What do you get when you cross the Yardbirds with German prog?
In or around 1980 I went into my friendly local record shop and purchased a new, shrink-wrapped 2LP set called Shapes of Things. It was a compilation of Yardbirds radio broadcasts and whatnot, on the Canada-based Bomb label. One of those semi-legit releases, I think.
I got home and played it, and it was fine. But where side 4 was supposed to have five songs, the banding clearly showed that there were only two. I played it, and it was this weird music, sung in sort-of English, with an unfamiliar accent. The music was a weird mix of folk and progressive rock. At that time — I was only sixteen, and the charts were ruled by Boston and KISS — I wasn’t familiar with progressive rock beyond Yes and a bit of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I had certainly never heard anything like this.
I took the record back to the shop and explained it to the owner, who was pretty well-versed in music. We put the record on his turntable and played it. He had no idea who it was. A pressing error, of course, but no clue as to the identity of the artist. He offered to refund my money or let me get another copy of the record, but I decided I liked the music enough to keep it.
Flash forward to around 2000 — some twenty years later. I recounted the story on one of the online discussion groups I frequented. I provided a sound clip, and to my delight, within hours a fellow list member identified the music: side 2 of Grobschnitt‘s Rockpommel’s Land. Grobschnitt, I learned, was a prog/psych rock group from Germany, and the lead singer (“Willi Wildschwein” or something like that) did indeed sometimes sing in some Teutonic-English pidgin. The by-now familiar prog tropes (loud/quiet, fast/slow, hard/soft) are all in full display on the two songs. It’s a delightful bit of progressive whimsy, sort of a cross between British psychedelia and something like Gentle Giant. But with certain elements (even beyond the vocals) that somehow marked it (to that teenager in 1980, anyway) as foreign.
The album in question — the group’s fifth long-player — had been released in 1977. How half of it ended up on side 4 of a Yardbirds comp is something of a minor mystery; having a record slipped erroneously into the wrong sleeve is one thing, but pressing one side of one album and the other of another, well, that’s pretty rare. As best I can tell, the tiny Bomb label never had any connection with Brain Records, Grobschnitt’s label. In fact I can’t even verify that Rockpommel’s Land was ever pressed on vinyl in North America.
I still have the vinyl. And I have still never, ever seen a vinyl copy of any Grobschnitt LP here in the USA. I got a bit of a laugh when I finally saw the cover art for Rockpommel’s Land: Roger Dean‘s lawyer is on line one.
There’s a great clip of Grobschnitt (which translates as “rough cut,” by the way) performing “Anywhere”, one of the two songs on my LP, on Youtube. Embedding is disabled, but here’s a link.
Postscript: Grobschnitt has re-formed (with some new members, some old) and now tours Europe to great success. And on October 24 2009, in a place called Hückeswagen Germany, the group performed Rockpommel’s Land in its entirety onstage for the first time in 31 years. I vander if there’s a bootleg of that ;-).