From Aural Innovations #43 (October 2011)
My introduction to Nektar was in 1977 when the Magic Is A Child album was released. I bought it based on the cover art, a reasonably safe way to discover bands in those days, and with song titles like Away From Asgard I knew there might be something to it. I enjoyed the song-oriented progressive rock on the album and started picking up the band's previous albums, and that's where the real adventure began.
Though the original members were British, Nektar formed in Germany in 1969 and, consequently, were often labeled a Krautrock band. As I worked my way through the catalog, the first thing I learned was that Magic Is A Child did not include original guitarist/vocalist Roye Albrighton, who is an important component of the band's sound, being an incredible guitarist and a powerful singer with a soulful voice.
The classic 70s Nektar albums are essential to anyone who appreciates a cross-pollination of Progressive Rock, Psychedelia, and Hard Rock. Nektar ultimately defy categorization, and from one album to the next they always did something different, while remaining recognizably, and cohesively Nektar. Of all the great bands I discovered in the 70s, Nektar's albums are among those that I have revisited most frequently over the years. Here are quickie descriptions of each album:
Journey To The Centre Of The Eye (1971)
A space rock classic. If you like Interstellar Overdrive and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun styled Pink Floyd, and Hawkwind's Space Ritual, then consider the debut Nektar album essential. The album tells the story of an astronaut who rockets from Earth when the planet is on the verge of nuclear war. He then meets up with a saucer and its inhabitants and... yeah, we're in deep space here folks.
A Tab In The Ocean (1972)
The side long title track is a Prog-Psych tour-de-force that invites you to "Climb aboard imaginary waves". It's got a great combination of guitar, classic 70s swirling keyboards, and multiple thematic shifts. Side two includes excellent songs that are part of Nektar live set to this day. One of them, King Of Twilight, was covered by Iron Maiden in 1984.
Sounds Like This... (1973)
Recorded live in the studio, this double-album is what I consider one of the truly great kick-ass progressive hard rock albums of the 70s. Nektar are tight as a knot throughout the set, the energy level is off the map, and the musicianship is stunning. All the band members are stellar, and if you want monster, mind-blowing in-yer-face guitar, this album is for you.
Remember The Future (1973)
Another concept album, Remember The Future tells the story of Bluebird, who visits Earth but is rejected because of his appearance, until he makes mental contact with a blind boy. This was Nektar's most musically ambitious album to date, and is a stunner that must be heard in its entirety.
Down To Earth (1974)
Though the album was loosely based around a circus theme, Down To Earth consisted of a set of stand-alone songs. It also includes many guests on various brass instruments, and Hawkwind fans should note that Robert Calvert appears as the ringmaster. A solid set of songs and impressive for the way the band managed to explore new territory without going completely into left field.
The last of the classic 70s Nektar albums, Recycled is also the most visionary, both musically and conceptually. Larry Fast, who released several electronic albums in the 70s as Synergy, joins the band on synthesizers and his contributions are crucial to the music. And of course there's a theme, this time addressing concerns about Earth's environmental future.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the 1977 Magic is a Child album included a new guitarist. Nektar then went on hiatus until Roye and keyboardist Allan "Taff" Freeman revived the band with a new bass player and drummer for one album, 1980's Man In The Moon, a fine collection of songs. In 1983 Roye formed a trio called Grand Alliance, who released one album of fairly decent songs (I saw them live when they toured the U.S.).
And that was it. I heard nothing for many years. The story of Nektar's revival is told in the interview below, but first... the show!
Nektar - Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland, Ohio, August 28, 2011
After outstanding sets by Huw Lloyd-Langton and Brainticket, I was pumped, as was the entire crowd. Nektar includes founding members Roye Albrighton on guitar and vocals and Ron Howden on drums, plus Klaus Henatsch on keyboards and Lux Vibratus (from Helios Creed's band) on bass for this tour, standing in for regular member Peter Pichl.
Right out of the chute I could tell that these guys remain a force to be reckoned with. Roye is still an amazing guitarist and his voice is intact. It's tough to please everyone during a 90 minute set but I was more than satisfied as they did a great cross section of material from the 70s albums plus a few newer songs. I'm not sure of the first song because I had to piss so bad I was hung up in a line in the bathroom. But the next song was King Of Twilight, followed, I believe, by Desolation Valley. Next was Dr Kool, a newer song from the 2008 Book Of Days album. Another newer song that I'm not familiar with was next. Then we were treated to a sizable chunk of Remember The Future (Part 2 maybe?). This was followed by a rousing rendition of A Day in The Life Of A Preacher. I was then thrilled to hear an excerpt from Recycled (I think maybe all of side 1?). And, finally, the band came back for an encore and played Good Day, one of the first songs ever recorded by the band.
