WHEN THE TIMPLE ROCKS
German Lopez and guests in a meeting of timples
Teatro Tias, Lanzarote
Thursday 3rd February 2022
reviewed by Norman Warwick
The eloquent sleeve notes written by Luis Merera on the official web site of German Lopez show clearly a case of one musical and artistic hero welcoming an impressive newcomer. There are many great musicians who see their music not only as a source of enjoyment that is also a part of the islands´ musical history but is seen, too, as able to add what English actor and improviser, Jeff Sleeman*, refers to as the Applied Arts that can, we firmly believe here at Sidetracks & Detours, help create tolerance and ´understanding of the different´. Certainly music can educate as it entertains.
Luis Morera Felipe (left) (Santa Cruz de La Palma, October 10, 1946) is himself a Canarian artist originally from the island of La Palma, who has expressed himself mainly through music and painting. However, his career also covers areas such as sculpture and the artistic direction of architectural spaces.
I only know Morera´s thoughts on this younger musician because I purchased an album immediately after German Lopez had delivered, with a wonderful female drummer and a bass player that our friend Margaret described as´ ´far out man, real gone´, and a keyboard player who added another dimension to drum and bass, behind a timple.
I had been so impressed by a concert that stretched from the prosaic to the profound, in what was a typically haphazard, yet sublime Lanzarote Arts attitude. Pre-event publicity had been hard to find and it was only because my mate ´eagle eye Iain´ had noticed on line that there was a concert scheduled at Teatro Tias, on one of our rare nights off from all the 38th Festival Internacional de Music de Canarias, that we decided to book tickets for an event that on the Ecoentradas booking site was listed as a ´meeting of the timples´!
Well, yes and no. It might also have been described as a meeting between the aspirational and the inspiration. I say that because the first half of the performance brought five school age timple players to the stage, individually, to play a timple piece of their current learning, accompanied by a maestro guitar player to mentor them. Because of our shameful lack of Spanish language skills, (we know all the right words, but not necessarily in the right order) we couldn’t catch details of names of participants or titles of music nor even the name of the fabulous guitar player.
This marvellous maestro played alongside each individual obviously to encourage them to innovation not only representation. There were a few slight stalls and stumbles but he brilliantly adjusted his tempo to coax these students through any difficulties. He was patently proud of them and them in admiration of him and the students came back as an ensemble to play (superbly and confidently) together. Congratulations to all of them. We wish them a long and happy time with music.
Nevertheless we, (maybe the only four English people in the audience) were then surprised to see that this half hour had been only an appetiser, for next on to the stage was the man we assumed to be the star of the show. The clues were all there: he was older than the students we had been listening to, the audience immediately burst into long and loud applause and he carried himself with a somehow humble certainty as he walked to the microphone.
Then, suddenly, from the wings came the female percussionist, the bass man and the guy at the keyboards. After a solo opening on his timple from German Lopez that blew us away with a bullet into my ´top ten concerts ever seen´.
As masterful and free-spirited as German was on the timple so too was the girl, I don´t yet know her name, on the drums who totally lost herself in her music, giving an energetic performance of hi-hats and rim shots. I am old enough to remember, though neither this girl drummer nor her grandmother will be, to remember The Honeycombs (right) a British sixties pop band, that featured Honey Lantry on drums on their big hit Have I The Right? It remains one of pop´s catchiest songs but this unknown percussionist here tonight did something just as interesting an innovative. Twisting herself into all kinds of contortions she delivered jazz sounds that fit perfectly with what the rest of the band were playing.
The guy on bass would surely be fully deserving of one of those t shirts available on Amazon that proclaims God Made Bass Players So Guitarists Can Have Heroes Too. Our friend Margaret remarked after the show that the bass player hadn´t stood still all night, but had constantly turned and tapped his feet, eyes closed as he did that great impression of a player ´solid gone´!
The keyboard player was all class and aplomb, sitting there quietly delivering riffs that sometimes would lead his fellow musicians to distant places and at other times he would be simply walking behind them and lending great support. They fully deserved the subsequent standing ovation (left) .
