The somewhat different „50 years of Woodstock“ concerts
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival many concerts took place, where songs from that time were played as original as possible. The concerts of the British Rock & Blues Explosion, which took place in November under the motto „Woodstock meets Bavaria“, were different. Here the songs from the catalogue of Woodstock performers (and some others) were the starting point for the own ideas of all musicians involved. The songs became something like the drawings in children’s coloring books: guidelines that leave a lot of free space to fill them with different colors.
On The Road with Steve Gibbons & Co.
We had the opportunity to accompany the band for two days on this tour. On the second day of the German part of the tour (which continued to Slovenia), we met a good-humoured Steve Gibbons in Ingolstadt, who reported on the opening concert which took place in the sold out club „Diagonal“. Audience and musicians seem to have had a good time. Gibbons did not spare with compliments for his fellow musicians and the promoter, so it was very obvious that here musicians who respect each other have fun performing together. This will be noticed the whole days also beyond the stage.
Rustic ambience on the second evening
The performance on the second evening was to take place in a different setting, namely in Abensberg in Lower Bavaria, i.e. in a rural ambience. This circumstance was underlined by the venue: Not only the name („Weißbierstadel“= Wheatbeer Barn) emphasized this rustic touch, but also the interior decoration, which was entirely in wood, and the agricultural equipment – including a wooden hay cart which hung from the ceiling.
The dance floor in front of the stage made it clear that this is the place to be on the weekends to find a partner to the music of local dance combos.
The band doesn’t let itself be annoyed by this and first of all enjoys the catering: game goulash (the cook claims to have shot it himself – and you can easily take it away from him), with potato or bread dumpling(s) of your choice – which are called pretzel dumplings here. One of the musicians notices that they would probably eat Bambi, the cute fawn from the Disney movie, now. It doesn’t spoil anybody’s appetite and the saying will be heard even more often that evening.
„The Hedgehogs“ as opening act
Shortly after you have eaten the goulash from Bambi the local support act starts to play. They are called The Hedgehogs and play manily material from the Pre-Woodstock era. The dance floor fills up with the crowd pleaser „The Last Time“. You almost wait for Slow Fox to be played in the next music round.
What should come after that in the first part of the set of the British Blues & Rock Explosion, however, would have fitted better into a small blues rock or jazz club than into an „Eventstadel“ (barn for events). So it remained to be seen see how the evening would continue.
But one after the other! Or better: from the beginning. And thus to the question of how the exquisite mixture of musicians, called British Rock & Blues Explosion, came to play together here at all.
Ray Frick: The idea and the man behind the project
Like the original Woodstock, the story of these concerts does not begin with the musicians, but with an organizer who had an idea.
At Woodstock, the organizers were Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang. The idea for the Woodstock meets Bavaria concerts, however, matured in the mind of Ray Frick. Despite his Anglo-American-sounding name, he is a down-to-earth musician and concert promoter from Lower Bavaria, who has already been awarded a cultural prize for his cultural activities, and who also has a wealth of experience as a live musician and concert promoter in the Balkans.
His idea was that a band of accomplished musicians should breathe new life into songs from the Woodstock repertoire and the era of that time.
The emphasis is on „new“. „Decalcomanias“ were obviously not wanted here. Nevertheless, it was of course an advantage that the musicians not only knew the songs, but that some of them even form part of their own live repertoire.
Pete „Sarge“ Frampton, for example, regularly plays songs by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with his band The Escape Committee.
And Steve Gibbons has been familiar with the repertoire of Bob Dylan, who did not perform at Woodstock himself, but whose songs were performed there by various performers, for decades.
This alone makes it clear that the selection of musicians was mainly based on their previous musical experience. It should therefore come as no surprise that the accordion player „Dachshund“ Hirmer is among the musicians,
who has „Freedom“, the signature song of Richie Heavens, spontaneously created on stage at Woodstock, in his repertoire, and vocally can also handle Joe Cocker numbers.
The other band members were:
George Glover (Ex-Climax Blues Band) on keyboards,
Frederico Bozas on bass (member of the band of the John Leee Hooker daughter Zakiya Hooker)
and on drums Tom Diewock (jazz promotion award winner and drummer with Blues Hunt).
