put a smile on my face. I suppose In many ways Rik could easily have been an anglified version of the tidy guy in the odd couple.

So it came to pass that I left Germany for a while but when I returned a year later, me and Hil moved into Rik’s old apartment on Hemauer Strasse while Rik moved in over the Harp.

This was the good side of Rik. Quick to help and eager to please. His hippy side. He’d told us about his flat becoming available and we were interested and it all worked out. We moved in on January 1st but only stayed there about 3 months before the owner decided that turning it into a cardboard box factory would be more profitable.

Rik had moments of inspiration too. He was a fine photographer when his camera wasn’t in the pawn shop. He did the cover photo for Steve’s (Shorrock) album.

And who can forget the now immortalized conversation between Nick and Rik when they shared the apartment above the harp all those impoverished years ago?.......

……..Rik (rising from bed): Wow what a beautiful morning. I don’t know whether to go take some photos or go busking.

Nick (voice from other room): Photographs is it? On rent day? Well why don’t you go out and take a picture of a hundred Mark note and give it to Paul (Landlord). Who knows, we might even get change back.

Rik picks up his guitar and trudges off to busk.

 

Rik also did a cameo guitar solo in Steve’s album . It was a nice little piece too: played on his Spanish guitar. He also did some tracks on the Voices from Elsewhere CD and organized a benefit concert in the Miljoo for a cause that currently escapes me.

Around 1990 Rik and PJ started doing some gigs together in the Harp. Thomas joined them on drums. A month or two later I joined them on bass and we became Izzy Skint. We went up and down between Munich and Regensburg in all manner of hired vans. There are a zillion stories about those exploits but they are for other times.

Once we brought a whole van load with us to Munich for a gig at some Ritter Hof place near the Shamrock in Schwabing. When we arrived, the staff were bemused. It turned out that someone had hired us without telling the boss. They were kicking us out when Rik kicked up a fuss and after a very lengthy heated discussion, managed to negotiate free meals and drinks for about 14 of us.

This was Rik the rebellious protester. His Hawkwind side. He’d stand up for any reasonable cause. We’ve both even been known to stand up for one another though nothing comes to mind right now.

Me and Rik often didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things but with the demise of Izzy Skint our relationship mellowed. We’d begun to laugh at ourselves a bit and see the humour in our own bickering. I’d never noticed what a great broad grin he had. Yet you see it clearly in old Izzy Skint pictures where he is beaming ear to ear.

I guess he had that jolly old English stiff upper lip thing where maintaining a certain empirical aloofness and distance was of utmost importance. He liked to pretend that he wasn’t enjoying himself but clearly he was having a ball.

It was Rik who said the single most important thing I ever learned in Regensburg. He said that in an ex-pat community like Regensburg’s no one can afford to argue too badly with anyone. Our fragile tribe of ne'erdowells was too small to be divided. We don’t all have to be best buddies but we need each other or will need each other eventually.

I guess that’s still good advice today.

 

The Skint years were a lot of fun but it all fizzled out in the end. PJ went off to Spain (With Tom and Gerry), Rik started work in the Harp, Thomas went to Vienna, and I went to the United States.

It was while I was in the US that I heard Rik had been ill. I wrote him some emails but heard nothing back. Then he was suddenly dead.

I am proud that Rik was my friend. For sure we argued but that’s what friends are for. If you can’t argue with your friends then who can you argue with? After our dust ups we were still friends whether we admitted it or not. I respected his opinion. At least we had intelligent disputes.

Well I’ll sign off now but here’s something I never mentioned before. Often while I was recording or mixing a new song and needed some perspective, I would ask myself what Rik would think of it. What would his reaction be? He gave me good subconscious feedback and was a priceless reference for separating good songs from bad. I could hear his voice in my head, “that’s fuckin shit intit?” “Prostitution of the arts.” Wouldn’t play that with a barge pole.” Or he’d be constructive and suggest a change.

In the whole Izzy Skint set list, only 2 songs had proper beginnings and endings. They were both songs that Rik had taken charge of. The rest of our stuff was dictated by bad mind-reading, chance, and indecipherable yelling in mid song.

I know there’s a moral in there somewhere.

 

So that was that. Rik eventually became owner of the Harp. He married Ula. He took up fishing. But how could we have known that the day we said a casual goodbye and I went off to Frankfurt to catch a plane would be the last time we’d ever meet.

 

On the night of the Hospice event, I sat with Roman (not Ronan) at the back of the bar listening to the conveyor belt of musicians cross the stage. I was thinking to myself, Rik must have given all of those guys their chance: the kind of chance he would have appreciated himself. The event was a wonderful testament to Rik that so many were willing to elbow their way up to the microphone and do their bit for a good cause and to say goodbye to my old friend Rik.