So after a great gig and a late-ish night for an old bloke like me, it was a lie in to watch Match of the Day – at least the bit featuring Watford’s win, which had been followed by all in the sound check yesterday through my phone updates. After a leisurely breakfast I took a tram ride to Central Station ready to catch a train to Utrecht. Once again the ease and efficiency of travel were everywhere apparent, And to make things better there had been an upward temperature shift of more than ten degrees. We were now in + degrees and layers were back in the suitcase. I knew I’d arrive ahead of normal check in time but went to the Dom Hotel first to leave my bag, Getting out of Utrecht station is a bit like getting into the London Stadium – you have to go through an enormous shopping mall, Hoog Catharijne. And it could easily double as Westfield as, sadly, almost all the shops and cafes are international brands. Just one caught my eye that might not do so well in England – a menswear shop called Sissy Boy.
The hotel was an easy ten minute walk towards Utrecht’s defining monument, the Dom Tower. Even I couldn’t get lost looking for Domstraat. I did have a slight worry when I had to ring the doorbell to gain entry. It’s a hotel in progress as the eleven suites (they are worthy of the epithet rather than just rooms) are all there and beautifully appointed but the bar and restaurant won’t open until next week end, Staff were helpful and went to check whether housekeeping had a room available and I was quickly signed in and shown to a spacious second floor room with windows on two sides and views out over the inner city.
I got a call from Alan to say they were leaving their hotel and would be at the venue in about an hour, Just the right time for a stroll back towards the north side of the station via a modern bar restaurant for lunch and a beer. It was so modern that it’s the first I’ve ever been in where you can only play by card – no cash accepted.
I haven’t Googled it but I guess there was an old Tivoli theatre as there is an older building behind the massive new music centre which opened in 2014. Do we have so many modern music and/or theatre venues in the UK? If not, and I suspect not, maybe the “creative industries” should step up their lobbying. This place had several gigs on and a cafe that must have been making good money for it. There are nine different halls each designed with an acoustic suited to particular music forms. We were in Cloud Nine the blue semicircle that sticks out at the top. A good name for a jazz club. I make my way up through the public area and collect my guest ticket which ominously bears no number but the words “Rij Stoel ” but also the legend Vrijkaart which meant I was a guest and there indeed I later found an isolated chair to the right side of the stage. But again a helpful employee said “You must be Mike” and I was escorted through to the green room and met up with all my new friends from yesterday and Skid. They had done the sound check by the time I got there and we had time for a few jokes and general chatter and it was time to go on stage. This was a 4 pm Sunday Afternoon Jazz slot. Again it’s a very modern room but with a great atmosphere.
They played a slightly different set list from yesterday but the saxophone summit was soon burning up the hall. There was a long bar along one side but it was notable that very few people got up to get a drink during the set and then there was a rush at the interval. Truly jazz at the highest level and I don’t just mean because we were on Level 9. The Rein de Graaff Trio play together frequently and are a tuneful, slick and inventive rhythm section worthy of playing behind anyone. I’ve long admired Alan Skidmore‘s ability to play the hardest of hard bop and tender lyrical ballads always with solos that intrigue, dazzle and entertain. I had not heard Benjamin Herman before but was very impressed with his performances and likewise Tineke Postma was unknown to me before these gigs but her albums will be on my download list very shortly after I get back home. She, as they say, really ripped the place up.
Another chance to chill after the gig and take my farewells from Benjamin, Tineke and Eric – I went to the garage again with Alan, Rein and Marius who were heading off back to their hotel out in the countryside. It was not too difficult to get out this time and I popped back to the hotel to sort out photos before going out for a pleasant dinner in the busy heart of Utrecht to a restaurant recommended by the helpful staff at the Dom Hotel.
I had some work-related stuff to do on Monday but once that was complete had a chance to walk around other parts of this delightful city. I decided that my feet were too old to climb the 465 steps to the top of the Dom Tower and of course the top part is clad in scaffolding at present during restoration – well it was built in 1382 to it probably needs a bit of tlc. It rises to 112 metres making it the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. I did take a look at St Martin’s Cathedral next door which has a very fine cloister and then walked along the Oudegracht or old canal, sparkling in the unexpected warm spring sunshine and with the Dom Tower dominating the skyline. Then back up through another canal-side park towards the market place and the old centre. I realised I was running short on euros and consulted Google maps for the nearest ATM. I dutifully followed the steps but there’s no bank in sight. The map said it was bang next door to Lush, the soap shop. Now I’m not very fond of the odours that emerge from Lush but I manned up and walked in with my phone to enquire if they knew where it was. Total blankness from the first assistant but then her colleague said that it was inside the Hema shop opposite. Now able to buy a coffee I continued to walk through old Utrecht.
It was interesting to see that the minute the sun comes out again people love to eat and drink outdoors and there were many examples of lunch time cafe society as I moved through the city. I joined them and then it was then time to catch a train back to Amsterdam, the Thalys to Brussels and Eurostar back to London, completing a highly enjoyable short break.