Guru Guru – ‘Känguru’
Mani Neumeier and his cohorts certainly had an altruistic sense of humour, riffing as they did with the antipodeans mascot mammal of choice, to create the pun cringing title Känguru.
Their third meandering and adumbrate album depicts a female Kangaroo and her baby Joey, unceremoniously plucked from its natural habitat of the Australian outback, to a stark ice floe – just like Stubbs famous 1762-63 portrait of a Zebra in a English woodland.
Both mother and child mouth the albums title, in nonchalant unawareness, whilst on the reverse we find Neumeier lampooning and gurning for joy, wearing an over-sized far-out pair of leotards stretched up to his shoulders.
He looks to all intents and purposes like a raving acid devouring crazy, escaped from some sort of funny farm.
Yes Guru Guru always had a penchant for taking the piss at their high-minded innovative, anarchic seriousness; following a fine tradition of ironic and poignant satire, from Anselm Kiefer to the late Martin Kippenberger.
Unfortunately during the pivotal year of 1972, there wasn’t much to laugh at, with a catalogue of tumultuous world events that culminated in both bloodshed and deep trauma.
As music critic Matthias Mineur’s notes that accompanied the Känguru reissue testify, this year saw many flashpoints boil over, including Bloody Sunday (January 30th) and the capture of Baader Meinhof’s leaders, Andreas Baader, Jan-Carl Raspe and Holger Meins (June 2nd) – both Ulrike Meinhof and Gerhard Müller were captured 13 days later, holed up in a teachers apartment.
West Germany also played host that year to the synonymous Black September incident. The excitement and fervour of hosting the Olympics in Munich, only 27 years after the end of the war, should have marked a turning point, instead 11 members of the Israeli athletics team were first held hostage by members of the Black September terrorist group, then shot dead in a disastrous shoot-out.
Even Japan joined in with the general theme of activism turned ugly. Their own Red Army – a ragtag group of students, Marxists and Maoist sympathisers – decided to up the ante, arming themselves for a struggle. Initially they were more prone to fall-out with each other then anyone else, but they managed to take part in bombings, the Lod Airport in Israel being a particular horrific one. An earlier incident in 72, saw some of the groups leaders involved in stake-out siege at a holiday lodge on Mount Asama, an incident beamed live across Japanese TVs.
Over in the States, tricky Dicky was having a troubled year. The break-ins at the Watergate building were just about to blow-up in his face, whilst the Vietnam War dragged on badly, the North Vietnamese forces having managed to cross the demilitarized zone into the South. The US had also come under international condemnation for its heavy-handed and apocalyptic bombing of the North; even worse they received a tongue-lashing from G.I Jane Fonda, who they later brushed of with snide remarks about her being a Commie nut, christening her Hanoi Jane for posterity.
Guru Guru had conceived a welcoming crazed suite of psychedelic doodling two years previous in an attempt to prepare us for the visit of extra-terrestrials, 1972 didn’t turn out to be the year they arrived but the world did get to catch a glimpse for the first time of the surface of Mars; which turned out to be quite disappointing, no Edgar Rice Burroughs Martians in sight.
As if to bookend the year on a poignant gesture, December 14th saw the last man to ever walk the moon.
Back down on Earth, our trusty trio of insane rockers were holed up in Hamburgs Windrose Durmont-Time studios, under the alchemist sorceries eye of Conny Plank, wraped up in the turmoil of a posthumous year.
The group had begun the year with a move over to Bruno Windel and Günter Körber’s newly formed Brain record label. Both were formally at megalomaniac Rolf Ulrich-Kaiser’s Ohr, but left after suffering at the hands of his particular crazed and self-serving management style.
Many groups headed out the door with them, including Guru Guru as well as attracting a whole list of German talent, including Harmonia, Klaus Schulze, Edger Frose, Jane, Embryo, Birth Control and Popol Vuh.
Wasting no time, the trio flung themselves straight into the studio, knocking out there third long-player in a matter of a week.
Neumeier, Trepte and Genrich tried out, what they called, a triangular approach to composing this time round. One band member would conceive an idea then bounce it off the other two, trying out multiple ways of experimenting with the basic songs premise until it felt right.
This method produced four considered, yet extremum examples of wondering rock music, with Genrich channelling the spirit of Hendrix through his frail frame whilst Trepte acting as his foil on bass – fitting into the role of a Germanic Noel Redding – accompanies and follows him all the way.
Neumeier continued to bash out a mesmerising shamble of catatonic and bloodthirsty rhythms, using his recently invented inflatable tom drum, which you blow into to change its pitch.
Vocals were featured more heavily on these tracks, Trepte mooning and flexing his vocal range to add some kind of anchor to the epic jams.
Känguru could be sad to feature a more hard lined rock sound, tracks like ‘Immer Lustig’, pull apart Led Zeppelin and take 12 bar Rock’n’Roll to the outer limits. On ‘Baby Cake Walk’ they step on their toes of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, whilst ‘Ooga Booga’ twists rock music inside out, picking out the bones of a dieing Iron Butterfly, yet managing to also imbue themselves with some subtle sauntering CAN jaunty moves.
