- Carnival In Babylon LP cover (1972)
When you feel compelled to write the statement, “Thanks to all the paranoid people who meanwhile moved out” on the record label, you can kind of guess that there were some possible tensions around the Amon Duul II camp. After the drawn-out seminal but distracting disjointed Dance Of The Lemmings, the band shook off some of their wider circle of friends and instead, like any good commune, invited a whole load of new crazies and recruits to the course.
Gone were the free spirited ‘everyone gets the credit’ approach of old and in its place came the band leader John Weinzerl’s more structured and controlled system, which as it turned out mightily improved things.
In interviews Weinzerl has stated that they were pushed towards the market at that time due to their small success with the first two albums, and that their producer Olaf Kubler, called a thief and despised by Weinzerl, tried to turn them into a more commercial sounding band. In all honesty the leaning towards a more folk friendly inspired sound did help build them a bigger fan base, for one thing John Peel liked and played many tracks off Carnival In Babylon LP, and they managed to tour the UK for the first time that same year – the live LP Live In London was recorded on this trip though not released till later.
This was a pivotal and creative period for the band as they released both this LP and Wolf City, the latter being critically acclaimed as possibly their best.
Carnival In Babylon personal changes included drummer Peter Leopold having to share duties with Danny Fichelsher – formally of fellow revered and exalted German band Popol Vuh (more on these guys another day) – he wasn’t the only new boy as Karl – Heinz Hausemann joined to take on all the effects-heavy keyboards and orbital surfing organs.
Also a few guests pitched in such as the wonderfully named Joy Alaska who helped out Renate on backing vocals whilst F U Rogner stepped back in to tinker with and help on the organ trickery.
Producer Olaf Kubler who obviously wasn’t just happy enough to be credited on production also played a bit of sax and dry-wittingly added the credit of playing the door! Though to be honest he should have concentrated more on the mixing, as it sounds pretty empty in places and rough in others, maybe one of the reasons Weinzerl felt compelled to vent his frustrations in interviews.
The sound and direction of this LP is extremely folk heavy and at times leans towards groups such as The Incredible String Band and Fairpoint Convention, though while we’re at it we can also mention groups such as Jefferson Airplane and even Pentangle as partially influencing the musicianship on display.
The band flexes its hippie credentials to the full as they take a completely different approach to the worryingly violent political upheaval happening in Germany at the time as the government and various left wing fractions were rubbing each other up the wrong way and acts of extreme violence were meted out on both sides. Amon Duul II decided to continue the Woodstock era doctrine of free loving and thinking, very much out of step with there contemporaries though this didn’t stop them being raided or being watched by the government as John Weinzerl himself told me recently when I put a few queries and questions to him – he also stated that they were appalled by the actions and politics at the time and wished to stay away from it.
If anyone is really interested in this period then they should at least check out both the book and movie The Baader Meinhof Complex, it has a lot of poignancy today with everything that’s been happening of late and is a good entry level on the politics of that era- though I have to state that Weinzerl has made his views clear and says he hates that movie.
Carnival In Babylon takes both elements of the free rock out grooves of Yeti and the cut down jams of Dance of The Lemmings and places it on a more traditional path, which takes in a lot of the folk sounds played by bands in the UK around the late Sixties and early Seventies.
United Artists (UK/USA)
1972 Gatefold Sleeve
1. C.I.D In Uruk (5:36)
2. All The Years Round (7:24)
3. Shimmering Sand (6:36)
1. Kronwinkl 12 (3:55)
2. Tables Are Turned (3:37)
3. Hawknose Harlequin (9:50)
John Weinzerl: e-guitar, Acoustic 12 String, Vocal
Chris Karrer: e-guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Violin, Soprano Sax, Vocal
Lothar Meid: Bass, Vocal
Renate Knaup- Krutenschwanz: Vocal
Danny Fichelscher: Drums, Congas
Peter Leopold: Drums, Percussion
Karl Heinz- Hausmann: Keyboards, Electronics, Organ
Joy Alaska: Backing Vocal
F U Rogner: Organ
Olaf Kubler: Producer, Soprano Sax, Door!
The opening bars refrain tips its hat to Fairport Convention as a socially charged folk song brings in the new gentler change of direction. Opening German-tongued ‘C.I.D In Uruk’ is a fitting start to this more structured framework, now erected.
