La Gran Turismo

La Gran Turismo

Touring the world as a solo musician can be a lonely affair, usually from behind the wheel of a trusty people carrier. However some musicians do things in a slightly different way. Neil Ridley joins South African performer Yoav as a co-driver for a thoroughly modern take on The Italian Job

Travel 29 Apr 2011 | Interviews | By Neil Ridley

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From an online perspective, the world seems a like small place indeed. Whether you’re downloading a song, reading a whisky review on a blog or using Skype to call someone on the other side of the Atlantic, the world is well and truly at your fingertips. But spare a thought for the average touring musician, especially a solo performer. The road can be a lonely place, heading from gig to gig, mile after tedious mile, with little more than a guitar, a rucksack and a motorway service station pasty for company. For South African singer songwriter Yoav Sadan, life on the road took a rather unexpected turn last year when preparing for his forthcoming European dates. Starting in northern Italy and taking in nine countries across the continent, Yoav and his sound engineer fancied approaching things from a different angle, in essence, to make a fairly well-trodden road trip a whole lot more exciting. Enter the Fiat car company, three souped-up 500 convertibles and an additional co-driver, your humble scribe, armed with a bag of unusual ‘new world’ whiskies to lighten up the days off.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name Yoav, he’s recently been described by The Guardian as ‘a one man melting pot of Timbaland, Pharrell Williams and Led Zeppelin’ – certainly not artist names which particularly belong together in the same sentence. But see his live show and you’ll begin to understand why. Yoav’s music is a cleverly constructed series of loops, beats and sound effects, all generated from the heart of the performer’s arsenal: a trusty, beaten up acoustic guitar. His dexterity on the guitar and his ability to manipulate sounds and rhythms has won him a huge number of fans across the world, with his debut album Charmed & Strange entering the top five in several countries. His follow up, A Foolproof Escape Plan is already building on this success, with the lead single hitting the top spot on European radio playlists.

So how did these gigs (the Escape Plan 500 tour) come together?

“We wanted to figure out something that was pretty out of the ordinary,” Yoav explains, as we meet at the start of our journey, the famous Fiat Lingotto car factory in Turin and host to one of the key scenes in the 60s heist classic, The Italian Job. “My touring set up has always been really simple: just me, my guitar and ‘The Beast’ (referring to the board, which holds his vast array of FX pedals) and I can usually fit everything into the back of a small car. Fiat loaned us three cars, which they’d decked out with my logos, so we could effectively have our own Italian Job!”

After travelling to a sell-out show that night in Milan, we seriously hit the road for the first set of performances in Switzerland. The 3rd Fiat 500 is driven by filmmaker Ed Graves, who is documenting the whole 4,000km journey and the drive to Zurich is a thrilling start, with plenty of undulating roads, hairpin bends and glorious countryside acting as our backdrop. I ask Yoav where his sound comes from and whether being a modern day one-man-band has had any drawbacks so far. “After my last band experience, I decided to start experimenting with building up loops and man-made beats and the solo performance developed from there. Sometimes it’s limiting, with everything I’m doing coming from either my hands or feet, but the feeling you get when the whole venue is moving just from what you’ve generated on the guitar is kind of like being a DJ. I try to bring together the emotions of a song, but rhythms from a more club-orientated scene.”

It’s something that translates brilliantly to the packed, sweaty, Swiss venues up for a dance but our tour is also taking in much bigger shows, including several in northern Germany and one at Copenhagen’s main concert hall. The Danish capital has fond memories for Yoav, as it is the first place both his albums debuted at No.1 and the performance tonight features a collaboration with a string quartet, giving several of his songs a wider, expansive, almost trippy sound, reminiscent of vintage Massive Attack. It’s a performance that showcases why Yoav’s music is now crossing into the mainstream across the continent.

After the show, we visit an excellent waterfront bar called Ruby where we talk whisky and savour a few drams of his current favourite, Talisker 18 Years Old.

“I used to live in the US and beer was my thing, but then I discovered bourbons and an amazing range of flavours, so that really became my drink of choice. “Whisky is not something I find that works well when I’m onstage performing, but afterwards, when you’re with a great group of friends it’s a very easy to get lost in something like the Talisker; it’s got such a distinctive, yet complex taste.”

I pull out a few whiskies I’m sure Yoav won’t have tasted that will hopefully complement our Euro adventure, including a Slyrs 3 Years Old from Bavaria, a 5 Years Old single cask Dutch whisky (Van Kleef) and the 2010 bottling from The Owl Distillery in Belgium. I also have a surprise whisky from Yoav’s homeland; a limited edition Three Ships 10 Years Old single malt from the James Sedgwick distillery in South Africa. Looks like a long night ahead, but fortunately tomorrow is a day off, so I make sure we get some ‘thorough’ tasting notes…

Our next leg is the trip back down from the ferry terminal in Copenhagen to Cologne, all in all, about eight hours of mostly Autobahn driving, which we’re looking forward to. But disaster nearly strikes. As we’re about to board the ferry, my Fiat 500 (an automatic one) won’t seem to select any gear except reverse. All the other cars in the queue pass me and I’m left, frantically trying to get moving. At the last minute I find a gear and race round the preposterously laid out ferry terminal and onto the first vessel I can see, just as the doors are closing. I hope it’s the right one and not the ferry leaving for Oslo, as horror of horrors, I have all of Yoav’s equipment in the back! I eventually find the guys smirking on the top deck, evidently finding my lack of ability behind the wheel highly amusing.

The rest of the trip down through Germany and into Holland is hugely enjoyable. On our penultimate gig day in The Hague, we narrowly avoid another disaster when sound engineer Olly, religiously following his Sat Nav, takes us the wrong way down a set of Tram tracks but the show that night is a triumph, with Yoav winning over another enthralled audience and we all celebrate afterwards with a round of large Taliskers. Viva la Gran Turismo!!


One for the road


Yoav’s ‘New World’ Whisky tasting notes


Slyrs 2006 Bavarian single malt

3 Years Old 43%
Nose: ‘What a great name!’ he laughs. ‘Initially reminds me of a Cognac – lots of fruit, coconut and flambéed bananas!’ Palate: ‘Quite creamy, but also quite young tasting, not much of a lasting impression in the mouth. Very drinkable though.’

The Owl Distillery

3 Years Old Belgian Single Malt 46%
Nose: ‘Hints of pear drops, boiled sweets and toffee/ caramel. It’s got a really distinct bourbon note and plenty of vanilla too. Nice!’
Palate: ‘Creamy cereal, more vanilla and some slightly sharp citrus notes. I bit more developed than the Slyrs I think.’

Van Kleef

5 Years Old Dutch Single malt 40%
Nose: ‘There’s hints of Airfix glue on the first sniff, that really reminds me of my childhood! There’s also a bit of fruit, maybe chopped apples in there too?’
Palate: ‘Much smoother, but clean tasting, with a very sweet fudge/toffee note. There’s also something slightly root vegetable about it too- It actually reminds me of a high quality Tequila.’

Three Ships

10 Years Old Single malt whisky 43%
Nose: ‘Really different and very welcoming. It doesn’t assail you with youth, like the other three whiskies. Definitely peaty, with a hint of peppered meat too. It shares a few similarities to Talisker’.
Palate: ‘Quite sweet tasting on the first sip, like cake mix, or cookie dough. Some big vanilla flavour going on, balancing nicely with the peat. Really well made and enjoyable.’
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