The Boredoms – “Vision Creation New Sun” (2000)

March 12, 2009 at 1:24 pm (Julian Cope, Music)

Julian Cope wrote this review of this modern-day psych monster. Head Heritage / Unsung  – Nov. 2001…


First time I heard this album was like a deluge overload euphoria had descended from the highest heavens and whipped me screaming, whirling, teenaged and drooling into my first acid trip/first hard on/first astral projection into a region of unfathomable and untameable NEWNESS. Didn’t even know what the singer was singing. Had the record and didn’t even know what it was called. Heard all seven songs and thought they were all one piece (still don’t know the individual titles). I felt like the mystery of all music had been boiled up over one Hindu kalpa (8,640,000,000 years of human reckoning) and had then been distilled through this Boredoms album. I fell asleep listening to the album and woke up several times during it, only to fall asleep again overwhelmed and tearful and with a butterfly belly of surging gnawing passion.
In the middle of the night, my toy doubleneck (which I used for all the TOO difficult parts of the LAMF album) fell over on its face next to my bed. I shot up in bed, looked down at this riffing orange toy playing familiar music alone and unprompted. I jumped outta bed and grabbed the thing and took it (still riffing) to the farthest corner of my bathroom and closed the door.
Lay there. Motionless.
Couldn’t sleep.
Needed to create a new sound.
Needed… to create a… new sound.
Is that what the singer was singing?
Was that the Boredoms’ lyric?
New sound?
Sound sound sound.
Shamanic 4 a.m.

I put the record on headphones loud as hell.
No way could it possibly sustain that sheerly mystical feeling of that first coupla listens. No way at all.
Single voice starts the record.
“New Sun!”
Then, we’re off into thee single greatest rush of music since the last Millennium.
This time I listened again and again without falling asleep, until the sun came up and the birds were dawning their chorus thang, and I was a reborn earthling.
So what does it sound like? I dunno – maybe like the Faust Tapes’ most euphoric uplifting moments were digitally tape-sped into some kind of Beyond Time.
You know how you occasionally read a review of some new Fall LP and they say the Fall are back on form and you just gotta hear this particular record and you get all excited and hopping cause if the Fall just got genuinely back on it (even briefly) U-Know it would be a pagan free-for-all to live for. And it has intriguing song titles like “Dame J. Burchill Art Gulag” and a supposedly great cover version of Don Covay’s “It’s Better to Have & Don’t Need (Than Need & Don’t Have)”. And in that brief time between reading about the album and hearing the album, you’re a kid again with a kid’s dreams and a whole world of possibilities (not just musical) is thrown up in front of you. Then you hear that new Fall record and it’s just more embittered semi-mystical coded fraudulent ramblings about NOTHING nothing NOTHING.
BUT……… it does not matter because you’ve still enjoyed AND lived fully through those moments of possibilities.
Well this album is all those possibilities AND it achieves. Those of you who always wanna dig my Album of the Month but then get disappointed because its way too weird and not weird enough and too rock but not rock enough and too obscure but not obscure enough – well, this is the album for you! You are all gonna get down on your knees and crawl to my front door after this one. Crawl crawl crawl.
How do I know? Because I’ve listened to this album so many times and just kept coming back and coming back and it never fails me. Played this fucking record so much on the last tour that I had to consciously NOT put it on before every set, or risk appearing like some teenybopper asshole with one CD in the collection. This is truly enlightened music which encompasses the Lofty-est rock’n’roll moments of every entirely necessary group of all time without sounding like any of them.
Imagine those heights of ludicrously optimistic utopianism achieved occasionally by the Mellotron’d Hawkwind of side one of Warrior on the Edge of Time, the pre-Velvets menstrual-cycling of the Jaynettes’ “Sally Go Round the Roses”, the eternally rainy-day monostare of “Hiroshima” from The Flower Travellin’ Band’s classic LP Made in Japan, the strangely Chuck Berry-based hard cissy weeping vision of Justin Hayward’s “The Story in your Eyes” by the Moody Blues, the 11-minute guitar destruction of “Love Is More than Words or Better Late Than Never” by the late-period heavy version of Love, led by Arthur ‘I’m-one-of-the-greatest-lyric-writers-of-all-time-but-right-now-I’m-gonna-shut-the-fuck-up’ Lee, the cartoon-y but nonetheless real sense of loss on The Residents’ “Ship’s a-going Down” from Not Available, the one-off death trip despair of Slapp Happy’s genius one-off 45 “Johnny’s Dead”, the unlikely overloaded-Spanish-Galleon-over-arranged enlightenment of Sabbath’s “Spiral Architect”, the someone-help-me-help-me-help-me-please Puppy Love-Effect at the gasping-for-air tailend of the Tubes’ “White Punks on Dope”, the breathtakingly ever-upwards powersurge that is “You’re in America”, the opening track from the first Granicus LP. Imagine all these things, and then imagine them compressed and digitally enhanced and sampled and used purely to empower you. Pow. Pow. Used in order to bring an emotional Pow-Wow, equivalent to applying a psychic garlic poultice to your poor fuzzbitten inner streetplan.
Who are these Boredoms? Well they been around for two decades and they’re led by a figure called Eye. Eye? Aye. And, clearly, there’s only the one Eye. And they’ve been a punk band, and they’ve been an all percussion chanting shamanic ensemble, and they’ve had 20 years to prepare us for this. And are we prepared. No No No. How do you describe true psychedelia? Do I write:
“There’s one beautiful period on track 4 when the whole group becomes Hawkwind on “Silver Machine” rising upwards in a space boogie which digitally transforms itself into that percussion and guitar freakout from the middle of Chicago’s “I’m A Man” 45 (by the way, if you haven’t heard that cover version of Spencer Davis’ finest moment, get it now now now – it is still a transcendental earth-moving moment from a group that is otherwise utterly unworthy of consideration).”
Do I write that? No. There’s a whole vibrational otherness coursing through this record which, if I’m stretched to compare, again reminds me of the Faust Tapes. But really it’s just the sound of fine fine music made by people who live at a higher level than every other fucker. Sure those other reference points I’ve thrown in are there to ground the review in whatever the real world is. But Vision Creation New Sun is a masterpiece. And I mean that in the old sense. It’s a masterpiece insofar as it creates a new genre. A new die has been cast. It’s a sustainable sonic orgasm where before there was no sustainable sonic orgasm. Other musicians can now rip this masterpiece off (I surely fucking will) and humanity will be higher because of it. Nothing less.
Album of November? Album of the Year!  

Julian Cope

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Far Out – “Far Out” (1973)

February 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm (Julian Cope, Reviews & Articles)

An article by singer Julian Cope from the Head Heritage / Unsung website, April 2001, about this obscure Japanese rock band…


Arriving in a flurry of heartbeats and echo-chambers, formless monophonic Moog synthesizers and microphone feedback, Far Out’s eponymous 1973 album is an alien and exquisitely beautiful music embodying all the greatest aspects of rock’n’roll at once. Herein, there are beats to brain yourself with, howling banshee vocals, melancholy tunes, dive-bombing seagull guitars, overly hopeful utopian lyrics, and harmonies to live for. This, their one and only LP, is a place where tradition and novelty sit together side by side, a place where cheesy melody and hoary chord sequences rub shoulders with shockingly unbalanced sonic gimmicks – forget 0-60 in 3 seconds, here it’s silence to deafening in Nothing-flat. The whole effect creates a sense of total mystery and awe, as though we’ve eavesdropped on some long-planned pilgrimage and found ourselves along for the ride. Indeed, the only better name I could think of for this album would be have been Far Fucking Out!
Even the sleeve is as iconically superb as Faust copping Warhol. A child’s mitten hangs by a single peg from a washing line on an expansive and borderless cosmic blue background. Think of the Velvets’ Banana LP, the first Kraftwerk album, Neu 75 and La Dusseldorf’s Viva. That obvious, and that classic. Fucking hell! And in one album they were gone – blink and you missed it – not even released outside Japan!
Of course, musicians such as these don’t just disappear into the mists of time. Their skinny, long-haired leader was Fumio Miyashita, who went on to form the almost equally amazing and far more successful Far East Family Band. But even that lot didn’t get the success they so definitely deserved considering the beauty of their whole overall trip. Sure, their best albums (Nipponjin and Parallel World) were at least released in the West on Germany’s Vertigo label. But such great things had been expected of 1976’s epic Parallel World that the group had been courted by Richard Branson, invited to record at his Manor Studios in Oxfordshire, and given two Krautrock legends to produce and engineer for them – Klaus Schultze and Gunther Schickert! Yet they again failed to set the world on fire because Branson deemed their 30-minutes per side classic too long for release on Virgin Records. Of course, all three of these albums are now accepted by the underground as timeless Japanese space-rock classics, and their later synthesist Kitaro became very successful on his own. But it is to this LP Far Out, the first recorded statement by Fumio Miyashita, that we must return in order to grasp the significance of the uniquely lovely yet sabre-sharp vibration of the Japanese first discovering how to mix their never-lost shamanic arts with Euro-American rock’n’roll in order to create what Audion magazine once so rightly called “the first and last word in Oriental cosmic rock.”
Like the greatest Krautrock bands of the 1970s, Far Out offered a combination of easily graspable chords and sentiments set into a highly unlikely ambient frame. The musical introduction of the eighteen-minute beauty “Too Many People” descends from its premordial synthesized soup on slow picked-acoustic guitars which plot a chord sequence straight out of the “Safesurfer” handbook. Round and around go the simple descending chords as Fumio Miyashita declares the obvious with a lyrically mis-translated sadness that is as touching as Amon Duul 1&2’s “Sandoz in the Rain”. Too many people are not caring for one another, he tells us, holding on to each word as though they were a friend that he was terrified to lose. Four sketchy and brittle and exquisite chords repeat over and over, as Fumio hesitates and stutters and dwells longingly over each phrase. It’s all so simple on the printed page but so desperately meaningful within its rock’n’roll that you only can feel compassion for all those self-absorbed singer songwriters whose lyrics hit so wide of the mark – perhaps they should have simply translated their songs into some foreign language and then back again, in order to have delivered the true depth of their alienation.
Round and around goes the song, like that optical illusion staircase which keeps returning us to the same point. Single low bass guitar notes punctuate the rhythm, as leaden pumping drums introduce a lyrical and slightly-out-of-tune lead guitar, which starts weak and slowly gains authority before pushing clear out of the fog into crystal blue. Then a riffing menace envelopes the song which drags the whole band into a strange loping Japanese boogie raga. This featureless grind soon takes hold of the song – a slow single note skank driven by the tom-toms of Manami Arai and the Coral electric sitar of bass player Kei Ishikawa.
I pay particular attention to the make of the sitar because this was no gourd-shaped acoustic Indian instrument, but a fully-fledged solid-bodied rock axe fashioned out of Burgundy vinyl-covered masonite AKA hardboard by the American Danelectro company. Found on all the greatest 1960s pop-psychedelic raga moments, it’s impossible to play this thing like Ravi Shankar and cohorts – even the drone strings which run parallel to the fretboard tend to summon in the musician a need to Nigel Tufnell your Ace Frehley solo. And here on the Far Out LP, Kei turns into a kind of Samurai Tony Iommi, grinding and wailing his Coral axe into some whirlpool of meditational metal, as a cymbal-less leaden tom-tom rhythm free of any sonic top-end drives us relentlessly onwards and inwards and never upwards.
Two-thirds of the way into the piece, it comes to a dramatic and abrupt stop. The sitar picks up the descending rhythm again and an extra-unbalanced lead guitar screams from the speakers, before the song caravan trails off again across the desert, along the way picking up a following of beautiful harmony vocalists, another lead guitarist, and a solo astral castrato worthy of some John Lodgean In Search of the Lost Chord moment.
Side 2 begins in another rhythm-less flurry, this time full of gongs and reverbed guitars, sitars and tom-toms. This is the mighty “Nipponjin” which Far Out would later record for their first Far East Family Band LP. There it was to evolve into a masterwork of layered Mellotrons, twin monosynths and sweetly padded voices. But here in 1973, that reverbed soup of an intro soon evaporates to reveal a dry frame of melancholy minor chords and more lyrics of tragedy and loss. It’s truly one of those pieces that confounds the listener with its musical obviousness yet sparklingly emotional freshness. Eiichi Sayu is a lead guitarist of such confidence that he can inhabit the hoary territory of a J.J. Cale or even Hank B. Marvin without ever burning up in the way that one such as Eric Clapp would do. Indeed, the Far Out muse is so strong that it even reminds us how beautiful that sound could be before it was requisitioned by the Hope’n’Anchor crowd. Of the underground’s Guitar God pantheon, only Neu’s Michael Rother had similar abilities. And here, Eiichi Sayu straps back with a soaring wild rip-it-out which pushes this epic into a dazed and confused autobahn ride of supreme Krautrock’n’motorik. From here, Far Out take us off into the wild blue yonder with a rumbling vocal chant and steaming guitar ride from the other side of the sky, before terminating with the glorious sound of some wading piper knee-deep in the paddy fields below Mount Fuji. Babies, U-know how much I hate the dreaded prog – but here at moments such as “Nipponjin” I can only paw the earth and pound my temples into the soil that the word ‘progressive’ was taken away from the true magician such as these, only to be misappropriated by Genesis, Greenslade, Gentle Giant and other things that did creep.
For this music DID progress. And like the MC5 and Ash Ra Tempel and all those true progressives, the evolution of Far Out extended the humanity (both physical and cerebral) of the musicians themselves, without turning the crowd impassive and goggle-eyed at these guys’ dexterity. There could be no vicarious and puritan remove for a Far Out audience, for, historically, the shamanic traditions of the Japanese had never been cruelly curtailed by anti-female priest/eunuchs of the one God. And so, instead, the audience themselves could also be equally caught up in this Thorean maelstrom and pureed along with its shaman creators. It’s difficult to translate into Western cultural terms, so for those of you who are loose enough to grant me a continuing Scandinavian metaphor – Far Out was truly
Yup, so Odinist they was all REALLY hanging!



