1-CD-Album with 40-page booklet, 22 tracks, playing time 76:28 minutes.
Back in 1971, the year that Ougenweide made their public debut at a Hamburg school fête, Hansestadt Hamburg was an electrifying place to be. Like most major ports, it shook. The difference was that Hamburg rocked, rattled and howled like a city on a time fault-line. It was a 'funny' place, in the idiomatic senses of 'funny ha-ha' and 'funny peculiar'. Hamburg met the criteria on both counts but with an added measure of 'funny bizarre'. It was utterly different from Hanseatic League cities like Bremen and Lübeck. They were tame by comparison. Mind you, back then Hamburg was unlike anywhere else in Europe. It was one hell of a melting-pot.
To get an impression of Ougenweide's birthing ground back then, imagine Hamburg as a cross between several cities. Start with Marseilles and Liverpool for their low- and port life. Next tone down Amsterdam's decadence to get a feel for the flamboyance of Hamburg-St Pauli with its matter-of-fact outbursts of ultra-violence and the richness of its lexicon of sexual services. Then factor in the weather of Copenhagen and London. Last, put aside the stereotypes. Long before you reached provincial Pinneberg or the other nearby number-plate towns, Hamburg's outlying districts went from suburban with their neat 'Schrebergarten' (allotment) colonies to bucolic.
Hamburg also felt as if it was on a language fault-line. Perhaps that helped Ougenweide in its future development. On the train to Hamburg-Altona, you spoke High German. On the Reeperbahn, its famed red-light district that made the moon over Soho blench lily-white, you slipped more and more into Hamburg dialect and slang. By the time you hit the 'Kneipen' (bars) in the harbour district, communication was in 'Platt' (Low German) or in any language known to mariners on shore leave. No matter how you viewed the place, Hamburg had a serious case of the multiple personalities.
Hamburg's beat music scene of the early 1960s has gone down in history. It was the inhibition-free 'Beat-Mekka' where Mersey beat groups with names too familiar to repeat here cut their teeth alongside such German outfits as the Rattles in the Star-Club. Hamburg caused many a beat combo to get good and greasy with rock 'n' roll and R&B. It has to be said that greased-back hair and black leather proved the downfall of, to use that lovely expression, many a good 'Bürgersöhnchen' (good little boy) too.
Less well reported was Hamburg's folk scene. Dagmar Krause started out singing in public – underage in 1964 – in Hamburg's quasi-'jazz clubs' and the 'real hang-outs' and 'dives' down by the docks. The folk dam had yet to break. There was no real folk club scene. The 1968 flood of Liedermacher (singer/songwriters) was a dream-lifetime away as far as musicians born after the War were concerned. Nobody believed making beat or folk music could be anything but a career bubble before responsibility, a proper job or, at best, servitude on the Schlager treadmill beckoned.
Now, although Hamburg was a hotbed of musical activity, it never developed a folk club scene in the mid 1960s comparable to, say, the British model where folk clubs mushroomed up and down the country. It is truer to say that Hamburg's folk scene was closer to or a pale shadow of the Copenhagen scene. Denmark's capital had its Purple Door, Las Vegas, Folklorry and Vise-Vers-Huset clubs. Hamburg had its jazz-cum-folk clubs too. But most amateur or semi-pro musicians of a folkie persuasion got by as catch as catch can, getting university or college gigs, scraping by with paid or unpaid work.
Things steadily gathered pace on the Hamburg folk scene though. Two of the city's folk bands – the City Preachers and Ougenweide – provide snapshots and comparisons of how things changed between 1965 and 1970. Towards the end of 1965 a loose collective started life in Hamburg-St. Georg. It took the name of the City Preachers and over the course of the decade became a major force. It was led and founded by John O'Brien-Docker. The Preachers once likened themselves and their structure to 'Baukasten,' something between a construction kit and box of building bricks. Within the parent band's set-up, there were spin-off line-ups such as the Gospel Four and solo permutations. The line-ups had a certain dynamic volatility. People joined and left. Dagmar Krause and Inga Rumpf, both singers who went on to domestic and international acclaim, had formative periods with the City Preachers. The history of the City Preachers, like that of Ougenweide, begs for a detailed family tree.
The four or so years that separate the City Preachers from Ougenweide can be compared in evolutionary folk terms to the Neolithic and Chalcolithic ages when stone went metallic. (There is a little poet in me and I want him evicted.) The Preachers delivered a perfectly respectable, fairly typical, word-based repertoire for the time and for West German folk bands. They worthily mixed Negro blues and gospel by the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Josh White and trad. arr. with international folk fare from warmer climes (by 1968 their singer Sibylle Kynast, poor lass, was credited with singing in 15 languages) and a leavening of socially conscious material. Some songs were even in German.
