ZAPPANALE #14

 

"I personally am not in favour of people using Frank Zappa to cavort licentiously in front of an audience of people who should know better." - Gail Zappa, 11 February 2003

 

“…as for the sucker who will write the review…” - FZ, 1979

 

I always knew that nothing was going to beat last year’s celeb fest that was lucky #13, but the 2003 Zappanale gave it a pretty good run for its money. John Campbell joined Ian Day and me this time and we each had a great time. Oh, yes. We took loads of photos, some of which you can see here; these’ll give you a flavour for it, but nothing beats actually being there. So if you weren’t, join us next year why dontcha? I went to see the Zappatistas in London’s Covent Garden with John on the Thursday evening; from there we went straight to Stansted, drank coffee, waited for Ian, and caught an early morning flight to Lübeck.

         

We arrived in Bad Doberan too late to catch Ben Watson’s high-brow lecture (‘The Phenomenology of One Size Fits All: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Frank Zappa’), but he seemed to think it went okay – couldn’t see any trace of rotten tomato on his suit, anyhoo. So we pitched our tents to the soothing stylings of Jazzprojekt Hundehagen, and ordered our first beers to the sounds of Portugal’s Zappanoia. Can’t remember too much about either of these (entirely, I think, FZ sets) to be honest. The former played a nice rendition of ‘Watermelon’ and had a lady on the old joanna; the latter knocked out a thumping ‘Willie The Pimp’. The first band we watched in toto was Octafish: many were blown away by their splendid musicianship, but I found them a little too ‘look-at-what-I-just-did’ – hackneyed jazz-funk. And I started to note who the various instrumentalists resembled: the stick-fingered bassist looks like one of Mr Blair’s special advisers; the guitarist is a cross-between Willem Dafoe and Camel’s Andy Latimer. The bald-headed drummer could be George Dawes. And the saxist: Matt Stone. The keyboardist was very earnest. And there was a cameo from Ben Stiller on electric drill. Very Einstürzende Neubauten. They played ‘Zoot Allures’ and launched into a funky ‘King Kong’ before introducing Mike Keneally. Things really began to hot up as he showed ‘em how to do it right. From his own ‘Bullys’, through a medley of some of Frank’s finest, to a ‘Let’s Move To Cleveland’ climax, this part of their set was the nuts.

 

Now I’m very familiar with The Jack & Jim Show and knew just what to expect. They had tears rolling down my face by the second tune (‘Sprechen Sie Deutsche’, one my dear old mum used to sing me as a lad – that, and ‘My Hat Has Three Corners’. All together now: just the wimmin). As I looked around, I didn’t see quite the same reaction. An acquired taste, I guess – but surely it’s hard to miss Jack’s genius? Their set was unnecessarily interrupted by Herr Kutz’s beer-shifting barbershop interlude. Then Messrs Black & Chadbourne resumed for some FZ (‘Willie The Pimp’, ‘Take Your Clothes Off’, ‘Concentration Moon’, and ‘My Guitar’ with Mike Keneally), Beefheart (‘The Dust Blows’ and ‘Clear Spot’), and ‘The Girl From Al Qaeda’ & ‘I Support The Troops (And I Want My Money Back)’. Too political for you? Shame. It must’ve been odd for Jimmy to walk off the stage to make way for the Muffin Men, who started pretty much as they have been doing on recent tours with him (‘Eat That Question’, ‘Peaches’, ‘My Guitar’). But then they introduced Napoleon Murphy Brock on sax (‘Let’s Move To Cleveland’) and vox (‘Take Your Clothes Off’ and ‘Oh No’), then Ike Willis on guitar and vox for ‘Willie The Pimp’…now you may by now have spotted an exquisite little inconvenience that comes with these here festivals: you get to hear some of the same songs over and over – couldn’t some of the bands get together beforehand and/or adjust their sets to avoid this? The silliest example came on the last day when the Paul Green School Of Rock Music played the whole of the ‘Yellow Snow’ suite, as did Sex Without Nail Bros immediately after them. Frank wrote so many great songs, but there seems to be only so many that are deemed crowd pleasers. How many times do you want to hear ‘Keep It Greasey’ and ‘Easy Meat’ over three days? For me, highlights came when Keneally cantered through ‘Cucamonga’ (with welcome help from Ike), and the aforementioned School Of Rock performed ‘Apostrophe’. Okay, rant over. The Muffins played a blinder, and it was a real joy to see them with Napi – especially as I had a hand in bringing them together. Napi can still sing the shit out of these old songs, and I truly hope that they do tour together next year.

