Thursday, November 23, 2017

Apothecary - 1973 - Apothecary


01. Holding You 4:48
02. Sometime, Somewhere 3:46
03. The Christian 3:47
04. Sunset 6:24
05. Say Goodbye To Me 4:05
06. People For Peace 2:40
07. My Love To You 2:53
08. Fly 4:51
09. In The End 4:12

Bass – Bill Block
Guitar – Bruce Riddiough, Mike Houlihan
Percussion – John Kruck, Phill Haase
Synthesizer [Arp] – Denny Tabacchia (track 3)

Whatever else we are or ever hope to be, we are "Everyman."
All life depends on measured breaths and metered beats.
We are linked to each other by the chain of common experience.
Apotecary sings the songs of you and me, claiming their lyrics from the shared experiences of millions of timeless men, picking at your brain with easy lyrics, poking a hole in your soul with their melodies. And as "Minstrels of the Common Man,"nthey ask only that "I think of you and you think of me."
Peg Gidion

I've seen this one posted on several blogs, always with one track cut and one missing, and more than once it has been requested over here. So I called my Cuban connection in Florida, and yes sir!. He had a mint copy of the album. Yesterday night he made me a lossless rip and here it is for your Thanksgiving Day enjoyment. All thanks to Guery my musical soul brother!

I know next to nothing about this band and their background, so I hope someone can add some background info about these guys for our enlightenment. 
All I can say is that I absolutely love this one. It's pretty good, melodic rock. Not really psychedelic, progressive, rural-country but just good melodic rock music. About half of it is acoustic based but not in a finger-picking or solo guy strumming way. Instead the acoustic guitars are piled up on top of each other to make them quiet driving. As far as albums released by Paramount this is at the top as best on the label in my collection.
Get it and play it LOUD!

Stepps - 1976 - Waltz For Tiger Joe

Waltz For Tiger Joe

01 Kolour Kode
02 If I Knew
03 Kryptonite
04 Make Me
05 Flowers
06 End of Play
07 Step Up Behind
08 Cumulus (Improvised Solo)

Bass – Michael Vidale
Guitar – Ian Hildebrand
Keyboards – Alex Ditrich
Percussion – Ralph Cooper
Percussion, Lead Vocals – Bernadine Morgan

I always hope to stumble across a totally forgotten and yet totally amazing piece of music that I had no idea even existed. This doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like, but when it does happen, it's always a welcome surprise. So it's with great pleasure that I am able to present one such piece of music for you today.

Stepps were a Sydney-based five-piece band who played around town during the second half of the seventies. The band appeared at a variety of venues around Sydney and held down a weekly residency at the Royal George Hotel. Their other notable achievements included a live broadcast concert in 1978 on ABC and airplay on the radio station that used to be known as Double J (the old name for the 'Triple J' radio station for you overseas people and Gen Y kids).

The band decided to self-release an album of their material to promote their music. The band pressed the album themselves and even photocopied the artwork for the cover themselves at a local printing firm. As is often the case with this type of release, not many were pressed – in fact, the run was limited to only 50 copies. The yellow-label privately pressed record is housed in a plain white sleeve adorned only with photocopied pages that are hand-pasted to both sides of the cardboard cover. The material on the album was recorded in 1975 and 1976 in Sydney, and released early in 1976.

The style of music is jazz-rock with an unashamedly optimistic mood. Bernie Morgan's singing is quite beautiful on the songs she features on. Her voice compliments the music perfectly. But it's the musicianship that is the real highlight of the album. In terms of Australian music, obvious reference points (in terms of both musical style and the record as an artifact) are Canberra's Yaraandoo and the Rob Thomsett Group's Haro album. While I haven't given Yaraandoo a proper listen, this album is a much better record than the later mentioned.

