Traditional music from the Netherlands Part III:
Peter Koene, one of the first Dutch folksingers
Peter Koene could be seen as one of the first Dutch folksingers who recorded a full-length lp. It's only the famous Cobi Schreijer who recorded her first solo album just before his Komt vrienden hoort een lied lp. During the last 35 years, since his first album, Peter has been part of several Dutch groups. I especially wanted to interview him because of his vision on folksongs. Peter isn't just interested in the romantic ballads but keeps searching for those songs which tell about the way people lived in the time a song was written. In part three of Traditional music in the Netherlands a small portrait of one of the first Dutch folksingers.
How did you got the idea to record a folksinger album in 1969?
Just a year before I released my lp, it was Cobi schreijer who recorded the first Dutch folksinger album. During these years there were several folkclubs in Holland and one of the most known one was Folkclub65. I started performing in this club in 1967 and the audience liked my songs very much.
Until than the artists playing there sung American or English songs. I brought Dutch material and people were surprised and enjoyed these songs in their own language. One of the reasons I started singing in Dutch was because I was (and am) highly inspired by Pete Seeger. His way of singing and linking his music to important theme's in society inspired me a lot. He was more than just a singer, he had something to say and had the gift to really reach a lot of people. He started telling people to sing in their own language. So I did. It was hard to find good Dutch material these days. I started with singing family repertoire. I asked my grandmother, some aunts and the grandparents of my girlfriend if they still knew some old songs. So you could say that I really found the music in my own family, I sung my own tradition. I also looked for songs in a few books and archives but I tried to stick to the songs I learned from older people.
After your solo album you didn't record any music for quite some years until
you started working with the group Proloog. What did you do in the period between
your first album and the proloog albums?
During this period I organised a Folkclub in Delft which got quite known. I also was part of the group Hutspot which never got very popular. In this group we sung mostly folkmusic but we always tried to find the songs that had something to say about society.
No romantic songs about brave knights and sweet princess but songs which tell about the real live of people and how they were able to deal with their circumstances. Besides music I worked in a kind of social centre with teenagers. A few times Proloog performed at my work and I got interested in their work. At one point they were searching for a musician and I told them I was interested. I did doubt though because I don't consider myself to be a brilliant musician. But they took me in, not only because of my musical quality but more because I worked in a social job and I knew about music. For them, this was the perfect combination.
How would you describe Proloog?
It was a theatre group which brought critical, political theatre. The group felt involved with what was going on in society. For me music was the most important thing, for most members of proloog there political way of thinking and knowledge of political theme's was much more important. I wasn't such an extremely left winged person, although I do consider myself as a socialist. The first project in which I was involved, was a Theatre play for children about the 16th century Anabaptists as a social movement. Proloog wasn't a music group but a theatre group. So they would write a play and because there should be some music in it, we started writing material which would fit to the play. That wasn't necessarily folkmusic, actually only writer Jan Smeets and I were interested in folkmusic. The others didn't care about this type of music so most of the material was self-written. Of course I used influences from folksongs into the songs and sometimes I tried to build up the songs like an old folksong.
This changed with another project which was called De dood van pierlala (Pierlala's Death) in which we gave an overview of protest songs from the past centuries. It costed Jan and me a lot of energy to persuade the other members to make this project. Most people wanted to be actual and didn't want to do such a historical piece of art. But we managed to persuade them and the project was started. This was recorded on lp as well and I still think this contains some very nice songs. Proloog stopped in 1983 after starting a anti nuclear-weapon project. Although the group broke up this last project would still be performed until late 1984.
What did happen to you after Proloog stopped?
Already during my proloog years, I started a group called Werktuig. I did this together with Jan Smeets and a few other musicians. With this group we could concentrate on the music we really wanted to play, political songs inspired by folkmusic. I did like working with proloog but I also wanted a group in which I could put more of myself. In that way werktuig is a much more personal project. On our lp we sing new lyrics on traditional melodies, translation from Guthry and Seeger songs and some self-written material. This group also stopped in the eighties and after this I started working as a freelance musician. I did some historical project for example one about migration and a fantastic piece about the history of Griendsveen. Which is a very small village with a great history. But soon I ended up playing in a centre for old people. I couldn't live from the music anymore and had to pick up my old job again. Only this time I didn't start working with teenagers but with older people. Later I started singing with the Foo-foo band (which also has members of Crackerhash) with which we sing sea-shanties. We just did a project about the VOC and our next cd will be published within a few weeks. My other group is Madlot. A group which plays traditional music from the Netherlands and beyond.
You also made your second solo cd in 1999, 30 years after your first one.
What made you decide to record this new cd?
I wanted to give my solo-career a new impulse and I had this inner need to
record these songs. I did it for myself and for other people who would like
to hear my music. Although I think it is a good cd, alas I didn't get much more
solo-performances. But nowadays I enjoy playing with the foo foo band and Madlot
and besides that I'm a board member of the Dutch foundation of folkmusic which
I like a lot. Here I do exactly what folkmusic is all about; stimulating people
to play and experience the richness of traditional music.
DISCOGRAPHY OF PETER KOENE :
|Komt vrienden, hoort een lied (met Benny Ludemann)
|Proloog: Kernenergie, nee bedankt
|Proloog: De Klucht van Pierlala
|Div.: Dans tegen de draai in
|Proloog: Pamflet voor het leven
|Werktuig: Nu of Nooit
|Div: Blij dat ik jou rij/Lachspiegels
|Div.: Maar de liefde blijft maar even
|Div.: Elpee van de strijdmuziek
|De lindeboom voorbij
|Madlot: Rozen aan mijn hoed
Most records are only available on record fairs or in secondhand shops. If you are interested in these records or want to hear something, please contact the author.
Do you have any questions about the article? Do you want more information? Are you interested in one of the albums mentioned above? Feel free to contact me any time; also with suggestions for future articles etc or comments on this article. Eelco Schilder
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