What did you think of the actual result?
“Well, I believe that everybody was a bit shocked to see and hear themselves back. But aside from that, we think it turned out just fine.”
Frank, you also started playing the keyboards later on. Why this sudden interest for the instrument?
“Like I mentioned before, I like to play the keyboards, but that really isn’t the issue here. A singer needs to be in front of the stage. He has to entertain the audience and that kind of things. It was like a necessary evil to me. At a certain moment I took over the keyboard parts of Anton van der Ham (at that time, they called it ‘strings’ instead of keyboards), because he was leaving. The strings belonged to the band, so somebody had to play them. I remember, that is very rather difficult for me to play that thing and at the same time sing my lines. We actually never really searched for a permanent keyboardplayer (like André Booy), because we fitted so well together. And it’s very difficult to find someone, who has the same ‘vibes’ like the rest of us.”
Your live gigs in the nineties were still very profesional. Mixing your own material with cover songs like “Voyager” (GAMMA), “Highway 6” (KINGDOM COME) and “Smoke On The Water” (DEEP PURPLE), it has always been a pleasure watching you. Why did you continue to play covers, while there were so many original songs to choose from?
“We always thought that “Voyager” was a worldly song! As a lot of people don’t know it, we could easily add it to our set without being labelled as a coverband right away. As far as the KINGDOM COME song goes, that’s the same story, with the exception that this band is a bit more well-known than GAMMA. DEEP PURPLE’s “Smoke On The Water” – that’s a song everybody knows. And if you want to get some response from the audience, then you definitely have to play it! Everybody sings the words to this…. In the very beginning, we even played RUSH songs, like ‘Temple Of Syrinx” and old SCORPIONS songs.”
Humor also played a big part during your live gigs. You liked to fool around with toy guitars next to the keyboards. Do we have to take that seriously or see it as some kind of gimmick?
“That guitar toy was more or less meant as parody to all the bands on MTV in the eighties. Almost every guitarplayer had to swing his guitar around his neck and that kind of tour de force. I thought what they can do, I can do better!”
At the end of a very long career you still hadn’t released a full length LP or CD. Isn’t that a little bit frustrating?
“Not at all. I would have liked to have a GILGAMESJ CD in my CD rack with everything up and on it. Then I never have to search for anything again. But I never felt badly (or physically) hurt that we didn’t do it.”
You never wanted to become really famous with GILGAMESJ. Despite of that, did you achieve the goal you had in mind? And what was that goal?
“We had reached our goal already very easily by playing music and having fun! We enjoyed ourselves from our very first gig on and I think it showed. Of course one club isn’t the other but it didn’t stop us from having fun on stage.”
Do you still remember any memorable gigs?
“Well, Deurne was a whole lot of fun. We played there twice or three times. One time was together with HELLOISE. We supported them, but when the evening moved forward, it was the other way around. Or a small town like Bergeijk, where we were number one in their popularity list, together with VANDENBERG. Things happened there, you had never witnessed before. We were pulled off the stage on our trouserlegs. That’s a very strange experience!”
Did you support any important bands from abroad?
“We supported PAT TRAVERS during our farewell tour in Holland. I can tell you a great story, when we had to play in Paradiso, Amsterdam with PAT. We finished our set and a few people came to meet us afterwards. They said: “Hey, your band is so cool. Where do you guys come from?” Obviously, they thought we were a newly discovered band – One that had already started their farewell tour – ha! Then PAT TRAVERS climbed the stage and during the first song, he blew up both his amplifiers. So Mr. TRAVERS had to play on the backline of GILGAMESJ! That was really funny. I’ve met him that evening and he was a kind and very quiet man. Alltogether, we played about three or four nights with him. I only think he should check his hearing because he plays very loud. Unbelievable!”
The last GILGAMESJ gig took place in your hometown Leerdam and was also some sort of a reunion gig at the same time. What was it like being on stage as GILGAMESJ for the very last time?
“It was a rather strange feeling, I can tell you that. Especially during the last song something gets through you, because we shared so much together throughout the years. Good things and bad things too, but that’s a part of it all and makes it all so pleasant. The idea to quit with GILGAMESJ was there for a much longer time already. The candle had burned out, so to speak. The gigs made us feel alive again, but these things actually showed at the rehearsals more and more. If you can only write three songs in one year, then there’s really something wrong.”
Don’t you think it was a shame that Aardschok (the leading hardrock magazine in Holland) didn’t send one of his reporters to witness this very last gig, after twenty years of devoted touring in the Dutch club scene? You did send an invitation, didn’t you? [Writer’s note: I was so mad, that I wrote a letter of complaint to the editor of Aardschok saying it wasn’t very polite that they didn’t show up that night. Of course they didn’t reply to this letter or pay any attention to it!]
“We thought it was a pity, but on the other hand didn’t give it a moment’s thought. It was all over for the band. We have had a wonderful evening – one that almost gets you thinking of “Okay guys, let’s start again tomorrow!” “
Did you share the stage with any other big names, besides PAT TRAVERS?
“HERMAN BROOD, THE BINTANGS, VANDALE, HELLOISE, etc.etc.”
After GILGAMESJ, you played in 147. For how long did you exist and who else was in it?
