Recalling GERMANY CALLING and DEUTSCH ROCK - Part 3 (Revised illustrated version)
(Text by David McConnell)
Published in Background Magazine, The Netherlands
First part of this text | Second part of this text
Readers may be curious about the reason for the "Germany Calling" title that was adopted by Ian MacDonald. This originated from the call-sign of Radio Hamburg's English-language propaganda broadcasts to British and American audiences during World War II. The announcer was the anti-Semitic William Joyce, who was born in America to an English mother and Irish father. He had been a member of the British Union of Fascists but had fled to Germany before the start of the war, to become a radio broadcaster for the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. He began his broadcasts in a supercilious and sneering manner with the words "Germany Calling, Germany Calling", and his laughable upper-class English accent earned him the nickname of "Lord Haw-Haw". After the war in 1946, he was captured by British forces, found guilty of treason, and hanged in London. In spite of him having been an American citizen, the British prosecution successfully argued that his crime was treason because he held a British passport and had been allowed a British vote.
MacDonald's Part Five
Part of "Germany Calling" appeared in the issue of 7 July 1973 and was contained in a separate section within album reviews in general. It occupied only a quarter of a page, but, because the print was smaller than usual, its inherent length was greater than that of part four. There were no photographs. I believe that there was at least one more part of the series, but I have not been able to proceed with a search for it.
MacDonald's negativity was still evident, but there were a few surprises too, and one of these was described after he had stated that 20 per cent of the new album output "follows up country's earlier experimental ventures, while the remainder operates within the boundaries of mainstream rock as established by Britain and America in the Sixties". So, why was it that I was not interested in Anglo-American mainstream rock of the 60s and early 70s, whereas I was fascinated by the new German rock scene? For me, there must have been a difference between the Anglo-American and the Teutonic music to account for my difference in taste between them, and Krautrock fans, through their own experiences, will no doubt agree. However, it seemed that MacDonald couldn't discern the difference.
"Tangerine Dream" – as he introduced his first surprise – "have, in the past, been guilty of over-solemnity and pretentiousness, but their fourth album "Atem" (Ohr) has shaken most of that off. The dolorous mellotron dialogue on "Fauni-Gena" is a small masterpiece and the general atmosphere is less laboured than in their earlier efforts. All Pink Fluid [sic] fanciers and electronic music aficionados will go gaga over this one." And the positivity followed two paragraphs later. "Ash Ra Tempel, on their third album "Join Inn", have cleaned up their previous mucky incompetence and are now into speedy, moto perpetuo jams with all the reverb, length and inconsequentiality of The Grateful Dead. It's better than their earlier tries but one is bound to point out that some sort of improvement was more or less inevitable." He was now praising a German band for sounding like an American one!
However, in the intermediate paragraph, he wasn't impressed by Neu!, in now spelling their name correctly. "There were some pleasantly disturbing moments on Neu!'s first LP, but on "Neu! 2" their impetus has run out, allowing them to drift back into the relentless unimaginativeness of their father group Kraftwerk. The absent-minded boredom of the first side is weirdly offset by the actively-concerted boredom of side 2 which consists entirely of the twin sides of the band’s 1972 single (Neuschnee and Super) played on a portable gramophone in the studio at different speed settings, complete with surface-noise and jumping needles. Andy Warhol is alive and well and living in a tape recorder in Düsseldorf apparently."
MacDonald was also negative about another German label. "Recently Ash Ra Tempel moved to Rolf Ulrich Kaiser's newest label 'Kosmischen Kuriere' ('Cosmic Couriers') to record a bunch of junk called "Seven Up" with naughty old Timothy Leary. Grandpa takes a trip! Kosmischen Kuriere promises to be the most vapid enterprise in the history of the world if its second release, Lord Krishna von Goloka, is anything to go by. Here an ageing German pseud called Sergius Golowin directs a programme of colour-supplement mysticism for weekend dropouts, aided and abetted by young German pseuds Walther [Walter] Westrupp, Bernd Witthuser [Witthüser], Klaus Schulze and Jurgen [Jürgen] Dollase, of whom I have spoken elsewhere. Spray liberally with DDT before handling." MacDonald had mentioned in part three that Jürgen Dollase, the leader of Wallenstein, "claims to be a reincarnation of the famous general of that name and clothes himself accordingly". Regarding MacDonald’s reference to 'Grandpa' and an 'ageing pseud', perhaps Timothy Leary and Sergius Golowin should have apologised profusely for being the ages that they were! Yes, what a thoughtless and rude individual MacDonald was.
