A TRIP TO THE LORELEI PROG FESTIVAL, ST GOARSHAUSEN, GERMANY, JULY 2007

 

 

 

  THE STORY

To view the concert images - click here !

 

  The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near St.Goarshausen, Germany, which soars some 120 meters above the water line. It marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there. Loreley is also the name of one of the beautiful Rhine Maidens who lured navigators of this river to their dooms with their alluring singing, much as the ancient Greek Sirens did.  he name comes from the old German words "lureln" (Rhine dialect for "murmuring") and the Celtic term "ley" (rock). The translation of the name would therefore be: "murmur rock" or "murmuring rock". The heavy currents, and a small waterfall in the area (still visible in the early 19th century) created a murmuring sound, and this combined with the special echo the rock produces which acted as a sort of amplifier, then gave name to the rock itself. The murmuring is hard to hear today due to the urbanization of the area. Other theories attribute the name to the many accidents, by combining the word "luren" (lurk) with the same "ley" ending, with the translation "lurking rock".

 

 

 

The Lorelei is also the venue for annual progressive rock festival. Applying for leave Friday, Monday and Tuesday meant that this was not only to be a two day indulgence in progressive rock music, but a long weekend spent in the Rhineland too. Heck, I had been looking forward to this for a while and might have missed it had it not been for an invitation to join fellow prog enthusiast, Chris and his wife, Amy. My original return flight had been altered by RyanAir, allowing me to rearrange the entire booking to coincide entirely with theirs.  As it turned out, in e-mailing Chris to get their flight details, I discovered that he had got his entire booking out by a month.  This saved his bacon, so to speak, and I pointed out to him that he had, ahem, cocked up!  Friday morning it began to bucket down, a fore-runner, perhaps, to the devastation that was to follow later that weekend in Tewkesbury and elsewhere in the west country. I took the entire morning to pack my tent and rucksack for the trip and wandered down to Royston station to catch the 12h04 to Cambridge, where I connected with the London Liverpool street bound service, changing once more at Bishop Stortford and to my final destination at Stansted Airport. It was the first but certainly not the last time that I would consider undertaking the journey there by train. I felt relaxed and didn't have to worry about a car and the associated excessive airport parking fees. I arrived there at least two hours before the departure time. The flight from Stansted was at 15h30.

I checked in at a respectable 16kg. Perhaps it was the length of my hair and the possible rock persona with the associated perceptions and trappings but airport security decided to have my toiletries (kept in a separate transparent bag, as is customary nowadays) sniffer-checked. What that meant, I did not know.  Had some machine been developed that had taken over the role previously carried out by well-trained canine species. I wondered whether the day might arrive where dogs would stage a sit-in protest at airports across the globe at having their career opportunities severely curtailed. Woof! After suffering a further embarrassment of being singled out for further passport validity checks by two officials who assured me that it had nothing to do with my somewhat scruffy appearance (did they honestly think that I was some illegal alien?), After investing in another German dictionary, I passed the time in the lounge enjoying a coffee and eyeing the cleaning ladies, whilst waiting for Chris and Amy to show up. We eventually met in the departure lounge, where we were made to wait, despite the heat.

 

  Upon arrival at the rather charming Frankfurt-Hahn(HHN)Airport, its location closer to the Mosel than the Rhine but some distance from Frankfurt Main Airport, Chris sorted out the car he had hired, which we located in the hire car park within walking distance. After a few bungled attempts to load the onboard computer navigation software, we eventually succeeded once we located the correct manuals. Being the first time I had actually used one of these myself, it was a real help once we got the hang of it, despite the confusion in just leaving the car park. Programmed for St. Goarshausen on the Rhine, it was sunny and it felt good. The descent down into St Goar was exquisite, where we stopped briefly to draw euros at a GeldAutomat.

