Friday, April 20, 2007

Krautrock - Recalling Germany Calling

David McConnell @ Krautrock

(Text by David McConnell)
Published in Background Magazine, The Netherlands

Readers may wonder about the curious title and what exactly the content can be. Well, perhaps not surprisingly, the subject covers two aspects or viewpoints of Krautrock from long ago that deserve to be publicized – one of them for its overall and unjustified negative bias, hostility and appalling research, and the other one for the opposite reasons. “Germany Calling” was a series of articles in the British weekly rock magazine New Musical Express back in 1972 and 1973, which I read at the time about the emergence of the new experimental rock scene in what was then West Germany. Over this three-part series, I have written most of the material as a representation of the general pessimism of that series, which was written by a journalist calling himself Ian MacDonald in NME but whose real name was Ian MacCormick, brother of Bill MacCormick, the former bass player of Matching Mole, the band of Robert Wyatt. In the year 2000, after nearly three full decades, I decided to go to the British Library’s newspaper library in London to obtain photocopies of the series and remind myself of what I read, with negative amazement, all those years ago. From the same library at the same time, I obtained a photocopy of the first-ever Krautrock article that I had ever come across – even earlier, in 1972 – in the British weekly rock magazine Melody Maker. It was called “Deutsch Rock” and was written by, judging from the article itself, a fair-minded journalist, Michael Watts. In contrast, this was a positive, unbiased and refreshing account; and after my conclusion of MacDonald’s series in my three-part series, I portray this single article with satisfaction, and with respect for its author’s work.

So, in beginning with MacDonald’s NME series, I have, for clarification, placed his words in italicized double-inverted commas, while all other uses of inverted commas are non-italicized, except where already they fall within MacDonald’s words. My comments intersperse MacDonald’s statements on some occasions, but when these don’t occur, it doesn’t mean that I agree with him – for I would be hard-pushed to agree with anything negative that he wrote, and he certainly wrote plenty in the negative. Ardent Krautrock fans will also readily find their own words of astonishment in response to MacDonald’s bizarre views, unhelpful descriptions and erroneous statements.

Ian MacDonald’s Part One
The first part of “Germany Calling” appeared in the NME issue of 9 December 1972 and was spread over the centre pages, with three separate sub-headings that represented the content of the series. These were: (1) “The First IN-DEPTH examination of the strangest rock scene in the world”; (2) “German rock challenges virtually every accepted English and American standpoint”; and (3) “Several groups consist of two, or even one performer. How long before the machines take over?” Then there were the following five captioned photographs that added fascination to the article: (1) “Berlin’s Cluster duo prepare for take-off”; (2) “Neu from Düsseldorf ponder what to do next”; (3) “Tangerine Dream inspecting the Berlin Wall”; and (4) and (5) captioned together, “Popol Vuh and Can – worshipping in the church of their choice”. The last two photos were indeed taken in churches.

It is ironical that MacDonald was unbiased and even positive in the first part of the series. He described the social and political background that led to the rise of the new music, and this is well worth reading in its entirety, but it is too detailed even to summarise here. Furthermore, anyone reading the first part at the time, and, therefore, not realising what negativities were to follow, would have had the impression, without doubt, that MacDonald was a fan of the new German rock scene. However, as would be vividly indicated thereafter, this was far from the case, although he did not despair of all of it! My “Recalling Germany Calling”, in publicizing what is effectively a part of the early Krautrock story, concentrates mainly on MacDonald’s opinions of the bands and individual musicians – the subjective aspect – rather than outlining, from his series, the historical and other factual material of the German rock scene – the objective aspect. His representation of the latter aspect is generally acceptable, and is very informative to Krautrock fans who are interested in the music’s history; but it is his bias in the former aspect that results in much of his credibility and judgement being put into question through my three-part series.

MacDonald had praise for German rock’s differences from typical British and American rock, especially in regard to the improvisational side, in that “German bands tend to play their ‘compositions’ live until they have them as they want them, following which they record and cease to play them”, he explained. And he added: “One wonders why that logic cannot equally be seen to apply to Anglo-American rock groups.” He amplified what he meant by quoting the bassist and manager, Derek Moore, of the German-based British band Nektar: “German audiences”, noted Moore, “don’t go for careful reproduction in concert of something recorded in a studio. They like records – but they think that live performances should be very different experiences. They’re not into perfection. They’re into feeling.” MacDonald took up the matter again: “Some groups, like Can and Kraftwerk, are so ‘into feeling’ that, when they go into the studio to make an album, they simply jam for a certain specified period – select the tapes they deem preferable – and edit them to manageable length. This is quite extraordinary considering the infrequency with which the average German group undertakes a recording session. In their place a British band would be at each other’s throats over whose songs were finally to be committed to the care of posterity, or (at the very least) utilising every studio facility to capture take after take of the numbers they’d preplanned.”

MacDonald highlighted another difference between some German bands and their Anglo-American counterparts by his valid statement that “a by no means inconsiderable faction of German groups, including Cluster and topliners Tangerine Dream, confine themselves in their albums to tonally-free sound improvisation without tempo. It’s safe to say that, within the Anglo-American sphere of influence, not even the Third Ear Band has laid down three-quarters of an hour of music without key or regular pulse. In Germany such blatantly avant-garde proceedings are taken for granted by ordinary rock audiences.” Or, in his other words: “Many German bands lack drummers entirely (those which don’t, frequently relegating him to a strictly metronomical function such as might easily be fulfilled by a machine, an idea pursued to its logical conclusion by Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter), and the general absence of possibilities for guitars in freeform has led to an accent both on keyboards and on sound-effects instruments.” From here, MacDonald was led to a possible future scenario: “Thus it is that several German groups consist of two, or even one performer. The final step – a band consisting of no members at all – is more than likely to materialize in the near future.”

Next, he explained that the music’s emergence was mainly due to the enterprising few people who had founded the Ohr and Brain labels. These were initially to writer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and publisher Peter Meisel for Ohr, and then to Bruno Wendel and Günther Korber for Brain, who were refugees from Ohr. An indication of the importance of both labels was given by the following words from him: “So far the [Brain] label has sixteen records to its credit and is doing very well – remarkable, since Ohr [with over thirty, he had earlier stated] has all the top German groups under exclusive contract except a handful already snapped up by Polydor and United Artists.” He could have added Philips.

At the end of part one of the series, he communicated some useful information about the recording studios. “German recording techniques were in a primitive state when the current boom began three years ago. These days production standards are more than adequate, but the number of studios equipped to handle rock groups is small and most bands limit themselves either to Conny Planks’s Starstudio in Hamburg, or to Dieter Dierks’ 16-track at Stommeln just outside Cologne. Amon Düül II record at Peter Kramper’s small Bavaria Studio in Munich; the ‘cosmic’ groups [he meant Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh and Klaus Schulze] at a new 8-track in Berlin; and Can have their own Inner Space Productions studio in Cologne’s Schloss Norvenich, a castle converted into a cinema. The most advanced studio of all, however, inhabits an ex-schoolhouse at Wumme, somewhere off the road between Hamburg and Bremen in the countryside adjoining Luneberg Heath.” And continuing from this last sentence, he suddenly hinted that perhaps he was not a fan of the German scene in general: “Here the sole spectacular success of German rock is quietly making its own mythology – but more of that next week.” NME readers of the time would have been unaware of the band being referred to, but Krautrock fans reading the present account will know that he was alluding to Faust.

