THE HURRICANE vs THE CORONAVIRUS (part one)
That time we planned a once in a lifetime hurricane world tour for March 2020..
I’m currently on a plane for the first time in six months. It feels strange to not have been in the air for this longer than usual period of time but also strangely normal to find myself once again on a flight surrounded by complete strangers. The main difference now is that everyone seems even more in their own worlds than before. Maybe this is because we have replaced invisible masks with real ones and we now happily hide behind these physical barriers, to protect us and others from the virus that stopped the world from moving almost entirely. The last time I was on a flight was back in March 2020 as the planet was beginning to understand just how serious the situation was becoming. Unfortunately for me, I had planned a once in a lifetime tour for this exact period of time.. The Hurricane Tour. It was an adventure I had been dreaming up for many years and planning for many months. The idea was simple enough, to travel around the earth in one month, playing eleven shows in eleven different countries, experiencing different cultures and meeting different people all along the way. We would start in Australia on the first day of March and then visit Japan, India, Botswana, Turkey, Germany, England, Canada, USA and Mexico before eventually finishing in Argentina on the last day of March. The lead-up to this crazy tour wasn’t particularly smooth and it was looking like it might be a kind of storm before the calm scenario. One week before we were due to begin, I landed back in Australia from a few months away only to find my precious guitar had been split right down the middle during the flight and my passport had somehow been damaged and needed to be replaced urgently. At the same time Jarrad Seng (the man behind the photos and videos) was having some major laptop issues and needed to find a decent replacement in the last remaining days before we set off on this epic journey. Through some minor miracles and generous support from friends and strangers and also a tour manager who refuses to ever say the word ‘impossible’ (thank you Thomas!) we began this absolutely insane tour where we would quickly learn that we would need to rely on more miracles and friends and strangers to help solve some pretty interesting problems every single day throughout the tour. The first show was in AUSTRALIA and somehow everything went pretty much to plan. A very jet-lagged Tim Hart (album producer as well as band member and support act for the night) had flown back from London the day before to then drive out west and play one of the best shows I have ever seen him play (while his newborn son watched with us from backstage). My slightly nervous and always teary mother joined me on stage for a little song. My dream of playing a show at Empire Theatre in Toowoomba had finally come true with 500 of the loveliest people to share the moment together. It was a truly special evening with lots of family in attendance as well as old friends from so many places and work colleagues from the bank days. Perhaps the most special person in the crowd for me was Bob Cook, the man who taught me to play guitar when I was a very shy 14yr old kid, to whom I am forever grateful. What a night! It seemed like the storm before the calm scenario had played out and we were about to have the smoothest and most incredible tour of our lives! In reality though, it would turn out to be the exact opposite and what we had just experienced was actually the calm and the greatest storm I’ve ever witnessed was fast approaching. Thomas, Jarrad and I were up early the next morning and off to Brisbane Airport where we should have been boarding a flight for Tokyo, but a few days earlier we had been notified that due to the virus situation we would not be able to play the show in Japan and would potentially be putting the rest of the tour at risk if we even entered the country. So we somehow managed to change our flights very last minute and head to SINGAPORE instead, but without a show to play. We decided to put the word out and see if anyone knew anybody who might be able to help. It was truly incredible to receive so many messages and comments from people who desperately wanted to help us find a place to play. It didn’t take too long before the team at Timbre X @ The Substation came to the rescue and let us bring in a few people and play a few songs on their outdoor stage before Supersonic helped everyone dance the night away. Show number two, somehow completed. INDIA is next on the list and it’s looking like everything is maybe going to happen as planned.. until we are waiting to board the flight to Mumbai. I hear my name