Though we can’t possibly translate the lyrics, the intention is plain to see as Renate with her new backing vocal partner Joy, bring a cosmically floating vocal which sounds so delicate and light that it needs pinning down.
This is where Alison Goldfrapp should be right now! Taking a notebook and jotting down the tones and inclinations of this starry hippie journey, which could be complete nonsense, or a premonition from the Old Testament brought to life in a cosmic ideology.
The Uruk of the song title is after all one of the oldest human settlements ever found and is said to be the mythical capital of Gilgamesh so the reference is there for all to see and hear.
Renate’s voice sounds like she could easily fit into a period 6000 years ago as she waits on the outskirts of this old city waiting for her warrior husband to return from conquering another civilization, sent by Nimrod himself to impress a more primitive peoples with his superior knowledge, like the monolith that falls on Earth as the apes dance around.
The track bounces along on a well placed drum break and with sterling work from Lothar Meid on the bass who emphasis every line of the song with his ever changing style of twists and turns that always manage to sound familiar but create a steady and at times reverent rock signature.
‘All The Years Round’ is a Woodstock period-costume drama ready to be fitted onto a slice of cosmic soup delivered by the Duul , a hymn to the fallen free spirit that managed to get along on just hope and a pray.
Renate again sings of the man, the man who puts us all down, the man who allows US bombers stationed in her homeland to be sent to drop napalm on Vietnam, the man who welcomes the corrupt and dictatorial Shah of Iran to Germany and then lets his goons attack demonstrators, the same man who allows a student to be killed in cold blood just because he’s in the wrong place at the right time: got it!
Yes this is the backdrop of the red fraction army, students demonstrating and the harsh realities that nothing has changed, Renate can only deliver a tale of woe and exasperation as the violence just spreads and engulfs all it touches with skepticism yet courses a change.
Closing the A side is the Jefferson Airplane influenced ‘Shimmering Sand’ which bobbles along on a see-saw bass line whilst those guitar solos threaten to take hold and plunge us into a darker and more beguiling direction.
From a cut down jam to a raving R’n’B rock out we are plunged into a sax battle, which brings us into the realms of free form jazz as they squeal with delight at being allowed onto the record.
In three acts, like something off a Yes album, a space age restoration version of an harpsichord adds to the proceedings a touch of the mournful as Weinzerl reads his lyrics out like a reading from the book of the dead. In all a proto-Gothic prog-rock last act in which three individual parts are stitched together by sheer audacity; naive but charming in all its glory.
As we flip over to the second side a dash of a more funkier folk groove revs up and we are treated to a real change in sequence as we chill to a jazzy rhythm that throws up similar themes found on the other side of the record but which has a real cool laid-back manner. Renate and Weinzerl sing of ‘Hey no worries take your time, we’re cool but hey hang on a minute what’s happened to the outside world?’
The commune door has been truly left of his hinges so this tune only acts as a comfort for a short while until ‘Tables Are Turned’ soon brings us our heroine Renate back from the idealized frontier of blissful ignorance, to singing of analogies. Bathrooms hide snakes and other parable sounding affiliations are made as we are transported to the boundary of Altamont, thankfully we don’t tip over quite yet.
This folk obsessed sounding ditty traverses across the rich tapestry of The Incredible String Band, which lends a certain pastoral colourful fable to the mix.
The finale is an epic cut up and paste jam entitled ‘Hawknose Harlequin’ which wouldn’t sound out of place on Dance Of The Lemmings. A slow building doom set piece that comes on all spooky and brooding as a tale which could be read from a set of tarot cards, lays down an inspired trek through a Seventh Seal like landscape, along the way we meet two ravens who sit on the Harlequins shoulder, a slightly creepy Harlequin who delivers verses in an esoteric and snide manner. We are slowly faded out before the middle section of the song starts a slow built up free form jam; guitar solos compete with some dark heavy bass playing over a three-minute session that ends in a final act. Cream era guitar work soars ever upwards as a whirling organ joins a Sun Ra intrepid descent to the higher plains, our transmission sounds like an earnest and unpretentious Floyd before they decided that space wasn’t cool any longer now there aviator Barret was chemically dead.
Closing through another Yes inspired segue way our heroes on the north face fade out until as they are lifted towards some kind of satisfactory spiritual conclusion.