Chris and Amy at the St Goar - St Goarshausen Rhine ferry crossing

 

 

Crossing the Rhine to St. Goarshausen by ferry, albeit only a 5 minute journey, seemed a bit of a novelty. There are times when it is wise not to take the navigator too literally, else novelty would have turned to disaster: "You have arrived (yes, in English!)" it proclaimed!  Assuming our GPS would lead us to the festival was wishful thinking, so here was an opportunity to exercise my German on the ferryman. We ascended up the far side of the valley along the route to the Lorelei note: link to Google maps itself to the concert destination, set amidst this beautiful , open, semi-rural landscape. Directed to the next free camping spot, we offloaded first, the car park being located a short distance away. My one-click tent (well, almost) was in place in no time, though Chris and Amy struggled to get theirs in place.  

The Lorelei Festival campsite and carpark

 

My tent set against the beautiful Rhineland valley at the Lorelei.

 

The Rhineland hillsides and vineyards covered in a carpet of early morning mist.

 

  German campers pitched up with enough booze and food to fed an army. Having just arrived from the airport, we had no supplies whatsoever and decided to drive back into town and find something to eat. We found a perfectly respectable restaurant run by Asians, picked a table outside. Notwithstanding the fact that it was a smallish town, the streets were ever so quiet, not much happening, so to speak. Excitement hotted up when very drunk German, intent on having a conversation with the only couple in the restaurant, grabbed my throat at the exit after accusing me of staring at him! I was so taken by surprise that I didn't even think of reacting aggressively. Besides, he was so soddled that I could have floured him with a single swing to the jaw. We ordered our meals and a glass of red wine each. Being quite famished, I tucked into my Schnitzel. Belly satisfied, it did not take me long to drift off into dreamland. t must have been around 06h00 when I got up and headed off to the showers. The mist hung the valley and gave the area a mystical quality. I used the opportunity in getting some shots of the river Rhine from the campsite, truly spectacular. Expecting typical German efficiency, I was quite stunned, literally, to find that, though the geyser was hot, the water wasn't feeding through to the showers. One German who arrived before me described it as perverse. It reminded me of my overland tour through Africa, where a cold shower in fact turned out to be a luxury at the best of times.

Chris and Amy near Rüdesheim

 

I discovered at this point that Chris and Amy are very fond of their lie-ins, so it must have been around 09h00 or later when they finally stirred. To be fair, Chris is a light sleeper and is being treated for insomnia. It didn't help having noisy neighbours settling into the party mood till the early hours. I  managed to grab a coffee and a sandwich from the mobile kitchen provided. I gradually noticed the odd "foreign" tent, English, Polish, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and realised that progressive rock per se, arguably has a stronger following on the continent than in the UK. Although considered passé to some extent, it has been somewhat overtaken by so-called neo prog rock. Ian Anderson did pose the question: "What the f___ is prog rock anyway"?  

It's 09h00 and still no sign of movement from the Durcans!

 

View of the Rhine from the Lorelei Festival campsite, a solitary barge passing by.

 

We drove into town to Aktiv Markt Obel to stock up on groceries and eventually found a DIY store where I was able to purchase a screw-in gas cannister to fit my Coleman. We drove around a bit before returning for lunch and a tea. The neighbours were well into their beer stocks. One friendly character and his wife, whom I must have passed several times on my way in and out of the campsite insisted that I take up his offer of a glass of wine. Piss cats these Germans, though, to be fair they weren't mindlessly drunk just merry. It was rather humid at this stage, so I freshened up at the showers before we made our way around 14h30 to the concert venue, a stone amphitheatre surrounded by lawns. Though the bag search revealed I had a camera, they didn't seem to mind.  I take photographs for pleasure, not for profit!  By the time we arrived, English band Jebo had begun. I didn't find them terribly inspiring, to be honest.  German band Sylvan also proved a major disappointment.  I simply didn't like the vocalist nor the material.  IQ, a band whom I had seen before and had become a big favourite of mine, upped the level of creativity significantly. Despite the obvious comparison to early Genesis circa Trick of the Tail and Peter Nicholl's resemblance to Peter Gabriel in terms of vocal texture and stage presence, they deliver their melancholic sound with passion. They have created some truly fine albums. Formed in 1982 in the post-punk era, it has astounded me that, despite a loyal following, they have never really made it big, so to speak.  Taking a relatively early slot, their performance would have been enhanced by some darkness utilised for lighting and special effects, given that their act is dramatic and theatrical in nature. Sadly, keyboardist Martin Orford announced his departure from the band around the time of this concert. 