MacDonald’s Part Two
With reference to a Russian ammunition depot being blown up for fun in 1946 by eight-year-old Holger Czukay, who recalled it as “an unforgettable acoustical experience”, the second part of the series, in the issue of 16 December, contained the first of two sub-headings in the form of “Bomb blasts and the beat”. There were photos of three bands: Floh de Cologne, Amon Düül II and Can; and there was a fourth photo captioned “Faust: not so well known, but real German leaders”. However, the music of Faust would be described not in this second but in the third and originally-intended final part of “Germany Calling”. So, for part two, more history, rather than musical opinion occupied three, though not complete, pages; and here were outlines of the early history of Can, as far as their first album “Monster Movie” and of the Amon Düül commune - both without criticism. But then came the start of his derision about the German rock scene, in that “two-thirds of it consists of bad imitations of Anglo-American rock, a lucrative, if otherwise pointless, pursuit, of which the leading exponents are Birth Control, the country’s richest band [who] have an album released here [UK] on Charisma, whilst their various followers are all on the Brain label, all to varying degrees ploughing the same tedious furrows as Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple; and amongst whom are Gomorrha from Cologne, Jane from Hanover, and Grobschnitt from Dortmund.” In particular, how he could have likened the progressive Grobschnitt, on the basis of their first album, to the stated British hard-rock bands is beyond my comprehension.

The original Amon Düül were soon in the firing line. “The least necessary [bands] are those Revolutionary Head ensembles which, far from learning to play their instruments, have never attempted to come up with any but the most primitive of musical ideas. The prototype for this movement is the collective Amon Düül . . . [which] commenced to lay down 20 hours of improvised instrument clouting, some of which has unfortunately emerged on two Ohr releases, “Collapsing” and “Para Dieswarts Düül”.” Other adherents of the Revolutionary Head, he continued, included Ash Ra Tempel, “a kind of pre-Diluvian Hawkwind (whose second album “Schwingungen”, is in advance of their first solely in that it’s played on electric rather than acoustic instruments and is therefore louder) [What kind of a judgement is this?], and Mythos, a sloppy little imitation of a sloppy little English group called Continuum”. On such evidence alone, what an discourteous chap he must have been - this Ian MacDonald, who, of course, was decidedly wrong about the Ash Ra Tempel electric-acoustic ‘difference’, as there was no such difference at all, which he would have realised had he just listened properly. His derogatory statement about Mythos and Continuum was unjustified and unfair to both bands, and out of order for someone purporting to be a journalist; while similarities between the two bands were, in reality, only minimal, which he would have known in allowing the required listening. The next band fared no better: “Likewise to be avoided is a record called “Mandalas” made in 1970 by a quartet of Heidelberg University students calling themselves Limbus 4, and which comes on like the Incredible String Band under teargas attack.”

He then turned to Guru Guru and mentioned their first three albums, “UFO”, “Hinten” and “Kanguru”, before explaining that he had asked his NME colleague Tony Stewart, who had been a drummer in Germany in 1967, for his opinion on how developed the German scene was. Stewart’s response was: “If there were any British bands five years out of date, they’d go down a storm in Germany at the moment.” MacDonald then seized on the opportunity to deride – unfairly - not only Guru Guru but two British hard-rock bands: “In fact there ARE British bands five years out of date (mishandlers of the Hendrix theory in its earliest stages like the Pink Fairies and the Groundhogs) and Guru Guru sound remarkably like them, once their disguise of simplistic electronics has been pierced. Thus, this band forms the link between the more boring ‘cosmic’ groups of Berlin’s Revolutionary Headland and the plagiarists of British heavy rock which operate mainly between Hamburg and the Ruhr.” Guru Guru were one of the first German bands to have been heard by me, and my view about them all those years ago was that they were well ahead of British hard-rock bands, without the latter being demeaned. He placed Embryo, Xhol and Annexus Quam in the same category, only because they were among the first Krautrock bands to include wind instruments in their line-up. In describing “Opal”, the first album by Embryo, he said that “though the music on it could not have been made by people of any other nationality, its lack of substantial material eventually defeated the romantic semi-competent appeal it shared with the early Velvet Underground (to whom this group bears no other resemblance)”. His IN-DEPTH examination should certainly have also revealed the band’s second album, “Embryo’s Rache”, and possibly the third, “Father, Son and Holy Ghost”, with both having been released on United Artists before his series had commenced. In referring to Xhol, based on their three albums – with “Electrip”, recorded under their previous name of Xhol Caravan, being counted as the first – he summarised that “they’re prone to long interludes of monochordal wandering, punctuated by sudden anomalous departures into soul music”, adding that: “No explanation is offered by them, [and] neither do I recommend their records.” Now, why should Xhol have had to offer such an explanation, and why should MacDonald have been surprised about their soul connection, for he had earlier acknowledged their original name of Soul Caravan? Anyway, for me, Xhol were, and still are, the most intriguing band ever. Their music was superb, and MacDonald’s lack of recommendation had no meaning for me. And of the third band with wind instruments: “A slightly better bet is Düsseldorf’s Annexus Quam who, having got over the dreadfulness of “Osmose”, their first album, are now playing amnesiac free-jazz on a new one, “Beziehungen”, a sound pleasant from a safe distance but a somewhat dubious purchasing prospect.” So, what exactly did this mean? Could readers be anything other than puzzled?

MacDonald did not mention the Munich band Out of Focus, who also used woodwind instruments, and who had three albums released by the time his series had commenced. However, to be fair to him, the third of these – the very jazzy double LP “Four Letter Monday Afternoon” – may have been issued too near his time limit for the start of the series, but the first two, “Wake Up” and “Out of Focus”, were from 1970 and 1971, and his IN-DEPTH examination failed to discover this band, both initially and latterly. If he had been able to bring Out of Focus into focus, what criticisms would he have made of them too, I wonder?

On the folk-rock side, two duos were next ‘dealt-with’. His description of Witthüser and Westrupp was of “a pair of unprepossessing appearance, whose stock in trade (apparently) is bawdy and satirical songs performed to various sorts of acoustic accompaniment”; and he continued: “Unless you speak German you’ll find their music, as presented in albums like “Lieder von Vampiren” and “Tripps und Traume”, banal in the extreme; moreover, a degree in Gibberish would be unlikely to qualify you as a hierophant of “Sturmischer Himmel”, the first recording of Paul and Limpe Fuchs, a Teutonic Two Virgins whose central interests appear to be the sounds of sheep, Alpine horns, and yet more bongos”.

Not everything was negative in part two, for MacDonald did manage to offer some praise. For example, it was “quite mortifying” for him to discover the music and radical philosophy of “the excellent Floh de Cologne”, as he introduced this Marxist band. ““Fliesbandbaby’s Beat Show”, made in 1970, is a rough and ready combination of Brecht-Weill theatrics and small-scale rock-n’-roll, whilst “Profitgeier”, ironically launched as ‘the first German rock opera’ in the following year, represents a considerable advance in both music and lyrics, featuring a libretto that contains, as well as the sung and spoken words, short essays on various aspects of capitalist exploitation and full Marxist reading-lists on a wide range of topics.” However, in another respect, he cautioned: “Floh are by no means a comfortable experience (they even managed to impress the world-weary German newsmen by freaking out in the middle of their first and only press conference, overturning the tables, and charging at the cameras bellowing ‘Fuck for money!’)”; but he concluded by saying that “though the casual rock fan will get little out of Floh’s records, any German-speaking socialist should find “Profitgeier” remarkable both as music and as sophisticated propaganda.”

MacDonald felt encouraged that none of the sub-genres of German rock existed in complete isolation. “Lying between the more conventionally-based of German bands and the radical ‘cosmic’ groups like Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, and Cluster, is a music which retains, albeit in a much simplified shape, the organisational references of the former (such as regular tempi, a home key, occasionally even thematic material), whilst taking full advantage of the latter’s freedom of concept and practice.” After “Bomb blasts and the beat”, the second sub-heading of part two was “The Bands outside the cosmic zone”, and two essentially-similar bands were classified here: firstly, Kraftwerk - whose personnel history, with a split leading to the formation of the second, Neu! - were outlined and stated to be “a cold, mechanical group, seemingly bent on eliminating all traces of emotional _expression from their music”. This was not necessarily criticism, but such was soon in evidence from him: “For me, the music [of Kraftwerk] is hard without convincing structure, heartless with no redeeming dignity, and ultimately a numbing bore – quite unlike Neu’s first album [but he didn’t ‘spell’ the name correctly, as Neu!, with an exclamation mark], constructed following similar principles, but nearer to the wellspring of Teutonic emotional expression.” Then, with reference to the tracks of Neu!’s album, he continued: ““Sonderangebot” maintains interest in the sound of a phased cymbal for over five minutes, “Weissesee” and “Lieber Honig” get as tender as a German group is ever likely to get, and even Kraftwerkian tracks like “Hallogallo” and “Negativland” project a warmth and imagination which, theoretically, just shouldn’t be there. In Neu, a previously mystifying development in German rock is beginning to explain itself – but even so, I recommend a careful listen before any investment is made.” Unfortunately and ironically, it was MacDonald who was mystifying his readers. A more detailed and partly-critical account of Can’s progress from “Monster Movie” through “Tago Mago” to “Ege Bamyasi” - but also mentioning “Can Soundtracks” - then followed what he had written earlier about the band in part two.

