BLACK ROOTS-SON OF MAN.
In the British reggae scene, Black Roots are viewed as respected elder statesmen. That’s fitting. Black Roots have been making music for over thirty years. Still, though, their music is powerful and full of social comment. That’s the case on their new album Son Of Man, which was released on Soulbeat Records. It features eleven new songs, where Black Roots highlight injustice and speak up for the poor, disenfranchised and dispossessed. This is something that Black Roots have been doing since they were first formed in 1979.
As the Black Roots story began in 1979, change swept across Britain on 3rd May 1979. Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister with a majority of sixty. Britain now had a Conservative government. Among the interested onlookers were the members of Black Roots. They wondered what the future held for them, and the rest of their generation?
By the early eighties, many people had discovered that Britain wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to live in anymore. Especially the unemployed, disabled, poor or elderly. They were all part of an underclass who it seemed, were despised by the right wing Thatcherite government. Britain in the words of the politicians was “broken.”
Unemployment was over two million, and Inflation was rising. The future looked bleak. To make matters worse, poverty and racism was rife. It was no surprise that eventually, riots broke out in Liverpool, London, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham. Some commentators saw this as the disenfranchised fighting back.
Many of those who fought back, thought there was no other way. They had had enough. No longer could they walk the streets without being constantly stopped and searched.
Stop and search was one of the most controversial pieces of legislation the police had been using. The powers to stop and search had been instigated under The Vagrancy Act 1824. The new powers enabled police officers to stop and search anyone based upon “reasonable suspicion” that an offence had been committed. In reality, stop and search was often used a fishing trip by the police. To make matters worse, in many inner cities, a disproportionate amount of young black men were victims of stop and search. They had done nothing wrong, and instead, were British citizens going about their lawful business in a peaceful manner. This wasn’t going to end well.
That was the case in 1981, “the year of the riots.” Across England, communities literally exploded. Often, when the dust settled, heavy handed policing was to blame. Especially, when it came to the use of stop and search. So on 27th August 1981, the power to stop and search was repealed when the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 received assent. Maybe things were starting to change?
That looked unlikely. In 1980, Margaret Thatcher gave her “the lady’s not for turning” speech. It seemed the Conservatives were not going to be derailed. Those that took to the streets saw a government that seemed unwilling to listen, never mind change. The only alternative was to make the government listen.
The chances of this happening were slim. Those that weren’t poor, unemployed, disabled or elderly weren’t willing to upset the apple cart. They led comfortable lives in middle class, middle England. Safe in the suburbs, they weren’t willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with disenfranchised and dispossessed. So it was left to writers, philosophers, poets and musicians to provide a voice for the disenfranchised and dispossessed. This would include Black Roots.
By 1983, the eight piece Bristol-based band were one of the rising stars of the reggae scene. Black Roots had toured the length and breadth of Britain, and soon, had a large following. Especially, in colleges and universities. Audiences were won over by what Black Roots described as “militant pacifism” roots reggae. It struck a nerve with the bright young minds who were hoping to graduate from colleges and universities across Britain, and enter the workplace. In 1983, this seemed unlikely.
Unemployment was at record levels since the depression. Still the ‘lady’ wasn’t for turning. Things were break in Britain. Bristol, Black Roots’ home city was no different. Unemployment, poverty, racism, disquiet and unrest were almost omnipresent. However, the disenfranchised and dispossessed didn’t have a voice. The eight members of Black Roots decided they would became their voice.
Later in 1983, Black Roots released their eponymous debut album. It featured Black Roots’ unique brand of militant roots reggae. They highlighted injustice and the way large parts of communities had become alienated by the political reform introduced by the Thatcher government. Britain it seemed, was broken; maybe even beyond repair?
That’s how it looked. Right up until 1985, many parts of England were like a powder keg, just waiting to explode. Often it did, The disenfranchised and dispossessed felt they had no option but to take to the streets, and riots broke out. However, as 1985 drew to a close, the riot years were over.
By 1986, a lot had happened to Black Roots. They continued to tour constantly. Black Roots had also released their sophomore album The Front Line in 1984. This seemed fitting, as in parts of Britain, it was like a war zone, with the disenfranchised and dispossessed taking to The Front Line in an effort to have their voice heard. Black Roots were also The Front Line, but used their music to provide a voice for the disenfranchised and dispossessed. Someone was listening.
Soon, Black Roots were making their way to Broadcasting House to record a series of sessions for Radio 1. These sessions allowed Black Roots’ music to be heard by a much wider audience than they played to in several tours. This was a huge break. So was when highlights of the sessions were released in 1985 as the Black Roots ‘In Session’ cassette. By the end of 1985, things were looking up for Black Roots.
The remainder of the eighties saw Black Roots continue to tour and record. Their third album All Day All Night, was released in 1987, but was their first album for Nubian Records. It would become home to Black Roots for over a decade.
When Ina Different Style was released on Nubian Records in 1988, it marked a stylistic change from Black Roots. This was their first adventure in dub. It wouldn’t be their last. Before that Black Roots would release two more albums.
The first was their first live album, Live Power. Released in 1989, Live Power was a reminder of how good a live band Black Roots were. That was no surprise. Black Roots had spent much of the last ten years touring Britain. They were a familiar face in venues the length and breadth of Britain. Especially in colleges and universities, where their songs about injustice would be welcomed and embraced. Some of the people in the audience could they hoped, in the future, make a difference and make Britain a better place.
As the nineties dawned, Black Roots were now into their third decade making music. However, it had been nearly three years since Black Roots had released a studio album. It was time to rectify this.
Later in 1990, Natural Reaction, another album of roots reggae was released by Black Roots. This was the Bristol-based eight-piece’s fifth studio album. It’s not just social comment than can be found on Natural Reaction. There’s emotion and spiritually on an album that was well received by critics. This didn’t stop Black Roots going for another adventure in dub.
Dub Factor: The Mad Professor Mixes was released in 1991, and was Black Roots’ second dub album. Just like Ina Different Style, this latest adventure in dub was well received. It seemed Black Roots were willing to experiment, so that their music stayed relevant. This included collaborating with some familiar faces within the British reggae scene.
Two years passed before Black Roots returned with With Friends in 1993. It was a collaboration with some of the biggest names in the British reggae scene. This included Dub Judah, Mickey Forbes, Trevor Dixon and B.B. Seaton. They joined Black Roots on ten new tracks. While this was a welcome release, and one that was well received by critics and cultural commentators, some of Black Roots’ fans wondered when they would next release a noter studio album?
When Black Roots announced the release of their next album in 1994, the wait for a studio album went on. Fans weaned on militant roots reggae discovered that the next album was Dub Factor 2-The Dub Judah Mixes. The wait went on in 1995, when Dub Factor 3-“In Captivity” Dub Chronicles-Dub Judah/Mad Professor Mixes was released. Still the wait for a studio album continued.
Two years became three and four. Still there was no sign of another studio album from Black Roots. Was this the end of the group once hailed as “the next great hope for [British] reggae?” It seemed like it. Black Roots decided to call time on their career in the mid-nineties.
Nothing was heard of Black Roots until the next millennia. Then in 2004, a compilation On The Frontline was released. Things went all quiet until 2011, when The Reggae Singles Anthology was released on Bristol Archive Records. Some critics thought that was release meant it was the end of the road for Black Roots. If it was, The Reggae Singles Anthology a limited edition release, seemed a fitting farewell to one of the most eloquent of the British roots reggae groups. Little did anyone realise that Black Roots were about to make a comeback.
This came in April 2012, when six of the original members of Black Roots began to record an album of new material, On The Ground. It was well received upon its release in 2012, some nineteen years after their Black Roots’ previous studio album, With Friends. Belatedly, Black Roots were back, just in time. They were the musical superheroes with a social conscience.
Two years previously, a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in 2010. By 2012, the junior partners were enjoying the once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of the decision making process. Suddenly, principles forgotten about as the heady scent of power hung in the air. With a seat at the Cabinet at stake, the disenfranchised and dispossessed were forgotten about. The worst that could happen to the junior partners was they loose their seats at the next election, and retire with a healthy pension and string of directorships.
That’s what happened in 2015. By then, Black Roots had released another new album Ghetto Feel in 2014. It was released on the Soulbeats’ label. The voice of the disenfranchised and dispossessed were back, and were determined to make a difference. However, in 2015, things took a turn for the worse.
Politically, Britain lurched to the right. Many of the junior partners lost their seats, and retired with their pension pots and directorships. This left the the most right wing government in living history with a mandate to govern. Things were about to get messy, very quickly.
The newly elected government announced their plans for the age of austerity. They were determined to go further than previous Conservative governments had gone. Public spending wasn’t just cut, it was slashed. Especially on the welfare state. Hardest hit were the unemployed, disabled, poor and elderly. Suddenly, they that found themselves choosing between eating or heating their home. However, the Conservatives weren’t finished yet.
With wars raging around the Middle East and North Africa, many refugees were came to Britain seeking political asylum from tyrannical regimes. However, they discovered that there was no room at the inn. This was after all, the age of austerity. For many onlookers and commentators this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. This included Black Roots.
They returned to the studio in 2015, and recorded eleven new songs. These songs became Son Of Man, which was recently released on Soulbeat Records. Just like on previous albums, Black Roots combine social comment, melodies and hooks on Son Of Man. Accompanied by harmonies and horns, Black Roots deliver lyrics that are uncompromising, and provide a voice for the poor, disenfranchised and dispossessed. Especially the victims of the age of austerity and the refugees fleeing the Middle East and North Africa. These are two of the subjects that feature on Son Of Man.
Son of Man opens with the title-track. Quickly, Black Roots’ thirty-seven years of experience shines through. The rhythm section unite with stabs of braying horns. They’re the perfect backdrop for the vocal, which asks: “hey you Son Of Man where’s your heart?” Augmented by harmonies, Hammond organ and the crack rhythm, with the bass to the fore, anger frustration and disappointment shine through in the vocal. Especially when delivering lyrics like: “corruption are their only paradise.” Even then, there’s a soulfulness to this melodic slice of roots reggae with a social conscience. It seems thirty-seven years after Black Roots were founded, they’ve not lost their ability to deliver lyrics full of social comment.
This continues on War Zone, where a hypnotic fusion of horns and the rhythm section set the scene for the vocal. When it enters, it grabs your attention with “it’s like a War Zone, people leave their children and go, it’ll be me or you, that’s what they want us to do.” In an instant, Black Roots at their most eloquent, provide a voice for the dispossessed.
All Sing The Song Key sees Black Roots turn their attention to religion. Keyboards and an electric piano combine with the rhythm section. They provide the heartbeat as horns blaze and bray. When the vocal enters, the lyrics seem to have a spiritual quality. Especially with lyrics like: “repent and your Lord will save you.” That’s until the lyric: “my God is the one Bob Marley, look no further than yourself for your saviour.” Black Roots are too worldly-wise than to pin their colours to the mast of a religion. “When you hear one, your hear them all.” This doesn’t stop Black Roots asking: “heal him, to make ends meet.” Like many people, it seems, when they’re desperate, religion is their last resort. By then, synths strings and harmonies have swept in, and join the horns in providing a backdrop to Black Roots as they explore the subject of religion, in what’s a thoughtful, melodic and hook-heavy song.
There’s another change of style and tempo on One Ebony Girl. A drum roll gives way to synths, before the rhythm section, percussion and horns create a jaunty, joyous arrangement. The vocal sings of a new life coming into the world, “One Ebony Girl.” This is a cause for celebration, so the rhythm section, percussion, Hammond organ and harmonies augment the vocal, on this celebration of the miracle of life.
Drums rattle earnestly on Prevention, as if demanding the listener’s attention. Soon horns bray, while washes of the Hammond organ lock join the rhythm section in creating a tight, groove. This is perfect backdrop for the vocal, as it delivers a words of wisdom. They apply to many facets of modern life, and if heeded, the world might be a better place “Prevention is better than the cure.”
The drums that open Guess Who are similar to those on Prevention. Soon horns blaze, while washes of the Hammond organ lock join the rhythm section in creating a churning, backdrop. As the vocal delivers the spiritual lyrics, chiming guitars and a big, bold, bounding bass play leading roles. So does the heartfelt vocal as this melodic musical parable unfolds.
Wake Up’s roots seem to be in classic seventies reggae. There’s more than a nod to Bob Marley and The Wailers. That’s not surprising. The members of Black Roots may have grown up listening to his music. However, Black Roots are a tight, talented group, with thirty-seven years experience behind them. Together, they create a slow, shuffling arrangement. Washes of Hammond organ join stabs of horns while the rhythm section put their experience to good use. Meanwhile, a heartfelt vocal is sung in a call and response style. It asks: “won’t you Wake Up and penetrate my soul.” By then, it’s obvious that this is Black Roots’ finest hour, as they roll back the years.
The first few chords to Can’t Get Out Of That sound not unlike the introduction The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. That’s the only similarity as horns blaze, percussion plays and the rhythm section combine with harmonies and the Hammond organ. It’s a heady and irresistible brew. There’s a degree of sadness in the vocal, as with an air of resignation it delivers the lyrics: “Can’t Get Out Of That.” One can’t help but wonder what crime was committed? When the vocal drops out, a guitar takes centre-stage, a delivers a crystalline solo. All too soon, it’s over and the story continues, with “the police siren wails, can’t get you out of that.” Still there’s an air of resignation and despair. That’s despite the irresistible backdrop created by the rest of Black Roots.
Black Roots hit the ground running on Trickle Trickle Treat. Horns blaze, while keyboards accompany the rhythm section. Together, they provide a dramatic backdrop, as lyrically Black Roots remember a night out in Manchester. What should’ve been a night with friends, takes a sinister turn, in the stop and search days. It sounds a painful reminder of the past, as the conversation with the police is recollected. Harmonies augment the vocal, while growling horns add an angry backdrop. It’s a a shameful reminder of what life for many people was like, in English cities in the early eighties.
Deliberate drums, stabs of horns and keyboards combine to create an element of drama on Poor Old Mama. As perfusions plays, a rumbling bass accompanies the vocal. Soon, memories come flooding back, of a family all “living together under the one roof.” Not any more. Poor Old Mama has grown old, and is a victim of austerity. She lives a hand to mouth existence. Sadness and frustration fill the vocal and harmonies. Then at the breakdown, it’s the guitar that takes centre-stage again. It’s allowed longer in the spotlight, before the vocal returns. When it does, it’s impassioned and emotive, and realises that around the world there’s lots of people in the same situation as Poor Old Mama. The only difference is where they live, and in some cases, ‘the colour of their skin.”
Rolls of drums signal the arrival of horns, keyboards and the rhythm section on One Thing, which closes Son Of Man. Again, the bass is at the front of the mix, playing a prominent role. Meanwhile, vocal sings “a penny overdrawn they charge you, and write you a letter, £27 it costs you.” This brings home the irony, that the banks are only making a bad situation worse. However, Black Roots realise: “it’s a case that you can’t win.” Later, Black Roots ponder the banking bail out, wondering: “where it’s all gone?” Anger fills the vocal, as Black Roots sing about: “institutional bankers giving to the rich.” Back then, Rome was burning, but nobody had noticed, or if they had, wanted to phone the fire brigade. So it’s no wonder Black Roots are angry. Just like with other subjects, they speak for those without a voice on Son Of Man.
Throughout Son Of Man, Black Roots provide a voice for the poor, disenfranchised and dispossessed. They’ve been doing that since they released their eponymous debut album in 1983. Since then, they’ve doing this eloquently. Their latest album Son Of Man, is no different.
Black Roots highlight injustice, while speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves. They’re the people who have been let down and betrayed by successive governments. This includes the old and infirm, the disabled, unemployed and poor. None of these people have a voice. They’ve been forced to sit back whilst one government almost ruined Britain financially forever. However, the guilty parties don’t pay a price. Instead, its an voiceless underclass who can’t fight back. They don’t have a voice. On Son Of Man, Black Roots provide a voice for them on One Thing. Then on other tracks, they turn their attention to other matters.
This includes the refugees fleeing persecution in the Middle East and North Africa. Black Roots go to bat for them, and provide a voice for them. However, this is no surprise. Black Roots have been providing a voice for the poor, disenfranchised and dispossessed since they released their eponymous debut album in 1979.
Thirty-seven years later, and nothing has changed. Still, Black Roots are highlighting injustice and speaking up for the poor, disenfranchised and dispossessed on Son Of Man, where they mix social comment with a health supply of hooks and melodies.
BLACK ROOTS-SON OF MAN.
SWAMP POP BY THE BAYOU-TROUBLES, TEARS AND TRAINS.
One of Ace Records longest-running, and most successful compilation series, is their By The Bayou series. Compiled by Ian Saddler, the thirteenth instalment in the By The Bayou series was recently released. However, Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains is only the second compilation of swamp pop.
The first compilation of swamp pop was, Swamp Pop By The Bayou, which released back in May 2014. Since then, Ian Saddler’s had his listeners bopping and bluesin’. However, Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains sees Ian Saddler return to the vaults of J.D. Miller, Eddie Shuler, Floyd Soileau, Sam Montel, Huey Meaux and Joe Ruffino, Pappy Daily, Murray Nash and Jim Rentz. Ian Saddler even looked for hidden gems with the Hitt and Mercury labels. He struck gold.
Among the treasure unearthed by Ian Sadlder are six tracks that have never been released before. This includes tracks from swamp pop royalty Warren Storm plus Frankie Lowery, The Boogie Kings, Larry Hart, Frankie Lowery and Buck Rodgers. There’s also a trio of alternate tracks on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains. The other nineteen tracks are real rarities. They’re a mixture of skirt swirlers and buckle polishers.
For those unfamiliar with the parlance of swamp pop, skirt swirlers are the uptempo dance tracks; while buckle polishers are the slow songs. Providing the skirt swirlers and buckle polishers are Roy Perkins With Jerry Starr and The Clippers, Dale Houston, Phil Clay, John Fred, Gene Dunlap and The Jokers,Warren Storm, Dale Houston, Johnny Preston and Jay Richards.
Just like previous volumes in the By The Bayou series, familiar faces and new names rub shoulders on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains. So do skirt swirlers and buckle polishers from the land of “gaters and gumbo.” However, how does Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains compare with Swamp Pop By The Bayou?
Complier Ian Saddler knows the importance of picking the right track to open a compilation. Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains is the thirteenth in the series. He’s almost a veteran. Just like previous volumes, Ian picks the perfect track to open Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains, Train To Nowhere.
Just like many tracks on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains, Train To Nowhere is a real obscurity. This buckle polisher from Roy Perkins With Jerry Starr and The Clippers was penned by Ernest Suarez, and recorded at Eddie Shuler’s Goldband studio. It then became the B-Side to Jole Blon, which was released on the Eric label in 1962. Sadly, the single sunk without trace. Since then, Train To Nowhere has been a hidden gem awaiting discovery. It’s tale of heartbreak, hurt and betrayal where Roy Perkins doesn’t so much deliver the lyrics, but live then with his worldweary vocal. He makes a reappearance later in the compilation.
Roy Perkins had released Sweet Lilly three years earlier in 1959. This is a very different from track Train To Nowhere. It’s a skirt swirler, recorded at Mira Smith’s studio. The single was then released on Huey Meaux’s Dart label. Sadly, despite being capable of filling many a Louisiana dance-floor, Sweet Lilly failed commercially. It makes a welcome reappearance on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Train.
So do two tracks from Dale Houston. The first is Won’t You Believe Me, which was recorded at J.D. Miller’s studio. This heartfelt, needy buckle polisher was released on Rocko in 1958. Three years later, Dale Houston was signed to Sam Montel’s Montel label.
One night in 1960, Sam Montel heard Dale playing in a bar in Baton Rouge. That night, Dale’s set consisted of some of his own songs. Sam Montel like these songs, and signed Dale Houston to his Montel label. In December 1961, Dale Houston released (Big Bad) City Police on Sam Montel’s Montel label. With a much tougher, modern sound Sam Montel hoped that Dale Houston would enjoy a hit single. Sadly, commercial success eluded Dale Houston, and this would be a familiar story as his solo career progressed.
John Fred is another artist that features twice on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Train. His first contribution is You Know You Made Me Cry, which was the B-Side to Good Lovin’, which was released on Montel in 1959. It’s another tale of hurt and heartbreak. Shirley however is a truly irresistible skirt swirler from John Fred and His Playboy Band. It was released on Montel, and is a truly timeless track.
King Savoy and The Rhythm Rockers released I Beg Of You on the Rocket label in 1957. It’s another buckle polisher, featuring a needy, pleading and impassioned vocal. Sadly, I Beg Of You was the band’s only single. Their career was cut shot when King Savoy left the band, to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a chef. Thus the King Savoy and The Rhythm Rockers’ story is one of what-if?
One of the previously unreleased tracks comes courtesy of Frankie Lowery. Baby What Can I Do is an irresistible skirt swirler, that surely, would’ve filed any Louisiana dance-floor?
The Boogie Kings were one of the most successful of the South Louisiana swamp pop bands. Given the quality of Please Forgive Me, that’s no surprise. With a slow, bluesy arrangement, where horns punctuate the arrangement, lead vocalist Doug (Charles) Ardoin begs and pleads for forgiveness on this buckle polisher. Despite the quality of Please Forgive Me, it was never released. Ian Saddler has rescued this hidden gem from obscurity, and for that, we should be grateful.
Buck Rogers is another artist who features twice. Born Lawrence Rodrigues in 1936, he was discovered by Sam Montel. Crazy Baby was Buck Rogers’ most successful single. However, an alternate take features on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains, allowing listeners to hear a different take on a swamp pop favourite. I Can’t Live Alone is Buck Rogers’ other contribution. It was released on Montel in 1958, and Buck’s vocal is a mixture of hurt and loneliness on this buckle polisher.
Warren Storm is swamp pop royalty, so it’s no surprise that he features twice on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains. Neither the jaunty skirt swirler Troubles, Troubles (Troubles On My Mind), nor the blues-tinged take on I’m A Fool To Care have been released before. The version of I’m A Fool To Care finds compiler Ian Saddler finding swamp pop gold in J.D. Miller’s vaults.
Another hidden gem from J.D. Miller’s vaults is Al “Puddler” Harris’ Wait A Minute. It was released on J.D. Miller’s Rocko label in 1959. Featuring a heartfelt, needy vocal from Al “Puddler” Harris, who also plays piano, Wait A Minute a beautiful belt buckler, is musical gold.
Blazing horns usher in Johnny Preston’s vocal on Satan In Satin. With its jaunty arrangement, hooks haven’t been rationed. Despite this, Satan In Satin was never released and has lain in the Mercury vaults. Thankfully, not any more. This skirt swirler been rescued from obscurity by Ian Saddler, and is the perfect addition Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains.
Originally, Forest Rye recorded My Sweet Baby’s Gone for Murray Nash’s Nashville based Do-Re-Me. However, the single was never released, and made its debut on the Stomper Time Records compilation My Sweet Baby’s Gone. Emotive and heartfelt, My Sweet Baby’s Gone is another buckle polisher, this time, from Forest Rye.
Before recording So Many Tears, Johnny Jano had recorded for both Eddie Shuler and J.D. Miller. The ballad Shed So Many Tears was recorded at Eddie Shuler’s Goldband studio, with Johnny playing a steel guitar. The single was then released on the Jador label in 1964, and featured a soul-baring vocal from Johnny Jano, whose a veteran of the By The Bayou series. Given the quality of Shed So Many Tears, that’s no surprise.
My final choice from Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains, is Jay Richards’ Sneaking Home. It was recorded at Huey Meaux’s studio, and released on the Tear Drop label in 1962. It’s a delicious horn driven skirt swirler, where Jay Richards shows why producers like J.D. Miller and Huey Meaux were so keen to work with him. Sadly, despite being a talented singer, commercial success seemed to elude Jay Richards. That was the case with many of the artists on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains.
That’s why many of the tracks on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains are such rarities. Those that have been released as a single, are almost possible to find. Far fans of swamp pop, and the music on Louisiana, this has been frustrating in the past. Not any more.
Ian Saddler’s thirteen volume By The Bayou compilation series features many swamp pop rarities. They can be found on Swamp Pop By The Bayou and Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains. These two compilations concentrate purely on swamp pop, and for anyone interested in the genre, are a must have. They feature rarities, obscurities, hidden gems, familiar faces old favourites. That’s the case with Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains, which was recently released by Ace Records.
It’s packed full of quality swamp pop. This includes skirt swirlers and buckle polishers from the vaults of J.D. Miller, Eddie Shuler, Floyd Soileau, Sam Montel, Huey Meaux and Joe Ruffino, Pappy Daily, Murray Nash and Jim Rentz. Ian Saddler even looked for hidden gems with the Hitt and Mercury labels. He struck gold several times, finding unreleased tracks from swamp pop royalty Warren Storm plus Frankie Lowery, The Boogie Kings, Larry Hart, Frankie Lowery and Buck Rodgers. There’s also a trio of alternate tracks on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains. This is just the tip of the musical iceberg.
The other nineteen tracks on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains feature a mixture of familiar faces, hidden gems, obscurities and rarities from Roy Perkins With Jerry Starr and The Clippers, Dale Houston, Phil Clay, John Fred, Gene Dunlap and The Jokers,Warren Storm, Dale Houston, Johnny Preston and Jay Richards. This mixture of skirt swirlers and buckle polishers on Swamp Pop By The Bayou-Troubles, Tears and Trains brings a taste of the music of Louisiana in the late-fifties and early-sixties to your living room. All you’ve got to do is clear the floor, and let the party begin.
SWAMP POP BY THE BAYOU-TROUBLES, TEARS AND TRAINS.
THE CURTIS COUNCE QUINTET-EXPLORING THE FUTURE-VINYL.
One of jazz’s best kept secrets is hard bop, double bassist Curtis Counce. He may not have enjoyed the longevity of many of his contemporaries, but was one of the leading lights of West Coast jazz. Curtis played alongside Teddy Charles, Shelly Manne, Lyle Murphy and Clifford Brown. Then in 1956, Curtis moved from sideman to centre-stage, forming The Curtis Counce Quintet. They released just four albums between 1957 and 1958. The Curtis Counce Quintet’s final album was the inventive and innovative, Exploring The Future, which was recently rereleased by Jazz Workshop on 180 gram heavyweight vinyl. Five years after the release of Exploring The Future, Curtis Counce died aged just thirty-six. West Coast jazz had lost one of its stalwarts. Fifty years after his death, his music is being introduced to a new audience. However, what about the man behind the music?
Curtis Counce was born In Kansas City, in the Midwest. From an early age, it was apparent that Curtis would end up being a musician. He was a gifted musician, who played violin and tuba before he first clapped eyes on a double bass. Straight away, Curtis knew this was the instrument for him. Indeed, it was the double bass Curtis played when he headed out on the road aged just sixteen.
Aged sixteen, Curtis was playing with the Nat Towles Band in Ohama. That was a tantalizing taste of what life was like as a professional musician. Curtis was hooked. From their he became a session music. He picked up session work wherever he could. While he enjoyed that, Ohama was hardly jazz central. So he headed to Los Angeles.
Now living and working in Los Angeles, Curtis become a member of Johnny Otis’ band. Johnny was a legendary bandleader, one who had exacting standards. That gave Curtis a good grounding when he made recording debut in 1946. Curtis was unfazed about shared a studio with jazz greats Charlie Parker and Lester Young. People started to take notice of Curtis, and soon, he was the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a double bass player.
Among the artists he accompanied, were the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Max Roach, Teddy Charles and the Clifford Brown Group. All these legendary musicians wanted Curtis’ bluesy sound. Unique, it was evocative and emotive, painting pictures. With just a few notes, Curtis could change your mood. All was going well for Curtis until 1949, when Miles Davis released one of his landmark albums.
Never has an album had a better title than Birth Of The Cool. It gave birth to the cool jazz sound. Jazz was at a crossroads. Musicians were either members of the cool school or disciples of bebop. Curtis, wisely, kept his options open. Rather than throw in his lot with either group, he kept a foot in both camps. He was a talented and versatile player, so whether it was cool jazz or bebop, Curtis could play it. That worked in his favor. Right up until 1956, Curtis was busy as a sideman. Then he decided to take centre-stage.
In 1956 Curtis formed The Curtis Counce Quintet. The initial lineup featured drummer Frank Butler, pianist Carl Perkins, trumpeter Jack Sheldon, saxophonist Harold Land. With such a multitalented lineup, surprisingly, their 1957 debut album received rave reviews. You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce was released on the Contemporary label, but sales proved disappointing. It was the age old problem, sales didn’t match the record company’s expectations. After such good reviews, they thought the album would’ve fared better. It didn’t. A blistering set of hard bop, at least, You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce got the Quintet noticed. Things would surely get better?
Later in 1957, Curtis released his sophomore album Landslide. It was also released on Contemporary. Curtis it seemed had chosen his band well. They all pitched in with ideas and songs. Sadly, success still eluded the Quintet. Record sales were disappointing and sales didn’t reflect their undoubted talent.
Given record sales were disappointing, they toured the West Coast and they toured hard, honing their sound. Soon, they were a tight unit. Even Harold Land, the least experienced member of the band shawn like a star in waiting. The only problem was, the East Coast, West Coast rivalry. This resulted in bands not heading out on the road. West Coast groups like the Quintet didn’t set foot on the East Coast. It was territorial and proprietorial. ironically, jazz lovers lost out. For the rest of 1957, concentrated on playing live. The in 1958, just like 1957, the Quintet released two albums.
History repeated itself in 1958. The Curtis Counce Quintet released two albums within the year. The first was Sonority, their last release on Contemporary. Just like their two previous albums, sales proved disappointing. Again, the sales didn’t reflect the quality of music. For Curtis and the rest of the Quintet, it must have been both disappointing and frustration. Here they were, releasing some inventive music, yet people were neither buying nor hearing it. Following Sonority, the Quintet and Contemporary parted company. Next stop for The Curtis Counce Quintet was the Dooto label, where they’d release their final album Exploring The Future.
As recording of Exploring The Future began, the Quintet had lost two members. Pianist Carl Perkins had tragically died of a drug overdose and trumpeter Jack Sheldon left the Quintet. Their replacements were pianist Elmo Hope and trumpeter Rolf Ericson. They were more than capable replacements. Elmo is seen as one of the greatest bebop players, while Rolf Ericson’s playing is fast, fluid and accurate. Both players added something new to what was essentially The Curtis Counce Quintet Mk. II.
Exploring The Future saw Elmo Hope play an important part in the album. He wrote four of the eight songs on Exploring The Future, So Nice, Into Orbit, Race For Space and The Countdown. Dootsie Williams who founded Dooto, had been a trumpeter, songwriter and bandleader. His contribution was Exploring The Future. Along with Denzil Best’s Move, Earl Brent and Matt Dennis’ Angel Eyes plus Ira and George Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me, these eight tracks became Exploring The Future, a somewhat ironic title.
Rather than moving forward and releasing an album of innovative, progressive music, Exploring The Future saw the Quintet revisit their familiar hard bop sound. They’d perfected this during their first three albums and were among the finest practitioners of the hard bop sound. However, Exploring The Future saw The Curtis Counce Quintet with two new members. Would this affect the quality of music on , Exploring The Future? That’s what I’ll now tell you.
So Nice opens The Curtis Counce Quintet’s fourth album Exploring The Future. Bursting into life, the horns join the piano while the drums are played with brushes. Curtis’ bass provides the heartbeat, powering the arrangement along. Soon, it’s time for Rolf Ericson to deliver his first solo. He doesn’t disappoint, producing a breathtaking display of power, speed and accuracy. The rest of the band play behind him, before saxophonist Harold Land steps up. As if inspired he unleashes a blistering, rasping solo. From there, Elmo Hope takes centre-stage unleashing a fluid piano solo. He’s then joined by Curtis. They feed off each other. From there, the rest of the Quintet enjoy their moment in the sun, as they enjoy Exploring The Future.
Angel Eyes is very different from the previous track. A truly beautiful track, it has a late night, wistful sound. Rolf’s piano sets the scene, for the heartbreaking sound of the horns. Ralph’s trumpet gives way to Harold Land’s saxophone. Emotion and sadness are omnipresent. They take centre-stage, where they quite rightly belong. Each take turns at tugging at your heartstrings, before the song reaches its heartbreaking, melancholy high.
Into The Orbit sees Rolf piano join forces with the horns. Punchy, sharp bursts of horns grab your attention, before a virtuoso performance from Rolf. This seems to result in the Quintet upping their game. It’s like a game daring do. Anything you can do, I can do better. Horns are blown with more power and passion. There’s an urgency in Harold and Ralph’s playing. Rasping and growling their way through the track, they throw down the gauntlet. Meanwhile, Curtis bass provides the heartbeat. Although he enjoys his moment in the sun, he seems quite content to allow the rest of his band to take turns in outdoing each other. After all, the harder they try, the better they play. Proof of this is Into The Orbit.
