Nine Days’ Wonder interview
German underground rock band of the seventies hailing from Mannheim. Eccentric vocalist Walter Seyffer had fronted numerous bands during the sixties. He established Nine Days’ Wonder in 1966, then known as The Graves, who gradually transformed into Nine Days’ Wonder in February 1970.
Where and when did you grow up? Was music a big part of your family life?
Walter Seyffer: I come from a working class family. When I woke up very early in the morning to do my homework for school, I hadn’t done the day before I saw my father sitting in the kitchen in the semi-darkness, his black coffee in his right hand and his rolling cigarette in his left, I knew even as a small boy, that my life must be different. To work from 7 am to 5 pm in a place for which one has only curses left and an expectant look at the clock when the shift is finally over, could not be my future.
No one in our family played an instrument. An accordion rested on the bedroom cupboard and nobody played it. When I opened the suitcase and saw the many keys and buttons, I was left alone and hopelessly overwhelmed. An accordion did not seem to be up to date. The music of my parents was the operetta and the hits of the 50’s, whose lyrics I still master flawlessly today. A breakthrough was the encounter with a sound that I did not know how to interpret at first. And that happened on the children’s playground in our area. There were boys who wore dark leather jackets and carried small record players with them. Out of these little roar cubes came primeval sounds that preached the promise, that there was more than the music I had known before. It was a rhythmic thunderstorm with voices that rolled over and longingly said in commanding tone what to do. Just to shake and shake – Be Bop A Loona – seemed to be the name of an unknown country and in general, this was a jet engine on a flight into a future that contained everything that could make sense in life.
“Whenever I had to do something new, I looked around at those who were already doing it and I said to myself, what they can do, I can do for a long time!”
When did you begin playing music? What was your first instrument? Who were your major influences?
Together with a school friend of mine, I occasionally passed a music shop in the early sixties, during our forays through downtown Mannheim. We were both 14 years old. Again and again we admired the electrically amplified Fender, Strato- and Telecaster guitars, which seemed like miracle weapons from a distant planet. Shiny drums and gigantic loudspeaker boxes boded the unthinkable, the unspeakable, the life in freedom an escape from dull everyday routine and normality. At this moment, a man of perhaps forty years old stepped in and said: “Yes, like the Beatles you have to do it, then you’ll become millionaires!” Without having the slightest idea, how to use an electric guitar or a drum kid, the two of us formed a band right away. The other guys we needed would be found, everything else would fall into place. We bought the instruments from the money we earned during the school holidays as roofing assistants, as assembly line workers and bottle cleaners in a brewery. This was the beginning of a journey that connected me with music for more than 20 years and offered me possibilities for my development, that I would otherwise never have been able to take advantage of from my family environment. I got to know people who freed me from a bank apprenticeship that had bored me to death and gave me access to art studies, which I successfully completed as a graphic designer, despite my grueling musical activities.
There is a sentence of my grandmother, which impressed me deeply in my childhood. I have heard this sentence from her several times: “Whenever I had to do something new, I looked around at those who were already doing it and I said to myself, what they can do, I can do for a long time!”
I still have this sentence in my hand luggage to this day. When I think of all the things my grandmother said all day long, I wonder why it was this sentence that has accompanied me all my life. I remained committed to one more sentence all my life. It was my father who told me again and again: “Choose a profession where you won’t get your hands dirty.” This was probably due on the one hand to the fact that he, as a machine worker, wanted a position for his son that was denied to him, but it was also always an appeal for me, not to be unduly indebted to myself in my life. To stay reasonably clean, even if it is difficult and not always successful.
The first instrument was an Olympic drum kid…and it was loud – too loud to rehearse in the apartment building where I lived. But you knew a guy who had a Hofner electric guitar and a rehearsal room.
That was enough to join the first band we formed.
We were strongly influenced by the station Radio Luxembourg…
Of the three hottest bands in our city Mannheim – we were the fourth in a short time, we were the most current. Everything that was new in the charts on Radio Luxemburg we’ve heard on Wednesday evening. I recorded with my Grundig TK1 tape recorder; and on Thursdays we rehearsed at least three new songs, to present them to the public on Saturday. At our concerts you could hear music from England and America, before the singles were available in local shops. We were very ambitious.