In August 1981, I hired and played the Coral sitar on one song by The Teardrop Explodes and hurriedly dropped the idea of buying one. It seemed to pull out of me some dreaded vestigial Ur-Hindu who could only have appeared hopelessly bogus in the pale grey of the early ’80s. It is probably lucky that the Coral sitar has never been seen as anything more than a fake phenomenon, but I’m beginning to think that a true 21st century wielder of such an axe could reconcile our Indo-European roots with a cross-Kelto-Saxon-meets-Greco-Italic raga’n’roll full-on-ness which would “Swallow all misery whole”, as Iggy once put it.

By their second album, the renamed Far East Family Band had definitely copped a cosmic lick or three from the Moody Blues. But, whereas groups like Nektar and Barclay Jim only managed to shackle its proto-AOR with still further bouquets of verdant cliché, this Japanese monster sound left its Moody Blues-roots croaking in their dust. 

Julian Cope

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Julian Cope – “Blue Cheer” (2000)

November 13, 2008 at 9:24 am (Julian Cope, Reviews & Articles)

Julian Cope’s essay on late-60s noise merchants Blue Cheer, probably the first true heavy metal band. This comes from his Head Heritage website (link on this page) – written May 17, 2000…

Truly Bracing Atonality
Doubters called them ‘sub-sub-sub-sub-Hendrix’. Believers called them ‘the first true heavy metal band’. But it took the open-minded Motherfucking genius of Lester Bangs to realise that they were both. Their blues wasn’t blue but their cheer was deafening, and they took their name from bad biker acid and quoted Owsley on their first LP sleeve. And like the Vikings who broke into the Neolithic tomb of Maes Howe only to write graffiti about getting laid in the main chamber, Blue Cheer was an advance guard, but an unsustainable part of the counterculture — they broke into the right pharmacy but did all the drugs right there and fell asleep under the counter. They came on like Picts beating on Hadrian’s Wall, but left virtually no traces of their culture behind for future generations. They couldn’t read, they couldn’t write, and left monolithic messages carved out of the living rock. Hey, do I mean Blue Cheer or the Picts? I dunno, the two kind of meld together when you really think about it.
But Hendrix? Nere. The first Pretenders album is more like the Experience than Blue Cheer ever was. Robin Trower was more like Hendrix than Blue Cheer was. Blue Cheer was more like the bastard offspring of the Velvet Underground and the US Airforce. The sweet soul music hitherto played by a 10-piece horn-driven posse of black brothers was here redefined by 3 punk longhairs with umpteen stacks of Marshall amplifiers and a double-bass drummer in a flyagaric mushroom frenzy. Their ‘guitarist’ Leigh Stephens actually put 6 strings on a Lockheed Starfighter ground attack aircraft and nobody even noticed. Except when it crashed halfway through the first LP. In 1968, nothing but nothing in America and Britain sounded as brutal as Blue Cheer except for the Velvet Underground. And even that group was never as harrowingly wanton as Blue Cheer — intellectually more out there perhaps because you always got the feeling that John Cale knew precisely why each fuck-off ‘Sister Ray’ organ chord fucked you off, and that Lou Reed secretly wanted to hurt his listeners. But that shows an awareness of the audience — while Blue Cheer were fucking oblivious and clearly doing it because it satisfied them. An audience was a nice bonus.
Like the Stooges later on, Blue Cheer stood way out for their sheer lack of control. Way way out there. If Blue Cheer had been a department store, the door labelled ‘Complaints’ would have led you straight back out on to the street. Accept our noise or exit pursued by a Ziljian cymbal in the head.


Leigh Stephens is the most famously out-of-control guitarist I’ve ever heard. Yes, it was the influence of his playing which turned the MC5 from a Them/Stones ‘66 garage band into the proto-slipshod of 1969’s Kick Out the Jams. But the MC5’s Wayne and Sonic were fucking guitar gods with total control who chose to play that way. And much as I adore the Five, NO fucking band in the universe ever achieved the grim assault of Leigh Stephens’ guitar solos on songs like ‘Out of Focus’, except for maybe Lou on ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’. And Lou’s fighting to be heard over a sonic smog of schmorgandrum cacophony while Leigh is given all the space he needs and still manages to hog 80% of the Blue Cheer sound.
To give Blue Cheer a sonic context to the blissfully uninitiated, try this: contemporary Drum‘n’Bass played deafeningly loud on a cheap stereo in a house built on the Heathrow flightpath sounds a lot like Blue Cheer. So would Sly & Robbie if you asked them to play unaccompanied in the British Aerospace wind-tunnel. Maybe the first Pop Group LP approaches their sonic disorientation. But even then, there’d be nothing like the moments of silence that chilled the listener once they got into the eye of the Blue Cheer hurricane. On barbarian thrill-rides like ‘Sun Cycle’, ‘Parchment Farm’ and ‘Second Time Around’, this group gets even quieter than the Doors when they took it down on ‘When the Music’s Over’. In fact, they do it twice on ‘Second Time Around’ and still hoodwink me into thinking it’s over every time I listen. No wonder Iggy screamed ‘let me in’ at the Stooges when those bozos blasted away in their fatuous flophouse frenzy. He’d heard Blue Cheer be ‘the loudest band in the world’ as they’d always proclaimed, but he’d also heard them shut the fuck up in such a pindrop-stylee that it was possible to hear the freaked out gum-chewing of disorientated front-row pre-teens only there to see the Cheer play their hit version of ‘Summertime Blues’.
Yes, these were the punks whose only big hit was a degenerate version of Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues.’ So degenerate that in the bit when Eddie’s congressman would ‘like to help you son but you’re too young to vote’, Blue Cheer replaced his words with a drum solo! So degenerate that they repeat the same bit later in the song and again dare to replace that congressman’s words — this time with drums solo AND fuzz freekout guitar! Shit, those Blue Cheer guys never even said one of the ‘Summertime Blues’ lyric-hooks in the entire song and still got to number 14 in the U.S. top 40!



As a young teenager, Blue Cheer scared me because older teenagers told me that a dog at a Blue Cheer concert dropped dead from the sheer volume of their amplification. My only contact with their music suggested this was very very likely to be true – hell, their guitarist only left the group when he went deaf!
But in adulthood, I have long wondered why Blue Cheer were summarily dismissed as Jimi Hendrix copyists when they had a snotty genius bass player like Dick Peterson who reggaed in the face of Noel Redding’s twangy muse and had the vocal ability of the Five’s Rob Tyner. And that overachieving shroomhead drummer was Paul Whaley from the underground’s legendary Oxford Circle. No jazz there! From the school of Tucker and Moon, Whaley’s mantra appeared to be ‘if it moves hit it – if it doesn’t move, hit it till it does’!
Of course, Rock Legend says that when the original six-piece Blue Cheer saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Monterey Pop Festival, they were such a freaked out bunch that the bass player, the guitarist and the drummer sacked the others and thereby invented heavy metal. But it’s become almost a rock mantra that Blue Cheer was, therefore, some kind of sub-Hendrix Experience dropout boogie. Low budget Hendrix? Fuck that! Blue Cheer was over-recorded white noise with a total disregard for 4/4 convention. Blue Cheer was euphonious cacophony. So kack-off with the Hendrix comparisons – he’s an over-rated muso anyway.
It was T.S. Eliot who complained of our tendency in this culture to celebrate only the uniqueness of our artists, whereas older cultures also celebrated the way in which artists conform to a previous archetype. Well, nonhead rock reviewers saw Blue Cheer were a 3-piece and lazily wrote ‘like Hendrix’. Categorised. End of story.
But, unlike Jimi Hendrix, who was clearly in control of his guitar and jazz enough and clever enough to make young teenage me think I’d get it all when I was grown-up enough, Blue Cheer were truly beyond definition – they were the kind of teenagers that had my twee 12-year-old self happy in the cosiness of my pseudo-cultured parents’ copies of Private Eye and never even wanting to be a teenager.
The sound of the greatest rock‘n’roll is all the mysteries of your childhood, all the misheard conversations of your parents, all the glimpses of forbidden TV programmes, all the quoting of grown-up lyrics which mean nothing till they one day dawn on you as an adult. Why are Lou Reed’s Velvets lyrics so good? Because they’re low in the mix so you can make up half of them in an orgy of misunderstanding. Nothing could be more boring than discovering what Lou was really on about. Rock‘n’roll is all your human encounters, good and bad; all the threats and beatings you receive AND give out as a kid; all your sexual encounters both with the opposite sex AND yourself. Rock‘n’roll is your dancing stomping ancestor self giving the finger to AND flicking the ‘V’s at your intellectual self – it’s the part of you at school assembly which sings hymns wailingly off-key and droning – the skyclad pagan Maypole dancer versus the prim and subservient sinner.
Perhaps Blue Cheer‘s greatest misfortune was that songwriting self-doubt by Dick Peterson and the loss of Deaf Leigh saw them unready to jump on the heavy metal bandwagon they’d so successfully created. Indeed, rather than just bringing forth more of the same bile, later Blue Cheer LPs had them ‘progress’ into a museless, undefiant white-soul parody with an ever-changing line-up. And, like the mysterious carved stones of the pre-literate Picts, Blue Cheer’s first two LPs don’t give off enough evidence of cultural achievement to be highly regarded by most people. But to a few forward-thinking Motherfuckers, there are more than enough hidden clues to suggest utter barbarian genius. With the onset of 21st century post-Everything culture, the first two Blue Cheer LPs, Vincebus Eruptus and OutsideInside, are destined for certain deification.



Listen to Blue Cheer’s version of ‘The Hunter’ by Booker T and tell me I’m wrong. No way. They had no more true soul or blues in them than the Velvets doing ‘Waiting For the Man’ (which replicated the beginning of the Vagrants’ version of Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’) or Marvin Gaye’s ‘Hitchhike’, which Lou Reed incorporated into ‘There She Goes Again.’ Both groups probably just thought they were being the early Stones, in any case.

