A Brief History
Never has the subtitle to this section (A Brief History) been so apt. German band, Häx Cel's's history only lasted a few months to a year between 1971/72. The group came together in late 1971 in Hanover with the aim of combining classical music with the then ever so popular progressive rock. The line-up consisted of Michael Moebus (bass, vocals), Achim Neubauer (electric piano), Rainer Greffrath (drums) and Dieter Neumann (flute, vocals). As one can notice, the band intentionally omitted from their line-up the presence of a guitarist, a rather unusual move for a rock band.
The band got round to gigging with the first gig taking place in Bremen on 28/1/72, following which the band even undertook live radio appearances. During one of these gigs the band were picked up by jazz drummer Dietmar Siebrasse (Dizzy Brassé) who ran his own Dizzy Records label and offered them the opportunity to record a single. Thus the 7" single, Albinoni/Difference (Dizzy Records DS 723) was released in June 1972 with a totem of the Canadian Haida Indians on the cover. This symbol would be further used in future releases by the band.
On 29/10/72 the band were recorded live at the Beethovensaal, Hanover and these recordings were later put to vinyl and released as Zwai (Dizzy Records LP DS 726). There is a certain amount of discrepancy as to when the album was actually released with sources within the band quoting October 1972, and others mentioning 1973 as a more plausible date of release. On today's collectors markets the album can fetch as much as $200 in mint condition, with the single fetching possibly more as it is virtually unheard of amongst collectors!
However the end of the band was already nigh. For starters they were terribly disappointed with the choice of the cover used for the album which featured simply a grey concrete wall with garffiti sprayed on it, together with various elementary typographical errors found on the album sleeve. Furthermore Achim Neubauer intended to move to Bochum to study whilst Michael Moebus spent time in the U.S.A. The Beethovensaal gig proved to be the last concert that Häx Cel would play, as least for the next twenty five years.
In the summer of 1996 the members met up and decided to reform the band. only Rainer Geffrath could not rejoin the band as he had since moved to Bremen, and his place was taken by Michael Fromm. The lineup would also be augmented with the inclusion of a guitarist, Tobias Neumann, son of Dieter. This lineup, apart from the occasional concert would also release two albums A Second Time (GEMA 19797) and Häxcellent (Parodise 10300129-2). Furthermore the original Zwai album together with the two tracks that appeared on the only Häx Cel single have been released by the Garden Of Delights label on CD, allowing modern day progressive rock lovers to further appreciate this hitherto unknown band.
Häx Cel - Zwai
Tracklist: Side 1: Albinoni (4:15), A Second Time (3:06), Music (5:28), Julius Caesar (4:40), Bourrée (1:16) Side 2: Marsch (5:18), Land Of Dreams (5:05), To Barbara (7:25), Andante (0:50)
Bonus Tracks: Albinoni (3:20), Difference (3:08)
Musicians: Dieter Neumann (flute, vocals), Achim Neubauer (el. piano), Michael Moebus (bass, vocals),
Rainer Greffrath (drums)
Music & Lyrics by Häx Cel
Recorded life (Live) at Beethovensaal, Hanover, Germany on 29/10/72
A 1972 release, Zwai still remains fresh and essentially a very pleasant listen till this very day, and listening to the album over and over again one cannot but be saddened by the fact that circumstances beyond the band's control prevented any further releases on their part during the seventies and eighties.
The album opens with Albinoni, which was also the track utilised as a single by the band. This instrumental shows the classical influence that there pervades throughout the whole of the band's music. Furthermore one cannot but be taken aback by the lack of guitar within the lineup, with the brunt of the soloing borne out by Neumann's flute. The keyboard is played out in a harpsichord style to give that Renaissance feel as the band romp through this track in style.
A Second Time is the first track through which one gets a glimpse of Neumann's vocals which admittedly sound strained, yet one has to also take into account that the whole of the album was recorded live, and that Neumann had to play the flute when not singing! Having said that the band play it out in a most powerful way. Music is one of the band's mainstay compositions, still being an integral part of their live repertoire and one can understand this perfectly as it is here that the band manage to bring together all the various styles that influence their music under one roof. The parts with vocals have an ELP powerful sound that suddenly becomes almost medieval and classically drenched, a cross between Jethro Tull and Renaissance.