“Their thing is free jamming over deliberately simple motifs for, on occasions, quite inordinate periods of time, and only on “Monster Movie” does this rather risky self-limitation (Can prefer to see it as total freedom) produce anything consistently gripping. “Mary, Mary, so contrary”, from this album, remains one of the most powerful statements of German rock [though he didn’t say why], making the hour of modal improvisation on “Tago Mago”, their second, appear even more impoverished than it actually is. “Ege Bamyasi”, the band’s latest, contains two more lengthy exercises in bleak repetition, but also features a number of the shorter, more controlled numbers that graced the listenable sections of the preceding albums – and these, like “Outside my door” (“Monster Movie”), “Oh yeah” (“Tago Mago”), and “Vitamin C” (“Ege Bamyasi”), can prove as hypnotically engrossing in their way as, say, a long Taj Mahal blues, or “Sad-eyed lady of the Lowlands”.” He summed up the band like this: “A strange, unique band of intellectuals struggling to make people’s music in a prevailing anti-cerebral climate, Can epitomize a central contradiction of German rock, play some good and some awful music, and look unusually happy for a bunch of incipient schizophrenics. At the very least they’re honest and articulate and cannot be ignored. Try “Ege Bamyasi” for yourself. I’m not a Can person, but it’s possible that the world is full of them and they ought not to be denied.” Now, why could he not have shown such objectivity, as in some of his preceding statements, throughout his series? Well, for a start, he had no interest in, and was biased against, his task of writing about the new German rock.

On the cosmic side, Tangerine Dream were acceptably and interestingly described as “like a Pink Floyd without a beat, for since “Fly and collision of Comas Sola”, on their second album “Alpha Centauri”, no regular pulse has appeared anywhere in their music – a fact which may deter the more rhythmically-orientated listener”. He followed the undeniable fairness of this assessment with another: “Anyone, however, for whom “A Saucerful of Secrets” remains an avenue worthy of further exploration will find Tangerine Dream fascinating.” Now, see here, Mr MacDonald – this objectivity just won’t do. Ah, but then he went into negative mood again by summarising their first three albums. ““Electronic Meditation” was a poor effort, pretentiously conceived and confusedly executed with [Edgar] Froese’s blues-based guitar sounding laughably anachronistic against the aural backdrop of synthesized sound.” Of the other two members, he remarked that “[Conny] Schnitzler forthwith split to form a rival ‘cosmic’ group, Eruption, who have not recorded yet, whilst [Klaus] Schulze left to pursue a solo career, the first fruits of which blossomed on “Irrlicht”, his sonomontage of synthesized orchestra.” This last sentence may have been praise from him for Klaus Schulze, but it may, instead, just have meant ‘appeared’ by his use of ‘blossomed’. From MacDonald’s overall bias, there is room for doubt.

The title track of “Alpha Centauri”, he said with no significant criticism, “is an extensive essay in doodlings from Udo Dennebourg’s flute and the synthesizer of Roland Paulyck and, as such, forms a link between this album and the band’s most recent project – the enormous ‘largo in four movements’ for moogs, VCS3s, organs, vibes and massed cellos: “Zeit””. However, an erroneous statement followed about a personnel change for this double LP of sombre spacey music that didn’t impress him of course. “Here [Chris] Franke is replaced by Peter Baumann and guest-artist Florian Fricke, the foremost German exponent of the synthesizer. I am bored; you may be in raptures.” In fact, it was Steve Schroeder who was replaced by Baumann, while Schroeder also played on “Zeit” as a guest; and a proper look at the album covers would have prevented MacDonald from communicating wrong information. While the error cannot be counted as especially significant in itself, it still suggests – in conjunction with his other wrong and misleading statements – a slipshod attitude from him as he carried out his IN-DEPTH examination.

Near-sarcastic remarks regarding Tangerine Dream and Cluster, and their array of electronic instruments, came next. “Even though they’re one of Germany’s best-paid groups, Tangerine Dream’s equipment is so expensive that they all have other jobs during the day to pay for the instalments. Frankfurt’s Cluster are by no means as well known and must have to struggle to keep the hire purchase companies from reclaiming their mass of electronic gadgets, organs and electric cellos.” Still, some praise for Cluster did materialize: “Dieter Mobius and Joachim Roedelius make a less passive sound than Tangerine Dream – in fact, “Live in der Fabrik”, from their Brain album “Cluster II”, is reminiscent of the coruscating electronics from “The Ipcress File” – and, for this reason alone, they emerge as more enthralling than the generally rather bovine contemplations of “Zeit”.”

Preferable to Tangerine Dream and Cluster in the field of electronics, he said, was the work of Wolfgang Dauner and his group, with the release of “Output” in 1970 on the ECM label, and who had a new one, “Rischkas And Soul” [“Rischka’s Soul”], which was soon to appear on Brain – immediately after which he said: “The subject here is jazz synthesized with humour and a tremendous energy – recommended.” Presumably, the description and recommendation did refer to “Output”, but whether, at the time, he also meant “Rischka’s Soul” is difficult to determine from his ambiguous writing, and I quote later that he did not, after all, recommend the latter. Did he somehow change his mind, or was his meaning just obscured in ambiguity? Nevertheless, in retrospect, it is strange how he recommended “Output” to his NME readership, for if this album was to be categorized simply, it would have to be under the term ‘free jazz’, and how many of the NME rock-orientated fans would have been readily able to accept his recommendation of free jazz? What fraction of Krautrock fans, past or present, did or now like “Output”? A very small fraction overall, I would say. It’s strange too that he could recommend the free jazz of Wolfgang Dauner but he could not recommend the free jazz of Annexus Quam.

The last paragraph of part two introduced Amon Düül II and the fact that they had recorded five albums. He commented that “Phallus Dei” and “Yeti”, the first two, “are rough and heavy affairs, far more interesting than the average German rock of the period, but poor by today’s standards.” However, more of a positive – as well as of a negative – nature was to be said about Amon Düül II in part three. =>>>>>>>>>>>

