“Would you say you are a band that rehearses a lot or a band that mostly plays spontaneously?” A while ago, Jools Holland posed that question to every artist he interviewed on his show Later on BBC Two. Everyone I saw gave the obviously correct answer, and smiling from ear to ear Jools replied “Exactly, spontaneous play, far better!”
I hope that some sunny day I will be invited to play in this great show. However, I don’t know how I would answer that question. For my goodness, we rehearse like crazy. In fact, before we actually start rehearsing, we’ve been busy exchanging ideas online and adding tracks to demo recordings. We model and shape, add harmony vocals and sitars, we discard changes that at first seemed brilliant, until gradually something beautiful happens and finally a fine new song blares out of the speakers. But once we get into the rehearsal room the search starts again. Twice a week, we sometimes tinker for hours on one new song. Because the bandoneon sample actually makes no sense at all and as a matter of fact, the bass and drums don’t fit together like they should.
“So would you say you are a band that rehearses a lot or a band that mostly plays spontaneously?”
Well Jools, frankly, we rehearse like crazy. And only when we are satisfied, and we can dream every note, then we can be spontaneous. Maybe not quite artistically correct for a pop band, but that’s the way it is. There, I said it.
Not that improvising is not for me, on the contrary. Years ago Hans Dulfer joined The Dutch on stage in Maloe Melo, a blues cafe in Amsterdam, to play a few songs. Hans didn’t know and didn’t bother about the chords. From the beginning he produced highly annoying, fantastic notes (on the same show, Candy Dulfer blew a few solos. I suppose we were one of the bands that must have asked Hans, ad nauseam, if we could play with his daughter). Klaas ten Holt, who later became the guitarist in The Dutch, was occasionally asked by Hans Dulfer to play the guitar in Reflud. At the beginning of the show Klaas asked in what key the first song was. Hans cried “How should I know!” after which the band began to rock, with Hans himself pressing high screaming notes from his tenor sax in an attempt to drown out the heavy punk jazz.
I have sometimes participated in jam sessions. I used to think I was a tremendously good guitarist when I climbed the stage in the Amsterdam Milky Way at the weekly jam session. It must have been around 1976, when I was 18. I remember I was totally outplayed by Ferdi Karmelk, who then played in Hermand Brood’s Wild Romance. What a guitar hero. You can verify it on the Wild Romance’s first album, Street. It was a game of arm wrestling that I lost by far, that night in the Milky Way. But at least I can say I had the honour to duel with Ferdi Karmelk.
As I’m writing this, I’m reading How to Start a Revolution by Nadja Tolokonnikova, a cheerful book that will enthuse even the most overfed parlor socialists into occupying a square. Nadia Tolokonnikova is a heroine. Pussy Riot is the best and most urgent punk band ever. But other than I was expecting, the performances of Pussy Riot were rehearsed to perfection. Of course it wasn’t just the notes and chords, but also how you could continue to play as long as possible while being dragged by the ankles. We should try that some time, in preparation for the time when Thierry Baudet gets the shots here.
March 19, 2017