Spring was in the Berlin air and the weather seemed set fair for Weltfest, the city's first big street festival of the year.
Among the international musical attractions on the Weltfest main stage were the Chilean ska band Chico Trujillo, reggae masters Fôô Fanick & One Roots ... and Belgium's very own Hugh Featherstone and The Tone Poets.
Initially it was hoped that Hugh was bringing his rock band Hugh Featherstone and a Panel of Experts. However, it turned out that his drummer and bassist had prior commitments. So Hugh decided to hit Berlin with his small but perfectly formed trio Hugh Featherstone and The Tone Poets.
Then, Tone Poets' multi-percussionist Christian Sichert injured his shoulder in a freak boating accident. Ouch! But the show must go on, and drummer Adam Buschmann agreed to stand in for Christian. But Adam had to travel to Poland before the Weltfest weekend, so there was no time for rehearsals. At this point, the words rock and hard place must have come to Hugh's mind.
But Hugh is a battle-hardened trooper. Once, arriving in Wales from Darmstadt, he was introduced to a bunch of musicians he had never met before and expected to put a band concert together within a few days. The show was a triumph, to the astonishment of all in the know. Only Hugh himself showed no sign of being fazed by the endeavour.
There was therefore not a shadow of a doubt that whatever else may happen, Hugh was going to be on that Berlin stage making music. Hell and high water better watch out.
To make the challenge even more interesting, he even agreed to play an extra outdoor gig the evening before at Rue Bunte with local musician Sebastian Zukunft (see photo series 7). This would mean driving alone the whole day right across Europe with all the Tone Poets gear, arriving in Berlin, climbing onstage, and then be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next day for the Weltfest appearance - with or without a drummer.
With two days to go before this double date, nothing had been heard from Adam, and nobody seemed to know his exact whereabouts. But the warm Spring sun was shining on the lightly-clad Berliners as they sipped their frothy coffees ouside cafes, or strolled and cycled around the streets with balmy abandon. Surely all would be well.
Even when a small company of clouds moved in over the city, nobody seemed perturbed. But then the company formed into a batallion, and the batallion massed into a mean, dark regiment which opened fire on the sidewalk sippers. The temperature fell with the rain and emptied the streets. The mood turned from pink to grey.
Anybody who organizes an outdoor event in northern Europe has to be an optimist. The invitations to the Rue Bunte gig had even omitted to mention that in the case of inclement weather, the concert could be held indoors. True optimism. Many people who had planned to go to the show didn't show up (they explained later) because they assumed the rain meant it would be cancelled. Oh ye of little faith.
Moving an entire street festival indoors, however, is just not an option, and the Weltfest organizers had to keep their collective chin up and hope that either the weather would change again by Saturday, or that the public would have adjusted to the chilly dampness and come out to dance in the streets anyway.
By now it was Friday afternoon and Hugh was already in town and setting up his gear on the Rue Bunte stage, which had been moved out of the garden and into location's rehearsal studio (reasonable rates). Sebastian and friends arranged some rudimentary lighting - small lamps and candles - to provide an intimate small gig atmosphere and organized a bar. The barbeque was abandoned and left to rust in the drizzle, but a campfire had been built outside, just in case.
Just before the gig began, Kimbastian jetted in from Belgium to lend her vocal chords and charms to the event (her first performance in Berlin), and Ingo Geishecker popped by to accompany Sebastian on acoustic bass. The audience consisted of Sebastian's local supporters as well as Hugh's Berlin fans, some of whom had not seen each other since he was last in the German capital in 2003. It was a charming, friendly evening of music, with all four musicians helping to play the rainstorm blues away. We even got to sit around the campfire later.
Saturday morning. A sheet of leaden gray hangs ominously over Berlin. Hugh and Kimbastian drive to the Friedrichshain Weltfest location. There has still been no word from Adam the drummer. But this dynamic duo have played together enough by now to know they can wing it alone if needs be.
As they arrive at Boxhagener Platz, the prodigal percussionist is there to greet them backstage, as if for all the Welt nothing was amiss. The Tone Poets are now ready to rock. There's time to check in with the festival people, watch some of the stage programme, wander around the festival's stalls and info stands and drink a coffee. Radio F-Hain, the local radio station is covering the festival live and Hugh is called into the mobile studio they have set up in a fair trade shop for an interview. If you would like to hear an MP3 recording this interview, which is in German, please go to the link at the bottom of the page.
The heavens open. The rain comes down and the umbrellas go up. Some of the crowd scatter and take refuge where they can find it. But the hardier festival-goers, including Hugh and Kimbastian are still out there bopping to Chilean ska. There's even something to smile about - an irony: the international development theme of this year's Weltfest is "Water means Life", and here we have more water falling on our heads than a
sub-Saharan farmer could dream of. Hugh is already dubbing the event "Wasserfest" (waterfest).
Now it's time for The Tone Poets to go on. And, would you believe it, as they start their set, the sun comes out. Things are looking up after all, and it's amazing how much noise three people can make when they put their minds, voices and drumsticks to it. They're really getting into their stride now, and even the dogs look happy. Then...
Then the power goes out. Tone Poets have blown the proverbial 50 amp fuse. Just as the joint was jiving. Take five while the technicians try to fix the generator. By the time they get back onstage, the sun has been overwhelmed and the downpour has returned with renewed vigour. Cats and dogs. But the band played on, upping tempo and ante, defying the deluge, to the delight of those of the audience still left standing. This reporter attempted to continue photographing this phenomenon and was rewarded for his efforts with some remarkable shots of a curtain of huge raindrops, behind which one can just about discern some human-like blobs on what looks like a stage. Very arty.
All in all, a super and superhuman performance by Hugh, Kimbastian and Adam. "Some day we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny." Thanks a bunch, Bruce.
Despite all this, Hugh seems willing to return to Berlin. Don't leave it so long next time, Hugh. Um, we'll see if we can order better weather.