“It´s a wonderful feeling when you perform together with other musicians, to look into the eyes of people in the audience, and to see that you are making them happy” – Rope Schmitz
So, I’m sitting on the balcony, and above me are indeed sunny blue skies. Things are not as they were in the world of course – and, especially today, not here in Bonn. Rope Schmitz, proud founder and inspiration of legendary pop and rock cover band sunny Skies died on Friday (27 March) leaving a legacy of great music, great concerts, and smiling faces.
“I’m not generally a fan of cover bands”. Those words were written after one of my first encounters with Sunny Skies, around 2007 I would guess. Rope always smiled when that early observation of mine came into our later conversations. Such conversations were almost always before the Band Played, and they would, without fail, end with Rope saying “come and have a beer with us after the show”. I never did go for that beer though because I knew he would be surrounded by friends and Fans by then, all of whom wanting a chat with their friend and of course a beer.
Some people attract others and Rope Schmitz could do that effortlessly. I would turn up at Rheinaue, Poppelsdorf Street Festival, or wherever, and be greeted by a friendly handshake whilst the instruments were being set up. “Hey John, how are you?” A quick Q&A session from me would follow: Who was in the band tonight? (lead singers often alternated), were there new songs in the set? Meanwhile, there would be a half-dozen people already waiting around us to shake hands, to share a hug and to talk over old times with Rope.
My own ‘old times’ with Sunny Skies did not go back to the early ’70’s, I came to Bonn much later, but they did go back to some memorable shows all the same. Museumsplatz and ‘Rock Meets Classic’ from 2008 with a full orchestra was a special evening. Poppelsdorfer Schloss with the Skies in 2016 supported by Bonn Voice Choir singing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is an evening I will never forget. Rope himself was most proud of the support slots over on the Open Air stage at Museumsplatz with Huey Lewis, and especially one with the Beach Boys who loved Sky’s singers Alex and Jeanne so much that they were called back onstage during the band’s own set to sing.
There was always a sense of pride in his voice when talking of (t)his band, and rightly so. Sunny Skies never had anything to fear from being made to look small town musically. Rope had a good nose for the right people, even allowing the talented newcomers to change the band’s direction.
The arrival of Patrick Sühl to replace Alex Krienke pushed the music deeper into hardrock territory, as out went standard band covers like ‘Little Help from my Friends’ and ‘American Pie’ ,but it never dented the big crowds who came to shows, many since those early days. It also worked because Sühl is an amazing metal vocalist and because Martin Behr was, and is, a super talent on guitar. I remember noting in a review that Behr’s solo was the best one I’d heard that year for most of the open-air season – until Jeff Beck came to town. Well, even super talents are trumped by genius…
When I last spoke with Rope it was inevitably at one of those pre-concert chats, this time at the 2019 Poppelsdorf Street Festival. After the usual smile and handshake he sat down on a bollard near the stage front as the band tuned up. I heard for the first time of an imminent major operation and the usually positive Rope admitted it was scaring him. Aside from sitting at the back for much of the show you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong though.
The band delivered a blinder of a show again that night of course. There were huge smiles on audience faces which, given Rope’s answer to my question on what motivated him to continue after forty years (see opening quote), would have made the Man happy indeed. The Band members would look behind to see Rope smiling back at them as so often over forty years. That return smile will now be sadly missed by every one of them I’m sure.
“Rope, I don’t generally like cover bands” – well, you know the rest my friend. Thanks for saying you liked to read my reviews as much as looking at my pictures – that meant a lot.
‘Looking at the snow and trees that grow
Outside my window
Looking at the things that passed me by
Wondering if where I’ve been is worth
The things I’ve been through
Ending with a friend named Sunny Skies’
– James Taylor
So many photos – here are some of them: PHOTO GALLERY