interview: 17 hippies
After having played at the WOMAD festivals in Italy and England over the past couple of years, 13-piece German outfit, 17 Hippies, is arriving on Australian soil for the Womadelaide festival, taking place in Adelaide’s Botanic Park March 11th-14th, 2011.
Forming in a less conventional way than most bands, 17 Hippies originally began as a collective wanting to create a book of folk songs; easy to play melodies that could be passed on from parents to children and eventually create a greater tradition of song and music in Germany, other than the classical music that alone seemed to be heard after the Berlin Wall came down.
‘In Ireland, we were hanging out in this place where all these people from all over the world were coming in, from Australia and from Argentina and from France and Germany,’ says one of the founding members, Christopher Blenkinsop. ‘And after a couple of beers, everyone would sit down and they’d play a song. And all the Germans would just sit there and be fans. They’d enjoy themselves but if you asked them to play something, they’d go, oh I don’t know German music. Then I moved to Berlin and I just decided to change that.
‘I basically called everyone I knew who played an instrument and said, look we’ll meet every Thursday night and every single person will bring a) an instrument and b) three songs, whatever they are, and we’ll just learn them. Then we just started playing around and it wasn’t a band, it was a group of people learning stuff. And that has been the foundation of what we do. We still travel a lot, collect things, hear things.’
But when they are settled at home, Berlin itself has provided much inspiration for the labours of Blenkinsop and his bandmates.
‘It’s an amazingly inspiring place but it has a lot of empty space since the Wall came down so it has become a magnet for people from all over Europe. There’s a lot of French people here, a lot of English people here who can’t afford to live in London anymore and they come here. In the area where I live, you’ll hear a lot of French, a lot of Turkish and a lot of American English spoken on the street and the more people that come, the more people go back home eventually and say, hey Berlin’s a cool place and the more people come. It has changed a lot.’
Surprisingly, having 13 members in a band is easier to manage and makes for an easier journey than smaller bands, according to Blenkinsop.
‘If you’re on tour with say, a four piece band for months, you tend to get on each other’s nerves. With a big band, it’s like family. Occasionally, you’ll get really sick of Aunt Edna or whatever, and go, well I won’t sit next to Aunt Edna anymore! And you sit next to Uncle Gregory for a week and then that’ll change again. The good thing about a big band is that it’s easier to get by.’
For those of us fortunate enough to reside in Adelaide, or otherwise one of the many who will travel to the City of Churches for this truly amazing festival, 17 Hippies will be gracing the stages of Womadelaide on Saturday and Sunday during the day, and Monday night.
‘We do our best, and you, the audience, do your best and we’ll have a great time.’
Cheers to that!