What a great set. And the crowd were completely into it, hooting and hollering like a bunch of good 'ol boys at a Lynard Skynard concert. I could tell that Roye was loving every minute of it. One little tidbit hardcore fans might enjoy is that though it wasn't part of the set, while I was waiting around earlier to conduct the interviews, during Nektar's soundcheck I heard a brief bit of Astral Man.
Let's go back a few hours before the show, when after Nektar's soundcheck I had the chance to sit down for a chat with Roye and Ron:
AI: Let's start off by filling in some cracks in the Nektar timeline. I remember buying Man In The Moon when it came out, and then the Grand Alliance album a couple years later. Then MANY years went by and a friend played me what he described as a Roye Albrighton solo album, and that was The Follies Of Rupert Treacle in 1999. Was there anything in between or were you completely on hiatus?
Roye Albrighton (RA): Well we weren't very much in touch during that period. And unfortunately I was ill with a very severe sickness. So I was out of action for quite a while. And when I came back to good health again, that's when I did Rupert Treacle. And from Rupert Treacle on it was just a case of waiting around for something to happen. And it was the phone call from the North East Art Rock Festival (NEARFest) that kicked the whole thing off again really.
AI: I knew you played NEARFest but I didn't know that was a catalyst for the reunion.
RA: Yes. I got an email from the organizers asking what would be the chance of getting the original band back together for a reunion. And I said I didn't know where everybody is but I'll see what I can find out. So I managed to find Ron, and I found Taff, and eventually found Mo. It took about three months to organize something that they could do, because they're all busy guys. And they said let's do it and that's how it all got started. The idea was only to do the NEARFest. And that would be it. But we took it to Europe and it went down so well again that we decided to carry on. But unfortunately Mo couldn't do it anymore. Taff came along with us for the next tour and then he couldn't make it anymore. So that left it to Ron and myself to carry on the name and carry on doing it.
AI: You had Mick Brockett as well didn't you?
RA: Only at NEARFest and one or two shows we did in Germany and one in London. But after that Mick wasn't with us anymore.
AI: How did it feel after all those years to have the original band together?
Ron Howden (RH): Oh it was a great feeling. We knew we couldn't carry on like that because everyone had their own agendas. We'd been apart for so long.
RA: When everybody first said yes we had to organize some kind of rehearsal. So I flew over, because everybody else was living here, and we had two rehearsals and it was just like... [snaps his fingers].
AI: It just clicked. Regarding your illness, you had a liver transplant didn't you?
RA: Yeah, that's what kicked me out of the picture for quite a while.
AI: And that went on for some years?
RA: It was only when I went down for a regular checkup the doctor said something's not right. I wasn't feeling too good, but I wasn't feeling that bad. And he said we're going to send you to the hospital to have a look. Then I got the phone call and the doctor said, I think you better sit down. He said, I'll put it to you straight, you have two chances. You can either have a liver transplant or that's it. He said I've had hepatitis since the age of 16 that's been eating away at my liver and it's in its last stages. You can imagine my shock. I asked if he could give me any medication for it and he said, no, we're talking transplant. It was that far gone. So I had to wait until a donor became available and then have it done. And unfortunately I'm one of those people who don't recover very quickly. This is what The Prodigal Son songs came out of. It was my experience of being in the hospital in that period.
AI: Where did Rupert Treacle fit in with all this?
RA: Rupert Treacle was done just before I went into the hospital. Once it was done and I came out, the first thing I did was the songs from Prodigal Son. If you listen to The Prodigal Son you might catch some of the things that... I don't know, it was just a dream state you wouldn't believe. What kicked me around and what caused the worry as to whether I'd recover or not was the drugs they gave me. But I finally came out of it, everything's ok.
AI: You've got a new album just out don't you? Juggernaut?
RA: No, Juggernaut is in its final stages.
AI: Any idea when it will be released?
RA: Without putting my foot in my mouth I would say more like the end of the year, maybe even January of next year. Cleopatra Records have given Ron and I a whole lot of other work to do, but we want to concentrate on finishing that new album.
AI: Cleopatra had done a compilation some years back. Have you done anything else through them?
RA: I got an email from them asking if I've got anything from Nektar that can be released. And I said I wish you would have caught me earlier because I've already licensed it to another company. But there's several this other company hasn't taken the license for, and one was The Best Of, which we called Retrospektive. And they said yeah, let's go with Retrospektive. And that's what led to the need to tour, so they put the whole package together. They're a really great company.
AI: I want to ask you about reissues of the 70s albums. When I first got on internet discussion groups years ago lots of people would warn about buying the Bellaphon CDs because the sound was horrible. And I guess you got the rights back and reissued them on...
RA: No, we never got the rights back. We had the rights to be able to do it outside of Germany and Switzerland. But we were allowed to do the rest of the world. And there's a company called Eclectic Discs which got the rights to release the albums, but unfortunately they released the albums not exactly as we wanted. In other words to say, Bellaphon also didn't want them to release outtakes, intakes, and they released everything that was on there. They were only supposed to release exactly the album that came out originally. They put all kinds of stuff on there. Which some people think is great, but we didn't approve it. So Bellaphon pulled it and it went a little bit dead for a while. And then I went to see Bellaphon Records and said we need to get some product out there. Even if we never make another album there's still Nektar material from the past. And they said ok, and this then led to licensing out to It's About Music, and of course Cleopatra.
AI: I was going to ask you about It's About Music, but wasn't there previously The Dream Nebula reissues?
RA: Yeah, that was Eclectic Discs. But having said that, people said that all we did was take the remasters... no, we haven't. Those masters that are out on It's About Music now are different to the remasters that Eclectic Discs released. The remasters on Eclectic Discs were way to hot. They're zeroing out. You know, you put a record on and you can't relax because it's just in your face, it's just too much. So I just dropped everything down a bit and its far better. It's much more comfortable to listen to.
AI: I did pick up the It's About Music reissues that are out so far. They seem to have a pretty aggressive schedule for releasing the rest.
RA: I'm in trouble actually because I was supposed to do two more before I came away, but I didn't have time. We're supposed to have them all ready by the end of this year. Only two are out at the moment. [Ed. Note: A Tab in the Ocean and Remember the Future.] We've got three and four, but there's obviously more releases to come. But I'm a bit behind schedule.
AI: That clears up a lot because I thought The Dream Nebula reissues were done by you. So the bonus material on the It's About Music reissues are different.
RA: We collected live material from previous tours to release special editions together with the real albums. They're completely different.
AI: On the Remember The Future reissue it's pretty clear from the CD notes that the live show on disc 2 is a 2007 show in Brazil. Maybe I'm missing something but to save my life I can't see identified what the live Remember The Future on disc 1 is from.
RA: That would be the Academy of Music in New York, 1974.
AI: It goes really nicely following the studio album on the same CD.
RA: Yeah, you can see the difference... there's certain things you can't do live when you do an album. And of course you've already done the album, you can't go back and change it. The reason I wanted to do it was to bring out the bonus discs on each of these albums with the different formats of Nektar through time. For instance, you got Mo and Taff doing their thing. You've got them with Randy and Tom, bass and keyboards. And the album before this one that Cleopatra released was Fortyfied, which is the band as it is presently. Although we've had another change. We've got a new bass player. It's not easy with our music finding people readily available to play.
AI: Other than playing at NEARFest have there been any other US tours since Nektar reformed?
RA: We did the Rites of Spring festival (2009), and then we did three shows around the US, still on the east coast. And then we went back to Philadelphia and did an acoustic show at the Hilton hotel which was across the road.
AI: A Nektar acoustic show, VERY interesting.
RA: That'll be coming up on the bonus disc of one of the next releases.
AI: I've always considered Nektar to be a band that can't be pigeonholed. You guys covered a lot of ground across those albums in the 70s, yet remained cohesively Nektar throughout. Having said that, it's interesting that this tour is billed as the Space Rock Invasion US Tour.
RA: Wasn't my idea [laughs]
AI: I do understand how the progressive rock crowed on the internet have embraced the band. But there's only certain albums they seem to discuss, like A Tab In The Ocean and Remember The Future. I don't often see people discussing Journey To The Centre Of The Eye or Sounds Like This. Or even Recycled. I'm really surprised I don't see more discussion about that album.
RA: People tend to favor labeling music. Which is unfortunate because not only were we labeled to start with as an acid rock band, but we went through every stage possible. Because each album we do is different. Man In The Moon was classified as a Pop album. But you get this labeling. When we first got together and decided on the name - Nektar - we could have spelled it the British way which is with a 'c' instead of a 'k'. And we said no, let's chuck it out and put a 'k' there. Unknown to us, that's how you spell Nektar in German. And the media thought we were a German band. And then it was Krautrock band. I think they're losing the idea of labeling us, but that's just Nektar, that's it.
AI: So how's this tour been going?
RA: Great. Great acts to work with. Everybody's been really cool. It's a good mixture of music between the three acts.
AI: As a band that was known for your lightshow in the 70s, what do you think of Jim Lascko's show?
RA: He's brilliant. Blows me away. It really is great. I don't get much of a chance to turn around because I'm always on the mic, but I watch what he's doing with the other bands and I see it's incredible. And he's such a nice guy as well.
AI: So you're finishing a new album. Any other news we should be aware of?
RA: Unfortunately we're a band that's split wide open over different countries. It's difficult for us to get together and sit down in one room and write and pull it all together. So what I'm hoping to do is spend more time together, and the only way we can do that is for Ron coming to Klaus and myself, or we go to Ron. The only way Nektar music really gels is when all of the musicians are in one room together and we go through all kinds of ideas. You can't do it on the internet. It's just really impossible for the kind of creative work we do.
AI: Thanks guys. I'm excited about seeing Nektar perform live tonight.