The 'WHISPERS' release concert.
THIRTY YEARS ON THE ROAD
Schloss Haldenstein, Chur, Switzerland 16th - 18th September 2005
New Release 'WHISPERS ON THE TURNING GROUND' (Brambus 2005 07-2)
What was I doing in September 1975? A glance at the diaries reveals that my
course was already charted, although I probably didn't realize it at the
I was living by the sea in Exmouth, Devon; long-haired and bearded, walking barefoot, baking bread and harvesting the hedgerows, falling in and out of love, writing songs and poems, giving guitar lessons and playing in the local pubs and clubs.
On Tuesday September 9th I told the sceptical taxman I was now a self-employed musician; on the 13th I had my ear pierced for an earring, and on the 28th I began writing 'From a Silent Town', which eventually appeared on 'Video Trips' (Brambus 2001 51-2). Then, as now, I had difficulties mixing the sweet oils of dream with the cold waters of reality. Creativity is both a protective and an interactive response to this provoking impasse.
Five years later, on Thursday July 31st 1980 (for those interested in precise dates), my diary took note of 'a beautiful German girl' in the pub where I was playing. The following week this nameless beauty was present at a language school concert, and on Thursday 14th August I again encountered her, dancing to the music provided by 'Witless Antics', the band I had at that time. Marshalling my courage I asked her out and, receiving a casual "Why not?" met her the following day for a cream-tea and a walk on Woodbury Common. During the afternoon I learned with regret that she was returning to Germany the following day.
Waving her off in her bright yellow Citroen 'Duck' that evening I little realized how close I'd come to scuppering my chances completely. Apparently the sight of me marching across my mattress in unrepentantly muddy boots that afternoon had caused her to have second thoughts about even leaving me her address, let alone anything else. Fortunately she left it anyway.
Her name, of course, was Gabriele, and in the intervening years she has not only enriched my life immeasurably but has also wrought civilizing wonders upon me, my boots and a wilderness of other abominations. For the general outline of this romantic development see 'Woman I Love' on the new album 'Whispers on the Turning Ground' (Brambus 2005 07-2)
So, poor, but incurably romantic, the new year of 1981 found me 'following the path the stars had drawn across my palm, to the life that lay beyond me' * ('In Passing': Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2)
I'd just returned, still long-haired but minus the beard, from three months in south-east Asia, where my thoughts sometimes strayed among Tennyson's palms and temples of the south. But it was high time for new departures, so I'd invested £50, half my entire financial resources, in a return ferry ticket from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, packed my van with guitars, amps, books, clothes and speakers, put the remaining £50 in my pocket, and settled in behind the wheel. No-one could have accused me of uneccesary planning. I simply stored or scrapped my belongings, boxed all my books, and went.
Besides Gabriele's address in Frankfurt, I had others in Mannheim, Berlin, Koblenz, Karlsruhe and Munich, without any very precise idea where these towns were in relation to each other. One had been jotted into my notebook on the black sand beaches of northern Bali, another in central Java, another in Singapore, another on a Sumatran bus, yet another in northern Thailand. Traveller's exchanges, lightly given and received.
I spent the night of January 9th 1981 in my sleeping bag, wrapped round my p.a. equipment, while snow whispered down on the lay-by of Fernthal, south of Cologne. Fernthal, as I later realised, means 'Far valley,' which is romantic enough for most tastes. I don't remember that I was particularly uncomfortable.
The next morning I phoned a very drowsy Gabriele, and received vague directions to her flat in Frankfurt. Later that day my reception in Falkstrasse 114, Bockenheim, was more than kind and, though I didn't know it at the time, the scene was now set, and the main plot about to commence.
As Clive Gregson's song title says, 'Home is where the heart is.' From that day onwards Frankfurt became my home, and I was soon pounding the cobbles of Sachsenhausen in search of venues. 'The Ladies gave me Roses' ('Second- class Hotel' Brambus 1989 04 -1&2), recalls one such gig. Little did I realize that, five years later, we'd be living within five minutes walk of these scenes.