Rather than Move, this track should be called explode. That’s what happens. Move explodes into life. Drums and horns take charge. What follows is a mesmeric performance. The star of the show is drummer Frank Butler. He produces a breathtaking performance. A mixture of power and speed, it’s as if he feels left out and wants to shine. This he does and never misses a beat. With thirty-seconds to go, the horns come charging in, but good as they are, Frank Butler’s better.
Race For Space has a jaunty introduction. Piano and drums briefly, take the track in the direction of free jazz. They leave space within the arrangement, which is akin to a dramatic pause. Then it’s all change. The tempo increases and another blistering slice of hard bop explodes into life. Horns to the fore, they’re punchy and dramatic. Behind them, drummer Frank Butler and pianist Elmo Hope dramatically fills in the gaps. Curtis bass powers the arrangement. His finger flying up and down the fretboard. Things hot up when the solos are unleashed. Again, everyone seems to be trying to outdo each other. In doing so, they play their part a storming, dramatic and blistering example of hard bop.
Someone To Watch Over Me was written by George and Ira Gershwin. It allows us another opportunity to hear another side of the Quintet. Horns bray, producing a needy cry. Having set the scene, Frank plays the drums with brushes and Curtis tenderly plucks thoughtfully at his bass. Elmo’s deliberate and pensive piano playing is a like a paean or plaintive cry for Someone To Watch Over Me.
Elmo’s piano and drums rolls asks a series of question as Exploring The Future unfolds. It’s another mid-tempo track, one that sees the Quintet play to their strengths. Featuring a series of poignant chord changes, the Quintet quickly shift through the gears. They’re equally at home playing together, or when they embark on solo. As for the solos, Ralph’s trumpet solo is a show stealer. The rest of the group play around him, exploring the subtleties and nuances of the track. Not to be outdone, the other newcomer, Elmo produces another of his trademark solos, where he more than proves his worth.
Closing Exploring The Future is The Countdown. It’s the perfect track to close the album. There’s something about the track, that if this closed a set, you wouldn’t be disappointed. The arrangement meanders along, managing somehow, to sound both melancholy and hopeful. Elmo on piano takes centre-stage while Frank on drums and Curtis on bass provide the heartbeat. Soon, he’s stretching his legs, deciding its time to indulge in some showboating. For that you’re thankful, as what is his finest piano solo on Exploring The Future brings the album to a delicious close. Quite simply, The Countdown is a tantalizing reminder of what jazz music once was. When will we see your likes again?
Exploring The Future proved to be farewell from The Curtis Counce Quintet. It was their final album. While Exploring The Future didn’t exactly offer anything new and innovative from the Quintet, it did find them at their very best. They’d been honing their sound since 1956, and had been playing live constantly. That was the only way to hone their sound and build a following. Sadly, they were restricted in where they could play. The jazz wars were raging. There was a fierce rivalry between the West Coast and East Coast. This meant the East Coast was off-limits for the Quintet. Audiences in the East Coast weren’t fans of the West Coast sound. That meant New York never heard the Quintet live. They might, just have appreciated their sound and transformed The Curtis Counce Quintet’s career. That wasn’t to be.
The Curtis Counce Quintet released just four albums released between 1957 and 1958. That isn’t a fair reflection on their combined talents. None of the albums sold well. Not even Exploring The Future, with its delicious mixture of blistering hard bop and beautiful ballads. Even the delights of Exploring The Future went undiscovered and unloved. Fifty-seven years after its release Exploring The Future has been rereleased on 180 gram heavyweight vinyl by Jazz Workshop. Maybe now, a new generation of music lovers will realize what jazz fans missed first time round. Sadly, Curtis Counce never found the fame and fortune he deserved.
Five years after the release of Exploring The Future, Curtis Counce died on 31st July 1963. He was just thirty-seven. Jazz lost one of the stalwarts of West Coast jazz and one of the best practitioners of hard bop. At least the final album The Curtis Counce Quintet released, Exploring The Future was their best. A delicious fusion of blistering hard bop and beautiful ballads, Exploring The Future was The Curtis Counce Quintet’s finest moment.
THE CURTIS COUNCE QUINTET-EXPLORING THE FUTURE.
OUT OF LEFT FIELD-WHERE COUNTRY MEETS SOUL.
Country music has always been inextricably linked with soul music. In some cases, the two go hand-in-hand. This has been documented by Ace Records on their Where Country Meets Soul series.
The series began in June 2012, with the release of Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul. It found twenty-three stars of soul covering songs made famous by country artists. With names like Aaron Neville, Esther Phillips, Al Green, James Carr, Candi Staton, Bettye Swann and Millie Jackson, it was no surprise when Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul was released to critical acclaim and commercial success. Surely, there would a followup?
There was. Just eleven months later, Sweet Dreams: Where Country Meets Soul Volume 2 was released. The track listing was star-studded, featuring contributions from The Sweet Inspirations, Otis Redding, Bobby Bland, David Ruffin and Dorothy Moore. That’s not forgetting James Carr, Bettye Swann, and Millie Jackson. It was no surprise that Sweet Dreams: Where Country Meets Soul Volume 2 received the same plaudits, and enjoyed the same commercial success as Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul. Ace Records had another successful compilation on their hands. Fans of the series crossed their fingers, and awaited Volume 3.
Luckily, the didn’t have long to wait. In August 2014, Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3 was released. Referring to the track listing as star-studded was almost an understatement. There were contributions from Percy Sledge, Margie Joseph, Arthur Alexander, The Supremes, Bobby Bland, Brook Benton, Esther Phillips and The Isley Brothers. Ace Records had surpassed themselves. Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3. Critics and music lovers agreed that the third instalment in the series was the finest. Despite this, it’s been eighteen months since the last instalment in the Where Country Meets Soul series.
At last, the wait is over, and Ace Records return with another instalment in the Where Country Meets Soul series, Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country. It was recently released by Ace Records and is described as as “a complement to this well-received series.” On Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country, Ace Records flip over the coin, and present an album where country artists cover soul and R&B songs. There’s even a few classics thrown in for good measure, as the great and good of country music reinvent some familiar songs.
Playing a starring role on Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country, are Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings And Willie Nelson, Anita Carter, Skeeter Davis, Don Gibson, Ronnie Milsap, Tanya Tucker, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn and the one and only Man In Black, Johnny Cash. These are just a few members of the great and good of country music who feature on On Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country. With a compilation that oozes quality, choosing the highlights isn’t going to be neigh on impossible. However, here goes.
Opening Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country, is Daaron Lee’s cover of Johnny Taylor’s million selling single Who’s Making Love. This was the first release on Stax Records’ Hip Records imprint in 1969. Daaron Lee, which was the alias of Billy Lee Riley, was the perfect choice to launch Hip Records.
He had previously released singles on Sun, Mercury, Rita and Myrl. Despite what was an irresistible, and full full-blown country makeover of Who’s Making Love, Daaron Lee’s cover failed commercially. It seemed that Stax Records lacked the skills required to break a country single. Sadly, since then, Daaron Lee’s cover of Whose Making Love has become a mere footnote in the sometimes turbulent history of Stax Records. Not any more. Now a new generation will hear Daaron Lee’s hidden gem, Who’s Making Love.
Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn’s Out Of Left Field gave Percy Sledge a hit in 1967. Twenty-six years later, and Hank Williams Jr. decided Out Of Left Field. It lent its name to Hank Williams Jr’s 1993 album, which was released on Capricorn Records. One of the highlights was the title-track, a delicious fusion of country, soul and gospel harmonies. By the closing notes of the song, Hank Williams Jr. is no longer just the son of a famous father, but a star in his own right.
Ever since Otis Redding released Sitting On The Dock in 1966, it’s been an oft-covered song. These cover versions have varied in quality. They’re best described as good, bad and indifferent. One of the best covers of Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay, came in 1982, when Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson covered the song for their sophomore album WWII. Four of the songs were produced by Chips Moman, including Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay. He worked his magic. With a crack band accompanying them, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson deliver a beautiful, but understated, wistful and soulful cover of a classic.
Just before he cofounded Philadelphia International Records with Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff cowrote Only The Strong Survive with Jerry Butler. It gave hime one of the biggest hits of his career in 1969. A year later, Skeeter Davis covered Only The Strong Survive for her 1970 album Maryfrances. By then, Skeeter Davis had enjoyed forty hit singles. She certainly knew how to breath life and meaning into a song. Skeeter Davis certainly does that on Only The Strong Survive. Rueful and tinged with hurt and regret, it’s a heart-wrenching fusion of soul and country.
For most people, When Something Is Wrong With My Baby is synonymous with Sam and Dave. They were the first people to enjoy a hit with the Isaac Hayes and David Porter song. However, Charlie Rich recorded the song a week earlier, but his version lay unreleased until the eighties. By then, Sonny James had covered When Something Is Wrong With My Baby in 1976. It was released on Columbia, reaching number six in the US Billboard 100. Heartfelt and emotive, Sonny James doesn’t just deliver the lyrics, but it seems is living them. It’s a truly moving rendition of a familiar song.
In 1978, Don Gibson covered Starting All Over Again. It was penned by Prince Phillip Mitchell, but made famous by Mel and Tim in 1972. Six years later, and fifty year old Don Gibson entered the studio and recorded Staring All Over Again. He was looking for the sixty-sixth hit of his solo career. Staring All Over Again didn’t disappoint. Don Gibson’s lived-in, worldweary vocal sounds as if he’s lived and survived the lyrics. Augmented by soulful harmonies, a peerless cover of Starting All Over unfolds. Later in 1978, the single lents its name to Don Gibson’s latest album. By then, Don Gibson was looking for his sixty-seventh hit single.
Oft-covered describes Warm And Tender Love. Joe Heywood, Percy Sledge, Arthur Prysock and Joe Simon had all cut versions of Warm And Tender Love. However, its hadn’t been cut by a country artist. So Archie Campbell and Lorene Mann decided to do so. They were an unlikely pairing. Lorene Mann was a singer who sometimes, dabbled in songwriting; while Archie Campbell was a DJ, hosted a television chat show, writer, comedian and singer. Archie Campbell was drafted in to replace Lorene Mann’s former partner by RCA Victor. Their debut came in 1968.
That’s when Archie Campbell and Lorene Mann entered the studio with producer Bob Ferguson, and later in 1968, their version of Warm And Tender Love was released as a single on RCA Victor. It also featured on their 1968 album Archie And Lorene Tell It Like It Is, which featured another cover of a soul classic, The Dark End Of The Street. These tracks were two of the highlights of Archie Campbell and Lorene Mann one and only collaboration.
From the opening bars of Ronnie Milsap’s cover of Any Day Now, there’s sense of anticipation. Soon, there’s a sense of sadness as Ronnie delivers Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard’s song. It was originally a hit for soul singer. That was ironic.
For years, Ronnie Milsap had tried to make it as a soul singer. However, commercial success eluded him. When he tried his hand as a country singer, Ronnie Milsap enjoyed the commercial success that had eluded him. By the time Ronnie Milsap covered Any Day Now in 1982, he had enjoyed thirty-four country hit singles. When the rueful, soulful strains of Any Day Now reached number one, thirty-four became thirty-five.
By 1982, Tanya Tucker was one of the biggest names in country music, and had just covered Baby I’m Yours. Penned by Van McCoy, it had originally been covered by Barbara Lewis in 1965. Six years later, Jody Miller enjoyed a hit single with Baby I’m Yours. Then in 1982, Tanya Tucker recorded Baby I’m Yours for her Changes album. A heartfelt, soulful ballad, it’s the perfect showcase for the Texan born Tanya Tucker.
Covering a classic is never easy. By then, definitive version has been recorded. The Kendalls must have known this when they covered Dark End Of The Street in 1983. Penned by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, and brought to life by James Carr, it’s a stonewall classic. This didn’t stop Royce and Jeannie Kendall enjoying a top twenty country single with their heart wrenching cover of James Carr’s classic.
Another song written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn is Do Right Woman Do Right Man. They were one of the most successful songwriting team of their generation, and penned countless classics including Do Right Woman Do Right Man. It was originally cut by Aretha Franklin. After that, it was a favourite of country singers.
Barbara Mandrell released it as a single in 1971, before Billie Jo Spears recorded Do Right Woman Do Right Man for her Blanket On The Ground album in 1976. By then, Billy Jo Spears was one of country music’s most successful singers. She was also vying for the title of first lady of country. No wonder. Her vocal bring the lyrics to life, as she this classic song.
My final choice from is David Allen Coe’s He Will Break Your Heart. He had a chequered life before making a career out of music. Thirty years of David’s life were spent in either reform school or prison. However, music offered David an escape.
Originally, he was a blues singer. However, when he turned to country music, he had found his musical niche. His first hit came in 1975 with You Never Even Called Me By My Name. Over the next eight years, David enjoyed a degree of success. Then in 1983, he covered He Will Break Your Heart, for his Hello In The album. He Will Break Your Heart had originally given Jerry Butler a hit on 1961. Producer by Billy Sherrill, David Allen Coe, makes the song his own delivering an impassioned, emotive cover. It’s a truly powerful song from David Allen Coe and one of the highlights of Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country.
It’s a welcome addendum to the Where Country Meets Soul series, Ace Records Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country. It certainly complements the Where Country Meets Soul series.
On Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country, Ace Records flip over the coin, and present an album where country artists cover twenty-four soul and R&B songs. A few classics are thrown in for good measure, and are reinvented by the great and good of country music. Some familiar faces play starring role on Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country.
Among them are Hank Williams Jr., who was no longer just the son of a famous father. There’s two collaboration between tow country greats, Waylon Jennings And Willie Nelson; and Conway Twitty And Loretta Lynn. Then vying for the title of the first lady of country music are Anita Carter, Skeeter Davis, Tanya Tucker, Linda Martell and Billy Jo Spears. That’s not forgetting Don Gibson sixty-sixth solo country hit, Starting All Over Again. Don’s worldweary vocal make the lyrics sound personal. So does Ronnie Milsap on Any Day Now. Closing Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country is Johnny Cash. It wouldn’t be a country compilation without the Man In Black, who reworks Joe Tex’s Look At Them Beans (Papa’s Dream). These are just a few of the tantalising tastes of Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country.
With its star-studded lineup, Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country is the perfect addendum to Ace Records’ Where Soul Meets Country series. Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country also “complements” the three previous volumes of Where Soul Meets Country series. Just like Out Of Left Field-Where Soul Meets Country, they belong in the collection of anyone interested in soul or country music.
OUT OF LEFT FIELD-WHERE COUNTRY MEETS SOUL.
When doom jazz trio Splashgirl released their sophomore album Arbor in 2009, it was the first release on the newly formed Hubro Music label. Since then, a lot has happened to both Splashgirl and Hubro Music.
Both Splashgirl and Hubro Music’s star have been in the ascendancy. Splashgirl have released two critically acclaimed albums, 2011s Pressure and 2013s Field Day Rituals. These two albums reinforced Splashgirl’s reputation’s one of Norwegian music’s most innovative groups. As a result, their music has been embraced my music lovers far and wide. That’s the case with Hubro Music.
Ever since 2009, Hubro Music has released groundbreaking music. It’s roster includes some of the most groundbreaking artists and bands. They release albums that pushes musical boundaries. These albums are released to widespread critical acclaim. That’s why nowadays, the Hubro Music’s logo is a sign of quality and music that’s innovative and inventive. The same can be said about Splashgirl’s new album Hibernation.
It’s one of the most anticipated albums of 2016 so far. Hibernation, which will be released by Hubro Music on 12th February 2016, is the long-awaited fifth album from musical mavericks Splashgirl. Hibernation finds Splashgirl continue to work closely with producer Randall Dunn. He has guided Splashgirl as they change direction musically on Hibernation. It seems that Splashgirl aren’t willing to stand still. They never have been.
The Splashgirl story began in Oslo in 2003. That’s when Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød, Andreas Stensland Løwe and Jo Berger Myhre decided to form a group together. This group they called Splasgirl. It was no ordinary group.
Splashgirl were a doom jazz group who decided to combine traditional instruments and technology. This was new, exciting and innovative. The members of Splashgirls were one part musician, to one part musical alchemist. Practice rooms and recording studios became a place where Splashgirl experimented with their arsenal of musical instruments and technology
Drummer and percussionist Andreas Lønmo Knudsrø also deployed drum machines when Splashgirl made music. Andreas’ partner in the rhythm section Jo Berger Myhre switches between double bass and a tone generator. The final member of Splashgirl was
pianist Andreas Stensland Løwe. He also played various synths, a clavinet and organ. This captivating combination would be showcased on Splashgirl’s debut album Doors Keys.
By 2007, Splashgirl had been together for four years. They had spent four years honing and tightening their sound. Having taken tentative steps onto the live scene, Splashgirl were now a familiar face around Oslo. However, many people remarked that still, Splashgirl hadn’t released a debut album. It was time to rectify this.
Nine tracks were composed, and would be recorded at Bugge’s Room, the studio owned by Bugge Wesseltoft. At Bugge’s Room, Splashgirl took charge of production. They were joined by guest artists Lars Holmen Kurverud on bass clarinet, tenor saxophonist Joel Wästberg an violinist Sebastian Gruchot. They played their part on what became Doors. Keys., Splashgirl’s debut album.
Later in 2007, the Oslo based jazz trio Splashgirl released their debut album Doors. Keys. It was well received by critics, who forecast a bright future for one of the newest names in Norwegian jazz.
Two year after the release of their debut album, Splashgirl returned with their sophomore album Arbor. By then, Splashgirl’s profile was rising. They were a regular fixture on the live circuit, and were being tipped as one of Norwegian music’s rising stars.
Especially, once Arbor was released. It featured nine new tracks which were penned and produced by Splashgirl. These songs were recorded at Biermannsgården, where Splashgirl were joined by multi-instrumentalist Lasse Passage and Anders Hofstad Sørås on pedal steel. The two guest artists augmented Splashgirl’s considerable skills on this sonic adventure. It was released in 2009 on a new label, Hubro Music.
Arbor was released in 2009, bearing the the serial number HUBRO CD2500. Hubro Music was a new name for many people. Not for long. Especially if they continued to release albums of the quality of Arbor. Here was an album that caught the imagination of critics. Arbor marked the coming of age for Splashgirl. They had released an album of ambitious, groundbreaking and innovative music. It was the perfect way to launch a new label. Little did anyone know this was the start of the rise and rise of Splashgirl and Hubro Music.
Another two years passed before Splashgirl released another album. However, by then, their music was finding a wider audience. So 2011 was the perfect time to release a new album.
Recording of Pressure, Splashgirl’s third album, took place at Malabar Studios. There, Splashgirl were joined by several guest artists. This included Lasse Passage, who would experiment with tape and field recordings. He was joined by guitarist Juhani Silvola, tubaist Martin Taxt, trombonist Erik Johannessen and vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll. Together, they helped Splashgirl create what was the best album of their career.
When Pressure was released on Hubro Music in 2011, it was to widespread critical acclaim. It was their most ambitious, inventive and innovative album. Splashgirl were at their most experimental on Pressure, where they were joined by some of the leading lights of the Norwegian music scene. Pressure was their finest hour, and the album that saw Splashgirl and Hubro Music move into the limelight.
Soon, Splashgirl were touring Europe, where their music was embraced by a much wider audience. Meanwhile, Hubro Music were now regarded as a record label that was synonymous with groundbreaking music. Everyone it seemed was a winner, and that would continue to be the case.
Field Day Rituals.
Nearly another two years passed, and Splashgirl returned with the fourth album of their career in February 2013. By then, it was fast approaching Splashgirl’s tenth anniversary. However, only six years had passed since Splashgirl released their debut. Now they were about to release Field Day Rituals on Hubro music. It marked a change for Splashgirl.
Previously, Splashgirl had produced their first three albums. For Field Day Rituals, they brought onboard producer Randall Dunn. He had an impressive track record, having worked with Earth, Sunn O))), Marissa Nadler, Black Mountian and The Cave Singers. His C.V. convinced Splashgirl to bring him onboard for the recording of Field Day Rituals.
Randall Dunn wasn’t the only recruit for the Field Day Rituals’ sessions. Joining team Splashgirl, were Timothy Mason and Eyvind Kang on viola. They aided and abetted Splashgirl as the album took shape at Avast! Recording Co., in Seattle. Eventually, Field Day Rituals was completed, and Splashgirl could celebrate their tenth anniversary with the release of their fourth album.
When Field Day Rituals was released in February 2013, by Hubro Music, it was hailed as Splashgirl’s greatest album. This wasn’t the first time critics had said this. However, Splashgirl weren’t going to tire of hearing this. Critical acclaim was sweet music to their ears. That was no surprise.
Field Day Rituals found Splashgirl at their most adventurous and ambitious. They seemed determined to push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, it seemed way beyond. It was no surprise that Splashgirl were now regarded as one of leading lights of the Norwegian jazz scene. Their rise and rise had mimicked that of Hubro Music.
No longer was Hubro Music the small label it had been in 2009. By 2013, it was one of the most respected and forward thinking European labels. It released an eclectic selection of groundbreaking music. That wasn’t surprising. Hubro Music’s roster was like a who’s who of Norwegian music. One of the “crown jewels” were doom jazz trio Splashgirl.
They had been busy since the release of Field Day Rituals. Splashgirl had toured as Europe, America and Japan. This didn’t leave much time to record an album. However, somehow, Splashgirl found time to record their fifth album Hibernation with producer Randall Dunn.
Hibernation featured another nine new compositions from Splashgirl. Andreas Stensland Løwe wrote Hibernation, Scorch, Redshift and Rebounds. He also cowrote Community and Two Degrees with Jo Berger Myhre; who wrote Bleak Warm Future. The other track Rounds, was penned by the three members of Splashgirl. Once the nine songs were written, Splashgirl headed to HIjóðriti Studio in Hafnarfjördur, Iceland.
It wasn’t just Splashgirl that made the journey to HIjóðriti Studio at the start of September 2015, it was their array of equipment. In Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød’s case, this meant drums, percussion and a drum machine. This was almost travelling light. Especially when compared to Andreas Stensland Løwe. He played a grand piano, and had to unpack and setup a several synths, including an Arp Solina, Korg Delta and Prophet 5. That’s not forgetting a clavinet, harmonium and “electronics.” This left Jo Berger Myhre, who travelled with his trusty double bass, a halldorophone plus two synths. A Mini Moog and Jupiter 8 were Jo Berger Myhre’s weapon of choice. Despite such an impressive array of equipment, Splashgirl were lacking a saxophonist. Luckily, they knew the very man.
This was none other Eric Walton, or Skerik as the Seattle based saxophonist is known as in musical circles. A pioneer of saxophonics, Skerik combines electronics and his loops in his music. Just like the three members of Splashgirl, Skerik was an innovator. This made him the perfect person to play on Hibernation. So Skerit made the journey to HIjóðriti Studio in Hafnarfjördur, with his tenor and baritone saxophones. He was the missing piece in the musical jigsaw.
With just a week to record the nine tracks that became Hibernation, Splashgirl had to work quickly. That can’t have been easy, given they were using such an array of instruments and equipment. Some of the synths were vintage synths, which can be unreliable. However, Splashgirl began recording on 5th September 2015, and had managed to record Hibernation by the 11th September 2015. All that was left was for Hibernation to be mixed.
Producer Randall Dunn mixed Hibernation at Avast! Recording Co., in Seattle. Then Jason Ward mastered Hibernation at Chicago Mastering Service. Now Hibernation was ready for release.
Before that, Hibernation was scrutinised by the critics. When they heard the album, they realised that musical mavericks Splashgirl had changed direction sonically. Synths, electronics and processing was used much more than on previous albums. While this was very different to previous albums, the reinvention of Splashgirl had been a success.
Hibernation was hailed as the most ambitious and innovative album from doom jazz pioneers Splashgirl. That’s apparent from the opening bars of Hibernation.
Opening Hibernation is the title-track. Deliberately, a piano plays slowly and ominously. Soon, drones emerge from the arrangement, filling the space left the piano. When it returns, it’s accompanied by what sounds like one of Iceland’s volcanos erupting. Despite that, there’s an ethereal and elegiac sound. Contrasts it seems, are everywhere. Later, the sculpted eruption combines with drones and a harmonium. Its unmistakable sound adds another layer and texture to a slow almost pedestrian and pensive soundscape. It showcases the new Splashgirl, as they reinvent their music.
A synth adds a droning sound as Reducer unfolds. It’s not unlike a warning signal from a ship making its way through the mist. Soon, the drone is honed and sculpted, as a myriad of electronics and sound effects are added. So is a scrubbed guitar, drums and plink plonk piano. Together, they create a dramatic cinematic soundscape, which would grace the soundtrack to any Nordic drama or film noir.
Bleak Warm Future sees doom jazz trio Splashgirl seemingly head in in the direction of post rock. The piano, guitar and drums combine, playing slowly and deliberately, as they explore the theme. Their jazz background shines through. Soon, it’s the time for star of saxophonics Skerik to make his debut. His braying, scorching saxophone adds an element of drama, before dropping out. Then the arrangement becomes mesmeric, before Splashgirl drop the tempo and an understated sound takes shape. Just drums, percussion and piano combine as the soundscape takes on a thoughtful, wistful sound. Later, sound effects are added as the piano is played confidently and firmly. Everything else is playing a supporting role, including the double bass and drums. After five minutes, three become four, and Skerik sprays his scorching saxophone across the soundscape. It proves the perfect addition, as Splashgirl head for the finish line, on this glorious fusion of doom jazz, post rock, avant-garde and free jazz.
There’s an almost industrial sound to Rounds. Drums and percussion play slowly, leaving plenty of space in the arrangement. Soon, a gong sounds, a pensive piano plays and a bell rings. Washes of synths are then added as a beautiful, almost ethereal soundscape unfolds. It’s sculpted and hued by Splashgirl. They have the uncanny ability to add the right instrument at the right time. That’s the case whether its the piano, guitar and gently rasping, braying guitar. Then at 3.51 the soundscape almost grinds to a halt, leaving just the occasional brief reminder of what’s beatific, elegiac and cinematic soundscape.
Just like previous tracks, Scorch paints pictures in the listener’s mind’s eye. All the listener needs to do, is follow Funkadelic’s advice and “free your mind.” A drone arrives from the distance. It’s the result of Jo’s double bass, with effects added. Soon, the soundscape crackles and drones. Listen carefully, and sounds flit in and out. Some make a brief appearance, others stay longer. This includes the piano. It’s probed, while synths produce an array of sounds. They crackle, bristle and drone. However, Splashgirl tame the tiger, and sculpt these disparate sounds into a dramatic and intense slice of doom jazz. Later, musical alchemists Spashgirl unleash an array of futuristic sounds that compliment the melancholy beauty of the piano. They’re augmented by what sound like explosions and later, fireworks. As they soar above the rest of soundscape, it’s as if they’re celebrating the triumphant return of Splashgirl, with this latest sonic masterpiece.
The skin of Andreas’ bass drum is pounded on Community. His snare drum cracks, while a piano and shakers combine. Reverb is added to the drums, and they head into the distance, before dissipating. As the piano plays, it has a Cuban influence. Jo’s bass adds a moody, ominous sound. In the background, feedback shrieks, and deep within the mix a myriad of sound can be heard.This is all part of the plan and Splashgirl’s musical palette. They use each of these elements, carefully honing and sculpting them so that they become another texture or layer on this moody, sometimes hypnotic, genre-melting soundscape. Elements of dub, doom jazz, free jazz, avant-garde and experimental music.
With a firmly plucked bass at the forefront of the arrangement, Redshift quickly showcases a dramatic, cinematic backdrop. It’s up the listener to supply the script. Flourishes of piano and washes of synths add to the drama and urgency. Cymbals ring out and occasionally, the bass drum is pounded. Soon, effects are added to the piano. It sounds not just distant, but elegiac. Later, what sounds like angelic, ethereal harmonies are added, as the arrangement briefly crackles, beeps and squeaks before reaching a beatific crescendo.
Jo’s bass is a scene-setter on Two Degrees. He plays carefully and firmly, plucking notes slowly. Soon, he’s joined by a piano and drums caressed by brushes. By then, the soundscape is reminiscent to a sixties film noir. Suspense and mystery spring to mind as Splashgirl play. Especially, as the tempo begins to rise slightly and Splashgirl play with a degree of purpose. It’s as if they’re following a script to a remake of a film noir favourite like Quicksand or Shoot to Kill. The addition of washes elegiac synths are the icing on what’s a delicious musical cake.
Rebounds closes Hibernation. Firmly and insistently the piano is played, a melancholy sound quickly unfolding. Soon, a bass and shakers join the piano. Later, so does a harmonium. It adds to Rebounds’ rueful, wistful sound and later, dramatic sound. The drama occurs as the soundscape reaches a crescendo, and Splashgirl bid the listener farewell, on Hibernation a career defining album.
Hibernation is the fifth album from Norwegian doom jazz pioneers, Splashgirl. It’s also the finest album of their twelve year career. That’s despite Splasgirl deciding to change direction musically on Hibernation which will be released bu Hubro Music on 12th February 2016.
That was a huge risk. Splashgirl had found and honed their sound over four critically acclaimed albums. However, Splashgirl aren’t the type of group who could or would rerecord the same album. That’s for lesser bands, not musical mavericks and pioneers like Splashgirl. So when they made their way to Hljodriti Studio in Hafnarfjördur in September 2015, the decision was made. Splashgirl would make more use of synths, electronics and processing. They play a more important part in Hibernation, which features Splashgirl at their most inventive and innovative.
As Splashgirl innovate, the combine disparate musical genres. Elements of avant-garde, classical, drone, free jazz, post rock jazz and rock. All these genres play their part in Hibernation. It veers between cinematic, dramatic, melancholy and wistful, and sometimes, beautiful, elegiac and ethereal. Hibernation is an album to embrace and cherish, where musical alchemists Splashgirl create a cinematic Magnus Opus.
CHES SMITH-THE BELL.
In January 2014, Ches Smith was booked to play at the prestigious New York Winter Jazzfest. This was a huge honour for him. The great and good of jazz descended on New York for Winter Jazzfest. Over these three days, jazz musicians from all over the world would be creating groundbreaking music. Old faces would make a return, and new stars would be born. For Ches Smith these were exciting time.
Given Winter Jazzfest was such a prestigious event, Ches Smith was determined to do something different. So the American drummer and percussionist invited pianist Craig Taborn to join him at Winter Jazzfest. However, Ches Smith realised there was still a piece of the musical jigsaw mussing.
Ches Smith needed someone to join his nascent trio. Eventually, Ches Smith decided that Brooklyn born violist and violinist Mat Maneri, was the perfect addition. He would compliment and augment Ches Smith and Craig Taborn at Winter Jazzfest.
As the trio took to the stage at Winter Jazzfest, none of the three musicians thought that this was the start of a long-term project. For all they knew, they may only play together once. That wasn’t the case.
When Ches Smith, Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri took to the stage at Winter Jazzfest, they began to improvise. Suddenly, everything just clicked. The three musicians complimented and augmented each other perfectly. Onlookers watched as the nascent trio stole not just the show, but Winter Jazzfest.
By the time the trio had finished their set, a star had been born. Some of the most important jazz critics praised Ches Smith’s trio. Peter Margasak of the Chicago Reader hailed the trio as: “the best thing I caught all weekend.” That was high praise indeed. However, he was far from a lone voice in the wilderness. Critics and cultural commentators were in all agreement, that the new trio were one of the highlights of the weekend. Surely, this performance had to be the start of something?
Ches Smith however, wasn’t looking to form another band. However, deep down, he knew that here was a trio that just worked. Their debut performance had received widespread critical acclaim. Amazingly, everything was improvised. The three musicians had played off-the-cuff, seeing where the mood took them. It was then that Ches Smith began to wonder what the trio would be capable of, if he wrote some pieces?
Soon, Ches Smith was warming to the idea of taking the trio further. He decided to speak to Craig Taborn and Mat Maner, and see what they thought. They were a similar mind, and saw a future in the trio. However, the only problem was that the three musicians all had busy schedules.
The more they thought about the project, the more it made sense to take it further. So they decided to prioritise the trio.
Despite doing so, it wasn’t until June 2015 that Ches Smith, Craig Taborn and Mat Maner got round to recording their debut album The Bell at Avatar Studios, in New York. The trio were due to record eight chamber music tracks penned by Ches Smith. These tracks would be produced by multi award-winning producer Manfred Eicher. He founded the ECM label, which recently released The Bell. Having such an experienced producer was an advantage, as The Bell was Ches Smith’s first album as bandleader.
It must have been with a degree of trepidation that Ches Smith entered the Avatar Studios. He had played on countless albums previously. However, that was as a member of a band or as a sideman. This time, he was running the show.
Ches Smith began setting up his drums, timpani and vibes. Craig Taborn took his seat at the piano; and Mat Maneri tuned his viola. Eventually, everyone was ready to record what became The Bell. All that was left was for producer Manfred Eicher to set the tapes running. When he did, Ches Smith, Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri played. Eventually, the eight tracks were recorded, and Ches Smith had seamlessly made the transition from sideman to bandleader on The Bell. All that was left, was for The Bell to be released.
