The Fellowship of the Burek

Once a year, in a cold night somewhere below the steep cliffs of the Baltic Sea, the band gathers for an ancient ritual to decide about their future. The rugs are unrolled and a little fire is lit. Benny fills his pipe, his glance wanders to the distance and he awaits the contact with his ancestors. Hendrik and Tim sit next to him and drink beer. After an hour or two, the crickets stop chirping, the fire flickers in unnatural colors and the air is filled with ghostly whispering. Benny has made contact with the ancients. He begins to talk in a long forgotten language and his body sways slowly. The whispers get louder. Tim nervously tries to roll a cigarette and Hendrik tensely sips his beer. Suddenly, the fire dies out and the whispers are gone. Everything is quiet, not even the sea dares to form a wave. “What have you been told, Benny?” asks Hendrik, “Where should we go next?”. Benny takes a long last puff with his pipe, opens his eyes and says: “Affalterbach”.
So we had our next target: Benny´s lovely hometown Affalterbach, somewhere in the Swabian south of Germany. Since Tim attended a logistics course during his coercive measures of the job center, he knew, that such a distance should not be traveled without stopovers. So Benny contacted some friends, pubs and local musicians self-help groups in south Germany to organize some travel-through concerts (by sending postcards from our merchandise, not joking). It worked out, we had few confirmations and a little tour was becoming reality.
Continue reading “The Fellowship of the Burek”

Brother Andy was in town!

Brother Andy is a good looking, tattooed lad with a husky voice and a fancy hat. He likes good beer, deep conversations and northern lights. Which he’s able to observe a lot, up there in the northern outback of Finland, with its long nights and its high depression statistics. Maybe that is the reason for him writing this special kind of wholesome and dreamy blues music. And it was our promise to bring this music to Germany. Hendrik knew him well, since he recorded, mixed and produced his Album. So Andy was invited to Germany for some double concerts of Strainful Train and Brother Andy feat. Strainful Train.

We’ve never played together with him, but the modern music business doesn’t allow doubts or rehearsals. So nearly without any preparation, a concert was arranged in the well-known retreat of Wismars freethinkers, the Tikozigalpa. And even though the most influential German musical reformer, Peter Maffay, was live-broadcasting his seventieth birthday in the local cinema at the same night, Brother Andy’s attraction enticed so many folk enthusiasts, that people had to peek through the packed doors to get a hint of his engaging stage presence. The concert was a blast and due to the already described insufficient preparation, we weren’t able to perform a proper encore. A problem, we were going to encounter at every of the three scheduled concerts of this weekend. The second one took place at the cosy cultural hot spot of Klütz, “alte Molkerei”, formerly known as “Café Miluh”. And the third one in the yard of a friend in Heidekaten, a village Benny is going to call ‘home’ in the near future. A little stage was improvised by a few euro pallets and an old carpet, a few straw bales were hauled in front of it and the whole village was invited. It was a beautiful night; the yard filled with people attracted by the sound of Brother Andy; the illuminated trees and the starlit sky created an atmosphere that put him on the spot. After all, we promised to visit him. And now we expect at least a concert below the northern lights of Finland. But until then, there is some work to do. Are you ready for our new album ‘IV’? We are. And are you ready for us? Because we are coming! See you next week on our tour through Germany!

Brother Andy is in town!

In the northern Finnish outback, the days are short, the liquors are strong and the people are rare. This seems to be the perfect environment for writing superb folk music. And we are going to bring the living proof for that to germany. Brother Andy is coming and together with Strainful Train he will enchant you with a colourful mix of folk, blues and Finnish traditionals.
Here are the dates:

 

You value true and original handmade music?

Then come and have a look into our experience of live recording a ‘cottage living room’ album. Pietro Rossi, the audio mastermind, supervised the Strainful Train recording in Ireland and shares his insights with you.

Our gratitude goes to RedStone Productions for creating such a wholesome recap video of our recording sessions with Denise and Brian.

The West Coast awaits us!

