Autobiographical notes: Bladel summer feasts, 1983

© December 2016 Paul Cooijmans

Bladel summer feasts, 28 July 1983

In the autumn or late summer of 1982, I founded a rock band named Catweazle, which would exist, in varying forms, until 1987. Most of the songs we played during the first few years were written by me, and I was also the main guitarist. The rehearsals went relatively well in that period, when I still had the authority to shape things more or less like I had conceived them in my mind (later it would get more anarchic so that the level dropped to that of the least able) and our best recordings ever were made in the rehearsal room — the attic of an old farm where a sister of mine lived — late 1982. Like the art of book printing, we started at our peak and only got worse from there on.

Paul Cooijmans at Bladel summer feasts, 28 July 1983
Paul Cooijmans at Bladel summer feasts, 28 July 1983

By the spring of 1983 we had made sufficient progress for a few small concerts, such as at the birthday of a friend, and a student party at my secondary school. Then it was time for our first major appearance: We got a contract for the Bladel summer feasts of 1983, for the sum of 60 guilders. To put this into perspective, one should realize that Dave Berry, known from the song You've got a strange effect on me, played at the same festival that year. The name of our band was quoted as Catweazle strikes again on the contract and in a radio interview on Omroep Brabant; this was because our singer, Michiel, had negotiated the contract, and had the habit of mangling not only the lyrics of my songs but also the name of the group. In fact, a year later he even came up with The Syndicates as our name, which was subsequently garbled even further to the singer Sandy Kates in a newspaper announcement of a concert. That must have caused some disappointed in the audience, given that I saw Catweazle go home written on a toilet wall right after we had played. I stress that Catweazle (after the wizard) has always been the proper name of the band as far as I am concerned; I never agreed with any of the other names.

We were to appear on stage on a sunny afternoon, just after the Dire Straits clone Paradise found from Helmond, and would use some of their equipment, such as a Music Man and a London City amplifier for guitar and bass, respectively. A caravan was assigned to us by way of dressing room; its refrigerator was filled with various beverages, which we could consume for free. The concert went not bad, except that I broke a string while playing; I replaced it very quickly though. Apart from six songs by me, we played Words by Neil Young (a favourite of our singer) and an improvised instrumental piece, loosely based on the harmonic background of Frank Zappa's Sleep dirt. The man at the mixer had promised to record us, but failed to do so, so that no sounding material remains. This promise-breaking behaviour is typical of people in this line of work, but I did not know that yet then. Another trick they often play is to agree with you not to put echo in your guitar sound, then do exactly that during the concert. I had that multiple times. Once in the 1990s, I saw the same thing happen to guitarist Snowy White in De Pul in Uden, who was so annoyed by it that he stopped playing in the middle of a song, hit a few staccato notes to demonstrate the echo, and looked at the mixer, refusing to play on until the echo effect had been removed. It took a bit of time to convince the bungler, but eventually the sound was in order again and the music continued. Speaking of De Pul and mixers, that reminds me that a poster of De Pul can be seen on the wall of the mixer room in the studio where we recorded a few songs in December 1984; a photo of this room is included in the video of early Catweazle work that I made to accompany this autobiographical article.

What does remain from our concert in Bladel is a series of good photos, made by a press photographer who was a friend of a friend of singer Michiel. On some photos, the end of the first string can be seen sticking out of the head of my guitar; this was the new string I had mounted on stage to replace the broken one. Normally I would cut off the end or roll it up. The guitar was a (Grand?) Suzuki Super Soun stratocaster imitation, with the bridge pickup replaced by a Dimarzio Super Distortion humbucker. In hindsight I think it sounded better with the original single-coil pickup, which can be heard in the first rehearsal recording of autumn 1982. The second recording, a few months later, was done using the Dimarzio pickup. I always used only the bridge pickup in those days, and strove for a fluid alternation of riff-style and solo-style playing, inspired by Eddie van Halen who is the ultimate grandmaster of that. For further information, I played mostly without "effects", but used a Coron flanger in one or two selected passages. My guitar solos were entirely improvised as a matter of principle; I insisted on that. My current insight is that preparing the solos note for note (which I despised then) would have given better results though, and that is in particular relevant in the case of recordings.

After leaving the stage we walked around the festival terrain for a while, and then I figured it was time to collect the fee, which was to be paid cash after the concert. I was eighteen years old at the time, and the fourth part of 60 guilders was a huge amount to me that I was looking forward to hold in my hands. Moreover, it was the first money I had ever made with music. I went to Michiel, who was a few years older than I and knew the festival organizers, and suggested we would get the money. "Money? I long got that, right after we played."

"Where is it then? Shall we divide it among us?"

"Where it is? Right here on the table, binkie!" He made a wide gesture in the direction of a long table with a large number of mostly strangers sitting at it. On the table were many, many glasses of beer. Rarely in my life have I seen greater injustice than this blatant act of vicarious giving. He had given away what was not his to give. Three quarters of the money never belonged to him but to the other three members of Catweazle. Instead of sharing it with those who were entitled to it, he had shared with people to whom we had no obligation whatsoever, without even informing us. It would take a few decades more before I learnt that this behaviour is typical of Marxists (he used to call himself a feminist, incidentally). And the worst thing was, we had free drinks in that caravan anyway! To this day I have not seen one cent of my share of the fee, and, considering he died ten years or so ago, it has become unlikely I ever will.

I remember we ate something in a Chinese restaurant thereafter, and in the course of the evening discovered that the person who was supposed to drive us and the instruments back home had become indisposed for whatever reason. That meant we had to arrange new transport fast. It was getting too late for the last bus already, and besides, I was not planning to spend extra money, especially since I had not been paid. The drummer got his father to collect him and part of the drum kit by car. The singer and other guitar player managed to get home some way, as did the guitars, but I and a few spectators who had come along with us, including my older brother, did not fit in any available car.

One of those spectators was Ludy, a smooth-talking pathologically lying friend of mine with whom I was planning to return to Bladel the next day for another performance, reading poetry. We later found out that, after my brother and I had left to hitch-hike home, he had gone to the festival organizers, pretended to be our manager, and talked an extra 30 guilders out of them, which he used to take a taxi home. No, he had not seen us underway, otherwise he would certainly have stopped to pick us up. And no, he would not give any of the 30 guilders to us, because he had honestly deserved them by lying that he was our manager.

It was almost 40 kilometres from Bladel to Lieshout, and we left around eleven at night. The first part went quickly as someone gave us a ride to Eersel, a nearby town. After that, it was hard to impossible to get another lift. That first ride had only come easily because we were at the edge of Bladel and appeared like visitors of the summer feasts going home. It took much longer and a lot of walking to get from Eersel to Veldhoven, about 7 kilometres, and when we passed a large grass field in Veldhoven my brother was tired and lay down, saying he was not going any further and would spend the night there on the grass. I did not feel like that at all and decided to proceed on my own. Initially I tried to hitch-hike, but no one stopped and I ended up walking all the way from Veldhoven to Nuenen, about 16 kilometres, crossing straight through the large and ugly city of Eindhoven.

It later turned out that my brother had actually called a taxi home shortly after I left him; no, he had not seen me underway, otherwise he would with certainty have stopped. From Nuenen, the village where Vincent van Gogh lived and worked from 1883 to 1885, I tried to walk home via a shortcut to Gerwen, the small village in between Nuenen and Lieshout. I knew there was such a shortcut, and have used it a lot in later years, but on that summer night in the pitch dark I got lost in what seemed a vast forest and never arrived in Gerwen, 2 kilometres further. After about an hour of wandering I ended up back in the centre of Nuenen as if by some strange loop in space-time, exhausted. I have returned later with a camera to learn and record where I went wrong that night; I could not find a satisfactory explanation. The "forest" had miraculously vanished; all I found was a parcel with some sparse trees, no larger than 200 by 150 metres, about 250 metres south of the little house of the family who stood model for Van Gogh's Potato eaters. The shortcut was a hundred metres east of the "forest", but could not be reached from it as I know now. It must be noted that there was no Internet with satellite maps in those days; that would have helped.

Back in the park in the centre of Nuenen I gave up for the time being and lay down on a bench to rest. Not long thereafter, when it got light, a van stopped near the park, and the driver loaded some piles of newspapers which he carried out of a store. He said he was going to Lieshout to deliver the Telegraaf, and I could ride along. Thus, I got home just before six in the morning.

The next day

At that youthful age, a night of walking without sleep means nothing, so around noon Ludy and I left again for Bladel, this time on my Yamaha FS1 moped. The vehicle in question can still be seen in a film called Liquidatie, which we made in roughly this same period, based on the same-titled short story by me. We had received instructions from Vark, the drummer, to receive the remainder of his drums from a certain person in Bladel. Ludy, however, announced to me he would refuse to carry those cymbals on the back of the Yamaha. I would have no way to force him, naturally.

In Bladel we bought a pot of gel to put in our hair before going on stage; For a current wet-look, the pot said. It was my only time ever to have used gel. Ludy also had a girl there paint something on him, I remember, but that may have been after the performance. We came for the "open podium", and each read one poem; he read mine and I his. We have done acts like that more often in the 1980s and early 1990s, including one on television in 1992 which I will relate in a separate account. To avoid confusion, I should add that I have written almost exclusively prose and am not a poet. I wrote no more than about three poems in my life.

That second day in Bladel was much less eventful than the first. We revisited the Chinese restaurant for a brief meal, and attended the house where Vark's cymbals resided; Ludy declared that they were too big and heavy to carry, and we left them for Vark to pick up later. Vark was not pleased when he found out.

Considerations on the later demise of Catweazle

During the years after this, the band underwent many changes: a number of different singers (including one female), several keyboard players, a few bass players, an extra guitarist. We played less of my compositions, and more songs by others or pieces that came into being while spontaneously "jamming", which resulted in much lower quality overall, although it sounded more "professional" on the surface. Instead of consistently rehearsing every week to make progress and learn new things, we ended up working from project to project, only practising toward the next project (concert, recording) and then doing nothing until a new project came up. When I asked the drummer, "Shall we rehearse again? We have not done anything for weeks!", he would say, "Why? We have no concert coming up or anything, what reason is there to rehearse?"

When it gets like that, when the normal "bread and butter" weekly rehearsal sessions are so arrogantly eschewed, there is no progress any more, and the band is essentially dead. It is better to quit altogether then. A general experience that I have in artistic cooperation is that I tend to be motivated toward achieving high quality and substance through consistent hard work, while others see more in superficialities like "professional presentation", and are chiefly interested in presenting themselves to the outer world as artists without really doing the work for it. It is the old antinomy between introverted types like I who strive for essence, and extraverted, social, narcissistic characters who are primarily in for prestige and concerned with appearance, with how others see them.