Beats from the log cabin

Yes, there was not much going on, I don’t think I have to explain at all. A virus has ravaged the music scene and plunged us into an uneventful summer. Hendrik tried his luck on the Emerald Isle and created a new foothold in the digitalization of Irish cultural life. Benni has built up a band with a few punkers, in which he can shout all his deep-seated aggressions into a rehearsal room microphone. And Tim has tried unsuccessfully to somehow sell his two tons of Fidget Spinners, which he procured just before the end of the hype, in the schoolyards of Berlin. In all this, Strainful Train has probably come up a bit short. Our heart project, the 10 inch record, is still not out of the factory, the last pressing plant tried to fob us off with test pressings that sounded like the sound module of a Christmas card.

So we had every reason to devote ourselves to writing music history again. And so we followed the call of our prophet with the erotic voice and met a few weeks ago somewhere in the Mecklenburg outback. The destination was the picturesque dropout farm of Seland and Roham. The names of the two have been changed by the author, as they are currently painstakingly trying to remove their traces from the Internet. Roham is a handsome outdoorsman who appears to be thoroughly trying not to explode with joy of life. We got to spend a day doing excessive trail maintenance with him in the surrounding forests and villages. I was impressed with how much enthusiasm he could bring to even the tiniest tree mushrooms. He unceremoniously scrounged us four beers and quite a few fags along our way with his devastatingly happy manner, what an awesome day! His partner Seland is similarly infectiously happy and just as much in the surrounding area on the road, but not to scrounge beers, but to pick mushrooms. While we were eating one of her mushroom pans, she insistently pointed out that we might well die, after all, she’s not too good at spotting mushrooms. We didn’t die though, thanks for that, Seland.
We could have just hung out with them for two weeks, but there was that thing with the music history. Many years ago, Roham created a spatial-acoustic masterpiece on his farm. A wooden hut, geometrically aligned in such a way that the sound from the curves of the strong trunks is miraculously guided past the ear directly into your heart. Or into a room microphone, if you positioned it right. What we hopefully did, Hendrik spent many hours with partly esoteric investigations and millimeter work to move the microphones in the room until it finally fit.

So we wanted to know it again. A new album was to be played from this wonderful room onto Hendrik’s hard drives. Again completely alone, again without the safe back-up of a bodhrán or a fiddle. And again uncut, live and raw. We dared to experiment, wrapped our musical world-weariness in pounding beats and even tried some epic anthems. And whenever we needed a break, we fed stink bugs and earwigs to Thekla, the giant spider in the corner of the room. Thekla got fat, just like the sounds of our new album. After two weeks we came out of the log cabin, stressed but happy, the hard drives full of effusions. They are now with Pietro, our audio mastermind, and we are waiting. This is going to be awesome. Stay tuned!

Spreading further

It was a personal wish of the band to visit Offenburg during the tour. That had two reasons. First, Offenburg’s city abbreviation is “OG”, which in our ghetto clique is synonymous with “original gangster”, so a visit to Offenburg contributes to street credibility. In addition, Benni had spent a few wonderful days during his journeying time with the carpenter Sylvia, who had settled in Offenburg. She gave us the use of her courtyard so we could mix up the neighborhood a little bit. During the pandemic, the official regional cultural sites did not want to get involved in a live concert. But the courtyard concert was well received. People made themselves comfortable on balconies and benches and refused to call the police.

Until now, the band management (Mr. Burek himself) had already shown an enormous performance. In view of the pandemic it was almost impossible to get firm commitments for official concerts. Nevertheless, he persistently called people, organized semi-legal stages and kept the band happy with beer and cheese rolls. On day six of our trip, the time had finally come: the first official concert, with a hygiene concept and list of participants was on the agenda. Renate and Jochen Braun in Rottweil, operators of the “àkapella” cultural café and themselves music nerds, gathered the city’s most exquisite audience for us. So 20 people of the Blues-Folk-Elite of Rottweil sat there with a safety distance of 1,5m and a ticket price of 18€. Never before such a high price was paid for us, so we wanted to offer something decent. Benny withdrew to the back rooms of the café and wrote our setlist. A two hour dramaturgical masterpiece, which marathon live performer Bruce Springsteen would have been proud of. We played our fingers to the bone until Tim’s bladder didn’t allow another encore.
And during the whole concert this highly concentrated audience sat there, looking at us  critically, only to give enthusiastic applause shortly after the last note was played. We had to drink away such a high level of professionalism. And thank you so much Kerstin for joining us for a couple of songs.

