Interview with Johannes Pappert - December 2004
"We were much more than a band“ – Johannes
„Alto“ Pappert remembers his time with Kraan , his
Solo-LPs and even more.
July, we had started our big Kraan-Story with part one.
At the end of the article we had to say good bye to founder member
Johannes “Alto” Pappert (saxophone). He had left the
band after 5 LPs and was replaced by keyboarder Ingo Bischof.
If you already are desirously waiting for the direct continuation,
you still have to be patient. Before that, we have a comprehensive
interview with the replaced Alto. I’ve visited him at his
company “Mixed Media” which is located in the centre
of Berlin at the Tauentzien, next to the Gedächtniskirche
and Europa-Center. Alto has willingly informed me about
his time with Kraan , the circumstances when he left the
band, his soloproject Alto and some more things. So let’s
start at the beginning.
When we came together, we all were still quite young, about 16
– 17 or so. Peter was not yet with us at that time. In the
beginning we made a kind of Jazz as a ‘pupils band’
and called ourselves quite grandiloquently Progressive Jazz Group
Ulm. Hellmut played the double bass. We had a pianist, a guy who
played transverse flute; me on saxophone. Jan on the drums. We
played John Coltrane and Archie Shepp, this type of music; rather
Jazz; sometimes also Modern Jazz with ballet and theatre, all
in all very strange things. We played in various jazz clubs of
Schwaben (a region of southern germany) and in the whole of southern
an sich) :
You still were pupils at that time?
Yes, we all still were pupils, except Peter. He had just started
to study in Berlin. That’s why he couldn’t join the
Progressive Jazz Group Ulm. When he joined us later, the whole
thing became harder character. This was the basis for Kraan . Hellmut
changed to bassguitar. The pianist and the flute player were no
longer with us. Peter brought a a very strong influence in direction
of Jimi Hendrix and Hardrock from Berlin. Hence this special mixture
arose. We still were more melodic. The melodies came from the
saxophone. And Hellmut also wasn’t the typical bassplayer.
He played real melodies on the bass. That’s how it started
with Kraan .
In 1969/70 then, we decided to become real professionals. At
that time, I also had studied in Berlin, music. Peter had studied
graphics; Jan photography. Hellmut was just before his ‘Abitur’
(school leaving examination, general qualification for university).
We said: “Let’s live together now.” So we quit
anything else, and all moved to Kottbuser Damm in Kreuzberg (a
part of Berlin) and made music there.
Sooner or later we hoped to find a farmhouse somewhere in the
countryside, but in the meantime we first went back to Ulm. Here
in Berlin our chances were not that good. We only had little money,
and in Ulm and southern Germany we were a little known. There
we had gigs and could earn some money. Then we quarreld and Hellmut
wanted to join another band. They were from Aalen, but lived on
that farm in Wintrup.
That was Erna Schmidt.
Erna Schmidt, right. It was the Erna Schmidt Combo. I brought
Hellmut up there with all his stuff. We had a Ford Transit as
bandbus then. And I could deal pretty good with the Erna Schmidt
people, so they said we could come there. They had meant that
we could visit them, but I had understood we could settle in there.
It was mistakable somehow. However, I drove back to Ulm and said:
“Hey guys, we all can settle in there.” And so we
all moved up there, even with the kids. At that time David, Peter’s
son, already existed.
Somewhere in the internet I red someone was just pregnant.
That was Gundi, Peter’s wife. She was pregnant with David.
We settled in the farmhouse. And noone said anything. They didn’t
defend themselves. Meanwhile Hellmut had realized, that he absolutely
could not get along with them. They weren’t able to live
as a commune there. They all seperated. Everyone had his own room
and exactly in front of the room there was the cupboard, so you
if you wanted to come into the room, you first had to walk around
the cupboard. That didn’t work and they moved out one by
one. Finally we were there. The only ‘thing’ we got
left was Walter Holzbaur, their manager, who also lived there.
He kept staying and now managed us, and Willi, a technician, who
then made the sounds at our gigs.
So one could say, you stole the patron and the infrastructure.
Exactly ! But this had absolutely not been our intention. It wasn’t
planned. It simply arose. So we were the new inhabitants and the
Graf (earl) put up with it. Graf Metternich was a big patron.
He already had supported many artists at the Documenta in Kassel.
He owned several castles in the area, and among others also this
old manor, and he made it possible for us to live there. He even
wanted to support us financially, but we didn’t ask for
that. We were too proud. We thought it was already enough, that
we had the house. It was a big building with nearly 30 rooms,
very old, walls which were 2 meters thick, a very old manor. It’s
first mentioned in a document about anno domini 500. So it was
What’s in there today ?
