Cult Classic: Dieter Moebiuso-Blotch
Nearly five years ago, Dieter Moebius who was one of the greatest and most important musicians in the history of modern German music passed away on the “20th” July 2015 after a brave and lengthy battle against cancer. He had been a cofounder of Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia which are three of the most inventive, innovative and influential bands of the Kominische era. However, like many musical pioneers, Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia’s music was ahead of its time. As a result, their music never received the commercial success and critical acclaim in their own country. Instead, it were more popular abroad. Eventually, that began to change.
Somewhat belatedly, Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia are being recognised for being pioneers, who released ambitious, groundbreaking and timeless music. They’ve gone on to influence several generation of musicians. So has Dieter Moebius’ solo albums. This included Blotch, Dieter Moebius’ 1999 sophomore album.
When Blotch was released in 1999, it marked the end of a sixteen years wait for Dieter Moebius’ fans. He had released his debut solo album Tonspuren, on Sky Records in 1983. This was two years after the two years after “Cluster had run its course.” Hans-Joachim Roedelius explains: “we decided to concentrate on other projects. There was no fall-out, Cluster just came to a natural end.” So the two friends embarked on separate projects.
Dieter Moebius’ first two post-Cluster albums, were collaborations with his old friend Conny Plank. He had been a member of Cluster when they released their eponymous debut album in 1971. Since then, they had worked on albums by Cluster and Harmonia. However, they had only collaborated together once on Rastakraut Pasta. Soon, one would become two.
Moebius and Plank.
In 1980, Dieter and Conny Plank entered Conny’s Studio to record seven tracks. They were joined by another giant of German music, Can bassist Holger Czukay. He played on Feedback 66, Missi Cacadou and Two Oldtimers. When the seven tracks were completed, Rastakraut Pasta was would be released later in 1980.
Critics hailed Moebius and Plank’s debut Rastakraut Pasta a truly groundbreaking album. It was a fusion of avant-garde Kominische, industrial, electronica, experimental and dub reggae. This disparate and unlikely fusion of genres proved a potent musical pot pourri, that proved popular with critics and record buyers. So Conny and Dieter released a second album together.
The Moebius and Plank partnership returned in 1981 with their sophomore album, Material. It featured five songs recorded at Conny’s Studio. This time, there was no sign of Holger Czukay. Instead, the two old friends and musical pioneers worked on another album of truly groundbreaking music. This became Material.
Just like Rastakraut Pasta, Material was hailed as another album of groundbreaking, genre-melting music. Elements of avant-garde Kominische, industrial, electronica, experimental and dub reggae. This resulted in music that wasn’t just innovative, but way ahead of its time. Material was also a timeless album, and one that resulted in what seemed like a queue of musicians wanting to collaborate with Dieter Moebius.
First in the queue was Gerd Beerbohm. They released their first collaboration, Strange Music in 1982. This was the first two albums the pair would record tougher. The followup Double Cut was released in 1983. That same year, Dieter Moebius released his debut album Tonspuren.
To record his debut solo album, Dieter Moebius headed for the familiar surroundings of Conny’s Studio, in Cologne. He had made this journey countless times before. In the second half of 1982, Dieter began recording ten soundscapes. With Conny looking on approvingly, and making a few suggestions, Tonspuren began to take shape. Once the album was recorded, Conny mixed Tonspuren. It was then released in 1983.
Just like his previous collaborations with Conny Plank, Tonspuren was released on Günter Körber’s Sky Records. It was the perfect label for an album of minimalist, experimental and ambient music. Günter Körbe had setup Sky Records in 1975, and had never been afraid to release music that many labels would’ve shied away from. Many other German labels were only interested in commercial music. However, Sky Records, just like Brain and Ohr before them, were determined to released groundbreaking music. This was how some critics described Tonspuren.
Critics had awaited the release of Tonspuren with interest. They wondered what direction Dieter Moebius’ music would head? When they heard Tonspuren, with its minimalist, ambient and sometimes experimental sound, they knew. It was a captivating debut album, and critics awaited Dieter’s sophomore album with interest. They would have a long wait.
Sixteen years to be exact. Dieter would released several collaborations, and Cluster would reunite before Dieter release his sophomore album. By then, Dieter had reinvented himself, while music, and the way it was made had changed.
Following the release of Tonspuren, Dieter continued to collaborate with other artists, This included two collaborations with Karl Renziehausen. Dieter also wrote the soundtrack to Blue Moon in 1986. However, it was Conny Plank that Dieter collaborated with most often. They recorded three further albums with Conny Plank, This included 1983s Zero Set which featured Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeier; 1995s En Route; and Ludwig’s Law which featured Mayo Thompson. However, still, Dieter Moebius found time to reunite with Hans-Joachim Roedelius for the comeback of Cluster.
Recording of Cluster’s tenth album took place during 1989 and 1990. Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius recorded five tracks, including the twenty-two minute epic title-track. It was part of an album that was similar to Grosses Wasser.
That is the comparisons critics drew, when Apropos Cluster was released in 1991. The only difference was, that Apropos Cluster wasn’t as rhythmic as Grosses Wasser. Instead, it was understated, ethereal and thoughtful ambient music. The followup to Apropos Cluster was the first of three live albums.
The first of the trio of live albums Cluster released during the nineties, was One Hour. It came about after Cluster improvised in the studio for four hours. They edited this down to One Hour. The result is a truly captivating album that was released in 1995.
One Hour is Cluster at their most imaginative. They take their music in the most unexpected directions. Curveballs are constantly bowled, as what sounds like the soundtrack to a surrealist film unfolds. Elements of ambient, avant-garde and modern classical music combine, resulting in one of the most intriguing albums in Cluster’s discography.
Two years later, in 1997, Cluster released the first of two live albums. The first was Japan 1996 Live. It was followed by First Encounter Tour 1996, which was their thirteen album, was the first double album Cluster had released. It would also be the last album they released for eleven years. During that period, Dieter Moebius released four further solo albums. The first of this quartet of solo albums was Blotch.
After a sixteen year period where he was constantly collaborating with other artists, Blotch marked the start of a period where mostly, Dieter Moebius would concentrate on his solo career. While there was the occasional excursion with Cluster, and a collaboration with Asmus Tietchens in 2012, mostly, the period between 1999 and 2014 are best described as the solo years.
One thing that never changed during the solo the solo years, was Dieter Moebius’ determination to innovate. On what became Blotch, Dieter worked on a series of playful mesmeric loop based tracks. They’re atmospheric and experimental, with Dieter adding bursts of speech to the musical canvas. They’re painted by using vast musical palette.
When Dieter came to record Blotch in Berlin, he had bought an eight-track Yamaha recorder. Onto that, he recorded his E-mu Orbit 9090 sound module and a Korg Prophecy. It was way ahead of its time, and was able to replicate the sounds of various analogy synths. This didn’t come cheap, but was a lot easier and more reliable than their analog equivalent. Dieter added samples of speech throughout Blotch. The only guest artist was Tim Story, who played pedal steel guitar, piano and produced Balistory. The rest of Blotch was produced by Dieter. When Blotch was completed, it was mastered by Tim Story in his Ohio studio. Only then was Blotch released in 1999.
When Blotch was released, Dieter Moebius was hailed as the comeback King. He had reinvented himself musically, and recorded a much more experimental, genre-melting album. Dieter had made good use of new technology, and added snatches of speech to the seven soundscapes. This proved a potent combination, as you’ll realise.
Ondulation opens Blotch. Synths wah-wah before a myriad of sounds assail the listener. A broody bass synths provides the heartbeat, while bell rings and futuristic, sci-fi sounds flit in and out. So do brief snatches of speech. By then, the synths are adding drama and most importantly, a hypnotic backdrop to what sounds like the soundtrack to a space odyssey.
Drums that sound as if they’re a distance relation to those found on old seventies Afro-beat albums add hypnotic sound on Meltaway. Meanwhile, otherworldly, ethereal and space-age synth are added. So are what sounds like a sample of snarling animal. There’s even a synth sound that as it’s been influenced by David Bowie’s Fame. Mostly though, Dieter Moebius puts his extensive musical palette to good use, painting broad brush strokes using synths and samples. He creates a soundscape that’s variously mesmeric, otherworldly, dramatic and most of all cinematic.
The introduction to Temperate veers between understated and ambient, to experimental. Washes of ethereal synths sweep in, before Dieter unleashes an array of sound. Some are almost industrial, others elegiac and some are even otherworldly. However, a chirping, blinking synth adds a hypnotic backdrop. It acts like a beacon, attracting the array of sounds towards it. What sounds like a camera shutter accompanies the wash of ethereal synths, while clicks, whines and bubbling, squeaking sounds make an appearance. It’s a truly captivating soundscape, which reveals even more secrets with every listen.
Space is left within grinding, metallic sound as The Tracker begins. Soon, a mesmeric, hypnotic sound makes an appearance as Dieter combines avant-garde, experimental and industrial with Krautrock. What sounds like an alternative orchestra begins to play. They create a track that’s both robotic and fluid. Clicking, clanging, ringing and melodic sounds are joined by ethereal and sci-fi sounds. Incredibly, Düsseldorf based Sølyst have been doing something on their new album The Steam Age. However, Dieter Moebius’ recorded his compelling alternative symphony two decades ago, way before Sølyst’s career ever began. Maybe Sølyst are paying homage to one of the greatest German musicians ever?
Cinematic describes Im Raum. It sounds as if Dieter recorded the soundscape onboard a submarine, way below the Ocean. As a bubbling sound can be heard, codes are tapped out, as secrets are passed to shore. Meanwhile, a droning, buzzing sound replicates the engine, before space age sounds flit in and out. They play an important part in the success of this twelve minute cinematic epic, where the listener can let their imagination run riot.
The cinematic sound continues on Kohlzug. It’s a musical mystery, where the listener plays the role of detective. Their job is to recognise the various sounds. Is that the sound of someone digging? What sounds like a tap dripping can be heard. Or is it a steam engine skittering along? Meanwhile, a jazz saxophone plays, heads into free jazz territory. Occasionally, a cartoon boing can be heard, as if someone has sat on a broken sofa. These sounds come courtesy of Dieter’s musical palette. They’re varied and captivating. Especially, when what sounds like a chainsaw can be heard. Still, though, the saxophone and synths add a hypnotic backdrop, as Dieter leaves clues for the listener to solve.
Balistory closes Blotch. Just a wistful keyboard plays on what’s a minimalist soundscape. Occasionally, what sounds like steel pans are added. So are synths strings. What sounds like a melancholy track seems to be unfolding. That’s until 1.24 when a myriad disparate sound effects are added. They’re briefly sprayed across the arrangement, but in a controlled fashion. It’s almost a Hendrix-esque performance. By then, gone is the understated sound. Still the keyboards and steel pans can be heard. They’re joined by futuristic, bubbling, dramatic and hypnotic sounds. They assail the listener, swirling around like musical merry-go-round. It’s a case of hold on, and enjoy the ride, before the understated, melancholy sound returns. This proves a beautiful, poignant way to close another genre-melting track that is a reminder of one of the greatest musicians in the history of modern German music.
Dieter Moebius played a huge part German music between 1970 and 2014. For five decades, Dieter Moebius was a giant of German music. That had been the case since his days with Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia, through to his collaborations, soundtrack work and solo career. Constantly, Dieter Moebius created music that was innovative and pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes beyond. That was the case on Blotch, his long-awaited sophomore album.
Sixteen years after the release of his 1983 debut Tonspuren, Dieter Moebius returned with Blotch. He named the album after seeing paint on a canvas. Suddenly, Dieter had the title to his genre-melting album. Everything from ambient and avant-garde, through to electronica and experimental sits side-by-side with industrial, Krautrock and musique concrète. The result was an album that was very different to different to Dieter’s debut album, Tonspuren.
Gone was the minimalist, ambient and sometimes, experimental sound of Tonspuren. It was replaced by music that was atmospheric, dramatic, futuristic and sometimes, ethereal, understated and beautiful. Always, though, Blotch is captivating. It’s a case of expect the unexpected, as Dieter Moebius bowls a series of curveballs. As he does, the music is always cinematic and mostly, hypnotic. Just like so much of the music Dieter had released it was innovative and influenced further generations of musicians.
That’s the case with much of the music Dieter Moebius recorded. It was always groundbreaking, innovative and pushed musical boundaries. Blotch proved to be the start of an Indian Summer for Dieter Moebius. He released another three albums, 2006s Nurton, 2009s Kram and 2011s Ding. That brought the curtain down on Dieter Moebius’ career.
Sadly, Dieter Moebius died on 20th July 2015. The man who cofounded Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia left behind a rich musical legacy, including Blotch. It’s just one reason who Dieter Moebius deserves to be called a musical legend.
Cult Classic: Dieter Moebiuso-Blotch
Cult Classic: Mary Afi Usuah-African Woman.
When Mary Afi Usuah released her sophomore album African Woman on Clover Music in 1978, very few people outside of Nigeria heard the album. That was despite Mary Afi Usuah having performed in front of hundreds of thousands of music fans.
Mary Afi Usuah had spent thirteen years touring Europe with some of the biggest names in music. Night after night, Mary Afi Usuah opened for musical luminaries like Deep Purple, Duke Ellington and Led Zeppelin. Sometimes, Mary Afi Usuah took to the stage with Led Zeppelin, and matched Robert Plant every step of the way. This allowed Mary Afi Usuah to showcase her considerable talents and versatility.
By then, Mary Afi Usuah was a truly versatile artist and seamlessly, could switch between disparate musical genres. Jazz gave way to rock, soul and even opera. That was no surprise.
Growing up in Nigeria, music had played an important part in Mary Afi Usuah’s life. She played guitar from an early age and the soon started to write and record her own songs. However, the life of a singer-songwriter wasn’t for Mary Afi Usuah.
Instead, Mary Afi Usuah harboured dreams of being an opera singer. So having left high school, she dared to dream and left her her home in Nigeria to train as an a opera singer. Over the next few years, Mary Afi Usuah studied in London, Naples and at the prestigious St. Cecilia Academy in Rome. Despite her dedication, and the time she spent studying to become an opera singer, Mary Afi Usuah’s future lay elsewhere.
That was how Mary Afi Usuah came to spend thirteen years touring with the great and good of music. During that period, Mary Afi Usuah’s embarked upon a career as a recording artist.
Her recording career began in 1969, when Mary Afi Usuah released her debut single Molto Di Più on the Italian label, Cinemox. The single wasn’t a commercial success, so Mary Afi Usuah continued to concentrate on live work.
Two years later, in March 1971, Mary Afi Usuah released another single on Cinemox, Kiss Me, but the single failed commercially. By then, Mary Afi Usuah’s star was in the ascendancy, and she was touring with some of the biggest names in music.
For the next few years, Mary Afi Usuah spent much of her time on what was a never ending tour. It would eventually last thirteen years. Still, though, she would find time to return to her native Nigeria, where she played live and recorded her debut album Ekpenyong Abasi.
Accompanying Mary Afi Usuah on Ekpenyong Abasi, were The South Eastern State Cultural Band. They recorded what was an eclectic album, which features Afrobeat, jazz, folk, funk and rock. Ekpenyong Abasi was released on the SESCULT label in 1975, and was credited to Ekpenyong Abasi with The SES Cultural Band. Belatedly, one of Nigerian music’s most tainted vocalists, Mary Afi Usuah had released her debut album. Surely she would soon, return with the followup.
After a gap of three years, Mary Afi Usuah began work on a new album, African Woman. For her new album, Mary Afi Usua had written eight now songs, and would be accompanied by Akwassa, who were a talented and versatile band.
Akwassa were one of many Nigerian bands who were making a living in the country’s nightclubs. However, Akwassa, who sometimes performed as Heads Funk Band, were a cut above the competition. Their lineup featured Awassa Eddy Offeyi, Felix Odey, Joe Castro, Kevin “Coburn” Njoku and Ricky West. They were joined by a very special guest artist, lead guitarist Charles “Effiom” Duke. His addition was the finishing touch to a truly talented band. They joined Mary Afi Usuah in the studio.
Recording took place at Phonogram Studios, Ikeja, Lagos. When work began on African Woman, Felix Odey, Joe Castro and Sylvester Akaiso had arranged the eight songs. They were co-produced by Sylvester Akaiso. He watched as Mary Afi Usuah and her multitalented band recorded the eight tracks. Seamlessly they switched between and sometimes combined, disparate musical genres. This included Afrobeat, disco, folk, funk, jazz, rock and soul. African Woman was even more eclectic than Mary Afi Usuah’s debut album. When it was completed, it was released later in 1978.
Sadly, when African Woman was released in 1978 on Clover Sound it failed to find an audience, and disappeared without trace. This was a huge blow to Mary Afi Usuah. Maybe then, she knew her dream was over? It shouldn’t have been given the quality of music on African Woman.
The title-track opens African Woman. A chiming guitar dances across the arrangement, before a roll of drums signals the arrival of the rhythm section and Mary Afi Usuah’s powerhouse of a vocal. She’s accompanied by backing singers, who accompany Mary every step of the way. Behind her, Akwassa lay down a tight groove, fusing elements of funk and rock. Later, Mary’s vocal grows in power and becomes celebratory and full of pride. There’s even a nod to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, as this proud African Woman, Mary Afi Usuah, sets the bar high for the rest of the album.
As Kam Fat Owo (Mbata) unfolds, drums crack and roll, while the bass and chiming guitar usher in Mary’s vocal. She has eschewed power, for a much more soulful vocal. Soon, washes of Hammond organ join percussion, the rhythm section and guitar. By then, Mary isn’t holding back, and is combining power with soulfulness. That’s until a rasping horns makes a brief and welcome appearance. It reappears, and is played subtly as it accompanies Mary as she combines soul and jazz, on a track where Afrobeat, funk and jazz are combined by Akwassa. They again, showcase their versatility and prove the perfect foil for Mary Afi Usuah.
Chirping, funky guitar licks open What’s A Woman To Do, before the rhythm section and Hammond organ create the backdrop for Mary’s vocal. It’s a mixture of power, frustration and anger, as she seems to draw inspiration from Tina Turner. There’s even a nod to James Brown as she briefly vamps, before her band up the funk factor. A funky bass plays a leading role in the sound and success of the arrangement. So do braying, blazing horns as Mary’s soul-baring vocal literally oozes emotion and frustration.
Crystalline guitars open Tell Me Now and are joined by a funky rhythm section and percussion. They combine with Mary’s sassy, joyous vocal on this celebratory sounding backdrop. By then, a whistle punctuates the arrangement, and keyboards have locked into a groove with the rhythm section and horns. Later, Mary’s vocal becomes a jazzy vamp, as she moves away from her soulful stylings. She ad-libs as her vocal becomes needy and hopeful as the arrangement meanders along towards a crescendo. That’s when Mary asks: “tell me now do you love me?,” on this joyous, funky, soulful and jazz-tinged song.
On Sweet Elijah, the tempo drops, and Mary is joined by cooing harmonies as she mixes soul and gospel. Meanwhile, the arrangement is understated, with the rhythm section, a chiming guitar and percussion combining. Mary’s vocal is a mixture of power and passion, as she testifies. Matching her every step of the way, are the backing vocalists. They add the finishing track to what’s a quite beautiful song.
The rhythm section are at the heart of the action on Spread More Love. Especially the bass. They’re joined by keyboards as Mary delivers a heartfelt vocal, on what’s a song with a message. A horn responds to her call, while the rhythm section and keyboards anchor the arrangement. Later, as Mary delivers her ‘message’ it’s Akwassa respond to her call. By then, her vocal has grown in power. Then when it drops out, a sultry saxophone proves the perfect replacement. Then the saxophone takes its leave, Mary scats, before unleashing another vocal powerhouse. She sing: “Spread More Love,” while Akwassa respond: “spread it now,” on what’s a soulful, jazz-tinged ballad.
The rhythm section have joined with keyboards and percussion to provide the backdrop for Mary on Our Generation (Ode To Our Nation). Soon, she is combining power and passion, as backing vocalists respond to her call. Then when her vocal drops out, Akwassa get the opportunity to shine. They show that they’re a talented and versatile band, as they Afrobeat and funk. By the time, Mary returns, Akwassa have locked into the tightest of grooves. She delivers an impassioned vocal, as if desperate to get her message across.
Tenkim Kpoho closes African Woman, where the rhythm section, keyboards and guitar combine as Mary’s vocal is akin to a vamp. Soon, though her vocal veers between sassy and soulful, while backing vocalists accompany her. Behind her, Akwassa produce one of their best performances. They seem to have more chance to showcase their considerable talents. Washes of Hammond organ, keyboards and a chiming, searing guitar play leading roles as the rhythm section anchor the arrangement. By then, Mary is combining soul, sass and jazz as this hugely talented African Woman takes her leave.
After eight tracks lasting thirty-seven minutes, African Woman is over. It features a truly underrated singer-songwriter Mary Afi Usuah. She was one of the most talented female singers in the history of Nigerian music. Some believe there was none better, and indeed, one of the finest singers the African continent ever produced. Despite Mary Afi Usuah’s undoubtable talent, her recording career was all too brief.
It amounted to just a couple of singles and two solo albums. This includes African Woman, which when it was released in 1978, passed record buyers by. It was no wonder that with just a few years, Mary Afi Usuah had turned her back on music, and decided to work for the Nigerian Ministry of Culture. Never again, did Mary Afi Usuah return to the recording studio.
Sadly, in 2013, Mary Afi Usuah passed away. By then, there had been a resurgence in interest in her music. The only problem was, original copies of the album are almost impossible to find. When a copy becomes available, the price of this cult classic are usually beyond the pocket of most music fans.
That is a great shame as African Woman features one greatest female vocalists in the history of Nigerian music. In fact, Mary Afi Usuah is a hugely talented and versatile vocalist and without doubt, one of the greatest female vocalists in the history of modern African music. It’s just a pity she didn’t enjoy the success her considerable talent deserved. That talent can be heard throughout African Woman where she’s accompanied by Akwassa. They provide the backdrop for Mary Afi Usuah’s vocals as she showcases her talent and versatility on this oft-overlooked hidden gem which is considered a cult classic amongst connoisseurs of Nigerian music.
Cult Classic: Mary Afi Usuah-African Woman.
Cult Classic: Jodi-Pops de Vanguardia.
Innovator, pioneer and visionary are just three of the words that were used to describe German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. His career spanned six decades and nowadays, he’s regarded as one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th Century. Karlheinz Stockhausen was also one of the pioneers of electronic music, aleatoric music, serial composition, and musical spatialisation. He was also a highly respected academic who taught and influenced many musicians and composers.
This included members of Can, Jean-Michel Jarre, Tom Constanten of the Grateful Dead, avant-garde musician Jon Hassell, composers Gerald Shapiro and Gerald Barry. Students travelled from far and wide to study under Karlheinz Stockhausen. Among them, were brothers, Joern and Dirk Wenger, who had travelled all the way from Paraguay to study under Karlheinz Stockhausen.
After the demise of their band The Rabbits, Joern and Dirk Wenger were keen to complete their musical education. Having heard The Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the brothers were inspired to create their own experimental music. However, they wanted to take this further. So they travelled from Asunción in Paraguay, to study arts at the Folkwang University of the Arts. That was where they encountered Karlheinz Stockhausen. He taught the two brothers music. The time the Wenger brothers spent studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen was a hugely important and influential part of their musical education.
After their time studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen, the Wenger brothers returned home and began building their own studio. This they christened the Jodi Experimental Studio. The Wenger brothers then spent their time recording what they called spontaneous pop. Some of their recording found their way onto Jodi’s 1971 debut album, Pops de Vanguardia.
Its roots can be traced to Joern and Dirk Wenger’s childhood in Asunción, Paraguay. Their family were industrialists who owned a factory that made paint related products. That factory would later play an important part in the Wenger brother’s musical career.
When they were growing up, their father and grandfather brought a variety of musical instruments into the family home. They taught Joern and Dirk how to play these instruments. Before long, Joern, the eldest brother, could play piano, guitar, violin, bandoneon and solfege. Soon, both brothers had mastered several different instruments. Like teenagers the world over, music began to play an important part in the Wenger brothers’ lives. It offered an escape from the reality of growing up in Paraguay.
Following a coup d’état on the 4th of May 1954, Paraguay was ruled by dictator Alfredo Stroessner. That was the case until 1989. During this period, Paraguay expanded economically and underwent a degree of modernisation. However, the Stroessner regime was an oppressive one. Human rights abuse was commonplace and those that opposed the Stroessner regime did so at their peril. As a result, Paraguay wasn’t the ideal place for the Wenger brothers to embark upon a musical career.
Just like in other countries ruled by dictators, artists, writers and musicians were viewed with a degree of suspicion by the authorities. They were often seen as subversives. However, Joern and Dirk just wanted to make music. That was what they wanted to pour their youthful energy and enthusiasm into. However, they too had a dream.
The Wenger Brothers dreamt of building their own recording studio, and were determined to make this a reality. They had even identified the perfect site for their studio. This was within a disused part of the family factory. With that part of the factory not being used, the two brothers were given permission to turn their dream into reality in 1966.
Once the studio was complete, it was christened the Jodi Experimental Studio. The brothers took the first two letters of each of their christian names (Joern and Dirk) and combined this to create the Jodi name. Joern was sixteen, and Dirk who was nineteen, set about experimenting musically and creating what they called spontaneous pop.
The Jodi Experimental Studio became a musical laboratory, where the two brothers were able to experiment with a myriad of different musical instruments. They were also able to experiment with the latest music recording techniques. There was only one problem.
Paraguay didn’t have a music industry as such. This meant that Joern and Dirk didn’t have access to much of the equipment musicians elsewhere took for granted. Especially effects units. This meant that the brothers had to work out a way to replicate reverb or echo. To do this, Joern and Dirk often laboured long into the night seeking a solution. Usually, they managed to do so as their creativity blossomed.
This continued during 1967. The two brothers immersed themselves in an eclectic selection of music seeking inspiration. Two albums made a big impression on them, The Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Sometimes, the Wenger brothers listened to the Bee Gees and James Brown, other times to Little Richard, Louis Armstrong or Oscar Peterson. For the Wenger brothers this was part of their musical education. However, some of these artists would inspire and influence Joern and Dirk when they decided to form their first band.
Up until then, the Wenger brothers had spent most of their free time experimenting musically. They were dedicated to honing and perfecting their songs. Now two brothers were ready to record and release their first EP. To do that, required a little help from their friends.
