Last Thursday, in conjunction with the good people of Talenthouse, I played the final date of my Couch Surf Tour in a beautiful house in Barnes, London. The gig was actually at Talenthouse MD’s house which was 20mins down the road from where the whole tour had kicked off almost a year and a half earlier in Fulham and was the perfect place to end, feeling like the tour had come full circle. While the dreaded tube strike affected a number of guests who unfortunately couldn’t make it to that part of London, it was an intimate affair which is what this tour was all about so all good! I was also chuffed that good friend and musician, J Gusto was in town and we got to perform one of our songs together.
As an independent and unsigned artist, it’s not always easy to just head out on a tour playing actual venues with little to no budget under your belt, I don’t have a manager or agent and wouldn’t really know where to start either. I was just really hungry to get out there and play for people, people who are interested my music and my journey as an artist; people who wanted to join in and be part of it.
Since moving to London from my hometown of Gibraltar, I had been playing lots of gigs in and around the city at venues popular amongst unsigned artists where the audience would go specifically to listen to music and discover new artists. I loved these gigs as the audience would be really engaged and the vibe in the room would be incredible. Alongside these, I was also playing lots of pub gigs which, as a solo artist, was very difficult to get people to engage as they were mainly there for the beer and wine. I totally understood this and accepted that I was providing background music, however, I really wanted to play more gigs in an intimate setting even if it was just to 5 people who would be into it and provide feedback as it was so much more satisfying.
There were two elements that I felt were key to making that connection with the audience at the showcase gigs: 1) They were there because they were genuinely interested in discovering new music or were existing supporters 2) There was a host settling them into the vibe of the venue and giving them some background on each artist. The only way I could think of doing this myself would be by playing gigs in people’s living rooms, as it doesn’t really get more intimate than that. I wasn’t however too keen on the idea of just inviting myself into people’s homes so, I thought I would use twitter and facebook to let my followers know that I was available to come and play gigs in their homes for them and their mates if they wanted to book me. All they needed to do, was let me crash on their sofa for the night. It would be similar to the concept of Couch Surfing, which provides a platform for members to “surf” on couches by staying as a guest at a host’s home or by hosting travellers in need of a place to stay. The whole idea is that Couch Surfers share their lives with the people they encounter or put up, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect. With my version, I’d be sharing music too. And so the Couch Surf Tour was born!
I organised a tester event at my friend’s place in London which I also broadcasted live online and the tour kind of went from there with invites starting to roll in via Twitter, Facebook and Email. For the 1st leg of the tour, commencing around the summer of 2012, I mainly played UK dates over a series of weekends. I would travel with a small portable PA system and microphone stand bag filled with my clothes and travel essentials and hop on and off trains to get to each house. I played a couple of dates up in Scotland stopping for a gig in Newcastle on the way and was lucky that a good Scottish friend of mine was moving back home from London so I hitched a ride up with her. There were also a couple of invites to living rooms in mainland Europe. When I started this, I didn’t really plan for it to run longer than the summer but I kept receiving invites so, following a bit of a break from the tour to play non Couch Surf Tour dates during the earlier part of 2013, I then began to plan the 2nd leg of the tour and again posted about it online. Invites came in from around the world, from Australia to Mexico and even South Africa! Budget permitting, I confirmed those that I could realistically make happen. I was booked in for a return to Austria, and gigs in homes in France, Italy, Germany and across the pond to the USA where I ended up playing two dates. Click on the country names to see the snaps!
I really wanted to take my existing supporters on the journey and so, where possible, I would stream the gigs live online using my mobile phone and take photos along the way and go posting them online (search the hashtag #CouchSurfTour on Instagram). I more recently set myself a “Polaroid challenge” where I would take a maximum of 10 instant photos for each tour date to serve as a photo diary.
I have had an absolute blast on the road and have met a lot of brilliant people. All my hosts have been amazing, making a huge effort to throw a great gig in their living rooms! A huge thank you to every single on of my hosts! I would definitely want to do something like this again sometime, but for now, it’s time to get that next EP finished for you all!