called over the speaker at the airport in Singapore. An upgrade to business class perhaps? Oh how nice that would be. But no, there was a problem with my visa not being recognised with my new emergency passport and they would not allow me to board the flight.. we pleaded with them to see what they could do while I scrambled to contact people in India at 5am local time to try and amend the visa. It was beginning to feel impossible. If I missed this flight there was a chance there would be a knock-on effect and the rest of my flights for the month could be cancelled. With no other viable option, we decided it might be best for Jarrad and Thomas to board the flight for India and for me to wait in Singapore to try and fix the problem and hopefully get on a flight later that day. But just as we were saying goodbye to each other I heard my name called again and we were told that they had heard back from the flight captain and he had overturned the decision and I would now be allowed to fly?? A medium sized miracle! We celebrated and quickly disappeared feeling both jubilation and disbelief. Surely now is where good things start to happen.. Of course not.. We landed in India to an email notifying us that our show had been cancelled, with very little explanation. We pleaded with them to reverse their decision but it wasn’t looking hopeful, so we put the word out to the people, again. Very soon we had been saved, again, this time by the wonderful people at Veranda Bandra who rearranged their schedule to fit us in super last minute. It was crazy to play a show in India and have people singing along to my songs, it just didn’t feel real, but it was happening right in front of me. Our time in Mumbai was so short but so incredible and we made fast friends with some amazing people. But onwards now to our next destination, the most random location of the tour but also maybe the smoothest show of the tour.. We arrived in BOTSWANA after a long day of travel via Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to the warmest of welcomes. Local musician and Stu Larsen fan, OneSpared, was there to greet us. We had connected a while back when OneSpared (Thuso) had covered one of my songs and I couldn’t believe that someone so far away was not only a fan of my music but was also singing my songs. When the idea for this tour started to become a reality, I contacted Thuso to see what he thought about playing a show together in Gaborone. He said we should do it, so we did. We turned up. The crowd turned up. It was magical and so full of love and energy. Finishing the show at The No1 Ladies Coffee House by singing Whisky & Blankets unplugged with the entire crowd singing and dancing was maybe the highlight of the tour for me, it still feels so surreal when I think about that moment. With things starting to feel a little smoother, we felt like we were maybe going to be okay in the next days. But when we turn up at the airport to fly to TURKEY we’re told our flight is no longer departing. At this point, we don’t really react. We are so used to being hit with bad news every day. We are in a good frame of mind for finding solutions and after some fast talking and a little bit of confusion, a few minutes later we have another option sorted. We arrive in Istanbul to more bad news, the venue is unsure if we can go ahead with the show due to the worsening and frightening virus situation. It’s now the 11th of March and things are getting serious with the virus, but we want to push ahead while we can and play another show if we can, so we agree to keep the numbers low, the windows open and provide masks and hand sanitiser for the crowd and thankfully Cem at Norm Coffee agreed to let the show go ahead under these conditions. It was a very intimate show with a percentage of the crowd consisting of local cats, an actual dream situation for me 🙂
After the show, I could see a slightly worried Thomas, he seemed to be rushing to get us all packed up and out the door and back to the apartment.. but why..? Because, he told me as we walked away from the venue, not only our flight, but all flights for the next morning were apparently cancelled. We would spend the next hours trying to work out if there was another way to somehow make the journey from Istanbul to Munich without spending too much time or money or if we would be stranded in Turkey for the coming days/weeks/months. Nothing seemed to make sense so we did what we knew best, we kept moving forward. We had been told that the flight had been cancelled and that the airlines were stopping all flights instantly and that we should not go to the airport the next morning, but every time we searched our flight number it showed that it hadn’t been cancelled and was still on schedule…? We