The earl has completely renovated it. I must confess it was necessary
indeed. Today the hunting ground is on lease. There’s a
real natural countryside around Wintrup with woods, meadows and
creeks. It’s miles from anywhere. There’s no other
house in that area. He has a kind of hunting companionship which
is there at the weekend. At that time they already had a cot near
Wintrup; but virtually never could enjoy hunting.
Whenever they turned up with their shotguns to hunt wild ducks
on the pond nearby the house, we came outside with our instruments
and made a tremendous noise. So mostly they went home very frustrated.
We were very counterproductive for them,
and they always were angry about that. They would have been happy
if we had been gone.
Eventually we were 18 people who lived in Wintrup. The musicians
of course, additionally some technicians, such as Teddy Götz
(lights), who meanwhile runs his own tourservice company in Bielefeld,
and Günter Theiss (sound) plus the familys.
All in all we were 18 people and lived there for nearly 15 years.
We got pretty good along with each other, and living together
worked very, very good.
For nearly 15 years ? That means, you still lived there together
after you had left Kraan ?
Not all of us, but some. In the first years we even lived really
communistically. We had abolished private means and things like
that. So there was a common cash box only.
Somehow like the things which happen on the UFA ground here in
Oh yes ! It was a kind of ‘commune one’. Therefor
we were on TV more than once, as an example for living a socialistic
live in the West (laughs). And I must confess,
we really partly had lost our relationship to money. It simply
wasn’t important any more. We had success and enough of
it, so everyone could serve his needs.
And there was no need for you to expropriate nobilty, cause you
were supported by them.
Oh yes, exactly. We earned the money ourselves. But we had no
private money. Some day we started paying everyone 50 Mark per
gig. This was increased more and more, and finally we returned
to normal economics.
However the cohabitation in Wintrup split at last.
Hellmut and his wife Lilo moved out, when she was pregnant. She
didn’t want to deliver her baby at Wintrup. It seemed too
chaotic to her. That’s understandable. Wintrup was 24 hours
in operation. When the first got up, the last had just gone to
bed. And the entire thing mostly happened in the kitchen. It was
like a pub. There was 24 hours nonstop action. And keeping the
house also didn’t always work that perfectly. You can imagine
those crowds of people. We often had 20 guests additionally, because
there was room more than enough. There could have been 50.
Absolutely no problem. Imagine you would like to wash the dishes
in the kitchen. You couldn’t work as fast as the dishes
were used again. It was a never ending story.
You could never come to the point: “Well, everthing is clean
now”. You have to look at it like Robert Crump at that time.
You groused and cursed and worked and worked, but never finished.
Eventually you simply gave up and the next one had to keep up.
Cooking was the same thing.
Besides we had many gigs of course. Especially in the midseventies,
73,74,75. We were on the road 300 days per year. So in any case
we hardly ever were at home. That was rather the main problem
– not for us, but for the women. We were together, because
we did something together. The women were together, because they
were our ladies. Beside that they hadn’t much in common.
And cause we always were on tour for a long time, the conflicts
became worse and worse. When we were there, it was ok. But we
only were there quite rarely. So sometime Lilo decided: “My
child will not be born here.” She was the first, who moved
When was that, regarding the bands career ?
Must have been about 75 / 76.
So it nearly must have been the point in time when you left.
Right, must have beenshort before. Or maybe even afterwards. I
can’t remember exactly. But it definitely was about that
Let It Out must have been in 75.
It Out was in 74. And Let It Out was the last I had participated.
That’s an interesting question. Here the linernotes of the
CD and the books disagree. In the CD-booklet Matthias Mineur says,
you were five when you recorded in the barn of Wintrup. Rainer
M. Schröder (“Rock in Deutsch”, Heyne Verlag,
1978) says Let It Out was “still recorded with the old 4
So Let It Out had been produced without Ingo Bischof.
No,no, that’s wrong. No ! No ! Ingo joined us shortly before
Let It Out. We were five in the studio and also went on tour together.
In the meantime Ingo left again. On the England tour everything
was too stressful for him and we also had recognized, that he
was too much restricted when playing live. We always improvised
a lot. One day Peter and I alone started the gig, the next day
Hellmut and the rest of us. Then we improvised for an hour or
more, and maybe at last we all played together. With a second
harmony-instrument it became more and mor difficult, not to forget
that we already had been together for a long time. If Peter played
a ‘diminished’ – whereas he didn’t know
what a diminished is at all, but he could play it genial –
then everyone knew exactly what to do now. We were a perfect team,
and with Ingo it didn’t work that well. We had to design
things more and more. On tour we had disputes and discussions,
which led to the point, Ingo finally said he won’t do that
You were three soloist and a bassplayer, who rather also appeared
as a soloist.
