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Jörg Fuhrmann

Memory Fragments

 
Accordion and River Gospel

Being lulled to sleep as a little boy by father’s accordion on cold winter nights in the grey house so typical of the GDR – the door left ajar, allowing a thin stream of light with music to pour through. Swarms of melodies, hits of the thirties, forties and fifties, ‘Tiritomba’, ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’, ‘Pack die Badehose ein’, or songs from the U.S., in these times still virtually impossible to get hold of. I was standing by the jetty on the Rhine in Düsseldorf, when a black man played this song, singing in a gospel-like way, accompanying himself on his guitar. Later I recognized it as ‘‘Whole World in His Hands’, still one of the favourite spirituals.

First time abroad, first vinyl

As a nine-year-old, after the folksy evening of traditional ‘Schuhplattler’ Tyrolean dancing in the tiny Zillertal hamlet of Hintertux, performed for us townies, I was allowed to browse the mountain farmers’ record collection which was surprisingly well sorted and to play singles on a tiny machine for the very first time: Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard, Bill Haley. ‘See You Later, Alligator’ made the traditional familiar Alpine tunes fade away.  A mountain brook babbled outside. As I was unable to understand much English then and was also still quite green in terms of matters of romance, I could only make sense of the songs in a purely geographical sense. It must be a rock ’n roll hymn, I guessed, about the alligators in the swamps of Florida, which in a boy’s imagination, of course, could well be transferred to the banks of the River Ziller.

Musical heritage

In the first years of the sixties, suddenly Blues records showed up on my parents’ record player. Every now and then ‘Boom, Boom, Boom’ by John Lee Hooker would roar from the living room with its kidney-shaped tables, and similar cool stuff by Memphis Slim, Big Bill Bronzy and others.  A lot of tinkling on the piano by Oscar Peterson as well. Jazz for  pipe smokers. And then there were those ‘Golden Gate Singers’ (whom I had the honour of admiring live once in a splendid concert at our local civic centre), Mahalia Jackson und Ella Fitzgerald. I got my first impression of the quality of black music. My father’s time as a prisoner of war had obviously borne fruit. Alongside, we played Hildegard Knef quite often: ‘Für mich soll's rote Rosen regnen’, ‘Eins und eins, das macht zwei’. German chansons  somehow touched  me as well. Apart from that, German music left me fairly cold. But there was this almost whispered chanson by Francoise Hardy which came straight after ‘Satisfaction’ in the ‘Bravo’ charts‘’: ‘Frag den Abendwind.’ Francoise, chante encore une fois cette chanson pour nous … Ask the silver moon where luv lives... marvellous Frenchified kitsch. Yeah, those French - and at the same time Pierre Brice, the saviour, appeared as Winnetou on the first wide screen cinemas.  By the way, the very first LP I ever owned was a present from my grandmother in the GDR - an Amiga record: Louis Armstrong singing a duet with Bing Cosby. As time went by, I was able to build up a real ‘Amiga’ treasure trove of records from parcels and visits from the GDR, from Country Blues through Gershwin to Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf, all with written notes on this clear musical ‘legacy of the past from foreign capitalist states’ and with appropriate class warfare commentaries on the album covers. (What was actually left of German music? Just a few good things lodged between ‘Merci Cherie’ by Udo Jürgens and ‘Auf der Espressomaschine’ by Franz Josef Degenhardt).

Bassoon fragment

I learnt to play the bassoon in music lessons at my grammar school, as they urgently needed a bassoon player for the school orchestra. I blew my lungs out in the stuffy rooms of that august grammar school. Unfortunately, I did not fall in love with the bassoon as a result; I did not manage to join the orchestra and had to hand in the instrument again. I still remember how the old instrument used to smell now and again, though. What type of investigation would this have prompted Master Proust to carry out, I wonder? Has there ever been a piece of pop music involving the bassoon - perhaps by John Cale or hidden away somewhere in the Beatles - perhaps in the tail-end of ‘All You Need Is Love’? Definitely in the case of Henry Cow, a band probably only otherwise known to my colleague, Herbert.

Orff or, preferably, Brian Wilson?

