Only in the last few years, after many concerts, Oliver Heuer had actually arrived back where it all started, at performances with friends in his Hometown. I visited him in May 2016 in his home in a small town near Cologne, just before his appearance in the Christ Church up there in Sindorf. I brought him an edition of the “Kitzler” – who remembers this marvellous magazine for the “Erftkreis” of those 1980s? Strictly speaking, there were two issues. In this first, with Hans Barz dancing on socks on the cover, a foto of mine in my early works. A review of a performance of Sweet William in the school mensa of “Tagesheimgymnasium Kerpen” was printed.
In 2016 he gave me his last CD and invited me to his next concerts. There has always been something in between that seemed more important to me. And I thought there was still a lot of time to listen to his music live. On 11 December 2019, he died unexpectedly. His wife Birgit Barrero recalls, she found him lying dead on the sofa when she came home from work in the afternoon. The day before, they already had gone to a hospital because Oliver felt weak, they had been sent home.
Here, as a reminder, I once again dig out the text i wrote after visiting him.
What does music actually need to touch the listeners?
What does music actually need to touch the listeners? The head of the band “Sweet William”, Oliver Heuer, founded in 1986, has been exploring this question for 30 years now. The way to his kitchen leads in the annex to a half-timbered house in the old town centre of Sindorf through rooms full of guitars, basses, drums, mixing consoles, microphones, computers and shelves, full of records and CD’s. In this archive you can also find the single with the A-title “From the Underworld” of the band “The Herd”. On the B-side you can hear the song “Sweet William”, which gave the band its name.
It does not separate everyday life and music from each other, says Oliver Heuer. He is constantly on the lookout for new sounds and ideas. On bass, guitar or synthesizer he often “plays” until the early morning “‘rum until something develops” and he can press the recording button. One of his best moments is the moment when, after recording many tracks in the digital mixing console, he begins to delete one by one until “the music begins to breathe” or when it lands in the “poison cabinet” folder as “broken.”
He probably owed the limitation to the essentials to the analogue four-track band device, which he carried with him as a constant companion in the 1990s as a notebook for musical ideas. “At the latest in the fifth track I wanted to record, I had to decide. Which ones do I overplay now?” says Heuer.
No Jubilee Man
Thirty years of “Sweet William”, actually a reason to celebrate, only a “jubilee man” he is not at all, Oliver Heuer is embarrassed. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the year he dug up some old tapes from the first years and recorded them together with Marius Nagel as they may have sounded live in the past, only guitar, drums, voice – “very rough, very nice”.
In the past, this was first in Sindorf, a little later in the rehearsal cellar of the Tagesheimgymnasium Kerpen, with Nagel on drums, Bodo Rosner on bass, “he got it because nobody wanted the bass”, and he himself at the microphone. “Three people make music and no one can play an instrument. Some pieces consisted of two chords. Later, when Marius taught me the classical one-finger method on the guitar, I was happy when I hit the same note with the bass,” Heuer recalls of the founding time.
As a 17-year-old at the time, he sang with his dark and always somewhat gloomy-sounding voice, which quickly earned him the reputation of “Grufties”. But he shies away from dealing with the labels of the music industry too quickly, but sees the band rather in the tradition of the 1980s, the New Wave and later Dark Wave. A representative like “Joy Division”, “The Cure” or the early Anne Clark come to mind.
Oliver Heuer fulfilled his dream of becoming a musician with “Sweet William”. Already in 1990 the small band got a contract with a Cologne indie label, then experienced a decade with concert tours all over Europe. The band had celebrated commercial successes, 10000 copies of the vinyl LP “These Monologues”, “a dark album”, money from GEMA revenues had flowed. Then it became quieter around “Sweet William”, a record contract with a Nuremberg label had put the band after a rough mix for the album “Show” checkmate. With the phrase “This record does not fit into our musical concept” the band was swallowed up by the earth at the end of the 1990s, hardly any more appearances, no new album for almost two years.
After the end of the contract Wolfgang Schreck and his Big Noise Records, an attic label from Ehrenfeld, produced the record, which reached number 13 on the alternative charts. Like many small labels in an otherwise booming internet music market, Schreck went bust, and again “Sweet William” without a label experienced difficult times.
This year, production and marketing took http://www.sweetwilliam.de into its own hands via a website. The recording studio, now an instrument and playground in its own house, had been improvised in the shared flat next door. The instruments in the stairwell, the cables up to his room in the attic, “no one was allowed to move”. Then the children Leslie and Marlon came, “time was running out.” Even though he now earns money as an event technician, it remained “an elementary thing” to make music.
Since 2009, D-Monic has once again been a label that takes care of production, press and distribution. Online, Frenchman Laurent Le Fers rediscovered him, known to him after previous festival appearances in the south of France. “Sweet William” finds new fans today especially in France. And old fans wrote emails saying, “Oh, you still exist?”
After bassist Frank Breuer left the band in 2013, immediately after the CD presentation for “Ocean” in Paris’s “Le Klub”, bassist Frank Breuer left the band for personal reasons, says Heuer. In a concert with only acoustic instruments on the occasion of Laurent Le Fers’ birthday, he was able to touch society for an hour with his music, “one of the most beautiful moments ever”.
Old companions, co-founder Marius Nagel and sindorf guitarist Thomas Lämmle, have now joined the band to play with acoustic instruments. The fifths, quartets and thirds that Lämmle talks about are for him like Bohemian villages, Heuer gladly admits. For this he advises him to “lie down” or “silence”. “Less is more,” Heuer is convinced. Complemented by the violinist Otavio Colella, of course Marius Nagel on instruments such as an organetta, the table organ, a cajon, the seat drum, but also a Korg synthesizer, Sweet William shows itself as newly invented on June 11th to the “Rockkirche”, a series of the Protestant parish in the Christ Church.
“A goosebumps”, just music that grabbed one’s nerve, Heuer promised the listeners at that time for this home performance.