Through co-lead vocalist/bassist Henry Vrienten passing away at age 73 from lung cancer this got bumped forward. This entry was written around the start of 2021
Owned since: 2006
Genre: Dutch dub influenced guitar based reggea pop?
Where I bought it: It’s my mom’s
It’s extremely hard to explain the history of Dutch popular music. Most of our popular bands, as usual, sing in Dutch and can sound like knockoffs of whatever is popular around the world. Sometimes you get some crossover success, but mostly our little frog country isn’t really known for being a well known breeding place for acts. Mostly for producers which are all over the place on the Billboard charts in the last 10 years or, well, techno acts.
Doe Maar were massive in the 80’s till they split up in 1984 after just 6 years of being a band, reaching near Beatlemania levels of excitement with their breaking up concerts. Which is an odd look for a bunch of mid-30s guys who just really liked reggae/dub music and kind of fell into pop stardom.
Mostly a bunch of transplants from Amsterdam and its surroundings in the start that moved to a tiny Brabant’s Neerkant farm town in the late 60’s to form a commune around their folk/Americana band CCC inc. The band toured a ton out of their farm homestead and got to be quite well known around Europe, but never really made the jump to being big enough to warrant a longer run. Important shows include the Dutch Woodstock at Kralingse bos and the massive Amsterdam rock circus festival. Several (pretty great) albums were recorded and they reunited in some form after slowly disbanding before they officially split up in 1974.
This is where keyboard player/singer Ernst Jansz hails from originally but also band friend/temporary member Joost Belinfante. After they split off they formed several other bands and formed the Slumberlandband, whose record is a very nice piece of folky psychedelica. Guitarist Jan Hendriks was born and raised in Noord-Brabant and played in several beats bands and other unsuccessful bands before Doe Maar. Henny Vrienten who joins up with this album to fill out the classic lineup. Vrienten also came out out of the beat corner and met Jansz while touring as the supporting band of the Netherlands most famous singer-songwriter Boudewijn de Groot and then toured as a reggae cover band through the Netherlands. They toured for the Groot’s kind of forgotten but pretty good Waar ik Woon en Wie Ik Ben record which is by sure the most rock-like the former folk singer has sounded to that point. The reggae influences that came to steer Doe Maar later on are on this record already there a tiny bit also. De Groot would also produce the first of several Henry Vrienten singles under the name Ruby Carmichael which are a bit throwaway pop songs that sound like a guitar based Gilbert O’ Sullivan.
The original lineup changed up a fair bit, originally starting as a festival band for the Amsterdam based Festival of Fools, it slowly morphed into a pretty traditional rock band setting. Their first release is the song Blozen on the classic Uitholling Overdwars LP which is full of new Dutch talent which was produced by the Dutch pop Stichting whose goal was promoting Dutch music. I also own a copy of this, thanks dad, and it’s pretty interesting so look forward to coverage of that somewhere in the future. Blozen is a bit of a sleazy that is over-sexual and recalls in sound a bit fellow Dutch band Gruppo Sportivo but less funky. It’s not a great song, maybe the weakest on the record, but the start was there.
Their 1979 debut is a record I used to own, but don’t anymore for good reason because it’s only really interesting as a relic. Going hard on the good looks of Jansz’s Dutch-Indo mixed heritage it was recorded for slagher king Johnny Hoes and was kind of dumped on release. The album cover sure didn’t help either, which includes nudity and children because of course. Half of the record sounds like famed farm rockers, who were heavily indebted to American blues rock, Normaal and the lyrics are overall juvenile and horny. Even though some songs (Verdomme, ik doe het wel alleen) are quite ok, it really feels like a bunch of musicians letting loose from their earlier soft hippie music then anything else. It does open up with Anita, with its quite enjoyable steel drums, but the lyrics are juvenile again and really showcases how much the band was searching for a sound.
After this, they got dumped by the main label, got shifted to Telstar’s more rocky Killroy label and played the Dutch scene of youth clubs and small concert places all over the country. Also they played a lot in my hometown since they were for a while still working out of (the surroundings) of the old CCC inc. in Neerkant. The record wasn’t a success. Jansz and original bassist/vocalist Pieter Dekker didn’t work well together, either, and to finish out a contract they invited Henry Vrienten, who the whole band played with a year previously on van de Groot’s weird depressing Van een Afstand record, to join the band. He was way more of a professional musician, showcased by his later score work, than the rest of the band. He finally gave in and the classic line-up of the band formed. They threw out most of their old songs and started writing new stuff based on their love of ska and reggae
Skunk is their ‘first’ real album and introduces Henny Vrienten in the band whose heavy Noord-Brabant accent (which he hated) really became a massive part of the band’s appeal. The album was most pushed by Hoes’s son who was running Killroy at this point and they tried to take a last shot at the band on their label. Johnny Hoes thought it would flop, postponing it, but did send promos out which got a ton of airplay because they forgot to say the record got postponed after the promos where sent. It also is the last record to really now just focus on pretty boys Henry Vrienten and Ernst Jansz on vocals because it also includes guitarist Jan Hendriks and drummer Carel Copier on lead vocals. It would be Copier’s last record with the band as he would leave the band because of hand injuries and a later confessed addiction issue.
