Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On the Road with the Maritime Crew

From nz-folk:

A personal memoir from Rudy Sunde  - with some additional comments by Warren. 

I started writing this report while in Europe and gave it the above title ON THE ROAD WITH THE MARITIME CREW little realising how prescient such a title was - as you will find out on reading further. This the Maritime Crew's third trip to Europe having been invited to take part in maritime music festivals. On the two previous occasions, we had applied to Creative New Zealand for help in paying our air fares but they declined on both occasions. This time we did not bother them and hoped that our performance fees would cover most of our travel expenses.

Four members of  The Maritime Crew - Lew Black, Bob Large, Warren Payne and Rudy Sunde - departed form Auckland airport on 1st August 2007.  Two other members of the Crew - Paul Howarth and Alex McClennan - could not go because of family and/or work commitments. We travelled with Emirates - an airline that I would not recommend if one is travelling economy as the seats are so close together. Including stop-overs between planes, it took us the best part of 35 hours to get to Bremen.

We were going to Bremen to participate in the famous annual Vegesack Maritime Music Festival running from 3rd to 5th August. We were proud to have been invited to take part in such a big festival with about 30 other shanty groups from around the world - Holland, Germany, UK, Norway, Sweden, Poland, USA, Cuba, Spain. These were mainly small shanty groups with only half dozen or so shanty choirs.      

All the participants were treated splendidly by the organisers. Our accommodation, breakfast and some dinners were paid for. We and quite a few other shanty groups were billeted on board the magnificent Sail Training Ship Deutschland. This is a lovely 86 metre vessel built in 1927 but now retired from sailing. Beautifully maintained it is a splendid example of the tall ship builders' art.

The Vegesack Festival takes place mainly along the banks of the Weser River though there were 2 city venues where we and other groups performed.Along the banks of the river are walkways and on either side of these paths were kiosks selling beer, sausages, beer, kitsch, beer, souvenirs, beer, etc. You get the idea. Thousands milled around - enjoying  the beautiful summer evenings or going to the various concert venues which were dotted along the riverside.

We sang at 6 different venues over the weekend and were always received with great acclaim. I think that audiences respected the fact that we had come from so far, far away, that we had a great selection of interesting songs (traditional and contemporary New Zealand songs with a couple of Maori numbers) and that we sang them well. When we were in Germany 2 years ago, we made some good friends and quite a few travelled many miles to Bremen just to hear us again. Among those who came to see and hear us again were Heiko Tieseler and his wife Brigitte who videoed most of our performances. Then there was Ullrich, Dieter and Manfred who with their wives came from Niebull to see us. Iwe van der Beek came from Holland with his singing partner Jaap and also there was Conny Beckman - another good friend.

The Final Grand Concert was a magnificent event with all the groups doing a 10 minute spot and then the Grand Finale with everybody on stage doing "Oh Roseanne". And then there was a marvellous fireworks display over the Weser River. (Fireworks for Auckland Folk Festival?? Now there's a thought.) We stayed on board Deutschland for an extra day after the festival finished in order to relax after the hectic weekend.

The following Tuesday, we were picked up by Johannes van der Werf of the Folsgearster Folkgroup. They had invited us to visit them in the village of Folsgear in Friesland , northern Holland. We had met them in  Niebull, Germany 2 years ago and while they could more properly called a folk group rather than a shanty group we still had lots of songs and shanties in common. They say that the Friesian language (a variant of Dutch) is closely related to English but I am afraid that I did not notice any resemblance. Luckily, all our contacts there had a good command of English. Friesland is flat for miles and miles and miles with canals everywhere. Dairying seems to be the main farming occupation with big cow barns attached to the farmers'  houses.

Bob and I were lodged in the home of Gerritt and Rinske Rypma - a lovely couple  while Warren and Lew stayed with Johannes  and his wife Margriet. Gerritt has a nice studio in which we and Folsgearster Folk rehearsed some songs together. We were taken sailing on one of the numerous lakes to watch a boat race between some typical sailing craft called SKUTJE. Next night, we sang at a barbecue party. The nearby town of Sneek was then visited and I must say that I am impressed with all these Dutch towns that saw. Clean (no graffiti), prosperous looking, very neat and tidy. The following night we sang at a local museum devoted to old time farming practices. On the Saturday, we were taken to a local saw mill. This is not the usual sort of tourist experience but this saw mill is different. It is powered by big sails - a typical Dutch wind mill. This mill was built  in 1685 and though it might not be compared to modern mills with regard to speed of cutting a log, nevertheless it is a magnificent piece of engineering and I am pleased to see that it is being kept as a going concern. That same night we performed to a large crowd in the Folsgear church and, as ever, we were warmly received.