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MacDonald's Part Three
This intended final part appeared in the issue of 23 December and occupied only half a page, with a sub-heading of "From Amon Düül II to Faust's new sound-world" and accompanied by a photo of the individual members of Faust. Continuing with Amon Düül II, MacDonald referred to the dual leadership of the band in Chris Karrer and John Weinzierl, and to the double-album "Dance of the Lemmings", with these band members' respective compositions "Syntelman's march of the roaring seventies" and "Restless skylight / Transistor child" – both side-long strings of continuous ideas, neither of which are totally convincing, if readily distinguishable, stylistically”. And for the second record of the album: "Of the improvised tracks, the freeform "Marilyn Monroe memorial church" stands out as beating Tangerine Dream at their own game, whereas the rest sinks without memorable trace." It is strange how he could see nothing positive about the three excellent and intricate guitar-based instrumentals that made up what he had referred to as "the rest". Then he introduced "Carnival in Babylon" in that "whilst sweetness and light only by comparison with the three preceding records, it is certainly a more relaxed album, showing the Düül, for better or worse, trying to marry certain Anglo-American compositional ideas with their uniquely Germanic sound". He amplified his view: "The end-product, partly the result of shaky, ensemble work (German rhythm-sections tend to be either inflexible or very wobbly, and Amon Düül's can manage the extraordinary feat at being both simultaneously), leaves one wondering whether the group have any clear idea of what they want to be. Personally, I'd prefer they opted for the harmonics and time signatures of Weinzierl numbers like "CID in Uruk" and "Kronwinkl 12" rather than open-ended rambles like "Hawknose harlequin" and, on the evidence of their latest and most successful release "Wolf City", that's just what they’re doing. MacDonald's remaining statements about Amon Düül II were both quite positive and slightly negative, describing them in the former aspect as "a bold and inventive organisation", such that ""Wolf City" shows them gaining in confidence and ability with great strides". However, some negativity followed. The only reservation I have is that they may be striding towards a point at which it will no longer be possible to hear them unawares and identify them instantly as German, but this modest tendency may just be the outward manifestation of a long-deserved holiday from having borne the cause of independent German rock these five years. Still, one can't help wishing that some of their better titles ("Gulp a sonata", "Flesh-coloured anti-aircraft alarm", "Rattlesnakeplumcake", "Overheated tiara", "Sleepwalker’s timeless bridge", and "A short stop at the Transylvanian brain surgery") concealed music of comparable inspiration. By world standards, a group to watch, even so."

Thus, with Amon Düül II having been hazily praised, he then declared: "The best, you'll be relieved to hear, has been reserved for last." He referred to Faust, in that they "are a single-handed justification of all the ballyhoo that's been kicked up about Krautrock in recent years". He firstly mentioned, without opinion, their second album, "So Far", that was only available in Germany, and then a third album, a double, that was projected for release early in 1973. Of the latter, he added that "advance hearing of some of the tapes that might form sections of it have convinced me that it could be a masterpiece". He was also impressed in hearing "Meadow meal" from Faust's first self-titled album. "Using only self-designed equipment (no synthesizers), the group have, in this track, produced the first genuine example of rock that Britain and America could not only never have conceived, but which they would, at present, find technologically impossible to emulate. This is truly avant-garde music, played with a panache and an amiable humour duplicated by no other German band." Again, it is beyond my comprehension how he could be such a fan of Faust and yet be so against nearly all the bands of the new German rock; but, strangely, in spite of his great interest in Faust, he did not devote a proportionately large amount of space to them. He said much more about Can, for example, and he was "not a Can person".

MacDonald’s Part Three: "Late Arrivals"
Part three was intended to complete MacDonald's IN-DEPTH examination –- at least, for the time being. However, in contrast to the overall positivity in the main part, a mostly-negative “Late Arrivals” section was added at the end, where he was back to his usual negative attitude -- for he couldn't very well be positive for long, now could he? "A brief glance [Yes, more in the nature of a glance than a proper listen?] at the very newest releases and imports from Germany does little to alter the generally gloomy scene portrayed in the preceding article" was his introduction here, even if he didn't realise that he had not actually been particularly negative, unless, with ambiguity again, he was alluding to part two. Then he outlined the several new releases individually in his more expected uncomplimentary manner, beginning with Amon Düül II's "Disaster". "Sounding no better than "Collapsing" and "Paradieswaarts", it lives up to its name." Yes, with a title like "Disaster" gifting him such an opportunity, he couldn’t resist saying something like that. "Duisburg's Broselmachine [actually Bröselmaschine], believe it or not, are a kind of Teutonic Steeleye Span. They do what they do with skill and restraint, but the final aim of the exercise eludes me." But why did there have to be a final aim of an exercise? Three other bands were then unfavourably summed-up in just one sentence: "Wallenstein’s "Blitzkrieg" (Pilz) is a tasteless exhibition of flash-rock in the manner of ELP; Gash sound like a rather grandiose German Wishbone Ash; and Os Mundi, on their Brain album "43 Minuten", present a stodgy evocation of early Colosseum and Graham Bond." So, then we knew, for example: Wallenstein sounded just like ELP. Oh dear, Mr MacDonald!

For the next band, he couldn't tell his readers anything informative. "Stuttgart's Kraan don't sound like anybody in particular, not even themselves [whatever that was supposed to mean] –- but their record company, Spiegelei, is new to me and has a fried egg for a logo. I'm quite partial to fried eggs." The NME readers would, I am sure, have preferred to know something definite about Kraan, rather know about one of MacDonald's eating passions. Oh, I know... he just couldn't be bothered to take a real interest -– a recurring feature with him throughout his IN-DEPTH examination.

Two further releases concluded the series. "From what I've heard of it, Popol Vuh's debut album, "In Pharaoh's Garden", is conceptually par for the 'cosmic' course, if rather more subdued than its stablemates. Synthesizer-player Florian Fricke fails to live up to his reputation and Holger Trulzsch is a boring and clumsy percussionist on this showing." I wonder just how much he heard of this album too -– a few minutes, or even seconds, here and there? What was his procedure? Well, let's see. Maybe it was this. Lift the stylus forward a short distance and see whether the next bit registers immediately? No, it doesn't –- so this bit's no good either. Try again -- a little further -- and so on. No, it's still no better. Oh well, thumbs down. That gets rid of another album. And then he was on to the next one... and so on... until he reached the last one for his "Late Arrivals" of part three. ""Canaxis 5" by the Technical Space Composers' Crew is an Inner Space Production dating from 1970 and released on the private Music Factory label. It features Roland Dammers and Can's Holger Czukay playing with loops, electronics and field recordings of Vietnamese peasant songs -– which could have been very interesting but, through self-indulgence, isn't." Then MacDonald's name appeared, and that was the end of his series -– or so the NME readers thought -– but it wasn't.

MacDonald's Part Four
Whether or not, by the end of part three of "Germany Calling", Ian MacDonald intended to follow up his IN-DEPTH examination of the new German rock scene was not known at that time by the NME readers, but a fourth and, ultimately, a fifth part did appear in the spring and summer of 1973. What became, in effect, the fourth part of his Krautrock series was incorporated within a separate two-part series called "Common Market Rock", classed neutrally as "An NME Consumer’s Guide" and negatively sub-headed unjustifiably "Or just what have we let ourselves in for?" Part 1 of the two-part series, in the issue of 28 April, featured France, Italy and Germany, while part 2, in the following issue of 5 May, referred to Denmark, Holland and Ireland. MacDonald covered France, Germany and Denmark, and his NME colleagues Armando Gallo, Tony Stewart and Steve Clarke covered Italy, Holland and Ireland respectively. The section on Germany was even smaller than in part three of the original series, and a repeated photograph of Faust, from part two, formed the only German illustration.

So off went MacDonald again, mostly negative as usual. "I've little to say about Krautrock that I didn't say in my 98-part series "Germany Calling" (December NMEs), except that recent releases seem to indicate that -– with the loosening of record company prejudices –- German rock is becoming complacent. Aside from brief hearings [so what was new?] of new groups like Brainstorm and Tomorrow's Gift, both of which are potentially onto something interesting, and the promise of equally stimulating stuff from names like Agitation Free and Association PC, most of the recent product of the German scene seems to consist, in varying degrees, of copies of Anglo-American styles. The steam appears to have gone out of the experimental side of the country’s output -– which is, after all, the particular facet of the music British listeners find most intriguing. Rejects on this score include new releases by Drosselbart, Iblis [Ibliss], Walpurgis, Hoelderlin, Wallenstein, Ihre Kinder, Emtidi, Emergency, Message, Epsylon [Epsilon], Marz, Jeronimo, Wyoming, Pell Mell, Frame, Sameti and (despite the presence on the session of jazz musician extraordinaire Mal Waldron) Embryo's second album "Steig Aus"." Again, in addition to MacDonald’s IN-DEPTH examination failing to reveal the existence of Embryo's true second album "Embryo’s Rache", and their third release, "Father Son and Holy Ghost", his opinion about "Steig Aus" was bizarre, for this distinctive and innovative jazz-rock album had a definite European sound; and, ironically, three Americans –- Mal Waldron on electric piano, Jimmy Jackson on organ and mellotron, and Dave King on electric bass –- contributed to it.

