Before I went on my gallivantation I tried to break a horse in… It didn’t work so I taught it some bass instead!
Its been a while since I’ve been on this blog. I had intended to post new music; solo, duo and trio stuff from me and my bands Psycho-Acoustic Goat and Mammoth Toe and still will when I recover from my recent injury. I think I will blabba on a bit about my travels for now as I sit in hospital with my leg in pieces… just had a bad ski accident and had to get airlifted off the mountain, fractured my tibia REAL bad. At this time I’m not sure how much insurance will cover the treatment. So possibly broken myself and my bank, all the money saved from Oz gone! Won’t be walking for 2-3months! Less than Ideal but still.. could have been worse.
I’ll try to summarise the last 16 months or so for the few of you that might end up reading this. There’s no denying that I have had a few setbacks this year throughout my travels with injuries, van scams and spider attacks! But the Jolly Japes have massively outweighed all that crap! For a start; the time leading up to my departure was the best time I had had in Bristol since moving there; I was forced to quit any part time landscaping I was doing after badly spraining my ankle after an accident involving my acoustic Bass, a horse mask and a roof top. This resulted in me becoming a full time musician and starting my favourite band in Bristol ‘Mammoth Toe’ with two of my best pals Tom and Ben. I was also cherishing the last months with my amazing girlfriend Francesca before parting ways. To whom I am forever grateful for all the support and belief she has in me and the fact she seemed to be the biggest fan of any music I could come up with. The last gig Mammoth Toe played at the old England in Bristol has to be one of my favourites ever; with awesome landlord Diego Just a few days before my flight out. We packed the place with an awesome crowd; friends and friends of friends and the general punters who were just well into our music.
I had mixed emotions when I left; excitement of course but also a slight regret, questioning leaving an awesome time. Things seemed to get started in Melbourne fairly quickly, I found a job with an arborist firm in just a couple weeks and started playing open mics and a few gigs.
I will always remember and cherish the time I spent in the shared house 184 in Melbourne. it really did help nurture a lot of new material and confidence in solo performing not to mention all the great people I met there and will stay in touch with.
I was desperate to find a van and made some errors and ended up being ripped off a couple of times and losing $1300 but I started to give less of a toss about money and who cares, the guy Conner was clearly not having a good time in his life so we’ll let him have it. Once I found my faithful old rusty ford transit I quickly decked it out into a basic liveable space and left to work on an apple orchard just outside Melbourne for a month before heading west!
Busking: I highly recommend it in Australia and New Zealand!
This was an exciting time, I had begun my quest to drive around the outside of Oz and had no idea what was going to happen! I had the essentials; my Bass my busking amp and a surfboard, what more did I need? Adelaide was the first longer stop and the first time I had the confidence to busk properly on my own (no one knew me there so I didn’t care). Its always different with just a bass I never know how people will react but as it happened it went down well and I quickly regained the petrol money spent driving 2 days from Melbourne. I spent about a month in Adelaide, my perfect day would be waking up by the sea having a surf then heading to town to busk for the afternoon or vice versa – having a sunset surf. It was easy; my house on wheels showers at the beach or the gym where the kind lady who used to live in a van let me use the showers for nothing. I was also offered some gigs and jammed with several different people.
After a few weeks there I was joined by friends Monia and Sophie, two french ladies who I had met in Melbourne, we intended to drive across to Perth together and find work. I appreciated their company and although I couldn’t understand half of what they were rabbiting on about as my french is limited I enjoyed listening and trying to guess the meaning of their witterings. Australia is seriously vast and there are some stunning places all over.
One place I will never forget is Cactus beach a remote desert campsite by a renowned surf break. Maybe a near death experience, I was way out of my comfort zone surfing here but tried it anyway. I battled the currents, the heavy reef breaks, the shallow reef breaks and the fear of the huge risk of shark attacks. I got into trouble in the currents and on the reef here and drummed up an audience on the beach (‘another brit abroad’ situation) Surprisingly they were very complimentary on my ability to not get smashed up and broken on the reef and make it out in one piece…
There was no real scope for busking along the south as it was so unpopulated so my audience were Monia and Sophie, I’m sure they must have got bored of my slappy chordy chops but they assured me they did not. Once we were in Perth I slept in my van while they booked into a hostel all looking for work. I ended up planting thousands and thousands of trees quite a contrast to chopping them up in Melbourne. Life became easy in Perth. My great pal Jack let me park on his driveway and use the house for almost 3 months. I would work away for a few days at a time planting trees and then come back to Perth to busk, gig, surf and party. I lived off the busking money there and at times couldn’t remember the last time I had used a bank card. Paying for rounds with change became a classic to the amusement of my peers.