The obsessive music teacher who, somewhat overweight and teetering around on his piano stool with his quiff and braces, introduced us to ‘Carmina Burana’, Stravinsky's ‘Sacre du printemps’ and Schubert's winter lieder, allowed us to persuade him to analyse the Beach Boys' ‘Good Vibrations’. We were bitterly disappointed that he only found it moderately interesting from a musical point of view. The singing of Handel's ‘Hallelujah’ chorus was already waiting in the wings. They produced Mozart's musical comedy ‘Bastian and Bastienne’ bang in the middle of the time my voice was breaking. A work for young lovers, with Mr Colas the shepherd acting as the Magic Love Healer. This early voice training under sometimes gruelling conditions probably though also laid the foundations for later song inserts in the Wonderlake studio. Apart from that, it awakened my love of opera and concerts, even if the number of visits to the opera was probably somewhat overshadowed by the number of pop and rock concerts I visited as well.

Record swappers

When our class got together, we always used to talk about the legendary circle of connoisseurs who swapped records and who used to meet regularly during the main break by the school wall of the august grammar school to show off their latest trophies to each other. The first presses of fat vinyl LPs in their splendidly designed sleeves blowing in a breath of fresh air: ‘Aftermath’, ‘Revolver’, ‘Bee Gees' First’, Walker Brothers' ‘Images’, Cream's ‘Disraeli Gears’, and ‘Axis Bold As Love’ - Hendrix. A few selected bands tried to outdo each other artistically in stimulating rounds of competition. The afore-mentioned Who beat the Beach Boys from time to time (‘I'm A Boy’) or the Stones got the better of the Beatles (‘Ruby Tuesday’), supported of course by their musical (!) music managers. As well as collecting stamps and being interested in football, I spent my teenage leisure time managing the various hit parades. I used to set up rows of one pop song after another and soon experimental tonal sequences were getting mixed in with traditional Rhythm and Blues, beat music and lists of classic hits in such ways as no-one had ever heard before: ‘See Emily Play’, ‘I Can See For Miles’, ‘Eight Miles High’, ‘From The Underworld’, ‘Night Of The Long Grass’. Psychedelia had made its entry.

Outcast

When I was in the Fifth Form, a mate of mine, W.M., sat in the row in front of me and his long mane of hair (viewed by the teachers with great suspicion) used to twitch remarkably when he was stressed with integral maths exercises. This self-proclaimed outcast one day invited me back to his flat to play ‘The Saucerful Of Secrets’ to me. In deeply immobile respect, we squatted in his gloomy eight meter square room in a tiny flat in a council block and dived into Pink Floyd's music of the spheres. We stood by and watched with horror as this classmate (dubbed 'the scruff' by certain teachers) descended into the world of potheads and druggies, which had only just started up then, and met an early death. The funeral was a celebration of his life and his former fellow-pupils are probably genuinely affected by his loss.

Home-grown folk

I got my first guitar at 15 as a present from my father during a family holiday on the Baltic coast, an expensive Swedish country guitar, which blew quite a hole in his wallet at the time. He had set a condition, however, that I was first to get my mane, which was quite a sight at the time, pruned back. The choice between music and hair-style was then a relatively easy one to answer. I traded a respectably short haircut for this Levin instrument, which has remained the instrument on which all Wonderlake Songs have been composed up to the present. This six-string has most definitely seen better days, with its scratched up body and frame, stitched up in a make-do way after suffering various bouts of damage, but I still find it has a distinctive tone, with its slightly hollow, bass-heavy sound and which is also especially appreciated by a black cat, which has been helping me out with compositions for a long time now.

I got to practise my self-taught guitar playing during certain tours by bike into the nearby mountain area of the Mittelgebirge.  At the camp fire of the youth hostel high above the dam on the Rurtal valley, a mysterious girl from Cologne sang ‘Farewell Angelina’ by Bob Dylan in her smooth voice. With a certain amount of pride, I was able to counter this with my freshly learned rendition of Donovan's ‘Catch The Wind’. True to the Shakespearian motto of ‘Music being the food of love’, a tender exchange of letters then developed between the major cities of Düsseldorf and Cologne, just as much at war with each other then as now. Experts know that you can buy a little booklet at Cologne Station which has empty pages and the nice title: ‘Things worth seeing in Düsseldorf’ I was able to acquire a Höffner Half acoustic at a good price from a colleague as my second instrument and that moment when I struck up ‘Just Like A Woman’ for the first time on our little balcony, with its view of the petrol station on the arterial road to the west, was, to put it mildly, one of pure majesty.