Right (laughs). That’s for sure. Exactly. Hellmut also was
a solo bassplayer at any rate.
I once saw him this way, in 1982 at the Leine Domicil Hannover.
One of Peter’s strings was ripped, and while he fixed a
new one, Hellmut started to play a 10 minute bass – solo.
Genial and enthraling. That prominent you’ll experience
the bass quite rarely.
That was an important part of our live-gigs too. Hellmut’s
bass-solo always was very popular. Peter really smarted under
the fact, that Hellmut stood in the foreground that much. He was
slightly upset, cause Peter himself also enjoyed to be the centre
of interest. I think, Peter is a great guitarist in any case.
But live he sometimes couldn’t wangle things that way. Hellmut
was able to really work with the audience. He was a
madman on stage. He could encourage people, Peter was rather introverted.
Even the drummer was…
He was total introverted.
Was he really?
He was Peter’s brother, that guy called Jan Fride.
His complete name is Jan Fride Wolbrandt.
Right. He’s Peter’s brother. Jan also was a quite
introverted guy. But at a live-gig he could go very much in the
foreground as well.
That’s why I just bobbed. During this gig at the Leine Domicil,
a rather small club, I must say he had completely flipped out.
The picture of him, really working the small cymbals, which hang
on top of his drum-set, with hands and feet, will be one of the
concert impressions I’ll remember forever.
And as far as I know the drummer never changed. In the eighties
it’s becoming a little confusing because the ‘line-up
carousel’ began to rotate very fast.
Oh yes, the carousel has rotated indeed.
And Kraan has rather changed into a completely different band.
Yes ! Actually I think it had nothing to do with the original Kraan any more. There was this American guy on drums, Jerry…
äh… I can’t remember. (Gerry Brown – on
Nachtfahrt; NvF). In the meantime there had been Udo Dahmen from
Hamburg on the drums. And in between there was a completely different
guitarist. Occasionally also Curt Cress was on drums. But this
had already been in the middle of the seventies.
After you had quit, you never joined the band again.
Not really. I haven’t rehearsed with Kraan any more and
haven’t worked on any program, but from time to time I have
And also on my first Alto-LP nearly all Kraan members appear,
but in varying line-ups.
They never played all together on this LP. There were tunes with
Hellmut. And there were tunes with Peter and Jan, but they didn’t
play all together.
Did this happen intentionally or rather accidentally?
More intentionally. I didn’t want to produce a
‘Kraan – sound’ with Alto.
By the way, why did you abandon your job with Kraan ? When I read
in some books I rather got the impression, that on one hand there
was Hellmut who planned the career and was willing to accept the
according structures, but you wanted to keep your independence,
and the touring with all the frills would have been too much for
No, that wasn’t quite the truth.
Maybe it’s a bit exaggerated.
Oh yes, very much exaggerated. Cause that was not the reason.
It simply was… (hesitates) We simply had… We had been
together for a long time and somehow it didn’t work anymore.
That’s what I felt. It was no intellectual decision, it
came from my heart. I simply didn’t see a perspective. And
at last it wasn’t only my decision. It also came from the
others. So it was done by mutual consent. The decisive point was
this: I had been on holiday to Sardinia and Hellmut called to
tell me, that they had a gig at a particular time. I couldn’t
get a flight and so I simply
didn’t come to that gig. Because of this it was confirmed,
that they didn’t want me any longer, and I also wasn’t
in the mood discuss it.
Reading Rainer M. Schröder, it sounds like you were a kind
of unreliable. He says you once had been to Afghanistan,…
I’ve never been to Afghanistan
Schröder quotes Hellmut. “One day Jan and the saxophone
player had disappeared and another time they had been on a trip
to Afghanistan. And then, suddenly they were back again. Everything
was so uncertain.” (S. 165)
Ok, but I’ve never been to Afghanistan in my whole life.
I’m not that Asia-type. I prefer Jamaica or something like
this. No, that’s not the way it was. It was the only concert
in my life I missed, and that was even not my fault. It simply
came up too short dated, and I still was on holiday as I said,
and couldn’t get there at the right time. I simply couldn’t
manage it. I couldn’t get flight. I tried by car but that
also didn’t work. It simply was too far.
