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