Summer 2006 A4 40 pages
MORE PICKLED EGGS /
original (last 2 copies)
The Krautrock legend, examined by Alan Freeman
For many years Xhol were one of the most obscure and unknown of the Krautrock scene. Their albums were sought after collectibles known only to avid Krautrock fans seemingly. But, in retrospect Xhol were one of the most important pioneers, and in recent years they've been justly lauded. Yet, their tenure was quite brief really, and much of the history is obscure.
Xhol originated in Wiesbaden (state of Hesse), yet are often clumped in with the Munich and Stuttgart scenes due to the connections with other bands. The pre-history of Xhol starts with the mid-1960's Soul Caravan, a band fronted by two black Americans: James Rhodes and Ronnie Swinson (vocals), with Germans Tim Belbe (saxophone), Hansi Fischer (saxophone), Werner Funk (guitar), Klaus Briest (bass) and (former American GI) Gilbert "Skip" van Wyck (drums). There was a big German soul scene, believe it or not, in the mid-1960's, pretty much supported by American GI bases. This was largely in the wake of Klaus Doldinger's incognito Paul Nero project, and a scene that later gave birth to internationally successful acts like Donna Summer and Boney M. But, I digress. Soul Caravan were a Motown inspired band, indeed, but not entirely. One could say that their debut was one of the earliest non-beat albums in Germany that is of some interest. Not true soul though, the album GET IN HIGH is not bad for the time (1967) and covers a lot of ground, with some excellent material, notably the psychedelic version of "Shotgun", but it was hardly anything like the proto-Krautrock some have deemed it.
No doubt the big turning point in their career was the day they played on the same stage as Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention at the Essener Songtage in 1968. Apparently after seeing Zappa and Co. they no longer wanted to do pop, as this new sound was far more exciting. A concert from the early stages of the transitional phase has now been documented as the LIVE 1969 CD on Garden of Delights, which also sees them flirting with new forms of jazz-fusion.
With a definite change in direction, and just to confuse everyone, they changed name to Xhol Caravan. This new name heralded a more progressive blend of new ideas, and the developing their sound with a big conceptual opus "The Freedom Opera" later documented on disc 1 of the MOTHERFUCKERS LIVE set. Still finding their feet and moving on, Xhol Caravan debuted with the single Planet Earth / So Down, which is very much in the vein of early Deep Purple or Vanilla Fudge, still with a definite soul-edge, but much more progressive. It never hinted at all at the album that was to follow a few months later!
The totally reinvented Xhol Caravan, line-up: Tim Belbe (tenor saxophone), Hansi Fischer (flute, soprano/alto saxophones), Öcki Brevern (organ, electric piano, tuba), Klaus Briest (bass), Peter Meisel (toilet flush) and Skip (drums), had moved well away from the convention of songs (although some songs of a sort do feature) and gone for a largely instrumental blend, with the solos and much of the structure created by the amalgamation and counterpoint of the two winds players and organ, all making use of studio processing, effects and echo devices. Fuzz, wah-wah and ring modulators all add to the scope of the instruments making the Xhol Caravan sound much more electronic than the proto-Kraftwerk Organisation of the same era. ELECTRIP was one hell of a remarkable album, which (excepting Zappa) predates everything else that it resembles. Symbolically Electric Fun Fair starts with a toilet flush - obviously flushing away the detritus of their past! And, what a fun-fair it is, it storms along almost wickedly, jerkily segueing into Pop Games and the infectiously strong-themed All Green, a vehicle for solo upon solo upon solo! Side Two's 17 minute opus Raise Up High amounts to an awesome, powerful almost acid fried excursion that bizarrely ends by suddenly bringing us back to earth with the tongue-in-cheek (and kind of quirky Dave & Ansell Collins Double Barrell like) reggae spiced Walla Mashalla.
The popular story as to why Xhol Caravan became just "Xhol" was down to the British band Caravan touring Germany, which led to confusion with some people turning up to Xhol Caravan concerts expecting to see Caravan with a support act called Xhol. As such confusion is best avoided, the name was changed.
Whether Xhol existed much beyond the summer of 1970 we don't know. The last recording issued on LP dated from July 1970, and that's the "posthumously issued" live album HAU-RUK, which continued from ELECTRIP on a more esoteric level. We were told that it gained release on the Ohr label due to Peter Meisel's insistence (it was he that signed them to Hansa, and he was also a key partner in Ohr), and apparently the album title is a joke meaning "How Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser" (or something like that). Rolf was the other partner in the label, who is said to have been somewhat ambivalent about Xhol's music. Strange really, as Rolf was quite a Zappa fan! The Garden of Delights booklet, however tells the story somewhat differently, in that the original idea was to do a double LP, a live and studio album in the manner of Pink Floyd's UMMAGUMMA.
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