Which honestly is a big case of ‘what if’ because Copier was the best vocalist they had according to the band and a solid songwriter. He was replaced by a bunch of drummers who never really had that much to say for songwriting. His big focus track on this is Te Laat, a wonderful slice of jumpy ska infused punk that recalls bands like Squeeze minus a piano. Nix voor Jou is a wonderful slice of dubby ska which has him doing some great stuff about leaving a one night stand and apologizing for it so the girl better not start anything with him. He would return during the bands original last concerts to play it live and it really showcases the thick Brabant accent he and Vrienten spot. He’s also appeared at most of their big reunion shows since in guest spots.
With follow up Doris Day en andere Stukken the band still stuck to the same sound but is just overall a lot less frantic and more dub based. He really keeps a higher tempo than the following drummers, the record just feels a lot more raw and frantic which is a good fit for the still pretty juvenile lyrics.
Even so, there’s a ton of improvement in the lyrics here already mostly through Vrienten’s work but also Jansz turns out some great stuff. Opening track 32 (sinds 1 dag of 2) is an extreme song about being in love when you’re well 32. Smoorverliefd is another love song about how much being in love hurts, pretty basic songs but catchy pop lyrics and hooks.
That’s what Skunk mostly is: catchy. Beside one track there isn’t a riff or second to long of a song on here, all perfectly cut between the 2 and 4 minute mark and a nice interplay between the more dubby stuff and the more upbeat ska songs with a four-way split lead vocalist. Which sounds like a disaster but it all works so well because it has just, well, got a lot of ‘spunk’. Lyrics improved a ton also compared to the last record. Absolute lyrical highlights here are Rumah Say and De Laaste X which always follow each other.
Rumah Say translates to where is my home in Indonesian and is an interesting little song about Jansz mixed heritage and trying to find yourself where you belong. De Laatste X is a song Vrienten would write a ton of. A song about breaking up and meeting up for the last time after a period of already being loose from each other, exchanging keys and looking forward. It isn’t a lyrical masterpiece of deep cutting wisdom but it is a heartfelt little song that perfectly shows why Doe Maar was so beloved by the press and its teen girl crowd. Speaking of Dansen, Dansen Met Alice is a great closer about, well, being pretty much stuck as friends but hey the dancing is at least fun.
We also need to discuss Nederwiet because if there is an award for most Dutch song ever it’s for this one I guess. A reggae tune about how to grow and use Dutch weed, which was then known for being easy to grow at home, sang by CCC Inc. band member Joost Belinfante and originally made for a collaborative live performance in the (in)famous Melkweg music venue in Amsterdam. It’s 7 minutes of slow reggae talking about not smoking the leaves of the Cannabis sativa, the flower sort that makes Nederwiet. It’s the most pure reggae track on this record and goes deep into dub basses also. Honestly also the weakest track on here and feels a bit at odds with the more upbeat ska stuff here. It would be a good fit for a loose 12-inch or a complication record but it’s just making this record a bit too long that it needs to be.
Skunk, even 40 years after its release, is an extremely fun record of a band finally finding their sound. It really holds up through it’s slightly rough edges, simple pop tunes drowned in ska and reggae influences and mostly the band sounding around 10 years younger then they were when they recorded it. It’s honestly pretty rare to find such a fun fresh rock record recorded by a bunch of early 30-somethings, even more if they have nearly 10 year long careers of playing in a band at that point. It’s one of the most beloved Dutch records ever and still keeps being brought up today in discussions of best Dutch records.
Doe Maar reunited several times in the 00’s but have been an active band again since 2011 who sometimes play a string of shows. Jansz and Vrienten also both have had interesting solo careers as musicians, writers, Dutch Bob Dylan covers and composers. I own every full length of the original run of the band besides the self titled which we also covered above so expect to return to the odd story and the real start of Doe Maar Mania somewhere in the future which well takes some turns.
There’s also a musical based on the band’s music. It’s not great but a neat novelty it includes a onstage band doing the backing
Sloot Gedachten: RAAP HET OP RAAP HET OP RAAP HET OP. This does sound like a buncha dudes jamming together and getting really into the groove. Fun stuff.