Diary Of A Songwriter: Tim Holehouse
Having spent the last 13 years on the road, we join the first week of the hard-working musician’s latest tour
English troubadour Tim Holehouse is the kind of musician who makes us feel just that little bit lazy. While we’re moaning about having to pull the occasional extra hour, he’s off playing shows all around the world. This constant gigging, at least 200 shows every year, doesn’t get in the way of recording albums either. His latest effort, Come, is a notable step in an alt-country direction, moving away from the delta blues influences which has informed much of his previous output.
Tim’s transient existence, crashing with friends and fans as he works his way from show to show, is the perfect fodder for a diary entry. He’s also extremely open about the way writing and playing music is an important weapon in his struggles with bipolar disorder. Here, he writes about the first week of his recent tour in mainland Europe…
The first day of my tour sees a 4am start. A bit of anxiety about missing my alarm means I have bad insomnia due to me waking up nearly every hour, but I’m up on time and make my ferry with loads of time to spare. Even though I’ve done this for 13 years, the start of every trip away does come with me overthinking what could go wrong. I take the ferry and I feel a bit more peaceful and even get a bit of sleep.
I enter France and drive a big one today, 500 kilometres to Nancy. So, for the drive I stick on my first mixes of my album Lost. It’s a step into the unknown, mostly built from sketches on the iPad while bored on trains, planes and buses on tour. The album itself is all about mental health issues and is for a mental health charity in the states and the UK. I find when I’m driving on my own it’s good to have stuff like this on because it helps tick away the hours and has me not thinking about the distance to go and too many of my own dark thoughts.
I make it to Le Bon Temp. My friend James Church arrives and we set up ready to play. Even during soundcheck the venue’s pretty full. I’m the last act on and despite the tiredness the amazing audience really bring me through and soon enough I’m buzzing. It’s funny I still always think that nobody will show and if they do, they’ll leave when I start playing. They don’t and it’s an amazing show.
James has gone to work and I wake up to just me and the dogs – who make me feel super peaceful in my slow and easy wake-up coffee. I’m soon on the road and today I listen to my Year album. Despite writing so much (not all of it I use, in fact a lot gets thrown away) I have been doing a lot of electronic and experimental stuff and not proper songwriting and was suffering writer’s block in that department. So I have challenged myself to write and record a new demoed song a month in standard tuning, it seems to have worked as I’ve got the demos up on Bandcamp already.
I listen to the songs thinking on future improvements again and to kill the drive. I stop briefly in Luxembourg, I tank the car, get a snack and arrive in Nivelles. A much bigger town than I was expecting. The barman doesn’t speak English and my French is terrible. But we muddle through.
The show happens and there’s not many in, which makes it hard for me to get motivated to play. The audience are lovely but a bit of slow night both in audience numbers and me mentally and physically. But I get there and I enjoy it still. It’s only day two of the tour and I’m already a bit tired (but I tend to find my rhythm after three-four days most tours).
Up fairly early today because my friend who I stayed with has a festival to organise. He’s a cool guy, by day a headmaster and by night organising loads of shows round the Walloon-area of Belgium. The drive is fairly painless, minus some traffic around Brussels and Antwerp. I arrive at Roadhouse Barbershop on the outskirts of Antwerp. Firstly, never played a barbershop so super excited about that, secondly, I’m getting a haircut first so that’s awesome! The haircut relaxes me and I feel so fresh afterwards. Danny the owner who cuts my hair does an amazing job, a real eye for detail in his work. Not long after my trim it’s time to set up and play.
I do love the fact I get to play some pretty unusual places and this is definitely one of them. I play with the buzz of razors and chopping of hair in the background and it’s a really fun show. Even breaking a string (again) doesn’t faze me at all.
I feel way better for a day off, first day not waking up with a headache. A few years back I would have taken a second show after the daytime show, but older me is way more sensible. So, the night off has really helped both physically and mentally.
I get up and say bye to my friend. I drive through traffic and bad weather as well as some major road works in Liege, but I make it perfectly on time to load in and set up. The only problem is they have no PA so it’s going to be a shouting kinda set. The bar fills up, awesomely in fact – so full most people huddle up under the shelter awning and watch through the window.
Gigs like this can sometimes be tough, people drinking and not caring about the music and it’s almost a battle. I call these “work nights”, when I really have to work for my money. But even though loud they join in and seem to like me. I get a great cheer so that makes it way more enjoyable.
After two hours playing fast I’m shattered, I pack up and head off to my friend’s house to sleep and relax. Because this was a daytime show, it went quick, a “play and go” kind of thing. Very fun but I’m shattered and a little hoarse, so the relaxing night with some friends and playing with their new dog is greatly appreciated.
Another nice relaxed start; it’s great to get up slow, have a coffee and move slowly. I drive to the Netherlands where tonight I play on a ship in Nijmegen. I’m excited about this show as we slept on this ship in the summertime when I filled in on guitar for my friends Travelling Broke And Out Of Gas.
Nice easy drive again, stopping once for a comfort break and finding two extra half-a-Euro-off food tokens you get when you use the toilets in rest stops in mainland Europe. This means with my token too I pay one Euro for my sandwich. I arrive and unload onto the boat and say hello. After parking the car, I’m shown to the cabin I’ll stay in tonight and restring the guitar after yesterday’s manic gig. I’ve managed to not eat junk food the last two days but some very healthy food instead, which can also help a lot on the road.
Soon, after a slow start, the audience arrive. It’s a good crowd for a Monday and the show on the ship starts. Again, no PA, but today is good as the audience are very quiet and so it’s a real pleasure of a show to play. Sometimes it feels nice and easy and tonight was that. Really fun, relaxed show in beautiful surroundings. I hang out for a bit after and chat before it’s yet again time to sleep.
I get up slowly on the boat, the first night I’ve really been able to have a couple drinks, so I cut loose a little. I soon head out to Wuppertal where I play tonight. After a massive breakfast that is! Hospitality on mainland Europe is almost always so great. I hit the road and it’s only 10 minutes into the drive and I’m already in Germany. I always forget how close Nijmegen is to Germany.
I head to soundcheck first. Disaster is that the PA speakers are broken. With my knowledge of sound engineering I manage to bodge something, it’s not ideal but I make it work. Then as my audience arrives so do 200 students – drunk and not ready to listen to live music. I win them over briefly with the a cappella songs, but it’s a total work. It’s not their fault and I don’t mind them having a good time… It just makes my job super hard to do. Shows like this, I really just put my head down and get from one end to the other. Also, these shows feel like they take forever too. I get back to my friend’s house quickly, early start next day.
I try to avoid long drives when booking but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. So, it’s a beast of a drive from Wuppertal to Prien near the Austrian border. I fill the time a bit coming up with some lyrics and a tune in the car. It’s surprising how many songs I write from this method. An idea in the car singing to myself to fill the time. Luckily, I don’t have too many dark thoughts in my own company – even when the rain comes down and I get stuck in traffic.
I get stopped by the police for a control check, I guess because I have a British car. It doesn’t take so long and I arrive on time. I always plan extra time for traffic and eventualities. I arrive in Prien am Chiemsee and it’s raining but looks a cute wee town. I’m greeted by Benji, the owner, with a warm welcome and amazing hospitality. Drinks and food are sorted and a place to sleep.
It’s soon show time and it’s exactly what I need… A show in a pirate-themed bar with a wonderfully receptive audience after a long day’s drive and heaps of stress. After, I hang out and have a few drinks to blow off steam (but not too much though as I used to go a bit too hard in the past and it affected my mental and physical health). Feeling done, it’s time for bed.
Come is out on 15 November. For further info and tour dates, head to timholehouse.com