When they decided to form their first band, the Wenger brothers were still at school. So they decided to enlist some of their friends from the Goethe School, in Ascuncion. Gilberto González, Naldo Nardi, Rodrigo Campos and Willy Schubeius joined the Wenger brothers in their new band, which they named The Rabbits.
Joern who was three years older than his brother Dirk, became The Rabbits de facto leader. He played organ while his brother Dirk played one of the two sets of drums. Gradually, the nascent garage band’s music began to take shape. While Joern and Dirk had spent months honing their sound in the studio, the rest of the band had some catching up to do. Soon, though, The Rabbits were on the same page. Now they could record their debut EP.
For The Rabbits’ Lo Más Nuevo EP, they decided to record Never Funny, Buscándote, Gloria and Todos Los Instantes. On these tracks, The Rabbits combined elements of psychedelia a and garage rock. Once the recording was complete, The Rabbits took the EP to the Guarania label.
When the Guarania label was formed on August 13th 1955, it became Paraguay’s very first record label. Just under fourteen years later, and it would release copies of The Rabbits’ debut EP. Only 300 copies of the Lo Más Nuevo EP were pressed and released later in 1969. Alas, there was no followup.
Not long after the release of the Lo Más Nuevo EP disbanded. This was the end of the first chapter in the Wenger brothers’ career.
The next chapter began when the Wenger brothers travelled from Ascuncio in Paraguay to Germany. Their destination was the Folkwang University of the Arts. That was where the brothers studied arts. Their music teacher was none other than composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. He was already regarded as a musical pioneer and one of the most innovative and influential composers of his generation. Studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen was the perfect way to complete the Wenger brothers’ musical education.
After completing their studies at Folkwang University of the Arts, the Wenger brothers returned home and began work on their next project. This they called Jodi, after their recording studio where the project came to fruition.
Between 1969 and 1971, Joerk Wenger wrote much of what later became Pops De Vanguardia. Some of the material had been recorded before the sessions in 1969. Some were recorded as far back as 1966. Each of the twelve tracks were recorded at the Jodi Experimental Studio.
Two reel-to-reel recorders were used to record the Wenger brothers. Joern plays the majority of the instruments, including guitar and organ. He also takes charge of the lead vocals. Meanwhile Dirk plays drums and percussion. Eventually, Jodi had enough material for an album. These twelve songs would become Pops De Vanguardia, which was released later in 1971.
Before that, critics had their say on Jodi’s debut album. Sadly, the critics didn’t understand the eclectic and innovative nature of Pops De Vanguardia. With its groundbreaking fusion of garage rock and psychedelia, Pops De Vanguardia was way ahead of its time.
When Pops De Vanguardia was released later in 1971, the album failed commercially. Just like the critics, record buyers never understood the album. Pops De Vanguardia passed record buyers by. That’s despite Jodi showcasing a new and groundbreaking sound on Pops De Vanguardia.
Opening Pops De Vanguardia is Experimento (Experiment), which literally bursts into life. The experimental psychedelic rock of the previous track continues. Guitars and the rhythm section explode into the life, and with Joern’s vocal, power the arrangement along. Washes of swirling Hammond and bursts of bubbling bass are added. Later, so are flamboyant flourishes of Hammond organ. Jodi play with freedom and confidence. So much so, that Joern whistles during another blistering and memorable psychedelic rocker. It’s another heady brew from Jodi, and one to drink deep.
Recuerdos De Un Amigo Ruso (Memories Of A Russian Friend) is another psychedelic track. A lone piano is played, the tempo quickening as the rhythm section, chirping, choppy guitars and Joern’s urgent vocal combining. It’s a mixture of drama, urgency and emotion. Later as Joern scats, the arrangement becomes melodic. Soon, though, the emotion returns and memories come flooding back on this poignant psychedelic song.
Just a lone guitar plays before the drums, vocal and washes of Hammond guitar enter on Reflexiones Heladas (Icy Reflexions). Joern stabs at the Hammond organ as effects transform his vocal, and add a lysergic sound. Later, as he vamps the arrangement is rocky and psychedelic. Again, effects are used, but used sparingly. They help create the groundbreaking psychedelic rock sound that Jodi pioneered in Paraguay.
The tempo increases on Onda Suave (Mild Wave). A scrabbled guitar joins the bass to create an understated arrangement. They provide the backdrop for Joern’s lead vocal and harmonies. It’s the interplay between the lead vocal and harmonies that are key to sound and success of another memorable and melodic song.
Washes of swirling Hammond organ are joined by a scorching guitar and drums on Primavera Amarilla (Yellow Spring). Stabs and swirling washes of Hammond organ join the bristling, searing guitar licks. Meanwhile, Dirk keeps a steady beat, adding occasional drum rolls and fills. Soon, they’ve locked into a groove and are playing with an inventiveness. This materialises when Joerk unleashes an ascending effects laden organ solo. Effects are added to the guitar as innovative instrumental unfolds. It’s a marriage of R&B, rock and psychedelia and is without doubt, one of the best instrumentals you’ve never heard.
An urgent scrubbed guitar drives and powers the arrangement along Arrivederci along. It’s accompanied by Joern’s vocal and multi-tracked harmonies. They’re reminiscent of Big Star, and a generation later, the Teenage Fanclub. Meanwhile, effects launched above the arrangement, adding a futuristic and cinematic sound. Jodi continue combine garage rock, psychedelia with proto-punk to create groundbreaking and melodic musical fusion.
Jodi showcase their versatility on Jodi-Ritmo (Jodi Rytmus). Joern’s guitar has a surf rock sound. Meanwhile, he unleashes a snarling proto-punk vocal. Behind him, the the rhythm section and percussion add to the sense of urgency. Later an organ is added, augmenting and briefly replacing the vocal. When it returns, it continues to showcase the bravado fuelled, proto-punk style vocal that Rotten, Strummer, et al would later claim as their own. However, this was nothing new, as Joern Wenger was one its pioneers.
Flourishes of swirling organ are to the fore on Imagen En Rojo (Red Image). They’re joined by the rhythm section. Dirk’s drums keep a steady beat. Meanwhile, Joern lays down a bass line and plays the organ. It plays a starring role, swirling, stuttering and breezing along, on this R&B inspired instrumental which sounds as if was recorded in Memphis, not Ascuncion. Jodi were it seems, a truly versatile band.
Sueño De La Catedral (Cathedral Dream) is an organ driven track where Jodi showcase their psychedelic rock sound. This they do with an organ that replicates the sound of a cathedral organ. They’re never played this way. Joern powers his way across the keyboard, adding flamboyant flourishes and delivering a vampish vocal. Dirk lays down the heartbeat, while Joern is transformed into Lizark King on one of Jodi’s finest moments.
Guitars are at the heart of Fantasmas Del Sonido (Sound Fantasm), and with the rhythm section helping to drive the arrangement along. Soon, they’ve locked into a groove. Joern lays down the guitar and bass lines. Meanwhile, Dirk plays drums and percussion. All the years two brothers have played together has paid off. They’re a tight unit, who don’t necessary stick to the script. Sometimes, it seems their playing is inventive and off the cuff. Occasional fills and flourishes are added, during this driving, genre-melting instrumental. Everything from surf rock, R&B and rock have been combined to create one of the great lost instrumentals.
It’s all change on Cancion Cariñosa (Loving Song). Jodi return to their melodic garage rock sound. Again, the guitar and vocal play leading roles. Joern’s vocal is tender and heartfelt. He plays his guitar with speed and accuracy, using the occasional effect to produce a variety of sound.This range from a chirping to choppy sound, on what’s a hook-laden paean.
The psychedelic sound of Jodi returns on Espiritu Fosforecente (Glowing Spirit), which closes Pops de Vanguardia. A choppy, effects laden guitar combines with washes of Hammond organ and drums. Joern’s vocal is deliberate and powerful, as Jodi draw inspiration from Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, the Rolling Stones and even Cream. It’s an experimental fusion of rock and psychedelia. This proves a potent and heady brew that proves irresistible. Jodi it seems have kept the best until last on Pops de Vanguardia.
That’s not the end of Out-Sider Music’s reissue of Pops de Vanguardia. It comes complete with five bonus tracks. This includes three previously unreleased tracks, a track from a private EP and Buscándote from The Rabbits’ 1969 EP Lo Más Nuevo. It’s two magnificent minutes of psychedelic rock at its very best.This is a tantalising taster of The Rabbits Lo Más Nuevo EP, which nowadays is almost impossible to find.
The other bonus tracks include Sentimental Moment (Momento Sentimental) and Awake (Despierte). Both memorable and melodic reminders of late sixties guitar pop. Little Butterfly (Pequeña Mariposa) is a beautiful and timeless indie pop song. However, the best of the bonus tracks is Poor Man, Rich Man. Jodi combine blues, psychedelia, rock and effects. Joern sounds not unlike John Lennon, on this innovative and genre-melting track. It’s a reminder of a truly talented group, Jodi which featured the Wenger brothers Joern and Dirk.
Pops de Vanguardia was just the start of Jodi’s career. Jodi went on to release two further albums. They transformed the career of Jodi, when commercial success and critical acclaim came their way. Their music was popular across South America. This was a far cry from 1971, when Jodi released their debut album Pops de Vanguardia.
Critics failed to understand what was a groundbreaking album of where Jodi combined elements of blues, garage rock, indie rock, proto-punk, psychedelia and rock. There were even elements of avant-garde and experimental musical on Pops de Vanguardia. It’s was an ambitious album that deserved to find a much wider audience upon its release in 1971. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
Since then, a new generation of record buyers have discovered the music of Jodi. Their rarest album is their debut album Pops de Vanguardia. It wasn’t a commercial success, and very few copies of the original album exist. Those that do, are prized possessions among record collectors.
Jodi’s debut album Pops de Vanguardia showcases the combined and considerable talents of the Wenger brothers. It should’ve been the album that launched their career. Instead, it failed commercially, purely because the critics failed to understand Jodi’s ambitious, groundbreaking and genre-melting album.
Nowadays, though, Jodi’s debut album Pops de Vanguardia is belatedly receiving the recognition it deserves. So much so, that Pops de Vanguardia is regarded by some musical connoisseurs as a lost genre classic.Pops de Vanguardia is a true musical hidden gem that showcases the versatile and multitalented Wenger brothers, as they embarked upon a new chapter in their musical career as Jodi.
Cult Classic: Jodi-Pops de Vanguardia.
Cult Classic: Popol Vuh-Messa Di Orfeo.
Popol Vuh were one of a number of groundbreaking bands who were formed in West Germany in the early seventies, and over the next three decades established a reputation for releasing innovative music that influenced the next generation of musicians. This was the case from the release of Popol Vuh’s 1970 debut album Affenstunde, right through to their twentieth album Messa Di Orfeo, which was released in 1999 and was their swan-song.
Messa Di Orfeo is a reminder of one of the legenary German bands. Popol Vuh should be held in the same regard as Can, Cluster, Harmonia, Kraftwerk, Neu and Tangerine Dream, who Florian Fricke later joined. Just like each of these bands, Popol Vuh’s music has played an integral and important part in German musical history. Part of Popol Vuh’s success, was keyboardist Florian Fricke.
Florian Fricke was born in Lindau Am Bodensee, West Germany on the ‘23rd’ of February 1944. Growing up, Florian Fricke learnt to play the piano, and quickly, had mastered the instrument. When he left high school, Florian Fricke studied piano, composition and directing at the Conservatories in Freiburg and Munich. By then, Florian had two new passions.
The first was music, which was one of Florian Fricke’s passions in life. Especially new music, and this included free jazz, which Florian Fricke embraced. He through himself into this new musical genre, and quickly, realised its potential and possibilities. However, there was more to Florian’s life than making music.
In his spare time, Florian Fricke had started to make short films. Although it was just a hobby, he would later become a film critic for the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. By then, he had already some experience as a critic.
When he was a student, Florian Fricke was the music critic for Der Spiegel, a German magazine. Music and art seemed to dominate Florian Fricke’s life.
That was the case when Florian graduated. In 1967, Florian Fricke met film director Werner Herzog, and the two became friends, Just a year later in 1968, Florian Fricke landed a part in Werner Herzog’s film, Lebenszeichen. This was just the start of their relationship. They would reunite in 1972, but before that, Florian Fricke formed Popul Vuh in 1970.
Joining Florian Fricke in Popol Vuh, were percussionist Holger Truelzsch and fellow synth player Frank Fiedler. All the nascent group took its name from an ancient, sacred, Mayan manuscript. With a name in place, Popol Vuh began work on Affenstunde, the first of twenty albums they released.
From the earliest days of Popol Vuh, Florian Fricke established himself as the group’s leader. He had been one of the first musicians to own a Moog II synth which wasn’t an easy instrument to “tame.” Florian Fricke, a talented keyboardist soon got to grips with what was cutting edge technology. However, it was the Moog II would be used extensively on Popol Vuh’s debut album Affenstunde.
Recording of Affenstunde took place at Bavaria Music Studio, in Munich, where Popol Vuh were joined by Bettina Fricke. She produced Affenstunde with Gerhard Augustin and the producers guided the nascent group through their debut album. It featured just four tracks that were innovative and influential tracks. Especially Affenstunde, a near nineteen minute epic, which took up all of side two.
When Affenstunde was released later in 1970, the album was described variously as space rock and cosmic music. It was very different to much of the music being released. While there were other like-minded groups releasing similarly innovative and influential music very few would enjoy the longevity of Popol Vuh.
Just a year later, in 1971, Popol Vuh returned with In den Gärten Pharaos, which was a precursor of ambient music. Popul Vuh deployed Florian’s Moog II and add a myriad of experimental electronic sounds on In den Gärten Pharaos which was perceived variously as groundbreaking, experimental and thanks to the African percussion, exotic. Vuh, which took up side two of In den Gärten Pharaos was perceived as kosmische musik at its most spiritual. In den Gärten Pharaos was the first classic album of Popol Vuh’s long and illustrious career.
Popol Vuh’s third album, Hosianna Mantra was released in 1972, but passed many critics and record buyers by. By them, Popol Vuh’s lineup changed for the first time, and . Florian Fricke was the only remaining original member of the band left. Over the next three decades there were many more changes in the lineup, which is is best described as fluid.
That didn’t seem to matter as Hosianna Mantra featured music that was timeless, spiritual and innovative. Sadly, it went almost unheard of outside Germany. It was only later, that Hosianna Mantra found the audience it so richly deserved. However, Hosianna Mantra wasn’t the only album Popol Vuh released during 1972 after Florian Fricke renewed his friendship with Werner Herzog.
By 1972, Werner Herzog was producing the conquistador movie Aguirre, The Wrath Of God and needed someone to provide the soundtrack. That’s where Popol Vuh came in. Not only did Popol Vuh provide the soundtrack to He needed someone to provide the soundtrack to A Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, but Heart Of Glass in 1976 and 1979s Nosferatu The Vampyre. The combination of Popol Vuh and Werner Herzog proved a successful one. Popol Vuh were already experienced and accomplished when it came to composing soundtracks. This would stand Popol Vun in good stead later in their career.
Before that, the German music scene was thriving during the seventies, and Popol Vuh released an album every year of the seventies. Very rarely, did they disappoint. The nearest they came was with 1973s Seligpreisung which received mixed reviews from critics.
Popol Vuh more than made up for this with 1974s Einsjäger und Siebenjäger which is now recognised as one of their best albums of the seventies. The followup Das Hohelied Salomos was released in 1975, and featured Popol Vuh showcasing New Age music. Constantly, it seemed Popol Vuh reinvented their music. However, later in 1975, Popul Vuh returned to the world of soundtracks and penned the soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s latest film, Aguirre, The Wrath Of God. The soundtrack, Aguirre became Popol Vuh’s seventh album since 1970.
In 1976, Popol Vuh returned with their eighth album, Letzte Tage–Letzte Nächte was released to critical acclaim, and ensured that Popol Vuh were seen as purveyors of ambitious, exciting and groundbreaking music. Partly, that was down to Popol Vuh’s determination to push musical boundaries to their limits.
Popol Vuh’s reputation was further enhanced when they recorded the soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s movie Herz aus Glas in 1978.
Later in 1978, Popol Vuh released Brüder des Schatten–Söhne des Lichts which they had recorded in August of 1978. When it was released on Brian Records, critics embraced the Gerhard Augustin produced album. Despite the critical acclaim lavished on their albums, still many people were unaware of Popol Vuh.
Fortunately, Popol Vuh were about to write and record the soundtrack to another film directed by Werner Herzog, Nosferatu. This exposed Popol Vuh’s music to a wider audience, and Nosferatu was hailed as one of their finest soundtrack albums, and Popol Vuh’s penultimate album of the seventies.
Die Nacht der Seele, which was subtitled tantric songs, was released to critical acclaim in 1979, and was a fitting way for Popol Vuh to close the seventies. Incredibly, Die Nacht der Seele was Popol Vuh’s twelfth album since they formed in 1970.
During the eighties, Popol Vuh were no longer as prolific as they were during the seventies, and only released four albums. The first was Sei Still, Wisse Ich Bin, which was released in 1981, two years after Die Nacht der Seele. It was well worth the wait as Die Nacht der Seele saw Popol Vuh reinvent themselves once again on another ambitious and innovative album which was released to widespread critical acclaim. However, after Die Nacht der Seel, it was another two years before Popol Vuh returned.
When they did, it was with Agape-Agape. The album was released on the Norwegian label Uniton. Agape-Agape found Popol Vuh creating music that was variously, beautiful, captivating, dramatic and as one would expect from Popol Vuh, groundbreaking. It won the approval of critics, but didn’t find a wide audience. Sadly, neither did Florian’s debut solo album.
After thirteen years as a professional musician, Florian Fricke somewhat belatedly, released his much-anticipated debut album Die Erde Und Ich Sind Eins in 1983. Despite his status as one of the most innovative German musicians of his generation, Florian Fricke found himself releasing Erde Und Ich Sind Eins as a private pressing. Just like Popol Vuh, he wasn’t getting the credit he deserved. Meanwhile, Can, Kraftwerk and Neu! were receiving all the plaudits. Despite that, Popol Vuh and Florian Fricke continued to make music.
1985 saw Popol Vuh release the fifteenth album of their career, Spirit Of Peace which was released on the French label, Spalax. Despite its quality, and how highly regarded their music was by some critics, Popol Vuh albums weren’t selling in vast quantities. So when Warner Herzog used We Know About The Need The as part of the soundtrack to Dark Glow Of The Mountains, this was welcomed by Popol Vuh.
Two years later, and Popol Vuh Walter Herzog were reunited.Walter Herzog was directing Cobra Verde. He needed someone to compose and record the soundtrack to Cobra Verde. By then, Popol Vuh were had plenty of experienced writing and recording soundtracks. They had also worked extensively with Walter Herzog so it made sense that they provide the soundtrack. However, the Cobra Verde soundtrack was released to mixed reviews. This was disappointing for Popol Vuh who didn’t release another album during the eighties.
It wasn’t until 1991 that Popol Vuh released another album. Again, it was a soundtrack album. This time, the soundtrack was for the film For You and Me and was described as: “a celebration of world music.” For You and Me showcased Popol Vuh’s versatility and ability to switch between genres. However, some critics didn’t seem to “get” the music, and again, reviews were mixed., and it was another four years before Popol Vuh returned.
Before that, Florian Fricke released another solo album. This time, it was an album of classical music. Florian Fricke Plays Mozart was released in 1992, and showcased another side to the Popol Vuh leader. Unknown to some people, Florian was a keen student of classical music and had studied music at the Conservatories in Freiburg and Munich, and just as comfortable playing classical music than working with Popol Vuh. So in his down time from Popol Vuh, Florian often composed piano pieces, However, in 1995 Popol Vuh returned with their eighteenth album.
City Raga had been recorded at the New African Studios, in Munich by Florian Fricke, Guido Hieronymus, and Maya Rose who had composed the seven tracks. This latest lineup of Popol Vuh were joined by Daniel Fichelscher and the Kathmandu Children’s Choir. The result was a captivating album from Popol Vuh.
Another two years passed before Popol Vuh returned with their nineteenth Shepherd’s Symphony-Hirtensymphonie. Again, Popol Vuh’s lineup had changed. They were still a trio featuring Florian, Guido Hieronymus and Frank Fielder, who would later collaborate with Florian Fricke. Before that, the latest lineup of Popol Vuh headed off into the studio.
The three members of Popol Vuh made their way to Afro Sounds Studio, in Munich and between September 1995 and March 1996 recorded Shepherd’s Symphony-Hirtensymphonie. It was released in 1997 and wowed critics.
Messa Di Orfeo.
Popol Vuh’s swan-sonn was Messa Di Orfeo which was recorded at an audio-video light installation in the Labyrinth of Molfetta, Bari, Apulia on the ‘20th’ of September 1998. The nine tracks were written, directed and produced by keyboardist Florian Fricke with Maya Rose taking charge of vocals and featured a recitation from Guillermina De Gennaro. Taking charge of production were Popol Vuh and Time Zones.
The following year Spallax Muisc released Messa Di Orfeo which was mixture of cinematic music and drama. Meanwhile, Popol Vuh combined elements of ambient, avant-garde , Berlin School, and electronic music. There’s even elements of New Age and world music that provided the soundtrack to audio-video-light installation that was a one-off.
Popol Vuh rarely performed live because Florian Fricke felt it was impossible to sustain the level of intensity required during a concert. Instead. he preferred to spend his time writing and recording. However, Messa Di Orfeo was a magical and mesmeric fusion of mysticism and music that has special properties.
Popol Vuh deploy healing energy via sound on Messa Di Orfeo. and this similar to the ambient pieces on their albums Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde. The music on Messa Di Orfeo was breathtakingly beautiful and when it was released in 1999 a fitting finale for musical pioneers Popol Vuh .
Little did anyone realise that Messa Di Orfeo was the end of an era for Popol Vuh, and German music. In 2001 Florian Fricke passed away ahed just fifty-seven . That day music last one of its pioneers Florian Fricke,
Throughout a career that spanned three decades Florian Fricke led Popol Vuh as they released music that was innovative and influential. Constantly, Popol Vuh pushed musical boundaries, and constantly reinvented their own music and their back catalogue is best described as eclectic. Maybe, that’s because Popol Vuh’s lineupwas constantly evolving?
With a lineup that can only be described as fluid, Popol Vuh release some of the most groundbreaking music of the seventies and eighties. That period, was what many regard as the golden era of German music.
Sadly, Popol Vuh often didn’t get the credit they deserve, and instead, Ash Ra, Can, Cluster, Kraftwerk and Harmonia received the plaudits. To some extent, Popol Vuh, who were much more prolific than most of their contemporaries, are the forgotten group of the golden era of German music. Popol Vuh’s swan-song was Messa Di Orfeo, which is regarded as a cult classic, and brought the curtain down on a career where they always released albums that were innovative, inventive and influential.
Cult Classic: Popol Vuh-Messa Di Orfeo.
Cult Classic: Bättre Lyss-Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge.
When the Swedish band Bättre Lyss released their debut album Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge as a private pressing on the Musiklaget label in 1975, they had no idea that five decades later this psychedelic hard rock and progressive album would be a cult classic that regularly changes hands for $150. It’s an album whose roots can be traced to 1973.
That was when two friends decided to write some songs together. Rolf Hammarlund was a bassist and vocalist, while Christer Palmquist was also a singer who played acoustic guitar and piano. Initially, the pair began writing songs in English, but after a while, they decided to change the lyrics to Swedish. When the pair looked back was a crucial decision.
Before long, the pair had already written Göta Lejon together, while Rolf Hammarlund had penned Sagan Om Viggen, Tredje Rike and Chaú Gaí. Meanwhile, Christer Palmquist had written Drömflickan, Vapnet and Ansvaret. These songs weren’t the throwaway pop songs that featured in the charts across Europe. Instead, the songs were cerebral and thought-provoking, dealing with subjects like the Vietnam War, the Chilean coup d’état, poverty, homelessness and alcohol addiction. By then, two had become three.
Not long after starting to write in Swedish, Rolf Hammarlund and Christer Palmquist were joined by another mutual friend, songwriter and drummer Rolf Johansson who wrote Emma and K-E Andersson. By 1974, the trio had nearly written enough material to record an album together. That was when the three friends started thinking about recording their debut album. To do that, would require the help of some of the trio’s talented friends.
This included guitarist and pianist Anders Nordh who had previously been a member of Life, and released two albums with the band. Since the demise of Life, Anders Nordh had embarked upon a solo career, but was keen to join the nascent band. He was joined by another two guitarists Knutte Knutsson and Bo Klackenberg. The plan that had already been put in place was for the new group to feature a triumvirate of guitarists. They were joined by organist Bo Wieslander and flautist, clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Ulf Nordin. Adding backing vocals were Gunilla Ericson, Kerstin Backman and Kristina Näsström. The lineup of the band that eventually became Bättre Lyss was in place.
Now Bättre Lyss started honing their sound and practising the nine new songs. Soon, nine became eleven when Rolf Hammarlund, Christer Palmquist and Anders Nordh completed Vidsel-Sthlm, Enke. Rolf Hammarlund and Christer Palmquist also wrote Anna with backing vocalist Kerstin Backman. With the addition of the two new songs Bättre Lyss definitely had enough material for their debut album.
When recording of Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge began, drummer Rolf Johansson joined bassist Rolf Hammarlund in the rhythm section. Meanwhile, Christer Palmquist played acoustic guitar and piano, and also took charge of lead vocals. He was joined by the triumvirate of guitarists Anders Nordh, Knutte Knutsson and Bo Klackenberg. They were augmented by organist Bo Wieslander and flautist, clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Ulf Nordin while Gunilla Ericson, Kerstin Backman and Kristina Näsström added vocals. Soon, Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge took shape and before long, the album was completed.
Now that Bättre Lyss had completed Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge, they decided to release the album as a private pressing. In 1975, the Musiklaget label released Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge which marked the debut of Bättre Lyss which featured psychedelic hard rock and was a progressive album that sometimes headed in the direction of blues rock and folk rock. Sadly, being a private pressing, Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge didn’t reach the wider audience that the music deserved.
