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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the June 26, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Nektar Reunites in the Service of Art Rock
It’s not an easy thing, this business of growing older.
Especially if you carved your reputation in the world of rock ‘n’
roll by playing high-intensity, psychedelic art-rock, the kind of
music played by the five gentlemen who first formed Nektar in 1968
in Hamburg, Germany.
It was more than a quarter century ago, in 1974, ’75 and ’76, that
Nektar was regularly selling out U.S. arenas, including a 12,000-seat
arena in Kansas City. In those days the band was getting plenty of
U.S. radio airplay for their debut album "Remember The Future."
That was then. Now all in their mid-50s, three of the group’s original
members sat for an interview between rehearsals at the Hackettstown
home of keyboardist Alan "Taff" Freeman. Nektar is the Saturday
night headliner at the Fourth Annual North East Art Rock Festival,
or Nearfest 2002, for short. The two-day marathon that celebrates
progressive and eclectic music will be at the Patriots Theater of
the War Memorial, Trenton, Saturday and Sunday, June 29 and 30, from
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. both days.
Founded by Robert LaDuca and Chad Hutchinson, Nearfest has been held
annually in the Greater Philadelphia area since 1999. This is the
first time Nearfest has come to Trenton and although the Patriots
Theater is twice the size of Nearfest’s previous venue, all 1,851
tickets sold out within 45 minutes of going on sale.
Preparing for Nektar’s appearance with an all-day rehearsal session
was drummer Ron Howden of North Brunswick and bassist Derek "Mo"
Moore of Chester. Roye Albrighton, the group’s original guitarist,
has flown over from England to join the band. Light and visual man
Mick Brockett, who was with Nektar from the beginning, will also be
joining the band in a rehearsal studio near Wayne, as will Livingston-based
synthesizer player Larry Fast. All six will headline at Nearfest 2002.
The good news for the band is that Bellaphon, its original record
company in Germany, will reissue its early recordings on C.D. and
videotape Nektar’s Nearfest set for release on videodisc.
How does it feel to be back together for the first time since 1978,
I ask members of the band that has toured 26 countries as Nektar.
"I don’t think there’s so much difference, age-wise, as far as
mental sharpness goes," Freeman says, "but some of the physical
things are a bit tougher now."
"Do you play tennis?" asks Moore. "It’s like trying to
gear up to play Wimbledon in June," he says. "It’s finding
the energy you’re going to need to play for two and a quarter hours."
Moore and drummer Howden, both originally from England, have been
playing together since 1964. From this kind of long friendship and
musical partnership, great rhythm sections are made. Moore and Howden
met in 1964 in France, and met up with Freeman in Hamburg in 1968.
Guitarist Roye Albrighton and light show specialist Mick Brockett
also joined the band for Nektar’s first club shows in Hamburg.
Back in 1968, few bands were using synchronized light shows based
on the rhythms of the music. Soon Nektar was selling out Hamburg’s
Nektar discs from the 1970s that have since gone gold include "Remember
The Future," "Down To Earth," "Recycled," and
"Magic Is a Child." Nektar’s U.S. debut album was "Remember
The Future" in 1974 which hit No. 9 on the rock album charts.
As we sit around the coffee table at Freeman’s home, the band mates
qualify their earlier statements about 50-somethings "getting
in shape" to play music again.
Freeman, who now works as a purchasing manager, was born and raised
outside Glasgow, Scotland. His father was in a dance band, and he
began taking piano lessons as an eight-year-old. Freeman began as
a child singer with his dad’s dance band but continued on piano through
high school. He had the opportunity to attend college but decided
to take a job with a band to contribute to his family’s meager income.
"Since then, most of the training I’ve gotten is by playing with
other people and going on the road," he says.
Moore, who lives in Chester, now runs his own construction company
with his wife and has 20 employees. Moore was raised in Yorkshire,
England, and began playing piano and organ from age seven until he
was in his teens, mostly classical music.
"When I was 16 we started doing Jerry Lee Lewis stuff. With one
of our bands, we didn’t have a bass player, so I went to playing bass.
