Who or what is ODIN?
This question does not lead us to northern mythology or into the world of Germanic gods. No, we are in fact talking about one of the most capable but at the same time most mysterious rock bands in Germany in the early 1970ies. Who can tell the story of this extraordinary band? Information given in the relevant works on progressive rock and/or Krautrock (Tapestry of Delight, Cosmic Dreams at Play, A Crack in the Cosmic Egg) are often incomplete and even wrong at times. A correct classification of the band is difficult, and it is even quite impossible to say which country the band really belongs to. This is an attempt to shed some light into the darkness:
First act: Keyboarder Jeff Beer, Bavaria, meets guitarist Rob Terstall, Netherlands.
Jeff Beer, just turned 18, has moved to Regensburg from his Eastern Bavarian home, in order to obtain his high school diploma at the upper vocational school. Jeff, an organist, gets involved in the Regensburg scene right away. With his new band, the 3-man group Elastic Grasp, he wins the “Golden Guitar”, the traditional jazz- and rock prize in Regensburg, first go. Jeff has come to progressive music comparatively late; in his first bands as a guitarist he had played his own songs and particularly concerned himself with Hendrix- and Clapton solos.
At the age of 16 he changes for the large Hammond Organ and soon enough catches people’s attention with his Nice- and Jimmy Smith interpretations. Bela Bartok, Igor Strawinsky and Frank Zappa are his role models at that time. For him, improvisations are just as important as thoroughly composed pieces, and he dreams of a comprehensive music study.Rob Terstall, Jeff’s senior by eight years, has received a classical education and has studied the guitar for 3 years in Amsterdam. He already has plenty of experience with bands, but at the time he happens to stay with friends in Regensburg for some time he isn’t a member of any particular group. The two musicians get to talk to each other, and Jeff offers Rob to join Elastic Grasp. How-ever, the formation only survives for a short time, since the interests of the other musicians, all of whom pure amateurs, has already drifted apart to such an extent that a split up is unavoidable. In the summer of 1971 Jeff and Rob decide to form a new band, and a professional band it has to be.
Jeff and Rob meet the English musicians Ray Brown (Bass) and Stuart Fordham (Drums).
Ray and Stuart are already a well-rehearsed team when they line up with Rob to form Honest Truth. Ray’s career as a musician started in the 1960ies, in one of the numerous white soul bands. Stuart is a well-known studio- and
session drummer in London, and has toured with the Walker Brothers and others. Honest Truth, the band where Rob played together with Ray and Stuart and about whose legendary performances Jeff has been told by other musicians, disbanded after a run of bad luck (the organist dies, the equipment is stolen). Ray and Stuart return home to England, while Rob and Jeff head for London. Rob had been exchanging letters with Ray and Stuart beforehand and had been able to motivate them to work in a new band (again in Germany) together with the young organist Jeff Beer. After an initial and successful test phase in Schweinfurt the four musicians get ready for their new start and take up residence in the countryside, in the small village of Gaukönigshofen near Würzburg, where Jeff, after passing the admission examination to the state conservatory, studies composition, piano and percussion.
Third Act: Rise and Fall
In no time the four musicians attune to one another both musically and personally, playing frantically and knowing that they can make it with their music. Their first performances are very promising, indeed. The group increasingly gets the chance to prove their talent in numerous clubs within and outside the region. The enthusiasm stirred up carries the band to joint performances with Brian Augers Oblivion Express, Beggars Opera, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Atomic Rooster, to mention a few. According to press reports from that time, ODIN is not only able to keep up with these internationally famous bands, but enjoys an equal status at least. Undisputed highlight of their “live career” as musicians is their performance during the pop-festival in Würzburg on July 8th and 9th, 1972, (with, among others, Joe Cocker, Jeff Beck Group, Hardin & York, Alexis Korner, Nazareth, Juicy Lucy, Golden Earring), as well as the rock festival in Scheeßel on September 8th and 9th, 1973, (with, among others, Chicago, King Crimson, Soft Machine, Lou Reed, Buddy Miles, Chuck Berry, Ten Years After, Nucleus), where they play many encores in front of an audience of more than 35 000 people.The band’s live qualities are so excellent that the label managers of several record companies eventually become aware of the band. Those familiar with the scene will never forget their gigs in the “Zoom” in Frankfurt, where the foundation for their future record contract was laid in the presence of Phonogram label manager Jimmy Boyks, who had already listened to demo tapes of ODIN and had been flown into Frankfurt specially for this purpose.
Eventually the band signs a record contract with the label Vertigo/Phonogram in Hamburg and starts recording their one and only LP in the Windrose-Dumont-Time studio in Hamburg. It is released in early 1973. In spite of good press reviews, for example in the magazines Sounds (5/73) and Musikexpress (4/73) sales are rather modest. The recordings done on February 2, 1973 in the
Südwestfunk studio U1 in Baden-Baden fur-ther increase their reputation.
ODIN records 4 titles, all of which are broadcast on the radio. Artistic production manager was Roland Schaeffer, who had worked as a producer for the SWF and has proven his musical abilities as a band member of Fashion Pink, Brainstorm and, since 1976, of Guru Guru.1973 is going to be a crucial year for ODIN and will decide on the band’s future. Important factors are the album’s success and the number of live acts, since they guarantee survival.
Phonogram England are also very interested in ODIN’s music and intend to take the band on a tour of England, which at that time is immensely important. The piece of news, communicated by Phonogram Hamburg, makes quite an impact. Jeff Beer is invited to England for discussions twice and negotiates both with Phonogram England’s executive managers and an additional management provided by Phonogram. During an appointment in London they visit the legendary Marquee-Club which had already been scheduled as a place of performance for the planned tour. It seems that a highly important step towards making the band known both locally and internationally is about to be taken. The unexpected interest on the part of England gives the band an enormous boost. However, just before the end of the negotiations in 1973 the energy crisis gets in the way. In view of the official ban on driving and a great deal of other difficulties that seem to appear from nowhere Phonogram England decide to put the tour on hold for the moment. Quite unexpectedly, Phonogram Hamburg react with equal reserve, in spite of the extensive negotiations the band had already conducted concerning their 2nd album, which they had been working on intensively – indeed a very heavy blow for the band.It is hard to say, even in retrospect, why a band of such high musical quality did not hit the big time after all. One reason might be the record company’s insufficient marketing strategies, or possibly the ignorance of the German audience, an audience that can easily be drawn into the showground to see any group boisterously announced, but that hardly gives those bands a chance that are little known!
The fact that their gig in the factory in Hamburg only draws an audience of just one hundred people in spite of the LP’s appearing on a label (Vertigo/Phonogram) that was famous and influential in specialist circles shows the lack of resonance with an audience outside the regional clubs. The band’s growing disillusionment after so many negative experiences is not surprising. Soon enough financial ruin follows suit and ODIN eventually split up in May 1974.
Translation Dr. Martina Häusler
Manfred Steinheuer, November 2006