Julian Cope

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Julian Cope – “World Shut Your Mouth” (Video – 1986)

November 9, 2008 at 9:03 am (Julian Cope, Music)

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Can – “Ege Bamyasi” (1972)

November 8, 2008 at 7:44 am (Can, Julian Cope, Krautrock, Reviews & Articles)

Written in 1995 for his excellent book Krautrocksampler, comes this review by British rock musician, songwriter, rock critic, antiquary, author and all-around lunatic Julian Cope. He has become one of the most insightful and interesting critics around. I have yet to read his new book on the Japanese rock scene, Japrocksampler, but I’m sure it’s a good one…  


Ege Bamyasi was the closest to a pop LP that Can ever got. That’s not to say that it is pop, but there are at least clear cut songs with grooves of delightful melody and moment, plus a teen-appeal that still leaves me gasping with love for Damo Suzuki. Ege Bamyasi opens with the percussive rush of ‘Pinch’, nine minutes of groove in which the whole group seems to stand around the direction of Jaki Leibezeit’s fury of drumming. Only Damo’s vocal monologue edges out of the taut melee and one of the group hangs a hook on his vocals with a retarded but ultra-catchy mechanical bird-whistle. ‘Sing Swan Song’ follows in its devotional mid-tempo wake, like a fast funeral barge rowed by warriors, sculling to the music. Damo’s vocals are breathily soaring and always his half English sounding, half-unconscious lyrical pronouncements end in the words ‘…Sing Swan Song’ to give the strong impression of something divine being lost. ‘One More Night’ completes Side 1’s drum-led groove down a narrow alley where one chord is enough for Damo to coo “One more Saturday night, one more suck o’ your head” over and over. Behind him, the most sexual ethereality enfolds the listener, as Suicidey distantness sends him to sleep. The bedroom mood continues on to Side 2 with the pleading chorus of “Hey you, you’re losing, you’re losing, you’re losing, you’re losing your Vitamin C.” Again the drums clatter and bounce as Holger Czukay’s abrupt bass scatters hard low percussives into the arena. The album is then cut in half by the wild trance-funk of ‘Soup,’ a 10-minute freakout back in Tago Mago land. I didn’t love it as a 14-year old except for its ability to empty rooms. Harmonically, I wish now that it were at the end of the album, but what a fucking carve up. When Damo starts raving like Kevin Rowland from Dexy’s it gets really funny. Then it’s into ‘I’m So Green,’ my favourite-ever Can song. This light breeze of a song is so flimsy that it threatens to blow away at any minute. Here’s where the David Cassidy comparisons compare most favourably. And then ‘Spoon’ closes Ege Bamyasi with just about the most unusual “Making love in the afternoon” hit song of all time. This was the first Can LP I bought brand new (Torquay 1972) and it is still my favourite.


Julian Cope

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A.R. & Machines – “Echo” (1972)

September 7, 2008 at 5:43 pm (Julian Cope, Krautrock, Reviews & Articles)

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month on his Unsung website for February 2002, comes this review of this obscure German artist (Achim Reichel). The album is still out of print as far as I know and I have yet to actually hear it…


Almost seven long years since the first publication of Krautrocksampler. Wow. So I’d presumed there was hardly anything left to champion. My job was done, and there was a whole other new generation of maniacs who, by now, probably knew even more about the Krautrock scene than I’d ever known. So I was a bit freaked out to discover from a coupla good friends and major heads that poor old Achim Reichel’s big psychedelic space-outs ain’t never received the treatment they deserved even to this day.
It was Steve Freeman from Ultima Thule who clued me into this particular sprawling 83-minute monster back in 1995. Soon after the publication of Krautrocksampler, Steve sent me a cassette tape which, in turn, got copied on to DAT and whizzed around other head-scratching inner spacers, who each waited with baited breath for a proper re-release which never came.
Then, the actual writing of The Modern Antiquarian took over, and Krautrock in the Cope household got temporarily sidelined by my return to the gonzo proto-metal of the Stooges, Funkadelic, Black Sabbath and the MC5, all fleshed out by new loves such as Sir Lord Baltimore, Blue Cheer, even early Grand Funk. But, of course, there were still those happy accidents, nay designs, which straddled both camps so successfully that I was soon back on track. And so it was inevitable that I should eventually return to this huge and sprawling inner world which Achim Reichel AKA ‘A.R.’ decided to call Echo.
And what an inner world this album is. Over four sides of vinyl, Reichel created a vast parallel otherworld which allowed listeners to sink so deep within themselves that the return to the real world at the end of side 4 always came as a genuine shock. Even more so than Walter Wegmuller’s Tarot, which allows the listener to rove from emotion to emotion, Echo operates on such a singular level that listeners actually start to feel inhabited by this record. It is such a long recording that Thighpaulsandra and I had difficulties transferring it to CD because we both became taken over by the sound. We’d worry about the length of times between each track, we’d try and add more treble to it when it was unnecessary purely because Achim Reichel’s super-echoed guitar was just too watery to listen to over and over without entirely losing perspective. Man, it just took hours.
But it was surely worth every moment. For this 1972 recording is a giant of an album, and any move that will help to push Polydor into its late re-release is nothing less than essential. Indeed, it was only last week when I called Alan Freeman at Ultima Thule to get a CD copy of Echo to Holy McGrail, that I discovered the album’s unavailability. I’d just presumed that the job had been done long ago, and can I buy a new copy myself please. Of course, with hindsight it’s possible to explain the oversight thus: Achim Reichel is nowadays a very successful German actor with seemingly no interest in his Krautrock output. He had begun as leader of The Rattles, Germany’s mid-60s answer to the Beatles, before jumping on to the ‘heavy’ scene introduced into Germany at the turn of the decade. From the Rattles, Reichel took Frank Dorstal and Dicky Tarrach with him to form Wonderland, after which a brief period of experimentation with the echoed electric guitar saw the recording of 1970’s Die Grune Reise. This stupendously weird and outrageous vocal and guitar and whatever-happens-to-be-around piece of post-psychedelia was then released on Polydor as the first official LP as AR & Machines. Five more albums of varying quality and experiment escaped during the 1970s. But Reichel himself had abandoned the project by the late 70s and then returned to making pop music. The jump from music to acting had obviously only alienated him still further from this idealistic work of the early-70s.
But, if artists themselves are uninspired by a particular period of their earlier work, as Achim Reichel has been shown to be, it becomes up to others more motivated to make that work available. And when that work could be utilised by major heads for some serious shamanic endeavour, instead of lying unloved in some freezing and damp corporate catacomb, then it is time for the forward-thinking motherfuckers to shine a light in the darkness and scream out: “Navigation! Navigation! Navigation!”
So please excuse the nature of this long and unwieldy introduction to February’s Album of the Month. And do please understand that, in these heady long-post-Krautrock days, it was first necessary to hip you to the Achim Reichel scene before I could, with any real sense of conviction, punch my fists MC5-like in the air and scream: “Bring it ON!”
Echo opens with the massive low key 20-minute rumbles of “Invitation,” in which hugely echoed watery electric guitars minor-chord their way across a vast sky of long tape phasing, as rhythms of subterranean dripping punctuate the caverns of your unlit mind, and send listeners back into a proto-Gollum state. The tape-phasing spirals ever up and up as the cavern route takes you ever more down and down, like yo’ head is travelling to Jupiter and your arse fell into the sub-sonic wells of eternity. Your newly dead body is being rouged with face paint to prepare you for the next world, by chattering unseen spirit forms who minister to the bodily needs of your former corporeal self. Around seven minutes into the music, strange orchestras lining the route to your future home set up another massively tape-phased heraldic theme as Thor, or even some Armenian proto-Thor (Tarhunda/Tork), hammer wielding and mounted on the first of eight black flying warhorses burns across the sky. He’s an arc-welding forward-thinker with both eyes on the future, and his cohorts are elegant saxophone Gods and a sure-footed Mercurial drummer with a seven league bounce in his stride, who kicks in a big 6/8 rhythm as the skygods’ practise aerobatics overhead. It’s as though the Red Arrows were passing through some cosmically-sized ring modulator with hundreds of yards of one inch recording tape trailing off the back of their tail-planes. Intense co-ordination of musicianship is counted as a big plus in this Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, and they’ve clearly been playing a higher form of Krautrock since the early Bronze Age. Indeed, these were probably the ur-deities who brought the first news of wire guitar strings to Ash Ra Tempel. For this is the territory in which we find ourselves – a mounting Schwingungen landscape lit by flares of pitch and torches of burning tar, each carried by some unknown horse-mounted earth spirit.
It’s an ever intensifying ever-speeding-up multi-guitar-led rock’n’roll rampage across the ancient starlit skies without so much as one hoary cliché passing across any of the guitar strings. Theme after theme opens out upon yet-more-themes, as drums build then break down to accommodate, then build up again only to fail like waves breaking on some ancient musical shore. When the drums break down for the last time, Mellotron-like real voiced cyber-choirs have taken over to orchestrate our descent into the end of the track with perfect spiritual applomb. “Invitation” is a big beautiful pagan darkness with the bright-eyed soon-come Zoroastrian promise of a wide-mouthed and smiling beaming enlightenment.
Four musical massifs straddle the next three sides of vinyl, each song dedicated to illustrating “The Echo of the Present”, “The Echo of Time”, “The Echo of the Future” and “The Echo of the Past”. It’s so important (and so easy) to accept the artist’s metaphor when his vision is as clear and strong as this record. Though Reichel’s music here never sounds like it, Echo’s mystery approximates similar emotions to Klaus Schulze’s later masterwork Dune, in which muttering voices (in Schulze’s case Arthur Brown) are used so effectively to conjure up the sounds of lost ancestors.
Side B’s “The Echo of the Present” begins almost as “Invitation” had done, that same watery minor guitar preparing us for a sweet howling vocal, which, in turn, propels drums and multiple percussion off into another horse-mounted march through Middle Europe. Once more are there Gods on the landscape, bringing themes to the peasant population, all interwoven with an undulating and indefinable poetical gabbling. A.R. and his posse are here and they’re spreading mystery and enlightenment with sound and rhythm. Catch a few words and they say something about the mountains, something about coming from far away, and something about urging the populace to ‘come on’. Then the whole ensemble come to some musical ford, whereupon Achim declares: “When I was a little boy – 600,000 years… ” As he declaims grandly about his fathers and his mothers, his lieutenants are searching the river bank to the north and south, determined to cross this wide stream, in order to get to the other side, where a magical music is generating as if from some enormous Mother machine. With resolve and care they eventually find some route like stepping stones hidden just below the surface of the water. Achingly slowly, they begin to cross to the other side, whereupon the musical Mother Machine opens her mouth and sucks them up in a flash. Blink and they are gone – through a cosmic portal of immense proportion.
Within micro-seconds, we are on the other side of that parallel world, with children playing in some forever playground. It’s a place where ancient life-forms dance around the Maypole of some half-life Medieval fair. This is “The Echo of Time”. Reichel and his horsemen briefly investigate this other world before continuing on their epic journey. Reichel is the seerer of forever, the intoner of magic, inventor of words, poet of existence, and we are just there to be dragged onwards into his musical vision. Leaving the ensemble but still declaiming wildly, he climbs to the very top of a sacred mountain, which rears up before us. At the summit, he calls out:

“There’s a man on the moon, there’s a woman in the sun!”