Before we had left New Zealand, the Folsgearster Folk group made what seemed to us to be a very ambitious suggestion. They said "While you're over here, let's make a joint LIVE CD". We wondered at the possibility of doing this but when we met them and had a couple of rehearsals, we thought, hey, this going to work! Sunday saw us in the recording studio. This was in one of the old cow barns that had been converted into a sort of club with seating for maybe 50 or so. And the studio! I have seen a few in my time but this guy's equipment was top of the range. Folsgearster Folk did 5 songs, we did 5 and then we did 4 together. All this before an appreciative audience. Mixing was done the next day with  Johanne's son Franz creating the insert. This where my prescience comes in because they had decided to give  the CD the title 'ON THE ROAD TOGETHER'. We have brought the master home and will be producing copies of this CD.

On Tuesday, Roel Boer of de Flagellanten in Giethoorn picked us up (after sad farewells to the Folsgear folk) and drove us to his home town. He provided us with accommodation in a so-called shed (actually a sort of replica of an old farm house) at the back of his section. Giethoorn is described as "the Venice of the North" because of its extensive system of canals. It is a lovely town - charming old houses with thatched roofs which were formerly farmers' houses but which have now been upgraded and are most comfortable dwellings. All access to the houses is by boat - no cars anywhere. More than a million tourists visit the town every year and go on sightseeing cruises up the canals.

De Flagellanten is a bunch of maybe 18-20 male singers who dress up in old style clothing - sheepskins, clogs, etc. - and who specialise in doing good time music - exuberant stuff all sung with great enthusiasm. Easy listening. They perform at the Fanfare Cafe every Tuesday evening so we heard them that night. The next night, we were on at the Fanfare together with de Flagellanten. We sang sets alternately until the very last when we did some songs together. The highlight for me was when Roel and I jointly took the lead for my song "SPRAY OF THE OCEAN". It was lovely hearing the voices of the de Flagellanten singers behind me singing my song and I was quite moved. (When we were in Niebull 2 years ago, we met Tobias Kretchsman ( a young 14 year old lad) and his family and they became great fans of ours. Well, Tobias and his father drove from Dusseldorf to Giethoorn, a distance of about 300 kms, just to see and hear us again.)

The next day we took a train from Steenwik to Harlingen Hafen where we caught the ferry to the island of Vlieland. This is a sandy island lying some 20 or so kms off the Dutch coast. Remote areas of the island with sand dunes covered with marram grass resemble some far north Auckland beaches. On Vlieland we were looked after by Nils Koster and Ger Lamerus who together are called Drijfhout (Driftwood). They are sometimes accompanied by a woman called Susanne Kunenborg..

The main street of the town of Vlieland is closed to vehicular traffic - except for goods delivery vehicles and bikes. (Bikes galore on the island!) On our first day we were taken down the main street where the town brass band was playing - quite well too.The leader of the band is Jan Houter and he was too the man paying us for our performances on the island. He is a prominent local businessman owning the hotel where we were lodged, a pub and a bike hire place. Anyway, Jan introduced us to the crowd (saying that we came from Australia -which was greeted with howls of protest from us and became a standing joke during the rest of our stay.  Wee had to do a couple of songs to promote our forthcoming performances. The next day saw us performing a 2 hour gig on the hotel terrace with Nils and Ger joining us for the last 20 minutes or so. Next night we were at the pub "Old Stoop"  (Grand Cafe Oude Stoep) where we shared the stage with Driftwood - they doing 40 minutes, we 40 and then a joint 40. As ever our New Zealand songs were very warmly received. Another two and half hour set on the hotel terrace the next day.

Our next performance was the following day when we joined the Vlielander Seaman's Choir singing in the church to maybe 250 - 300 people. The choir did 5 0r 6 songs, we did 5 and then we jointly did 10 songs with the choir.I know this gets repetitious but as ever, we were very well received. evidenced the next day by the number of times we were stopped by appreciative attendees. Our songs and presentation of them always receives audience approval. Jan Houter gave us all a CD of photos that he had taken of us and told us how pleased he was to have us on the island. On our last evening on the island, we were taken on a bus ride some 15 or so kms up the beach. The bus looked very much like the ones used on Ninety Mile Beach. At the end of the ride up the beach we were taken to a large stockade made of Driftwood  where a large fire was soon burning and a can of  hot chocolate was being heated. Nils and Ger did some songs then we did some to entertain the people there. We started a jolly sing-along in the bus on the way back and were delighted to let the teenagers take over with their songs.

We said our sad farewells to Nils and Ger the next day and boarded the ferry back to Harlingen Hafen. Waiting for us on the pier were most of Folsgearster Folk. They had come to escort us down the dyke towards Amsterdam. At a popular stopping place in the middle of the massive dyke, we were joined by Johannes and Ben and, unbelievably, they had with them the master of the CD plus personal copies for all. Incredible! Said our goodbyes once again to most of Folsgearster and then Marco drove us down towards Amsterdam. Took a train for the last 15 or so kms to Amsterdam Central Rail. Coming into a big city was a bit of a shock after being in quiet places like Folsgear, Giethoorn and Vlieland. So many people!  We took a ride on a canal boat the next day and saw some more of this fascinating city. A general impression of Holland is that it is a prosperous looking place - everything neat and tidy, friendly people.

