Just looking at this year’s programme of events for the Rheinaue Parkrestaurant is a mind-boggling affair. From opening concert 8 July to the closing notes from local band Handmade on 30 August there is a concert virtually every evening. Straight away then kudos to Walter Schnabel for organizing such a logistical helter-skelter. That said though, the shows are some 90% cover-bands and 10% old-time Jazz, and I’m not too much a fan of cover-bands. That’s something I first admitted to Rope Schmitz some 10 years ago now. Rope, of course, is the frontman and a founding member of Bonn’s oldest Cover-band (from 1972 in fact) Sunny Skies. Tonight they are playing at the Parkrestaurant Rheinaue, and I, the cover-band hater, am once again present with a camera and a notebook. But WHY? you ask. I’ll do my best to answer that one in the next paragraphs.
I can’t even find my pictures from the first Sunny Skies show I covered. I don’t even remember why I went to see them, given my anti-cover band feelings. I know why I fell in love with their sound though. They were so damn good! Jean Altfeld and Alex Krieske shared vocals and were outstanding. Most of all I was gobsmacked by the guitar playing of Martin Behr. More than ten years later I’m still gobsmacked by the guitar playing of Martin Behr. Nice guy that he is, he would I’m sure shake his head, but I’m convinced that Martin could hold down the axe duties in Guns n Roses or ably step in for a gig with Ian Gillan and Deep Purple. He really is the best guitarist Bonn has produced – maybe with the exception of Jan Laacks – but that’s unfair – I’m not sure Laacks could cover the heavy metal duties that Messrs Gillan or Rose would throw at him. Martin Behr though would just smile a self-deprecating smile – and hammer out a blinder of a solo.
In short then, whatever else Sunny Skies may throw at me, I know that while Martin is there the music will be a cut above the average cover/nostalgia level. The other sure-fire starter for years has been the vocal department. Jean Altfield initially needed a couple of female singers to cover her absence – but both Nadine Weyer and Babsi Nitsche delivered the goods explosively – with power and enthusiasm. Alex Krienke’s part as male vocalist was also a very hard act to follow, but by the time that Patrick Suhl left the band, he had re-written the rule-book on how good a cover vocalist can be.
Patrick Suhl OWNED the stage. At times he took over proceedings with his rock-star stance and mirror glasses shining as he cajoled the audience to get up and dance. During his time with Skies, the band became it’s heaviest musically, Patrick, like Martin Behr, is simply one of the best rock musicians that Bonn has produced this last ten years. There were times when I wondered why on earth they were still called Sunny Skies when they were clearly a hard-rock combo. But that’s the clever part. That was the secret of the band’s longevity and the genius of Rope Schmitz who has regularly redrawn the cards and the music to always have a solid band year in/year out over four decades.
Patrick Suhl has gone, Alex Krienke has gone, Sunny Skies are still here – Bonn’s oldest cover-band. It’s the reason I’m still here tonight – 29 July 2019 – a Sunny Skies gig. I know it will be good. The band name is a stamp of assurance in a Donald Trump/Boris Johnson World of uncertainty. I know what I’m going to get and that it will be good.
Well, I almost know what I’m going to get anyway. Harry Braun is an unknown quantity. The former One Louder/Dirty Balls Hard Rocker is a new vocalist (he’s been on vocals for some 18 months now, so it shows I’ve lost touch…). Taking over from Patrick Suhl is a mighty task and though Braun looks like Ian Gillan he doesn’t quite own the stage or scream as loudly. He is though still a cut above the average cover-band vocalist, taking on Gillan’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ if not with the same range as Suhl, but with the same enthusiasm. From further back in the crowd, it’s apparent that Babsi Nitsche’s voice carries more than Braun’s does. Those years alongside Suhl have rubbed off on the lady. She commands the stage on ‘Nobody’s Wife’ both visually and vocally. Nitsche is also a pleasure to photograph – some people look contrived when they try to Rock n Roll, but this is a lady who clearly enjoys being ‘Front-Frau’ and if I did a concert-photography course then Babsi Nitsche would be a great ‘model’ for the students. Did I mention she has a strong rock voice too? In Patrick Suhl’s absence the band need someone to really front them – and why not a lady?
The repertoire has changed a fair bit since 1972 of course (I still miss ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ and may you can put it in again in this Woodstock Anniversary year Rope?). Maybe some new numbers would be ‘Erfrischend’ as they say down Germany way though. I love the Queen songs (‘Hammer to Fall’ and ‘Show Must Go On’) and ‘Perfect Strangers’ from Purple has a riff to die for – probably the last great song that Deep Purple ever made with Blackmore. Sunny Skies deliver it as well as Deep Purple did a couple of years ago at Kunstrasen. Do ACDC still play ‘Highway to Hell’ anymore live? Who cares. It’s still one of those classic numbers that you hear, and that stays in your head for hours/days afterwards and the current Skies line-up still sends you on the way home feeling that there’s some wonderful music out there to be enjoyed. In short, the music may have changed since 1972, but to slightly misquote Messrs Led Zeppelin, the importance of the song remains the same. Rope Schmitz and co are still happy to be on a highway to hell and a big audience on Monday was proof that many people are very happy indeed after all these years to be in the same lane.
For the full concert calendar of ParkrestaurantRheinaue click HERE