Forty Years of Sunny Skies – Rope Schmitz Interview

In 2010 Bonn’s local newspaper ‘Express’ asked its readers to vote for their favourite Bonn Musician.  No surprise in first place – Beethoven.  Robert Schumann also scored highly of course.  In a very respectable 8th place though, ahead even of Schumann’s wife Clara, came local Pop coverband Sunny Skies.

Ahead of their 40th Anniversary Harmonie concert on 21 April,  3SONGSBONN asked founder member of the band Rope Schmitz how Sunny Skies came into existence, and how he explained their continued popularity.

What keeps you getting up onstage and doing shows after forty years, Rope?

I think it´s the love of music. It´s a wonderful feeling when you perform together with other musicians, to look into the eyes of people in the the audience, and to see that you are making them happy.  The confirmation  that you are playing well. 

When did you start playing music yourself?  What got you started?

Well, I started at the age of six playing violin, because my father (he played cello and organ) infected me with his love of classical music. When I was thirteen Chris Barber and other English jazz bands like Kenny Ball made me take up banjo and guitar which I tried to learn by myself, later also trombone. But when I heard The Beatles´” Love me do” – suddenly I knew that this was what I finally wanted to play: Beat, later called Rock´n´Roll. But still nowadays I like to listen to classical music.

How did Sunny Skies come about?

As a student I met a guy on a riverboat shuffle who knew every Beatles song (FD Faber), he played guitar and sang wonderfully, somehow we fitted together. We started as a duo and then, after some time some singers joined us, suddenly there was the idea of founding a group, and it was easy to find a bass player and a drummer.

Who came up with the bands name?

In the early seventies James Taylor was quite popular.  We loved to play one of his songs because of its beautiful harmonies, this song was titled “Sunny Skies”, and Ulla, one of our female singers, suggested this as the band´s name.

Martin Behr in Marktplatz 2008 - c.John Hurd

Who was in the original band and how many members have there been over the years?

The original band members were Ulla Rubach and Bea Tradt as female singers, Dieter Schürmann as male singer, FD Faber and myself as guitarists, Heiner Figge on bass and Jürgen Salmen on drums. Now, after 40 years, there have been exactly 41 musicians who played for Sunny Skies. The normal line up of today is Jeanne Altfeld and Alex Krienke as singers, Martin Behr and myself as guitarists, Marvin Philippi is our bass player, Harald Elsen on keyboards, Andi Altmeier on drums, and the horn sectione is Beate Böhm (sax), Rene Andrie (trumpet) and Tobias Flerus (trombone).

Tell me a little about the music scene in Bonn when the band started out in the early 70’s.

At that time there were a lot of coverbands in Bonn, some jazz bands too.  You could have a lot of gigs in halls and there were many “Offene Türen” (open doors) – opportunities  for young people to get a band together and just play.  All kinds of music were welcome, and there were plenty of locations in which to perform it.  A number of the local bands later went on to have some success elsewhere in Germany like Satin Whale or Trans Am. It seemed at the time as if almost everybody had a guitar under their arm.

What music did Sunny Skies play originally?

We started with songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, Beach Boys, Searchers. The set list has changed greatly of course over the years. Nowadays we play songs by Deep Purple, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Mother´s Finest, Robert Palmer, Alannah Myles, Alanis Morissette, Melissa Etheridge, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin and many others – very much a cross section of rock history.

What has been your highpoint with the band so far?

There have many highpoints: The first time in a TV show in 1976. Being support band for the Beach Boys, Huey Lewis, the Hooters at the Museumsplatz. The “Rock meets Classic” concerts with HofgartenOrchester. The concert in Minsk, when the city of Bonn sent us to White Russia, for example. 

Co-Founder of Sunny Skies - F.D. Faber in 2007

And the low point?

We had a concert in Cologne, the manager had asked us to play our normal set list, but when we started the audience was getting more and more annoyed. They had expected us to play Carnival songs. So after half an hour we  packed up our instruments and drove home.

Did you ever imagine at the start that the band would exist 40 years later?

No, not at all!  

Why do you think it has remained popular?

In the beginning hundreds of spectators came because of our beautiful female singers (even today because of Jeanne!). No, to be honest: People also liked the songs and our performance of them over the years. And they liked, and still like, the musician themselves. Our guitar player Martin Behr for example is an outstanding performer. Many other guitarists come to our concerts just to see his fingers raging on the strings.

Any regrets during the bands history?  Things you would have done differently with hindsight?

No, I don´t regret anything.

Alex Krienke - Harmonie 2007

How does the current music scene compare to the one 40 years ago?

The scene now is much more professional. And you don´t have many opportunities to perform. The audience is also much more demanding than in the early days. And as a band you can only survive if you are really good.

What is the future for Sunny Skies?  How long can you continue?

One of my favourite songs is the Beach Boys´”God only knows”.

Can we expect any surprises at the Harmonie on 21 April?  Have you planned anything special for the show?  Perhaps bringing some former band members onstage?

We did try to bring former members onstage twenty years ago, afterwards we decided ‘ never again!’… No, seriously, we couldn’t maintain today the level of performance we had forty years ago, and that would be unfair on the audience.  Our show on 21 April at the Harmonie will be a normal concert, without our regular singer Alex Krienke unfortunately, he is unable to play on that evening.  Detlef Kornath, well known in Bonn as the singer of Krysmah and Stargazer, will be taking his place. The Harmonie gig will be the first one of our Anniversary tour, the last will take place on October 20 in Brückenforum – and this one will be the ‘Grande Finale’ of the festivities. We will be supported by HofgartenOrchester with the BonnVoice choir, and with them will be  performing classic Rock songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody”.   

With the Hofgarten Orchestra - Museumsplatz 2008


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