A short flight to Basel on the next day and we were met by Bruno Mueller (our interpreter and general helper) and Ken our driver who drove us to Romanshorn. We were dropped off at the Uttwill Stubli - a combination guest house and restaurant. Markus Studerus, a member of Singing Sailor's Crew Romanshorn and one of my email correspondents was there to meet us. Friday (next day) and we met a lot of the other shanty groups that were there for the weekend. We all took turns to do some songs. One of the most interesting songs we heard that night was a group doing the well-known New Zealand traditional song "Soon May the Wellerman Come". They did it in a more up-tempo style than what we are used to but it sounded great. And then, coming home in the bus to our digs, they sang it again! Fancy that! Being sung as a bus party song!

On Saturday, we and the Pirates ( a lovely group of young French girls from Brittany) took the ferry across Lake Bodensee (aka Lake Konstanz)to the German town of Friedrichshafen. We took turns in singing on board. That afternoon, we did a gig at the Down Under tent (named in out honour). That evening was the BIG evening with the monstrous tent filled to capacity. We did a show together with the Romanshorn Singing Sailors.One of my songs is called "Hurrah for our Captain". The Romanshorn Choir has taken my tune (with my permission) and written new words for the song. Note, their version was written many months ago and yet it extolled the virtues and skills of Swiss sailors. (Now and again they would slyly remind us that they now held America's Cup but we replied that it was only because they had some Kiwi sailors on board.) Anyway, we sang my "Hurrah" and they responded with their version. All good fun. Once again I was moved to have my work being performed by others. After we had performed that night, Bob informed that he had received a text message saying that my wife Pat had returned from Australia but was now in Waitakere Hospital with a chest infection, so the next morning, with Markus' assistance, I got hold of Emirate's Zurich office and arranged to fly home that evening - one day earlier than planned.

Down to the nearby cafe that Sunday morning where a large number of shanty singers were having a good time - laughing, chatting, drinking beer, listening to songs. We did 4 songs. Standing ovation! Well not quite but greatly appreciated. To the main tent that afternoon where Romanshorn did "Hurrah" once again and we did 4 songs.

And that was the finish of the Romanshorn Festival for me. A hurried trip back to our digs where I changed my shirt and Markus took me to the rail where I took a train to Zurich. Interestingly, the train took me right into Zurich airport and then a long lonely flight home.

To summarise :- We had a fantastic best part of 4 weeks in Europe. The weather was kind - summery just about every day. But the people we met were kinder . We were appreciated both for the interesting songs that we sang and also for the way in which we performed them. We have made many friends in Europe but I have one regret and that is, that at my age, I don't think that I will ever make that trip again. But The Maritime Crew has made 3 trips to Europe and I don't see why the younger members of the group can't go again some time in the future.

I would like to inject a personal note here. I am rather proud that 4 of my songs have found favour overseas. "Auckland to the Bluff" is sung in USA and UK  while "Spray of the Ocean" and "The Orpheus"  is sung in Giethoorn and,as you have just read, "Hurrah" in Romanshorn.

During the 28 days (including travel) that we were in Europe, we gave 23 public performances. This not counting the late night parties where lots more singing took place. Being a senior citizen, I missed out on these parties as I was in bed earlier than the others. I believe that they had great times singing until the small hours on many occasions.

The Maritime Crew is most grateful to all the people in Europe who invited us to perform at the various festivals, clubs, etc.

In Bremen, we had Lutz Hosselbarth, Patricia Feuss, Fritz Rapp, Brigitte Schiller-Hehl and Kersten of Vegesack who organised things so well for us.

In Folsgear, there was Johannes and Margriet van der Werf, Gerritt and Rinske Rypma, Marco and Rinske Rypma, Ben Regeling and Peter van der Werf who were our admirable hosts and singing partners. Delightful people who did everything for us.

In Giethoorn, Roel Boer and his wife (name eludes me) provided us with accommodation and food. His de Flagellanten singers are a great bunch of guys who know how to enjoy themselves - by making great Music!

In Vlieland, we were looked after by Nils Koster and Ger Lamerus - two great musician and singers. Our accommodation was provided by Jan Houter and very nice it was too.Once again, words fail me in attempting to describe how well we were treated - how good everybody was to us.

Finally in Romanshorn we were particularly well looked after by Bruno Mueller, Michael Kowalski and Marcus Studerus. Switzerland is a delightful country with delightful people - kind, generous, friendly and just generally very nice indeed, especially the Singing Sailor's Crew Romanshorn.

When I first got The Maritime Crew together way back in 1994, little did I think that one day we would on a singing tour of Europe. Once would have been incredible but we have done this 3 times now and that is just amazing. I would like to thank everybody who has helped to make these trips possible. And also I must thank members of The Maritime Crew for performing so well while on our overseas tours.

Thanks again to EVERYBODY.


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