Before that, critics had their say on The Bell. Ches Smith’s debut album as bandleader received the same critical acclaim as their debut that night at Winter Jazzfest, in January 2014. It was exciting times for Ches Smith and the rest of the trio.
They were about to embark on a worldwide tour, promoting The Bell. The tour takes in America, Canada, Portugal, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway during January and February 2016. Then in March, the trio jet out to South America, where Ches Smith will showcase their eagerly-awaited debut album, The Bell.
Opening The Bell, is the title-track. A bell rings slowly and hesitantly, before strains of viola are joined by a piano. It’s played, tenderly and softly. Literally the keys of the piano are caressed, before vibes make the briefest of appearances. Soon,the piano becomes insistent. Gradually, the arrangement seems to be stirring from its slumbers. Still space is at a premium. Just a scratchy viola and vibes play as bells chime. When they dissipate, the viola drones and the piano continues to play pianissimo. Understated and spacious describes the arrangement. However, it grows in power and drama, before returning to its understated state. From there, the droning viola and piano combine. Later, rumbles of timpani are joined by crashing cymbals, a hypnotic piano and the viola as this first piece of chamber music from the master improvisers reaches a crescendo. As it does, bells ring out, as if to celebrate this triumphant start to The Bell.
The viola sweeps almost dramatically, but leaving space for the rumble of timpani as Barely Intervallic unfolds. When it drops out, the piano picks up the baton. Notes are picked out deliberately. Then the viola and timpani reappear. In the case of the timpani, it merely has a walk-on part. Less is more. With the viola, it combines with, and compliments the piano. Brief bursts of drums add an element of drama, as the arrangement veers between dreamy and melancholy to a cathartic outpouring of frustration. Ches Smith seems to unleash his inner demons, as avant-garde meets free jazz and chamber music. As if spent, the drums disappear, as the vibes and piano create a hypnotic but elegiac backdrop. However, as the piano joins it seems darkness is about to descend. It never does, but there’s a sense of sadness and melancholia in the music.
This continues on Isn’t It Over? Just the piano plays before cymbals are played softly while the viola is caressed. The result is a quite beautiful sound. Complimenting it, is the piano. Each note is picked with care, as if realising that something special is unfolding. Soon, cymbals shimmer and vibes make an appearance. They’re playing supporting roles, as the piano and viola prove to be stars of the show. A pizzicato viola accompanies the piano, and its subtlety is the perfect accompaniment. Later, the vibes replace the viola and prove the perfect foil for the piano. Then when the arrangement stirs, the trio stretch their legs, using their inventiveness to create a dramatic backdrop. Stabs of piano join the wistful cries of the viola and rolls of drums. What follows is a masterful, stirring and dramatic performance that’s guaranteed to captivate.
Just a dark, insistent, probing piano opens I’ll See You On The Dark Side Of The Earth. It’s joined by the plaintive cries of the viola and vibes that ring out. Despite that, the arrangement is wistful, ominous and has a sense of foreboding. Its roots seem to be in classical music, as the arrangement meanders moodily along. Later, the arrangement builds, with the viola and piano at the forefront. By then, there’s shrillness in the arrangement, as percussion and drums combine. Soon, dramatic and melodic describes the insistent, strident arrangement. It builds towards a crescendo as bandleader Ches Smith and Co. deliver a musical masterclass.
Vibes ring out, before almost dissipating on I Think. They reappear, only to disappear and usher in the piano. Just like the preceding track, the arrangement is understated, with a thoughtful, ruminative sound. Soon, the arrangement is washing over the listener. Occasional bursts of near drama ensure that the listener doesn’t become complacent. They don’t; as they’re aware that the trio will spring a surprise. Flourishes of piano and the cries of the viola could be the signal that a change is underway. That’s the case. The piano is played insistently and adds a hypnotic backdrop for the viola and drums. By now, everyone follows the lead of the piano, and creates another dramatic, rousing, cinematic backdrop.
At just over five minutes, Wacken Open Air is one of the shortest tracks on The Bell. Straight away, a cinematic piano is joined by the viola and bursts of drums. Just like the previous track, this would be the perfect addition to a film. Another similarity to the preceding track is the rousing, stirring sound. Drums play an important part as piano is pounded and the viola sweeps the arrangement along. Later, the trio eschew power, but the sense of drama remains. Especially as the elegiac piano combines with the viola. Then the trio take a diversion, as they experiment and innovate before heading towards a dramatic crescendo.
A cymbal shimmers as the dark ominous sound of a piano opens It’s Always Winter Somewhere. It’s joined by an understated, thoughtful viola and Ches Smith’s drums. He plays within with care, ensuring he doesn’t overpower the arrangement. That would be a shame, given the potency of the combination of piano and viola. Craig Taborn’s fingers flit up and down the piano, caressing the keys. The result is ethereal and captivating. At one point, Craig Taborn plays a solo. It’s as if the rest of the trio are watching on in admiration. When they return, Ches Smith beats out a solo as Mat Maneri’s viola sweeps and shimmers. Both men seem to have been inspired by what has to be Craig Taborn’s finest moment on The Bell.
As the viola cascades, drums snap and the piano adds an element of drama to For Days, which closes The Bell. Soon, the tempo rises. So does the drama. At the forefront is the sweeping viola and gentle, thoughtful bursts of piano. They contribute to another cinematic sounding track which meanders lazily along. It almost grinds to a halt. This is purely for dramatic effect; but works. By then the listener is spellbound, wondering what will happen next? Instruments are added, including vibes, the scratchy viola and insistent piano. Soon, though, everything is played with a tenderness, before the viola soars above the arrangement, providing a captivating end to not just For Days, but Ches Smith’s eagerly-awaited debut album, The Bell.
It’s no exaggeration to refer to The Bell as an eagerly awaited album. That’s definitely the case. Everyone who was fortunate enough to witness the trio’s debut at the New York Winter Jazzfest have awaited the release of The Bell. It marks Ches Smith’s move from band member and sideman to bandleader.
He assumes the role and responsibility with aplomb. Everything he’s done so far in his career, seems to have been leading up to this. Ches Smith and his handpicked trio create what’s an ambitious, captivating and innovative album, where chamber music combines with avant garde, classical music and free jazz. This might seem like an unlikely combination, but it’s one that works. With the help of producer Manfred Eicher, seamlessly, Ches Smith, Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri combine musical genres on a captivating musical adventure.
It’s the result of three master musicians in perfect harmony. While Ches Smith is the bandleader, he’s not afraid to let Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri showcase their considerable skills. When this happens, Chess Smith is content to play a supporting role. He knows that they’re playing their part in a rich, multi-textured album, The Bell. It features music that’s variously cinematic, dramatic, elegiac, ethereal, rousing and stirring. Other times, it’s melancholy and wistful. Always, though, The Bell captivates. This makes the long wait for the release of Ches Smith’s debut album, The Bell well worthwhile.
CHES SMITH-THE BELL.
By 1978, German music was changing. The Krautrock era had ended in 1977, and there was a move towards electronic music. This wasn’t new.
The Berlin School had been around since the early seventies. It was also a precursor of ambient music, and went on to influence future generations of ambient musicians. Among the founding fathers of The Berlin School were Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching. They began to pioneer electronic music in West Berlin. Over the next few years, they recorded not just some of the most important, influential and innovative electronic music of the seventies, but in the history of music. This included many classic Berlin School albums.
Tangerine Dream, were are at the forefront of The Berlin School sousnd. Lead byEdgar Froese and Christopher Franke, they released back to-back classics. The first was Phaedra in 1974, with Rubycon following in 1975. The same year, a former member of Tangerine Dream released another classic album.
Klaus Schulze released his fifth album Timewind in 1975. Timewind was hailed a groundbreaking, Berlin School classic, and influenced other artists. So did an album Manuel Göttsching released in 1976,
When New Age Of Earth was released in 1976, the album was credited to the band Ash Ra. However, there was no doubt about it, New Age of Earth was a Manuel Göttsching solo album. New Age Of Earth was very different to many albums being released in 1976. With its ambient sound, it would influence several generations of ambient musicians, and nowadays, is regarded as an ambient classic. It seemed with every year that passed, Berlin School classic was released.
1978 was no different. That year, Michael Hoenig released his critically acclaimed album Departure From The Northern Wasteland. It was a career-defining classic, that nowadays, is regarded as a landmark album. However, it wasn’t until much later that Departure From The Northern Wasteland began to receive the critical acclaim it deserved. This wasn’t new.
It had been a familiar story since the birth of The Berlin School. Some of the most important, influential and innovative Berlin School albums passed almost unnoticed. Even in Germany. That was the case with an album from two musicians from Kempten, Bavaria, Wolfgang Baumann and Ata Koek.
They recorded just one album Baumann Koek, which was recently reissued by Bureau B. It’s a welcome reissue of an album that’s one of the hidden gems of The Berlin School. Baumann/Koek deserves to be heard by a much wider audience than heard their eponymous album in 1978. That couldn’t be helped. They were a victim of circumstances, and their story is a case of what if?
The Baumann/Koek began in Kempten, Bavaria in 1978. That was home to Wolfgang Baumann and Ata Koek, two musicians who dreamt of making an album. This wasn’t going to be a traditional rock album. Instead, twenty-eight year old Wolfgang Baumann and twenty-two year Ata Koek wanted to follow in the footsteps of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching. There was one problem though, they didn’t have the equipment necessary to record an album. So they headed to Bonn.
Back then, Bonn was the capital of West Germany. It was also a good place to buy the equipment they needed. One place especially, would have what Wolfgang and Ata needed to record an album, Synthesizerstudio Bonn. This was where German musical royalty came to buy electronic equipment. Knowing they were following in the footsteps of Kraftwerk, who were one of Germany’s most successful musical exports, meant their was an air of excitement as Wolfgang and Ata journeyed to Bonn. Eventually, they arrived and went shopping.
At Synthesizerstudio Bonn, Wolfgang and Ata bought a secondhand ARP 2600. This they hoped would allow them to record their album.
When Wolfgang and Ata returned home, they began experimenting with the ARP 2600, finding out what it could, and couldn’t do. It was with a heavy heart, that Wolfgang and Ata realised they needed more equipment. So they made another journey to Bonn.
This time, when Wolfgang and Ata they were determined to buy enough equipment to record their album. So in Synthesizerstudio Bonn they bought an ARP sequencer, a Solina String keyboard, and an EKO Computer rhythm drum computer. The final piece of the musical jigsaw was a four-track recorder, which allowed Wolfgang and Ata to record their album.
With this expensive array of equipment, a learning experience began for Wolfgang and Ata. They had to work out how to operate each piece of equipment. That was no mean feat. Especially since 1978 was the pre-MIDI age. There was no standardised interface that allowed equipment from different manufacturers to communicate. With Wolfgang and Ata owning equipment by ARP, Solina and EKO, this was problematic. However, patience, persistence and perseverance resulted in Wolfgang and Ata recording the five tracks that became Baumann/Koek. Now they needed someone to mix their album.
By 1978, there was no person better qualified for the job than the legendary Conny Plank. He had worked with the great and good of German music. However, Conny Plank was just as happy to mix Baumann/Koek. So Wolfgang and Ata booked Conny Plank’s studio for the mix, and watched as the master got to work. Conny Plank sprinkled his magic dust, and now Wolfgang and Ata began to plan for the release of Baumann/Koek.
Rather than take their album to one of Germany’s top labels, Wolfgang and Ata decided to release Baumann/Koek themselves. So they had 1,000 copies of Baumann/Koek pressed. Once the album was pressed, it was released later in 1978.
Reviews of Baumann/Koek were positive. The album was well received, and began to sell well in West Germany. It was then that the Swabian wholesaler Jaguar Records offered to distribute Baumann/Koek worldwide. This seemed like too good an offer to refuse. Sadly, it was.
Not long after Jaguar Records took over the worldwide distribution of Baumann/Koek, the company became insolvent. Soon, Jaguar Records was declared bankrupt. For Wolfgang and Ata, this was a huge blow.
Once they had time to digest how the bankruptcy of Jaguar Records would affect them, Wolfgang and Ata came to a decision. There would be no followup to Baumann/Koek. They weren’t willing to risk any more of their capital. This meant that Baumann/Koek was the one and only album from Baumann/Koek.
Sadly, for a while Baumann/Koek was overlooked by record buyers. It wasn’t until the dawn of the internet age, that a new generation of music lovers rediscovered Baumann/Koek. However, there was a degree of confusion over who played on the album.
When some people heard Baumann/Koek, they were convinced that the album featured Peter Bauman of Tangerine Dream. This was denied, but even today, the rumours persist. Other rumours were that Baumann/Koek featured Peter Bauman who sung on the MPS Records’ cover albums. This was also denied. Still, though, the rumours persist. Maybe Bureau B’s reissue of Baumann/Koek will finally put paid to these rumours, and ensure that Wolfgang Bauman and Ata Koek receive the credit they so richly deserve. Although they only released one album, Baumann/Koek is an album that will grace any self-respecting record or CD collection.
Opening Baumann/Koek, is Yarabbim, a twelve minute epic. The arrangement can be heard in the distance. It sounds like a train making its way down the line, ready to take listener on a musical journey aboard one of Deutsche Bahn’s futuristic looking trains. As the arrangement grows in power and drama, the train nears the station. When the listener climbs onboard, Baumann/Koek are ready to provide the soundtrack,
After a brief nod to Kraftwerk, the train leaves the station, and Baumann/Koek provide an irresistible soundtrack to the journey. As the kilometres go by, the arrangement pulsates, and veers between hypnotic and mesmeric, to elegiac and ethereal. Contrasts abound, as washes of synths join the pounding, hypnotic drums. By then, the listener is hooked, as they’re swept along atop swathes of synths strings. Dramatic, beautiful and full of subtle hooks, Yarabbim is a truly irresistible journey courtesy of musical master craftsmen, Baumann/Koek. One wonders if this is the music they dreamt of recording as they journeyed between Kempten to Bonn, to buy the instruments to record the album?
A myriad of beeps and squeaks are panned left to right on TD-Mem. Soon, urgent synths are added to the pulsating, mesmeric arrangement. It seems the journey that began on Yarabbim continues. Above the arrangement, what sounds like a light aircraft soars, as if surveying man and machine in perfect harmony. By then, swells of synth strings add en elegiac sound, which contrasts perfectly to urgency and mesmerism of the arrangement. Later, the tempo increases, and futuristic bursts of sci-fi synths are added. This adds to the cinematic nature of the track, as the tempo increases again. It’s as if Baumann/Koek are going through the gears as this captivating, cinematic journey continues apace.
Gamabol is another twelve minute epic. The introduction might sound understated and otherworldly. It’s not. Instead, it’s a radio is being tuned, and then a code being tapped out. Then the arrangement beeps, speaks and buzzes. Frantically, a code is tapped out, sounding like a desperate cry for help. Musical alchemists deploy their array of equipment and create an innovative cinematic soundscape. Later, washes of synths envelop the listener. The arrive from left and right, as hypnotic strings chug along. Again, Baumann/Koek are taking the listener on a journey. Melodic and dramatic, the arrangement flows along. After eight minutes, man and machine are in perfect harmony, creating an elegiac, graceful melodic, electronic symphony that sweeps the listener along as their journey continues.
A car races by, before pulsating bass synth dominates the arrangement of Where. It seems Baumann/Koek are taking the listener on a late night drive along the autobahn. Meanwhile, washes of synths sweep in and out. Sometimes, filters are used to transform the dry sound. This works well. Soon, the tempo increases and drums are added. So are synths strings. They add an ethereal backdrop. Filters continue to be used, and signal another increase in the tempo. However, Baumann/Koek don’t fall into the trap of overusing the filters. Instead, they use them sparingly, to compliment the arrangement to Where.
Sequencer Roll closes Baumann/Koek eponymous debut album, and is totally different to previous tracks. So much so, that one can’t help but wonder if I’ve strayed onto the wrong album? Baumann/Koek sound like Canned Heat or ZZ Top, as they boogie their way through this two minute track. It’s a truly irresistible track, and one that showcases Baumann/Koek’s versatility and talent. Not many people could create a track like Sequencer Roll, using the equipment they had available. However, the Kempten based poisoners managed to, and it’s a fitting finale to their one and only album, Baumann/Koek.
Sadly, there was no followup to Baumann/Koek, which was recently reissued by Bureau B. After Jaguar Records became insolvent and was declared bankrupt, Wolfgang Bauman and Ata Koek had to rethink their future plans. Eventually, they decided they couldn’t put more of their capital at risk. Releasing Baumann/Koek had proved expensive.
Wolfgang Bauman and Ata Koek had to buy the equipment to record the album. Then there was the production costs and hiring Conny Plank’s studio so the maestro could mix Baumann/Koek. After the album was mixed, 1,000 copies of Baumann/Koek were pressed. By then, the costs must have been escalating, and surely, Wolfgang Bauman and Ata Koek must have been rueing their decision to self release the album? If only they had taken Baumann/Koek to a record company.
Surely, there would’ve been no shortage of labels willing to release Baumann/Koek? After all, here was an album of innovative music that if promoted properly, could’ve and should’ve been a commercial success. It was an album that oozed quality.
The best way to describe Baumann/Koek was a musical journey. It lasts five tracks and thirty-nine magical minutes. The music veers between cinematic and dramatic, to elegiac and ethereal and even hypnotic and mesmeric. Other times the music is hook-laden, irresistible and melodic. Especially as the listener is swept along atop synth strings. Then as Baumann/Koek draws to a close, Wolfgang and Ata bowl a curveball. A slice of boogie unfolds and Baumann/Koek rock into the distance. Sadly, there was no encore.
Maybe things would’ve been different if a record company had released Baumann/Koek. They would’ve had the money and personnel to promote Baumann/Koek. However, Baumann/Koek valued their independence.
This would ultimately cost them the chance of a long and successful musical career. Neither Wolfgang Bauman nor Ata Koek released another album. Instead, they returned to where the dream began, in began in Kempten, Bavaria.
Thirty-seven years later, and Baumann/Koek has been reissued by Bureau B. This is a welcome reissue of one the hidden gems of The Berlin School. Hopefully, a new generation of music lovers will embrace this timeless, cult classic which should’ve been the beginning a successful career for Baumann/Koek.
By June 1984, thirty-one year old Mike Oldfield prepared to release the ninth album of his career, Discovery. This was the followup to 1983s Crises, which was Mike Oldfield’s most successful album of recent years. Crises was certified platinum in Germany and Sweden; and gold in Britain, France and Holland. This surpassed the success of his six previous albums. However, the roots of the success can be traced back to Five Miles Out, which Mike released in 1982.
Five Miles Out had been recorded during 1981 and 1982. Before the sessions began, Mike Oldfield had been thinking about the future. His albums were no longer as popular as they had once been. He discovered this in 1980.
As the new decade dawned, a new Mike Oldfield seemed to have been born. His first album of the eighties, was very different from previous albums. It was a far certainly a far cry from the symphonic majesty of Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn. These were the albums that launched Mike’s career. Since then, his music continued to evolve.
QE2 was no different. However, a more than a few eyebrows were raised when QE2 featured cover versions of Abba’s Arrival and The Shadows’ Wonderful Land featured on QE2. It seemed Mike Oldfield was determined to reinvent his music.
He did this with the help of vocalist Maggie Reilly, who would become a familiar face on future Mike Oldfield albums. She made her debut on QE2, which was co-produced by Mike and David Hentschel, and scheduled for release in October 1980.
Before the release of QE2, the reviews were mixed. It was a long way from Mike Oldfield’s first three albums. Some critics went as far as to say that QE2 was the weakest album of Mike Oldfield’s six album career. Record buyers agreed.
When QE2 was released in 1980, it reached just number twenty-seven in Britain. Despite this, QE2 solid 100,000 copies and was certified gold. Elsewhere in Europe, QE2 didn’t sell in the same quantities as previous albums. The exceptions were Germany and Spain, where QE2 was certified gold. That was as good as it got. In America, QE2 stalled at number 174 in the US Billboard 200. While QE2 was Mike’s first album since 1975s Ommadawn to chart in the US, it was nothing to go overboard about. Far from it.
Mike Oldfield’s music at a crossroads. If he didn’t do something to address the problem, he risked becoming irrelevant. Gone were the days when prog rock was King and two lengthy musical movements appealed to music buyers. That was long gone. Times and music had changed, and not necessary for the better. Mike realised this and his music began to change direction on QE2. However, QE2 saw Mike heading in the wrong direction.
The problem Mike Oldfield faced, was that since the late seventies, music seemed to be in a constant state of flux. Fashion changed quickly. Musical genres seemed to fall quickly out of fashion. As a result, so did artists. Careers were becoming shorter. Mike who was just twenty-seven had already released six albums. However, he had to rethink his musical future. If Mike’s music didn’t change, he risked alienating a generation of record buyers.
While Mike Oldfield was popular within a certain age group, he wanted to appeal to younger record buyers too. This made sense. Those that had bought Mike’s albums in the early seventies were growing older. Many were married, with families and didn’t have the same money to spend on music. This was impacting on record sales. So Mike needed the new generation of record buyers to embrace his music. The “baby boomers” were the ones with the disposable income, who were buying albums. However, there was a problem with their perception of Mike’s music.
Many of the new generation of record buyers saw Mike Oldfield as the music their parents listened to. When they thought of Mike Oldfield, they thought of grandiose, symphonic music and of course, prog rock. That was the problem.
People’s perception of Mike was problematic. It also meant that a whole generation of record buyers were potentially overlooking Mike’s music. This was ironic because throughout his career, Mike Oldfield’s music evolved. It never stood still. Instead, Mike was a musical shapeshifter, who continued to reinvent his music. Sometimes, the changes were subtle; other times, they were more radical. Mike however never shied away from change.
He had changed direction on QE2. That hadn’t gone to plan. So it was time for a rethink, and a further reinvention of Mike Oldfield, It wouldn’t happen overnight. Instead, it would take three albums, and began on Five Miles Out.
Five Miles Out.
Before the recording sessions for Five Miles Out began, Mike Oldfield realised that his music had to evolve, or risk becoming irrelevant. It was like playing a game of high stakes musical poker. At stake was Mike Oldfield’s career. If his reinvention didn’t work, his career could be all but over. So Mike had to record an album that would appeal to a wider audience.
No longer could Mike record the symphonic albums of his past. That wasn’t what the record public wanted in the early eighties. With this in mind, Mike Oldfield decided his music should move towards a much more accessible pop style. Already Mike had introduced vocalists, cover versions and shorter songs. More changes were afoot for his seventh album Five Miles Out.
When Mike started recording Five Miles Out, synths, sequencers and drum machines were starting to replace real musicians. Mike had been using synths since 1979s Platinum, where he’d used a Roland SH-2000 and Sequential Prophet. For his seventh album Five Miles Out, Mike used a Fairlight CMI.
The Fairlight CMI was a digital sampling synth, which Mike Oldfield would put to good use on Five Miles Out. This lead to a change in style. Gone was the symphonic style of earlier albums. Replacing it, were short, poppy songs. Full of slick, poppy hooks, Mike Oldfield had tried to make his music more accessible, and succeed.
For some of his older fans, the stylistic change didn’t please them. They preferred the symphonic style of earlier albums. This was a step too far. Some went as far as to say Mike had sold out. was being a realist. If he didn’t change, he’d become irrelevant. His decision to change direction musically was vindicated.
Five Miles Out was well received by critics. Many of them embraced the stylistic change. Although a few critics yearned for the symphonic rock opus’ of the past, they realised music had changed. Mike had moved on, and in doing so, maybe won some of the younger record buyers who had previously, criticised his music.
The lead single from Five Miles Out was the title-track, which reached number forty-three in the UK. This gave Mike his first single in six years. Released in March 1982 Five Miles Out was Mike most successful album since 1975s Ommadawn. It reached number seven in the UK, where it was certified gold. Five Miles Out was certified gold in Germany and even reached number 164 in the US Billboard 200. Then when Mike released Family Man, which featured the vocals of Maggie Reilly, it reached number forty-five in the UK. Two hit singles and a gold disc in Britain, Five Miles Out marked the beginning of the reinvention of Mike Oldfield. It continued on Crises.
For the followup to Five Milles Out, Mike Oldfield decided to appeal to fans old and new. The title-track filled side one, and was a twenty minute opus that his old fans would enjoy. It was written by Mike. The five short songs on side two showcased the “new” Mike Oldfield. This included Moonlight Shadow, Taurus 3 and Shadow On The Wall. The other two tracks were collaborations. Foreign Affair was written by Mike and Maggie Reilly, a frequent collaborator with Mike and regular guest vocalist. Jon Anderson of Yes, cowrote in High Places with Mike. These six tracks became Crises.
Crises was co-produced by Mike and Simon Phillip. Mike decided that it was best to stick with what was a winning formula. This meant hiring the best session musicians, for what the slimmed-down band that played on Crises. There was a reason for that. Mike was relying more on drum machines and synths. Many of the other instruments, Mike played himself. That was the benefit of being a skilled multi-instrumentalist. However, for backing vocals, Maggie Reilly, Jon Anderson and Roger Chapman of Family were drafted in. This was the personnel that featured on Crises, which was recorded at his own studio between November 1982 and April 1983. A month later, Crises was released.
On 27th May 1983, Crises was released to widespread critical acclaim. Crises picked up where Five Miles Out left off, reaching number six in the UK. This resulted in Mike’s third gold disc. Around Europe, Crises was a huge success, reaching the top ten in eight countries. In Sweden and Germany, Crises reached number one, and was certified gold in France, Germany and the Netherlands. In Germany, Spain and Sweden, Crises was certified platinum. Mike was back, with one of the most successful albums of his career. However, this wasn’t an end to the commercial success Mike would enjoy.
Moonlight Shadow which was chosen as the lead single from Crises, and reached number four in the UK. Elsewhere, it was a huge commercial success, reaching number one in eleven countries in Europe. For Mike, Moonlight Shadow was the biggest single of his ten year career. The second single was Shadow On The Wall, which featured Roger Chapman from Family on lead vocal, stalled at just number ninety-five in the UK. Despite that disappointment, Crises had been a huge commercial success, further vindicating Mike’s decision to change direction musically.
After the success of Crises, Mike Oldfield was hailed the comeback King. He had rescued his career, and by June 1984, was preparing to release his ninth album, Discovery, which was recently reissued by UMC.
By the time Mike Oldfield was ready to write what became Discovery, he was living as a tax exile. Home for Mike was Villars-sur-Ollon in the canton of Vaud, in Switzerland. That was where Mike Oldfield wrote and recorded what became Discovery.
For Discovery, Mike Oldfield wrote eight tracks. Mainly, they were short songs, apart from The Lake, which was twelve minutes long. However, compared to Mike’s early albums, The Lake was almost an excercise in brevity. Just like the rest of Discovery, The Lake was recorded in Villars-sur-Ollon.
Gone were the days when Mike would be joined by a full band. These days were in the past. Instead, just drummer Simon Phillips; and vocalists Maggie Reilly and Barry Palmer made their way to Villars-sur-Ollon. Mike a multi-instrumentalist, utilised both traditional instrumehts and technology. Seamlessly, Mike switched from acoutic and electric guitars to a bass and mandolin. He also used guitar and bass synths, and the Fairlight CMI. Mike who was an early adopter of the Fairlight CMI, used it for sampling and sequencing. Sonically, it was a far cry from Tubular Bells, Mike’s classc debut album. However, Mike new in his heart of hearts that his music had to contnue to evolve on Discovery. It was released on 25th June 1984.
Before the release of Discovery, critics had their say on Mike’s ninth album in eleven years. Mostly, the reviews were positive. Some critics preferred Mike’s “old” sound, and found some of the poppier songs too lightweight. However, Mike had been ecouraged to include the more poppy songs by Virgin Records.
They wanted another Moonlight Shadow. So Mike sat at his Fairlight CMI trying to compose another hit single. It wasn’t easy. Moonlight Shadow had taken eight years hard work. So the chances of lighting striking twice were slim. However, Mike had to be seen to appeasing his paymasters at Virgin Records. He knew that record buyers would have the final say. They may not be the arbiters of taste, but they certainly were the arbiters of popularity.
When Discovery was relased in Britain, it failed to replicate the sucess of Crises, reaching just fifteen. However, this was enough for another gold disc. Elsewhere in Europe, Discovery proved popular. It reached number one in Germany and Switzerland; number two in Holland; and number three in Austria, Norway and Sweden. This resulted in Discovery being certified platinum in Spain; and gold in France, Germany and Sweden. While Discovery didn’t quite replcate the success of Crises, the reinvention of Mike Oldfield ensured that his comeback continued.
That’s despite the singles not replicating the success of Moonlight Shadow. Mary, Queen Of Scots reached the top ten in eight European countries. In France it reached number one. However, in Britain, Mary, Queen Of Scote stalled at forty-eight. Tricks Of The Light failed to matche the success of Mary, Queen Of Scots. It reached just ninety-one in Britain and forty-six in Germany. By then, Discovery, the third album from the new Mike Oldfield, was well on its way to selling over a million copies in Europe.
Opening Discovery, is To France, a song about Mary, Queen Of Scots. Straight away, there’s a Celtic influence before eighties drums accompany Maggie Reilly’s heartfelt, emotoive vocal. Soon, guitars, bass and keyboards are provding the backdrop to Maggie’s vocal. She brings the lyrics to life, so much so, that it’s possible to imagine Mary fleeing, seeking sanctuary and safety. By then Maggie’s vocal is etheral, and at the heart of the arrangement. When it drops out, a keyboards, guitar, flugelhorn and drums replace the vocal. Insruments are introdced and just as importantly, withdrawn at the right moment. This includes a searing guitar that cuts across through the arrangement. It’s just the latest addition to this hook-laden fusion of pop and Celtic music, which features a vocal masterclass from Maggie Reilly.
A bass synths opens Poison Arrows, addimg an element of drama. Soon, drums pound deliberately and a guitar cheeps, and accompanies Barry Palmer’s dramatic vocal. Fear is in his voice as he warns: “someone’s out to get you, hiding in the shadows.” Rolls of drums, bass and later, blistering rocky guitars are added. They replace Barry’s vocal. Then Mike Oldfield is transformed into guitar hero. It’s the latest dramatic element. So are a pulsating bass synth and howls, which add to the cinematic nature of the track.
A crystalline guitar joins hypnotic drums on Crystal Gazing. It features the return of Maggie Reilly. Her elegiac, etheral vocal is swept along on the arrangement whichg now includes keyboards and synths. Then when the vocal drops out, a guitar gives way to a horn, before reaching a sudden ending. All that’s left is a pleasnt memory of Maggie Crystal Gazing.
Tricks Of The Light has a real eighties sound to it. The telltale signs are the drums, synths and even the bass. They provide the backdrop for Maggie and Barry, who share vocal duties. That’s despite not meeting until after Discovery was recorded. Their vocals are envloloped by synths and searing guitars. Harmonies augment the vocal, before Mike Oldfield makes another welcome appearance. He adds to the urgency, on what’s another catchy fusion of pop and eighties electronica.
Drums pound, while the blisterng guitar cuts through Discovery’s arrangement. Then when Barry’s vocal enters, it’s a throaty, impassioned roar. He delivers the lyrics with feeling, while banks of keyboards and synths joins machine guitars and ocasional harmonies. Barry’s vocal is a mixture of anger and frustration; especially when he asks: “how can you sleep, how can you turn away, thinking’s so cheap, some day you’ll pay.” By then, Mike Oldfield is firmly in fistpumping, stomping eighties anthem territitory. It’s a long way from Tubular Bells, and QE2, the album the nearly sunk the good ship Oldfield. Three albums later, and Discvery finds the new Mike Oldfield in calmer waters, having rediscovered his Midas Touch.
Talk About Your Life is an elegiac ballad featuring Maggie Reilly. She’s accompanied by a slow arrangement where synths and keyboards dominate. It provides the backdrop to a vocal that can only be described as ethereal. Gradually, the tempo quickens slightly, as different instruments are introdced. This includes a what could be a church organ and even guitar. They’re joined by harmonies, as the drama builds, and Maggie delivers an emotional and hearfelt vocal.
Saved By A Bell has a much more understated, dreamy arrangement. Mike deploys his synths, and they frame the vocal. Soon, the arrangenent begins to unfold. Drums are dropped in. So are the bass, guitars and bold keyboards. By now, the track has been transformed. It’s two sides of the same coin, which are part and parcel of the same song, which later, heads in the direction of an impassioned power ballad.
The Lake, a twlve minute track closes Discovery. It’s a nod to Mike’s older fans, who embraced his symhponic epics. Often, these albums only featured two lengthy tracks. For them, he offers up The Lake. Hpynotic see-saw synths are eventually joined by a dark, pulsating bass. Then Mike throws a curveball, and the arranegennt races away. Drums power the arrangement away, as it references Mike’s seventies heyday. At one point, there’s even a nod to Status Quo. Sci-fi are added, as Mike Oldfield takes the listener on a musical adventure. The arrangement veers between eerie and haunting, futuristic and cinematic. See-saw synths are joined by guitars as the track veers between grandiose and understated. By then, The Lake sounds like the soundtrack to a film that’s yet to be made. Later, Mike’s rocks along before the elgiac soundscape returns. It seems Mike Oldfield has kept the best to last, and at the same time, keeps his old fans onside.