Remember right now that real time for Achim is 1972. The astronauts are up there on the Moon’s surface and cosmic Humanity is truly at hand. Remember also that Achim is a German, for whom the Sun is a Goddess (noun Sonne f.) and the Moon is a God (noun Mond m.). Being of both Keltic and Scando-Germanic stock, our British psyche conveniently allows us to see Sun and Moon as being of both sexes. But that also allows us to often see them as being of neither sex, so there ARE disadvantages. Instead, we must here open our minds to a female Sun of constancy, and to a Hunting Moon which dances across the sky in a manner which is seemingly impossible to anticipate. THIS is the shamanic Moon. This is the Moon of chaos and lugh-na-cy. The Moon which draws the menstrual blood-flow out of our women, is that same Moon which causes the tidal flows of Mother Earth’s oceans to gravitate upwards, and whose energy pulls our shamanic other out through our third eyes and guides us up towards it. For the shaman belongs to Lugh. As shamanic Iggy was wont to announce: “Cause I’m Lugh’s.” We are Lupine or, as shamanic Ozzy was wont to announce, “barking at the Moon”.
Down and down and down and down goes the music until roaring rock’n’roll chords possess us and send huge legions of Amon Duul dervish drummers upon us. We are then sent through another portal into yet another driving and simmering and seething horse-borne riff. And on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Until all mystery implodes on itself and the sounds of forever subside into a deep and relieving silence at the end of side B, leaving only the static crackle of the needle in the groove. Indeed, five minutes of silence right now woulda been very enjoyable. But we’re here stuck in a digital land where the CD determines when and where we should listen. Be brave, because we’re moving on.
Side C takes us deep into the ur-heart of this double-LP. For it is here that we get beyond Achim Reichel’s stylings and into a pure pure form of music. This side long piece known as “The Echo of the Future” commences with the electro-zither and strummed piano strings, as Turkish percussion and Eastern European tunings herald yet more massed ranks of fast strummed vivacious electro-acoustic guitars. Could be the middle of Walter Wegmuller’s Tarot right now, or even the massive side long “Hoch-Zeit” from Lord Krishna Von Goloka. We’ve entered a multi-layered sonic world of confusion and inspiration, where the higher spirit unites with other higher spirits to create a vast and cerebrally abandoned beauty. Endless layers of echoed vocals ‘aaaaaaaaaaaah!’ and ‘oooooooooh’, as Reichel declaims ludicrous and enthralling lyrics about the universe. It’s like Rainer Bauer’s delightful pseudo-English on Amon Duul 2’s “Sandoz in the Rain”, and makes you realise just how perfectly English works as the language of rock’n’roll. No wonder Germans, Italians, French and Japanese are happy to scream such things as “Right On”, “Motherfuckers”, “All Right!”, and all those other hoary rock cliches, never feeling the need to translate it into their own respective languages. These time honoured underground words register all higher forms and feelings of rebellion, release, obstinacy and youthful cerebration/celebration.
Meanwhile, back at the track, we’re still travelling deep into a musical landscape of vast horizons and endless flattened plains. Ancestor spirits lurk in every corner of this piece, muttering to themselves in some transcendental post-language that approximates Japanese here, Delta blues there, Burroughsian Pig Latin desert song elsewhere…
And so we come at long last to the final track, known as “The Echo of the Past.” Here reduced to 16 minutes (by myself and Thighpaulsandra) in order to get it all on to one CD, this sidelong weird-out is, in its entirety, really close to being a full 20-minutes long, and is the wildest and most eclectic track of all. Beginning like a real song with real lyrics, “The Echo of the Past” kicks off like a more accommodating version of something from Peter Hammill’s The Silent Corner & the Empty Stage. But too soon and most bizarrely, it degenerates into a cosmic chimp out. Remember those apemen at the end of T. Dream’s Atem? Well, they’re here with a vengeance – indeed these babies are a full year earlier than Edgar & Co. But then, these babbling droolers are only giving the listener more of what A.R. & Machines had delivered one year earlier on their first album, 1970’s Die Grune Reise. Ever wondered what possessed Marc Bolan to finish certain early Tyrannosaurus Rex LP tracks by letting them just degenerate into a psychobabble something akin to an acid-fuelled bar mitzvah led by Jewish Donovan – I surely have. But I sure wouldn’t change those moments of inspired deformed madness for a fucking T. Rex LP, no way. And so it is with the bizarre ending which Reichel chose for Echo. It even gets weirder – a full sounding and beautiful orchestra starts up out of the blue and we’re soon digging the same trench as John Cale did on his legendary The Academy in Peril. Remember “Legs Larry at the Television Centre”? Well, he’s here again. And this time he’s accompanied by David Ackles all ready to perform his magnificent “Montana Song”. See what I mean? What kind of wide references are these? From three sides of minor chord electric horse-riding to orchestras and the Ur-Men’s tea party, this wild double-LP is one greedy motherfucker. And just as you’re at your most confusal and beginning to think in a kind of Stanley Unwin-ese, an incredible music concrete of bells, pipes and woodwind tends to your poor outraged (and outreached) mind and soothes, soothes, oh how it soothes. On and on and on go the bells, until they inevitably begin to fade and a sense of termination-any-minute-now descends upon the reluctant listener. Too soon the record is finished and the needle is glitching heartlessly. Why, if Thighpaulsandra were in charge, we’d all be guaranteed of at least 10 more minutes. But greed is an ugly trait, and Achim Reichel must only be praised for his incredible and wide-reaching musical vision. Indeed, without a negative thing to say about the actual content of this album, I’d prefer to end this review by saying:
Petition your local record shop, your local Polygram office, your neighbours – U-Neeeed this record! The mental health of the west can only be uplifted by its re-release!

Julian Cope

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Julian Cope – “Miles Davis on the One” (2001)

August 31, 2008 at 7:57 pm (Julian Cope, Miles Davis, Reviews & Articles)

Written for the Head Heritage website – June 2001 – Julian Cope examines Miles’ infamous 1970s fusion period…

Note: In May of this year, a long two-part documentary of Miles Davis’ career was broadcast on British TV. As my wife and I sat down to watch, she looked at me and said sarcastically: “Hey, I’ll bet they spend AGES on the period you like!” She was ragging on me because the only Miles Davis I listen to is his (to the high-minded jazz fan) sell-out period from 1974-75. But when the documentary came to my favourite period, it was summarily dismissed not as a less-achieving tail-end of his most fertile era but as the actual beginning of his artistic winter. Whoa! I felt so intensely un-served by the documentary that I was moved to write this long essay on what I see as a truly extraordinary and extra-perceptionary period of this great artist’s life. In doing so, I would like to make clear the fact that I do not approach this from the angle of a jazz fan, indeed quite the opposite. I here judge Miles Davis’ most dismissed musical era from the point-of-view of a Rock’n’roll and Krautrock and Cosmic music devotee with a longstanding quest for the Shamanic other. Rite On!
In choosing both
Dark Magus and Pangaea for this “Album of the Month,” I felt that it was imperative to give these records a greater context, and, in doing so, it really needed an entire article to be written around them. I am not a jazz fan in any shape or form, but, as jazz fans around the world have long been at such pains to point out, Miles Davis in the mid-70s was not jazz. It was a shamanic funk that reached for the same stars which had earlier shone for Ash Ra Tempel, Can and early Amon Duul 2. The Downbeat magazine writer Greg Tate probably hit the nail on the head when he called this era of Miles “the world’s first fully-improvisational acid-funk band.”       

Right Off – Towards a Meditational Funk

In 1974 and 1975, Miles Davis recorded and released a series of albums deemed by his legions of fans (both in and outside the music business) to be so far out that they were only worthy of release in Japan or otherwise disappeared into total obscurity until rescued in the mid-90s. Miles was burned out, said the critics. He was looking for a young hip black audience, they said. After those LPs, he stopped recording for five years – proof positive that he was nowhere, or so they say.
Methinks I do totally disagree. Throughout my prolonged shamanic search for a sustained sonic obliteration, I have on occasion been led open-minded and open-mouthed down several blind alleys. But far more often I have found myself travelling down wide open avenues leading to music which virtually amounts to being a blueprint for 3rd Eye Travel. The sidelong freakouts of Krautrock sure, Japanese improvisation and free rock, natch, indeed even proto-metal has caught me out with its wildly long workouts on great rock’n’roll songs. Yet my discovery of Miles Davis’ astonishingly visionary and inspired but nowadays critically detested 1974-75 “Sell Out to Funk” period has made me understand more than ever that the necessary requirements for the soundtrack to shamanic flight may be found in the most unlikely quarters of all
Miles Davis, sheesh! I never thought I’d be writing about him in a million years. I hate jazz as much for the instruments they use as for the rhythms themselves. Saxophone, trumpet and flute? Get lost! I always loved the musicians themselves and their stories and their lives and their aims, too. But the result was always a total no-go area to me, or so I thunk. How wrong I was!
The music of Miles Davis during 1974 and 1975 was the epitome of sonic shamanism. In four double- LPs, he distilled all that he had learned in the previous decades into a sustained and punishing maelstrom of sound – truly a blueprint for the 3rd Eye Travel which I had been searching for.
For this new music, Miles Davis dumped whole accepted areas of jazz and, instead, adopted the wildly loud and distorted freakout guitar of Jimi Hendrix and Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel, and the on-the-one rhythms of turn-of-the-70s James Brown. Then he extended James’ ten minute grooves into half hour jams taking up whole LP sides, and took the role of a witchdoctor/musical director – often standing motionless in his bizarre Sly Stone shades, his trumpet reduced to no more than a baton with which to command the troops. When Miles did contribute notes to this fury, it was frequently without the trumpet he had become so legendary for. Instead, he commandeered Sly Stone’s organ sound and played it Irmin Schmidt-style: with an oven glove on! Chord structures were entirely abandoned in favour of rhythm, until it was often just the unpinning Fender bass of Michael Henderson, which was left to give any hints of acceptable musical content.
Sax player Dave Liebman has even written of the albeit brief relief he and the other musicians would feel at hearing an A minor organ chord emanating from the Davis organ, before this oasis of sound would evaporate, returning them all to the desert of percussion and howling which Miles so obviously craved. No bones for the dogs! There’s even a famous story about how Miles came around to Sly’s house and started playing his jazz ‘clusters’ on Sly’s keyboard – fistfulls of notes at a time with no semblance of chord structure. The Gospel choir-educated Sly Stone called Miles a motherfucker and kicked him out for playing such unrighteous “voodoo” in his house.

Who says a jazz band can’t play funk music?

Evidence shows that the story of Miles Davis and his funk trip has been obscured from history by a jazz crowd embarrassed by what they perceived as a series of slipshod Miles records, when they really just couldn’t get to grips with the place he was so clearly going and trying to take us along. Listening to the hugely acclaimed “Miles classics” such as On The Corner, In a Silent Way and Live Evil, it became clear to me from those discs’ sonic-fury-yet-musical-overplaying that Miles’ next step into the period which I’m now praising was mainly to do with his completely letting go of the remaining “classical” aspirations of the jazz musician, and embracing the “barbarian”.
Wonderfully schooled jazz musicians such as John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham were, in this “Meditational Funk” period, replaced by guys from R&B and soul backgrounds. Reggie Lucas came in on exclusively wa-wa’d rhythm guitar, whilst the Afro’d ex-Muddy Waters guitarist Pete Cosey took up the frenzied lead guitar position on a Fender Telecaster put through multiple FX pedals and a small monophonic synthesizer.
For this new super-loud ensemble, the ungroovy double bass was replaced by a Fender Jazz wielded by Stevie Wonder’s old bassist Michael Henderson, someone who brought a whole new sense of punctuation to the house party. On drums was the amazing Al Foster, whom Miles had discovered playing in a New York club. Foster it was who took the on-the-one route to its ultimate conclusion. As Miles Davis would later write in his autobiography, “Al could set shit up for everyone to play off and then he could keep the groove going forever.” Completing the rhythm section was Miles’ young friend James Mtume, who facilitated Davis’ increasingly Afro-centric fixation with his use of log drums, African hand percussion, water drums and a rudimentary drum-machine played with an intriguing and strangely a-rhythmic attitude.
But it would seem that the only way into this Miles Davis period is to be alerted by some head in the know. Miles fans hate it all and rag on people for liking it – even my friend, the American rock’n’roll writer Michael Krugman, says it’s trash. He once took Dorian aside and commented: “He only likes the weird Miles shit!” And he’s generally a forward-thinking Motherfucker.
But the more I heard of this 1974-75 period of Miles Davis, the more clear it became that he never sold out at all, at least not in this period which the critics have deemed. Instead, what the critics have called “Burn Out” in the mid-70s happened not because of what has been perceived as Miles’ desire merely to attract a young and hip black audience, but, instead, through his sheer determination to create, what I would now call, a Meditational Funk.
For what the jazz-loving Miles Davis fan would consider to have been an affronting (and even uncool) sell-out turns out, to this forward-thinking Krautrock and Funkadelic maniac, to have been nothing less than the great Cunt of the Mother opening in a manner which she had rarely opened before.
For Miles to have created this music of 74-75 by accidental burn-out would have been impossible. Had he burned out, he would have given up the reins of arrangements to his producer Teo Macero, who would surely have employed far more stock hip Afro-American devices into the music. Had Miles really burned out and sold out, there would surely not now be such an enormous body of earlier evidence of his apprenticeship-servings, in the form of such LPs as A Tribute to Jack Johnson, On the Corner and Live Evil. For myself, it makes sense that this early 70s music has long been called visionary genius in jazz and rock music circles, for it is the most emulated, most acrobatic (AKA noodling), and it was chock full of future jazz rock stars like John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham and all those guys who crossed over to rock audiences.
But at this point it was still jazz and was still rising up out of the 60s maelstrom. And it is my assertion that it was only then, in 1974, when Miles had purged himself and his band of all those jazzers that he was able to create that Music Beyond Ego, in which everyone, himself included, became to subsumed into the raging sonic torrent he was looking for. Only then could Miles Davis begin his release of these four perfect meditational funk LPs, all of them doubles and all of them dedicated to pick up a groove and maintain it at all costs.