Of course it was very difficult for us students, who didn’t have a good grade in English, to listen to the lyrics correctly, because of the bad radio broadcast. Still today I can sing some songs purely phonetic, without using one single correct English word. And more than this, it was a bit exotic at that time anyway, that the drummer sang most of the songs.
“My “awakening experience” came in 1962 when I heard ‘Keep a Knockin’ by Little Richard”
Unattached we were waiting for every new records of the Stones and The Who, the Kinks, the Yardbirds and the Animals and all those others heroes. But my personal taste in music went back much further. Already at the age of twelve I listened to Del Shannon, Everly Brothers, Joey Dee (my first live concert at fourteen), Bobby Darin, Elvis (I didn’t like him that much because of the stupid movies he made). My “awakening experience” came in 1962 when I heard ‘Keep a Knockin’ by Little Richard from a school friend of mine in his older brother’s room. I had a similar experience years later when I heard ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.
“Nine Days’ Wonder were the founders of the first community in Mannheim.”
How would you describe the early counterculture scene in Germany in the late sixties and early seventies?
Nine Days’ Wonder were the founders of the first community in Mannheim. We lived in the total disorder of that time. We were not far away from Heidelberg, the stronghold of the drug culture at that time, and had a lively exchange with all the bands in the near and far surroundings. We played over all places where there was a power outlet, sometimes three times a night. Meetings with other bands took place at motorway service stations, or in the neighboring rehearsal rooms. We never had any money and how we managed to get the gas for our bus is still a mystery to me. Fees were lousy. But everyone who makes music knows this story. When Nine Days’ Wonder was ready to record our first LP, we were a sworn community, we played our very complicated music with great certainty – probably we were never as good live afterwards.
You can hear this very well on the CD ‘The Best Years Of Our Life?’ which contains two tracks from the first LP, which were taken from a live broadcast of a radio station. We recorded this first LP in a four-track studio near Cologne in 5 days. Except for the vocals, everything was recorded in one take.
In contrast to the German bands, we thought of ourselves as an international band (Ireland, Austria, England, Germany) and always looked down a bit from above on groups like Amon Düül II, Guru Guru or Embryo, because these bands almost only improvised, we on the other hand had an absolutely polished program, where everything was rehearsed. That was almost bourgeois again in this time, where it was all about “freedom and emotion”. But one thing was certain; nobody else could play a piece from us.
At this time, the music that impressed us the most was music of King Crimson, and Frank Zappa.
At that time we had the gifted John Francis Patrick Earle as saxophonist in the group. As an absolute teacher, he gave us the musical basis to bring such intricate themes and riffs to the ear. After Nine Days’ Wonder he played with Graham Parker and the Rumors, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and was the live saxophonist of Thin Lizzy on ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’.
I can still hear him today, even though he passed in 2008, every day when I follow the weather forecast of our local radio station. The jingle of the weather report is the song of Katrina and the Waves ‘Walking On Sunshine’ on which he plays his wonderful saxophone part.
I found the name Nine Days’ Wonder in a dictionary in 1967 – nothing more and nothing less…
The name is still very popular today – there were and are at least three other bands worldwide who found this name attractive. What was missing in Germany, and would be missing for a long time, were managements who booked groups for tours and supported them in their career. We were under contract with Bellaphon Records in Frankfurt and the producer was Peter Hauke. (Nectar – they also had some success in the USA). He had heard us at a competition, he had announced to find groups for his new label PoPo Records.
Unfortunately this production company went bankrupt and we lost our equipment and gave up after a short time.
What’s the story behind the cover artwork?
Peter Hauke was one of the most innovative record producers at that time. He was open for every new idea. Later on I was allowed to design many strange covers for him, for example the Haze cover of ‘Hazecolor-Dia’. (A real dia-slide)
The original cover of our first LP is the famous green Nine Days’ Wonder foam cover, a very popular item among collectors today. In England the album was released by Harvest with a cover designed by Hipgnosis. (This “fish cover” was taken over by Bellaphon after Bacillus Records was bought by the company Bellaphon, because allegedly the costs to produce the foam cover were too high). For the now re-released CD it was decided to use a mixture of foam rubber cover and the photo from the inside of the record. The original English cover of Hipgnosis can be viewed on the homepage of Nine Days’ Wonder.
