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2006 Newsletter

After an English Christmas and a midnight dash back to snowy Frankfurt, we had a pleasant 'rutsch' ('slide' as the Germans say) into 2006.

In February I was hither and yon, and then yon and hither. Two weeks in GB., and a week in Switzerland.

In England I tutored a seven-day residential course for kids with musical talent, up in Kilve, north Somerset and, finishing on the Friday, flew back to Frankfurt on the Saturday, drove down to Switzerland on the Sunday, and began a week's course at the C.G. Jung institute, Küsnacht, on the Monday morning. All very stimulating, particularly the Jung course.

Leo, a friend of ours has a beautiful old house on the Horgenberg, a hilltop overlooking the lake of Zürich, and, as always, he was only too happy to make the place available, going up there a few days before to light the tiled wood oven and warm the place up. Thus it was a cosy welcoming haven which was waiting for me when I drove up through moonlit snowfields and warmly glittering chalêt windows on the Sunday evening. Everywhere lay white and silent under the moon, with clear stars overhead, and the lights of the lake shore twinkling. Leo had shown me a few alternative parking places down by the ferry, I had my bike in the van, and I settled into bed, with this breathtaking moonlit view surrounding me.

The seminar was great fun, and the 'extras' were particularly appreciated. The first of these was a visit to Jung's library, in the house at 228, Seestrasse, Küsnacht, now the home of one of his grandsons. (He had twenty grandchildren!). This is not open to the public. Neither is the tower at Bollingen, where our guide was another of Jung's grandsons. We also had a trip to the abbey of Einsiedeln, with its famous black Madonna, and wonderful library, containing alchemical works by Paracelsus and others. So all in all, it was a wonderful week.

Gabriele came down on the Friday afternoon, and we drove home again on the Sunday.

The following Wednesday evening I had a successful local concert at Das Bett, which has become my favourite Frankfurt venue. It's a small, friendly club, one of the very few Old Sachsenhausen venues which actually presents a real cultural programme, as opposed to tingle-tangling pub music, forlorn soloists in forgotten corners or, worst of all, karaoke!

I was back in das Bett on March 6th to win the Comedy half-year final! I'd been roped into the project by the organiser because he had too few competitors, so the win was something of a surprise.

Five days later I followed snowy roads north to Hildesheim, and 'The Blue Moon', where the snow succeeded in keeping most of the audience at home.

Happily there were plenty of guests, and no snow, at the Café Extra in Büttelborn, on the seventeenth. Here I was able to use the new system Ljubo Majstorovic has built for me. This combines my ancient TC Flange and Chorus box, with a belt box and cables for the harmonica and guitars. Ljubo has balanced the Klaus Doll (See Homepage links) and the faithful old Takamine, so they can both use the same cable, and everything is vastly simplified, and highly effective.

I would love to provide a link to Ljubo's website, where one could hear his very special music and explore his other impressive talents, but, maddeningly, for such a brilliant musician, computer wizard, sound engineer and heaven knows what else, he doesn't have one! Nor has he ever considered it worthwhile to make a CD! What can I say! Put his name into your search engine, and you may garner some information about him from disparate sources.

Someone who does have a website is Sandra Scherer (See links), and on March 26th, she and I once more presented our Alchemical Yoga workshop. Three of those who were hoping to attend were caught out by the fact that all the clocks had gone forward overnight, but I can't say much because if it hadn't been for a phone call from Sandra, I'd have been late too! So, Time having been pinned down, the workshop proceeded with great success.

Ljubo was in town, staying with us in Sachsenhausen, at the end of the month, in order to play at one of the stands at the Frankfurt Music Fair, where he demonstrated the capabilities of some fiendishly complex, alarmingly pricey and aurally stunning guitars.

Also well represented at the Fair was local guitar-maker Peter Coura, who has been Frankfurt's resident guitar-building guru since the late seventies. He now oversees the production of handbuilt guitars in Africa, using local woods and local craftsmen to produce unique electric instruments; and at his shop on the Saturday evening, April 1st, I attended a concert given by stunning electric guitar player Errorhead. Other encounters over the Fair weekend were Daniel Mari, whose family have been making strings since the 1600s, and who still continues the tradition, Peter Finger, and Vicky Genfen. If you haven't heard the guitarwork of any of these artists you really don't know what you're missing! In fact a tuning I picked up from Vicky that evening turned out to be very productive, and I've since used it for several songs.