So there were professionals on stage, whose background ranges from rock to blues to jazz. Since most of these musicians also took on vocal parts, there was also a lot of variety in the vocal area.
Wheatbeer venue in Abensberg
An interesting mix of musicians and an interesting concept for venues frequented by connoisseurs, but where the Woodstock slogan would probably have been less appealing.
The question was, however, whether the concept would work at the Weißbierstadel?
Young talent plays Hendrix
After the opening act and a break for the setup of the instruments, a previously unannounced guest opened the show there. Fabian Daniel, a young guitarist from the area, heralded the Woodstock journey with Star“ Spangeed Banner“ a la Hendrix. Later on with „Hey Joe“ he was to join in again, whereby Sarge Frampton left a lot of space to his colleague who was decades younger.
So cross-generational teamwork was the slogan of the day.
Cross section through the Woodstock repertoire
The set of the British Rock & Blues Explosion began – still without Steve Gibbons and the Lower Bavarian add-on „Dackel“ Hirmer – with the song „Woodstock“, which Joni Mitchell wrote after the festival and which was also recorded by Crosby Stills Nash & Young. ith Peter „Sarge“ Frampton on voice and lead guitar, the song lost the wheepy sentimentality it had in the original version and gained strength and direction even compared to the version by C,S,N & Y.
Similarly, the band continued with gripping versions of „Almost Cut My Hair“, „You Can’t Do that“ (the Beatles composition, which initially came across as light-footedly jazzy and swinging, but then turned rocky, was not played at Woodstock), „Let’s Get Stoned“ (a Joe Cocker number), „Love the One Your with“ (C,S,N & Y) and „Evil Ways“ (Santana). The vocals were done by the band member whose favourite song was the song.
Already now it became clear that the band did not want to offer mere cover versions of well-known songs, but wanted to gain new facets from them, whereby musicians of different generations gave each other space to develop in order to create a common piece of work.
The best way to describe this approach is probably the slogan „Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the carrying on of fire“.
Abensberg becomes New Orleans
The Abensberg audience listens with interest and applauds properly. However, the spark does not seem to have completely jumped over until „Dackel“ Hirmer with his accordion joined the band. He has a large fan community here in the Weißbierstadel. Today he play „Freedom“ (Richie Heavens) and „Going up the Country“ (Canned Heat) which are part of his standard repertoire and are well known at the same time because they made it to the triple LP with the Woodstock-concert cut.
Gibbons plays and sings „The Band“
When Ray Frick then announces Steve Gibbons, applause bursts out and it doesn’t do any harm to the mood that the old master can’t get started at first because his guitar was put on stage without cables.
When he then reaches into the strings, there is even more movement in the barn and the dance floor feels increasingly. Gibbons starts with „Up on Cripple Creek“ by The Band (who performed at Woodstock but didn’t want to hear their performance on the live record because they weren’t convinced of its quality), and later on he continues with a mix of Dylan songs performed at Woodstock by various artists (Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and Jimy Hendrix) and other songs not directly related to Woodstock. This combination makes a varied package which does not miss its effect.
His own hit „Tulane“, a Chuck Berry composition from the early 1970s, which is here enriched with excerpts of „Johnny B. Goode“ at the finale, is among them as well as „Twist and Shout“. Although this goes beyond the event’s motto, it brings the barn to boiling point.
The good mood is not dampened by the fact that Gibbons, who is known for spontaneously pulling songs from his encyclopaedic rock knowledge out of his hat at his concerts, is going to play a reggae version of Kris Kristofferson’s „Help Me Make It Throught The Night“, which is obviously surprising for everyone else involved and where he also has a few lyrical problems.
Twinkling improvisation and fun count more than perfection at this moment!
Interestingly enough Gibbons did not play any number of Woodstock-veterans The Who, although he has various connections to them, played „My Generation“ himself at various occassions and even is the author of the song which became the title of one of Roger Daltrey`s solo albums.