Many critics would suggest that Guru Guru’s juggernaut wheels were starting to wobble, the decline was now impending. Disingenuous to a point maybe, but from now on that key dynamic between the trio was interrupted on their next clutch of albums. Neumeier would remain the only constant on future releases, as members began to leave. After this their third release, Trepte left to join Neu!, replaced on the next LP, Guru Guru, by Bruno Schaab of the Mannheim group Night Sun; a melting pot collective of both local bands and ex-servicemen from the nearby base, who had a certain fondness for heavy British rock.
Attracting certain scorn, again, from the UK press ‘Känguru’ remained a successful experiment for the group. Much of its criticism actually acts as praise, the press deriding their form of music as derivative, banging on about the Jimi Hendrix Experience influence et al, something Genrich was rather pleased with.
GURU GURU – ‘Känguru’
Brain Records 1972
Recorded February/March 1972 at Windrose Durmont-Time studios, Hamburg, mixed at Star-Musik Production studios, Hamburg in March.
1. Oxymoron (10:33)
2. Immer Lustig (15:38)
1. Baby Cake Walk (10:55)
2. Ooga Booga (11:10)
Ax Genrich – Guitar and vocals.
Mani Neumeier – Drums, percussion and vocals.
Uli Trepte – Bass and vocals
Conny Plank – Producer.
Heinz Dofflien (with Guru Guru) – Cover.
Tai Lüdicke – Photos.
Continuing the mockingly absurd theme of Känguru, our gorged out on freeform experimentalism trio choose to open up their third LP with the moronic ‘Oxymoron’.
Chafe like unexplained sounds introduce tampered drums, stretched-out metallic doodling and strange alien scuttling sound effects. Genrich soon beams down from sub terrain hyperspace, to shoot off laser-guided licks fit only for the enlightened, yet not entirely defunct of a passing resemblance to the Byrds strung out on a floating meteor.
Mooning, gurning vocals from Genrich seem entirely inaudible, yet we somehow get the picture.
Neumeier’s newly engineered blow-up toms de-tune themselves, causing some unsettled dips into the abyss, or evoke a certain stinging chill in the air effect.
Delicate guitar plucks cooked in reverb canter around a probing and plodding Trepte bassline, before plunging into that signature sea change in direction so synonymous with Guru Guru.
Remorseful traversing bursts of ephemeral guitar take centre stage, as Genrich drifts over a translucent terrain, the beauty only broken by the mad-drummers umpteen-drum rolls restlessness.
A opportune groove is brought back-in to break the marooned emotive and pulchritude drift, bringing back in those lampooning vocals over a manic crazed drum breakdown.
Following the minor avant-garde rebel-rocking suite of the opening maelstrom, our protagonists sweat it out on ‘Immer Lustig’, beginning with a German narration that steadily gains hysteria.
A whistle is blown ushering in a majorettes type marching band, which strides into play kicking off like something from the Rolling Stones Rock’n’Roll circus, before leaping into a bemusing version of Led Zeppelin covering the Yardbirds 12-bar blues rocker ‘Got To Hurry’. For once Neumeier manages a more conventional constant bluesy beat.
Just as we are becoming used to this almost merry jaunt (the songs title translates as always merrily), the music changes course and were suddenly taking a turn towards a sultry 70s soundtrack.
But soon those itchy expletory fearless digits take over, dragging the more respectable Dr. Jekyll hands away from the fretboard and replacing them with those unruly primordial un-controllable clumpy fists of Mr. Hyde.
Reverberating rumblings and various echo effect soaked voices break-up the sweet grooves, swallowed whole by some dark maligned encroaching atmospherics. Flange, delay and pitch-shift all drag a Michael Karoli-esque space-cadets riff through an inter-stellar portal, as Genrich tap dances on an array of foot pedals.
Nature impedes on the performance, emanating through a ventilation shaft, the sound of the woodlands complete with twittering bird calls battles the percussion of Neumeier.
With a biff and pow our miscreant trio re-connect, swallowing the birds whole and turning their song into soaring frenzied chorus of guitar licks and moody roaring finesse.
A rather dark stab at 60s psych is enacted at the beginning of side two’s ‘Baby Cake Walk’, helped along by some chuggering swamp rock nonsense and mindfully executed rolling drums.
Strangulated guitar and brooding bass incite the spirits of Kim Fowley concocting some demonic last rites to the heavy chord tonnage of Black Sabbath or Deep Purple.
Neumeier delivers some disturbed and Nordic sounding vocals, as everyone bashes away like mischievous chimps pulling apart Alice Copper.
This all becomes a bastardization of Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’ via Sun Ra, as the vocals offer such fatuous lyrics as, ‘Just wanna make you fly”. It all descends into harrowing madness with plenty of swooning breaks, full of haunted riffage and experimental dirges.
Chaotic trembling drums rumble over the plains ending this macabre theatrical jam on a sudden bombardment.