The whole first side of Waltz For Tiger Joe is fantastic. The opening track washes over your ears like warm sunshine. It's quintessentially Australian jazz-funk sound is similar in places to Jackie Orszaczky's 1975 LP, and Bernie's singing also reminds me of Kerrie Biddell's best jazz moments. If I Knew is a jazz ballad that changes up into a mostly instrumental fusion number. The first side finishes with the best cut on the album – Kryptonite. Written by the band's guitarist, Ian Hildebrand, the distorted intro gives way to a compelling guitar riff that easily lodges itself in your head. Washes of keys and funky drumming keep this tune grooving all the way through until the players weave their way into a bass-guitar solo interlude that acts almost as a signature for the band. And as the bass player signals his intent to conclude, the other players effortlessly reintroduce that compelling guitar riff.

The band can't top Kryptonite for the rest of the record, but they get close with Side Two's opener Make Me – a great vocal jazz cut with Bernie Morgan at her most prominent post on the whole record. What's great about this number is the way that the music perfectly compliments Bernie's voice, even following her individual words in some parts. It's a great indicator of how effectively the players must have worked together – that coalescence of sounds that's so hard to achieve. The other great cut on Side 2 is End Of Play, composed by Oleg Ditrich, the band's keyboardist (is that a real word?). It's quite a long number, and in typical fusion style, there's plenty of changes to keep it interesting. Bernie adds to the flavour in parts, but it's mostly an instrumental affair. 

All in all, I think this record is fantastic. While particular songs do stand out, the record works really well as a complete album, and will certainly get some play from me this summer!

I was quite surprised to find that this album has been re-released on CD, although it now appears to be out of print. You can buy the album through iTunes here. Note though that the album seems to be touched up compared with the original release.

The thing I just love about finding privately pressed albums is that you often find little mementos that make the record so much more personal. Sometimes the record is signed, and sometimes there are other signs that the record was passed directly from the band (or a member) to someone they know or had a connection with. In this case, I was very lucky to find a hand-written note included in my copy of this record. It's written from Ralph Cooper and Bernie Morgan, the drummer and singer respectively. I'm not sure to whom it is addressed, but it seems likely that they might have been a radio programmer.

A great Aussie Fusion act from Sydney, which never made it to the recordings of a proper album, Stepps performed regularly from mid- to late-70's at local clubs and hotels and even got some rare airplay on TV and radio at the end of their brief road.They recorded the album ''Waltz for Tiger Joe'' (1976, private) on their own forces, but only 50 copies were pressed and handed to friends, so there are no signs it was ever commercially available. Shame, because they played dreamy yet intense Jazz Fusion with some Canterbury edges, similar to National Health and Belgians Cos, fronted by Morgan's wordless voice experiments and the stunning performance of the musicians, leading to great grooves and unexpected breaks. This was far from average Fusion, the album has a constant tendency towards jazzy Prog Rock through all those tempo changes and complex instrumental patterns, which combine Female vocal Pop and Fusion and electric piano-driven Jazz Rock. Great guitar work and some furious piano paces, who also delivers a few impressive synth flights throughout. Pretty long tracks with lots of instrumental room and lovely interplays.

Snakes Alive - 1974 - Snakes Alive

Snakes Alive 
Snakes Alive

01. Abberations (8:52)
02. Snakes Alive (5:18)
03. Theme for Myra (7:18)
04. Dear Suzy (11:23)
05. Fruit Pie (6:27)

Michael Vidale / bass
Peter Nykyruj / drums
Alex Ditrich / keyboards
Boris Peric / guitars
Jonas Thomas / sax, flute, vocals
Colin Campbell / trumpet
Ralph Cooper / percussion

Recorded at EMI 301 Studios, Sydney.
EMI is not mentioned on the label since it was a private pressing of 50 copies only.
This original LP did not have a jacket and came in a plain white sleeve.
Alex Ditrich, Michael Vidale and Ralph Cooper went on to form jazz rock group Stepps.

Australian band SNAKES ALIVE was a short-lived band project consisting of Michael Vidale (bass), Peter Nykyruj (drums), Alex Ditrich (keyboards), Boris Peric (guitars), Jonas Thomas (sax, flute, vocals) and Colin Campbell (trumpet). Their sole album was recorded and privately released in a limited number of copies back in 1974, and have never seen an official label release nor a legit CD reissue

Did not think we'd ever see this one. This was an album released as a demo in a quantity of 50 without a cover. It's mainly known due to its presence online, and someone later had appended a cover. This new CD reissue is maintaining the cover (not sure of the source of the artwork honestly) and is adding one bonus track. Here's what the label says (using Google Translate): "A work that was recorded as an item in the collector as an Ultra / Rare item that was recorded in Australia in 1975 and that only 50 test presses exist. There used to be a small number of pirate CD - R boards of this board - raising before, but this time it is the first regular board using the master taken from the master tape. Like Australia, it is a masterpiece on which a thrilling jazz rock sound with saxophone, flute, trumpet etc added to it. Release on paper jacket, SHM-CD!"

