Prologue – getting the band together
Meeting Jonas and laying the seeds:
I was fifteen when I first met Jonas Lewis-Anthony. He was a friend of a friend at that time, and I wasn’t initially impressed. We’d needed a singer for our band The PainKillers, and Manny D, the lead guitarist (real name Ben Bartlett, but we always called him Manny) suggested Jonas. He sung good, but turned up to practice rarely.
As we played more, though, and got to know each other, he turned up more and more often. Summer of 2010, he went off to Canada for the summer – his parents had arranged for him to work at a summer camp in Ontario. I remember he wasn’t overly happy – believe it or not, he was more concerned he’d miss the local music festival. He came back a few months later buzzing. Soon after that, we started to talk about hitting the road. We first busked in December 2010, ostensibly to promote a gig by The PainKillers. The gig came and went without much fuss. We only had a couple more as a band, though we didn’t break up officially until early 2012. From then on, it was about busking. We busked more and more over the summer. Jonas went to Canada again and came back even more buzzing. Then we busked more and more through the autumn and more and more into the winter.
‘Against the world’: winter 2011-2012:
The winter was hard. Biting, freeze your fingers off cold and black sheets of rain wet and hard. Jonas had the blues bad post-Canada, and I just wanted something. Every weekend, more when we could, we hit the streets to busk. There were days when we spent more money than we made – replacing broken strings, buying cigarettes and drinks. People were harsh and unforgiving – so much for Christmas cheer. I remember my excuse for a guitar case – a leather bag with a broken zip held together with paperclips and no straps so I had to walk with it under my arm. I looked a joke. We kept it up though. It got to the point where we enjoyed just sitting in the doorways we sheltered in, watching people rush up and down the high street into and out of the rain with their umbrellas pulled down hard so they couldn’t even see anything other than their feet splashing wading through the water getting to where they needed to go.
In the nights we’d spend what money we had on beer and whiskey, night-busk for a bit, then stumble back to Jonas’s house and sleep. In the mornings, I’d get up early and read or do a Sudoku or do whatever, or else be entertained by Jonas’s sleep-talk and movements. One morning, he managed to knock a bottle of booze off the windowsill behind him and catch it in his sleep. I’m still not sure if he believes what I saw.
One particular night sticks in the memory. We’d been doing our usual, and were headed back to Jonas’s about one, maybe two am. We stopped on the Beverly, the green near Jonas’s house. We stopped on a bench and had a smoke. We sat there in silence in the night. We could hear the trains roaring by and the rain hitting the ground and far away a car alarm blared. We finished our smokes. I’d like to say that, at this point, without a word said, we turned to each other and said simply ‘Against the world, boy.’ But I feel that would be a lie. Truth is, I don’t remember where that phrase came from, but it became our mantra – our motto and our life, with or without the addition of a good old swear. ‘Against the fucking world.’
Dan and Stefan join:
In January, tragedy hit. I won’t go too far into it – I’m sure Jonas has it covered. Suffice to say, two local buskers, Taihg and Hugo, died. Taihg was 25 and Hugo 17. Taihg was a giant in Canterbury – the ‘king of the corner’. He was a presence – always there and close enough to a part of the architecture, maybe even more than that. Hugo wasn’t as well known as a busker, because he wasn’t one, really. He was more a man about town, known to everyone and loved. He joined me and Jonas on our first busk, beatboxing and breakdancing. I’d love to tell that story, but Jonas has it covered. They were two friends of ours.
The deaths came as a shock to the system for all of Canterbury. The mood changed, and there was just this feeling throughout the city like something was missing. People came together. The buskers occupied Taihg’s corner and it became a memorial. Buskers and friends of his kept a constant vigil. Something similar happened with the Buttermarket outside the cathedral, which became a memorial to Hugo. That was the first place I’d ever met him.
On the Saturday after their deaths, a memorial service of sorts had been arranged at the Buttermarket. Jonas and I turned up. So did thousands of others. Watching videos and looking at photos, it’s still hard to believe just how many people turned out to pay their respects. And there we were right in the centre of it all.