‘Oooga Booga’ has the job of bringing this LP to an end. It lifts off with more of those twisted comedic Rock’n’Roll throw-aways, kicked around by allusions to Beefheart and Zappa.
Nonsical drip-fed vocals weave in and out, as the backing matures towards a not too dissimilar version of CAN’s ‘Red Hot Indians’ song crossed with cacophony of drums.
The next part is brought in with barbarous smashing cymbals, roaming bass and those good old lifesavers echo and reverb.
Command are barked over the top, as our troupe go all heavy metal on us with off-hand doom laden riffs and Hades friendly destruction. Perfect soundtrack to a memorable fucked-up year.
‘Känguru’ already begins to move towards a more, supposed, structured and rock orientated sound. Still heroically out there compared to many of their contemporises, the move away from the more heavily jamming ‘U F O’ and ‘Hinten’ is in evidence.
Still unforgiving as usual, Guru Guru would never sound quite so disturbingly crazy again.
The very last strains of reverb and sonorous echoes on Guru Guru’s Känguru, hardly had time to ring out before they once again hit the studio for their fourth long player.
They never even bothered to name it, reverting to the tried and tested practice of self-titling, rather then using those humorous puns or space-age escapades we all love.
Moving, to some extent, away from their more outrageous compositions, the trio would resurrect the Rock’n’Roll spirit of Bill Haley and Eddie Cochran; creating a tribute to the basics of rock music itself.
The Teutonic incarnation of Hendrix, Ax Genrch, would have a field day, re-enacting every conceivable quiff-haired lead guitarists riffs, consuming them at an epic all-you-can-eat banquet and spewing them out at a rapid rate of knots.
Of course the inevitable change in personal – that eventually cropped up on every album after this one – saw the departure of the brooding anchorman bassist Uli Trepte. An air of mystery surrounds the reasons why he left, but he did join Michael Rothar and Klaus Dingers Neu!, staying on board until he formed his own band, Spacebox, in 1975.
Filling in for Trepte was Bruno Schaab, whose previous duties were for the Mannheim based group Night Sun – a loose collective of ex-servicemen and locals from the nearby military base, who released an album of heavy British influenced rock.
Schaab managed to warm up the valves on his amp just long enough to take part on the sessions for Guru Guru, before he also slipped off into the sunset.
Guru Guru Mk II sounded much more polished, and even well produced on this recording.
Once again Conny Plank steers the trio through their free-form sessions – gaining credits this time around for playing the odd guitar and keyboard parts.
Plank goes for a fuller sound overall, doubling up the lead guitar with an accompanying rhythmic one.
You can definitely hear a crispier production that still manages to include plenty of resonating space age and psychedelic effects – put it this way they have lost their bravado. In a way this sound would dictate to the next few albums, especially when they signed on to the Atlantic label the following year. They would pursue a more funky rock orientated path, appeasing the more outlandish and tumultuous bursts of doom and galactic space hopping.
For the fourth LP, the second and last for Brain, they paid homage to the routes of Rock’n’Roll on ‘Medley: Rocken Mit Eduard’ (Rocking with Eduard), and the quintessentially English psych of early Pink Floyd on the tracks ‘Samantha S Rabbit’ and ‘The Story Of Life’.
Throw in a heavy dose of Alice Cooper to the mix, and you get some strange results, on this mostly nostalgic trip of an album.
Even the covers artwork harks back to some bygone age, bedecked as it is with what looks like a woven carpeted scene from some ancient South American culture: a group of abstract figures congregate around a larger central character, with a misshapen sun blazing away in a multi-coloured sky. It could be some kind of Navajo Indian blanket or Mayan artifact, suited for the album cover of some Popol Vuh masterpiece, rather then the manic heavy-footed ‘Rock-around-the-clock’ and proto- ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ imbued nonsense.
Undoubtedly Mani and co. were now sounding more in-tune with rock music at the time; sharing in part a common subject matter with fellow countrymen Ihre Kinder, Brainticket and in some ways Faust.
I’ve found no figures for sales, but I can only assume it managed to sell relatively 25,000 sales – Mani tells me that all twenty Guru Guru albums sold 500,000 in total.
However many units they shifted, Atlantic Records came calling, giving them a potential launch pad into the States – Amon Düül II would also sign a deal with Atlantic not long after them, releasing the ill-fated Hi-Jack, and the much misunderstood and underrated Made In Germany on their label.
‘Guru Guru’ is often given a wide-berth, and reserved for completists, but actually it’s a really great album. Their Cochran medley is more skulking amphetamine fueled Hamburg club-esque then joyous celebration to Gene Vincent, yet it’s still a romp.
Ax sure filled his Cuban heels with guitar wizardry, playing those seminal 50s riffs like they’ve never been played before. Mani is, as usual, his robust heroic self, rolling his drum kit down the mountainside, banging away like a whirling dervish. He also plays some mean four-to-the-floor rock, or feverish Apache tribal toms mating call, that proves he can really stay on track and muck-in.
Schaab sticks the whole thing together, steadying the beat and proving to be an old Rock’n’Roller at heart.
