Fifteen nights in Maenam

SunriseNot sure which way is up after a 25 hour journey back to Berlin,  but more importantly,  the Blueshawk survived being slung  into the holds of three different planes. Plus I had a great time guesting with my partner’s band  in Maenam, Thailand.

Maenam (on Koh Samui) is a very special place, having not succumbed to over-development. It’s more or less owned by two or three wealthy Chinese families, who don’t want to emulate the neighbouring towns (overrun with sterile resort complexes and trashy tourist shops). Fact – Planning permission is denied for anything higher than a local palm tree. Fact two -People smile and greet you because they’re pleased to see you, not just your wallet.

No Indiana Jones style intrepid trips to the jungle-y mountainous interior for this English Rose. Don’t want scratched legs, exhaustion and bites from weird animals, thank you very much  (anyway you can get all that in Berlin).

Bikini pic

No jungle trips for me

Fridge Noir

Fridge Noir

Already in the sweetest spot on the island, when I wasn’t at a show or languishing in the apartment avoiding the heat I was fine with swimming in the ocean (circa 50 metres away) or strolling along the one principal street.  Enough impressions for a life time there.

Koh Samui is doubtless already well-documented by profi travel writers so that’s it from me. Here’s some more pics.

Dog legs

Dog

 

Scooters

Scooters

 

 

Audiences and other random stuff:

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21st Century Troubadour

I love my second hometown, Berlin. I also love getting out of it and discovering the rest of Germany.

I'm ready

I’m ready

A gig is a great way to do that. On October 3rd, I travelled southwest to play a show in the Halunkenburg;  home to a group of charming and committed creative folk who give their all to preserving, and giving new life to historic sites and buildings in the Hof area of Germany. They rescued this medieval dwelling from misuse and deterioration, and it now functions as home, living museum, kindergarten, exhibition space, meeting place and occasional restaurant…. plus film and music venue, which is where I came in.

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The Lady on the Landing (perceived disturbingly as a real person once or twice en-route from my bedroom to the concert lounge!)

At the start of the show, there was a conversation about medieval minstrels, and how I was continuing that tradition; playing a stringed instrument and singing songs which tell a story. But – Big Important Difference  – I wouldn’t have done it happily without my trusty Boss analogue delay pedal which, while admittedly ancient, wasn’t around in the 14th century. A bizarre medieval picture comes unbidden to mind….”My liege, what is this outlandish contraption at the feet of yon Bard? Forsooth it maketh the sounds of the Devil!” …but I digress…

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My Trusty Delay Pedal

I played a very enjoyable show to a respectful – invites only, if you please! – audience, with the help of a  reassuringly modern P.A. system . It happened that artist Michael Etienne was present and he did a grand job of capturing the essence of my set on paper, sketching some surrealistic cartoon images while I played.

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Welcome to my subconscious

Resident Mouser

Resident mouser took a shine to my suitcase

Among the songs which were captured in Michael’s picture: You, me and Alcohol, In the Ninety Nine and Three A.M – all available at Bandcamp. (Drawing as you listen is optional)

More about Kathy Freeman and her songs here on the Website or here on Facebook

Hey, we LOVE your music!

Never trust people who are too effusive about your talent. They’re probably preparing to shaft you. I’d hesitantly accepted a gig offer from a man I met in a bar while doing another gig  (that’s life at the top for you. ) He was “Something-To-Do-With-Art” – big on dramatic gestures and statements, small on details. Naturally he LOVED my music. I was to play for a soiree at the obscure art gallery where he reigned supreme as creator, director, coordinator and all round bigmouth.   Eccentric patrons are par for the course in Berlin, and it should have been good fun – but this guy gave me the creeps.

Relax!…. Before I could even open my guitar case, I was ordered to ‘RELAX!” In a room with no chairs, with him leering at me.  He meant “Start drinking”. I didn’t get drunk. Only bored. Fast forward 60 minutes – I just – as ever – want to play a good show. People are there. People are interested. But he was hellbent on wrong footing me…….

There was the drawn-out “testing, testing” soundcheck routine – in  a room not much bigger than my living room -which could have been done on arrival. (see  My Thoughts About Soundchecks)  Then, the interruption of the first set, mid-song, with a blast of Hawkwind.  Artistic statement? Next, the “veggie meal part of the deal” …. While the visitors were happily tucking into to generous portions of Chile con Carne, inconvenient non-meat eater here gets a last-minute unbuttered bread roll with soggy tomato slices.

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Guten Appetit

But head and shoulders over these minor woes…..NO!  NO! NO! You DON’T have to embrace the performer and give her a sloppy kiss at five minute intervals because people are clapping. Throughout the entire evening he was drunk, overly gushing, and all over me. As a feminist I wanted to kick him in the nuts. As a performer I wanted to do my job. Couldn’t find a way to do both. Cue BURNING SHAME AND INNER CONFLICT….a real fun night out.

