The story Dutch band Het Pandorra Ensemble is a curious one, not just their name. They stormed onto a scene that was nearly dying or at least taken over by punk, without a big label's support, with an album of music that should have no doubt received a lot more interest had it been released a few years earlier or a decade later. DPRP's Serge Wemmenhove dug into this little piece of prog history and even got to ask some questions to guitarist Dolf Planteijdt.
A Brief History
Great music is not only created by the big names in music, using expensive studio equipment. In a few cases it’s the unknown band with a private recording that makes impressive music. This is the tale of one of those groups.
This story begins when guitar player Wouter Planteijdt (1957) and singer Frank Wisse formed an acoustic duo in Haarlem. Around 1969 this evolved in the band Speed, where they were joined by Marcel Schmidt (1958) on drums and Gert-Jan Blom (1956) on bass guitar. They played their own material but also covers by Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Free, and Janis Joplin. In 1970 Schmidt was replaced by Maurits Santen. In 1971 the band released a single for BOVEMA (Imperial - 5C 006-24439): Easy To Say (written by Wisse) with Mrs. Clear (written by Santen) on the B-side. It was produced by Gerrit-Jan Leenders, who would later produce Kayak. As guest guitarist Jan de Hont, of Cargo fame, can be heard. The band also performs in the youth TV program Stuif-es-in.
Meanwhile, Wouter's older brother Dolf Planteijdt, also a guitar player, played in the band Creepy. Other members were Ed Remme and Hans Asselbergs. They played covers by Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, and Deep Purple, but also King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man They were quite famous in the Haarlem area.
1973 marks the end of Speed, but it is where this story starts. In that year Blom, Wouter, and Dolf start a new band: Het Pandorra Ensemble. Haarlem painter Hannes Postma (1933) had an art exhibition and asked Dolf Planteijdt and Gert Jan Blom to play some music. Postma exposed a series of paintings under the title Pandora’s Box. Dolf remembers they consciously added an R to the name, and although the reason must have been a good one, that has been lost in time.
The line-up was completed by Schmidt (an extra drummer with a role similar to Jamie Muir in King Crimson), Jean Eble, and Roland Brunt on electric flute. The idea was to become an ensemble because they wanted to be able to play in every venue: small and big. The music they played were all original compositions, and was inspired by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson, and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. There are also elements of chamber music and (free) jazz, such as Ravel, Strawinsky, Brecht and Weill, Keith Tippett, Centipede, Robert Wyatt, Soft Machine, Nucleus, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders (with Sonny Sharrock). Inspired also came from Dylan, The Band and Loudon Wainwright III. And they felt related to another Dutch band, namely Willem Breuker Collectief. During gigs the band would play written compositions and improvisations.
The line-up with two drummers didn't last very long. Schmidt left soon after the gig at the opening of the Postma art exhibition. In 1976 Wouter Planteijdt joined replacing Brunt. In 1977 Eble was replaced by Wilfred Snellens (1955).
During the period 1976 - 1979 the Planteijdt brothers, Eble, Brunt and bass player / singer Kaspar Peterson, who Dolf knew from his schooldays, were also active as the band Door Mekaar (Dutch for both "by each other" and something like "mixed up"). This band played pop music with Dutch lyrics. They wanted to prove that songs in their native tongue didn’t have to be silly or copies from American or British bands. In 1977 the band recorded an album that would be called Voor Mekaar (another expression having two meanings: “for each other” and something close to "there, done it"), recorded in the Music Farm in the small town of Baambrugge. The songs were composed by Peterson and the lyrics were written by Nico van Apeldoorn.
Someone suggested the music should be played by the musicians of Het Pandorra Ensemble. The tracks were recorded in the former “Holland” studio of The Beach Boys in Baambrugge that was now owned by Don Willard. Due to lack of money it was recorded in the late hours and the sessions took two years. For Dolf, this was the reason to start his own recording studio, called Koeienverhuurbedrijf, as he never wanted to go through another experience like that!
For its release, a foundation was established called Stichting Voor Mekaar with its own label called Disaster Electronics. They wanted to have full control over the output and planned to release several albums and singles. But Door Mekaar ended in 1979. In 1981, an album with demo recordings was released.
Interestingly, another Dutch band, Drukwerk, scored a number 1 hit in the Netherlands with the Door Mekaar track Terug naar Troje (Back to Troy), but renamed as Je loog tegen mij (You lied to me).