So a thoroughly worthwhile purchase in my own personal view, heaving with plenty of riotous intent.
Read the review below for a more in-depth, lyrical track by track account of the album.
Guru Guru – ‘Guru Guru’
Brian Records 1973
Recorded late 1972.
1. Samantha S Rabbit (3:02)
2. Medley: Rocken Mit Eduard (13:30)
3. Woman Drum (4:02)
1. Der Elektrolurch (9:48)
2. The Story Of Life (12:08)
Ax Genrich – Guitar and Vocals.
Mani Neumeier – Drums, keyboards, percussion and vocals.
Bruno Schaab – Bass and vocals.
Conny Plank – Guitar, keyboards and production.
Clean cropped crisp drums herald the start of ‘Samantha S Rabbit’, or as Ax pronounces it “Cementa rarebit”. A short burst of Alice Copper raunchy strutting rock beckons, almost disappearing out of sight in the charge, which sees a tidal wave of prime Cream and Fleetwood Mac blues rock crash the party.
Ax sings a weird whimsical Syd Barret-esque woven fatuous tale of a five-year old girl, who joyfully plays with her pet rabbit, whilst ducking her mother’s intentions to cut her hair. Obviously there is some kind of metaphorical message underling this quaint fairytale, perhaps about growing up or losing one’s innocence.
There’s allusions made to country-rock, with a hearty dose of Silver Apples inspired banjo, thrown in for luck, twanged to chime with the now free-wheeling rocking momentum that swings between the Edger Winter Band and Lynard Skynard, lost over the Berlin wall.
Following in the wake of this pastoral psych short, comes the frightening tribute to Rock’n’Roll on ‘Medley: Rocken Mt Eduard’. This 13-minute raving slog through the standard covers of Eddie Cochran, sounds like the sort of jamming us musicians do in-between takes, or to waste some time.
Like a mix of Bowie’s ‘The Width Of A Circle’ song and his Pin-Ups LP, The Move and Ten Years After, Guru Guru seem to plough through all the dirtiest 50’s riffs that were played on the Hamburg scene. They evoke the old memories of The Beatles losing their virginity and cutting their teeth playing to a cast of characters from an Otto Dix painting.
Again Ax takes on vocal duties, taking on the theatrics of The Move’s Carl Wayne, straitjacketed and loosening his vowels over hand-claps and a Led Zeppelin backing.
At times they stalk about, collars folded-up in rebellious postures; especially on ‘Weekend’, where they sound like their running through a hick town with their switchblades out, rattling their chains and flexing their leather clad muscles.
After bastardising the back catalogue of Cochran, they bring the grooves down to a more moody grimier pace, with Ax alluding to the spirit of the times –
“Hey listen people, and try to understand,
You know a lot about music,
You got a chance to hear every great band.
Well some cats know how to rock it,
But some have forgotten the rules!”
The Guru trio jam out their routes, pre-dating the pub rock scene, and bands like Dr.Feelgood, whilst evoking shades of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.
‘Woman Drum’ begins where the last medley ended, carrying on with the R’n’R motif, but also cleverly riffing off a stable diet of both Deep Purple and Cream (again!).
The song’s theme seems to be a tad contentious, using the analogy of playing a drum for making love to a lady. Here’s just two lines, “Woman drum, I touch your skin”, and the eyebrow rising, “I beat you soft (pause) I hit you strong”.
There’s even a rousing mooning chorus of “Wop babba loo la, hit the gong”, complete with the said crashing gong to add drama!
Mani plays a constant Apache style toms beat to Ax and Bruno’s Yardbirds-esque 12-bar blues. Of course Ax manages to knock off some tremolo and slide solos, mixing-up some liberal licks from the war chest of both John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, whilst also paying to homage to the Magic Band.
Side two loosens up a little, with the opening of a strange and otherworldly sound collage. Reverb heavy individual notes, time-stretched and delayed scratching and spooky ratchet atmospherics beckon us into the unnerving landscapes of ‘Der Elektrolurch’.
Inter-galactic explorations are abound again, as the trio re-tread familiar ground to ‘U F O’, laying down a mystical bed of lunar horizons.
Soon a sort of rhythmic groove chimes in; Mani knocking out a booming kick drumbeat, as Ax and Bruno work around the driven tempo, of course it can’t last as it’s all interrupted by more traversing musical experimentation and ambient textured layers, before the whole performance is dragged into a freeform racket that ends up with just a pulsating lone effects drenched bass-line, pumping away.
Over the top of this stark driven bass, two German voices interact as though either in a debate or questions and answers session. One of the men has an urgent squeak-like manner, his vocal dripped in echo, whilst the other seems more relaxed and resigned – I’ve no idea what they are discussing.
To finish off proceedings, Mani unleashes a maelstrom of crashing cymbals, with Ax strumming into the very heart of darkness itself, though thankfully he comes out the other side intact.
Oh the joys of ‘The Story Of Life’, a very peculiar prospect to chew into indeed. It begins with twinkly far-eastern vibes, not unlike Japan’s The Far East Family Band playing a selection of soundscapes from the Floyds ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ (what again!), or even allusions to the more serene moments of King Crimson.