Adding insult to injury… Later,  preparing my exit, I get hauled into a toe-curlingly embarrassing public debate about what I should be paid and whose pocket it should come out of. The resulting underpayment was buried so deep in bullshit that I only realised on the way home. But hey – we LOVE your music…..

PS: The whole sorry experience was worth it because it inspired me to write this song, which features the amazing Chris O, queen of the Australian blues scene, playing some devilishly good slide guitar.

My sixty-hour weekend

The breakdown:

15 hours – watching Germany hurtle past a train window

21 hours – sleeping, trying to understand my new phone, and pottering around in the solitude of temporary bedrooms

21 hours – reuniting with old friends, making new ones, getting lost 50 metres from the first venue I was due to play at, strolling alone through spooky enchanted woodlands near the second, eating too much amazing food prepared by my generous hosts, some cursory sightseeing and soundchecks.

3 hours – the tip of this time-and-motion iceberg: One concert in Freiburg, and one in Waldstadt, Karlsruhe (about as far as you can get from Berlin without leaving the country) Both concerts were very informal and I was able to sing my own repertoire to a laid-back and receptive South German audience. Who really listened. My 1000 mile odyssey was well and truly worth it.   Big thanks to Lovis and Bella in Freiburg and to Matthias and Renate in Karlsruhe for hosting the concerts and spoiling me rotten.

Concert:  Photo by Matthias Jaehrling:

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Footnotes:

This audience member gets my songs! (photo by Mattias Jaerling)

This audience member gets my songs! (photo by Mattias Jaerling)

Finally tracked down the star of Kathy X album Life Number Nine (photo Matthias Jaehrling)

Finally tracked down the star of Kathy X album Life Number Nine (photo Matthias Jaehrling)

A gem from Matthias' vinyl vaults.

A gem from Matthias’ vinyl vaults.

you can check out LIFE NUMBER NINE and more on BANDCAMP  and read more about me on my WEBSITE

Shot to Dust

It happens that Steven Spielberg is in town working on his next big production. I don’t suppose the catering facilities look much like these:

Time for Tea

Time for Tea

But the humble nearby China-Bistro, a kettle that took ten minutes to boil, and an ancient woodburning grill were more than adequate for fuelling myself and my tiny loyal crew as we shot my next big production in a derelict former coalminer’s house circa four hours, two buses and three train-rides from the comfort of Berlin.

The plan: Overnighting meant an early start for filming  my next music video. One shoot in a desolate downstairs room.

Between Takes

Between Takes

The second under a towering glowering autumnal skyscape. Only it was the clearest, sunniest day for that time of year since records began….No matter, we found a place where the sun don’t shine

Swamp

Down by the Swamp

More on the whole adventure in my next blog – watch this space and don’t fall in any swamps…..

 Shot to Dust  refers to the song title in the upcoming video. For regular updates on me and my musical adventures join the mailing list.

P.S…..

I don't suppose Mr Spielberg's makeup people are busy tipping old makeup bags upside down in the hope of finding THAT postbox red lippy to save spending 4 Euros in Rossmann's on a new one

The makeup here took some organising! (Are Mr Spielberg’s makeup people busy tipping old makeup bags upside down in the vain hope of finding THAT postbox-red lippy?)

Don't Get Too Comfortable

Don’t Get Too Comfortable   The closest thing to a worksurface that came to hand.  But we weren’t fazed. Don’t ask me what the knife was for.

Jam Session Hell

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The Jam Session

If it’s a good one there’s an energy that’s more than the sum of its musical parts. It’s truly COOKING.  A mundane 12 bar blues jumps to a whole other level. For a few seconds the whole universe makes sense. I’ve experienced a handful of those. Sadly outnumbered by jam sessions from hell.

 

Jam sessions can get sticky sometimes.

Jam sessions can get sticky sometimes.

 

Three-sheets-to-the-wind Singer of Tuneless, Unstructured and Incomprehensible Socio-political Rants

Flashback to my first year in Berlin. Hungry to connect with local musicians, my social life consisted of a faithful rota between three session venues. The Acud,  the Floez and the Anker. The Acud was the edgiest. You never knew what was about to go off (and I don’t just mean onstage) It was a magnet for folk with a screw or two loose. At sessions a bassist and drummer generally stayed put for an hour or more, backing the  never-ending queue of guitarists, singers, horn-players and assorted wannabes. Unless you were high in the pecking order – which I wasn’t, being a) an outsider b) female  and c) sadly lacking in flashy effect pedals – you got max three songs. There was a particularly hot rhythm section that night and, happy to be next in line, I tuned up and stepped up. So did the Acud’s pet village idiot, a three-sheets-to-the-wind singer of tuneless, unstructured and incomprehensible socio-political rants.  The hot rhythm section stopped for a cold beer, only pausing  to make the stitch-up official by announcing me and him as the next act. Which is how I got stuck in front of at least 50 people with the task of making Sonny Jim sound like a rock star. Thanks guys.

