AGITATION FREE - Portrait of a Band

Touring until the End

· The Year 1973

From Paris, where we picked up Assad , we drove to Orleans. We were supposed to play in a circus tent during a small festival. Two stages, one big and one small, were set up. Since the larger stage was full-to-bursting with the gear from the band Faust , who played before us, we voluntarily set up on the smaller stage where we could strech out. The next day we returned to Bordeaux for another small festival. Due to a bomb scare we couldn't go on until 2 a.m. Gong played before we did - a great group.

The next day we played in Brest. Every day a drive of 400 to 500 kilometers, and then the gig: that wears you out. Our smoke powder filled up the concert halls with fog - hard on the respiratory system!

After spending the night in a commune run by the rock band Tribu (who modelled themselves after Native American "Indian" tribes), we had a relaxed departure, destination Angers. Stephan , our resident wine connossieur, recommended the local rosé. Before leaving Angers he purchased fifteen or twenty bottles - we had all contributed a few francs, and therefore felt entitled to guzzle it down like soda pop. Sufficiently blissed-out, we were soon exceeding the speed limit on the road to Paris and were promptly pulled over. Now, we had always made a point of cautioning our roadies to observe traffic regulations and above all, not to drink and drive. In particular we felt our American roadie John to be a critical case (he had worked for the Jefferson Airplane and Delaney & Bonnie, and had a somewhat Californian attitude regarding the consumption of wine). But John wasn't arrested - we ourselves, Agitation Free, the cautionary tale-tellers, were: we were caught speeding while under the influence. Fortunately, a call to the German embassy saved our hides. We were lucky this time!

In Paris we played in the Bataclan on on the Boulevard Voltaire. Can had played there two months previously. The singer Nico was part of our party; we had met her during our first tour.

  Agitation Free vorm Eiffelturm, Paris
Agitation Free with Stephan Diez in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Official promotion photo by
Klaus D. Müller . For infos please click

The gig in Paris ended our tour of France, and we drove from Paris to Frankfurt to appear in the " German Super Rock Festival ". Although we had booked this job ourselves, our management still helped themselves to their cut (well, that's show-biz, boys). Anything can happen at a festival. We had our first personal contact with the group Kraan , my favorite German band. And of course Karthago . We knew several of Karthago already, but had had no direct contact, as they belonged to the very different guitar-rock "scene". But by this time we had the same management, however, so we found ourselves often playing on the same bill, and a very warm relationship ensued.

Frankfurt was our last concert with Dietmar Burmeister . He and Burghard were not seeing eye-to-eye musically, so we had to say, "so long".

After another performance in Berlin's RIAS radio, we found ourselves on the road to Paris again on June 14th, for a concert on June 16th in Saint Michel sur Orge, a town nearby. ( Guru Guru was also expected; due to difficulties at the border they never did make it.) The next concert was in the tiny town of Montmorillion, then on to Roanne. There we played at the " Rainbow ", which was said at the time to be the best club in Europe. It was true. A couple of guys had rented two buildings in the French countryside: one they turned into apartments, and in the other they had opened, on the second floor, an extremely expensive, for-members-only restaurant. In the basement of the restaurant was a private club, and on the ground floor a music club for "freaks", the Rainbow. Proceeds from the basement club and restaurant were good, and this cash flow subsidized the Rainbow. Audiences rarely numbered more than 200, and groups like the Soft Machine performed. The bands were fairly well paid, too. All-in-all, a paradise of a club, nearly indescribable. We gave two concerts, and remained there six days after the show, rehearsing and relaxing. Our piece, "In the Silence of the Morning Sunrise" came into existence there.

On June 30th we went back to Germany to play in a festival in Marburg with the band Atlantis . Between July 15th and 21st we recorded our second LP " Second " in Munich's Studio 70 , with Dave Siddle engineering. During the sessions Lüül and Stephan Diez had terrible arguments (Stephan had in the meantime become the permanent replacement for Joshi ). After our sessions, Stephan usually hurried out of the studio to his brother Frank , who was recording in a different studio; Frank, on the other hand, sang some backing vocals for us with his wife during a visit. Outside of the studio we hardly ever saw Stephan.