We were welcomed at the lovely home of Hendriks friends Caroline and the other Brian somewhere west of Dublin. Their living room was occupied and prepared by us for the magical moment, the first musical gathering of the whole band. Percussion and Fiddle have never seen each other before. And magical it was. Denise’s soft and fragile violin tones danced around Brian’s ecstatic Bodhrán rhythms and for a short moment there was harmony and world peace in this living room. I was amazed and you will be too, when you listen to that future album. But first, there was still much work to be done, the material had to be worked out by everybody, we needed to practise a lot.
For example in Denise’s garden, the neighbours seemed to be okay with that. We also used some live sessions at different venues to massage the new songs into our minds. Some of you may remember Lahinch, the surfer village on the west coast, where we played on every available stage two years ago. Brian lives not far from there and we made good on our promise of the German invasion. We took over his house and rearranged the complete interior into a perfectly improvised studio. Including special sound features like the dripping of a leaking cistern, the occasional barking of Molly and Silo and the rattling engines of passing tractors.
Pietro, the godfather of sound, arrived a day later with some neat microphones with the worth more than a used sports car in his backpack. From now on we had four days to record 10 tracks. Let me explain how such a recording day looked like (warning, change of time form ahead): When the first birds begin to sing, Benny opens his eyes, welcomes the beautiful day, smears a wee bit of earwax on his shoes and goes for a morning stroll. Since everybody is still asleep as he returns an hour later, he begins baking bread for the breakfast.
By now the first of his band members may have awoken and is starting his morning routine to get rid of his hangover. Benny just keeps on killing time by fixing stuff in the household until everybody is sitting at the breakfast table, the last piece of furniture we allowed in Brians house. By now it is usually around 12. After the feast everybody takes their position in the “studio” and the recording begins.
All the songs are being recorded live, which means every instrument plays at the same time, if somebody screws up, the whole take is for the trash can, like a business adminsitration degree. This puts quite a bit of pressure on the musicians. As soon as the recording starts, you can see the sweat running. And when the last tone is dying away, everybody is nervously checking the faces of the others for signs of guilt.
When nobody declares him or herself guilty of screwing up the take, the headphones are put on and the material is checked in detail for traces of screwups until the culprit is exposed. This procedure is repeated until the sun and the mood go down. A few beers and a cigarette for dinner and the day is called a day.

I do not want to hide, that there have been many difficulties in the process, but due to Brian’s immense project management skills, Hendrik’s persuasiveness and Tim’s outstanding cooking abilities, we had a full album recorded, before the week had passed. We returned to the beautiful Egan’s Bar to celebrate the outcome and have a little farewell concert. The pub was packed and even the nobility showed up, King Sean honored us with his presence. It was a wonderful night, now we had everything we wished for. 

It is time, my friends!

It began on a cold Thursday evening. Somewhere in Western Germany, we waited at a parking lot in the shadow of an ancient monastery. It was our meeting point and we were on time. Nobody said a word, we were nervous, we were not used to the Prophet being late. Did he have an epiphany that made him  change his plans? It wouldn’t surprise me, “the one who shines upon all”, as his cult following call him, always forged his own destiny. But suddenly he stepped out of the shadows. His ibex wool hat and his sturdy jacket inspired awe and deep admiration and his face was smiling warmly. He said “It is time, my friends. Let us begin our journey.” And so we did.

We were back on track again and here are the naked facts: Hendrik had reactivated all his contacts to Ireland to organize a new album recording with local musicians. The congenial percussionist Brian Fleming was willing to add his magical Bodhrán beats to our tracks. And we were elated to hear, that the lovely Denise Boyle and her fiddle were there to support us. To make everything perfect from the technical perspective, our dear friend Pietro Rossi from Redstone Productions got appointed the responsible audio engineer. The gear for the recording was professionally prepared by him, whoever is interested in technical details of his preparations can check out his vlog he did for this project:

https://www.youtube.com/redstoneproductions

We stopped over in Amsterdam to pick up the gear. And nothing else, Amsterdam is boring and not worth a visit, we spent two days there and we did absolutely nothing worth mentioning so lets skip this topic.
The old route to Ireland via Great Britain was blocked due to the dawning Brexit like the road to Fuchsia City by a sleeping Snorlax. So we decided to bypass this erratic country by ferry from Cherbourg. We weren’t able to cross France without filling up our cheese supplies. We annihilated the supplies of Neuf-Chatelle in a little French countryside supermarket. From now on, everytime the car was opened, people around randomly passed out. Hmmm, I love the smell of moldy cheese stored in a car parked in the sun.

We spent our ferry ride to Dublin rehearsing at one of the ships public areas. People seemed to like it, we were bought enough beer to have problems distinguishing between the strong swell and alcohol induced balance problems. To be honest, the swell was quite heavy, Hendrik was amazed (and I was shocked) how deep red the area of our ferry route was on his wind speed app. Even though I had cause for thought during the night, we survived the trip and reached Dublin the next morning. A few neglected rights of way later we adapted to the left-hand traffic and headed to our first gig in Newbridge. The McDonnells bar is one of the most visited bars in the area. Even on a Monday evening, there were way too many people in the audience for our small sound system. After some complaints that the loudly chatting folks on the other side of the bar couldn’t understand Benny’s poetic lyrics and we should pump up the volume, we danced on the thin line between feedback problems and unsatisfied listeners. The concert was still good and our struggle was forgotten after the show, our beloved midland friends from the last tour showed up and we got invited to an after show party in a tiny micro kitchen. People got wasted, unpacked instruments and started to sing, it was the most compressed form of Irish lifestyle I ever witnessed. Unfortunately it also led to us heading for the first rehearsal with Denise and Brian, the event we all were going nuts about for the whole week, pretty hangover.