Ougenweide was never, it must be stressed, a folk group 'per se.' Political ideologies of various stripes had turned folk music in Germany into beasts of burden. Ougenweide was at the forefront of turning 'folk' into something else, something acceptable to a new generation weaned on Anglo-American pop/rock music and weaning off the 'Liedermacher' movement. How they finessed that is the story of these two albums.
As Frank Wulff, one of Ougenweide's linchpins, reminisced in his notes to the archive-trawling anthology 'Wol mich der Stunde (Blessed Is The Hour)', the beginnings of the band can be traced to 1969. Whether by spooky happenstance or synchronicity (though pure coincidence is a better bet), the district where Ougenweide coalesced – Hamburg-Eilbek – was only a short district from Hamburg-St. Georg. That year a Hamburg soul band called the Fabs disbanded. Amongst its members was Wulff's brother Max who sang and played organ with them. More immediately important for Ougenweide's history, Brigitte Blunck sang with the combo, Jürgen Isenbart played kit drums and Michael Steinbeck played electric guitar. Frank Wulff was the Fabs' junior roadie/techie. He and Steinbeck would share their latest musical discoveries and amongst Steinbeck's discoveries were two of 1969s most important British folk releases. One, 'Basket Of Light,' was the third album by an Anglo-Scottish folk-jazz ensemble trading under the name of Pentangle. The second was 'Liege & Lief', the fourth album by England's era-defining folk-rock group, Fairport Convention. Each was a chart for re-mapping folk territory. In other ways, Ougenweide gravitated more to the Incredible String Band approach in its use of European and non-European instruments, with its foreign flutes, sitar, shawms, bouzouki and so on. There again, it is evident from Wulff's flute attack on Swa gouter Hande wurzen sint that Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson was also an influence.
The band's early repertoire included material by Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull with a smattering of English-language folksong covers, one of which, The Fox, they reworked for their debut Zebra LP as Der Fuchs, a song that seemed to ricochet melodically off Reno, Nevada – a song in Fairport's early repertoire. The great leap forward happened when Olaf Casalich attended a rehearsal. Casalich had previously done time in a number of well-known Hamburg groups. At this time he was 'resting' (jobless) as they say in artistic circles. Whether he was just unemployed or had too much time on his hands or was regressing to his school days in Waltershof, south-west of Hamburg, where he studied Middle High German is moot. Lightning of some sort struck. Casalich had the inspired idea that rescued them from a life as a folk-revue cover band.
Instead of blowing the dust off the standard works such as Wolfgang Steinitz's 'Deutsche Volkslieder demokratischen Charakters…' and working to a political agenda, what Casalich suggested was to set a Middle High German lyric to music. Over the centuries, German had changed dramatically. Idioms had fallen out of use. Usages had changed. Spellings had been standardized and followed by further lexicographical reform. What Casalich was proposing was something radical, something more akin to the Early Music movement than the folk scene. Middle High German was recondite, the stuff of Germanistik or German Language Studies. It even needed German translations (even though, appropriately, their first album supplied lyrics, translations and notes in Fraktur, the Gothic script that increasingly fewer Germans born after 1945 could read competently and comfortably).
It was something unparalleled on the West German folk scene where the typical electrified folk or folk-rock model was built on 'Volkslieder' (folksongs), 'Gesellenlieder' (journeymen's songs), songs of the 1848 Revolution and suchlike – assuming that the repertoire was mainly word-based, not dance-based. What Ougenweide did was to delve still further into the past for its material and inspiration. It found a repertoire in the German tradition rich in allegory. A 1974 article in the Hamburg-based music monthly 'Sounds' explained what they were doing: "The lyrics aren't from Volkslieder, but from old German poesy, and namely so old that its language isn't comprehensible today and has to be translated. The Verfasser [authors/creators] have such resonant names as Walther von der Vogelweide, Heinrich von Mügeln, Burkhard von Hohenfels, Dietmar von Eist, names nowadays known only to a few specialists…"
Even the act of choosing 'Ougenweide' as their name reinforced their vision. They encountered the word in a rustic poem in which songbirds trill and heath roses bloom attributed to Neidhart von Reuenthal whose life spanned the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Middle High German 'ougenweide' is the equivalent of modern High German's 'Augenweide,' meaning 'a pleasant sight' or more colloquially 'a sight for sore eyes' or 'a feast for the eyes'. There was a touch of the metaphysics about it too, certainly when the Thirteenth Century poet and religious mystic Mechthild von Madgeburg used 'ougenweide.' The earlier minnesong composer Reinmar von Hagenouwe also used the word.