Autumn 1996 A4 44 pages
EMBRYO - Catching Up With...
photocopy reprint (last 3 copies)
catching up with
Well, who would believe such good fortune? The week that we plan to spend in Munich just happened to be the week that Embryo were playing a few local gigs. Really, we couldn't have timed it better if we tried! Of course, there were a number of reasons to go to Munich: 1) We'd never been there, 2) To see a different way of German life than Berlin, 3) to hopefully meet a few musicians for a chat, 4) To do some record hunting, 5) To try out the beer! But, no, we never even hoped for the chance to see Embryo live! So, it was a surprise when I phoned Christian Burchard (the leader of Embryo) a few days before, and learned that Embryo were in fact playing four gigs that week. Munich's a really nice old city, with a lot of old buildings and sights to see, with an efficient transport system, a good selection of shops, beer halls, restaurants, etc. Thus, it was no problem getting around. Well, except for the unpredictable weather that is!
I think it was the first time we used the tram when we went to see Embryo at an Italian restaurant called Angora (on the 4th of July). I expected the concert to possibly be in another room somewhere. My failed attempt at enquiring where the concert was, with Italian Germans who spoke no English, revealed that the restaurant itself would be the venue! A most unlikely place for a concert. We waited, had a pasta dish, a beer, a smoke, as the band arrived and began rearranging the furniture. I knew I would recognise Christian immediately (I've always thought he looks a little like Chris Cutler), but who were all the others? It didn't take long to get chatting. Then there was Jamal Mohamand (from Afghanistan) who was tuning up his tablas "I'm not a good drummer really" he said "I'm mostly a singer". I never realised at the time, but we knew of him from IBN BATTUTA. Then there was "Sasha" (from Russia), Alexander Alexandrov is his full name, and it came as a surprise both ways, to us that he was of the Russian weird jazzers Tri-O (aka Three *O*), and to him that we knew the album they released on Melodia! Also in the band were: Klaus Gehn (percussionist, from the former DDR), Titus Waldenfels (a guitarist who has been studying with Roman Bunka), Niklas Olschewski (percussionist and geologist!) and most surprising: Xizhi Nie - a talented Chinese multi-instrumentalist. All in all, a very different Embryo!
In true Embryo tradition, what we were to be treated to, was a real trek through world-music, not traditional ethnic music, but a real fusion of musics from all sorts of different cultures. Largely, tonight the focus was to be on: Jamal, Sasha and Xizhi, with Christian as the driving force. Lots and lots of percussion, meant for a quite rocky trek, though the only electric instrument was guitar. Hypnotic Indian (or, at least Indian styled) themes acted as the vehicle for pieces that could go on without end, with solos, interplay's, duels, and Jamal's strongly intoned ethnic singing. Some of the themes were familiar, others so catchy that I couldn't get them out of my head. Ever since the early day's Embryo's music has had this mesmerising quality that's always set them aside from most of the so-called world-music or ethnic fusion bands that have followed. Obviously, this is all Christian's doing, as generally he has had the sense to carefully ride the line between new-music and tradition, so though what they played this night was barely rock, it was fascinating all the same. A veritable treat of solos, heady grooves, with ever-entwining melodies and riffs. The first set went by in no time at all.
Much of the second set was familiar, with variations on themes from IBN BATTUTA and other more recent albums. During this set Niklas Olschewski demonstrated his unique tuned stones (I mentioned before that he's a geologist) and thereafter it was time to freak-out a bit, as solo lead to solo, riff upon riff. Hypnotic and fascinating it was!
An even more unusual venue, a private gallery, for the next concert (on 5th July) at the Gallerie Lea. This was a small intimate gathering, with a smaller and totally acoustic (un-plugged) version of Embryo. Instead of vibes Christian mostly played the marimba. Jamal, Sasha and Xizhi were present. And, last but not least, this was also a special gig, in that Chris Karrer was to play with them for the first time in over a year. This was what I'd call: a musical excellence show-off gig, if you know what I mean. Embryo, by virtue of being such a creative band, acts as a magnet for the world's finest creative talents and, in a band where there's so much empathy, the music flowed out as if by magic. No less fascinating than the amplified version of the band the night before, some themes were repeated but were totally different due to the setting. Partly this was due to Chris Karrer, who no matter what he played added a magical buzz - he even played a tambourine as though it was a full set of percussion. Amazing! Some of these hypnotic tunes were buzzing around in my head for days.
