My hope that this would match Zappanale #13 very nearly came true: the carousel at Lübeck airport stopped, everybody left the Arrivals area, and I began to complete a form with a nice lady from Ryanair on the island of lost luggage. But suddenly! The carousel stopped, everybody left the Arrivals area, and I began to complete a lost luggage form. I repeat myself when under stress. I said. The carousel started again and my bag is finally ejaculated. Phew! So, on to the trains and two cans of beer at Wismar (Uncle’s not keeping up with me and J-Roc) costing “5-5-5”. How queer. We arrive in downtown Bad Doberan, buy our provisions for the weekend and, happily, are spotted by Dr Zurkon in his fantastic Chevy V8 (replete with bed...real futuristic: I dig the Swedes), who postpones our first encounter of the year with Molli. We arrive at the racetrack and are soon enjoying a barbecue with the Killit & Grillit Bros, and an impromptu acoustic set from the Kemper brothers. As ever, it’s great to be reunited with so many like-minded friends and I start to pity the foolz who pooh-pooh the Zappanale, believing that Zappa Plays Zappa is the only acceptable substitute; they’re missing out on a whole other experience here. Come and smile. Don’t be shy. Touch my bum. This is life.
Amaretto Mick drives us back into town so that we can enjoy the pre-festival street party. Here we meet more friendly folk, including Mr Roy Estrada, Grande Mothers’ drummer Chris Garcia and les grande garçons de DOOT! This year, Peter and Stephen are augmented by Michel Delville, Ivan Leirvik and Annemarieke “Ke” Schoonderwaldt. They play on the truckstage to an incredibly receptive, friendly audience, and soon had Unc (who seems to have caught us up now!) throwing shapes and busting some moves thanks to the solid grooves of the likes of King Kong and The Gumbo Variations on which the mighty DOOT! hung their flag. During Sofa, Yes Überfan Bazbo popped-up onto the stage with his ever-present rubber chicken for a ‘Once Upon A Time’ recital. Like pulling a wishbone with someone you love, isn’t it? Having had just two hours sleep in the last 36, I suddenly found myself incredibly tired and emotional; I fell asleep on Bob Shoulder’s head. Mid-sentence. The lads tried unsuccessfully to call me a taxi; “You’re a tow-truck!” they said. Finally, I am led by the hand of Gamma to the back of the Semantic Scrutinizer’s car. God bless you and goodnight, Mr Prentis.
Okay, the first day proper and we scooted off downtown to see the Jimmy Carl Black: In Memoriam exhibition. There were lots of artefacts from Jim’s life and it added to the overall impact when his widow, Moni, dropped by. I introduced myself, and told her of my involvement in last year’s benefit concert. She’s here to act as Bruce Bickford’s chaperone for the weekend. Bruce is displaying some of his amazing clay characters, including more than a dozen from Baby Snakes: they are a joy to behold - amazing, tiny, detailed. I regret not bringing enough Euros to acquire one for myself. I told him I was the guy who sent Andre Cholmondeley those wacky questions for a recent phone interview, and he promptly reprimanded me over one of them. He seems such a sweet, gentle soul that you immediately want to protect him from any unpleasantness. I apologised profusely. Outside the exhibition hall stood Robert Martin (for those who’ve never been, the whole Zappanale experience comes with many such surreal moments). Because of his athletic approach, you assume he’s gonna tower over you. But in fact in the flesh he’s rather compact. A very nice fellow, who told us about the time on a Zappa tour (I’m guessing 82) that he spontaneously walked on his hands to the stage in the middle of an Italian soccer stadium. Back to the Galopprennbahn to check out the new festival layout: because of the gravel laid down for the temporary car park for the G8 summit a few years back, we’re now on higher ground for health and safety reasons. It felt a little chilly, but here comes the sun and Captain Cheese-Beard & The 7 Sisters Of Prevention. A bit of a shaky start, but the band grew in confidence as the audience reacted to their obvious excitement at being here. They have horns and vibes, and their keyboard player delivered an incendiary moog solo during Inca Roads. Billy The Mountain waved a black napkin during one song. Can you guess which one? The set list held no real surprises (unless they organised the polo match that took place in a field behind the stage). As UniMuta explained, they’re not used to preaching to the converted and thus they have only ever played and rehearsed tried and tested songs that might appeal to non-fans. Whatever, it was still a pleasant way to be eased into three days of peace and music. Oh yes. Next up were Uncle’s faves, Jazzprojekt Hundehagen. They started with Heavy Duty Judy and their usual FZ set, before deviating into some fine solos (drums, guitar, violin), a few Mahavishnu and related pieces (Cobham’s Stratus), then back again. We like the lads from Hundehagen. And we now also adore The Children Of Invention. Having soundchecked with I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted, they came out and ripped our heads off more formally. With Ike-like vox, a big afro wig, and some custom-made tights, it was during their rendition of Andy that Ben Watson uncovered the song’s true meaning: it’s about voiding ones bowels. Apparently. Nice to hear Catholic Girls.