At the beginning of April I was down in Rosenheim where Uschi Laar (See links) had arranged two schools concerts for me. I enjoy playing in schools, for the older students who have a good grasp of English, and they're usually popular events; even so it can be a touch daunting to be on stage at eight-thirty in the morning, confronted by a couple of hundred teenies, each clutching a copy of your lyrics, and probably wondering whether this old hippy is going to be worth listening to. All went well, and the musical reputation of the hippy generation was sustained.

After that things slowed down, and the only other spring event was an afternoon exhibition of a painter friend, at the end of May.

This was followed by a trip to Naples, purely for pleasure, and thereafter, nothing much happened until July, when I played at the last event hosted by the BCN café, former site of many a manic poetry slam, but now no longer available. The 'slams' have moved across the road, hardly two minutes' walk away, but it does seem as if one particular era has come to an end.

It's something of an understatement to say I'm not interested in football but, with Frankfurt hosting two or three of the World Cup games this year, it was impossible to avoid it entirely, and all I can say is that this wretched business, inescapable as it was, did at least galvanize the city into a state of untypical abandon. Whenever there was a game on the entire centre became one big party, with giant screens, streets closed to traffic, festive crowds and, to be fair, no real aggro. Returning from Italy we happened to arrive on the eve of a big match, and it was almost, I say almost', as if we were back in Naples! I even wrote a poem on the subject, a parody of Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner,' entitled:

'The Rime of the Drunken Football Fan'.

It is a drunken football fan,
And he stoppeth one of three.
"By thy bleary eye and lager breath,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?"

This is just the first of twenty equally derivative verses! But, enough of high culture!

This summer there were two fiftieth birthday celebrations, one of which took us down to Switzerland again, where we seized the opportunity of spending a few days at Ursula and Arno's idyllic little hut, high up in the mountains, surrounded by orchids, moon daisies, gentians, lilies and innumerable other wild flowers. The marmot families were in evidence everywhere, whistling and frolicking, and our pals the 'piddler' pigs, in the neighbouring alm, seemed pleased to see us whenever we dropped in to fill our can with fresh, sweet, nutty milk. Only very rarely did a single drop of this ambrosial nectar survive the walk home! Like Bre'er Bear and his water-melon it was a case of 'just a drop' and 'just another drop', until it was all gone, long before our hut had even come in sight.

After only a few, all too short, days we shouldered our packs and marched down the mountain again, because I had a gig back in Germany, at a small open-air cinema beside the river Rhine. I played a full concert, standing on a large trailer in front of the screen, then, when I'd finished, the trailer was hauled away and the Johnny Cash film was shown. This was, of course, the ideal occasion on which to play my satirical song about the suing culture, 'A ploy named sue'.

Various poetry 'slam' poetry events occupied the month of August, and the weather once again, as it does every year, managed to deprive us of a long- anticipated outdoor concert at Schloss Vollrad, in the Rhinegau. In the end it turned out not to matter one whit, but initially we were disappointed. Last year's programme was so good that even the constipated atmosphere of the Wiesbaden Kurhaus Theater, to which the event retreats in case of rain, failed to dampen our ardour; but this year a Latin American Quartet was so dire that we hastened to evacuate the building at the first opportunity. As the musicians doggedly sustained their perpetual, scrambling flight from harmony, fidgetting and squealing their way through a harsh programme of aggressively abstract contemporary dissonance, I ascertained that the lanterns overhead consisted of forty-eight panes apiece, and were encircled by two rings of bulbs, numbering sixteen and thirty-two respectively. Our considered conclusion was that 'Cuarteto Squitter et Squawko' might have been a more appropriate name.

Speaking of squittering and squawking. As we drove into Wiesbaden that evening I heard a strange avian call from the sky and, looking up, saw the unmistakable shape of three parrots skimming overhead. Gabriele, who was behind the wheel and concentrating on the traffic, greeted my incredulous announcement with the look of a woman who has spent many years in close association with a man whose imagination frequently eclipses his perception of quotidian reality. "They were parrots!" I insisted, reminding her that, in the first year of our relationship, she had promised to show me 'pirates in cages' at the Palmengarten. Overwrought with excitement I had accompanied her thence, only to discover that the eagerly anticipated buccaneers were, yes, 'parrots'.

