Thorbjørn Risager – Cool Man, Hot Music

Risager-4895In addition to restaurant, beer garden and music venue, Harmonie Bonn is fast becoming a film studio. Hot on the heels of the recent visit by WDR’s Rockpalast comes RUF Records with a mini army of video camera toting personnel, all eager to record a new release for the labels ‘On the Road’ live DVD range. The giant Danish flag held aloft at the back is a give-away for identifying the latest subjects – no less than the makers of my favourite CD of last year – Thorbjørn Risager and The Black Tornadoes. Unlike Rockpalast, there is cable visibly snaking along both walls of the hall and leading to the dimly lit stage. There is however no barrier between audience and camera crews front of stage, and thankfully there is also no Rockpalast ‘3 Songs’ rule tonight either.  Thorbjørn Risager seems oblivious to the extra media attention anyway when he strolls onto the stage wearing his trademark trilby. He has been asked to address the audience in English this evening he explains to the sea of German heads in front, but that seems to be that so far as outside influence goes – except for the addition of an extra sax player and two young ladies to share the background vocals maybe. Risager-4864 No room for jumping about onstage then. Maniacal leaps are not Risager’s style anyway. This man has Ray Charles down as an influence and cool style is order of the evening onstage. Even keyboarder Emile Balsgaard’s braces look like their owner is playing behind Duke Ellington. The man centre stage actually looks more like a young Frank Sinatra with the hat and sharp black suit. From the opening, swaggering licks of ‘If you wanna leave’ though it’s clear that ‘My Way’ is not Risager’s way. Indeed, if anyone can be Jazz cool, Blues weary and Rock steady it’s Mr Risager and his Black Tornadoes. Risager-5137 The set was in two parts, with the first being largely that of the last CD ‘Too Many Roads’ – no bad thing given it’s his finest disc thus far. Not sure why, but it seemed to shimmer along rather than blaze in all out glory. Maybe the lack of space didn’t help and I couldn’t help thinking that Ida Bang and Lisa Lystam were there for visual reasons rather than vocal ones. A shame as it turned out, because both are great Blues singers and front ladies with their own bands.  At least Lystam  got a chance to prove her abilities in a wonderful duet later in the evening on ‘I won’t let you down’. The evening’s other quiet point, ‘China Gate’ I remember as a highlight last year, but with the video cameras buzzing around and their need for a brighter stage lighting, it was less memorable this time around.   Overall then a good first half performance, Memorable too for seeing Thomas Ruf introducing the band wearing a smart jacket in place of his usual brightly coloured shirt. Oh, and there were lots of hats onstage too. A result of the band’s visit to a certain hat company’s headquarters in Cologne. No names, but guitarist Peter Skjerning’s Stetson was a real eye catcher (and the sort of headgear that has me cursing the ‘no flash!’ photography rule). Risager-4854 Part two saw Skjerning catching the ear well as the eye as the band seemed to add another cylinder to their sound. He has an interesting selection of guitars (when I ask how many later he smilingly replies “Not enough!”) Alongside the Gibson standard and Les Paul is a particularly odd looking model. It’s bright red with a white edge and reminiscent of the sort of material used to make paint boxes rather than musical instruments.   I find out later it’s a sort of fiberglass material from an American maker of the 1960′ called an Airliner  – and actually rather hip these days due to one Jack White being a fan.  Well I’m a fan too. A fan of Peter  as he lays down some mean Blues slide in part two with numbers like the strident ‘All I Want’ and Muddy’s classic ‘Baby Please don’t Go’. We get ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ and they certainly do. By now, Risager and band are all pumping great music and bobbing heads abound in the audience, much to the appreciation of the video cams I’m sure. Risager-4887 The funky foot tapper ‘Opener’ from 2004 is an odd title to finish a show with, but Risager has been holding back on us it turns out. Actually he does have something a little different up his immaculate black sleeve for us this evening. The smouldering plaintive duet ‘I won’t let you down’ sung on a bar stool alongside Lisa Lystam is an indicator that if he wanted to go in that direction Risager has the gravel filled panache in his voice to be big business in the MOR/Pop world. By songs end I’m also thinking it’s a shame we couldn’t hear more of Lysa’s voice too. Certainly someone to check out online and visit if she plays some gigs here in future.   Out in the lobby I ask Thorbjørn Risager to sign a photo I took last year and he’s such a nice guy that before signing he hesitates, asking if a plain biro is okay to use on such a great shot. Can I send some questions for an interview for my website? “Certainly, please do”. It strikes me that for a man who just sweated for 90 minutes in front of a large audience and a battery of video cameras, he doesn’t even seemed to have broken sweat. Mr Cool indeed. So cool in fact that I bought a T shirt. Now that hardly ever happens. What greater praise can I give? Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado. Prepare to get blown away.

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