Through this and other events, we forged closer relationships with all the other buskers. Really, looking back on it, I guess you could say we all got a little closer to the town itself. It was the strangest thing, and I don’t feel particularly equipped to write about it.
Out of this, we first started playing and hanging around with Stefan. We knew Stef a little as just another busker; a friend of mine, to remain unknown (because she would absolutely kill me if she read this), referred to him as ‘cute ukulele boy’. We’d met Dan way back in the autumn, when Jonas had newly started at St. Edmund’s school. Dan was a funny one at first, and a little hard to explain. He loved being around us and we loved having him there – he felt like another person to be against the world with. From the first Saturday I met him, when he’d been in town waiting for someone and wound up spending the day and night with us, he soon came to every one of our busks and just … well he was just there. These days, we’d say he was just there ‘being Dan’.
Jonas and I got a couple gigs around February time, almost entirely out of the goodness of the hearts of a fellow band of fellow buskers, Coco and the Butterfields. Weird as it seems to say now, we owe them pretty much every opportunity we got as a band in those early days. Stefan first played with us at a pub called the Seven Stars, where we supported Coco. Around that same time, we’d decided that Dan should start playing an instrument. He went out and bought a Cajon – a percussion instrument with strings stretched across the front to make a snare sound, henceforth to be referred to as simply a ‘box’.
We’d busked as a four piece for maybe a week before we were due our first gig. Jonas and I had been booked to support Coco again, this time at La Trappiste café. We’d decided to play as a full band, and so, less than an hour before the gig, we found ourselves sat around Jonas’s kitchen table desperately trying to think up names. After running through an incredible amount of awful, awful names, we finally settled on The Four Roads. We like to tell people various stories about how we came to this (a personal favourite is that it’s the answer to Bob Dylan’s question, ‘how many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?’; Mister Dylan has not commented on what he thinks of this possible answer), but really it was because there were four of us, because we wanted to hit the road, and because it just sounded right.
The road to Canada:
Despite Dan’s protests (he was so nervous he wanted us to play as a three without him; in fairness, he’d had little to no experience ever playing a musical instrument prior to the past week), we played the gig and went down well. We were a band.
When I say ‘we wanted to hit the road’, that could not have been more true. Jonas and I had been talking about it for years – years, band or no band. We both wanted what only the road can give you – that real sort of freedom. Sitting here, five, coming up to six months after Canada, I can tell you I still want it. If you have that hunger, it’s hard to explain, but goddamn do you know it’s there. In our pipedreams and fantasies, the road always, always, headed West – to the United States and to Canada. I could rattle on for hours about why this might have been – why we were and are so fascinated. But I won’t. Because, really, I’m not entirely sure. The fact was, we were – we were fascinated with the road and that wide open country. That great North American continent.
Time went by and we did band stuff. Us brothers. In March, we decided to take our first great step towards the road and applied to the International Buskers’ Rendezvous in Kingston, Ontario. Unbelievably, we got in. From then on, we knew what we had to aim for – Hell or high water, we were going to Canada in the summer.
It wasn’t easy. We busked our asses off. Jonas worked two jobs in addition to being a full-time A-Level student and busking. We’d spend days in the local Christchurch University library, Googling ticket prices, planning itineraries and people to stay with. Despite all this last-minute planning, we really didn’t have a clue.
We hit our lowest point around the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. With the country caught up in celebration and all of it centred around London, we decided to head up to the South Bank to try and make our money. We booked a youth hostel, intending to stay up for the entire weekend. This wasn’t entirely naïve, as we’d busked very successfully on the South Bank once before, way back in April. This time, however, problems started as soon as we hit the Bank. We set up camp as usual, but were informed that the area, usually entirely unlicensed for buskers, would be closed to our kind for the Queen’s celebrations. Apparently buskers were not included in the vision of Great Britain that was to be presented to the world. We panicked. Sitting in McDonald’s, we decided to stick it out – to stay up in London for the weekend and to tough it out. First, we needed the money for the youth hostel. We kicked into high gear and went to work, employing a technique of ‘flash-busking’. As the area we covered as licensed, we knew we didn’t have a lot of time before being moved on. This in mind, we’d set up at a good spot, busk two or three songs, make our money, then pack up and move on. If anyone reading this ever finds themselves stuck in a city or an area unfriendly to buskers, I’d advise using this tactic – with a little luck on your side, the enforcers of the licensing laws will be none the wiser. You’ll make your money like you should be able to and the people will get to enjoy your show like they should be able to.