He proceeded, negatively, to a solo musician. "Peter Michael Hamel's Vertigo double album "Hamel" shows him to be a Teutonic Terry Riley. All his arcane procedures with modal scales, ragas, aleatoric devices and ring modulation are listed with an academic dryness which has unfortunately overflowed from the sleeve-notes into the music. Dullsville, man." Strangely, MacDonald’s IN-DEPTH examination of the new German rock scene had failed to reveal the existence of an album on the Wergo label, called "Einsteig", which was the first release in 1971 of Hamel's multi-national but German-based avant-garde, jazz-rock band Between. Intriguingly, but only in retrospect, this album included a subsequently-world-famous musician by the name of James Galway on flute – or, as the album cover stated, 'Jimmy J Galway (Ireland), Flöte'. Now, just how many – meaning, how few – of the fans of Galway know that, with him having been well known in classical music and in Irish traditional music, he was once a member of a German-based avant-garde, jazz-rock band? Probably MacDonald would not have been impressed anyway, and he would have said something negative about Between.
He then turned "from the consciously exploratory to the guys who are simply into having a good time", as he described a few releases connecting the German scene with jazz and blues. "Klaus Doldinger's "Passport" (Atlantic) has done good business in Germany and it's not hard to see why. Sounding like a streamlined Graham Bond Organisation, Doldinger (tenor, moog), Jimmy Jackson (organ), Atlantis drummer Udo Lindenburg [Lindenberg] and Amon Düül II veterans Olaf Kubler [Kübler] (tenor) and Lothar Meid (bass) are impressively together. Jackson, who along with Mal Waldron, was somewhat blurred out of Embryo's recent rather steamy essay in the same field, "Steig Aus", here comes through cleanly behind the simple, soaring tenor lines (frequently scored in bold unison). Not an earthshaking set, but as tight, stratospheric jazz-blues completely convincing. Nice cover too." Again, there was a bizarre comment, for on "Steig Aus", with the cover stating 'featuring Jimmy Jackson', the superb Hammond organ sounds of Jackson were most prominent on the LP. Just how much of this album did MacDonald hear for his IN-DEPTH examination?
Next was Wolfgang Dauner, mentioned in part two. "The Bond / Hiseman bias of "Passport" is no coincidence, as can be seen by the actual presence of [John] Hiseman on a forthcoming album by The Wolfgang Dauner Group which also features a guest appearance by [jazz guitarist] Larry Coryell. Between now and then we have another Brain release, "Rischkas Soul", with Dauner's band departing from the aggressive electronic experiments of "Output", their debut on ECM." But, remember: he had raved about "Output" in part two - "jazz synthesized with humour and a tremendous energy – recommended" – and now he was negative about the latest release by Dauner, without saying why. ""Rischkas [Rischka’s] Soul" is firmly in the jazz-blues bag and somewhat of a disappointment". Again, he left his readers puzzled.
More negativity followed. "Other bands tending the same cabbage-patch are Gorilla, a German answer to Chicago, and the multi-national Sinto, neither of whom are worth the asking price. Behind them, queuing up to play precisely the same old rock we've heard for years are Electric Sandwich, Cornucopia, Lava and Novalis. Thirsty Moon rise a little above the dross, but not significantly, and that tiresome trio Guru Guru reappear for the fourth time with a drab rock and roll medley on the Brain label." He couldn't be bothered to rise above his tiredness to inform the readers of the titles of the albums by these bands, because he wasn't interested in them – the bands, the records, the readers. And he was supposed to be a journalist, communicating information.
He still didn't know what to make of a band who had been mentioned in the "Late Arrivals" of his part three. "Kraan, whose second album ["Wintrup"] recently reached these shores and who are currently just about the hottest new band in Germany, are a problem to assess. Interesting qualities poke through the gloom on both their records, but there is nothing in evidence to justify their high reputation. Try "Wintrup" for yourself." Perhaps he should have added "because I can't be fully bothered myself". Yes, they would have been a problem to assess as long as he couldn't be bothered.
