ZAPPANALE #15

 

Heard some great things about Dutch Zappateer Remko Serban’s ‘Zappa Unplugged’ set in the Kamptheater, so it was a shame that we missed him (although he did turn up again later…keep reading). We also arrived just a little too late to catch The FoolZ. But I have a live CD of theirs and, while they’re obviously talented musicians, they pretty much sum up the downside of these events for me with their not so hot vocals on straight-ish covers of ‘Keep It Greasey’, ‘Dancin’ Fool’, ‘City Of Tiny Lites’, ‘Torture’, ‘Bamboozled By Love’ and the like. Their ‘Zoot’ on the excellent Lemme Take You To The Beach CD is about the best thing I’ve heard them do, so I hope I’m pleasantly surprised when the festival CD set is released. I understand the video image on the live webcast for the openers was perfect, but that the sound was very bad (but was sorted by day two). Arf from Switzerland were the first band we actually caught. They’re allegedly artsy fartsy punk anarchists, or somesuch. Their potty-mouthed singer sang one song about fucking your mother. Little rebels. Frogg Café featuring the first appearance of one of the three FZ alumni, Mr Ed Mann, were next. “We met, rehearsed for one hour, and then played our set – all on the same day,” Ed later revealed. It was great to see him in action again but, not surprisingly, things did appear a little under-rehearsed. They started with a violin-led ‘Peaches’ then mixed their own compositions with ‘King Kong’ (which featured a quote from ‘Dupree’s Paradise’ and Ed’s first solo), ‘Little House’, ‘Call Any Vegetable’ and ‘Inca Roads’. And an encore of the Flo & Eddie-era rendition of ‘Dog Breath’. While it was fun to watch generally – especially the Chuckle Brother on the drums counting out every beat – I have to admit that, having been awake since 6am on the Thursday morning, and having been travelling since 6.30am of this very morning, I was almost falling asleep on my feet by the time they finished. But I really wanted to see Mats/Morgan Band. I mean, I’d heard them first strut their stuff with Zappsteetoot many eons ago, and loved their brief involvement on the Broadway tour and at Zappa’s Universe. And also Morgan’s drumming with Z. But when they started with a couple of quite bland sounding tunes, I decided to go for a lay down and hope they’d be better after 30 minutes or so. Sadly, 30 minutes or so turned into the next morning. Apparently they did indeed get much, much better as their set progressed – and Mr Ågren turned in a fine solo as part of one of their well rehearsed encores. In the inimitable words of Mike Keneally, “Boy howdy, bungling jangle, effervescing, mingus mangle Tower power, clanging me.” I did briefly awake to hear Ensemble Creativ doing an impersonation of the FoolZ. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear Ole Lukkoye. Sorry.

 