Bättre Lyss make an impression as the progressive psychedelic hard rock of Göta Lejon opens Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge. Thunderous drums and washes of swirling Hammond organ are joined by scorching, blistering guitars as Christer Palmquist unleashes a powerful vocal. By then, it sounds as if Bättre Lyss have been influenced and inspired by Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and sixties psychedelia. Midway through the song, it’s all change and it becomes a tender piano led ballad. Later, Bättre Lyss pay homage to Jethro Tull when a flute replaces the vocal and the band play within themselves. Later, a scorching guitars takes centre-stage and crunch guitars and the rhythm section drive the arrangement along and in doing so, sets the bar high for the rest of the album.
As Christer Palmquist’s vocal is counted in on ballad Emma, he plays the acoustic guitar and the song heads in the direction of folk. Soon, a piano and weeping guitar enter, adding a country rock influence. However, before long a scorching guitar and the rhythm section combine with the piano and Christer Palmquist’s vocal. He and the rest of Bättre Lyss showcase their versatility on another carefully crafted song that shows another side to this truly talented band.
Straight away, there’s a element of urgency as the piano is soon joined by a blistering guitar and the rhythm section. This urgency is reflected in Christer Palmquist’s vocal while crunch guitars add a degree of urgency, and soon, what sounds like a siren can be heard. Meanwhile, the piano continues to play a leading role, before the guitars explode, and are panned left and right while adding to the drama of a this progressive sounding track as it builds. Meanwhile, the vocal veers between tender and powerful as rocky guitars accompany it, before reaching a crescendo.
Anna is a piano led ballad where the rhythm section provide the heartbeat while Christer Palmquist adds a tender, heartfelt vocal. Later, guitars interject, before a searing guitar solo replaces the vocal at 1.35. It takes centre-stage and is the perfect replacement for the vocal, which returns at 2.10. With just the piano and rhythm section for company, Christer Palmquist breaths life and meaning into the lyrics in this beautiful ballad.
Sagan Om Viggen opens with dual rocky guitars ringing out before the rhythm section make their presence felt. Meanwhile, Christer Palmquist’s vocal is a mixture of power and urgency. When it drops out, scorching guitars fill the void. When he briefly returns, his vocal is impassioned before the guitars replace him. They’re much more understated, but still play a leading role as the rhythm section power the arrangement along. Eventually, the guitars grow in power and cut through the arrangement before soaring high. They remain when the vocal returns in and help drive this rocky arrangement along before it briefly takes on a melancholy sound. Soon, though, this roller coaster of a track becomes rocky, dramatic, progressive, psychedelic and anthemic.
Rueful describes Drömflickan as guitars chime and almost weep before Christer Palmquist’s tender, wistful and sometimes lysergic vocal enters on this short track. It lasts just 1.31 but is beautiful, melodic and memorable.
Very different is Vapnet, which has a dark, dramatic and hard rocking sound. Bättre Lyss’ rhythm section and blistering guitars unite to create a rocky backdrop. However, when the piano enters and ushers in Christer Palmquist’s vocal it’s all change. Briefly, there’s a nod to Queen, before the arrangement builds. Scorching guitars and a bass cut through the arrangement, and when the vocal drops out, it becomes progressive as it skips along. Then when Christer Palmquist’s vocal returns, he adds to the earlier theatre as elements of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Queen and early seventies progressive rock combine to create a heady musical brew. Later, guitars and saxophone enjoy their moment in the sun as Bättre Lyss continue to showcase their skills during one of the most ambitious and progressive tracks on the album.
Tredje Riket is another piano led track where Christer Palmquist delivers a tender, emotive vocal before the rhythm section and scorching guitar are added and the arrangement builds. Later when the vocal drops out, the rhythm section anchor the arrangement and continue to provide the heartbeat as the piano and guitar enjoy their moment in the sun. As Rolf Johansson pounds his drums, this is the signal for the impassioned vocal to return. It’s joined by harmonies while a guitar cuts under the arrangement to this ballad becomes anthemic. Bättre Lyss haven’t spared the hooks on what’s one of their finest moments.
Just an acoustic guitar opens on the ballad Ansvaret before the rhythm section are joined by a blistering guitar solo which is replaced by Christer Palmquist’s vocal. It’s full of emotion as backing vocalists accompany him. Later, when his vocal drops out it’s replaced briefly by a guitar before the vocal is panned hard left, and soon the backing vocals are panned hard right. Gradually, they move back to where they started as the rest of Bättre Lyss play their part in the sound and success of the song.
Blistering rocky guitars sit above the rhythm section and piano on Chaú Gaí, but drop out at 0.22. They’re replaced by acoustic guitar and Christer Palmquist’s vocal while the piano plays a more prominent role in this progressive track. Soon, harmonies accompany the vocal before searing guitars return. They accompany the vocal and add a contrast as this carefully crafted track continues to unfold and reveal its secrets. Meanwhile, Bättre Lyss showcase their talent and versatility, as seamlessly switch between and combine musical genres during another the album’s highlights.
Closing Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge is K-E Andersson where an acoustic guitar ushers in a confident vocal. After the briefest of pauses, a scorching guitar and the rhythm section enter and accompany Christer Palmquist’s vocal. Later, a clarinet enters and although it’s not usually an instrument that features on rock albums it plays a part in this catchy and memorable track where elements of folk, rock pop and rock combine seamlessly. In doing so, they ensure the album ends on hook-laden high.
After eleven tracks., lasting just over thirty-six minutes, Bättre Lyss’s groundbreaking and genre-melting magical mystery tour Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge is over. This talented and versatile Swedish band switched between and combined elements of hard rock, psychedelia and progressive rock and also added elements of blues rock, country rock, folk rock and pop during Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge. The result was a carefully crafted album that stands head and shoulders above many of the other rock albums released as private presses in Europe during the first half of the seventies.
Sadly, by releasing Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge as a private pressing this meant that only a small number of Swedish record buyers were able to hear what was Bättre Lyss’ one and only album. Maybe if Bättre Lyss had tried to interest a major label in the album, the band would’ve gone to greater things? Bättre Lyss were fortunate to have a trio of talented songwriters Rolf Hammarlund, Christer Palmquist and Rolf Johansson who wrote most of the songs on Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge. These songs were brought to life by this talented and versatile band who should’ve gone on to greater things.
Alas, that wasn’t the case and Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge was the only album that Bättre Lyss released during their short career. Five decades later, and Bättre Lyss’ genre-melting cult classic Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge is a heady and tantalising musical brew from one of Sweden’s great lost groups, and is a reminder of a truly talented and versatile groups.
Cult Classic: Bättre Lyss-Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna En Båge.
Cult Classic: Sunbirds-Sunbirds.
Back in the seventies, the only German band most British people had heard of was Kraftwerk. A few more knowledgeable music lovers have heard of Can, and maybe, Neu!, Cluster or Harmonia. That however, was the extent of their knowledge of German music. That was a great shame, as Germany in the seventies, had one of the most vibrant and eclectic music scenes. One of the best kept secrets of the German music scene was Sunbirds, who released two albums between 1971 and 1973.
Sunbirds were a Munich based jazz-rock band, who released their eponymous debut album on the BASF label in 1971. Two years later,and Sunbirds returned with their sophomore album Zagara. Sadly, Zagara was also Sunbirds’ final album. After just two albums, Sunbirds recording career was over. Zagara was Sunbirds’ swan-song, and brought to a close what could’ve been a glittering career.
No wonder. Sunbirds lineup featured five talented and experienced musicians. They came from Germany, Austria, Holland, England and America. These five musicians had worked with some of the biggest names in jazz, before Sunbirds recorded their eponymous debut album on 21st August 1971.
Drummer Klaus Weiss was born in Gevelsberg, Germany, in 1942. By 1971, he ahd previously alongside Bud Powell, Johnny Griffin and Kenny Drew. Klaus Weiss had also been a member of the Klaus Dinger Quartet. However, since 1967, Klaus Weiss was the drummer Erwin Lehn Orchestra. In his downtime, Klaus collaborated with many musicians, including Hampton Hawkes, Leo Wright and free jazz pioneer Don Cherry. Although he was only twenty-nine, Klaus was an experienced musician. So were other future members of Sunbirds, including Klaus Weiss’ partners in the rhythm section.
Bassist Jimmy Woode was born in Philly in 1928, and compared to the other members of Sunbirds, was almost a veteran. Jimmy had already enjoyed a glittering career, and had been a professional musician for over twenty years.
Originally, Jimmy Woode had played piano and trombone, but later, switched to double bass. On graduating high school, Jimmy studied music in his home town of Philly, and then in Boston. He then went on to play alongside some of the great and good of jazz.
This included Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fiztgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Louis Armstrong. Then in 1955, Jimmy Woode joined Duke Ellington’s big band. For the next five years, Jimmy was part of the Duke’s band. However, in 1960 he left the Duke’s employ, and headed to Europe.
Jimmy Woode wasn’t the first American jazz musician to head to Europe. Many jazz musicians had made Europe their home, and were enjoying a renaissance in their career. So Jimmy headed to Sweden, and later, made Germany his home. By the time he joined the Sunbirds, Jimmy was living in Munich. So was guitarist Philip Catherine.
Just like Jimmy Woode, Philip Catherine had made Munich his home. He was born in London in 1942, into a musical family. Phillip’s grandfather had, at one point, been the first violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra. Phillip was similarly talented.
Phillip Catherine had been inspired to play the guitar after hearing George Brassens. From the first time he picked up a guitar, music seemed to flow from Phillip. Soon, he had developed into a talented guitarist. Unlike Jimmy Woode, he didn’t study music. Instead, he learnt from listening to the great jazz men of the day. Eventually, he was playing alongside them.
From 1969, right through until he joined Sunbirds, Philip Catherine accompanied Lou Bennett, Dexter Gordon and Stéphane Grappelli. Philip’s versatility allowed him to adapt to playing alongside a wide variety of artists. That was also the case with Dutch saxophonist Ferdinand Povel.
He was born in the Haarlem, near Amsterdam, in 1947.Growing up, Ferdinand Povel learnt to play the saxophone. Eventually, Ferdinand Povel was equally comfortable playing the tenor and alto sax. Ferdinand could also play the flute. Success came early in Ferdinand’s career.
In 1964, when Ferdinand Povel was only seventeen he won the prestigious Loosdrecht, the Netherlands Jazz Festival. This essentially launched Ferdinand’s career. By 1969, he was touring with Goykovich’s Summit Quartet, where he switched between the tenor and occasionally the alto saxophone. It was only when Ferdinand joined Sunbirds that he switched to flute full time. The final member of Sunbirds’ cosmopolitan lineup was Austrian pianist Fritz Pauer.
He was born in Vienna born pianist, was born in 1943, and was the youngest member of the Sunbirds. However, he already had a wealth of experience. Fritz Pauer had played alongside Fatty George and Hans Koller in the early sixties. Then as the sixties drew to a close, Fritz formed a trio with Erich Bachtragi and Jimmy Woode. Then in 1970, Fritz joined the ORF Radio Band By 1971, Fritz Pauer had written a number of new songs, and was about to show them to another future member of Sunbirds.
Having written some new songs, pianist Fritz Pauer decided to take them to Klaus Weiss. When Klaus saw the songs, he was impressed, so much so, that he suggested to Fritz that they record these songs with a new band.
Gradually, the new band took shape. Cosmopolitan described its lineup. The rhythm featured Klaus on drums, American bassist, and Fritz’s friend Jimmy Woode and English guitarist Phillip Catherine. Augmenting them, were Fritz on electric piano, and Ferdinand Povel on flute. However, there was a problem, the new band didn’t have a name.
It was then that one of the band was looking at the three songs Fritz had written. They had were Sunrise, Sunshine and Sunbirds, and were all written in the key of E. There was a reason for this. E was regarded as the sun note in esotericism. That’s why one of the band suggested Sunbirds as the name of the band. It stuck, and Sunbirds began work on their debut album, Sunbirds.
Given Fritz had already written Sunrise, Sunshine and Sunbirds, the members of Sunbirds only had to write a few more songs before they could record their debut album. Eventually, another five tracks were written. However, only three would feature on Sunbirds’ eponymous debut album; the Phillip Catherine composition Kwaeli; the Jimmy Woode penned Blues For D.S. and Spanish Sun, which was penned by the five members of Sunbirds. These tracks were recorded on 24th August 1971 at Union Studios, München, Germany.
The five members of Sunbirds worked with Reinhold Mack at the Union Studios. He recorded what became Sunbirds, while twenty-nine year old Klaus Weiss produced the album. Sunbirds recorded eight tracks in one day. All that was left was to mix the tracks.
On 25th August 1971, the five members of Sunbirds returned to Union Studios. As they began to mix Sunbirds, they chose the songs that would make it onto the album. Eventually, two tracks didn’t make the cut. The first was Fire Dance, which would be rerecorded on Sunbirds’ sophomore album Zagara. Now there were only seven tracks left. Still it was too long to fit on one album. Something had to give. Eventually, it was decided that Dreams a ten minute epic would be cut from the album. The six remaining tracks became Sunbirds. Now all they needed to do was get a label interested in Sunbirds.
Luckily, Klaus Weiss had connections at BASF, one of Germany’s biggest labels. When Klaus let the the A&R people at BASF hear the album, they were so impressed by Sunbirds that they signed the new band. Things began to happen quickly.
Later in 1971, Sunbirds was released on BASF. However, there were no critically acclaimed reviews. Instead, Sunbirds seemed to pass critics by. This however, wasn’t unusual.
In the early seventies, across Germany, many talented groups were releasing albums of groundbreaking music. Often, this music was way ahead of its time. Kraftwerk and Amon Düül II were finding this out the hard way. So would Sunbirds, and would only be later that their music found the audience it deserved.
Sadly, when Sunbirds was released in 1971, the album sunk without trace. Part of the problem was, by 1971, BASF was a vast conglomerate. A record company was just part of its business portfolio. However, BASF didn’t seem to have the personnel to run what was a pan European record company.
They seemed to lack the expertise to promote Sunbirds. That essentially killed the album. BASF seemed to lack a proper distribution network that ensure the album found its way into shops. That was the last straw. So it was no surprise that Sunbirds across not a commercial success.
Far from it. Only a few discerning record buyers bought Sunbirds’ eponymous debut album. At most, only a few thousand copies of Sunbirds were sold. For Sunbirds, this was a huge blow. A bigger blow came when BASF pulled the plug on Sunbirds.
For the five members of Sunbirds, this came as a crushing blow. A tour had been planned to promote Sunbirds. That fell by the wayside. As it was, Fritz didn’t have the time to head out on tour. So a decision was made that Sunbirds remainder a studio project. It was a case of what might have been.
Opening Sunbirds is Kwaeli, where the the Klaus’ drums provide the backdrop to Jimmy’s bass. As it’s plucked confidently and deliberately, it takes centre-stage. Meanwhile, Klaus provides the heartbeat, before pounding the cymbals. That’s the signal for Fritz’s Hohner Electra-piano and Ferdinand’s flute enter. By then, the arrangement is moodily meandering along, with Phillip’s chiming guitar joining the fray. Soon, the tempo increases as Sunbirds enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs, as elements of fusion and progressive rock melt into one. The result is a truly timeless track.
Sunrise is the first of a trio of tracks penned by Fritz Pauer. From the distance, the sound of Sunbirds’ rhythm section draws closer. They seem to almost gallop along. That however, is down to the way Klaus plays the cymbals. He eschews the drums, allowing the rest of the rhythm section to join forces with the flute and chirping guitar. Repetition is the key as Sunbirds thoroughly explore the groove. Once they’ve taken things as far as they possibly can, they throw a curveball. Washes of keyboards and wah-wah guitar add a psychedelic hue. By then, it’s fusion meets psychedelia and classic rock. Soon, Sunbirds are off and running, as they head in the direction of progressive rock. Sci-fi sounds are added to the arrangement. So is a Hendrix-esque performance from guitarist Phillip Catherine, as Sunbirds become sonic explorers, adding space rock to their heady musical brew.
Spanish Sun is a twelve minute epic. Its elegant sound gradually unfolds. Just a wistful flute accompanies the probing bass, and soon, the unmistakable sound of Fritz Pauer’s Hohner Electra. Everyone is playing within themselves, leaving space in the music. That’s until the bass is let off the lease, and a smattering sci-fi sounds show that it’s all change. Another clue is Klaus’ drums. They lock horns with the rumbling bass and glistening guitar. By now, the tempo is rising, and Phillip Catherine has stepped forward and begins to unleash his finest solo so far. Seamlessly, he and his guitar become one. Behind him, the rhythm section lock into a groove where jazz and rock unite. Swirls of sci-fi sounds dance, while Sunbirds’ rhythm section take centre-stage. Later, Fritz lays down a solo on his eclectic piano. It’s augmented by Phillip’s guitar, while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. For twelve magical minutes, Sunbirds combine to create what’s their Magnus Opus, Spanish Sun.
From the get-go, Sunbirds kick loose on Sunshine. Klaus’ hypnotic drums provide backdrop as for the buzzing bass and airy flute. Soon, a chiming, funky guitar is unleashed. Choppy licks accompany the Fritz Pauer’s Hohner Electra. His fingers fly across the keyboards, as he and Phillip seem to drive each other to greater heights. Meanwhile, the rest of the rhythm are content to let them enjoy the limelight. Later, Klaus gets in on the act, and works his way round his kit. Ferdinand then joins the fray, and Sunbirds are in full flight. Later, Phillip steps forward and steals the show; delivering what’s without doubt, his best solo on the album. His fingers flit up and down the fretboard, as he delivers a fluid, jazz-tinged musical masterclass. This proves to be the icing on a particularly tasty musical cake.
Dramatic describes the introduction to Sunbirds. Space is left as the bass hums menacingly and cymbals shimmer. Ferdinand’s flute adds to the cinematic sound. Meanwhile, the keyboards add a brief otherworldly sound. Soon, Sunbirds are playing as one, and the arrangement meanders along. The feel-good sound they create brings back memories of long, sunny summer days. At 3.26 guitarist Phillip Catherine steps forward, and delivers another of his trademark glistening solos. It’s another stunning solo. Sometimes, it seems Phillip has nowhere to go, but he seems to find another note. It’s like slight of hand. Behind him, swathes of otherworldly sounds are joined by the rhythm section. Later, when Phillip’s guitar drops out, Sunbirds play as one. They fuse elements of fusion, classic rock, psychedelia, space rock and avant garde, as they take the listener on a magical, musical mystery tour.
Closing Sunbirds, is Blues For D.S. The title is ironic. By 1971, many new German groups had rejected the blues influence on music. This included pioneers like Kraftwerk, Kluster, Cluster and Neu! For them, the blues was the ghost of music past. It wasn’t part of Germany’s musical past. So a new generation of German musicians rejected the blues influence on modern music. Still, though, many other German bands embraced blues, and blues rock was a popular genre. However, Sunbirds were musical alchemists.
Granted there’s a brief blues influence on Blues For D.S. However, jazz is the most obvious influence. Keyboards and the rhythm section combine, before the mellow, airy sound of the flute breeze along. It’s accompanied by chirping, funky guitar licks. Soon, jazz funk shines throughs. When Phillip Catherine takes charge, Fritz Pauer is at his side. They breeze their way through the track. His guitar runs are augmented by stabs of electric piano, before Ferdinand’s flute takes centre-stage. He’s helped on his way by Jimmy’s bass and Phillip’s chiming guitar. Then it’s Fritz’s turn to shine, when he delivers a glorious solo. Meanwhile, Klaus is content to let other people take the limelight, as this wistful, but beautiful sounding track draws to a close and an album that features a band who could’ve and should’ve, had a glittering career.
The problem was, Sunbirds signed to the wrong label. BASF in 1971, seemed to a be somewhat dysfunctional record company. It wasn’t equipped to promote new artists. If they had been, then Sunbirds would’ve found a much wider audience. Sunbirds, it seemed, had signed to the wrong label.
Who knows what might have happened if Klaus Weiss had had contacts at Ohr, Brain or even Liberty? Maybe these labels would’ve promoted Sunbirds more effectively, and the band wouldn’t have been relegated to a studio project. That’s why it was another two years before Sunbirds returned with their sophomore album Zagara in 1973. Sadly, it didn’t fare any better than Sunbirds. However, Sunbirds weren’t alone.
Far from it. In the early seventies, countless bands released albums of groundbreaking music. However, many of these albums sunk without trace. Often, it was through no fault of the band. Many had the misfortune to sign to the wrong label. Some of these labels lacked the knowledge, nous or funds to promote an album. As a result, albums that could’ve played an important part in German musical history were lost for a generation.
It’s hard to believe that Sunbirds was recorded back in 1971, as the album has a truly timeless sound. It’s an album that could’ve been recorded anywhere between 1971 and 2019. In fact, it’s an album that could’ve been recorded in the last few years. However, there’s an important clue as to the when Sunbirds was recorded.
While fusion is the most prominent genre on Sunbirds, and to some extent, provides the biggest clue to the date of Sunbirds’ ‘birth’. However, this isn’t just a fusion album. There’s diversions via avant garde, classic rock, jazz, funk, progressive rock and psychedelia. These curveballs disguise Sunbirds’ age, and play their part their part in the album that should’ve launched what was a long and illustrious career for a talented and versatile band.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. However, a small crumb of comfort to the four remaining members of Sunbirds is that their eponymous debut album is being discovered by a new generation of music lovers are discovering Sunbirds’ music. They’re belatedly discovering one of German music’s best kept secrets and their cult classic Sunbirds.
The genie is out the bottle, and somewhat belatedly, Sunbirds are receiving the credit and critical acclaim that their music deserves. At last, Sunbirds’ timeless eponymous debut album is starting to be heard by a much wider, and appreciative audience than heard its release back in 1971. They’ll cherish Sunbirds’ groundbreaking, genre-melting debut album, which is a musical treasure trove, from what was, one of the finest Munich-based bands of the early seventies.
Cult Classic: Sunbirds-Sunbirds.
Cult Classic: Kollectiv-Kollectiv.
Musical history is littered with bands who only ever released one album during their career. All too often, that album fails to find the audience it deserves. This can come as a bitter blow, and sometimes, can lead to the band breaking up. By then, the rock star dream is over and the only option left, is to return to the tedium of the 9 to 5 lifestyle.
Gone forever, is the dream of a glittering musical career. It’s consigned to the past. So is the dream of million selling albums, gold or platinum discs and sell-out worldwide tours. Nor will they be able to live rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. Excess, decadence and dalliances with Hollywood stars are but a pipe dream. It could’ve been so different.
Especially, when their debut album was released to widespread critical acclaim. Discerning record buyers embraced and championed the album. Critics and cultural commentators even nominated the album for a prestigious award. Despite this, widespread commercial success eluded the album, and within two years the band had split-up. That band were Kollectiv, who released their eponymous debut album on Brain, in 1973.
Kollectiv had the potential, talent and confidence to become one of the biggest German bands of the early seventies. They pioneers, musical mavericks who made ambitious, genre-melting music. Sadly, commercial success eluded Kollectiv, whose roots can be traced to Krefeld, in 1964.
By 1964, the new waves of British rock and pop groups were influencing teenagers across Europe and America to form a band. They all wanted to live the dream, like The Beatles and Rolling Stones. Brothers and high school students Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkiel and Waldemar “Waldo” Karpenkiel were no different.
So in 1964, they formed The Generals. Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkiel was a bassist, and his brother Waldemar “Waldo” Karpenkiel played the drums. They were joined guitarist Jürgen Havix. In the early days, The Generals were a beat group. They were inspired by much of the music coming out of Britain. However, as the psychedelic era dawned, The Generals music changed.
Different artists began to inspire and influence The Generals. They began to listen to Frank Zapppa’s early albums, plus King Crimson and Blodwyn Pig. Around this time, The Generals discovered jazz, and particularly, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Scott and Wes Montgomery. All these artists would later influence Kollectiv. However, back in the mid to late sixties, The Generals were serving their musical apprenticeship. This paid off for Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkiel.
Around 1967, he was asked to join another local group, The Phantoms. Their whose lineup included flautist and saxophonist Klaus Dapper; and organist and future Kraftwerk founded Ralf Hutter. For the next year or so, Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkie was a member of The Phantoms. However, in 1968, Jürgen had a big decision to make.
The Generals wanted Jürgen to return to the group he cofounded. He agreed, and when he returned to The Generals, brought with him Klaus Dapper. In effect, Kollectiv had just been born, while Ralf Hutter went on to found The Organisation, a forerunner of Kraftwerk. That was all to come.
It was another two years before The Generals became Kollectiv in 1970. After six years, The Generals became a footnote in musical history. The dawn of a new decade was a new musical dawn, where anything was possible.
For Kollectiv, the seventies was a brave new world. Kollectiv believed anything was possible. They set out to experiment, and push musical boundaries to the limits, and sometimes…way beyond. Kollectiv weren’t content just to combine musical genres, they wanted to combine traditional instruments with effects and handmade instruments. These instruments, whether traditional, handmade or exotic, were used to play lengthy improvised pieces as Kollectiv played live.
By 1971, Kollectiv were ready to make head out on tour. The members of Kollective had spent part of the last year modifying and making new instruments. These instruments were used during Kollectiv’s lengthy and intensive practise sessions. Gradually, the group honed its sound. So did the tracks that would feature on their setlist, when Kollectiv played live.
Before the tour began, the four members of Kollectiv pooled their resources, and bought an old VW bus for DM400. This would travel the length and breadth of West Germany on their forthcoming tour. It didn’t even mater that the VM bus had Campari-Bitter emblazoned on its side. All that mattered, was that Kollectiv were about to embark upon their first tour.
With their newly bought tour bus packed with equipment, Kollectiv began their tour. The firs venue was four-hundred kilometres away from Krefeld, in Wilhelmshaven, in North Germany. This journey was a tantalising taste of what life as a professional musician was like.
Over the next two years, Kollectiv criss crossed West Germany in their old VW bus. They played everywhere from pubs and clubs, to the university circuit and festivals big and small. By 1973, Kollectiv were almost mainstays of the live circuit. The band came alive as they took to the stage. Kollectiv seemed to be intoxicated by life as a professional musicians. They were living the dream.
For any band, part of the ‘dream’ is to release an album. By 1973, Kollectiv had been together for three years, but had still to set foot in the studio. That would change in March 1973.
Recorded of Kollectiv’s eponymous debut album would take place during March 1973, at Windrose-Studio, Hamburg. Guiding Kollectiv through the recording process, was recordist and co-producer Conny Plank. He had already worked with some of the biggest names in German music. I was something of a coup having Conny Plank record and co-produce Kollectiv. He was working was a talented and pioneering group.
