Imagine spending nearly four months travelling around Europe with two close friends, playing music, seeing the sights and meeting new people.
That’s exactly what Joey Clarkson of Courtenay did this winter.
The 21-year-old folk rock singer-songwriter and bandmates Breanne Larson and Jesse McCloy played in England, Ireland and France for three and a half months. They returned to the Comox Valley in late February.
“It was really cool to go over there and spend as much time as we did there,” said Clarkson. “We had time to make actual connections, not just surface connections. We made lots of connections and lots of good friends.”
Because they were there for so long, they became good friends with pub owners — who want them to perform again when they return in August. The owners of the Wheatsheaf Inn in Lincolnshire offered to store their van for them and get a mechanic to look at it before they return.
Clarkson did notice a difference in the crowds in Europe and the crowds at home.
“It was interesting over there with the pub atmosphere because it’s a lot different than over here,” she said. “They will go to the pub to see live music … people here don’t go out to see live music at the pub as much. In almost every single one of the places we performed, it didn’t matter if there were five people or it was packed, people for the most part were there to listen.
“You’re in a pub, and you have everyone’s attention. When you’re performing your own songs — and I’m very lyrically driven with my music — it’s really cool to have people listen to your music and not just have a conversation with music in the background.”
Clarkson, Larson and McCloy spent two weeks in Ireland, two weeks in France and two and a half months in England.
“It was really interesting playing for people who had never heard us before,” said Clarkson. “You get honest reactions and honest opinions of what they think of your music. It was received really well over there. It feels really good.”
The trio did 12 gigs, performed during open mic nights, did house concerts, some busking and performed at a Sunday market.
“It was really cool because it was almost like we were living there,” said Clarkson.
They played one gig in the Brittany district of France that stands out for Clarkson because they met someone who is interested in working with them this summer.
“The show in north France was probably one of my favourites we played because of the connection we’ve made,” she said. “The guy’s worked with some pretty big artists over there. It’s a great connection to have; he was very supportive and liked us.”
Clarkson’s sister Katie and one of her students who is also a family friend came and visited them for two weeks, and they took them to southern France and to their show in northern France.
Clarkson enjoyed playing in France.
“Playing to a French crowd was fun because a lot of them don’t speak English, and I sure don’t speak French,” she said. “We tried. It was really cool — even though half the room didn’t speak English, they were listening.”
Clarkson, Larson and McCloy are heading back to Europe in August and September, and many of the places where they performed have asked them to come back.
“They said we were very personable with the audience, which was nice,” said Clarkson. “They enjoyed the music itself and said the audience reacted well to it.”
Clarkson was really happy to do this trip with her friends.
“Breanne and I live together, so we can’t get any closer, but going over with Jesse was really good,” she said. “We mix really well together and get along. It was really good to spend that quality time together. It definitely brought us together closer. It’s really satisfying when you’re performing and you get off the stage and you think, ‘Wow, we just did that; let’s go talk to people.'”
Clarkson thinks this trip has changed her — and her bandmates.
“I definitely think our confidence levels have improved greatly,” she said. “We’ve never been shy onstage, but we’re definitely not anymore. I think we’re more confident as people and performers now.”
Clarkson, Larson and McCloy are going back to Europe in August and September. They have already booked gigs in England, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic, and they are hoping to book gigs in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal.
While they are home, they are trying to get gigs around the Valley and are booking for house concerts in the next five months.