They sing love songs to a City, in a dialect that hardly anyone in that City even speaks. Despite (or because of?) this, Blackfööss play to huge audiences locally, and their concert in Museumsplatz, the second of the current Open-Air Season, was no exception. A Cologne Band being cheered in Bonn? Isn’t this a bit like Liverpool getting a standing ovation at Goodison Park? Where ‘Kölsch’ music is concerned it seems like everyone loves the Band – but is Cologne really the closest thing to Heaven on Earth? Am I missing something on my weekly commute to the Cathedral City?
In comparison to the many international Artists who will be appearing this really was a ‘home game’ as all three acts are local ones with their own appreciative following.
First up were Cologne Band Papperlapapp, whos pop Kölsch melodies got the evening off to a lively start and established a local flavour for the evening. Next up were the even more local Sunny Skies who need no introduction. Well, maybe a little, since due to engagement conflicts Sabina Kluck took the female lead reigns. Not that anyone would notice who didn’t know the regular band. Her performances of ‘Heavy Cross’ and ‘Let it Rain’ were excellent. Martin Behr in particular set the bar for blazing guitar solos this year with his effort on the latter song ( Joe Bonamassa, Greg Allmann, BB King and Ana Popovic will all be taking up the challenge I’m sure Martin!) whilst Alex Kriencke had everyone warmed up with ‘Rocking all over the World’ and ‘Highway to Hell’, if ‘Warmed up’ by Rock songs is the right thing for a Bläck Fööss audience to be?
Their name comes not out of a collective soap allergy, it comes in fact from a time early in their careers when they went barefoot onstage. In the case of Die Bläckfööss ‘early’ is actually 41 years ago. Today there are no bare feet, but that aside, not a lot has changed.
Tommy Engels left to seek solo success in the ‘90’s but that hasn’t dented the original bands huge popularity. Singing in their native ‘Kölsch’ dialect however means that even a large part of Cologne struggles to understand them. To combat this the band have worked in local schools to jointly ‘teach’ the kids and save the language.
‘Kölsch’ though, as anyone will tell you at Karneval time, is more than just words (or even a type of beer) it’s also a state of mind. A ‘feel good factor’ if you will. A prime example is the bands hit ‘Drink doch eine met’ . It tells the tale of a local man without a job who is spotted by his fellow ‘Colonians’ at the pub. What do they do? Of course, they invite him to have a drink on them: “You have no money? Who cares?!”. Take another example, ‘Dat Wasser vun Kölle’ (The water from Cologne), one of the bands many love songs to their Hometown. Is Cologne really so special? Are the people really so warm and understanding? In a recent ‘General Anzeiger’ interview band member Erry Stoklosa reiterates the words of another famous Cologne musician Wolfgang Niedecken that such songs are in many ways ‘wish fulfillment’ on the part of the listener. Longing for a time that has either long gone or never was. Or, as longtime band bassist Hartmutt Priess puts it “Down the pub of an evening you are happy to believe anything you hear. Just don’t ask yourself the next morning if you still believe it”
The huge audience at Museumsplatz are happy to believe what they hear anyway. In the tradition of all bands who have a strong toehold on the Karneval Music landscape, all the best songs have their own dance steps. The slow swaying motion from the hips to ‘Drink doch eine met’, or the waving hands in time to ‘Das Wasser vun Kölle’ it’s clear that Bläck Fööss shows are about participation as much as listening. There are numerous songs where the crowd could easily replace the band for the whole tune.
It seemed like each member of the band took a turn at singing lead. When it came the turn of drummer ‘Gus’ Gusovius, his introduction to ‘Es gibt ein Leben nach den Tod’ (There is a life after death) was a good indicator of how Bläck Fööss (and indeed a fair few other Karneval fuelled bands) work on a song. The original he remembered hearing from a band once in Holland, but eventually traced the inspiration of the Dutch song to a number by a certain Mr Bob Dylan. The Dylan song in question is ‘Death is not the End’ which is, to put it mildly, a very depressing song:
“When you’re sad and when you’re lonely / And you haven’t got a friend / Just remember that death is not the end”.
A make-over by Bläckfööss created something so jolly sounding that it gets a play every Karneval. Try this for a lyric (translated)
“Did you just miss the last lifeboat on the Titanic? Just remember, there’s a life after death” (History doesn’t recall if anyone from Cologne was in the famed and ill-fated Titanic Danceband)
Forty one years of making music and a cut-off time of 10pm was probably the biggest problem that Bläckfööss had to overcome on Saturday. They took the last number with the aforementioned Cologne stoicism as Peter Schütten announced that, as it was close to ten and the electricity was likely to be cut if they over ran, the last number of the evening would be an acoustic singalong. You don’t survive more than four decades without knowing a trick or two!