If you’ve visited the Mr Music store in Bonn since last November you will know that Julian Sas was at the Harmonie on Saturday. If you missed it though – or left it too late (the show was sold-out weeks ago) never fear. Julian will be back NEXT November and tickets are already on sale. By all that you will have guessed that Sas is something of a phenomenon around Bonn. Born in Holland yet almost as popular here as our own Beethoven it seems. What’s his secret? 3Songs was at the tenth anniversary show of the Sas/Bonn saga to find out.
6.50 pm, ten minutes to doors open, and the cloakroom is outside the main hall – always a good sign as it means the organizers don’t anticipate there will be room in the hall for coat pegs and people combined. True enough there are already people starting to get squeezed into the corners of the hall’s entrance as if practising for the main event – sardines INSIDE the hall. I’m reminded that this is a rather special event by the arrival of Karl-Heinz who has a framed memento for Julian, celebrating the fact that this is Julian’s 10th appearance in Endenich. I’ll wager that at least nine of them were also sold out weeks in advance too!
By showtime there is the usual large smattering of Dutch being spoken. Many of Julians fans seem to also regard Bonn as a second home, once every November at least. How does Julian himself feel? He certainly steps onstage like it’s his own living room. A bear of a man, Julian Sas always seems slightly out of scale for the space he inhabits onstage, as soon as his guitar roars into action he has taken possession not just of the stage, but of every corner of every wall of the Bonn Harmonie.
The band behind Sas has not changed in a good few years, nor have the genuine smiles on their faces. Tenny Tahamata usually has his eyes closed or down at the floor. He could probably play the whole set with his eyes closed by now. He and Sas have an almost telepathic understanding of when to up or down the tempo or the volume, but from time to time Tahamata glances in the direction of the main man despite knowing I’m sure exactly where Sas will be standing and what he will be expecting. Drummer Rob Heijne conversely is always looking at Sas, always smiling/grimacing and has the air of someone who is waiting to get permission to tear it loose and completely demolish his kit – not unthinkable given that Heijne shares Julian Sas’ ability to make his surroundings look ‘00’ scale.
There’s a new CD due out next January and smatterings of it are on parade tonight. Most notably a rip-roaring version of Rory Gallagher’s live showstopper ‘Shadowplay’. There’s a slight variation on the riff but the intensity once delivered by the G man is carried through by the S man tonight. Sas has already played some formidable Blues Rock including his own ‘Light in the Dark’ and a lengthy slow ‘Blues at my Bedside’ but just plugging into Gallagher’s legacy seems to step everything up a notch. Maybe Rory is still getting to play his old favourites on Earth – if it’s possible then Sas is certainly the man Rory Gallagher would play through. A similar soul – small on ego but huge on talent.
The same description would also be apt for Hendrix, and Julian has been wowing audiences for years now with his version of ‘Hey Joe’. It’s a masterpiece of technical brilliance from Sas, moving through every concievable pace and volume – pulled down in the middle to a flurry of harmonics before hammering back into the Rock mainstream at a furious pace (Rob Heijne let finally off his leash behind the drums?!)
I’m not sure that Jimi ever had to follow that. Julian though is going to have to, because there are more than 400 people chanting and clapping crazily for his return to the stage. They continue to clap and chant as Sas announces another Gallagher classic – Bullfrog Blues. After that they could have clapped and chanted for ten minutes and no one would have heard anything. Tahamata and Heijne are having a good time playing music whilst the man on guitar and vocals notches up his effort level to 110% and lets that bullfrog grin, seen on the faces of so many fine Bluesers like Gallagher and Muddy Waters, light up both his face and our hearts.
The Dutch Blues Foundation votes every year for the best of it’s Nations players. I’ve yet to see the name Julian Sas on the nominations. I can’t imagine that there is anyone better than this man playing in Holland right now. There are not too many people anywhere as good as Julian Sas. I suggest however that you all keep it a secret – if the Harmonie became too small for Julian Sas what would Christmas be like for Bonn’s Blues lovers? Tickets are onsale for next year – don’t leave it too late…