We did this for a long way down the river, going from the London Eye past the gallery, Charing Cross station, London Bridge, and Tower Bridge. Along the way, we met the kind souls of the Hampshire Royalists – a group of pensioners who had decided to camp out on the banks of the Thames just for the Jubilee. Absolutely mad, and absolutely lovely. After this, we’d made enough to get us to the youth hostel. We walked until we couldn’t walk any more, then jumped in a cab down to near enough where we need to be, then walked some more. We wandered the streets for close to an hour. The area was grim – ghetto, or thereabouts. Strangely, I feel like our instruments got us through there – like passports that identify you as not a tourist but a traveller and a musician on the road they got us through. We spent the night at the youth hostel in Deptford (meeting Saeed – a was crazy local who told us we had “unity” and “spirit” which was nice) and then hit the Bank to busk again the next morning. We made our way to one of tunnels we busked in the day before and the money started rolling in. At one point there was a crowd of 40 or maybe 50 people who spurred us on, cheering, dropping money and laughing. Things were looking up. But not for long. Throughout the day we encountered more and more trouble with the various river patrol guards. Everywhere we set up we were moved on and threatened. We decided to call it a day after encountering too much trouble with the licensers – we were told if we were found busking along that part of the river again our instruments would be confiscated. After saying goodbye to our grannies for the weekend, the Hampshire Royalists (they gave us jammie dodgers to send us on our way), we got on a train back to Canterbury.
We were absolutely crushed. We’d run home with our tails between our legs. We’d failed up in London and it looked like we wouldn’t even make it to Canada to fail there. We sat in Stef’s house drinking. We spoke a lot but barely said anything – just the same conversation repeated and repeated and repeated over and over. We weren’t going to Canada. We didn’t have a hope in Hell. But we weren’t going to give up either.
We spent one of the least pleasant nights of our life at a mutual friend’s house. The next day, we went to a church and sat in the church and listened to the sermon and prayed and hoped and did whatever we felt we should and whatever we felt we could, and even though none of us are particularly religious we prayed and bowed our heads and received a blessing and we prayed some more. We decided that if we didn’t get to Canada, we’d have to lay low all summer. I can’t tell if we were joking.
A few weeks later, we mailed our ‘record label’ asking for help. They couldn’t deliver the money, but came up with the idea of setting up a donations site to raise some money. We made offers: a free download EP for those who donated £5. A free, signed CD for those who donated £10. For the £20 donors, we would record a cover of their choice. (Note: no-one has actually asked us to fulfil those offers yet – we’d be more than happy to make true on our promises if anyone would get in contact.) I’d joked that Jonas would do a ‘special favour’ to anyone that donated £500.
Our brilliant fans began donating, and, slowly but steadily, we got closer to our goal. We also, sold possessions, busked and worked and ourselves into the ground in these last few weeks before we were due to leave. Then, we woke up one morning and someone seemed to have donated £500. Jonas owed someone a special favour. We woke Stefan up and called Jonas and spent a while trying to figure out whether this had actually happened. It had. Aunt Cindy, a fantastic woman who helped us out more than a little more once we were in Canada, had given us £500. She gave us our trip to Canada. We really can’t thank her enough. That was the first time we were stumped by the hospitality and generosity of Canadians, and the first time we honestly couldn’t think of any possible way to pay someone back. It wouldn’t be the last.
With the money from the donations and a little extra help from Dan’s mum Lucy, who had offered to pay us a little for some gardening, we booked the tickets. A week before we were due to arrive in Kingston for the buskers’ festival, we booked our tickets. We were going to Canada.
