CARA Autumn Tour Blog 2014 – The Final One!

We’re just about to perform the last Cara gig of 2014, and the autumn tour has been populated with many enjoyable gigs, friendly audiences and a whole range of literal highs and lows – both underground and at height. It’s strange how time goes; some moments in gigs, when I’m hyper aware, seem to pass so slowly, and yet the three week tour seems to have gone by in a flash. Ive certainly been meaning to write this blog for several days now…

Here are some of the highlights for me since I’ve last been in touch: my first visit to a Tropfsteinhhle – a cold, damp opportunity to see stalactites, stalagmites and stalagnates up close – some of them looking pretty scarily like wet, functioning internal organs. I really didn’t like the sensation of going underground in a small lift (that’s straight out of a recurring nightmare of mine) but the spectacular views in the caves more than made up for it. Here’s one of my favourite/less scary photos from down there above.

I was intrigued when we stopped for a coffee at the spot where the Loreley is reputed to have enchanted sailors on the Rhine by brushing her long blonde hair and singing, causing them to crash their boats and die.

Is it wrong for me to view her as a kind of role model? My hair’s a different length and shade, and I’m not intent on the death of listeners, but a little bit of enchantment along the way wouldn’t go amiss… 😉

We were made very welcome and enjoyed great hospitality from Gudrun’s mum and dad on one of our days off, and I felt completely pampered when Gudrun’s dad made me warm milk and honey to help with a cold which developed mid tour – this was a comforting taste revelation! I’m bringing the concept back to Scotland.

Gudrun’s dad also gave us a tour of a restored mill which was fascinating. The mill equipment itself was truly beautiful, and I particularly liked the hammers on this machine, which was used to beat all of the flour dust out of empty sacks returned to the mill by customers – and then the dust was gathered and resold again as food for animals. Very thrifty.

Yesterday, we made the most of the continuing beautiful weather on our last day off by walking up one of the hills at Oberlenningen. The hike was fairly steep (a bit of a challenge after three weeks of snoozing in the Cara-van), but the views from the summit were spectacular, there was so much sky, not to mention the splendid autumnal colours from the surrounding Swabian Alb. The journey up the hill prompted discussions on the merits of valleys and hills of the south versus the flat open landscape of the north. And if you could only choose one forever, would it be the sea or mountains? Forever indecisive, I’d want both. But if I had to choose: the sea.

There’s much more to say: Gudrun and Juergen’s first Cara-oke experience in Kaiserslautern for Gudrun’s birthday was a hoot, and it also finally provided a chance for Rolf and I to have a wee disco dance together after talking about it for over a year. We enjoyed our live TV performance on Kaffee oder Tee which was quite different from our usual gigs, and the staff team there were lovely – we even ended up sampling Halloween ghosts which were highly calorific on camera! I decided to bite the head off mine and leave the rest…we had another amazing therme/spa experience which included a salt water floating pool with underwater party music and psychedelic visuals projected on the ceiling and a ceremony with honey, menthol, salt scrub and lavender that finally kicked my cold away.

Reflecting on the whole tour experience this autumn, the depth and height of things seems to be a recurring theme, not only in physical terms, but metaphorical ones too. As a band, I feel we’ve been getting to know each other better, with late night philosophical discussions including what elevates us, or what elevates life for us, and touching on the edges of things that we find difficult to discuss or bring up into the light. We’ve also been using the travelling time in the van to understand each other better by listening to the music that moves and excites us as individuals.

I know that time will perform its strange stretching and bending again, and soon we’ll be back on tour in January, but already I’m looking forward in anticipation to the Cara collaborative week we’ve planned in May to work towards our next album. Hopefully well be finding new depth and height in our music, too.

CARA Autumn Tour Blog 2014 – Part 3

I was laughing out loud then, and I’m still laughing inside now when I think about it: who could have foreseen a year ago (or even, a week ago!) that I would find myself gladly going into a textile free spa, and taking part in a sauna ceremony which involved being wafted with a towel, bringing down the heat from honey water on hot coals, then heading into a shower with around 30 other people, not to shower, but to smother myself in honey before sitting in a steam room for 15 minutes to let it work its antibacterial magic…dear me. Adaptability. An incredible blessing. And I’m pleased to be slowly losing my Scottish inhibitions, though I’ve still quite a way to go.