I wasn’t unreliable. I’ve always been on time at
every gig. That’s for sure. I think there was one gig I
couldn’t play, cause my head was exploding. Then I couldn’t
But apart from that I’ve done every concert. No, that was
not the point. Things simply didn’t work between us any
more, also mentally. At this time I also played a lot with other
bands. For example with the Release Music Orchestra, with Area,
with… with… here from Munich, with the guy called…
damned, what’s their name? … those who later became
famous with oriental sounds…
Embryo ! With Embryo I’ve been on some
tours. And I did a lot of other things at the same time. Thereby
I have recognized, that things did no longer go any further with
this Kraan line-up. And I think, the fact that I had left,
also has brought Kraan back on top. Ingo has brought in
new ideas, a ‘nippy wind’ and also a new sound. It
sounded different. And some old Kraan -fans still allege
that without saxophone it’s not the Kraan -sound.
Of course there are differences, no question about it.
But the fact, that Kraan had come somehow to a kind of ‘dead
point’, you can also realize, when you watch what happened
next. The carousel began to turn faster and faster. Suddenly Peter
quit. Then Jan quit. There wasn’t much substance any more.
The real Kraan had rather gone. There were several different line-ups
afterwards and Hellmut kept going on of course. He kept on repairing,
but only today finally everything has regenerated so far, that
this old Kraan -feeling is back again. And I rejoined them for
a few gigs in the last years.
When listening very carefully to your words, one can hear very
clearly, that your identification with Kraan never stopped. Even
when you talk about the times you were not present with Kraan ,
you always say “we”.
I think we were more than a band. We were a real family. We lived
together. We spent so much time together. We have also harmonized
very much for a very long time, considering how near we were together.
And it also was big fun of course.
I don’t want to miss one second.
Haven’t you tried to clear up the misunderstandings after
you had been thrown out, and to rejoin?
No, there was no perspective. The missed gig was just the trigger.
For me it was finished mentally for some time yet.
Then what became different with ‘Alto’?
Well, ‘Alto’ had a quite different concept. With Kraan we composed the tunes all together, more or less, while for Alto
I mainly wrote the tunes myself. Or the tunes came from one of
the other Alto - musicians and were put into practice by all of
So there was one author for a tune.
Exact. With Kraan we even were registered at the GEMA as
“Kraan”. That was unique at that time. Each of us
was also registered himself as a musician. But as composer and
librettist we were registered at the GEMA as “Kraan”.
Today you won’t find such a thing anymore. We were a real
band then, not test-tube babies. And we also had a strong influence
on the whole production, the sound, the cover-design and so on.
That was very important for us. We had producer–contracts
and therefore could decide quite independent. It is thanks to
our Walter Holzbaur, who has organized that very well. He has
leveraged us pretty good, and tried not to burn us out. We really
have to be thankful to him.
You have been present on the first five Kraan -LPs only. Then there
is an optical break too. If you look at the cover with the bandphoto
of the follow up LP Wiederhören, it’s completely out
The covers always were made by Peter, or Hellmut, who also did
a little graphics in comic-style. But mainly the creative ideas
came from Peter. He was a good, acceptable designer, who has created
real good stuff – for example the Live LP.
Also in comic style. In America the LP wasn’t released with
Neither in England.
in England. They were too prude over there. They have said: ”No,
no! You really can’t do that.” (laughs).
So a different cover was made. But one thing I have to say: The
American version of the Live-LP has much more pressure. They’ve
mixed it completely new. They really did it the American way,
with “compressor” and “limiter” (electronic
sound-enhancing tools). With Conny Plank we never wangled these
things. When we asked him “Just go and try it.”, he
explained us for hours, why it couldn’t work. He had such
an amount of knowledge, we often didn’t understand what
With Alto it was so extreme, - The first LP I’ve also recorded
at Conny Planks studio. – I told him: “I want another
sound-engineer”. So he gave me an Englishman. That guy could.
He knew how to do it. And he didn’t discuss. He simply did
How long did Alto exist?
Alto didn’t exist that long - about three or four years.
The project was not very successful. We even made the first tour
with Jan and Peter, cause they still lived at Wintrup. Hellmut
was already in Ulm. On bass we had Hans Hartmann, who also lives
here in Berlin. The second tour then was with Heinz Gembus, Micky
Stickdorn, with a keyboreder who’s name I can’t remember
right now, and with Ellen Meier Clarke.
And you released two LPs?
released two LPs. One was called Happy Ambrosia; the other simply
Alto. The Alto album was the one with many different musicians,
on which also Hellmut, Peter and Jan appeared.
What did you do after Alto? Now on your door there’s a sign
I’m running an event-agency. We organize events for industry-customers
– like congresses, convents, product presentations, image
presentations, video movies.