Slow jangling percussion and cascading bells interact with deftly pronounced rolling drums and a dreamy hazy vocal; evocative of some spiritual heavy drug induced passage from someone like The West Coast Experimental Band or Strawberry Alarm Clock.
As with all of Guru Guru’s music, just when we get settled something happens. A sweeping change in the shape of a blowout jazz-fusion jam erupts for the next few minutes, hitting a certain stride before evaporating in the evanescent smoke.
This wandering opus dawdles along, passing through ambient sound manipulation and arking sustained subtle connections to pulchritude guitar work, stalked by the haunting cymbal heavy drums of Mani.
Methodically searching the Klaus Schulze and Popol Vuh favoured sound montages, they settle back down into an evocative soundtrack of peregrination and empirical resonance.
Drawing the LP to an end on a fade out, Guru Guru bring us down to a reassuring and calm state – yeah cheers!
‘Don’t Call Us (We Call You)’
Background – Review
Amongst the many colourful and fascinating characters, guests, patrons, hangers-on’s and mystics to visit the Guru Guru tribe in the – less then ideal haven – commune at Odenwald in 1972/3, were a group of Shoshone Indians.
As though part of some cultural exchange programme between the two nations, these Native Americans formed an atavistic link to the “Burry My Heart At Wounded Knee” vision of a spiritual and earthy past.
Their forefathers spread themselves thinly across the harsh Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Montana plains, fighting for survival against the Blackfoot, Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho – they would inevitably have to face the even more destructive settlers, who forced these ‘Valley People’ into the south west.
In the meeting of minds, Mani Neumeier and his troupe ingratiated themselves with the mysterious shamanistic rituals of these proud people. Sharing the pipes of peace, as they soaked up the inspiring chants and dances, their sessions formed part of the ‘Round Dance’ ceremonial opus, and part of the next Guru Guru LP, Don’t Call Us (We Call You).
As ever, the omnivorous Mani and Ax Genrich found room to integrate this empirical sacrament to their own disjointed and dislocated re-imagined rock; weaving the ancient rites of passages into abstract displays of semi-improvised 70s Teutonic prog, on their 5th polygenesis creation.
Seen as a change in direction: the 1973 model of Guru Guru featured a more pared-down and scripted version of their usually improvised anarchic soundtracks.
From the spiritual inclusion of the Shoshone, knock-about parody, schizoid heavy rock, Louisiana swamp nonsense and bewildering country blues to Tibetan ashram atmospherics; ‘Don’t Call Us’ is an album that’s pulling in two different directions.
Ax would pursue a more constructive approach, stripping down his guitar sound – though those Hendrix-on-fire licks are still there – whereas Mani, as usual, preferred to ad-lib, and ride shotgun on the improvised stagecoach.
These opposing forces, alongside a host of minor disagreements within the band, led to Ax’s departure at the end of the year – this would be his Guru Guru swan song.
The year of1973 saw a catalogue of changes take place. Atlantic Records (UK) signed the trio up at the beginning of the year – they would also sign up fellow compatriots, Amon Duul II. This provided a change in both location and studios, as the group left behind the Odenwald commune for Heilderberg, and recorded at the Studio 70 facilities in the Bavarian capital of Munich – without it must be said, Conny Plank, the band self produced their own album this time around.
At the start of recordings, bass player Bruno Schaab was still just hanging onto his position in the band – he is credited with appearing on the ‘200 Clichés’ track – but for whatever reasons he too soon jumped ship, and was replaced by the jazz journeyman bassist and pianist, Hans Hartmann. His anchored bass playing and honky-tonk ivory-tinkling add a solid weight to all the proceedings, grounding them so to speak.
‘Don’t Call Us’, with its quasi-surrealist pun illustrated cover, overspills with ameliorate ideas, and ennui performances. Less aleatory then on previous records; there are still passages of un-scripted musical mayhem. ‘Africa Steals The Show’ wanders between lightly touched twangs of Afro-delta blues, and a more interesting Alice Cooper. The Native Indian inspired ‘Round Dance’, mixes together a chemical compound of Redbone, The Byrds and Ten Years After, whereas the aptly entitled ‘200 Clichés’ bemoans the plight of being in a rock band, whilst the market forces only want solo artists.
Beefheart stalking electric blues turns the love machine ode, ‘Das Zwickmashinchen’, into a lunatic deconstructive jolly. The referential ‘Guru Guru Ltd.’ finishes the album on a meandering three-part act, as Donavon is re-wired to West Germany in this folksy piss-take.
Throughout, like some wry parodied nod to those who seek enlightenment, there are countless Tibetan alluded atmospheres and whispery sacrosanct lyrics.
It’s difficult to fathom if they mean to ridicule their subjects, or if the entire album is just one long joke at our, and Atlantic’s expense.
Whatever the intended purpose, half the tracks became integral parts of their live set – though the Mani cannibal shaman alter-ego, Elektrolurch, tried to summon a serious sermon approach to ‘Round Dance’, but was shot-down in flames as the audience got far too over-excited and ruined it.