Initiation and tinkering around with tapes

New records were announced in almost mythical stories through the magazines and radio stations which were in. I always used to buy a copy of the American 'Billboard' magazine at Düsseldorf main station and the paper of this monthly music magazine, full of pages and a real handful, had the distinctive smell of the USA about it for me as a 17 year old. We waited for months on end for the work by the Beach Boys we had been told about called ‘Heroes And Villains’, which was supposed to represent the follow-up to the never to be matched ‘Good Vibrations’. ‘H.A.V.’ is still regarded to this day as having the most long drawn-out production period of any single there has ever been and, to me, represents one of the most successful sound settings there is in the simple tonic, dominant, sub-dominant pattern. Tinkering with tapes, we fiddled around as friends with sound experiments in our acoustic space (converted bathroom) or designed photographic fantasy album covers on the balcony for the benefit of possible fans.  A first Teenage Song came into existence: ‘Funny Faces’. The picture is still fixed in my mind of me trying desperately to repair my Grundig TK 45. Unfortunately, it had not been able to cope with the demands of our artistic experiments. So-called 'pirate radio stations' with the pretty names of 'Caroline' and 'Veronica' had been set up on board ships off the English and Dutch coasts of the North Sea. They freed themselves of licensing rights and for some time before the release dates sent music out over the air waves. These stations used to transmit their best broadcasts really late at night. ‘My Mind's Eye’ (Small Faces) pops up again and I also recall picking up for the first time around midnight ‘She's A Rainbow’ by the Stones, this track with its sort of baroque-pop setting and piano intro by Nicky Hopkins, broadcast by the pirate radio station in a losing battle with atmospheric interference. The green eye of the valve radio watched over my sleeping hours.

A dance teacher in the subculture

Somebody had brought the just freshly released ‘Sergeant Pepper’ with them to the dance lesson with its foxtrots, waltzes and tangos and the pupils threatened to boycott the dancing lessons in future unless the group was not immediately allowed to listen to this album together - and in its full length at that! “Fixing a hole, where the rain gets in, and stops my mind from wandering ...” The dance teacher was not able to bring himself to lay one snazzy shoe onto the floor to dance to ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. And what could he ever have thought of the final sound of a ‘Day In The Life’? We tried to de-cypher the cryptic text of ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ through interpretation in English lessons, yet it was even more hip, and not just for those amongst us who were less intellectual, to practice dancing ultra close/ 'Klammer Blues' style to this piece in the party cellars which were just then beginning to appear in the estates of terraced houses. The only way to top this was with body contact while ‘Nights In White Satin’ was playing. The only way to survive the humid summer heat was to escape to the nearby swimming pool or to get a copy of ‘Rain’ by the Beatles. The best, of course, was to do both: guzzling lemonade whilst lying on a narrow towel listening to the sound of George Harrison's raga guitar on your new transistor radio. “... they sip their lemonade ...”

Happy hitch hiking

After a stormy crossing by ferry and early morning arrival in darkest Dublin, we were collected by a young Irish man, whose family owned a house overlooking Dublin Bay and who claimed to be related to the nephew of James Joyce. He put just the right record on: ‘Astral Weeks’ by Van Morrison. You always knew you were in the right place if the music was right. In this period of hippy original innocence we hitch hikers always easily managed to find accommodation in people's own homes. Despite the fact we were actually just total strangers, we could settle down in our rooms and check out the residents' record collections. This is how I first became acquainted with a record by the Incredible String Band while I was staying in Galway: ‘The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter’, drifting music from the psychedelic folk commune gathered around M. Heron and R. Williamson. One week later, we reached Belfast, rent apart by civil war, and passed through the military security zone. The incense sticks glimmered in the record shops and ‘Open Road’ by Donovan was playing. Those were the days. By the way, on the steps of the bridges over the Seine in Paris, I memorised the chords of Dylan's ‘Lay, Lady, Lay’ by watching a 'hippie' being gazed at by his fans. The bouquiniste book sellers on the banks of the Seine could wait. In any case, Dylan was probably a much better teacher than our old English tutor, who had far too much to tell us about Stalingrad in German, most probably in an attempt to set his soul free from the stress under which it was still suffering.

Art pop jazz

Early Kraftwerk at the Creamcheese in Düsseldorf - a sublime moment. Ralf Hütters' electronic pop sounds - almost like a harpsichord. One of the first multi-media shows was projected onto the aluminium-covered walls of the tube-like Creamcheese dungeon. Art and pop had long since found each other.