Get Up With It

Released in January 1975, Get Up With It had far more soul brother style in its LP jacket and James Brown-style title than in any of its actual musical content. Miles loomed huge yet mysterious across both outer faces of the gatefold sleeve, his hexagonal shades alluding to Sly Stone and the sepia printing echoing James Brown’s classic 1973 refusenik double-LP The Payback. Yet the eight tracks within its, at first, seemingly impenetrable grooves are undermined by Miles’ decision to open this monsterwork with the half hour Kosmische Music known as “He Loved Him Madly”.
If this was a guy seeking a young audience, he surely weren’t looking very hard. For the incredible beauty of this opening piece is the manner in which it hangs in mid air, almost motionless yet light as the breeze. Imagine suspending a huge child’s mobile from the ceiling of Wookey Hole caves with a drawing pin nightlight, and then measuring its movement. This is the motion of “He Loved Him Madly” – it’s a tethered and chloroformed flight of butterflies and dragonflies and fireflies, spacily and dazedly encircling the nightlight, never completely leaving their tight orbit.
Miles’ wa-trumpet and Dave Liebman’s lyrical flute guide the way, as three extremely restrained bluesy wa-guitars fuss and fidget in the near distance. Hollow congas barely punctuate the hugely reverb’d sound for the first half of the track, until Al Foster finally picks the beat up into an insistent but bassless on-the-one, reminiscent of James Brown’s epic “Mind Power” but even more ambiently groovy. It is difficult to say precisely what each instrument is doing here, but then, during this curious period, Miles Davis had openly expressed his wish “to confound critics, so they couldn’t tell what instrument was responsible for what sounds.”
It’s the same group of musicians who open side two, but the twelve minutes of “Maiysha” is a hugely loose soul bossanova propelled along by Miles’ overdriven wa-organ and the Superfly-style guitar chords, which seem to have no idea of just when Miles’ will make his change. This is a peculiar combination: using a fairly defined musical base on which to add experimental chordal elements which are totally out-of-place and at odds with the fundamental style of the piece. Out of nowhere, a distorted and FX’d lead guitar howls out of the right hand speaker, whilst Stand-period Freddie Stone-type choppy guitar slashes a rhythmic path through the broad swathes of verdant chords which sing out of Miles’ fertile keyboard.
For “Honky Tonk”, with its funky multi-keyboard and drumless beginning, Miles reached back to earlier days, from when the band was populated by more famous and more seasoned jazz musicians such as John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Indeed, this sounds like the 1971 period when Miles Davis recorded his excellent A Tribute to Jack Johnson. “Honky Tonk”‘s loose wa-beginning is reminiscent of the Family Stone’s long side two-workout “Sex Machine”, also from Stand. And when the drums finally come in, the groove affects a huge sense of relief in the listener.
“Rated X” closes side two: a fierce and hugely ominous organ-dominated and African and Indian percussion-led piece, in which the wa-guitar of Reggie Lucas and the sitar of guest player Khalil Balakrishna conspire to harry the rest of the musicians, like snarling jackals worrying a much larger prairie animal. The piece slowly builds and builds to a deafening climax of organ chords, only then, as the sound collapses and subsides, revealing the bell-like piano chords of guest Cedric Lawson.
The whole of side three is given over to the half an hour-plus of the brilliant “Calypso Frelimo”, in which Miles subsumes his personality further than ever into the music, contenting himself with themes on organ and piano, whilst guest player John Stobblefield takes his saxophone into areas previously only inhabited by the trumpet playing of Miles himself.
The whole thing sounds like a massive jam on Can’s Ege Bamyasi-period mini-epic “Pinch”. Michael Henderson’s bass playing is a punctuated pop & groove wholly reminiscent of Holger Czukay, whilst the furious wa-guitars of Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey chatter and gas panned far right and left in the speakers.
About a third of the way through this clatterstomp, the rhythm drops way way down into its boots, and Michael Henderson puts out a pulsing Larry Graham riff as the wa-guitars howl their heavy metal into the night. Miles continues his theme intermittently, a theme to which he would return again and again throughout this period (sometimes in the most seemingly inappropriate places), and John Stobblefield’s sax continues to ape his master’s horn in the deep darkness of reverb. Then the track picks up again and continues its on in its deeply Can-ish manner.
“Red China Blues” is a real anomaly on Get Up With It, a big brassy 6/8 blues with wailing harmonica and Cornel Dupree’s big bodied rhythm guitar chords slashing out a relentless melody. Oh, it’s fine I guess, but if it wasn’t here, then I surely wouldn’t miss it.
Wait instead for the curiously named and curious sounding “Mtume”, named after Miles’ percussionist of this period James Mtume. This extravagant rhythmic piledriver of a sound is driven by the choppy wa-guitars of Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas and the log drum of Mtume himself, while Miles’ atonal and squally wa-organ chords do their best to undermine the entire sound. Again, though here it is far more thunderous and disorderly, we’re close to approaching a sound similar to Can’s Ege Bamyasi of two or three years previously. If Miles Davis was serious about his awareness of Stockhausen, is it possible that he was unaware of Can at this time? It seems almost impossible to me.
At one point deep in the tune, he blasts the entire band with a cluster of shattering organ non-chords akin to zapping them with a ray gun, but soon they’re back on that jittery freakbeat and they ain’t about to give any of it up. Miles has now taken James Brown’s jungle groove and left it breathless and scorched on the outskirts of the desert.
Get Up With It finishes with the even-more-curiously-titled “Billy Preston”, a steaming and insistent James Brown-like African soul dance. Again, it’s also extremely Krautrock-y in a Can kind of way, and Michael Henderson’s punctuated and popping Holger Czukay-style bass is here syncopated to create a sort of bass marimba effect. The regular gang is here joined by guests Cedric Lawson on organ and Khalil Balakrishna on sitar, whilst the lead is taken by the sax of Carlos Garnett, who, like John Stobblefield before him, again manages to ape the horn sound which is so Miles.
Even though Miles Davis of this period employed the same general pool of musicians, but it must be commented that he also used the same stable of instruments through the same configuration of FX pedals. So for whomsoever played with him each night, the limits of their musical palette was always very clearly laid out. Get Up With It is an extraordinary double-LP with extreme dedication to locating a very specific groove. But however brain-frying this massive statement was, it was still only the first of these particular albums. And we will see that Miles Davis was determined to further distil his sound until the sound was honed down and down and ever more down.

Dark Magus

Recorded in concert at Carnegie Hall, on March 30th 1974, Dark Magus is, therefore, both earlier and later than the Get Up With It sessions. But, whilst Get Up With It works hardest to define the new shamanic Miles sound, Dark Magus is probably the most musically concise because it was captured on tape in one single evening of fury. Indeed, of all four double-LPs, Dark Magus is the most tightly drawn and the most mysterious and difficult to fathom.
Unyielding and as narrowly defined in its musical parameters as reggae or ska, the music of Dark Magus revealed that Miles was by now so dedicated to the on-the-one rhythm which James Brown had instigated and George Clinton had championed, that even his biggest admirers were having problems following him. Indeed, Dark Magus initially only saw its release in Japan.
The wa-guitarists Cosey and Lucas were here joined by a third guitarist, Dominic Gaumont, and all three joined forces with the rhythm trio of Al Foster, Michael Henderson and James Mtume, to unleash a savagery which would not let up for the entire concert. Indeed, sax player Dave Liebman’s sleevenotes admit that none of them knew where one piece ended and another began, and Liebman himself believes that Miles only much later gave the music individual titles in order to bring some hint of order to the primordial soupy-ness of the proceedings.
I use the phrase “some hint of order” because a hint is really all we get. When I explain that disc one’s tracks are “Moja (Part 1)”, “Moja (Part 2)”, “Wili (Part 1)”, and “Wili (Part 2)”, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was all a big wind-up intended to confuse us even further. But, when I explain that disc two’s tracks are “Tatu (Part 1)”, “Tatu (Part 2) (Calypso Frelimo”), “Nne (Part 1) (Ife)” and “Nne (Part 2)”, then it becomes clear that Miles was surely intending to cloak the entire trip in some impenetrable mystery.
And so it is best to listen to Dark Magus as a whole, preferably on repeat for hours on end. Its fury rarely subsides, and soon the whole of the listening space becomes a shamanic environment where time is meaningless and the world outside is forgotten.


