Zappanale has now become very much a way of life for me and the boys - our eighth year travelling and camping together, and still just as enjoyable as ever. As I write this, German cover band Sheik Yerbouti are about to hit the road with Robert Martin as their special guest; many people are saying how much they’d love to see one of these shows, and I’m sure they will be great. But imagine if you can an event of that ilk times one hundred...or even 9/11 times 2356. That’s what the Zappanale is like. If you’ve never been, you really should make the effort in 2011.
This year, I decided not to make copious notes, to stay front stage much more, and just kind of let it all wash over me (which was perhaps a bad thing to do as, for the first time ever, it rained practically every day). Of course, this year the festival took on an extry special vibe for me as it was here that my Zappa The Hard Way book was launched. So. We arrived Thursday and, unlike last time, I managed to stay awake during the street party. We'd had dinner in a restaurant with the Muffin Men, and arrived outside the Kamptheatre too late to catch Denny Walley's set. There was a guitar guy playing Pink Napkins and other great ditties to backing tapes, which sounded reet nice though. That’d be LiLo’s Zapmospheres, then. Later, Paul Green And The Band Of Monkeys played us some classic rock while we met up again with many old muckers. Some new ones too – which is what it’s all about, innit? The alums were mingling (Ike Willis, Ray White, Robert Martin, Napi and Denny) and us mere mortals later adjourned to a bar where we were better able to chew the fat 'bout this and that. At the end of the night (though he now strenuously denies it), Uncle Ian decided to lay down on the Molli rail tracks before we poured him into a taxi. Which took him to his tent, tent, tent, tent, tent. Spill, smash, smash, spill, spill, drug, wipe, wipe, trap, scream, tear, spit, shout. This is a tent. I am in a tent. The walls of a tent are thin. I can hear everything you're saying. Now be quiet.
Not sure why, but the once mighty Jazzprojekt Hundehagen seemed a little lacklustre this year. Maybe it was their under-rehearsed rehash of their Mahavishnu set from a few fests back, but proceedings were certainly enlivened significantly by Bongo Fury, another great tribute band from Sweden comprising one or more members of Beardfish. As a trio, it was incredible how they managed to pull off so many great FZ songs. Really good musicians. And I liked how they segued from Call Any Vegetable to Ghostbusters. Nimble little minxes were they.
Obviously we'd missed Ensemble Ambrosius in Hamburg a few days earlier, but they sounded great here. Opening with Night School, a couple of their own compositions fitted in perfectly and were very well received. For the latter part of their set, they were joined by Grammy award winning Napoleon Murphy Baroque, who sang three songs (incredibly, his only three vocal outings this year, but at least he sang The Idiot Bastard Son sensibly - the histrionics of the last few years were thankfully toned down) and played beautiful flute on a brace of others (including on a lovely Gymnopedie , and a bit of the old Johann Sebastian).
The previous night, the Muffins told us they hadn't really had time to practice with the alums and had been rehearsing two versions of some songs in different keys. But, while they did sound decidedly ragged at times (not helped by some technical difficulties at the start), theirs was an undeniably great set. Denny was present throughout, and they were joined by Ike, Ray and Bobby for Illinois Enema Bandit and beyond. Ben Watson reprised his Bradford-on-Avon madness during Pygmy Twylyte and, for Magic Fingers, Sminky-Pinky's axe told Ike to “try me on for size”, and I got so hard ridin' di riddim. Shabba! They even snuck in a tune of their own (Cold Winter Gale) at Denny’s behest. Ray singing Doreen was, of course, a joy. A joy, I tells ya! For an encore, Bobby and the Othello Brothers sang Heavenly Bank Account in the manner of the church. Then the return of The Band Of Minkeys signalled the ending of things: as ever, it’s the vox what makes or breaks these things and the quiet fem ones on Zep’s No Quarter seemed at odds with the fine musicianship. A minor quibble. And a little dribble. Another mead?
Caballero Reynaldo started singing in the rain, and my abiding memory of this year’s event is of watching most things from afar. Shame about the precipitation, but I love Luis G and his band of merry men and woo-man’s C&W take on FZ, so my mood wasn’t dampened. I particularly liked Señor G’s shared vocals with the lovely Marieta Tamarit on Big Leg Emma and how they changed Mudd Club into an anthem for Zappanale. Brazil’s Central Scrutinizer Band were next; they played a typical festival set, but exceptionally well. Messrs White and Walley looked so happy playing with these guys. But where was Ike?
Beardfish (comprising one or more members of Bongo Fury) trust in prog and are apparently “located systematically and isolated”. ‘Elp, I need somebody. They were great: no Zappa. Referring now to my minimalist notes, against ZAPPATiKA I’ve written simply “Torture”. No, this was not a critique of their set, but the one song I wrote down. The reason for this was just before they hit the stage, that diamond droog McInnes asked if I’d do the O’Hearn rap during Broken Hearts Are For ********. I was accordingly a little distracted and I now take my multi-coloured drinking hat off to all who stand up there making it look so easy. I only had a few lines, but the signal from the stage came a little late. And Ike was at the nearest mic. And...well, I may have botched it, but what a feeling! After, I was able to focus a little more on the band. They take huge liberties with the arrangements of Uncle Frank’s tunes and Mr Willis found it tricky to conduct this motley crew of minstrels (who now boast the lovely Dutch violin-lady, Ke). J-Roc I think spent the rest of that night with a stuffed budgie on his shoulder, telling everyone it was Kes - the basta’d
Last day, and it’s off to the truck stage (which is getting better every year) for another set from Caballero Reynaldo. I think this was better than yesterday, but that may have been because it wasn’t raining. Anyhow, everyone seemed to be smiling and clapping along and it was just a joyful noise to behold (what with Luis G’s endearing between-song patter). As well as their wacky Zappa covers (with inflatable toys used for drum sticks), they performed an almost serious version of Queen’s Love Of My Life. I hope they do return next year with their full line-up. First up on the main stage was big band Le Bocal, who bashed out that groovy Oh No! Just Another Frank Zappa Memorial Barbecue! CD a few years ago. Vocalist (and occasional saxist) Ernie Odoom was in great form upfront, and led the band through some fine jazzy renditions, including a grand uptempo Idiot Bastard Son. Today was really all about seeing Jean-Luc Ponty, and he didn’t disappoint. His band were wonderful – most especially his long-time bassist Guy Nsangué Akwa. Outstanding. They played many songs from their most recent album, The Atacama Experience, but also went back in time to the Enigmatic Ocean album (for the lengthy Struggle Of The Turtle To The Sea), and naturally a bit further back for a bit of eff-zee. King Kong and Twenty Small Cigars sure sounded good to me, and not at all out of place. The finale was also much better this year, largely thanks to Ike (yes, that’s right). Using various Muffins and Scrutinizers as a core band, the former Zappa sidemen played songs rather than jammed. And yea, it were good. A quick mince over to the truck stage, and those wacky lads who insist on taking their kecks off when they dance (Tarentatec/AUFRICHTIGES ZAPPA) just seemed to keep playing and playing. And really well. Why don’t these guys play on the main stage? When they’d used up their FZ material, they slipped us some Doors and Hendrix...they wore me out. I had to go to bed. And that’s the end of the story...except those stoopid bitches, EasyJet, cancelled our flight home and we had to stay in Berlin for an extra night. But I’ll be back next year – contract or not...