That was important. Mike Oldfield couldn’t risk alienating his old fans. They had been buying his albums since Tubular Bells was released in 1973. Eleven years later, and Discovery was Mike’s ninth album. Many of his old fans had turned their back on Mike’s music. They didn’t like the lightweight, poppy sound. Instead, they preferred the symphonic, preogressive sound of Mike’s early albums.
Ever since QE2, many of Mike’s older fans felt neglected. Things had changed slightly on Five Miles Out, with its twenty-fove minute epic Taurus II. Then on Crises, the title-track was a twenty minute opus. Both albums featured the new and old Mike Oldfield. Mostly, though Mike’s older fans had t watch their onetime hero trying to win over a new generation of music lovers. Some of Mike’s old fans felt neglected and unloved. So on Discovery, he pampered his old fans with the twelve minute epic, The Lake. It was the nearest thing Mike Oldfield’s old sound. Ironically, The Lake was the best track on Discovery. However, there’s more to Discovery than one track.
From the opening bars of To France, right through to The Lake, Mike Oldfield and his friends captivate, and take the listener on a musical journey. Aided and abetted by Maggie Reilly, Barry Palmer and Simon Phillips, Mike Oldfield combines pop, rock and eighties electronica with progressive rock. The result is hook-laden album that should’ve appealed to Mike Oldfield’s fans old and new. As a result, Mike Oldfield’s comeback continued with Discovery, whcoh was recently reissued by UMC.
It seems a longtime ago since Mike Oldfield stood at the musical crossroads. However, he didn’t make the mistake many musicians had made before, and changed direction. This ensured that Mike Oldfield’s career continued, and thirty years later, in 2014 Mike Oldfieled released Man On The Rocks, his twenty-fifth studio album. However, that might not have happened. Especially if Mike Oldfield hadn’t began to reinvent his on Five Miles Out. The reinvention of Mike Oldfield continued on Crises and was complete on his ninth studio album, Discovery.
JOHN MARTYN-A LIFE IN MUSIC REMEMBERED.
It’s hard to believe that it’s seven years since John Martyn passed away on 29th January 2009. Incredibly, John Martyn was only sixty years old. He seemed to have been around forever.
John Martyn’s life revolved around music. His career began in 1967, when he was just seventeen. Back then, John Martyn was a folk singer. Over the next forty-two years, John Martyn continually reinvented his music. He flitted between folk and folk rock to blues, psychedelia, reggae, rock and trip hop during the five decades John spent making music. He had released twenty studio albums during his lifetime, including classics like Bless The Weather, Solid Air and One World. They’re part of the rich musical legacy that John Martyn left behind in 2009. His story started back in 1948.
John Martyn was born Iain David McGeachy, in 1948 in New Malden, Surrey, England. Both his parents were opera singers, so from an early age John Martyn was exposed to music. When John was five, his parents divorced and much of his childhood was spent at his grandmother’s in Glasgow.
His musical career began aged seventeen, playing a mixture of blues and folk music. Legendary folk singer Hamish Imlach was to prove to be an early influence, even a mentor, to John. Quickly, he became a leading figure on the London folk circuit. Thereafter, things started to move quickly for John Martyn.
Aged nineteen, John signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records in 1967. In October 1967, his debut album London Conversation was released. Just over a year later, his second album The Tumbler was released in December 1968. On The Tumbler album, the style of music was to change, to a much more jazz influenced sound. This would be the start of the evolution of John Martyn’s music.
By the time John Martyn released his third album Stormbringer in February 1970, he had met and and married Beverley Martin. Stormbringer was their first collaboration.
Previously, Beverley had been a solo artist, Beverley Kutner. She had worked with Jimmy Page and Nick Drake. On Stormbringer John’s sound changed again. John played his acoustic guitar through a fuzzbox, phase shifter and Echoplex. This would become part of John’s trademark sound, when he returned to his solo career. Before that, he released one further album with Beverley.
John and Beverley Martyn released one further album together. This was the The Road To Ruin, like Stormbringer released in November 1970. By then, Island Records wanted to market John Martyn as a solo artist. Beverley Martyn did make an appearance on further albums, singing backing vocals. Mostly though, Beverley returned to her career as a solo artist. So did John.
With Island Records now marketing John as a solo artist, he released six studio albums and one live album, 1975s Live At Leeds between 1971 and 1977. the first of these albums was Bless The Weather.
November 1971 saw the release of Bless The Weather. It was hailed as the finest album of John’s solo career. Mostly, it features acoustic music. The exception is Glistening Glynebourne, which showcased John’s echoplex. It would become part of John’s trademark sound. This was a hint of what was to come from John Martyn.
By far, the best album of the seventies was his seminal album Solid Air. Released in February 1973, Solid Air is seen as one of the best albums of the 1970s. The title track was a tribute to Nick Drake, a close friend of Martyn’s who died tragically of an overdose. During the recording of Solid Air, Martyn was to meet bassist, Danny Thompson. The pair collaborated right up until John’s death in 2009. John’s vocal style changed during the recording of Solid Air. At that time, he started to develop a new slurred vocal style. The timbre of this new vocal style resembled a tenor saxophone. Just like the echoplex, this new singing style became a feature of John’s future albums.
His next album Inside Out, was released in October 1973. It featured a much more experimental style of music. There was much more emphasis on improvisation. John’s sound and style it seemed, was constantly evolving.
For his eight album, Sunday’s Child which was released in January 1975, John reigned in his experimental sound. However, Sunday’s Child was a much more eclectic album, with John flitting between country, folk and rock. The result was an eclectic and critically acclaimed album. However, controversy wasn’t far away for John.
In 1975 Island Records refused to release Martyn’s live album, Live At Leeds. So, John resorted to selling signed copies by mail from his home. After the release of Live At Leeds in 1977, John headed to Jamaica on holiday.
What started out as a holiday, ended up with John collaborating with reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. One World, John Martyn’s second classic album, now is seen by some people as the first ever trip hop album. As a result, John Martyn is perceived as the godfather of trip hop and One World a John Martyn classic. After One World, John didn’t release an album for three years.
The eighties were a turbulent time for John Marten, both personally and professionally. By the end of the seventies, John’s marriage had broken down. This led to John pressing “the self destruct button” as he described it. John became addicted to alcohol and drugs. He later said this was avery dark period in his life. Grace and Danger, which was released in October 1980, was the album that came out of this period.
Grace and Danger was autobiographical, describing what he was going through at that time. Chris Blackwell, realising just how personal an album Grace and Danger was, held the album’s release back a year. Partly, this was because of his friendship with both John and Beverley Martyn. Following Grace and Danger, which is one of John’s most underrated and powerful albums, he left Island Records.
After leaving Island Records in 1981, John Martyn joined two albums for WEA. They thought they could transform John’s career, and turn him into a commercially successful artist. The way to do this, they thought, was to move away from John’s traditional sound, to a more mainstream sound. This didn’t appeal to John. So he only stayed at WEA for two albums.
Glorious Fool was released in September 1981, with and Well Kept Secret following in August 1982. This more mainstream sound didn’t prove successful. So John returned to Island Records.
Back at Island Records, John Martyn only released two studio albums. Sapphire released in November 1984, had a poppy sheen. It was quite unlike John Martyn. So was Piece By Piece, which was released in February 1986. Neither album proved particularly successful. So Island Records released a live album
Foundations in 1987. This was much more representative of John Martyn. Sadly, still commercial success eluded John and Island Records dropped Martyn in 1988. This brought to an end a twenty year association with Island Records.
Two years later, John Martyn returned with a new album, The Apprentice. It was released on Permanent Records, and was hailed as a return to form from John Martyn. This would prove ironic and embarrassing for Island Records.
It’s thought that one of the reasons for John Martyn’s departure from Island Records, was that they didn’t like the demos what would became The Apprentice. So when John left Island Records, he set about proving them wrong.
Rather than sign to another record company, John paid for the recording of The Apprentice. He returned “home” to Glasgow, and with his band, recorded The Apprentice at the city’s Cava Studios. This seemed to inspire John, and when the album was complete, John went in search of a record company to release The Apprentice.
Given his track record, there would be no shortage of record companies willing to release a John Martyn album. However, it was Permanent Records that got the honour of releasing what became John’s best album of recent years. Sadly, John never came close to matching the quality of The Apprentice.
The closest he came was Cooltide, which was recorded at Cava Studios, Glasgow. Cooltide was released in November 1990, and featured a jazz sheen. This was well received by critics. They were won over by Cooltide, which critics felt, came close to the quality of The Apprentice. It seemed John’s career was enjoying an Indian Summer.
Despite this, it was another seven years before John returned with an other studio album. His only release was Live, a double album released by Permanent Records in 1994. This showcased what John Martyn live sounded like by the nineties. Nearly two decades after the release of Live At Leeds, and John was still a stalwart of the live circuit. Wherever he went, he still a popular draw. On tour, John embraced the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.
John Martyn loved life. However, he loved life in the fast lane. During some part of his career, drink and drugs became part of John’s daily diet. This lead to addiction. Eventually, this caught up with John in 1996, when his pancreas literally exploded. For most musicians this would’ve marked the end of their career, and a much more sedate lifestyle. Not John.
He returned in 1997 with a new album And, which featured his old friend, and sometime collaborator, Phil Collins. And marked another stylistic change from John Martyn. There was a noticeable trip hop influence on And. That’s not surprising, as John is regarded as inventing the genre on One World. Reviews of And were mixed. The standout track was Sun Shines Better, which was remixed for the hidden track on the album. With its trip hop sound, the remix would become a favourite of DJs playing chill-out sets. Despite approaching his fiftieth birthday, John Martyn was still relevant.
After not releasing an album for seven years, John returned with his second album in just under two years. The Church With One Bell was a covers albums, where John and small band recorded ten tracks during one week at CaVa Sound Studios. John had covered songs by Bobby Charles, Ben Harper, Elmore James, Rev. Gary Davis, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Portishead. This eclectic selection of songs was released 1998.
The Church With One Bell, like many of John’s later albums, divided opinion amongst critics and fans. While some loved the albums, others weren’t so sure. It was a disappointing way for John to celebrate his fiftieth birthday.
Many people found it hard to believe John Martyn was just fifty. He seemed, had been around forever.. His career had began thirty-three years earlier. Since then, he had released eighteen studio albums. As the new millennia dawned, eighteen became nineteen.
Glasgow Walker was John’s first album of the new millennia. It was also the first album John wrote on a keyboard. Usually, John sat down with a guitar to write songs. Not this time. At Phil Collins’ suggestion, John wrote Glasgow Walker at a keyboard. The result was a genre-hopping album.
Seamlessly, John flitted between blues rock, folk-rock, jazz, psychedelia, rock and trip hop on Glasgow Walker, which was released in 2000. For his oder fans, Cool In This Life, a trip hop track came as a surprise. However, it showed that John Martyn was still determined to take his music in a new direction. The result was a much more eclectic sounding album, which won over critics. They felt Glasgow Walker was better than And and matched the quality of Cooltide. John Martyn’s first album of the new millennia one of the his best album of the post-Island Years. As a result, critics and fans eagerly awaited John Martyn’s next album.
Sadly, On The Cobbles proved to be the final album released during John’s life. It had been recorded in studios in Britain, Ireland and America. By then, John was suffering from health problems.
This had been the case for some time. For some time, John seemed to be jinxed. It started when had injured his head on a rock whilst swimming underwater. Then he stumbled as he took to the stage, and broke a toe. Next there was the time John dislocated his shoulder. One night when John driving home after a “celebration,” he had forgotten to put the car lights on. The car crashed and John broke his neck. Somehow, John survived to tell the tale. However, despite this close escape, John chose to ignore shooting pains in his right knee.
When John eventually sought medical advice, the pain was misdiagnosed as deep vein thrombosis. Eventually, John sought a second opinion. It turned out that John had a cyst on his knee. Poison had been pumping around his body for months. Soon, John was being operated on. Three operations later, and John’s right lower leg was amputated from the knee down. John’s fear of doctors had const him dearly. Despite the loss of part of his right leg, John’s career continued.
He recorded On The Cobbles from a wheelchair at various studios. A familiar face returned for the On The Cobbles, bassist Danny Thompson. The pair had been playing together for over thirty years. However, they hadn’t recorded an album together for nearly twenty years. It was fitting that they reunited on On The Cobbles.
When On The Cobbles was released in April 2004, it was John’s twentieth studio album. He was joined by Mavis Staples, Andy Sheppard and Paul Weller. They played their part on an album that was well received by critics. Sadly, On The Cobbles proved to be John Martyn’s swan-song.
Nearly five years later, on 29th January 2009, John Martyn passed away, aged just sixty. He had spent five decades making music, and released twenty studio albums. These albums were the soundtrack to many people’s lives. Especially classics like Bless The Weather, Solid Air and One World. Then there were hidden gems like the jazz-tinged Inside Out, the eclecticism of Sunday’s Child and the breakup album Grace and Danger. When it comes to live albums, Live At Leeds, which John sold from his house, is his best live outing. Each of these albums, are from the Island Years. For many, these were the best years of John Martyn’s recording career.
Especially the period between 1967 and 1980. When John returned to Island Records, he never reached the same heights as first time round. The glossy pop sheen of Sapphire and Piece By Piece seemed far removed from John’s classic albums. After that, John released six albums for various record companies.
Some of these albums divided the opinion of critics. However, The Apprentice and Cooltide marked a return to form of one of music’s true mavericks.
John Martyn never seemed willing to “play the game.” Just like Neil Young and Van Morrison, John Martyn preferred to do things his way. He was too much of a maverick, and wasn’t suited to life as part of the major label machine. Instead, he was happy to divide his time between the road, and the recording studio.
In the recording studio, John Martyn never stood still. Instead, he combined disparate musical genres, often on the one album. This was all part of John’s determination to innovate and push musical boundaries. He flitted between folk and folk rock to blues, psychedelia, reggae, rock and trip hop on the twenty studio album released during during his lifetime. Despite innovating, and creating several classic albums, commercial success eluded John Martyn. Maybe that’s why for much of his career, John spent large parts of the year on the road.
For much of his career, John Martyn’s natural habitat was the road. He was a free spirit, who enjoyed touring, and was happy to spend large parts of the year on the road. Especially, if Danny Thompson was by his side. Hi-jinks, hilarity and hell-raising often ensued. Sometimes, this meant getting out of Dodge in a hurry. However, they lived to tell the tale and laughed about it afterwards. Sadly, all the hell-raising and carousing caught up with John.
During large parts of his career, John was addicted to drink and drugs. This resulted in his pancreas exploding in 1996, and the car crash where he broke his neck. By the late nineties, John’s luck seemed to be running out.
Then when a cyst was misdiagnosed, this eventually resulted in part John’s right leg being amputated. John didn’t even let this get him down. Determination kicked in, and John overcame the loss of his lower right leg. With the aid of a prosthetic leg, John Martyn’s career continued.
In 2007, John and his keyboard player Spenser Cozens cowrote and recorded the score for Strangebrew. Then a newly reinvigorated John returned to the studio for what would’ve been his twenty-first album, Heaven and Earth. Sadly, before the album was complete, John Martyn died on on 29th January 2009. That day, music had lost one of its most talented sons.
Since then, many of John Martyn’s albums have been reissued. There’s also been box sets and best offs released. These reissues have introduced a new generation of music lover’s to John Martyn’s music. No longer is he one of music’s best kept secrets. Instead, John Martyn’s music is belatedly reaching a much wider audience, who are discovering an innovative and influential artist, who even today, continues to influence another generation of artists, seven years after his death,
JOHN MARTYN-A LIFE IN MUSIC REMEMBERED.
BLACK SABBATH-MASTER OF REALITY-IMPORT.
1970 had been a year that defined Black Sabbath’s career. They’d released two hugely successful albums. This includes their debut album Black Sabbath, which was released in February 1970. It reached number eight in the UK and number twenty-three in the US Billboard 200 charts. This resulted in Black Sabbath being certified gold in the UK and platinum in the US. Black Sabbath launched the Birmingham trio’s career. However, things were about to get even better.
Paranoid, Black Sabbath’s sophomore album, was released in the UK in September 1970. It reached number one and was certified gold. Then in January 1971, Paranoid was released in the US, reaching number twelve and was certified platinum four times over. Ironically, in the US, Paranoid wasn’t well received by critics. Despite this, Paranoid sold over twelve-million copies and and featured three Black Sabbath classics Paranoid, Iron Man and War Pigs. After just two albums, Black Sabbath were one of the biggest names in rock music.
Unlike many bands, Black Sabbath’s rise and rise had been meteoric. Just two years after they’d formed in Birmingham, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward, guitarist Tony Iommi and lead vocalist Ozzy Osbourne were rubbing shoulders with rock royalty. There was a problem though. How do you followup an album as successful as Paranoid? After all, what chance had Black Sabbath of recording an album that surpassed Paranoid, a stonewall classic?
The answer to that is with Master Of Reality, is an album influenced three genres of music. They were stoner rock, doom metal and sludge metal, a fusion of hardcore punk and heavy metal. It seemed Black Sabbath were determined to continue pushing musical boundaries on Master Of Reality, which was recently rereleased as an import by Rhino.
Black Sabbath didn’t even get the opportunity to enjoy Paranoid’s success in America. It was released in America in January 1971. That was when Black Sabbath headed into Island Studios to record eight tracks. Six of them, Sweet Leaf, After Forever, Children Of The Grave, Lord of This World, Solitude and Into The Void were written by Black Sabbath. Embryo and Orchid were written by Tony Iommi. Between January and May 1971, Black Sabbath got to work.
At Island Studios, producer Rodger Bain was joined bassist Geezer Butler, drummer and percussion Bill Ward. They provided the rhythm section. Guitarist Tony Iommi also played synth, flute and piano. Adding his inimitable vocal was Ozzy Osbourne. By May 1971, Black Sabbath had completed Master Of Reality, which was released in July 1971.
Before the release of Master Of Reality, reviews were mixed. Just like Paranoid, Lester Bangs, the supposed doyen of critics, gave the album a mixed review. Other high profile critics didn’t take to Master Of Reality. It wasn’t cerebral enough for them. Among the criticisms were that Master Of Reality was “monotonous,” “dull and decadent.” Despite the mixed reviews, Master Of Emotion was a huge commercial success.
Master Of Reality, which was Black Sabbath’s third album, was released on 21st July 1971. In the UK, Master Of Reality reached number five and was certified silver. Over the Atlantic, Master Of Reality was certified gold on preorders along. Eventually, Master Of Reality reached number eight in the US Billboard 200 and was certified double-platinum. The Black Sabbath success story continued with Master Of Reality, which I’ll tell you about.
Master Of Reality opens with Sweet Leaf, one of the earliest examples of stoner rock. A loop of Tony coughing, whilst allegedly smoking a joint opens the track. After that, the rhythm section and blistering guitars accompany Ozzy’s powerhouse of a vocal. It’s a mixture of emotion and power., Machine gun guitars and the thundering rhythm section accompany him all the way. Guitarist Tony Iommi gives a guitar masterclass, before Black Sabbath’s rhythm section kick loose. Like a well-oiled machine Black Sabbath pickup where they left off on Paranoid, creating groundbreaking rock music.
After Forever was the only single released from Master Of Reality. However, it failed to chart. Black Sabbath were always more of an albums band. This is one of the most controversial songs on the album, given the lyrics about religion and Christianity. When this song was released in 1971, it must have provoked controversy. Back then, religion played a bigger part in British and American life. A buzzing synth gives way to Black Sabbath in full flow. It’s a joy to behold. Geezer, Bill and Tony lock into a tight groove. Drums like jackhammers accompany blistering guitars. Ozzy’s rabble rousing vocal is accompanied by stomping arrangement as heavy rock anthem unfolds.
The guitars that open Embryo have a sixties influence. There’s also a brief prig rock influence, before Black Sabbath cut loose. Quickly, the arrangement gathers momentum and a glorious, driving arrangement unfolds. Ozzy struts his way through the lyrics, singing about revolution. Dramatic bursts of guitar are fired above the arrangement. Tony unleashes some blistering licks, while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along further honing and defining Black Sabbath’s trademark sound.
Children Of The Grave is an anti-war song. Black Sabbath had two anti-war songs on Paranoid, War Pigs and Electric Funeral. This is just as good. It’s no mealy mouthed protest song, like Give Peace A Chance. They left that to ex-Beatles and conceptual artists. Neither do Black Sabbath do bed ins. That’s unless groupies and class As are involved. The arrangement is big, bold and in-your-face. Literally, the arrangement is a wall of sound. Searing, blistering and crystalline guitar licks and a thundering, driving rhythm section. Ozzy’s vocal is a mixture of anger and frustration. Tony seems to play as if his very life depends on it, before the track reaches a haunting crescendo.
Straight away, it’s obvious that Orchid is very different to the other tracks on Master Of Reality. It has a folk influence. Chiming, crystalline guitars and a subtle bass combine during this beautiful, short and melancholy instrumental.
Normal service is restored on Lord Of This World. Dark. Dramatic and moody describes the arrangement. The rhythm section glue the arrangement together, while scorching guitars match Ozzy’s grizzled vocal. Later, when Ozzy’s vocal drops out, the rest of the band get their chance to shine. It’s obvious that Geezer, Bill and Tony are top class musicians who were among the greatest rock musicians of the seventies. Lord Of This World is a reminder of this, if any was needed.
Solitude has an understated, melancholy sound. Just a chiming guitar and meandering bass combine with Ozzy’s vocal. It’s full of sadness, regrets and confusion. A flute floats above the arrangement, adding to the atmospheric, haunting arrangement. While this is very different to much of Master Of Reality, it’s a beautiful, haunting and cerebral song, that shows another side of Black Sabbath.
Into The Void closes Master Of Reality, was originally called Spanish Sid. A blistering guitar solo joins a pounding, thunderous rhythm section. Black Sabbath seem to be enjoying the opportunity to showcase their inconsiderable skills. They kick loose and are joined by Ozzy. He delivers his vocal urgently, in short, sharp bursts. Behind him Geezer and Tony join forces, while Bill seems determined to punish his drums.
Although Master Of Reality didn’t quite match the success of paranoid, it proved to be a hugely influential album. Master Of Reality influenced three genres of music. They were stoner rock, doom metal and sludge metal, a fusion of hardcore punk and heavy metal. It seemed Black Sabbath were determined to continue pushing musical boundaries on Master Of Reality, which was recently rereleased on import by Rhino.
Master Of Reality also saw Black Sabbath further refine and and hone their unique sound. They were continuing to rewrite the rules of heavy metal. It was a case of the heavier the better. Leading the charge, were Black Sabbath. This didn’t please some people.
Among them were the critics. This self styled tastemaker seemed to have a downer on Black Sabbath. Along with many American critics, they felt Master Of Reality was too heavy. Critics didn’t approve of the aggression and later, satanic lyrics. That’s why Master Of Reality wasn’t released to critical acclaim. Despite that, Master Of Reality was certified gold in the UK and double platinum in the US. Not for the first time, the critics got it wrong.
Black Sabbath continued to redefine heavy metal on Master Of Reality. So much so, that Black Sabbath provided the blueprint for heavy metal If someone asked what heavy metal sounded like, Black Sabbath was what you played them. The albums that started this was Paranoid, Black Sabbath’s sophomore album. That’s why, in the history of heavy metal, there are only two periods, B.P. and A.P. Before Paranoid and After Paranoid. Following Paranoid would’ve been almost impossible for most bands. However, they weren’t Black Sabbath.
By the time Black Sabbath released Master Of Reality, they’d become a musical phenomena. That was the case for the next ten years. Excess and commercial success were ever-present for the band the redefined heavy metal. Black Sabbath rewrote the rules. Right through until 1981s Mob Rules, gold and platinum discs came Black Sabbath’s way. So did controversy. Much of it concerned Ozzy Osbourne. He parted company with the band in 1979. Sacked by the group he formed, both Ozzy and Black Sabbath survived to tell the tale. However, back in 1971, the Black Sabbath story was just taking shape and they’d go on to become one of the biggest and most successful bands in the history of heavy metal. However, back in 1971, when Black Sabbath released the influential and innovative Master Of Reality, they had another ten years of chaos, controversy, commercial success and critical acclaim coming their way.
BLACK SABBATH-MASTER OF REALITY.
JOHN COLTRANE-A LOVE SUPREME-THE COMPLETE MASTERS BOX SET VINYL EDITION.
On December 9th 1964, four musicians made their war to the Van Gelder Studio, on 445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. They were scheduled to record an album with renowned jazz producer Rudy Van Gelder. He was a veteran of countless recordings, and had worked with some of the biggest names in jazz. This included John Coltrane, who was about scheduled to record a new album, which became A Love Supreme.
When John Cotrane arrived at Van Gelder Studio, he was accompanied by bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer and percussionist Elvin Jones and pianist McCoy Tyner. For most musicians, they would’ve looked at this as just another recording session. Not John Coltrane.
While John Coltrane was still only thirty-eight, he was a veteran of over thirty albums, including many groundbreaking albums. John Coltrane was at the forefront of new musical movements. This included bebop, hard bop and post bop. However, his solo career was just part of the John Coltrane story. He had accompanied some of the legends of jazz, including Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Nothing fazed John Coltrane. In racing parlance, John Coltrane was a thoroughbred, who had gone course and distance countless times. It was the same with the band John Coltrane had assembled.
Jimmy Garrison was thirty-one, and had accompanied everyone from Ornette Coleman, Philly Joe Jones and Jackie McLean, to Lee Conitz, McCoy Tuner and John Coltrane. However, Jimmy Garrison had only released one album as bandleader, Illumination! which was released in 1964, and credited to Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. By then, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones had formed a successful partnership as the go-to rhythm section for top jazzers.
Just like Jimmy Garrison, thirty-seven year old Elvin Jones was an experienced musician. He had released a trio of solo albums, and played on around fifty albums. This included several jazz classics, including Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain, John Coltrane’s My Favourite Things and Freddie Hubbard’s Ready For Freddie. Anyone looking for a drummer, knew to call Elvin Jones. It was the same with McCoy Tyner.
Although McCoy Tyner was only twenty-six, and the youngest member of John Coltrane’s band, he was already released five albums for Impulse! McCoy Tyner had also played on albums by the great and good of jazz. This included Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Art Blakey, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan and Stanley Turrentine. Then in 1962, McCoy Tyner became an integral part of John Coltrane’s band.
Since then, John Coltrane’s quartet had spent time honing their sound. During this period, John Coltrane’s sound had evolved. John Coltrane was never one to stand still. That was for lesser musicians. He was determined to innovate, and push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes beyond. That’s what would happen at Van Gelder Studio, on 9th December 1964.
When John Coltrane entered Van Gelder Studio, he was ready to fuse the music of the past, present and future. Hard bop, free jazz, avant grade and modal jazz were melt into one on what’s now regarded as the finest album of his career, A Love Supreme. It will reissued by Decca on February 12th 2016 as a three LP vinyl box set. For purists A Love Supreme-The Complete Masters will be the definitive version of this classic album, which was recorded in just one day.
With John Coltrane’s quartet assembled in Van Gelder Studio, they began setting up for the session. John Coltrane had written a four part suite, which began with Part 1: Acknowledgement. It was followed by Part 2: Resolution. These two tracks would eventually fill side one of A Love Supreme. On side two, was the eighteen minute epic, Part 3: Pursuance/Part 4: Psalm. The final part, Psalm, is a devotional, or wordless poem, which John Coltrane planned to narrate using his saxophone. Some musicologists have suggested that John Coltrane’s inspiration were the sermons of African-American preachers. This could be the case, as the track ends with John Coltrane giving thanks, saying: “Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen.” This more than hinted that A Love Supreme was a spiritual album.
By then, John Coltrane had fallen under the spell of Ahmadiyya Islam. Some critics and music historians see this as an influence. However, essentially, A Love Supreme was about John Coltrane’s own personal struggle for purity. He expresses his thanks and gratitude for talent bestowed upon him, and perceives the tenor saxophone he plays as being owned by a higher, spiritual power. A Love Supreme part confessional, part hymnal.
Having explained the concept behind A Love Supreme, the quartet received their parts. They were a guide, and left plenty of room for the quartet to express themselves on what was going to be a genre-defying album, A Love Supreme. It saw hard bop, free jazz, avant grade and modal jazz combined by John Coltrane’s quartet.
The quartet featured double bassist Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones on drums, timpani and gong and pianist McCoy Turner. John Coltrane was bandleader, vocalist and wielded his trusty tenor saxophone. By the end of the 9th December 1964, A Love Supreme was complete. However, the quartet returned the following day.
On the 10th December 1964, two alternate takes of Acknowledgement were recorded. Archie Shepp played tenor saxophone and Art Davis double bass. Neither take made its way onto A Love Supreme. Both tracks were included on A Love Supreme-The Complete Masters box set. They’re interesting inclusions, but it’s the versions recorded by the classic quartet that stand head and shoulders above the alternate takes. That’s why the tracks recorded on the 9th December 1964 that feature on A Love Supreme, which was released in February 1965.
Record companies didn’t need months to plan a P.R. campaign to accompany an album’s release. Instead, albums were recorded, then released a couple of months later. This was the case with A Love Supreme. Before that, critics and cultural commentators had their say.
Critics on hearing A Love Supreme, were spellbound. Quickly, critics realised that they were hearing John Coltrane remake jazz history on A Love Supreme. That was the case from Elvin Jones hits the gong, and washes of cymbals resonate. Then comes that familiar four note motif on Jimmy Garrison’s bass. Even by then, some perceptive critics realised that something special was unfolding. Soon, John Coltrane was playing his tenor saxophone as if his very soul depended on A Love Supreme’s success.
By then, John Coltrane was unleashing his legendary “sheets of sound;” his playing combining power and passion. However, not once does John Coltrane resort to showboating. He plays with a humility, but still, there’s a joyousness as he gives thanks.
From there, John Coltrane gives thanks on A Love Supreme. The album is essentially, a thirty-four minute hymnal, where John Coltrane bows down, and gives thanks for the talent bestowed upon him. By then, the classic Coltrane quartet sweep the listener along, as they flit between, and sometime, fuse elements of hard bop, free jazz, avant grade and modal jazz. It’s truly mesmeric, and it’s as if John Coltrane has been touched by genius. Sometimes, there’s a ferocity to John Coltrane’s playing. However, it’s just his way of show his gratitude and appreciation, at being one of the chosen few, one of a higher power’s jazz messengers.
By Psalm, which closes A Love Supreme, John Coltrane offers up a devotional, or wordless poem. Rather than using words, John Coltrane narrates using his saxophone. As he does, he offers his most precious possession, his tenor saxophone as a token of esteem for the talent that’s been bestowed upon him. By the end of Psalm, John Coltrane is almost exhausted and spent, but gives thanks, saying: “Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen.” This brings to an end one of the most powerful albums any music lover will experience, enjoy and embrace, A Love Supreme.
Incredibly, despite critically acclaimed reviews, which referred to A Love Supreme as a groundbreaking album, and classic-in-waiting, this landmark album wasn’t a huge commercial success. Instead, around Impulse! sold around 30,000 copies of A Love Supreme. This was par for the course for the albums John Coltrane released on Impulse!
By 1970, 500,000 copies of A Love Supreme had been sold. This resulted in A Love Supreme being certified gold. Sadly, John Coltrane didn’t see this momentous event.
On July 17th 1967, John Coltrane died, aged just forty. He had recorded over fifty albums, including classics including 1958s Blue Train, which was the only albu, John Coltrane released on Blue Note Records. However, it was later certified gold. Then in 1959, John Coltrane released his first classic album for Atlantic Records, Giant Steps. Two years later, My Favourite Things followed in 1961. Then in 1965, came the album that came to define John Coltrane’s illustrious career, A Love Supreme.
On 12th February 2016, Decca release A Love Supreme-The Complete Masters on vinyl. It’s just a shame this release couldn’t have been released in 2015, which marked the fiftieth anniversary of the release of A Love Supreme. The important thing is, that A Love Supreme-The Complete Masters has been released on vinyl. For purists, they’ll regard this three album sets is the definitive version of A Love Supreme-The Complete Masters.
The first album in A Love Supreme-The Complete Masters box set features the original album, plus original mono reference masters of Pursuance and Psalm. Then on the second album, there’s eleven bonus tracks. They’re a mixture of alternate takes, including a version of Acknowledgment with a false start, and versions of two other takes of Acknowledgment with vocal overdubs. Essentially, these tracks offer the listener to see how the track evolved, right through to what it ultimately became on disc one. However, for many John Coltrane completists, the third album is musical gold. It features the John Coltrane quartet playing A Love Supreme in its entirety, live in Juan-les-Pins, France. This performance has entered jazz folklore, and is a very welcome addition to A Love Supreme-The Complete Masters. Sadly, just two years after this legendary performance, John Coltrane died.