This wasn’t unusual. Germany featured some of the most innovative European bands of the seventies. Kollectiv were just the latest Conny Plank had encountered. He watched as Kollectiv setup their instruments.
The rhythm section featured drummer Waldemar “Waldo” Karpenkiell; bassist Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkielm and guitarist Jürgen Havix, who also played zither. Klaus Dapper switched between flute and saxophone. Augmenting Kollectiv, were violinist Volkmar Han; guitarist Axel Zinowski; bassist Georg Fukne; and Christoph on electric piano. Along with Kolectiv, the guest artists cut four tracks. They became Kolectiv.
Once Kolectiv was complete, Germany’s premier label Brain released the album later in 1973. Things were looking good for Kolectiv. Critically acclaimed reviews preceded the album’s release. It looked as if Kolectiv were about to have a successful album on their hands.
Sadly, that proved not to be the case. Kolectiv didn’t sell in huge quantities. Instead, it was a cult album, embraced and appreciated by musical connoisseurs and discerning record buyers. Most record buyers didn’t ‘get’ what was an album of ambitious, groundbreaking and genre-melting music. Kolectiv was far removed from the populist music in the charts during 1973. Kolectiv wanted to take the listener on a magical mystery tour. Listeners however, seemed reluctant to get onboard. They missed hearing one of the great lost albums of 1973, Kolectiv.
Opening Kolectiv is Rambo Zambo. For the first ninety seconds, it’s just Klaus’ flute. It’s slow, spacey and sometimes, has echo added. Sometimes, sci-fi sounds augment the dubby flute. Then after ninety seconds, the rhythm, section join the fray. By then, the flute is panned thirty degrees left, as the Karpenkielm brothers lay down a groove. Jürgen’s bass sits slightly in front of the drums. He’s joined by Jürgen Havix’s chiming, chirping guitar. He flits between jazz, funk and rock, and at one point, unleashes machine gun licks. Meanwhile, Klaus’ flute references avant garde and free jazz. Echo is to his flute, distorting and disguising the sound. This result is an otherworldly sound. Later, as the Karpenkielm brothers provide the heartbeat, Jürgen Havix unleashes a spellbinding guitar solo. He’s like a shaman, unleashing musical magic. However, Kollectiv aren’t a one man band. Everyone plays their part, on improvised rocky epic, where Kollectiv take detours via avant garde, free jack, funk and jazz. This whets the listener’s appetite, as this magical mystery tour begins.
A chirping, chiming, crystalline guitar is played urgently as Baldrian unfolds. Washes of saxophone have been distorted by effects, adding a lysergic sound. Meanwhile, cymbals shimmer and crash, while a violin protests. Drum rolls add an element of drama. Later, a zither, and a sixty-four stringed instrument made by Kollectiv play their part on this cinematic soundscape. It features Kollective at their most innovative. Later, the music becomes slow, sultry, jazz-tinged and melodic. Washes of shimmering guitar add a dreamy, lysergic sound to this atmospheric soundscape.
Försterlied is a two minute musical experiment. Kollectiv are counted in, and launch into genre-defying, stop-start track. Lyrics aren’t so much sung, but dramatically spoken. Meanwhile, Kollectiv take free jazz as their starting point. They add hints of avant garde and experimental, as a wailing saxophone, urgent rumbling drums, chirping guitar and a myriad of miscellaneous percussion and sound effects combine. Then all of a sudden, the track grinds to a halt, only to start again. This happens several times, before Kollectiv call to a halt this captivating musical experiment
Closing Kollective, is Gageg, which is a three part suite. Andante gives way to Allegro before Pressluft closes this near twenty minute epic. Originally, it took up side two of Kollectiv. Allegro just meanders lazily into being. A guitar is panned right while a myriad of hypnotic sound are panned left. They’re replaced by an airy flute, while washes of guitar reverberate. Drums are eschewed, and Waldo keeps time on the ride. Everyone plays tenderly, as the arrangement begins to unfold. Chirping, shimmering guitars, a fluttering flute and slow, thoughtful drums combine with a probing bass. Kollectiv it seems, are about to stretch their legs.
The guitars grows in power, a blistering rocky solo taking ship. Then when drums pound, that looks like the signal for Kollectiv to kick loose. It’s not. They’re still playing within themselves. Even when another guitar solo unfold. Meanwhile, the rhythm section match each other every step of the way. Above the arrangement, the flute soars. Still the arrangement meanders along, before Kollectiv stretch their legs. When they slow things down, it’s a signal that things are about to change.
At 8.49 the arrangement becomes jazz-tinged, and the bas drives the arrangement along. Then a blistering guitar cuts through the arrangement. The drums add a jaunty beat. A saxophone is added as jazz and rock unites seamlessly. From there, Kollectiv are at their most inventive. Later, Klaus lays down a funky sax solo, while the rest of the band drive the arrangement along. By now the chirping guitar is playing a supporting role. That’s until three minutes before the ending, and a scorching guitar threatens to explode. However, Kollectiv are jamming, on what’s been an epic journey through funk, fusion, jazz, rock and space rock. After twenty memorable minutes, it reaches a magical crescendo, bringing Kollectiv to a close.
After the release of Kollectiv, the band began rehearsing, in preparation for their sophomore album. They eventually recorded some demo tracks, and sent them to SWF. This lead to SWF inviting Kollectiv to record some new material. Sadly, Kollectiv didn’t get as for as releasing their sophomore album.
Kollectiv split-up in 1975, when Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkiel joined Guru Guru. They were, by then, one of Germany’s most successful bands. So it was no surprise that Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkiel joined Guru Guru. By then, Kollectiv still hadn’t made a commercial breakthrough. They were still an underground band.
What maybe made Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkiel’s mind up, was that Kollectiv were no nearer releasing their second studio album. So four became three. Then Klaus Dapper left, and three became two. The first part of the Kollectiv story was almost over.
In 1976, a new lineup of Kollectiv played a few concerts. Joining the two remaining members of Kollectiv was pianist and organist Klaus Hackspiel. However, this lineup only played a few concerts, before splitting up.
The third lineup of Kollectiv featured Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkiel, guitarist Axel Zinowski, bassist Georg Fukne, and Christoph on electric piano. They even recorded a few tracks at the band’s rehearsal rooms including Intro, Pull Moll, Pap-Jack and Rozz-Pop, which showcase the combined talents of Kollectiv Mk. III. Just like the two previous lineups of Kollectiv, they were musical pioneers.
That had been the case since Kollective were born in 1970. Three years later, Kollectiv released their eponymous debut album. It’s the only musical document from a truly groundbreaking group, Kollectiv. From the day they were formed, they were determined to do things their way.
There was no way that Kollectiv were going to blindly follow other groups. Instead, they were innovators, who made ambitious, inventive music. They did this, by combining their array of traditional, handmade and exotic instruments with effects and nascent technology. The result was an album of innovative, genre-melting music.
Kollectiv is best described as a captivating journey throughout disparate and eclectic musical genres. It works though. Seamlessly, Kollectiv combine elements of avant garde, experimental, free jazz, funk and fusion with progressive rock, psychedelia and rock. The result is an album that veers between cinematic, dramatic and melodic, to blissful and wistful. Other times, the music is dreamy, melodic, atmospheric and lysergic. The result was an album which could’v, and should’ve, launched the career of musical mavericks Kollectiv, whose eponymous debut album takes listeners on a magical mystery tour.
Cult Classic: Kollectiv-Kollectiv.
Cult Classic: Stoneground- Family Album.
By 1970, the San Francisco’s vibrant music scene was thriving. New bands were being formed all across the city. Many of these bands dreamed of being signed to record label and releasing an album. For most bands, this remained a dream. However, for Stoneground, this dream became reality in 1971. Stoneground released their eponymous debut album, which was the first of eight albums they released. This includes their sophomore album Family Album, which was released in late 1971, just a year after the Stoneground story began.
When Stoneground were formed in 1970, the band was originally a trio. Its lineup featured guitarists Tim Barnes and Luther Billed and drummer Mike Mau. At first, Stoneground were happy playing as a trio. However, before long, Stoneground’s lineup began to expand.
This came about when Tom Donahue, a DJ and promoter who Stoneground’s manger, introduced the band to the two remaining members of The Beau Brummels. They had been one of the pioneers the country rock sound. However, in 1968, The Beau Brummels, who had once been signed to Tom Donahue’s Autumn Records, were reduced to a duo. Since then, the band failed to reach the same heady heights they once had. Maybe it was time for a new challenge?
So when Tom Donahue introduced Stoneground to The Beau Brummels’ vocalist Sal Valentino and guitarist and bassist John Blakely, the five musicians hit it off. They agreed to join forces as an expanded lineup of Stoneground. Soon though, five became nine.
Despite now being a five piece, Stoneground’s lineup was still not complete. Stoneground decided to add four female vocalists to the lineup. Annie Sampson, Lynne Hughes, Lydia Phillips, and Deirdre LaPorte were added to the lineup of Stoneground.
This newly expanded lineup of Stoneground began to hone their sound. At first, they played in San Francisco and in the Bay Area. Their popularity grew, and soon, Stoneground being booked to play further afield.
This resulted in Stoneground being booked to tour America and Europe. It was during that tour that Stoneground found the final piece of the musical jigsaw. This was keyboardist and bassist Pete Sears, who later, would join Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna. He became the tenth and final member of Stoneground.
Having returned home from what had been the longest tour of their career, Stoneground returned to playing in San Francisco. That was where they were spotted by an A&R executive from Warner Bros. They signed Stoneground, and early in 1970, entered the studio to record what became their eponymous debut album.
Now signed to Warner Bros, Stoneground began work on their eponymous debut album in London, at Trident Studios during a UK tour. However, when Warner Bros heard the tracks they weren’t happy with them. This resulted in Stoneground having to rerecord their debut album.
This time, Sal Valentino assumed the role of songwriter-in -chief. The former Bueau Brummel penned Looking for You, Added Attraction (Come and See Me), Dreaming Man, Stroke Stand and Colonel Chicken Fry. John Blakely and Tom Donauhue wrote Brand New Start. The rest of Stoneground was made up of cover versions.
One of them was Reverend Gary Davis’ Great Change Since I’ve Been Born. It was joined by Ray Davies’ Rainy Day in June and John D. Loudermilk’s Bad News. The other cover version was John Mayall and Sonny Thompson’s Don’t Waste My Time. These tracks would become Stoneground.
Recording of Stoneground took place at Sunwest Studios, Los Angeles during early 1971. By then, Stoneground were an eleven piece band. Keyboardist and percussionist Ron Nagle had been added to Stoneground. This expanded lineup began work on Stoneground.
The rhythm section included drummer Mike Mau, bassist and rhythm guitarist John Blakeley and bassist and keyboardist Pete Sears. Sal Valentino played electric and acoustic guitar while Luther Bildt played guitar and Tim Barnes added lead and bottleneck guitar. Keyboardist and percussionist Ron Nagle was joined by vocalists Annie Sampson, Lynne Hughes, Lydia Phillips, and Deirdre LaPorte. Taking charge of some of the lead vocals were Luther Bildt, Tim Barnes and Sal Valentino. He also co-produced Stoneground with the band’s manager Tom Donahue. Eventually, the album was complete and delivered to Warner Bros.
They had great hopes for Stoneground, and embarked upon an extensive promotional campaign. This made sense. By then, Stoneground were already a popular band with a loyal following. That is despite not releasing an album. However, Stoneground had spent much of their time playing live, and their lives shows were extremely popular. No wonder. Stoneground were a talented and versatile band who seamlessly switched between and combined genres. They continued to do this on their eponymous debut album.
When of Stoneground were sent out to critics by Warner Bros, the band had become the travelling house band for the Medicine Ball Caravan. This was seen by some as Warner Bros trying to jump on the success of the concert film genre. However, Stoneground could walk the walk. Their eponymous debut album was proof of that.
As critics played Stoneground, they heard a captivating fusion of blues pock, pop, psychedelia, rock and soul. Here was a tight, talented band who played with a fluidity that would be the envy of many bands. Stoneground’s potential shawn though on what was an accomplished and eclectic album. It was living up to Warner Bros heavy marketing campaign.
Despite the time and money spent on Stoneground, the album failed commercially. Although Stoneground were a popular live band, the album failed to trouble the US Billboard 200. For Stoneground and Warner Bros this was a huge disappointment. Soon, everyone’s thoughts turned to Stoneground’s sophomore album.
After the release of Stoneground, the band continued in their role as the travelling house band for the Medicine Ball Caravan. They would feature in the the Medicine Ball Caravan film. It documents a hippie caravan on an 8,000 mile road trip. A total of 154 buses, truck and groups like Stoneground made the journey. When the soundtrack was released that accompanied the film, it featured three songs by Stoneground. This introduced their music to a wider audience.
So they hoped would their sophomore album. However, by the time work began on what became Family Album, there had been several changes in Stoneground’s lineup.
Keyboardist and basset Pete Sears left to play on Rod Stewart’s album Every Picture Tells A Story. His replacement was keyboardist Cory Lerios. Two other departure were guitarist Luther Bildt and drummer Mike Mau. He was replaced by Stephen Price. This meant that Stoneground had been reduced to a ten piece band. The new lineup would make their recording debut with Stoneground on the 8th of August 1971.
This recording session wouldn’t take place in the one of San Francisco’s recording studios. Instead, it would take place in KSAN, a radio station in San Francisco, had booked Stoneground to play in what was a series of live broadcasts. Stoneground would take to the air on KSAN in San Francisco on Sunday the 8th of August 1971.
For Stoneground, this was a huge booking. Potentially, they were about to be heard by their largest audience. So before they took to the air, Stoneground began to hone a potential setlist.
When Stoneground arrived at KSAN in San Francisco on Sunday the 8th of August 1971, this was the first time the band had recorded as a ten piece. The rhythm section included drummer Stephen Price, bassist Brian Godual and John Blakeley on bass and rhythm guitarist Sal Valentino played electric guitar, acoustic guitar and percussion. Meanwhile Tim Barnes added lead guitar and Cory Lerios keyboards. This left just the vocalists. Annie Sampson, Lynne Hughes, Lydia Phillips, and Deirdre LaPorte were joined by vocalists Tim Barnes and Sal Valentino. Once the band was setup, they began to work their way through what was a truly eclectic set in front of a specially invited audience of 200 people.
Stoneground opened their set with Get Rhythm which gave to Passion Flower. It was followed by a reworking of the traditional song Corrina and Johnny Cash’s Big River. They would later find their way onto side one of Family Album.
Side two would later feature Won’t Be Long before Super Clown, was followed by Mississippi John Hurt’s Richland Woman, Queen Sweet Dreams and the spiritual sounding Precious Lord. Nine tracks into a set that combined elements of from Americana to blues rock, country, folk, gospel rock and rock ’n’ roll Stoneground had the audience captivated. The audience watched on as Stoneground showcased their versatility and fluidity.
They opened what became the third slide of Family Album with a cover of Bob Dylan’s It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes A Train To Cry). It gave way to Hank Williams I Can’t Help It, and then No Doreen. However, with just three songs to go, Stoneground up the ante on It’s Not Easy and If You Got To Go. Stoneground unleash a riotous reworking of Jerry Williams’ Total Destruction To Your Mind. After what was a truly eclectic, fifteen song set, Stoneground take their leave.
Later a decision was made to release the set that Stoneground had recorded at KSAN as part of a double album. It would take up the first three sides. The fourth side featured five tracks Stoneground recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles.
This included Ron Nagle’s You Must Be One Of Us; Cory Lerios’ All My Life and Lynne Hughes’ Where Will I Find Love. It was followed by a cover of the joyous sounding Gonna Have A Good Time. Closing side four and Family Album was Jam It. It’s a near six minute jam penned by Stoneground where the ten piece band to showcase their considerable skills.
With Family Album completed, Warner Bros began promoting Stoneground’s sophomore album. Copies of Family Album were sent out to critics. They hailed what was a truly eclectic album as a captivating album. It found Stoneground switching between genres and playing with freedom, fluidity and spontaneity. Some critics called the album Stoneground’s finest hour. Later, Family Album was regarded by some critics as the band’s best recording. It showed very different sides to truly talented band.
On Family Album, Stoneground worked their way through a mixture of original songs and cover versions on an album that featured live tracks and songs recorded at the Record Plant. Family Album showed the two sides of Stoneground. They were a talented band who many felt came into their own in the live setting. However, in the studio, Stoneground were capable of crafting memorable music like All My Life, Where Will I Find Love, Gonna Have A Good Time and Jam It. Given Family Album showed the two different sides to Stoneground, Warner Bros had high hopes for the album.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. When Family Album was released late in 1971, the album followed in the footsteps of Stoneground and failed to chart. It was another disappointment for Stoneground. However, their career continued at Warner Bros.
Just like its predecessors, Stoneground 3 failed to make an impression commercially upon its release in 1972. Warner Bros dropped Stoneground. That was the final straw for Stoneground.
As 1973 dawned, the members of Stoneground had decided to call it a day. Stoneground’s swan-song took place at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. This was the last time the original lineup of Stoneground played together.
Although Stoneground would reunite and record further albums, the original lineup of Stoneground never played together again. Their finest moment was their sophomore album Family Album, which is a cult classic and a welcome reminder of Stoneground, one of San Francisco’s great forgotten groups.
Cult Classic: Stoneground- Family Album.
Cult Classic: Cocteau Twins-Blue Bell Knoll.
By 1988, the Cocteau Twins’ star was in the ascendancy. They were officially, one of music’s rising stars. So it’s no surprise that major labels were starting to take an interest in the Cocteau Twins.
That wasn’t surprising. The Cocteau Twins had already served their musical apprenticeship. They had already released four solo albums and nine E.P.s since forming in 1980. Critical acclaim accompanied each released. This included the Cocteau Twins’ collaboration with Harold Budd on The Moon and The Melodies, released in 1986. The Moon and The Melodies further reinforced the Cocteau Twins’ credentials as the hottest indie band of the eighties.
Since releasing their debut album Garlands in 1982, the Cocteau Twins had been indie darlings. Garlands reached number four in the UK indie charts and was certified silver. For the Cocteau Twins, this the perfect start to their career.
The followup to Garlands, 1983s Head Over Heels reached number one in the UK indie charts and number fifty-one on the main UK charts. Just like Garlands, Head Over Heels was certified silver. It seemed the Cocteau Twins could do no wrong.
Treasure, released in 1984 then reached number two in the UK indie charts and number twenty-nine on the main UK charts. Two became three when Treasure was certified silver. With each release, the Cocteau Twins’ popularity was growing.
This continued with Victorialand in 1985. It reached number one in the UK indie charts and number ten on the main UK charts. By then, major labels were beginning to show an interest in the Grangemouth trio of Liz Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymone. So were other artists.
Among them were Harold Budd, the American avant-garde composer and poet. He collaborated with the Cocteau Twins on The Moon and The Melodies, which reached number one in the UK indie charts and number forty-six on the main UK charts. This high profile, critically acclaimed collaboration increased the Cocteau Twins’ profile.
Before long, major labels were showing an interest in the Cocteau Twins. Eventually, a deal was struck where Capitol Records would license the Cocteau Twins’ releases from 4AD in the US. This suited everyone, as the Cocteau Twins had still to make a breakthrough in the lucrative American market. With the marketing muscle of Capitol Records behind the Cocteau Twins, maybe, just maybe, their fifth album Blue Bell Knoll, would chart in America?
For the recording of Blue Bell Knoll, recording took place at September Sound, Twickenham, London. That’s where the Cocteau Twins recorded the ten tracks on Blue Bell Knoll. Each of these tracks were penned by the three members of the Cocteau Twins. They played their part in ten atmospheric, ethereal and cinematic soundscapes full of imagery.
At September Sound, the three members of the Cocteau Twins got to work. They picked up where they left off on Treasure, the Cocteau Twins’ previous album. Liz Fraser added her inimitable vocals, Robin Guthrie played guitar and Simon Raymonde added bass. Once the ten tracks were completed, Blue Bell Knoll was released on 19th September 1988.
When Blue Bell Knoll was released on 19th September 1988, it was to almost overwhelming critical acclaim. Blue Bell Knoll, was perceived as the Cocteau Twins’ finest album. Despite that, the usual contrarian critics had their knives out for Blue Bell Knoll. That was to be expected, as these critics enjoyed the controversy that came with such contrarianism. However, what mattered was sales.
Blue Bell Knoll reached number fifteen on the main UK charts and number one on the UK indie charts. This was the Cocteau Twins third number one indie album. However, things however, got even better for the Cocteau Twins. On its release in America, Blue Bell Knoll reached number 109 on the US Billboard 200 charts. The combination of Capitol Records’ marketing muscle and the Cocteau Twins’ considerable talent, the Grangemouth trio were well about to reach new heights of commercial success and critical acclaim. This started with Blue Bell Knoll.
Opening Blue Bell Knoll, is the title-track. What sounds like flourishes of harpsichord are joined by Liz’s inimitable, ethereal vocal. She delivers the vocal in what’s akin to a secret language. It is, however, heartachingly beautiful. Especially, with a subtle bass, drum and harpsichord for company. They take care never to overpower Liz’s vocal. Only when her vocal drops out, does a wall of music assail you. This includes a fuzzy and later, searing guitar. They play their part in a post punk soundscape that’s variously beautiful, dramatic and ethereal.
The drama continues on Athol-Brose. It comes courtesy of Liz’s impassioned vocal. It’s multi tracked and accompanied by a plodding drum, bass and chiming guitars. They add an element of urgency, as Liz unleashes a heartfelt, soul-baring vocal that’s akin to a cathartic unburdening.
Deliberately Carolyn’s Fingers Robin runs his fingers down his guitar. It shimmers and glistens, before a wash of sound encircles Liz’s deliberate, soaring vocal. Soon, her vocal grows in power, as ethereal harmonies are panned right. Behind her, the arrangement is melodic and dreamy, the perfect foil to the ethereal quality of Liz’s vocal.
Slowly, the dreamy arrangement for For Phoebe Still A Baby unfolds. Before long, it envelops, and cocoons the listener. What follows is a beautiful innovative dream pop soundscape that the Cocteau Twins started to pioneer on their previous album, Victorialand. Again, Liz’s fragile, tender vocal is key to the song’s success as it takes on what’s best described as an almost vulnerable sound. Especially when it combines with her dreamy harmonies resulting in an innovative, but timeless soundscape.
Driven guitars chime, and are drenched in reverb on The Itchy Glowbo Blow. They join drums and Liz’s cooing, floaty vocal. Together, they play their part in an elegiac, lysergic soundscape.
Cico Buff has a floaty minimalist, cinematic sound. A drum machine plays thoughtfully, and guitars chime and shimmer. They set the scene for Liz’s melancholy, tender dreamy vocal. This is easily one of her best vocals. It cascades above the arrangement, which is akin to a journey on a musical merry-go-round.
Suckling The Mender takes the cinematic sound of the previous track further. This could easily have been part of the soundtrack to a lost Wim Wenders’ movie. Indeed, if a followup to Paris Texas had been made, this would’ve been perfect. The soundscape is simplicity itself. Drums pitter patter, guitars shimmer and glisten. The final piece in the musical jigsaw is Liz’s cooing, ethereal vocal.
From the get-go, Spooning Good Singing Gum has the Cocteau Twins’ name written all over it. They combine a minimalist mixture of trembling guitars and crispy drums with Liz’s vocal. It veers between an understated, ethereal, cooing sound to powerful, impassioned and dramatic. The result is a potent, and heady brew that paints pictures and takes you places, places you’ve never been before.
As A Kissed Out Red Floatboat begins, it’s mostly business is usual. The only difference are a few sci-fi sounds that soar above the arrangement. Then when Liz’s vocal enters, her delivery is much more tradition. She’s not improvising as much. That comes later. By then she’s flitting been a traditional and her trademark style. It’s a captivating combination. Especially with the other Cocteau Twins creating a dreamy, otherworldly backdrop.
Ella Megalast Burls Forever closes Blue Bell Knoll. It has the perfect sound to close any album, especially one as good as Blue Bell Knoll. From the opening bars, Robin and Simon provide a dramatic backdrop for Liz’s vocal. It’s equally dramatic, and heartfelt as she delivers the lyrics, it’s with equal parts emotion, hope and sincerity. This proves a beautiful conclusion to Blue Bell Knoll, the first in what was a golden quartet of albums from the Cocteau Twins.
For the Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll was a landmark album. It was the start of an eleven year period where they could do wrong. From Bell Knoll, through 1990s Heaven Or Las Vegas, 1993s Four-Calendar Cafe and their final album, Milk Or Kisses, released in 1997 the Cocteau Twins enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim. Their final three albums all reached the top twenty in the UK. The most successful of these three albums was Heaven Or Las Vegas, which was certified silver in the UK. That’s not surprising, as it’s one of the Cocteau Twins’ best albums.
Meanwhile, the Cocteau Twins were belatedly, enjoying commercial success in America. Heaven Or Las Vegas, Four-Calendar Cafe and Milk Or Kisses all reached the top hundred in the US Billboard 200 charts. No longer were the Cocteau Twins just an indie band.
Now the Cocteau Twins were now enjoying mainstream success. This had been a longtime coming. It had taken eight long years before the Cocteau Twins made their breakthrough in America with Blue Bell Knoll. Now, however, all the years of trying had paid off. For Liz, Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymone, Blue Bell Knoll was a game-changer.
Of the five studio album the Cocteau Twins had recorded, Blue Bell Knoll was their finest hour. It featured ten tracks lasting thirty-five minutes. The music on Blue Bell Knoll was variously beautiful, cinematic, dramatic, dreamy, elegiac, ethereal, lysergic and otherworldly. During Blue Bell Knoll, the Cocteau Twins music washes over you, cocooning, enveloping and sometimes, assailing the listener. Its otherworldly sound is akin to a journey to a lost world. On this journey, the listener floats along, a spectator on this forgotten kingdom and its hidden secrets. Providing the backdrop are the Cocteau Twins, who provide music that’s innovative, timeless and unique.
Try as the pretenders may, no one can replicate the dream pop sound of the Cocteau Twins. They showcased this sound on Victorialand, and then perfected it on Blue Bell Knoll. Crucial to this sound was Liz Fraser’s beautiful, ethereal vocal. The Cocteau Twins’ First Lady played a huge part in the rise and rise of the Cocteau Twins. However, the Cocteau Twins weren’t a one woman band.
