For me, Burnin Red Ivanhoe fall into the category “heard of, but never heard”, which is surprising given the band’s long history, their sonic affinity with Krautrock, a musical place I’m constantly revisiting, and my decades-long entanglement in Rock’s Rich Tapestry.
Formed in 1967 in Copenhagen, they were then spotted at a Berlin gig in 1968 by Richard Williams of Melody Maker fame who gave the band a cover story. This led to a tour of Britain supporting their debut, the 1969 double album M 144 on Sonet Records, which my listening research for this review tells me was a loose and sprawling thing, a stretched out trade-off between Amon Düül II’s debut Phallus Dei and fellow German trailblazers, the jazzier Out Of Focus. Suitably impressed, John Peel signed the band to his Dandelion Records label. That highly psychedelic debut was followed by the more conventionally structured and jazz-rock oriented self-titled second album in 1970, and W.W.W., released in 1971, again on Dandelion, witnesses a slight return to the group’s psychedelic roots while maintain the newer structured direction.
In tandem with forward-thinking German bands of the era, this Danish troupe were not brought up with dem blooze, as was the case with the majority of British and American bands of the time. Freed from a 12-bar base, these continental groups instead fused European folk traditions, avant garde, jazz and classical to traditional rock moves, coming up with their own unique hybrid. Had Burnin (sic) Red Ivanhoe been German they would have fitted seamlessly into the nascent Krautrock scene.
As was essential for an underground album released in 1971, there is a concept at play on W.W.W.! The first four tracks (originally all of side one and the first track of side two) concern the story of Rowena, whom, as the original liner notes have it: “…sets out on a journey to the mysterious country Kaske from her kitchen in Croydon”. The album title has a convoluted origin I won’t go into here. Suffice to say it has nothing to do with the media channel via which you’re reading this!
Opener 2nd Floor, Croydon is an atypically prosaic and straightforward number with simple structure, where the instrumental section is led by the flute. Vocalist Ole Flick has an identifiably 70s rock voice that strains a tad in places on this song. Luckily the band reconnect with the looser psychedelic roots of their first album on the following three instrumental tracks which run the gamut of spacey atmospherics and two chord freak outs, visiting places inhabited by the aforementioned Düül, and their ilk.
The surprise on this album is the very catchy All About All, which would not have sounded out of place on a Kevin Ayers album of the same era. The funeral march of Oblong Serenade stars the saxophones and trombone, lifting itself from its initial torpor to feature some quite nifty sax blowing, a highly surreal lyric and an ending lit up by a very acidic guitar break. Another wonky acid-pop march ends the album, which is another one of those intriguing curios for the collection.
01. 2nd Floor, Croydon (8:37)
02. W.W.W. (6:07)
03. Avez-Vous Kaskelainen (4:47)
04. Kaske-Vous Karse Mose (3:49)
05. All About All (4:08)
06. Oblong Serenade (6:25)
07. Cucumber-Porcupine (5:21)
Total Time – 39:14
Kim Menzer – Flute, Trombone, Harmonica, Tenor Saxophone & Percussion
Ole Fick – Guitars & Vocals
Karsten Vogel – Alto & Soprano Saxophone, Organ & Piano
Jess Staer – Bass & Acoustic guitar
Bo Thrige Andersen – Drums & Percussion
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2484
Year Of Release: 2015
Original Release: 1971