Younger visitors to the Mr Music CD and vinyl shop in Bonn Centre might be surprised to hear that owner Bernie Gelhausen was an active music promoter in the 80’s bringing bands to venues like the popular Biskuithalle. Nowadays though his involvement is strictly quality before quantity and two of those quality bands played at The Harmonie recently. Friday was Hard Rock Night with Sweden’s Bonafide and Saturday Hard Blues Night with Hollands Julian Sas. Join me for the mini ‘Mr Music Festival’ – no mud, no all-night camping required, just good clean musical fun…
How can you not be intrigued by a band led by a man named Pontus Snibb? It has an ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ adventurer feel about it. Snibb has been around the World too, his band supporting the likes of Status Quo and Deep Purple. You would be forgiven for thinking that Bonn was his hometown and not Malmo when you see the huge crowd of smiling faces and waving arms as he steps out onto the Harmonie stage a quarter hour later than planned “There’s a lot of bottles on the table backstage” he grins – and waves a Veltins out at the cheering crowd who wave Kölsch glasses back in solidarity.
It’s been a year since the band’s last appearance here, and not a lot has changed musically. A new album is scheduled for release next year and on the strength of ‘Hold Down The Fort’ it will be a gem of straight ahead, no nonsense, Hardrock, like the last release. There’s a change in personnel in the form of Anders Rosell replacing Mikael Fässberg who left for family reasons. Rosell has the chops and the hair to fit in perfectly though. He’s certainly had the opportunity to play himself in on ‘This Never Ending Tour’ as the Bands website call the current stretch promoting ‘Bomba’.
Lots of classic Heavy Metal posing and jumping about of course. Foot on the monitor, guitar machine gunning the audience. It’s all good clean fun the likes of which never goes out of style, and it appears fresh because it’s obvious these guys are having fun doing what they do. The audience is certainly having fun watching/listening to them doing it.
Toward the sets end Snibb introduces the bands ‘anthem’ the stadium style ‘Fill Your Head With Rock’. Classic Rock magazine voted it a Heavy Metal classic and it has all the hallmarks that made the likes of ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ legendary. So much so that, despite an evening of catchy Rock riffs I find myself singing ‘Fill your head with rock!’ as I wait for the bus outside the Springmaus Theatre. The bus is crowded with elderly theatre goers but I have room around me. Will this riff still be running round my head this time tomorrow I wonder? On crowded public transport it may not be a bad thing.
Well here comes the ‘acid test’. A day later and my head is still ‘filled with rock’ from Bonafide. My head is not the only thing filled this evening either, as I open the outside door of the Harmonie and find I can barely step inside because the corridor is full of Dutch voices.
This is the 13th consecutive show by Mr Julian Sas at the Harmonie and every year it gets a little more crowded. Last year it was sold out, and this year it is seemingly sold out with even more bodies – or maybe they’ve forgotten to remove a couple of bistro tables or coat hangers to make room?
Whereas Bonafide came onstage 15 minutes late Julian Sas is bang on time. The enthusiasm emanating from Sas and band as they walk onstage actually suggests that the management might have had to restrain them from coming out early.
Straight away there’s a surprise in store as Julian opens with an acoustic set for what I think may be the very first time here. It’s certainly the first time I’ve seen drummer Rob Heijne sitting behind a cajon, and as soon as his long legs bend down around it the said cajon takes on all the visual qualities of a matchbox. Thankfully it doesn’t sound like one though and together with Tenny Tahamata on a semi acoustic five string Washburn bass Julian delivers a very tasty ‘appetizer’ for the evening on his Guild. Although he plays it quite heavily with a pick Julian’s acoustic playing has a much lighter touch than his hero Rory Gallagher did on the instrument. It’s a thoughtful set. About immortality (Tomorrow is a promise to no-one), Dreams (If I Had Wings) and even a nod into politics with ‘That’s Enough For Me’. “How are the politicians in Germany?” Julian asks. “In Holland it’s pretty bad” he says. An acoustic set that was more Robert Dylan than Robert Johnson then – but a superb one all the same and a reminder that Julian, like Rory, doesn’t need an amp to make his guitar speak.
We came to Rock though and when Julian plugs in his signature Sas Stratocaster we know we will not be disappointed. The band rip through ‘When I Boogie’. The big man’s smile says we are going to have a great evening, and he is very definitely right.
There are the usual Sas classics of course like the frantic ‘Sugar Cup Boogie’, ‘Devil Got My Number’ and the sad ‘Blues for the lost and found’ that has all the DNA in it of Rory’s classic ‘Million Miles Away’. We get some vintage Gallagher too of course with ‘Take What I Want’ and a touch of Hendrix with ‘Hey Joe’ that has the band pulling out all the creative stops to lay down a carpet of sound vibes before launching into the familiar Jimi riff. A popular encore is ‘Bullfrog Blues’, started in unusually laid back fashion before launching into the familiar “Well did you ever?” and storming into the familiar territory of the G man himself.
There were a great many concert goers wearing a Sas T-shirt that depicts the man flanked either side by Jimi and Rory. It’s something that probably embarrasses Julian – to be put on a level with these two geniuses of Rock Blues. I look at them differently though, as depicting Sas as the receiver of inspiration from the two men. I’m told that one of Julian’s finest performances came at Lorely earlier this year when he stood on the hallowed stage once graced by Rory himself. Certainly if Mr Gallagher wanted to carry on playing music here on earth I can imagine that Julian Sas’ guitar would be his ‘weapon’ of choice. “Stay focused and stay true to your heart” were Julian’s parting words after the show. I’m reminded of Mike Zito’s tattoo and Luther Allison’s words of wisdom to musicians: ‘Leave your ego and Love the people’. Julian Sas does both, and will no doubt be doing both again next year (tickets are already on sale), along of course with some kick-ass Blues-rock from one of Europes’ finest trios.