“147 consisted of Ed Sterk, Rene Sterk, Gerrie den Hartog, Jan Willem de Haan and myself. I think we were together for three years. We even played at a biker festival in Germany. It was more like a band that ocassionally got together and like GILGAMESJ, we only played for fun.”
How did you come up with the name 147?
“ ‘The Sterk borthers’ have a studio in Oosterwijk (a small town near Leerdam), which is called Studio 147. This explains everything.”
You also worked as a booking agent/programmer/disc jockey in The Jungle in Leerdam. Why did you quit this job?
“I always enjoyed working there, especially in the beginning. I made a lot of friends, also from the music scene, and we booked some really good bands. At a certain point I had to take a course ‘How to deal with aggressive behaviour’. I did this of course, but all the fun was gone. I’ve always been someone, who did things for fun. It was clear to me, that there’s such criminal behaviour in Leerdam and you’re not sure about your life anymore. Not funny and I didn’t want to go through with it…”
Which bands did you bring to Leerdam to play in The Jungle?
“Let me see. There was TAMAS SZEKERES, Peter Wolf and THE J GEILS BAND, SNOWY WHITE (a very kind man, I even went to Switzerland with him), RIVERDOGS, JESSE GUITAR TAYLOR, BACKBONE SLIDE and we had a very good DOORS tribute band, who got some great response.”
You even auditioned for PICTURE, after GILGAMESJ. How did this work out and why did you never really collaborate here?
“I got in touch with Jan Bechtum, their guitarplayer, over the phone and that was it. The biggest bottleneck here was the long distance between us.”
Are all the other bandmembers still doing something into the music scene? I understand that most part of GILGAMESJ is playing in the bluesrock band JP BLUES GANG. Wouldn’t you like to be their singer instead of their current singer Henk Smids and then play together as the JP BLUES GANG for fun?
“I think Gerrie den Hartog and Stanley play (or played) in some kind of cover band together with Toine van der Linden (ex-HOT LEGS) and Robert Soeterbroek. That’s all I know. I really don’t see myself as a blues singer. I am not a blues singer. Either you have the blues or you don’t. And I don’t have it in me. There’s no fun in playing the blues. And I don’t like these depressive lyrics… That’s not me.”
Does this mean the definate end of GILGAMESJ or do you think you might do something together in the near future (a possible GILGAMESJ reunion, perhaps?)?
“The chance is always there, I guess. But we don’t have any plans in that direction yet. Besides, I am playing with half of the GILGAMESJ line-up live again, so…. We do it under different circumstances and under a different name (ZIXTH ZENSE). The music we’re playing now is a bit easier to comprehense."
If people would ask you for a reunion gig, would you do it?
“I guess so. I think it would be great and I’m sure the other guys feel the same way. But everything should be perfectly arranged then.”
Wouldn’t it be nice to bring out an (indepent) compilation CD with old demos, live recordings, unreleased tracks and as a bonus the three video clips as a CD Rom part. Maybe you could even add some photomaterial to it. The fans would go out of their mind of such thing and it would be an enrichment for the music history. And I am very serious here!
“Actually, you don’t realize that you still have so many fans out there! I feel very honoured. Of course it would be a great idea to do something like that, but what should I do? It would cost a lot of money and I don’t have the time for it either. Look, if there would be someone who said to me “Hey Frank, that sounds like a nice thing to do. I could make it happen for you and put everything on CD, etc.etc.” I would probably say: “OK fine, go ahead and do it! I don’t need any money for it!”
How do you feel about an interview like this, that covered a very important part of your life?
“Now you get to realize what you’ve done over the years. You see questions that make you say: “Damn, that’s true, I also did this and that. It’s really nice.”
Do you have any other hobbies other than music?
“Yes, since one year my little son is my biggest hobby. I’ve always said that I didn’t want any children, but when you have one of your own, you don’t want anything else. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
What are your future plans?
“I want to play with my new band ZIXTH ZENSE again on a regular basis. And like in the GILGAMESJ days, I want to have fun in doing the things I'd like to do. We’ll see what happens. The band consists of Willem Prinsen (drums), Sylvester van Leeuwen (guitar), Rogier de Vaal (keyboards), Gerrie den Hartog (guitar; ex-GILGAMESJ), Jan Vos (bass; ex-GILGAMESJ) and Frank van Stijn (vocals; also ex-GILGAMESJ). We play in the same style as GILGAMESJ did, by the way. We also play a GILGAMESJ song, called “Lost In Paradise”. But the band itself doesn’t have anything to do with GILGAMESJ.”
Did you never think of putting something about GILGAMESJ on the internet, like a home page?
“When GILGAMESJ existed there was no such thing as the internet and now I just don’t know. (Any suggestions????).”
Would you like to add something here, that you think shouldn’t be ‘unmentioned’?
“I don’t think so. We have played together for twenty years and we had a great time. We quit because the fun was over.”
Any messages for the readers of Snakepit?
*My thanks goes out to Bert van Haarlem (for the audio stuff and merchandise material) and to Frank van Stijn for his time and doing the interview. Good luck with ZIXTH ZENSE, my friend!!!!!
Interview by: Toine van Poorten
(originally appeared in SNAKEPIT, issue #9, 2001.)
[to be added]