The following day provided the opportunity to do so. For Benny a home game was coming up. Not far from his home town Affalterbach, in Backnang-Mittelschöntal, an organic farm runs a cafe. In a fulminant outdoor event, the summer season was to be concluded there with bread on a stick and a live concert. From a weather point of view, we had been truly blessed this week. Usually we layed in our T-shirts on the meadows after the concerts and counted shooting stars. That evening we had to distribute all our clothing reserves on our bodies so that our organs would not freeze. Besides, it started to rain, which sucks while making stick bread and also during open air concerts. A fruit farmer had the spontaneous idea to convert his sales cart into a stage so that we at least stayed dry. The cart was almost perfect. Only in the height there could have been 3cm more in it. You could clamp the double bass so that it could stand without support. We were worried that the cold would keep our guests away. But the attraction of the Prophet is stronger than the attraction of the couch during rainy weather.

Every time we are in Benny’s homeland, the comparison with the Shire comes to mind. And also this time the exuberant atmosphere left no doubt that the Swabians can celebrate like the Hobbits. The campfire blazed until deep into the night and the instruments were handed around until the fingers drunkenly slipped from the instruments. With a heavy heart we left the Shire the following day, the tour came to an end. With a long trip over the rainy highways of central Germany we reached Leipzig. At a car park Leo welcomed us with a delicious pumpkin soup. The roller-skate dance rehearsal room there was quickly converted into a concert hall. The rain on the tin roof demanded everything from our PA system, in situations like these it always shows how good it is that we have an experienced audio engineer with us. The concert was comfortable and successful. And in the glow of the fire barrel new plans were made and we said our farewells. And so the band members strolled out into the night to go their separate ways again.

Superspreading in 2020

Strainful Train has remained true to the tradition of travelling across Germany once a year for a week to scrounge beer for a few tunes from our instruments. This time under particularly difficult conditions, because the pub operators did not want to make any commitments in the face of the pandemic. In addition, we were often accused in advance that it would be irresponsible to spread the virus throughout Germany with our tour. This is true and we do not want to deny the risk. On the other hand, we are also aware of the fact, that this risk is very manageable if the rules of hygiene are being followed and if the concerts are exclusively outdoor. Furthermore we had, like everyone we met, an immeasurable greed for small cultural events, for some normality, for a chance to get together and exchange some joie de vivre with live music. Something that unfortunately came much too short this summer.

We started at the beautiful pottery market in Friedrichsmoor. It’s hard to believe that you would come across such a cultural hot spot after such a trip through the outback of Mecklenburg. Artists offer their creations made of clay here, accompanied by a market band, in this case, by us. In addition, Mecklenburg’s most willing to pay audience romps around there. Our CD stocks were bought out at a stroke, which financed the tour on the very first day. And last but not least we found the name inspiration for our song “The incredible chase of Loretta and the marvellous chick’ sisters of Barneveld” on the premises. So the day was completely worth it. The next day we went with the GPS mode “most beautiful route” to a place you wouldn’t have expected after passing all those dumps. In the small village of Velsdorf we found a farm full of traditional journeymen who danced to soft electro beats into the evening. Benny immediately switched to his incomprehensible journeyman slang, which he had acquired during his time on the road. Ritualistic welcome dances were performed, complicatedly choreographed handshakes were exchanged and then we were allowed to play for the journeymen. The farm was a so-called summer construction site, a meeting place for journeymen and those who wanted to become journeymen. What the pottery market visitors showed the day before in terms of purchasing power was exceeded that evening by dance frenzy. We had to fire out our entire repertoire of dance songs. And when the dust settled and the instruments fell silent, we were able to fall asleep under the most beautiful starry sky in the caravans provided for us.

The next morning, Benny had said goodbye again in a complicated ceremony and Tim had a dance for drunk fellows taught to him, we went on to the next goal. The Dannröder Forst is a beautiful, but unfortunately threatened by economic interests, mixed forest in a drinking water protection area near Gießen. In the middle of the route of a planned freeway extension, a protest camp was set up a year ago, which was now to be visited by us. We had to carry our equipment for half an hour through the undergrowth and defend it against raccoons and crested newts to get there. When we arrived, the police had just started clearing the barricades. Bad timing. If this damn highway had finally been finished, we would have gotten there earlier. The atmosphere was correspondingly tense when we carefully echoed a few sounds into the forest on a stage between the tree houses, directly after a protest plenary session marked by gender-sensitive language. But in fact this seemed to be exactly what some activists needed. More and more of them emerged from the corners of the forest and began to dance the stress of the day out of their limbs. After the last sound had faded away and perseverance slogans had been exchanged, we moved into our blockade beds in the tree tops, you can’t get us out of here, the Danni stays!