The past few days have seen us travelling through the Ruhrgebiet, where we passed this fascinating piece of public art: in large red neon letters, on top of a forderturm (a tower for digging out and bringing up coal from underground, as far as I understand):

This piqued my interest, and had me asking myself several questions: What does the artist mean love could be like? In this region where underground coal mining has been the main industry, is love being – literally – held up as something elevated, that makes life better? Or the means by which you can show your true inner self, bringing up your personal coal from out of your own depths and sharing it, using it for common good? And why is love not actually like this, why is it only how love could be, in the eyes of the artist? Are we humans able to mess love up, as well as most other things? I believe so; this piece of art made me acknowledge all the ways that love can get entangled with less positive emotions: love that can grow alongside regret, anxiety, shame, guilt, fear of future loss, resentment or the desire to control. Love that can be confusing, painful or problematic; love that could hurt another. And yet, do we not all aspire to love well, and to love better? We’ve been having some serious post gig chats so far, about the meaning and purpose of life, and learning to love well is a large part of the point of things for me, personally. So here’s hoping, as my hair continues to turn grey, that wisdom will come along with it… 😉

The gigs have been loads of fun; it’s such a pleasure to play in well run venues and meet friendly, professional staff on a daily basis. I had my first repeat gig in a venue where I played with Cara last autumn in Troisdorf; and two friends from the north of England made it all the way to the gig, which was a lovely treat for me. We shared this gig with Broom Bezzums, or one half of them (!) due to Marks broken wrist, but it was lovely to hear Andrew’s music again, and in particular, a beautiful new song called Fishing In Troubled Waters. We also had a great birthday celebration-come-session with the band Crosswind in a local pub afterwards. Bochum was a delight – a beautiful piano, and a lovely venue, not to mention a very friendly audience. Westoverledingen the following night felt like performing in America for some reason; maybe the barn venue itself, or the party atmosphere – and I was pleased to sample a local drink: Korn, I think it was called? You can keep me right. I like food and drink cultural exchanges! Though I also had a wee taste of home with a whisky before the night was out…Two nights ago, in a venue converted from a church in Lingen, we had a packed audience of 400 and again, a beautiful grand piano to play. And last night, in Bodenwerder, the friendliest welcome and audience, and the best pumpkin soup and vegan chilli I’ve ever tasted! I feel very lucky. Even more so, because between them, Rolf and Juergen are helping me to fight the fear and actually make back ups and updates on my computer and my iPhone! Soon I’ll achieve world domination…I’m only a few apps away 😉

Speak soon!

CARA Autumn Tour Blog 2014 – Part 2, All That Glitters…

So, the story so far – sold out shows in Korbach and Hutten, another wonderful spa experience on a beautiful day and a lovely gig to end the first leg of the tour in Geislingen, preceded by a stop for ice cream in the sun! Its not a bad life. One sleepless night (maybe I’ve a bit too much adrenaline, or maybe I had too much cola before bed last night?) has now been more than made up for with a relaxing off day.

Touring with Cara is always a learning experience for me, and not only in musical terms – here are just a few of the things I’ve learnt so far:

From Steffen and Juergen: how to open a bottle without a bottle opener!

From Rolf: you can even open a bottle with folded paper (well, Rolf can; I’ve still got to learn that bit…)

From Gudrun and Juergen: there are very many words in German for different types of shop sales – and the name for a sewing machine shop has got to be the longest real word Ive ever seen – nahmaschinefachgeschft, if I remember correctly.

From Hendrik: my pronunciation of the few phrases I’ve learnt in German seems to be pretty good!

If I keep learning at this rate, I’ll be a genius by the end of the tour 😉

I’ve also learned that I love stone people, which were among many interesting sculptures around the grounds of our gig in Hutten, and that Taps (Day Is Done) can be convincingly performed using a trumpet mouthpiece and a length of garden hose.

And finally, all that glitters is not gold, but it is very good fun to stay in a gold themed hotel, particularly in a group where you can compare (and even swap!) rooms – it felt like some kind of school trip…here’s a panorama shot of my room, complete with hammock, which Hendrik kindly took for me. I think mine was Aztec…see you further on down the road!

CARA Autumn Tour Blog 2014 Part 1: The Final Countdown…

As I jumped into the car for what seemed like the 17th errand of the day yesterday, Europe’s Final Countdown greeted me across the airwaves from Radio 2. And indeed, its only a matter of hours before the Cara Autumn 2014 tour begins in Korbach – I’m really looking forward to it!