Far from it. Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymone provided the perfect backdrop for Liz’s vocal on the seven studio albums they released during a seventeen year period. Sadly, in 1997, the Cocteau Twins split-up. However, the Cocteau Twins left behind a rich, innovative and truly timeless musical legacy, including Blue Bell Knoll, which transformed the career of the Cocteau Twins.
Cult Classic: Cocteau Twins-Blue Bell Knoll.
The Blue Nile-Hats-Vinyl Edition.
Label: Confetti Records.
Enigmatic, reluctant and contrarian are words that best of describe The Blue Nile. They’re the complete opposite of most bands. The Blue Nile have been described as publicity shy. That’ is an understatement. Ever since Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Paul Joseph Moore formed the Blue Nile, they’ve been one of the most low-profile bands in musical history. It seems that when they were formed thirty-eight years ago, The Blue Nile ticked the “no publicity” box. This has proved a double-edged sword, and resulted in The Blue Nile becoming one of the most enigmatic groups ever. Their story began thirty-five years ago.
The Blue Nile were formed in 1981, when two friends Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, met Paul Joseph Moore, all of whom met at Glasgow University. Before forming The Blue Nile, Buchanan and Bell were previously members of a band called Night By Night. Try as they may, a recording contract eluded them. Night By Night’s music wasn’t deemed commercial enough. So Paul, Robert and P.J. decided to form a new band, The Blue Nile.
Once The Blue Nile were formed, they set up their own record label Peppermint Records. It was on Peppermint Records that The Blue Nile released their debut single, I Love This Life. This single was then picked up and rereleased on the RSO label. Unfortunately for the Blue Nile, RSO became part of the Polygram label and I Love This Life disappeared without trace. Despite this setback, Blue Nile persisted.
Still, The Blue Nile kept writing and recording material after the merger of RSO with Polygram. Some of that material would later be found on A Walk Across the Rooftops. That was in the future.
Recording of The Blue Nile’s demos took place at Castlesound studio near Edinburgh. That’s home to the man whose often referred to as the fourth member of The Blue Nile, recording engineer Calum Malcolm. He was listening to recently recorded demos through the studio’s Linn Electronics system. It had recently had a new set of speakers fitted. So the company founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun, decided to visit Calum Malcolm to hear his thoughts on the speakers. That’s when Ivor Tiefenbrun first heard The Blue Nile.
Calum Malcolm played Ivor Tiefenbrun a demo of Tinseltown In The Rain. Straight away, the founder of Linn was hooked. He decided to offer The Blue Nile a record contract to the label he was in the process of founding. Most bands would’ve jumped at the opportunity. Not The Blue Nile.
It took The Blue Nile nine months before they replied to Ivor Tiefenbrun’s offer. When they did, the answer was yes. The Blue Nile’s debut album A Walk Across The Rooftops would be released on Ivor Tiefenbrun’s new label Linn Reords.
A Walk Across the Rooftops.
Linn Records and The Blue Nile seemed a marriage made in musical heaven. Linn Records weren’t like a major label, pressurising The Blue Nile into making a decision and delivering an album within a certain timeframe. Instead, Linn Records allowed The Blue Nile to do what they did best, make music. From the outside, this looked as if it was working, and working well.
Years later, Paul Buchanan commented that during Linn Records didn’t operate like a record label. Mind you, he conceded that, during this period, The Blue Nile didn’t operate as a band. However, eventually, in May 1984 The Blue Nile’s debut album was released on Linn Records.
On the release of A Walk Across the Rooftops, it was released to critical acclaim. Critics described the album as a minor classic. A Walk Across the Rooftops was described as atmospheric, ethereal, evocative, soulful and soul-baring. It also featured the vocals of troubled troubadour Paul Buchanan. Despite the critical acclaim A Walk Across the Rooftops enjoyed, it wasn’t a huge commercial success, reaching just number eighty in the UK. However, since the A Walk Across the Rooftops has been recognised as a classic album. So has the followup Hats.
Unlike most bands, The Blue Nile weren’t in any rush to release their sophomore album Hats. There was a five year gap between A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. It was worth the wait. The Blue Nile had done it again. Hats was a classic.
Featuring seven tracks, written by Paul Buchanan, Glasgow’s answer to Frank Sinatra He’s a tortured troubadour, whose voice sounds as if he’s lived a thousand lives. Producing Hats was a group effort, with Paul, Robert and P.J. taking charge of production duties. Guiding them, was Callum Malcolm. On the release of Hats, British and American audiences proved more discerning and appreciative of the Blue Nile’s sophomore album Hats.
On the release of Hats in the UK in 1989, it was critically acclaimed and commercial success, reaching number twelve in the UK. Then when it was released in America in 1990, audiences seemed to “get” Hats. Not only did it reach number 108 in the US Billboard 200 Charts, but The Downtown Lights reached number ten in the US Modern Rock Tracks charts. It seemed that The Blue Nile were more popular in America, than in Britain. Gradually, The Blue Nile’s music was beginning to find a wider and more appreciative album. Especially when The Blue Nile decided to embark upon their debut tour later in 1989, and showcased what was one of the albums of the year.
In many ways, Hats is a like a musical journey, a voyage of discovery. Over The Hillside is the first step on the journey. Slow, spacious drums, washes of wistful synths and a dramatic guitar combine. Then Paul’s worldweary vocal enters. The sheer drudgery, repetitiveness and almost hopelessness of everyday life flavors Paul’s vocal. Sage-like, he sees through living to work and working to live. It fills him with dread and despair. Reflecting this, is the arrangement, with its somewhat industrial, repetitiveness. Drums with a synthetic, monotonous regularity and washes of wistful synths combine. As the drums reflect the pointlessness of the 9 to 5 life, synths offer a sympathetic backdrop. Meanwhile, eloquently and giving voice to the lack of hope, opportunity and escape, is Paul’s vocal, which brings to life the relentless grind of modern life. Bleak, honest but eloquence personified is this five minute track.
A sprinkling of cascading synths gives way to thunderous drums and washes of synths as The Downtown Lights begins. Soon, Paul Buchanan’s tortured vocal enters. It’s a mixture of emotions, worldweary, but heartfelt and reassuring. Drums cracks, synths fill the gaps and a pounding, broody bass reflects the drama in Paul’s vocal. As the arrangement grows in power and drama, so too does the emotion and reassurance in Paul’s voice. When he sings “it’s alright,” you believe him. His vocal grows in emotion and soulfulness, enveloped by swathes of synths, a funky bass and crispy drums. Later, as the power, drama and emotion grows, driven along by chiming guitars, you realize this is deeply soulful, but not soul music. Instead, it’s music for the soul, music about love, being in love and insecurity.
Waves of synths meander, growing in tension and drama. Let’s Go Out Tonight has just began to reveal its cerebral beauty. Guitars chime, while the backdrop is minimalistic. Paul’s whispered vocal is filled with despair. His relationship is almost over. It’s on its last legs. Rather than stay home and talk about it, it’s easier to go out. Best to dance around the subject and problems, rather admit it’s over. Meanwhile, synths, keyboards and guitar join Paul’s vocal, as he lays bare his soul, his hurt and heartache. His voice is tinged with regret and sadness, as if he can’t believe it’s over. For anyone whose been in this situation, or is going through it, then this song describes it perfectly. Quite simply, this is highlight of Hats and one of the Blue Nile’s greatest songs.
The tempo increase on Headlights On The Parade. So too does the emotion. Blue Nile mix moody funk courtesy of the bass and guitars with waves of bright, hopeful synths and stabs of keyboards. It’s almost as if they’re setting the scene for the worldweary troubadour, Paul Buchanan. From the moment Paul’s vocal begins, his vocal is filled with emotion. Saying: “I love you” isn’t easy, it’s hard, the three hardest words for him to say. Waves of symphonic, hopeful music cascade, envelop Paul’s vocal as he finally plucks up the courage.When he does, it’s almost a relief, it seems. Keyboards and quivering strings join him. Having found the courage, they serenade the one he loves. The result is an elegant, symphonic and beautiful song, one about conquering and overcoming the fear of commitment and the fear of rejection.
From A Late Night Train is a track that’s wonderfully moody and melancholy. The arrangement is broody and minimalistic, meandering behind Paul’s heartfelt vocal. It’s a bit like Frank Sinatra meets Brian Eno. Keyboards picked out carefully and cautiously are joined by occasional bursts of wistful horns. Slowly, Paul delivers lyrics that are poetic, with a strong narrative and steeped in emotion. His half-spoken vocal is filled with sadness, as he sings of his relationship being “over now.” You can imagine him heartbroken, sitting on the late night train, wondering why and what could I have done differently? Considering this track is only four minutes long, it’s a poetic, descriptive and emotive tour de force, Blue Nile style.
Squelchy synths, crunchy drums and percussion join a funky bass as Seven A.M. unfolds. A combination of an industrial sounding arrangement, which brings to mind Can, Neu and Velvet Underground join Paul’s worldweary, wistful vocal. Pensive, probing and questioning, he wonders “where is the love?” It’s a question posed a thousand times before, puzzling poets and philosophers alike. Paul sounds just as puzzled, pondering, wondering. Lovelorn and confused Paul and the Blue Nile bring out the subtleties and beauties of the lyrics, but pose a question that’s unanswerable, even for them.
Saturday Night sees the Blue Nile close Hats with another of their Magnus Opus.’ Like Let’s Go Out Tonight, this is classic Blue Nile. Washes and stabs of synths, chiming guitars, a buzzing bass and crispy drums combine with Paul’s vocal. It’s a mixture of hope, happiness and longing, but tinged with insecurity. Washes of synths and lush strings cascade. They sweep and swirl, and are joined by chiming guitars. Together they envelope Paul’s deeply soulful vocal. His vocal is filled with hope and emotion and plays its part in one of the most beautiful tracks the Blue Nile ever recorded. As if a remastered version of Hats isn’t enough in itself, then there’s the bonus disc.
Unlike the original version of Hats, the newly remastered version includes a second disc of six bonus tracks. While these tracks may not be particularly rare, they offer an insight to an enigmatic band. A live studio version of Seven A.M, alternate versions of Saturday Night Let’s Go Out Tonight are three hidden gems from The Blue Nile back-catalogue. So too is the live version of Headlights On the Parade, which is the perfect reminder of how good a live band the Blue Nile were. The Wires Are Down is a tantalizing glimpse of The Blue Nile and what might have been. I’m sure there’s many more tracks like this hidden, safely away in The Blue Nile’s vaults. Hopefully, before too long, we’ll be able to hear many more of these hidden gems. So, having told you about the newly released, remastered version of Hats, is Hats a better album than their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops?
Hats is a captivating, bewitching and beautiful album, where The Blue Nile lay bare their soul. Not only do they lay bare their soul, but articulate their hopes, fears, frustrations and dreams. Articulating this range of emotions, is Glasgow’s troubled troubadour, who mixes Frank Sinatra, Tom Waits and Tim Buckley, but doing so in a way that’s almost quintessentially Scottish. This newly remastered version of Hats accentuates the Scottishness of the seven songs. However, despite this quintessentially Scottishness, the music transcends geographical boundaries. For anyone whose lived, lost and lost love, then this album speaks to and for them. It brings to life their heartache and hurt, their sense of how life will never be quite the same again. Combining elements as diverse as Brian Eno, Can, Neu and the Velvet Underground Hats is an album of many influences, but unique. Only the Blue Nile could produce an album so special, so deeply soulful, beautiful and emotive. In some ways, Hats is a very different album from A Walk Across the Rooftops, the Blue Nile’s debut album. However, is Hats a better album?
A Walk Across the Rooftops was one of the best debut albums released by a Scottish, or indeed British band. A Walk Across the Rooftops belongs in every self-respected record collection. So too does Hats. Both albums are the perfect introduction the Blue Nile and their music. After just one listen to the seven tracks on A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, you’ll fall in love with the music of The Blue Nile. These were the two best albums of The Blue Nile’s career. Choosing which is the best album is like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite child. Just like they’d refuse to answer the question, I’m going to refuse to choose between not just two of my favorite albums, but two of the best albums released by a British band in the last forty years. Instead, I’ll leave you to decided. The best way to do this, is to buy copies of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, two of best albums by one of music’s best kept secrets.
The Blue Nile-Hats-Vinyl Edition.
Cult Classic: Sandy Denny-Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.
Sandy Denny left Fairport Convention in December 1969, and in early 1970, decided to form a new band. The new band became Fotheringay, who released their eponymous debut album in June 1970. Critics hailed Fotheringay a masterful debut, and the album sold well upon its release. This looked like the start of another successful chapter in Sandy Denny’s career.
Buoyed by the success of Fotheringay, the band began work on their sophomore album in November 1970. As the sessions continued into December 1970, it was thought that everything was going to plan and Fotheringay’s sophomore album would soon be completed. Sadly, in January 1971, it was announced that Fotheringay were no more and the band split-up. What would eventually become Fotheringay 2 was shelved and the album wasn’t released until 2008.
With Fotheringay now consigned to musical history, Sandy Denny decided to embark upon a solo career. Sandy Denny signed to Island records, and soon, began to work on to release her debut solo album, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens. For Sandy Denny, this was the start of a new and exciting chapter in her career.
The North Star Grassman and The Ravens.
After Fotheringay split-up, Island Records were keen for the latest signing to enter the studio. Sandy Denny, Island Records believed, had the potential to quickly become one of the company’s biggest selling artists. When Sandy Danny entered the studios in March 1971, it was with the weight of expectation on her shoulders.
By then, Sandy Denny was maturing as a songwriter. This was what she had planned to hone her songwriting skills after she left Fairport Convention in December 1969. By March 1971 she was an accomplished songwriter and had written eight of the eleven songs on The North Star Grassman and The Ravens. This included Late November and John The Gun which had been recorded for the Fotheringay 2 sessions. Among Sandy’s other compositions, were The Sea Captain, The Optimist, Next Time Around, Wretched Wilbur, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens and Crazy Lady Blues. They joined a rework of the traditional song Blackwaterside; Bob Dylan’s Down In The Flood and Charles Robins’ Let’s Jump The Broomstick. These songs were recorded over a three-month period with some familiar faces.
The recording sessions began in March 1971, at Sound Techniques, with Sandy Denny, John Wood and Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson tanking charge of production. Just two songs were recorded there, Blackwaterside and Let’s Jump The Broomstick. Then things were moved in-house and the rest of the sessions took place at Island Studios, in London.
At Island Studios, Sandy Denny was accompanied on some of the tracks by the musicians that were previously part of Fotheringay. Other musicians were drafted in when they were needed. This included drummer Roger Powell, bassist Tony Reeves, Buddy Emmons on pedal steel guitar, violinist Barry Dransfield and Ian Whiteman on piano and flute organ. Royston Wood and Robin Dransfield added backing vocals on John The Gun. Co-producer Richard Thompson played accordion, bass, electric and acoustic guitar and sang on Down In The Flood. Harry Robertson arranged the strings on Next Time Around and Wretched Wilbur. That talented band spent two months recording The North Star Grassman and The Ravens which was completed by May 1971, and was released four months later.
Before the release of The North Star Grassman and The Ravens, critics had their say on Sandy Denny’s debut solo album. With its mixture of Sandy Denny compositions, and cover versions, it was a truly captivating album. Sandy Denny’’s vocals were compelling, as she breathed meaning and emotion into lyrics. Among the highlights were John The Gun, Late November, the wonderfully wistful Next Time Around and The North Star Grassman and The Ravens. That’s not forgetting Down In The Flood, where the interplay between Richard Thompson’s guitar and Sandy’s vocal is masterful. The only songs some critics felt let the album down slightly, was Let’s Jump The Broomstick and Down In The Flood. Still, though, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens was a hailed a musical masterpiece and minor folk rock classic. Sandy Denny it seemed, could do no wrong.
When The North Star Grassman and The Ravens was released in September 1971, the album didn’t sell in the huge quantities that Island Records had hoped. They seemed to envisage Sandy Denny enjoying the same commercial success that Joni Mitchell was enjoying in America. Sadly, that wasn’t to be, although Sandy Denny was enjoying the same critical acclaim that her American counterpart was enjoying. This would continue on her sophomore album Sandy.
There was no rest for Sandy Denny after she returned from a tour to promote the release of her debut album, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens. Two weeks later, in November 1971, Sandy Denny began recording his sophomore album Sandy at Sound Techniques and Island Studios.
By then, Sandy Denny had been busy, and had written eight new songs that would feature on Sandy. This included It’ll Take a Long Time, Sweet Rosemary, For Nobody to Hear, Listen, Listen, The Lady, Bushes and Briars, It Suits Me Well and The Music Weaver. These songs joined covers of Bob Dylan’s Tomorrow Is A Long Time, and the traditional song The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood, which Richard Fariña had written lyrics for. These songs were recorded by a band that featured familiar faces and new names.
The first change was that Trevor Lucas had been hired to produce Sandy. John Wood who had played such an important part in the sound and success of The North Star Grassman and The Ravens was relegated to engineer. Similarly, Richard Thompson’s only part in Sandy was playing on five songs. However, one thing hadn’t changed, were the studios that were used.
Just like with Sandy Denny’s debut album, recording took place at Sound Techniques and Island Studios. When the first sessions took place in November 1971, Sandy Denny was joined by British folk royalty, including Fotheringay bassist Pat Donaldson. He was joined by four members of Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson on mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, vocalist Linda Thomson, violinist Dave Swarbrick and Trevor Lucas on acoustic guitar. They were joined by some new names.
This included The Flying Burrito Brothers’ pedal steel player Sneaky Pete Kleinow. He was joined by organist and pianist John Bundrick. Both men played on It’ll Take A Long Time and Tomorrow Is A Long Time. The final member of Sandy Denny’s band was John Kirkpatrick who played concertina on It Suits Me Well. With the lineup of the band finalised, the recording of Sandy got underway.
With an all-star band for company, Sandy Denny recorded the ten songs over five sessions held during November 1971 and then in April and May 1972. Once the ten songs were recorded, the strings and horns were added.
Harry Robertson was brought in to arrange the strings on Listen, Listen, The Lady and The Music Weave. Allen Toussaint was drafted in to arrange the horns on For Nobody to Hear. Rather than travel to Britain, Allen Toussaint recorded the horn section at the Deep South Studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Once the strings and horns were added, and Sandy was mixed and mastered, and Sandy was almost ready for release.
Before that, critics received their advance copy of Sandy, and Sandy Denny and the A&R executives at Island Records awaited their verdict.The critics were won over by Sandy, and noted that th promotion of Trevor Lucas to the position of producer had paid off. He managed to successfully combine the two disparate sides of Sandy Denny’s music. This was the traditional folk sound, and the more modern folk rock sound. Part of this was in the choice of instruments. Traditional instruments like a mandolin and acoustic guitar harked back to folk music’s past; and the pedal steel and Hammond organ were its future. However, key to the success of Sandy were Sandy Denny’s skills as a singer and songwriter.
Some of Sandy’s finest moments were on Listen, Listen, where strings and a mandolin accompany her vocals, and on The Lady, where Sandy delivers a heartfelt vocal. Then on Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood, the lushest of strings provide the perfect backdrop for Sandy. It was a similar case with the horns on For Nobody to Hear. Bob Dylan’s oft-covered Tomorrow Is A Long Time takes on new meaning thanks on Sandy. Critics were calling Sandy a minor classic. Surely the album would bring commercial success Sandy Denny’s way?
Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and when Sandy was released in September 1972, history repeated itself when Sandy was the commercial success that Island Records was hoping for. This was a huge disappointment for Sandy Denny, and it would nearly two years before she returned with her third album Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.
Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.
After returning from a tour where she was promoting her sophomore album Sandy, Island Records wanted Sandy Denny to head back into the studio. The recording then touring schedule was relentless. However, the tour had given Sandy Denny time to think about where her career was heading.
When she returned home, Sandy Denny had done a lot of soul-searching and decided that she wanted to make her impression musically. That was no surprise as Sandy Denny had been rubbing shoulders with two of Britain’s biggest musical exports, Led Zeppelin and The Who. She had performed with both bands, and saw how the other half lived. By the end of the tour, Sandy Denny had decided that she wanted to enjoy a taste of the commercial success both bands were enjoying.
This was music to executives at Island Records’ ears. However, Sandy Denny was still disappointed by the commercial failure of her first two albums. It seemed folk rock wasn’t going to make Sandy Denny rich. That was when she realised that she would have to broaden her appeal if she wanted to enjoy the commercial success she wanted.
In her heart of hearts, Sandy Denny knew her music had to change if it was going to appeal to a much wider audience. So for her third album, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, Sandy decided to make some changes. She decided to incorporate elements of pop and jazz into her usual folk rock sound on her next album, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. Despite deciding to change direction musically, Sandy decided to stick with Trevor Lucas who had produced Sandy.
It would’ve been awkward if Sandy Denny had decided to change producer, as Trevor Lucas and Sandy Denny had married during 1973. The only change Sandy Denny made, was to bring John Wood back as co-producer. They would co-produce Like An Old Fashioned Waltz in London and Los Angeles.
For Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, Sandy Denny had written eight new songs. This included Solo, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, Friends, Carnival, Dark The Night, At The End Of The Day and No End. The only cover versions were Doris and Fred Fisher’s Whispering Grass and Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin and LE Freeman’s Until The Real Thing Comes Along. Sandy Denny remembered the two songs from her father’s record collection, and gave them a jazzy makeover. These songs were recorded in Sound Techniques, in London, and A&M Studios, Los Angeles, between May and August 1973.
Again, the great and good of folk music were present for the recording of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. Sandy Denny was joined by former Fotheringay bassist Pat Donaldson, and six members of her former group Fairport Convention. This included Richard Thompson on mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, guitarist Jerry Donahue, bassist Dave Pegg, drummer Dave Mattacks, violinist Dave Swarbrick and Trevor Lucas on acoustic guitar. They were joined by some familiar faces and new names.
The familiar face was John Bundrick, who played on Sandy. This time around, he played organ, piano and clavinet on Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. New names included bassist Danny Thompson, who had previously worked with Nick Drake and John Martyn. Danny Thompson was joined by drummer Gerry Conway and saxophonist Alan Skidmore. Sandy Denny’s band was shaping up nicely.
Other new names included Diz Disley on acoustic guitar, organist Jean Roussel and pianist Ian Armit. They were part of a band that spent three months recording Like An Old Fashioned Waltz in L.A. and London. Eventually, the album was released by August 1973, and executives at Island Records planned to release Like An Old Fashioned Waltz in late 1973.
That was until Sandy Denny dropped a bombshell, when she announced that she was rejoining Fairport Convention, and embarked upon a tour that lasted from autumn 1973 to June 1974. Suddenly, Island Records’ plans were in disarray and they had no option but to postpone the release of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.
Eventually, Island Records rescheduled the release of An Old Fashioned Waltz for June 1974. By then, Sandy Denny had just returned from touring with Fairport Convention. Somewhat belatedly, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was about to be released.
Before that, critics had their say on Sandy Denny’s much-anticipated third album. When critics heard Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, they were struck by how personal album it was.
Like An Old Fashioned Waltz finds Sandy Denny laying bare her soul and sharing her deepest secrets and fears. Many of the songs on An Old Fashioned Waltz dealt with things that preoccupied and worried Sandy Denny. This included everything from loss and loneliness, the changing of the season, a fear of the dark and ironically, the passing of time. Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was also a very different album from her two previous albums, with its jazz and pop stylings.
Especially the covers of Whispering Grass and Until The Real Thing Comes Along, which were given a jazzy makeover by Sandy Denny and her band. Stylistically, these two songs showed a different side to Sandy Denny, and jazz suited the twenty-seven year old singer-songwriter. However, the rest of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was quite different.
On a number of tracks the lushest of strings joined a subtle piano in creating a ruminative and wistful album. Highlights included the album opener Solo, Friends, Dark The Night, At the End Of The Day and No End, which gave some insight into who Sandy Denny was as a person. Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was also a quite beautiful and extremely personal album from Sandy Denny which had won over the majority of critics.
While some reviews were positive, the usual suspects including the self-styled Dean of American Rock Critics wasn’t impressed. In his Village Voice review he called Like An Old Fashioned Waltz a “slugging album.” Other critics took a more favourable view of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, and believed that this was the album that was destined to transform Sandy Denny’s fortunes.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and when Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was released in June 1974, commercial success eluded the album. Whispering Grass was chosen as the lead single, and was released in 1973. This was a strange choice, as it wasn’t one of the stronger songs on the album. Unsurprisingly, it failed to catch the attention of record buyers. For Sandy Denny this the commercial failure of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz and the single Whispering Grass was a huge blow.
Worse was to come when the release of the sophomore single Like an Old Fashioned Waltz was cancelled. For Sandy Denny, her dreams of becoming one of the biggest names in music had come to nothing. With her dreams in tatters, Sandy Denny rejoined Fairport Convention for the third and final time.
It wasn’t just Sandy Denny that embarked upon a world tour with Fairport Convention. So had her husband and producer Trevor Lucas. With Sandy Denny touring the world with Fairport Convention, her solo career was put on hold.
For Sandy Denny, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was the one that got away, and was an album that had the potential to transform her career and introduce her music to a wider audience. Sadly, that wasn’t to be, bur since then, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz has been reappraised by critics and nowadays, is regarded as a cult classic that showcases the considerable talents of the late, great Sandy Denny who is remembered as one of the finest folk singers of her generation.
Cult Classic: Neu!-Neu!
There aren’t many artists who after leaving one of the most pioneering groups in musical history, end up founding another groundbreaking group. That’s what happened to Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother who had both been members of Kraftwerk, but left in 1971. After leaving Kraftwerk, the pair founded Neu! another Kratrock band.
Neu! went on to be one be one of the most influential groups in musical history. They’re one of the founding father’s of Krautrock. They’ve influenced everyone from Brian Eno, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Radiohead, Primal Scream and a generation of electronic music producers. However, Neu only released a trio of albums between 1972 and 1975. Their debut album was Neu!, released in 1972. It was followed by Neu! 2 in 1973 and then Neu! ’75 in 1975. These three albums were among the most influential albums released during that period. Despite being innovative and influential, Neu!’s three albums weren’t particularly successful when they were released .
