Hannah Golightly

Folk you meet in foreign bus stations

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Daniel Steinbock - The Blade

By Hannah Golightly

It’s funny the way music comes into a person’s life. Things used to be so simple. Now they are not. The internet is a blessing and a curse for finding new music. You have all this choice of unsigned bands, online music magazines, online streaming, YouTube and just so much stuff all trying to grab your attention … so it really starts to go full circle where The Last Place On Earth you wanna find new music is online. So I guess the antidote is to unplug and get off Facebook for five minutes and go and live your actual life and you know, move around on this planet, having adventures.

I met him in a bus station. I had just arrived in Crete alone, sort of shit scared having had a premonition mid-flight that something awful was going to happen, like I was going to die there or something. I later found out that is a common concern of first time solo travellers. I also nearly died at one point, but that’s another story. I had just hitchhiked halfway across the island in search of a bus that would take me to where I was going to stay that night. I’d just been cornered in the toilet cubicle mid-flow by a gigantic cockroach and was afraid it was going to crawl into the hole of my children’s acoustic guitar that I travel with. Welcome to Greece. Fuck. I stamped in this creature’s general direction hoping to scare it off, but it seemed to consider this an invitation to come closer. Needless to say, I was pretty flustered by the time I stepped out of there, guitar at arm’s length and collapsed in a heap on one of the benches with my huge 10-tonne backpack behind me. I sat there for a little while, wishing I could play my baby guitar while I waited, but the strings were all taped up with cardboard since I couldn’t afford a case for it.

A short while later a tall man with long dark hair walks in and sits down across from me, in his hands, a brand new children’s acoustic guitar. If this had been a Hollywood film, that, my friend would have been the Meet Cute. But this was real life and my attempts to catch his eye to smile about both travelling with the unusual object of a children’s acoustic guitar were lost on the obviously seasoned traveller sitting across from me. Clearly the guy is more streetwise than I am. So as it happened, for me at least, this guy having a baby guitar like me in this strange foreign place was like the elephant in the bus station. Eventually I asked him to watch my stuff while I went to buy some water to drink. He had a good vibe about him and since he already had a baby guitar with him, I knew he’d be less likely to want to steal mine.

After that we got talking. Turned out, we were waiting for the same bus and heading for the same youth hostel on the south coast. He was from California and was studying at one of the top US universities, seemed to know what he was doing and had an impressive camera. I felt like a lost child by comparison, but we got along pretty well on our ride through the Greek landscapes of gorges and beaches, little villages and mountains.

We arrived at the youth hostel by foot and later on went off together to the beach where I photographed him in the waves and he sat with me under a tree watching me smoke roll up cigarettes and talking. Later on that night he played me a song after we’d been drinking with the crowd from the hostel. On a bench by the beach with the moon on the water and the sea as a backing track. He had struck me as quiet and reserved until he sang. He took a bit of persuading to do it, but I always love to make people sing for me. I get a kick out of it, especially if they don’t want to at first.

So that is the story of how I discovered the music of Daniel Steinbock, the folk singer from California, a long long way from home as he travelled across little known parts of Greek islands, walking when the roads ran out and taking boats when there was no way of walking any further. I had gone to Crete in search of Joni Mitchel’s Matala Moon and that’s where I ended up finding Daniel Steinbock.

Now before you go accusing me of being some travel bore, read on. You see, travel is an important ingredient in American Folk music. I mean what would Bob Dylan’s songs have been like if he hadn’t be-hobbo-ed himself around the country picking up politics and characters to add to his lyrical stories along the way? And what if Joni Mitchel had just rented a grand piano and put some flowers around her own bedroom instead of travelling to Greece and musing about going on to Amsterdam? I wouldn’t have even gone to Greece if it hadn’t been for her song ‘Carey’. Yeah, that is how I make my decisions. Moving on …

There are so many ‘folk’ artists about these days, all painting by numbers, all buying the right clothes from Urban Outfitters or wherever, getting into the look but not living the role if you scratch beneath the surface. And then there’s Daniel Steinbock, who though he didn’t say it, clearly couldn’t take travelling without a guitar because, like me, music is a part of his life and being. It’s rare these days to meet the real deal. He has no idea I am writing this about him right now, he has just released an EP and from what I can tell, he travels about playing his folk songs to friends, intimate gigs, hippie gatherings and festivals. He’s not vying for a shot at the big time. He is just expressing himself. He is just folk.

It’s called The Blade and starts out with ‘Blessing And A Curse’, a song about what sounds like a bi-coastal love affair. The east-west divide. Painting Orion’s belt into the lyrics is always gonna go down well with me. Don’t ask. My favourite song on the EP is ‘Supposed To Hurt’. While the other songs sound like they are attempts to woo a woman with romance, this one stands out as the most honest. That’s the one I’d fall for. Steinbock’s voice when he sings the word “Heart” sounds so intimate that the beauty in the note just finishes me off somehow. Or maybe I just love the way his accent sounds on that word. But either way this song has been playing on repeat at my house tonight. I think I prefer it when he sings in his mellow rich lower register to when his voice soars high on ‘Angela’s Fire’. His voice is pretty appealing like that, and it becomes harder to tell his age when he sings. He could be an whiskey-embalmed old blues man on tracks like ‘The Blade’ or a rawer Jack Johnson (please don’t shoot me. please at least want to shoot me) in other places, but he turns out to be neither.

All my angels walk the Earth
And the old fire, you know it still burns

I don’t know, I think I might be about to drop out of mainstream society and become a full-on hippie or something at the moment because I want lyrics like these ones. I want moons and stars and girls on bicycles checking themselves out in shop windows as they cycle through New York. I want stories about deserts from a man who has actually spent time wandering through deserts and heart break and longing and wandering. I want music that means something to someone, somewhere, where not enough people are listening, behind the music industry’s back. I want meeting strangers in foreign bus stations and later discovering they are poet songwriters like the sort you only imagine exist in 60s beatnik daydreams or hippie fantasies … only,  unpretentious, modest yet ever so mysterious.

I guess I’m just looking for something special, unfettered by the commerce of cool.

Oh yeah, you can get/listen to his EP here.

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