In the early 70s, the music world was teeming with jazz fusion bands. The major two schools were a) The technically proficient, as defined by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and Weather Report. And b) The Miles Davis long track deep groove, with many followers in Germany (in particular the MPS label), Poland, Italy, USA and beyond. These were jazzers who were fascinated with rock's rhythms and power. But finding rockers who were fascinated by jazz was a much more rare breed. And that's why they call it jazz fusion. Snakes Alive are a rock fusion band. Of course bands like Mahavishnu come to mind. Even early Zappa and Xhol Caravan. But, you know, Finch did too - for example. There are vocals, but they're sparse. Trumpet, sax, flute, organ, guitar are the solo instruments. And it rocks with a capital R. This is a good one, that's slipped way under the radar.

Apparently this quite forgotten Australian album was never officially released. There were just these 50 private pressing copies made. And there isn't a vinyl reissue yet so if you want to get this one to your record shelf it's a pretty hard (maybe even impossible) task unless you're rich. It seems like there aren't even any unofficial bootlegs available which is pretty odd.

On the musical point of view this record offers some nice jazz-rock with progressive rock influences. The instrumental work is solid and in some points the guitar sounds very impressive. However I don't like the fact that the album includes horns. Luckily they're not dominating the overall sound but I still could do without them just fine.

If you're interested in jazz-rock, jazz-fusion or jazzy prog rock you might wanna check out this incredibly rare album.

German Oak - 2017 - Down In The Bunker

German Oak 
Down In The Bunker 

101. Screaming Skeletons
102. Missile Song
103. Belle's Song
104. Nothing

201. Belle's Song (Extended)
202. Missile Song (Extended)

301. Bear Song
302. Happy Stripes (On Cats)
303. Ghost Guitar
304. Bear Song (Alternative)
305. Harpy & Peregrine
306. Python Vs. Tiger
307. Giant Rock; Boulder Golem

Packaged in a four-panel wallet with a 20-page booklet featuring liner notes in English and German. Track times do not appear on the release, taken from computer.

"Producer's note: At the band's request, the Nazi speeches included on Manfred Uhr's Witch and Warlock German Oak CDs have been removed, and, at [Wolfgang Franz] Czaika's request, the songs have been retitled... Czaika and the band didn't choose the titles given to their songs when Uhr initially released them... On this anthology, the two long songs from the original German Oak album have been pitch corrected to play at the speed that the band recorded them; Manfred Uhr sped them up for the album's initial release..." (liner notes)

"The four tracks from the original German Oak album have been restored from vinyl. The remaining tracks were taken from cassette, and have been treated with similar reverb and compression to those Manfred Uhr used for the original album's issue." (liner notes)

Bass Guitar – Harry Kallweit (tracks: 1-2, 2-2, 3-1, 3-4), Rolf Mors
Drums – Ulrich Kallweit
Lead Guitar – Wolfgang Franz Czaika
Organ – Manfred Uhr (tracks: 1-1, 1-4)
Rhythm Guitar – Norbert Luckas (tracks: 1-1, 1-4)

A krautrock lost classic - once only available for loads of cash or on dodgy bootleg, now lovingly remastered and reissued.

The first and only LP by Düsseldorf’s German Oak isn’t the absolute rarest krautrock record in existence, but it’s up there. Its backstory ticks all the hyperobscurity collector cliché boxes: released during a burgeoning period for strange, indulgent music from the Fatherland (1972), at the behest of an overbearing manager as clueless about the market as his charges. Pressed privately in tiny numbers, most copies remained unsold, until leaking onto the collector market in the 1980s.