Vocal tightrope act
The local hero „Dackel“ Hirmer is again the centre of attention in the brilliant final. „With A Little Help From My Friends“ is on the program, in the Joe Cocker version, which is a kind of Annapurna of rock singing. Annapurna is one of the most dangerous mountains in the world. On two successful ascents there is one climber who gets killed. With the vocal part of this song, the crash rate is probably much higher. Hirmer is not frightened by this and he masters the lows and highs of the song with widely visible physical effort.
He is actively supported by the whole band and the audience as a background choir.
After this number, not only Hirmer and the band are bathed in sweat, but also the audience, which gives the band a lot of applause.
Small talk about „Strats“, GDR concerts and promoters
The next day the band can take it slow. Clover, Frampton and Gibbons talk shop after breakfast and remember venues and concert promoters. For a longer time they also talk about their experiences with concerts in the former GDR and experiences on the trip through the GDR on the way to concerts in West Berlin.
Longer is also talked about the magical charisma that Fender Stratocasters had in the 1950s and 1960s and the prices for this object of desire, which were unaffordable for most people at the time. Today, the relationship to the „Strat“ seems less emotional. Steve Gibbons wears his original Fender in a gig bag marked „Ibanez“. British understatement? Or is he trying to reduce the risk of the good stuff inside being stolen?
Shortly before noon the van is parked in front of the door and we leisurely head for Sonthofen. The news arrived that „Dacckel“ Hirmer will not be able to perform. The band thinks about how to distribute the two most essential songs on which he was featured the night before („Freedom“ and „With A Little Help From My Friends“) among the other musicians. Nobody seems really worried. Just professionals on tour.
Rock dinosaurs visit their colleagues
After arriving in Solnhofen, the mayor’s office invites to a drink, a Bavarian snack and a museum tour that will take you deep into the past. Already the model of a T-Rex, which stands before the city hall, points to it. Of course, nobody misses the chance for a group picture under the slogan „rock dinosaurs“!
Steve as the oldest is assigned the honor of a single picture together with this with 150 million years nevertheless somewhat older „collegue“.
The reason for the model in front of the town hall is quickly explained: In Solnhofen the Archaeopteryx was found. Therefore, there is also a museum here, which documents the fascinating life in the geological Jurassic on the basis of numerous fossils found here.
Stones and Muddy Waters at the museum
The private guided tour in the specially opened museum is gladly accepted by the musicians. And further parallels to rock music are found. The municipality of Solnhofen advertises itself as a world-famous site of fossils with the slogan „The world in stone“. Therefore it takes only seconds until someone mentions the „Stones“. And since ammonites, extinct cephalopods in the shape of snails, are usually round and therefore look as if they could roll well, the word „rolling“ is also added. Within seconds it becomes clear that Solnhofen is the real birthplace of The Rolling Stones!
And because many fossils were created by enclosing dead prehistoric animals in muddy waters, also this founding father of electric blues is not far away.
Of particular interest is a map showing the changes of the European continent over millions of years with morphing effects. It shows that Great Britain was an integral part of the continent not so long ago (geologically speaking).
„I’m going to put this in the social media“, says one of the musicians, while filming with his mobile phone „as an argument against Brexit“.
Hardly time for „homework“
The band is so taken with the museum and the explanations that it spends more time there than planned. Therefore Ray Frick again holds his office as a grumbling, but at the same time responsible caretaker, who has the big picture in mind and without any false respect even makes rock dinosaurs hurry up.
He’s right, after all there is still work to be done to elaborate new versions of „With A Little Help From My Friends“ and „Freedom“ during the soundcheck.
And a little later the band works on these songs until shortly before the first listeners stream into the hall. It was actively supported by Ray Frick, who took on the role of idea generator, conductor and critical first-time listener.
Arrangements were considered and rejected again:
In the midst of so much creative exchange, only a few minutes and a short play of the most important passages were all that was left for the agreement on how to play „Freedom“.
The mayor sends his regards, the citizens rock
In Solnhofen the venue is an unseated multipurpose hall. At the opening, Ute Grimm, responsible for cultural affairs in the municipal administration, greets the audience in the name of the prevented major. It is not only because of this that the concert is a major event for the town.
