There are three ‘givens’ in life: Death, taxes, and a Julian Sas gig at the Harmonie in November. At least it seems that way. The only change I can remember from the shows past is that I seem to vaguely recall there being room to move from one part of the hall to stand somewhere else. Or maybe that was just a fantasy. Certainly it hasn’t been possible for several years now – and Saturday night was no exception.
All around me, from the moment I arrive, there seems to be a sea of dutch speakers wearing Tshirts proclaiming ‘Dutch Blues Fans’. I actually asked one lady who else she followed on the Dutch Blues scene and got a bemused look that I guess told me we are talking ‘Dutch Blues Fan of Julian Sas’ as opposed to a German one (of whom there were numerous examples this evening, or indeed English ones – of whom I was the only one in attendance as far as I could tell.
By 8 pm my tall friend is already causing some discontent for having the very nerve to be 6ft tall AND stand in the first three rows. As we’re not here to take a group photograph, the solution of lining everyone up front to back of hall according to height seems unnecessary , and thankfully all seems forgotten once the beers arrive. Gotta love the Dutch – those of the Julian Sas Dutch Fan type in particular. It’s clearly party time.
When the band come onstage we have other matters to consider, and they are weighty matters indeed. A minutes silence at Julian’s request for the atrocities that have just taken place in Paris. In our minds particularly are those people who died because they loved live music and went to a concert as we did this evening. Julian himself says during the set that “Music is my life. I don’t pretend to understand it all, but I do love playing it for you!” Spoken plainly and without frills and just like the man plays guitar – from the heart.
This obviously isn’t an audience that needs to be won over, but the band still play as if they have something to prove – as always. The contrast between Tenny Tahamata’s deadpan face most of the evening and Rob Heijne’s ever changing one at the back on that drum kit that as ever seems to shrink as soon as the big man sits down behind (over?) it.
Tahamata does smile from time to time though, and his smile seems even to gradually relax a nervous looking Roland Bakker. It’s now some twenty gigs since Bakker joined the band but Bonn is a gig for the close band of die-hard fans that surrounds Sas and maybe a ‘testing ground’for true acceptance. Speaking later he concedes that it’s taken a little while to dovetail into the band’s live sound. They’ve been the same three piece for something like a decade and Bakker smiles when I suggest they probably don’t leave any space for him to fit in after so long as a trio. “It’s okay now, we get in a groove together” he says.
They do indeed ‘groove’ this band. With no new product to sell the set-list is a mixture from the many CD’s and popular live numbers that have come out of them (really and truly, the CD’s are good but this is a live band!). Most poignant on this particular evening is a beautifully delivered ‘Blues for J’ dedicated to the Paris victims. It’s a number that allows Sas to dig deep emotionally and also a chance for Roland Bakker to show his chops on his Crumar Mojo keyboard which he does – delivering a smooth Hammond sound that gives the music an added texture and depth of emotion. Similarly so with ‘Life on the Line’.
There’s always room at a Julain Sas gig for some blues classics of course – from others like ‘Statesboro Blues’ or from Sas himself with his obviously Rory inspired song ‘Devil got my number’. There’s room also of course for a thumping version of a number that Rory loved playing and we loved him to play, ‘Bullfrog Blues’ and, in case you weren’t impressed by now with Julian’s playing he delivers a high octane version of Jimi on ‘Hey Joe’ for good measure.
If you know Julian’s music then there will be no surprises in the set-list. The changes came more from the arrangements using a keyboarder for the first time in a long while and also a noticeable change in Mr Sas’ ‘weapon of choice’. Flicking through my photos confirms what my memory had told me, not a Les Paul or Stratocaster in sight. An evening played for the most part on a bright red Gibson ES 335 semi acoustic, with just a change to the Gibson Firebird for some searing slide-work.
I found the ES sound a delight – somewhat lighter and seemingly faster than the Strat and Les Paul deliver. Subtle too. Has Julian found a new ‘go to’ axe for the future? “Maybe for the next couple of weeks” he laughs when I suggest it. The ‘Red Lady’ looked (and sounded) to me like she would be around a while longer than that though on Julian’s guitar stand.
An hour after the shows end Julian is still smiling and happy to discuss music, shake hands and have his photo taken on cell phones with arms of endless fans around his shoulders. Many of the fans have a long drive down the motorway ahead of them, but they are in no hurry to hit the parking lot. Bonn is almost a second home. What about a live DVD from the Harmonie I suggest to Julian. As luck would have it they are already booked for next November – who would have guessed?!
and finally, a big thank you to Mr Music in Bonn for arranging the show every year. May you long continue doing so!