World Cup opening concert: Right Said Fred - Big in Germany
Their star burned briefly a long time ago at home. Yet the Fairbrass brothers last night took centre stage before 100,000 fans in Berlin. Why does Europe adore them? Matthew Beard reports
Thursday 08 June 2006
With such dubious hits as "I'm Too Sexy" and "Deeply Dippy", the tonsorially-challenged pop duo Right Said Fred have long since seen their appeal wane in their homeland. However, the Fairbrass brothers Fred and Richard have hardly been idle in the past decade, exporting their brand of party beats and sing-along lyrics to mainland Europe, Russia and Africa.
In particular, Right Said Fred appear to have found something of a spiritual home in Germany, a nation which is rarely praised for its good taste in pop music.
As testimony to their longevity, the brothers took to the stage in Berlin last night for a concert which was part of the build-up to the World Cup in front of 100,000 fans, including Sir Bobby Charlton and Pele, gathered at the Brandenburg Gate.
Their set was one of the opening acts in a concert also featuring Simple Minds, Nelly Furtado and Ronan Keating and carried live on German television.
The brothers treated the crowd to a five-song set, inevitably including their 1992 hit "I'm Too Sexy", which has sold three million copies worldwide and reached number 1 in the US and number 2 in the UK.
The duo have found something of a niche in Germany, a country where the Baywatch star David Hasselhoff has turned crooner and succeeding in shifted millions of records.
"RSF" have been coming back year after year for sports events and radio road shows where they perform such easy to understand, triumphalist songs as "We Have A Chance", "Stand Up For the Champions" and "We Are The Champions".
"You either love them or loathe them, but what you can't deny is that they deliver party atmosphere consistently," wrote a Karlsruhe newspaper after they performed in the city alongside Bonnie Tyler and Hot Chocolate recently.
Nobody pretends this is cutting-edge pop but when it comes to creating frivolity, they know which buttons to press. In terms of musical genre they fit somewhere between "prolpop" or "music for the Majorca crowd".
Last night's performance was the first of two in Berlin and they are virtually sold out for the next two months in Germany, playing at the open air Fanfesten during the football in Leipzig, Hamburg, Dortmund and Krafeld.
"When it came to lining up acts for the World Cup, Right Said Fred were an automatic choice," said Stefan Loman, from the band's Hamburg-based management team, The Sound Of Music. "They are very much in demand as warm-up acts at sports events and radio shows."
Even during the height of their brief flirtation with fame in the UK in the early Nineties, Right Said Fred were hard to pigeon-hole. Described as everything from punk to pop, there was a time when no wedding reception would be complete without the ritual gyration of elderly uncles and aunts to their debut single. The original line-up saw the brothers team up with Rob Manzoli in their home town of East Grinstead, West Sussex. The group took their name from the 1962 comedy single of the same name, sung by the Carry On star, Bernard Cribbins.
The song's comic appeal rests on a group of workmen's ill-fated attempts to shift an improbably heavy object, most likely a piano. As the job becomes ever harder the team intersperse their efforts with tea breaks, heralded with the cry of "Right, said Fred".
Yet though many of their songs inspired a smile on the faces of their audience, RSF were insistent that they were not a novelty act. They have been one of the few bands in recent decades to achieve transAtlantic success. Ironically they were beaten to the number 1 spot in the UK by the Canadian Bryan Adams' Nineties mega-hit "(Everything I Do) I Do it for You", spending six weeks at number 2. The follow up "Don't Talk Just Kiss", which featured Jocelyn Brown, peaked at number 3 in the 1991 Christmas charts. The follow-up "Deeply Dippy", while equally catchy, sold fewer copies, but managed to top the UK charts in the face of lower-selling opposition. However, the glory days were now on the wane, and despite regular appearances on panel games, RDF were on their way to obscurity by the end of the decade.
It was a different story in Germany however. As their fortunes waned in the British charts, the band travelled to Germany to work with Alex Christensen's U96, a dance project which took its name, somewhat uncomfortably, from the cult German war film Das Boot.
Right Said Fred's careers were boosted in 2000 when they signed a record deal with Kingsize Records/BMG Deutschland after which they recorded the fourth of their sixth albums - parting company with Manzolini prior to the release of their last album For Sale.
An affinity with sport dates back to when Fred was an unsuccessful triallist with Fulham and Chelsea football clubs. After he failed to make the grade he joined the band Jericho, while his brother has played with such names as Mick Jagger and Boy George.
They performed at the reopening of Berlin's Olympiastadion two years ago and their second single "Mojive" has become an unofficial anthem of the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim.
