It is no exaggeration to say that Howard Carpendale is one of the giants of German pop music. Put on his 1977 hit Ti Amo and pretty much any German who didn’t grow up in the deepest, darkest Schwarzwald won't be able to stop themselves singing along to its infectious chorus.
Carpendale is no native to the world of German Schlager music, though. He was actually born in Durban, South Africa a year after the end of the Second World War and only emigrated to Europe in the mid-1960s. After trying and failing to find success in the UK, he moved to Deutschland where he soon found a public more responsive to his crooner vibe.
He scored his first big hit with a German cover version of the Beatles' Obladi Oblada, which includes the memorable chorus: “obladi olbada live is crazy / crazy und doch ist es schön.”
Carpendale pretty much stuck to that pattern of success through the coming decades, releasing German versions of Living Next Door to Alice and Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. To give him due credit, he also had chart success with his own composition Du fängst den Wind.
Throughout the decades through sheer staying power, Carpendale has grown into something approaching a national treasure. In 2004 he was honoured with an Echo award for his life's work, pretty much the highest accolade one can win in Germany’s pop music. Now in his seventies, he lives in Munich and is still filling out concert halls.
Garvey is another one who found accidental fame in Germany, but is as good as unheard of in his home country. The 45 year old who hails from Ireland came to Germany in his mid-twenties after struggling to make a name for himself back home.
He spent his first months giving solo gigs in bars for money before advertising for a band in a local newspaper. Four German recruits later, he had Reamonn, a band that were to surge to German success on the back of power ballads in easy-to-sing-along-to English.
Their first release in the year 2000, Supergirl, was an instant hit, rising to number 4 in the German charts. That summer the band gave a sold out tour of the country and the rugged Irishman became a new superstar of German rock.
Reamonn were so big for a while that they collaborated with Mary J. Blige and Nelly Furtado and opened a concert to welcome Barack Obama when he toured Europe in 2008.
Sadly for power rock lovers, the band split in 2010. But Garvey has since carved out a successful solo career. Most recently he teamed up with the rapper Kool Savas who told him he decided to collaborate “because his mum is a big fan.” Ouch.
Garvey once told the Irish Times that the reason he moved to the land of Schlager music was that there were too many good musicians in Ireland. Germany on the other hand “is a very forgiving market and it gave me the possibility to grow as a musician.” Never were truer words spoken.
The Kelly Family
It is hard to describe just how huge the Kelly Family were in Germany in the 1990s. Ask any friend now in their twenties and they will confess to having had a crush on John Kelly or one of his dozen siblings in their pre-pubescent years.
The Kelly's backstory sounds like something out an Astrid Lindgren novel. Their parents moved to rural Spain from the US (where they were never to find fame) in the late 1960s. The children grew up without going through formal education but spending a great amount of time playing instruments and learning about culture of their ancestral Irish homeland.
Their music careers started slowly in the late 1970s, a time in which they travelled across Europe on their own double-decker bus or in a houseboat.
A German record label snapped them up in the mid-1980s and by the early 1990s they had built up a fan base of hysterical, semi-fanatical German children.
They sold somewhere around 25 million albums in Europe despite never achieving fame in the English-speaking world. Oh, and at the height of their fame in the late 1990s they were making so much cash that they could afford to buy a castle outside Cologne.
Their echo-friendly, hippy-ish, faux-Irish personas spoke to a deep-rooted German love of nature. But they weren't to everyone's taste. Die Zeit compared them to cult leader and murderer Charles Manson, saying “He, too, had enough of modern America … toured around in a bus, made music and waited for a breakthrough.”
If you are interested in seeing them live, they are touring again this year after an 18-year break. They reunited last year for a gig in Dortmund and were reportedly afraid that the huge arena they'd booked would be half empty – but it sold out in 17 minutes. Why are we not surprised?