For decades, heart folk punk and rock music has captured our imagination and fascination with adventurous lyrical storytelling. Its signature feel and sentiment rings out through every of Greg Rekus‘ works. The Canadian folk punk artist’s recent European endeavor has seen him further embark on his path as a worthy artist with a lot to say and share with the world. With his very organic and authentic work, Greg never fails to uplift, inspire, motivate, and spread positivity in some way or another throughout his recordings and live shows. With so much passion for taking his music to listeners across the globe, we found it interesting to learn his subjective impressions from his recent touring adventure in Europe.
With an acoustic guitar in his hands and a giant stomp box under his feet, Winnipeg’s Greg Rekus delivers his own unique brand of punk rock-infused folk music guaranteed to shake rafters, move floorboards, and get even the most stoic of concert-goers out of their seats. Rekus’s latest full-length album, “Sibling Cities”, once again enlists the genius of John Paul Peters (Royal Canoe, Comeback Kid Propagandhi) as engineer/producer. With more mature and insightful lyrics, tasteful arrangements, and diverse tempos, “Sibling Cities” is evidence of a musician devoted to refining his craft and can be considered among Rekus’ best work to date.
Greg Rekus’ European Tour Diary (March-May 2018)
The plane gently shakes from side to side, like a full serving tray of drinks carried by a grinning drunk friend who is trying to negotiate around a clustered maze of tables and people. The lady sleeping next to me lays her arm in my lap…again. We are on hour six of a seven-hour overnight flight from Montreal to Paris, and everyone’s patience ticks away with every movement of the minute hand.
This is my tenth time touring Europe! The first was in Fall 2007 with my old punk band, High Five Drive. At that time, I was about twenty-five years old and in the company of three other wide-eyed first timers who were also ready to panic at a moment’s notice.
When you get off the plane at CDG (Charles de Gaulle Airport), there is a replica of the Concorde which over the years has become a moment of comfort for myself. A sort of “I’m here!” moment, but the first time it was more of a quick glance as we tried to hurry Steve (our drummer) past everyone and into the public restroom so he could finish his tango with air sickness.
High Five Drive did four tours in Europe. When I started my solo acoustic career and decided to take another shot at touring Europe in 2012, I had no idea if people would like my new approach to punk rock since it was something totally different from High Five Drive. Would they still be supportive? If I could even do it, that is. It took everything the four of us had to pull it off before and now it was just me and my former partner in a rented car. Every tour from that point on was a little bit better and gradually became more streamlined. You pay more attention to details and learn little cost saving tricks. More and more people are willing to book you, so you have a better chance at putting together a decent route with short drives between each show. The old tour routes seemed to resemble strange and complex constellations as I set personal records for the most money ever spent in a week on toll roads in France.
It was a rainy March 19th 2018 as I de-planed and rushed through customs to collect my luggage. After a quick check to make sure my guitar was still in one piece and nothing else was missing, I was off. The majority of this tour was just me riding the FlixBus or train, depending on cost and availability. In one hand I had a small cart that I found at a department store, which carried a blue Rubbermaid tub filled with my pedal board and everything I might need for my show. My personal luggage sat on top and was crowned by a case containing fifty vinyl records. In my other hand, I carried my guitar.
I had booked an Ouibus to London, England from CDG which was set to leave in about three hours. In hindsight, I guess it was good that I gave myself some extra time in case the flight was late or something, but freezing in the rain carrying enough stuff to fill the back seat of a hatchback made me question my logic. After what seemed like an eternity, the bus came and we were off! After a few unscheduled naps during the ride that were interrupted by the token loud cellphone user, we were there!
Tim Holehouse and I played ten dates in the UK together. Most notable was the show in Peterborough, as I had been there before and everyone who came that night was ready to have a good time. All the shows were fabulous and Tim, being the sweetest man in the world, made sure I was well taken care of and served Linda McCarthy sausages daily. The beer in the UK is exceptional and the British are easily the best at pouring beer out of anyone else in the world.
A bus ride back to France and now it was me versus the language of love for ten days. I like to think that I emerged with only a few bumps and bruises, but someone who actually speaks French might have had a different story. Nonetheless, everyone loved me this time! One of my favourite shows was in La Rochelle. It was a fun crowd. Not huge, but enough. People kept buying me drinks and I kind of surprised myself that night at how much liquor I was able to hold. Unfortunately, I missed the last bus and had to walk back to my friend’s house where I was staying. It’s amazing the amount of faith you put into Google Maps when you can’t read the street signs.
After France I continued south to Italy. Pasta is my absolute favourite food ever! Pizza is a runner-up, mostly due to being vegan and the lack of really amazing cheese substitutes. However, Italian pizza is even further down the scale. It’s not the ingredients (those are leaps and bounds over the stuff we put on pizza here in North America), it’s the thin crust. It’s like a bread stick with a cape attached. You try to pick it up and everything just falls off. Using a sort of taco fold and sideways head motion you can get it into your mouth, but you usually end up wearing a large portion of it.