Back to the ensemble. In 1978, the band started working on an album that would eventually become their one and only album, titled III. Before the recordings were finished, Brunt had left, but he can still be heard as a guest musicians. The album was recorded on four tracks in a small farm in Eexterveen in the north of Holland. Engineer Sasa Tozzi had a mobile 4 track recording equipment. There was one track for each instrument. Overdubs were not possible, but in a few cases an extra guitar was played live during the final mix.
Making the story even more complex, the first track on the album is called Door mekaar.
Except for a group improvisation, all tracks were composed by Dolf Planteijdt. In an interview with newspaper “De Waarheid” (issue 26 September 1978) Dolf explained that he just starts with some chords or plucking, which he records. The bits he likes, he continues to play with, adding extra parts, experimenting with it, and arranging it. In his own words, it is "simple music with complex arrangements". The basic tracks on the album are roughly the same as they started out, but really evolved since then. When played live, the tracks would last a lot longer than on the album. The first track on the album could easily take 45 minutes during concerts!
The album was released in a pressing of 600 copies on Disaster Electronics (DEI 00975.6) in 1978. It was the second release for this label, the Voor Mekaar album being the first. The cover of the album had a picture of Ella Elbersen, who sang in Door Mekaar, and it didn't bear any band info. The cover was chosen because Dolf thought this was a nice picture to look at while listening to the music.
Distribution for private pressings is always a problem. There is no record company that can handle this. The album was hard to find in the record stores. It could also be ordered from Stichting Voor Mekaar (by sending cash). The Ensemble also decided to use Gramschap for the distribution of the album. Gramschap was an anarchistic, political pamphlet with comments, poems, comics, etc. They had already included singles in the past, but to add a complete album was a first. This was also something new for the book stores that sold Gramschap. The issue was available from 10 July 1980.
Besides the rather unusual ways of distribution, the timing must have been difficult as well, with disco and punk being popular. Looking back, Dolf says disco was never a competitor, that was just playing singles to dance to. Punk really hit in Holland around 1978. Pandorra was founded in 1973, what he calls the "tame years of prog". "Yes has derailed after three good albums, everything was so over the top and pretentious. They were more like the Beethoven than the Stravinsky of prog." While Pandorra had the punk attitude and energy, their musicianship was in a whole different universe than the punk music that was popular.
But it was not to be. Wouter Planteijd and Wilfred left and in 1980, the band played their last gigs, with tenor and soprano sax player Rinus Groeneveld replacing Wouter. Groeneveld also played on two tracks on the Voor Mekaar album. There were never plans to record a second Pandorra Ensemble album.
As for the reason why, Dolf thinks there was a difference between his and the others' attitudes towards audiences. Dolf never paid much attention to the audience and much more to the music, and he things Wouter and Wilfred left to take a more extravert route. Dolf also
After the group broke up, all the musicians played in numerous bands and projects, both as member and guest. Roland Brunt swapped the flute for sax and played and still plays in several bands, among which De Dijk, a pop/blues band famous in Holland. Roland Brunt joins Planteijdt in 1999 in the band Morzelpronk.
Gert-Jan Blom studied at the Amsterdam Conservatory and later played in bands like Bauer, Fay Lovski, and The Beau Hunks. He releases a solo album in 2004, and is currently artistic producer for the Metropole Orkest.
Dolf Planteijdt became a well-known producer of punk bands, started his own recording studio Koeienverhuurbedrijf, and played in several bands like ‘t Oorlogspad (1982), which later evolved to Morzelpronk (1984 - mid 1990s). Scherzo Mechanica with Peter Zegveld. With Morzelpronk and Blok & Steel he also did several theatre productions (some of which was released on Kl'mpenzorro). He is also active as a technician for numerous artists and is the owner of his own label ADM.
Wouter Planteijdt was a member of, among others, Corry & De Grote Brokken, Morzelpronk, Sjardin's Terrible Surprise, and Haarlem power rock trio Sjako! (started mid 1980s, they released their tenth album in 2016). He also appears on the album A View From The Valley (1985) by Grin.
Wilfrid Snellens played in Black Slacks and was also in Morzelpronk. He can also be heard on the sole album by Sjardins Terrible Surprise. Snellens sadly died on 7 August 1997.
