I’ve often been asked are Toten Herzen a real band. Well, the person to ask is Rob Wallet, the British music journalist who discovered Toten Herzen alive in 2013. But Wallet is a difficult customer to get hold of.
We could ask Rene van Voors, the band’s drummer, but he’s just as likely to spin you a tale as Wallet. Here’s a clip of Rene in action in Toten Herzen Malandanti:
The temptation to cheat became too much and Green Gable was reached without the intervening walk. From the top the distant edge-of-the-world coastline was tinted gold by a sunset reflecting off gentle cloud. There was so much to comprehend, so much landscape, so much Earth, but the more he stood and stared, listened and sniffed, the more his attention became drawn by an omnipotent presence.
In particular the blank stares, the motorised chewing, the hairy suspicion. The fells were dotted with woolly morons, twitchy and short of breath, so absorbed by their grassy suppers they were unable to hear footsteps until it was too late. Rene finally understood where the term sheep worrying came from: their entire existence seemed to be one of constant worry and anxiety. If only they could lose their shyness and become more self confident, more outgoing. If only they could be shorn of their worries along with their wool.
Rene didn’t wait long to answer his own question. He disappeared before two walkers plodded their way down from Great Gable, across Windy Gap and onto the open summit of Green Gable. Distracted by the vista of Ennerdale, they ignored the four legged audience until a voice called out: “Hello.”
Walker number one looked round to return the greeting.
“Hello,” the sheep said again.
The contrast in expressions was obvious. The sheep, glassy eyed, formless, a rough brick of grey hair; the walker’s eyebrows almost merging into one perplexed unibrow. The sheep chewed, the walker sucked his teeth. Neither moved from where they stood. A cross-species stand-off. Rene couldn’t see who blinked first, but the walker turned back to his colleague and could barely lift his walking pole to point out the head of Ennerdale. He managed one last wary glance over the shoulder before leaving.
On the ridge across the valley, high above Grains Gill, a larger group of walkers headed in a line off the darkening fells. Rene found another threatening cluster of sheep and waited unseen. As the last of the walkers went by the sheep spoke. “Nice evening.”
For an unrecorded moment humanity and sheep co-existed on the same intellectual level, but there was an attempt to regain the upper hand in the walker’s head visible in the body language. The shifting weight, a step forward and a stop, unecessary readjustment of the rucksack.
“Is one of you throwing your voice?” The others stopped. “One of you throwing your voice?”
Rene observed the confusion spreading from animal to human, but again the response was to ignore the sheep, the typically British response to look away, don’t engage, leave it to someone else, leave it to the Americans. He knew he could provoke a better reaction than this, but the light was disappearing and the walkers were off the fells.
The night after he went back to continue his experiment. Starting out shortly after eight p.m. gave him enough light and time to set up a real performance. And what a performance. The sheep near Crinkle Crags quoted Ibsen, on Harter Fell they cracked jokes and up on the windswept tops around High Street walkers were dumbfounded by two sheep, leaning against a wall, arguing about Marxism.
“There must be a loudspeaker.” One of the walkers scanned the ground for some half buried PA system.
“You know they do a lot of this round here.” A second walker stood and speculated like a confident general, hands on waist, belly thrust through his fleece. “Tourists in Coniston used to ask what the explosions were coming from the quarries and locals told them they were tekkin the top two hundred feet off the Old Man to help migrating birds fly over it.” But they were miles away from the crackpots in Coniston.
“No,” said the first walker, creeping closer to see if the sheeps’ lips were moving. “It’s coming from these two.”
“Fuck off!” said one of the sheep. And that was the signal to evacuate. The walkers bolted towards the Knott and the quick descent into Patterdale. “Get the fuck off my land.”