Of course the album failed to sell, and critics were – as par for the course – divided between those who acclaimed them as the saviours of avant-rock, and those who saw them as just a miscreant band of goofball jokers. To be honest the space-rock improvisation of yore had gradually disappeared, to be replaced by a more refined and lyrical style. Yet there are many moments of far-sighted experimentation to be found, the trio still forging ahead of their peers with an entirely unique set of rules.
Atlantic Records 1973
Recorded at Studio 70, Munich in August 1973, by Guru Guru.
1. Africa Steals The Show (12:22)
2. Round Dance (8:35)
1. 200 Clichés (5:08)
2. Das Zwickmashinchen (4:42)
3. Guru Guru Ltd. (11:39)
Ax Genrich – Acoustic guitar, banjo, electric guitar and vocals.
Hans Hartmann – Acoustic-bass, bass and piano.
Mani Neumeier – Congas, cymbals, drums, gongs and vocals.
Bruno Schaab – Credited on ‘200 Clichés’.
Artwork – Wandrey’s Studio, Hamburg.
Band Photos – Tai. M. Lüdicke.
With military revue style pomp, ‘Africa Steals The Show’ marches to the direction of an inebriated German oompah band; jumping ship at the first sight of a breezy translucent break. Arching sustained guitar shapes glide over an evanescent jolly melody, as Curved Air meet the old Captain Beefheart in mutual respect.
Mani breaks through the serene Afro-beat leaning score with a rollicking cyclonic kick-drum call-to-arms, before being dragged backwards through a steel built tunnel; the aftermath of this attack heard only in echoes.
Ah, now the peaceful tranquillity of the ashram, as finger bells and chimes, with a shimmering struck gong now wash over us all; the contemplation of a Yogi is all that is missing.
Smash, bang, clang! And a Dadaist version of early Alice Cooper stomps over the Himalayan mountain ranges.
Witty retort sang in the manner of a smug McCartney, ludicrously paint a picture of the jungle, filled with a menagerie of allegorical beasts. Loony unfathomable postulations, such as, “But do you know what to do with just a kangeroo?”, turn proceedings into a confusing metaphorical set of questions.
Swamp boogie piano with harmonica and heavy plonking bass, stamp on what’s left of the, now New Orleans via the Weimar jazz tripe sound.
Sonorous percussion seduced by a distant bending double bass and cello, bring in the spiritually atavistic ‘Round Dance’.
Climbing chord structures delicately soar and descend, as a low deep throaty chant begins, and a haunting pummelled set of drums – complete with concomitant bells – build up a sacred rite.
This being Guru Guru, the music suddenly stops and a new avenue is sort out. Ax picks out a meandering delightful country riff, and jumps into a rather heavily leavened toss between The Byrds and a more soulful Blue Cheer.
The trio amble and roam the Montanna plains, dishing out plenty of pseudo-mystical schlock, on the their avant-hard prairie range.
Talking of pastiche and well-intentioned buffoonery, Side two’s opening pass at a scurried conventional song, ‘200 Clichés’, thankfully avoids literally listing all of them.
Musically we follow along a blues route, though a very abstracted variation of that genre. Ax sings in a mock-gestured stereotypical Germanic manner, crooning about the plight of rock music and the future of bands, “Some people say, groups days are numbered, who gives a shit for the boys in the band?!”
He goes onto point the finger at the labels thirst for solo artist, “They feature a solo star, he’s easy to handle, he sings what they tell him.”
The music steps into the Rolling Stones ‘Not Fade Away’ shaking Rock’n’Roll stomp and shows the boys off at their grooviest.
‘Das Zwickmashinchen’ is a prose to the mother of invention, a tale of Mani’s dubious love for a machine – more like a sick machine then slick. Such pearls of observational wisdom as, “It can be very easily done with a real women, but never with a clean plastic chick cold machine” – really? Menacing vocals aided by resonating echo stutter over break-beat drums and boogie piano, tripping over into the Tango – of all things!
Quacking kazoo’s make a surprising entry on the fade out as though in a gesture of fun – these kazoos would be all over the next album.
The closing nonsensical opus of ‘Guru Guru Ltd.’, shifts between many styles, over its hippie schlock narrative. ‘Death in the Afternoon’ castanets and guitar underpin the ‘Letter To Hermione’ era Bowie vocals. Donovan style Tablas and congas embark us on the daily routine of commune life, “It’s 10 O’clock in the morning, everyone is still asleep, I leave my bed to wash myself, try to fix something to eat”, it goes on and on.
Meditation, money worries and the passages of time are all included in this soundtrack, as the backing shifts to cool jazz then banjo Louisiana swamp rock, before finally ending on a chorus of Hara Krishna chanting pastiche. Ax repeats the line, “Life goes on, and I’m just 18, I look at my watch its shows the same”, throughout the three-part show. The last variation of this repeated mantra makes a mockery of it all, “Life’s still hard and I’m still 18, I look at my watch…ohhh somebody’s nicked it!’