Many years later (ca. 2015) a crazy collector reissued this cover with the exact same green foam (one LP cost ca. 50 Euro). The 500 were sold in days quickly without any advertisement.
How pleased were you with the sound of the album? What, if anything, would you like to have been different from the finished product?
Actually, I was and still am very satisfied with the sound of the album. The engineer was Dieter Dirks, who later recorded Tina Turner, Eric Burden and later the first LP’s of the Scorpions. Actually it was the easiest album to record, because we played these songs on stage for months. All we had to do, was to turn the knobs and let the tape run – everything else happened quite logically… I never had it so wonderfully easy anymore, because in later years we always composed and rehearsed the pieces shortly before recording. This then logically ended in multi-track recordings of unimaginable dimensions and took an endless amount of time with mixing back and forth.
How about your second album ‘We Never Lost Control’?
‘We Never Lost Control’ was more or less an accident for me. An accident, because Peter Hauke, after his company had gone bankrupt and I was in the process of forming a new group in 1972, wanted us to record as a new producer employed by Bellaphon. I had to do something to keep the new musicians I had on the roster. So I agreed and I could be sure that the guys who had never been in the studio before would start up and stay with me. Today I know, that it was wrong, because the inexperience of those guys is clearly audible. I would like to delete this record from my history book. But there are always fans that prefer this LP – I never found out why.
‘Only the Dancers’ followed in 1975. Your sound changed quite a bit.
We had made our first attempts at songwriting between 1973 and 1975 to make our music a little more tangible. Peter Hauke invited us to come to Chipping Norten Studio in England after the 2nd LP was not very successful.
Band Nectar was there before and Gerry Rafferty had just recorded ‘Baker Street’. So why not? Maybe finally a new step in the right direction. In addition we were able to get an old friend of Rolf Henning, David Jackson from Van der Graaf Generator, to take over the saxophone part.
It was a good atmosphere and the recordings went fast. However, for me this is only an intermediate step towards, what later became apparent with ‘Billy Frost’, namely that through my encounter with “Ravi” Unger, I also got to know an excellent songwriter. After I had recast Nine Days’ Wonder again, then tried our hand at songs and improved our vocal qualities enormously.
And again the record company did nothing for the fourth album. Now I think about the fact, that we were just an object of write-off from the beginning. Time and taste were changing and this leads to the fact that we looked for new role models. There were Steely Dan, Billy Joel, The Eagles and of course again and again the inimitable role models of the Beatles.
So ‘Billy Frost’ became a finger exercise for the future project Wintergarden and our goal was to be with the same company as the Beatles. That this was possible, had its history. Our publisher asked me to take over the tour management for in Germany very successful group called Eloy. They had a contract with EMI. I could live off that and Ravi and I had the time to prepare our demos for the company, we wanted to go to anyway, without the need for a group attachment. The calculation worked out.
Two, I still think fantastic records were made, which were completely different from what had happened in those years before. There were excellent musicians (among others the musicians of Herbert Grönemeier. (May not be known in the States, but in Germany one of the most successful singer, backed up from one of the best band on this planet).
Wintergarden I – 1979
1. ‘Judy’s Blue Monday Café’ 6’00
2. ‘Up and Down the Road’ 5’10
3. ‘Blame it On These Endless Nights’ 3’50
4. ‘The Lady On the One Pound Note’ 4’18
5. ‘Josephine’ 5’34
6. ‘Khaki Eyes’ 6’32
7. ‘The Way We Were’ 6’22
Walter Seyffer (vocals)
Rainer Herzog (Hammond, piano, moog)
Bernd “Ravi” Unger (guitars)
“Chuck” Thomas Tscheschner (bass)
Charles Esposito (drums)
Walter Quintus (glockenspiel)
Ian Cussick (vocals)
Recordings were made in Hamburg and in Hannover.