Curiously, MacDonald mentioned that a band called Scarecrew, "recently signed to United Artists, are recording their first album in Germany", and that, "shrouded in mystery, the only information on them is that their line-up includes ex-members of Tangerine Dream". He made a reasonable conjecture about them: "They could, in fact, be Conny Schnitzler's Eruption under a new name." However, it seems that the band could have been one called Scarecrow, formed by the notorious John L (real name Manfred Brück) of previous Agitation Free and Ash Ra Tempel connection, though no band named Scarecrow, Scarecrew or Eruption ever made any recording -– or, at least, one that was released.

His advice to the NME readers was that the first German record that they should think of buying was Faust's first self-titled album. "The best-selling release by any German band, it gets more awesome on every hearing and could be among the most important rock records ever made. Their follow-up, "So Far", is not in the same class but it still cuts any other German group dead." He added that "a cut-price collation of some of Faust's unofficial material entitled "The Faust Tapes" will shortly be available on the new Virgin Records label".

He summarised his overall opinion with these words: "In the wider view, however, German rock still seems to be missing its own point: which is that it can only really succeed in the area outside the Anglo-American zone, in which it has arrived too late and with neither tradition nor originality sufficient to rise above the earnest plagiarism. We don't ask for phoney nationalism, Herren und Damen. Just something new and real." =>>>>>>>>>>>

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Readers may be curious about the reason for the "Germany Calling" title that was adopted by Ian MacDonald. This originated from the call-sign of Radio Hamburg's English-language propaganda broadcasts to British and American audiences during World War II. The announcer was the anti-Semitic William Joyce, who was born in America to an English mother and Irish father. He had been a member of the British Union of Fascists but had fled to Germany before the start of the war, to become a radio broadcaster for the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. He began his broadcasts in a supercilious and sneering manner with the words "Germany Calling, Germany Calling", and his laughable upper-class English accent earned him the nickname of "Lord Haw-Haw". After the war in 1946, he was captured by British forces, found guilty of treason, and hanged in London. In spite of him having been an American citizen, the British prosecution successfully argued that his crime was treason because he held a British passport and had been allowed a British vote.

MacDonald's Part Five
Part of "Germany Calling" appeared in the issue of 7 July 1973 and was contained in a separate section within album reviews in general. It occupied only a quarter of a page, but, because the print was smaller than usual, its inherent length was greater than that of part four. There were no photographs. I believe that there was at least one more part of the series, but I have not been able to proceed with a search for it.

MacDonald's negativity was still evident, but there were a few surprises too, and one of these was described after he had stated that 20 per cent of the new album output "follows up country's earlier experimental ventures, while the remainder operates within the boundaries of mainstream rock as established by Britain and America in the Sixties". So, why was it that I was not interested in Anglo-American mainstream rock of the 60s and early 70s, whereas I was fascinated by the new German rock scene? For me, there must have been a difference between the Anglo-American and the Teutonic music to account for my difference in taste between them, and Krautrock fans, through their own experiences, will no doubt agree. However, it seemed that MacDonald couldn't discern the difference.

"Tangerine Dream" – as he introduced his first surprise – "have, in the past, been guilty of over-solemnity and pretentiousness, but their fourth album "Atem" (Ohr) has shaken most of that off. The dolorous mellotron dialogue on "Fauni-Gena" is a small masterpiece and the general atmosphere is less laboured than in their earlier efforts. All Pink Fluid [sic] fanciers and electronic music aficionados will go gaga over this one." And the positivity followed two paragraphs later. "Ash Ra Tempel, on their third album "Join Inn", have cleaned up their previous mucky incompetence and are now into speedy, moto perpetuo jams with all the reverb, length and inconsequentiality of The Grateful Dead. It's better than their earlier tries but one is bound to point out that some sort of improvement was more or less inevitable." He was now praising a German band for sounding like an American one!

However, in the intermediate paragraph, he wasn't impressed by Neu!, in now spelling their name correctly. "There were some pleasantly disturbing moments on Neu!'s first LP, but on "Neu! 2" their impetus has run out, allowing them to drift back into the relentless unimaginativeness of their father group Kraftwerk. The absent-minded boredom of the first side is weirdly offset by the actively-concerted boredom of side 2 which consists entirely of the twin sides of the band’s 1972 single (Neuschnee and Super) played on a portable gramophone in the studio at different speed settings, complete with surface-noise and jumping needles. Andy Warhol is alive and well and living in a tape recorder in Düsseldorf apparently."

MacDonald was also negative about another German label. "Recently Ash Ra Tempel moved to Rolf Ulrich Kaiser's newest label 'Kosmischen Kuriere' ('Cosmic Couriers') to record a bunch of junk called "Seven Up" with naughty old Timothy Leary. Grandpa takes a trip! Kosmischen Kuriere promises to be the most vapid enterprise in the history of the world if its second release, Lord Krishna von Goloka, is anything to go by. Here an ageing German pseud called Sergius Golowin directs a programme of colour-supplement mysticism for weekend dropouts, aided and abetted by young German pseuds Walther [Walter] Westrupp, Bernd Witthuser [Witthüser], Klaus Schulze and Jurgen [Jürgen] Dollase, of whom I have spoken elsewhere. Spray liberally with DDT before handling." MacDonald had mentioned in part three that Jürgen Dollase, the leader of Wallenstein, "claims to be a reincarnation of the famous general of that name and clothes himself accordingly". Regarding MacDonald’s reference to 'Grandpa' and an 'ageing pseud', perhaps Timothy Leary and Sergius Golowin should have apologised profusely for being the ages that they were! Yes, what a thoughtless and rude individual MacDonald was.

He proceeded, negatively, to a solo musician. "Peter Michael Hamel's Vertigo double album "Hamel" shows him to be a Teutonic Terry Riley. All his arcane procedures with modal scales, ragas, aleatoric devices and ring modulation are listed with an academic dryness which has unfortunately overflowed from the sleeve-notes into the music. Dullsville, man." Strangely, MacDonald’s IN-DEPTH examination of the new German rock scene had failed to reveal the existence of an album on the Wergo label, called "Einsteig", which was the first release in 1971 of Hamel's multi-national but German-based avant-garde, jazz-rock band Between. Intriguingly, but only in retrospect, this album included a subsequently-world-famous musician by the name of James Galway on flute – or, as the album cover stated, 'Jimmy J Galway (Ireland), Flöte'. Now, just how many – meaning, how few – of the fans of Galway know that, with him having been well known in classical music and in Irish traditional music, he was once a member of a German-based avant-garde, jazz-rock band? Probably MacDonald would not have been impressed anyway, and he would have said something negative about Between.

He then turned "from the consciously exploratory to the guys who are simply into having a good time", as he described a few releases connecting the German scene with jazz and blues. "Klaus Doldinger's "Passport" (Atlantic) has done good business in Germany and it's not hard to see why. Sounding like a streamlined Graham Bond Organisation, Doldinger (tenor, moog), Jimmy Jackson (organ), Atlantis drummer Udo Lindenburg [Lindenberg] and Amon Düül II veterans Olaf Kubler [Kübler] (tenor) and Lothar Meid (bass) are impressively together. Jackson, who along with Mal Waldron, was somewhat blurred out of Embryo's recent rather steamy essay in the same field, "Steig Aus", here comes through cleanly behind the simple, soaring tenor lines (frequently scored in bold unison). Not an earthshaking set, but as tight, stratospheric jazz-blues completely convincing. Nice cover too." Again, there was a bizarre comment, for on "Steig Aus", with the cover stating 'featuring Jimmy Jackson', the superb Hammond organ sounds of Jackson were most prominent on the LP. Just how much of this album did MacDonald hear for his IN-DEPTH examination?

