In this little country of ours, we occasionally find ourselves looking for world
beaters – something or someone we can be proud of and say, “they led the way.”
While our hi-tech wizards manage to break new ground, the same cannot generally
be said of our commercial music artists. But around 30 years ago, Minimal
Compact was blazing a trail across Europe with its rough-and-ready offering of
postpunk rock music. After eight years of plane and train hopping and nine
albums, the members of the quintet called it a day and went their separate ways,
although there have been sporadic reunions.
The latest get-together will
start on Thursday (January 26), when the maturing rockers strut their stuff at
Reading 3 in Tel Aviv, followed by a concert at Zappa Jerusalem on Saturday
(January 28) and a final show at Barby in Tel Aviv on February 2. The “pretext”
for the latest get-together is the 60th birthday of Dutch drummer Max Franken,
the only non-Israeli member of the band, who will be joined by guitaristvocalist
Berry Sakharov, guitarist-vocalist Rami Fortis, vocalist Sammy Birnbach and
bassist-vocalist Malka Spiegel.
When Spiegel, Sakharov and Birnbach began
developing an interest in the aftermath of punk rock, they were in a cultural
vacuum. “There was absolutely no punk scene or post-punk scene here back then,”
So the threesome packed their bags and relocated to
Amsterdam where, over time, they were joined by Fortis and Franken.
63-year-old Birnbach had already laid the groundwork, having spent time in
London during the heyday of the punk rock era in the mid-1970s and spent a year
in the British capital in 1966.
“That was a great year,” says Birnbach.
“I saw loads of great bands at places like the Marquee. I remember the first
group I saw there was [American pop group] The Lovin’ Spoonful.”
caught most of the young British pop-rock acts of the time. “I used to go there
two or three times a week. I saw them all there – The Small Faces, Yardbirds,
The Move – and I saw [blues revivalist] Alexis Korner at the [Soho club] Zebra,
and some jazz musicians like [mercurial saxophonist] Roland Kirk. Those were
Birnbach also had his 15 minutes of fame. “In Israel, I got
to know Rob Huxley and Stan Solomon of [Israeli 1960s rock band] The Churchills,
and I appear on the cover of their first record.”
That brief stint with
Israel’s first rock band and catching all those great gigs in London instilled
in Birnbach an enduring love of rock and other related styles. Prior to Minimal
Compact, he made a living as a DJ and wrote poetry.
But even with his
rich education in rock and pop, Birnbach still wasn’t a musician. “I wrote
lyrics, but when we started out, only Berry was a real musician. Malka just took
up the bass and started learning as she went along, and Fortis wasn’t a real
musician back then, either. We were all limited.”
Even so, Fortis had
already put out his landmark 1978 record Plonter, which was Israel’s first punk
However, that lack of artistic skill worked to the band’s
advantage. “I think that gave us our own special sound,” observes Birnbach.
“Even Berry, who also did all the arrangements of the songs, said that if he’d
played with other musicians on his level, he would probably have ended up playing sort of clichéd jazzrock.”
says that the whole Minimal Compact phenomenon was the result of serendipity.
“We thought we’d just do a seven-inch record. I knew a musician called Dick
Pollack [from Dutch band Mecano], and he said he’d help me produce a record any
Contact was soon made with Marc Hollander, who had just
established the Belgium-based Crammed record label, and the disc was duly made.
Prior to that, Birnbach and co. had only played for their close circle in
Amsterdam. “People really liked what we were doing,” says the vocalist. But the
word about the band had not yet hit the streets in Holland.
the self-titled mini-album, which included “Statik Dancin’” and “Creation Is
Perfect,” started getting some air play and began making waves in Britain. Word
then got back to Holland, and things started taking off in Europe for the four,
who were joined by then part-time drummer Franken. It was time to start take
“We started rehearsing and doing gigs, and then we
recorded [the band’s first full album] One by One,” says Birnbach. “We started
performing all over Europe. It was a busy time.”
The quintet worked at a
feverish pace in concert and in recording studios for around seven years until
the members opted to follow their own individual paths, although Sakharov and
Fortis also enjoyed subsequent success as a duo.
Next week, the 45+
crowd, and the younger set who have joined the band’s following over the years,
will have another opportunity to catch the unique Minimal Compact vibe. Guest
artist Colin Newman, formerly of British new wave band Wire fame, will enhance
the onstage proceedings.Minimal Compact will perform on January 26 at
Reading 3 in Tel Aviv; January 28 at Zappa Jerusalem; and February 2 at Barby in