THE NITS : THE FIRST TEN YEARS
translated from the article AMSTELBEAT by Erwin Hofman / may 31 2011
The Nits consciously choose not to aim for the then omnipresent progressive and symphonic rock. The main reason is simple : they don’t play well enough. Besides that, the boys prefer The Searchers, The Kinks, the Beatles and the Beach Boys. In november 1975, the band is asked for a presentation by OOR music magazine. This is first important show by The Nits. That evening the quartet shares the stage with other Dutch bands like Flavium and Massada.
In this period The Nits are quite busy rehearsing and making demos in an attic at the Kattenburgergracht in Amsterdam. The space is far from comfortable: in summer it’s terribly hot and in winter it’s freezing cold. The band’s recordings don’t manage to make an impression on the record companies that they contact. The quartet perseveres, in their Amsterdam attic. Their repertoire grows steadily.
Henk Hofstede and Michiel Peters know each other from the band Midas, a band that plays live quite a few times in the early seventies. The duo decides to focus more on making pure pop music. Hofstede, a student at the Rieveld Art Academy, meets Alex Roelofs there and asks him to come and play the bass in the band. Next Michiel Peters asks Rob Kloet as a drummer and in the fall of 1974 the new band is ready to start : The Nits.
When in early 1976 the band meets Jean Pierre Burdorf, plugger at the Dureco record company, the boys’ career starts to speed up. He knows the ropes and knows his way in the record industry. The Nits record a single with producer Alan David. The end result speaks for itself: Yes or No is a lively sixties pop song, influences by the Beatles, with lyrics that have the form of a collage of slogans. It gets soon clear that being in contact with Burdorf can open more doors: The Nits are asked to play in Toppop, the only Dutch tv show about pop music in those days. And beyond that, in the second half of 1977 the band can record an LP at the Rockfield Studios in Wales. And for this session, the producer will again be Alan David. During the stay in Wales, the flamboyant Burdorf invites some vip’s from the record- and media industry for an abundant meal in a castle.
The process of recording and mixing however is not flowing smoothly : the band has another sound in mind than the sound Alan David has created. Dureco thinks that the album carries no hit single and doesn’t want to go on with the project. Finally they release the single Looking For A Friend to free them from their contractual obligations. The LP is transferred to Burdorf and his recordlabel ‘on paper’ Burdorf Booking, which causes the release to be postponed. In the meanwhile it is again music magazine OOR that gives the band a push by putting the catchy and energetic song Tutti Ragazzi on the punk and new wave sampler Keihard en Swingend.
Although the band is of course grateful for the opportunity that Dureco provided, it is crucial for the band that the LP is released. Although Dureco made good money with the worldwide success of The Smurf Song by Father Abraham, it doesn’t lead to a new capital injection. Finally the album is released by Burdorf Bookings in a limited edition of 1000 copies. The record brings a fresh young band with a preference for short pop songs, through which blows the spirit of the sixties, with a whiff of 10CC and Steely Dan. In the year 1978 this is not the mainstream style amongst young bands.
Within the classical pop idiom The Nits manage to pop up fresh: Tutti Ragazzi is cheerful pop music provided with mandolins and choruses.Yes or No is also present, the song peaks above the majority of the album’s songs. Caravan is an original and strong tune about the very Dutch phenomenon of the caravan, and with Dancing Girl - Red Cat the Nits are commenting prevailing music trends by means of playful disco pop. Although the Nits’ debut album certainly shows that we have a talented and intelligent band at work, there still are too few outstanding songs on the album. Production also leaves a lot to desired, a more clear and less flat sound would have helped the songs.
After the release of the debut album The Nits are on a long-lasting tour. In the beginning of 1979 the band, together with The Tapes, do a tour named after the famous skating event Elfstedentocht. The quartet grows as a live band and despite their small discography, they manage to bring a lot of variation in their setlist. The second half of 1979 is dedicated to the successor of the debut album.