Taking cues from the famous speech by Mark Anthony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the band utilise this track to further stress their ability in creating a true romp. The drums spew up a fantastic rhythm which contrast sharply with the almost monotonous vocals as the band hasten to catch up. Of course the classical background within the band had to be brought out in a definite fashion and this album features two Handel works played for flute and piano. These are the short Bourrée (mis-spelt on the album with a double r!) and the closing Andante, both of which sound great as individual tracks but are rather out of context on the whole of the album.
Marsch starts off with a lovely instrumental piece, which could easily have been nicked from any well known classical composer. Furthermore the placidness as well as the perfect accentuation would liken Häx Cel to a British band rather than a German one. The English is spoken without any form of accent whilst their is a certain amount of irony and sarcasm hidden within the whole of the framework of this song that is not usually associated with German bands. A short note should also be said about the style of the flute on this track, which is significantly different to what is used on the rest of the album. The style has much more in common with Tull's Ian Anderson's way of playing which contrast with the traditional style of flute playing as the accentuation and breathing is much harsher and rhythmic.
The bluesy Land Of Dreams sparked off a thought that if this band had traded their flute for a guitar, and subsequently the keyboard parts played out on a Hammond, then they would have sounded much like what Deep Purple sounded then! In fact this particular track features all the power and rhythm that Deep Purple obsessed, combined with the flair and Mediaeval imagery that Ritchie Blackmore wold conjure up on his guitar. Well, Häx Cel do just that yet tone the Hammond to a harpsichord sounding keyboard and the guitar parts are taken over by the flute!
The final "original" track on the album was To Barbara, another piece of music which manages to feature all of the Häx Cel ingredients. On can sense that the band had their roots in the British sphere of progressive rock, and it is no wonder that one of their favourite bands would be Rare Bird. The re-released CD version of this album also features as bonus tracks the single version of Albinoni and Difference, both of which had appeared on the only single from Häx Cel.
The main drawback of the album , was that though recorded in a live atmosphere, this is never conveyed onto the recording as each track is present as a single entity with the sound of the crowd faded out after each is played. Apart from that the sound is pretty good and the band are in wonderful form. In fact Häx Cel had a power that few guitar-less bands that I have heard have managed to convey and their absence from the recording scene during progressive rock's heydays in the seventies is indeed a great pity!
Musicians: Michael Moebus (bass, vocals), Achim-P Neubauer (keyboards), Dieter Neumann (flute, vocals),
Tobias Neumann (guitars), Michael Fromm (drums)
Music and lyrics by Häx Cel except Track 4 adapted from Rare Bird
Recorded and mixed by Rainer Holst at Staccato Studio, Hannover in April 1998
Back in the studio after a twenty six year absence. A Second Time was originally recorded as a demo album by the newly reformed band in their bid to record a new studio album. Thus of the six tracks present on what could be considered a Demo or mini album, only three are actually new pieces, with one of them being a cover version. Furthermore the original line-up could not be present for the recording, though there are three fourths of the original band present. Another interesting note is that the band have been augmented from a quartet to a quintet with the inclusion of guitarist Tobias Neumann, son of Dieter Neumann.
The three pieces that had originally appeared in a live version on Zwai are A Second Time, Music and Marsch. The addition of a guitarist helps in creating a much fuller sound, though at times one feels that there is too much of an attempt to rock up the piece which then tends to loose out on its overall medieval feel. Music is played out faithfully to the original version, without guitars as is Marsch which is the best rendition of the re-recorded tracks. The beauty of the "Britishness" the band attain on this track is practically undescribable as they fuse classical piano with flute accompanied by simple narration to then suddenly increase in pace, definitely one of the highlights of the album.