Just like so many other musical pioneers, Neu! didn’t enjoy the success their music deserved. Maybe Neu! were ahead of their time? Possibly, people didn’t understand what was essentially, a new musical genre, Krautrock. This was the case for Neu’s contemporaries Can, Cluster and to some extent, even Kraftwerk. Since then, a new generation of musicians and music lovers have discovered Krautrock. Its influence can be heard in modern music. Indeed, many musicians refer to Neu! as one of the groups that have influenced them. One of the most influential albums Neu! released was their eponymous debut album.
It was 1971 when Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother decided to form Neu. Both had been members of Kraftwerk, but not for any length of time. Klaus, a drummer, joined midway through the recording of Kraftwerk’s eponymous debut album. Michael, a bassist, joined Kraftwerk after the album was finished. When Kraftwerk was released in 1971, it wasn’t a commercial success. It only sold 30,000 copies. For the founder of Kraftwerk Ralph Hutter, this was too much. He left the band for six months. Kraftwerk carried on though.
Kraftwerk were reduced to a trio of Wolfgang Scheider, Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. They played a few concerts, and even appeared on German television program Beat Club. However, concerts were becoming few and far between. For two members of Kraftwerk, this was becoming frustrating. Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother decided to leave Kraftwerk and form a new band.
When they founded his new band, which was based in Dusseldorf, there were debates about the band’s name. Michael though the band should have an organic name. Klaus however, had hit on the name Neu! So, the new band became Neu! To go with the new name, a pop art logo was designed and copyrighted. This new logo was seen as a comment and protest against the modern consumer society. Just like contemporaries Can, Neu weren’t afraid to combine social comment and art. Having settled on a name, Neu headed to the recording studio.
Recording of what became Neu! took place in December 1971, at Windrose-Dumont-Time Studios, in Hamburg. Four days had been booked to record the six songs that Klaus and Michael cowrote. Klaus played drums, guitar and Japanese banjo, while Michael played guitar and bass. Conny Plank, who’d produced Kraftwerk’s debut album would act as producer. He also acted as a go-between, when it came to differences of opinion between Klaus and Michael.
For the first two days, it was slow going. Nothing much was achieved. It was only only when Klaus brought along his Japanese banjo that they began to make progress. That seemed to act as a catalyst. Not long after this, Klaus first played his trademark motorik beat. That’s where Klaus plays a 4/4 drum beat with only very occasional interruptions. The effect is hypnotic and mesmeric. It can be heard on Hallogallo and Negativland. Klaus didn’t realise how influential the motorik beat would become. The sessions carried on and once they were finished, Conny Plank mixed Neu! at Star Musik Studio, in Hamburg. Now Neu! was ready for release.
On its release by Brain Records in 1972, Neu! wasn’t a commercial success. In total, it sold only 30,000 records. For Klaus and Michael this must have been hugely disappointing. They must have felt history was repeating itself again. After all, Kraftwerk’s debut album hadn’t been a commercial success. However, there was another thing the two albums had in common, they were influential and innovative albums from two of the founding fathers of Krautrock.
Opening Neu! is Hallogallo, a ten minute epic. Chiming guitars, funky bass and driving drums unite as the tempo increases. It’s a track to loose yourself in. At the heart of the arrangement is Klaus’ drumming. He creates a hypnotic groove, thanks to the motorik beat. It hardly changes, except for occasional crashing cymbals. Crystalline guitars escape from the arrangement, wah-wahing into the distance. Washes of guitar create an atmospheric, ambient sound. It’s a counterpoint to mesmeric rhythm section, where the bass and drums are one. They match each other every step in the way. Later, blistering guitars and thunderous drums see the arrangement head in the direction of rock and psychedelia, as this groundbreaking, hypnotic and genre melting track introduces musical pioneers Neu!
An eerie vocal is panned right and the sound of a plane descending from the sky opens Sonderangebot. This gives the arrangement a cinematic sound. It reappears, adding to the drama of this experimental sounding track. Sound effects are utilised, before gongs and cymbals crash. Somewhere in the distance water runs, while a droning sound makes its presence felt. The moody arrangement assails you. You’re surrounded by it, unable to escape it. Cinematic, disturbing, eerie and experimental, Sonderangebot is all this and more, including innovative.
From the opening bars, Weissensee has a moody sound. It reminds me of Pink Floyd. The tempo is slow, just Klaus’ drums providing the hypnotic heartbeat. Guitars wah-wah, as if speaking in some unknown language. Together, they march along purposefully, as elements of rock, psychedelia, funk, Krautrock and ambient music create a dramatic, cinematic opus.
Side two of Neu! was entitled Jahresübersicht and is a three part piece. The first past is Im Gluck (Lucky). Straight away, it has an experimental sound. What sounds like people in a boat, chatting and laughing can be heard. This gives the track an avant-garde, ambient sound. Droning guitars arrive from faraway. Gradually, they drift in, taking centre-stage. They’re alone, wah-wahing and recreating the sound of wistful strings. Above the arrangement, birds can be heard as a boat is rowed. You wonder where to? Here, Neu draw inspiration from ambient, avant garde, classical and experimental music, creating a wistful soundscape that’s atmospheric and cinematic.
Negativland” (Negative Land) is the second track in the three part movement. It features Klaus’ trademark motorik beat. The sound of pneumatic drills, applause and a discordant symphony assail you. It has a psychedelic sound, reminiscent of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Then it’s all change. A bubbling bass combines with Klaus’ motorik beat. Shredded guitars spraying feedback add a free jazz sound. There’s an avant-garde influence as sound effects are unleashed. Neu! use panning effectively, meaning the music surrounds you. By now they’re in a groove, and are exploring it fully. Rock, funk, jazz and psychedelia are combined as the Krautrock pioneers become one. It’s as if Klaus and Michael know what the other is about to do, as they create an uber funky, hypnotic, groove-laden track.
Closing Neu! is Lieber Honig” (Dear Honey). This was the final piece in this groundbreaking movement. It has pensive, spacious and melancholy introduction. Space is left, before a tender, fragile and ethereal vocal makes its entrance. Just like the arrangement, it spacious and wistful. It’s akin to a stream of consciousness, or a cathartic confessional cleansing. When the vocal drops out, a droning noise drifts in. This is the polar opposite to the rest of the arrangement. After that, the track reminds me of Im Gluck, as someone rows a boat across. That’s all you can hear, apart from the droning noise heading into the distance. The result is an enigmatic, ethereal and experimental track which poses more questions than answers.
Having left Kraftwerk to found a new band, Neu!, Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother began as they meant to go on, by creating music that was pioneering. This began with their debut album Neu! Recorded over just four days in Hamburg, Klaus and Michael, with Conny Plank producing and acting as referee, created one of the most important and influential albums in the history of not just Krautrock, but music per se. Quite simply, Neu’s importance can’t be underestimated. It went on to influence everyone from Brian Eno, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno right through to Primal Scream and Radiohead. Even forty-two years after the release of Neu! it’s still cited as album that influenced the latest generation of musicians. So, you’d think that Neu! sold millions of copies?
Sadly, that wasn’t the case. When Neu! was released, it sold just 30,000 copies. Since then, Neu! has been released several times, allowing several generations of musicians and music lovers to hear the album. This includes several generations of electronic music producers. Just like Brian Eno, Can, Cluster and Kraftwerk, Neu!’s music has influenced electronic music. There’s a reason for this. The music these artists produced was groundbreaking.
When Neu! was released in 1972 it was an album that was innovative, groundbreaking and totally unique as they combined disparate musical genres. They drew inspiration from ambient, avant garde, electronic, experimental, funk, psychedelia and rock to create their unique brand of Krautrock. This is no different to how a painter uses his palette to create paintings. Neu’s musical experiments were groundbreaking and unique. Proof of this was Klaus’ trademark motorik beat. That’s where Klaus played a 4/4 drum beat with only a very occasional interruption. The effect is hypnotic and mesmeric. It can be heard on Hallogallo and Negativland. This helped Neu! to stand out from other Krautrock groups.
It’s also why Neu!, along with Can, Cluster and Kraftwerk, are seen as the founding fathers of Kraftwerk and why forty-seven years after its release this cult classic is regarded as one of the most important, innovative and influential Krautrock albums ever released.
Cult Classic: Neu!-Neu!
Cult Classic: LightDreams-Islands In Space.
Thirty-five years ago in 1981, the British Columbian band LightDreams, released their debut album, Islands In Space. It was a captivating, psychedelic sci-fi odyssey where LightDreams explored cosmic ideology. This was something that had fascinated and enthralled the band’s leader Paul Marcano ever since he first encountered the work and theories of author, physicist and space activist, Gerard K. O’Neill. So much so, that Paul decided to explore the subject on LightDreams’ debut album, Islands In Space.
Later, in 1981, LightDreams released Islands In Space. Normally, an album like Islands In Space would’ve found favour with fans of psychedelia and progressive rockers who embraced cerebral, innovative and epic albums. Alas, that wasn’t the case.
There was a quite simple reason for this. Unlike the majority of successful psychedelic and progressive rock bands, LightDreams weren’t signed to a record company. This meant there was no promotional budget to hep spread the word about slands In Space. Nor did LightDreams have the access to people with the expertise to promote what was a truly ambitious and innovative. Instead, LightDreams decided to self-release Islands In Space. They had 1,000 albums pressed on vinyl which the planned to sell themselves. Sadly, Islands In Space wasn’t the success that the members of of LightDreams had hoped.
It was only much later, that word began to spread about Islands In Space and its followup 10,001 Dreams. Occasionally, a few lucky record and tape collectors chanced upon a copy of Islands In Space or 10,001 Dreams. They paid their money and discovered tw groundbreaking hidden gems. Before long, collectors and aficionados of psychedelia were looking for copies of Islands In Space and 10,001 Dreams. This was a long shot, and most collectors came up short. Those that found a copy were transported back in time to British Columbia in 1981 when Paul Marcano met the musicians with whom he would form LightDreams.
Like most towns and cities in 1981, British Columbia had a vibrant and thriving music scene. Paul Marcano was part of this scene, and had been for eight years. By 1981, Paul deiced to look for likeminded musicians who he collaborate with, and maybe even form a band?
Having loked through the local music scene, and at his circle of friends, eventually, Paul found likeminded musicians he could work with. This included two of his friends, rhythm guitarist Cory Rhyon and keyboardist Andre Martin. They would be joined by bassist Alex Lowe, lead guitarist John Walker and Tim Moore on keyboards and saxophone.
Islands In Space.
With Paul Marcano’s search for likeminded musicians over, the search for a name. Eventually, they decided to call the newly formed group, LightDreams. This suited the type of music Paul intended to make. LightDreams was, to all intents and purposes, a vehicle for Paul Marcano. Compared to the other members of LightDreams, Paul had a wealth of experience.
He had been making music since 1973. Paul Marcano’s recording career began in 1973, when he recorded what should’ve been his debut album. For whatever reason, the album was never released. However, one of the songs would feature on 10,001 Dreams, which was LightDreams’ 1982 sophomore album. So would two songs from Paul’s unreleased sophomore album, It had been recorded in 1978, but just like its predecessor it lay unreleased. LightDreams offered Paul a new and fresh start.
Paul Marcano was brimming with ideas enthusiasm and energy. Not only had Paul been writing songs for a number or years, but he was also a talented multi-instrumentalis with a vision. That would become clear as LightDreams’ thoughts began to turn to their debut album.
With the encouragement of his friends Cory Rhyon and Andre Martin, Paul began writing Islands In Space. His creativity was about to blossom. Paul had already written I Ride With The Wind and Atmospheric Dreams/My Spirit Soars in 1976. They were perfect for the project Paul envisaged. However, two songs don’t make an album, so Paul penned four new tracks, The High Frontier, Islands In Space, Voiceless Voice, Solar Winds and Farewell Goodbyes during 1981. The other track was Atmospheric Dreams, which Paul and Cory Rhyon. These songs would become Islands In Space, where Paul shared his vision for the future.
The songs on Islands In Space had been influenced by the work and theories of author, physicist and space activist, Gerard K. O’Neill. This was someone who Paul Marcano had been enthralled by for several years. One of his theories was, that eventually, mankind would inhabit outer space. This Gerard K. O’Neill believed, would result in a much better world for those left behind inhabiting earth. No longer would there be problems with overpopulation and a reliance on natural resources. However. Paul took this proposition further, exploring whether mankind’s grasp of space-age technology could lead to a peace and cosmic presence on earth? This was the thread that ran through what was sure to a an album cerebral and ambitious music. There was a minor problem though.
Recording studios were expensive and beyond the budget of LightDreams. An alternative was, recording the album using the pro-sumer technology that was becoming popular in the early eighties. That still required funds, funds which for most new bands, were limited. However, one of LightDreams’ friends had another idea, and decided to approach executives at the TEAC Corporation, in the hope that they would let the band use some of their technology. This was a long shot, but one that paid off.
The TEAC Corporation, who were a market leader in early eighties recording equipment, allowed LightDreams to use a 144 track cassette recorder. This was beyond their widest dreams, and more than enough to the record the psychedelic opus that LightDreams were planning, Islands In Space.
Having secured what was start of the art recording equipment, work could begin on Islands In Space. Paul Marcano was joined by the rest of LightDreams. The rhythm section included just bassist Alex Lowe and rhythm guitarist Cory Rhyon. LightDreams didn’t employ a drummer on Islands In Space. Other musicians that featured on the album were lead guitarist John Walker, keyboardist Andre Martin and Tim Moore on keyboards and saxophone. These musicians were used on an ad hoc basis, and didn’t feature on every track. Some musicians only featured on one or two tracks. That’s apart from Paul, who played bass, rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards and added vocals and sound effects. He was able to use all sorts of sonic trickery and layer instruments instruments on Islands In Space. After all, he access to the latest musical technology.
To makes this music, which became Islands In Space, Paul Marcano who was producing the album would make good use of the 144 track cassette recorder. This was more than enough to record even the most ambitious Magnus Opus. Islands In Space had its very own Magnus Opus, Atmospheric Dreams; My Spirit Soars; Atmospheric Dreams a near eleven minute epic. It was just one of the seven tracks that were recorded and became Islands In Space.
Now that Islands In Space was completed, LightDreams decided to release the album themselves. This wasn’t unusual back in 1981, when there were many private pressings released. LightDreams had a 1,000 vinyl copies of Islands In Space pressed. These albums they hoped, they would be able to sell to their fellow British Columbians.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Islands In Space, a captivating psychedelic and progressive sci-fi odyssey where LightDreams explored cosmic ideology passed record buyers by. Paul Marcano was unable to setup consignments to record shops. This was a disaster, and meant that record buyers were unable to find copies of Islands In Space in their local shops. At least a few local radio stations played tracks from Islands In Space. Later, the title-track was used on a Canadian television programme. Mostly, though, Islands In Space passed record buyers by. They missed out on an album that wasn’t just ambitious, but innovative and featured cerebral and thought-provoking lyrics.
Somewhat belatedly, word began to spread about Islands In Space. They paid their money a groundbreaking hidden gem. Before long, collectors and aficionados of psychedelia were looking for copies of 10,001 Dreams. This was a long shot, and most collectors came up short. Now though, Got Kinda Lost Records’ remastered reissue of Islands In Space allows the album to be heard by a much wider and appreciative audience.
The High Frontier opens Islands In Space, and is a guitar lead instrumental. Paul and lead guitarist John Walker take charge of the guitars. They chime and chirp, while a grinding sound is the recording of a guitar being played backwards. These guitars melt into one, with their glistening, crystalline sound being panned across the arrangement, and sometimes, back to front, At one point, it’s as if guitars are replicating the sound of a deserted beach, with seagulls flying overhead. Later, the arrangement grows in power and drama, as the guitars and bass create cinematic backdrop. That’s until a blistering, scorching guitar solo is unleashed, It’s then replaced by a sprinkling of space age sounds that come courtesy of the guitars.It seems that The High Frontier is a showcase for the LightDreams’ guitarists and their inventiveness and imagination.
On the title-track, Paul sings of his dreams that one day, there will be Islands In Space. A guitar is strummed urgently, and the sound of engine buzzing can be heard as the arrangement begins to reveal its secrets. Maybe it’s heading for one of the Islands In Space? Paul’s vocal is accompanied by guitars and washes of keyboards. Reverb is added to arrangement, adding lysergic sound. Soon, the bass is played firmly, as synths maunders and grind. Mostly this big, bold arrangement has a dreamy sound, with Paul’s impassioned vocal taking centre-stage Midway through the song, a saxophone is added,. and brings to mind Pink Floyd, and their Magnus Opus Dark Side Of The Moon. It drifts in and out, as Paul scats and guitars combine with keyboards. Together, the play their part in a carefully crafted, melodic song with cerebral and thoughtful lyrics.
The cinematic sounding Voiceless Voice sound as if it belongs on the soundtrack to the soundtrack to sci-fi movie. Glacial synths glide along, while beeps and squeaks tap out code. Meanwhile, dialogue between launch control and a spaceship is added. When the dialogue drops out, the ethereal, elegiac synths float along. They’re joined by a bass synth, which adds an element tension and drama. So too the bubbling synths and synth strings. Later, an alarm sounds and the dialogue returns “Columbia requests permission to dock?” This marks the end of this captivating voyage of discovery. Providing this cinematic accompaniment were LightDreams, who encourage the listener to let their imagination run riot? Those that do, will be richly rewarded.
I Ride With The Wind is a song Paul write back in 1976. He plays all the instruments on the track. This includes the acoustic guitar that sets the scene. It’s joined by another guitar and they provide the backdrop for Paul’s ruminative vocal. He’s contemplating space travel, and trying to imagine leaving planet earth behind and “I Ride With The Wind.” Meanwhile, just the guitars and bass accompany him. Briefly, reverb added to the vocal, before echo is added to the arrangement. It becomes dubby and beatific as if Paul’s is imagining and hoping that one day, this will be possible.
Atmospheric Dreams and My Spirit Soars are part of a twelve minute, two part suite. It’s the work of guitarist Cory Rhyon and Paul, who plays the rest of the instruments. This includes the bass that underpins the arrangement, guitar and wind chimes. Paul also adds another dreamy, beatific vocal and narrates the song with cinematic lyrics. Meanwhile, the arrangement meanders along, as Cory occasionally adds echo. He realises less is more, and this sparing use of echo proves effective. By then, elements folk rock, psychedelia and progressive rock combine. Later, a blistering rocky guitar cuts through the arrangement. Echo is added to this virtuoso performance before it drops out. Replacing it is a backwards guitar, before the scorching guitar makes a welcome return. It’s joined by an acoustic guitar before it’s all change.
Just guitars play, and add en elements of urgency as the second part of the suite unfolds. Musical genres melt into one as the guitars play. At one point, the guitars are reminiscent of Jethro Tull, as progressive rock and later folk combine. Later, the arrangement becomes understated, and there’s even a jazz influence to the guitar and bass. Things change when the buzzing bass synths makes it presence felt, before this on this genre-melting epic meanders to a close. It features Paul and Cory at their creative zenith, as they innovate and create music that’s imaginative and inventive.
Solar Winds is another instrumental. Cory’s acoustic guitar is combined with washes of Paul’s glacial synths. They’re responsible for a variety of futuristic sound, while what are described as Solar Winds are added. Together, they create a meandering backdrop that’s variously otherworldly, eerie, haunting, elegiac and futuristic. This conjures up images of the sounds and sights one would expect late at night in the desert, under the Joshua Tree.
Farewell Goodbyes closes Islands In Space. An acoustic guitar plays, as Paul dawns the role of narrator. That’s until the vocal proper enters. It’s interspersed with dialogue and sci-fi sounds, before a searing guitar is added. Later, Paul’s vocal and narration combine. They’re layered one on top of the other. Then another rocky guitar is unleashed briefly, before Paul continues his attempts to convince the listener that: “Islands In Space…are the next big taste.” These “Islands In Space.” Paul believed; “will save the human race.” Meanwhile, a guitar is panned, while there’s a beatific, hopeful sound to Paul’s vocal as he sings: “we’re on our way.” This thoughtful and cerebral song closes LightDreams debut album Islands In Space. It was a thought provoking album that deserved to be heard by a much wider audience.
Maybe things would’ve been different if Islands In Space had been released by a major label? Instead, the band self-released the album, and its release was beset with problems. Even setting up consignments of the album proved problematic. This meant that very few people outside of British Columbia got to hear Islands In Space. It was the album that got away.
Islands In Space was a polished and highly accomplished hidden gem of an album. Paul Marcano’s eight years of experience shine through on Islands In Space. By 1981 he was an experienced singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. He had recorded at least six albums, none of which he had released. Maybe Paul Marcano was searching for musical perfection? It may have been that Paul was searching for likeminded musicians, and only found them when he founded LightDreams in 1981.
LightDreams was essentially, Paul Marcano’s musical vehicle. He wrote six of the seven songs on Islands In Space, and cowrote the other song. Paul also produced and played many of the songs on Islands In Space. It’s a captivating, psychedelic sci-fi odyssey where LightDreams explored cosmic ideology. The lyrics are cerebral, ruminative and thought-provoking. That’s still the case thirty-five years after its release in 1981.
Alas, LightDreams’ debut album Islands In Space passed most people by. It was only discovered by a small group of discerning music fans living in British Columbia. Most collectors and aficionados of psychedelia got to the party late, as far as Islands In Space was concerned. That’s apart from a few lucky music fans who found a copy in second hand stores or bargain bins. They paid their money, and discovered a groundbreaking, genre-melting hidden gem. Before long, word was out, and collectors and aficionados of psychedelia were looking for copies of Islands In Space. The only problem was finding an original copy of the album.
Original copies of Islands In Space were incredibly rare. It was more good luck than good judgement when record buyers found a copy. Usually when they discovered a copy, the price was beyond the pocket of most record buyers. This meant a new audience who wanted to discover the delights of Islands In Space were unable to do so. Not any more though.
Islands In Space is a genre-melting album, which is a voyage of discovery.takes as its starting point psychedelia. However, Islands In Space is much more than psychedelic album. Elements of ambient, avant-garde, Berlin School, folk pop, Krautrock, progressive rock and rock can be heard throughout Islands In Spac. It’s a musical melting pot, where instruments and influences melt into one as LightDreams sculpt a captivating psychedelic sci-fi odyssey. LightDreams begin their exploration of cosmic ideology, which was continued on their sophomore album 10,001 Dreams.
Both Islands In Space, and its followup 10,001 Dreams are true cult classics, that showcase the considerable talents of LightDreams. Especially founder member Paul Marcano. He had been working towards releasing an album based on cosmic ideology for several years. This only happened when Paul Marcano met the likeminded musicians that joined him in LightDreams in 1981. Later in 19.81, Islands In Space was released. It’s the first, in a two part musical voyage of discovery, that features LightDreams’ unique, imaginative and innovative brand of cerebral and throught-provoking music on their captivating psychedelic, sci-fi odyssey, Islands In Space.
Cult Classic: LightDreams-Islands In Space.
Cult Classic: Ashra-Correlations.
When Manuel Göttsching released Inventions For Electric Guitar in 1975, this was meant to be the start of a new chapter in his career. Inventions For Electric Guitar was meant to be Manuel Göttsching’s debut solo album. Some eagle eyed record buyers weren’t so sure about that.
Atop the album cover to Inventions For Electric Guitar’s album were the words Ash Ra Tempel VI in small print. This muddied the waters somewhat. Did this mean that Inventions For Electric Guitar was the sixth album by Ash Ra Tempel? Maybe Manuel Göttsching had been talked into releasing one more Ash Ra Tempel album and this was the band’s swan-song? Some record buyers weren’t convinced.
If that was the case, why put Manuel Göttsching’s name on the album cover? Maybe this was paving the way for his solo career? The debate and confusion continued.
Nowadays, though, Inventions For Electric Guitar is regarded as Manuel Göttsching’s debut album. It seemed that the addition of Ash Ra Tempel VI was part of Ohr Records’ marketing campaign. Ash Ra Tempel was already a relatively well known ‘brand name’ within German music. So if record buyers didn’t recognise Manuel Göttsching’s name, there was every chance they would recognise Ash Ra Tempel. Inventions For Electric Guitar was indeed, a new chapter for him.
This new chapter continued in 1976. So did the confusion. The first place that Manuel Göttsching released his sophomore solo album New Age Of Earth, was in France. Again, the album bore the Ash Ra Tempel name. However, despite bearing the Ash Ra Tempel name, New Age Of Earth was a solo album. Manuel Göttsching had composed, played all the instruments and produced New Age Of Earth at his Studio Roma in Berlin. It seemed that the continued use of the Ash Ra Tempel name was proving problematic.
So when Manuel Göttsching signed to Virgin Records in the spring of 1977, he decided to dispense with the Ash Ra Tempel name. However, rather than release his solo albums as Manuel Göttsching, he made the decision to release them as Ashra. The first album to feature the Ashra name was New Age Of Earth. This added to the confusion.
Now there were two different versions of New Age Of Earth available. The French version bore the name Ash Ra Tempel, and the British version was credited to Ashra. However, Ashra were about to play a flying visit to Britain to promote the New Age Of Earth.
Ashra arrived in Britain in August 1977, not long after the release of New Age Of Earth. The purpose of the visit was twofold. There was the usual round of promotion meeting and gland-handling that accompanied the release of any album. Considering New Age Of Earth was Ashra’s debut for Virgin Records in Britain, there was more promotion than usual. Part of this was the second reason for the visit to London, a concert.
This was no ordinary concert. Ashra were going to play a concert at the Open-Air Theatre in Regents Park. This would mark the debut of Ashra. For Ashra, this was a high profile concert. So Manuel Göttsching brought with him, a couple of his musical friends.
To accompany him, Manuel Göttsching had brought along Lutz Ulbrich and Harald Grosskopf. They would accompany him when he took to the stage at the Open-Air Theatre in Regents Park. This would introduce the world to Ashra, and hopefully, put an end to the confusion. After this, Ashra had to return home. Manuel Göttsching had a new album to record.
Under the terms of his recording contract, Ashra had to begin work on his new album almost immediately. So on his return to Berlin, Manuel Göttsching began work on his next solo album. Recording began at Manuel Göttsching’s own Studio Roma in September 1977. He wrote and record a total of six tracks. They became Blackouts, his third solo album. It would be released by Virgin Records in 1978.
Before that, Ashra were due to fly out to Japan in late 1977. Despite being a solo artist, Manuel Göttsching decided to enlist the help of a couple of his musical friends for the Japanese tour. For the forthcoming Japanese tour, Manuel Göttsching was joined by Lutz Ulbrich and Harald Grosskopf. They became the expanded lineup of Ashra.
