Emma Ballantine

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Tour diary part two

The end of the road...for now!

Well, my first tour is done and dusted! 1,395 miles of road covered, eight venues played, countless Jelly Babies consumed, and more learnt than I could ever have imagined.

For example, my knowledge of Britain's motorways is 100% better than a month ago. This is not difficult given the low base I started from, and I still rely on Google Maps like it's an extra bodily organ, but if you airdropped me in the Midlands and told me to hitchhike home, I'd make it (I'd wonder why you were doing such a cruel thing to me for no reason, but I reckon I'd find my way to the M1).

I have also acquired the basic knowledge of a very inexperienced but enthusiastic Roadie. I can amplify my keyboard in five different creative ways depending on the facilities available. I've learnt (the hard way!) not to leave my laptop on hibernate mode when using it onstage. I've carried an incredibly heavy keyboard distances that I'm pretty sure qualify me for the Highland Games, and I've squeezed my gear onto stages smaller than my bathroom. Touring is great for learning how to rock up at a completely strange venue and get on with it - regardless of any surprises that await!

And I've got more demanding. Not in a diva-ish way (no freshly painted dressing rooms and blue M&Ms for me!) but in terms of asking for what I need from sound engineers, promoters and venue managers. Where before I'd scuttle on stage and meekly follow instructions from the sound guy, I've got a little braver now. A bit too much treble from the guitar? A slightly dry vocal? I know what to ask for. The best gigs I've done are those where I've taken a bit of time to make sure the sound is the best it can be - and that benefits everyone in the end.

Apparently my between-song 'banter' has improved too. It's something I used to find quite awkward. Prepare too much, and you sound like a recorded announcement; prepare too little, and you only have yourself to blame as the tumbleweeds roll past. But more regular gigging - and playing to people who aren't all close friends - is a great way to find the right balance. When a kind blogger in Somerset complimented me on my chat, it was a genuine, but very pleasant, surprise!

In spite of all of this, there have been some pretty hairy moments too (I doubt any tour story would be complete without a few dramas to dine out on!) Like having to get a train down to Somerset unexpectedly and arriving ten minutes before my set because my car had vanished, or being pulled over by West Midlands Police on the outskirts of Birmingham due to a fault with their system.

But in spite of the heart-stopping moments, I would do every last bit of it again. It has genuinely expanded my horizons. When I set out for Salisbury in early November I had never toured in my life, and now I have a small but growing network of venues that know me and have said they'd put me on again.

I've crossed paths with some wonderful people - people I'd never met before who went out of their way to make the tour a success: from the friend of my Mum's who put me up in Frome when I couldn't get home, to the two carloads of people who drove an hour from Bristol because Cheltenham was the closest gig on my route.

I've been interviewed for radio, I've played the same piano as Jools Holland, I've connected with friends I haven't see for a decade and I've come back a better performer than when I started. But most of all, I've had fun - every step of the way! And I hope the people I played for enjoyed it as much as I did.

1.34pm 10th Dec 2014