November 16, 2022

In the rapidly changing 1970s, timing was everything – and through a mixture of ill-luck and self-sabotage, Bachdenkel had none. It’s a shame, but at least you can hear them now…

Okay, you’re probably using the word ‘who?’ about now. And with good reason, because as is the case with most releases on the historically fascinating Grapefruit imprint, this is a set focusing on the work of an almost entirely overlooked band. And also, one with more than a small dose of misfortune hitting them on the head like an outsize rubber mallet along the way – though it has to be said that some of their problems were also of their own making. But let’s answer that entirely understandable question, and look at who the oddly-named Bachdenkel were.

Well, firstly, despite how the name may look, they were not German. In fact, they hailed from Birmingham, which is a long way from the Rhine Valley both figuratively and geographically. Evolving from a minor local quasi-psychedelic band called U-No-Who, after a line-up change and shift in direction they rebranded themselves as The Bachdenkel Purists, which quickly became shortened to simply Bachdenkel. Which was an ironic change, as it ensured that after they left the name U-No-Who, hardly anybody knew who they were! The name remains something of a mystery, as the inspiration for it goes unanswered in the otherwise exhaustive booklet included here, and internet searching reveals no such word or phrase, so it would appear that they may have simply gone out of their way to invent a word which no-one would easily remember. Strike One in the ‘problems of their own making’ column then!

Relocating to France in 1969, they did manage to eventually arrange some studio time to record an album, entering the small Europa Sonor Studio in June 1970 with the intention of recording the record in a week with a thousand pound deposit. Unfortunately their perfectionism and procrastination, added to their somewhat grand plan to release the gimmick of an hour-long, three-sided album, took over somewhat, and after a massive 225 hours and six thousand pounds worth of studio hours, Europa Sonor confiscated the tapes and basically kicked them out until they found a label to release the record. Which they duly failed to do, as every reply was either a refusal or a derisory offer which wouldn’t even go near to covering costs. Strike Two, I think one can safely say!

Returning to the UK, they plugged away on the live circuit until, at last, Europa Sonor lost patience and arranged a deal with the French arm of Phillips Records to release the album. Unfortunately, by this time it was 1973, and by the time the album emerged (cut down to the regular two sides by omitting three songs), the world had very much moved on. Titled Lemmings, and occupying the first disc here (including the three missing tracks), it’s a pretty solid listen in terms of raw, embryonic progressive rock which would have fitted in rather nicely with several such tentative statements at the dawn of the decade. By 1973, however, the prog rock world had moved on at a dizzying pace to Dark Side Of The Moon, Brain Salad Surgery and Tales From Topographic Oceans, while Led Zeppelin were producing Houses Of The Holy, and Lemmings stuck out rather like arriving at a Playstation gaming party in the 1990s with a Commodore 64. All of which is a shame, as there is some very good material here, such as the 11-minute Settlement Song, the extremely strong composition An Appointment With The Master and the peculiarly named Strangerstill. Come All Ye Faceless is a dramatic nine-minute piece which tempts dismissal for being largely built, albeit effectively, around the martial drum rhythm which crops up prominently in Deep Purple’s Child In Time. That is, until you realise that this album was being recorded the same month that Deep Purple In Rock was released, so they had more than likely never heard it when Come All Ye Faceless was written. By the time it appeared, to put things in perspective, Deep Purple had released four albums and undergone a major line-up change in the meantime. There is some live material also added to the disc, with the versions of the album tracks Equals and Long Time Living expanding on their studio counterparts considerably and indicating a strong live act – but Lemmings was sunk before it came out owing to that three year delay, never mind the fact that it only came out in France.

Bachdenkel plugged away, however, and in 1975 recorded another album, titled Stalingrad, but with the title written in Russian cyrillic lettering, rendering it ununtelligible to most of their audience. Strike Three, I think… plus, added to the confusion, there were two tracks called Stalingrad, one titled in Russian lettering (with English lyrics) and the other written in English script (an instrumental). The CD Player display appears to interpret the former as Ctalingrad, which doesn’t really help. Anyhow, apart from that odd decision, the album’s nine tracks are tightly focused, relatively short and yet imaginatively structured accessible prog rock, which at that time in 1975 when bands such as Supertramp, Styx and the newly Gabriel-less Genesis were having such success with a similar template, was perfectly judged to catch the mood of the time when the album got its release – in the UK this time out – via the independent Initial Recordings label. Unfortunately (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), by the time that release happened it was 1977 and the UK in particular was in the grip of the punk and new wave scene which was branding such efforts as the work of lumbering dinosaurs. The likes of Supertramp and Genesis could ride that out to a large extent on their existing following, but when the cheerfully fresh-faced Bachdenkel turned up as eight-year-veteran ‘new kids on the block’, they were effectively run out of town on a rail. Which is rather a shame, as Stalingrad is a very well constructed album which still sounds fresh today. In 1978 Lemmings even got its long-awaited UK release, in the full three-sided format – but by that time the band didn’t even exist any more, and everyone ignored it anyway. Further live recordings accompany the Stalingrad album on the second disc here, and vary from the sublime (a brilliant rendition of 7x2Morrow) to the far less so (a couple of meandering jams and a perfunctory Chuck Berry cover).

There is a third disc in the excellent value set, titled ‘Other Appointments’ and consisting of bits and pieces ranging from pre-Bachdenkel recordings by U-No-Who, unreleased and non-album Bachdenkel tracks, and some extra-curricular later work from various members. The U-No-Who material is actually surprisingly good, underlining what a lottery the psychedelic scene was at times, as the fact that the catchy Now And Again Rebecca and the beautifully melodic Strange People (the outstanding track on the disc) are condemned to obscurity while a piece of utter piffle such as Keith West’s pretentiously titled Excerpt From A Teenage Opera remains a fixture on compilations from the era. Some of the Bachdenkel tracks are also excellent, revealing them to have more in the tank, and while the handful of later collaborative efforts are mostly disposable, it’s still a very worthy 22 track disc.

In the final analysis, are Bachdenkel a lost diamond deserving of latter-day ‘classic’ status? No, truthfully they were never in that league. However, would they have had a better shot at getting at least middling success and a decent profile had their albums appeared in 1970 and 1975? That would very likely be a ‘Yes’, as once an album has achieved a certain cachet and reputation, even after it dates it is still recognised as a quality artefact of its era (some output from the likes of The Nice or The Moody Blues spring to mind) – and indeed, had Genesis seen Trespass delayed until 1973, even that respected album might well have sunk like a stone. In the rapidly changing 1970s, timing was everything – and through a mixture of ill-luck and self-sabotage, Bachdenkel had none. It’s a shame, but at least you can hear them now…