Richard Williams takes a Common Market-minded guess at a future trend in pop…
THE WORLD of rock and roll music is always waiting for a new explosion, a new direction. It’s nourished by the adrenalin charges which accompany major switches of direction, and without them it can’t live.
Although this is partly because we live in the age of the deplorable theory of “built-in obsolescence,” in fact it does keep the scene vigorous and necessarily outward-looking, because it has to watch everything that’s going on in order to spot where the next trend is coming from.
The last little pebble to cause a ripple in the pond was that of jazz/rock, which is thankfully now almost completely absorbed. That’s the way it is: an innovation appears, makes a lot of noise, and is then quietly pulled into the mainstream, which it enriches with its own qualities.
So where’s the next one coming from? My guess, which is as good as but no better than anyone else’s is that the Continent of Europe will provide the answer. Having come into contact, quite accidentally, with some of the products from Germany, France, Denmark, and other countries, I feel sure that they have something we don’t have, and furthermore that something is exceptionally valid and interesting.
So far I’ve heard five albums, by two Danish groups (Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe and Alrune Rod) and three German bands (Amon Düül and The Can and Xhol Caravan). Amon Düül’s and the Can’s are available here, thanks to some farsighted people on the staff of Liberty and United Artists respectively, but the other can be bought at the moment only in the countries of their birth.
All these bands play music which is being attempted only by the Soft Machine in this country, which is perhaps the reason why the Softs’ music always seems to have little connection with what is going on in the rest of the British scene.
Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe are from Copenhagen, and consist of Karsten Vogel (alto), Kim Menzer (trombone, flute, vocal, mouth-harp), Ole Fick (guitar), Jess Staehr (bass guitar), and Thomas Bo Thrige Andersen (drums).
Vogel and Menzer are also jazz musicians, and have played in the Cadentia Nova Danica group of altoist John Tchicai, who is Burnin’ Red’s mentor and appears with them sometimes. Their music, which is poorly produced and recorded on their double-album, is a unique blend of the very hardest rock and some extremely mellow, thoughtful jazz from the avant garden side of the fence.
Heard in person they can be extraordinarily exciting, and they are planning to come to England in July (a May trip was cancelled through work permit problems) to record their second album in the CBS studios, and also to do gigs around the country. They should not be missed.
I’ve never seen Alrune Rod live, but their album is a stunner, and like Burnin’ Red’s it is packaged quite superbly — British companies take note. Their music is more pop and almost no jazz, but it’s highly evocative and shows considerable imagination.
Their line-up is Leif Roden (bass, acoustic guitar, tabla, and vocals), Giese (guitar, vocals), Pastor Zeigler (organ and piano), and Claus From (drums). What they produce is extremely adventurous in scope, and as three of the tracks run more than ten minutes each it’s obvious that they prefer to work in long form, and the beauty is that they make it work.
Amon Düül II were originally part of one band with Amon Düül I, but the split came when Düül I decided to get more into the community scene than into music. They are Renate and Shrad (vocals), Chris (violin and guitar), Falk (Organ), John (bass and guitar), Dave (bass), and Peter and Deiter (percussion).
Their Liberty album is called Phallus Dei, which is actually one side of the record. They play fearsome stuff which has some connection with the Teutonic thumping of the great Velvet Underground, and this is particularly noticeable on the first track, ‘Kanaan’. It’s a frighteningly intense sound, but obviously extremely honest and a true reflection of what’s going on in Berlin, that most politically polarised of cities, at the moment.
Much the same can be said of The Can and their album Monster Movie, in that they also seem to owe a debt to the Velvets through, specifically, the insane thrashing drums and the extraordinary guitar, so reminiscent of Lou Reed. If anything they’re harder and even more unpleasant than the Velvets, and apparently this album was selling privately in Germany for £6 a time until it was released commercially.
One can understand why, because they’re a very brilliant band. Two of their number, organist Irmin Schmidt and bassist Holger Czukay, are studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Schmidt has conducted a symphony orchestra in Germany. Drummer Jacki Liebezeit is a terrific player who was with the quintet of trumpeter Manfred Schoof, and the other member on the album is singer Malcolm Mooney, a black American who has now left the band.
Apparently they’re having some trouble replacing him, which doesn’t surprise me since his voice is used in a highly unorthodox instrumental way, particularly since all of their music is improvised — nothing written at all. Amazing!
They all live together in an old castle near Cologne, in which they built the studio where the album was recorded. They had considerable difficulties in getting it released, and refused many times to bow to commercial pressures.
Lastly there’s Xhol Caravan, whose Electrip is on the Hansa label. They’ve been in London recently, and played a gig at the Arts Lab, but were refused an opportunity to do anything by most agents, promoters and record companies.
Despite the immensely high quality of their music, they are paid very little in Germany because of the simple fact that they aren’t English or American, and when I saw them at the recent Essen Festival they played on the poor, secondary stage at the far end of the hall.
They are Tim Belbe (electric tenor sax), Hansi Fischer (electric flute, soprano and alto), Ocki (organ, electric piano), Peter Meisel (lavatory flush… eh?) Klaus Breist (bass guitar), and Skip (drums).
Their music resembles most closely that of the Soft Machine, noticeably through the amplification and overall sound of the instruments, and they follow the same reasonably complex improvisational format. Once again, all are excellent musicians.
Five good reasons, then, why America and Britain may not last much longer at the top of the popular rhythm music tree. But let’s face it: we’ve had our crack of the whip (“Speak for yourself!” — E. Drone) and it’s time we let somebody else do a bit of the leading for a change.
© Richard Williams, Melody Maker, 13 June 1970