I receive an Instagram message back in April of 2022 saying: “I’m an English violinist on a tour of the Middle East and I’m trying to connect with local musicians wherever possible!” to which I gladly replied with a “We’d love to have you on our next jam session, it’s this Thursday.” And this is how I’ve had the chance to meet Dan Hodd, a young and talented musician from Brighton, UK.
Dan has been on an environmental mission for the past 6 years: He is touring the world with a no-fly policy to raise awareness about the negative environmental impact caused by air travel, thus using trains, carpooling, ferries and most importantly his famous Brompton bicycle. Both of us happened to be in Erbil at the same time and what a beautiful musical encounter that was, signaling the start of a great friendship between us two as we were meeting up frequently during Dan’s stay in the city.
So, we both met up on a Sunday evening, jammed a bit, and then interviewed each other to share our stories with the world. Here’s the questions I asked Dan:
Tell me about you: where did you grow up? How did you start your musical journey?
I grew in Brighton, in the Southern part of England. My musical journey started with some Queen records when I was about 5 years old; We Will Rock You to be specific. With the rock scene around me in the household, I also started going into Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. It was around that time when I also started my classical training on violin.” Dan said, then he talked about how both his uncle and grandfather were also violinists, as well as his parents having lovely singing voices, but did not sing professionally.
I just went with it. It was not that love-at-first-sight story, more like I go to school and I’m learning the violin story. The main drive for me was the rock movement that was all around me, like the bands that I mentioned earlier, as well as The Beatles. I wanted to learn the guitar too, but my mother made sure all those years that I was on track with the violin through following up with my teachers.
What was his first real live performance on the violin.
I remember very distinctly my first real gig. I was about thirteen at the time, I’ve got my 4-piece band, we’ve got a set of covers done and we went on and performed at this local pub called The Greys in Brighton!” and this is where he effectively was at the start of the road of being the professional, genre fluid, musician he is today.
When did you start your environmental advocacy expedition?
I joined the Eco Club at school when I was about 7 or 8 years old. We didn’t have a car at home, my mom did not have a drivers license, we were all brought up as vegetarians, so you can already see the environmental awareness that accompanied me since my early years.” Dan also added that his parents had strengthened their eco-friendly principles when they were in university back in the 80’s and wanted to pass on those morals to him and his sister. He also added that Brighton has got the only Green Party member of parliament in all of the UK, making it the “green capital” or even the “vegan capital” of the country.
We had a double-parking issue with cars around school areas in Brighton at the time and I remember that we were supposed to protest this for a couple of days, except that my stubborn commitment made me continue for a full month!” and it was only natural for Dan because of his strong belief in the causes that he supports. Today, he is on his 6th year of traveling around the world without using airplanes to shed the light on the environmental nuisance caused by commercial flights around the world.
How do you promote and spread the word so that people learn about your mission?
I tried for 3 years to play the Instagram game, then I felt that it was not working. I was not making any difference through the content that I am posting on these platforms. So I thought I should go the classical direct way of going out there, playing music, engaging in real world communities. And this has worked much better since I believe I left a real mark on hundreds of people that I met in the 60+ countries I’ve been to. I am not in a position of massive influence like being in government or even as a local counselor, so I focused on building real-life connections out there with my feet on the ground. But when I am playing on the street to total strangers in a brand-new country, I am able to communicate so much with people around me and touch their hearts with a message of positivity, in a way that no online platform can match.
What countries have you been to? Which ones were your favorite?
Dan spent the past 6 years traveling, heavily focusing on European countries by living in or visiting virtually every single nation. “Friendly faces, sofa spaces and musical jams are my bread and butter” is how Dan described his daily life throughout his trips and his busking on the street, and he added: “I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Morocco, I did a 6-month tour of the Middle East in early 2022 while facing some visa issues; I am also traveling into the Caucasus as well. I did this bizarre concert in India about 5 years ago, it was one of the very rare occasions where I had to fly in since I got a last-minute call for a large concert of 20,000 people in Mumbai. On the other hand, some other territories are almost impossible to access through land borders due to political issues and nationality constraints. I’ve lived in the USA for 1 year, covering 41 states, as well as 5 months in the Caribbean, hitch-hiking in ferry boats and playing in restaurants.” Dan lived in Grenada, Spain for a year also where he says it’s his second home. Other places that he calls his basecamps are Paris, New York, Graz and Istanbul. I told Dan to save some space for my hometown Beirut, because I’m sure it’s going to make it to his basecamp list once he visits it.
How can someone start being sustainable in their daily life, with minimum effort?
There are a few incredibly simple steps that anyone can follow. Reducing your meat consumption, trying to go for vegetarian or even vegan options if available. With the evolution of modern cuisine, you would not be even missing out on your proteins if you try these options. It’s more about reducing as opposed to completely stopping.
Research what your local transport options are and try to modify some of your daily commute routines. This does not mean you have to sell your car, just walk or cycle whenever you can, it is even healthier for you. Minimize the consumption of single-use plastics, check your local recycling options, and – in some places like Europe – you can always enjoy healthy tap water for drinking. Also, always try to have a small plastic bag in your pocket for your instant market visits.
What is your next step now?
Now I am on my way to the COP27 climate change conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt as part of my no-fly movement to try to highlight the importance of getting around in a more sustainable low-carbon way. After that I will be exploring the Gulf region to try and land some live performances in KSA, UAE and Oman. This will help create the income needed to pursue the journey.” Dan also added that he will be heading south to Salalah where he will take a ferry boat to Socotra island. Afterwards, he might continue to Ethiopia or Kenya then all the way to South Africa if the finances allow; or even change course and head to Beirut!
What is an item that you always carry with you? What is also a ritual that you do in every city you first set foot in?
Dan set a limit of 100 things to travel with to stay in control of his lightweight travels. He adds to that: “I always try to tell friends around me not to give me gifts as I am traveling. I prefer being given an experience to live, a sofa to crash on, avoiding any presents as I have no space to carry them. Until a friend of mine gifted me this small JBL Bluetooth speaker, and that was life changing for a musician like me, to be able to create my own space and listen to some good music when I’m on the go.” As for the first thing Dan does when he reaches a new city: “I like to get to a high point near the city to get an overview and situate myself geographically, this way I orient myself and get in touch with my surroundings.
Wishing Dan the best of luck in the rest of his journey, I’ll be sure to meet up with him again sometime soon, and meanwhile, check out his social accounts where you can check out his amazing journey and stay posted with his upcoming news.