The closing section of the concert took place after these magnanimous musicians had called the young aspirant timple players back for one more round of applause. It was heart-warming to see young and slightly older working in such mutual admiration.
Then came that closing section: Nothing could ever distract completely from German´s incredible timple sounds but what a master class we were given by drum and bass on an impassioned version, delivered with a beautiful red-headed female vocalist who drove the lyrics along. An Englishman In New York (Illegal Alian) was written by Sting, and based on English eccentric Quentin Crisp.
The single was released in February 1988 as the third single from the album, but only reached #51 on the UK Singles Chart. In the US, “Englishman in New York” peaked at #84 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1988 and reached #32 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart that same month.However, the single was more successful in continental Europe, becoming a hit in several countries, reaching the Top 40 (and sometimes the Top 20) in France, Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, etc. “Englishman in New York” was also a Top 20 hit in Ireland. In South Africa, it peaked at no. 9.
In 1990, just prior to the release of his third studio album The Soul Cages, Sting’s record label licensed Dutch DJ and producer Ben Liebrand to remix “Englishman in New York” and subsequently released it as a single. The remix played around with the introduction and some of the instrumentation, but the essence of the song remained the same. The new version was commercially successful, reaching number 15 in the UK charts in mid-1990.
In 2010, Sting re-recorded the song in an orchestral version for his album Symphonicities.
“Englishman/African In New York”, a reworking of the song recorded with African artist Shirazee was released as a non-album digital-only single on 19 March 2021. Shirazee had previously covered the song as “African in New York” with Sting’s approval. Sting and Shirazee released a music video and performed the song on ABC’s Good Morning America.
An already excellent concert had just shifted gear. This well-known song has perhaps never bounded so energetically down those streets of Big Apple.. And Sting with his love of old and unusual instruments would surely be impressed if he could hear what the timple can add to songs like this.
German slowed things down, with a beautiful evocative solo piece, before the red-haired angel re-appeared to join the timple player and his three colleagues in a rendition of Leonard Cohen´s Hallelujah . I saw Cohen deliver this live in the UK in somewhat hushed tones in his own voice and watched him as he stood back to allow Sharron Robinson to take over in her in her beautiful spiritual voice.
Tonight´s female vocalist offered a y performance sounding angry and betrayed by all these ´broken hallelujahs´ and delivering the words as if an impassioned prayer, and left the stage to prolonged applause.
The four musicians then closed the show with an instrumental number that showcased all their individual skills, and the audience immediately rose to their feet in happy demands for an encore that unfortunately would not be forthcoming, as the Civil Protection staff needed to organise a covid-protocol exit for the audience. I managed to quickly hand over a ten euro note for the CD Canela y Limon, on which German is accompanied by Antonio Toledo on guitar, that is quite different from but equally sublime as this concert had been,
The talk on the way home was about the empathy and respect between all those who had appeared on the stage, and about how many family members of the young aspirants must have left the theatre feeling very proud of their youngsters,
Iain and Margaret dropped us in Yaiza where we had parked our car on meeting them earlier, and as we nudged knuckles we reminded each other that we would be back in the caves the following Thursday evening for a classical concert and in Arrecife at Cic El Almacen to hear a sole cellist.
It’s a tough life following all these concerts and reporting them in Lanzarote Information and Sidetracks & Detours, but I wouldn´t swap it for the world and it allows my wife Dee to score points off me when I can´t remember ´what was that song by the oozits’
When I shouted that question to her a few paragraphs back as I was writing this, she didn’t even ask what I was doing, but just told me I was asking about The Honeycombs and Have I The Right?
Who´d be a critic?
I am sorry I cannot (yet) supply you with the names of all the performers here tonight, but I can now give you some information I have subsequently found about the man who took centre stage.
German Lopez (right) touches his audiences with his original instrumental music and its canary islands influences. When he is on stage with guitarist Antonio Toledo, they harness the grit of Spanish Flamenco to the structure of West African rhythms, and guide the unquenchable spirit of jazz in a 21st century approach to performing island music´.
German´s principal instrument, the timple is one of the grandfathers of the Ukelele, currently enjoying a huge revival in the UK and entrances audiences with what The Huffington Post has called ´delicately rippling notes that flow from musical rivers that spring from Spain, Africa and the new World.
Born in Gran Canaria and now nearly forty years old, German´s musical studies began at an early age, when he was accepted in the Conservatory Of Music Of Las Palmas, to a curriculum that included piano, music theory and jazz studies. By the age of ten he was delivering public performances.
In his musical career he has since delivered performances sharing a stage partners, ensembles and orchestras and has won many government awards along the way, as both an educator and performer.
He has performed at a WOMAD festival and many other similarly prestigious events. What I purchased last night was recorded after three solo albums including Timplissino in 2006, with Silencia Rolo following three years later and De Raiz a further four years down the line. The album I now have was released in 2016
it is supposed that the five-stringed timple instrument descends from the European baroque guitar. The timple has a fuller resonance and perhaps higher timbre than the ukulele and other so called ´travel- guitars´ that it resembles
German has become one of the world´s finest exponents on the timple, but as Iain asked as we left the theatre, ¨who was that guy? What have we just been listening to? And why have we never heard of him?´
The answer to that final question might well be that we haven´t heard of him because we still listen to UK rock, bands in which the timple plays no part. As for the answers to the two opening questions,…..well, we now know his name so that is question one out of the way. As for the third part,….we´ve now heard of him, and several other top players of the instrument even as recently as this year and we can certainly say on the evidence of those soundings that he is the equal of anybody. Whether he is ´better´ perhaps only time will tell, but he certainly takes a unique approach his playing and seems unafraid to take his instrument into any musical environment.
German Lopez, timplista, is certainly up there with the best and is already creating work for posterity.
What he delivered tonight was what can only be described as a blend smooth rock, folk-lore and a gentle fusion of classical and jazz sounds. Get to one of his gigs or buy one of his handful of albums and have a listen. We are sure you will agree that the answer to Iain´s question of ´who was that guy?´´ is German Lopez. He plays the timple and he is up there with the very best of them´.
The answer to Iain´s question about what we had been listening to was, as he already knew of course, the timple. His question was really one about the application of the timple and how it had been adapted in to a four piece band of piano, drum and bass and how had it created such a wonderful sound. Throughout the concert I was thinking of Runrig live (another coastline band from Scotland, similar in sound (but without the timple!) and even of sixties / seventies sounds of SpyroGyra similar sounding, too, but playing electric and synthesised.
According to notes on the album I bought, which is quite different but just as wonderful, Of all the hypotheses that exist about the orígin of the timple, the most widely accepted is that which relates it directly to the European baroque guitatr, smaller than the classical guitar and with five strings.
From the bsroque guitar, other small guitars, known as travel guitars, became popular in many places. The timple has close relative apound the world, including the quarto from Venezeula, the charango from Andean countries and the cavaquinaho from Portugal or Brazil and, of course, the Hawaiain Ukelele.
The timple, though, is the representative musical instrument of The Canary Islands. In fact, for many years, it has been used only as an accompanist in folk music. However, in recent years, musicians like German Lopez have made it a solo instrument able to perform in different musical circles such as world music, jazz and flamenco,
There were certainly jazz elements in this staggering concert, and if jazz is your thing be sure to catch this week´s edition of the Hot Biscuits jazz show featuring live recordings of the Munch Manship Quartet. Munch on Tenor saxes, Richard Wetherall on piano, Ed Harrison on Bass and Eryl Roberts on drums. Recorded for broadcast at the Creative Space. The show also includes a selection of new CD’s. including Stephen Godsall, with a new and exciting sound. If this is of interest share the word and tune in 24/7 for Steve Bewick´s new weekly shows starting Mondays at www.mixcloud.com/stevebewick/
Jeff Sleeman* is a multi discipline artist from the UK who is a strong advocate of how Applied Arts can offer hope to the disenfranchised or disengaged and even serve as an educational tool in many subjects on the education curriculum. Sidetracks And Detours recently conducted an exclusive, and fascinating interview with him, so watch this space in the coming weeks when we will publish that interview and include an article by Jeff of his thoughts on Applied Arts.