This is how it all began: Steve Robinson tells us about the band’s early history until he left in February 1974.
In spring 1972 I left 2066 & Then. The management planned to make the band more commercial and move to Munich, but Conny Bommarius (drums) and myself didn’t like the idea.
In June 1972 I got a phone call asking me to come to Nuremberg to meet “Ihre Kinder” guitarist Muck Groh. Thinking that “Ihre Kinder” were going to regroup I met him but he told me about his plan to form a new band. We quickly came to terms.
Meanwhile we had the chance to go on a Lake Constance tour with “Wind”, who were also managed by Jonas Porst. I asked Davy Crocket and Martin Roscoe, who were playing with 2066 & Then in Munich at that time, whether they wanted to join us. They agreed right away, since they weren’t very happy any more in Munich. Muck then arranged for Klaus Peter Schweizer (Professor Wolf) to join us as vocalist.
We only had ten days for rehearsals before the tour started, but still no band name, so we quickly agreed on “Name”. The Lake Constance tour lasted about 14 days and we played successfully in Kempten, Radolfzell, Singen and Waldshut.
K.P. Schweizer: vocals, guitar
Muck Groh: guitar
Steve Robinson: keyboards
Davy Crocket: bass
Martin Roscoe: drums
At that time money was tight, so we used to ask the audience for a place to sleep for the night before the last songs were played. Most times we were lucky, and the fans parents’ reserve of (soft) drinks would decrease rapidly.
Our last concert was in Waldshut. Fortunately one fan took us with him to his flat on the top floor of a high rise. For space reasons, a couple of us had to sleep in the band bus. It was 6.30 a.m. when all of a sudden I heard a terrible noise. Helicopters landed, dogs were barking, the apartment doors were broken open and police with levelled machine guns stormed into the room. We could clearly feel the young policemen’s agitation. Opposite of me was Steve Leistner, the singer of Wind, in his sleeping bag. I knew he hated being woken up at the wrong time. He always freaked out then. When he opened his eyes I instantly signalled him to stay quiet, and – thank God – he remained calm. Afterwards we realized that the situation had been dangerous as hell and could have easily gone out of hand. We were marched off to the Waldshut police station and found out that the caretaker of the high rise had done observations at night and had mistaken us for the Baader-Meinhoff terror group. With all likeliness the Waldshut police station had never been as full as on that night, and many newspapers reported about the incident. “Name” didn’t last longer than four weeks, since K.P. Schweizer wanted to sing in German, but we didn’t. In mid-September 1972 Muck agreed to my proposal to call the band AERA. We became the fathers of a band that ate masses of excellent musicians over 10 years. The first ones to join the band were Heinz Schmitt, guitar and vocals, - a very well known musician from the Stuttgart region, who had formerly played with Zero - and Ditch Cassidy, vocals, who had an excellent name in Ireland and passed (and still does so) as the Irish equivalent of Joe Cocker and James Brown.
Ditch’s first single was released on Decca Records, produced by John Paul Jones. In 1970/1971 he had been member of Thin Lizzy for a short time. Today, he is still a star in Dublin and has gigs with famous musicians.
In the fall of 1972 we moved to an old farmhouse in Mechelwind near Erlangen. This is where we did our rehearsals, surrounded by fantastic and tolerant farmers and many carp ponds.
At that time the band consisted of:
Ditch Cassidy: lead singer
Muck Groh: guitar
Heinz Schmitt: guitar and vocals
Steve Robinson: keyboards and vocals
Davy Crocket: bass
Martin Roscoe: drums
The music back then was a mixture of rhythm & blues and rock; it was polyrhythmic, jazzy and keen to experiment. We played in Erlangen, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Mannheim, Hanover and other places. The band was fantastic and stood out by the diverse guitar play of Muck, which was rather bluesy, and Heinz, which was more rocky, as well as Ditch’s extraordinary voice. Bass and drums were working together so well as only the Brits could do it at that time. The winter of 1972/1973 had been unusually hard (up to -30°), but we survived undamaged. Then we lost Davy to the sect “God’s children”. He had been recruited in a café in Erlangen in early 1973. We tried hard to free him from their claws, but failed. No one was able to come near him. It took us quite a bit of effort to keep him from selling our entire music equipment along with our instruments and giving the money to his sect. He even sold his unique bass, which he had manufactured by a luthier in London, who had worked for Pete Townshend from the Who. It was the “high time” of sects. Even Ditch and his wife Mia were in an Indian “sect of light” and constantly tried to convert us, which was well and truly getting on our nerves. In Davy’s place Karl Mutschlechner, an Austrian (ex Nine Days Winder) joined the band. Ray Goode, a good friend of Davy’s, operated the mixing desk. He was the seventh band member. Unfortunately no recordings remain from that time. Although we were in Dieter Dierks studio in Stommeln, the recordings done there disappeared, as did the recordings we had done for the Südwestfunk. It’s a crying shame!