 

Will we make it? Will this album ever be recorded? Why does Benny smell so good? Stay tuned and you’ll find out.

Here we go again!

Bad news first: our mothership didn’t make it. The trusty ride, cosy cradle and heavy duty freighter is now somewhere in Eastern Europe, where no approved inspection agencies try to spoil the driving pleasure. We had to sell it for a set of guitar strings and half a beer. And this so shortly before the next adventure. And those are the good news: We are heading to Ireland again, the ferry is booked and the pubs are warned. And don’t worry, there is a new ride. It’s just much smaller and less sexy. And there are no cool band logos printed on the sides. Oh god, I miss the mothership…
Back to the topic, we are setting sails again. The last months have been used for some gigging and jamming here and there and some neat new songs were written in the process. With these fresh pieces in our new tiny trunk, we are visiting Brian and Denise, our musical muses at the Irish west coast. And after two magical weeks, some great concerts and litres of beer it shall be finished: our fourth album. Rejoice and stay tuned!

Following the path of the prophet

Strainful Train left the EU for the first time. We felt properly prepared, our vaccinations were up to date, we had plenty of fresh water in the mothership and we had Benni, an ex-Yugoslav with exceptional survival skills with us. But when the border patrol scrutinized us grimly and lifted the barrier to the wasteland the media already warned us about, we were sobered. Everything was the same, just the Burek tasted better. And the people were extremely welcoming. When we made recreational stop at the Una national park, a local called Suad invited us to stay in his yard. His English vocabulary only contained two and a half words, but he managed to inform us about his whole family, the current political situation, the water quality in the national park and shared a few cooking recipes and his home distilled schnapps with us.
We moved on, through astonishingly beautiful valleys, forests and Balkan style beehive cities and ended up in the incredible Mostar. You barely will find a more picturesque place, even though everything is covered with bullet holes and marks of explosions. Hendrik used this scenery to make an hours long photo shoot with our rough and natural band model Benni, I’ll ask him to put some of his master works here. We played a booked out late night gig in the coco loco, a hip pub with an incredibly nice owner, who even organized a cozy soviet style flat for us. So, well rested and refilled with Burek, we hit the road again, to leave this overwhelming country, there were still some gigs in Croatia ahead of us.

When you have never driven down the Dalmatian coastline of Croatia, then stop reading right now, grab your jacket and your car keys and get going! The drool was already drying at our chins, since we were not able to close our mouths in awe. This was the place, where our prophet Benni spent three months of his life to bring joy to the people and repair wooden boats. Our host for the next concert in Makarska, Igor, was a chilled dude and seemed to be the godfather of the whole town. It was the first time, when Benni

 

was able to drop his daddy role for the band for once, since Igor had this role now. We walked under his protection, were fed like aristocrats, were served the finest craft beer and 24 years old rum and lived in his sea view villa at the hillside. Even though we wished to stay forever, we had to move on to our final station of the tour, the small harbor town Omiš. The LIX is a local bar there, where Benni already wasted way to many nights during his prophetic stay. It had an alternative appeal and the nicest guests of the whole coast, everyone of them seemed to be bartending in the LIX now and then. We really see these people as friends now, the gig there was awesome and had the flair of a football game. Many hugs, a swim in the Adria and some mountain treks later, we sit in our mothership again. With empty pockets but many new adventure stories to tell, we head back to Germany. And the lust for the next Strainful Train Quest already arises, stay tuned!

We are here for the Burek

Once in a year we gather our tight resources, wrap the toothbrushes in the travel towels and give goodbye kisses to our families. It is time to jump once more into the gypsie lifestyle of Strainful Train on tour. Hide your beer and hide your wifes, the folk trio is out for conquest again. Provided that our livers play along and the rusty ride doesn’t break down. Which is quite probable, considering the Bosnian road conditions and Bennis urge for miraculously surviving overtaking Russian tractors on steep slopes. As you see, our annual escape route from everyday routine led us to the Balkan. Benny still had some neat contacts there from his journeyman years. Or as we call it, the time where the prophet walked amongst us. He is still being considered a guru by the locals. But I´ll get to that.
On our conquest to the south east we stopped over in Vienna. For sleeping reasons. Also there was another squatted place to play at. The EKH has a bar in the basement that hosts punk festivals and looks like a fetish club. Our concert was adjoined with the showing of a disturbing info flick about the first queer squatting project in Berlin. We made the best of it and even mastered some small talk in Austrian German afterwards. After a refreshing stay over at the official band quarters, there was no time to loose, Zagreb was calling.

