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SEASONS (Second Battle SB 016) [1971]

MORNING (Green Tree GTR 014/Trick Music TM 9302) [1972]


BANISHED BRIDGE (Repertoire PMS 7050-WP) [1973]

German rock in the early ’70s is usually characterized as oddly Teutonic and experimental (virtually the forerunner of “industrial” rock) and it’s labeled “Krautrock.” That label summons up images of Faust, early Tangerine Dream, Kluster/Cluster, and Can – and German record labels like Brain, Ohr (Ear), and Pilz.

But there were other sides to German rock. I’ve already reviewed Sahara here, and it’s only a matter of time before I get to Hoelderlin and Schicke, Fuhrs & Frohling – all three major progressive German groups whose approach was melodic rather than Teutonic.   But Wind and Novalis were forerunners of those bands: almost folky in their melodic approach to rock.

Wind got its start in 1964, as a band playing covers of hits in the clubs and pubs frequented by American Army servicemen in southern Germany. This led to an “Asian tour” which was in fact mostly in Vietnam and for U.S. troops stationed there. Their manager abandoned them while they were on that tour, absconding with all their money and stranding them. The band was forced to sell all its instruments and stage equipment to get home, arriving back in Germany staggeringly in debt. By 1969 they’d become Chromosom, an art-rock band influenced by what was then occurring on the American west coast.   Calling themselves Corporal Gander’s Fire Dog Brigade, they recorded an album of covers called ON THE ROCKS , released in 1970. In January, 1971 the quartet was expanded to a quintet by the addition of vocalist Bernd Steve Leistner, fresh from Flying Carpet and Faction. Leistner’s vocals sounded at times much like those of the American singer, Steve Miller.   It was at this point that they began calling themselves Wind.

In addition to Leistner, Wind was made up of Thomas Leidenberger (guitar, vocal), Lucian Bueler (keyboards, vocal), Andreas Bueler (bass, vocal) and Lucky Schmidt (drums and percussion, piano, vibes). (The Bueler brothers were fraternal twins.) They made their first album, SEASONS, for the Miller International Record Company, and it was released on the +Plus+ label, at a bargain price and distributed primarily through supermarkets and gas stations, selling 30,000 copies – a major sales success for a German album. The music on the album was entirely original and covered a broad range – from the hard rock of “Dear Little Friend” to the melancholy “Now It’s Over.” Track times varied a lot too: “Romance” was only a minute and a half long, while the album-closer, “Red Morningbird,” clocked in at just under 16 minutes.

The album immediately gained a classic status with knowledgeable music fans and has since been referred to as “legendary” and become “most sought-after” by collectors.

After refusing an offer from Island Records, Wind signed with German CBS (affiliated with the American Columbia and Epic labels), for whom they made MORNING.   This album was quite different from SEASONS. From the cover packaging to the actual music, the album had a European fairy tale atmosphere, and was far more melodic. The first track, “Morning Song,” has been compared with the music of Procol Harum. The second track, “The Princess and the Minstrel,” which was also released as a single, was purely a fairy tale and surprisingly sweetly told.   Its B-side as a single (and the fifth track on the album), “Schlittenfahrt,” is a masterpiece of vocal harmonizing, with a low bow to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.

After that album was released in 1972, one single was released on CBS in 1973. It paired a track from MORNING, “Puppet Master,” with a new, and almost music-hall jaunty piece, “Josephine.” But the band had already performed their farewell concert on December 23, 1972.   They made one television appearance in 1973 (on Hits A GoGo) to support the release of the single and then vanished.   MORNING had been hailed as “Album of the year” by the Hamburger Abendblatt, but apparently Wind never got out from under their pile of debts. Their manager quit his job after the farewell concert and took with him all the group’s equipment.

Fortunately both albums have been released on CD – and both CDs use the albums’ original master tapes. The Second Battle CD was released in 1991 and may be hard to find by now, since Second Battle was a small fan-collector label. (But this release was not a numbered limited edition, unlike some other Second Battle releases.) It’s well annotated in both German and English.   MORNING was issued on CD in 1994, by Trick/Green Tree (with dual catalog numbers) and its excellent packaging includes a brief reminiscence by Steve Leistner, all the song lyrics and a good number of band photos. It also includes the single, “Josephine,” which had to be dubbed from an actual 45. I like both albums, but prefer MORNING – it’s softer and more melodic and employs Mellotrons to good effect. (Some compare it with the British group Spring, but I think it’s better.)

Novalis(who took their name from the 18th century poet) were formed in Hamburg in late 1971 and initially (in live performance) played mostly covers of King Crimson and Pink Floyd pieces.   They called their music “romantic rock.” In 1972 they were discovered by German producer Jochen Petersen, who signed them to Brain and produced their first album for the label, BANISHED BRIDGE, which was released in 1973. The band at this point consisted of Jurgen Wenzel (vocal, acoustic guitar), Lutz Rahn (keyboards), Heino Schunzel (bass) and Hartwig Biereichel (drums and percussion).

But subsequent European and German tours organized by Brain were too much for Wenzel, who left the band, and a second album was abandoned, unfinished, in 1974. A new guitarist and a second keyboard player (who also played guitar) were added, making Novalis a quintet, and the nature of the band’s music underwent a significant change. The band went on to make another 10 albums between 1975 and 1985, at least seven of which have been issued on CD. But to my mind they are pedestrian and disappointing when compared with BANISHED BRIDGE.

That first album began with a side-long piece, the 17-minute title track. One commentator calls it “one of the first examples of synthesized German symphonic-rock.”   There were obvious King Crimson influences – but from Crimson’s Elizabethan-folk-inspired melodic pieces (like “I Talk With The Wind”) rather than their more bombastic (such as “21st Century Schizoid Man”). Rahn’s keyboards included organ, piano, Mellotron and synthesizers, and he used them – with dubbed-in birdsongs – to create a dreamy sort of progressive rock which has been compared with PFM’s first two albums, with his Mellotron dominant.   And the lyrics of Novalis’s first album are entirely in English (subsequent albums were mostly in German).

Repertoire (a major German reissue label which has put out CDs by the score of late-’60s and early-’70s American and British rock albums, ranging from Mike Absalom to the Zombies) has done of first-rate job on reissuing BANISHED BRIDGE as part of their series of Brain-label reissues. This 1997 CD uses the original Brain label, in fact.   Notes, covering the entire history of the group, are in both German and English, and it’s a safe assumption that master tapes were used.

Both Wind’s MORNING and Novalis’s BANISHED BRIDGE are good early examples of melodicism in German progressive rock, and they come recommended as such.

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