Next was Wolfgang Dauner, mentioned in part two. "The Bond / Hiseman bias of "Passport" is no coincidence, as can be seen by the actual presence of [John] Hiseman on a forthcoming album by The Wolfgang Dauner Group which also features a guest appearance by [jazz guitarist] Larry Coryell. Between now and then we have another Brain release, "Rischkas Soul", with Dauner's band departing from the aggressive electronic experiments of "Output", their debut on ECM." But, remember: he had raved about "Output" in part two - "jazz synthesized with humour and a tremendous energy – recommended" – and now he was negative about the latest release by Dauner, without saying why. ""Rischkas [Rischka’s] Soul" is firmly in the jazz-blues bag and somewhat of a disappointment". Again, he left his readers puzzled.

More negativity followed. "Other bands tending the same cabbage-patch are Gorilla, a German answer to Chicago, and the multi-national Sinto, neither of whom are worth the asking price. Behind them, queuing up to play precisely the same old rock we've heard for years are Electric Sandwich, Cornucopia, Lava and Novalis. Thirsty Moon rise a little above the dross, but not significantly, and that tiresome trio Guru Guru reappear for the fourth time with a drab rock and roll medley on the Brain label." He couldn't be bothered to rise above his tiredness to inform the readers of the titles of the albums by these bands, because he wasn't interested in them – the bands, the records, the readers. And he was supposed to be a journalist, communicating information.

He still didn't know what to make of a band who had been mentioned in the "Late Arrivals" of his part three. "Kraan, whose second album ["Wintrup"] recently reached these shores and who are currently just about the hottest new band in Germany, are a problem to assess. Interesting qualities poke through the gloom on both their records, but there is nothing in evidence to justify their high reputation. Try "Wintrup" for yourself." Perhaps he should have added "because I can't be fully bothered myself". Yes, they would have been a problem to assess as long as he couldn't be bothered.

The final reviews of part five of "Germany Calling" referred to the albums of Frumpy. "Now known as Atlantis, they were one of Germany’s top bands between 1971 and 1972, recording four records for Philips and winning several polls. "All Will Be Changed" and "Frumpy 2" consist of turgid, organ-dominated techno-flash but, with the addition of guitarist Rainer Baumann the band found its feet as a straightforward blues-based rock group, allowing mannish lady vocalist Inga Rumpf a chance to stretch her larynx over the usual sort of crowd-pleasing material. However, their third album, "By the Way", retains the tension between what were essentially two different bands and some felicitous cross-fertilisation ensues. "Frumpy Live" reveals the transition completed and was the last thing the band recorded before their name-change. With a development oddly akin to Stone the Crows, Frumpy did what they did well but opened no new doors." Careless writing was evident in him discourteously referring to Inga Rumpf as a 'mannish lady vocalist', for the correct phraseology would have been 'mannish-sounding lady vocalist'.

MacDonald then curtly summarised his findings from this fifth part, as he ended it disrespectfully and immaturely. "Listening to these albums has, on the whole, revived my flagging interest in German rock. It's such a crazy scene over there that it's worth wading through any amount of rubbish in order to keep in touch with what's going on. In this case, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Doldinger made the effort more or less worthwhile. That's all, gentlemen. Dismiss – and keep an eye out for low-flying Messerschmitts." His flagging interest? When did he ever have a real interest for it to flag? How could he ever have a real interest, with only praise for Faust and Klaus Doldinger, and only latterly, for Tangerine Dream? By this time too, did he realise that Krautrock was catching-on after all, and that he had better start acknowledging that there was – after all - something worthwhile there for many people? Did he want to ensure that he would not have a Spiegelei, or fried egg, on his face? (NB: 'Egg on the face': a saying in English that means being left to look foolish, with a possible implication of being wrong or guilty.)

MacDonald's Attitude
That was the end of "Germany Calling" – at least as far as I was able to establish in my research - though MacDonald may have made further references later, such as within general album reviews; and I believe that there was at least one more part of the series, but I have not been able to proceed with a search for it. Nevertheless, irrespective of where his final words on Krautrock occurred, the essence of his IN-DEPTH examination had already been made by this time. Obviously, he was not a Krautrock fan. He didn't need Krautrock in his musical life, and anything positive that he did say about it, and obtain from it, was simply a surprising bonus – or, more like, a consolation - for him. He didn't listen to the albums with objectivity – probably barely listening to them because he wasn't interested and so couldn't be bothered. He then made wide-sweeping erroneous statements about the music, from his viewpoint of purporting to be knowledgeable to the NME readers, which he wasn’t in reality.

As a journalist, he should have presented an objective report on the music, even on the understanding that he didn't like it, but without resorting to a barrage of unjustified criticism because he couldn't be bothered with it or couldn't understand it. His own general disapproval of it no doubt had the effect of turning adventurous rock fans away from ever showing interest in it at the time – except for a determined minority who may have read the views of Michael Watts previously, and except for those who already knew better by having experienced early Krautrock directly, without his interference. Was it a case with MacDonald of chauvinism or narcissism in the following scenario? "I can't understand what it's all about, and, anyway, it'll never catch-on – so it must be no good, and so it is definitely no good? Rock music from Germany? What can Germans teach us Anglo-Americans about rock music?"

On what I assert was poor journalism by him, it may seem to some readers that I am harsh or wrong in holding such a view. However, I have no hesitation about this, because, while the written word is the essence of journalism, the written word cannot be truly and properly expressed without the vital ingredient of proper research, and poor journalism occurs when a writer – even a good writer - can't be bothered to do proper research. Good journalism comprises not only the quality of the writing or expression itself, but also the quality of the research or content, and all of these solid characteristics must be present to produce good journalism that will tell the truth or paint the best overall picture or representation of the subject of the journalism. If MacDonald could not be bothered to do his research properly – ie, listening – how could his written word ever be classed as good journalism? A good journalist will not invent or contrive information to misrepresent facts or opinions, which is exactly what MacDonald did. I am justified in my assertion of his poor journalism because I have given substantial reasons throughout my analysis of his series for his unjustified criticism of Krautrock, whereas MacDonald did not provide evidence - only unsubstantiated and wrong statements - for his negativity and pessimism towards the music. Yes, you can combine poor research and good writing, but you cannot call it good journalism. It cannot even be called 'OK' journalism, for it is simply poor journalism, without question. Irrespective of whatever else MacDonald achieved in journalism that was justifiably praised – in his articles and in his books, including the one about The Beatles - his Krautrock series was certainly not an example of good journalism.

MacDonald not only did Krautrock a disservice; he did his NME readers a disservice, even if they were not in a position to know otherwise; and he did his NME employers a disservice, even if they, likewise, didn’t realize it, or didn't care. Having no real interest in the music, he was blatantly the wrong person to have written the series, not so much for lack of interest but for his definite bias against it; and how many progressive rock fans were turned away from the new German music, without having heard it, solely because of MacDonald's bias? Yet, in spite of being dealt such a heavy blow by MacDonald, Krautrock triumphed because its quality, character and strength were able to counteract his bias. Indeed, this can be illustrated by a football analogy. Imagine a good football team who, early in the game, are losing solely because of the bias of the referee, but that the talents of the team are such that they eventually counteract the referee’s bias to win easily, in spite of efforts of the referee to prevent their success. This is what Krautrock did, against the scathing words of MacDonald, which must have gone some way to impede the acceptance of the music at the time. Imagine how disheartened the German musicians may have been on reading MacDonald's criticism. Imagine how disheartened you – the reader – would be, if on producing refreshing and inventive progressive music, you and your new art-form were subjected to the vitriolic words of Ian MacDonald.

Thus, Krautrock did catch-on – having flourished worldwide over the last three decades, or over much of rock music's history. This great success occurred originally when vinyl was the king, but it became more evident in recent years, with most of it having been issued on, and revived by, the CD format, augmented by previously-unreleased material that would not have been available but for the invention of the CD. MacDonald was offensive in verbally attacked the artists of Krautrock in a manner that was unjustified, if only for the reason that they had caused him no offense in the first place. The Krautrock artists struggled, inventively and successfully in terms of artistry, against a surrounding commercially-dominated and mainstream-minded world, to produce highly creative music that, seemingly, had no commercial and mass-media value – which is not usually an 'absolute' measure of artistry anyway. And no one can doubt that the Krautrock musicians succeeded – not in terms of units of commerciality but certainly of units of artistry; while they succeeded in another vital sense: longevity. Not only did the depth of the music ensure its lasting value but some of the bands or individuals are still in the business and the art of making this music.