The band's inclusion on last night's bill may also have had a financial consideration for the cash-strapped Berlin city council which organised last night's event at a cost of €3.5m (£2.4m) with a €1m contribution from Fifa.
Tomorrow Munich's spectacular new stadium hosts the official opening ceremony of the World Cup ahead of Germany's game against Costa Rica.
Taking to the stage will be the Berlin hip-hop act Seed and the legendary London-based German singer Herbert Groenemeyer, who will perform the tournament song.
But when the history of German rock music comes to be written, it will not be a completely bleak tome. So-called "krautrock" came of age in the Sixties when, as London swirled in a psychedelic haze and Paris and Prague rioted, German musicians rose to meet the challenge. The Zodiak Free Arts Lab in Berlin showcased a steady stream of talent from Klaus Schulze to Conrad Schnitzler - perhaps not household names to British music fans but important nonetheless.
By the early years of the 1970s, German bands had begun to build audiences outside their homeland. Tangerine Dream were acclaimed in prog-rock circles for their pioneering use of synthesisers. By the mid-1970s Kraftwerk - championed by John Peel in the UK - scored success well into the 1980s with albums including Autobahn and Radio-Activity. The apparent obsession with the dark, hard-edged industrial sound continued into the dance craze of the 1990s - many music business observers believe Kraftwerk helped pave the way for it.
But by the middle of that decade, young bands in Germany were still fighting to convince German audiences that it was "cool" to sing in their native tongue with a new crop of heavily intellectual young bands dubbed the School of Hamburg, espousing a new set of political and musical realities. But the appeal of the English language remains undimmed.
In the meantime, Right Said Fred are keen to avoid being typecast by the Germans. "We don't write party music," Richard said recently. "We play pop songs, and if the fans celebrate at the same time, then all the better. If you want to form an opinion about our music then you have to listen to the whole CD, not just the singles."
... And some German exports who have made it big over here
Prog-rock fans, snuggled into their faux leopardskin bean bag between lava lamps and incense sticks, will reminisce misty-eyed over Tangerine Dream's heyday.
The electronic group was a classically moody 1970s post-hippie band best listened to through a thick drug-induced haze. Their early albums were pivotal in the formation of krautrock and new-age music.
They signed to the industry newcomer Virgin Records in 1973 and released Phaedra. The album's "warm, cosmic throb" took it to an unexpected number 14 in the UK charts.
Like Mike Oldfield, the band experimented heavily with new digital technology and Phaedra was the first commercial album to feature sequencers.
The long-haired Tangerine Dream's 1980 East Berlin concert put them among the first Western acts to perform in Communist territory.
Undoubtedly the coolest group to cross German borders, Kraftwerk are the pioneers of electronica. They are reclusive perfectionists. They love bicycles.
Formed in 1969 by Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter, the classic line-up came together for the 1975 Autobahn tour: a flautist, a keyboard player and two electronic percussionists. The "motorik" beat from the 22-minute title track was a worldwide hit. Thanks to the five albums they created up to 1981 they are still spoken of in the same breath as the Beatles - albeit by their predominantly male fan base. Plain melodies and catchy beats were decades ahead of the rest of the music world; Kraftwerk influenced house, trance, hip-hop and techno. Their minimalist lyrics flit between alienation and the joys of urban life in postwar Europe.
The band's introverted refusal to receive phone calls or open post extends to the stage: robots perform instead of band members.
One of the greatest of one-hit wonders, Nena shot to fame in the UK in 1984 with "99 Luftballons" ("99 Red Balloons"). Born Gabriele Susanne Kerner, she became a fantasy figure for (some) British male adolescents after her notorious appearance on Top of the Pops.
The leather trousers were not the issue; it was the copiously hairy armpits that sparked debate in British sixth-form common rooms. The English- language version of the song went to Number 1 across the globe, including the US and the UK.
It recently featured in an episode of the medical comedy Scrubs and in the film Grosse Point Blank. The American TV channel VH1 named her tenth in its list of all-time onehit wonders - a verdict deemed harsh by German fans.
The band's name translates crudely into English as "Collapsing New Buildings" and Einstürzende Neubauten, formed in 1980, went on to become significant in the UK for their huge influence on Depeche Mode. The British group's songwriter, Martin Gore, was a fan, as can be heard on albums such as "Construction Time Again".
Although commonly categorised under electronica or industrial, the German outfit is more nebulous, priding itself on its experimentation with non-instrumental noise and - in 2000 - silence. To coincide with its 20th birthday, it released the album Silence is Sexy, the title song of which is about tinnitus.
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