– Alex Ryan
Chapter 1: Toronto
We played a gig at the cherry tree – a send off gig before we embarked on our journey. If you’re a fellow musician, I’m sure you know the drill: the venue informs you they want you on at 8 and to play for ‘x’ hours. As you can probably imagine, this wasn’t the time frame we ended up playing. We arrived there and ended up clearing out tables, chairs, setting up the PA and running round town trying to beg/borrow/steal working jack leads from other pubs – something we all had to do again in Canada. At long last, we began playing to a half-empty/half-full pub. We opened with Atlantic City as usual at the noise from our instruments spilled out into the dingy bar. In truth, that’s pretty much all I could remember about the gig, my mind was elsewhere, calculating the number of things I had to get done before the morning. It finished and people started seeping out into the dark alleyway off the high-street into that familiar haze of cigarette smoke, drizzle and English night air. All of a sudden Alex and I found ourselves alone with the landlord moving tables, chairs, wires and other bits and bobs into their rightful home.
Speaking of home, I was late. 5 months on I still feel guilty about this. In retrospect I should have known from previous experience that any pub gig never finishes on time. Alex and I slipped through my front door, stinking of fried chicken, smoke and free drinks nearly two hours after I told my parents that we’d be home. I kicked off my shoes and walked into my living room to find our bags half packed, exactly where we left them. We packed up the rest of our belongings into our backpacks. I liked to say we had our lives on our backs. Our guitars and backpacks were all we had. We crept out the back door, let Stef in who had been elsewhere, went for a crafty smoke and hit the hay.
Tensions were high the next morning. The three of us had somehow managed to wake my parents in the night and they weren’t best pleased. Being late home the previous night didn’t help either. I found myself engaged in an argument with my parents minutes before I was due to leave. “Fuck it” my dad said, “you’re on your own” as he tried unsuccessfully to set up an emergency money transfer to me. “If you’d been back on time last night we would have had this sorted!” I felt terrible. I felt stupid. As much as I tried to explain that it really wasn’t my fault and that the gig over ran, it was the venue… In reality, there was no denying it. I had fucked up. My wonderful mother chocked back tears as she told me that she had backed us a cake to share together the evening before. I looked into the kitchen and saw it there patiently waiting under a tea – towel on the kitchen table. When I saw this I struggled to hold back tears too. I know how much love my mum puts into gestures like that. For some reason that perfectly iced cake, uneaten there on the kitchen table still riddles me with guilt and remorse. It was only in that moment that I realised how much this would have meant to my mum and dad for me to have been back on time the night before, so we could have all sat and eaten together, as a family for the last time in two months. As it happened, that cake which was so lovingly prepared was never eaten and never enjoyed in the way it should have been. If you ever read this mum, I appreciate that gesture more than I could ever say and I am so, so deeply sorry. I am sorry too Dad. For what its worth, I’d rather have spent that evening with you than at that dingy, dark pub.
I couldn’t leave without making amends. We did the best we could to ignore the previous ten minutes. Mum walked with us to the car, and stood there leaning against the handrail by the green over grown bush on my drive. We loaded up the car and I walked back to her. I hugged her tightly, apologised again, told her I love her that I’d be careful and with that, we were off. We pulled out of the driveway, with my dad and I in the front and Stef and Alex sitting solemnly in the back.
My departure with my father was brief. The engine of the car didn’t even get turned off. The car stopped at the departures entrance at north terminal, we unloaded our things from the boot and onto our backs. I hugged him tightly, apologised again and then he was off. The three of us wondered over to the smoking shelter by the escalator and sat on our guitar cases, waiting for Dan to arrive and getting our “all important fixes” before a long flight.
We started Hitchhiking way before we landed in Canada, before we boarded the plane in fact. I wondered up and the down the aisles at our gate asking “Kingston Ontario? Anyone driving to Kingston tonight? Does anyone fancy giving four strapping young English chaps a ride east? We’re in a band, anyone?” No luck. Feeling ever so slightly fazed by the daunting prospect of having no means of getting to where we needed to be, I dug around in my bag until I found them. Two brown envelopes, one from my younger sister, and the other from my parents. I open the first one addressed to all four of us. On the front were two black and white pictures of the four of us with a maple leaf in the middle. Just underneath the maple leaf was written, “The Four Roads Canada 2012”. I opened the card and read it aloud to the boys.
