Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I'm a sucker for '60s German beatbands - meet The Gloomys

When folks think about German music it seems to revolve around Krautrock, or polkas.  Forgotten in that equation is the fact West Germany had a thriving rock scene throughout the 1950s and 1960s.  Yes, it was heavily influenced by British and American bands, but there were literally thousands of West German pop and rock bands 

The early 1960s found West German bands following their British counterparts in discovering skiffle. Formed in 1961 in Berlin, The Gloomy Moon Skiffle Group jumped headlong into the skiffle scene, gaining their first recognition when they won second place in the city's 1961 Goldene Waschbrett (Golden Washboard) talent contest.  (For anyone who cares about rock trivia, the winning band were The Lords.)   The resulting attention saw the band signed as a house band for the Berlin Riverboat Club (which in spite of its name, was actually located in an anonymous, modern looking building in Hohenzollerndamm, within sight of the Berlin wall).  Skiffle carried the band for a couple of years, but responding to changing public tastes, by 1964 they'd drop their skiffle repertoire in favor of beat, renamed themselves The Gloomy Moon Singers.  With help from Riverboat Club management the band bought electric instruments and stage equipment, subsequently signing a contract with Decca where they released a pair singles, followed by a on-shot release for Telefunken's Special Elite label:

- 1964's 'Zieht euch warm an' b/w 'Wenn Du Willst (Decca catalog number D 19 551)
- 1964's 'Du hast mire Geschworen' b/w 'Kein andres Macher hat Augen so wie Du'  (Decca catalog number D 19 555)
- 1965's Keep On Dancing' b/w 'Hang On Sloopy' (Special Elite catalog number F 4037)

Over the next two years the band returned to the club circuit, playing throughout Germany, along with dates in Austria and Spain.   By 1967 the band, now featuring rhythm guitarist Heinz Harden (who'd previously recorded some early-'60s solo sides), lead guitarist Heinz-Joachim Krebs, bassist Jöerg Kulla, drummer Peter Manikowski, and singer Mike Sanden had reinvented themselves as The Gloomys.   Signed by Columbia/EMI, they released their debut LP the same year.  Produced by Ralph Siegle Jr. who also wrote several of the songs,1967's "Daybreak" featured a mixture of four Krebs originals and eight interesting covers, including a pair of Tim Hardin numbers (If I Were a Carpenter' and 'The Lady Came From Baltimore').  Musically the album wasn't particularly original, placing the ban in the same category as Merseybeat also-rans like Freddie and the Dreamers, or Gerry & the Pacemakers.  The Hardin covers added an element of American folk influence, while their cover of The Supremes 'Com See About Me' saw them dipping their collective toes into a Germanic version of blue-eyed soul.  As lead singer Sanden was actually quite impressive.  Yeah, his accented vocals were noticeable, but you quickly grew accustom to it and at least to my ears, he actually had a far better voice than The Lords' Ulli Gunthe.  Moreover, these guys were actually pretty good musicians, capable of generating some decent pop and rock numbers - anyone doubting that need only check out the Krebs original 'King and Queen').  