The main reason, we headed to the Balkan, was a little greasy pastry, that tastes only when made by the wrinkled hands of a Bosnian grandmother. It is called “Burek” and the overconsumption leads to instant obesity. Meanwhile everyone in the band is the proud owner of a “Burek-Bauch”. We satisfied our Burek-needs and were properly prepared for a concert in the next squatted place. The “medica” and namely Marin, a sympatic extrovert with a kazoo, hosted an event to honor our guru and called it “the fight of the journeyman”. It featured four bands and Benni was the headliner. This really was his show, since the sound system showed some technical difficulties (for readers interested in audio gear: the mixer had an earthing fault and produced intense reverb from hell as soon as you touched it), and Bennis microphones were the only ones working. He showed all the entertainer skills slumbering within him. Successfully, he even provoked a jesse-james-moshpit. There were several parties at the venue afterwards, so the night for Benni-and-band ended somewhere between dark psy tech and Balkan-Oldies.
The sheer opposite of that night, sound and audience wise, was to follow the next day. We had an appointment at the local cultural hot spot Kulturni Centar Mesnička, as the follow up of the reading of a Croatian poet. The sound was exquisitely mixed by Mr. K. Kar, the audience was seated like during an opera and on the second half of the gig, a talented jazz drummer with the over masculine name of BORKO joined in. It was a delightful evening, even though we had trouble with the park house staff, who did not believe that our flagship is below 2,30m. (the papers say, its 2,295m, it must have been warning sign, that was hanging too low.)
To get grounded again, we did some serious busking on the streets of Zagreb the following day. A cute Canadian accordion player joined us and doubled the income with some upbeat gypsie vibes. Which was directly converted into burek.

We needed a rest and found it in the warm lap of Matea and Jure. In their little sanctuary garden in the middle of the city, Benni was able to rebalance his spiritual energies by grilling some chestnuts. The Bosnian hinterlands were awaiting us and we needed to be clear and ready for the thrilling adventures ahead.
Part II of the Balkan adventures is coming soon…

The Hobbingen of Denmark

Here is a potentially disappointing information for all aspiring musicians: making pub music trains your liver but doesn’t pay the rent. That is why the three of us also have work lives. Benni is jet-setting between London, Singapore and Poel for an investment bank, Hendrik trains the german paralympic show jumping team and Tim sells kebab. Between all these work obligations it is hard to fit extensive tours. Still, the ears of music enthusiasts have to be massaged regularly, even outside of Gemany. So our management sent us for a long weekend to Denmark. We were about to play in the Stenbohus, a busy, rough and lovable pub where conversations are held by shouting at each other and the average blood alcohol level never drops below 1.8. Concerts there always start around midnight. Due to a horribly inefficient police control that ceased the whole motorway traffic in North Germany we even arrived too late for that. Nevertheless, the gig was good and paid and the trip was worth the stress. Because the Stenbohus is located in Ribe, a mind blowingly beautiful little city right behind the dike. Everything is so tiny and cute, you wouldn’t be suprised meeting a Hobbit there. We stayed a bit and tried our luck with guerilla gigging. We were successful, a pub called Strygejernet and shaped like an iron gave us what we were looking for. A small stage and free beer.
On our way back, we had a stopover in Kiel. Our friend Hanna and her homies run a little cinema, with a weird but funny sustainability concept.
The visitors have to generate the electricity for running the film themselves. By bikes attached to generators. Give it a try and check out the “Fahrrad Kino Kombinat”. Luckily, due to Bennis strict zero-footprint philosophy and since we kicked out the dubstep DJ, the Strainful Train runs completely without electricity. So the bikes where put away and some cosy sofas were set up for a remarkable session. Thanks, Hanna, for this brilliant evening!
Next stop: Café Miluh, Klütz. We were booked and announced as a dance-music-band. And I have to admit, it is quite a challenge to dance to a full set of roots folk-blues. Nevertheless, the night was a full success and the second occasion, where a bar ran out of beer during one of our concerts. Our special thanks goes out to the three hilarious songwriters Boris, Dirk and Roland who invited us afterwards to midnight-jam-recording for their own little pirated radiostation. I’ll find out the frequency and the airing time, stay tuned!