To Jonas, Dan, Stef and Alex,
Good luck in Canada! Really proud of you & the four roads (chodes). It is so cool to see how much you have done. It’s weird to think that I was there when you chose the name. (I WAS MAKING YOU DINNER haha) & now you are going to Canada! I hope that you enjoy your gigs (& don’t get into too much trouble!) Here are four quarters for you each, but don’t spend them all at once! I hope that they come in useful haha. Anyway I will miss you lots. Have lots of fun & I hope that you will get lots of opportunities from the trip J (Cringe)
Lots of Love,
I found the second envelope from my parents. 60 bucks fell into my lap to my surprise. I tore open the brown envelope and opened the card. To my surprise 3 crisp $20 bills fell into my lap to which I was greatly thankful. The money from that envelope came and went, but the words inside, most of which I will not share with you will stay with me forever. Reading my parents handwriting and positive messages seemed to melt away the tensions from our argument that morning and took away the feeling of leaving with unfinished and unsettled business. At the end of the letter in my mums handwriting was written one short and perfect verse.
“May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
Toronto Pearson was, as usual, heaving. People were everywhere fighting to be the first through immigration, to baggage reclaim and out. It had been about 11 hours since sitting outside Gatwick and we all desperately needed to get some “fresh air”. As soon as I saw the line at immigration I became impatient and stressed as we shuffled our way to the back of the line. It was like waiting in line at a theme park, the queue swelled as families, businessmen and women and other miscellaneous folks crammed in. It doubled back on itself like a never-ending maze that took you tantalizingly close to freedom before plunging you back until the booths were barely visible above the heads of our fellow travellers. The vast number of people was probably a blessing in disguise for us. Immigration being so tight these days, there was a chance we could have been given grief for coming into the country as travelling musicians without work visas etc.
“Let me do the talking” I hissed to the boys as we stepped up to the read line. “Can I see your passports and immigration forms please gentlemen?” we handed over out documents tentatively. “What’s the purpose of your visit?”
“we’re here for the summer” I explained, “staying with family and friends”
“where is that exactly?”
“some in Kingston, that’s where we’re headed today and we’re gonna see some family in Ottawa”.
“Any tobacco on you?”
“Yeah we bought some on the plane” Dan replied.
“And you’re here for just 48 days?”
“Well, enjoy your time in Canada.” He said with a smile followed by four stamps in our passports.
We walked past him calmly until we were out of sight of the various customs officials before breaking out into some kind of mixture of a run and a celebratory dance. We ran to find out backpacks and guitars miraculously in one piece. The cheapest transatlantic airline going had not let us down!
There are two things that always surprise me at Toronto Pearson. The first is the awkward stage you are forced onto through the huge sliding doors at arrivals. Hundreds of blinking faces staring up at you or past you. I got the sudden urge to yell “Thank you Toronto you’ve been a wonderful audience” but decided against it. The other thing is the heat. You really do not expect it. The summer of 2012 in the UK had been pretty dire. The wettest year in 12 years to be exact. By that time we were all pretty used to rain, drizzle and mild temperatures. I ran for the door, to fresh air was greeted with a smack in the face by a wall of humidity and heat on the other side. “Jonas, slow down” yelled Alex, these words came my way a lot over the days that followed not to mention the days before.