It’s forty-eight years since John Coltrane died. He was in the prime of his musical life, and could’ve and should’ve gone on to be at the forefront of jazz, as the genre continued to reinvent itself. John Coltrane at spent his career as a pioneer of jazz, ensuring the genre neither stood still, nor became irrelevant. There was no chance that jazz was going to go the way of the blues. Not with musical pioneers like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman producing groundbreaking music. Sadly, John Coltrane never got the opportunity to embrace the change in jazz that took place during the late-sixties and early seventies. However, Joh Coltrane left behind a rich musical legacy.
Considering he died when he was just forty, it was remarkable that John Coltrane had managed to record over fifty albums. That’s not forgetting the albums he played on as sideman. John Coltrane was part of Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk’s bands. It was a case of learning from the masters. However, when he stepped out their shadows, John Coltrane was capable of creating groundbreaking, innovative music, that changed the course of jazz history, including his Magnus Opus, A Love Supreme.
JOHN COLTRANE-A LOVE SUPREME-THE COMPLETE MASTERS BOX SET VINYL EDITION.
EMMA POLLOCK-IN SEARCH OF HARPERFIELD.
Most people haven’t heard of Castle Douglas. Why should they? It’s a small market town in Dumfries and Galloway, in south-west Scotland. However, Castle Douglas has been home to some famous faces over the last 224 years. This includes a potter, politician, footballer and two rugby players. However, they’ve been usurped as Castle Douglas’ most famous former resident. Nowadays, former Delgado and singer-songwriter Emma Pollock is regarded as CD’s most famous former resident.
Emma Pollock just happens to have released her third solo album, In Search Of Harperfield on Glasgow’s premier label, Chemikal Underground. It’s Emma’s first solo album since The Law of Large Numbers in 2010. Since then, Emma has been busy, not just making music, but running Chemikal Underground, which in 2015, celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Businesswoman is just another addition to Emma Pollock’s impressive CV.
Her story began back in 1994, when The Delgados were formed. Emma’s boyfriend Paul Savage had been a member of the band Bubblegum. That was until a coup d’état. Suddenly, Paul, Alun Woodward and Stewart Henderson found themselves out in the cold. Their only option was to form a new band.
That’s when The Delgados were born. The three former members of Bubblegum asked Emma to join the nascent band. She became The Delgados vocalist and guitarist. Little did Emma or the rest of the band realise that this was the start of an eleven year journey.
During that journey, The Delgados released a string of singles and E.P.s; not forgetting five albums. However, the first anyone heard of The Delgados was when Liquidation Girl featured on a compilation Skookum Chief Powered Teenage Zit Rock Angst. Those that heard Liquidation Girl realised that The Delgados were rising stars of the Scottish music scene. Surely, record companies would soon be chasing their signature?
That’s not how it worked out. Rather than sign to a record company, The Delgados decided to form their own record label, Chemikal Underground. Two of the new label’s first signings were Mogwai and Arab Strap. Just like The Delgados, they eventually became Scottish music royalty.
Chemikal Underground’s first release came in 1995, when The Delgados debut single Veronica Webster was released. This was the first of a string of singles and E.P.s that Mogwai would release over a ten year period. They would also release five albums. Their debut album was released in 1996.
Just over years after The Delgados were formed, they released their debut album Domestiques in November 1996. By then, The Delgados were combining running a record label with touring and recording. It was like spinning plates. However, The Delgados made it seem easy.
When Domestiques was released. it was to almost overwhelming critical acclaim. Indie rock met pop and even a punk aesthetic on Domestiques, which was hook-laden and melodic. The Delgados hadn’t yet been shorn of their rough edges, had won over even the mist hard bitten gonzo music critic. So was DJ John Peel.
He began championing The Delgados music in 1996. Soon, his The Delgados were a favourite of his listeners. So much so, that when the votes were counted for John Peel’s Festive Fifty, The Delgados Under Canvas, Under Wraps was number three. This was an unexpected Christmas present, as the adventure continued for The Delgados.
In June 1998, The Delgados returned with their sophomore album, Peloton. Just like Domestiques, its title was another reference to cycling. Another similarity was that the critical acclaim accompanied the release of Peloton.
Critics pointed at a more polished album, which showcased The Delgados unique brand of indie rock. Gone were The Delgados rough edges. It was a very different band to the one that featured on Domestiques, and one that were about to enjoy their first hit single.
Pull the Wires From the Wall was released as a single, and reached number sixty-nine in the UK charts. For The Delgados this was definitely another step in the right direction.
The Great Eastern.
As the new millennia dawned, The Delgados returned with what was their Magnus Opus, The Great Eastern. It was produced by American producer Dave Fridmann, who previously, had worked with Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips. Now he turned his attention to The Delgados, and played his part in a career-defining album.
Released in 2000, the title referenced a famous Glasgow landmark, a one-time textile mill that in 2000, was home to the city’s homeless. However, for a generation of music lovers, The Great Western meant The Delgados’ third, and best album. Critics agreed.
When the critics had their say, they hailed The Great Western The Delgado’s finest hour. Elements of folk and indie rock combined on The Great Western, a dreamy, sometimes elegiac, minimalist and thoughtful opus. Everything it seemed, had been leading up to The Great Western. The Delgados were hot property. However, things got even better for The Delgados.
American Trilogy reached sixty-one on the UK charts. Then when the end of year awards were announced, The Great Western won prizes galore. The Spirit Of Scotland Award, the Nordoff-Robbins Best Newcomer Award and Jockrock Tartan Cleft Award. Then The Great Western was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. For Emma Polock and the rest of The Delgados, 2000 had been the most successful year of their six year career.
Following up a career-defining album is never easy for a band. That’s been the case throughout musical history. That was the case for The Delgados. The Great Western was their finest hour, and nowadays, is regarded as one of the greatest Scottish albums. However, The Delgados were determined to produce another award winning album.
The four Delgados returned to the studio with producer Dave Fridmann. Over the next few months, they recorded what became Hate. This time around, Dave Fridmann who had worked with the Flaming Lips, seems to use them as a template. This was noticed by critics.
Unlike previous Delgados albums, Hate was released on the Mantra label in October 2002. Reviews of Hate were mostly positive. A few critics even compared Hate to The Flaming Lips 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. That wasn’t surprising.
Both albums had been produced by Dave Fridmann. His star was in the ascendancy. Despite that, Hate didn’t quite receive the same critical acclaim as The Great Western had. Normally, this would’ve been disappointing. However, that was almost expected. The Great Western had been The Delgados’ Magnus Opus. Most groups never reach the same heights as The Great Western, never mind releasing a quartet of successful albums. Soon, four would become five.
For The Delgados’ fifth album, they decided to change direction. Dave Fridmann didn’t return for a third time. Instead, Tony Doogan, who had worked with Mogwai, co-produced what became Universal Audio with The Delgados.
It was recorded at Chem 19, Chemikal Underground’s own recording studio. Universal Audio was a much more understated album. Gone was the orchestral sound of previous albums. The Delgados seemed to be reinventing their music. The did this with the help of Belle and Sebastian’s Stevie Jackson and Mother and The Addicts. Once Universal Audio was complete, it was released in September 2004.
Reviews of Universal Audio ranged from positive to critically acclaimed. Mostly, critics embraced the new Delagados. So did record buyers, when the album was released. When they bought Universal Audio, little did they realise it would be The Delgados swan-song.
Eight months after the release of Universal Audio, came the shock news that The Delgados were splitting up. Alan Henderson had announced that he was leaving the band. Rather than seek a replacement, The Delgados called time on their career, but continued to run Chemikal Underground. However, two former members of The Delgados embarked on solo careers, Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock.
The Solo Years.
Later in 2005, Emma Pollock signed a record contract with London based independent label 4AD. She was going to combine a solo career with running Chemikal Underground. It was by then, the most successful Scottish record label. Still, Emma was spinning plates. This was no problem for someone with a degree in physics from Strathclyde University.
Two years later, and Emma Pollock returned with her debut solo album, Watch The Fireworks.
Watch The Fireworks.
Watch The Fireworks featured eleven new songs written by Emma Pollock. She had recorded Watch the Fireworks with Australian producer, Victor Van Vugt. He had an impressive track record; and previously, had worked with everyone from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds to Beth Orton, Depeche Mode and Einstürzende Neubauten. With a CV like that, he seemed the ideal person to produce Emma’s debut album, Watch The Fireworks. When it was complete, it was scheduled for release in September 2007.
Before then, Adrenaline was released as the lead single from Watch the Fireworks in May 2007. It was paired with A Glorious Day, a poem by Irish poet Brendan Cleary set to music. Adrenaline was a tantalising taste of what Emma Pollock had in store on Watch The Fireworks.
In the lead up the release of Watch The Fireworks, critics had their say on Emma Pollock’s debut album. For any artist, this is a nerve-wracking moment. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first or tenth album. Emma needn’t have worried. Watch The Fireworks was well received by critics. Most of the reviews were positive. They were won over by an eclectic album from a hugely talented, versatile vocalist.
There was everything from waltz, ballads, indie pop and indie rock on Watch The Fireworks. Some critics drew comparisons with The Degados. That wasn’t surprising. Paul Savage played on Watch The Fireworks, and watched as Emma made the transition from band member to solo artist seem ridiculously easy. Effortlessly, Emma changed direction on Watch The Firework as the music veered between atmospheric, emotive, melodic, mesmeric, playful, urgent and wistful. The result was a triumphant debut album from the former Delgado. Now all Emma Pollock had to do, was do it all again.
The Law Of Large Numbers.
And so she did. Three years later, and Emma Pollock returned with her sophomore album The Law Of Large Numbers in 2010. Emma had written twelve new tracks, and recorded them with a tight, talented band of Scottish musicians. This included her partner Paul Savage, who by then, had established a reputation as one of the top Scottish producers. He replaced Victor Van Vugt, and produced The Law Of Large Numbers. It was more than a fitting followup to Watch The Fireworks.
Critics agreed. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of The Law Of Large Numbers. Just like Watch The Firework, The Law Of Large Numbers showcased a talented songwriter. Emma Pollock was a skilled wordsmith, capable of writing clever, catchy songs that didn’t lack in hooks. She was also able to adapt her delivery to suit the song.
Seamlessly, Emma could deliver a vocal with emotion, anger, frustration, joy or even with a weariness. On Chemistry Will Find Me and The Loop, Emma’s thoughtful and introspective. The Child in Me and House on the Hill finds Emma transformed into a folk singer. She handles the role with aplomb, before changing direction again. Then on Hug the Harbour and Confessions are delicious slices of perfect pop. By the end of The Law Of Large Numbers, Emma Pollock had come of age as a solo artist. Surely a third album would follow soon?
In Search Of Harperfield.
That proved not to be the same. Nearly six years have passed since Emma released The Law Of Large Numbers. Since then, a lot has happened.
Chemikal Underground, the label Emma Pollock cofounded, has grown into the most successful Scottish record label. Nowadays, it has an enviable roster. Helping run Chemikal Underground understandably, takes up a lot of Emma’s time. Sadly, for a while, so did family matters.
At one point, both of Emma’s parents were ill at the same time. Her father who still lived in Castle Douglas, was in hospital there. Emma’s mother, who lived in Glasgow, was in one of the city’s hospitals. So Emma, who is an only child, found herself journeying up and down the motorway, visiting her parents in different hospitals. Sadly, things took a turn for the worst in February 2015, when Emma’s mother passed away. This must have been devastating for Emma. Part of the grieving process for Emma was writing what became her third album, In Search Of Harperfield.
It’s an incredibly personal and powerful album. Harperfield Lodge was the first home Emma’s parents, Guy and Kathleen Pollock bought. They eventually bought and sold thirty houses during their marriage. This includes the five Emma lived in, in Castle Douglas alone. However, it’s Harperfield Lodge that has a special place in Emma’s heart. She remembers it vividly. So much so, that she can remember how the light shawn, the sense of space and being surrounded by nature. Harperfield Lodge sounds like a rural idyll that will forever, be imprinted on Emma’s memory. So will her parents.
Maybe that’s why a photograph of a young Guy Pollock dawns the album cover of In Search Of Harperfield? He’s pictured tending his animals on the hillside, on his land at Blair Atholl. That’s not the only time Guy or Kathleen Pollock feature on In Search Of Harperfield. They’re forever in the shadows on what’s the most personal and intense album of Emma Pollock’s career, In Search Of Harperfield.
It’s almost an autobiographical album. Emma looks back at her youth, which was spent growing up in the beautiful Galloway countryside. Other times, Emma introduces a series of characters. They play walk-on parts as Emma deals with a variety of subjects, including some many people would’ve chosen to forget. This includes bullying on Parks and Recreation. It’s one of the eleven songs on In Search Of Harperfield. The making of the album was a family affair.
Producing In Search Of Harperfield, was Emma’s husband, Paul Savage. He’s aided and abetted by Malcolm Lindsay. They provide the perfect backdrops to Emma’s vocals. They frame her vocals beautifully, and are like yin to Emma’s yang. on her much anticipated third album In Search Of Harperfield.
Cannot Keep A Secret opens In Search Of Harperfield. It deals with what Emma describes as “patriarchal machinations of Irish gender politics.” From the opening bars the listener is captivated, and the story unfolds. A distant piano plays, before pensive cooing harmonies usher in Emma’s heartfelt, thoughtful vocal. It’s accompanied by just the bass and harmonies before the piano and drums enter. They augmented by occasional finger clicks, and later as what’s an enchanting and beautiful song literally waltzes along, clicking hi-hats. Later, the arrangement becomes dramatic, elegiac and cinematic. By then the listener is spellbound, as they wonder what every happened to the characters in the song? Did: “they eddy and they flow and bring your sisters home?”
Pizzicato strings and a strident muted guitar combine on Don’t Make Me Wait. As the strings sweep, Emma is transformed into a sixties siren, as she delivers a slice of perfect pop. The hooks haven’t been spared, as Emma accompanied by choppy guitars, lush strings and a tinkling piano. She delivers a needy, but frustrated vocal. Soon, she’s delivering an ultimatum, “Don’t Make Me Wait.” She then rubs salt into wound when she tells her errant love he’ll: “never make it on your own.” What a way to round off a gorgeous slice of perfect pop, with the perfect pay off.
Alabaster opens with the sound of a Tube announcement. “The next stop is Strawberry Hill” signals an arrangement that slowly, plods, lysergically along. Meanwhile, Emma’s vocal is rueful and tinged with sadness and regret. She remembers better days, when: “like king and queen we ruled it all.” Not any more. As the arrangement and drama builds, this tale of betrayal unfolds. Soon, dramatic becomes melancholy, as Emma’s sings: “these little secrets do betray you see.” It’s a four minute soap opera with a pay off that packs a punch.
Quivering, shivering strings join a piano and guitar on Clemency. They set the scene for Emma’s folk-tinged vocal, on what’s another song about betrayal and an errant partner. Anger and frustration are omnipresent. She won’t forgive him in a hurry. He’s looking for clemency. However, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. “If you confess all, you really think you still won’t face the fire?” Emma is determined to make him suffer, and has revenge on her mind. No ordinary revenge. Instead, it’s Old Testament revenge. As shimmering strings and piano, combines Emma’s mind turns to revenge: “pushed down, fell down..,from every point of view you’ve tumbled.” The woman scorned has been avenged.
Intermission is a truly powerful song. It’s impossible not to be moved by a Intermission. A violin plays, and is joined by a cello. Soon, they’re reaching a dramatic crescendo. It’s then that Emma’s vocal enters. It’s a mixture a sadness, despair and panic. She’s having to watch her parents grow old, and become ill. Suddenly, she’s caring for the people who cared for her. They’re “the man I know best” and ‘“the woman who made me.” Now they’re dependant on Emma. Accompanied by swells of strings, Emma delivers what’s a heart-wrenching song, that many people will be able to relate to, and find solace in, knowing someone else has travelled the road they’re on.
As Parks and Recreation unfolds, there’s a rocky, sometimes post punk sound. Emma sounds like one time Pretender Chriss Hynde. As drums pound and guitars are sprayed across the arrangement, By then, memories come flooding back for Emma. She remembers the bullies who tormented her growing up. “I came down for a game of basketball, but you threw me a punch instead.” By then, the arrangement is rocky, rowdy and features call and response vocals. Mostly, Emma’s vocal is rueful. However, she’s had the last laugh. What are the bullies doing now? They’re certainly not making records, touring the world and running a record company.
Background chatter gives way to a motorbike, percussion and machine gun guitars on Vacant Stare. Soon, Emma’s delivering a questioning, rueful vocal. “How can I dive from over 15 metres high, when I can’t even swim?” Behind her, Paul is responsible for a stomping, rocky arrangement. It’s complete with chiming guitar, bubbling bass and harmonies. Emma’s vocal has been multi-tracked and they fit hand in glove with her vocal. It delivers what are clever, witty vocals. They become part of another hook laden song from Galloway’s finest singer-songwriter.
As In The Company Of The Damned unfolds, it sounds as it’s been recorded by a sixties girl group. The rhythm section and chumming guitars accompany Emma and her younger self. The older and wiser Emma, asks “do you really want to stay here, In the company of the damned, as they prepare to take your hanshd, torment with true ambition?” Like a seer, Emma can see if she had, there wouldn’t be a happy ending. Luckily, she had the courage and foresight to get out, and should be a shining light to a new generation, not just in CD, but small towns across Scotland.
Emma is accompanied by an acoustic guitar and the lushest of strings on Dark Skies. She’s in a thoughtful mood. Meanwhile occasional rolls of timpani and pizzicato strings punctuate the arrangement. All the time, Emma strums her guitar as she delivers a tender, pensive vocal, as the arrangement grows, becoming dramatic. Still there’s a sense of wonderment in Emma’s vocal as she delivers lyrics that are poetic and cerebral.
Monster In The Pack is another guitar lead track. Emma plays the guitar, before scrubbing at in. This adds an element of drama, before dark strings sweep in adding the perfect accompaniment to the cinematic lyrics. Desperation and loneliness in Emma’s voice. She’s also lost her faith. That’s apparent as she sings: “and I only go to church cause my friends are out today.” When Emma sings: “my head is full of noise, won’t you listen it’s so loud in here, my heart and my silence break,” despair and loneliness become a cry for help. That becomes apparent as she sings of the “Monster In The Pack,” in this emotive, cinematic, folk-tinged track.
Closing In Search Of Harperfield is Old Ghosts. What sounds like an eighties drum machine rings out. It’s joined by a poignant sounding piano. As the drum machine shuffles along, Emma who sounds like Karen Carpenter, is having a conversation with her mother. She’s older and wiser, and is speaking with the benefit of maturity. “I’m not sorry that you’re gone, the hell we raised was always fun, but I’m not sorry that you’re gone” is an acknowledgement that the pain and suffering is over, but the love Emma has for her mother isn’t. Soon, Emma is walking through her parents house, reminiscing, talking to them. Like so many adult Emma who’ve argued with their parents, she struggles to understand: “why so reasonable now?” As the song draws to a close, Emma realises she’s alone; and how am I supposed to speak to, those I ridiculed but still looked up to?” Poignant and moving describes what’s a truly beautiful way to end In Search Of Harperfield.
It’s the long-awaited, and much-anticipated, followup to Emma Pollock’s sophomore album In Search Of Large Numbers. It was released in 2010. Since then, a lot has happened in Emma Pollock’s life. At one point, both her parents were ill, and in hospital. Suddenly, Emma was no longer singer, songwriter or businesswoman. Instead, she was a loving and dutiful daughter, who was caring for “the man I know best” and ‘“the woman who made me.” Then in February 2015, Emma’s mother passed away. This must have left a massive void, and been a lot for Emma to cope with. She began to grieve, and part of the grieving process was writing and recording.
Hopefully, writing and recording Search Of Harperfield was cathartic. It’s certainly an album that many people will be able to relate to. Many of the songs are beautiful, moving and poignant. Especially Intermission and Old Ghosts, which is one of the most moving, emotive and beautiful songs I’ve heard in a long time. That’s testament to Emma Pollock’s skills as a singer and songwriter.
From the opening bars of Cannot Keep A Secret, right through to the closing notes of Old Ghosts, Emma Pollock tells a series of stories. Often, her lyrics are cinematic. That’s the case on Cannot Keep A Secret, where harmonies and an orchestral arrangement accompany and augment Emma’s vocal. The arrangement comes courtesy of Paul Savage. He provides a backdrop for Emma, as she sings of betrayal and revenge on Alabaster and Clemency. Very different is Don’t Make Me Wait, a delicious hook-laden slice of perfect pop. Hooks certainly have’t been rationed on In Search Of Harperfield. That’s the case on Cannot Keep A Secret, and Parks and Recreation where Emma remembers the bullies who tormented her younger self. Emma however, has the last laugh. Later, on In The Company Of The Damned an older, wiser Emma advises her younger self on her future. It has a happy ending, with Emma fulfilling her early potential.
That’s almost an understatement. Emma Pollock is the small town girl who headed to the city, and graduated with a degree in physics. She joined a band, they toured the world and released five albums. Then when the band broke up, Emma Pollock embarked on a solo career, and somewhere along the way, married the drummer. Now Emma has just released her third and best solo album, In Search Of Harperfield, on Chemikal Underground.
In Search Of Harperfield is a career defining, autobiographical album from Emma Pollock. Hopefully, writing and recording In Search Of Harperfield has been cathartic for Emma Pollock. The last few years have been tough for her. However, the future looks bright for CDs most famous famous former resident, if she continues to release albums of the quality of In Search Of Harperfield. It has to be an early contender for the 2016 Scottish Album Of The Year Award.
EMMA POLLOCK-IN SEARCH OF HARPERFIELD.
In Greek mythology, Icarus, the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, who created the Labyrinth, met a tragic ending. Icarus and Daedalus were desperate to escape from Crete. So Daedalus constructed wings made of feathers and wax. As Icarus prepared to make his escape, Daedalus warned his son of complacency and hubris.
Icarus shouldn’t neither fly too high, nor too low. If he flew too high, the sun would melt the wax. However, if he Icarus flew too low, the dampness of would weigh down the feathers. It seemed Icarus was between the devil and the deep blue sea.
And so it proved to be. Icarus chose to ignore his father’s wise words, and flew too close to the sun. The sun’s rays melted the wax, and Icarus fell into the sea. He became the first of many people who flew too close to the sun.
Sadly, this includes many musicians. Among them are Syd Barrett, Skip Spence and Brian Wilson. These three legendary musicians flew too close to the sun, and as a result, never quite filled their early potential. Sadly, neither did Ikarus.
They could’ve gone on to become one of the greatest German rock bands of their generation. Sadly, Ikarus’ discography consists of just one studio album Ikarus. It was released on the Plus label in 1971, and has just been reissued by the reissue label Long Hair. Ikarus showcased a talented, pioneering group, who many thought were destined for greatness. Their story began a few years earlier..
It was in the mid-sixties, in the musical hotbed that was Hamburg, that Ikarus were formed. Ikarus were just the latest beat group that had been formed in Hamburg. This was where The Beatles served their musical apprenticeship a few years earlier. Now a whole host of local groups wanted to follow in the fab four’s footsteps.
Ikarus were no different. So they spent evenings and weekends practising in various Hamburg basements. They were determined to hone their sound, before making their debut.This didn’t take long, as Ikarus featured some talented musicians.
This included classically trained keyboardist Wulf Dieter Struntz and bassist Wolfgang Kracht. His party trick was to play a violin with his gloves on. Music seemed to come easily to the members of Ikarus, and it wasn’t long until they began to play live.
By 1966, Ikarus made tentative steps onto Hamburg’s live scene. Ikarus’ earliest concerts took place in youth clubs, where they played cover versions of popular song. At first,Ikarus were called Beautique In Corporation. Soon, this was soon shortened to BIC. This found favour among the band’s audience.
Although a relatively new group, BIC quickly won over audiences. Soon, they had large and enthusiastic audience. BIC played what they wanted to hear. They weren’t above playing covers of hits by Elvis Presley and Tom Jones. This was easy on the ear of the audience. However, before long, BIC’s setlist changed.
The band members began to write their own songs. Audiences expected to hear original material. They didn’t just want to hear cover versions. This suited the members of BIC, who were classically trained musicians. Composition came easy to them.
These new songs were added to BIC’s sets. Some of these songs had a psychedelic sound. BIC’s music was evolving, as music evolved. This proved popular when BIC played live.
By then, BIC had graduated from the youth club circuit, and were by now familiar faces on the Hamburg and North German music scene. Their music was a mixture of psychedelia and rock. However, there was an element of comedy in BIC’s sets.
Some of the members of BIC enjoyed the new generation of German vaudeville comedians. So they began to combine vaudeville comedy with their psychedelic sound. It proved a potent and successful combination.
Soon, BIC were one of the most successful Hamburg bands. They were well on their way to becoming one of the leading lights of the Hamburg scene. So when they saw an advert for the 1969 Hamburg student beat band competition, BIC decided to enter.
All of the top Hamburg bands entered. The competition was fierce. Hamburg had a thriving music scene. While the other bands were professional, BIC were still an amateur band. This didn’t matter. When BIC took to the stage, they quickly won over the judges with their psychedelic sound. Once all the bands had played, the judges conferred and the winner was announced. It was BIC, the only amateur band in the competition. They had triumphed, and won what was Hamburg’s most prestigious competition.
Having won the 1969 Hamburg student beat band competition, BIC were invited to in the 1970 Hamburg Pop and Blues festival. It took place between the 1st and 3rd of April 1970. BIC were going to rub shoulders with some of the biggest band on that early seventies. Among them, were Chicken Shack, Steampacket, Alexis Corner and Hardin and York. Despite such an illustrious lineup, it was the hometown band that won the hearts and minds of the audience. BIC had stolen the show.
After their performance at the 1970 Hamburg Pop and Blues festival, things happened quickly for BIC. A live album of BIC’s performance at the Hamburg Pop and Blues festival was released as their debut album. It was augmented by performances from Frumpy and Tomorrow’s Gift. The album sold fairly well, and it looked like BIC’s star was in the ascendancy.
Just a few months later, BIC’s lineup changed, when two new names joined the band. Now BIC was a five piece band. The new lineup of BIC was then asked to open for British band Uriah Heep on their forthcoming tour. This was the start of the rise and rise of BIC.
Not long after this, BIC acquired a manager, who was also a concert promoter, Will Jahncke. One of his first suggestions was that BIC changed their name to Ikarus. While this seemed more in keeping with the psychedelic and progressive rock scene, BIC were a popular and successful band. However, the five members decided to change the band’s name to Ikarus.
Following the name change, Ikarus’ music changed. They were inspired to do so, by King Crimson, Yes, Colosseum and Frank Zappa. Soon, Ikarus were fusing fusion with progressive rock and experimental music. There was still a slight psychedelic sound to their music. However, the new sound didn’t please everyone.
When Ikarus played live, the audience were divided by the stylistic change. While some embraced and welcome Ikarus’ new sound, some weren’t as sure. They weren’t won over by the move towards progressive rock. Instead, they felt the lengthy songs, and changes in tempo and time signature were self-indulgent. However, critics disagreed, and continued to champion Ikarus.
With the critics championing their music, it made sense for Ikarus to record their debut album in the second half of 1971. So the five members of Ikarus made their way to the Windrose Studio, Hamburg.
By then, the members of Ikarus had written four songs. Each of the songs were collaborations between members of the band. That was apart from The Raven Including “Theme For James Marshall.” It was an Edgar Allan Poe poem set to music written by four members of Ikarus. This became a near twelve minute epic that featured on side two of Ikarus. With the album written, the band began recording their debut album.
At the Windrose Studio, there was a sense of anticipation.The original members of the band had spent six years playing in clubs and festivals. All this was preparation for the day that Ikarus recorded their eponymous debut album. If things went to play, Ikarus music would be heard by a much wider audience.
The members of Ikarus realised this as they setup their equipment. By then, Ikarus’ rhythm section featured drummer Bernd Schröder, bassist Wolfgang Kracht and guitarist Manfred Schulz. Jochen Petersen played guitar, but also switched between 12-string guitar, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute and clarinet. Wulf Dieter Struntz played organ and piano. Lorenz Köhler took charge of the lead vocals on three tracks; while Manfred Schulz featured on Early Bell’s Voice. Producing Ikarus was Jochen Petersen. Eventually, Ikarus was complete. Now all that was left was to release Ikarus.
With Ikarus complete, it was scheduled for release in February 1972. Miller International had decided to release it on their Plus imprint. However, before that, critics had their say on Ikarus.
For some time, critics had championed Ikarus’ music. Their eponymous debut album was no different. Ikarus, with its combination of fusion, progressive rock and psychedelia met with the critics approval. Critically acclaimed reviews followed, and Ikarus, who were still an amateur band, looked like they had a successful album on their hands.
So it proved to be. Ikarus sold well, and soon, the band were playing sellout shows across Germany. In Hamburg, Ikarus’ home town, they were asked open for Deep Purple. It looked like Ikarus were were well on their way to becoming one of the stars of the German music scene. Those that heard Ikarus concurred.
Although Ikarus only featured four tracks, they ooze quality. That’s apparent from Eclipse, where Skyscrapers gives way to Sooner Or Later. It’s a fifteen minute epic, featuring Lorenz Köhler on lead vocal. Eclipse epitomises Ikarus’ sound. They combine progressive rock with fusion, classic rock and jazz. King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and the pioneers of fusion seem to have influenced Ikarus, as they take the listener on a Joycean musical journey.
Blazing, blistering dual guitars are unleashed, as the rhythm section create a hypnotic backdrop on Skyscraper. They’re augmented by brief washes of Hammond organ. Then when Lorenz delivers the lyrics, it’s apparent that Ikarus have a social conscience. They saw Skyscrapers as despoiling cities, and were worried about the effect it was having on the ecosystem. Their lyrics are an impassioned plea: “to save nature it’s a treasure.” Gradually, the arrangement builds, as a flute, clarinet and Hammond organ are added. Everything is added at just the right time. The addition of a clarinet proves to be a masterstroke as as fusion meets progressive rock. When an acoustic guitar is added, it’s reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s later sound. By then, Ikarus have dropped the tempo, before rebuilding, and creating a dramatic backdrop to Lorenz’s latest plea. This is something Ikarus continue to do, and it always proves effective. There’s also continual stylistic changes, as Ikarus switch between disparate genres. After another tempo change, strings sweep adding to the emotion of the song, before Lorenz urges the listener to: “think about the situation.” Later, Ikarus jam with the Hammond organ and rhythm section becoming one. Swathes of strings which add a dramatic, symphonic sound as this genre-melting journey is almost over. By then, the arrangement is choppy and urgent. That’s down to the searing, mesmeric guitars, and the bass that walks the arrangement along. They accompany Lorenz’s vocal, before it drops out. Now it’s time for Ikarus to jam, and showcase their considerable skills, before this Joycean musical epic reaches a close.
Mesentry is another thought provoking song from Ikarus. It has an understated pastoral introduction. Birdsong punctuates the arrangement, which quickly, heads in the direction of folk-rock. There’s an element of theatre to the vocal. This makes me think of Queen in their pomp. However, quickly, Ikarus change direction. The Hammond organ, rhythm section and chiming guitars accompany Lorenz’s thoughtful vocal. It’s augmented by choral harmonies. Again, Ikarus experiment, changing tempo and style. There’s a soulfulness to the vocal and harmonies. Then Ikarus throw a curveball, and the track heads in the direction of avant garde and experimental music. Sci-fi sounds, moans and drones are augmented by lush strings as an otherworldly soundscape meanders beautifully along, proving how versatile inventive and imaginative Ikarus were.
Another epic is The Raven Including “Theme For James Marshall. This was a poem by Edgar Allen Poe set to music by Ikarus. It’s another lengthy track, lasting nearly twelve minutes. The introduction sounds like theme to an early seventies television show. Saxophones play, and the rhythm section join the fray, driving the jazzy arrangement along. Soon, Ikarus are in full flight. Again, they tease the listener, dropping and increasing the listener, as they switch between fusion and progressive rock. Sometimes, the two become one. Ikarus deploy every weapon in their considerable musical arsenal.
This includes braying saxophones, washes of Hammond organ, a driving bass, rolling, cascading drums and searing guitars, Then at 2.22 it’s all change. The arrangement grinds to a halt, before awakening from its slumbers. A myriad of sound gradually fill the arrangement, before elements of free jazz, progressive rock, fusion and classic rock unfolds. Slow, moody, gothic and lysergic describes the backdrop to the vocal. That could change at any moment and does. Instruments are added, and disappear. So do sound effects. A cannon explodes, water flows and thunder sounds. By then, cinematic describes the arrangement. That’s until, there’s a nod to Jethro Tull around 8.30. Then the cinematic sound returns as the tracks becomes melodic, elegiac and ethereal as folk-rock meets progressive rock and jazz.