The final reviews of part five of "Germany Calling" referred to the albums of Frumpy. "Now known as Atlantis, they were one of Germany’s top bands between 1971 and 1972, recording four records for Philips and winning several polls. "All Will Be Changed" and "Frumpy 2" consist of turgid, organ-dominated techno-flash but, with the addition of guitarist Rainer Baumann the band found its feet as a straightforward blues-based rock group, allowing mannish lady vocalist Inga Rumpf a chance to stretch her larynx over the usual sort of crowd-pleasing material. However, their third album, "By the Way", retains the tension between what were essentially two different bands and some felicitous cross-fertilisation ensues. "Frumpy Live" reveals the transition completed and was the last thing the band recorded before their name-change. With a development oddly akin to Stone the Crows, Frumpy did what they did well but opened no new doors." Careless writing was evident in him discourteously referring to Inga Rumpf as a 'mannish lady vocalist', for the correct phraseology would have been 'mannish-sounding lady vocalist'.
MacDonald then curtly summarised his findings from this fifth part, as he ended it disrespectfully and immaturely. "Listening to these albums has, on the whole, revived my flagging interest in German rock. It's such a crazy scene over there that it's worth wading through any amount of rubbish in order to keep in touch with what's going on. In this case, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Doldinger made the effort more or less worthwhile. That's all, gentlemen. Dismiss – and keep an eye out for low-flying Messerschmitts." His flagging interest? When did he ever have a real interest for it to flag? How could he ever have a real interest, with only praise for Faust and Klaus Doldinger, and only latterly, for Tangerine Dream? By this time too, did he realise that Krautrock was catching-on after all, and that he had better start acknowledging that there was – after all - something worthwhile there for many people? Did he want to ensure that he would not have a Spiegelei, or fried egg, on his face? (NB: 'Egg on the face': a saying in English that means being left to look foolish, with a possible implication of being wrong or guilty.)
That was the end of "Germany Calling" – at least as far as I was able to establish in my research - though MacDonald may have made further references later, such as within general album reviews; and I believe that there was at least one more part of the series, but I have not been able to proceed with a search for it. Nevertheless, irrespective of where his final words on Krautrock occurred, the essence of his IN-DEPTH examination had already been made by this time. Obviously, he was not a Krautrock fan. He didn't need Krautrock in his musical life, and anything positive that he did say about it, and obtain from it, was simply a surprising bonus – or, more like, a consolation - for him. He didn't listen to the albums with objectivity – probably barely listening to them because he wasn't interested and so couldn't be bothered. He then made wide-sweeping erroneous statements about the music, from his viewpoint of purporting to be knowledgeable to the NME readers, which he wasn’t in reality.
As a journalist, he should have presented an objective report on the music, even on the understanding that he didn't like it, but without resorting to a barrage of unjustified criticism because he couldn't be bothered with it or couldn't understand it. His own general disapproval of it no doubt had the effect of turning adventurous rock fans away from ever showing interest in it at the time – except for a determined minority who may have read the views of Michael Watts previously, and except for those who already knew better by having experienced early Krautrock directly, without his interference. Was it a case with MacDonald of chauvinism or narcissism in the following scenario? "I can't understand what it's all about, and, anyway, it'll never catch-on – so it must be no good, and so it is definitely no good? Rock music from Germany? What can Germans teach us Anglo-Americans about rock music?"
On what I assert was poor journalism by him, it may seem to some readers that I am harsh or wrong in holding such a view. However, I have no hesitation about this, because, while the written word is the essence of journalism, the written word cannot be truly and properly expressed without the vital ingredient of proper research, and poor journalism occurs when a writer – even a good writer - can't be bothered to do proper research. Good journalism comprises not only the quality of the writing or expression itself, but also the quality of the research or content, and all of these solid characteristics must be present to produce good journalism that will tell the truth or paint the best overall picture or representation of the subject of the journalism. If MacDonald could not be bothered to do his research properly – ie, listening – how could his written word ever be classed as good journalism? A good journalist will not invent or contrive information to misrepresent facts or opinions, which is exactly what MacDonald did. I am justified in my assertion of his poor journalism because I have given substantial reasons throughout my analysis of his series for his unjustified criticism of Krautrock, whereas MacDonald did not provide evidence - only unsubstantiated and wrong statements - for his negativity and pessimism towards the music. Yes, you can combine poor research and good writing, but you cannot call it good journalism. It cannot even be called 'OK' journalism, for it is simply poor journalism, without question. Irrespective of whatever else MacDonald achieved in journalism that was justifiably praised – in his articles and in his books, including the one about The Beatles - his Krautrock series was certainly not an example of good journalism.