In March 1973 we had the chance to go on a tour in Ireland. Ditch had pulled strings with two concert managers he knew in Ireland, and, starting 1st March 1973, we were supposed to play about 20-30 gigs as, I believe, the first German rock band in Ireland. Contracts were sent to Nuremberg and signed. Shortly before we had done a gig in Nuremberg. We took our pay and went straight to Dover, from there on to Liverpool, then eight hours on the ferry, and arrived Dublin at around 7 a.m. Martin was driving the whole time. Once we got there Ditch called the managers, who told us that, now that we had arrived, we could start organizing the gigs. Not a single gig had been arranged so far. After spending the first night together in a hotel, the musicians were spread all over Dublin. Only Ditch knew where everybody else was staying. Before our first gig we had to survive for 10 days without money, relying on the hospitality of our guest families. One successful gig was in a famous club in Dublin (Zero). The warm-up act was David Coverdale with his band, who later became famous with Deep Purple. The last of the roughly 10 gigs was in Sligo. We sensed that Ditch wanted to stay in Ireland and had just about enough money to pay for the trip back home. So in April 1973 we decided to break off the tour and went back home without Ditch.
We had a couple more gigs in this line-up, without Ditch. But once again a tour of about 30 gigs was called off, in spite of the contracts that had been closed, all due to the criminal energy of a so called concert agent. After that Heinz and Karl went to the USA, while Martin returned to Mannheim. Our mixer, Ray Goode, who was just brilliant on the mixing desk, stayed on for another 2-3 months. Then he went back to England and joined Rod Stewart.
In the end of May 1973 Muck brought a saxophone player along to Mechelwind, whom he had heard at a concert in Erlangen. We played a couple of songs with him, Martin was still with us at that time, and the new saxophonist - Klaus Kreuzeder - became a permanent band member. At that time Muck and myself decided to play as many gigs as would come our way. We became a band that did only improvisations. Usually, we would simply call good musicians and ask them if they had time. So it wasn’t unusual to have two drummers at a gig, like Walter “Kippe” Helbig from Mannheim and Dada Schwitzki from Wuppertal, who later became a permanent band member.
In the summer of 1973 we played with the following musicians, among others:
Bassists: Peter Malinowski / Poland, Paolo Grobben / Holland, Dieter Bauer / Mannheim
Drummer: Carsten Bohn, Walter Helbig / Mannheim ( Minus Two, et. al.), Lucky Schmidt (ex Wind), Dada Gautama Schwitzki
Klaus Kreuzeder: saxophone (ex Ovo Pro)
Muck Groh: guitar
Steve Robinson: keyboards
Before starting a piece we would merely agree on the key. Most times we found a high musical level for our communication, otherwise things would have gone awry. The most difficult thing was to finish together, and invariably one of the musicians didn’t realize that the others wanted to end the piece. But Ray Goode’s artistry on the mixing desk bailed everybody out.
We chose our musical styles at random and were therefore difficult to pinpoint from a musical point of view. In the summer of 1973 we played on three open air festivals, with bands like Manfred Mann’s Earthband, Ufo, Status Quo etc. The first big gig was near Frankfurt. Buddy Miles, who was quite a drawing act at that time, was the main act. As it turned out later, the festival organizer was shady. After the first band had finished he went on stage and said, to our horror, that instead of Buddy Miles, AERA from Nuremberg were now going to play. All sorts of things were thrown on stage, and we worried about Klaus Kreuzeder, who couldn’t dodge in his wheelchair. There was barracking and tumultuous shouting. But in the end we did get a bit of applause. Even Manfred Mann and Status Quo, who had been listening backstage, were impressed. The next day, Manfred Mann even provided us with his mixer in Wetzlar. We played before an audience of many Americans on the open-air stage. In a quiet moment Peter Malinowski said to me: “Why don’t you play the Bonanza tune, the Yanks will be delighted.” The concert was a huge success. The fans hardly let us leave the stage. Later on Manfred Mann asked me whether our program had been different from the night before. When I told him we were improvising, he was amazed and delighted at the same time and said he wouldn’t have the guts to do that. After a concert people would frequently ask us how long we rehearsed to play like this. I believe it was back then when AERA’s special reputation was established.
The summer of 1973 had been successful and we believed we had found a more permanent line-up. We did our first demos in the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra’s 4-track studio. All live recordings, of course. We recorded animal-, tractor and environment sounds near our home in Mechelwind, and gave the piece that name, too.
Shortly after a bicycle and bassist Peter Malinowski went missing - he had returned to Poland. He was replaced by Paolo Grobben from Holland. Together with him we recorded the two pieces at the Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden. Afterwards we tried to get a record deal. EMI in Munich told Klaus and me that there already was a saxophonist, Klaus Doldinger, and therefore we didn’t have a chance to get on the German market. Soon after Paolo had a serious car crash, and Dieter Bauer ( ex 2066 and Then) stepped in for our Christmas concert on 23.12.1973 in the Erlangen City Hall. Paolo could do the mixing and recorded the concert. These recordings disappeared and only surfaced again in summer 2009. In January 1974 I got an offer from Nine Days Wonder and left AERA on 23.2.1974. Looking back, playing with Klaus and Muck was perhaps the most valuable time musically speaking. It’s a pity that the recordings from the original line-up have disappeared, because both band and music were extraordinary.
Steve Robinson, October 2009
Even the arts pages editor of the local Nürnberger Nachrichten was impressed by the recordings for the Mechelwind-Suite done in the studio of the Nuremberg Symphonic Orchestra. Together with AERA’s forthcoming gig at the old town festival of the Nuremberg main market they prompted him to muse about the band under the heading: “Rock in the mansion, a portrait of the new group AERA: pastoral pop-sound from a Franconian village.”
On their Ireland tour they made headlines:”AERA-latest super band to emerge from Germany”, but over here, AERA, the super band to emerge from Germany, is not very well known. AERA are from Franconia: the 5 musicians lived in Mechelwind, a small township in the county of Neustadt/Aisch, that is best counted in souls rather than inhabitants. The transitional phase, where musicians from numerous pop-bands, from “Frumpy” to English session-musicians who had got caught in Germany, played with the core musicians Muck Groh and Steve Robinson, has now been overcome. AERA has started to make a name for themselves with their own style, experimental searching has given way to a firm concept. After many exploratory trips in the Franconian administrative districts, Muck Groh found the right domicile for the group: a wonderfully spacious old mansion, where the musicians and a couple of friends could live and work without being exposed to repression or having to worry about paying horrendous rent for rehearsal rooms. Now that the first rehearsal tapes have been recorded in the Nuremberg Symphonic Orchestra studio, the excellent AERA musicians are planning to go professional. For months they work in all sorts of jobs, from countryside postman to building labourer, to come up with money for the equipment and the daily living expenses. The two pickups transport cheese and parcels during the day and the musicians and their equipment at night. Getting to know them you’ll be surprised how unusually (for rock musicians) straightforward, level headed and full of humour they are, and these characteristics are also expressed in their style. With a wink of the eye they call it “symphonic jazz rock”, jazz rock being the stylistic elements and “symphonic” the large dimension and full sound.
The first recording is a wonderful pastoral, the musical description of their countryside. They went to their friendly farmer next door and recorded all kinds of sounds on tape: grunting pigs, clattering milk buckets and a duet of tractors, where two farmers drove around the area for hours until the stereo effect was right. Their intention was to present individual situations that the listener was supposed to put together and form his own image. The audience should have the freedom to do their own thinking and not be pressed into the group’s concept with a punched sound. This is certainly one way to make the technicized rock scene more humane and individual.
After Steve Robinson left, AERA continued on as a 4-man formation, worked on the already existing titles, and guitarist Muck Groh came up with new compositions. In November 1974, after many months of gigs, the recordings for the first album “humanum est” were on the agenda. For more information please see the LP insert, which has been re-released on Long Hair (LHC 43). More information about AERA is also available on the insert of the reissue of the second album, “Hand und Fuss” (LHC 44).
Manfred Steinheuer, October 2009
Translation: Dr. Martina Häusler
01.-05. Mechelwind Suite 25:34
06. Hodibbel 07:50
07. Mechelwind 10:45
01. Mechelwind 07:48
02. Hodibbel 15:16
03. Papa Doing 12:04
04. Klaus With The Birds 06:31