The 2800 tickets for Hermes House Band’s 40th-birthday celebrations were sold out in no time. And with good reason: last Saturday the Netherlands’ most well-known student band, which started out as the house band of the Rotterdamsch Studenten Corps, put on a spectacular show at Ahoy. Hermes’ secret lies not so much in its musical talent, but in the supercharged energy the band brings to every occasion.
‘I do need to make it through the first hour’, one audience member says, grinning over his tray of seven beers. Like many other partygoers, he has a personal connection to Hermes House Band: ‘It was my housemates who started it, so their sound was everything in my student days.’ Forty years on, that sound is still at the heart of Rotterdam student life. Whether it’s Rotterdam, I Will Survive (La la la), or one of their dozens of other high-octane covers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a student – past or present – who has never sung along to their contagious tunes.
And there is no shortage of singers in Ahoy tonight. The audience soon leap out of their seats into the aisles, and it’s not long before the crowd is dancing, singing and drinking before the stage. people fly into each other’s arms during Somebody to Love, and applause rattles the rafters as the crew from 1991 strike up their version of Rotterdam. The age range in the room is gigantic, but that doesn’t seem to matter: teenagers and 60-year-olds alike scream themselves hoarse as soon as they hear Country Roads.
Raising the bar
With a total of 66 musicians performing during the main act, this is the first time so many past and present members of Hermes House Band have come together on stage. The excitement was palpable for Mark Snijders, former keyboard player and creative director of the event, who took a moment before the show to explain the student band’s motivation: ‘The bar just kept getting higher and higher, it’s a hallmark of the band’s history. Performing at Cannes Film Festival? No way. Sharing the stage with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra? Surely not. But we did it, time and again. And now, here we are with an enormous troupe, young and old alike, in Ahoy.’ Today, too, there is far too much on the programme, and it was a challenge to fit it all in, he laughs, ‘but in the end the atmosphere will come together: everyone’s had enough practice.’
In the dressing room of the current incarnation of Hermes House Band, tension has made way for beer, a bottle of Jägermeister and a crucial game of rock-paper-scissors: bow ties on stage or not? They’re still riding the adrenaline wave from the night before, when they joined talkshow Jinek and spontaneously jumped up on the table. ‘That’s something we’ll look back on with a grin in a few years, the look on Eva Jinek’s face when we got up on the table’, says saxophonist Douwe Faber. After months of rehearsals, he’s ready to turn tonight into a celebration. ‘And in November we’re off to play in Switzerland and Bangkok, so we’ve only just started making memories.’
For many of the musicians who have performed with Hermes House Band, the stories from international performances stand out. Bass player Marnix Lippmann – better known by his nickname, ‘Lippy’ – recounted how the entire band was electrocuted in 1999 during a rainy gig in Nigeria. ‘Somebody started playing Brand New Day, then suddenly we all had a current running through us. And not just a small current – we were all shocked stiff with our hair standing on end! In the end we were able to laugh about it, but it was a bizarre bit of stageplay.’
Thankfully, the rain in Ahoy was limited to a few stray drops of beer flying off the revellers. During the intro to The Rhythm of the Night, the seats were shaking because of all the jumping, and the intro to You’ll Never Walk Alone had the whole audience singing along. One student from Utrecht did so at the top of her voice. ‘My parents studied here and got the tickets, but of course I know all the songs too. A great party is a great party, simple as that!’ There is only one way for Hermes House Band to finish off any concert: I Will Survive. The audience leaps up and down, confetti bombs go off, and all 120 past and present band members jump onto the stage as cries of La la la fill the hall.
After the main show, the party continues deep into the night with the afterparty, where bands made up of former Hermes House Band members perform on two stages: one starts up as soon as the other finishes, so there is never a quiet moment.
Minister and musician
The Jurassics kick off the festivities, with band members from the original line-up. Some still have music in their lives on a daily basis, others need to fit it into their busy professional schedules – not least former lead singer Micky Adriaansens, who by day is the minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. ‘But not tonight’, she explained after the show. ‘I’m here because these are my friends, otherwise I wouldn’t bother. We’ve been through so much together, we’re such a close-knit group. That will never change.’
Even before her song is done, her voice is overpowered by the other stage, where the next crowd-pleaser has already started. Though the celebrations are set to continue for some time, on his way to the exit, former bass player Martijn van Meerten says a few last words about his experience. ‘It was a magical evening, everyone played tremendously. But – in five years’ time, it’ll be even better’, he finishes with a wink. One thing is clear: Hermes House Band is still La-la-loving it.