Published in Treadlie Issue 5, December 2011
While so many members of the music industry have been bemoaning its decline, one socially-conscious singer-songwriter has found a way to flourish. For more than two years now Jack Stafford has been on permanent world tour. A digital nomad with an acoustic guitar, Jack has relied on a frugal attitude and the kindness of strangers to take his music to Europe, North America and Oceania. And while touring through New Zealand, Australia and South East Asia, he travelled by bike.
Jack much prefers peddling over other forms of transport. “You arrive at a venue feeling quite stagnant if you’re in a car or on a train,” he says. “And then you have to fit in exercise around it. When you’re on the road it’s incorporated into your day. You’re travelling and getting your exercise, and you arrive feeling refreshed.”
His many years of gigging with various bands have also given him an appreciation of touring by treadlie. “I’ve travelled with a band in a bus – you start living in your own filth, everyone gets hungover and moody and they sleep too much or don’t sleep enough. When you’re doing this much exercise it brings you into equilibrium; it’s a kind of cure-all.”
Cycling up to 100km a day also gives Jack plenty of time to think. He kept an iPod clipped to the handlebars of his hand-built Bob Jackson touring bike during his travels up Australia’s east coast, using it to record lyrics and melodies to work on later. He is incredibly prolific – there are nine albums currently available for download on his website that were written and recorded on this tour. Each leg of his journey has an album devoted to it, including one about his three weeks at sea travelling from Cairns to Darwin aboard the appropriately named Sabbatical. Some people keep a journal – Jack writes music.
His songs are about the personal and the political – “searching for wifi, liberate Libya, dangerous Australian roads, hills I’ve cycled up, things like that.” Collaborators come and go. For three months in Australia he toured with two other cyclist musicians, busking and performing at house concerts as the Peddling Troubadours. More recently he has been touring with Maria Rosaria della Pepa, a ‘dancing architect’ he met in New Zealand. The pair travelled through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand on a tandem. “It’s kind of a fluid thing, people come, people go, but hopefully she stays around,” he says.
Prior to embarking on this adventure Jack was living in Amsterdam, a regular guy with a job and a mortgage (a period of his life covered in songs such as ‘Ikea’, ‘Dear Shareholder’ and ‘Soulseller’). When he first set off on tour in August 2009 he gave up his apartment and put his belongings into storage. A year later he returned to Amsterdam and sold everything he owned. “I sold all my possessions and hit the road,” he says. “It’s the best way – you don’t feel homesick because you ain’t got a home.” He now finds places to stay through the international couch surfing network, or trades gigs for food and lodging. His shoestring budget is supported by busking, house concerts, and the occasional dumpster diving mission. All he carries is his stage clothes, cycling and camping gear, and his guitar.
In the early days of the tour Jack would book shows up to six months ahead, but now he keeps his itinerary loose and flexible. His motto is “make no plans, break no hearts”, but after a youth spent growing up in the chilly UK he has one simple strategy – follow the sun. “I just want to follow the good weather. It’s called migratory touring. I’m solar powered!”