The catch in this attempt to establish ourselves was that EMI expected that we sell thousands of records. We sold from the first one Wintergarden about 20000 copies. At this time, not bad for an unknown group in Germany. But even with EMI again, we stood alone and had no management support. When the second one ‘The Land Of Milk & Honey’ didn’t sold more than the first one, EMI resigned. When you’re with the major labels you are not allowed stagnate; and when, they kick you out and then nobody else will take you, because then they say: “if they didn’t make it with EMI then who will make it.”
The end came in 1981.
With Rainer Herzog and Andreas Debatin I produced the minimalist group Eiskalte Engel. It was only one LP, because Hansa Records really didn’t do anything anymore, when – what we call over here in Germany the “Neue Deutsche Welle” – was on the wane again. I think we were just a few months too late. The same thing happened with Videoclip – but it was probably also because the female singer had completely freaked out and couldn’t get on stage without getting undressed.
“The first album is definitely the most unusual and most representative of the zeitgeist in Germany.”
Would you agree that your debut from 1971 is the most interesting album in your discography?
The first album is definitely the most unusual and most representative of the zeitgeist in Germany. It is like a diary of the madness that surrounded us all during this time. Nothing seemed impossible, the horizon wide open and self-confidence seemed inexhaustible. In this respect yes, but I don’t like to hear it anymore. It’s too annoying for my taste today and leaves no room to catch my breath. I’ve spent all these years trying to find an inner free spirit.
There is no more material, that has not been published in any form.
Now in these days the streaming services, let me know about higher and higher downloads and streams over the last years. Last year, there were 150 000 streams of Nine Days’ Wonder songs. I decided four years ago in 2016, to write new songs for these loyal fans. This music is of course, not that complicated to record nowadays, when it comes to studio work. The studio is located in my practice in a wall cabinet. All you need today is your guitar, a keyboard, a microphone and a Mac and you have unlimited tracks and effects without an end. Everything once had done costs next to nothing.
It’s just experience and creativity that counts, and that you don’t get lost in what this software has to offer. In this and the last years three new songs have already been put on YouTube.
It will probably result in a new CD, which will probably be finished this year under the title: ‘Washers In My Tip Can’. Besides the already mentioned three tracks, which can be heard on YouTube, there are another six titles in progress.
The titles will then be available on streaming services in the foreseeable future. Together with me, Ray Opper, cowriter of the fourth album and two Wintergarden’s records, (Newbern Tennessee) Rainer Saam (Mannheim, Germany) bass player on four Nine Days’ Wonder albums and producer/sound engineer Olga van Boekel, a faithful companion from the beginning of the group.
I myself, after many years of working in recording studios as an engineer and producer, took a completely new direction in 1995; and since 2000 I have been working as a biography consultant and trainer in my own practice and run an academy for the further education of biography consultants.
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
What is for sure is, that we cannot compare the conditions of that time with the situation today, because we had the unique chance to plough an untouched field for the first time and were free to decide what to cultivate on it. \”The future was wide open\” sings Tom Petty and that’s how we felt. If we had the slightest fear that it might look the same behind the horizon as it did before, we would never have been able to develop the energy that made us believe all the time, that we could steal a piece of the rainbow with no punishment.
And so my advice can only be this: keep on track of the unploughed fields, even if so many claim that they no longer exist. We were told these almost 50 years ago too. And you should perhaps remember that these fields are recognized by the fact, that they do not yet have a name and that there is no risk insurance for them. I don’t know if you can get a loan for it. From this it follows, that one must then also seek to deal with the risk of not having an insurance policy.
After 50 years, from this perspective, there is no bad or good for the time with Nine Days’ Wonder and everything else, but perhaps only the astonishment that I survived it all so relatively well. My belief in guardian angels comes from looking back on that time. Don Henley expressed it this way, a few years ago at his concert with the Eagles in Frankfurt: \”The thing that amazes me most is that after all, I am still alive and well.” Walter Seyffer, August 2020
Nine Days’ Wonder Official Website