MacDonald not only did Krautrock a disservice; he did his NME readers a disservice, even if they were not in a position to know otherwise; and he did his NME employers a disservice, even if they, likewise, didn’t realize it, or didn't care. Having no real interest in the music, he was blatantly the wrong person to have written the series, not so much for lack of interest but for his definite bias against it; and how many progressive rock fans were turned away from the new German music, without having heard it, solely because of MacDonald's bias? Yet, in spite of being dealt such a heavy blow by MacDonald, Krautrock triumphed because its quality, character and strength were able to counteract his bias. Indeed, this can be illustrated by a football analogy. Imagine a good football team who, early in the game, are losing solely because of the bias of the referee, but that the talents of the team are such that they eventually counteract the referee’s bias to win easily, in spite of efforts of the referee to prevent their success. This is what Krautrock did, against the scathing words of MacDonald, which must have gone some way to impede the acceptance of the music at the time. Imagine how disheartened the German musicians may have been on reading MacDonald's criticism. Imagine how disheartened you – the reader – would be, if on producing refreshing and inventive progressive music, you and your new art-form were subjected to the vitriolic words of Ian MacDonald.
Thus, Krautrock did catch-on – having flourished worldwide over the last three decades, or over much of rock music's history. This great success occurred originally when vinyl was the king, but it became more evident in recent years, with most of it having been issued on, and revived by, the CD format, augmented by previously-unreleased material that would not have been available but for the invention of the CD. MacDonald was offensive in verbally attacked the artists of Krautrock in a manner that was unjustified, if only for the reason that they had caused him no offense in the first place. The Krautrock artists struggled, inventively and successfully in terms of artistry, against a surrounding commercially-dominated and mainstream-minded world, to produce highly creative music that, seemingly, had no commercial and mass-media value – which is not usually an 'absolute' measure of artistry anyway. And no one can doubt that the Krautrock musicians succeeded – not in terms of units of commerciality but certainly of units of artistry; while they succeeded in another vital sense: longevity. Not only did the depth of the music ensure its lasting value but some of the bands or individuals are still in the business and the art of making this music.
The two most striking examples of longevity in Krautrock are Tangerine Dream and Embryo, two very different bands who, throughout the period since MacDonald's damming series, continued to make recordings for, and play live to, many people worldwide. The courageous Tangerine Dream, under the leadership of Edgar Froese, their one ever-present member, deserve much acclaim for their dedication and daring that took rock music a significantly-farther distance in time and space than the already-inventive Pink Floyd. However, Tangerine Dream's greatest measure of courage lay in them having the audacity to produce rock music without a beat, on record and in concert, and the fans loved it. Additionally, for their first British tour in 1974, they were even able to risk playing no material from their first officially-released British album, in blatant contrast to every other band who felt it obligatory to play newly-released album music in concert to accompany and promote the simultaneous release of the album of that music. So too does great credit go to Embryo, especially their one ever-present member Christian Burchard, from initially being an excellent and inventive progressive-jazz-rock band, to having transformed over the years and decades into an impressive collective of a varying – and sometimes ephemeral and returning - membership from diverse countries and cultures, in the production of what is now counted as 'world music', integrating musicians to break down absurd man-made barriers of the world. Among the musicians to honour, and be honoured by, Embryo were the world-famous American jazz saxophonist Charlie Mariano and pianist Mal Waldron, who adapted admirably to the jazz-rock style of the band in playing on studio recordings and in live concerts.
And here are some of the other Krautrock bands and individual musicians who have proved MacDonald to be wrong in long-outlasting his 'expectations', by remaining in musical existence into the 90s or by making a return in recent years: Faust, Ashra, Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster, Guru Guru, Amon Düül II, Popol Vuh, Agitation Free, Conny Schnitzler and Klaus Schulze. Others lasted well into the 80s, and it should also be noted that the essence of Krautrock is emulated by innumerable recent and present-day non-German bands. The long and continuing story of Krautrock is in vivid contrast to his dismissal of it in 1972 and 1973? Indeed, his miserable failure in 'judgement' of Krautrock is on par with the failure of the 'experts' in the recording business who rejected The Beatles and Mike Oldfield; and I use the term 'on par' because the example of MacDonald's virtually-unrecorded failure, while not being spectacular in applying to a world-famous band or an individual musician, was significant in that it encompassed a whole genre of music!