Early Bell’s Voice closes Ikarus. Just a lone piano plays thoughtfully. That’s enough to capture the listener’s attention. Soon, the rest of Ikarus enter. The rhythm section are joined by a Hammond organ, saxophone and guitar. Gradually, the tempo rises, and Ikarus are in full flight. They’re powered along by the drums. Washes of Hammond organ, searing guitars and bursts of braying saxophone combine, before the tempo drops. Harmonies soar above the arrangement, as fusion meets progressive rock. Constantly, Ikarus experiment with the tempo, and on occasions vary the time signature. Even the vocals change. This time, their theatrical, more than hinting at their love of vaudeville. It’s an interesting and innovative combination. Especially, with the changes tempo. Later, Ikarus can’t resist throwing one last curveball. Bells ring, before the tapes speeds up, giving the arrangement a cartoon quality. Ikarus seem determined to put a smile on the listener’s face, as they close their eponymous debut album.
Sadly, Ikarus was the only album that Ikarus ever released. The Ikarus’ story is a case of unfilled potential.
On Ikarus, listeners were introduced to what could’ve been one of the most successful German bands of the seventies. Their was bang ‘on trend’. Progressive rock and fusion were both hugely popular by the mid-seventies.
That’s when Ikarus were offered a contract by Metronome. They were the owner of the legendary Brian label. For Ikarus, this was the opportunity to dine at the top table in German rock music. Surely, this was an offer that Ikarus couldn’t and wouldn’t resist?
They did. In the mid-seventies, Ikarus were still an amateur band. Its member felt that becoming a professional band was risky. There was no guarantee that their albums would sell. As an amateur band, they had the best of both worlds. Music was a hobby, one they were good at and that they made money with.
The live circuit was lucrative. It was a good way for the members of Ikarus to augment their income. However, to become a full-time band was a step too far for some members of Ikarus, and they decided the band should split-up. It was a case of what might have been.
Listening to Ikarus nearly forty-four years after its release, and one can’t help but wonder if the members of Ikarus regret their decision? Do they ever wonder what would’ve happened if they had signed to Metronome? Maybe they would’ve gone on to enjoy the same success as Can, Guru Guru, Eloy or Birth Control. Or maybe, it would’ve been another generation before Ikarus’ music finally received the recognition it deserves. That was the case with Neu!, Harmonia and Cluster. What I do know, is that Ikarus had the talent to reach the higher echelons of German rock music.
That’s apparent on Ikarus, which was recently reissued by the Long Hair reissue label. The reissue includes a bonus track, Sunwave, a sixteen minute epic, which is welcome addition. Just like the rest of the music on Ikarus, it’s a tantalising reminder of another of the nearly men of German rock, Ikarus, who could’ve and should’ve, enjoyed a long and successful career.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND-LIVE AT MAX’S KANSAS CITY.
1970 should’ve been the start of a new era for The Velvet Underground. They had just signed a two album deal with Atlantic Records in late 1969. This should’ve been the dawn of a new era for The Velvet Underground, where they belatedly made a commercial breakthrough.
Instead, 1970 was The Velvet Underground’s annus horribilis. They released their fourth studio album Loaded, on 15th November 1970. By then, Lou Reed had left the group he had cofounded.
This presented a problem for The Velvet Underground. They were due to tour North America, promoting Loaded. So bassist Doug Yule switched to bass and took charge of lead vocals. To play bass, Walter Power was drafted in. This new lineup of The Velvet Underground spent part of 1971 touring North America. During the tour, the members of The Velvet Underground wrote some new songs for the album they owed Atlantic Records.
When The Velvet Underground returned home, they headed to Atlantic Records’ headquarters, where they showcased their new songs. These songs, they hoped, would feature on their fifth album. However, The Velvet Underground without Lou Reed was a totally different band to the one Atlantic Records had signed in 1969. They were like a rudderless ship heading perilously close to the rocks.
Executives at Atlantic Records realised this. They also realised that the new songs weren’t good enough, so rejected them out of hand. For the members of The Velvet Underground this was a crushing blow. To make matters worse, The Velvet Underground still owed Atlantic Records an album. Atlantic Records had a solution though.
They looked through the Atlantic Records’ archives, and decided to release an album of live material. This became Live at Max’s Kansas City, which was released on May 30th 1972. It became The Velvet Underground’s first live album, which was reissued by Rhino on 22nd January 2016. Live at Max’s Kansas City also fulfilled The Velvet Underground’s contractual obligations to Atlantic Records, and marked the end of an era. Things had been so different in 1969. It was the start of a bright new dawn.
For The Velvet Underground, 1969 had been a turbulent year. They had released their third album The Velvet Underground in March 1969. It featured the debut of Doug Yule, who was brought in to replace John Cale. This was meant to the start of a bright new future for The Velvet Underground.
After two albums which had failed commercially, Lou Reed decided that The Velvet Underground had to change tack. They had to release music that was much more pop oriented, and therefore, commercial. John Cale however, didn’t agree with how Lou Reed’s master-plan.
This had been a bone of contention between the pair for some time. John Cale wanted The Velvet Underground to continue to innovate, and create experimental music like White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground’s sophomore album. Lou Reed didn’t agree.
Lou Reed believed that The Velvet Underground’s music should become more pop oriented. This he felt, would broaden their appeal. No longer would they be an art rock group whose music appealed to discerning music lovers. Eventually, Lou Reed won over the rest of The Velvet Underground. For John Cale this was hugely disappointing. So, he decided the only option was to leave The Velvet Underground.
The Velvet Underground.
Following the departure of John Cale, The Velvet Underground began looking for a replacement. Eventually, Doug Yule was chosen as John Cale’s replacement. He made his Velvet Underground eponymous third album in November 1968, at TTG Studios, Hollywood. The Velvet Underground recorded ten songs penned by Lou Reed. By December 1968, The Velvet Underground was completed it was released in March 1969.
Before that, critics had their say on The Velvet Underground. The majority of the critics were won over by The Velvet Underground’s new sound. Some critics went as far as to say that the album was The Velvet Underground’s finest hour. They were impressed The Velvet Underground’s much more accessible sound. The Velvet Underground were congratulated on the quality of songwriting, and the delivery of the lyrics. However, there was a but.
Some critics felt that The Murder Mystery was an experiment that hadn’t worked. Others ant further, lamenting that The Murder Mystery fell short of the quality of White Light/White Heat. Other critics remarked that The Velvet Underground lacked the eclectic sound of its predecessors. Even the quality of recording was criticised. Mostly though, critics thought that The Velvet Underground were on the right road. However, as usual, record buyers had the casting vote.
When The Velvet Underground was released in March 1969, the album crept into the US Billboard 200, reaching just 197. This was a disaster for The Velvet Underground. Lou Reed’s decision to embrace a more commercial sound had backfired.
Following the release of The Velvet Underground, the band headed out on tour. They spent much of 1969 touring America and Canada. Night after night, they reworked tracks from their first three albums. The audience watched as a tight band fought for their very future. Some nights, The Velvet Underground debuted new songs.
New Age, Rock and Roll and Sweet Jane found their way onto the set list. This trio of songs found their way onto Loaded, which was released in 1970. Throughout the tour, The Velvet Underground showcased these new songs on what was a lengthy tour.
As The Velvet Underground’s seemingly never ending tour continued, they continued to hone their sound. They were a very different band to just a few years previously when they were Warholian disciples. That was the past. Now The Velvet Underground were willing to forsake what many thought was their true sound, for commercial success. That proved ironic.
After three albums that had failed commercially, MGM were starting to loose patience with The Velvet Underground. It didn’t help that MGM had been haemorrhaging money for a couple of years. They had too many loss making acts on their roster. Something had to give.
During the night of the long knives, executives at MGM decided to cancel the contracts of eighteen loss making acts. This included The Velvet Underground. They were invited to the headquarters of MGM, and told that their contract had been cancelled. However, was the decision to cut The Velvet Underground loose purely a business decision?
Since then, there has been speculation that The Velvet Underground were dropped just because they were losing MGM money. Maybe, it was more to do with The Velvet Underground’s image being at odds with MGM’s corporate image? That proved to be the case. In 1970, an executive of MGM said: “it wasn’t eighteen groups, Mike Curb was misquoted. The cuts were made partly to do with the drug scene—like maybe a third of them had to do with drug reasons. The others were dropped because they weren’t selling.” It seemed that MGM’s mattered more than selling records. MGM it seemed, only wanted artists whose lifestyle they approved of.
Many thought that being dropped by MGM must have been devastating for The Velvet Underground. It seems it was, and it wasn’t. When Lou Reed was interviewed in 1987, he admitted: “we wanted to get out of there.” That may just be bravado. After all, the music industry is a small village, and word would’ve spread like wildfire why The Velvet Underground had been dropped. Some critics however, thought the situation was ironic.
Back in 1968, The Velvet Underground had made what many regarded as the ultimate musical sacrifice. They had changed direction musically on their eponymous third album. No longer were they seen as an art rock band by championed by many critics and cultural commentators. Instead, the move towards a more populist sound was seen as the ultimate betrayal from The Velvet Underground. This resulted in John Cale’s departure from the band. Now that The Velvet Underground had been dropped by MGM, the loss of one of their main creative forces, had been for nothing. Given what had happened, it was the ultimate irony.
Now without a record contract, The Velvet Underground headed back out on tour. Touring was now their main source of income. So they spent much of 1969 on the road. Mostly, it was the tight version of The Velvet Underground that took to the stage. Other times, they revisited their past.
The Velvet Underground decided to reinvent songs, during lengthy improvisations. This mixture of art rock, avant garde and free jazz showed that the old Velvet Underground weren’t dead. Some critics believed it was merely being suppressed in the search for commercial success.
During their gruelling touring schedule, The Velvet Underground made occasional forays into the recording studio. Some of the songs The Velvet Underground recorded, were seen as having potential. However, they couldn’t be released, as The Velvet Underground were in dispute with MGM. With no recording contract, and locked in what could prove a biter, lengthy and expensive dispute with MGM, things looked bleak for The Velvet Underground.
By November 1969, The Velvet Underground arrived in San Francisco, and were due to play at The Matrix and The Family Dog. These shows were recorded, and were meant to be released as live albums. However, that didn’t happen until the next millennia.
The Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes were released in 2001, and The Complete Matrix Tapes box set was released in 2015. 1969 was fast proving to by The Velvet Underground’s Annus horriblis. Surely, things would improve as when the new decade dawned.
That proved to be the case. 1970 saw The Velvet Underground’s luck improve. They were signed by Atlantic Records, and told to record an album: “loaded with hits.” This would be a first.
Commercial success had eluded The Velvet Underground. Three albums into their career, and they hadn’t enjoyed a hit single. The nearest they came to commercial success was when their 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico reached 129 in the US Billboard 200. It was all downhill from there. In 1968, White Light/White Heat struggled into the US Billboard 200 at 199. Then when The Velvet Underground was released in 1969, it stalled at 197 in the US Billboard 200. The Velvet Underground were faced with a mammoth task to produce an album: “loaded with hits.”
With these words ringing in his ears, Lou Reed went away and wrote the ten tracks that became Loaded. Then recording began at Atlantic Recording Studios, New York with Geoff Haslam, Shel Kagan and The Velvet Underground producing Loaded. However, one member of The Velvet Underground was missing.
Maureen Tucker missed the Loaded recording sessions. They took place between April and August 1970. Her only contribution was singing on the outtake I’m Sticking With You, and adding drums on a demo of I Found a Reason. Loaded was the first Velvet Underground album Maureen Tucker was missing from.
Various musicians replaced Maureen Tucker on Loaded. Engineer Adrian Barber, who played on Who Loves the Sun and Sweet Jane. Tommy Castagnaro then played drums on Cool It Down” and Head Held High. Billy Yule, Doug Yule’s brother deputised on drums on Lonesome Cowboy Bill and Oh! Sweet Nuthin.’ Even bassist Doug Yule played drums.
Although hired as a bassist, Doug Yule played fuzz bass, piano, keyboards, lead guitar, percussion and added backing vocals. He added the lead vocals on Who Loves the Sun, New Age, Lonesome Cowboy Bill and Oh! Sweet Nuthin’. Sterling Morrison played lead and rhythm guitar. Lou Reed, who was now The Velvet Underground’s main creative and driving force, played lead and rhythm guitar, plus the piano. This depleted version of The Velvet Underground, plus a few friends eventually, finished recording of Loaded in August 1968. The release was scheduled for 15th November 1970. A lot would happen before then.
With Loaded completed, usually, The Velvet Underground would’ve been readying themselves for the usual round of promotion that takes place before an album is released. Not this time.
Lou Reed called time on his career with The Velvet Underground on 23rd August 1970. This left The Velvet Underground like a rudderless ship.
With The Velvet Underground having lost their leader and creative force, others took charge of final mix of the album. That was fatal. Lou Reed should’ve handed Atlantic Records the final mix, and then left.
When Lou Reed saw and heard a copy of Loaded, he was in for a shock. The claimed that Loaded had been re-sequenced. This hadn’t been authorised. That was bad enough. No longer would Loaded flow as it was meant to. Much worse, was that some of Lou Reed alleged that some of the songs on Loaded had been edited.
Lou Reed railed against the edited version of Mary Jane. So badly edited was the song, that it was bereft of its very melody. A heartbroken Lou Reed described the melody as: “heavenly wine and roses.” Sadly, it was gone. New Age was another song that had fallen victim to the razor blade in the editing suite. However, one of the remaining members of The Velvet Underground disputed Lou Reed’s claims.
It was newcomer Doug Yule who spoke out. Despite being a relative newcomer to the band, he disputed what Lou Reed said. Doug Yule claimed that it was Lou Reed who edited Mary Jane, before he left The Velvet Underground. This essence of his explanation was that Lou Reed edited the song so that it would be a hit. However, it was claim and counter-claim. If Lou Reed edited the song, why did he edit the “heavenly wine and roses” of the melody from the song? The editing was just one of several grievances Lou Reed had.
The ten songs on Loaded came from the pen of Lou Reed. However, when Lou Reed received his copy of Loaded, he discovered that the songs were credited to The Velvet Underground. What made this worse, was that Lou Reed was third in the credits. He felt he wasn’t receiving the credit he deserved. Rubbing salt into the wound was a large photograph of Doug Yule playing the piano. The Velvet Underground’s creative force was overshadowed by the newcomer. Was this a deliberate slight seen Lou Reed had left The Velvet Underground?
As Lou Reed studied Loaded album’s cover, he discovered that Maureen Tucker was credited as the drummer. She hadn’t played on Loaded, as she was pregnant. It was the only Velvet Underground she didn’t play on. Ironically, many critics felt Loaded was one The Velvet Underground’s finest albums. However, even another member of the band didn’t agree with this.
Sterling Morrison had been ever-present on the four albums The Velvet Underground had released. This made him well qualified to critique the album. He had mixed feelings on the absence of Maureen Tucker and Doug Yule’s increased influence on Loaded. Without Maureen Tucker: “it’s still called a Velvet Underground record. But what it really is is something else.” Then when asked about Doug Yule playing a bigger part on Loaded he said: ”the album came out okay, as far as production it’s the best, but it would have been better if it had real good Lou vocals on all the tracks.” It seems the newcomer hadn’t convinced The Velvet Underground guitarist. What did the critics think?
Most critics were won over by Loaded. It followed in the footsteps of The Velvet Underground, which showcased a much more populist, commercial sound. Among Loaded’s highlights were the hook-laden, Sweet Jane and Rock and Roll. Even without the “heavenly wine and roses” of the melody, Sweet Jane was a timeless classic. Along with Rock and Roll, they became favourites on American FM radio stations. Other tracks that were mentioned in dispatches by critics were the soulful infused I Found a Reason and New Age. However, not everyone was convinced by Loaded.
Rolling Stone magazine wasn’t impressed by Loaded. They were the highest profile critic of Loaded. Ironically, they’ve performed a volte face, and nowadays, Loaded is one Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 best albums of all time. However, Rolling Stone weren’t being contrarian, like some critics.
While Loaded is indeed, a minor classic, it could’ve and would’ve been a better album. Especially, if Lou Reed took charge of all the lead vocals. Sterling Morrison had a point. Lou Reed was The Velvet Underground’s best vocalist. Having written the lyrics, he was able to bring them to life. From Sweet Jane and Rock and Roll, to Cool It Down, Head Held High, I Found A Reason and Train Round The Bend, Lou Reed unleashes a series of vocal masterclasses. Sadly, he only sung six of the ten vocals. That proved to be a a mistake.
In another group, Doug Yule would’ve been a more than adequate replacement. However, he couldn’t quite live the lyrics like Lou Reed. That’s not to say his performance is disappointing on on Who Loves the Sun, New Age, Lonesome Cowboy Bill and “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’. Far from it. Instead, they’re just not as good as The Velvet Underground’s worldweary leader, Lou Reed. Those were big shoes to fill. Even Sterling Morrison agreed.
Similarly, Maureen Turner was missed. While her replacements are more than adequate, it could be argued that there’s no continuity. Each drummer has their own sound and style. Despite that, Loaded came to be regarded as a minor classic. Very few people thought that would be the case in 1970.
When Loaded was released on 15th November 1970, the album failed to chart. It stopped just short, reaching 202 in the US Billboard 200. So near, but yet so far. This was a familiar story for The Velvet Underground.
Their fourth album Loaded deserved to fare better. They had sacrificed and suppressed their true sound to deliver an “album loaded with hits.” Loaded had everything going for it. It benefited from a much more commercial sound, and plethora of hooks. This meant that Loaded was The Velvet Underground’s most accessible album. Surely this was what record buyers wanted The Velvet Underground reasoned?
Record buyers had shied away from The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat. Then on The Velvet Underground, which was released in 1969, Lou Reed and Co. moved towards a more populist, accessible sound. This came at the cost of John Cale. Still The Velvet Underground failed commercially, and MGM dropped the Velvets. This proved the ultimate irony.
Just under a year later, and Lou Reed was gone too. This left just Sterling Morrison and the returning Maureen Tucker. That presented a problem for The Velvet Underground. They were due to tour America and Canada promoting Loaded.
It was bassist Doug Yule who came up with a solution. He switched to bass and took charge of lead vocals. To play bass, Walter Power was drafted in. Drummer Maureen Tucker returned, and her place behind her drum kit. While this was a long way from the classic lineup of The Velvet Underground, it meant that the group would be to tour North America.
After rehearsing, and Walter Power learning The Velvet Underground’s songs, the band headed out on tour. It was with a degree of trepidation that they took to the stage for the first time. Never before had this lineup played live. Gradually, though, they found their feet, and for part of 1971, this new lineup of The Velvet Underground toured North America.
During the tour, the members of The Velvet Underground began working on their fifth studio album. They were some new songs for the album they owed Atlantic Records. Maybe, it would the album that saw The Velvet Underground make their long-awaited commercial breakthrough?
That wasn’t the case. The Velvet Underground didn’t even come close to getting the opportunity to record another album for Atlantic Records.
Once The Velvet Underground’s North American tour was over, the band returned home. Now they were ready to begin work on their fifth album. So, they made an appointment with executives at Atlantic Records, where The Velvet Underground played some of their new songs. These songs, they hoped, would feature on their fifth album. However, The Velvet Underground without Lou Reed was a totally different band to the one Atlantic Records had signed in 1969.
Executives at Atlantic Records realised this. They also realised that the new songs weren’t good enough, so rejected them out of hand. For the members of The Velvet Underground this was a crushing blow. To make matters worse, The Velvet Underground still owed Atlantic Records an album. Atlantic Records had a solution though.
They looked through the Atlantic Records’ archives, and decided to release an album of live material. This became Live at Max’s Kansas City, which was released by Atlantic Records on May 30th 1972.
Live At Max’s Kansas City.
It’s fitting that The Velvet Underground’s Atlantic Records’ swan-song had been recorded at Max’s Kansas City, in New York. It was one of The Velvet Underground’s favourite venues. So much so, that it was like a second home.
It was in 1965, that Max’s Kansas City first opened its doors. This just the year that The Velvet Underground were born. Since then, Max’s Kansas City had been a favourite hangout for The Velvet Underground. They weren’t alone.
Max’s Kansas City was a hangout for the actors, hipsters, models, scenesters and singers. It was where the beautiful, famous and contrarian came to play. Even Andy Warhol and his Warholian disciples were known to hang out at Max’s Kansas City. So was Rolling Stone Mick Jagger. Even the staff at Max’s Kansas City had designs of fame and fortune.
This included Debbie Harry in her pre-Blondie days. She waited tables, while awaiting her big break. Debbie Harry would witness the recording of The Velvet Underground’s first live album, Live At Max’s Kansas City.
The album may never have happened, if Brigid Polk, a close friend of The Velvet Underground hadn’t decided to tape the show. For some reason, that night, Brigid Polk brought along her tape recorder and pressed play.
She captured the essence of The Velvet Underground live on Live At Max’s Kansas City. It was remastered by Rhino for its recent release. This has improved the sound slightly. Despite that, its still slightly rough around the edges. That can’t be helped. Brigid Polk didn’t have access to top quality recording equipment. Her recording was probably only ever meant for her own, and band’s enjoyment. She didn’t know she was recording history being made, as Live At Max’s Kansas City features Lou Reed’s last performance with The Velvet Underground.
When Lou Reed takes to the stage, he’s part entertainer, part bon viveur. As the band tune their instruments and audience make small talk, Lou Reed takes to the stage. Drolly he says “you’re allowed to dance, in case you don’t know.” Then The Velvet Underground start with a stonewall classic.
That’s the only way to describe I’m Waiting For The Man, from The Velvet Underground and Nico. That grabs the audience’s attention, before The Velvet Underground showcase Sweet Jane and Lonesome Cowboy Bill from what would be Lou Reed’s swan-song Loaded. Then The Velvets go back in time.
Beginning To See The Light was from the 1969 album The Velvet Underground. This was the first Velvet Underground album since the departure of cofounder John Cale. After that, Lou delivers a heartfelt version of I’ll Be Your Mirror, one of the most beautiful songs in The Velvet Underground’s back-catalogue. It’s another song from The Velvet Underground and Nico, which is a classic album. That’s the case with the first four Velvet Underground albums.
That includes their 1969 eponymous album. It featured Pale Blue Eyes, which The Velvet Underground revisit on Live At Max’s Kansas City. It’s akin to a best of live, with Sunday Morning from The Velvet Underground and Nico being next on the setlist. Lou Reed seems to reserve one of his finest vocals. Then he brings things up to date with New Age, which would feature on Loaded. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Things had been so different three years earlier.
Back in 1966, when The Velvet Underground and Nico was released, the band’s whole career was stretching out in front of them. Anything was possible. That included releasing one of the greatest and most influential albums in musical history, The Velvet Underground and Nico. One of its highlights was the timeless Femme Fatale. As Lou Reed delivers the lyrics, was he remembering four years ago, when their career was in its infancy? Maybe that’s the case, as he prepares to deliver his final song as The Velvet Underground’s frontman.
The song he chose, was After Hours, from The Velvet Underground. This seems fitting, as its nearly the wee small hours of the morning. As The Velvet Underground prepare to take their leave, on what became Live At Max’s Kansas City, the audience treat The Velvet Underground like conquering heroes. However, it proved to be a pyrrhic victory.
The Velvet Underground had won over the crowd at Max’s Kansas City. However, Lou Reed lost the battle that was Loaded.
The album didn’t turn out as he had planned. Songs he alleged had been edited, and the running order changed. This didn’t please Lou Reed. He felt he had no option but to call time on his career with The Velvet Underground on 23rd August 1970. This left The Velvet Underground like a rudderless ship.
The Velvet Underground had not just lost its creative and driving force, but its de facto leader. Without Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground were but a shadow of their former self. It didn’t take Atlantic Records long to realise that. After hearing a few new songs, executives at Atlantic Records rejected the songs. They weren’t good enough, and The Velvet Underground never recorded another album for Atlantic Records.
This left a problem. The Velvet Underground owed Atlantic Records an album. They solved this by searching the Atlantic Records archives, where they found the tapes to Live at Max’s Kansas City, which was released on May 30th 1972. It became The Velvet Underground’s first live album, which was reissued by Rhino on 22nd January 2016. Live at Max’s Kansas City also fulfilled The Velvet Underground’s contractual obligations to Atlantic Records, and marked the end of an era.
Live at Max’s Kansas City was Lou Reed’s swan-song, and essentially, the end of one of the greatest bands in rock history. Without Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground were a pale shadow of the band they had once been.
When The Velvet Underground headed out on their North American tour, to promote Loaded, the end was neigh. Bassist turned guitarist and vocalist Doug Yale was never going to replace Lou Reed as The Velvet Underground’s frontman. It was the end of the road for The Velvet Underground.
While The Velvet Underground struggled on without Lou Reed, they were never the same again. Loaded was the last album The Velvet Underground released. Squeeze which was released in 1972, was a Velvet Underground in name only. The band had long ceased to exist.
Live at Max’s Kansas City was last time Lou Reed played live with The Velvet Underground. His swan-song was captured by Brigid Polk, a friend of The Velvet Underground. It was lucky she brought along her tape recorder and pressed play.
If she hadn’t, there would be no document of Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground swan-song. It would’ve have passed into the mists of musical history, and most likely, have achieved near mythical status. However, Brigid Polk captured musical history being made on what became Live At Max’s Kansas City. While the sound quality is slightly rough around the edges, the recent remastering has improved the sound quality, and Live At Max’s Kansas City is a fitting celebration of Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground swan-song.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND-LIVE AT MAX’S KANSAS CITY.
By the late sixties, the members of many British and American bands were well on their way to becoming multi-millionaires. Especially groups like The Beatles and Rolling Stones. They had been at the top for the best part of a decade, and were now enjoying wealth beyond their wildest dreams.
To look after their wealth, these groups employed accountants, investment companies and tax advisers. They ensured that their clients minimised their tax liability and became even wealthier. It was changed days. No longer were the angry young men angry. Instead, they were affluent and aspirational. Where had the spirit of rock ’n’ roll gone?
It was alive and well, and living in Heidelberg, Germany. That’s where The Guru Guru Groove, who later became Guru Guru, had been formed in 1968 by drummer Mani Neumeier, bassist Uli Trepte and guitarist Eddy Naegeli. However, even The Guru Guru Groove hadn’t started off as a rock ’n’ roll band.
Instead, The Guru Guru Groove’s roots were in the German free jazz scene. They had previously worked with Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer. Drummer Mani Neumeier was also a stalwart of the German free jazz scene, and already, had won a several prizes. However, by 1968, when The Guru Guru Groove was born, its members were embracing psychedelic rock.
The three members of The Guru Guru Groove had been won over by American and British psychedelic rock. Jimi Hendrix and Franz Zappa had inspired Mani Neumeier, Uli Trepte and Eddy Naegeli. So had The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. These bands inspired not just The Guru Guru Groove, but Amon Düül, Can and Xhol Caravan. They would play an important part in the nascent, but burgeoning German music scene of the late sixties.
Unlike the American and British rock scenes, commune culture played an important part in the German music scene at that time. The three members of The Guru Guru Groove lived in a commune in the Odenwald region, where they experimented with various hallucinogenic drugs. Many of The Guru Guru Groove’s early concerts took place in communes. Soon, though, The Guru Guru Groove were a familiar face on they university circuit.
The Guru Guru Groove organised concerts with the Socialist German Student Union. This wasn’t surprising. Like many German bands of this period, The Guru Guru Groove were politically to the left. They were essentially a socialist band, who unlike many of their American and British counterparts, had a social conscience. This became apparent during concerts.
Concerts organised by The Guru Guru Groove and the Socialist German Student Union were spectacles. The band didn’t just take to the stage, play a few songs then say their goodbyes. Instead, members of The Guru Guru Groove read political texts between the songs. Sometimes though, the concerts descended into near anarchy. This didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was the music.
It was a fusion of free jazz, avant garde, psychedelia and rock. The three musical alchemists combined elements of these disparate genres, wherever they played. Sometimes, this included prisons, where The Guru Guru Groove introduced inmates to their mind bending sound. By then, they were well on their way to becoming one of the leading groups in the German underground scene.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Change was afoot. The Guru Guru Groove became Guru Guru, who would become one of the leading lights of German music. Guru Guru’s lineup would also change twice. Guitarist Eddy Naegeli was replaced by American Jim Kennedy. Then Ax Genrich was drafted in to replace Jim Kennedy. By then, Guru Guru’s lineup featured drummer Mani Neumeier, bassist Uli Trepte and guitarist Ax Genrich. This is regarded as the classic lineup of Guru Guru, and the one that recorded their debut album UFO in June 1970.
When Guru Guru entered the studio for the first time, Julius Schittenhelm who was a producer for the Ohr label, and his wife Doris must have realised that they were about to record what was, no ordinary band. Guru Guru were far from a power trio, featuring drums, bass and guitar.
The three members of Guru Guru unpacked, and setup a wide array in instruments and electronics. Drummer and vocalist and Neumeier added cymbals, gongs and a tape to his setup. Bassist Uli Trepte added various electronic items, including a transistor radio, mixer and intercom. New guitarist Ax Genrich added an array of effects pedals, including an Echogerät Pedal. Ax and the rest of Guru Guru were determined to record a debut album nobody would forget.
So it proved to be. Guru Guru released UFO on the Ohr label, later in 1970. It was released to almost overwhelming critical acclaim, and hailed as a groundbreaking fusion of genres and influences. These growing reviews lead to UFO selling reasonably well, and launched Guru Guru’s career. They’ve released over forty studio and live albums over a forty-three year period. The first of these albums was UFO.
Stone In opens UFO. Ax’s searing, Hendrix inspired psychedelic guitar cuts through the arrangement. Its effects laden sound dominates the arrangement. The rest of rhythm section are left playing supporting roles. Briefly, Mani’s improvised vocal flits in and out. By then, Guru Guru are in full flow. Mani’s urgent drums join with Uli’s bass in driving the arrangement along. They’re still not equal partners. Not when Ax is unleashing a mesmeric, spellbinding solo. His fingers fly up and down the fretboard, as Ax delivers a guitar masterclass. It’s a stunning start to UFO, which showcases the combined talented of the classic lineup of Guru Guru, as they make their recording debut.
Sci-fi sounds arrive from the distance, before Girl Call bursts into life. Ax’s bristling guitar, a buzzing bass and crashing cymbals join with pounding drums. There’s even a burst of feedback. Quickly, Ax tames the tiger, before taking centre-stage. He unleashes another scorching, psychedelic solo. Then the baton passes to Mani, who showcases his trademark drumming style. Uli’s bass matches him every step of the way. As the rhythm section power the arrangement among, the Ax man returns. Soon, he spraying blistering, machine gun licks above the rhythm section. Seamlessly, Ax combines speed and accuracy, as the musical shaman works his magic on a psychedelic, rocky opus.
Literally, Next Time See You At The Dalai Lhama explodes into life. Guru Guru dive feet first into the track, with Mani and Uli creating a hypnotic, mesmeric groove. This allows Ax to unleash another barnstorming solo. Mani’s determined not to be outdone, and powers his way round his kit. Neither is Uli. The three members of Guru Guru raise their game. Elements of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath shine through. So do elements of avant garde, free jazz, psychedelia and progressive rock. Guru Guru play with confidence, swaggering their way through this genre-melting soundscape.
UFO finds Guru Guru at their most inventive. They utilise the array of electronic that they took into the studio. The briefest bursts of guitar make an appearance as Guru Guru improvise. Elements of avant garde, experimental and musique concrète shine through, as Guru Guru eschew traditional song structure. What follows is a cinematic soundscape, where the listener supplies the script to what sounds like a journey. That journey is on Guru Guru’s UFO, as they take the listener to an unknown destination.
A droning sound arrives from the distance on Der LSD-Marsch, which closes UFO. Like the previous track, Guru Guru improvise. This time, they create a lysergic soundscape. It’s dark, moody, eerie and ominous. Washes of guitar shimmer, while otherworldly noises squawk. Later there’s a series of beeps, as if Guru Guru’s UFO has landed, and is about to be impounded at. After that, Guru Guru return to a much more traditional song structure. Ax’s guitar references both blues and psychedelia. Mani’s pounds and powers his drums, while Uli’s bass runs match him every step of the way. However, stealing the show is Ax, who was the final piece of the jigsaw. His addition was a masterstroke. Not to be outdone, Mani unleashes another solo where his jazz roots are apparent. Later, Guru Guru become one, as they bring to a close their debut album. It’s Ax who steps forward and delivers another psychedelic solo, as Guru Guru close UFO with a flourish, and in the process, make their mark in German musical history.
UFO was one of the best debut albums of the nascent Krautrock era. Nowadays, UFO is still regarded as a Krautrock classic, and is, without doubt, one of Guru Guru’s finest albums. That’s no surprise.
The lineup of Guru Guru that played on UFO, is regarded as the classic lineup of the band. This lineup were together until 1975, when former Kollective guitarist Jürgen “Jogi” Karpenkiel replaced Ax. However, between 1970 and 1975, Guru Guru released eight albums. This includes 1971s Hinten, 1972s Känguru and 1973 Guru Guru and Don’t Call Us, We Call You. By then, Guru Guru were on a roll, and releasing some of the finest music of the Krautrock era. This music found a wider audience that many other Krautrock bands.