With all the will to resist and the unshakable determination to now dedicate our lives to the guerrilla fight against the clearing of the Danni, at some point the thirst for hot coffee and the urge for hygiene became stronger and we left the forest again through the undergrowth. Again the path was hard and arduous and this time it claimed victims. We can’t say exactly when it happened, maybe during the escape from the pack of baboons or during the following jump down the waterfall, at some point it rattled suspiciously from Tim’s double bass bag. We gathered around the bag, said a short thrusting prayer and looked in shyly and anxiously, only to retreat shortly thereafter disturbed. The fingerboard had come loose from the neck. Total loss, Tim was already saying goodbye to the band.

However, Benny put his prophetic hand on his shoulder and said, “Do not be dismayed, for I have been sent down to give hope to those in need.” The rest is again one of the many miracle healing stories we already know from Benny. Together with our friend Can in Tübingen the patient was stabilized in a sweaty operation and was then, oh miracle, ready for the concert that evening. Since we have been to Tübingen before, why not play again in the bar of the circle of wagons. We were already there a year ago and were already excited about the cozy flair and the crass sound. Thank you Can, for your renewed hospitality and all the operation tools.

Stay tuned for part two!

Back in the Redstone Vaults

I know it is hard to maintain a productive atmosphere during these times. The best thing you can do to avoid not meeting your own requirements, is to keep those requirements low and only set yourself goals that are easy to reach. Strainful Train could have easily done so, after all we have already achieved everything that’s achievable for a band. We traveled out of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, one of our songs was transcribed into tabs and we wasted at least 100 € of gig payment on beer. We could have leaned back and enjoyed the last years of our lives, Benny would have committed himself to stock trading again, Hendrik and Tim would have gone back to mushroom cultivation. Unfortunately the band has the habit to stick to the quirky ideas they have during the long bar nights. One of those ideas was (after Tim elucidated how funny things are, that are a bit tinier than usual) to make another vinyl, just a wee bit smaller than the first one. A ten inch mini-LP.

During the pandemic times, the event industry was not that active. So Pietro Rossi of Redstone Productions was able to spare some time for us. His studio vault in Amsterdam was hygienically harmless, so why not visiting the temple of analog audio gear and recording some live material for the mini-LP. All of us just took some days off and we went there. Old school, without Irish refinements, without professional support in the background. But rough and gruff, like in the old days, just Hendrik, Benny and Tim. I have to admit, that it was an intimidating concept. In the ecstasy of playing along with Denise and Brian, it is not a problem to miss a tone here and there. But that doesn’t work anymore with only the three of us. Every note has to fit perfectly, that is why we rehearsed aggravatedly (but nowhere near enough).

As we arrived in Amsterdam, yet again we met a perfectly prepared Mr. Rossi. A team of handsome and competent audio engineers set up the microphones and checked the signal flows. The first day was reserved for arriving and warming up, considering what laid ahead of us, we wanted to be primed properly. We spent the coming days completely in the well illuminated vaults of the Redstone Studios. Even the fact that this place felt like a motherly womb to us, didn’t protect us from the pressure and stress these recordings meant, the acoustic nakedness doesn’t allow mistakes. Many attempts were needed until the prophet was pleased. Fortunately, during this whole time we were supported by a very patient Mr. Rossi. His team swiped the sweat from our foreheads and did a perfect job recording the whole struggle. The days were hard, but worth it. At the end, we had four songs on the hard drives and a good feeling in our guts. Pietro rewarded us with an online concert together with his friend and songwriter Baschira. We performed an interpretation of “Bella Ciao” that would have made the crowd tear down the building, if there was any crowd. Strange times. We had so much fun with Baschira and his friends, that he invited us to an original Italian midnight pasta. We gladly accepted the invitation and a wonderful time in Amsterdam came to a wonderful end.

At this moment the audio mastermind Mr. Rossi is still precisely processing the recordings. Dust the vinyl record players and stay tuned for some mesmerizing new songs!

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!

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!