Bari, Italy was the last stop on this leg of the tour and I found myself ten hours early with no place to use the toilet. The area I was playing was kind of a tourist trap and in order to use the toilet in any of the dozens of cafés, you had to buy a drink. After you buy a drink, you have to use the toilet again and again, and so on. The next day I was supposed to take a ferry to Greece, but was notified before the Bari show that it was cancelled due to a seaman strike. After a panicked phone call to Expedia, I was able to find a flight from Rome to Athens. The next day, I hopped on the FlixBus at a very early hour and headed back north. After a train ride to the airport, a flight to Athens, and a ride from a good friend of Xenophone (my tour mate in Greece), the tour was back in business. Greece was amazing! Maybe some of my favourite shows on the tour! Really fun people who were passionate about music. I was sad to leave.
After the last Greek show, I had an early morning flight the next day to Vienna and I was staying just outside the city centre. Around 2:30am I was finally able to look at the inside of my eyelids, but only for a couple of hours since the train to the Athens airport left at 5:30am. Needless to say, I was not in the best of shape. The train to the airport stopped several times mid-route and at one point we had to change to another train for no apparent reason. I arrived at the airport around 7:30am. I was under the impression that the ride would take an hour, not two. I also didn’t realize that now my ticket had expired and I wasn’t able to get through the gate to exit the platform. Luckily, I must have been in KEN mode at that point and I just threw everything over the gate including myself. I landed in Vienna and jumped on a FlixBus to Graz.
I have some very, very good friends in Austria. Unfortunately, my tour mate, Migre le Tigre, cancelled late notice, but I was able to figure out the bus and train pretty quickly, and even booked a few extra shows in Switzerland. Both of those places have always been extremely supportive of all that I do and have very strong DIY scenes.
After a few days off, I was on the train to Lindau, Germany with my friend Pascal to open for Propagandhi, The Bomb Pops and Iron Chic. It was easily the biggest show of my solo career. I hit the stage at 7pm sharp to an actual empty room (not counting the sound person). So, I guess it was actually one of the smallest shows of my career. Luckily, people were just outside smoking and by the time I was finishing up, a few hundred were watching. Following an early morning train-bus combo, I was in Western Germany with Complaints and Travels and Trunks. The British may know how to pour, but some of the best beer really is in Germany!
After a few more solo shows and a bus driver who got lost in Prague, I arrived at the Prague bus station over an hour late. I pick up the rental car and realize that I kind of forgot how to drive for about five minutes. I find the venue and load my stuff into a tiny elevator. My friend Dasa arrives shortly after and we play in what seems to be someone’s living room. We load the gear back into the tiny elevator, take a short ride down, realize the door at the bottom is locked, and then go all the way back up and take the stairs. The shows in the Czech Republic and Slovakia were really great! The people love music so much and I got some of the best responses of the whole tour there, I think.
We arrive at the Ukraine border mid-afternoon. Dasa understands a bit of what the border guards are saying since Slavic languages are similar. They tell us that the rental car agreement doesn’t match the rental car registration documents. Panic sets in and after several phone calls, Erik, the rental company guy who rented me the car, is scrambling to e-mail me a document that gives legal permission for me to drive the car into Ukraine, and tells me that it will take him about an hour or so. Ten minutes go by and we get called back into the booth with the border guards. The head guard says that we only have ten more minutes to produce the documents or they will throw us out of the country. After some quick addition and subtraction, I call Erik again and update him to the new imposed schedule. He says he’ll do what he can but it seems like we will have to leave the country, find a printer, print the permission document and try again. Meanwhile, the border guard emerges from the booth and walks towards us. Here it comes….
He hands us our passports and other documents and tells us that “he is being nice guy today”. We’re in!
Ukraine is an amazing place to tour. Yuliana has been a good friend for years and is tour managing us. It’s the only place I don’t really trust myself to be able to do it alone.
I travel by plane from Prague to Helsinki and my good friend Toni greets me with open arms. The first show didn’t work out, but a place downtown ends up having some of the best vegan pizza I’ve ever had. One long bus ride later and I’m in Oulu. It’s so far north that the sun doesn’t go down during that time of year. Three more amazing shows take place, including a birthday party show for some of Toni’s friends. Everyone that night was in such a good mood and dancing and stuff. It might have been my favourite night of the whole tour. Another early morning train ride to the airport in Helsinki and I’m back on a plane to Paris.
On my last night in Europe, as I sit alone in my tiny French motel room and munch on Burger King fries (being the only vegan option within two kilometres), I try to focus on the flight back, but the only thing that is really on my mind is the next European tour. Specifically, on the mistakes I made along the way this time around and how much better the next one will be, as well as which shows were amazing and which fell flat. I promise myself to put more effort into learning French and Italian, among other languages. If I had never toured Europe, I don’t think I would be the same person that I am today. Especially if I didn’t do it on an indie level, I might only have stories of how hard it was to order a pizza from the hotel front desk or how much beer they always give you back stage. There are a million ways to do Europe, but until you have hand-to-mouthed it playing punk rock, you haven’t really seen any of it!
Greg is currently on tour in North America. The trek will continue until late November. See the dates below.
GO HERE to watch the recent video interview with Greg, conducted by our long-time collaborator Gab De La Vega!