 

Video did indeed kill the radio star! Asia in party mode.

 

  The original Asia of Steve Howe (also of Yes), John Wetton (ex-UK and King Crimson), Carl Palmer (ex ELP) and Geoff Downes (ex-The Buggles) followed, delivering their high energy pop-rock. Though not truly prog-rock, their musical abilities were obvious and the show went down well with the audience.  Given that the line-up didn't have a massive amount of Asia material to draw from, they cleverly pulled in a piece from each member's former super-group (The Buggles a supergroup?), culminating in "Video Killed the Radio star", the first-ever music video on MTV. Chris, a prog purist, was mortified and even more pissed off when, during an exit for a pit-stop and a another round of beers, he missed "In the court of the Crimson King"! It was a respectably sized crowd but to be honest, I thought it would have attracted greater numbers. Come dinner time and I had hunger pangs and could resist a delicious bratwurst no more. The original bratwurst hails from Thuringia.  In fairness, the diversity in catering was somewhat limited. Though I certainly was complaining, not everyone apart from mostly Germans, likes beer and bratwurst! Plans are afoot to extend the festival to three days in 2008, so concert organisers take note! Prog rock supporters abounded, you can always tell by the plethora of T-shirts on show. Asia wrapped up their set and were followed by German Pink Floyd tribute band, Echoes. They were scheduled to play for the next two and a half hours, but after an hour I'd had enough.

Prog rock festivals are renowned for serious talent!

 

I lay in a bit later the next morning but still managed to get access to a shower without waiting. I lay outside and read a bit. Chris's insomnia had turned into a bit of a nightmare, if you pardon the pun. He looked wrecked and understandably so. We decided to chill out and rest at the campsite that morning, as we had planned to drive on the next day anyway. The atmosphere at the campsite was quite amicable. It rained briefly but the weather then cleared, so by the time the festival resumed, it was quite hot. Italian outfit The Watch, fronted by Simone Rossetti, opened the program Sunday. Their vocals and sound modelled closely on early-Peter Gabriel era Genesis, I was amazed at their virtuosity and quality of their material. And the crowd certainly showed their appreciation! Sampled mellotrons and Hackett-style guitar reflected an affinity for the Genesis sound. Next up was an outfit called The Merlin Bird. The lead singer's accent sounded down-under. To be frank, there were flaming awful! It was excruciatingly painful to sit there and listen to such drivel. Fortunately, the sudden drop in musical standards was rescued by UK band Pendragon, without question true to the prog rock tradition! Recommended by Chris, I had purchased some of their music and had grown to like them.  Nick Barrett is a superb musician and sings and plays with such intense passion. Their music positively soared and their set was immensely enjoyable.  

The greatest band of them all, though not there in person, certainly in spirit!

 

Nick Barrett of Pendragon

 

Jethro Tull would have to pull out all the stops to top this performance. To be honest, Jethro Tull are unique, so damned creative.  Eclectic influences, diverse instrumentation, and often elaborate song construction led them to be labelled as an archetypal progressive rock band. I think of them more as folk rock, though who really gives a damn. I saw them in South Africa a few years back and they were disappointing, so I wasn't expecting much. This time round they seem to have recharged their batteries. The animated Ian Anderson pranced around the stage with a boundless energy that belied the fact that he turned 60 on 10th August. His rapport with his audience is second to none. They played a lot of the old stuff from Thick as a Brick and Aqualung, but also included some old English acoustic music and Bach, even a brand new instrumental to be featured on the forthcoming new album. Martin Barre is still there on guitar. The rest of the band are much younger yet extremely accomplished. The line-up for the Lorelei Festival was:
  • Ian Anderson - lead vocals, flute, acoustic guitar, mandolin, mandocello, harmonica, bamboo flute
  • Martin Barre - guitar
  • David Goodier - bass
  • James Duncan - drums
  • John O'Hara - keyboards

I thoroughly enjoyed their set and for me it illustrated clearly that there is no substitute for great musicianship.