The third chance to see Embryo didn't quite work out right. In fact, on Friday the 6th we'd been running late all day, after having a much longer than anticipated chat with Chris Karrer earlier on, which in turn meant getting to see Peter Frohmader later than expected. Embryo were playing at a street party (very daring the Germans with the unpredictable Munich weather) but they started early and we got their late, only catching the last ten minutes. Damn! Well, at least we had another chance for a chat with the band.
A chat with Christian Burchard
Naturally, we also couldn't miss the chance to interview Christian. Fitting it into his busy schedule wasn't easy though.
Alan: So, what shall we start with?
Christian: Well, the sun is shining in the room, and it's a good moment you know!
Steve: How about the beginning?
Christian: The beginning of Embryo was... it's not easy to tell. The musicians of Embryo, they used to play together years before. I knew Edgar Hofmann since '62, and Chris Karrer I knew since '63, Peter Leopold also, and there's Renate, Shrat, all these people. You know, we used to play together, making music between jazz, free-jazz, and... err, this direction (gestures wildness). Then, in '68, Amon Düül formed. I was playing with Mal Waldron at that time, I was on tour with him, and when I came back Amon Düül was formed. They had this three room apartment and were living with 15 people. They called me up, and said "Come on over! We're doing something new!", you know. I went there, and they said "We've burnt all our jazz LP's - we have nothing to do with jazz - and they played me what was new (also for my ears at that time) Hendrix, Cream, Hapshash.
Steve: We always thought that was an influence.
Christian: Hapshash was for Amon Düül a very important music, they listened to this again and again, and they liked it a lot. Also, you know there was a political movement, picking up a little bit of communistic ideas but not really communism, more in the sense that everybody's equal. We were never into this trip of reading Marx or selling our philosophy or ideas, except maybe in our lyrics. And it was the same with Amon Düül. For us, we were playing with high class musicians, you know Mal Waldron he was the tops. But, with Amon Düül we were playing with people who had never played an instrument before. It was a new thing. And it worked. It was an amazing scene. Before, this could never have happened, but with Amon Düül I saw that it could happen.
The sessions they did every Monday in the PM Club, at which they invited me to play too, I never heard in my life again things like this. There were 25 people playing on stage together. They didn't play music - they formed a sound. Sometimes I went in the club to play with them, but I had to stay in the audience just to experience the sound. Five guitar players playing full-power, and you didn't hear single lines any more, it was all mixed up - unbelievable!
This was a very radical approach, and sure Amon Düül II was the split-off of musicians from non-musicians. After a while they wanted to get a sound where others could play along. They were impatient, you know, saying "Why do I need this practice and practice, I know the song already, but these others they're gonna need to practice for years!" So the split off to Amon Düül II was already a step in to a more conservative direction.
So I though, as I was playing with Mal Waldron in jazz, it was very good music, it was great, but... we'd never created that sound I heard from Amon Düül. So I was always thinking "How can we get this sort of thing together?". So, I started looking around the scene and I'd talk with people saying that we want to make a music that is new... You see Amon Düül gave me this kick, which jazz never gave, we never had that chemistry. So we got Edgar Hofmann, Lothar Meid - he was a jazz bassist and had been playing at a club with Jimmy Jackson, so I asked Jimmy and told him "Come on, we have to make some new sound" to which he said "Yeah!". And then, we tried the same thing as Amon Düül, we got a club in Munich and every Tuesday or Wednesday we played there. At the beginning, we played also with many musicians, we played with Julius Schittenhelm, we had a guitar player named Joe Quick (he also played with Doldinger) and we had people from different musical scenes, like from soul and jazz scenes, and Julius Schittenhelm he was doing songs, dadaistic songs and lyrics.
Steve: He was the producer of many of the early Ohr releases.
Christian: Well, he was
like Andy Warhol was in New York. He got all these albums released like Guru
Guru and Amon Düül. But, we tried to get this chaotic sound, not by using
non-musicians, we'd use musicians from different cultures and backgrounds.
Which was also hard, because you know, a jazz player would say "What are
you doing? You don't know any chord changes..." There was always
conflict, and that's why every week we'd have another
Alan: Is the only Amon Düül you recorded with on PHALLUS DEI?
Christian: Yes. Well, this was because, they said to me "You have come to the studio and play with us". But, they were already moving in the other direction, with PHALLUS DEI. They used to do all these "Happening" gigs, which I really loved.
Steve: On OPAL there's the track Death Of Soul, no: End Of Soul, which I've always found the lyrics amusing.
Christian: Well, the "Death Of Soul" (snigger) was because at that time soul was very popular, everywhere was played non-stop James Brown, everywhere you'd go was the same music - so we became aggressive against it.
Alan: It's startling as the odd track out. Much like Lady Blue on the first Et Cetera album.
Christian: You must understand that I've nothing against soul music. But, when you can only hear soul music, it's like a fascism you know! So we decide to say "Soul is dead!" just to be opposite.
Alan: So Embryo just kept growing and changing all the while. What about John Kelly, how did he join the band?
Christian: Well, he came into the band, because from everywhere I'd hear people say "Terrible guitar player, he just makes sounds" - So I said "Where is this guitar player?" (laughs) He was playing with soul bands, and he was playing with pedals and things, and the soul people didn't like this. So, I looked for him. He was steps ahead from the guitar players here, because they were all copying. He once had a group with Albert Lee called Manchester United, and he played with Georgie Fame, and he was good! For the scene here, he was completely new. He was really into Embryo and doing something else, but his wife wasn't satisfied with their way of life, income and so on, and so they moved backed to England and I never heard from him again.
Steve: What about Wolfgang Paap. He was from Brainticket?
Christian: Yes, but he was first from Peter Nero, this was a group from Doldinger covering soul. This was very commercial. Actually, Klaus Doldinger he was very bad to us, he made a contract with Jimmy Jackson, and the contract said it was forbidden for Jimmy Jackson to play with Embryo. Can you imagine? The same with Eberhard Weber, he forbid Charlie Mariano to play with us! But, I phoned Charlie, just because Eberhard called our manager telling him this. It was because he was playing at the same festival as us. So, I called up Charlie and said "Will you play with us?" and he said "Sure!" So, then Eberhard phones up our manager again, saying Charlie can't play with us. And, I phone Charlie again, and told him "They forbid you to play with us" to which he said "What?!" and he played with us anyway, the same with Jimmy Jackson, even though he had this contract. But, that's how the scene is, the commercial scene is only in it for the money. Whereas we're in it for the art.
Steve: So on RACHE Jimmy was billed as "Tabarin Man". Did he ever make an album as Tabarin or Tabarin Man?
Christian: No, this was just because of his contract. We used this name because maybe Doldinger would get a lawyer and... You know, people like this have so much money. For instance, Dave King, he was once our bass player. He was recording with a group, I don't know, they had a hit with Daddy Cool... It's not important.
Steve: Boney M?
Christian: That's it, Boney M. He wrote the composition, and it became a hit. He tried to get some money from this, he went to court but lost. But, Wolfgang Paap, he was in this scene. He was a soul musician. We had problems with Wolfgang, and that's why I started to play drums. Lothar Meid bought me a drum-set, and I said "No no I can't do this, I can play the keyboards or vibes. I'm not a drummer". But, Lothar insisted "You can do this!". It was because that although we had a lot of drummers at this time: Dieter Serfas, Wolfgang Paap, Klaus Weise, they all played drums that was typical of their type of music.
Steve: Like jazz?
Christian: Jazz, rock, soul. But, we wanted to be different. At this time Miles Davis was playing electric, Tony Williams was playing different. So, I started to play drums. The first years were difficult. After each gig I was frustrated. But, I had to do it, because all the drummers we had here couldn't play the music we wanted to play.
Alan: You tend to play more around the drums.
Christian: Yes, well maybe I had the fortune to be enjoying the new music. All these bands, especially Vanilla Fudge, I saw them live once and they were great, they made a nice sound. Anyway, I had all these ideas in my head. But, for ages I wanted to stop playing the drums, because after some time my feet would hurt, and I would say "Shit - I'm not playing drums any more", but the band would say "Come on, you play good!" (laughs). So I kept on and practiced and tried to get the rhythm idea. It's a big part of the music, the rhythm. Like Amon Düül they used four or five drummers when they played this "Hapshash" sound. But we only had one drummer, so I had to get all these ideas. Now it's easier, now you find more drummers that are open that can get into the music. But, at that time it was a big problem.
Alan: Changing the subject a bit. What about Hansi Fischer?
Article by Alan Freeman. Interview by Steve & Alan Freeman
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