With the newly expanded lineup of Ashra in tow, Manuel Göttsching embarked upon the Japanese tour. It proved a huge success, with the new lineup of winning friends across Japan. After the success of the Japanese tour, Manuel Göttsching returned home, and his thoughts turned to his next album.
By then, the next Ashra album had been recorded, and Blackouts would be released in 1978, Manuel Göttsching couldn’t afford to rest on his laurels. He would need to begin work on the followup early in 1978. Most people expected it to be a solo album. After all, Manuel Göttsching had embarked upon a solo album in 1975. Since then, his star was in the ascendancy. His first two album Inventions For An Electric Guitar and New Age Of Earth were received to critical acclaim and furthered Manuel Göttsching’s reputation as a pioneer and and of the leading lights of German music. So why change what was a winning formula?
Despite this, Manuel Göttsching was beginning to think that the next Ashra album wouldn’t be a solo album. Especially given how well the trio had played during the Japanese tour. Maybe the trio should reunite for the next Ashra album. Eventually, Manuel Göttsching decided to ask Lutz Ulbrich and Harald Grosskopf to join him for the recording of his next album. That album would become Correlations, which was recently reissued as the Correlation Complete five disc box set.
When Manuel Göttsching decided to ask Lutz Ulbrich and Harald Grosskopf to join him for the recording of the next Ashra album, the pair agreed. For Lutz Ulbrich this was just like the old days, when he and Manuel Göttsching were both members of Ash Ra Tempel. The pair had recorded and released five albums between 1971 and 1973. Correlations was the first time they had recorded together for five years.
Before the record sessions began, Manuel Göttsching began rehearsing. For the rehearsals, he took Ashra to the old Ufa film studios in Berlin. Manuel Göttsching had managed to book one of the large rooms. This the other members of Ashra thought, was the perfect place to rehearse. This was just as well, it would be their second home for three weeks.
Before the rehearsals could begin, Ashra began to setup their instruments and equipment. The other thing he brought along was his trusty old Revox A77 mono tape recorder.
With the equipment setup, Manuel Göttsching pressed play as Ashra began to jam. That was all they did for the next three weeks. These lengthy sessions were recorded and would eventuality form the basis for the album.
After the rehearsals, the framework for some of the album. in place. Eventually, eight tracks were composed. Ice Train, Morgana Da Capo and Pas De Trois were written by the three members of Ashra. Manuel Göttsching wrote Oasis, Bamboo Sands and Phantasus. The other track on the album was Springtime. These tracks were recorded at three studios.
After the rehearsals, Ashra began work on the the album. Much of the recording took place at Erd-Studios, in Berlin with Ashra taking charge of production. Ashra brought along an array of traditional and modern equipment. This included Lutz Ulbrich’s guitar, synth strings, piano and mellotron. Drummer and percussionist Harald Grosskopf also brought along his synths. Manuel Göttsching came armed with an array electric guitars and synths. He also took charge of sequencing parts of Correlations. The recording took time, but eventually, Ashra completed the album.
With the album recorded and mixed, Ashra were ready to let executives at Virgin Records hear the new album. This new album, Ashra planned to call Phantasus.
When Ashra played Phantasus to the executives at Virgin Records, they weren’t impressed by the album. It wasn’t quite there yet they felt. There was still work to be done on the album.
For the three members of Ashra, this was a huge blow. They had spent months recording the album. However, Ashra seemed to be on the right road. They didn’t to rerecord the entire album. Some parts of the album had to be rerecorded.
Over the next weeks and months, the members of Ashra locked themselves away in the studio to salvage the album. Gradually, the album began to take shape. One track, Springtime didn’t make it onto to what became Correlations. Instead, it was replaced by Oasis, a Manuel Göttsching composition. Once the rerecording was complete, Manuel Göttsching handed the tapes over to the three engineers who had been chosen to remix the album.
Two studios and three engineers were used to remix Phantasus. Remixing took place at Audio Studio, in Berlin and at Panne-Paulsen Studio, in Frankfurt. The three engineers that were used were Udo Arndt, Eberhard Panne and Mick Glossop. He who ended up receiving a credit as co-producer. For Ashra, the decision to remix Phantasus was an expensive one, but one that paid off.
Phantasus which was renamed as Correlations, was a genre classic in waiting. When it was eventually released in 1979, critical acclaim would accompany the release of Correlations.
It was a genre-melting album where Ashra married elements of ambient, avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica, funk, jazz, Krautrock, post rock, progressive rock and rock.The result was an album where Ashra, now a fully fledged band, moved towards a much more rock oriented sound. This should’ve brought Ashra to the attention of a much wider audience.
Until then, Ashra had slipped under the musical radar, both at home and abroad. That was the case with the majority of the Krautrock and Berlin School bands and artists. While Ashra were by no means selling vast amounts of albums, they were more popular than many of their contemporaries. Ashra had also released several classic albums.
Correlations was just the latest. It marked another turning point in the chameleon like career of Manuel Göttsching. He had continually reinvented his music since the earliest days of Ash Ra Tempel. That had been the case since he Manuel Göttsching as a solo career. Now though, he was back as a member of a band, Ashra.
Their career had gotten off to a false start when they were Virgin Records rejected the original version of Phantasus. Maybe that was for the best? Ashra had returned with a stonewall classic album Correlations.
Correlations was the latest classic album from Ashra, which had been reinvented as a trio for Correlations. This was a new chapter in the career of Manuel Göttsching, as Ashra’s music moved towards a much more rock oriented sound. Forever the musical chameleon, Manuel Göttsching continued to reinvent his music, to ensure that it stayed relevant His determination to reinvent his music paid off, and the result was another innovative, genre-melting album, Correlations.
With his new band, Ashra created a genre-melting album where they married elements of ambient, avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica, funk, jazz, Krautrock, post rock, progressive rock and rock. The resultant album, Correlations became a genre classic album, and introduced Ashra to a much wider audience than previously. Sadly, still Ashra weren’t enjoying the commercial success and critical acclaim their music deserved despite the quality of music on Correlations. Some forty years after its release, Correlations is regarded as a cult classic and the perfect introduction to Ashra, who are a truly groundbreaking band and one of the most important in modern German musical history.
Cult Classic: Ashra-Correlations.
Cult Classic: Tom Waits-Closing Time.
It was in the summer of 1971, when Herb Cohen first saw and heard Tom Waits at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, which was one of the city’s top clubs in the city’s music scene and where many an up-and-coming singers and bands had started out before going on to greater things. Even some of the more experienced artists and bands still enjoyed playing at what was by then a legendary venue. Tom Waits who was just a twenty-two year old aspiring singer-songwriter, when he played at the Troubadour, and had already come a long way in a short space of time.
Just three years previously Tom Waits was a rebellious high school student who loved R&B, country music, Bob Dylan, the Beat Generation, The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. However, in 1968, Tom Waits dropped out of high school, and got a job Napoleon’s pizza restaurant in National City, California.
During his shifts in the pizzeria, Tom Waits listened to the patrons and often scribbled down phrases and interesting pieces of dialogue which he later used in his songs. However, when Tom Waits wasn’t working in Napoleon’s, he was part of the city’s folk scene and could often be found playing in local coffee shops. Before long, Tom Waits was playing in San Diego, and as word spread about the up-and-coming local singer he was being asked to support Tim Buckley, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and even one of his friends Jack Tempchin. By then, Tom Waits had come to the conclusion that he could go no further in San Diego, and would have to travel to the Troubadour Los Angeles to progress his career.
That was how Tom Waits was ‘discovered’ by Herb Cohen who at the time, was managing several artists including Frank Zappa, and was a record company executive and music publisher. Despite his track record, Herb Cohen didn’t off Tom Waits the all-important recording contract, and instead, signed him to a publishing contract. Herb Cohen it seemed saw Tom Waits as a songwriter rather than a singer.
Having signed a publishing contract, Tom Waits his job at Napoleon’s and moved to LA where wanted to concentrate on his songwriting career. However, in 1971 Herb Cohen had Tom Waits record the first of two demos in late summer of 1971 with producer Robert Duffey. Nothing came of these demos by the time 1971 gave way to 1972.
By early 1972, Tom Waits had found and moved into a flat in Sliver Springs, which was a working class ares that was home to the Hispanic community and a number of LA’s bohemians. The area would provide Tom Waits with a wealth of material over the next weeks and months.
Despite supposedly concentrating on his songwriting career, Tom Waits continued to play live and was a regular at the Troubadour which was where he first met David Geffen who had already cofounded Asylum Records. When David Geffen heard Tom Waits sing Grapefruit Moon he was “floored” and was so impressed with Tom Waits that, that night he offered the singer-songwriter a recording contract.
After Tom Waits had signed with Asylum Records, David Geffen paired his latest signing with Jerry Yester, who had formerly been a member of the Lovin’ Spoonful until the group split-up in 1968. After that, Jerry Yester had embarked upon a career as a producer and would produce Tom Waits’ debut album at Sunset Sound Recorders. That album would eventually become Closing Time.
With the ink barely dry on the recording contract, work began on Closing Time, with Tom Waits recording a pre-production tape at Jerry Yester’s home. The pair discussed the arrangements and what instruments should be used on the album. Already, Tom Waits had an idea of the type of album he wanted to record, and made it clear that he wanted a standup bass on Closing Time. This fitted with Tom Waits’ vision of recording a jazz-tinged album for his debut.
When the recording of Closing Time began in the spring of 1972, there was only one problem, and that was that Tom Waits and Jerry Yester weren’t going to be able to record late at night and into the early hours of the morning. The only time the studio at Sunset Sound Recorders was free was between 10am to 5pm. While this wasn’t exactly ideal, the pair knew that they had no option but to record during the daytime shift.
By the time work began at Sunset Sound Recorders, twenty-three year old Tom Waits had already written the twelve tracks that became his debut album Closing Time. Just like many singer-songwriters he had amassed a number of songs, and some would feature on Closing Time. However, songwriting wasn’t Tom Waits’ only talent.
Tom Waits who was already a talented multi-instrumentalist who played celeste, guitar, harmonium, harpsichord and piano on Closing Time. He also added his inimitable lived-in, gravelly vocal to eleven of the twelve tracks. Already, it sound as if Tom Waits, the new troubadour in town survived on a daily diet of Jack Daniels and Marlboro. It was a voice that sounded as if it had already lived several lives, and which was accompanied by some seasoned LA musicians.
This included a rhythm section that featured drummer John Seiter, double bassist Bill Plummer and guitarists Shep Cook who added backing vocals and Peter Klimes who played pedal steel on Rosie. They were joined by trumpeter Delbert Bennett Meanwhile, Jerry Yester took charge of production and guided the debutant singer through the maze that is recording a debut album.
For the first couple of days of the session at Sunset Sound Recorders, Tom Waits spent time finding his way around the studio, but after that, his nerves disappeared. So much so, that he was confident enough to voice his concerns at the direction of his debut album.
Producer Jerry Yester was intent on making Closing Time a folk based album, which wasn’t what Tom Waits wanted. He envisaged Closing Time as a jazz-tinged, which was what he wanted to make. Despite this difference of opinion, Tom Waits and Jerry Yester worked well together, and the singer soon grew in confidence and was directing his band. So much so, that when Ol’ 55 was recorded, drummer John Seiter was directed to add backing vocals and added a perfect harmony line before the chorus kicked in. It looked as if the recording going to plan.
Alas, at the end of the first recording session, nine songs had been recorded, but Tom Waits was disappointed with several songs, and Jerry Yester booked another session. This time, it took place at Western Union Recorders in Hollywood.
Joining Tom Waits bands the following Sunday was a trio of guest artists that included bassist Arni Egilsson and trumpeter Tony Terran who featured on the instrumental version of Closing Time, while cellist Jesse Ehrlich played on Martha. That day, only one song was rerecorded, Closing Time, while trumpets and strings were overdubbed. After ten days Tom Waits had recorded his debut album Closing Time.
With Closing Time completed, the album was mixed and mastered at Wally Heider Studios, in San Francisco. Now Tom Waits was ready to release his debut album.
Given David Geffen was keen to send Tom Waits into the studio to record Closing Time in the spring of 1972, the troubadour must have thought that the release of his debut album was imminent. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and it was nearly a year before Closing Time was released by Asylum Records.
Eventually, the release of Closing Time was scheduled for March the ‘6th’ 1972, which was almost a year after the album had been completed. It had been a long wait, and Tom Waits hoped that the critics and then record buyers would enjoy and embrace his debut album Closing Time.
Critics on hearing Closing Time discovered what was an eclectic album, that featured a variety of musical genres. There was everything from jazz, folk and blues to country-rock which was embraced by Rolling Stone magazine and the self-styled dean of rock critics Robert Christgau. Some critics even drew comparisons with Randy Newman which was high praise indeed. However, it was richly deserved.
Closing Time opens with Ol’ 55, a classic-in-waiting about escapism where a jangling piano sets the scene for Tom Waits’ lived-in vocal. His delivery of the cinematic lyrics is emotive on this anthemic track. There’s a wistfulness to I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You which features a contrarian Tom Waits, while Virginia Avenue which is the first of the jazz-tinged tracks. Old Shoes (and Picture Postcards) has a much more understated arrangement with guitar and backing vocals accompanying Tom Waits on this singalong song. It gives way to the jazzy Midnight Lullaby, has a smoky late-night sound, while a piano and strings accompany a vulnerable Tom Waits on the beautiful ballad Martha.
A weeping pedal steel and backing vocals accompany Tom Waits on Rosie, as he delivers a soul-baring vocal on this country-tinged piano led song. Lonely featured a melancholy, emotive vocal before the tempo rises on Ice Cream Man. It’s very different from the rest of album and this uptempo track shows another side of troubadour Tom Waits. The bluesy, jazz-tinged Little Trip To Heaven (On The Wings Of Your Love) is much more representative of Closing Time as a trumpet accompanies Tom Waits and his piano on another beautiful song. It gives way to the jazz-tinged Grapefruit Moon, before the melancholy and evocative instrumental version of Closing Time is rich in imagery and closes this impressive debut album on a high.
Despite the quality of Closing Time, the album failed to trouble the US Billboard 200, but was certified gold in Britain and reached twenty-nine in the Republic of Ireland. However, later, record buyers rediscovered Closing Time, and for many years it’s had a cult following. They’ve been won over by a Tom Waits jazz-tinged, bluesy debut album that occasionally heads in the direction of folk music as LA’s newest troubadour announces his arrival.
Closing Time was a remarkably mature album, as Tom Waits was only twenty-two when he recorded the album with Jerry Yester. However, with his lived-in, worldweary voice he sounds much older, and is if he’s lived several lives, and the lyrics on Closing Time. Despite displaying maturity beyond his years on this carefully crafted album, there’s also a sense of loneliness, melancholy and vulnerability as the lovelorn Tom Waits wears his heart on his sleeve on Closing Time.
It’s also an album that is sardonic and fully of irony as a drawling Tom Waits sometimes resorts to sneering, which comes across a defence mechanism. Other times, Closing Time has a late-night smoky sound. Especially on the jazz-tinged tracks on Closing Time, which are among the album’s highlights. Closing Time is also a melodic album full of emotion and sometimes beauty, as Tom Waits plays a variety of characters and brings their story to life. This he would do throughout his long and illustrious career, but one of the finest albums of Tom Waits’ career was his debut album Closing Time, which is the perfect way to discover this truly talented troubadour.
Cult Classic: Tom Waits-Closing Time.
Cult Classic: Gordon Jackson-Thinking Back.
Nowadays, Gordon Jackson’s 1969 lost classic Thinking Back, which has just been reissued by Sunbeam Records, is often referred to as a: “lost Traffic album.” However, that isn’t strictly true, despite Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Steve Winwood all play on Thinking Back. As is often the case, there’s more to the story of Thinking Back than meets the eye.
The story began in the spa town of Worcester, England, in 1963. That was when drummer and vocalist Jim Capaldi, who previously had been a member of The Sapphires, joined forces with guitarists Gordon Jackson from Unit Five and Dave Mason who had been a member of The Jaguars formed The Hellions. However, the nascent lineup of The Hellions was still looking for a bassist and during the first few months various bassists joined and left the band.
Eventually, The Hellions were introduced to bassist Dave Meredith, who previously, had been a member of The Cherokees. Now a four piece band, The Sapphires were soon a popular draw in the Worcester area and regularly played at the Flamingo Coffee Bar. However, this was just the start for The Hellions.
By August 1964, The Hellions had turned professional, and like The Beatles before them, headed to Star Club in Hamburg, West Germany, where they became the backing band for Tanya Day a singer from Walsall. She had recently appeared on the British television show Thank Your Lucky Stars, and was regarded as something of celebrity in Britain and Germany. The next chapter in career unfolded in Hamburg, with The Hellions
Over the next few months, The Hellions discovered just how gruelling the life of a professional musician was in West Germany. This is something that The Beatles had discovered, and the gruelling schedule helped them to improve as a band. It was a similar case with The Hellions, and another band they met in Hamburg.
This was The Spencer Davis Group, who became friendly with The Hellions. Especially The Spencer Davis Group vocalist Steve Winwood, who quickly discovered that he had much in common with Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason. The friendship that was formed in Hamburg would blossom when the two groups returned home.
After returning home, The Hellions were a much tighter band and were soon backing some of the big names who visited the Midlands, including Adam Faith and Dave Berry. However, by the end of 1964, The Hellions were ready to leave the Midlands after securing a residency at the Whisky-A-Go-Go Club in London.
This brought The Hellions to the attention of the American record producer Kim Fowley and songwriter Jackie De Shannon, who helped the band secure a recording contract with Pye.
In 1964, The Hellions released their debut single Daydreaming Of You on the Pye imprint Piccadilly. It was penned by Jackie De Shannon, and produced by Kim Fowley, but sadly, the single failed to trouble the charts. History repeated itself when The Hellions released Tomorrow Never Comes and A Little Lovin’ in 1965.
Despite their lack of commercial success, The Hellions were asked to open for American vocalist PJ Proby when he toured Britain. This The Hellions hoped would introduce their music to a new and wider audience. However, still The Hellions struggled to make a commercial breakthrough.
Although the band was still to enjoy its first hit single, The Hellions added flautist and vibraphonist John “Poli” Palmer to their lineup. However, he switched to drums, which allowed Jim Capaldi to take charge of the lead vocals.Alas, this change in The Hellions didn’t result in a change in fortune for the group.
By 1966, The Hellions were struggling financially, and the expenses were mounting with each passing week. They had no option but to return to Worcester where they had started out three years earlier. However, the music scene was very different in Worcester by 1966, and things weren’t looking good for The Hellions.
As a last roll of the disc, The Hellions released one more single in 1966. This was Hallelujah, which was credited to The Revolution, but sank without trace. It was the end of the road for one of The Hellions.
Guitarist Dave Mason left The Hellions and played with various local groups, and worked as a roadie for The Spencer Davis Group. Meanwhile, Jim Capaldi brought guitarist Luther Grosvenor who had been a member of The Wavelength onboard and renamed The Hellions as Deep Feeling.
The newly named Deep Feeling started playing in and around Birmingham, and became known for a heavier, psychedelic-tinged type of music. This they wrote themselves, and when they played live, every band member sang. When John “Poli” Palmer switched to flute or vibes, Gordon Jackson played drums. Deep Feeling was a cut above most of the bands on the Birmingham scene, and surely it was just a mater of time before they were discovered?
It was The Yardbirds manager and producer Giorgio Gomelsky that expressed an interest in Deep Feeling after seeing them play live in Cheltenham. Not long after that, Giorgio Gomelsky arranged for Deep Feeling to record their debut album. However, although the band recorded several songs, only the Jim Capaldi, Gordon Jackson and John “Poli” Palmer composition Pretty Colours was released as a single, but only in France.
Meanwhile, Deep Feeling started to travelling to London on a regular basis, and that was where they met The Animals’ manager Chas Chandler. He asked if a young, unknown American guitarist called Jimi Hendrix could join them on stage. Deep Feeling agreed and that night, three became four. Little did anyone realise that Jimi Hendrix who made his debut on a British stage with Deep Feeling would go on to become a legendary musician.
Around this time, the former Hellions guitarist Dave Mason was still drifting between bands and working as road manager for The Spencer Davis Group, who sometimes, played at The Elbow Room in Birmingham. That was there where Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason from Deep Feeling and Steve Winwood from The Spencer Davis Group would sometimes join forces with saxophonist and flautist Chris Wood who previously had been a member of Chicken Shack, and was now a member of Locomotive. However, what started out as a jam session ended up in the formation of a new band.
In early 1967,Steve Winwood announced that he was leaving The Spencer Davis Group and was about to form Traffic with Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason, and Chris Wood. This was a huge shock to the remaining members of Deep Feeling, who after careful consideration, decided to call time on the band and embark upon other musical projects.
The Solo Years.
After the demise of Deep Feeling, Gordon Jackson and John “Poli” Palmer continued to write songs together, and it looked like they had established a successful songwriting partnership. However, this changed when Georgio Gomelsky offered Gordon Jackson a recording contract with his label Marmalade Records.
Georgio Gomelsky had formed Marmalade Records in 1966, and since then, it became home to the many artists that he managed. Marmalade Records which was distributed by Polydor Records, was about to become to Gordon Jackson when he signed his recording contract, and embarked upon a solo career.
Having signed the recording contract, Gordon Jackson was soon working on his debut solo single. He wrote two new songs, Me Am My Zoo which became the single and the B-Side A Day At The Cottage on the B-Side. Both sides were produced by Dave Mason and featured the first lineup complete of Traffic. Sadly, Me Am My Zoo failed to find an audience upon its release in May 1968 and didn’t even come close to troubling the British singles’ charts.
Despite that, Georgio Gomelsky encouraged Gordon Jackson to continue writing his debut album Thinking Back. He eventually had written seven new songs which were recorded in late 1968.
Just like the recording of his debut single,Dave Mason took charge of production on Thinking Back and brought onboard Traffic who became Gordon Jackson’s backing band. They were augmented by some top musicians.
Joining the members of Traffic were Gordon Jackson’s old friend and former songwriting partner, organist and pianist John “Poli” Palmer. He was joined by bassist Rick Grech, soprano saxophonist Jim King, conga player Rocki Dzidzornu and Remic Abacca played tabla, while Chicken Shack’s Rob Blunt switched between acoustic guitar, electric guitar and electric sitar. Adding backing vocalists Julie Driscoll, Spooky Tooth’s Luther Grosvenor and Reg King, Rob Blunt switched between acoustic guitar, electric guitar and electric sitar. Gordon Jackson played acoustic and rhythm guitar and laid down the vocals on Thinking Back. Once the album was complete, Thinking Back was scheduled for release on 1969.
Before the release of Thinking Back, which had the potential to launch Gordon Jackson’s solo career, and could’ve been a profitable release for Georgio Gomelsky’s Marmalade Records the record label failed to promote the album properly. This must have been hugely disappointing for Gordon Jackson given the quality of music on Thinking Back.
When Thinking Back was released by Marmalade Records in July 1969, and was a groundbreaking and melodic fusion of folk, pop, psychedelia, rock, soul, world music and a myriad of Eastern sounds. The supergroup that played the complex music on Thinking Back were tight and versatile, on the seven songs that feature on Thinking Back.
This includes the album opener The Journey which sounds as if belongs on Traffic’s Mr. Fantasy album, until Gordon Jackson delivers his inimitable vocal on this genre-melting track. It’s a memorable and melodic fusion of drama and Eastern sounds which features elements of folk, pop and psychedelia. The tempo drops on My Ship, My Star, which is a slow, beautiful and haunting track with a spartan arrangement where just an acoustic guitar and piano accompany Gordon Jackson’s melancholy vocal. Me and My Dog originally started life as Me Am My Dog when it was released as a single, but by the time Thinking Back was released, this catchy, melodic track had taken on a new lease of life. Despite the lyrics lacking the depth of the other tracks on Thinking Back, the song still leaves a lasting memory. Very different is Song For Freedom along, where the rhythm section drive the arrangement along as horns, percussion and backing vocalists accompany Gordon Jackson on this lost dancefloor friendly sixties anthem.
Sing To Me Woman which was released as a single, but failed to chart is an out-and-out rocker that could’ve given Gordon Jackson that elusive hit single. He’s accompanied by cooing harmonies as he delivers lyrics that are rich in imagery. The seven minute epic When You Are Small is atmospheric and full of Eastern sounds as a jazzy saxophone plays, while Gordon Jackson thinks back to his youth. Closing Thinking Back is Snakes And Ladder which, has a progressive arrangement and as Gordon Jackson’s heartfelt vocal delivers lyrics that are almost surreal on this complex and carefully crafted track. It ensures that Thinking Back which is a lost classic closes on a high.
For Gordon Jackson, his debut album Thinking Back was the one that got away. It featured seven songs that were variously beautiful, haunting, lysergic and ruminative. So much so, that some of the songs on Thinking Back encourage reflection. These songs are part of an album that should’ve launched Gordon Jackson’s solo career.
Sadly, when Thinking Back was released, Marmalade Records were experiencing distribution problems, which wasn’t a good sign for Gordon Jackson. Then after Marmalade Records had pressed around 2,000 copies of Thinking Back, the label collapsed. With Marmalade Records insolvent, this was a huge blow for Gordon Jackson who many critics felt had a big future ahead of him.
While Gordon Jackson continued to play live over the next few years, he never returned to the studio and only ever recorded one single and one album. That album, Thinking Back, is a cult classic and should’ve been the start of a long and successful career for this talented singer, songwriter and musician. Sadly, Thinking Back was Gordon Jackson’s one and only album, and after the demise of Marmalade Records he spent several years playing live, before turning his back on music and embarking upon a career restoring churches. Music’s loss was liturgical restoration’s gain and Gordon Jackson never released a followup to his lost classic Thinking Back.
Cult Classic: Gordon Jackson-Thinking Back.
Cult Classic: The Bathers-Kelvingrove Baby.
The Bathers were formed in Glasgow, in 1985, by singer, songwriter and troubled troubadour Chris Thomson and released six albums between 1987 and 1999. Their fifth album was Kelvingrove Baby, which is a a minor classic, that’s one of the finest Scottish albums ever released. Sadly, Kelvingrove Baby and The Bathers is a story of what might have been.
