❉ There’s never a dull moment with this unique collection of tracks by Sebastian Counts aka ToiToiToi.
Vaganten is apparently German for a kind of musically adept clerical vagrant, with a taste for wild living and boozing and a knapsack full of songs and poems which they would readily declaim in exchange for board and lodging. Sort of how I imagine Eden Ahbez would have lived, had he been born in the middle ages, or Falstaff, if Shakespeare had made him a monk with a decent singing voice.
And it’s literally the best – indeed, the only – possible title I can imagine for this unique collection of tracks by Sebastian Counts, aka ToiToiToi. Because otherwise I’d really be struggling think of a way of pinning down this idiosyncratic stumble through the woodlands of Germany and surrounding nations, but the image of a chubby Friar Tuck figure boozily wandering across the country, sozzled but happy, stopping now and again to sing an old song, tell a tall tale, or chat up a willing peasant girl is as close as I’m going to get.
Actually, that’s not quite right. Bear with me, but I have a theory. Rather than the real thing, picture instead a 1970s kids’ TV show about a chubby Friar Tuck figure boozily wandering etc etc. Now imagine that it was originally shown in Germany or Belgium or somewhere like that, and ported over to the UK to be shown, dubbed, on weekend mornings or on BBC2 during sunny summer school holidays. A sort of middle European cross between The Storyteller, Bagpuss and Fingerbobs, if you remember them.
And this is the soundtrack album for that show, finally released to a public with fond memories of their childhood in front of the telly! (I mean, it’s probably not intended to be anything of the sort, but if Mr. Counts is reading this, please don’t disabuse me of this notion!)
It all begins with the show titles. Schlendersilber (Strolling Silver, according to online translation, which might well be the name of this imaginary show) just needs some basic geometric visuals to work perfectly as the introductory tune for an educational kids TV show in the mid-70s, with the sound of a man’s steps approaching gradually being covered up by a deceptively simple build up of amusing and unusual electronic sounds, which eventually creates an infectiously upbeat melody.
This serves as a handy lead in to Never a Dull Moment, in which the show proper begins and our jolly vagrant host is introduced: ‘Life is dull and everything in the world bores me’ says a typically authoritative TV voice, and is then rebutted by another voice – that, I imagine of our vagrant – saying that no, ‘life is wonderful’. The tune which follows bounces along as though to support the vagrant’s more positive claims, complete with bells and flute, and we’re off!
It’s an intriguing opening (I’d have watched this show as a kid) made all the more so by the decision to drop the short Whimsical Waltz in next. It does exactly what it says on the tin, musically similar to what’s gone before but in slightly quick waltz time. In my head, there’s a paper cut out animation of some sort playing out on screen while this plays, perhaps of a prince and princess dancing (yes, I know, I’ve gone off the deep end a bit with things which are certainly not mentioned in the sleeve notes to the album – but it’s that kind of imagination stimulating record!)
Kuckkuckwalzer (Cuckoo Waltz, as if you couldn’t guess) follows on from this brief diversion. Another voice, this one speaking what I assume is German, with the sound of a cuckoo in the background and more waltz music. If this isn’t the music played behind a story being told, then I’ve lost the plot entirely.
And the album continues in that vein across the rest of its running time. It’s never repetitive, and packed with unusual and interesting sound choices, but for every track, I could close my eyes and imagine a short video clip of people dancing in traditional costumes in Bavaria, excited children visiting a factory or a farm, or the host singing a song or telling a folk tale.
Sometimes (as in The Inner Hobo) the music is downbeat and introspective, and sometimes its more discordant and slightly darker, as with the jagged notes which punctuate Tee Muss Tanzen (Tea Must Dance? – Google Translate may have let me down there). But the general tone is as upbeat and positive as you’d expect from children’s programming, with lots of big fat notes and insistent percussion, in front of which I imagine our indigent priest walking through leafy forests (Locus of Control), reaching a town and walking along the main street, surrounded by the bustling sounds of town life (Ley Hunter’s Chant) and generally having a jolly, but always instructional, time.
I began this review hoping that nobody would disabuse me of my notion that this is really the absolutely delightful soundtrack to an imaginary European kids’ TV programme, but now, as I get to the end, I wonder if it so obviously is that, that someone will be along in a minute to comment on the way I wasted all these words pointing out the bleeding obvious.
Either way, this is only the second album I’ve reviewed this year where I’ve immediately ordered a copy of the record on vinyl. You can’t a much greater recommendation that that.
❉ ToiToiToi: ‘Vaganten’ (Ghost Box GBX038) released 20 August 2021 on LP, CD and all digital channels. The heavyweight vinyl LP version comes with free download card.
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas