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European Harp Festival, 1996

I wrote this piece about the Harp Festival that I attended, back in September 1996, in Trossingham Germany (The home of Hohner Harmonicas).

John "Whiteboy" Walden.

The European Harp Festival, 1996. I just didn't know what to expect. I'd never been to any "Harmonica Festival" before, and I'd certainly not taken part in any music competition, with the exception of the "1966 Melody Maker Beat Group Contest" when I was performing in a band called "The Set", and that was an awfully long time ago. The "Harp Festival" experience was entirely new to me.

I only just caught the aeroplane. The flight was due to leave Heathrow at 11.25am. But I didn't get to Terminal 2 until 11.15! I managed to RUN through the departure lounge . I recognised the great Larry Adler getting onto the aircraft, and thought to myself. "Thank goodness, it is the right flight after all." I boarded the aircraft with 5 minutes to spare.

We soon landed in Germany, and I met up with the rest of the British contingent. Before long we were transported to our hotel. This was in a small town several miles from the Festival site, & was very clean & pleasant. When we arrived the weather was superb, & I remember sitting in the sun on a bench in front of the hotel while waiting for the coach to take us to Trossingen admiring a beautiful tree, a magnificent Japanese Mountain Maple. Superb!

The high spot of the first evening for me was to hear Larry Adler performing. It was great to hear him play. There were several other guest artists, including Johnny Mars & Steve Baker. Good stuff.

The Blues Harp competition started early the next morning, in a night club called 'the Canape'. It seemed strange playing blues at 10am! The session was greatly assisted by the backing provided by a first rate guitarist, Chris Jones. I wished I'd had more time. Six minutes goes awfully quickly. I came third, and won a Bronze Medal.

After the competition was out of the way, I went back to main festival building & sat in with several other people, just jammin', in the entrance hall... It may have got on German T.V.!

The next item of interest was Johnny Mars's Workshop. He demonstrated lots of electronic special effects. Extremely interesting. Then Paul Lamb held a workshop. This was also very informative & absorbing.

The next morning I listened to some very good chromatic playing, in the "Solo Chromatic Youth" category. I thought it was of a very high standard. Later several of us visited the Hohner Museum. Three floors of Harmonicas & Accordions. It was well worth a visit, but I wish I could speak German.... All of the explanations were in German. We then visited a music shop. Most items seemed more expensive than in the U.K., some about the same.

Later on I attended Steve Baker's workshop. I really learnt a LOT from this, about the tuning of harmonicas. Brilliant. After this, I sat in the entrance lobby listening to musicians performing on the "Open Stage". Everything from senior citizens playing folk music, to a German family (Papa plus 4 children) playing simple tunes. The talented English harp player Roy Brazier was on the list to perform, & he did some of his wild harp playing before inviting me up on stage to do a duet. I really enjoyed that! Then I performed "Baby Please Don't Go" as a solo.

That evening there was a concert, "European Harp Night", with some superb performances. I particularly enjoyed Thierry Crommen & Jacques Stotzem, Harmonica & Guitar, playing some amazing jazz. Jean-Jacques Milteau & Manu Galvin, also Harmonica & Guitar, played a tremendous range of styles with great showmanship. Steve Baker, performing with guitarist Chris Jones were excellent, as was our own Paul Lamb. Another great player.

The high spot of the festival for me was the late night jam session, after the concert, in the night club. Steve Baker started things off, he is a VERY good musician. I then played a couple of numbers myself. I certainly enjoyed it. The evening progressed with a succession of harmonica players, all good, some outstanding. I already knew that Johnny Mars is a great harp player, but I didn't realise what a fantastic blues singer he is. The club was packed, and "B Sharp" the band providing the backing were brilliant. We left the club at 25 past 3 a.m and got back to the hotel after 4am.

Sunday was another early start, back to the festival centre for the closing ceremony. I had a great time..... Most of the group from Britain ended up in the same restaurant for lunch. Enjoying a bottle of wine with some of the best harmonica players in the world! What more could anyone ask?

I must admit I was nervous about attending the European Harp Festival 1996. I needn't have worried. I met some of the nicest & most friendly people I've ever come across.

John "Whiteboy" Walden