“It was fantastic!”. Beat Zeller, a Bernese musician who goes by the alias “Reverend Beat-Man”, is full of praise when he talks about his recent one-week concert tour to Israel. An acquaintance from Germany had suggested he go on the tour, says Beat-Man. He loves exotic destinations, so he said “yes” straightaway.
When the 50-year-old Beat-Man announced his trip in advance on social media, a torrent of criticism rained down on him. They told him he couldn’t go to Israel because of the political situation. But Beat-Man didn’t agree. “I’m concerned with people, not politics. Art crosses boundaries, and I want to use my music to bring together as many people as possible and inspire them”, he says, full of conviction.
Beat-Man has been in the music business for some 30 years now, and he can safely be described as an icon of the musical underground. He has a big fan community all over the world. So even at his concerts in faraway Israel, people turned up who’ve known his records for years and were delighted that Beat-Man was coming to visit. Over seven days, the restless Reverend gave five concerts and appeared on TV for a small, alternative broadcaster. He played in bars and clubs in Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Haifa, in an art and culture centre in Jerusalem, and in a private band room back in Tel Aviv. Before the trip, he says, he didn’t know if there’d be any interest at all in his kind of music in Israel. So it was fantastic to see that there is indeed a small but excellent alternative music scene there.
On stage, Beat-Man is a one-man-band with a guitar and percussion who manufactures a very rough, loud kind of blues – he himself calls it “blues trash”. In it, he consciously celebrates the aesthetic of the imperfect in order to create a counterpole to the smooth polish of mainstream music. In his texts he plays the blasphemous rebel – which is why he wears a white priest’s collar and lampoons religious zealots in songs like “Jesus Christ Twist”. A “hallelujah” here can easily turn into a “halle-motherfucking-lujah”. Or worse. Beat-Man consciously makes use of religious symbols and imagery. Sometimes he pretends that the devil is speaking through him, and he delights in parody ad absurdum.
There was uncertainty in advance as to how Beat-Man’s show would go down in a country like Israel – especially in a city like Jerusalem. But when he actually performed there, it transpired that this Reverend’s art of parody works wonderfully. The audience numbered on average about 100 per concert, and they laughed, partied and danced wildly. After the concerts, they all wanted to talk with him.
When asked about his fees for the concerts, Beat-Man laughs uproariously. He’ll be happy if he doesn’t make a loss, he says, and that will only be thanks to the support he’s got from foundations. He paid for his own flights, accommodation and hire car. But it’s not about the money, says Beat-Man. The organiser at the art centre HaMiffal in Jerusalem told him that one member of the audience was so inspired by the show that he spent the whole of the next day playing music in the band room. Beat-Man beams at this: “You see?! That’s what it’s about!”
Pictures taken by Chico Artworks www.chicoartworks.com