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Toni Vescoli: A year full of vitality and anniversaries

Toni Vescoli was born on 18th July, 75 years ago. 55 years ago, on 19th September, the musician from Zurich founded the legendary beat music band Les Sauterelles. It is celebrating its anniversary with a tour that starts during the “Beatles week” in Liverpool. At the same time, Toni Vescoli continues to perform with his dialect projects “MacheWasiWill” (dowhatilike), “imDUO” and “Toni VESCOLI&Co”. Text by guest author Markus Ganz

Toni Vescoli: A year full of vitality and anniversaries

Toni Vescoli, SUISA member since 1967 has not only influenced Swiss beat music, but has also been pioneering dialect performances, playing Dylan songs and narrating Pingu radio plays (Photo: Kessler)

Five years ago, during the TV programme “Stars extra”, Toni Vescoli said – with an embarrassed grin on his face – that he did not succumb to the DOG, the delusions of grandeur. The show’s presenter Sandra Studer had asked him what it had been like to have led the Swiss charts in 1968 with Les Sauterelles (“Heavenly Club”), topping even the Beatles (“Hey Jude”). With his statement, the singer, guitarist and songwriter from Zurich has described his own character pretty well. While it is obvious that he is still enjoying to perform at concerts to this day, it is because of the music, and not the limelight.

Toni Vescoli was already “extremely” upset, back in 1964, that their impresario had invented an additional name for Les Sauterelles and even printed it bigger than the original band name on the placards: “The Swiss Beatles”. He did not wish to compare himself to other stars but be a creator in his own right. No later than in during the 1970s did he choose to follow his own path, irrespective of trends and hip places.

The path to beat music

His passion for music had, however, not been triggered by the English beat music artists but by American stars such as Johnny Cash and especially Elvis Presley. Toni Vescoli told the author of this article in a former interview that he had already played such kind of music at the end of the fifties. He did so standing on a table in a hip café in Zurich’s Niederdorf quarter, and on a larger scale, sometimes accompanied by a Dixie band. The changeover to beat music was initiated by the Shadows with their unique sound using electric guitars.

He needed a band to do this which is why he founded Les Sauterelles in 1962 whose entire history has been influenced by many changes in terms of the band members. The single “Heavenly Club” brought about the commercial peak in 1968. It was released in the majority of European countries as well as in the US and in Japan. Sometimes they played up to seven hours, performing in up to 350 concerts per year. Nevertheless the band was facing financial problems which is why Toni Vescoli placed an obituary in 1970 announcing: “Les Sauterelles are dead”.

The legendary Swiss beat music band Les Sauterelles was founded 55 years ago. In 2017, the band is celebrating its anniversary with a tour that starts in Liverpool. (Photo: Gerhard Born)

American influences

It was folk music and especially Bob Dylan which lured Toni Vescoli back to American songwriting and music and influenced his solo career; his album “Bob Dylan Songs” (1993) is a tribute to this, featuring adaptations in the Zurich dialect of Swiss German. Folk music, together with the West Coast music of the 1970s was his entry point to his later mix of Americana music, Toni Vescoli explained in an interview. But his classic hits “Susanne” and “N1” had actually already been country music songs, bordering on bluegrass music.

In the early 1980s, Toni Vescoli returned to rock music, while influenced by Ry Cooder he became a fan of the accordionist Flaco Jimenez who then turned out to play on his album “Tegsass” (1999). Said Tex-Mex reminded him of his youth in Peru (between the age of four and nine), when they listened to Mexican folk songs on the radio. Together with Cajun music, this definitely rubbed off on the Americana album “66” (2008), in particular the lively single track “El Parasito”.

Dialect pioneer

More important than the change in style was Toni Vescoli’s pioneering change to dialect in 1970. He had been instructed by the magazine “Pop” to write a song for the unveiling ceremony of a Wilhelm Tell monument. Instead of writing the lyrics in High German, he felt that Swiss dialect was more apt – and the song hit the right note with the public. He wrote more songs in dialect but his producer felt in 1971 that the time wasn’t right for that yet.

As a consequence, his first album in dialect was not released until 1974 – and Reinhard Mey’s cover version of the song “Susanne” got released before Vescoli’s original. His song “N1” with which he broached the issue of the ambivalent character of the N1 motorway (today’s A1) connecting Switzerland, is also rather striking. “N1 Du bisch e Schtraass wo-n i hass, aber irgendwie han-i Di gern” (N1 you’re a road that I hate but somehow I like you, too); he had already written a popular hit about traffic: “Scho Root” (Red lights again) (1975).

Modest and down-to-earth to this day: Toni Vescoli. (Photo: Plain)

New combinations

What was unusual at the time was that Toni Vescoli combined his dialect lyrics with American music and thus broke open songwriter traditions. He did realise at the time that he was able to reach people much more directly by singing his songs in dialect. As a consequence, he developed his music into a style where the lyrics can be followed better. This led him to folk music which he could also perform on his own.

When he was consequently hired by a small theatre once, he realised that he no longer needed amplifiers and that an acoustic guitar was enough. He thus landed in a music environment which he had not been looking for but where he felt at ease: He continued to play without an amplifying system for nearly 18 years. At some point, however, he felt that this environment where people were “hanging on to his every word”, became too imposing for his liking. He wanted to play electric guitar again, and that’s what the song “Wäge Dir” (because of you) is about.

Words for a love song

The changeover to dialect had not been easy. If you sing in dialect, you have to be very careful about what you wish to sing, Toni Vescoli mentioned in an interview. It was not that easy to sing “ich liebe Dich” (I love you) – even if nowadays these words are not as embarrassing anymore, as the current world of dialect music shows.

Toni Vescoli broached the issue of the difficulty to find words for a love song with the title “Lady Lo” where he sings himself to the conclusion that: “öisi Schprach isch unbruchbar” (our language is useless). It was meant to be a love song for his wife, Toni Vescoli explained, but turned into a confession of failing with regards to finding the right lyrics. It all sounded kitschy and plump – and that is why he turned it into the theme of the song. Where words become useless for the purpose of expressing feelings, the question could be asked whether playing pure instrumental music might be the solution. Toni Vescoli replies to this and laughs that he simply wasn’t good enough as a solo guitarist to do just that.

Indeed, Toni Vescoli has not succumbed to any delusion of grandeur to this day. And he has continued to show that he does not have any fear of being in touch with young musicians or other styles such as hip-hop. In 2012, for example, he presented his interpretation of Baba Uslender’s “Baustellsong” (construction site song) in a show of the “Cover me” series on SRF television. Toni Vescoli has remained young in terms of his music – and may that be so in future!

Information and live dates: www.vescoli.ch (e.g. Performances with Les Sauterelles in Liverpool during the “Beatles week” from 25-28 August).

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  1. Ich lernte Toni in den frühen 80er Jahren kennen, als ich der lead Gittarist der Windows war. Toni präsentierte eine TV Show, in der wir auftraten. Ich erinnere mich ganz besonders an ein Konzert im Kongresshaus für die Neubürger Feier, an der Toni präsentierte. Zuerst spielte das Hazi Osterwald Orchester, dann wir. Während wir spielten, standen plötzlich Reihen von Gästen auf und gingen zum Ausgang. Wir hatten keine Erklärung dafür. . . bis wir das Tränengas ‘witterten’, welches ein Idiot in der Mitte des Kongresshauses abgelassen hatte. Toni, mit Tränen in den Augen, steckte seinen Kopf aus dem Vorhang und rief uns zu, “Mached witer, mached witer”. Der Anlass war dann leider zu Ende, da sich niemand dem Tränengas aussetzen wollten.

    Ich war lange zuvor auch mal mit dem Sauterelles Bassisten Freddy Mangili befreundet. Auch ein sehr netter Typ.

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Toni Vescoli was born on 18th July, 75 years ago. 55 years ago, on 19th September, the musician from Zurich founded the legendary beat music band Les Sauterelles. It is celebrating its anniversary with a tour that starts during the “Beatles week” in Liverpool. At the same time, Toni Vescoli continues to perform with his dialect projects “MacheWasiWill” (dowhatilike), “imDUO” and “Toni VESCOLI&Co”. Text by guest author Markus Ganz

Toni Vescoli: A year full of vitality and anniversaries

Toni Vescoli, SUISA member since 1967 has not only influenced Swiss beat music, but has also been pioneering dialect performances, playing Dylan songs and narrating Pingu radio plays (Photo: Kessler)

Five years ago, during the TV programme “Stars extra”, Toni Vescoli said – with an embarrassed grin on his face – that he did not succumb to the DOG, the delusions of grandeur. The...read more

New Jersey, just south of Berne

Polo Hofer receives the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 in the category “lyrics author”. Christoph Trummer writes in his guest contribution about the factors distinguishing the works of the award winner from others.