Het Pandorra Ensemble was mostly forgotten. But with the introduction of the internet, information about music and sharing of knowledge of great lost classics became more easy. This also increased the interest in this album. A lot of money was paid when a copy of the album was up for sale. New companies were established to re-release old and unknown prog albums and it just took some time before one would make III available again.
In March 2012, the album was finally released on CD by Modulus, a sub-label of The Laser's Edge. The album was remastered by Bob Katz from the original master tapes and the album contains several bonus tracks. Three outtakes from the original album session were added. This is not filler, the tracks are actually quite good. The release also contains four live tracks recorded at the “Alpha” in Beverwijk on 30 September 1978.
For those who speak Dutch, the following was shot during the CD presentation.
Het Pandorra Ensemble - III
CD bonus tracks: Improv 'Stille Wille' (6:41), Kanonjam-pedaal kwijt (2:04), Improv 'Rockin' Rollie' (8:18), Kaas! (11:59), Oude & Spaanse Kaas (1:30), Karrottentokkel (2:42), Die Sterveloze Melodie (1:32)
When you read about lost masterpieces and then finally have a chance to listen to it, you often wonder why it should be considered a masterpiece. The music can be good, but it is nothing special or nothing you have not heard before. There are cases, however, where you are completely overwhelmed by what is presented. Het Pandorra Ensemble is one of those bands that created a real, long-lost gem. They produced an album of original and experimental music.
The album consists of three long tracks and two shorter ones. The first track is called Door Mekaar. The main feature of this track is two guitars playing together, against each other. The opening has a Canterbury feel. After a quiet centre part, the song is built up again with a bass solo and ends with a fantastic guitar solo. A great track that really defines the sound of Het Pandorra Ensemble.
The second track is Kanon Pittoresk. With its repetitive themes, the start of this track is the closest they come to math rock. Halfway, the most breathtaking minutes of the album pass you by. The rhythm of the song changes and a guitar solo starts that really brings tears to my eyes. At the end, the same solo is played again, but this time up-tempo.
To slow things down a bit, and to give the listener a chance to take a breath, the album follows with two shorter tracks: Ritme 7000 and Drei. The first is guitar and bass and on top of that a flute, played by Roland Brunt. It is a nice little tune. The second short track is best compared to the opening of King Crimson's Lark's Tongues In Aspic, Part 1. In the middle, a few people shout numbers in German, although hardly audible.
Drei is a sort of intro to the album closer, Karotten. This one starts very quiet but soon they pick up some sort of groove with a heavy bass guitar and some great soloing. A mix between Jan Akkerman and Robert Fripp. When the song becomes quiet again and you think the album is over, they play a sort of reprise with a beautiful and melodic piece of music.
The CD release contains seven bonus tracks. There are three outtakes from the original recording session and four live tracks. The studio outtakes are all improvisations. The first Improv Stille Willie is the most Crimson-esque track on the album. It starts with light percussion and some unstructured guitar, layers of effect-laden bass and guitar are added. Then the drums kick in but it remains all very dissonant. Next track starts in the middle of a longer improvisation with a fade in. It is a fantastic dynamic groove with guitars playing the melody. The flute was amplified through a guitar amplifier, making it sound like a guitar. After a few minutes the tracks slowly comes to an end. Too bad we didn’t get more from the start of this track.
The last improv is a beautiful, slow tune with major role for the flute played by Brunt. Also of note is the acoustic guitar played by Wouter. This piece of music would not have been out of place had it been included on the original album.
The CD finished with four tracks that were recorded live in Beverwijk, Holland on 30 September 1978. Kaas! starts very jazzy, then Fripperian tones enter the composition and all of sudden the piece alters, becoming completely quiet, then picking up speed again, with guitars swirling melodies around each other. By now we know this is essential Pandorra Ensemble playing. Reference would be a 1973/1974 King Crimson improv. It’s a great track that ends with a fantastic guitar solo.
The final three are shorter pieces, more like sketches. Oude & Spaanse Kaas has a nice melody. Karottentokkel is a nice guitar piece with hints of Focus. The last one sounds like a weird anthem.
Although marginalised by circumstances around its release and probably the time the world was in, this is a masterful album with music that still amazes me and to me has stood the test of time perfectly. It should be heard by many.