- Built on a haunting keyboard and acoustic guitar powered melody, I'll readily admit 'Daybreak' started the album with a surprisingly impressive slice of pop.  The horn orchestration may have been a tad heavy, but it was one of those songs that crept into your head at unexpected moments and wouldn't leave, which is probably why it was tapped as a single   rating: *** stars
- The up tempo 'Calling Mayfair 5-0-16' was even better.  True, this wasn't going to win any awards for lyrics, but it was easily as good as anything most British pop bands were churning out during the same timeframe.  Sanden turned in one of his best vocals on this one.  The song also showcased the band's tight harmony vocal skills.   rating: **** stars
- The first of two Tim Hardin covers, their take on 'If I Were a Carpenter' didn't stray far from the original which meant it was pretty catchy.  Highlights included Jöerg Kulla bass and (can't believe I'm saying this), a nice flute solo.   rating: **** stars
- The first disappointment, the ballad 'West End Station' sounded like a lame attempt to tap into the same market that found 'Eleanor Rigby' so attractive.  Personally I found it far too sappy to be of any use ...   rating: ** stars
- With a breezy, horn propelled melody 'Words Written on Water' was a decent slice of top-40 pop.  Probably too MOR for many folks, it was still fairly commercial.   rating: *** stars
- The second Hardin cover, 'The Lady Came From Baltimore' was nice enough, but just a bit too country-tinged for my tastes.   rating: ** stars
- The first of four Heinz-Joachim Krebs originals, 'Queen and King' was a pounding slice of blue-eyed soul with some dynamite vocals and Krebs on organ.  One of he album highlights ...   rating; **** stars
- The band's cover of The Supremes stuck pretty close to the original arrangement, but there was something fascinating in hearing Sanden and the rest of the band singing the song in falsettos.  Neither Sanden, nor the rest of the group sound particularly comfortable in that range, but they somehow managed to power through the song.   rating: *** stars
- Another Krebs original, 'Run Into My Heart ' sounded like a mid-'60s Merseybeat ballad.  It was pretty enough, but by 1967 must have already sounded quite dated.  The end of the song had an interesting drum meltdown.   rating: ** stars
- 'On a Friday's Night' stuck with the Merseybeat feel, though this one was an up tempo rocker.  Unlike most of the songs on the album, this one had absolutely no orchestration.   The band still managed to acquit themselves well.    rating: *** stars  
- Even though it was a sappy ballad, 'Have a Happy, Happy Time' was ultimately saved by the insidiously catchy title refrain and some nice jangle rock guitar.    rating: *** stars  
- A cover of J.D. Loudermilk's 'It's My Time' was simply too country-ified for anyone's good and adding a coronet solo to the arrangement didn't exactly up the song's rock quotient.    rating: ** stars  
- The final Kreb's original, 'It Was O So Easy' was a moody, mid-tempo rocker that showed some real talent and gave you a feel for what these guys could have done with a bit of creative leeway.  Nice melody; nice jangle guitars; nice vocals ... easily one of the best songs on the album.   rating: **** stars
- I think The Troggs had the original hit, but this version of the saccharine 'Hi Hi Hazel' wasn't any worse ...   The song's always struck me as sounding like an antacid commercial.   rating: ** stars

As mentioned above, the album spun off a single in the form of:


- 1968's 'Daybreak' b/w 'Calling Mayfair 5-0-16' (Columbia C 23 694)

Admittedly, with the possible exception of the original 'It Was O So Easy' there wasn't anything particularly creative, or artful on this one, rather it was music as a commodity.  That said, it was done with more care and enthusiasm than you found on score of better known (and better selling) releases and if they'd included one or two more originals I probably would have given it four stars.  You also had to wonder what would have happen had this set had been recorded by an English band ...

"Daybreak" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Daybreak   (Ralph Siegal Jr. - Michael Kunze) - 
2.) Calling Mayfair 5-0-16    (Ralph Siegal Jr. - Michael Kunze) - 
3.) If I Were a Carpenter  (Tim Hardin) - 
4.) West End Station   (Ralph Siegal Jr. - Michael Kunze) - 
5.) Words Written on Water  (Leon Carr) - 
6.) The Lady Came From Baltimore   (Tim Hardin) - 
7.) Queen and Kind   (J. Krebs) -  

(side 2)
1.) Come See About Me   )Brian Holland - Eddy Holland - Lamont Dozier) - 

2.) Run Into My Heart   (J. Krebs) -  
3.) On a Friday's Night   (J. Krebs) -  
4.) Have a Happy, Happy Time   (Tom Dooley) -
5.) It's My Time (Jo D. Loudermilk) - 
6.) It Was O So Easy   (J. Krebs) -  
7.) Hi Hi Hazel  (Martin Coultere) - 

Over the next year the band released a string of non-LP singles:

- 1968's 'Wind of Change' b/w 'Sooner of Later (Columbia catalog number C 23 763)
- 1968's 'David and Goliath' b/w 'Westland Station' Columbia catalog number C 23 903
- 1968's 'The World Goes Round and Round' b/w 'When My Door Squeakers (Columbia catalog number C 24 002)
- 1968's 'Treat Her Like You Wanna Be Treated' b/w 'Day O' (Columbia catalog number 1C 006-28 410)

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