The address in Karlsruhe led to a meeting with Harald Bürger and Martin Müller of K&M Verlag, and Harald then became my agent and publisher until I moved to Paul Rostetter's Brambus Records in 1987. My first record, 'The Lady' in 1984, was a K&M release, meticulously and sensitively produced by Martin Müller; but 'Living The Life' (1987) is a Brambus album in all but name. Paul Rostetter organized the concert, the 'live' recording, and the cover concept, but Brambus, founded that year, and named after the local mountain, wasn't fully set up in time to release it.
The U.K., Germany, France, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and New Zealand; all these followed, with many encounters and traveller's tales, too numerous to recount here. The songs themselves tell much of the story, which is how it should be, but before going on to recount the details of the recent 'CD Release Concert, and Celebration of Thirty Years On The Road', it's worth recalling how I came into contact with Paul Rostetter.
In 1982 I'd already managed to scrape a few Swiss concerts together, but they'd never led anywhere. Then Gabriela Mallaun, a Swiss friend of Gabriele's, obtained a copy of the Swiss Folk Chanson Handbook, and we ticked off about a hundred and twenty likely addresses. One of these was in Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland, and passing through, en route to the Ticino, with the two Gabrieles and another friend called Millie, I decided to leave a demo cassette there.
So, on Wednesday 28th July 1982 we drove from St. Gallen to Chur, to find ourselves searching, in pouring rain, for a taxidermist who ran a folk club, and lived in a non-existant house. A resolution was finally reached by the olde worlde expedient of enquiring after him in the birthplace of the town's most famous citizen (Angelika Kauffmann the 18th century painter), but, in fact, we never did meet the mysterious Mr. Steinemann, the animal-stuffer, and, after directions from the local baker, and a passing girl who just happened to know the man we were seeking, we ended up leaving the tape with his brother. The name of the street, 'Süswinkelgasse' (Sweet Nook Alley) was sufficiently quaint to lodge itself in my memory, and, by I know not what means, the cassette eventually came into the hands of Paul Rostetter, who, almost four years later, finally arranged a concert for me, via my German agent. Perhaps it had taken that long for the demo to reach him!
Whatever the reasons for the delay, on April 22nd 1986 I duly drove down to Chur, arriving in good time, as requested, and it was only when I consulted the contract more closely that I realized it bore only a postbox number for an address! Enquiries at the post office, just before it closed, led me up hill and down dale, but ended where they began, so my only alternative was to stand on a street corner and wait for someone who looked as if they might know something about folk clubs. I was in luck, an attractive girl listened to my tale of woe, and in excellent English, said, "Oh, you probably want the Drei Könige." (The Three Kings). Well, I'd have been content to meet the shepherds, the sheep, the ox or the ass if they'd known where I was supposed to be, but this proved to be unnecessary because the young woman walked me there herself, which was much nicer. Paul was waiting patiently, and didn't seem at all put out that I was a couple of hours late. And so began our friendship, which continues to this day.
THIS YEAR, when I realized it was my thirtieth as a professional musician, it was decided, with Gabriele's active encouragement, that I should try to bring out my eighth CD at the same time as celebrating three decades of musical vagrancy. The weekend of September 16th was selected, Swiss friends were called in, and with the thoroughness for which that nation are renowned, arrangements were soon in full swing.
Paul Rostetter said he'd organize the Friday night 'release' concert, under the auspices of Chur Folk Club, Ursula and Arno Catrina finalized all the details with Haldenstein Castle, where I've played three times before, and Gabriele took over responsibility for everything relating to hospitality. Thus, all I had to do was finish several songs which had been circling for some time in the æther, awaiting landing permission, and fix a date to record them at the studio of my good friend Ljubo Majstorovic, in Baden.
In the event, the CDs were ready ten days before the deadline, 'Whispers on the Turning Ground' (Brambus 2005 07-2), the only sad omission being the harp of Uschi Laar, who was taken ill on the very day she was due to come into the studio. Regrettably, time did not permit delays, so with Sara Trauffer of 'Morgain' on fiddle, Sandro Friedrich on wind instruments, and Ljubo on bass, guitar, synthesized-percussion, recording, producing, mixing and editing we pressed on.
Meanwhile, Astrid and René Fugger of Fugger Art, in Aschaffenburg, helped me convert my graphics concept into applicable reality; invitations were dispatched and we settled back to wait impatiently for the time to pass, and for September to arrive.