I found a local haunt to gig at in Scarborough ‘indie bar’. I Met some wicked people here and I became known as ‘the bass goat man’. I would play the gig, go to after parties or kip in the van in the car park and go for a surf the next morning; absolute Jolly Japes in Perth. As well as supporting my jollies with busking I also met some very kind, crazy and entertaining people whilst busking. One very nice lady claimed she had been sent by God to cleanse Perth and that God told her I was meant to be her husband, she explained this over a steak lunch and a couple of pints she insisted on paying for. Shortly afterwards she force fed me chocolate before letting me busk again. It was difficult to leave Perth, I had it easy there and was blessed to have spent time with Jack and other new pals I had made there. I was selected by a farmers wife, who saw me busking, to play at their Blossom Fields festival at their orchard just outside Perth. This was to be my last weekend in Perth and the money I earned here playing 4.5hrs Saturday and Sunday paid for my entire road trip up to Darwin! I highly recommend the high streets in Adelaide and Perth for busking!
I was joined again by Monia and Sophie for the Road trip up north. I picked them up from an eclectic farm/scrap yard they had been working at. During that road trip I saw some of the most stunning areas of outstanding natural beauty ever. These have to include Coral bay for its Marine life and Karijini for its incredible Landscape.
Busking became a bit few and far between but I still played all the time working out new riffs and progressions. We also started to capture some of these ideas on camera in awesome surroundings.
We went all the way to Exmouth to surf; amazing waves and more manageable than Cactus Beach and Kalbarri previously ‘attempted’ (saying I surfed them would be an overstatement!) I did a spot of busking in Exmouth, just instrumental stuff, outside a pub while we waited for our laundry. We could use the coin for our clobber and a bit of fuel for the next stint to Karijini. I was offered a few gigs as well but I had to turn them down because we had no intention of heading to Karatha. After karijini we made tracks to Broome which was not as special as I expected and the busking would have been better earlier in the year during peak season. After Broome we found some spectacular landscapes on the outskirts of the Kimberly and I was inspired to come up with some new ideas which we captured one morning.
We decided on two more destinations before Darwin; Kunnunarra and Edith Falls both beautiful but extremely hot, I’m surprised Wilma, my bass, made it out of that place intact.
Edith Falls was the cause of my first hospital visit; I had done a lot of dangerous stuff up until then so it was overdue I suppose. Anyway in short I dived into a river and split my nose open. The scar left will forever remind me that rocks are just a little bit harder than noses! The heat did not help the healing, it was impossible to keep it dry and clean. It got infected and swelled up even more so it took ages to heal and to my surprise I became very self conscious about it.
I was in Darwin for a week living for free in exchange for a bit of gardening work. I busked at some of the markets there and was able to make $90 in an hour – my biggest hourly rate yet except for the Blossom Fields festival of course.
I set off alone onwards to the east coast. Still with a duffed up nose and a couple of black eyes. I must have looked a sorry state after 4/5 days constant driving just to reach Townsville. I spent most of the drive sat on my towel naked sweating the whole time with no air con in the ole tranny. I almost forgot a few times to put my shorts on when I stepped out to fuel up. Buying fuel was almost my only interaction with other humans during those days. I amused myself by reminiscing funny stories and playing bass in between drives. If there had been anyone else around on those roads I think I would have looked a bit mental driving butt naked with a smashed up face laughing out loud to no one but myself or singing along to whatever weird music I was listening to.
The east was a contrast it is totally different to the west, more people for one thing and also a lot greener, more trees to climb. Townsville itself was nothing to shout about but I did manage to make good money busking on Friday and Saturday nights. I met some cool people busking here who either joined me on the street or invited me for beers. Busking was almost pointless any other time so I cruised around and checked out some war museums and planned where to go next. I parked up by the beach where there were free showers until I got disturbed in the middle of the night by council security trying to suss out if anyone was in the van. I knew I could get heavily fined so I hid like a cowering child under my sheets and hoped they would disappear, which they did after about 20 intense minutes of them shining a torch into the van and banging on the door.