The two most striking examples of longevity in Krautrock are Tangerine Dream and Embryo, two very different bands who, throughout the period since MacDonald's damming series, continued to make recordings for, and play live to, many people worldwide. The courageous Tangerine Dream, under the leadership of Edgar Froese, their one ever-present member, deserve much acclaim for their dedication and daring that took rock music a significantly-farther distance in time and space than the already-inventive Pink Floyd. However, Tangerine Dream's greatest measure of courage lay in them having the audacity to produce rock music without a beat, on record and in concert, and the fans loved it. Additionally, for their first British tour in 1974, they were even able to risk playing no material from their first officially-released British album, in blatant contrast to every other band who felt it obligatory to play newly-released album music in concert to accompany and promote the simultaneous release of the album of that music. So too does great credit go to Embryo, especially their one ever-present member Christian Burchard, from initially being an excellent and inventive progressive-jazz-rock band, to having transformed over the years and decades into an impressive collective of a varying – and sometimes ephemeral and returning - membership from diverse countries and cultures, in the production of what is now counted as 'world music', integrating musicians to break down absurd man-made barriers of the world. Among the musicians to honour, and be honoured by, Embryo were the world-famous American jazz saxophonist Charlie Mariano and pianist Mal Waldron, who adapted admirably to the jazz-rock style of the band in playing on studio recordings and in live concerts.

And here are some of the other Krautrock bands and individual musicians who have proved MacDonald to be wrong in long-outlasting his 'expectations', by remaining in musical existence into the 90s or by making a return in recent years: Faust, Ashra, Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster, Guru Guru, Amon Düül II, Popol Vuh, Agitation Free, Conny Schnitzler and Klaus Schulze. Others lasted well into the 80s, and it should also be noted that the essence of Krautrock is emulated by innumerable recent and present-day non-German bands. The long and continuing story of Krautrock is in vivid contrast to his dismissal of it in 1972 and 1973? Indeed, his miserable failure in 'judgement' of Krautrock is on par with the failure of the 'experts' in the recording business who rejected The Beatles and Mike Oldfield; and I use the term 'on par' because the example of MacDonald's virtually-unrecorded failure, while not being spectacular in applying to a world-famous band or an individual musician, was significant in that it encompassed a whole genre of music!

So, who has had the last laugh? Certainly not Ian MacDonald, who had the first laugh, even if he laughed alone. However, the last and best laugh belongs to two categories of Krautrock people: to the spirited and inventive Krautrock musicians, whose success is testified by the large non-mainstream popularity of their music over the years and decades, and to the loyal Krautrock fans who have simply and throroughly enjoyed the music, without wanting to analyse why the music contained "long interludes of monochordal wandering, punctuated by sudden anomalous departures into soul music", as in MacDonald’s reference to Xhol; or to those who have enjoyed it without wanting to know what "the final aim of the exercise" was, in his reference to Bröselmaschine. Readers now know what this one critic, Ian MacDonald, pessimistically and mockingly wrote about Krautrock all those years ago, and how wrong he was.

Michael Watts on Deutsch Rock
As a journalist for the British weekly music magazine Melody Maker, Michael Watts knew better – positively so. He was the author of the first-ever Krautrock article that I read – at the time of its publication, and not in retrospect - and his coverage of the new German rock scene, entitled "Deutsch Rock" in the MM issue of 15 April 1972, was the reason why MacDonald's series was classed as "The first IN-DEPTH examination of the strangest rock scene in the world", with the implication that the account by Watts was not an in-depth one. In fact, for a single article, it was an in-depth feature. Although it occupied only a page of MM, the page size was larger and the type size was smaller than that of NME. With a sub-heading announcing that "Germany's new music is possibly more interesting than any in Europe", the article must have induced intrigue to the MM readers, and it was accompanied by three captioned photographs: of Kraftwerk – actually just one Florian Schneider-Esleben; one of Lucifer's Friend; and one of Amon Düül II – stated as Amon Düül.

Watts began his article by paraphrasing Can's Michael Karoli, in saying that European groups were no longer influenced by what was happening in Britain and America. "He's right", affirmed Watts, "as British audiences will shortly see for themselves when Can arrive in this country, to be followed at some future date by Amon Düül II. It's no coincidence that both bands are German. Of all the continental countries trying to create their own rock situation, Germany is the one that seems most fertile and experimentally-inclined. It's an exaggeration to say that German musicians have formed their own rock scene, independent of outside influences, but at least a handful of their bands are pursuing paths that are more adventurous than the majority of their Anglo-American counterparts and virtually all the other Europeans."

The principal views of his next paragraph also contrasted with MacDonald's negativity. It's important that they be encouraged, that they have success in the British and American markets which they desperately want. At a time when British rock is so insistently harkening back to the past, these are possible pointers for the future. This is no attempt however to foster the idea of a mass rock and roll movement; just to indicate that there's good music across the Channel which is not receiving much recognition in this country, even though the German record market is considered to be the fourth largest in the world." Yes, what chance of encouragement, success and recognition was there, theoretically, against MacDonald's gloomy propaganda, spread through a massively-read publication?

The next few paragraphs of Watts' article concentrated on the similarities of German rock to the Anglo-American style, and here emerged the few negative statements in his whole review. "It should be stressed from the outset that the main percentage of German bands are essentially imitative of Anglo-American pop. It's not an absolute rule of thumb, but these second-raters tend to adopt English names, like Birth Control, Lucifer's Friend and Epitaph." He added that the music of such bands is "usually dominated heavily by guitar and sounds as if the musicians are just going through that period from 1965 to 1966, when there was a transition from blues and R & B styles to hard rock", and that they "generally sing in English, mainly with appalling misunderstanding of the idiom. The most popular was Frumpy, but "the most accomplished" that he had heard was Improved Sound Limited, "who are so confident of their mastery of the English language that they go so far as to print all the lyrics of their double album". He explained that the decision to sing in English was undoubtedly so that it would be instantly accessible to Anglo-American audiences, and that many of these bands included English or American musicians, "like the lead vocalist, for instance, of Twenty Sixty Six [and Then], a Liverpudlian named Geoff Harrison".

Watts explained that young Germans were anxious to express their own concepts, ceasing to be bound by the framework of Anglo-American pop, and they saw the rock tag as a convenient way to do so. "This is particularly true of the musicians with political motivations, like Ton Steine Scherben, with its utterly left outlook, Ihre Kinder, and the Marxist Floh de Cologne. Their emphasis is on lyrics rather than music, and their subject matter is frequently a diatribe against the capitalist system. This is notably the case of Floh de Cologne (English translation 'Flea'), who have released an album with the translated title of "Conveyer Belt Baby's Beat Show"."

He listed the German bands who represented the new music. "The main torch-carriers for intelligent German rock music are a nucleus of groups headed by Can and Amon Düül II. These include Embryo, Kraftwerk, Guru Guru and Tangerine Dream. Between them they define the best of German rock." A sympathetic approach to the problem of the cost of the musical equipment was shown by Watts, in contrast to MacDonald, as the subject led to the avant-garde nature of the German scene. "Although most German rock groups lack the financial support to equip themselves with the VCS3s and Moogs that bands here [UK] accept as almost obligatory, they show a fascination with electronics, and use sound effects not as embellishments but for themselves. It's not too far-fetched to suggest that Stockhausen is the father figure of German rock, especially as Irmin Schmidt, keyboards player with Can, and Holger Czukay, the bassist, are both former students of the composer. Both men are intellectuals and perhaps see the rock tag as a means of packaging music which is nearer to the avant-garde than to the Top Twenty."