The first of the new material is M.O.H. which features an interjection of guitar work that really beefs things up. The instrumental parts are fine, though one cannot but help feeling that the vocal section is ripped off from Deep Purple's Wasted Sunsets. Having said that the flute seems to work wonderfully alongside the crunching guitar chords of Neumann junior. Having mentioned Rare Bird previously, Häx Cel also provide a cover version of Beautiful Scarlet which is also one of the album highlights. It is great to see tribute paid to another of progressive rock's Forgotten Sons, via a track which in itself is a gem of a piece.
The demo album comes to a close with Fuga, as the band adopt a J.S. Bach theme and really rock it out. One of the band's forte's seems to be in their ability in taking classical themes and converting them into progressive rock masterpieces and it is on tracks like this that the utilisation of guitars really helps in creating a more striking contrast to the normally quaint original.
Musicians: Michael Moebus (bass, vocals), Achim-Peter Neubauer (keyboards), Dieter Neumann (flute,
vocals), Tobias Neumann (guitars), Michael Fromm (drums)
Music and lyrics by Häx Cel
Themes from J.S.Bach adapted in Compression, Coronation, Fuga, Intervention
Themes from P. Tschaikowski in Nutrocker
Themes from A. Vivalsi in Largo
Recorded by T.R.O.S. Dec. 2000-Mar. 2001 at Parodise II, Hannover, Germany except Wasted Times, recorded live at Flohcircus, Hannover, November 1998
So, twenty eight years later, Häx Cel have returned with their first full length album, and their first studio release! The album features a combination of tracks that had appeared on their debut as well as re-recordings of the pieces that had featured on their demo/mini-album A Second Time.
The album opens with the b-side of their first single, Difference which is pretty much true to the original version, which together with Albinoni was the only recording made in the studio and released in the seventies by the band. The other piece that had appeared on the first album, Zwai is Music. On the other hand, practically all the pieces that had appeared on the A Second Time were re-recorded for this release, apart from the title track and Marsch.
It seems that the band have also identified their ability to re-work and rock up classical pieces of music and no less than six of the twelve tracks on the album are such. J.S. Bach has four themes utilised on the album in the pieces Compression, Coronation, Fuga and Intervention. Fuga had already appeared on A Second Time, Intervention is given a total make over with various funk interludes whilst Coronation is remade as a rocker with lyrics also added to the tune. Once again I have to add that the inclusion of the guitar has detracted from the duetting between flute and keyboards, which previously was one could say, a trademark of the band. Having said that the flute and guitar do complete each other in a great fashion, yet at times the guitar has too much of a distorted rock sound which creates an uneasy feeling. This is also what occurs in Compression which is fantastic in the quiet periods, yet sounds so much out of place when the guitar suddenly breaks loose.
Tchaikovsky's theme of the Nutcracker waltz is revamped into a stomper as Nutrocker with Neubauer's electric piano given free rein to romp about whilst Vivaldi's Largo is a perfect example how the presence of a guitar does not necessarily mean distortion and crunching chords. The whole band manage to indulge in solos with prominence given to flute and guitar, and all in all this is definitely one of the album highlights.
A Distant Light is the first track on the album that is a totally new composition and sees the band in a rather different light, possibly because it was composed with the presence of a guitarist which seems to have shifted the overall style towards a more blues-rock style, much in the original Deep Purple vein. The whole of the album was recorded in the studio except for the closing Wasted Times, which once again is too similar Purple's Wasted Sunsets (Including excerpts of the lyrics!) that it would have been best left out.
Häxcellent is a most interesting album allowing the listener to indulge in some great rocking numbers together with various classical references. One cannot describe the album as being the traditional progressive rock album yet it has features that are sure to appeal to most prog-fans. With Häxcellent, Häx Cel have rewritten themselves on the progressive rock map and I look forward to much more from them.
Ever since Häx Cel have got back together as a recording and touring unit, they have also set up an official Website which includes all the information that is required of the band, including where and how to obtain their material, sound samples and news. Most of the website is in German, yet should you contact the band they would easily send you a translated version of what is on the site.
Should you have any further information regarding Häx Cel that could be added to the site, do not hesitate to contact me.