In 1989 French singer François-Regis Cambuzat and Italian pianist & accordeon player Roberta Possamai, formerly of Italian garage rock band The Kim Squad, visited Amsterdam and teamed up with Dutch guitar player Robert van der Tol and German bass player Stefan Lienenkämper. Starting out busking and playing in bars, for reasons of survival, they developed an appetite for performing live in the purest way, without any microphones or amplifiers. The resulting closer proximity to the audience and, as a consequence, greater intimacy and an opening up of theatrical possibilities on stage was something they coveted and achieved. Twenty five years later this is still their philosophy.
Café Zapata, Tacheles, Berlin, 1991 (from the book “Berlin Wonderland”, bobsairport 2014)
Singing in multiple languages, and taking their musical influences from a wide variety of mainly European examples, the four musicians quickly established their own, unique style of composing and performing. Coming from the rock scene, they were nonetheless enamored of the music of Kurt Weill, the French chanson, 20th century classical composers and various types of folk music. François, a lyric writer steeped in the likes of Camus, Cendrars, Jessenin and Pasolini, spewed his homages to the absurdity of life in the faces of an unsuspecting audience. Meanwhile Roberta would hold her own, caressing her accordeon like a lover or molesting the piano keys with maximum energy. Her voice, equal parts Jane Birkin, Moe Tucker and Lucia Bosé, provided moments of a naïve, almost erotic charm. The cliché of the solid, impassive bass player certainly applied to Stefan, if it weren't for his outstanding compositional qualities. Today he is a contemporary composer in his own right, living in Berlin. Being a slightly rebellious teenager in the early seventies in the rural Netherlands Robert was unhealthily obsessed with progressive rock. Workshops with Robert Fripp and Fred Frith and playing in new-wave band Media in the '80s did nothing to cure that, although he has learned to follow his own road since, writing the bulk of the songs for Gran Teatro Amaro today, singing them in a voice reminiscent of Piero Ciampi and Tom Waits.
After a few years of hard gigging in Italy, Holland and Germany, supported by manager Frank Lüdtke, slowly moving up venue-wise, and wearing out three Volkswagen vans on the way, the famous RecRec label from Zürich signed the band after a particularly boisterous performance at the Berlin Popkomm seminar, where they enlivened their show using assorted metals and wood found in Tacheles, the now defunct squat and cultural breeding ground of the early '90s. Port Famine, their first album, was recorded in 's Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, by Frank van der Weij, who would produce three albums of the band. An average of 120 concerts a year all over Europe soon became the standard; concerts at prestigious festivals such as Documenta '92 in Kassel a reality. Stefan was lost on the way, replaced by an eager Frank van Berkel, from the port of Rotterdam, once the bass player of The Schismatics. Hôtel Brennessel, the second album, was recorded live, true to form, without overdubs, in an abandoned castle on the island of Usedom, former DDR. To enhance the bohemian atmosphere on stage the decision was made to make use of a backdrop, a canvas triptych of 7 by 2,5 meters, erected on an ingenious construction, portable as well as sturdy, depicting a forlorn hotel room for the Hôtel Brennessel tour, and a commedia dell' arte graffiti wall for the next album, Piazza Orphelins. This CD was recorded in Amsterdam, and turned out to be the swan song of François. His new project, Les Enfants Rouges, a return to the electric avant-rock format, became top priority for him, and the touring schedules of both bands proved to be incompatible. Hence, exit François.
O42, Nijmegen, 1994 (painting by Christine van der Cingel)
Col-legi Major Lluís Vives, Valencia, 2002 (painting by Emanuele Luzzati)
As some concerts in Spain and Germany had already been booked Gat from Barcelona was asked to join the group. Having played in the Belcanto Orchestra of Pascal Comelade and in RAEO, a duo with trumpet player Mark Cunningham, Gat was not a singer but rather a percussion and mandolin player, so vocal duties were shared by Roberta and Robert. When Frank decided to pursue a different career–today he is a jazz-promotor in his hometown–accomplished jazz bassist Mischa Kool from Amsterdam and multi-instrumentalist Tiedo from Groningen entered, making the band a quintet for the first time. With this line-up new material was written over the course of a few years, due to the fact that the band was no longer the sole occupation of its members: Robert had started working with Dutch theatre company Dogtroep, Roberta was busy with the RecRec label in Hamburg. Recordings for the fourth album La Vie En Rouge, a self-produced and -financed affair using newly acquired equipment, were conducted on location in Groningen. Released in 2002 by Gat's label G33G records, followed by an extensive Spanish tour, on which drummer and marimba player Panc Daalder from Amsterdam was Tiedo's successor, this CD marked the end of Gran Teatro Amaro.
Until 2009, that is. During the 7 year hiatus Roberta had moved back to Rome and started a new life, so Robert was the only survivor from the old days. Reluctant at first, he finally yielded to Gat's pleas and promises of a spring tour in Spain; calls were made, emails were sent and a bayan player was found in the person of Oleg Fateev, a Moldavian trained on the Moscow conservatory in this most Russian of instruments. At the end of the tour the band played their new material in front of a laptop and two microphones in Gat's garage in Santa Maria de Miralles. The results can be heard on their latest CD Souvenir de Miralles. In the meantime Oleg has made way for accordeon and trombone player Peter van Os, introducing yet another instrument to Gran Teatro Amaro's vast aural palette.
El Matadero, Huesca, 2011
Pati de la Casa Calba, Tavernes de la Valldigna, 2013