AGITATION FREE - Portrait of a Band
From "Sportpalast" to "Quartier Latin" - the Band Changes
· The Year 1970
As noted above, the "First German Progressive Pop Festival" ( "1. Deutsches Progressives Popfestival ") was held in Berlin's historic Sportpalast on April 12, 1970. The promoter was one Jürgen Föhrenbach from Stuttgart, who eventually went broke from the affair. Edgar Froese from Tangerine Dream tried to sue for his money, but Föhrenbach had already declared bankruptcy. Not a single Deutschmark was seen by any of the bands that participated; nobody could say where two days worth of gate receipts (from paying audiences of 5000) ended up.
The most important thing at the festival was getting to know the members of the band Guru Guru . This had both good and bad aspects. The Guru's guitarist, Jim Kennedy (an American), had come down with TB and had to return to the United States. A substitute was needed, and so our Axel jumped in. Touring with Guru Guru proved to be so positive for him that he switched over permanently. Okay, cool, Axel Genrich did play a great guitar, and he was able to help out Mani Neumeier , and last but not least he even met his future wife Sharon on the road with the Gurus: I guess even the the best Agitation Free tour couldn't have offered him that!
Axel Genrich had been with us for a total of three months. After his departure we played the next concerts as a trio, as far as I can remember. One concert that I definitely do recall was a performance in the Berlin Academy of Art, for Amnesty International, when Jörg Schwenke played with us. I remember it as being a really nice, relaxed concert.
Jörg Schwenke joined the band as a result of my change of schools. Academically I have a very checkered past. I was kicked out of the Waldschule in the tenth grade with a "5" - nearly flunking - in Latin, and a "5" in phys.-ed. (" Mens sana... "). Wanting then to attend the Academy for Graphics, Printing, and Advertising (as did Axel Genrich ), I needed middle-level qualification, and changed over to the Robert-Bosch-Schule , a middle school in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Incidently, I met Alfred Bergmann there. He was my teacher, and later a very important person in the Agitation Free saga. I did so well at Robert-Bosch that I was allowed, upon completing the tenth grade, to return to Gymnasium (high school). I then attended the Hildegard-Wegscheider-Schule in Berlin-Grunewald; the Academy no longer interested me.
As fate will have it, on the first day of school at Hildegard-Wegscheider, a guy sat next to me in the schoolyard during recess and started peering interestedly at my Marshall amplifier catalog (amps from Jim Marshall were the hit at the time - Hendrix used them). "Are you also a musician?" he enquired, and we started talking. He said he was a guitarist, and was playing in a "strip group" called the Shatters, the former back-up band of well-known Berlin Schlager -singer Manuela . But he was sick of the Shatters, and was open for something new. His name was Joshi , and we all liked him from the very first day that he played with us. And the fact that he absolutely lacked experience playing our kind of music was especially appealing. His playing wasn't anything special, but he came up with completely unexpected things. He joined Agitation Free in July, 1970 .
About the same time, through Thomas Kessler , we met a serious composer named Ladislav Kupkovic . He was well-known for his Wandelkonzerte , ("Wandering concerts"), during which the audience is allowed to talk, smoke, etc., and "wander" among the musicians as they play. Kupkovic was looking for a rock musician, preferably a bassist, to perform in his next Wandelkonzert. I liked the idea and volunteered. Within a short time thereafter I had played in five of his concerts as a solo musician.
· The Year 1971
We dove into 1971. At the beginning of the year Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream began to "borrow" Christoph Franke from us from time to time. (I can't help but think that Agitation Free was a kind of incubator of the German rock scene at the time, much like John Mayall in England. We certainly supplied the music scene with plenty of players. And at the end of the day we were the dummies!) By mid-1971 Christoph was a permanent member of Tangerine Dream. Our last show together was another of Kupkovic 's Wandelkonzert , this time featuring the entire group. It just occurs to me now that, even before '71, Christoph had sometimes sat in with Tangerine Dream . Among other things, he and Edgar had worked as session musicians on the German version of "The Boxer" by "The New Folksingers".
Thus we were back down to three. For concerts we used an incredible drummer from Berlin-Spandau, Gerd Klemke . He came from the jazz world and had studied composition under Isan Yun at the Berlin Academy of Music. Beyond that he played rock with the group Garlick Generation . Today he lives and teaches in Oslo, Norway, and in Berlin.
With him we played the concert that took us to the Near East. It happened in March 1971, in Berlin's Quartier Latin club. " Gerdi " was in rare form and played an incredible drum solo, which inspired us all. After the show, a straight-looking guy approached the stage and asked Lüül if we would be interested in playing in Cairo. His name was Christian Nakonz, he was consul in the German Embassy there, and he had already spent the evening wending his way through Berlin's nightlife in search of interesting German musicians to bring to Egypt. Although Lüül was skeptical, he had a long conversation with the fellow and they exchanged addresses. Shortly after that, the whole thing was forgotten.
Around this time I had a long conversation in my schoolyard with Michael "Höni" Hoenig , who also attended my school. As he was interested in avant-garde music, I suggested that he visit us in the Beat Studio and sit in with Tommy Kessler 's improvisational group. Henceforth he often dropped by, and learned how to work with Zuspielbändern (prepared tapes). Listening to the stuff, I was impressed by Höni 's work. I invited him to play with Agitation Free at a concert in the TU-Mensa , a show we were planning to do as a three-piece without drums. So he brought his equipment along, and produced electronic sounds from a tape recorder and frequency generator. We liked the results so much that we asked him to join the band, which he did. In the same concert a keyboard player named Christian "Bino" Brero , actually a string-bassist in a symphony orchestra, joined us. Later he played with Os Mundi as well as in Lüüls's band, but eventually gave up rock music.
Shortly after that (about September 1971 ), Klaus Schulze , who we had asked to join us, came to a rehearsal and brought someone along with him: Burghard Rausch . Burghard played drums; he was at first somewhat reserved, but Schulze managed to make him and everyone else feel at home. After jamming together, we were very impressed with Burkhardt; now the line-up was finally complete that would become famous as Agitation Free.
Agitation Free in fall 1971 in the cemetery on the Heerstrasse in West
Thomas Kessler began furiously to coach us: ear-training, harmony, music theory, rhythm. He tried all kinds of things, conducted experiments, and afforded us a considerable insight into the world of classical music. It was great. In December '71 he brought Peter Michael Hamel along, who sat in on several rehearsals. Hamel told us about a new record company called "Music Factory", and advised us to make a demo tape. At this time the members of Agitation Free were all still playing in various other groups: Burghard and I in a band called Sopwith Camel (with Australian guitarist Richard Clapton , who today is a famous rock musician back in Australia), Lüül in an improvisational group called Guricht (which gave Bernhard Arndt to Agitation Free in its final formation), and Michael Hoenig in classical music groups. Lüül , Manuel Göttsching , Hartmut Enke , Klaus Freudigmann , Conrad Schnitzler , Thomas Keyserling and I also played in a "serious music" improvisational group called Eruption , which also made live appearances.
· The Year 1972
We produced a demo and sent it to Music Factory , a label of the Schott Music Publishing company. The response was positive, and they invited us to Mainz to play a concert on February 25, 1972 in the Kurfürstlichen castle, to hear how we sounded live (a reasonable concert fee was also part of the deal). The Music Factory people and some executives from their distribution company were quite impressed, and so they decided to make a record with us.
Taken near Mainz, the
day after the concert.
We then signed a record contract (more accurately, several), about which the less said, the better. The only good thing about it was a relatively high (or so it seemed at that time) artist royalty rate. But we hadn't the vaguest idea about the music business, and totally miscalculated our commercial potential. In any case, we were simply happy to have a record deal, and didn't realize that our joy would turn to anger in the following years.
In the meantime we had heard from Cairo, in the form of a letter from Christian Nakonz, who really was the German consul there. He had spoken with his friend Hartmut Geerken of the Goethe Institute (The Goethe Institute is a well-established, German government-sponsored cultural and academic institution. With branches in Germany and all over the world, its aim is to disseminate German culture, through language lessons and the sponsorship of cultural events. -Transl ), and wrote that the Cairo office had assumed responsibility for an Agitation Free tour there. It was to start at the beginning of the year. We were speechless!
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