In preparation for my time in Germany, I made two batches of pumpkin soup this week, following a recipe kindly given to me by a workshop participant at Burg Frsteneck in September. I’m hoping to see, as last year, many pumpkins on doorsteps – they made such an impression on me that I grew my own this year…

I had forgotten that i’ts not only touring that takes it out of you, it’s also the frenzied tying up of everything else in anticipation of leaving! Yet here I am, with an hour and a half to spare in Heathrow airport – plans for the next family singing workshops at Addiewell Prison now firmed up with Vox Liminis and Families Outside; tomatoes, chillies and peppers at the allotment generously watered; and two evaluation reports submitted to Creative Scotland, who funded not only the just-completed BIG Heroes Project for The BIG Project Youth Choir, but also supported my travel to perform with Cara at Dublin Irish Festival 2014. The new choir project, BIG Songs, has a focus on songwriting as well as singing, and begins the day after I return from tour, so I’m armed with lots of songwriting books to hone my own skills in the Cara van before I begin working with the talented young folk of Broomhouse.

I’ve been lucky to be able to spend time with my family this week – my mum and dad, my brand spanking new niece, Orla, her big sister and her mum and dad, and a wee babysitting sleepover for another niece and nephew. I’m storing up this family time to keep my heart warm while I’m on tour.

Yesterday evening, after gathering all the essentials for making the most of my off days (annual accounts and teal nail polish), and enjoying American style pepperoni pizza and jalapenos at Pizza Express (the one flavour I crave when I’m in Germany!), I had my final rehearsal for a few weeks with the church choir I conduct at Sacred Heart in Edinburgh. Were tackling a tricky mass at the moment, and were delighted to welcome three new members – so hastily sent late night emails with MP3s of vocal parts will hopefully do the job while I’m away – I look forward to hearing the results on my return!

All good. Bring on the tour!

CARA Autumn Tour Blog 2013

Day one of CARA prep!
Oct 07 2013

It’s the first CARA rehearsal day before my first tour with the band! And as soon as I get my head round counting in 7/8 everything’s going to be fab!!!

Flew out in the early evening last night and the view from the plane was glorious, a proper comfort blanket of clouds…

Day Two!
Oct 08 2013

Today we’ve worked through all the pieces in the set, and tonight we set up in the local arts centre for a full on stage sound rehearsal tomorrow – but that’s not what I want to tell you about! I’m really enjoying finding all the gadgets and machines which make everyday life different in Germany.

Bottles of water, purchased in crates, can be recycled at the entrance to the supermarket, which gobbles up the whole crateful of bottles in one smooth motion and in return gives you a credit note towards your shopping.

When buying your fresh coffee beans, there’s a machine inside the supermarket for you to grind your own beans, and a cellotape dispenser for you to reseal your purchase.

And in the Cara house, I’m getting kitchen gadget envy! A beautiful dried chilli grinder, and the most impressive of all – a hand operated bread slicer. How to fit this into my suitcase for the journey home?

Final Day of Cara Prep!
Oct 09 2013

Today we did a full soundcheck and rehearsal in the local arts centre in Esslingen, and everything’s coming together nicely!

Went for an amazingly cheap meal at at the Asian Wok, where I may have had the best beef curry ever…and the fortune cookie after dinner says “One has to celebrate the party as it comes” – so here’s looking forward to the tour!

Actually, I brought a few fortune cookie messages from my mum and dad’s Italian chocolate stash…they’re written in German as well as several other languages, so I’m hoping to impress my German bandmates during the tour with unexpected moments of wisdom, in German! If I can read them in the stage lighting…

CARA Gig One – The Palmhouse
Oct 11 2013

Last night I played my first gig in the band, Cara, in a fantastic venue in Bad Pyrmont – a palmhouse, where palm trees overwinter out of the cold. During the summer months when the palms are happy outside, the town council have turned this very tall greenhouse into a music venue.

