Well, what do we see here on this cover? Stamps with childhood pictures of the Nits’ band members? With happy faces from the fifties from keyboardist Robert-Jan Stips, guitarist and singer Henk Hofstede, bassist Joke Geraets and drummer Rob Kloet? It seems that way, but it is not the case. It turns out that these are children’s stamps from 1951 by the Dutch photographer Cas Oorthuys. As a viewer you will therefore start wondering. For just a moment you are wrong-footed. That’s the beauty of an artistic cover. Not just a straight forward picture of band members with guitars or a drum kit.
The idea derives from singer Henk Hofstede. Hofstede is also the cover artist. Just like all other Nits album covers. He attended the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and was always interested in designing record sleeves. As far as he’s concerned, there must be a story behind every cover. That creates a bond and I took the liberty of calling him.
What is the idea behind this cover? Hofstede grew up as a boy in a working-class family in the eastern part of Amsterdam. A number of lyrics for the album “In the Dutch Mountains” are about his childhood. The Netherlands were in the process of reconstruction. Hard work was done to rebuild everything that was in ruins after the Second World War. Because of the war there was a shortage of almost everything. Although the Hofstede family lived in poverty by today’s standards, they were not unhappy. The Hofstedes watched leftwing television programs and voted Labour, mother and father sang in the local operetta company and the radio was on almost all of the time. Henk Hofstede grew up with hits, sung in Dutch, from the era. They didn’t need much of anything in the Hofstede home.
Henk Hofstede wanted the cover to portray his year of birth, 1951. Hofstede saw these children’s stamps by photographer Cas Oorthuys at a book market. It started the ball rolling. He came into contact with Oorthuys’ widow. Hofstede presented her with his idea. She liked it and agreed that he would use the original printout of the pictures from the children’s stamps. Happy as a child, Hofstede set to work. Originally there were five photos of children from the fifties, but Hofstede used four to create the illusion that they are indeed childhood photos of the band members.
The album was named after the song that would become a big hit, ‘In the Dutch Mountains’.
Many people think that the title is derived from a book by Dutch author Cees Nooteboom, ‘In the mountains of the Netherlands’. But that is incorrect, because that book was originally called ‘In the Netherlands’.
It was only later that this novel was given the title ‘In the Dutch mountains’, after the hit by the Nits. For example, more people have run off with the title of the Nits’ song. In Eindhoven, for example, a gigantic residential complex is being built, named ‘Dutch Mountains’.
There was a cover, and there was music. The Nits were almost done recording in their own gym/studio. The group was known for wanting to keep everything in their own hands. No compromises to the record company. The four went their own way in their own studio with their own record sleeves. But it was clear that the song ‘In the Dutch Mountains’ would become a big hit. Big money beckoned. But the principle of ‘mass equals cash’ applies to the record industry, so a song must sound ‘slick’. The Nits did not go along with that and stuck to their guns i.e. their own creative values. Fortunately, CBS finally agreed to their terms. The music continued to sound like the Nits had recorded it, in the old gym in Amsterdam.
The Nits did not stick to their eighties sound. They still make innovative and idiosyncratic music. On 29 September they will perform live at De Boerderij. Hofstede does not yet want to reveal which songs they will be playing. So for now I have to make do with my own playlist with songs from “Knot”, “Kilo”, and “Angst”, for example. But also with songs from “In the Dutch Mountains”
When I listen to this record and look at the cover, every time I get as happy as those children from 1951.
By Gerrit-Jan Vrielink
Translation Alex Driessen
Thanks to Henk Hofstede