Backstage, MC Cohen was frantically searching for Steve Hillage, and asked if I could impersonate him: give us a glissando guitar, and I’d give it a go. I say. I said. Fortunately, the Chingford chap was found and soon I was at the front of the stage eagerly awaiting his performance while he and his youthful looking long-time partner, Miquette Giraudy, tuned-up. Here I met a nice guy from Munich, who currently lives in Leeds and looks like Willem Dafoe. When he lived in Munich, he looked like William L. Petersen. Odd that. He was almost as excited as me. He saw them play Glastonbury earlier this year. The last time I saw Steve was 31 years ago at the Greyhound in Croydon; I really liked his 70s solo albums, though Rainbow Dome Musick left me a little cold, and I began to lose interest in his music when he and Miquette formed System 7. So I was pleasantly surprised when he reformed his ‘rock’ band and started playing with Gong again. And I was delighted when his name appeared in the running order for this here festival. Fully expecting them to start with Light In The Sky (with its reference to Beefheart’s The Blimp), when they didn’t I wasn’t too disappointed as they played a blinding set, nicely anchored by an excellent rhythm section - comprising Chris Taylor (drums) and Dave Sturt (bass). We got Hurdy Gurdy Man, The Salmon Song and It’s All Too Much, and I was one of many calling for an encore by the end. I finally managed to find Dr Paul Carr around about this time: nice man. Before too long, we were witnessing the wondrous Project Object featuring Ike Willis and Don Preston. Now here’s a way to start your set at Zappanale: The Mammy Anthem, Society Pages, I’m A Beautiful Guy, Beauty Knows No Pain, Dumb All Over, The Idiot Bastard Son, Duke Of Primes (instrumental version, as a four-piece)...yes! Yes! And YES! And another great rhythm section: take a bow Messrs Slick and Mangano. And we got the special guests: the violinist from Paul Green’s School of Rock added a flourish to Fifty-Fifty; Robert Martin and Denny Walley rolled out for City Of Tiny Lites and more (Robert played sax on Keep It Greasey; Denny accentuated the All Night Long bit of Advance Romance); Dr Dot, in tight little dress and stockings, gyrated for Crew Slut and reprised her role as Mary for Wet T-Shirt Nite; Bruce Bickford was briefly introduced; and Geronimo Black came out to play guitar on the Cosmik Debris encore. This whole set was the definite highlight of the day, if not the whole festival. But the band’s performance was ever-so-slightly marred by a certain guy video-recording proceedings on stage. I’d noticed him earlier during Hillage’s set: he was more focussed on a pretty girl in front of the stage than Steve and Co. He continually motioned to her, blowing kisses and what-not. It reminded me of something out of one of Glenn Ford’s later films where he’d cop-off with girls old enough to be his daughter. Where’s that sick bag? After Steve had finished, he jumped down to chat to the girl, who agreed to meet him backstage later. Clearly pumped up by all this (and some red red wine), throughout PO’s set he behaved like he was a part of the band, urging the audience on, etc. Aside from continually standing in front of the performers and partially obscuring them from the audience, he also managed to disconnect a few leads and generally cause unnecessary technical mayhem for the band. Perhaps the best part was when he filmed Denny’s guitar while Ike was soloing (this may have been during More Trouble Everyday, that featured Paul Green’s former pupil, Teddy, and a nice big quote from My Sharona). I’d love to see some of the footage he shot, as he continually pointed the camera hither and thither like Woody Allen in Husbands And Wives. Giddy from all of the foregoing, I went walkabout when Acid Mothers Guru Guru Gong took to the stage. Kawabata Makoto seemed a nice cheery sort.