I decided to travel up to Cairns; I thought it would be rude not to go and check out the Great Barrier Reef! I spent a few days in Cairns busking in the eve and chilling in the day got involved with some open mics and dived the great barrier reef which in all honesty was nowhere near as good as the Ningaloo reef in Coral bay. I paid for that dive entirely out of busking change to the amusement of the booking agent, we were counting coins for quite a while! I met an awesome Aussie musician in Cairns called Sky, she played really vibey dub and reggae and travelled around in her bus with her dog.
Cape Tribulation was a recommended destination 4 hrs north of Cairns, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do there but I ended up meeting Sam, a local, in a car park who showed me around. He was determined to wrestle a crocodile and he did, to my surprise actually go for one and grabbed its tail! Luckily for everyone the croc freaked and scarpered!
Onwards back to Townsville where I had a little gig lined up, I needed some money after heading up north so I busked until 5 am which virtually paid for my expedition up north. It was around this time that I started really becoming dependant on my bass for everything involved with my travels: Meeting people, socialising, getting gigs, attracting ladies and of course making money. Busking in Airlie beach paid well in many ways, I made good money in the eve, jammed with an awesome singer, a trumpeter and beatboxer and met another musician Benny Bowen who played mandolin and guitar. He invited me on a cruise around the Whit Sunday islands on his sail boat. I was almost about to pay for a trip which would have been $300 so – thanks Benny. We had some great jams on his boat and did some good snorkelling and sightseeing. We also totally cut up a sailing regatta while we were jamming. Benny had to resort to engine power full throttle just to get out the way, all I could do was slap the bass harder and hope we’d avoid a nasty collision!
I was getting a little frustrated on the next few stops down the coast as my nose was looking worse and worse and it kept on reopening I was desperate to surf on the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, so I bought the best waterproof plasters money could buy! They did nothing! So the mend was prolonged even more… good waves though!
Unfortunately My busking amp packed in at Airlie beach and I was totally gutted when I reached Noosa as it was soooo busy and I think I would have made a killing. Alas you can’t have it all! I moved swiftly on from here after I tried very unsuccessfully to make some friends at a night club. I carried on down to Brisbane to meet up with and stay with a mate of Jack’s. We had a couple of nights out in the West End which was the better area of Brisbane. By this point I had already replaced my busking amp. It was well worth it and I was met with some of the most generous people in Brisbane. I was on my way into town to busk one day, I was sat next to an elderly lady and we chatted about busking and travelling. When I got off the bus she puts $50 in my pocket and wanders off – I hadn’t even played anything, bizarre! Fortitude Valley (the night club district) was a crazy place on Friday and Saturday nights; so busy, with crowds of people stumbling about off their face, good clients for buskers! As well as making a bit of dollar I had a lot of fun with randomers trying to rap or sing over my slappy bass tunes, whilst my competition played bloody Wonderwall every 10mins across the street. Next up the Gold Coast and Byron Bay.
This is around the time on my travels where I had a bit of a freak out. I had what I thought a mosquito bite that had got inflamed on my hand, my vigorous bass playing had obviously agitated it. Interestingly enough, some christians who were trying to get me to go back to church prayed for this bite just days before it got really bad. Anyway probably means nothing but turns out this bite was likely a white tail spider which gave me a staphylococcus infection. The wound got bigger and blacker and more swollen I hastily shot down to Debbie a Homeopath in Byron Bay who stopped my infection going systemic with Belladonna and some Calendula tincture. Unfortunately we were a bit clueless at the time that it was Staphylococcus and as a precaution I was advised to take antibiotics for the first time ever. Now although I felt healthy enough my wound was still getting bigger and looked horrible I had to change the dressing every day in my van too. All I could do was boil up wipes in salty water and try and get the gunk out, one morning all the gunk fell out and I could get my whole finger inside the crater.
Debbie then helped get this properly dressed and said to my surprise that it actually looked quite good. I was quite frustrated at this point I couldn’t do what I came to Australia to do; play bass and surf. I became a bit of a recluse stressing about what was happening with my hand and the fact my nose was still a state. After the news from Debbie I managed to stop being a little bitch and I met some other van life people in car parks and began to socialise again. One particular friend I met I nick-named Schnitzel made my time in Byron a hell of a lot better. I knew we would get on straight away as the first thing I said to this German lass was ‘ich bin ein spiegelei’ we had a good laugh about that and had Jolly Japes all week! And it hadn’t involved my bass at all so cheers Schnitzel.