After a week's break in Berlin we returned to the studio in Munich on July 28. During mixdown the conflict between Stephan and the rest of us reached the point where we decided to go our separate ways after completion of the recording. Stephan then played in an orchestra, the WDR ( West Deutsche Rundfunk , "West German Radio") Big Band, and on many recordings as a session guitarist, including some with Chris Hinze. In Berlin we looked like crazy for a new guitarist, a seemingly hopeless task. Among others, Thomas Kretschmer came from Hamburg to Berlin, carrying his Vox AC 30 amp, with the intention of quitting Udo Lindenberg's Panik-Orchester and perhaps joining us. But he got a better offer and we had to keep looking.

Finally an old acquaintance, the music professor Heinz Lau , contacted us about a good guitarist with a background in jazz who was planning to relocate to Berlin. I found Gustav "Gustl" Lütjens astonishing: he could play almost exactly like Stephan . We rehearsed quickly and intensively, and by the time the second LP was on the market, the group line-up was solid once more (although Stephan did appear with us two more times, at the Hamburg Fabrik club and in Hannover's Silo ). Gustl performed with us for the first time on October 20th, 1973 in the town of Würselen near Aachen, West Germany. On November 22nd we gave a concert in Berlin's Academy of Art and played selections from the new LP.

Two days later a friend of ours, Erhard Großkopf , debuted a "serious" music piece of his in the Academy of Art. The piece was recorded by RIAS radio and later broadcast. We also played it at the "Warsaw Autumn" festival in Warsaw, Poland. More about that later.

· The Year 1974  

Agitation Free 1974

Agitation Free with Gustl Lütjens
Promotion-Photo off C&M Hudalla (click)

We had a concert on January 3, 1974 in the Dachluke club in Berlin, returning to France on January 18th. We travelled from Troyes via Rennes to Brest, where we were warmly received by our good friends. Too bad we didn't have any "dope" with us!

Then on to Nantes, Clermont Ferrant, and Marseille (where it was unseasonably warm and where lovely women attended to our every whim!), then onto Montpellier and Lyon. In Lyon we attended a reception given for us by several wealthy people. The accelerator pedal in our car broke on the way back to the hotel. As Höni steered, I crouched down under the dash and pumped the gas pedal by hand according to his shouted instructions (who else but I should hold this important position?). How to get it repaired? It turned out to be no problem for Super-Roadie Klaus D. Müller , former Ash Ra Tempel employee, without whom we would have been often been up a creek. This incident was one of many which served to burnish his reputation as a mechanical wizard.

With renewed energy and a mended accelerator pedal we were soon on our way to Cologne, to the West German Radio WDR , where we gave a great, relaxed concert. Stephan Diez visited us there, and we all got on well.

On February 13th we played a "turn-off" gig in Duisburg - a strange city. We hung around in hotel rooms for three days after that, spending the money we had just made, until we played in Moers.

  Agitation Free 1974

Official promotion photo from this

Gradually the whole thing became routine for us and we became increasingly self-critical. After several more festivals it was clear to us that things could not continue in this manner. Arrive at the gig, set up, play the set, break down, on to the next gig - it just wasn't our thing. And we found ourselves drifting farther apart musically. Hoenig was interested in electronic improvisation, Gustav was more into jazz (the very minimum being Herbie Hancock), Lüül liked the Beatles and folk music, Burghard hard rock (as he does still today), and I ( Fame ) was into the Grateful Dead, country, and funky music.

After a gig in Schönsee in Bavaria, we had to seriously consider how things should proceed. Gustav and I wanted to explore new musical directions, and were ready to leave the band. Then Hoenig received an offer from Klaus Schulze , which he decided to accept. Burghard didn't want to continue without Hoenig , and Lüül too wanted to go his own way.

June 16, 1974 was our last concert with the classic Agitation Free line-up, a festival in Paris that took place shortly before we were supposed to perform in Paris' "Olympia". Assaad had worked hard to set up the Olympia gig, but unfortunately his efforts were in vain.

    Das letzte Konzert in Paris

Last concert in Paris; Fame und Gustl
Photo by Hervé Muller (click)

Lüül met a woman in Paris, and remained there. In Berlin, Gustav and I looked for new musicians. We thought Bernhard Arndt (electric piano) und Christian Kneisel (synthesizer) were right for us, and started to rehearse intensively. At a concert in Witten, Dietmar Burmeister helped out on drums. With him and with Micki Duwe we recorded another radio play, " Störenfried " ("Disturber of the Peace"), on July 18th and 19th in Berlin, under the name Agitation Free.

On September 27th, 1974, we flew to Warsaw for the "Warsaw Autumn" music festival; our roadie Roger Niklaus took the truck on the difficult route overland to Poland via the East German city of Frankfurt/Oder. We brought Burghard along one more time as drummer. The concert on September 28th was a sensation. We remained in Poland a few extra days, amusing ourselves by spending the unconvertable Polish money we had received.

There's an small footnote to this story. The "Warsaw Autumn" festival was strictly for what in Germany is referred to as E-Musik - that is, ernste or "serious" music. (Serious, perhaps, because nobody is allowed to laugh, and in no case is the music supposed to have any balls!) Our concert was surprisingly full, mostly with young people who read in the program that a rock band from Berlin would play. But when selecting three pieces for the program we had ignored our rock material in favor of the more esoteric " Looping IV " from Erhard Großkopf , " Church of Anthrax " from Terry Riley and John Cale , and an Agitation Free composition in a similar vein. After we played our three selections there was modest applause in the hall, but instead of leaving, the young people in the audience remained in their seats and demanded more. At first we were at a loss, but then it dawned on us: they wanted to hear rock! So I stepped up to the microphone, mumbled something like "we think we could also play some rock, it's just one of many things we do...", and added that, for our next piece, we'd like to try our hand at a blues number. We launched into B.B. King's "Nightlife Blues". On the one hand we realized that we were showing off our "bad" side, but on the other we rationalized that, since this song did contain more than the usual three blues chords, it might not unduly insult the ears and sensibilites of those responsible for the concert. A huge miscalculation. As the crowd turned ugly and began making ominous noises, the power was shut down and the stage sealed off by men wearing identical dark suits and crewcuts, most certainly security police. The hall was quickly emptied.
The next day a conference was held for the international press, in which light was to be shed on our faux pas and the scandal surrounding it. A famous Polish composer and member of the national composer's guild, either Witold Lutoslawski or Tomasz Sikorski (I'm not quite sure which one anymore), explained to us in crystal-clear German, that, although the first three pieces were part of "his world", what followed was "garbage" (He might not have used so strong a term, but "garbage" is certainly what he meant.), and had no place at such a festival. I will never really understand why a composer would say such a thing; as for me, I would in any case never characterize the often hard-to-understand modern "serious" music in so pejoratively. It wasn't until years later, back home in Berlin, that composers such as Wilhelm Dieter Siebert and Hartmut Westphal, from the
Gruppe neue Musik ("New Music Group"), restored my faith in the practitioners of E-Musik . They showed me that "serious" musicians can also be open-minded and tolerant.
In Berlin we sat down with the original members, to go over details of the band's break-up.
Burghard and Hoenig were opposed to the further use of the "Agitation Free" name by Gustav and I . We weren't prepared to argue the point, and said we would stop using the name; since, anyway, the music we were then making had little in common with that of Agitation Free, we agreed to let the name (and the band) rest in peace.

Two final concert obligations were executed by an Agitation Free consisting of Bernhard Arndt (keyboard), John Mernitt (drums), Lutz Ulbrich (guitar), Christian Kneisel (synthesizer), Gustav Lütjens (guitar) and myself Michael "Fame" Günther (bass), to full houses in Berlin's Quartier Latin and Dachluke clubs.

On November 14th, 1974 we had a goodbye party, " The Final Reunion ", for all of our friends and colleagues; nearly all members past and present attended and played. Even Christoph Franke interrupted a tour in England for two days to come and play drums. Axel Genrich unfortunately couldn't make it, but Mani Neumeier could, and ardently pounded the drums.

A newspaper article on the subject is available (please click-on) Various members of Agitation Free went on to make history. For example:

Lüül spent a period in France, living with the singer Nico and working on a solo career, then returned with her to Berlin, played with Ash Ra , and was a member of the theater project "Reineke Fuchs" for nine years.

Michael Hoenig collaborated further with Klaus Schulze. Their project, " Timewind ", was unfortunately short-lived. Höni went on to play with Tangerine Dream . Today he is a successful film music composer with his own recording studio in Los Angeles.

After a longish sabbatical from the music scene, Burghard Rausch founded the Berlin band Bel Ami . Today he is a presenter for Radio Bremen.

Christoph Franke 's story is fairly well-known. He too, after a period with Tangerine Dream , became a film music composer and, like Höni , has his own studio in Los Angeles.

"Ludwig" Kramer Kramer went to Thailand, where he ran a couple of coffee shops over the course of a few years. He lives today in Darmstadt, and is director of a school for geriatric care in Frankfurt.

Joshi Schwenke could never really get out of the drug scene, although he tried hard for a brief period when he worked in his father's hi-fi store in the Moabit section of West Berlin. He was found dead in a subway station in Berlin on May 14th, 1990, an apparent victim of his drug habit.

I met John L. at the closing party in 1989 of one of West Berlin's most popular acoustic clubs of the seventies, the " Go In " on the Bleibtreu Strasse. He performed with a band, and immediately made everyone feel twenty years younger, with his sixties-style music, slogans, and Zeitgeist .

I worked with Gustl Lütjens a while longer in a group with Manfred Opitz and Konstantin "Bommi" Bommarius called " Lagoona ". We did one tour of Denmark, but a record never came out. Further attempts with these and other musicians, such as Harald Grosskopf , Lou Blackburn , and Klaus Henrichs ensued. Gustl eventually got involved in other projects, playing as a studio musician for (among others) Veronika Fischer and Tom Cunningham , touring as a hired gun for Shirley Bassey and Nena , working with his own bands the Crew and Last Tango, and releasing his music on record as Gustl Lütjens and "Living Mirrors".

Bernhard Arndt became part of the European jazz scene, and has of this writing released three albums.

Dietmar Burmeister returned to Seedo g, worked behind the bar in a Berlin musician's hang-out, the " Breitengrad ", and hung-up his career of playing the drums.

Stephan Diez played with Chris Hinze for a while, and continued in orchestras such as the WDR Big Band. Today he is also a busy studio musician in Munich and Hamburg. I met him recently in my capacity as technical director of the Berlin Jazz Festival; he was playing with the WDR Big Band.

Christian Kneisel produced several solo LP's, has been involved in many different musical projects, and is today a director in the music department at Berlin's Academy of Art.

Michael "Micki" Duwe , who at the beginning of his career in the early seventies had a role in the musical "Hair", had by 1972 joined the group " Metropolis " in 1972, and was later a member of Ash Ra Tempel . Today he releases his solo records under the name of " Mickie D's Unicorn ".

And so on and on the river flows...unfortunately, that fragile craft bearing the name "Agitation Free" seems long ago to have foundered "on the rocks".

But let me daydream for a minute....couldn't that tattered old ship ride the waves once more? How about another reunion?! (Isn't everybody else doing it these days??!!)

Agitation Free in alten Zeiten

Photo Volker Cornelius

This has been the situation at end of 1974 - but then the story went further!


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