Goofing around parables, Buddhist retreats and allusions to spiritual hackneyed trait, are given a dose of experimental abstruse paranoid rock, or as Mani himself describes it “Our style is a permanent break in style”.
‘Dance Of The Flames’
Atlantic Records 1974
Recorded at Studio 70, Munich, April 12th -20th 1974.
1. Dagobert Duck’s 100th Birthday (7:39)
2. The Girl From Hirschhorn (8:33)
3. The Day Of Time Stop (5:22)
1. Dance Of The Flames (3:28)
2. Samba Dos Rosas (4:05)
3. Rallulli (4:35)
4. At The Juncture Of Light And Dark (3:12)
5. God’s Endless Love For Men (7:24)
Hans Hartmann – Bass and contra-bass.
Housching Nejadepour – Acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals on ‘Samba Dos Rosas’.
Mani Neumaier – Drums, ‘entenfänger’, percussion and vocals.
Artwork – Photography by Tai Lüdicke.
Trawling around Europe – and wherever they found a door that was laid open to them – like a ragtag gypsy caravan convoy, Guru Guru took their 1973 album, ‘Don’t Call Us (We Call You)’, out on the road. With most of their monies funneled into purchasing a solid and heavy monolithic ballsy sound-system, they bled dry the ears of many a ‘head’.
The trios imbued in sonic genius and omnivorous lynch-pin guitar gun-slinger, Ax Genrich, somehow managed to disappear from this mad procession, leaving the group and heading into nigh obscurity. His difference of opinion on which direction the ennui band of lunatics should progress, resulted in a split, with Mani Neumaier hell bent on improvisational material, against Genrich’s more delineate structured compositions – though it must be made clear that Genrich always threw himself unwieldy into every track, regardless of who wrote it or what form it took. For a scene that produced an abundance of over-qualified, sickeningly gifted, innovative and erudite guitarists – West Germany spewed them out like an ever efficient Volkswagen production line – it was, you could say, a job to stand out from the mighty throngs of erudite axe welders. Yet Genrich, with his re-wired Hendrix and deconstructed rock’n’roll space licks, managed to leave an indelible footprint in the Krautrock canon, and hall of fame.
To plug this gaping chasm, and before embarking on the next LP, the one-time member of the progressive jazz outfit, Eliff, and exotically named, Houchäng Nejadepour – half German, half Persian – joined the one-album veteran Hans Hartmann, and founding father Neumaier to become part of Guru Guru mark III. Talented in many disciplines, including guitar and sitar, alongside both compositional and technical production skills, Nejadepour added a more Popol Vuh-esque flavour to the bands sound; lending Guru Guru a Balearic and far eastern quality. Such was his contribution – though this could also be partially down to Neumaier’s lack of new material – that the well-talented troubadour composed half of all the tracks on the Dance Of The Flames album. Unfortunately that listless and cold-footed obligation to move on, led to Nejadepour’s departure soon after the LP’s recording in the Spring of 1974 – his replacement was Gila axe man Conny Veit, who himself only managed a short few months sojourn.
‘Dance Of The Flames’, the second release on Atlantic, not only saw a wider and more cosmopolitan influence and catchment, but it also grew fat on a robust hard rock sound, which at times plunged into the dark recesses of Gothic heavy metal. Andalusian vistas and South American themed Sambas cut the collection of eight-songs into two camps. Neumaier, as chief patriarch, tends to either brood on, or veer towards folly. Take the opening grand-standing ‘Dagobert Duck’s 100th Birthday’, a paean ode to Donald Ducks tight-beaked Uncle Scrooge, that could also be a reference to the last Merovingian king of the Franks, but then maybe not. The track features a display of fatuous duck-call kazoos and outlandish gestures of The Edgar Winter Bands ‘Frankenstein’, and King Crimson, on showboating duties. But then there are also ethereal opuses, such as the romanticized ‘The Girl From Hirschhorn’ – a lament to the mysterious figure of affection, who resides in the nearby German town of the title – to balance it all out.
Production values are high, and slickly executed with every note, no matter how drenched in echo, reverb or fuzz, all audible and separated apart. Those erratic rolling time signatures and unruly voracious drum solos of Neumaier are all still in evidence, as usual, as are the dependable assiduous bass runs and jazz riffs, favored by Hans Hartmann – who’d joined the Guru Guru family the previous year. The high-plain astral traveler, preparing us for a meeting with visitors from beyond the stars, is almost erased from the groups original founding musical manifesto, replaced by a sturdier rock and, world music, agenda.
On the completion of this compendium, Neumaier began to branch out and record with an array of musicians, including brief stints with Harmonia – he sat in on drums for the 1975 Deluxe LP. However he never lost faith in the Guru Guru brand, and he continued to produce albums under that moniker. In 1975 he released the critically acclaimed and praised ‘Mani Und Seine Freunde’, with a Teutonic backing group of Krautrock titans.