 

  Which leads me to the final act and major draw card of the evening - this was the first time I had seen Fish live. I had been well aware that his split from Marillion had been somewhat acrimonious, to put it mildly.  After seeing his behaviour at Lorelei, I now understand why. I have never witnessed such anger, such vindictiveness and such excessive foul language ever on any musical stage.  The man has strong opinions. It is one thing to make a political point about something, heavens knows Bono is a prime example, yet it is another to have it constantly shoved down one's throat all evening. It has been said that Fish's introspective lyrics often deal with his own personal problems and addictions. No shit! We had to hear that too!  He elaborated at length at Lorelei, as to how his future wife had dumped him after all wedding arrangements had been finalised.  Who cares? Are we really that interested?  The man has a serious axe to grind, it seems, his verbal aggression constant and totally in your face. It's more like he has no self-respect. Don't patronise a foreign audience whose first language isn't English if they can't understand what the f___ you are talking about! As a vocalist, Fish has lost it -excessive drinking and smoking have taken their toll.  Musically it wasn't all bad, but his stuff has an excessively dark quality. As Chris, long-time fan of the early Marillion put it: "How the mighty have fallen"! 

Fish on the warpath - a man with an axe to grind!.

 

Exhausted, we returned to our tents. People started packing up early the next morning and leaving. I showered as usual. We were a bit peeved that the campsite official had pissed off with our deposit (for heaven knows what), supposedly because we had been told that he would be off at 10h00. A number of folk had been caught out. Surely they hadn't all failed to hear the communication. In any event, the website stated clearly that the campsite had to be vacated by 11h00. Greedy bastards!

 
We headed off from St. Goarshausen up route 42 towards Koblenz, where we stopped, walked around and had lunch.  We drove up to Festung Ehrenbreitstein, a fortress on the same-named mountain on the right side of the Rhine opposite to Koblenz. It was built by Prussia between 1817 and 1832 after the defeat of Napolean. Though the middle Rhine region which it guarded after being repeatedly invaded by the French, it was never attacked. Early fortifications dated back to 1000 BC. It now has multiple uses including a youth hostel, restaurant, museum and  archive. It was this same youth hostel that I remember staying in on a cold night over 27 years ago, after working as a student at Siemens in Germany on a sabbatical, after traipsing mid-winter up the hill.   

Festung Ehrenbreitstein

 
  Chris was terribly keen to visit Trier note: link to Google maps, as he had spoken to his brother about it. I thought this a good idea and we branched off along the picturesque Mosel valley, each and every square inch of hillside covered in vines. The single lane road snaked its way along the river valley, through neat, attractive towns and would have taken us ages to cover. At Cochem we headed towards the E44 highway and before long we were on the outskirts of Trier. By now the navigation system was proving its worth! Chris was keen to find accommodation a close to the town centre as possible. Most of the prices were reasonable but were unfortunately booked out. We must have been at it for about 2 hours, Chris, who was suffer from chronic deprivation of sleep, began to lose patience.

View of the confluence and the Mosel at Koblenz

 

View of the Rhine from Ehrenbreitstein, opposite Koblenz, brought back memories some 27 years ago!

 
Eventually they bunkered at the Ramada Hotel, a tad overpriced for my wallet. I was dropped off at the campsite, where I hurriedly pitched my tent during a downpour, arranging to meet them at the hotel at 09h30 the next day. I crouched in my tent till the weather cleared and then wandered off into town, crossing the old Roman Bridge. Trier boasts some truly amazing Architecture; the Gothic Dom (cathedral) and LiebFrauenKirche (church), Porta Nigra (a Roman gate) and the Basillica, a throne hall of Emporar Constatine, all beautifully restored and preserved.  Numerous cobble-stoned town squares aligned with attractive facades reminded me a bit of Prague.  It seemed all too civilised. A enjoyed a glass of the local red wine at a Weinstube.  