At the same time, however, cars with number plates from the nearby city of Nuremberg can be found on the doorstep. In former times you had to drive from the country to the city if you wanted to hear good rock groups. Today it is often the other way round. Already at the beginning of the concert you can be sure that every kilometre of the journey was worth it.
With a slightly changed setlist and order the concert starts. The atmosphere is excellent from minute one. The sophisticated arrangements of the songs are very popular right from the beginning.
It will be exciting for those who were there the night before, to hear today`s version of „Freedom““.
Ray Frick, the promoter, who himself has rich experience as a musician, sings the beginning a capella, which gives the song a prayer-like character at this point.
After that the band takes over and the direction changes rapidely.
The song turns into a long jam session, which increases in several steps, and where a dervish could probably have put himself into a trance by dancing excellently.
The song is carried by the whole band, but the most outstanding ones are Frederico Bozas on bass, who also did a sonorous sprechgesang, and Tom Diewock on drums, who has an extensive solo. If one hadn’t known it already, it would have become clear by now that the rhythm section is not a bit less brilliant than the „melodic“ section of the band.
„Freedom“ is in the version offered here the furthest from the original of all pieces played that day. Nevertheless – or maybe just because of that – it gets frenetic applause. This applause would probably have been even bigger, if the audience would have known that the piece had never been played completely before as the rehearsal concentrated mainly on the vocal parts only.
Steve Gibbons was not involved in that piece. He listened to it from backstage, with shadows of the musicians through the back stage curtain, reminiscent of Gibbons‘ highly regarded films from Hollywood’s „Black Series“:
After the applause had died down, it was time for him to take the stage. After Ray Frick has announced him, he is greeted with even more applause than the day before.
At the beginning Gibbons thanks the audience and is happy how much he enjoys playing with these musicians. Then it starts immediately with „Up On Cripple Creek“, in whose chorus many people join in.
When he plays „Like A Rolling Stone“ the whole hall sings along and Gibbons proves with his theatrical performance of the lyrics that an actor has been lost on him.
Unlike the day before, a break follows after the first songs of Gibbons.
Stopping the train at full speed is definitely a risk. But the band manages to pick up the audience after the break again, first without Steve Gibbons, among other things with a long version of „Let`s Get Stoned“.
When Steve Gibbons comes back on stage and pays tribute to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix with „All Along The Watchtower“, the concert again reaches its climax. On the way there, all band members have the opportunity to show off their own skills once again.
One more city, one more town, one more musician
Two concerts with a common thread, but with different instrumentation and partly with different songs. In Slovenia the core band (Bozas, Frampton, Gibbons, Glover and Diewock) will be strengthened by „Dackel“ Himmer again and the Croatian harmonica player Krešo Oremuš.
Other venue, other musicians. It’s a bit like Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour, where also the fellow musicians changed from town to town. For Gibbons, however, this change is routine, as he has played two largely different sets with his own band on two consecutive days.
The press is also enthusiastic about the band. About the later concert in Pfaffenhofen they report among others from:
a „brilliant show phenomenal bass and drum solos and scene applause from the enthusiastic audience…. (musicians) who, like Frampton on guitar and Glover on keyboard, spur each other on to virtuoso top performances with visible fun in their music. Often they improvise spontaneously, from a single source and create with striking guitar riffs, groovy basslines and concise fills on the drums a sound that goes right through your bones …. (and from that)
Steve Gibbons… proved that he’s also vocally still up to date.
Also in Slovenia the tour of the British Rock & Blues Explosion with Steve Gibbons has left positive traces in the media.
The daily newspaper Večer, one of the most widely read newspapers in the country, dedicated half a page to the concert in Maribor in its weekend supplement „Kaleidoscope“ on 23 November with the headline
„Rock without sex and drugs.“
The newspaper emphasized that the concert in the „packed big hall of the „Peoples House of Maribor“ showed that the old times and musical aces of that time are far from faded.
In addition to that, it is stated that the concert, at which the
„songs were played in their own way, but in the spirit of that time“,
showed that the Woodstock music is still
„alive and up to date“.
There is nothing more to add to this!
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