Darkest chapter in  Jam Session History

…..The Floez folk were friendlier, but  had a weird guitar culture  – four or more volume 11 guitarists  might be onstage at any given time. (They’d play a mandatory 15 minute version of Pick up the Pieces by the Average White Band  every session, and if you got it wrong you  hadn’t made the grade.) But  I’m the queen of less-is-more.  Two guitarists, maybe (under strict supervision.)  Three’s a crowd.  Four’s a nightmare.  A new tactic was called for. I brushed up diligently on my basic bass skills and turned up one night with my lovely Fender Jazz bass.

My lovely Fender Jazz Bass

My lovely Fender Jazz Bass

I stood in the hallowed spot normally occupied by the regular Floez bassist, who was on holiday….. I’m actually doing OK for the first few songs, even managing occasional fancy turnarounds …till we start on Hey Joe, with that all-time defining killer bass line  hook which I hadn’t a clue how to play.  The self-appointed head guitar honcho – a mean little guy with a Hitler moustache  (who probably worked in the tax office for his day job) conspicuously crosses the stage, mid-song,  to tell me, – “We have to talk!” He consolidates his people skills by yelling through the mic at the end: ” Do we have any proper bass players here?” Some hairy muso, who’d been playing bass since birth, lurches onto the stage as I ignominiously slink off.

That’s all folks

These events were the lowest points, flanked by many less memorable, mediocre  onstage moments.  In which men (invariably men) listened with rapt attention….to their own instruments and little else. The magic times happened with those who listened to, and respected,  their fellow players. The Anker was much better for that, with a hot house-band who were flexible and welcoming. I’m still grateful to their frontman, Tom Blacksmith – a real gentleman who always gave me a break, and Nina Davies the  superb keyboard player who  was also happy to let me in.

In the end the jamming experiences  – both good and bad – motivated me to get my own band together. Goodbye sessions, hello Kathy X

Kathy X Leipzig Tattoo Convention 2003

Kathy X Leipzig Tattoo Convention 2003

Rambling about Marshall Stacks again

 

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I discarded 90% of my worldly goods when I moved to Berlin  but the Marshall Stack came with me.  Death Valley Surfers  had a New Year’s Eve show there at the end of 2000, and it came along in the van  (along with the other 10% of my worldly goods.)  I’d never envisioned the Stack not being a  part of my life,  but my life changed.  Gig requirements in my new home shifted from “band van” to “small car” or even “take the bus” shows.  My last-century  sound equipment was becoming more decorative than functional. It graced the minimally furnished front room of my first  Berlin flat, but it didn’t get around much.

Marshall Stack and Ms Ruby Freeman

Marshall Stack and Ms Ruby Freeman, Berlin 2003

Eventually  a move to a third floor apartment with no lift overtook all other considerations. Goodbye, Stack.

I was doing mainly salon and bar shows where a  compact and minimal setup was the way to go. After one or two experiments with a Beringer and a custom made Michael Bender (cult Berlin amp inventor),  I went for  a double act of sturdy new generation VOX-es.  They had precious little of the magic  I remember from the AC 30 I played in the seventies (though the little pink one scores  10 for cuteness)

Big Vox and Little Vox

I didn’t give Marshalls much more thought to be honest, until I made a trip to Liverpool with my partner in 2005. We chanced to see a poster in a  guitar shop, advertising none other than Jim Marshall,  signing copies of his new CD that day . The total lack of fanfare was unbelievable. I’ve seen better publicity for a church jumble sale.  Naturally we went in and he signed two posters for us. As can happen with meeting famous people, I could think of buggerall to say.  This was compounded by my guilt  for having ditched his creation the year before . But somehow I did manage  a couple of pleasantries, and will never forget the impression he made – courteous, unassuming and a total gentleman  – I’ll also never forget  my astonishment on hearing his CD  which was a million miles from the rock monster sound he’d created, more like granddad singing in the bath. Bless him.

Gentleman Jim Marshall, Liverpool 2005

Gentleman Jim Marshall, Liverpool 2005

Finally,  a photo  of the Stack on active service – at a  Joyryde recording at  Alaska studios, London in 1993.  I think the corrugated iron was there to make it even louder.  Scientific explanations  welcome.

Marshall Stack at Alaska Studios 1993