I tended to lose interest in pure pop music during my student days and I turned to nobler things, such as jazz (Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Soft Machine, Miles Davis, Weather Report, Gabarek, Oregon, Carla Bley's ‘Escalator Over The Hill’) and the classics by Schubert and Mahler. This must have induced a sort of ‘psychotic reaction’ in me, leading me to give away large parts of my by then quite considerable collection of pop LPs. Shortly afterwards, I cried almost more than ‘96 tears’. Much later and with a lot of effort, I was able to overcome a certain indifference on the part of the sellers and get hold of my favourite items at second hand markets, such as the above cracker by Count Five or the ominous ‘Tears’ record by Question Mark and the Mysterians.

Berlin Berlin

My interest was only re-awakened at the end of the 70s through Punk and New Wave. At that time, I was living in the dismal, mundane city with a Wall around it, to which such legends as Lou Reed and David Bowie in his ‘Low’ period had also retreated. This blossoming subculture in the shadow of the Wall was recently recorded in an excellent film. Lou Reed likewise relaunched his career by putting on his work with the mysterious title ‘Berlin’ in the Berlin Tempodrom, a work which had also originally been composed in Berlin. If my memory serves me correctly: travelling to the scheduled dance venues on a double-decker night bus through the half-city in the cold of winter. Velvet flares were likewise scheduled. However, punk and pogo dancing were soon in, the Clash and Elvis Costello blasted the stagnation of the 70s and the unspeakable endless improvisations of bands like Yes. No, for me, the only stars shining in the dark pop skies of the mid-70s were Roxy Music, Brian Eno, John Cale (‘Hanky Panky Know-How’), John Lennon (recommended as high priority reading: ‘Lennon is dead’ by Alexander Osang, about someone who was not on the scene at the time), Randy Newman, perhaps also early Springsteen and still to a limited extent David Bowie, the first ‘multi-optional’ freak on ‘Space Odyssey’. I had nearly forgotten Robert Wyatt, the drummer from Soft Machine, who soon went solo and suffered a tragic fate, as he was trying to hide from his mate in the house of his new girl by climbing out of the window and hanging on to the balustrade. The resulting fall left him a paraplegic. His music has nevertheless remained sound and has almost always gotten better and better. ‘End Of An Era’ was already a revelation in any case. - Why did he want to hide? Well, as in a classic slapstick comedy, his new girl was, of course, his friend's girl-friend. Bad news. From the surliness and forlornness of Punk, however, brilliant bands such as Blondie, Talking Heads, Cure and Television emerged, which certainly added to the artistic scene. When I first held the black cover of the Talking Heads' ‘Fear Of Music’ album in my hands in the Europacenter record shop in Berlin, the square in front of the Gedächtniskirche church was transformed into a scenario for urban nomads, as most forcefully conjured up by David Byrne: “... find a city, I'll find a city to live in!” This album also acted as a trigger to start making music myself. It was the age for genial dabblers.

Once I was back on Lake Constance, I decided to buy an e-guitar. It was a red Ibanez. A drummer mate of mine and I had a go at producing the first pieces written by ourselves in the tiny White Room inside the walls of an 800 year old house in Konstanz. (‘Fighters Of Love’, ‘Other Side Of The Shore’)

The concert which made the greatest impression on me

Donovanin Düsseldorf, the ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ dressed in white, known for his sporadically deployed tremolo voice, with harmonium and guitar, just this side of the hippie pain threshold, and yet somehow or other divine. ‘Isle Of Islay’ - it really made you want to go there, right behind ‘The Catcher In The Rye’.

Ginger Baker and Steve Marriot in the Düsseldorf ice stadium, both shortly after their bands (Cream /Small Faces) had broken up. Marriot later died the almost classic 'fell asleep in bed with a cigarette burning' death. That is probably about the only thing he has in common with Ingeborg Bachmann.

Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival, only vaguely perceived from a distance on the edge of the tumult. It is true I was somehow there, but it must be a similar feeling if you have only been to the airport in New York.

Alexis Korner in the Konzil building in Konstanz, the croaking Blues Greek and musical foster-father of the Stones, Clapton, the Yardbirds and many others. What was that one song called again? ‘Mary Open The Door’

Jack Bruce solo at the Berlin Technical University A charismatic bass player and composer genius with a voice, which still sometimes makes you shudder. (see Drifterradio)

The Go Betweens in the Red Factory in Zürich, poorly visited, but a really fine concert with the wonderful Amanda Brown on violin and oboe.