So, who has had the last laugh? Certainly not Ian MacDonald, who had the first laugh, even if he laughed alone. However, the last and best laugh belongs to two categories of Krautrock people: to the spirited and inventive Krautrock musicians, whose success is testified by the large non-mainstream popularity of their music over the years and decades, and to the loyal Krautrock fans who have simply and throroughly enjoyed the music, without wanting to analyse why the music contained "long interludes of monochordal wandering, punctuated by sudden anomalous departures into soul music", as in MacDonald’s reference to Xhol; or to those who have enjoyed it without wanting to know what "the final aim of the exercise" was, in his reference to Bröselmaschine. Readers now know what this one critic, Ian MacDonald, pessimistically and mockingly wrote about Krautrock all those years ago, and how wrong he was.
Michael Watts on Deutsch Rock
As a journalist for the British weekly music magazine Melody Maker, Michael Watts knew better – positively so. He was the author of the first-ever Krautrock article that I read – at the time of its publication, and not in retrospect - and his coverage of the new German rock scene, entitled "Deutsch Rock" in the MM issue of 15 April 1972, was the reason why MacDonald's series was classed as "The first IN-DEPTH examination of the strangest rock scene in the world", with the implication that the account by Watts was not an in-depth one. In fact, for a single article, it was an in-depth feature. Although it occupied only a page of MM, the page size was larger and the type size was smaller than that of NME. With a sub-heading announcing that "Germany's new music is possibly more interesting than any in Europe", the article must have induced intrigue to the MM readers, and it was accompanied by three captioned photographs: of Kraftwerk – actually just one Florian Schneider-Esleben; one of Lucifer's Friend; and one of Amon Düül II – stated as Amon Düül.
Watts began his article by paraphrasing Can's Michael Karoli, in saying that European groups were no longer influenced by what was happening in Britain and America. "He's right", affirmed Watts, "as British audiences will shortly see for themselves when Can arrive in this country, to be followed at some future date by Amon Düül II. It's no coincidence that both bands are German. Of all the continental countries trying to create their own rock situation, Germany is the one that seems most fertile and experimentally-inclined. It's an exaggeration to say that German musicians have formed their own rock scene, independent of outside influences, but at least a handful of their bands are pursuing paths that are more adventurous than the majority of their Anglo-American counterparts and virtually all the other Europeans."
The principal views of his next paragraph also contrasted with MacDonald's negativity. It's important that they be encouraged, that they have success in the British and American markets which they desperately want. At a time when British rock is so insistently harkening back to the past, these are possible pointers for the future. This is no attempt however to foster the idea of a mass rock and roll movement; just to indicate that there's good music across the Channel which is not receiving much recognition in this country, even though the German record market is considered to be the fourth largest in the world." Yes, what chance of encouragement, success and recognition was there, theoretically, against MacDonald's gloomy propaganda, spread through a massively-read publication?
The next few paragraphs of Watts' article concentrated on the similarities of German rock to the Anglo-American style, and here emerged the few negative statements in his whole review. "It should be stressed from the outset that the main percentage of German bands are essentially imitative of Anglo-American pop. It's not an absolute rule of thumb, but these second-raters tend to adopt English names, like Birth Control, Lucifer's Friend and Epitaph." He added that the music of such bands is "usually dominated heavily by guitar and sounds as if the musicians are just going through that period from 1965 to 1966, when there was a transition from blues and R & B styles to hard rock", and that they "generally sing in English, mainly with appalling misunderstanding of the idiom. The most popular was Frumpy, but "the most accomplished" that he had heard was Improved Sound Limited, "who are so confident of their mastery of the English language that they go so far as to print all the lyrics of their double album". He explained that the decision to sing in English was undoubtedly so that it would be instantly accessible to Anglo-American audiences, and that many of these bands included English or American musicians, "like the lead vocalist, for instance, of Twenty Sixty Six [and Then], a Liverpudlian named Geoff Harrison".
Watts explained that young Germans were anxious to express their own concepts, ceasing to be bound by the framework of Anglo-American pop, and they saw the rock tag as a convenient way to do so. "This is particularly true of the musicians with political motivations, like Ton Steine Scherben, with its utterly left outlook, Ihre Kinder, and the Marxist Floh de Cologne. Their emphasis is on lyrics rather than music, and their subject matter is frequently a diatribe against the capitalist system. This is notably the case of Floh de Cologne (English translation 'Flea'), who have released an album with the translated title of "Conveyer Belt Baby's Beat Show"."
