Claus Bohling's Elektrum

By Scott Heller

From Aural Innovations #7 (July 1999)

Elektrum is the newest band formed by guitar great Claus Bohling. Claus is well known in the Danish music community and has performed with many bands since the late 60's. Elektrum is based in Cornwall in England, but the band has come and toured in Denmark 2-3 times each year for the past three years. I was lucky recently to corner Claus and the band and have him fill me in a little on his history and where his new band and music are headed.

SH: You have a long musical career. Was the BB Brothers (1965) sort of a teenage get together and jam sort of thing.

CB: We were the Boom Boom Brothers. Before that we started playing with a straight Danish guy named Peter . We changed the name then and that became the Hurdy Gurdy. We were already flying a bit musically before that. We were quite strict blues and sort of further developments on blues.

SH: So more improvisation.

CB: I also played some beat bop jazz when I was really young and that sort of slanted it a bit.

SH: So it became Hurdy Gurdy when you came back from England?

CB: No, it was before that when we split with the singer guy, then we became the Hurdy Gurdy. English bass player, Mac McCloud, Danish drummer, Jens Otzen.

SH: That was like 1968?

CB: Probably '66 or 1967. I think we were touring in England for the first time in '67 where we met up with Donavan, who had written a song for us.

SH: It seems like a lot of the old Hurdy Gurdy was based on improvisation.

CB: It was all improvisation, sometimes. There were periods when we did not want to do any material. Just let it grow onstage. That produces some really long gigs, like 4 to 6 hours sometimes. And sometimes we would only play 1/4 of an hour if we didn't like the place.

SH: Did you ever record any of these 4 hour gigs?

CB: There ought to be something out there, but you know recording techniques were so bad, so quality might not be that good But some people they have some stuff. The Hurdy Gurdy CD is not really representative of the band, not really. We went in to try to make a straight album because that is what we were encouraged to do.

SH: There are some really great songs on that album. Spaceman is a great song!

(The other guys interrupt us with a lot of laughter. So I have to ask them what's up?)

SH: What's so funny.

IM: It's the guest list. He's written, Mom, Dad, Uncle Jim and Auntie Jessie.

SH: When did Hurdy Gurdy call it a day?

CB: When Secret Oyster began.

SH: When was that?

CB: 1972 to 1973.

SH: The first album was in 1973.

CB: That was soon after I joined. I did not exactly join. It was a group created around the people by Karsten Foegul of Burning Red Ivanhoe. He sort of handpicked what he could find of the cream of musicians. We made that album in Jutland on only 2 tracks. I haven't heard those albums in years. It was recorded live in one track.

SH: That was going back to more of your beat bop jazz days..

CB: They were definitely more of a jazz background. I was sort of the rocker in the group.

SH: Your playing style on the last Secret Oyster records was very jazzy though.

CB: I had to sort of mould it to fit in.

SH: I noticed that although those albums, except the first one, are standard 3-4 songs per side, the band played quite long songs live.

CB: Yeah. it was quite a good band, but I think the albums suffered from having too many introverted, stylized numbers. I think you could make a fairly good greatest hits album out of the 4 or 5 albums we made. You could make one good one.

SH: One great one! So what happened between 1978 and 1992, when you started the Claus Bohling Band.

CB: I sort of moved to England. I only spent half the year here. I was fixing up a house in England. Moving back and forth. I had a band called Masala Dosa, which Jeff was in. A good band.

SH: Wow... I love the Masala Dosa album..

CB: I wasn't on the album but we have some other recordings, just after they made that album and before we joined. We have some recordings we can send you.

JK: We did a live recording here in Copenhagen at a place called Huset.

SH: What was the first line up of when you called it the Claus Bohling Band?

CB: It was Ian and me and a drummer named Jason. We toured over here in 1994. Then it was Darren on drums and now Jeff is in the band.

SH: Any reasons why Darren left the band?

CB: He has some domestic things, like having babies. We had been thinking for a long time about playing again with Jeff, so it was a happy event.

SH: How long has Jeff been in the band?

JK: A month, 6 weeks.

IM: 15 gigs.

CB: We had one rehearsal and then we started playing gigs.

SH: Are you doing more improvisation now? Is it new material?

CB: It's all improvisation but it is the same material.

IM: We didn't really have much time.

SH: So you guys did not write any new songs between the time you came to Denmark last and now? Do the songs in Elektrum come out of jam sessions.

CB: A lot of it comes out of soundchecks. Someone comes up with an idea and we try it out. I don't think we have ever rehearsed. Once or twice maybe. We have also been a little too busy to compose. We have not felt a great need for it yet. Now we can consolidate with Jeff. Things are moving all the time. The numbers are changing all the time, they are evolving. There is more improvisation involved. The numbers are really just a beginning and an ending. A general direction. That is really what the numbers are.

SH: When did you start experimenting with the wah wah/distortion combination that gives you the spacey sound you have now.

CB: I have played it as long as I can remember. Wah wah with distortion, but increasingly better quality ones. Like the Morley. It used to be a little stick with a pot inside and it would get dirty and get stuck. And then sort of the Ibanez tube screamer. Just subtle differences that mould the sound.

SH: You have certainly mastered the wah wah! When I have tried to describe the band, which can be challenging for all instrumental bands, I have said, "mostly instrumental psychedelic mixture of spacerock that is best as Ozric Tentacles without the synthesizers".

CB: Fair enough..

IM: A few people have said that as well.

CB: The Ozric Tentacles came and saw us at a festival and they went back and woke up the guitarist and pulled him out of his tent to come listen to us. They thought that we sounded like a German band called Kraan.

SH: Kraan were a great band and an influence on Ed, the guitar player.

CB: Yeah... he did talk about them.

SH: One thing that people have commented on is that some of the songs sound too much alike. For example, Jungle Juice and E45, with Darren playing the digeridoo at the beginning of both of those songs.

CB: Yeah... but the titles different! They are definitely a similar structure. We had decided to start with a slow builder for each set.

SH: What kind of audience do you think you can really reach with this type of music?

CB: It seems like the really young ones. You know, the young audience, they have given up on straight songs, like techno. They don't care, they just want the energy. In the past, it had to be the song, beginning, the ending, the riff... and so on. And I think in the future, it is not as important as it was. The industry won't have such a big hold over the music as they have had.

SH: No. I agree. Recording and everything is becoming so much easier. It is so much easier to do it without them and with the internet you can even market it yourself.

CB: There is always going to be the teen market with the posters and the pretty boys, but as far as the real music scene, I think they are going to lose their grip.

SH: How much have you played in England itself?

CB: We play weekly.

IM: We did 120 concerts last year.

CB: That is in total, Denmark and England.

SH: Is it mostly in the south of England? Have you been as far as Newcastle?

CB: Yeah... we have not been up that far. It is big distances. It is mostly the bottom core from Cornwall to London. We have done some of the good English festivals like Glastonbury and the Megadog Festivals. We did a bit at WOMAD. We had a jam with Dr. Dig. Ian and I had a bit of a set of him.

SH: Do you get out and play with other bands when you are in England? Go up and have a jam.

CB: There was a period before I met Ian where I did some straight pub gigs with whoever.

IM: I was busy trying to make bands because I had just moved to the area, so I was finding the musicians and wearing them out, basically. But I haven't worn him out yet.

CB: There was not a band that I played with that I wanted to take to Denmark before I met Ian.

SH: So you didn't do much recording between like 1980 and...

CB: I did do some stuff in the studio with some people that is lying around. Maybe no one will ever hear it, except Claus Rassmussen, he's probably already got it! (lots of laughs!!) Jeff and I did a number called New Land that probably no one has heard.

JK: It's on our first tape, isn't it?

SH: Why don't you play it tonight?

JK: No, we haven't played it in 7 or 8 years.

CB: We need to check it at the soundcheck.

IM: I would love to do it on this tour.

SH: Have you guys ever played any of the other old Hurdy Gurdy numbers besides Lost in the Jungle?

CB: No... I have tried to avoid even playing it though. I am highly embarrassed about my past.

SH: You shouldn't be.

CB: I find it difficult to listen to myself. I don't mind the Elektrum stuff. I can actually listen to it. But if it goes back to those days, especially my voice. It was the first time I had ever sang on the Hurdy Gurdy album. I had actually never sung before. I went straight into the studio and started singing. I did start to sing better later, when I got into the material. Then got into Secret Oyster and completely stopped singing. It is especially the singing. But funny enough lots of people like that album.

SH: I think some of the guitar riffs are great.

CB: When you rethink about it, I wasn't really that old.

SH: 1971?

CB: Yeah, 1971.. I would have been 21-22.

SH: Elektrum is very much a live band. It does not seem to make much sense for you to release a studio album. Are there any plans?

CB: I think we can do it to maybe have some numbers that are shorter. If we went into the studio, I think the numbers would naturally become shorter. And obviously, you can get some good quality. So you could do it for that purpose. You might lose something else though. You never know.

JK: Maybe just to give the band the radio friendly tape or CD that it will need to get the name around. It might just be a good idea to do it.

SH: I think that with instrumental music it is very hard to get airplay.

JK: We actually have 2 or 3 numbers with vocals, so it would be those numbers. Stretch it out to a slightly wider audience.

SH: So you think you will record a studio CD this year.

JK: I personally would like to do it.

IM: It would be nice because people are already asking us if we have a new CD out. Also, we have a new band, as such, and we oughta have a new CD as well!

After the interview, I went out to see my friends and get ready to record the gig. This was the first tour of Denmark for Elektrum in 1999. They came here twice last year and I saw them twice each tour. I was really looking forward to this concert and hoping to hear some new material. As for the show, the band played two sets again but they were shorter than usual and it was all the same songs. Nothing new at all, so I was a little disappointed. Some of the guitar parts were quite a bit different and Claus just rips it up on the guitar on nearly every number. I could see that he was looking back at the new drummer often to like give him cues. This was like the 15th gig with the band and so maybe they are trying to be a bit too tight. I felt that the band never really let it go at this gig. There was also quite a small crowd of only 25 people this night. Some great songs but some that were just too much the same and not adventurous as in the past. The highlight of the show was for sure the version of Solid Underground. This totally kicked ass and the band was in high funk gear. WOW! But that was then the end of the show. I talked with the band and am trying to encourage them to do spontaneous composition like back in the old Hurdy Gurdy days. We will see...

The set list was:

Set 1 - E45, Headgear, Red Lead, Platin, Killer, Skies the Limit, Hinterland
Set 2 - Jungle Juice, Elektrum, Mandala, Lost in the Jungle, Round the Mountain, Solid Underground

Contact the band at: Alderbeer, Morwenstow, Cornwall EX23 9HX, England (Phone 44-1288 331 431)

A selected Claus Bohling Discography:

Hurdy Gurdy (1967-1972)
1970 Tick Tock Man/ Lend me your Wings 7" (Spectator Records MS 114)
1972 Hurdy Gurdy LP (CBS 64781)
1996 Hurdy Gurdy CD (Walhalla 96001) rerelease

Secret Oyster (1972-1977)
1973 Secret Oyster (CBS S65769)
1974 Oyster Jungle/Black Mist 7" (CBS 2899)
Sea Son (CBS 80489)
1975 Valse de Soir/Æbler-Æbler 7" (CBS 3890) Vidunderlige Kælling (CBS 81044)
1976 Straight to the Krankenhaus/Rubber Star 7" (CBS 65769)
Straight to the Kankenhaus (CBS 81434)

Masala Dosa (1979-1980)
Unreleased Studio Album

Elektrum (1995- present)
1998 Live in Christiana (recorded live at Loppen 12/97) cassette
Live at the Opera CD (ELE 2002)

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