Fred Frith in the Red Factory, the tinkerer with sound and virtuoso of the very specialised guitar, raw, skewed and filigreed all at the same time and never an endless solo, but just what we mean by structured guitar playing.

Red Crayola/Lora Logic in Krefeld Mayo Thompson, Professor of the Arts, with his ironic/Marxist lyrics, classroom voice and interestingly set guitar chord styles. Even my father, whom I had taken along to this concert, was amazed and inspired, even though he had not idea what the lyrics were about.

Camberwell Now in the Red Factory in Zürich It is well know that the drummers are often the hidden creators of a band, for example Robert Wyatt, for example Phil Collins (no, begging your pardon, but not really our cup of tea, although we have nothing against our good mate Phil and would love to have a beer with him),  but also for example Charles Hayward, the drummer from Camberwell, around whom an experimental band formed and which produced the ‘most beautiful off-beat’ percussion sound on the edges of the melodious. Only Hayward's earlier band, This Heat, could do that better.

Robyn Hitchcock at the Tor 3 in Düsseldorf The New Wave Byrds Sound with its very suspicious song and slightly quirky words: ‘My Wife And My Dead Wife’, really worthy of a genuine Hitchcock plot.

Jesus and Mary Chain in the Red Factory in Zürich Smooth primitive sound, dipped into reddish light. Velvet Underground sent their best wishes. Gun Club at the Weingarten Teacher Training College.

Jeffrey Lee Pierce, just back from Vietnam, his girlfriend's home country. I have never heard a better voice of suffering, sounding like driving wolf howls and accompanied by a psychedelically coloured Blues Wave guitar. It's a shame he has already gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds.

Alan Vega at Konstanz University

Leonard Cohen at the Lake Constance Stadium in Konstanz (see Drifterradio)

Richard Thompson at the Roxy in Los Angeles Only Jack Bruce, Nick Cave and John Cale can get near to him in terms of charisma and sovereignty of playing.  Melodies which drive you into the abyss, guitar playing from a lost world, singing which probably originates in the age of Shakespeare. Thompson, a musician's musician, at the Roxy on the street where the stars of Hollywood have planted their star signs. The little bottles of perfume in the restrooms stick in my memory. I had never enjoyed a concert in more upmarket surroundings.

Morogoro Jukebox After an endless journey through the lonely Tanzanian night over fairly dicey road surfaces, we took a break before the final stretch into Dar es Salaam, in order to partake of a highly spiced fish stew. This enormous fish lay in the cooking pot and a band was playing in a way which they could not have done better in any way on a tropical night like this. Perfect harmony singing with exquisite guitar playing: the fingers drifting over the frets in sequences with the same ever recurring chords with the tiniest variations, interrupted by the absolute minimum of solos, was it any wonder that even the cicada choir kept quiet out of total respect, outside in front of the drive-in? Terry Riley or Steve Reich would have enjoyed this finest quality joo-joo music as well. The fish stew failed to keep me seated at the table. I could not dance with a bowl of stew in my hands. Musicians who ‘played the soul out of their body’. There is only one word for that: Passion.

Da capo You should never talk about the most beautiful songs, as these can never actually only exist on their own in thin air, but are lined up on a chain of melodies and rhythms. Nevertheless, there are hit parades and in the hit parade in my heart a song has overtaken my previous placements at the top which is not from the western world.

Just in brief, as anyone can imagine: amongst the all-time favourites there will certainly be ‘God Only Knows’ by the Master - Brian Wilson. This milestone of catchy-refined sound setting was coincidentally also used to christen my 45 Deutschmark record player. Christenings are known to involve blessing and coming together solemnly and sociologists of religion would probably describe listening to music as a secular left-over of the religious experience (blubber...).

But this little song I have in mind comes from Madagascar and was recorded by Henry Kaiser, that sly old guitar fox, with a band from Madagascar on the ‘World Out Of Time’ album. It actually, though, has its origins in the Far East and even has lyrics in Japanese, as half the population of Madagascar are immigrants from Asia. From a geological point of view, Madagascar provides further proof for continental drift, as, while it is true it is off the coast of Africa, it is actually moving imperceptibly away from this.

The title gives nothing away. For Finders Keepers only.

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