It’s that time of year that many live music regulars at The Harmonie in Bonn look forward to. How else can you explain why the venue is regularly packed full for four days in a row of music by bands that most of the local visitors have never even heard, let alone seen before? Well, these concerts do come with the seal of approval from Germany’s (the Worlds?) most celebrated music programme – WDR Rockpalast. A programme that has been bringing music lovers legendary performances by the likes of Rory Gallagher, David Bowie and the Who since 1977. On this particular Thursday evening in Bonn it’s the turn of Australian Band The Black Sorrows and Holland’s Sven Hammond to get the Rockpalast Star treatment.
When Sven Hammond reverently remembers at the start of his set this evening how he watched these iconic programmes as a boy, and dreamt of one day being up on a stage with the famous Rockpalast logo blazing its blue light behind him, it certainly isn’t the first time a performer has spoken in gushing tones of the WDR Rockpalast magic.
Westdeutsche Rundfunk (WDR) Rockpalast is a brand name that has travelled around the World, and the proof is in our first band this evening. The Black Sorrows have been superstars since the 1980s in their native Australia and the band’s list of awards and nominations from the ARIA (Australian Music Awards) is a long one. It’s also a diverse one, including as it does the winning Country Song of the Year in 1991 (Harley & Rose) and a nomination for ‘Most Performed Jazz Work’ in 1998 (New Craze). Country? Jazz? They also have a good touch for Gospel Blues as evidenced tonight on ‘Brother Moses & Sister May’, not to mention Folk Rock on an excellent cover of Dylan’s ‘Silvio’. Singer, and mainstay of the band since its formation in Melbourne thirty six years ago Joe Camilleri, has even been referred to by Rolling Stone as ‘A Living Legend’. If all of that praise doesn’t convince you of the band’s pedigree then I should add that one of England’s finest songsmiths, Elvis Costello, has covered a Camilleri number – ‘So Young’. Enough said, I think you get the message – we’re talking quality music and songs here.
Certainly, Camilleri needs all of that cool experience of his when he kicks off tonight’s show. Of all the things that a sound technician dreads failing on stage, the lead singer’s microphone must be a top nightmare. Live-stream cameras being shared around the World watch as mikes are patiently switched around. I can feel the heat radiating from the technician’s fevered brow as he seeks a solution. Joe Camilleri is cool – and remains cool throughout a marvellous set. Amongst the many and varied highlights were ‘Brother Moses and Sister May’ which sounded way better live without the oompah-ing tuba that, for me, spoils the studio version.
The highlight for me though, and I suspect many of the dancing crowd behind me was undoubtedly ‘Hold It Up To The Mirror’. Close my eyes and I could be at Roncalliplatz in Cologne last year listening to Van Morrison. Amazing stuff. Camilleri could easily be singer/sax player with a Morrison cover band. Not that such a notion would even cross the enigmatic Aussie’s mind – and why should it? He really has written some marvellous material of his own over the years and is determined not to become an old ‘museum-piece’ musically.
I would whole-heartedly plead with the Harmonie to book this band for a solo set in future, except that it’s a long and expensive way from Melbourne for a five-piece band and equipment. In the absence of such live shows, I will, however, be checking out the band’s back catalogue and recommend readers to do the same. Thank you Rockpalast – another excellent band discovered through you. I can see clearly now why so many visitors to Rockpalast Crossroads have four-day tickets for bands they never heard of before the Festival was announced.
Sven Hammond actually isn’t quite such an unknown quantity. In fact, his Soul-Rock sound, centred around a swirling Hammond Organ, was a huge success only this very January at this very same location.
Okay, not surprisingly the name ‘Sven Hammond’ is fake -the thickly bearded Dutchman is actually named Sven Figee. Everything else about the Man and his band though is very definitely genuine. It seems as though the smiles on the faces of Figee and band get larger as the evening progresses. After maybe a slight hesitancy at the start when Figee is acclimatising himself to playing before the cameras of his teenage dreams, the music is smooth as creamed butter.
He’s a big man is Figee, and when he says we are going to groove this evening I am not about to doubt him. I’m feet away from his Hammond when he starts and I could have filled a whole roll of 35mm film on shots of his face alone with my old Yashica camera and a roll of Kodak fast film. In fact, in 2019 I’m thinking I could fill a 16 GB memory card with such shots.
I might dare to say that for my taste there was a bit too much ‘groove’ and that sometimes less is more, except that the real strength of the band is a strength that bands like Cream and Taste had in the late 1960s. A desire to create music ‘in the moment’; to play off each other’s creativity. Game-plan musically seems to be to get playing and work together until all band members lock into a groove – and when that happens (which it does very, very often), Ride The Wave of that groove for all it’s worth to shore. The most jaw-dropping moments musically are indeed when Figee and singer Jared Grant cross musical swords. The former is regularly seen to be standing (towering almost) over his keyboard, and studying the face of Grant through sweat beaded eyelids, as if daring his singer to go up or down an octave or three. Grant’s reply? Always a smile, a swoosh of his arms, and an effortless change in the required direction – to be greeted with a big smile and a similar swoosh of the arms from Figee over his Hammond.
Two bands then who inspired me to keep on checking out new music – and keep on attending the Rockpalast Crossroads Festival whenever I can. Maybe there are Classic Rockpalast Nights still to be made – and from Bonn!
Here’s an ‘Öldie but Goldie’ video of The Black Sorrows performing (or is it Van Morrison?) Close your eyes and tell the difference if you can;
More details on the Crossroads Rockpalast October 2019 Festival in Bonn HERE