Unpacking the Ratinger Hof Book

Ah, the Ratinger Hof. The cauldron in which the Ur-punk soup was brewed, and in which new English (and German) music was showcased. Wire, The Krupps, DAF, Propaganda, and loads more either played there or were conceived within the naked walls, soaked with Altbier and smoked with unmentionable substances. For a few years, this ugly little pub in Duesseldorf was the centre of the West – German culture/counterculture interface in which the established scene observed what was bubbling under.

Ralf Zeigermann, himself a veteran of the club (I believe he even played there), contacted loads of his old buddies and with their help produced a gorgeous documentation of these wild days, astounding pictures and all. While the text is German, the acquisition is worth its while for the stunning pictures alone.

 

Have a look at the unboxing process:

Note 'Wire' themed Beermat

 

 

 

Convinced?

Get it.

The Best Contemporary Concert DVD?

Today the mail lady brought a much anticipated DVD: A Japanese release of The Prince’s Trust ‘Produced by Trevor Horn‘ showcases the work of my all time favourite producer (hey, I spent my teenage years in the eighties. What do you expect from me? Jack White?). Anyway, in 2004, to celebrate 25 years of his bombast pop, he hosted the annual Prince’s Trust Wembley gig, showcasing some of the artists he worked with. And what a lineup that is:

  • Boggles
  • ABC
  • Grace Jones
  • Art of Noise
  • Yes
  • Propaganda
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Belle and Sebastian
  • Seal
  • Liza Stansfield
  • Frankie goes to Hollywood

Now I have seen quite a bit of ABC, Frankie, The PetShop Boys and Propaganda live over the last two decades, but I honestly say neither of them ever sounded so perfect. This is a gig of massive proprotions to make Trevor Horn’s rich, orchestral sound possible: I am sure that it I still haven’t got them all, but I counted 8 brass/woodwinds, 8 strings, 8 backup vocalists (some people call that a ‘choir’), 2 drummers, Anne Dudley (the Oscar winning Anne Dudley, who also arranged ABC’s strings on the ‘Lexicon of Love’), numerous other keyboarders and 4 percussionists (including the brillant Louis Jardim), Steve Howe and probably half a dozen musicians I forgot.

This is truly a wall of music. I have seen ABC in various incarnations over the last 20 years, but I can not remember ‘Poisoned Arrow’ and ‘The Look of Love’ ever sounding so luscious on the stage.

Frankie (even in the absence of Holly Johnson) sound glorious, Propaganda, Yes and Seal are magnificent and Seal probably gives the best twenty minutes of his life. Grace Jones is amazingly pitch perfect but outrageous as ever. As a bass player myself it’s fascinating to see FGTH’s bassist to punch himself through ‘Two Tribes”s superfast plectrum based lines. That looks ike amazingly hard work.

All of the musicians look like they’re having an enormous blast. Just look at the face of the drummers. They’re so immersed and enjoying themselves, it’s infecting. I’ve caught myself jumping around the living room with my Macbook in my hands, headphones on head.

This means I have now have two favourite saturday morning DVD’s: Jamiroquai’s ‘LIve in Verona‘ and this. And it looks like there’s a UK release in the pipeline as well.

Get it. It’s worth it.

P.S. And to have a little bit more fun: here’s the world’s grumpiest prog rock band.

The World’s awareness of German popular Music. Is there any? Awareness, I mean.

The excellent Rainer Bartel – proprietor of some of Germany’s best blogs, successful journalist and author of a German guide to the EEEPC – and myself are currently having an animated discussion on the issue of Duesseldorf and its influence on popular music. Being the staunch defender of his beloved hometown that he is, he cited a long list of more or less influential musicians that for him prove that Duesseldorf is far more important than the footnote status that was I willing to give the place.

The only thing that I can think of is Chris Rea’s comment in ‘Windy Town’, that he comes home with the ‘taste of Duesseldorf’ still on his lips. But I am being facetious.

It nevertheless made me think of a wider issue: forget Duesseldorf: what actually is Germany’s role in contemporary, popular music?

There is no discussion about its influence within the world of non-entertainment music: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Mozart (ok, he was Austrian, but that was almost the same then), Schoenberg and their contemporaries produced the majority of what we listen to on BBC Radio 3. Within the last fifty years Henze and Stockhausen have added themselves to that list, but they are certainly no household names anymore. So, Germany rules among the Italians, French, English and Russians when it comes to the classical stuff.

But within Pop/Rock? Unfortunately these days, when you ask somebody born after 1980, the only examples he/she will probably come up with are Rammstein (who do not deserve a link) and -shudder- the Scorpions (ditto). For people remembering the eighties and the seventies, Krautrock champions Can, Bavarian Balladiers Muenchner Freiheit (who had a Number 1 in the UK with ‘Keeping the Dream alive‘. Don’t ask) and Duesseldorf’s best exports: Propaganda, Kraftwerk and the short lived DAF come to mind. Then there was the ‘School of melodious House’ from Frankfurt, producing such anonymous, producer led projects as Snap! or Culture Beat. These guys went so far to change their name to something vaguely American to remove all associations with THAT country.

As you might have noticed, all the aforementioned groups released their singles in English.

Mostly, everybody not speaking English lives happily ever after, completely ignorant of the wide variety of artists releasing their work in German, which they probably find as accessible as the latest Number One from Kazakhstan.

So, is it all about the language, then? Is the main reason that my fellow scotsmen don’t buy the latest album by Marius Mueller Westernhagen is because neither can pronounce his name nor any of the songtitles, or that singing along to a song called ‘Skandal im Sperrbezirk’ (or even better: ‘Mit Pfefferminz bin ich Dein Prinz‘. Try singing that…) just doesn’t roll of the tongue like, say, ‘Umbrella’?  With a language like that, it’s no wonder that New Zealand and Australia, countries who together have a quarter of the German population, had more Number ones.

On the other hand, millions of inebriated Englishmen had no problems singing along to either ‘Bambolero’, ‘Voyage, Voyage’, or ‘Donald, where’s your troosers’ (wait..). So it can’t be the fact that it’s foreign.

It’s just the wrong type of foreign. It’s German. It still conjures up the wrong associations.

With other words, it’s not so much the quality of the German musical output, but the inability of the world to speak the language. Or get over its accociated history.

I leave the rest of this argument to the comment section and leave you in the safe Duesseldorfian hands of Claudia Brueck, Susanne Freytag and, uh, Trevor Horn.

Enjoy!