decided to wake up early and make our way to the airport to see what would happen. We didn’t know what we would find when we arrived, but it was eerily quiet and by some miracle our flight was one of only a few flights still operating while the airline and airport finished shutting everything down. We were so relieved to be able to fly to GERMANY but landed in Munich knowing that the sold out show at Folks! Club was probably going to be cancelled and that it was getting close to game over for the three of us. We searched for an alternate option for the show but we realised that bringing people together was just not the right thing to do anymore. We were starting to understand just how big this virus situation was becoming. We had to accept this and cancel the show and decided to replace it with a livestream instead. We found a friend with a beautiful living room where I played a few songs and shared the experience with a handful of friends and a wider audience online. It was hard to accept that we maybe had to stop this once in a lifetime dream tour which had been unfortunately planned for the exact same month that a global pandemic took hold of the planet, but more and more it was becoming clear that this was the likely outcome. Waking up in Munich the morning after the little livestream we were told that our next flight had been cancelled, but we managed to be put on another flight which took us to our seventh destination. We arrived in ENGLAND and of course one last thing went wrong. None of our luggage turned up. No suitcases, no guitar, nothing. We waited and waited and waited and waited. We were hoping that for some reason it would just turn up, even after everyone else had collected their belongings and left the airport. Our luggage didn’t arrive and it kind of felt right for things to be this way after somehow surviving the challenges of the previous weeks. We started to make our way towards the ‘lost luggage’ counter to see what we could do but along the way we saw some lonely but familiar suitcases and a guitar sitting beside a completely different luggage belt. We three idiots had been waiting in the wrong place the whole time. Call it exhaustion, call it stupidity, call it what you want, we don’t mind, we were just thankful to not have actually lost our luggage that day in London.
From here, things moved quickly, we made the decision to cancel the sold out London show and we knew we then had to cancel the remaining shows for CANADA (sold out), USA, MEXICO (sold out) and ARGENTINA (sold out). We announced one final live stream from a little cafe in London called Hotshoe 333 where we would officially call it a day. It was a weird feeling, we didn’t want the tour to end, but it simply had to. It was not possible nor sensible to continue. The Coronavirus had well and truly overpowered the Hurricane. Thomas, Jarrad and I said goodbye the next morning and we headed our separate ways.. which is when things started to get really interesting…
THE HURRICANE vs THE CORONAVIRUS (part two)
Escaping from England to France, the long way round..
After the absolute rollercoaster of attempting to play eleven shows in eleven countries all around the world in the same month that a global pandemic arrived, these next days would be smooth and I would quickly and easily make it into France to stay with my girlfriend and her family. This is what I hoped for. So, I booked a flight from London Gatwick to Lyon and headed to the airport with my passport, a letter and accompanying document to allow me to enter France. The check-in process was straight forward, my suitcase disappeared and I headed to wait at the appropriate gate, first in line. I was already feeling somewhat at peace with the cancelled tour and my focus shifted to visiting Mathéa and her family. Boarding commenced and I handed over my passport and boarding pass which is where things started to get a little interesting.. The lady behind the desk looked at my passport and turned to her colleague to ask a question before letting me know that I would not be able to board the flight. I didn’t believe it. I showed the the letter and the document but they said it meant absolutely nothing to them. I pleaded, but there was nothing they could do. I pleaded some more and Mathéa pleaded with them over the phone. We knew there was no chance they would be able to do anything, but I just couldn’t walk away. After all the things that stood in the way in the previous weeks which we had overcome, this was now the last piece of the puzzle, refusing to fall into place. I eventually and reluctantly took my passport, boarding pass, letter and document with me and went to join a group of people waiting to collect their luggage after also being kicked off flights. It was chaos. So many people stranded and in far worse situations than mine. Some crying, some shouting at staff. I stood quietly but impatiently waiting for my name to be called, to then be led with about ten others back through the airport to another waiting area where our luggage would soon arrive. It didn’t. Well not mine at least. Everyone else disappeared within a few minutes but I was left waiting on my own for almost an hour. During this time, I was wondering what the next plan should be. I knew there would be a ferry leaving from Newhaven for France later that night, so I quickly booked a ticket. Maybe I would be faced with the same problem again, or maybe going by ferry would be less strictly controlled? I really didn’t know what might happen but I felt like I had to take a chance and see if I could at least make it into the north of France and then somehow find my way across the country to Mathéa’s family home in the east, near to the border with Switzerland. With my suitcase rolling along beside me, a heavy pack on my back and a train ticket for the south, I approached the ticket gates to enter the station. I soon realised they were not letting anyone through so I squeezed to the front to see if I could hear any explanations for the closure or if they knew how long the delay might be. It was chaos again with more impatient people struggling to hide their frustration. I had plenty of time before the ferry departure so I wasn’t particularly worried at this point in time. While I waited, I was answering messages on my phone and replied to one from Guido, a very kind fan from Germany. I told him about my situation and he then suggested that I take the next available flight to an airport within a few hours from his house in Rheinbach and he would pick me up from there and take me by car back to his home. It was perhaps my best chance to get to mainland Europe and then I would be only one land border away from France and not separated by the English Channel. I was suddenly thankful for the disruption with the trains at the airport. I rushed back from the train station to the first airline ticket counter I could find and waited in line, surrounded by more frustrated people arguing with staff. The mood was not pleasant. People seemed scared and angry and I remember thinking that if I had a home that I was being stopped from going back to, I might be quite angry and frustrated too. But for me, if I really couldn’t get into France, then I would find somewhere to stay for the coming weeks and it would be okay. Amsterdam was my next and best option and Guido agreed to meet me there, around three hours driving from his house. Just before I paid for the flight, I was told that I might have the same problem again and not be allowed on the flight and into The Netherlands, but I was willing to risk it for now. Ticket in hand I rushed over to the check-in counter to drop off my suitcase. They scanned my passport, it beeped in a non-positive way, I froze, waiting to see what would happen next. She said there was a problem. Of course there was a problem, there is always a problem.. unless there’s not? It could have been a mistake, maybe? With some confidence, I simply asked her to try again on the unlikely chance that it was just a computer error.. She scanned my passport again and I heard the other, more positive sounding beep. We both laughed. Somehow, it’s fine. She asked me to hurry to the gate because the flight would be boarding very soon. This time, they let me enter the plane. Boarding was smooth and even though I was now sitting on the tarmac ready to fly, I was still half expecting my name to be called over the speaker and be asked to disembark. Thankfully, that did not happen and shortly after take-off we began our descent into Amsterdam. The mood is strange. I’m in the ‘other passports’ line with my Australian passport and there are eight or nine people in front of me. One by one, every single person in front of me is turned away and asked to wait in a little side section. Surely I will suffer the same fate? When I got to the counter, I was asked if I knew about the current situation. I assumed he meant the situation with the virus and the impending shutdown of the entire world. He did. I said I was being picked up by a friend and driven to Germany and he told me that if I was not across the border and out of The Netherlands by 6pm I would be stranded and this is something he would not allow. He didn’t want to let me in, I could feel it. He wanted to send me to wait with the other group but instead he made me guarantee that I would be in Germany before 6pm. I promised. Besides, it wouldn’t be a problem, Guido would be there to pick me up and drive me back to his home.