My wound had improved loads by the time I went back up to Brisbane to pick up Sahar my great pal from Bristol. It was awesome to catch up and spend a couple of weeks cramming lots of Jolly Japes surfing and hiking on our way down to Melbourne. Best travel buddy and one of best couple of weeks of my 15 months travelling. I was so excited when I got back to Melbourne I had made it all the way around Australia and could share the last bit with my best pal.
It was two days after her departure that shit got REAL bad with my Staphylococcus infection I don’t know quite what bit me this time but in a couple of days the bite went from itchy to massively swollen and black! I went to the hospital and it looked terrible, the tracking lines were awful and I felt sick. There was also an infection on my back which had developed from a pimple and now looked like a black pussy volcano! I was immediately put on a drip, more bloody antibiotics and the thought of losing my hand crossing my mind! I might not ever recover and be able to play normally again was my foremost biggest concern!
I was in hospital for a week, had three operations including a skin graft. All the time I was hassled about getting medicare card to cover the massive hospital bill that I was due… $2000 a night plus whatever the surgery cost! Fortunately us Brits get reciprocal health care in Australia. I kept occupied by reading and chatting to people and whatever else I could do; pacing up and down and doing lunges in the corridor with my ass hanging out the hospital gown! When I was released I was out of action for 5 weeks so I was very thankful for the great group of people around me in 184. I had planned to work and busk in Melbourne; my good aussie mate Dani had lined up some work for me and I had a busking license to busk legitimately for once. I managed to sell my van luckily without too much hassle the day before I left for new Zealand! During those last few weeks in Melbourne I didn’t bother venturing out of the house much at all there was always someone around to have a laugh with and I practiced with just my left hand and a Stompbox still concerned i’d never get full movement back. I became a bit of a waster in the last few weeks but I showed some productivity and made a couple of videos for myself and Mammoth Toe.
I wasn’t making any money at this time so I chose to give bin diving a go and lived off the food we found in the bins! I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at the great stuff we found in the Aldi bins! The Christmas and New years parties were loads of fun and I had some great jams with french producers Allen, Nils and Mark using keys, guitar, beats and bass https://soundcloud.com/stephigh. The new years eve party had a little festi vibe in the woods; big fat sound system, trees, a river and lots of silliness. Great times. I tried busking in Melbourne during the last week I was there but it was nowhere near as good as I was expecting. I did however manage to finally jam with Sky (only took 4000kms) I felt as though my hand had almost recovered so on my last day in Oz I decided to dangle upside down from a big pin oak and get a clip playing bass to celebrate!
I would miss Australia; Perth and 184 in particular but I was ready for a change and New Zealand saw more adventures. Starting in Auckland. I stayed with my good pal Natalie from Uni we explored Auckland and surfed the west coast. I bought a busking amp pretty quickly, a little ashton which was surprisingly good for its size and price. I got on it in Auckland straight away which. I borrowed my mate Mark’s van and a couple of his surfboards for my time in NZ, This made my trip. I picked up the van from his inlaws in Taupo and did some busking around the lake which paid the bus fare from Auckland and a night in a hostel. I visited Mount Maunganui for surfing and busking. It’s good up there and would be even better when all the cruise ships come in and throw you all their money! The surf was brilliant too. I headed to Napier the day after to see one of my favourite bands ‘Jakob’ who always blow me away but this gig in their home town was particularly special https://jakob.co.nz/. I busked in the street beforehand just so I could pay for my ticket and the petrol there. There weren’t many people around but the few that were, were very generous.
I found no waves on the east coast of the North Island so I just headed straight to Wellington. I Wellington which is a vibrant city, my favourite in New Zealand. The only thing that lets it down is there’s no surf. As well as a bit of dollar made in Cuba street I was also given this very sentimental note which was quite touching…
It felt like I was going to another country on that ferry south, things immediately looked different more like the European countryside. New Zealand does have everything, I really started to get into it down the east coast; surfing in Kaikoura and busking and surfing in Christchurch. There’s a beautiful national park ‘Akorua’ which juts out to the south east of Christchurch, there’s lots of hiking and mountain biking but also the best spot I found to busk. I should have stayed longer but after just an hour I felt I had made enough for the day; $135! and I decided to go surfing in New Brighton, Christchurch where I had the best waves in NZ; Long clean over head rights and lefts and only a handful of people out there; Ludicrous! The next day I was busking by a market in Sumner Beach and got invited to play on the stage in the middle. I don’t think it meant I got more money but I did get given food and beer as well as dollar and it felt more pro; like I was wanted there.