That’s why, forty-three years after the release of UFO, Guru Guru released Electric Cats in 2013. This meant that they had released over forty studio and live albums. Guru Guru were still going strong after six decades and several changes in lineup. The one constant was drummer and vocalist Mani Neumeier, who nowadays, is regarded as one of the finest German drummers of his generation. He’s made a lot of music since UFO in 1970.
UFO is a timeless Krautrock classic, which features the classic lineup of Guru Guru. Seamlessly, the three musical alchemists fuse avant garde, blues rock, free jazz, musique concrète, progressive rock, psychedelia and rock. The result is a truly groundbreaking journey, where gradually, Guru Guru show their inventiveness.
Rather than dive in feet first with one of the more experimental tracks, Guru Guru showcase their considerable psychedelic talents on Stone In, Girl Call and Next Time See You At The Dalai Lhama. It’s only then that they introduce the listener to their most experimental music on UFO, and the the first half of Der LSD-Marsch. Guru Guru it seems, have been breaking the listener in gently, and educating them. Only then, are they ready to hear Guru Guru at their music inventive and innovative on two groundbreaking soundscapes. These two tracks show another side to Guru Guru, which references the group’s free jazz roots. UFO particularly, finds Guru Guru improvising, and pushing musical boundaries to their limits. In doing so, Guru Guru proved pioneers.
Even today, Guru Guru’s influence an be heard on the latest generation of Norwegian musicians. Many of them, seem to have been influenced by groups like Guru Guru, and are picking up where they left off. It seems that Guru Guru’s music lives on through a new generation of musicians; and through a new generation of music lovers who have discovered their music.
Many of those who are discovering albums like UFO, weren’t even born when the classic lineup of Guru Guru made their first tentative steps into the recording studio. They recorded what became a timeless Krautrock classic, UFO. Part of its success is down to Guru Guru’s latest recruit, Ax Genrich. His addition to Guru Guru was a masterstroke, in what was a musical marriage made in heaven, UFO.
Musical history is littered with bands who only ever released one album. 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. 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. These tracks feature on the Long Hair label’s reissue of Kollectiv. It features 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.
IRMIN SCHMIDT-ELECTRO VIOLET BOX SET-IMPORT.
One of the most eagerly awaited box sets of 2015 was Irmin Schmidt’s twelve disc career retrospective, Electro Violet. It was released by Mute Records in December 2015. However, only 1,000 copies of Electro Violet were available. They were like gold dust and finding one of the Electro Violet box sets wasn’t easy.
Finding one of the few signed box sets was even more difficult. Some lucky people prevailed, and count their signed copy of Electro Violet as one of their most prized musical possessions. Some people however, would’ve been happy just to find a copy of Electro Violet.
For them, the search for a copy of Electro Violet was akin to treasure hunt. Countless music lovers went in search of what they regarded as musical gold. Those that found a copy of Electro Violet were overjoyed. Sadly, there were a lot of disappointed people. They were wanting. However, now, they have another chance to strike gold.
Recently, Mute Records released an import version of Electro Violet. It features the same twelve discs, that feature some of Irmin Schmidt’s best music. This music represented his post Can career.
After eleven years and eleven studio albums, Can called time on their career in 1979. By then, Can were rightly regarded as one of the most innovative bands of the Krautrock era. They had enjoyed an almost unrivalled longevity.
Can were formed in 1968, by Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt. Both had been students of Karlheinz Stockhausen and graduated in 1966.
By then, Irmin Schmidt was twenty-nine. He born in Berlin on 29th May 1937, and grew up playing piano and organ. Soon, it was apparent that he was a talented musician. So it came as no surprise that Irmin headed to the conservatorium in Dortmund, to study music. This was just the start of Irmin’s studies.
From there, Irmin moved to Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, before moving to Austria, and the Mozarteum University of Salzburg. The final part of Irmin’s musical education took place in Cologne, where Irmin met Holger.
The two future founding members of Can were studying composition under Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Cologne Courses For New Music. Between 1962 and 1966, Irmin and Holger studied composition. However, after they graduated, their lives headed in different directions.
Holger Czukay became a music teacher, and began a career educating a new generation of young Germans. Meanwhile, Irmnin Scmidt headed to New York.
During his time in New York, Irmnin Scmidt spent time with avant-garde musicians like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Soon, Irmin Scmidt was aware of Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground. This inspired him to form his own band when he returned home to Cologne.
By the time Irmin Scmidt returned home, Holger Czukay what he described to me “as a life-changing moment…the music of the past and present came together.” At last, “here was music that made the connection between what I’d studied and I was striving towards” With the innovative use of bursts of radio and the experimental sound and structure, “I went in search of similar music.”
He found Velvet Underground. Holger remembers Velvet Underground when he first heard them. “They were different…and really influential.” They influenced the music I made. This would include the music Holger Czukay made with Can.
When Irmin Scmidt returned home, he decided to form a band with his old friend Holger Czukay. So in Cologne in 1968, Can was born.
Pianist and organist Irmin Scmidt formed Can with American avant garde flautist David C. Johnson and bassist Holger Czukay. Up until then, the trio had exclusively played avant-garde classical music. Now their ambitions lay beyond that. Their influences included garage, rock, psychedelia, soul and funk. So they brought onboard three new members of the group, which started life as Inner Space, and then became The Can. Eventually, they settled on Can, an acronym of communism, anarchy, nihilism
The first two new additions were guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Vocalist and New York-based sculptor Malcolm Mooney joined the band midway through 1968. By then, they were recording material for an album Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom. Two tracks, Father Cannot Yell and Outside My Door were already recorded. Unfortunately, record companies weren’t interested in Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom. As a result, it wasn’t released until 1981, when it was released as Delay 1968. Undeterred, Can continued to record what became their debut album, Monster Movie.
Despite not being able to interest a record company in Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom, Can were confident in their own ability. So Can continued recording what would become their debut album Monster Movies. However, soon, there was a problem.
David C. Johnson left Can at the end of 1968. He was disappointed at the change in musical direction. Little did he realise that he’d lost the chance to be part of one of the most groundbreaking band’s in musical history, Can.
Monster Movie had been recorded in Schloss Nörvenich, a 14th-century castle in North Rhine-Westphalia. Can recorded Monster Movie between 1968-69. It was the released in August 1969. This marked the debut of Can. Their career started as they meant to go on. A groundbreaking, genre-melting fusion of blues, free jazz, psychedelia, rock and world music, Monster Movies has a Velvet Underground influence. It’s as if Can have been inspired by Velvet Underground and pushed musical boundaries to their limits.
Throughout Monster Movie, Can improvised, innovated and experimented. Multilayering and editing played an important part in Monster Movie’s avant garde sound. So did spontaneous composition, which Can pioneered.
Spontaneous composition was hugely important in Can’s success. Holger Czukay remembers “that the members of Can were always ready to record. They didn’t take time to think. It was spontaneous. The music flowed through them and out of them.” Holger remembers that he was always “given the job of pressing the record button. This was a big responsibility as the fear was failing to record something we could never recreate.” In some ways, Can were an outlet for this outpouring of creativity, which gave birth to a new musical genre.
This new musical genre was dubbed Krautrock by the British music press. So not only was Monster Movie the album that launched Can’s career, but saw a new musical genre, Krautrock coined. The founding father’s of Krautrock were Can.
Released in 1970, Soundtracks, was Can’s sophomore album. Essentially, Soundtracks is a compilation of tracks Can wrote for the soundtracks to various films. It’s the album that marked the departure of vocalist Malcolm Mooney. Replacing him, was Japanese busker, Kenji Damo Suzuki. He features on five of the tracks, contributing percussion and vocals. The addition of Damo wasn’t the only change Can were making.
Soundtracks was a coming of age for Can. It marked a move away from the psychedelic jams of Monster Movie and a move towards their classic sound. That saw the music becoming much more experimental and avant-garde. The music took an ambient, meditative, mesmeric and thoughtful sound. This marked the beginning of what became known as Can’s classic years, when albums like Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days were released.
The first instalment in the golden quartet was Tago Mago. This was the first album where Kenji Damo Suzuki was a permanent member of Can. He and the rest of Can spent a year in the castle in Schloss Nörvenich. It was owned by an art collector named Mr. Vohwinkel. He allowed Can to stay at Schloss Nörvenich rent free. For what Holger described as “a poor man’s band,” this was perfect.
Holger remembers Can during this year as “just jamming and seeing what took shape. Songs started as lengthy jams and improvised pieces.” This Holger says “how Can always worked” After that, Holger edited the songs which became and the mini masterpieces featured on Tago Mago, which was four months in the making.
For four months between November 1970 and February 1971, Can recorded what would become one of their most innovative and influential albums, Tago Mago.
A double album, it featured seven groundbreaking tracks. Tago Mago was released in February 1971. Straight away, critics realised the importance of Tago Mago. Here was a game-changer of an album. It has an intensity that other albums released in 1971 lacked. Jazzier with an experimental sound, the music is mysterious, mesmeric and multilayered. It’s innovative, with genres and influences melting into one. Nuances, subtleties and surprises reveal themselves. No wonder. Can deliver an avant garde masterclass.
This comes courtesy of jazz-tinged drumming, improvised guitar playing and showboating keyboard solos. Then there was Kenji Damo Suzuki’s unique vocal style. All this, resulted in an album that was critically acclaimed, influential and innovative.
Released to widespread critical acclaim in 1971, Tago Mago was the start of a golden period for Can. Their reputation as one of the most innovative groups of the seventies started to take shape. Can had released one of the most innovative albums, Tago Mago. Holger remembers the reaction to Tago Mago. “I knew Tago Mago was an innovative album, but I never realised just how innovative an album it would become?
On Tago Mago’s release, it was hailed as their best album yet. Since then, several generations of musicians have been inspired by Tago Mago, a true Magnus Opus, that belongs in every record collection. So does the followup Ege Bamyasi.
Can were on a roll. It seemed they could do no wrong. They released Spoon as a single in 1972. It reached number six in Germany, selling over 300,000 copies. That was helped no end, by the single being used as the theme to a German thriller Das Messer. It seemed nothing could go wrong for Can. The money the made from Spoon, allowed Can to hire disused cinema to record what became Ege Bamyasi.
Can adverted for a space to record their next album, Ege Bamyasi. Recording began in a disused cinema, which doubled as a recording studio and living space. The sessions at Inner Space Studio, in Weilerswist, near Cologne didn’t go well. Irmin Schmidt and Kenji Damo Suzuki took to playing marathon chess sessions. As a result, Can hadn’t enough material for an album. This resulted in Can having to work frantically to complete Ege Bamyasi. Despite this, Can were still short of material. So Spoon was added and Ege Bamyasi was completed.
Ege Bamyasi was a fusion of musical genres. Everything from jazz, ambient, world music, psychedelia, rock and electronica melted into one. When it was Ege Bamyasi released in November 1972, it was to the same critical acclaim as previous albums. Critics were won over by Can’s fourth album. It was perceived as a more accessible album than its predecessors. Just like Can’s previous albums, the quality of music was consistent.
Critics hailed Can as one of the few bands capable of creating consistent and pioneering albums. They were one of the most exciting bands of the early seventies. Can were continuing to innovate and influence musicians and music lovers alike. Just like its predecessor, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi is an essential part of any self respecting record collection. Having released two consecutive classic albums and their first single, it seemed nothing could go wrong for Can.
Despite Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi being referred to as two of the most influential albums ever released, Holger Czukay prefers Future Days. This is the album he calls “my favourite Can album.” It was the third in Can’s golden quartet, and marked a change in direction from Can.
Future Days saw Can’s music head in the direction of ambient music. The music is atmospheric, dreamy, ethereal, melancholy, expansive and full of captivating, mesmeric rhythms. It’s also pioneering and progressive, with elements of avant garde, experimental, psychedelia and rock melting into one. Rather than songs, soundscapes describes the four tracks. Future Days and Bel Air showcase Can’s new sound. Bel Air was the Future Day’s epic. It lasted just over nineteen minutes, and sees can take you on an enthralling musical journey. Just like the rest of Future Days, critics hailed the album a classic.
On its release in August 1973, Future Days was hailed a classic by music critics. The move towards ambient music may have surprised some Can fans. However, Brian Eno was just one artist pioneering ambient music. This move towards ambient music must have pleased Holger’s guru Karlheinz Stockhausen. He must have looked on proudly as Can released the third of a quartet of classic albums. The final album in this quartet, Soon Over Babaluma was released in 1974.
Soon Over Babaluma,
Soon Over Babaluma marked the end of Can’s golden period. It was the end of a period where they were releasing some of their most innovative and groundbreaking music. There was a change of direction on Soon Over Babaluma. Can were without a vocalist. Kenji Damo Suzuki left Can and married his German girlfriend. He then became a Jehovah’s Witness. Despite the lack of a vocalist, Can continued as a quartet. They released Soon Over Babaluma in November 1974.
When Can released Soon Over Babaluma in November 1974, it received praise from critics. With a myriad of beeps, squeaks and sci-fi sounds, Soon Over Babaluma is like musical journey into another, 21st Century dimension. A musical tapestry where layers of music are intertwined during five tracks on Soon Over Babaluma. It followed in the ambient footsteps of Future Days and brought to a close the most fruitful period of Can’s career. Following the “golden quartet,” Can didn’t go into decline. Instead, Can continued to reinvent themselves and their music.
Landed was released in September 1975. It had been recorded between February and April 1972 at Inner Space Studios. Just like previous albums, Can produced Landed. Holger and Tony Robinson mixed the first four tracks at Studio Dierks, Stommeln. The other two tracks were mixed by Holger at Inner Space Studios. These six tracks marked a change of direction from Can.
As well as a change in direction musically, Landed was the first Can album to be released on Virgin Records. Gone is the ambient sound of Soon Over Babaluma. Only Unfinished on Landed has an ambient influence. Instead, Landed has a poppy, sometimes glam influence. With uptempo, shorter songs, Landed was a much more traditional album. How would the critics react?
Critics were divided about Landed. Some critics saw Landed as the next chapter in the Can story, while others praised the album as adventurous, eclectic and innovative. Others thought Can were conforming. Surely not?
Flow Motion was Can’s eight album. As usual, it was recorded at Inner Space Studios. Produced by Can, Flow Motion was an album that drew inspiration from everything from funk, reggae, rock and jazz. It was an eclectic, genre-melting album. It’s also one of Holger Czukay’s favourite Can albums.
Holger remembers Flow Motion as an “Innovative and eclectic” album. He calls it “one of Can’s underrated albums,” Flow Motion marked a another change in Can’s way of working.
Released in October 1976, Flow Motion featured lyrics written by Peter Gilmour. This was a first. Never before, had anyone outside the band had written for Can. It worked. Can enjoyed their first UK single I Want More. It would later be recorded Fini Tribe and then Italo disco group Galaxis. With what was just their second hit single in seven years, maybe Can were about to make a commercial breakthrough?
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Saw Delight which was released in March 1977, wasn’t the commercial success many people forecast. That’s despite the new lineup of Can embracing world music.
Joining Can were bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist and vocalist Rebop Kwaku Baah. They’d previously been members of British rock band Traffic. Rosko Gee replaced Holger on bass. Holger decided to add a percussive element, Holger added a myriad of sound-effects. This was Holger at his groundbreaking best. Experimental sounds including a wave receiver was used. The result was one of the most ambitious albums can had released.
Despite the all-star lineup and a bold, progressive and experimental album, Saw Delight wasn’t a commercial success. It was well received by critics. The problem was, Saw Delight was way ahead of its time. If it had been released in the eighties, like albums by Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel, it would’ve been a bigger commercial success. Sadly, by then Can would be no more. That was still to come. However, things weren’t well within the Can camp.
Out Of Reach.
Nine years after Can had released their debut album Monster Movie, they released their tenth album, Out Of Reach. It was released in July 1978. The title proved to be a prophetic. After all, commercial success always seemed to elude Can. Not only did Out Of Reach fail commercially, but the Out Of Reach proved to be Can’s most controversial album.
So much so, that they disowned Out Of Reach. On Out Of Reach Holger was left to add myriad of sound-effects. Bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah of Traffic returned. They were part of the problem. Holger confirms this.
When I asked him what he meant by this, he said “During the recording of Out Of Reach, I felt an outsider in my own group. I was on the outside looking in. I was on the margins. All I was doing was add sound-effects.” For Holger, he felt his group had been hijacked by Rosko Gee and and Rebop Kwaku Baah. Things got so bad, that Holger quit Can.
Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah dominated Out Of Reach. Gone was the loose, free-flowing style of previous albums. Even Jaki Liebezeit’s play second fiddle to Baah’s overpowering percussive sounds. The only positive thing was a guitar masterclass from Michael Karoli. Apart from this, things weren’t looking good for Can. It was about to get worse though.
The critics rounded on Out Of Reach. They found very little merit in Out Of Reach. Gee and Baah were rightly blamed for the album’s failure. Even Can disliked Out Of Reach. They later disowned Out Of Reach. Despite this, Rosko Gee and and Rebop Kwaku Baah remained members of Can.
Unable to play with the necessary freedom Can were famed for, the two ex-members of Traffic stifled Can. Rebop’s percussion overpowers Jaki’s drums, which have always been part of Can’s trademark sound. At least Michael’s virtuoso guitar solos are a reminder of classic Can. A nod towards Carlos Santana, they showed Can were still capable of moments of genius. There wouldn’t be many more of these. Can would breakup after their next album.
Following the failure of Out Of Reach, the members of Can began recording what became Can. Remarkably, Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah were still part of Can. Sadly, Holger was not longer a member of Can. He’d left during the making of Out Of Reach. His only involvement was editing Can.
Can, which is sometimes referred to as Inner Space, was released in July 1979. Again, critics weren’t impressed by Can. It received mixed reviews. No longer were Can the critic’s darlings. The music on Can was a fusion of avant garde, electronica, experimental, psychedelia and rock. Add to that, a myriad of effects including distortion and feedback, and here was an album that divided the opinion of critics. The critics agreed, it was better than Out Of Reach. They agreed that Holger was sadly missed.
Even Holger’s renowned editing skills couldn’t save Can. Try as he may, he could only work with what he was given. He did his best with Can, which the eleventh album from the group he co-founded. By the time Can was released, Holger “had come to a realisation, that it was time to go his own way.” Holger describes this as “necessary.”
Can had split-up after the release of Can. That was their swan-song. However, even before that, Holger “felt marginalised, this had been the case since Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah became part of Can. They’d hijacked Can.” This lead to the death of a great and innovative band.
With Can now part of musical history, Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit set about reinventing themselves. Music critics wondered whether they would form new bands or embark upon solo careers? Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay and Michael Karoli all embarked upon solo careers. The most prolific of the trio was Irmin Schmidt.
Since Can disbanded in 1979, Irmin Schmidt has established a reputation as the most prolific former member of Can. Irmin has written the scores for over 100 films and television programs. Some of this music features in the recently released Irmin Schmidt box set Electro Violet. This twelve disc box set, which was recently released by Mute, features not just the five volumes of the Filmmusik Anthology, but a previously unreleased sixth volume. Then there’s Irmin Schmidt’s first four solo albums, 1981s Toy Planet, 1987s Musk At Dusk and 1991s Impossible Holidays. Then there’s Irmin Schmidt’s two collaborations with Kumo, 2001s Master Of Confusion and 2008s Axolotl Eyes. The final disc in the Electro Violet box set is opera Gormenghast, which was released in 2000, and was based on Mervyn Peake’s classic novel. Gormenghast shows the versatility of Irmin Schmidt, the classically trained musician who become part of Can, one of the most successful bands of the twentieth century. Sadly, by 1980, Can was history, and it was a brave new world for Irmin Schmidt.
Just a year after Can released their swan-song, Irmin Schmidt released the first volume in his Filmmusik series. This eight track compilation, was an introduction to the music Irmin had been writing for film and television. It would become a popular, and much anticipated series, which introduced many people to Irmin’s solo music. On the first volume of Filmmusik, Irmin was joined by old friends and some new names.
Among the old friends, was Can guitarist Michael Karoli. He featured on the eight minute, cinematic epic Im Herzen Des Hurrican (Verfolgung) and Im Herzen Des Hurrican (No. 5). Michael Karoli played his part in the success of Filmmusik. So did what was a new name to many Can fans was tenor saxophonist Bruno Spoerri.
He had been making electronic music since 1965, and by 1980, the forty-five year old, was running his own studio in Zurich. This was Studio Für Elektronische Musik Spoerri, where some of the Filmmusik sessions took place. Most of the recording of Filmmusik took place at Can’s Inner Space Studio, near Cologne. This had been where Can recorded some of the best music of their career. It would be no different for Irmin Scmidt.
While the cinematic sound of Filmmusik was very different to the music Can had been releasing, it showed just how versatile a composer and musician Irmin was. He had created eight tracks that were evocative, and had the ability to paint picture’s. This was important for anyone composing music for film and television. It looked like Irmin Schmidt had a big future ahead of him. He had stepped out of the shadow of Can and was about to enjoy his moment in the spotlight.
Filmmusik Volume 2.
So much so, that Irmin Schmidt released two albums during 1981. This included Filmmusik Volume 2. By then, Irmin was forging a reputation as the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a soundtrack to a film or television series in Germany. Eventually, Irmin would write over 100 scores. However, in 1981, his career was in its early days.
On Filmmusik Volume 2, it’s akin to Can reunion. Guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit feature on Endstation Freiheit-Titelmusik, Endstation Freiheit-Loony’s Walk and on Endstation Freiheit-Decision. So does bassist Rosko Gee. He’s replaced by Holger Czukay on Flächenbrand-Lurk and Flächenbrand-Titelmusik. Then on Die Heimsuchung Des Assistenten Jung-Man On Fire, Jaki Liebezeit added percussion. It seemed that the former bandmates were still friendly, and were happy to play on each other’s albums. Maybe, Can weren’t history after all?
That’s what some critics remarked when they saw the credits to Filmmusik Volume 2. With its all-star cast, it was a tantalising prospect. The critics weren’t disappointed when they heard Filmmusik Volume 2. It seemed Irmin Scmit was playing his part in reinventing what a soundtrack should sound like. He was just one of a new breed of composers determined to do so. However, Irmin wasn’t content to just write soundtracks. A solo career beckoned.
Irmin Schmidt also wanted to enjoy a solo career. This could run in parallel with his career composing soundtracks. For his debut solo album, Irmin Schmidt decided to collaborate with Bruno Spoerri, on what became Toy Planet.,
Zurich based Bruno Spoerri was two years older than Irmin. Bruno had been a pioneer of electronic music since 1965. Back then, Irmin was still studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen. However, within two years, he would be embracing new, experimental music in New York. That was sixteen years ago. Now Irmin Schmidt was regarded as a musical innovator and pioneer. His debut album would be much anticipated.
Critics and record buyers weren’t disappointed when Toy Story was released in 1981. It’s best described as a genre-melting opus. Everything from ambient, jazz and electronica, combines with rock and classical and psychedelia. There’s even a nod to the Berlin School, progressive rock and Phillip Glass, as a myriad of sounds assail you. Listening intently, instruments and sounds flit in and out. Sometimes, you question what you heard? Were there birds and a variety of animal noises on The Seven Game? Then on the title-track, futuristic and otherworldly describes what can be a haunting track. What follows is a minor musical masterpiece, which sadly, has been overlooked by the majority of music lovers since its release in 1981. Those that bought Toy Planet, eagerly awaited the followup.
It was a long time coming. Four years to be precise. To record buyers, it seemed that Irmin Schmidt was in no hurry to release the followup to Toy Planet. That wasn’t the case.
Instead, he was just incredibly busy. Irmin had been commissioned to compose the soundtrack to Rote Erde. It was released in 1983, and featured Michael Karoli and a former member of Can, David Johnson. Rote Erde, a journey through art rock and electronica, would give Irmin Schmidt’s fans something to listen to, while he continued to work on his burgeoning soundtrack career.
Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4.
Proof of this, was the release of Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4. This double album featured another twelve tracks Irmin Scmidt had written for film and television. On some of the tracks, Irmin was joined by Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit. Only Holger Czukay was missing from what would’ve been a Can reunion.
On the twelve tracks on Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4, Irmin Schmidt shows his versatility, as stylistically, the music shifts between disparate genres. This includes everything from classical and experimental, to jazz and rock. With a tight, talented and hugely experienced band for company, Irmin provided the soundtrack German film and television. Again, for many younger viewers, this would be their first exposure with Irmin Schmidt’s music. Given the quality of music on Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4, it wouldn’t be their last.
Mostly, the reviews of Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4 were positive. That had been the case throughout Irmin Schmidt’s career. He hadn’t released a disappointing album. However, most of Irmin’s albums had either been compilations or soundtracks. They hadn’t sold in vast quantities. It seemed that Irmin Schmidt had a small, but loyal following. However, with every release, Irmin Schmidt’s music seemed to be finding a wider audience. Maybe the release of his sophomore solo album Musk At Dusk would result in Irmin Schmidt’s music reaching a much wider audience?
Musk At Dusk.
That should’ve been the case. Can had reunited in 1986. The first Can reunion had been a success. Now Irmin Scmidt was ready to begin work on his second solo album, Musk At Dusk, some familiar faces were present. This included Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit.
Only Michael Karoli had released a solo album, Deluge, his 1984 collaboration with Polly Eltes. Jaki Liebezeit was content to work as a hired gun, playing on other artist’s albums. This included Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt’s albums. They were fortunate to have one of the top German drummers of Krautrock era providing the heartbeat to their albums.
That was the case on Musk At Dusk. It was another stylistically eclectic album. Elements of ambient, electronica, jazz, lounge and even progressive rock shawn through, on what was another ambitious, captivating and innovative solo album from Irmin Schmidt.
Critics agreed when Musk At Dusk was released. Irmin Scmidt seemed determined to reinvent himself on the long-awaited followup to Toy Planet. Six years after the release of Toy Planet, Musk At Dusk was released in 1987.
Sadly, Musk At Dusk wasn’t a huge commercial success. A small crumb of comfort was that gradually, word seemed to be spreading about Irmin Schmidt’s music. Meanwhile, Kraftwerk were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. They seemed unable to do no wrong. This must have been frustrating for Irmin, whose music was no nearer to reaching a wider audience. Aged fifty, he was still regarded as an underground artist. So, Irmin Schmidt returned to composing music for film and television.
Filmmuzik Volume 5.
Two years after the release of Musk At Dusk, Irmin Schmidt released Filmmuzik Volume 5. By then, the Filmmusik series was becoming a much anticipated and highly regarded series. It showcased Irmin’s music to many people who had neither seen the films nor television programs it featured in. Back in 1989, satellite television was in its infancy.
Filmmuzik Volume 5 featured another eight eclectic tracks. Again, the Can connection was strong. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit played on Zu Nah Dran. This was the only track to feature drums. Guitarost Michael Karoli featured on Mountain Way, Rita’s Tune, Bohemian Step, Geld and Geister and Zocker. These tracks featured on an album veered between cinematic, electronic and rocky. Just like the previous volumes in the Filmmuzik series, it caught the imagination of critics and record buyers.
It didn’t matter that many of the people buying Filmmuzik Volume 5 had neither seen the films, nor television programs they were taken from. The tracks worked as standalone pieces of music. Critics agreed. They felt Irmin Scmidt was maturing as a composer with each instalment in the Filmmuzik series. Those that bought Filmmuzik Volume 5 agreed, and eagerly awaited the next instalment in this popular series. Little did they know, they would have to wait twenty-six years.
By 1991, Can were back on the comeback trail. This was their second reunion. Can’s popularity had grown since their last reunion in 1986. Never before, had Can been as popular. They were somewhat belatedly receiving the plaudits they so richly deserved. The Can reunion was part of one of the busiest years of Irmin Schmidt’s recent career.
Still Irmin Schmidt was busy composing music for films and television programs. Four years had passed since Irmin had released a solo album. Critics and record buyers wondered when the followup to 1987s Musk At Dusk would be released?
Little did they realise that in studios in Nice, Paris, Berin and Cologne, Irmin Schmidt had been working on his long-awaited, and much-anticipated third solo album, Impossible Holidays.
For Impossible Holidays, Irmin Schmidt worked with lyricist Duncan Fallowell. Gradually, Irmin’s third solo album Impossible Holidays began to take shape. Once the lyrics and music were written, Impossible Holidays was recorded at various studios in France and Germany.
When work began on Impossible Holidays, two familiar faces were present. Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit and guitarist Michael Karoli. Bassist Franck Ema-Otu, a long term collaborator of Irmin Schmidt was present. He had also played on Michael Karoli’s 1984 debut solo album Deluge. Along with backing vocalists and session players, Irmin and co-producer Gareth Jones recorded Impossible Holidays. This they hoped would be Irmin’s breakthrough solo album.
Impossible Holidays was released in 1991, when Irmin Scmidt was fifty-five. He was approaching veteran status, and was regarded as one of the finest German composers of soundtracks for film and television programs. However, Irmin’s solo career had proved disappointing. He had released a two critically acclaimed solo albums. Sadly, neither Toy Planet nor Musk At Dusk had been sold in vast quantities. Maybe Impossible Holidays would be a game-changer for Irmin Schmidt?
When Impossible Holidays was released, reviews were positive. Irmin Schmidt was regarded as one of the grand old men of Germen music. However, he was still regarded as an innovator, and someone who was capable of releasing ambitious, groundbreaking music. Impossible Holidays was no different.
Elements of avant garde, electronica, Krautrock and rock could be heard on Impossible Holidays. So could something that no previous Irmin Schmidt solo album featured…lyrics. They came courtesy of Irmin, while Claudia Stülpner, Gitte Haenning and Özay Fecht added backing vocals. Despite these stylistic changes, Impossible Holidays didn’t sell in huge quantities. While more people had discovered Impossible Holidays, Irmin Schmidt was still one of music’s best kept secrets.
Masters Of Confusion.
Just a year after the release of Gormenghast, Irmin Schmidt returned with Masters Of Confusion, his first collaboration with Kuno. Irmin had met Kuno when recording Gormenghast.
Kuno was none other that Jono Podmore, who co-produced Gormenghast with Irmin. Just like Irmin, Jono was a musical adventurer. He had released two solo albums, 1997s Kaminari and 2000s 1+1=1. It was an album of drum ’n’ bass, which was released by Mute, the same label that Irmin was signed to. After the release of Gormenghast, Irmin and Kuno decided to collaborate. The result was Masters Of Confusion.
When Masters Of Confusion was released in 2001, critics were aghast. They couldn’t help but admire Irmin Schmidt’s ambition and bravery. Masters Of Confusion was totally unlike anything that Irmin Schmidt had released in a career spanning five decades. He had taken a huge leap of faith, which was rewarded when a new generation of music lovers embraced Masters Of Confusion, a journey through drum ’n’ bass, ambient and experimental music. Suddenly, Irmin Schmidt was the toast of dance-floors in clubs across Europe. So Irmin Schmidt and Kuno returned with the followup Axolotl Eyes. This however, took time.
Seven years passed before Irmin Schmidt and Kuno returned with the followup Axolotl Eyes. It was released in 2008, and just like Masters Of Confusion, was an eclectic album.
Irmin Schmidt and Kuno took listeners on a roller coaster journey through avant garde, cinematic, dark ambient, experimental and even Krautrock. This was a return to Irmin’s musical roots, and the glory days of Can. That was fitting
Since the release of Masters Of Confusion in 2001, Can guitarist Michael Karoli was dead. Irmin’s longtime collaborator and friend, had died on 17th November 2001 in Essen, Germany. It seemed fitting that Irmin Schmidt and Kuno revisited Krautrock on Axolotl Eyes.
When Axolotl Eyes was released in 2008, seven years had passed since Masters Of Confusion took dance-floors by storm. Seven years is a long time in dance music. During that period, genres came and went. Luckily, Axolotl Eyes wasn’t a remake of Masters Of Confusion. Far from it.
Axolotl Eyes was hailed an ambitious and groundbreaking album. It was released to critical acclaim. Partly, this was because Irmin Schmidt was never determined to stand still. Constantly, he was looking to reinvent his music. He had never released the same album twice, and wasn’t going to start after five decades.
Filmmusik Volume 6.
Since the release of Axolotl Eyes in 2008, Irmin Schmidt has been busy. He provided the soundtrack to Wim Wenders’ film Palermo Shooting. It as released in 2008. Then in 2009, Irmin collaborated with Inner Space Production on Kamasutra-Vollendung Der Liebe. Since then, Irmin Schmidt has been kept busy.
He continues to write music for film, theatre and television. As of 2015, Irmin Schmidt had written over 100 film and television soundtracks. This meant there was plenty of material for at least another volume in the Filmmusik series.