The first act was the Paul Green School of Rock Music. A strange start, in that I thought they were still sound-checking until they got stuck into five-five-FIVE - then I realised it was the real deal. So the vocal cock-ups and giggling during Call Any Vegetable were a part of the show? Still, I forgave all this as the kids’ played with such vim and vigour, it rubbed off on ya and you couldn’t help smiling along with them. And the set-list was full of surprises: Be In My Video, Absolutely Free, Stevie’s Spanking, Frogs With Dirty Little Lips...these guys have been doing their homework. And a nice touch was having Geronimo repeat his father’s “A disaster area the size of Atlantic City, New Jersey” from 200 Motels. I know that some diss Paul and the School, but surely getting kids to play ‘classic rock’ and Zappa is tons better than seeing them trot out on something like Pop Idol singing Mariah Carey songs? We Insist reminded me of System Of A Down, and J-Roc swore Lazuli played former DisCreet Records recording artist, Ted Nugent’s, Stranglehold. On the truckstage, we watched a nubile young lady - clad only in her trolleys - have her bodily parts anointed. Anointy-nointy. They painted up her face. We then pole vaulted back to the main stage to watch Sheik Yerbouti with their special guest, Napoleon Murphy Brock. As they are want to do, SY included snatches of other people’s music in their Zappa set and, as I suspected might happen, we are treated to a tribute to the recently deceased self-appointed King Of Pop during Tinsel-Town Rebellion (in the form of a quote from Beat It). They too had a smattering of Zappa surprises for us in the form of St Etienne (on an eight-string bass) and Aybe Sea (with nice flute from Napi). During Bamboozled By Love they quoted a few Zep riffs and Napi wrapped things up with 30 seconds of silence for JCB. I’ve seen Sex Without Nails Bros too many times to care. Sorry. So next up: Gong! And wow, where they good? Never seen them before but of course knew Camembert Electrique thanks to Virgin Records under a quid release in the 70s. (Hands up all those who got The Faust Tapes for 47p too!) Years later, I heard Radio Gnome Invisible and more, so I did recognise a few of the songs (You Can’t Kill Me, Master Builder, Oily Way, Flying Teapot). But it was more the way they performed them that won me over. Daevid Allen maybe knocking on a bit, but he’s still a lithe old fucker and entertaining as hell. J-Roc said he shoulda taken more guitar solos, but having Steve Hillage there obviously freed him to dress up and do his front-man bit. With their own film show and the Hillage band’s rock-solid rhythm section, this was one hell of a turn. We asked for more, and we got it. The best non-Zappa set, without a doubt. And we told them so after. They’re touring Europe in October and November – go see them.
The Arfs had been trying to get Discus
to play at Zappanale for a while, and they finally succeeded this year. And what
a pleasant early Sunday start they provided with their Return To
Forever-meets-Santana stylings. Time for some FZ, though. And performed by
original/former Mothers, please. Yes, Roy and Don and Napi, with Chris and (on
loan from Project Object, and this time on lead guitar) Robbie “Seahag”
Mangano. Wowzers – it’s the Grande
Mothers Re:Invented. Some nice solos were performed during A Pound For A Brown, to get things
loosened up; they did a wonderful segue from Harry, You’re A Beast into Flo
Po. And our favourite cameraman came back, but was more subdued with a
tripod: he stood and scratched his nose and arse during Peaches. Don looked impish throughout and clearly wanted to talk to
the crowd. And he did, after another 30 seconds silence for the Indian, when he
relayed the Story Of A Pound For A Brown
On The Bus. Roy gave Holiday In
Berlin a great boy soprano intro, and Little
House saw Napi singing Stormy Monday
and Don playing the blues. The Air
followed, and then Chris Garcia did a great job of singing a storming Debra Kadabra; for the encore, he also
sang the out-chorus to San Ber’dino,
while Denny added some nice slide. I’m always impressed when I see these guys.
We managed to miss Paul Green’s solo project on the truckstage, even though
we’d been getting juiced for it after talking to Seahag and Eric Slick, who’d
been drafted in to help him out. (Paul, I
needed to ensure I completed my interview with Ike before it was too late, but
the clips I’ve seen of you on guitar on YouTube look good, and I’m so sorry we
couldn’t witness it in person. Forgiven?) Paul enlisted the help of many
others, including Josen (Tarentatec’s drummer) and Ben Watson (on balloon).
Now, when the Mats/Morgan Band
played Zappanale a few years ago, I managed to miss most of their set. This
time, I was glad I didn’t. Mats & Morgan have such a wonderful rapport
(both on and off stage), and this year they actually spanked some Frank.
Starting with their own material (which made me glad I’d just bought their Heat Beats Live CD), they first
introduced the expected Denny Walley for Magic
Fingers, Suicide Chump and some
Beefheart (Big Eyed Beans sure tasted
good). The unexpected Ike joined in for Bamboozled,
and then the unanticipated Robert Martin too for Illinois Enema Bandit. I watched most of their set atop a table
near the recording console. I smiled a lot. But then, as I expected, it really
was a shame that Terry Bozzio ended
the festival with a solo set. All nice stuff, but when Uncle went walkabout, he
saw hordes of folk heading out the grounds; we heard that some asked for their
money back. Now I can sit and listen to Terry’s solo albums, no problem. But
there’s a time and a word. And the word is “No!” When you get things in
perspective. And how could there be the usual finale? So some good came of it.
Plus it provided an opportune moment for me to grab an interview with Mr
Willis. And that was that. Things got a little silly after, with me pretending
to fall asleep on Bruce and Napi and many others to the soundtrack of a great
band playing FZ on the truckstage with no clothes on (think it was Tarentatec).
So. Thanks as ever to all the usual suspects (my fellow Fabs,
for the Arfs and the ‘Teers), but this time an extry big special thanks to
Sminky Pinky: very nice! Oh, if anyone wants to see some more photos
illustrating our adventures, go here.