Essay - RAB CD release 2001


Essay - RAB CD release 2001

Irrespective of society, country or marketing creed, it is a simple fact of supply and demand that scarcity ratchets up prices. Look at the sighingly high prices that certain record pressings command. Rarity value and collectability go hand in hand. In extreme cases when demand outstrips supply suppliers may have recourse to 'alternative' options in order to meet demand. Ugly words like bootleg and pirate spring to mind. Consequently, many a reissue has been predicated more on the original record's rarity value than its aesthetic or musical worth, conjuring the sneer of Ireland's wit and man of letters Oscar Wilde who famously put down an opponent marking him as somebody who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. This is the Real Ax Band's only album. Its initial pressing reached maybe 2500 or so copies - to be frank, nobody seems sure, those were different times and a different spirit was abroad. That, and the fact that 'Nicht Stehenbleiben/Move Your Ass In Time' commanded high enough prices to become a pirate CD, would qualify it as proper supply-and-demand KrautRock rarity on several counts. But much more important is its musical worth. And its place in the history...

Marlon Klein and Toffi Mache founded the Real Ax Band in the unusually long, unusually hot summer of 1976 when mercury was exploring rarely visited barometric heights. Between then and early 1977 people came and went while the group played dozens of small Beatschuppen and clubs in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Early in 1977 the line-up that made this album coalesced when Maria Archer, Heinz-Otto Gwiasda and Dieter Miekautsch entered the frame. Maria Archer and Dieter Miekautsch were newly returned from Africa and were looking for a new band with whom they could perform. Both had already worked with Embryo, a chimera of a collective first founded in 1969 that defied - and defies - any stab at tidy-mindedness or attempt at musical compartmentalisation. By 2000 some fool calculated that Embryo had had more than 300 collaborators pass through its ranks, so, historically speaking, Maria Archer and Dieter Miekautsch figure as relatively early participants in Embryo's experiment - the kind of experiment that Georg Capellen predicted as early as 1906 and dubbed Weltmusik or 'world music' in English.

Of course, the Real Ax Band was a young band very much stamped in the temper of its time. It mixed and matched rock, jazz, soul and Latino elements in ways that showed off influences with candour and little attempt at concealing the group's influences. In Maria Archer the group had a vocalist who sounded real when singing English, not like KrautRock's standard painful Anglo-American imitation from over somebody's weirdest rainbow. She came from Ghana. That helped.

When this line-up of the Real Ax Band came together, it was a time in Germany, as anyone who lived through the period will remember, when many were still living the dream of community hard. Many bands lived in Wohngemeinschaften or Kommunen - the choice of word largely determined by social or political adherences. Some bands living in communes emulated the likes of the Grateful Dead in Haight-Ashbury or Traffic in the Berkshire countryside. Most were just flat-sharing under a more grandiose guise, sharing a living space with like-minded people, whether connected by music, art, politics or a mutual search for something better but until then...

One day the Real Ax Bandís drummer, Marlon Klein, later of Dissidenten fame, went to load up the band-bus for the next gig. Mercifully, somebody had already stowed the gear and the equipment room was empty. One by one, late-risers stumbled into the Wohngemeinschaft's kitchen. They sat chatting, breakfasting, drinking coffee. Until it came out that nobody had loaded the van. With the theft of their unpaid equipment went their idealism and innocence. The theft saddled them with a bunch of debts that the small fees they could command would take years to clear. Sometimes all it takes to tip a band over the edge is one disaster. It signalled the end of the Real Ax Band. The band crumbled. Nicht Stehenbleiben/Move Your Ass In Time is all that remains of that youthful excitement. But the Real Ax Band led to still better things...

Ken Hunt April 2001