Twenty-six years had passed since Irmin Schmidt had released Filmmusik Volume 5 in 1989. Since then, nothing. That was until recently, when Mute announced the release of the twelve disc Electro Violet box set. The good news was, that included in this luxurious and lovingly compiled box set was Filmmusik Volume 6. This brought the story of Irmin Schmidt’s soundtrack career up to date. The seventy-eight year old hasn’t lost his magic touch, and is still able to create music that evocative, emotive and most importantly, cinematic. It helps tell the story. However, the music on Filmmusik Volume 6 works as standalone pieces of music. They feature the same quality that one expects from Irmin Schmidt. That’s not surprising.
Throughout a career that’s spanned five decades, Irmin Schmidt has been regarded as a musical innovator. While that’s an oft-overused word, in the case of Irmin Schmidt, innovator describes one of the greatest musicians of his generation.
That’s been the case from Irmin Schmidt’s days with Can, right through to his solo years and the various collaborations he’s been involved with. Much of Irmin Schmidt’s post-Can career has been spent composing soundtracks for film, theatre and television. A tantalising taste of this can be found on the six volumes of Filmmuzik. That’s not forgetting Irmin’s first three solo albums, 1981s Toy Planet, 1987s Musk At Dusk and 1991s Impossible Holidays. Then the opera Gormenghast, which was released in 2000. It lead to Irmin Schmidt’s two collaborations with Kumo, 2001s Master Of Confusion and 2008s Axolotl Eyes, which closes the Electro Violet box set.
The Electro Violet box set is a celebration of the first five decades in Irmin Schmidt’s post can career. Throughout what has been a long and illustrious career, Irmin Schmidt has released music that’s ambitious, innovative, inspiring and influential. Irmin Schmidt is a musical visionary, who as a member of Can, and as a solo artist, has released groundbreaking music that was often, way ahead of the curve. A reminder of this is the music in the Electro Violet box set, which like the music of Can, will forever influence and inspire further generations of musicians and continue to captivate discerning music lovers.
IRMIN SCHMIDT-ELECTRO VIOLET BOX SET-IMPORT.
Just seven months after Black Sabbath released their eponymous debut album in February 1970, they were back with the album that defined their career, Paranoid. It was released in September 1970 and features three Black Sabbath classics Paranoid, Iron Man and War Pigs. They’ve since become staples of Black Sabbath’s live performances. They’re also three reasons why Paranoid, which has just been reissued by Rhino on import, as a two disc set, sold twelve-million copies. Incredibly, Black Sabbath had only been formed two years earlier.
In 1968, guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward found themselves with a band. Mythology, their previous band had just split-up. Tony and Bill decided to form a new band. So they got in touch with vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler. Ozzy had placed an advert in a local music shop saying “Ozzy Zig Needs Gig.” They were joined by slide guitarist Jimmy Phillips and saxophonist Alan Clarke. This was the birth of what would later become Black Sabbath.
At first, the new band was called The Polka Tulk Blues Band. This was shortened to Polka Tulk, and later, Earth. The band’s name wasn’t the only thing that changed. So did the lineup.
Tony Iommi became concerned that Jimmy Phillips and lan Clarke weren’t taking the band seriously. So they hatched a plan. Earth would breakup, and straight away, reform as a quartet. The quartet were still called Earth and recorded several demos. These demos were penned written by Norman Haines. Among them were The Rebel, Song For Jim and When I Came Down. It looked as if Earth were going places. Then in December 1968, another member of Earth left.
This was Tony Iommi. He left to join Jethro Tull and featured on the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus television show. He didn’t spent long as a member of Jethro Tull. No. Unhappy with the direction Jethro Tull were heading, Tony rejoined Earth. Tony’s time working alongside Ian Anderson inspired him. Now he was determined that Earth were going to become a successful band.
Before long, Earth realised that there was a problem. With another band called Earth, this was causing confusion. So, when the members of Earth noticed that a cinema near their rehearsal room was showing a rerun of Moris Bava’s horror film Black Sabbath, which starred the inimitable Boris Karloff, they were inspired to write a song.
The inspiration was seeing people queue up to watch horror film. Essentially, people were paying to be scared. This the band felt was strange. So Ozzy and Geezer penned Black Sabbath, which was inspired by writer Dennis Wheatley. The lyrics were dark and gothic. Indeed, the song was later referred to as: ”probably the most evil song ever written” by Rob Halford of Judas Priest. Having written this dark opus, Earth decided to change their name to Black Sabbath.
Black Sabbath made their debut in Workington, in Cumbria on 30th August 1969. Four months later, in November 1969, Black Sabbath signed to Phillips Records. They released their debut single Evil Woman through Vertigo Records, which was Phillips Records’ new prog rock label. After appearing on BBC radio, Black Sabbath began work on their debut album.
With producer Rodger Bain, Black Sabbath began recording their debut album. Ominously, Black Sabbath was released on 13th February 1970. It wasn’t a case of unlucky for Black Sabbath. Their debut reached number eight in the UK and number twenty-three in the US Billboard 200. Despite mixed reviews, Black Sabbath was certified gold in the UK and platinum in the US. Just two years after they formed, Black Sabbath were one of the most successful of a new generation of rock bands. Their sophomore album Paranoid would be a game-changer.
Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics to six of the eight tracks on Paranoid. The exception were Planet Caravan and Fairies Wear Boots, which Geezer and Ozzy penned. Black Sabbath wrote the music the eight tracks. These tracks would be recorded at two studios in London.
Recording of Paranoid took place in Regent Sound Studios and Island Studios, in London. Geezer played bass, Tony guitar and flute and Bill Ward drums and congas. Tom Allom played piano on Planet Caravan. Producing Paranoid was Rodger Bain, who’d produced Black Sabbath. Once Paranoid was completed, it was released in September 1970 in the UK and Europe. Paranoid wasn’t released until January 1971.
On the release of Paranoid in September 1970, it reached number one and was certified gold. Then in January 1971, Paranoid reached number twelve and was certified platinum four times over. Ironically, in the US, Paranoid wasn’t well received by critics. Just like Black Sabbath, Paranoid was slated. Black Sabbath, as you’ll realise, had the last laugh.
Opening Paranoid is War Pigs, an anti Vietnam War song. Here, Black Sabbath provide a slow, moody backdrop. The rhythm section and flourishes of searing guitar are joined by wailing sirens. They set the scene for Ozzy. His angry, frustrated vocal is the signal for Black Sabbath to become a power trio. Guitar doubles are panned left and right, balancing he mix. Meanwhile, the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. A buzzing bass, blistering guitar and pounding drums provide the backdrop for Ozzy’s strutting vocal. The result is not just one of the best anti-war songs you’ll hear, but a Black Sabbath classic.
Make that two. Paranoid is another Black Sabbath classic. From the opening bars, the track is instantly recognisable. It’s like meeting old friends. They just happen to be raucous, rabble rousers. Black Sabbath burst into life. They’re at their rockiest best. Machine gun guitars join the driving, rhythm section. Listening to Ozzy’s grizzled vocal, it’s as if he can empathise with the character in the song. It’s as if he’s experienced and suffered the paranoia he’s singing about. That, together with a blistering performance from Tony, Geezer and Bill made this a heavy metal classic.
Planet Caravan sees a change in direction from Black Sabbath. They head in the direction of psychedelia. Ozzy’s distant, lysergic vocal is full of mystery, while the arrangement meanders along, bathed in echo. The rhythm section and guitar take care never to overpower Ozzy’s vocal. Later, Tony’s guitar references Peter Green of Fleetwood Man. Understated, lysergic and psychedelic it’s another side of Black Sabbath, one I’d like to hear more of.
Iron Man sees a return to heavy metal. Drums pound relentlessly before menacingly, Ozzy announces “I am Iron Man.” From there, Black Sabbath are back doing what they do best, playing heavy metal. Tony delivers a guitar masterclass, while the rhythm section lock into a groove, becoming one. Ozzy’s vocal is a mixture of menace and raw power as he sings about a time traveller. It’s Tony that steals the show. His guitar playing is some of the best on Paranoid.
Menacing describes the introduction to Electric Funeral. That’s down to the rhythm section, Tony’s guitar playing and Ozzy’s vocal. Black Sabbath become one. The tempo is slow and sounds dark and dramatic. There’s even a nod to prog rock. Mostly, though it’s Black Sabbath’s unique brand of heavy metal. With Tony wielding his guitar like a musical wizard, Ozzy vamps his way through the track, singing about a futuristic world. He mixes menace, drama and theatre. Then later, the rhythm section want in on the act. When the baton is passed from Tony’s guitar, they enjoy their moment in the sun. They prove that Black Sabbath wasn’t just a one man band.
Hand Of Doom was written by Black Sabbath after noticing the number of American soldiers arriving in the UK. Many of them were traumatised, and resorted to taking drugs to blot out the horrors they’d witnessed. Sadly, the drugs destroy them. As a result, there’s a darkness to this song. Dark and dramatic. The arrangement meanders along, understated before exploding into life. Ozzy unleashes a vocal that brings to life the horrors these soldiers have witnessed. Anger, frustration and pain fills his vocal as the arrangement builds and grows. Soon, Black Sabbath are in full flow. That’s a joy to behold. Especially, as machine gun guitars are unleashed and Ozzy delivers one of his finest vocals on Paranoid.
Rat Salad sees Black Sabbath return to their blues’ roots. They jam, mixing blues, jazz and rock. It’s a case of sitting back and enjoying this musical masterclass. Whether playing as a unit or unleashing solos, Black Sabbath are peerless. They’re a power trio par excellence. Geezer’s bass playing, Bill’s drumming and Tony’s guitar solos play their part in delicious jam.
Closing Paranoid is Fairies Wear Boots. Blistering guitars and the rhythm section lock horns. They drive the rocky arrangement along. Bill’s around the kit, while Tony’s fingers flit up and down the fretboard. Geezer joins Bill in glueing everything together. Then having enjoyed their moment in the sun, Ozzy struts centre-stage. His grizzled, rocky vocal is the perfect accompaniment to one of the hardest rocking arrangements. It’s as if Black Sabbath are determined to lift their game one last time. This they do, closing Paranoid on blistering rocky high.
Whilst Paranoid wan’t released to the critical acclaim that accompanies many classic albums, it’s gone on to become one of the most important albums in the history of heavy metal. It redefined heavy metal. So much so, that Paranoid became the blueprint for the genre. If someone asked what heavy metal sounded like, Paranoid was the album to play them. Indeed, in the history of heavy metal, there are only two periods, B.P. and A.P. Before Paranoid and After Paranoid. Ironically, music critics panned Paranoid.
Among them was the so called doyen of critics Lester Bangs. This self styled tastemaker seemed to have a downer on Black Sabbath. Along with many American critics, they felt the album was too heavy. Then there were criticism of the aggression and satanic lyrics. Not for the first time, the critics got it wrong.
Paranoid was certified platinum four times over in the UK. It was the album that rewrote the rules of heavy metal. Now it was a case of the heavier the better when it came to heavy metal. At the forefront were Black Sabbath. Eventually, Paranoid sold twelve million copies worldwide and Black Sabbath became a musical phenomena.
Right through until 1981s Mob Rules, gold and platinum discs came Black Sabbath’s way. So did controversy. Much of it concerned Ozzy Osbourne. He parted company with the band in 1979. Sacked by the group he formed, both Ozzy and Black Sabbath survived to tell the tale. However, back in 1970, the Black Sabbath story was just beginning.
It started with Black Sabbath in February 1970 and then Paranoid in September 1970. Since then, critics have reappraised Paranoid and belatedly, realised it was actually a classic. Twelve million people could’ve told them that Paranoid was a stonewall classic. That’s why it’s fitting that Paranoid will be reissued by Rhino on import, as a two disc set. It’s a celebration of what’s a classic album. I’d go much further than that. I’d say that Paranoid, Black Sabbath’s 1970 sophomore album was a groundbreaking release. Paranoid saw Black Sabbath rewrite the rules of heavy metal, with what was the most successful and most innovative album of their long and illustrious career, Paranoid.
Berlin, 1967. That was where the Agitation Free story began. That was when Lutz ‘Lüül’ Ulrich, Michael ‘Fame’ Günther, Lutz ‘Ludwig’ Kramer and Christoph Franke formed Agitation. This new band quickly established a reputation as one of the pioneers of Berlin’s underground music scene.
When Agitation played live, their sets were like the “happenings” that were popular in London, New York and San Francisco’s underground scenes. At clubs like UFO in London, Pink Floyd played against a backdrop of liquid projectors. So did Agitation, who were also establishing a cult following.
Crowds packed Berlin’s clubs to see Agitation play. When Agitation took to the stage, it quickly became apparent that their music was a fusion of disparate influences. They improvised, playing with a freedom during sets that featured innovative improvised pieces. Agitation seamlessly combined elements of free jazz, rock and avant garde with electronic, trance and world music. As they played, liquid projectors were used to show slides and short films made my members of Agitation. This added lysergic backdrop to Agitation’s set, which was much more than a concert. Instead, it was a multi-media event, or “happening.” Members of the audience and other club owners were captivated.
Berlin in the late-sixties had a thriving underground arts and music scene. New clubs had opened, including the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in West Berlin. It had been founded in 1968, at the height of the psychedelic era by Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler. Soon, all the freelance musicians in Berlin made their way to Zodiak Free Arts Lab. This included members of Can, Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra and Neu! However, in 1968, the Zodiak Free Arts Lab’s new house band was Agitation. For what was a relatively new band, this was a coup.
Being the Zodiak Free Arts Lab’s house band lifted Agitation’s profile. It was where the great and good of Berlin’s music scene met. They were joined by artists, poets, writers, philosophers and sometimes, revolutionaries plotting change. Meanwhile, Agitation concentrated on honing their sound. A new member had joined the band.
This was vocalist John L. His addition meant that Agitation were now a six piece band. However, John L’s addition proved to be a controversial, and short-lived one.
John L was sacked by Agitation within a year. It’s thought that this was down to John L’s habit of taking to the stage naked. This didn’t go down well, and within a year, John L exited stage left. However, after John L’s departure, Agitation got the opportunity to play at a prestigious festival.
This happened in early 1970, when Agitation were invited to play at the First German Progressive Pop Festival, at the Berliner Sportpalast. By then, Agitation’s star was in the ascendancy. They had collaborated with John Cage, Erhard Großkopf, Peter Michael Hamel and Ladislav Kupkovi at The Electronic Beat Studio. So, it was no surprise that Agitation were invited to appear at such an important festival. It seemed the dawn of a new decade coincided with an improvement in Agitation’s fortunes. That proved not to be the case.
Instead, two original members of Agitation left the band during 1970. The first was Ludwig Kramer, who was replaced by Ax Genrich. Not long after he joined Agitation, Guru Guru asked if they could “borrow” Ax Genrich. Agitation agreed, but Ax Genrich never returned. To make matters worse, Christoph Franke left to join Tangerine Dream. He became the third departure from Agitation. They were looking for two new recruits.
The first was guitarist Jörg Schwenke, who replaced Ax Genrich. Then Gerd Klemke was drafted in. However, was only a member for a year, and in 1971, Agitation’s lineup changed again.
With Gerd Klemke heading for the exit door, two new names joined Agitation. The first was synth player Michael Hoenig. Next to join Agitation was drummer and vocalist Burghard Rausch. These two additions became the classic lineup of what became Agitation Free.
In the early seventies, Agitation discovered that there was another band with the same name. At that time, Agitation were due to play a free concert, and free was added to the name. This just happened to coincide with an upturn in the band’s fortunes.
1972 was the most important year in Agitation Free’s five year career. Agitation Free who were now a quintet, at last had a stable lineup. They were now regarded as one of the most innovative groups of the Berlin School. So much so, that in 1972, Agitation Free were sponsored by the Goethe-Institut, a German cultural association, to tour Egypt, Greece, Lebanon and Cyprus. This tour proved inspirational, and inspired Agitation Free’s debut album, Malesch.
On Agitation Free’s return to Berlin, they had been inspired by their journey to the Near East. Part of the inspiration was the sights and sound of their recent tour. Essentially, Malesch was a fusion of exotic Near Eastern sounds which were combined with Agitation Free’s trademark sound.
When Agitation Free entered Audio Tonstudio, in Berlin on February 25th 1972, they were joined by recordist Stan Regal and producers Wolfgang Sander and Peter Strecker. They would guide the five members of Agitation Free sound the recording process.
Without a producer, recording Malesch would’ve proved difficult. Malesch was Agitation Free’s debut album. They also planned to use an eclectic and exotic sounding selection of instruments on Malesch. This was perfect for their purpose.
Guitarist Jörg Schwenk was joined by Lutz Ulbrich on zither and keyboards. Burghard Rausch played drums, percussion and added vocals. Michael Hoenig switched between synths, keyboards and steel guitar; while bassist Michael Günther also took charge of live tapes. This mixture of tradition instruments and technology would play their part on the seven soundscapes that would eventually feature on Malesch.
Malesch was released later in 1972, on the Music Factory label. The critics who reviewed Malesch, were immediately won over by what his hailed as an innovative, genre-melting album. Elements of free jazz, rock and avant garde, rub shoulders with ambient, progressive rock, psychedelia, electronic, world music and Krautrock. However, it’s not just musical genres that combine.
Layers of music intertwine on Malesch, resulting in spacey, intricate, leisurely, luxuriant, exotic and sometimes smooth and sumptuous music. Other times, the music’s mesmeric, or there’s an element of drama. Especially as guitars duel, in what seems like a fight to the death. Always, though, the music is innovative, as Agiation Free push musical boundaries. Despite this, Malesch wasn’t a huge commercial success.
While Malesch was a popular album, it seemed as if Agitation Free were destined to be forever, an underground band. That was until they were invited to perform at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Playing at the Munich Olympics meant that people from all over the world heard Agitation Free’s music. This was publicity money couldn’t buy. However, Agitation Free were no strangers to playing live.
By 1972, Agitation Free had been constantly touring Europe for the past few years. This was the only way to build an audience. It was also the only way to promote Malesch. So Agitation Free embarked on arduous and gruelling tour.
In early 1973, Agitation Free were in France, on their first French tour. For two months, Agitation Free played in concert halls the length and breadth of France. Then on their return home, Agitation Free were asked to join the biggest names in German music.
The German Rock Super Concert was due to take place in May 1973, in Frankfurt. Agitation Free were asked to appear. This was a huge honour, and meant that Agitation Free’s music would be heard by a much wider audience. This was perfect timing, as Agitation Free were about to record their sophomore album 2nd
Agitation Free decided to record 2nd during July 1973. It had been a busy year for the group, with their two month tour of France and preparing for German Rock Super Concert. Then there were other live appearances in Germany. So finding time to record an album, wasn’t easy. However, found time during July 1973, where they locked themselves away in the studio.
This time, Agitation Free decided to head to Munich, where they recorded 2nd at Studio 70. It was the first recording session with the latest member of Agitation Free, guitarist Stefan Diez.
He had replaced Jörg Schwenk, who had left the band. This was unfortunate timing, as Agitation Free had a settled lineup. Now the latest recruit would have to earn his stripes in Agitation Free’s rhythm section.
For 2nd, Agitation Free’s rhythm section featured Burghard Rausch on drums, percussion, mellotron and vocals; bassist Michael Günther; and guitarists Stefan Diez and Lutz Ulbrich who also played bouzouki. Michael Hoenig, the final member of Agitation Free played keyboards and synths. Unlike Malesch, 2nd was produced by Agitation Free, and released later in 1974.
For Agitation Free it was a familiar story. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of 2nd, but the album failed to sell in vast quantities. Agitation Free seemed destined to forever be a cult band. That sadly, proved to be the case. It shouldn’t have been, given the quality of music on 2nd.
First Communication opens 2nd, and almost explodes into life. It’s like being in a rock as it heads for a distant galaxy. Especially with a myriad of sci-fi sounds flitting in and out. Meanwhile,urgent flourishes of keyboards are joined by slow, crystalline guitars. They’re joined by keyboards as the lysergic arrangement meanders, lazily along. Guitars are panned left and right, complimenting each other, while the rhythm section provide the heartbeat.Stealing the show is the guitar panned right. It soars above the arrangement, a spellbinding, searing solo. As it shimmers and bristles, a Hammond organ enters, adding another layer. Soon the chiming guitar panned left enjoys a moment in the sun. Fingers fly up and down the fretboard as another stunning solo takes shape. It’s aided and abetted by the second guitar, which interjects, but is played tenderly and subtly. By then, every member of Agitation Free has played their part in sound and success of this eight minute epic, where musical genres seamlessly unite.
A dramatic crash of a piano opens Laila, Part 1. After it dissipates, a chiming guitar enters. Gradually, the understated arrangement changes course. Searing rocky guitars join the rhythm section as Agitation Free freewheel into a glorious slice of timeless rocky music.
It’s all change on Laila, Part 2. Washes of Hammond organ provide a backdrop that’s been inspired by progressive rock. With the rhythm section and guitars playing as one, there’s no showboating. That’s until the first guitar solo. The guitar panned left takes centre-stage, as the rest of the band provide a driving backdrop. Then the second guitar steps forward. It seems to have been inspired by the first solo. What follows is a game of daring do, with each guitarist trying to outdo the other. At one point, jazzy runs are tinged with hints of rock. By then, the second guitar is augmenting the first guitar. Their performance inspires the rest of the band, as they head for home, having combined elements of jazz, progressive rock, psychedelia and rock. As they do, Agitation Free show why in 1973, they were considered one of the leading lights and innovators of the German music scene.
As In The Silence Of The Morning unfolds, it’s as if a code is being tapped up. Birdsong interjects as Agitation Free experiment. They combine ambient and avant garde, before slowly, the arrangement takes shape. Burghard Rausch keeps the beat playing just the ride. Meanwhile, a slow, probing bass, washes of Hammond organ and dual guitars combine. Agitation Free play slowly, creating a moody groove. Still, the sci-fi sounds punctuate the arrangement. So does a crystalline guitar solo. The second guitar plays a supporting role. His time will come. By now, Agitation Free are combining jazz, rock, avant garde and progressive rock. This results is a track that’s variously laid-back, melodic, mesmeric, innovative, futuristic and cinematic. That’s thanks to multitalented, musical alchemists Agitation Free.
A Quiet Walk finds Agitation Free putting their trusty tapes to good use. They’re augmented by a bass, guitar and synths. For just over four minutes, they’re part of what sounds like an ambient soundscape. This allows the listener to let their imagination run riot. Understated and minimalist, sounds and instruments drift in and out. It’s up the listener to supply to pictures to this soundtrack as they enjoy A Quiet Walk. Then as futuristic, sci-fi sounds beep and squeak, and a dramatic, droning organ plays, this is a signal that things are about to change. Agitation Free are stirring. An acoustic guitar plays, adding a Celtic influence. A bristling, searing guitar flits in and out, wah-wah-ing, while a hand drums is panned left. They’re playing supporting roles to the urgent acoustic guitar, and compliment it perfectly on what’s not just A Quiet Walk, but an enjoyable one.
Closing 2nd is Haunted Island. From the opening bars, there’s an eerie, otherworldly sound. Especially when the haunting, whispery vocals enter. They sound as if they belong on an early seventies progressive rock album. Soon, though, the vocals drop out, and what sounds like gusts of wind join a droning organ. They sit well together, as Agitation Free head for the Haunted Island. Later the rhythm section join keyboards, and the vocal returns. Synths strings, a bounding bass and blistering guitars are added. Soon another solo is underway. What follows is a guitar masterclass. It seems to lift the rest of the band, as they head for home on what’s been a career defining album…2nd.
Agitation Free should’ve built on 2nd. However, by 1974, all the years spent touring was beginning to take its toll. Agitation Free had also taken port in an experimental radio program, which was a forerunner of reality television. This “fly on the wall” documentary gave listeners an insight into life within Agitation Free. Sadly, all wasn’t well.
In 1974, the band split-up, and the five members went their separate ways. Agitation Free’s swan-song was 2nd, released in 1973. 2nd was a groundbreaking album where the Berlin based musical alchemists released what was a career defining album.
Partly, that was because Agitation Free refused to stand still. Instead, their music changed on 2nd. It was a very different album from Malesch. Elements of ambient, avant garde, electronic, jazz, progressive rock, psychedelia and rock are combined by Agitation Free. The result was an album that should’ve transformed Agitation Free’s fortunes.
That wasn’t the case. When Vertigo released 2nd, it pass record buyers by. Just like so many German bands of this era, commercial success eluded Agitation Free. The relentless and gruelling touring schedule had all been for nothing, and in 1974, Agitation Free went their separate ways.
Despite the demise of Agitation Free, a third album, Last, was released in 1976 on the Barclay label. By then, the five members of Agitation Free had embarked on solo careers.
When Last was released in 1976, Agitation Free part of Germany’s illustrious and rich musical history. Last was a reminder of what Agitation Free were capable of. Agitation Free were the nearly men, who could’ve sat at the top table of German music. Malesch and 2nd are a reminder of that.
THE BATHERS ARE BACK, AND ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL.
Nowadays, anniversaries are a cause for celebration in music. They’re also the perfect excuse for record companies to reissue an album. Especially, if it happens to be a the twenty-fifth or thirtieth anniversary of an album’s release. This gives a record company the perfect excuse for record companies to reissue albums on a myriad of formats. That was the case last year, and in previous years.
Last year, not only were their reissues celebrating the twenty-fifth or thirtieth anniversary of an album’s release, but reissues celebrating the thirty-fifth and forty-fifth anniversary of an albums release. For the umpteenth time, record buyers were expected to by yet another copy of an album they’ve bought countless times before. Many people did, and welcomed what were often, lavish and luxuriant reissues. They were seen as the perfect way to celebrate a whole host of important musical anniversaries. Sadly, one important anniversary passed unnoticed.
2015 marked the thirtieth anniversary of a Scottish musical institution, The Bathers. They were formed in Glasgow, in 1985, by singer, songwriter and troubled troubadour Chris Thompson.
Between 1987 and 1999, The Bathers released six albums of critically acclaimed music. Despite this critical acclaim, The Bathers remained Scottish music’s best kept musical secrets. Things should’ve been so different for The Bathers.
With Chris Thompson at the helm, the Glasgow based quintet could’ve, and should’ve, been one the biggest Scottish bands ever. After all, The Bathers music was variously articulate, beautiful, dramatic, ethereal and elegiac It was also 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. Since then, it’s all been quiet on The Bathers front.
After Pandemonia, many critics thought that The Bathers would return with a new album after two or three years. The Bathers never were, the most prolific band. Instead, The Bathers were like master craftsman, gradually creating a mini musical masterpiece. Sadly, not this time.
Two years became three, and three became four. Soon, five years had passed. Five became ten, and ten became fifteen. By now, many Bathers’ devotees had realise that it was highly unlikely that The Bathers would release another album. It seemed The Bathers’ story was over. Or was it?
Last year, I heard that Chris Thompson was in the process of recording some new music with The Bathers. These rumours weren’t new. Every couple of years they seemed to circulate. This time, though, there seemed some substance to the rumours. However, surely The Bathers weren’t on the comeback trail?
Then on 20th October 2015, came the announcement that The Bathers would be playing at The Celtic Connections festival on 21st January 2016. Cue celebrations from Bathers fans all over the globe. Flights are booked by expats, who have decided to head back to Caledonia to see The Bathers as the hit the comeback trail. It would be the first Bathers gig in a long time.
The last time The Bathers took to the stage, was with James Grant of Love and Money in June 2015. They even recorded a love session for BBC Scotland. However, nobody thought that The Bathers were about to awake from their slumbers.
Three days before Christmas, came the announcement that The Bathers were playing a second date at The Celtic Connections festival on 22nd January 2016 at The Mackintosh Church. However, that wasn’t the end of the good news. There was more to come.
The rumours that The Bathers were about to release a new album were getting stronger. It looked increasingly possible that The Bathers were going to release their seventh album, and first in seventeen years. This was almost too good to be true. However, it seems that The Bathers were release their comeback album later in 2016, some thirty-one years after Chris Thompson founded The Bathers.
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.
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 Thompson 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.
For 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 Thompson 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 Thompson 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 Thompson 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 Thompson 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.
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 Thompson. 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 Thompson’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 Thompson’s life, and very soul. Indeed, Kelvingrove Baby sounds a very personal album from The Bathers’ troubled troubadour, Chris Thompson. Musically, Kelvingrove Baby was a career high from The Bathers.
The Bathers fifth album Kelvingrove Baby, was unquestionably a minor classic. It was one of the finest Scottish albums ever released. Sadly, Kelvingrove Baby and The Bathers is a story of what might have been.
Sadly, Kelvingrove Baby didn’t sell in vast quantities. If ever an album deserved to reach a much wider audience, it was Kelvingrove Baby. This almost flawless epic passed almost unnoticed, except in The Bathers’ native Scotland. Even there, it was only discerning music lovers that embraced Kelvingrove Baby. No wonder.
Kelvingrove Baby was filled with devotionals, paeans and songs about unrequited love. They sat along tales of betrayal, hurt and heartbreak. Kelvingrove Baby was an emotional roller coaster. It was brought to life by Chris Thompson’s lived-in, worldweary vocals, which were augmented by ethereal, elegiac harmonies. Despite The Bathers’ having released what many critics regarded as their Magnus Opus, they still hadn’t made a commercial breakthrough. All they could hope was their next album, Pandemonia, would result in a change in fortune for Scotland’s best kept musical secret.
Two years passed before The Bathers returned with their sixth album, Pandemonia. By then, The Bathers had signed to Wrasse Records. Maybe this would coincide with a change in The Bathers’ fortunes?
That should’ve been the case. Pandemonia was a fourteen track epic. However, it wasn’t just the work of Chris Thompson. Instead, Chris, Calum McNair, Alison Watt, Terence Kilmarton and Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrief had all laboured long and hard to write what what would become, a career defining album, Pandemonia.
Recording of Pandemonia had taken place mostly in Glasgow, Scotland’s musical capital. At St. Vincent Crescent, CaVa and Hyndland Church Hall Glasgow tracks were laid dawn. Sometimes, The Bathers headed east, to Drummond Place, Edinburgh. That’s where The Bathers began recording the fourteen tracks on Pandemonia,
There were a few changes to The Bathers lineup, The Bathers’ core lineup was augmented by a few friends. This included strings and horns. Even the rhythm section of drummer, percussionist and vocalist Hazel Morrison; bassist Ken McHugh and Callum McNair on guitar, Arco bass and backing vocals was augmented. Bassist Mario Caribé; drummer Richard Colburn and Neil Cameron on double bass all played walk on parts. They were joined by percussionist David Adam; saxophonist Barry Overstreet, trumpeter Robert Henderson and violinists Davy Crichton and Ian White who also played viola. Adding vocals on three tracks was Catherine Leroy. However, Chris Thompson not only played acoustic guitar, piano and adds his unmistakable vocals, but produced Pandemonia. which was released in 1999.
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, Pandemonia remained almost unknown apart from loyal band of discerning music lovers.
Those that bought Pandemonia discovered tales of adoration, admiration,and love from afar. Then there’s songs about deceit, heartbreak, hurt and love lost. Just like Kelvingrove Baby, an emotional roller coaster unfolds. The music is lush, ethereal, elegiac, dramatic and cinematic. It’s also very beautiful and emotive.
Glasgow’s troubled troubadour, Chris Thompson delivers a series of heartfelt, emotive vocal. It’s as if he’s lived the lyrics to this cinematic epic, set in Glasgow. On some tracks, Catherine Leroy co-stars, proving the perfect foil to Chris. They’re like a musical yin and yang. Mostly, though, it’s Chris that plays the starring role. However, this wouldn’t be possible without the rest of The Bathers.
They provide the backdrops to Chris’ vocals. They frame his vocals with the lushest of strings, melancholy horns and ethereal, elegiac harmonies. It’s captivating, enchanting, powerful. So much so, that the listener can’t help but empathise with the love lost, deceit, betrayal and regret. Other times, the music is hauntingly beautiful. That’s not surprising, as Pandemonia finds The Bathers at their very best.
That was the case from opening bars of Twenty-Two to the closing notes of Pandemonia, a thirteen minute epic. In between, The Bathers produced what was, a career defining album. If Pandemonia had been their swan-song, then The Bathers had saved the best to last. Sadly, this musical masterpiece passed most people by.
It was a familiar story for The Bathers, when Pandemonia failed to commercially. Just like Kelvingrove Baby, Pandemonia should’ve been the start of a glittering career. Sadly, Pandemonia sell in the vast quantities that The Bathers’ talent deserved. Instead, it remained one Scottish music’s hidden gems.
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, seventeen years have passed since the release of Pandemonia, and at last, The Bathers have awaked from their slumbers, and have decided to hit the comeback trail.
The first step on The Bathers’ comeback comes tonight, at The Mackintosh Church, in Glasgow. It’s one of countless events being held at The Celtic Connections festival. Then on Friday 22nd January 2016, The Bathers return to The Mackintosh Church, and continue their comeback. Hopefully, the next step in The Bathers’ comeback will the release of their seventh album. We can only hope. After all, The Bathers have always strived to do things their way.
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 achieved the impossible.
THE BATHERS ARE BACK, AND ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL