25th December 2003
'Palette' Club

On the 25th December 2003, NOLTEx and the Eis & Licht label presented a very appealing evening for all neofolk music lovers with a line-up featuring Sonne Hagal, Fire + Ice and Sonnentau for their first live appearance.

Localised in Halle, the main city of the German province of Saxe-Anhalt, the 'Palette' club first appeared on this chilly winter evening, as a warm refuge for us. The venue was well disposed with a first room situated on the ground floor where people could have a drink and discuss and two other rooms on the first floor: one with a bar and record stands held by Eis & Licht and Loki that benefited of a discrete and intimist lighting and provided seats and tables where people could also chat while listening to good industrial ambient music in the background; and the main concert hall where the bands were due to appear.

The people attending the show (approximately 300/400 persons) seemed relaxed, happy to meet friends and share a few beers...
A really good atmosphere floated in the air... aided by a fine selection of industrial and neofolk music distilled by the two inspired DJs (DJ Dirk wPUNKt & DJ Boa) before the concerts began. A good omen for the coming evening.

Although they were not present on stage, Sonne Hagal opened the evening with a rather long experimental introduction track played from a tape that did not really draw the audience attention. So, for most of the inattentive people, the concert really began when the musicians came on stage to play 'The chimney sweeper: a little black thing among the snow'. Oliver, elegant in his allure as well as in his guitar playing, was assisted by a bassist, a keyboard player and Andreas Ritter from Forseti (a sign of their mutual and usual cooperation) alternatively playing accordion and melodica.

Oliver, concentrated through out his performance, played a large selection of Sonne Hagal's electronic and acoustic compositions: a very convincing interpretation of 'Odin' and the classic 'Sonnenwende', a lively version of 'Midwinternight' followed by a superb interpretation of 'Midgard' (rendered even more melancholic with the presence of the accordion) and later 'Thrymskviða'.
The concert ended on the classic 'Eismahd' which concluded an enthusiastic fifty minute long performance. It left me on a very positive note in regard to a band that I had never seen live before... except for the audience that I would have imagined more attentive or concerned at least.

A few minutes passed when the sound of a horn announced the arrival on stage of Uwe Nolte from Orplid for an unexpected (even if he was involved in the organisation of the evening) but intense performance.
Accompanied by the electric guitar of Andreas Arndt from Sonnentau and a percussionist (with Oliver providing extra percussion when needed), Uwe Nolte interpreted three songs amongst which featured 'Der Merseburger Rabe' and gratified the audience of a very theatrical and expressive performance that revealed the charisma of a true showman. A short but impressive moment that offered the unexpected occasion to hear the unique voice of Orplid live.


Uwe Nolte, also involved in Sonnentau (for the texts and artwork), then introduced this new German dark folk formation to the audience.
I admit I was not very impressed, before the gig, by their 10" 'Das Laub fällt von den Bäumen'. My impression did not really differ after the concert. But I will restrain myself from judging them on their first concert... The band, composed of the elegant Nadine Spindler on vocals, Andreas Arndt on the acoustic guitar and the excellent violoncellist Thomas Hansmann (who was going to reveal himself as a very inspired, simple and talented musician, especially during the Fire + Ice performance) played three songs taken from the previously mentioned 10". Three calm and traditional folk ballads with lyrics sung either in German or in English that easily found their place amongst the melodies and songs heard all through the evening...

Andreas Ritter and Oliver then joined Thomas Hansmann on stage to prepare their instruments. The same musicians who had supported the Fire + Ice concert in Leipzig at the last Wave-Gotik-Treffen were reunited again. Which lead to think that Ian Read's arrival was imminent...
But surprisingly, the first notes to ring out from Andreas guitar were those of a lively version of 'Gesang der Jünglinge', a classic Forseti song. The audience, pleasantly surprised, reacted enthusiastically to this impromptu Forseti performance. It was followed by a tense version of 'Ewigkeit', which let the beauty of the violoncello express all its emotion and gravity... A beautiful interpretation of a title that has become a classic in the Forseti repertory. A fine rendition of 'Welkes Blatt' concluded this unexpected performance that was greatly appreciated by the audience. A nice gift offered by simple and humble musicians...

Before the audience had the time to realise what was going on, Oliver had began to play some soft percussions announcing the arrival of Ian Read on stage. His appearance alone was enough to focus all the attention and instil a particular feeling. Dressed with elegance and sobriety and standing straight, he began his performance with a convincing interpretation of 'Greyhead'. A quite lively version, rhythmed by the percussions, the acoustic guitar and the violoncello at the end.
Followed a version of 'Suppose My Name' highlighted by the percussions played with application and concentration by Oliver. Then the traditional folk ballad 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley' with just Ian Read on vocals and the acoustic guitar captivated the full attention of the audience. An assembly completely under the charm of this performance that punctuated each song with enthusiastic applauses and cries.
The room, benefiting from a good acoustic, allowed Ian Read's voice to express all its depth and strength, in particular during the interpretation of 'Long Lankin' that will remain for me the high point of this performance. Assisted by an acoustic guitar in the background and above all by the melancholic melodies of the violoncello, Ian Read offered a captivating and rare interpretation that totally subjugated me, and that revealed all the tragedy and the strength of this murder ballad... Ian Read's voice remaining suspended in mid air after singing 'There's blood in the parlour where the lady did fall'...

Ian Read continued by distilling some other fine Fire + Ice classics such as 'Gilded by the Sun', followed by an impressive interpretation of 'Dragons in the Sunset' which confirmed the impression that Ian Read has the rare talent to give breath to his lyrics.

Ian Read chose this moment to remind the audience of the symbolic importance of the date before starting the first words of the traditional Irish song 'The Rising of the Moon' with only the acoustic guitar as an accompaniment... A fine version that really carried the favour of the audience.
Followed 'Where Have They Gone?' in a convincing version that featured once again the violoncello. The next song 'High Gallows Tree' was definitely a good surprise as I did not think this track from the 'Mindwinter Fires' album was played live by Fire + Ice. Rhythmed by the percussions, an acoustic guitar in the background, here again Ian Read used his unique talent to give life to a story. You could sense the pleasure he took in interpreting, character after character, this traditional song whose lyrics are as tragic as ironic... It definitely marked another important moment of this concert.

Ian Read concluded this performance by launching a resounding 'Fire and Ice!' before leaving the stage.

Encouraged by the insisting echoes of the audience to come back, Ian Read then distilled a few vivifying words in German about what used to be the role of German Culture in the past and its future. Then he offered a particularly inspired version of 'Call up the four winds' rhythmed by distinct percussions.
Despite the very enthusiastic reactions of the audience, Ian Read left the stage again... but not for that long since he came back alone for a last time to deliver an intense and unforgettable interpretation of 'Benediction' that caused passionate reactions from the audience and that personally left me speechless.

The symbiosis between this legendary charismatic apocalyptic folk musician and his audience will for sure remain an unforgettable memory of this special evening, together with the magical atmosphere that seemed to fill the air... as well as the feeling of being one of the few non-German persons attending this unique neofolk music event, in the heart of winter.

The evening continued in the same venue with a gothic/folk/industrial/pop after show party. But, tired after a daylong voyage, we opted for some drinks in one of the calmer corners of the venue before saluting some friends and retiring for the night.

NOLTEx and Eis & Licht both deserve to be mentioned and thanked for the organisation of these concerts that were a true success. We can only encourage them to think of a second edition for the next year and to carry on supporting neofolk music as they have been doing so for years now.

Nathalie F.
Winter 2004