And so we come to the monster which was Agartha, an album which even turns up in lists of people’s favourite heavy metal records. All right! Recorded in the afternoon of February 1st, 1975: at Osaka Festival Hall, Japan, Agartha opens with the soberly-titled “Prelude”, a twenty two-minute wa-wa-wa from the bowels of the Mother Earth. Miles opens the ritual with a super groovy now-where-have-I-heard-that-before organ every-riff which sounds as though he’s playing the tune of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” in a Funkadelic’s “Music for my Mother” stylee. Then, we’re coupled to a long freight train with a cargo bound for the heart of the every-desert.
You wanna know the sound of this Mongol horde nation on the move? It’s wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa!!!!!!! Stampeding elephants running parallel to our train trumpet and bray but they just can’t keep up. Compassionate Miles stops the train for a moment to let them catch up, then we’re off again through the brush and cactus, as Sonny Fortune stands astride the observation car and blows a small straight soprano saxophone as though the lives of this entire migrant nation depended on it.
You love the sound of all seven CDs from the Stooges’ Funhouse boxed set played simultaneously throughout the house on small inferior ghetto blasters? Then you’ll adore this fucking sound. You ever wondered how Can’s “Mushroom” would sound if they were clones of each other and could all play exactly one beat ahead of the other. Well U-goddit! One-eyed soul, Mushroom head!
Jazz critics out to blame someone other than Miles for this period were always quick to say that bassist Michael Henderson was out-of-his-depth. Out of his depth. Out of his depth? Out of his fucking depth!!! Well Mr. Henderson he ain’t, babies. He’s the Very Reverend Michael Henderson – Lord of the One and Crown Prince of Simplicity when all around him is a Monsarratian volcano of chaos. And proof of this dedication is most clearly evidenced in the magnificence of this Agarthian storm known as “Prelude.”
So anyway, you fade out of “Prelude” and stick side two on the turntable and what do we got? More of the fucking same! Another ten minutes already! “Prelude Part 2! By now, Sonny Fortune’s soprano sax has joined forces with Miles’ horn to create some of the most contrary a-sectional brass playing this side of the Laughing Clowns’ Mr Uddich Schmuddich Goes to Town.
Meanwhile, the guitars are buzzing around like locusts in a royal shitstorm. Reggie Lucas’ rhythmic wokka-wokka-wokka-wokka-wokka-wokka-wokka as ever relentless and dedicated to the groove, whilst Pete Cosey’s car alarm guitar solos shudder and judder in the far left corner.
And without hesitation, we’re suddenly propelled into the light-as-a-breeze super cool of “Maiysha”, here rogered by Cosey’s Ernie Isley FX’d lead guitar. The beat drops completely, leaving Cosey exposed and raging. He sounds like his guitar is going through that synthesizer he’s often credited with playing, then back we drop into the light flute of Sonny Fortune, as Lucas provides a cool cool bluesy-toned soul rhythm guitar.
Side three is entirely taken up by the 26-minutes of “Interlude”, another soberly-titled freakout which kicks off at a typically furious Dark Magus‘ pace; an Al Foster-driven chariot race through ancient city streets. Sonny Fortune’s alto saxophone wails like Miles’ own trumpet and the track thunders through phase after phase of new groove. A strident sax blitz occupies the centre section, its walking bass placing the music deep-inner-heart-of-the-city. But the atonality soon returns in the shape of a strange and elliptical groove, in which Pete Cosey sets his monophonic synthesizer (sounds like a Moog Rogue or something equally rudimentary), and lets it fizz and buzz around the hall like some motor-bike engined V1 terror weapon.
By this time, we’re getting into pure space rock territory and the clusters of organ chords combine with Lucas’ primal electric guitar to confound any eavesdropper, and prevent them from ever guessing the provenance of this magical and timeless sound.
And so on to side four’s re-interpretation of 1971’s “Theme from Jack Johnson”. Like Alan Vega’s version of Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s a Winner”, this Miles Davis ‘version’ of his own song is a completely new piece. Gone is the choppy sloppiness of the catchy McLaughlin/Cobham driven original, replaced by this ensemble’s by-now notorious Let’s-strangle-Ernie-Isley lead guitar and heavy booming percussive proto-funk. Towards the end of the piece, we’re being steered into a looming and humming, howling and zinging ancient amphitheatre of percussionless electronic sound FX and tone generators and feedback and noises of the universe. In truth, Agartha‘s long side four fade out sounds more like Dr. Fiorella Terenzi’s marvellous Music from the Galaxies LP than anything even slightly alluding to jazz.
I suppose we’re getting back to Miles’ desire to create one fourteen armed musical beast out of seven individuals. Non musicians could argue: “But why does the music get credited entirely to Miles Davis rather than to the ensemble?” To which Miles would most likely have replied: “Replace any one of them and you’ll still get almost this sound. But replace me and they would be lost and directionless. For I am the shaman and their facilitator. No chords because I dictate that. On the one because I dictate it. Untold freedom to play what they wish BUT within the exceedingly narrow boundaries which I have set. Like an Andy Warhol painting on which Andy himself chooses the subject matter, the canvas size, paint type and the four desired colours but never actually touches, this music has extreme pre-sets. It can only sound one way. Like Stockhausen’s Music Concrete, it is the purest form of music imaginable. Like Japan’s Taj Mahal Travellers, who never even gave their tracks titles, it has returned us to a time so long before classical civilisation that even our hands and feet and lips and throats and asses become musical instruments. Sure, the jazz of the city will surface once in a while (and Miles himself is bound to try and sneak in an organ theme from “Calypso Frelimo”). But, again and again, those same stock primal percussions and electro-motifs will conspire to keep anything too learned from struggling to the surface for very long before being cut down, smitten, and subsumed back into the whole.
Agartha is an album of truly mystical significance: greater than both Get Up With It and Dark Magus, though I do listen to the latter most of all. But Agartha‘s greatness is that it is the album which, more than any, sets up the most new archetypes for the musicians to play off. A new rock’n’roll band could form just with “Prelude” as its influence and still have a three-album career. Another band could form primarily to investigate Pete Cosey’s lead guitar Agartha relationship with Reggie Lucas’ rhythm guitar. “Interlude” could keep any ardent Krautrock fan happy for years with its sonic shiver’n’shake appeal. Even the reinterpretation of “Jack Johnson” is eye opening in its looseness and wide awake hunter-gatherer attitude to music.


Now Pangaea is a very different kettle of killer whales. Recorded in the same February ’75 evening after Agartha‘s afternoon concert, at Osaka’s same Festival Hall, Pangaea is a far more distilled take on this music, and it enters the ring with the same Al Foster drum-driven fury as Dark Magus. Indeed, the opening beats of the forty-one minute epic “Zimbabwe” almost replicate the opening of Dark Magus‘ “Moja” from nearly one year before. This torrent of sound Miles chose to name “Zimbabwe” – a real Afro-centric forward-thinking Motherfucker of a name, as Zimbabwe was then still Rhodesia waiting to be re-named.
The sameness of the rhythm secured the listener in the knowledge that here was an African equivalent to the strictly defined rhythmic parameters of reggae. I forget now which of Miles’ sidemen it was who argued against the biographer Roy Carr’s use of the term “anchor” to describe the bass and drums. It may have been Al Foster who claimed that the metaphor is weak as the anchor stops the ship from going anywhere at all.
Actually, I would counter claim that anchors in their ancient role were often used in multiples known as drogue stones, which allowed the buffeted ship above to slow its journey to a navigable crawl without being sent around in dizzying circles by the mighty swell of the ocean. As such, the bass and drums of Michael Henderson and Al Foster are indeed anchors, providing a stable platform on which Miles, Cosey, Lucas, Mtume and guests can perform their sonic oceanic rites.
Following the heavy weather of “Zimbabwe” is the three-quarters of an hour mystical ride known as “Gondwana”, named after the original Ur-continent which, three hundred million years ago, split up into Africa, Australasia, Antarctica, South America and Southern Asia. The music opens with an intense but far more subdued groove, led by Sonny Fortune’s beautiful dove-like flute, undermined by outrageously weird and dissonant wa-guitar chords. As someone who only enjoys the flute when it is set over a backdrop of extremeness, I am here reminded most of all of the soaring lotus flute which rises out of the sonic turbulence of T. Dream’s amazing “Fly and the Collision of Comas Sola” from Alpha Centauri.
But “Gondwana” retains its ocean voyage-like mystery almost to the end, often dropping down into a becalmed ambience inhabited only by the popping of Mtume’s hand percussion and water drums. And the lack of real jazz chord content ensures that the music always appears to take place far from the cool of cityscapes, allowing it a feeling of true ancientness and bucolic timelessness. Until the 33rd minute, that is, when Miles’ ornery horn inspires Michael Henderson to pick up the groove with a walking bass which catches the band’s imagination, and has them mouthing off: “Yeah, that’s right” and several other time-honoured jazzisms.
At this point, their boat of a million years sails right up the flooded avenues of No New York and on into post-Atlantean Harlem far uptown, where James Brown, George Clinton, Sly Stone and the ghost of Jimi Hendrix are all waiting to board from the upper windows of the legendary Apollo Theatre. As Miles wrote of this period in his autobiography: “I never end songs; they just keep going on and on.”

Bollocks to the lot of them

It’s been said by his detractors that Miles was burnt out and spiritually nowhere after this period. They say that his five-year absence from recording is the evidence. But I personally believe that these four double-LPs connote the end of the Shamanic/Druidic/Masonic/Call-it-what-you-will apprenticeship of Miles Davis. They are the summum bonnum, or distilled Ur-essence, of Miles Davis as Shaman Warrior King. And if he was nowhere in this period, then nowhere is where we shamen all should be.
As the opening poem of The Modern Antiquarian so flatly stated, I have been so brought to my knees by the Great Mother who is my Muse and Mentor, that I can only be contemptuous of the Cheap New Age Fix. But, in Miles’ attitude, experience and practise of this period, there is evidence of a dedication to a Gurdjeffian-type physical and emotional exhaustion – the kind that can hardly have been hit upon by accident or through loss of the Muse. Indeed, as I wrote earlier, had Miles lost the Muse, he would surely have done everything possible to have maintained the illusion of one still in control. Instead, he chose to scream “Fuck it!!!” as loudly and as often as possible.
Over all other arts, music is eternal and allows us touch the divine. And I believe that because of its physical element, rhythmic music which inspires the Dance brings us even closer and more quickly. And it is because the end result of such intense and shamanic musical endeavours is the elevating of some of Humanity (no matter how few), that the true musician will always say: “Then so be it.”
Dogs live dogs’ lives, but one discarded scrap of cake lets them glimpse Humanity. Humans live human lives, but one brush with the eternal lets them glimpse Divinity. And, once touched, they will NEVER forget it. In 1974-75, Miles Davis did so much more than merely glimpse eternity – he actually embraced it.


Check out Miles’ 1971 documentary soundtrack A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Its two side long tracks are worth hearing just for the depths of slackness which Miles’ goads such luminaries as John Mclaughlin and Billy Cobham into de-achieving. The opening of “Right Off” is truly such a eulogy to sloppiness that the first few listens cause actual laughter in the listener. Miles’ interest in the black champion boxer Jack Johnson, and the problems of envy which his success caused the white population sent Miles into the boxing gym four times a week during this period. He claimed that he understood how Johnson felt when he was fined $100 for driving an unlicensed Ferrari, something which, he said, would never have happened had he been white.


Julian Cope




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Julian Cope – “Peggy Suicide” (1991)

August 26, 2008 at 2:10 pm (David Fricke, Julian Cope, Reviews & Articles)

Written by probably my favorite music critic David Fricke (senior writer at Rolling Stone) in issue #605 (May 30, 1991) of RS. A great review of this Julian Cope album…
                                                                              Image result for peggy suicide julian cope

Julian Cope is, as the English say, barking mad. Off his trolley. Utterly daft. He has been a confessed enthusiast of hallucinogenic leisure substances and is an avowed disciple of such legendary loose screws as Syd Barrett, Roky Erickson and Jim Morrison. During one memorable concert in Britain several years ago, he accidentally snapped his mike stand in two and then, in a bloody frenzy, lacerated his chest Iggy-style with the jagged end. He posed for the cover of his aptly named 1984 album Fried in a fetal crouch, wearing nothing but a huge tortoise shell. Last year he released an album entitled, with exquisite irony, Droolian.

In fact, Julian Cope is screwy like a fox. As the singer and leader of the great late-Seventies Liverpool band the Teardrop Explodes, he consummated a superior, twisted marriage of Sixties freak-pop kicks and punk dynamics that has been a big influence on new British chart pups like Inspiral Carpets and the Charlatans UK. His subsequent solo work has been consistently nervy if occasionally uneven. World Shut Your Mouth (1984) and Saint Julian (1987) best capture Cope’s flair for writing madcap, often poignant hum-along songs about fear, obsession and transcendental adventure and scoring them with a vertiginous swirl of hypno-locomotion, haunted fun-house keyboards and guitars-run-amuck.

In a pop age largely distinguished by an overreliance on calculated risk and a shortage of true psychedelic verve, Cope continues to make genuinely loopy, mind-expansive music. And there’s an abundance of it on Peggy Suicide, Cope’s extraordinary new double-album-length opus (eighteen tracks on CD, nineteen on cassette). In “Drive, She Said,” he goes on a looting spree through the Beatles’ mid-Sixties catalog – a touch of “Drive My Car,” a dash of “You Won’t See Me” – and then fires up his spoils à la “Levitation,” by the 13th Floor Elevators. “Not Raving but Drowning,” with its watery guitars and pastoral marimba, is a chilling study in druggy delusion based on a true story about a young man who perished in the English Channel after falling off a ferryboat while stoked on LSD: “Oh, you treacherous nixies and sea-serpents … now I’M the man of importance.”

And when it comes to advanced madness in 4/4 time, does it really get much better than this surreal opening scene from “Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line”? “Well, the blues had a baby/And the bastard couldn’t sing/So the priest holds the candle/And the parents kiss the ring/Someone shouts ‘Let’s keep the afterbirth/And throw the kid away’/And I fried my brainsac for the pain I felt today.” With its jackhammer beat, strangled, Sonic Youth-like riffing and Cope’s agitated Lizard King baritone, “Hanging Out” kicks like Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” in a Bellevue frame of mind. You’ll love it.

Peggy Suicide is ostensibly an ecological protest album, a dream-state odyssey tracing humanity’s relentless march to self-destruction. The title is Cope’s code name for Mother Earth, except there are no wistful visions of unspoiled rain forests and amber waves of grain. Cope crawls through the ruin wrought by, among other things, pollution, AIDS, the ruling Tory party, acid rain and acid damage, skewering villains as he goes along. “Leperskin” is his venomous send-off for “the apostolic hag,” Margaret Thatcher. In “Soldier Blue,” a motley psych-punk-house groove thing inspired by last year’s poll-tax riot in Trafalgar Square, Cope juxtaposes his own memory of the nightsticks coming down with a sample of Lenny Bruce’s classic indictment of elected authority and delegated enforcement: “Here’s a stick and a gun and you do it. But wait’ll I’m out of the room.”