Until now, anyone who’d heard (of) its nightmarish proto-industrial space jams, seen its extraordinary black metal demotape-alike sleeve art, and wanted to cradle their own copy could either pay hundreds of quid for an original or much less for a snide reissue. That’s changed thanks to American archive label Now-Again – specifically Now-Again Reserve, their sublabel for unfeasible rarities – who’ve come through with a hulking remastered triple-disc package, extensive bonus material and an illuminating interview with German Oak guitarist Wolfgang Czaika.

Anyone previously familiar with German Oak will notice a few changes. Firstly, it’s not called that any more, it’s titled Down In The Bunker, a reference to the subterranean second world war-era bolthole in which the album was recorded. The song titles have changed, too. German Oak never bothered with such things, so their manager and sometime organist Manfred Uhr chose them. The group’s Malcolm McLaren or John Sinclair figure, if evidently without the marketing nous, Uhr pushed the ‘bunker’ theme to the hilt: the LP’s brief intro and outro pieces, which bookend two epic workouts, were titled ‘Airalert’ and ‘1945 – Out Of The Ashes’ (now ‘Screaming Skeletons’ and ‘Nothing’). This is already chancing your arm in Germany, so the unreleased cuts Uhr dug up for a quasi-bootleg early 90s CD issue – including songs he’d named ‘Swastika Rising’ and samples of Hitler speeches – shone a light on the band they’d done pretty much nothing to encourage. Which is why they’ve retitled everything and excised the dodgy samples.

That said, German Oak’s music is often noxious and creepy enough to feel like an antecedent of some of the underground’s notable fash-flirters: Death In June, Current 93 and Coil seem to be born in the 19-minute ‘Missile Song’, which cycles through clanging metallic percussion, ultra-sparse crypto-jazz drumming, a bass sound beamed in from a deep bath next door, outbreaks of haphazard haunted house onomatopoeia by unnamed instruments. It’s a bit ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’, early Faust, Sun Ra even, but sonically stunning for three rudderless rock trippers who basically just tossed this onto tape with no real thought about what might become of it.

‘Belle’s Song’, at 16-and-a-half minutes, is the original LP’s other main event, and the railroad boogie rhythm at its core cleaves closer to rock convention – the more eccentric end of it though, certainly. Groundhogs fans might well dig on this fuzz and wah and chug, for example, even/especially when Czaika bends his guitar off the map in sick psych style and Ulli Kallweit’s drumming breaks for the border with buoyant freeness in the closing moments.

The extended and alternate takes which fill discs two and three are divertingly gnarly, but don’t indicate much obvious potential for German Oak to have become pored over by obsessive live bootleg collectors, Grateful Dead or Velvet Underground style. The original edits of ‘Belle’s Song’ and ‘Missile Song’ run to 26 and 34 minutes respectively – I’m reviewing the CD version here and am curious as to how the latter fits onto one side of vinyl – and become slightly more and slightly less weird, also respectively, in doing so. ‘Missile’ is gussied up with lengthy periods of hard rock scorch which is perfectly decent in itself, but a distraction from the eldritch immersion created by the edit; ‘Belle’ fleshes out the rubbery reverbed guitar sound that Czaika switches to having departed the boogie rhythm.

The remaining seven songs were recorded in Czaika’s house, and find German Oak getting riffier and more Hendrixian: things like ‘The Bear Song’ (retitled from ‘The Third Reich’ – I call this an example of the great German humour, except not sarcastically) and ‘Python Vs Tiger’ burble along with a pleasingly lumpen tone and the suspicion that a majority of LSD-using experimental rock bands of the era had rehearsals that sounded much like this. Although this release is the very first to have the full collaborative approval of the German Oak members, even this comes with a caveat: Czaika dismisses their entire output in the interview as “musical scrap and waste … sins of our youth”. The ever-swelling reissue market teems with variations on this, of course: one-time, one-shot lost crazies tracked down only to express (sincere or otherwise) astonishment that anyone might now care about their throwaway hobby band. Not many of them are dug up with as much tender care as Now-Again offer, and few of them sound as unearthly and ahead of their time as German Oak.

Julian Cope Review of original album:
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.1

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.2

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 pathos and poor translation:

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