He listed the German bands who represented the new music. "The main torch-carriers for intelligent German rock music are a nucleus of groups headed by Can and Amon Düül II. These include Embryo, Kraftwerk, Guru Guru and Tangerine Dream. Between them they define the best of German rock." A sympathetic approach to the problem of the cost of the musical equipment was shown by Watts, in contrast to MacDonald, as the subject led to the avant-garde nature of the German scene. "Although most German rock groups lack the financial support to equip themselves with the VCS3s and Moogs that bands here [UK] accept as almost obligatory, they show a fascination with electronics, and use sound effects not as embellishments but for themselves. It's not too far-fetched to suggest that Stockhausen is the father figure of German rock, especially as Irmin Schmidt, keyboards player with Can, and Holger Czukay, the bassist, are both former students of the composer. Both men are intellectuals and perhaps see the rock tag as a means of packaging music which is nearer to the avant-garde than to the Top Twenty."
Having stated, with positive implication, that enough had been written elsewhere about Can's two albums on United Artists, "Monster Movie" and "Tago Mago", Watts described, in praiseworthy fashion, both sides of the electronics album "Canaxis 5" by Czukay and Roland Dammers, under the name of the Technical Space Composer's Crew. After informing the readers that the album was available directly from the private Music Factory record company in Munich, he declared: "It's worth it." Then there was more praise for Can, as he related that he had witnessed them playing live for four hours, except for intermissions. "Can’s performances are as unflagging as their rhythms. At Cologne's Sporthalle in late January they did a free concert in front of 10,000 people – the city council had given its blessing in the name of modern kultur. To hear them thundering away like a non-stop express is something of an experience, but the repetition of their open-minded act was finally a little too much for these English ears at first go. Their enthusiasm seems to work better in the edited context of an album."
The remainder of Watts' article consisted mainly of his descriptions of the five other 'torch-carrier' bands, with no significant negative remarks, and they are worth quoting in their entirety from the original article.
"Embryo have an album called "Embryo's Rache" ("Revenge") on United Artists, who, along with Philips and the avant-garde label Ohr, release most of the better-known German product. They're rather jazz-orientated, with a soprano sax, flute and organ, but unmistakably German, with that heavy, insistent drum rhythm. While they sing in English, they're basically instrumental, but they're not averse to political songs, like "Espagna si, Franco no", with its line about "Evolution is the only way" [actually 'Revolution']. However, the most interesting track is the last, "Verwandlung" ['Transformation'], with its use of mellotron and piano leading into Edgar Hofmann's [Hoffman's] violin, which sounds as if he's been listening to Don Harris." There was no mention of the first album "Opal", but at least Watts, unlike MacDonald, had discovered the second album, and his article appeared eight months before the start of MacDonald's series.
"Kraftwerk (Power-station), I understand, have released two albums, one of them, "Organisation", on RCA, and the other, simply bearing the band's name, on Philips (whose English office say they've never heard of them). The band revolves around Ralf Hütter on organ and Florian Schneider-Esleben on flute, violin and electric percussion. Though some of the Philips album reflects a trivial use of sound, there are truly strange moments like the heavily-phased drumming on "Rückzück", which fades in and out of the speakers with the cold precision of a machine. In fact, they've got the most 'mechanical' energised sound I've ever heard in places. Their name couldn't be more apt."
"Tangerine Dream, on the other hand, a Berlin group, are far less earthbound. If 'space music' is not too overworked an expression, that's them. Sort of Pink Floyd-minus-tunes meets King Crimson's 21st century schizoid man. They've got two albums out on Ohr, "Electronic Meditation" and "Alpha Centauri", and I've recently heard a single, "Ultima Thule (Parts One and Two)", which, if I recollect rightly, is a phrase from Virgil meaning 'Furthest Thule'. Most of the musical substance seems to be done with a mellotron and an organ but it's pretty effective, even if Part Two does bear a certain resemblance to "Set the Controls"."
"Guru Guru are also on Ohr (it means 'ear' incidentally) with an album called "UFO", and they should be checked out because of their drummer, Mani Neumeir [Neumeier], who plays electric percussion, which several other of these bands have (Can and Kraftwerk, for example)."