New Jersey, just south of Berne - Polo Hofer FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017

Polo Hofer, winner of the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 has found his way into popular culture and has translated rock and roll as a way of life for the German-speaking part of Switzerland. (Photo: Patric Spahni)

If you wanted to be brief, you’d say: The FONDATION SUISA Prize is a recognition award for outstanding creations. In 2017, it will be awarded to a lyricist for the first time. Polo Hofer was nominated for the award. What else did you expect the jury should do?

Of course, we’ll gladly dedicate more than just these few words to this worthy award winner and his works.

Those who were born after 1970 and grew up in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, are likely to find it hard to imagine their schooldays, youth and life in Switzerland as such without Polo Hofer and his songs and lyrics. Some of his works, ranging from “Bin i gopfriedstutz e Kiosk” (“Am I a blimmin’ kiosk”) to “Bim Sytesprung im Minimum e Gummi drum” (“For that bit on the side as a minimum a condom”) have turned into one-liners; you cannot possibly imagine everyday language being without them. Even those whose parents don’t even own a Polo Hofer CD can sing along to “Alperose”.

Song lyrics turned into popular cultural assets

These lyrics are now part of popular culture, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, for sure. Since his early days with the band Rumpelstilz, Polo’s discography has been serving as a means to tell the story of a rather eventful Swiss history. The “Summer 68”, when (apparently) it was the done thing to travel to Kabul to smoke weed. The wild 70ies, years of upraise, with Rosmarie to Spain, free love next to the “Teddybär” (“Teddy Bear”). The dark side of dreams in the form of a “Silbernaadle töif im Arm” (“A silver needle deeply plunged into the arm”). And already then, dulled by consumerism, in full swing with the “Waarehuus Blues” (“Warehouse Blues”).

Polo’s lyrics are, sometimes, explicitly political: “Da isch nüt vo Grächtigkeit / So wie’s i dr Verfassig schteit” (“Um WAS geits?”) (“There is no justice / as it’s written in the constitution”, song: “WHAT’s this about?”). He does, however, also narrate world history as a personal story, when an old love affair finally gets a chance as the Berlin wall comes down (“Wenn in Berlin bisch”) (“When you’re in Berlin”). Plus, he criticises society with role prose, whose poetry stems from conversations at the regulars’ table in the pub, for example when the farmer’s son of the Lochmatt sums up the empty promises of a life in the bright city lights: «Lah mi vergässe bim rote Wy» (“Let me forget with a glass of red”). That’s popular in its very essence, but it also has side effects.

Sometimes the loud role of Polo National smothers the fact that he also has other qualities as a lyricist. For example, when he ponders about his own mortality in “Im letschte Tram” (“In the last tram”) or when he negotiates the literal sense of God, all the world and his brother in “I dr Gartebeiz vom Hotel Eden” (“In the garden pub of the Eden Hotel”) without getting lost in intellectual deliberations.

Rock and roll – translated for Switzerland

Some of Polo Hofer’s great songs are congenial translations: Tom Waits’s “Jersey Girl” into “Meitschi vom Wyssebüehl” (“Girl from Weissenbühl” – a Berne suburb), Todd Snider’s “Alright Guy” into “Liebe Siech” (“My dear chap”), and Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill- Box Hat” into “Schlangelädergurt” (“Snake leather belt”). With that, you find out about another one of Polo’s various roles, which make him so significant (not only) for music performed in dialect in Switzerland: He is a translator. Not only a translator of song lyrics but one of the most important translators of rock and roll and popular culture into our culture, into our customs and habits.

Polo Hofer has managed to turn desires, but also the lustfulness of the young with its pubescent obscenities, the rebellion against a stale and settled system, in brief: the rock and roll way of life for the German-speaking part of Switzerland into sound. D’Stüehl ewäg, mir sy giggerig u wei schwoofe (Get the chairs out of the way, we’re in the mood and want to dance). He was inspired by, and found some of his topics in the rock and roll catalogue of legends and brought it to Switzerland: We would probably not get into a ride with Bobby McGee on the highway, but hitchhike with Rosmarie from Paris to Gibraltar. Wyssebüehl is closer than New Jersey.

Polo Hofer as a central figure of our story has opened doors through which many others could pass, even if they didn’t even know his music at all. And now he receives an award for this work. As such, the FONDATION SUISA Award 2017 is a kind of “Lifetime Achievement Award”. We congratulate you from our hearts!

www.polohofer.ch

The FONDATION SUISA Prize is a recognition award for outstanding creations. FONDATION SUISA bestows this award to authors and publishers rendering outstanding contributions to the enrichment of the cultural heritage of our country with their creations. The award, valued at CHF 25,000.00 is granted in a different category each year.

Christoph Trummer won the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2011 in the category “Singer/Songwriter”. Our guest author was born in 1978 and grew up in Frutigen (BE). Apart from his musical activities, he is President of the Association for Music Creators Switzerland.

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Polo Hofer receives the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 in the category “lyrics author”. Christoph Trummer writes in his guest contribution about the factors distinguishing the works of the award winner from others.

New Jersey, just south of Berne - Polo Hofer FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017

Polo Hofer, winner of the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 has found his way into popular culture and has translated rock and roll as a way of life for the German-speaking part of Switzerland. (Photo: Patric Spahni)

If you wanted to be brief, you’d say: The FONDATION SUISA Prize is a recognition award for outstanding creations. In 2017, it will be awarded to a lyricist for the first time. Polo Hofer was nominated for the award. What else did you expect the jury should do?

Of course, we’ll gladly dedicate more than just these few words to this worthy award winner and his works.

Those...read more

La Tessinoise: Much ado about the Ticino

Over the Easter period, it’s not just the palm trees and nice weather that make the Ticino attractive: Over a three-day period, you can get a good impression of what the Indie-Pop-/Rock scene has on offer in the Ticino. Text by Erika Weibel

La Tessinoise: Much ado about the Ticino

Barbara Lehnhoff (left) and Aris Bassetti (right) are mainly music creators and known for their projects Peter Kernel and Camilla Sparksss. Apart from that, they have their own label, On the Camper Records, and organise the festival La Tessinoise. (Photo: Robert Huber)

Last year, Ticino label On the Camper Records celebrated its tenth anniversary with a festival. For the celebrations, label founders Aris Bassetti und Barbara Lehnhoff invited music professionals from across Europe and organised several concerts in the Lugano area. The festival and the get together of music business and artists proved to be so successful that the organisers decided to continue the event under the name “La Tessinoise”.

As a consequence, many bands will enter the stages at various event venues around Lugano again this year, between 14 and 16 April 2017. While music creation in the Ticino takes the ‘centre stage’ in terms of focus, acts from other Swiss regions and from abroad are also set to perform. One thing that distinguishes this festival is that all bands will play new repertoire. Every evening, the audience will thus be able to listen to the première of new songs.

If you wish to enjoy some Indie music in Switzerland’s ‘sunny parlour’ and also want to meet people from the music business from all across Europe on an informal basis, you will have an excellent opportunity to do so in Lugano.

Further information:
Concert programme, tickets etc.: www.latessinoise.com, festival website
Website of the On the Camper Records label: www.onthecamper.com

SUISA and FONDATION SUISA, SUISA’s foundation for music promotion, support the Festival La Tessinoise. On Saturday, 15 April 2017, at 10:30, SUISA holds a brunch during the festival – access is by invitation only.

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Over the Easter period, it’s not just the palm trees and nice weather that make the Ticino attractive: Over a three-day period, you can get a good impression of what the Indie-Pop-/Rock scene has on offer in the Ticino. Text by Erika Weibel

La Tessinoise: Much ado about the Ticino

Barbara Lehnhoff (left) and Aris Bassetti (right) are mainly music creators and known for their projects Peter Kernel and Camilla Sparksss. Apart from that, they have their own label, On the Camper Records, and organise the festival La Tessinoise. (Photo: Robert Huber)

Last year, Ticino label On the Camper Records celebrated its tenth anniversary with a festival. For the celebrations, label founders Aris Bassetti und Barbara Lehnhoff invited music professionals from across Europe and organised several concerts in the Lugano area. The festival and the get together of music business...read more

This beating heart

On Tuesday, 25 October 2016, in the evening, his heart stopped beating: Pädu Anliker, the “Master of Ceremony” in the Café/Bar Mokka Thun was 59 years old. For over 30 years, Beat “Pädu” Anliker shaped the venue which started out as a youth centre at the Waisenhausplatz and became one of the most renowned music clubs on Allmendstrasse in Switzerland. Obituary by guest author Christoph Trummer

This beating heart - Obituary Pädu Anliker

Under the leadership of the “Master of Ceremony”, an important concert venue was created in the form of the Café/Bar Mokka in Thun: Pädu Anliker shown in a photo taken on 07 April 2015. (Photo: Chris Iseli / az Aargauer Zeitung)

Since Pädu Anliker’s passing on became known, a wave of emotional obituaries and remembrances of the MC and his incomparable club swept through the internet. The music scene became one family: We have lost our extravagant and controversial favourite uncle. He never cozied up to us, sometimes he scared us, but his incessant work, his cordial hospitality and his confusing and fascinating authenticity were proof enough for how strongly and wildly his heart was beating for us and for the music. Against all the odds, his culture programme never had to make place for a more lucrative party, and with his Festival am Schluss, he placed relevant and often non-conformist music into the middle of a conservative summer in the city.

I was 15 when our band had its first gig outside a school hall during the Mokka-Regionaltonwoche (Mokka regional sound week). 12 years after my first performance there, many Mokka concerts later, I have received my first compliment from MC Anliker. This is how long I was given another chance. Me and so many other musicians from the Oberland, whom he provided with time, a stage and critical input for their development.

Yet Pädu’s Mokka was more than just a music club to us. Generations of people from the Oberland region with a lust for life found a home in this youth centre which was independent from the authorities. The MC influenced the education of our hearts: He was the living proof for self-fulfilment as self-development. “Respect” was written across the entrance. Quiet, when the band is playing! Stop smoking seeds! He argued that 80 Francs for fresh flowers provided a bigger de-escalation than 800 Francs for security.

When it came to his customers and his city, he also never cozied up to anyone. In his legendary programme forewords, he sometimes raged against “3,600 fuckthistown-Thun”, against a consumption-driven audience, without regard for the bourgeois orthography or current marketing rules, which is why we feared as long as 20 years ago that he might stop doing his thing.

But he didn’t. The MC, you could say, simply worked with an open valve. You just had to be prepared for that, even as a performing band. He once swore for a quarter of an hour about the fact that we didn’t just want to use the drums with two microphones, yet at the end of those 15 minutes, everything was miked up. After a great gig we sat backstage, holding a rather relaxed discussion about the types of potatoes in Switzerland. Later on, his eyes lit up when he pulled out a box with flyers and tapes showing us how the entire music prominence from the Oberland had, at some point in time, started their career in some giddy band with an awful name in the Mokka.

Even the city of Thun has made peace with its inconvenient original: On 1 November, MC Anliker would have been awarded the Thunpreis (Award of the city of Thun). And while we will continue to wish he was still there, his heart will keep beating, in his unique club, in our hearts and our music, for which he did so much and where his work left such deep marks. Thank you MC! Respect.

Beat “Pädu” Anliker shaped the Lokal Café/Bar Mokka in Thun (BE) for more than 30 years, throughout its transformation from a youth centre at the Waisenhausplatz to one of the most renowned music clubs on Allmendstrasse in Switzerland. Anliker, with his flamboyant make-up and his glamorous-unconventional fashion was also a city original of Thun. Thousands of national and international bands have played in the Mokka, and some chose Pädu as their event organiser for Thun, when the club had become far too small for them (Element Of Crime, ZüriWest, Patent Ochsner etc.). Over the last 11 years, he has also organised the Festival am Schluss on the Mühleplatz, where bands from all over the world performed for two weeks, from African desert blues to Swiss-German hip hop. Beat Anliker died at the age of 59 because of a cardiac arrest on 25 October 2016. On 1 November 2016, he will be awarded posthumously with the Thunpreis, the most important award granted by the city of Thun.

Guest author Christoph Trummer was born in 1978 and grew up in Frutigen (BE). He has been a member of SUISA since 2002. The singer-songwriter is, apart from his musical activities, also President of the Verein Musikschaffende Schweiz – the Association for creatives in Switzerland.

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  1. Waedi Gysi says:

    Merssiviumal Trummer!
    Schöner Text!

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On Tuesday, 25 October 2016, in the evening, his heart stopped beating: Pädu Anliker, the “Master of Ceremony” in the Café/Bar Mokka Thun was 59 years old. For over 30 years, Beat “Pädu” Anliker shaped the venue which started out as a youth centre at the Waisenhausplatz and became one of the most renowned music clubs on Allmendstrasse in Switzerland. Obituary by guest author Christoph Trummer

This beating heart - Obituary Pädu Anliker

Under the leadership of the “Master of Ceremony”, an important concert venue was created in the form of the Café/Bar Mokka in Thun: Pädu Anliker shown in a photo taken on 07 April 2015. (Photo: Chris Iseli / az Aargauer Zeitung)

Since Pädu Anliker’s passing on became known, a wave of emotional obituaries and remembrances of the MC and his incomparable club swept through the internet. The...read more

Oh Yeah! Ein kleiner Tempel für Popmusik in der Schweiz

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