Gabriele and I drove down on Thursday 15th, the van heavily laden with food, wine, guitars and p.a. Stopping off at Paul and Alice's place we crammed in a second p.a., my faithful old Yorkville in fact, bought by Brambus when I changed to my present Dynacord, and, with the suspension creaking, we threaded the last tunnels, skirted the lake of Walensee, and arrived in Haldenstein to the warm sunshine of an early autumn afternoon.
Ursula was on hand to walk with us to the castle, where the friendly custodian showed us everything, from the special bricks for outdoor candles to, quite literally, the kitchen sink. Everyone was in agreement that the fine weather would last until the following day, the old, cobbled courtyard with its central fountain looked irresistably inviting, and it was settled there and then that this was where the concert would take place. Perhaps Ursula's initial attempts to turn off the fountain, resulting in four powerful jets hitting each of the walls simultaneously, should have alerted us to some ambivalence amongst the elementals, but she soon had things under control again, and how often do you release your eighth CD at a 'Thirty Years On The Road' celebration, in a mediæval courtyard?
All night the moon beamed down from a sky of dark damask. The following day dawned blue and clear, and I hurried to the castle to enlist the help of a friend who works there, in the archaeological department, to help me carry the staging down two flights of narrow, winding, stone stairs. It was then time to pick up Ljubo from the station, and he soon had the two sound- systems linked to provide wonderful acoustics and full stage monitoring.
Gabriele, Ursula and their helpers were already at work in the kitchen when the other musicians began to arrive: Sandro, Karlheinz Roth (percussion), and Uschi, now back in full health. Her harp, and Sandro's wind instruments were all miked up, Ljubo balanced his bass guitar, and we had time to run through the set together. (Sara the fiddler had another gig, and couldn't be there, so we had to manage without her.)
By late afternoon Paul and Alice Rostetter had set out the benches and tables, the guests began arriving, and after a delicious cous-cous, provided by Gabriele, and served to more than forty people, we started spot on the dot of eight o'clock, with an attentive audience, the fountain silent and glittering, moths circling the lights, and just the odd smudge of grey cloud drifting in from the north.
As might have been anticipated, the smudgy, grey clouds soon whistled up more smudgy, grey clouds, and as is so often the case when clouds get together, their complexion soon darkened, and they began to experience difficulty in retaining water.
In other words, just as I finished recounting the story of Bob Dylan's washed-out 1987 performance in Locarno, and began playing 'Piazza Grande', with its images of rain-dashed villas, a grey lake, umbrellas and plastic macs, the first spots began falling; and by the time the song was over, so was our outdoor concert. Perhaps the clouds had found it all too deeply moving, but as they wept, willing hands seized the amps, speakers, cables and instruments, hastily stowing them away in the entrance hall, while the rest of the audience hurried upstairs to the beautiful wooden-floored concert room where Gabriele and Arno were already organizing the setting out of chairs.
Thus, when the musicians finally came panting in, ten minutes later, the audience were already seated and settled. So, with wet hair and steaming clothes, I took up my wonderful Klaus Doll guitar again and swung into 'A Ploy Named Sue', by the end of which Ljubo had reassembled his bass set-up, and with the rest of us playing 'unplugged', the concert resumed with unabated vigour.
So, yes, we had a fabulous evening; the rain and shine of thirty years, all in one show, a unique atmosphere, and a night to remember. As Sandro commented in an e-mail a couple of days later, "It was almost worth the rain that the synchronisation worked so perfectly that it started raining right during the Piazza Grande." Well, exactly!