There are cracks of daylight now and then, such as the sunny little romp “Beautiful Love” (note the little neo-“Penny Lane” trumpet lick) and his playful declaration of troth “The American Lite.” But Cope is transfixed by the mounting emotional and spiritual rot of our time and the lengths to which people will go to fool themselves about the inevitable consequences. “Safesurfer” is a brilliantly executed descent into HIV hell, eight minutes of great rage-guitar dementia charged with the deftly implied sexual menace of Cope’s repeated lyric-mantra “You don’t have to be afraid, love/’Cause I’m a safesurfer, darling.”

For a project of such missionary desperation, Peggy Suicide has a surprisingly homespun charm, a crackling chamber-garage sound that combines rhythmic precision and artful keyboard deployment with swelling guitar chaos and first-take vocal immediacy. The closing track, “Las Vegas Basement,” a quietly uplifting song about a loser’s dream come true, however brief, is indeed a first take; in his liner notes, Cope points out the two spots where he flubbed the lyrics and even includes the corrections.

It wasn’t because he couldn’t see straight, though. Cope made Peggy Suicide after he swore off LSD last year. The result is that where he once reveled in artificially induced madness, he can now see, and render, the real thing more clearly. As he sings in “Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line,” “So come on split my head wide open/Scoop out a little of my brain/Need some identification?/Julian Cope?/The very sane.” We should all be so mad. 

David Fricke

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German Oak – “German Oak” (1972)

August 24, 2008 at 4:35 pm (Julian Cope, Krautrock, Reviews & Articles)

Written in 2001 for the Head Heritage website (check out the link on this page), here is Julian Cope’s review of the band German Oak, of which I had never heard of until then (and have still never heard this album – I have heard 2 tracks by them though)….  


In the strange Olympic summer of 1972, the Dusseldorf instrumental group German Oak entered the Luftschutzbunker, or Air Raid Shelter, in order to record their eponymous first LP. Following in the footsteps of the percussive and organic Organisation and the remarkable Dom, German Oak had every reason to believe that this 3rd LP to be recorded by a Dusseldorf band would be warmly received. Unfortunately, German Oak were not only wrong in their assumptions that locals would embrace their music, but even local record shops rejected all the group’s attempts to sell the albums in city outlets. Such was their lack of success that 202 of the original 213 copies were stored in the basement of the group’s organist until the mid-1980s, when a thirst for undiscovered Krautrock finally brought German Oak back from the dead.
But what is the sound of a group that was so rejected during its time of recording? Well, imagine a brutally recorded, brazen and ultra-skeletal industrial white funk played with all the claw-handed crowbar technique of the Red Crayola recording their famous “Hurricane Fighter Plane,” over which is superimposed the what-instrument-could-that-be rumblings of Gunther Schickert’s G.A.M. meeting the Electronic Meditation incarnation of early-T. Dream. That is the sound of German Oak. Imagine Faust’s reverb-y schoolroom in Wumme being party to a jam between Riot-period Sly Stone on itchy-scratchy bass and the pre-Kraftwerk ensemble Organisation (specifically “Milk Rock”), without their being formally introduced, and with all the hang-ups that this would entail. Again, this is the sound of German Oak.
It is a strangely skin-of-your-teeth genius. It is a toe-curlingly heartfelt method acting of the most in-your-face kind. In places it’s a sort of gormless Gong, even a moronic Magma – a Teutonic tribe standing in the ruins of some Roman temple, playing barbarian riffs on classical instruments too sizes too small. Aerosmith’s Joe Perry once said: “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” He must have been listening to German Oak.
With German Oak, what seems, after two minutes, to be a simplistic and worryingly trite riff, becomes, after 8 minutes, to be the only real-honest-riff-in-town. Like the legendary death-blues of Josephus’ (also 16-minutes-plus) epic “Dead Man”, this is music which does not hit you instantly in the face, but is an accumulative groove, building and building on the endless repetition of some bog-standard soul-type “Please Please Please” bass line or rhythm guitar sequence.
There is a remarkable space within German Oak’s music, which may have been caused by their ultra-rudimentary playing, or may have been because they just listened ultra-attentively to each other as each player struggled for the notes. But, whatever the reason, German Oak conjured up a mythical sound in the grand Krautrock tradition. And as a quintet without a lead singer, they were a rare five-piece who never got in each other’s way. Throughout the music of German Oak, the bass and the lead guitar are frequently mistakable for each other, until the fuzzy lead will slowly claw itself out of the sonic mire of sound and drag itself arduously and inelegantly to the top of the heap. The drumming is often furious and even overplayed, yet it is often the single constant of the group.
Perhaps German Oak hit the nail on the head when they credited group members as the “Crew” and refused to give full names. Such was their sense of space that they often sounded like a trio and actually never like five people. Perhaps, like Can, they worked in pairs and recorded in parallel as opposed to one live performance. But somehow I doubt it. The recording quality and attention to sound separation is far too slack and haphazard. No, I’m sure the reason that the characterless “crew” credit sums up German Oak’s attitude best, is because it conspires to make them all sound like the dwarves whose job it was to hold up the four corners of the Viking world-view. Separately they were nothing – together they were everything.
Wolfgang Franz Czaika, here known only as Caesar, is credited with “Lead- & Rhythmguitar”. The busy flourishes of insistent drumming are by Ullrich Kallweit, here known only as Ulli “Drums/Percussion”. His brother Harry Kallweit, just known as Harry, contributes “Electric bass/voice”. This leaves the tail-gunners’ places to be filled by the wonderfully-named Manfred Uhr AKA Warlock on “Organ/fuzz-organ/voice” and Norbert Luckas AKA Nobbi on “Guitar/A77/Noises”. And, like the simple Amon Duul 1 credits, the friendly nick-names make the group appear even more mysterious and out-of-reach.
The German Oak LP consisted of two very long Krautgrooves, one on either side, with a short organ themed instrumental intro and outro at the beginning and end. Side One begins like a crusty hunt led by hunt saboteurs, as the one minute and fifty seconds of “Airalert” fades in from the mists of time with a hopeful and entirely amateurly recorded organ. Side One is then given over to the enormous eighteen-minutes of “Down in the Bunker”, where feedback whistles and screams and factory interior-sized organ roars, whilst relentless hammering on metal suggests that the workers are in there building something over the din. Portentous manically-bowed cello-style film theme bass guitar and scraping cymbals rise out of the maelstrom to prepare the listener for the onslaught to come. Sonically, it is pure sound, like the primal intro beauty of G.A.M.’s 1976 album, or the pure sound of Guru Gurus’s UFO, and the opening section of Ash Ra Tempel’s “Amboss.”
As though recorded in a deep river gorge from beyond time with dozens of old fridges and cookers strewn across its banks, this proto-industrial sound truly invokes the ancestors. And it is perfectly understandable that German Oak’s sleeve notes read: “As we played down there in the old bunker, suddenly a strange atmosphere began to work. The ghosts of the passed whispered.” Far from being deluded, German Oak’s crew are understating – for this track is alive with the dead, awash with a flood of ur-spirits from the recent past and the days of Yore. Banshee-like glissando guitars and Mani Neumaier-like voices creep up the north side of the track, mount the battlements and howl at us and the members of the group.
Side Two begins with the reverb’d minor key horseback charge of “Raid Over Dusseldorf”. The whole bulk of side two is taken up by this furious and rudimentary psychedelic ride, reminiscent of the Chocolate Watchband. Indeed, my friend and Brain Donor guitar cohort Doggen has suggested that it is the rhythm of the horse which heavy rock most often emulates. I would tend to agree with this assertion, as this rhythm can be found everywhere in rock, from the central spine of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” to the middle of David Bowie’s “Width of a Circle”. And I would even cite Robert Browning’s 19th Century poem “How they brought the good news from Aix to Ghent” as an example of how pre-rock’n’roll this rhythm really is.
The final track of the album is the 2-minutes short “1945 – Out of the Ashes”, which returns to the organ-led hunting sound of the opening “Airalert” before cross-fading into the tolling of a lone bell.
Though I am rarely a fan of extra tracks being added to CD reissues, we must count ourselves lucky in this case to have been handed the three superb pre-LP German Oak workouts located herein. The five-minute “Swastika Rising” sounds like the Plastic Ono Band meeting both Faust and Organisation; all rudimentary organ, splatter drums and a barely coherent and wandering psychedelic fuzz guitar. Following this, the ten-minute “The Third Reich” starts with a Hitler Rally speech, before slipping inside yet another hypnotic and insistently mesmerising teen Funkadelic groove with scything and Scythian psychedelic guitar. A brazen disabled lead guitar mindlessly scatters seedling riffs across an infertile field of unidirectional bass riffing and extremely formulaic drum fills, played relentlessly and robotically. The final extra track, “Shadows of War”, is like an overladen Chinook helicopter struggling to lift off from its pad; the organ chords seemingly weighted down by the reverb’d wodges of clawed bass. Then another Hitler Rally cut-up sends us into a collage of over hasty milk delivery as an obligatory Stuka raid finally cuts us down in a single all-terminal bomb blast.
I noted in Krautrocksampler that the German postwar youth scene was trying to work itself free of its recent Holocaust history, and German Oak in particular seem to have wrestled with these demons for longer than most. Their sleeve-note dedication seems all-the-more poignant and moving for its bathos and poor translation:

“We dedicate this record to our parents which had a bad time in World War 2.”

Julian Cope

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Julian Cope – “Faust: The Greatest Gimmick of All” (1995)

August 24, 2008 at 1:46 pm (Julian Cope, Krautrock, Reviews & Articles)

Written by singer Julian Cope for his excellent book Krautrocksampler, which came out in 1995. He turned me on to dozens of great albums in this genre. If he hadn’t become a critic, he would have made an excellent full-time rock critic (check out the website he contributes to – Head Heritage, under my “Blogroll”). 
I am printing his article on the band Faust. I hope he doesn’t mind… 

“The idea was not to copy anything going on in the Anglo-Saxon rock scene – and it worked…”
Uwe Nettelbeck, 1973