We had a very friendly welcome, and a good first gig together, followed by a beautiful Italian meal in the town. There’s a tree lined avenue right outside my hotel room, where the ground is strewn with fallen conkers, which makes me feel very much at home! I’ve picked out a beauty for future conker matches…

Looking forward to the second gig – perhaps I’ll nail the 7/8 jazzy piano solo tonight! 🙂

CARA Up North
Oct 13 2013

We’re in the north of Germany at the moment, which feels a lot like home in many ways – sheep, heather, Scots pine trees – but in others, it’s so different: fields of sweetcorn (used for green energy and causing a lot of controversy here) and asparagus, windmills, and flat, open landscapes. The sun came out this morning and the drive to Rolf’s house for lunch was truly beautiful.

Last night, we played in another unusual venue – an old smokehouse converted to a farming museum – and I was surrounded by interesting objects, each with a story, translated by Gudrun…

Oct 18 2013

If you know my song, All The Little Sunbursts, then you’ll know how much I appreciate little things that make life better… wifi has been scarce, but quite apart from really enjoying the gigs, there have been plenty of sunbursts along the journey with CARA since I’ve been in touch last (not only real ones): a fantastic session after the gig in Troisdorf in an Irish bar with the support band, Crosswind; having the time to listen to all my favourite Tori Amos songs; the gorgeous town of Niederstetten with a beautiful river walk; a hotel boasting a sauna and steam room (they really know how to do these well!); the finest dining I may have ever eaten (lamb with rosemary, green beans and potatoes to die for), and a friendly physiotherapist whose massage has rendered my back freer than it’s been in years…I really can’t complain. And now I can bend over with the rest of the band to take a bow!

Circus Wagons and Saunas
Oct 23 2013

As we embark on the third leg of the Cara tour (we’ve decided that the tour has five legs and a tail…) I have to say that I’m having a wealth of new experiences. On Friday of last week I played the harpsichord for the first time in Lichtenfels, thanks to a kindly stage manager, and in the beautifully quirky venue in Kaiserhammer, Helmut, our host, accommodated me in a circus wagon, as well as running up to the wagon (in fields high above the venue) in the dark very late at night to light me a fire in the stove. I’ve been trying many new foods, which for those of you who know me well, is a big achievement. During some days off I’ve been lucky enough to sample home cooking from Juergen and Gudrun, including spinach and meat filled “mouth pockets” which were delicious, and a hearty bean and pork belly stew accompanied by apple and cinnamon pancakes.

Finally, there’s the whole sauna experience. Having now spent two days relaxing in German “Saunalands”, I’m still struggling with my own prudish attitude towards nudity! I’m keeping my towel firmly wrapped around me. And yet there appears to a whole country of people of all ages and sizes who don’t have any issues with their own bodies, or with nakedness. Is it just me? Is it a Scottish thing? Answers, please…

If you’d like to catch a Cara concert live, we’re trying to stream the Cara reunion gig this Saturday, which is celebrating 10 years of the band and many different line ups: you can check it out here:

Oct 31 2013H

We played in the sumptuous “Parktheater im Kurhaus, Goeggingen” in Augsburg last night; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more ornate establishment! And the hotel Villa Arborea was fantastic too, with the friendliest staff on the tour to date. Steffen, our talented sound engineer, did a great job (as always), making for a most enjoyable day all round. But the mystery remains, what happened to our mysterious piper, Ryan Murphy, directly after the gig? As the queue for Ryan’s autograph continued to build, several band members made the search…fortunately, we did retrieve him in time to sample good company and a local dark beer in the nearby hostelry before retiring to bed – how do the Germans make duvets so well? Are they available for import to the UK? Sleeping is just so much better in German bedding.

Nov 07 2013

We’re now on the final leg of the Cara tour, after a lovely off day at the amazing Parkhotel Heidehof in Ingolstadt. A proper treat, with indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, steam rooms and a great jacuzzi. Two more gigs, and then I’ll be flying home – so this seems like a good time to reflect on the whole experience. It’s not something I do often; usually I’m so busy doing things that I don’t stop to think about them much.

During a long, rainy journey to Ansfelden in Austria yesterday, we were using the time to brighten the journey by sharing music were really passionate about – and I was pleased to let my bandmates hear the fantastic songs of Anais Mitchell and Karine Polwart. For me, the most exciting recordings Ive heard on the tour were Gillian Welch and Dreamers Circus. But I was also reminded yesterday of how much I love Kate Rusby’s music – and one of the lyrics (from the song Withered and Died) really captured the tour for me – kind words in my ear, kind faces to see.