So, on on to Sat’dy barfly and Cellomania, four German cellists (surprisingly!) knocking out strangely faithful versions of New Model Army’s ‘Vagabonds’, Queen’s ‘Bo Rap’, Nirvana’s ‘Teen Spirit’, the mighty Zep’s ‘Stairway’ & ‘Kashmir’, Chicago’s ‘25 or 6 to 4’, …oh, and a medley of ‘Elvis Has Just Left The Building’, ‘I Have Been In You’ and ‘Easy Meat’ (now this is a great way to hear that tune played at the Zappanale). A good start to the day. The Polish band Przasniczki were entertaining enough, with their strange bumblebee outfits. And anyone who plays ‘We Are Not Alone’ is alright in my book. They banged out some more traditional fayre, did a rocking version of ‘Apostrophe’, had some faeries cavorting about licentiously, and the bassist slapped his way through ‘Willie The Pimp’. But I wanted to hear The Wrong Object featuring Ed Mann. I guess I thought Ed would do a Napi or a Mike and just make a few guest appearances with some of these bands. But, no, he was a permanent fixture throughout both this and the earlier Frogg Café sets. Now I’d also heard a CD by the Wrong Object (they’re close to securing a record deal so, fingers crossed, we all will soon) and liked what I’d heard: nice stylish tunes of their own together with overhauled readings of his master’s works. Guitarist Michel Delville told me “Performing at Zappanale was a great opportunity for us to try a few new tunes and arrangements – including our pseudo-klezmer version of ‘Eat that Question’ – on a big audience.” They also played ‘Filthy Habits’, ‘Chunga’s Revenge’ (featuring great sax and marimba soli), a jazzy, elongated ‘Outside Now’, ‘The Closer You Are’ (according to my notes, though this seems an odd choice now) and ‘King Kong’. As well as their own Beatles quoting ‘Wet Weather Wet’ and ‘Malign Siesta’. Again, tight but loose at times. “I am reading music on stage…not the best way to deliver the ultra performance – and my first such situation in 26 years. But it basically worked and I appreciate that these guys were OK with that – focusing more on the fun factor than the accuracy factor.” said Ed. Having lobbied hard for the Tornadoes to play Frank’s ‘Grunion Run’, you can imagine how thrilled I was when beforehand Mick Zeuner showed me the band’s enormous set-list with this right near the start. My heart tells me their set was the highlight of the event: nothing like the rest of the music played – just short, joyous bursts of surf/good time music on a sunny Saturday evening. They were close to turning a field in Germany into an English working man’s club, with covers of ‘Splish Splash’, ‘Wipe Out!’, ‘Surfin’ USA’, ‘Miserlou’, ‘My Girl’ and ‘Johnny B. Goode’ (during which some Idiot lead the chants of “Roly! Roly!”), but given that they actually recorded the latter less than ten years after Marty McFly first played it at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, I think they were entitled to do so. Afterwards, the band’s Gerald Sanders (Roly’s brother) told me “We had 9 songs that we didn’t get a chance to play because of a time shortage – including ‘The Cruncher’…but we had a wonderful time. We were extremely pleased with the reception the audience gave us and the feedback from staff afterwards. We all hope to return to Europe soon.” Now if I ever get around to writing my desert island discs for the Arf Dossier, I’ll certainly include Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. I bought it for my brother’s 21st birthday when it first came out, and we both still love it to this day. But hearing it with the lyrics translated into German and with a violin playing some of the keyboard lines…well, it was too harsh, too horrible. I left before Daniel Rohr stripped down to his underpants again. I’ve never heard Kraan before. And tonight was no exception. But they did their job by bringing in a big crowd that helped to make the festival the financial success that it probably was (one local newspaper said 8,000 people attended this year’s festival, compared to 6,000 in 2003). Many Zappa fans however expressed concern about the lack of Frank’s music on the Saturday night. I found out the next day that the FoolZ had played two acoustic FZ sets in a nearby field during this other music. If I knew then what I know right now…

 

 

On paper, Sunday was always gonna be the best day overall. And in reality, it was! And a great way for it to start was by watching Napi rehearse with Sweden’s Zappa Graduates. Between tunes, we overheard Napoleon say that Don Preston wasn’t in Germany. We were later informed that he’d lost his passport. I’d already twigged that Bunk Gardner was not going to be a part of the Grand Mothers for Zappanale (from the Lira Productions’ Press Release); I’d heard that the reason for his non-appearance on the European tour at the start of this year was fiscal; apparently this time it was physical: Napi said he’s in a pretty bad way, so our good wishes are with him. Hi ho. Anyhoo, first things first: when we had the opportunity to vote for Friday’s opening band, mine went to Jazzprojekt Hundehagen. But they lost out to the FoolZ. That is, until Gail helped Captain Ahab get their marching orders. As last minute stand-ins, they did a sterling job mainly performing instrumentals with great guitar playing. Frank Goos – Surprise was a bunch of newly trained (by FG) musicians – plus a few professionals, such as the aforementioned Remko Serban – playing wacky arrangements of FZ’s finest on big sticks, human beatbox, harmonica and more traditional rock instruments (and one of their own, called ‘Jazz Is Not Dead’ including much sax strangulation by Mr Goos). Their mad set ended with an extremely lively and uplifting ‘Sharleena’ by Remko. The Zappa Graduates basically kicked Paul Green’s arse; while his kids were great last year, they were kids. You forgot that when you heard these little guys, coz they played real mature. My brain tells me this was actually the highlight. They didn’t keep bringing out different line-ups so much as whittled away players, until it was just two guitar-playing brothers on stage. And then they built it back up again. As a result, we got a bass and percussion only ‘Peaches’, as well as a full rock band with strings and horn(y) section rendering (as part of a “pieces medley” that also included ‘Cosmic Debris’, ‘Inca Roads’ and ‘Montana’). The acoustical guitar duo’s interlude of ‘Who Needs the Peace Corps?’, ‘Oh No’, ‘Blessed Relief’ and (naturally) ‘Sleep Dirt’ was pretty staggering. When one of the bros switched to, first, electric bass, and then keyboards for ‘G-Spot Tornado’, it aptly demonstrated the gulf between last year’s youngsters. Napi joined them for ‘Inca Roads’, ‘Village Of The Sun’ and ‘Echidna’s Arf’, and also had them play his own lovely piano and strings piece, ‘Patience’ (with a Gary Jules look-alike tinkling the ivories). Other people will tell it better than me (such as Michel Delville: “I was completely blown away by the professionalism and talent of the Zappa Graduates.”), but I thought they were shit hot. Now my ears tell me that Ed Mann & Friends was actually the highlight of Zappanale #15, but they could hear more than he and the guys from the Wrong Object backing him. I think it was appropriate for the Grand Mothers to take top billing from Ed, who’s first and foremost a musician – not a jukebox/entertainer. His ambient set started with loads of gongs and sound problems, before segueing into the entire ‘Yellow Snow’ suite, with Ed banging out the vocal lines. ‘Inca Roads’ followed ‘Black Page, followed ‘Yellow Snow’…hang on, I’m going backwards here. Lots of cool, calm and collected tunes – including Mingus’s tribute to The Loneliest Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘A Night In Tunisia’ – came floating down and whisked us gently away, with Ed generously letting the musicians (who included Frank Goos) take plenty of solos. Until ‘Tryin’ To Grow A Chin’ brought us back down to earth with a thud and a happy grin. Ed’s Cajon (a Cuban rhythm box) introduced a rousing ‘Dinah Moe Humm’, which also saw the Grannies’ tub-thumper Christopher Garcia sitting in. And before we knew it…it started to rain. Ed and the Wrong Object said they really couldn’t hear what each other were doing up onstage, but the band had more than one day’s rehearsal with Ed and, out front, they sounded great. Ed commented that his set “was an experiment – my desire is to push the bounds of the traditional Zappa arrangements instead of reiterating them verbatim, but do so in a way that maintains integrity. And so this requires knowing the Zappa material intimately, and also the ability to use that same material as essential components for improvisation. Anyway, it was an interesting first experiment – it worked well enough to tell me that this idea is worth pursuing (and to remind me that extensive sound checking is even more important with this approach), and I look forward to the next opportunity.” I sincerely hope some of Ed’s set makes it onto the CDs. Michel Delville told me “Ed Mann is one of the nicest persons you’ll ever meet on and off stage, and performing with him was a real treat. We all feel that we have learned a lot from him. And not just on a musical level.” Okay, nearly there. My eyes told me the Grand Mothers were the highlight, with Ed taking over the space created by Preston (perhaps he was actually mourning the death of Jerry Goldsmith?). It rained throughout, but they were a sight for sore eyes: as Gamma observed at the Borderline: “Napoleon – you’re so young and beautiful!” I love hearing Roy, whose utterances lifted ‘Big Swifty’, but unfortunately failed to blow away those dark clouds ‘In The Sky’. They played a similar set to the one played at the Borderline, but we additionally got tip-top readings of ‘Pygmy Twylyte’ and ‘San Ber’dino’. I was quite tired and emotional by the time the Finale came, but that was the usual unorganised chaos.

 

I assumed that the live webcast would be via just the one static camera, but evidently Fabchannel utilised about five (including those up on stage), making for a full professional concert experience. But I’m still glad I was actually there to see it.

 

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The basic tracks for this article were recorded during a mad typing frenzy on the afternoon of Saturday 31st July 2004. Overdubs and remixing took place shortly thereafter. The Idiot would like to thank: Michel, Gerald and Ed for allowing me to quote them freely; Dave for his comments from home about the webcast; Ian, John and Mike, for being excellent travelling/camping/drinking companions; and, of course, Spanien, Yellowshark & Amaretto…

 

© 2004 A Snapping Slugs Production

 

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