Once we were all outside we did what the four roads do best: no, it wasn’t busk, although we are pretty good at that. We set up camp and light up a smoke. God, it was good. We still had no idea how were going to get to Kingston for 9 (if we made it in time we could play at the opening party to the buskerfest). I stubbed out my smoke on the boiling tarmac and darted back into the terminal. I knew exactly where I was going, turning right, I ran the 200 meters or so to Tim Hortons, weaving in and out of passengers dragging suitcases behind them. While waiting in the line at Tim’s I started chatting to a guy on the same flight as us. He was short, Asian and in his early 30s. I was in an unbelievably good mood – he must of thought I was crazy as I explained our plans to him in great detail. “wait to you get to Montreal man,” he said with a grin “the girls in Montreal are the most beautiful in Canada”. I laughed and ordered 5 medium icecaps from the woman working behind the till. “You don’t have to do that man” he exclaimed”. I insisted and passed one over to him. “listen, anything you need when you’re in Toronto, just gimme a call. Lemme know if you have a show too”! he wrote his number down on a piece of napkin and I crammed it in my back pocket. “Thanks, thanks so much. I will”. That was the last time I saw him, I think he was called Harry, but I don’t remember. The annoying thing was, I had every intention to call him but somehow lost his number somewhere between Tim Hortons and the place I left the boys. 14 bucks down and ten minutes later I returned with a tray of cold icecaps. Their Tim Hortons virginity was taken from them and I saw their pupils widen like junkies as they sipped one of the many tastes of Canada. They were hooked.
We must have been sat outside the airport for about half an hour before we decided to make a move. As it turned out, no one on this side of the Atlantic was willing to give four boys a ride to Kingston either. None of us could believe that we were there, sitting on Canadian soil. I thought back to the night we came back from London with crushed dreams. We sat in Stef’s living room almost in total silence with the wind and the rain howling outside. Every now and then between the inhales of smoke and gulps of beer one of us would suggest something, ideas which were brushed aside almost as soon as they were thought up. “We could steal a car?” Dan suggested. I smiled at him, “I’m not breaking the law” I replied just in case he was being serious. And yet, just over a month on, we were there. WITHOUT BREAKING ANY LAWS! (Just in case you were wondering, Mum). It had been touch and go until the very end, booking our tickets in a last minute ticket sale less than a week before we were due to leave. *Note to self: NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. LIKE EVER! We eventually hauled up our bags and made our way over to the line of airport cabs. We loaded our stuff into one – an expense we’d rather have avoided. We sped off and away from the airport hitting the Canadian road for the first time with the same hunger and ferocity as a battering ram.
Bob, our lovely new Lebanese taxi driver shot towards downtown, very graciously putting our EP into the CD player. He weaved his way through the 16-lane rush hour traffic of the 401 and took a short cut through the suburbs. The suburbs gradually merged into skyscraper as we raced down the Gardner Express Way past lake Ontario and up onto the elevated road that cuts it’s way through the Toronto skyline. The sun started to set as we pulled into the bay street bus terminal. We paid Bob, and thanked him and clumsily fell through the terminal doors. Tiredness was getting the better of us. We stumbled over to the megabus ticket booth, causing quite a hold up with all our gear. Not surprisingly, the tickets were $34 more expensive to buy in person than they were online an hour earlier. We all forked out our money and handed it over not to mention the extra 13 bucks to get our instruments put in the hold. “One bag in the hold only I’m afraid if you’ve got than one its an extra 13 dollars” said the guy behind the glass. “Let me guess, theses are too big to be taken on-board with us right”? Of course they were. By that time I didn’t really care. I just wanted to get to Kingston. Significantly closer to broke (broke in Stef’s case) we made our way over to the queue to board the bus. “You guys musicians?” asked an attendant loading the hold. “yeah” we replied. “Right on. I’ll put those on for free cos I like that kinda stuff” He said, pointing to our instruments… that we’d just paid an unnecessary 13 bucks for. Alas.
The megabus pulled out of the smoky terminal into the golden evening sunlight. In true Canterbury fashion we occupied the back of the coach on the top level. Shattered, I leant against the window staring out as we inched our way out of the sprawling metropolis that makes up the great city of Toronto. It slowly found its way to an intersection and we trundled down the on-ramp onto the 401. Excitement surged through my veins as we accelerated down the highway, rocketing into the dusk that lay ahead of us, leaving the orange, red and golden sunset to our backs. The road rose up to meet us as we sped off into the night.