Just out of interest, the programme was as follows:
|1) HOME TO YOU||Walking to the Moon - Brambus 1995 71-2|
|2) BACKTRACKS||Caught at the Cross-roads - Brambus 1998 07-2|
|3) FROM A SILENT TOWN||Video Trips - Brambus 2001 51-2|
|4) LONG, HOT SUMMER||Paper Devils and Spirits of Fire - Brambus 1992 36-2|
|5) PIAZZA GRANDE||Second-class Hotel - Brambus 1989 04-1&2|
|6) A PLOY NAMED SUE||Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2|
|7) THE ADMIRAL||Video Trips - Brambus 2001 51-2|
|8) LEARNING TO FLY||Video Trips - Brambus 2001 51-2|
|9) HIGH LIFE||Video Trips - Brambus 2001 51-2|
|10) KING SUN, QUEEN MOON||Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2|
|11) PIECE-WORK||Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2|
|12) HOT ROBIN||Paper Devils and Spirits of Fire - Brambus 1992 36-2|
|13) KILLERS||Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2|
|14) SCORPIO RISING||Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2|
|15) CHICKEN BLUES||Living the Life - K&M 1987 100 006|
|16) HARLEY GIRL||Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2|
|17) LAST ON THE HILL||Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2|
|18) WOMAN I LOVE||Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2|
|WALKING TO THE MOON||Walking to the Moon - Brambus 1995 71-2|
|UNDERGROUND||Whispers on the Turning Ground - Brambus 2005 07-2|
|THE ODDSOCK BLUES||Paper Devils and Spirits of Fire - Brambus 1992 36-2|
The faithful workhorse Takamine, bought for'The Lady' in 1984, was onstage
too, tuned to open G for 'Harley Girl', and, in the audience were many
friends who, in one way or another, have played a part in my three decades
of professional music-making. Paul and Alice Rostetter, Arno and Ursula
Catrina, Leo and Susanne Vock, Gabriela Peter (Mallaun) and her family,
Millie Bircher, and many friends from the old days in Chur. Also, Paul
Jansen, my former Dutch agent with his wife Desirée; Michel Poletti of the
much-missed Teatro Materno in Ascona; and Inge Kleffmann, long-standing
friend and present German agent. Inevitably there were gaps too: Leni and
Onno Buisma, whose house was always open to me on my Dutch wanderings;
lovely Bianca Boege, (Miss B.) step-daughter of my ex-Norwegian agent,
Berislav Jankovic my Croatian agent and several others who, for one reason
or another, couldn't be there.
Afterwards, when everyone had dispersed, Gabriele and I returned to Ursula and Arno's house, situated, by a strange coincidence, close to a little village lane called Süeswinggel! (Yes, another 'Sweet Nook'). Here we sat on the floor with our hosts, and with Ljubo, Inge, her son Leon and his friend Max, delighting ourselves with a plush, singing pig dispatched especially from the languishing Miss B. in Oslo, and savouring the good red wine.
A good night's sleep was not on the cards anyway. Ljubo was in the process of moving house, so, after sleeping from 3.00 a.m., to 5.30 a.m., on the bedroom carpet, because Gabriele looked so deeply asleep I didn't want to disturb her, I was up again to drive Ljubo to the station for his six o'clock train. I returned as a grey dawn was breaking, and this time, crept into bed beside Gabriele, who sleepily enquired where I'd been all night.
Not wanting to miss anything, I was back at the castle for breakfast, where Gabriele already had everything running smoothly, and our guests then spent the afternoon ascending mountains, exploring Chur, or attending a local village wine festival, with Arno for their personal guide.
With the help of Michael Makosh the djembe drummer, and Leon and Max, I demolished the staging and stored it upstairs again, folding the benches and tables too, and restoring the courtyard to its original state of simple charm. Of course, all the equipment, cables etc., needed sorting through as well, having been hastily jumbled together to get everything out of the rain as rapidly as possible; but all this was completed, the tables laid, and the concert hall prepared by the time our guests began to reassemble at six 'o clock.
When everyone was there Gabriele, with her usual air of effortless panache, served the forty-plus diners with two courses of pasta, salad, wines et al., followed by biscuits and cake. In this she was staunchly supported by Ursula, again, Susanne, Inge, Leon and Max, who all helped her keep the plates in motion. Her 15"x12" whisky fruit cake was a huge success, and I was gratified to see that my cheese straws, walnut and chocolate cookies, almond and chocolate cookies, and walnut and lemon biscuits all vanished rapidly as well. When everyone was replete and rested, they were invited upstairs, where Leon and Max had set out the chairs, and here the evening expanded into its final phase.
To set the mood Uschi Laar played half an hour of breathtaking harp music. I've known Uschi since 1986, when we met at the Halletauer Fest, among the hopfields of Mainberg. She is a consummate artist, and I could have listened to her all night. Judging by the applause, everyone else felt the same. At my request she also played 'Lamento di Tristan', one of the most haunting mediæval pieces I know. I'm not sure, but at that moment it seemed as if Time itself had either stopped moving altogether, or quietly reverted to fourteenth century moods and reveries.