Towards the end of that year Tent appears on CBS, a fast and catchy record that sounds better than the debut, and much more exposes an own identity. A great step forward therefore. Tent sounds more like a contemporary record - the cover has a modern and sleek design- that sets the tone directly with the title track: a short and jaggy track with tasty guitar and keyboard injections. The Nits serve more songs in this style, be it with changing accents. The gentlemen handle a varied and colorful palette: beat in a new wave jacket in A to B, C to D, disarming pop in The Young Reporter, irresistible rhythms in Take a Piece and picturesque nervous sounds on Ping Pong. The band also comes with a renewed version of Tutti Ragazzi. The song is released on single and reaches the 31st position in the Top 40.
Although the music sometimes reminds of Devo, XTC, 10CC, Fosher Z and fellow citizens The Tapes, above all the own style of the band strikes: original themes and lyrics, provided with suitable and colourful music and vocals. With a nod of the head towards Piet Mondriaan: new tightness. A creative band with brains, so much is clear now. The Young Reporter of course brings to mind images of Tintin going out on adventures. Hook of Holland (“Hook of Holland, trains and boats / someone said it’s raining overcoats’) is illustrative and seems to denote a wider musical horizon with space for slower and more theatrical music.
In the wake of the single Tutti Ragazzi , Tent is also picked up fairly well in the Netherlands. The Nits are even in a special of the tv show Countdown, which gives the band a good push in the right direction. From that moment on, business is getting much busier. Henk Hofstede: ‘ on a certain moment we decided to give up all the side activities we had, like the jobs, the teaching etc. This was a choice we had to make. It all became too busy and too much..’. So 1980 turns out to be a crucial year in the lives of the band members.
The Nits decide to do a tour in Germany and later CBS even sends the band to Switzerland, again Germany, Scandinavia, Finland and France. Along the way the band members are building a fan base over the border, which will be quite beneficial.
In 1980 the band brings out a new LP : New Flat. Again they combine the British tradition with an own sound with room for new wave, sixties pop and experimental music. Lyrics seems to show influences from concrete poetry, just like on the Tent album.
A typical example of The Nits in 1980 would be Holiday on Ice, in which The Beatles are dressed up in a nippy and refreshing Nits-coat. This song - and in many others on New Flat - deals with the painful interhuman contact, but we also find a track (the super tight Saragossa) about the migration of eels. So there’s something quite different, again The Nits show their unorthodox view on music. With the exuberant single Bobby Solo another potential radio hit with an Italian flavor passes by, but the song is no equal to Tutti Ragazzi. It doesn’t become a hit. The band releases another single in 1980, New Flat, but this jaggy, minimalistic song also gets no airplay on the radio.
New Flat is a daring record and a playing field where the band members can shape their background from the art academy. Office at Night is confronting, imaginative and at times passes by like a painting. Statue is an alarming song that could have been based on a work by Franz Kafka. The alienation and interhuman tension found in this song, returns on New Flat in various shapes.
Although New Flat doesn’t sell very well in the Netherlands, mainly by lack of a hit single, the record is relatively successful in France. The French tour of 1980 must have paved the way, so much is clear. The Nits get quite some media exposure and will return to France almost every year.
It is 1981. On the new album Work The Nits enrich the band’s sound with influences from avant-garde and classical music but at times they also know how to sound lighthearted. The fourth record is again catchy and holds 14 rather short songs. Work certainly is a contemporary record and contains idiomatic synthesizer wave with a sometimes unsettling overtone.
Keyboards are omnipresent: they give colour and athmosphere to the cadence of Footprint and carry the dramatic, catchy single Red Tape. Electronics also contribute largely to Slip of the Tongue, but effective guitar parts, organ, clarinet and intrusive background vocals add a few extra dimensions to this song.