I turned professional when I was 18. We were on the German scene for
about 11 years before we came to the States," says Moore, adding
that Germany made a convenient base from which to tour throughout
Europe. "We first came over here to tour in 1974," he says,
"and then we came back in 1975, and the next time we came back,
in 1976, we really liked it and decided to stay." Most of the
band members settled in New Jersey because it was closer to England
and Scotland than California.
Howden, born and raised in Sheffield, England, and based in North
and South Brunswick for the past 15 years, is no stranger to New Brunswick’s
lively club scene. He plays drums with Nancy Wertheim’s Supreme Court
Blues Band and works as a producer with a variety of local bands,
including Blue Highways.
"When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to be was a train driver,"
says Howden. "I was fixated on the railroad, and my brother was,
too. My brother worked as a train driver, and I started off as a station
attendant, and then I ran a signal box and worked as a fireman for
a bit on a steam train," he says, recalling that dirty job involved
shoveling coal into the fire on the train all day long.
Howden’s first band was a skiffle band — folk pop
music often played on nonstandard instruments like jugs and washboards
as well as banjos and guitars — which was all the rage in England
in the ’50s. He played the tea chest and then, "when things began
to get more electric I tried bass guitar. But I had no idea what I
was doing, so then I thought, `What else do we need?’ `We need a drummer.’
And so I switched over to drums. One of the guys had a Salvation Army
drum so that’s how I started playing." Howden says his uncle,
a pub pianist whom he accompanied on his gigs, was also a big influence.
Howden started playing drums seriously as a 16-year-old. "At that
time I was very involved with singing. I was doing more singing than
I was actually playing drums."
"In those days, we would divide the vocals up into thirds, so
that everyone’s voice would last part of the 12 hours we had to play
every night," Freeman interjects. "Because nobody’s voice
could hold out that long alone."
"When you played the clubs in Germany on weekends, you had to
start at three in the afternoon and go to five in the morning,"
adds Howden. "That was a very good training ground. It was an
hour on and an hour off, all night long. When you play that many hours
a day, you get really well oiled."
"The thing that helped us most in Germany," Moore recalls,
"was the German audiences didn’t expect us to play pop music like
we had to do in England. The German audiences were like playing to
a sponge. They soaked up whatever you wanted to play for them. That’s
what made it such a great breeding ground for new music."
The band is excited to have synthesizer player Larry Fast joining
them for the Trenton reunion show, as he had played with them on several
European and U.S. tours in the mid-1970s. The band mates report their
manager in England has received inquiries about Nektar from as far
away as Australia and Japan, and tours of those countries may be arranged
for the fall of this year.
Asked about their 1974 impressions of the U.S., Moore says it was
like landing on the moon. But the band mates knew they had arrived
when they were selling out venues in Cleveland, St. Louis, Chicago,
and New York.
"It was a gamble, but it paid off," says Moore, noting that
back in those days, few rock bands, even the Rolling Stones, were
making much money, because the concert business at that time was promoter-driven.
"We didn’t make a whole lot of money from the tour," he says.
"The whole idea was to get up that ladder to the point where we
could make money." Nektar never got up that ladder, and the band
started falling apart by 1978, when Albrighton quit and moved back
Because Saturday and Sunday’s North East Art Rock Festival shows sold
out so fast, it’s possible other Nektar shows will be organized in
New Jersey and New York in the near future. Freeman, Howden and Moore
are also happy with the new deal they’ve negotiated with Bellaphon.
"We’ve all stayed in touch through the years, because we’re all
old friends," says Howden. "When this gig came up and I called
and asked them, `How do you fancy doing something like this?’ It was
— Richard J. Skelly
West Lafayette Street, Trenton, 609-984-8400. Saturday feature
Nektar at 9 p.m., with La Torre dell’Alchimista, Echolyn, Isildurs
Bane, and Miriodor. Sunday bands include Steve Hackett, Spaced
Out, Gerard, Enchant, and Caravan. $65 to $95. Saturday and Sunday,
June 29 and 30, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
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