A handcrafted wooden mouse was gifted to me by an audience member a few nights ago (he had made mushrooms for the boys and mice for the girls!). It’s one of several presents I’ve received over the course of the Cara tour. These little random acts of senseless kindness (as I think Oprah Winfrey coined them years ago) can make all the difference. But it’s not only the audiences…

This is my first experience of being in a band on a long tour, and while I have been pining for home, I feel truly privileged to have joined a group where not only are the musicians super talented, but they are also kind. Ryan’s daft antics in the van have distracted me from feeling too homesick, while Rolf’s interesting conversations have helped to pass long journeys, as well as educate me on all the fact-related stuff that is a completely different world from the one I normally inhabit. Steffen the sound engineer’s polite warmth and friendly smile is combined with a good ear – not only for the gig but for what people have to say – while Juergen’s quiet words of reassurance and encouragement have given me more confidence. And Gudrun seems to have an intuition (or good perception?) where she understands how people are feeling, combined with a compassionate nature where she uses that knowledge for good. In an experience which I was apprehensively stepping into the unknown, I’ve felt safe and cared for as a result.

I’m feeling like a very lucky girl, to have this opportunity. Roll on January!

Merry Christmas! Puntastic fun…

Merry Christmas! As promised, here are the jokes I’ve been sharing on Facebook and Twitter in the run up to Christmas.

Dec 1: Two aerials met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The reception was brilliant.

Dec 2: Why is there no aspirin in the jungle? Because the paracetemol.

Dec 3: I’ll tell you what I love doing more than anything – trying to pack myself in a small suitcase. I can hardly contain myself.

Dec 4: Two men are in a pub in Leith. The one with a piece of tarmac in his hand said Let’s have one for the road.

Dec 5: Four fonts walk into a bar. The barman says: “Oi – get out. We don’t want your type in here.”

Dec 6: A sandwich walks into a bar. The barman says: “Sorry, we don’t serve food in here.”

Dec 7: What do you call a singing computer? A Dell.

Dec 8: I’m in a restaurant and this duck comes up with a red rose and says: “Your eyes sparkle like diamonds.” I said: “Waiter, I asked for a-ROMATIC duck.”

Dec 9: there’s a site for sore eyes!

Dec 10: What do you get if you eat Christmas decorations?

Dec 11: Concerns rise for wellbeing levels after the latest survey shows only one out of seven dwarfs is happy.

Dec 12: “Doc, I can’t stop singing The Green, Green Grass Of Home.” He said: “That sounds like Tom Jones syndrome.” “Is it common?” I asked. “It’s not unusual,” he replied.

Dec 13: I saw this man and woman wrapped in a barcode. I said: “Are you two an item?”

Dec 14: I’ve got a friend who’s fallen in love with two school bags. He’s bisatchel.

Dec 15: A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He sidles up to the bar and says: “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.”

Dec 16: “My therapist says I have a preoccupation with vengeance. We’ll see about that.”

Dec 17: A jumplead walks into a bar. The barman says: “I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.”

Dec 18: A dyslexic man walks into a bra.

Dec 19: Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks. They charged one – and let the other one off.

Dec 20: A burglar broke into a house and stole biscuits, chocolates, nuts, sweets and a packet of crisps. Police say the culprit was a snack head.

Dec 21: A man called at my house and offered me a settee and two easy chairs. I refused them of course because my parents always told me never to accept suites from strangers.

Dec 22: All those who believe in psychokinesis raise my hand.

Dec 23: What’s is Santa’s favourite pizza? The one that’s Deep Pan, Crisp and Even!!

Dec 24: Advent Calendars. Their days are numbered.

Dec 25: My favourite, The Balloon Joke – click here to hear me tell it live!

The Burnsong Songhouse, Dumfries, December 2006

I was lucky enough to be invited by Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association to participate in the Burnsong Songhouse, getting to stay in the amazing “house on the shore” near Dumfries with the lovely people above: Emma Pollock, Karine Polwart, MC Soom T, Michael Johnston, Sushil K Dade, (Future Pilot AKA), King Creosote (Kenny Anderson) and also Chris Difford (not pictured as he was already on the way to another Burnsong gig!)

It was a fantastic experience – writing, and then performing with such lovely, and talented, folk.

If you don’t already know their music,
I’d highly recommend checking out my fellow housemates below: