AMON DÜÜL II - Mean Fiddler, London, UK, November 13th 2005
From the age of 15 and for about the next four years, my musical world was centred very much on Germany. Having been introduced to ‘Krautrock’ by my schoolfriend, John, I discovered a whole new world of exciting sounds by strange bands called Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Ashra Tempel and individuals called Klaus Schulze, Robert Schroeder and Manuel Gottsching. At some point, I encountered a band called Amon Düül II and developed an immediate fondness (a fondness that I soon to discovered was not shared by my contemporaries). Upon entering Polytechnic in 1984, however, my penchants for Krautrock slowly withered, to be replaced by Morrissey and his chums in the burgeoning Indie scene. My German friends started to gather dust on the shelf.
Fast-forward to 2005 and I find myself emailing John to ask if he is interested in going to see Amon Düül II at the Mean Fiddler in November. The reply comes back in the affirmative and tickets are purchased. In the intervening two decades, our musical tastes have diverged substantially but we both enjoy ‘educating’ the other when the opportunity arises. This can mean spectacular success, as in the case of Kraftwerk at the Manchester Apollo in early 2004 (they were never one of my faves, but that night was sublime), or hideous failure (as in the case of Gong in London in 1997 – quite simply the worst gig that I have ever been to). I confess that I feared that November 2005 would more likely fall into the latter category as the date approached.
Come the night and we arrive at the very dark and subterranean venue about fifteen minutes prior to the band taking the stage. A quick stop at the merchandising venue reveals teeshirts and signed posters for a tenner each. I am tempted, but the posters sell out quickly. I find that I am looking forward to this greatly and am not sure why.
As the first support band clear away their stuff and the stage is set up for Amon Düül II (themselves a support for someone called Space Ritual – ex-Hawkwind apparently), I decide to educate John about the group and why they are so special, but realise that I have forgotten pretty much everything about them save the album titles. Would I even recognise the songs as they were played? Does this incarnation of the group contain any of the original members? I start to get nervous again.
Before long, the roadies clear the stage, leaving several decidedly middle-aged men (plus a very youthful drummer) and Renate, the only group member I could name. Thoughts go back to Gong again, but I am determined to enjoy this whatever happens.
Any anxiety lasts about thirty seconds. As soon as the band start to play, I know that this is Amon Düül II; I don’t know the track, but I know the sound and I find myself starting to smile.
The acoustics in the venue are not brilliant, but are good enough to reveal that the band members can play and they are rocking! Each song builds on the momentum of the previous one (although, curiously, they all seemed to be a minute or so too short) and it is a joy to be a part of this.
In contrast to Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream gigs, it was clear that the band members were enjoying themselves, especially the main man (Chris Carrer?), who, despite looking like a board director of a major German industrial conglomerate, was the coolest guy in the place in his shades and hoodie. Renate was bouncing around at the front also and still sounding great.
The surprise of the night was a stupendous track that featured the young guy leading the band with a bongo drum in a glorious rock/middle-east fusion and I wish I knew what the hell it was called.
I did recognise a few songs, but each and every one was magnificent.
After an hour it was all over. The band left the stage to huge applause, but there was to be no encore. John and I left (myself a tenner lighter having purchased a one-size-too-small teeshirt), having seen what we came to see – after that performance, Space Ritual could have been nothing more than anti-climactic.
A few days later, I found myself once more playing my old discs, in some cases for the first time in 20 years; the raw, but seductive sounds of Carnival In Babylon; the altogether more polished Made In Germany; the laid back jam session that is Hawk Meets Penguin. They sound good and I find myself wondering why I forsook them for such a long time.
Amon Düül II have revived my interest in Krautrock and I am looking forward greatly to discovering other Amon Düül II albums, Faust, Neu and whoever else in the not-too-distant future.
Review by Mark Howson