Impressive facades in Trier town centre.

 

Pretty in pink.

 
  I wondered what Chris and Amy were up to. I made my way back around 22h00 via Karl Marx street, who might have frowned upon the succession of strip joints a stones throw away.  The church bells provided the cue for the late night bars, restaurants and ice-cream parlours to shut up shop. Feeling pekish, I grabbed a kebab. My ankle, problematic for more than a year now after discovering I had a thyroid condition, was playing up. It probably rained all night. I was up around 07h00. Must have been the only campsite known to pipe audio into the ablutionary block. I had forgotten to take my toiletry bag from the hired car, so I had to purchase some toiletries from the camp shop - kiddies-flavoured toothpaste just had to do the job!

Impressive interior of the colossal romanesque Trier Dom.

 
I ambled over via the Roman Bridge to the Ramada, arriving around 09h00. I became a little concerned when Chris and Amy had not shown up by 10h30 and enquired at the desk. I watched the procession of guests coming down for breakfast, guests coming and going from the hotel, some checking out, dying for a coffee. I forget the time but Chris and Amy showed up, I guess, sometime after 11h00. I was a bit perplexed that nothing was said.  Car in the basement, we strolled around a bit. they had been out for a meal and also been to a pub. Chris remarked how well behaved people were in such establishments, none of the yob behaviour one experiences in almost every town on a Friday or Saturday night across the UK, and that is coming from a Brit! As I knew the sights from my meanderings of the previous evening, I gave them a guided tour. We stopped for coffee and a delicious sandwich roll. One chap was amused at my coaching Chris in the linguistics of the German language at the cashier, judging from the approving nod. It was sunny and warm.
 

Chatting up the locals!

 

Courtyard of the Dom.

 
Trier (French: Trèves; Luxembourgish: Tréier; latin: Augusta Treverorum) on the banks of the Moselle, is the oldest city in Germany, founded in or before 16 BC. Trier lies in a valley between low vine-covered hills of ruddy sandstone in the west of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the border with the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg some 15 km distant. Trier is the oldest seat of a Christian bishop north of the Alps.  The Franks occupied Trier from the Roman administration in 459 AD. The University of Trier was founded in the city in 1473.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Trier was sought after by France, who invaded during the Thirty Year's War, the war of the Grand Alliance, the War of the Spanish Succession, and the War of the Polish Succession. France succeeded in finally claiming Trier in 1794 during the French Revolutionary Wars, and the electoral archbishopric was dissolved. After the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, Trier passed to the Kingdom of Prussia. Karl Marx was born in the city in 1818. Trier was heavily bombed and bombarded in 1944 during World War II.

 

View of the Dom through archway.

 

It was only when we did a time check to establish whether we had time to visit the Roman Amphitheatre, that it dawned on Chris and Amy that their watches were set incorrectly. "Why didn't you say anything", Chris exclaimed, after he realised that I must have been waiting in the hotel lobby for some time, apologising profusely. Chris posted a card to his Mom, who would have been so proud of him. We rushed back to the hotel, picked up the car in the basement and took a quick peek at the Amphiteatre whilst parking illegally, before putting our trust in the onboard navigator, to get us to Frankfurt Hahn on time for the departure at 18h10. Despite taking the odd wrong turn - it's amazing how the navigator ends up getting you in someone's driveway in a tiny village - we got to Hahn under two hours before departure time. Back at Stansted, I rushed to get to my train, as well as the connection at Cambridge, so no time was wasted. And so a truly satisfying weekend came to an end, whilst I pondered next year's possible Lorelei line-up. Yes 2008, who knows?

 

 

 


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