She graciously acknowledged this incident, but remained firm in her belief that normal people do not claim to have seen parrots in flight over Wiesbaden. However, a few weeks later, she was obliged to, rather sheepishly, admit that a colleague had just assured her that these tropical vagrants have, indeed, established a small colony near to the town in question, and are by no means a rare sight in the vicinity. So, parrots is parrots!

In September I was, very briefly, in London, to deliver a talk on The Alchemical Mercurius, at Treadwells Bookshop, near Covent Garden. I then drove down to Kenton overnight, rather than sleeping in the van and getting snarled up in London's traffic the following morning.

I have watched, with growing incredulity and despair how, in the Flapdoodle Republic once known as Great Britain, life grows stranger and more surreal by the day. The loonies are inexorably taking over the asylum. (This phrase is, of course, horrifically 'incorrect', but the evidence is undeniable). It's a fact that Sainsburys no longer offer empty cartons for their customers' convenience, because they are deemed to be 'a health hazard'; chestnut trees are felled to obviate the danger of their fruits falling upon the heads of hapless children and, should any of the said juveniles wish to play the outdated game of conkers, responsible adults must ensure that the appropriate protective eyewear, helmets, padded suits etc. are worn. Ah, but I should be the first to commend them! Prepare ye now to hear a tale of

".....most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of hair-breadth 'scapes i' the imminent deadly breach." etc.

I was gathering walnuts under the tree in our garden the other day, when one of these lethal fruits suddenly, and without the slightest warning, plummeted from the branches above me and smashed to earth mere feet from where I was standing, burying itself, in a blinding whirlwind of leafmeal and debris, with a violence which was truly sickening. The thought of what could have happened if it had struck a child is unthinkable, (so, obviously I can't tell you what it is), but, suffice to say, I am currently undergoing an extended course of transpersonalmutualtouchyfeelyintermasturbatorytreehuggyposttraumatichyperna velcontemplatingselfindulgentantiallergiccottonwoolybeefwittedfathead counselling. Even so, I can barely bring myself to speak of it. And, if an innocent child had been involved! Or, even one that was not entirely innocent! Ah, the horror! The horror!

Another public-spirited debate, in Birmingham I understand, involves the fear that, by referring to the period of December 24th-25th as 'Christmas', deep, ineradicable and life-threatening offence might be caused to unspecified racial minorities, some of whom speak publicly of celebrations known as 'Ramadan' or 'Hanukkah' without upsetting anyone. Top level confabulations are therefore under way to settle upon a less provocative title for this nefarious christian practice. Mention of Guantanamo Bay is, happily, not considered to present any risk of causing offence to anyone at all, since it is not associated with injustice of any kind, nor with the denigration of anyone's beliefs. I do not count myself as an adherent of any established religion but, I delight in the rich variety of cultures and national traditions, my own among them.

So, having said me piece, I can now polish off what proved to be rather a quiet year, by mentioning a poetry 'slam' in Neu Isenburg, at the beginning of October, another Das Bett concert, half way through the month, a couple of gigs up in Hannover, and the annual Austrian Schools tour.

The Hannover gigs came about as a direct result of my visit to Berlin in November 2002! One of the venue's had bought a CD of mine, and this was heard by a roving English rock-man called Barry, who then phoned me and said he could fix up a couple of gigs. This he duly did, and the Hannover trip was the result. Even though the performances were rather rough-edged pub gigs, which I've moreorless consigned to an earlier life, Barry and I hit it off, and continue to be in contact. Whether there'll be any further concerts from that quarter is another matter. I then turned south to Linz, in upper Austria.

As I left Hannover the wind was whistling, mills were spinning, autumn leaves were whirling, and these conditions prevailed for much of the journey. But there were no delays, and the landscape was beautiful, so I made excellent time, stopping only for petrol and an Austrian motorway vignette.

From Regensburg onwards rain and darkness descended, with the wind tootling his gusty flute; and there was more of the same in Linz itself, where my umbrella dramatically eviscerated itself as I battled along a tree- lined avenue looking for the elusive address where I was to spend the night. The phrase 'like a drowned rat' did occur to me as I rang the doorbell and stood there dripping, with a coffin-like guitar case in one hand, and what appeared to be the remains of a wet bat which had flown into a wind tunnel, in the other. However, my hostess, the teacher who had set up my first school concert of the tour, soon had a hot dinner in front of me and a glass of Famous Grouse to the right of it. I'm not usually a consumer of spirits, but I could offer no objections to that particular wee dram.