She was followed by the Argentinian dancer Sandra Baumeister, a friend from Frankfurt, met through Gabriele's association with the 'Fé Reichelt Tanz und Teater Werkstatt'. (We celebrated Fé's 80th birthday in Berlin earlier this year, but she wasn't able to be here tonight.) Dark hair streaming and black skirts whirling, Sandra had everyone mesmerized, and the sultry, sensuous airs of South America seemed to permeate the rooms of this venerable Swiss castle, while the föhn (a warm, mountain wind) blustered outside, and light rain blew past.
Next came Michael Makosh the African Drum magician, also a friend from the dance school, and accompanied by Karlheinz and Leon, he soon had the intricate, interweaving patterns of the three djembes thundering round the room, vibrating the very bones of his listeners, and rattling the elegant plaster mouldings of the walls and ceilings. Another cultural leap. Old Africa, dark and passionate, her ancient rhythms eternal and ever new.
After this we had a break, to allow everyone to get their breath back, and savour the wealth of creative talent we had been privileged to share.
Thereafter we eased back and took things at a gentle pace. I was joined by Mike-Campbell-Cole, photographer, racing-driver, pig-keeper, and friend of thirty-five years. It was great that he and Elizabeth could be there, having travelled all the way from Yorkshire specially to convey the greetings of Mango and Chutney, their two insuppressible porkers. The presence, just behind the castle, of two equally eloquent Swiss pigs, was an unlooked for bonus! Mike and I played some of our old favourites, including Gabriele's much-loved, 'Lord Franklin'. My voice was well on the froggy side of frog, but held out sufficiently for me to lay down a few more numbers, before Leon and Max, backed by Uschi, improvised on a John Maclaughlin piece.
My nephew, Chris Sawer was there too, with my sister Susan, and he borrowed my guitar to play songs by Davey Graham, Dylan and Dire Straits. My dear old Mum would have loved to be with us, but eighty-nine is not the best age for long journeys and late nights. Even so, she was very much in our thoughts, and, in addition to Mike's perceptive camera lens, my school friend Tony Gorbold was quietly filming throughout, so there will certainly be plenty of reminders to share.
But this was not all. Our good friend Stephanie Rummel, a 'One-Woman Show' if ever there was one, suddenly decided she wanted to make a contribution. I hadn't asked her to do so because, on their way to the party, she and Enno had a very close shave on an Austrian motorway, when heavy boxes from a trailer in front of them flew out and smashed their windscreen. Another trajectory, a few seconds difference, and perhaps they wouldn't have been with us at all. So, what they needed was friendly surroundings, good food, and nothing to do but relax. But, since when did artists ever stay seated when there's a friendly audience just waiting to applaud?
So, Stephanie treated us to double-edged sales talk, and witchy malevolence, followed by a group activity involving the slapping of various body parts, at increasing speed, while reciting good wishes for my thirty year celebration.
This encouraged me to stand up and deliver a version of my non-P.C. love song, 'Politically Erect', but I intended Shakespeare to have the last word: 'Our revels now are ended .....' A perfect valediction from the greatest master of the English language. But no! Hardly had I finished reciting this exquisite summary of the ephemeral nature of the human condition when sounds, distinctly like the clucking of hens, began, gathering in volume until I agreed to repeat my 'Chicken Blues', the doughty tale of the train-driving chicken, arrested by a bicycling policeman. Sorry Mr. Shakespeare, but what could I do?
And so, with the release of 'Whispers on the Turning Ground' thirty fantastic years were recalled and celebrated. The labyrinths of time and fortune continue spinning as they always have done, and always will, and, remembering the full moon rising above the Black Forest, as Gabriele slumbered in the back of the van, on our homeward journey the following night, I can only be grateful for the life, the journeys, horizons and friendships music and words have given me.
King Henry VIII may have been a moody monarch, and a less than ideal husband, but in his youth he too was a songwriter, and what he writes in his best known song, is no more than the simple truth. Besides, it was always wise to let King Henry have the last word. So he speaks for me when he takes up his royal lute, tunes the strings, and begins:
"Pastime with good company I love, and shall until I die."