Having stated, with positive implication, that enough had been written elsewhere about Can's two albums on United Artists, "Monster Movie" and "Tago Mago", Watts described, in praiseworthy fashion, both sides of the electronics album "Canaxis 5" by Czukay and Roland Dammers, under the name of the Technical Space Composer's Crew. After informing the readers that the album was available directly from the private Music Factory record company in Munich, he declared: "It's worth it." Then there was more praise for Can, as he related that he had witnessed them playing live for four hours, except for intermissions. "Can’s performances are as unflagging as their rhythms. At Cologne's Sporthalle in late January they did a free concert in front of 10,000 people – the city council had given its blessing in the name of modern kultur. To hear them thundering away like a non-stop express is something of an experience, but the repetition of their open-minded act was finally a little too much for these English ears at first go. Their enthusiasm seems to work better in the edited context of an album."

The remainder of Watts' article consisted mainly of his descriptions of the five other 'torch-carrier' bands, with no significant negative remarks, and they are worth quoting in their entirety from the original article.

"Embryo have an album called "Embryo's Rache" ("Revenge") on United Artists, who, along with Philips and the avant-garde label Ohr, release most of the better-known German product. They're rather jazz-orientated, with a soprano sax, flute and organ, but unmistakably German, with that heavy, insistent drum rhythm. While they sing in English, they're basically instrumental, but they're not averse to political songs, like "Espagna si, Franco no", with its line about "Evolution is the only way" [actually 'Revolution']. However, the most interesting track is the last, "Verwandlung" ['Transformation'], with its use of mellotron and piano leading into Edgar Hofmann's [Hoffman's] violin, which sounds as if he's been listening to Don Harris." There was no mention of the first album "Opal", but at least Watts, unlike MacDonald, had discovered the second album, and his article appeared eight months before the start of MacDonald's series.

"Kraftwerk (Power-station), I understand, have released two albums, one of them, "Organisation", on RCA, and the other, simply bearing the band's name, on Philips (whose English office say they've never heard of them). The band revolves around Ralf Hütter on organ and Florian Schneider-Esleben on flute, violin and electric percussion. Though some of the Philips album reflects a trivial use of sound, there are truly strange moments like the heavily-phased drumming on "Rückzück", which fades in and out of the speakers with the cold precision of a machine. In fact, they've got the most 'mechanical' energised sound I've ever heard in places. Their name couldn't be more apt."

"Tangerine Dream, on the other hand, a Berlin group, are far less earthbound. If 'space music' is not too overworked an expression, that's them. Sort of Pink Floyd-minus-tunes meets King Crimson's 21st century schizoid man. They've got two albums out on Ohr, "Electronic Meditation" and "Alpha Centauri", and I've recently heard a single, "Ultima Thule (Parts One and Two)", which, if I recollect rightly, is a phrase from Virgil meaning 'Furthest Thule'. Most of the musical substance seems to be done with a mellotron and an organ but it's pretty effective, even if Part Two does bear a certain resemblance to "Set the Controls"."

"Guru Guru are also on Ohr (it means 'ear' incidentally) with an album called "UFO", and they should be checked out because of their drummer, Mani Neumeir [Neumeier], who plays electric percussion, which several other of these bands have (Can and Kraftwerk, for example)."

Before describing Amon Düül II, Watts mentioned "a number of other bands who are worth checking out". These were: "Parsival [Parzival], who play something akin to chamber rock, and are light, airy and pastoral in approach; Georg Deuter, who combines a mixture of electronic sounds, bongos, straightforward guitar and sitar – one track is called "Krishna eating fish and chips"; Klaus Weiss, a prominent drummer in Germany who has recently recorded a super-percussion album "Niagra" [not "Niagara"] with other drummers from the States, England, Germany and Venezuela; Eiliff, who have a bassist called Bill Brown, and are organ-dominated with rather orthodox arrangements; and then there's Et Cetera, Gila, Xhol, Cluster, Popol Uuh [Vuh], James Jackson, Sweet Smoke, Paul and Limpe Fuchs (a live record cut in Ossiach, Austria) and Ash Ra Temple [Tempel] (who are supposed to be ferocious)." But Amon Düül II were Watts' favourite band.

"Of all the German bands, however, the most assured is Amon Düül II. If they can maintain an equilibrium within the band and continue to remain unaffected by the various personnel changes, there seems no reason why they should not become a positive force on the international rock scene. Their organisational sense is the question mark that hangs over their future. For nearly two years they've been planning to come to England but have never made it ultimately. If their performances are like their records they will prove a revelation to English audiences.

"Their new album, "Carnival in Babylon", is their most composed. It's almost gentle even, with rather pastoral-sounding vocals from their girl singer, Renate, newly-returned to the group. The music is not as experimental as on their previous albums but there's more texture: nice bass lines, particularly on "All the years round", and deft strokes from the two guitarists John Weinzierl and Chris Karrer. With these two lies the future of Amon Düül II.

"When I was in Cologne three months ago, Weinzierl explained to me that it wasn't their purpose 'to have superficial success and to be celebrated as super pop stars'. Nevertheless, in Germany their reputation approaches mythical proportions. They are prophets in their own land."

Then Watts immediately ended his pioneering article, immediately and simply: "If rock and roll is really as homogeneous [ie, everywhere similar in origin and descent] as everyone says it is, we in England should be getting that message too." [ie, realizing Amon Düül II to be a high-quality band]

Michael Watts, firstly and positively, and Ian MacDonald, secondly and negatively – without them, or me, or anyone else being aware at the time – were making important contributions, albeit indirectly, to the history of Krautrock. Their accounts in MM and NME are a long way back in the Krautrock literary past, but they are all the more significant for that very reason. With the vast majority of Krautrock fans not having known that such articles existed, this was precisely why I wanted to publicize the contents. Perhaps if someone produces a detailed history of Krautrock – and no one has done so yet, in spite of several books having been published on the subject – then the reviews of Watts and MacDonald should be included in that history. It is indeed ironical that the term 'Krautrock' seems to have originated from MacDonald, which may be appropriate, for, although it has been used so often for so long that it may not generally be meant or taken offensively - but I cannot speak for German people – this originator was someone who had little respect for the music and was offensive to its musicians. Accordingly, was that why the term 'Krautrock' did appear in his series?

The difference in the attitudes of the two journalists was very evident. Generally throughout his detailed single article, Watts was open-minded towards, and had much admiration for, the new German rock music, whereas MacDonald, who didn't want to listen properly, slated the majority of the music during his series, only seeming to ease off slightly and latterly as Krautrock began to be publicized and praised elsewhere, and with its popularity continuing to increase.

Was MacDonald's supposed slight change in the positive direction purely a genuine happening, or was he trying to connive and contrive a certain liking for it after all, just to prevent him from being 'too wrong', as he could hardly 'get away with' feigning a sudden great liking? Suspicions would definitely be aroused, though I suspect him of the feigning in the sense that he may have realized his blunder in not giving the music a proper hearing. Whatever the truth – and, presumably, MacDonald knew what it was – his negative prejudice forms a lesson to everyone in this image-ridden and substance-diminished society of today about how judgements are made at face value and without applying time and patience to look deeper than the surface. In. MacDonald case, the glossed-over surface consisted of German rock LPs.

I have no hesitation in praising Michael Watts for his admirable objectivity, judgement and respect that allowed him to be able to publicize the music positively for the excellence that it was, and is.

There is a sad postscript to this series, with the suicide of Ian MacDonald, or Ian MacCormick, in 2003, resulting from depression. He was 54. In his memory, it is appropriate that he is acknowledged with praise for better journalistic achievements than his Krautrock series – especially his highly-respected book "Revolution in the Head: The Beatles". =>>>>>>>>>>>

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24db said...

There's a far earlier article on Krautrock:

"Siegfried Arising: A report from Germany on the new wave of abstract expressionism in Rock" by Duncan Fallowell (Phonograph Record Magazine, May 1972).

Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing the link - but unfortunately it seems to be down? Does anybody here at have a mirror or another source?


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