 

Before the next act, we three visited Ulli’s stall and I ended up quizzing Mike Keneally for an eternity (sorry, Mike!) about, inter alia, his relationship with the Zappas and Mr Vai. The next day, Ian commented, “That was a really interesting interview you did with Mike. I just wish I could recall at least some of what you discussed!” As we hadn’t really been to sleep since Wednesday night, you can imagine that we were more than a little ‘tired and emotional’ (what with all the strong German beer sloshing around in our bellies and everything). So by the time Prawns With Horns hit the stage, at around 2300 on that Friday night, I don’t remember too much about them, either – other than they looked pretty colourful. And Ike was up there with them. FZ:OZzzzzz. So fast-forward to Saturday morning and English punks, Alternative TV – here at Uncle Ben’s behest. Twenty-six years ago, they were a vibrant happening entity, I imagine. But now in a field in the North of Germany – what’s that all about? Ben pogo-ed around, and they played ‘Why Dontcha Do Me Right?’ and ‘Plastic People’. But did Mark Perry really have to say, “The Nazis, they're still running your town”. Radical or silly? You decide.

 

Hey, hey it’s the Muffins! This time with Jimmy Carl Black on vocals (sometimes, yeah), and a bunch of Beatle bits. And so early, too. (Should’a been top of the Saturday bill.) They started with the coda from ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ with ‘King Kong’ overlaid – very effective, and even better than on ‘God Shave’ – and continued on with ‘Little House’, ‘Wonderful Wino’ and a stupendous ‘Big Swifty & Associates’ medley that concluded with a dynamite solo from Carlo. It’s been a little while since I saw a crowd react this wildly to one of his little outbursts, and it was right nice to see. Unfortunately we got our only bit of daytime rain during ‘Flower Punk’, but it was all over by the time Jimmy sang “Baby you can drive my car…over me”. The set ended with ‘King Kong’ proper, and I’ll let the learned Mr Gilliard tell you a little more about that - take it away, Roddie: “We had some basic plans for ‘King Kong’, which got somewhat confused when they held up a sign saying ‘5 minutes left’ during Doctor Chadbourne’s banjo solo. We had arranged for Mike Keneally to join us as soon as he arrived back at the site. Ben Watson was at hand ready to do some ‘urban jazz poetry’ - which we snook in. Then we were to do our ‘Green Muffin Awards’ in which we were gonna get you up to play bass [see why here], as I would have to deliver the announcements. You can imagine that we were a little miffed after cutting the thing short (missing out the complete reggae section) to be told that we could go back on and do another song. But at least we had the chance to get MK up (albeit, halfway through a song). Sadly, your bass playing premiere with us got lost in the chaos - really sorry about that!” Not a problem; at least I was awarded one of the sacred muffins. Martin & Friz quoted ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ during ‘KK’, and the encore with MK was the song that Scott Thunes refused to play with JCB last year. Having my name announced from the stage as a recipient of one of the muffins was a wonderful feeling, I can tell you. Did I mention that I got a green muffin? Next up was the many membered Sheik Yerbouti. Highlights of their set were ‘You Didn’t Try To Call Me’, the ‘Easy’ intro to a big band arrangement of ‘Joe’s Garage’, Mike Keneally’s solo during ‘Andy’, the inclusion of the ‘Hotel California’ guitar outro during ‘Trouble Every Day’, and a ‘Stairway/Whole Lotta Love’ duel during ‘Bamboozled By Love’. Oh, and the secret word – which was “sex machine”.

 

Since arriving in Bad Doberan we’d seen a big bearded guy strutting around the site. He had a backstage pass slung around his neck and we wondered who he was. It only turns out he’s Captain Beefheart, dunnit. Well, the lead singer of Dr Dark, anyways. He seemed a bit nervous on stage, but he certainly did a pretty good facsimile of DVV, both visually and vocally. I don’t think he naturally sings or speaks that way, so it must hurt his throat a tad. Anyway, those who dig CB really got off on this cover band, who were pretty much spot on. They didn’t give us any muffins though.

 

It took forever for the Sex Without Nail Bros to get their (3) act(s) together, but it was almost worth the wait to see their theatrical performance of ‘Joe’s Garage’. This wasn’t quite the blow-by-blow re-creation of the album we were expecting (the psychotic Central Scrutinizer spoke in Austrian-German and they used a synth, for instance). But it was entertaining nonetheless. The guy who played Joe was really the star, but the doll that played Mary was announced last and got the biggest cheer. Okay, she did re-enact the Wet T-Shirt contest (looked like she had a couple of green muffins with cherries atop stuffed up her jumper), but come on – she hardly sang and was probably on stage for less time than anyone else. The evening should have ended there, as Nina Hagen (the scheduled bill topper) was ill. There were rumours that Iggy Pop had been asked to dep, but instead it was Philip Boa from Bochum – which is evidently somewhere near the 80s – who finished things off. He brought along his fan club, so he had that going for him. Which was nice.