After Linz I was in Lilienfeld, Klagenfurt, Villach, St. Margarethen and Wiener- Neustadt.

Stift Lilienfeld, where the next school was situated, is the largest mediæval monastery in Austria and, fortunately, hasn't been too badly 'Baroqued'! I visited it in the late afternoon when I arrived in the town, and enjoyed wandering round the cloisters as dusk descended and the fountain whispered suggestions of pre-Raphaelite fantasies.

The next morning I had to begin the concert at 8.45 a.m., and was outside the stift an hour earlier. The frost was still on the roofs, a pale moon loitered in the blue sky, the air was clear, the colours autumnal, with a tang of smoke in the air, and early light was bright on the wooded mountains. A delicate compensation for the earliness of hour. A group of boys helped me roadie the p.a. upstairs to the elaborately plastered Kaisersaal, where the two concerts appeared to be very well received.

I then returned to Linz, to cycle about buying books, bread, cheese, pumpkin oil, and Linzertorte from Jindracks which claims to be the original producer of this speciality. Then I pedalled home to my lodgings with the Dutch bicycle panniers bulging, and immediately set to work on a song using the lyrics of a Spencerian sonnet I'd written while waiting in the dentist's chair the previous February. It's true! That's where I wrote it! The Muse alone knows how such things happen, but it's called 'Reflections'. Watch out for it on the next album.

Somewhere on my travels I couldn't help noticing the wonderfully named 'Hotel Wanker'. I won't go into further details, but it might be fun to stay there for a night or two, just for the pleasure of phoning British friends and casually dropping the name into conversation.

Und zo vee proceed to Klagenfurt, the Roman Santicum, where Paracelsus (See Einsiedeln earlier in this newsletter) is again in evidence. This famous medico-alchemist was born in Einsiedeln, lived for a while in Villach, and travelled virtually everywhere. His full name was Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (shades of Monty Python's 'Greatest name in German Baroque Music'!), so he modestly chose to call himself Paracelsus, which means 'Beyond Celsus', Celsus being one of the more prominent ancient philosophers. Apart from being a remarkably open- minded and practical doctor, he also had a genius for making enemies, and has bequeathed to us our present understanding of the the word 'bombastic'.

St. Margarethen, and it's castle, were deep in snow, and the friendly guest house where I stayed even persuaded me to play a goodnight song for their two roguish little daughters. What is the world of the rambling bluesman coming to when he sits on the edge of a childrens' bed, in a snowy Austrian village, and sings Scarborough Fair to two bright-eyed, mischievous little faces!? Well, I could hardly sing about bad women, worse whisky and wild, low down nights at the Hotel Wanker!

Another gruesomely early dawn performance, with enthusiastic teenies and good CD sales, was followed by a cross-country drive all the way to Wiener- Neustadt, the mediæval defences of which were financed by the ransom money paid to Duke Leopold for the release of King Richard the Lionheart! Here the concert on the following morning was the last to be arranged by the genial Herr Linshalm, who's retiring next year. I hope his successor is as enthusiastic as he's been over the years.

Staying with friends near Munich I followed the never-ending highway homeward and, less than a week later, was in England again for another Kilve course. On the return journey, my long-suffering brother-in-law helped me to outwit National Express' dastardly schemes to prevent me reaching Heathrow in time, by driving me himself. Having waited in vain for the coach to come through the village and pick me up, I then phoned the company, only to discover that it had been 'diverted' due to a fallen tree!

All's well that ends well. Gabriele was home from her business trip to Japan, and I walked through the door to sit straight down to a delicious roast dinner, in company with her, and two of our closest friends.

The year was rounded off by the rare pleasure of a concert by Uschi Laar (see links) at a nearby venue, as snow fell on Frankfurt, and in mid December I led a guided tour, from the English Centre, of the Städel art gallery.

We were back in England for Christmas, where I took the opportunity to join the village carol singers on their rounds, experiencing authentically frosty fingers, frozen toes, homemade mince pies and mulled wine.

Old Father time kept shuffling, and the New Year found us at home in Frankfurt again, entertaining English friends, watching the fireworks, sharing a marzipan pig with strangers, and looking forward to 2007.