Before describing Amon Düül II, Watts mentioned "a number of other bands who are worth checking out". These were: "Parsival [Parzival], who play something akin to chamber rock, and are light, airy and pastoral in approach; Georg Deuter, who combines a mixture of electronic sounds, bongos, straightforward guitar and sitar – one track is called "Krishna eating fish and chips"; Klaus Weiss, a prominent drummer in Germany who has recently recorded a super-percussion album "Niagra" [not "Niagara"] with other drummers from the States, England, Germany and Venezuela; Eiliff, who have a bassist called Bill Brown, and are organ-dominated with rather orthodox arrangements; and then there's Et Cetera, Gila, Xhol, Cluster, Popol Uuh [Vuh], James Jackson, Sweet Smoke, Paul and Limpe Fuchs (a live record cut in Ossiach, Austria) and Ash Ra Temple [Tempel] (who are supposed to be ferocious)." But Amon Düül II were Watts' favourite band.
"Of all the German bands, however, the most assured is Amon Düül II. If they can maintain an equilibrium within the band and continue to remain unaffected by the various personnel changes, there seems no reason why they should not become a positive force on the international rock scene. Their organisational sense is the question mark that hangs over their future. For nearly two years they've been planning to come to England but have never made it ultimately. If their performances are like their records they will prove a revelation to English audiences.
"Their new album, "Carnival in Babylon", is their most composed. It's almost gentle even, with rather pastoral-sounding vocals from their girl singer, Renate, newly-returned to the group. The music is not as experimental as on their previous albums but there's more texture: nice bass lines, particularly on "All the years round", and deft strokes from the two guitarists John Weinzierl and Chris Karrer. With these two lies the future of Amon Düül II.
"When I was in Cologne three months ago, Weinzierl explained to me that it wasn't their purpose 'to have superficial success and to be celebrated as super pop stars'. Nevertheless, in Germany their reputation approaches mythical proportions. They are prophets in their own land."
Then Watts immediately ended his pioneering article, immediately and simply: "If rock and roll is really as homogeneous [ie, everywhere similar in origin and descent] as everyone says it is, we in England should be getting that message too." [ie, realizing Amon Düül II to be a high-quality band]
Michael Watts, firstly and positively, and Ian MacDonald, secondly and negatively – without them, or me, or anyone else being aware at the time – were making important contributions, albeit indirectly, to the history of Krautrock. Their accounts in MM and NME are a long way back in the Krautrock literary past, but they are all the more significant for that very reason. With the vast majority of Krautrock fans not having known that such articles existed, this was precisely why I wanted to publicize the contents. Perhaps if someone produces a detailed history of Krautrock – and no one has done so yet, in spite of several books having been published on the subject – then the reviews of Watts and MacDonald should be included in that history. It is indeed ironical that the term 'Krautrock' seems to have originated from MacDonald, which may be appropriate, for, although it has been used so often for so long that it may not generally be meant or taken offensively - but I cannot speak for German people – this originator was someone who had little respect for the music and was offensive to its musicians. Accordingly, was that why the term 'Krautrock' did appear in his series?
The difference in the attitudes of the two journalists was very evident. Generally throughout his detailed single article, Watts was open-minded towards, and had much admiration for, the new German rock music, whereas MacDonald, who didn't want to listen properly, slated the majority of the music during his series, only seeming to ease off slightly and latterly as Krautrock began to be publicized and praised elsewhere, and with its popularity continuing to increase.
Was MacDonald's supposed slight change in the positive direction purely a genuine happening, or was he trying to connive and contrive a certain liking for it after all, just to prevent him from being 'too wrong', as he could hardly 'get away with' feigning a sudden great liking? Suspicions would definitely be aroused, though I suspect him of the feigning in the sense that he may have realized his blunder in not giving the music a proper hearing. Whatever the truth – and, presumably, MacDonald knew what it was – his negative prejudice forms a lesson to everyone in this image-ridden and substance-diminished society of today about how judgements are made at face value and without applying time and patience to look deeper than the surface. In. MacDonald case, the glossed-over surface consisted of German rock LPs.
I have no hesitation in praising Michael Watts for his admirable objectivity, judgement and respect that allowed him to be able to publicize the music positively for the excellence that it was, and is.
There is a sad postscript to this series, with the suicide of Ian MacDonald, or Ian MacCormick, in 2003, resulting from depression. He was 54. In his memory, it is appropriate that he is acknowledged with praise for better journalistic achievements than his Krautrock series – especially his highly-respected book "Revolution in the Head: The Beatles".
Krautrock @ pHinnWeb