So it’s not the music which is in focus, but of course we
always need music for our films.
Actually, since the middle of the eighties, I just make music
as a hobby. I have quit being a professional musician and today
I’m in the lucky position only to play whenever I like,
wherever I like, whatever I like, with whomever I like. (laughs)
That’s optimal, isn’t it?
When you started this in the middle of the eighties and I add
four years to your withdrawal from Kraan , there are still a few
Before I started Alto, as I told you before, I had played with
Aera, Munju, RMO and those guys from Munich,...
…Embryo. Alto didn’t start until the late seventies.
The first Alto-LP is from 78 or 79. The second probably from 81.
In 1985 I definitively quit working as a professional musician
and only jam here and there. I still enjoy it. Besides I make
Pupils Recording on my Laptop. (The Laptop substitutes the tape
recorder. All instruments and sounds are on the computer and accessed
by a keyboard, and additional instruments can be put in by microphone
or line-in.) That’s real fun with all those possibilities
you have today.
Sometimes I even go into the studio to work with Potsch, the
guitarist of Spliff, or with some other musicians from the seventies,
who are still around, here in Berlin. Then we make a studio session
or a jam. I’ve done quite a lot of live stuff with the black
singer Queen Yahna. I enjoyed that too, though she’s rather
chaotic. She has an amazing, powerful voice. This black music
I like very much, Soul, funky, this direction. Besides, due to
the saxophone, of course I like to play a bit jazzy.
In fact I play constantly, but just for fun, for example also
with a very strange project, a Jimi Hendrix line-up with German
lyrics. That’s a trio here from Berlin with drums, bass
and guitar – original Jimi Hendrix, but with German lyrics.
And the lyrics are so good, you don’t even recognize that
they are German.
What’s the name of this band?
Elektrische Männerwelt (electric men’s world). The
bassplayer is Micky Westphal. The other names I can’t remember
right now. The guitarist is rather known in eastern Germany. He
probably was in a quite prominent band, an excellent guitarist,
real Hendrix like. The drummer sings and writes the lyrics. We
play at hovels like Yorckschlößchen (Jazzclub in Berlin
Kreuzberg; NvF). Recently we played open air at the Bergmann Straßen-Fest
(also Kreuzberg; NvF), or we play at some small jazzclubs. This
happens once in a while, but in fact quite seldom. I don’t
rehearse with them, or if I do, it’s at most one hour before
the gig. I just haven’t got the time, to work constantly
with a band again. Of course my company comes first. But anyway
I prefer jamming with different musicians, join in here and there.
That’s what I enjoy most. The very best thing is to play
unplugged, together with a piano, real basic saxophone.
Another question regarding Alto. I’ve got the tune “Dark
Veils” in mind. Very interesting lyrics. It seems even at
that time already to allude to the Islamic revolution in Iran.
Alto:That’s what it was aimed
But in the beginning of the eighties, a warning against fundamentalistic
Islamic culture was not up to date yet. The culture scene was
dominated by the often a bit uncritical multi-culture-thinking.
In this context “Dark Veils” is an unusual critical
view on Islamic culture.
Yes, no music, and so on.
There are lines like “Soon you will be wearing dark veils
too”. Regarding the current bandanna discussion this already
was almost prophetic.
Yes, maybe we were ahead of the times. This often happened then.
I’m sure also with Alto. That’s why we didn’t
succeed. What we did wasn’t commercial.
So are your lyrics throughout political or critical regarding
all! There are poetical lyrics as well. They were penned by different
people. I’ve done many lyrics myself. But Ellen, our singer,
has written lyrics too. She hasn’t made political lyrics,
but love-songs and so on – more the poetical stuff. But
this “Dark Veils” was indeed a kind of protest-song,
which aimed exactly towards the former Iran. The tune was on the
second LP. There was only one permanent line-up on it: Keyboards,
bass, drums and saxophone. With this line-up we also did the touring.
Actual that worked pretty well. The line-up was functioning pretty
well. But then Inga Rumpf came up and snatched away my keyboarder
and my drummer. With her I couldn’t keep up. She paid three
times as much, so I said: “Sorry, I can’t keep up
with this. You have to do it now.”
I have to thank Michael Bohn, who probably runs the most extensive
website about Kraan and the solo projects of the members, and
who allowed us to use the two black and white photos (Alto in
the year 1974 and Kraan 2002 in front of Wintrup manor). The up
to date photos I’ve shot at “Mixed Media” office.
The Interview was done by Norbert von Fransecky.
Translation by Christian Zey