Dunedin was pretty stormy the whole time I was there. After waking up by the sea and a bit of consideration I went for a surf at Tomahawk Bay in the roughest waters I’ve ever been in. Just as I was heading out, a kite surfer had just had his kite ripped to shreds by a double over head. With no others in the water you’d think it would put me off but I clearly am yet to learn my lesson. Dunedin was ok for busking I did get a noise complaint though and decided after a bit of mincing around for a few days it was time to move on to visit my ski season mate James in Queenstown.
The drive to QT was stunning and it got more and more like the Alps the closer I got. I hadn’t seen James for 5 years and we had a blast catching up and doing activities like climbing, mountain biking, motor cross riding and of course busking and getting on the booze as well. I had such a great time there and busking in QT payed well to. I had to be pretty quick after Qt to get back up to Auckland to catch a flight on the 16th therefore I made just a couple of stops; Franz Joseph glacier and Nelson. I busked in both those places and managed to pay for the fuel all the way back to Taupo and a set of new tyres for Mark’s van as a thank you for the loan. A moody bitch came over whilst I was busking in Nelson and said in her thick American accent “You Know we’re moving restaurants, we cant sit and eat here because you’re absolutely awful and are sick of listening to your shit!” All I could do was laugh! I’ve never had comments like that before. Shortly afterwards the manager came out with a tip for me and offered me a gig!
I chose to visit Sri Lanka for a surf holiday and to be a beach bum for a couple of weeks (For a change) and that’s exactly what happened. My bro came to visit but unfortunately I had a real bad fever while he was there but I still got excited by his guitar wizardry and mustered enough energy to jam with him. For the rest of the trip I managed to get extremely cheap accommodation at a surf camp for playing a bit of bass at the bar. I bumped into a mate I met in the Three Valleys when we were both on tour with different bands and we ended up doing a couple of gigs in the area. Maybe we’ll end up gigging again in the UK or the Alps in the future.
Unfortunately for me Kuwait is probably my least favourite country I’ve visited. It’s so restrictive. I go there to visit my bro and his family and on this occasion to meet my niece for the first time. I had a great time with my family there but to give an idea of how restrictive it can be; busking is seen as begging and begging is illegal. Tom and I jammed in the park, cases shut, no intention of busking, hardly anybody around, no one complained. The security there! We protested as much as we dared but you do not mess with the police in the Middle East. Never mind; we continued elsewhere.
I was excited to go back to the UK. It had been a long time and I was looking forward to catching up with people especially my family and bandmates. I went up to Bristol a few times for jollies and work and spent the rest of the time catching up with mates, searching for a van and buying expensive music equipment; busking amp, Fx and pickup. After a month I went skiing in Chamonix and it was going great until Thursday afternoon where its all gone to shit in the blink of an eye! I was air lifted off the mountain after a going over a drop off piste clipping an ice boulder which sent me into a huge tumble resulting in a fractured tibia and fibula. I have been in hospital for 4 days now in agony, pissing into a bottle as I’m unable to get out of bed! At least when I get home I’ll have my bass to escape and can finally finish the Mammoth Toe mixes and maybe record another mini P.A.G album.
I still hope to busk in Bournemouth and Bristol and perhaps I’ll get extra sympathy money… I’m going to need it to pay for this ludicrous medical bill! I haven’t been this dependent on my poor parents since I wore a nappy! Anyway times like these you just have to go with it and do not keep saying shit like ‘but what if…?’ ‘If Only…’. I’ll just have to adopt a little more patience and play more Bass! After all Boys will be boys
Thanks for reading
(written in hospital revised and published when I got home)
Its been a long time in the making and as a result I’ve been having a chillier winter than usual with the new shaved haircut! Big thanks to Kristine Bordarenko for editing and Will Hewitt for camera work.
Are you interested in taking up a musical instrument?
Free taster sessions are being held at Mickleburgh Music tomorrow saturday 21st between 10am and 4pm. Free lessons available on the following instruments:
Piano, Cello, Violin, Saxophone, Guitar, Bass Guitar, Drums
See links for details or contact Mickleburgh: 0117 9241151