The Sound of Yourself Listening

There is no group more mythical than Faust. I bought my first Faust record over 22 years ago, but I could not tell you the names of the group members off the top of my head. And I could not tell you the names of all their songs, though I know them all better than almost everything else in my record library. I saw them live on their legendary 1973 tour, but you could show me 10 photos of Krautrock musicians, and I could not pick out the five members of Faust.
Faust worked under a conscious veil of secrecy akin to, and inspiring to, San Francisco’s The Residents. They were a conceptual band, and in isolation is how they were conceived. By the end of 1970, it became clear to Kurt Enders, an A&R man for German Polydor, that there was a place for the extreme new West German rock music in the international rock’n’roll sphere. But no-one had yet attempted an entirely new sound that broke all of the imported rules of the British and American scenes. He told this to the music journalist, Uwe Nettlebeck, who was extremely impressed and wanted to lead just such a project.
And so Faust was born – as cold and antiseptically as that. No, not really. It was a fabulous challenge and showed how, very occasionally, visionaries in record companies have been seen to get it absolutely right. Faust means ‘fist’, and a fist they were. Who the hell knows what their rehearsals were like in the Spring/Summer of 1971. Uwe Nettlebeck had spent Faust’s large advance on building a studio at Wümme. This old converted schoolhouse, between Hamburg and Bremen, became their place of learning (and de-learning) a style which was fuzzy, funny and extremely uncommercial, yet busted out with weird hook lines and extraordinary sounds. But when they made their debut at the Musikhalle in Hamburg, the press hated it. The audience didn’t know what to make of it, and so the whole public thing started very badly for them in their home country. And when the LP was released in late 1971, the sales were so poor as to be as legendary as the group would some day become. Some sources quote under one thousand records sold in the first months of Faust being released.
But Faust were good. In fact, they had made a very special first album. It just took time to get it. And when Polydor released Faust in Britain, the strongest appeal of their LP was that it was produced in clear vinyl, with a clear lyric sheet and a clear jacket, emblazoned with a fist in X-ray. The effect was dramatic. And at a time when a hype could kill a new band stone-dead, even John Peel wrote that when he first saw the album “. . . regardless of the music within, I had to acquire one.” Peel played the album all the time, and my Krautrock mates and I would all bore ourselves stupid, re-enacting the beginning of it, whenever we hung out together or took the train into Birmingham. It was such a catchy bizarre sound. It sounded like music from some parallel universe suspended in time and played through the oldest radio.
Extremely overloaded over-recorded synthesizers and radio static begin the album as fractions of “All you Need is Love” and “Satisfaction” burst in, followed by a vocal calling from another room, then a pretty schoolhouse piano (of course!), into a very arranged Zappa-esque horn piece which comes over a bit Teutonic, a bit “Lumpy Gravy”-ish. And in two minutes of music Faust has taken you into the most inventive editing territory rock’n’roll has seen. Faust’s unexpected success in Britain prompted them to focus themselves here, and the second LP, Faust So Far, was actually released here first. Again, it was a gimmick record – all black this time, with a black inner sleeve, raised black lettering on the record-label, and a set of 12″x12″ prints that illustrated each song. But this album was somehow far more confident that the first one. So Far opens with my favorite ever Faust song. “It’s a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl” is a Temptations call and answer chorus over a boom-boom-boom-boom Mo Tucker one-chord trance-out. The rhythm guitar is on the same level as the Velvet Underground’s “Live 1969”, and the sax solo is my favorite on record. The production is clean and wants to be heard. It’s the same throughout the album, and proved that Faust cut it as an un-straight pop band, the same way early Roxy Music did. Polydor also thought so, and released So Far as a single. The B-side, “It’s a Bit of a Pain” reminds me of something from the third Velvet’s album. So where were Faust coming from? Though their influences are ultimately unimportant, when a group is as original as Faust, it’s impossible not to be overtly inquisitive as to how they came to this fabulous sound. And so to catch certain glimpses of other people’s attitude in their music is to heave a sigh of relief that, yes, they were human after all.

The Clear Album

Listen to the Mothers of Invention’s concert recordings from 1966 onwards and it’s just trash. Musical bollocks of the most merely capable variety. Faust live? This is a different thing entirely. Like all the greatest Teutonic groups, Faust were brought up with middle-European dances and a staple of folk and tradition which was not 4/4. As a consequence, German bands could get far more complex than U.S. and British bands would ever dare and it still sounds rocking and crazy, rather than a bunch of Twee Smug Gits. Find an old Caravan, Man or Henry Cow LP for 50p somewhere and compare it with this. I’m joking of course.
Four years ago, I had dinner with a very successful journalist who told me that he’d had to review Love’s Forever Changes for Q Magazine now that it was available on CD. Wow, I shouted. You lucky fucker! Yes, he said. But I know it so well I couldn’t summon up any real energy, so I just gave it 8/10. Forever Changes is  dark achievement. Were it an ancient text or a document it would be hidden from view and spoken of in obscure circles, But because it operates through the medium of Pop Music, it gets tarts like said Journalist giving it 8/10. This is a classic case of a man sleepwalking through life.
So now I have to set to and tell you about the first Faust album, and I will not let you down. For a start, its a big 10/10. No, make that 11/10. It defies categories. It’s a horrible noise. It’s cut-ups to the Nth degree. Part of it is just like Frank Zappa’s “Lumpy Gravy” (a funny bit, thank the Goddess.) It is super-gimmicky, syrupy in the weirdest places, and never outstays its welcome. But probably the strangest thing of all is just how good Faust sound when they are creating on the spot moments of rock’n’roll on the epic Miss Fortune. Here they transcend all studio trickery and here they come alive.

So Far

… As classic rock’n’roll album openers go, few beat So Far’s “It’s a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl.” Tom-tons bom-bom-bom-bom for a few bars, then a low bass piano copies it in the thud-thud-thud-thud. Then the Krautrock Temptations coo to each other: “It’s a rainy day, sunshine girl, it’s a rainy day, sunshine baby.” Talk about a smart bloody opening. The best sax solo in the world chases the fade. It’s my favorite ever Faust song. Have I said that enough times, yet? I’ll be honest about it. I really like Krautrock.
Faust So Far was released in an all black sleeve. The album has a shiny blackness to the music. There’s an ominousness in the gross image that depicts the song “No Harm,” a small woman being attacked by a gargantuan man, which is disgusting and questionable. But I’m sure that it was intended to displease, though I can’t say that is any great reason for an artist to do such a thing. Elements of the Velvet Underground acoustic third album scene is picked out by Faust around this time. Also, the brass fanfare of the title track has a tough instrumental skank, pre-dating Can’s Teutonic reggae excursions. “Mamie is Blue” is yet another rip off of the Soft Machine’s “We Did it Again”, but the drumming/synthesizer playing duel is truly astonishing music, especially those electric drill funk noises. Side 2 also contains more of the typical Faust semi-cut-up-threatening-to be-a-song-any-moment trip.
I think they intended to record a Typical Rock Album as a basic standpoint, but they tried not to make the songs typical at all. Certainly, “It’s a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl” is the classic opener, and “In the Spirit” closes So Far the same way “America Drinks and Goes Home” ends the Mothers’ “Absolutely Free”, the same way “Jugband Blues” ends A Saucerful of Secrets, the way “Something Happened to me Yesterday” ends the Rolling Stones’ Between the Buttons. Maybe I need a couple more examples. This is a great album. Search it out.

The Faust Tapes

It well befits the Myth of Krautrock that what became the figurehead of the genre originally bailed out of the shops at 49p! And even more incredible is the recent revelation that Virgin Records lost no money on the campaign. Steve Lewis, the man behind the scam, claims to have taken very few risks for what appeared at the time as an Heroic release. Whilst the master tape of Faust’s home-recordings was bought cheaply from Uwe Nettlebeck, the album sleeve was a glorious Warholian pre-punk mess. One side was press clippings that revealed just how freaked-out their home country had been when the Faust LP (‘Clear’) had first appeared in 1971. The other side was Brigit Riley’s monochrome op-art trip called ‘Crest’. And even this was an obvious and risk-free winner. Five or so years earlier, Leonard Bernstein’s out there “Music for our Time” LP had employed Riley’s ‘Current’ to fabulous effect. That the two different paintings could have been details of one larger work ensured in advance that The Faust Tapes would look great.
The album fades in slowly in a cacophony of rainy city blues, droning synthesizers and tonelessness. An abrupt edit cuts suddenly to a call and answer vocal and drum groove and. . . bang! A savage edit into. .. a ballad. Piano, drums, acoustic guitar, Eno-ish synthesizer and voice. A ballad. Except that the vocals were intriguingly trans-Atlantic and sounded insightfully psychedelic in a badly-translated way. It was charming: “When you leave your place and walk in someone other’s garden, Suddenly you see, it’s a woman’s colour in your mind to be.”
Most surprising about The Faust Tapes is the number of truly wonderful pop and rock songs hidden within the cut-ups and experiments of the album’s tangled grooves. And halfway through Side I is their most defining Krautrock riff of all. It’s another of Faust’s Krautrock/Family Stone/Temptations trips in the tradition of “It’s a Rainy Day”. A scientific German-American voice makes pronouncements over the groove and Gunter Wüsthoff’s sax tears along over a loopy breakneck driving beat, as the call and answer of life kicks in: “Chet-vah Buddha, Cherra-loopiz Chet-vah Buddha, Cherra-loopiz. Chet-vah Buddha, Cherra-loopiz Chet-vah Buddha, Cherra-loopiz.
50,000 copies of The Faust Tapes were sold in 1973 and the night they played at Birmingham Town Hall, it seemed as though those words could become a football anthem. The Heads were taking over. Soon after, as we lay in my friend Cott’s caravan listening to The John Peel Show, out of nowhere the DJ began to read out the names of the 20 or more songs from The Faust Tapes. The sleeve and label of the LP had showed no titles to any of the songs and Cott raced around trying to find a pen. It was all over in half-a-minute and all I could remember was some title about Humphrey Bogart. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that John Peel was in on Faust’s intended wind-up of its audience – that we were only meant to hear the titles fleetingly and race around like half-wits. And Faust were right.
. . it was their persistence in the Entirety of their trip that makes them so legendary now. Even better, The Faust Tapes was the social phenomenon of 1973, and it finally brought the true avant garde into everyone’s living room, for a short while at least. But most of all this LP revealed just which side of the fence everyone was really standing. In April 1980, Jim Kerr, leader of dinosaurs Simple Minds, gleefully told me how he and his mates had all chucked their copies of The Faust Tapes off the roof of a Glasgow tenement. Enough Said? I’m sure that’s the phrase.

The Faust Tour

“In the midst of Faust-mouzik time ticks like a bomb.”

From Faust’s free 1973 Tour-handout.

It’s hard to explain the excitement that the Faust tour brought. In mid-1973, nobody had a clue who they were, or even if they existed at all. The name Uwe Nettlebeck was constantly heard, and rumour’s in the press abounded. The tour took on a sort of ‘underground event of the year’ vibe and even some of my hard-rock mates came to Birmingham Town Hall to see them. In the foyer were free Faust manifestos handed to everyone, and free Henry Cow posters. It was ironic, but perfect really, that Virgin had chosen such a lame bunch as Henry Cow to support. They played their wacky Cambridge University Degree music on bassoons and time-changes galore, and the guitarist ran to the side of the stage and put headphones on, and pretended to listen to the band in a jolly way. Ho-hum.
But then it was all change as the road drills and hand-painted upright piano came on stage. And the two pinball-machines, one on each side of the stage, facing outwards and connected to synthesizers. And the lights were all intense white, with extremely directional strobes that lit up the high ceiling of the Town Hall. It was 1973, and musicians usually soloed and looked to the audience for applause, and great ugly guys danced around in cheese-cloth singing about fucking nothing at all. And then Faust walked on – longhairs without flares, wearing those pale European straight-legs you’d see on hip German students over here in the early ’70s. I couldn’t believe it – they opened with “It’s a Rainy Day (Sunshine Girl)”. One played the drums, one played the piano and sung, one played acoustic guitar and sung, and the two others played pinball machines that triggered synthesizers – backs to each other on either side of the stage, as strobes caught the strings of the finest rhythm guitarist since Lou Reed. It was epic, it was brilliant, it had attitude enough to raze cities and it ruined every show I went to for at least two years after. At times they caught snatches of their songs and flung them about a bit, but they had concrete on stage and big road drills and their very Stooges’ Ur-punk presence awed me and shocked me.

Faust IV and the End of the Line

… After that, Faust were inevitably in a corner. They had become a part of mid-teenage British culture and The Faust Tapes was subjected to Monty Python-like rituals in the schoolyard, to see how much of it we knew and sort out the real Heads. When Faust IV came out it was an enormous letdown. I can’t think of anyone who bought it. The packaging was weak. The songs had real riffs, and there was a reggae song on it! That song, “The Sad Skinhead” is now one of their best, but I couldn’t see it at the time. And neither could anyone else. Faust IV, certainly as great as all but The Faust Tapes, was given the thumbs down. In truth, “Krautrock,”, the classic 12-minute epic that opened the album, is really just a continuation of their whole trip They followed it with amazing songs; “Jennifer” and “Giggy Smile” are Krautrock classics. But I suppose Faust IV didn’t have the innate sense of Moment that all their previous events/releases had. With hindsight, the sleeve was vastly inferior to all the others and maybe they should have stayed in Wümme instead of recording it in the Manor, in Oxfordshire. But hindsight does no one any good, and when Faust 5 was rejected by Virgin, Uwe Nettlebeck lost interest and Faust disappeared just as mysteriously as they had first arrived.
But the story did not end there. Faust were guaranteed immediate legend status for what they had achieved and, like Neu! and Can, were highly inspirational to the soon-coming British punk-scene. New albums of old songs have surfaced from time to time, Munich & Elsewhere, The Last LP, and 71 Minutes of Faust all contain unreleased songs in various configurations. But, greater than all their records, Faust tell of an heroic time when reaching for the stars did not have to include getting the stars in order to be successful.

Julian Cope

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