The Neumaier torch still burns, as he releases records willy-nilly under a number of different titles, including the Acid Mother Temple collaborative project, Acid Mother Guru, and even recently with the return of his old compatriot Ax Genrich, and the Belgian Guy Segers for the Gurumanix line-up.
We must leave the Guru Guru story now, as our time with them is spent. Read my review of ‘Dance Of The Flames’ below, in a blow-by-blow account. There’s also a summary discography at the end of the article.
Kazoo twitching gonzo trumpets announce the extravagant goof-off rock opus that is ‘Dagobert Duck’s 100th Birthday’ party anthem. This flitting Alice Cooper muscling rocker features a jovial, if under the surface portentous, ode to Donald Ducks disparaging money grabbing capitalist Uncle Scrooge – known in Germany as Dagobert. Macho feats of savage and squalling guitar solos brand scorch marks across the stonking, stalking monster backing track; Nejadepour hurtling through the scales at a rabid rate of knots, hoping to erase the hovering presence of Ax Genrich, with his own blistering blurry-eyed fret work. Gratuitous and highly ridiculous in equal measure, this slab of over-cooked mega prog, is used as some kind of showcase, just to prove their mettle.
An inexorable ethereal and lightly laid-back gallop of a groove rolls into view over a harmonic pin-point sweeping introduction. The diaphanous love pinning tryst, ‘The Girl From Hirschhorn’ – placed highly in my all time top 100 Krautrock tunes, just in case you were wondering – floats in on the dreamy breezy melody. Hans Hartmann builds up a repetitive pounding bass line, as a gliding quivering lead guitar preens and majestically swoons along to the rousing pleasing and drifting backing. After seven-minutes of proto-Amon Düül II Wolf City era bliss, and dashes of love-in Acid Mother Temple – you can see why Neumaier went on to work with them – a vocal relief sublimely transcends the soundtrack, as Neumaier exhales joyfully –
“I can’t stop thinking of you.
Where could you be, little babe,
Why I am gently playing this song for you?”.
With his querying display of lament finally let out, the band hyper-drive towards a lunar wah-wah stop/starting outre; shimmering in reverb and slipping into a jazz-rock sporadic free-for-all, that spills over and onto side one’s closing track, a bombastic spasmodic odyssey.
‘The Day Of Time Stop’ is Sun Ra, Beefheart and Santana all sharing a pleasure voyage to the 5th Dimension. Staccato timings create a jump and off-kilter raging loop, that acts as a cyclonic spiraling blast for Nejadepour to launch another blast of light-speed attacking pomp, searing from his bewildered guitar. Stumbling drums and octave hurling bass brew up a right shit-storm before the trio use the Arthur.C.Clarke galactic elevator to the stars, disappearing into some distant cosmological whirlpool of depravity. Like Edger Winter, our maddened guitar alchemist, runs wild, flipping through key changes and reeling off utterly fanciful and one-fingered licks – total filth.
Side two begins with the albums title track. Neumaier promptly rattles off a smashing cymbals introduction, as Hartmann slaps his bass around some bending rhythms. Everything is coated in a strange reverberated and, reversed effect, flipping backwards and forwards, stretching out the instrumental and whipping it into a twisted carcass of a song, with the very air itself sucked out into some kind of vacuum.
A taste of the Samba is up next, albeit an Hieldberg etymological version of the sun-kissed exotic dance. Nejadepour’s sprightly jazz-tinged composition sounds like a happy-go-lucky Yes, twinned with the be-bop indulgences of Herb Albert. Hartmann twangs and bounces along on the contra bass, as a cheerful Neumaier taps away on the congas, each of them enjoying the succinct distraction that is ‘Samba Dos Rosas’ – just one of Hejadepour’s Balearic enthused joints that make up most of side twos track list.
‘Rallulli’ is cast from the same mold, but steers closer to home, as the musical accompaniment melds together fits of acoustic jamming and hidden-in-the-attic sound effects. Tablas, congas and a trapped jar of hornets produce a strange old avant-garde miss-mash, the final word going to a flushed toilet – perhaps a critique of the track, or more of that Neumaier humor.
Those Andalusian plains and mountains come a calling, as pranged delicate harmonies add to a pained melancholic mood-piece entitled ‘At The Juncture Of Light And Dark’. Hemmingway-esque Death In The Afternoon allusions are cast, with resplendent flamingo flourishes and a suspense filled air of Spanish mystery – file under evocative musical narrative.
Bringing the album to a dramatic close is the doom lit curtain call of ‘God’s Endless Love For Man’, a Gothic heavy metal droning and throbbing prowling instrumental, that stabs a fork in the eye of the creator. More like an attempt to soundtrack the works of Bosch, then a hymn to the divine, this bubbling cauldron of a stonker takes over from Amon Düül II’s Phallus Dei quest, and drags Black Sabbath through the killing fields. This is indeed some scary shit; Guru Guru on a fuck-rock satanical crusade, summoning up some kind of end-plan Armageddon. Interspresed in the mire, bursts of rapid-fire jazz rich breaks and tangled glorious guitar solos add a glimpse of hope to this one-way helter skelter ride into the abyss.