 

On the third day, the doors of perception were torn asunder by the Lizard Kings – four guys who tried to recreate the sound of Jim Morrison and his popular beat combo. They were quite authentic (‘Ray Manzarek’ used his bass pedals, but the drums were miked a little too closely), fortunately the lead singer didn’t try to look too much like Jimbo though (but he would insist on punctuating things with a bit of the old “C’mon”, and “Awright”). I enjoyed their set, even though they ignored my request for ‘Tiny Sick Tears’. Next up, to further ween (hi, Mick) us away from too much FZ, was Stu Grimshaw and a performance of his ‘Der Fremde’, a musical not about green muffins for string quartet, keyboards and drums. The vocals were shared by fellow muffin-awardee Ike Willis and a cute-dimpled muffin-bereft girlie, and Stu and Ike broke out their guitars for one short movement. This was a nice laid back performance, and it was good to hear Ike sing something other than Frank – to prove that he’s still got it, like.

 

Now I remember someone on affz saying to expect Paul Greenmuffin’s School Of Rock Music to steal the show. And they very nearly did. It was great to see 20-odd kids aged between 12 and 17 playing Frank’s music in shifts (a few would come off stage and be replaced by a few more). And they played some amazing stuff – especially the guitarists, but also the two girl vocalists singing the tricky ‘small tiny horse’ bit in unison – that really impressed me. Everyone went wild over little CJ who, contrary to popular belief, is not nine years old. Here’s clarification from one of the kids (as liberated from the afore-mentioned affz): “Sorry to disappoint anyone, but CJ is actually 13. I don’t know where the rumour started, but we've never really had the chance to clear it all up. CJ is small for his age and, although he thinks being nine would be cooler, I believe he’s tired of people saying that he’s much younger than he actually is. CJ is awesome no matter how old he is.” You got that right. Slicks (for it is he - one of the bassists) adds: “To say that we enjoyed Zappanale would be a major understatement – it was the best show we've ever gotten to play. The crowd was amazing. Definitely worth the 16 hour trip.” The downside of their performance was, kids being kids, they played the thrashier side of Frank – so, yes, ‘Tell Me You Love Me’, ‘Magic Fingers’, ‘Camarillo Brillo’, ‘Muffin Man’, ‘My Guitar’, ‘Keep It Greasey’…Napi (another fellow muffin recipient) joined them for ‘Inca Roads’ (wonderful unison singing again), and Ike for ‘City Of Tiny Lites’. They were good, but… And it was gratifying to see their teacher directing things and helping them out generally but not trying to overshadow them (I half expected him to play on the encore of somesuch).

 

The return of the son of Sex Without Nails Bros promised to bring us ‘Roxy & Elsewhere’ with Napi. In fact they only played a bite-sized chunk of the album and padded it out with the likes of ‘Dirty Love’, ‘Sofa’, ‘Dancin’ Fool’ and ‘Bobby Brown’, with two stunt guitarists vying for position.  I was really looking forward to hearing something a bit different. Enter the Right Honourable Lord Keneally of Uglytown. As he’d told me he would on the Friday night (see, I remembered some of what we’d discussed!), he played a mix of solo & FZ stuff. As a power trio. ‘My Dilemma’ followed by ‘You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here’, stuff from ‘Dancing’, the Cow trilogy (dazzling finger-stroke-vocal work here), a snippet from ‘Time Is Money’ blended with ‘Sleeping In A Jar’, a stonking ‘Yo Mama’ (where he played guitar and keyboards – he had to politely ask Ike to skedaddle), more songs from ‘Dancing’ (including the one about the Vaultmeister. Great album – get it). Then he too was told “five minutes”. Sweet guy that he is, he didn’t have a tantrum about having to wind-up so soon. Instead, he gave extry resonance to the “If it can get worse, I don’t wanna know” line in  ‘Skull Bubbles’. During this tune, a young American by the name of Gabe was introduced to “fuck some shit up”; he did a bit of vocal scratching, which was fine but a little long. Then Mike played ‘Taster’ while everyone gathered on stage for the shambolic finale. If he’d been given more time, Mike would have played ‘Inca Discharge’ as an encore. Hi ho.

 

 

Later that night, Sir Roddie Gilliard formally presented me with my exalted green muffin. I slept with it held close. And then I flew home.

 

Good trick if you can do it.

 

Jazz objeckt paranoia leads to

Drill dreams of an octafish.

Affably, Mort gets his Barbie girl

Before barbed Jack’s

Barbershop intervention.

Banjo flute question with

Watermelon recoiling.

Brass shrimps, brass shrimps,

And Zappo stands tall.

 

Sniffing glue, suited and booted

Ben, what’s on TV?

I want you over me

With your sex machine secret.

And sugar that spikes my

Cherry post haste boa.

There’s something about Mary;

No Phish-thing recreation

At Zappo’s stand/stall.

 

Tiny sick tears for Jimbo

And a girl called Bimbo.

Stu dapples on low strings

While Lionel barts his bits.

Axe hero at nine came

Thrashing and bowing.

While grooving with weird shit on top

He strangled the cow.

 

So that was fourteen. So that was fourteen.

I got my muffin and Zappo stood tall.

 

Thanks again, Wolfhard!

 

© Jacee Music Ltd., 29th JULY 2003

 

 

Words: The Idiot

Photos: Iandrew Greenaday

 

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