The domestic, the selfcentered world, a theme that will recur often in the works of The Nits, is sung about in the piano driven song Hobbyland. The uptempo Tables and Chairs is full of ideas and develops from an athmospheric new wave track with cutting guitars to avant-garde pop with a light baroque intermezzo. Imaginative, attractive and inventive music, Work is full of it: in Hands of the Watch there’s a traveller sitting on his suitacase, staring at the clock and the nervous Suddenly I met your face is a cinematic little pearl, that begs for a videoclip.
Although Work is not quite a big seller, The Nits still manage to hit the charts with Red Tape. The quartet brings the song in the Toppop tv show in a Kraftwerk-like setting. The single enters the Top40 in February 1982 and reaches the 24th position. Outside of the Netherlands the group remains fairly successful. In 1882 they travel three times to Finland. By that time the band is history for Alex Roelofs. Shortly before the start of a second series of concerts in Germany he quits. He is replaced for the tour by Robert Jan Stips.
1983: OMSK and KILO
In 1982 there is no new Nits album. The year thereafter they score again with Omsk. On this album, the Nits enter upon new roads. A remarkable change of personnel is the main cause. Robert Jan Stips has definitively joined The Nits. Stips is a musical heavyweight that has amply earned his spurs with Supersister, Sweet d’Buster and Golden Earring. As a producer he was responsible for the success of Gruppo Sportivo. Stips enriches the band sound of The Nits with his synthesizer and piano playing. This can be heard throughout the whole album, for example in the amazing single Nescio. The track is provided with an effective piano motif and ends in a magnificent acoustic climax. Nescio (Latin for : I don’t know) passes by, somewhat concealed: ‘... the phone rings on the nightstand, somebody whispers I don’t know...’
Tons of Ink alludes to operetta and thus takes some distance from the regular pop idiom. The song is carried by (sampled) vocals. Unpleasant Surprise, a Michiel Peters composition, is a nice, but for the Nits concept rather common synth pop song that could easily be played on the radio. The backing vocals on Omsk, by Mathilde Santing and Fay Lovsky stand out. Both singers are successful with their solo projects. The duo enriches the classical athmosphere of Jardin d’Hiver and plays a fine support role in another trademark song, the mechanistic opener A Touch of Henry Moore.
Omsk is a new peak in the already fine oeuvre of The Nits: stylized music, bred on very rich soil of creativity and musical skill. Music for the ear and the mind’s eye, very associative and at moments surrealistic. Not unimportant: Omsk is giving free rein to acoustic instruments like dulcimer, mandoline and piano. In 1983 this distinguishes the band from many others. Michiel Peters about this subject: ‘ on the record a glorious comeback of acoustical instruments can be detected, yes, from mandoline to dulcimer to guitar and piano’.
The Nits dare to experiment on Omsk and get to work like musical painters. With excellent results. In a few days time, Nescio sells over 5000 copies and Omsk reaches the 9th position in the LP charts: an unexpected success. The band even recieves the Edison musical award for Omsk and in summer they play at the Roskilde festival in Denmark. Strengthened by this, in 1983 the band also releases a mini-LP: Kilo. This record also draws the attention, not in the least by the success of the single Sketches of Spain, an intriguing song, that tells about the horrors of the Spanish civil war. A beautiful open sound, a fine arrangement and an asset for the radio. Sketches of Spain reaches a respectable 24th position in the Top 40 of december 1983 and Kilo ends in the top 20 in the album charts in the same period.
Kilo is more than a casual release for the holidays: Stips’ Memories are New is a beneficent, dreamy song from behind the piano. Dapperstreet is entirely a Nits song, full of melancholy, transiency and unexpected luck: ‘the clouds are framed by attic windows/ ... blissfully happy I’m walking / suddenly happy in Dapperstreet’.
“Een guldentje de kilo!” (“only a guilder for a kilo!”) we hear someone in the distance shout after the song. The sound of a salesman on the Dapperstreet market, advertising his fruits, produced the title of this Nits record.