With my passport stamped and feeling such relief, I happily move through to find my suitcase and walk to the airport hotel where Guido and I agreed to meet. As I sit down and finally relax a little, I receive a message from Guido saying he is still two hours away. It is almost 3pm. This means we will not have enough time to make it back into Germany and we will both be stuck in The Netherlands when the border closes at 6pm. Do I tell him to turn around to go home and I find the next solution on my own? I was starting to worry a little and I wondered what I should do as I hurried back to the airport. As I arrived, I looked at the train timetable and spontaneously bought a train ticket to Nijmegen and Guido agreed to meet me there as it’s close to the border with Germany. Perfect, I think this will give us enough time. I’m feeling okay again, waiting on the platform for the train to arrive. But a few minutes later, I look back up to the screen and read ‘CANCELLED’. Of course it’s cancelled. Why wouldn’t it be? This was one of those moments when I really wasn’t sure what to do. It had already been quite a tense time and I was wondering if I should keep trying to get to France or if I just call it a day and stop. I tried to call Mathéa to get her to help find some options, but she was off doing yoga. I then asked a friend in Amsterdam if she would let me stay if I really got stranded. She said yes, so at least I had this as a backup. In the meantime I booked an uber from the airport to a point on the map somewhere in the east but the wait time just kept saying fifteen minutes so I cancelled and jumped in a taxi. He asked ‘Where to?’ I don’t know, just drive. Drive east towards Germany. ‘But where are you trying to go?’ I told him I was eventually trying to get into France. He said he would take me there for a good price. I declined and found an address halfway between Guido and I, on the edge of Utrecht at a restaurant conveniently named ‘Down Under’. After an eternity of watching the price increase on the little screen in the front, the driver drops me off, I pay him a lot of money and he says he can still take me to France if I want. I thank him and say goodbye. Guido is still not there. ‘Down Under’ is closed. I’m hungry and need to use the bathroom. I walk to another place nearby, but it’s also closed. I see a McDonalds down the road and walk there, but only the drive-thru is open and they won’t allow me to buy food or enter to use the bathroom. Things are getting serious. Guido turns up after another twenty minutes and I am so relieved to be out of the cold and with Guido who will take me to safety in Germany. We crossed the border at 5:45pm. They seemed to be setting up light towers as we glided out of 120km/h zoned Dutch roads and onto Germany’s autobahn. This felt like a big achievement. I felt safe now. Only one border separated me from Mathéa and I could stay in Germany if I really couldn’t make it into France. I slept very well this night. The following morning, we were wondering if I would be able to enter the north of France and have Mathéa come and pick me up at the border, but movement was already heavily restricted in France so this was not an option. People were also saying that both the French and Swiss borders with Germany were completely closed to anyone without a valid reason and valid documentation. It was beginning to look like I would be living with Guido and Yvonne and their boys for the days and weeks ahead. There just didn’t seem to be any possible or legal way to cross into France or even into Switzerland which would be helpful too. I think I was almost ready to give up when Thomas (amazing human and tour manager from the Hurricane Tour) sent a message asking what was happening. Thomas is one of those people who has taught me to never give up, that there is always a way, even when it seems impossible. He had booked the cheapest flight back to Germany (he is also very frugal) which happened to be into Cologne/Bonn which was not too far from where I was staying with Guido and Yvonne. He said together we would find the way for me to get into Switzerland and then I could get into France from there. Okay Thomas, let’s do this!
Thomas landed and rented a car at the airport then came to pick me up. I waved goodbye to my German saviours who seemed very adamant, and rightfully so, that we would be seeing each other again later that day after my failed attempt to cross into Switzerland. There was still no plan for when we would arrive at the border but we were coming up with all sorts of ideas as we drove the five hours south towards Basel. Do I just try to walk across a field? Or go through a mountain path? Or in a boat down the river? Or in the back of a truck or a van? Or is there still a legal way to enter Switzerland somehow? I asked my good friend Pascal if he might have any genius ideas as he lives in Switzerland near the border, just outside Basel. He also makes amazing guitars (La Réselle Guitars) and had finished building a guitar that I was to buy from him. Pascal and his girlfriend Melina had a genius idea and within the hour he had emailed me a letter stating that I was entering Switzerland to pick up the guitar and as it was a business reason, it was allowed under the current rules from the government website as long as I would not be staying in Switzerland. I was nervous to try just with the letter, so I booked a flight out of Switzerland for the next day and as Thomas is the most amazing tour manager ever, of course he still had his printer with him in his backpack. We printed Pascal’s letter in German and in English and a copy of the boarding pass for the flight and headed to Freiburg to catch a train into Switzerland. I had asked Mathéa if she could cancel any yoga plans for the day and be available to search things and check information for us. She found out that all trains crossing the border were now cancelled out of Freiburg but that there should still be a tram running and maybe I could get on the tram and cross into Switzerland that way? Thomas dropped me at the tram stop. We said goodbye and I jumped on the next tram and attempted to cross the border. I followed the map on my phone. The tram was half full. I was nervous and I’m sure people could see it. The tram made a few brief stops and then we arrived at the border. Two police entered the tram saying something in German. One came to me and I handed him my ticket. He insisted I show him my passport. He didn’t even open it, he just saw ‘Australia’ on the front and said ‘Get Out’. I tried to explain. ‘GET OUT!’ I tried to stay calm and composed and explain again as I reached into my bag for Pascal’s letter and the boarding pass to hand over to him. He unfolded the letter to look at it. In my mind, one hour passed. In reality, it was probably closer to one very long minute. He didn’t say a word, he just kept staring at the letter. He eventually folded it back up, handed it to me with my passport and walked over to his colleague. I waited for him to ask me to go with them. But he didn’t say anything. Instead, they both step out, the doors close and the tram continues to move. I’m in Switzerland!! I try not to show too much emotion, everyone is still staring at me after this little incident. The tram arrives at the station in Basel. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, I still can’t relax. I wait for Pascal, he’s on his way to pick me up. I’m waiting on the wrong side of the station, I have to walk back through again. I’m so nervous that the police or someone will stop me and ask me what I am doing. I see Pascal walking towards me from the other side of the station. It’s slow motion, just like the movies. I’m so relieved to see him, to be in Switzerland, to be safe for another night. We want to hug each other but we keep our distance and try to avoid any chance of potentially sharing the virus. I stay the night with Pascal and Melina and know that I’m so close to being with Mathéa now. Pascal drops me and the new guitar at the train station the next morning and I make my way south to Geneva which is then only thirty minutes and one closed border away from Mathéa. The plan was for her to try to enter Switzerland to pick me up and take me back into France but the police at the Swiss border would not let her enter. By now I have learned that there is always a Plan B, so at this point I wasn’t feeling too much stress. I had been told so many times in the previous weeks that something was impossible, and each time, simply by moving forward, a solution to each problem appeared. I had no doubt something positive would happen and I would be in Mathéa’s arms again. And then it happened. Mathéa phoned me and said the Swiss border police suggested I get a taxi or a bus from the station and I could cross into France as the French police were not actually there at that moment. People were being stopped from entering Switzerland but nobody was being stopped leaving Switzerland and entering France. But how long would the French police be away from their post? I jumped in a bus that was headed for Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, the first French town across the border. It would take twenty excruciating minutes for this bus to reach the border. I was the only passenger on board. I tried to act calm and relaxed but I have to assume that the driver noticed how nervous I was. Mathéa was also nervous. She waited in the carpark just over the border and could still see vehicles crossing into France without being stopped. Would it be the same for the bus I was on? These final moments seemed to last longer than the actual time that had passed since being kicked off the initial flight from London to Lyon. Then, all of a sudden, I could see the border and Mathéa could see the bus. We were so close now. On the final approach the bus driver started to slow down and in that moment I felt like everything was about to come to a final heartbreaking halt and I would be stopped just metres away from France and the girl that I love. My heart almost burst out of my chest as I realised the bus wasn’t stopping at the border, we were driving through to France, I had made it!! I frantically hit the ‘next stop’ button then clambered off with my backpack, suitcase and new guitar and ran over to the carpark into the waiting arms of Mathéa. (I wish that is how this last bit actually happened, but she was too scared to get out of her car so I first had to put my luggage in the back and then get into the front and have a slightly awkward but still very enjoyable side-by-side hug). It felt incredible to now be in each other’s arms after being told time and time again that it was just not possible. It was a miracle to be here and I knew it. After a short twenty minute drive we arrived at her family home in the countryside where I would spend the next months and could properly relax after days and weeks of such uncertainty and constant adrenalin. The hurricane was finally over.