With Chris Thomson at the helm, the Glasgow based quintet could’ve, and should’ve, been one the biggest Scottish bands ever. After all, The Bathers music is articulate, beautiful, dramatic, ethereal, elegiac, emotive, languid, literate and melancholy. This is music for those that have loved, lost and survived to tell the tale. Sadly, however, The Bathers never reached the heady heights their music deserved. As a result, the six albums The Bathers released between 1987s Unusual Places To Die and 1999s Pandemonia, never reached the audience it deserved. For Chris Thomson, history was repeating itself.
The Bathers were formed in Glasgow in 1985. They formed after Chris Thomson’s previous group Friends Again split up. Initially, The Bathers were a vehicle for singer-songwriter Chris Thomson. However, in 1987, The Bathers secured their first record deal with Go! Discs Records, and released their debut album Unusual Places To Die.
Unusual Places To Die.
For their debut album Unusual Places To Die, Chris Thomson penned ten tracks. These tracks were recorded by The Bathers’ original lineup. This included bassist Sam Loup, drummer James Locke and Chris on guitar and keyboards. Joining The Bathers, were Michael Peden of The Chimes, Douglas Macintyre and James Grant of Love and Money. They played walk on parts on Unusual Places To Die, which was released later in 1987.
When Unusual Places To Die was released in 1987, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Chris Thompson’s songs seemed to strike a nerve with critics. They described the music as variously engaging, emotive and dramatic. One critic went as far to wonder whether Unusual Places To Die was the work of a genius? Despite this critical acclaim Unusual Places To Die wasn’t a commercial success. This was nothing to do with the music though.
Instead, Unusual Places To Die fell victim to the internal politics within the record company. As a result, sales of Unusual Places To Die were poor. Given the critical response to Unusual Places To Die, this was disappointing. So, it wasn’t a surprise when The Bathers switched labels for their sophomore album, Sweet Deceit.
After the Go Discs! internal problems sabotaged the release of Unusual Places To Die, The Bathers moved to Island Records, where the recorded Sweet Deceit.
Sweet Deceit was an epic album, featuring fifteen tracks. Chris wrote thirteen of the tracks, and cowrote the other two. He co-produced Sweet Deceit with Keith Mitchell, and the album was released in 1990.
Three years had passed since Unusual Places To Die was released. The Bathers were back, and according to critics, better than ever. Sweet Deceit was described as impressionistic, beautiful and spellbinding. One critic, quite rightly referred to the album as a mini masterpiece. However, The Bathers had been here before with Unusual Places To Die.
On Sweet Deceit’s release, lightning struck twice for The Bathers. Sales of Sweet Deceit were disappointing. Despite the critically acclaimed reviews, Sweet Deceit seemed to pass record buyers by. For The Bathers, this was a huge disappointment.
Especially when Island Records didn’t renew The Bathers’ contract. There would be another gap of three years before we heard from The Bathers again. However, Chris was still making music.
Following Sweet Deceit, Chris Thomson joined with two former members of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Stephen Irvine and Neil Clark, to create a Scottish supergroup, Bloomsday. They released just one album, Fortuny, which is now regarded as a classic Scottish album. Just like The Bathers two previous albums, Bloomsday’s debut album, Fortuny, was released to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, commercial success eluded Fortuny. However, a more fruitful period was round the corner for The Bathers.
After signing a record contract with a German record label Marina, the group released three albums in a four year period. In 1993, they released Lagoon Blues, their Marina debut.
Just like Sweet Deceit, Lagoon Blues was another epic album penned by Chris Thompson. It featured sixteen songs, which were the perfect showcase for Chris’ octave defying vocal. Accompanied by what was essentially The Bathers and friends, sixteen tracks were recorded at Palladium Studios, Edinburgh and mixed at Palladium Studios and Cava Studios, Glasgow. Once Lagoon Blues was completed, it was released in 1993.
On its release in 1993, critics remarked that Lagoon Blues was a more eclectic album. There were diversions into jazz-skiffle on Pissor, while the album opener Lagoon Blues showcased a string quartet. The strings would play an important part on Lagoon Blues, which was hailed as poetic, elegant, sumptuous and intense. The same critical acclaim accompanied Lagoon Blues, however, this time The Bathers’ music found a wider audience. It seemed after three albums, The Bathers’ star was in the ascendancy.
For The Bathers’ fourth album, and followup to Lagoon Blues, they returned with Sunpowder. It marked the debut of a new lineup of The Bathers.
Sunpowder marked The Bathers’ debut of drummer and percussionist Hazel Morrison, keyboardist Carlo Scattini and string players Ian White and Mark Wilson. These new additions would change The Bathers’ sound greatly. Many people refer to this as the classic lineup of The Bathers. This classic lineup, plus guest artist ex-Cocteau Twin, Liz Fraser, who features on four tracks, made its debut on Sunpowder.
For Sunpowder, Chris Thomson had written eleven new songs. They were recorded a at Palladium Studios, Edinburgh. Chris and Keith Mitchell produced Sunpowder, which was released in 1995.
When Sunpowder was released, it received the same critical acclaim as The Bathers’ three previous albums. Sunpowder was called sumptuous, sensual, dramatic and ethereal. Liz Fraser, an honorary Bather was the perfect foil to Chris, forever the troubled, tortured troubadour. The result was, what was The Bathers most successful album, Sunpowder. That however, would change with Kelvingrove Baby.
Kelvingrove Baby would be The Bathers’ Marina swan-song. They were certainly eaving the German label on a high.
Chris Thomson had written thirteen new songs for Kelvingrove Baby, which was recorded in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was at these locations that The Bathers’ expanded lineup reconvened.
Picking up where they left off, were The Bathers’ new lineup, plus a few friends. The Bathers’ rhythm section included bassists Sam Loup, Douglas MacIntyre and Ken McHugh, drummers Hazel Morrison and James Locke, who also played percussion. Joining them in the rhythm section were guitarist Colin McIlroy. They were joined by accordionist, pianist and and organist Carlo Scattini, string players Ian White and Mark Wilson. Fermina Haze plays organ, James Grant of Love and Money plays acoustic guitar and with with Hazel Morrison and Justin Currie of Del Amitri, adds backing vocals. Chris plays acoustic guitar, piano and adds his unmistakable vocals. He produced most of Kelvingrove Baby, apart from Thrive, which was produced by James Locke. Once Kelvingrove Baby was completed, it was released in 1997.
Just like each of The Bathers’ four previous albums, Kelvingrove Baby was released to overwhelming critical acclaim. Kelvingrove Baby was hailed The Bathers’ finest hour. It seemed everything had been leading up to Kelvingrove Baby.
Opening Kelvingrove Baby, is the James Locke produced Thrive. Just a strummed acoustic guitar takes centre-stage, while subtle washes of keyboards flit in and out. They provide the backdrop for Chris Thompson’s vocal. For the first time on Kelvingrove Baby, Chris dawns the role of troubled troubadour, playing it to perfection. It’s as if he’s experience, lived through, and survived someone leaving him. His vocal is full of emotion of swells of strings sweep in. They’re the perfect accompaniment as Chris delivers the lyrics “up on the west coast waiting, I wear the rain like tears.” In doing so, Chris’ hurt and loneliness is there for all to see and hear.
Girlfriend is akin to a devotional from the pen of Chris Thomson. A piano and bass probe, while a cymbal is caresses. This sets the stage for Chris’ tender, emotive vocal. There’s almost disbelief in his voice that he’s found someone to call his own. He’s fallen head over heels, hence lyrics like “I’m the kind of guy, whose dreams rise unashamed, who will love you ’til the end, cos you’re my girlfriend.” With just a subtle, meandering piano, understated drums, washes of ethereal harmonies and crystalline guitar, Chris delivers a heartfelt devotional.
If Love Could Last Forever is the perfect showcase for The Bathers’ unique brand of cerebral, literate and poetic pop. After all, who apart from The Bathers write: “they flutter down like fireflies, tugging at your sleeves, somehow rise to shame you, bring you to your knees?” It’s a beautiful, soul-searching song about love. That’s the case from the opening bars, when an acoustic guitar is strummed, a guitar chimes and drums mark the beat. Then, longingly and hopefully, Chris, accompanied by cooing harmonies, sings “ If Love Could Last Forever, forever and a day.” Effortlessly, Chris breathes life, meaning and emotion into what’s a timeless paean.
While East Of East Delier has an understated arrangement, it allows Chris to unleash his full and impressive vocal range. Drums are caressed and a piano meanders. Meanwhile, a bass adds an element of darkness. This is reflected in the hurt, loneliness and regret in Chris’ vocal. His vocal soars above the arrangement, with frustration omnipresent at the love he once had and lost.
Accompanied by firmly strummed acoustic guitar No Risk No Glory, unfolds. A guitar chimes as fingers flit up and down the fretboard. Meanwhile, Chris’ vocal is a mixture of power, emotion and hurt. The hurt is obvious from the moment he sings “I was born to love her,” it’s a case of infatuation and unrequited love. With harmonies, an accordion and guitars for company, Chris delivers a cathartic outpouring of hurt. He wouldn’t have it any other way, singing ruefully “no risk, no glory.”
Dramatic and moody describes the dark, but sparse piano lead introduction to Once Upon A Time On The Rapenburg. If a picture tells a thousand stories, so does a piano. It sets the scene for Chris, as once again, he dawns the role of troubled troubadour. With shimmering strings and a deliberate gothic piano for company, Chris remembers the love affair that almost was.
Kelvingrove Baby is the centre-piece of Kelvingrove Baby. It’s a seven minute epic about an unnamed femme fatale from Glasgow’s West End who toyed with Chris’ affections. From just a strummed guitar and subtle piano, the arrangement builds. The piano plays a more prominent role, adding an element of drama. After ninety seconds drums pound and ethereal harmonies sweep in. They give way to Chris’ worldweary, lived-in vocal. Meanwhile, Hazel Morrison adds ethereal, elegiac harmonies. This seems to spur Chris on. Using his wide vocal range, he unleashes a needy vocal tour de force. Hopefully, he sings “someday I know, that you’ll be back…I don’t know, maybe then you can be my Kelvingrove Baby.” Behind him, the epic, ethereal and dramatic arrangement is the perfect accompaniment for what’s without doubt, The Bathers’ finest hour on Kelvingrove Baby.
Memories come flooding back to Chris on Girl From The Polders. Instantly, he’s transported back to another time and place. That’s when they first met, and where “I first kissed you.” With the rhythm section and piano providing a backdrop, Chris delivers another hopeful, needy vocal. He hopes that when summer returns, and heads back to Poolewe, his “songbird, melodious and pure,” is there.
Against a backdrop of quivering strings, Chris delivers a vocal on Lost Certainties that’s equal parts power, passion, frustration and sadness. Below the vocal and strings, the rhythm section drives the arrangement along, adding to the drama and intensity of this soul-baring refrain about a bewitching woman.
After the intensity of Lost Certainties, Dial has a much looser, laid-back sound. Chris eschews the power of the previous track, as The Bathers deliver an understated, spacious, melodic track. Hazel Morrison, James Grant and Justin Currie add harmonies that are yin to Chris’ yang, as he almost croons his way through Dial.
Orchestral strings and a pounding rhythm section set the scene for Chris’ vocal on The Fragrance Remains Insane. There’s an intensity in Chris’ lovelorn vocal, on this tale of love gone wrong. He’s struggling to come to terms with the breakup of his relationship, despite his claims “that I’m not crazy about you.”
If Chris Thomson had been born twenty years earlier, he’d have been a crooner. That’s apparent on Hellespont In A Storm, where he literally croons his way through the track. Accompanied by washes of accordion, swathes of strings, a subtle rhythm section and acoustic guitar. As Chris croons, emotion and regret are omnipresent. Especially when he sings “spread your wings, above you, the time has come to fly away, where I can’t follow.” Given this is the ultimate sacrifice, the beauty and emotion is almost overwhelming.
The piano lead Twelve, closes Kelvingrove Baby. Chris lays bare his soul, accompanied by his trusty piano. Later, swathes of lush strings sweep in. They provide the accompaniment to a telephone conversation, on this story of everlasting love.
For The Bathers, Kelvingrove Baby was a musical coming of age. It’s as if everything they’d been working towards was leading to Kelvingrove Baby. The music was variously atmospheric, cerebral, dramatic, ethereal, heartfelt, hopeful, literate, needy and sensual. It’s also tinged with pathos, regret and sadness. No wonder, given the tales of love found and lost. They’re brought to life by The Bathers’ very own troubled troubadour Chris Thomson. Along with the rest of The Bathers, they’re responsible for Kelvingrove Baby, a truly enthralling album.
On Kelvingrove Baby, the music is captivating. So much so, that you’re drawn into Kelvingrove Baby’s lush, atmospheric sound. Having captured your attention, The Bathers don’t let go. Before long, the listener has fallen in love. They fall in love with music that’s hauntingly beautiful, emotive, dramatic and pensive. Much of this is thanks to Chris Thomson’s peerless vocal performances. He plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee. His worldweary, emotive, heartfelt and impassioned vocal sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics he’s singing about. Lived them not just once, but several times over. As a result, Kelvingrove Baby is akin to a snapshot into Chris Thomson’s life, and very soul. Indeed, Kelvingrove Baby sounds a very personal album from The Bathers’ troubled troubadour, Chris Thomson. Kelvingrove Baby was a career high from The Bathers. However, two years later, somehow, The Bathers managed to top Kelvingrove Baby.
Pandemonia, which was released in 1999, was The Bathers’ swan-song. Just like Kelvingrove Baby, the critically acclaimed Pandemonia, should’ve transformed The Bathers’ career. Sadly, despite oozing quality, The Bathers’ cerebral, literate and melodic brand of chamber pop failed to find the wider audience it deserved. As a result, The Bathers remained almost unknown apart from loyal band of discerning music lovers.
After Pandemonia, most people expected The Bathers to return after a couple of years with their seventh album. That wasn’t to be. Two years became three, became five, ten and fifteen. Now, twenty years have passed since the release of Pandemonia. Throughout the last twenty years, there have been rumours that another Bathers album is in the pipeline. With every year, that looks even more unlikely. However, maybe, they’ll return out of the blue with their seventh album.
The Bathers are unlike most bands. They’re enigmatic, almost reclusive and publicity shy. Quite simply, The Bathers aren’t exactly your normal band. Not for them the rock “n” roll lifestyle favoured by other bands. In many ways, musical fashions and fads didn’t affect them. Their attitude was almost contrarian. Albums were recorded slowly and methodically. It was as if The Bathers were striving for perfection. On Kelvingrove Baby and Pandemonia, they almost achieved the impossible. What’s more they did it their way.
This means The Bathers aren’t willing to jump onto a musical bandwagon in pursuit of fame, fortune or starlets. Quite the opposite. It seemed to be their way or no way, in the pursuit of musical perfection. By perfection this means music that cerebral, dramatic, emotive, ethereal, literate and melodic. That describes The Bathers’ fifth album Kelvingrove Baby perfectly. Kelvingrove Baby saw The Bathers strive for perfection, and very nearly, achieve the impossible.
Cult Classic: The Bathers-Kelvingrove Baby.
Cult Classic: Linda Perhacs -Parallelograms.
In 1970, twenty-seven year old dental hygienist Linda Perhacs released her debut album Parallelograms. Some people wondered why it had taken Linda so long. After all, she was a musical prodigy.
Linda Long was born in Mill Valley, which lies just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in 1943. By the time she was six or seven, Linda was able to write write quite complicated compositions. She was gifted. However, as is often the case with gifted children, her teachers didn’t maybe realise this. This didn’t stop Linda enrolling in the University of Southern California.
At University of Southern California, Linda majored in dental hygiene. This allowed her to work and study. Her course also allowed Linda to explore what was unfolding around her. Remember, this was the start of the counterculture explosion. San Francisco was central to this. Being around this meant Linda was exposed to a many different cultures. It was the same with art and music. For Linda, this was creatively stimulating and would change the course of her life.
Having graduated from University of Southern California, Linda began working with periodontist. During this period, Linda immersed herself in the various philosophies that were popular. Essentially, she taught her to mediate and rid herself of negative energy. This helped her and her patients. It may also have helped Linda develop as songwriter.
Away from work, Linda and her sculptor husband used to enjoy walking in the city’s public parks. It was during these walks that Linda was first inspired to write songs. This was something Linda hadn’t done since she and her husband moved to Topanga Canyon.
Indeed, Linda hadn’t written songs for a while. Throughout her University days, Linda hadn’t been involved in making music. However, she loved music. Topanga Canyon was full of artists and musicians. So, it was the perfect place for an aspiring singer-songwriter. With an environment that inspired her, and the sense of hope that was prevalent during the second half of the sixties, this marked the cultural blossoming of Linda Perhacs.
What also inspired Linda was her travels. She spent time travelling up the Big Sur coastline, right through Mendocino, the Pacific Northwest and to Alaska. This was her road rip. So was a trip to Chimacum, on the Olympic Peninsula. These journeys were what inspired Linda to write songs. Linda stresses her journeys inspired her. Drugs played no part in stimulating her creativity. Her songs come from her experiences in life.
This includes the colours, patters and shapes that she’s seen since she was a child. Again, they’re not the result of recreational drugs. No. They’re a phenomenon that many people experience. These colours, patters and shapes inspired Linda, who soon, would be one step releasing her first album.
Linda was, by now, working in the office of Beverley Hills’ periodontist. That’s where Linda met film soundtrack composer Leonard Rosenman and his wife Kay. Linda would ask them about their forthcoming projects. Then one day Leonard said to Linda “I can’t believe that clinical work is all you do.” So, Linda told them about her music and played a tape of one of her songs. These were songs she’d recorded during her travels. Leonard took the songs home to listen to them. The next day, Linda was offered a record contract.
When Linda handed Leonard the tape, she thought that Leonard was wanting to hear a glimpse of the type of music younger people were making. After all, Leonard had a lot of projects on the go. However, that didn’t stop him offering to produce Linda’s debut album. The song that made him make that offer was the Parallelograms, which would be the title-track of Linda’s debut album. Leonard referred to this track as “visual music composition.”
Once Leonard made the offer to produce Linda’s debut album, she headed to his home. Once there, she met musicians and singers she’d only read about. It was then that Leonard explained the his concept of “visual music composition.” Leonard who’d been a composer all his life, had never been able to achieve this. Linda had. He explained that Parallelograms was different from the other tracks. They were songs. Parallelograms was different. Each of the component parts were interactive to the composer as three-dimensional sound. It’s akin to sculpting with ice, where the result is essentially a type of light and dance. For Linda, this was the way she’d always written. However, now Linda was going to take this one step further and record what became Parallelograms.
Parallelograms featured eleven tracks. Linda wrote ten of them. The exception was Hey, Who Really Cares? which Linda cowrote with Oliver Nelson wrote. Producer Leonard Rosenman brought in an all-star cast of musicians.
When recording of Parallelograms began, Leonard Rosenman and Linda were aiming to sculpt a series of soundscapes full of textures, colours and shapes. The music Linda hoped, would be “softer and ethereal.” Accompanying her were some legendary musicians. This included Shelley Mann and Milt Jackson on percussion. The rhythm section included Reinie Press on electric bass and Fender guitar and Steve Cohn on lead and 12-string guitar. John Neufield played flute and saxophone, Leonard Rosenman electronic effects and Tommy harmonica. Brian Ingoldsby was tasked with using an electrified shower hose for horn effects. Parallelograms was no ordinary album. It was truly groundbreaking.
On its release in 1970, Parallelograms was released to critical acclaim, but sadly, this psychedelic folk classic wasn’t the huge commercial success it should’ve been. This wasn’t helped by the record company’s failure to promote Parallelograms Linda, like so many other hugely talented artists failed to enjoy their commercial success and critical acclaim. So Linda returned to her job as a periodontist and nothing was heard of Parallelograms until the nineties. Since then, it has become a cult class. Interest in Parallelograms grows with each year. Maybe only now do people fully understand and appreciate this seminal, lost classic which I’ll tell you about.
The wistful Chimacum Rain opens Parallelograms. It has an understated, acoustic arrangement. That’s perfect for Linda’s tender, ethereal vocal. She also adds harmonies. They cascade and surround you, like the rain Linda is singing about. Her vocal has a dreamy, lysergic song. It’s captivating. You’re drawn to and seduced by its ethereal beauty.
Just guitars set the scene for Linda’s vocal on Paper Mountain Man. Her vocal is slow, sultry and deliberate. It’s as if she’s taking care with her phrasing and diction. Behind her, her small tight band mix blues and country. A scorching blues harmonica, guitars and percussion join forces. They leave plenty of space in the arrangement for Linda’s vocal. It’s a mixture of power, emotion and control, that’s yin to the arrangement’s yang.
Ethereal and heartfelt describes Linda’s vocal on Dolphin. She’s accompanied by a lone guitar that reminds me of Nick Drake. Linda delivers a vocal that’s spellbinding in its beauty. It’s quite simply, haunting and captivating.
Call Of The River is reminiscent of Chimacum Rain. Just a guitar accompanies Linda’s vocal. It’s sung with feeling, as cascading harmonies accompany Linda. They’re sung by Linda and compliment her vocal. The same can be said of the arrangement. It’s understated, spacious and dreamy. It also allows Linda’s vocal to take centre-stage on a track that epitomises everything that’s good about psych-folk.
Just like the previous tracks, Sandy Toes is a carefully crafted soundscape. Here, psych-folk and country combine. An electric bass joins a chiming guitar and percussion. They provide the backdrop to Linda’s vocal. She proceeds to paint pictures. Close your eyes and they come to life. Her cinematic lyrics and tender, heartfelt vocal prove a potent combination, as we hear another side to Linda Perhacs.
Parallelograms is the track that grabbed Leonard Rosenman’s attention. It’s a musical sculpture full of textures, colours and shapes. They drift in and out, to be replaced by something else. From understated and ethereal, darkness and drama makes an appearance. Soon, the lysergic, dreamy and experimental sound makes me think of Alice In Wonderland. You loose yourself in this sonic experiment, drifting away to another place and time. It’s as if the doors of perception have been opened. The only problem is, you neither want the song to finish, nor the doors to close.
Hey, Who Really Cares? is another track where Linda is just accompanied by acoustic guitar. Her vocal is rueful and full of melancholia. It’s joined by a bass, that hesitantly probes its way through the arrangement. Effects and guitars compliment Linda’s wistful vocal. She’s despairing, wondering “if anyone really cares.” Her pain seems real as she breathes life, meaning and emotion into a song where pathos and pain are ever-present.
Slow and space describes the drums that open Moons And Cattails. Chiming, crystalline guitars quiver and shiver, before Linda’s dreamy, lysergic vocal floats above the arrangement. It’s as if it’s been caught in “sandstorm” she’s singing about. After that, her vocal is deliberate and dramatic. Adding to the drama are drums played by hand and shimmering, weeping guitar. Together, this results in a track that dramatic, moody and atmospheric.
Hesitantly, a line guitars plays as Morning Colors unfolds. It’s all that accompanies Linda, as she delivers a vocal that’s heartfelt and full of sincerity. Just like other tracks, her lyrics have a cinematic quality. They’re also cerebral, haunting and beautiful. The same can be said of the flute and horn that later, accompanies Linda. They’re addition takes the direction of jazz, sometimes free jazz. This compliments the rest of the arrangement and highlights the lyrics, as takes on the role of storyteller. Using her voice like an artist uses his palette, Linda paints pictures that come to life before your eyes.
Porcelain Baked-Over Cast-Iron Wedding was one of the earliest songs Linda wrote. She wrote it in 1969. It’s an uptempo, guitar driven track. Guitars are panned left and right, enveloping Linda’s vocal. She seems determined to make the song swing. This shows another side to her. She’s accompanied by percussion, drums and bass. Linda’s vocal is full of irony, and her lyrics full of social comment at perceived stereotypes. Her combination of intelligent lyrics and subtle hooks are another example of Linda’s versatility and talent as a singer and songwriter.
Delicious closes Parallelograms. Linda’s slow, tender, ethereal vocal is joined by a guitar, as the arrangement meanders along. Her vocal soars elegantly above the arrangement, while the guitar ambles along. Cascading harmonies flit in and out. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Linda’s vocal. It’s one of her best vocals. Ethereal, heartfelt, tender and beautiful, it’s a tantalising taste of what Linda Perhacs is capable of.
Following the release of Parallelograms, it failed commercially. This wasn’t anything to do with the music. Instead, it was the record company’s failure to promote Parallelograms. As a result, Linda, like so many other hugely talented artists, failed to enjoy their commercial success and critical acclaim their talent deserves. So Linda returned to her job as a periodontist.
Nothing was heard of Parallelograms until the nineties. Since then, it has become a cult class. Interest in Parallelograms grows with each year. Maybe only now do people fully understand and appreciate this seminal, lost classic from an artist who should’ve enjoyed a long and successful career.
Looking back, Linda admits that, much as she loved music, she didn’t seem to have the drive required to make a career as a musician. She did, however, have the talent. Linda was blessed with an abundance of talent. That’s apparent listening to her critically acclaimed debut album Parallelograms.
Parallelograms is a flawless fusion of Americana, country, folk, pop, psychedelia and rock. There’s even a twist of ambient, drone pop, experimental and jazz. It’s potent and heady brew that showcases one of music’s hidden gems, Linda Perhacs.
She’s only released three albums between 1970 and 2017 This includes 2014s The Soul Of Natural Things and and 2017s I’m A Harmony. Target mark the welcome return of a truly talented and innovative singer-songwriter.
The Soul Of Natural Things was the long awaited followup to Parallelograms, and Linda Perhacs picked up where she left off in 1970. It was if she had never been away. Incredibly, forty-four years had passed before Linda returned with the followup to Parallelograms. It showcases Linda Perhacs who nearly fifty years after releasing Parallelograms is still one of music’s best kept secrets. .
Parallelograms features a hugely talented singer and songwriter, Linda Perhacs. Then there was producer Leonard Rosenman, an ambitious, innovator who in Linda, found a musical soul-mate who wanted to push musical boundaries to their limits. The result was Parallelograms an ambitious, innovative and flawless lost classic. It features the ethereal sound of Linda Perhacs, as she breathes, life, meaning, beauty and emotion into the eleven songs on Parallelograms which is a cult classic that is belatedly receiving the plaudits, praise and critical acclaim that it so richly deserves.
Cult Classic: Linda Perhacs -Parallelograms.