|Mention the name Guru Guru to anyone vaguely interested in German rock of the 1970s and chances are there will be a nod or two of familiarity. Whilst Can, Amon Düül II and Tangerine Dream have accumulated their own legends and had books written about them, coverage in the rock press of the Gurus has until now been minimal to say the least.|
Yet Guru Guru were one of the least inhibited psychedelic free-form bands of their generation, and for a three-piece packed a phenomenal amount of power into their music. They were similar to their fellow electronic experimentalists in that they created sonic soundscapes, but their means were usually made by guitar feedback and sound effects rather than massed banks of synthesizers. The final results, as can be heard in the title track to "UFO", their debut album from 1970, prove that here is a band with a grasp of dynamics that borders on the virtuoso. More proof if needed may be heard on "Space Ship", the closing track on their second album "Hinten", where they pull out all the stops. "Space Ship" covers the ground left from "UFO" while the frantic "Electric Junk" and "Bo Diddley" race for the cosmic finish line in a blur of speed and technoflash. Their guitars, bass, special effects, zonk machines, contact mikes, radio show tapes and intercoms allied to an arsenal of percussion and drums make exposure to Guru Guru's early music an experience one is never likely to forget. Later material on both "Mani Und Seine Freunde" and "Tango Fango", especially "Tomorrow" and the chilling "Nightbear", prove the later line-ups could still deliver the goods when required.
Chancing on an advert in Folk Michel magazine for a project of long time Guru associate Roland Schaffer made me curious about doing a Guru Guru interview. The said agent was kind enough to give me the chance to correspond with main Guru and founder member Mani Naumeier, and needless to say the Terrascope was delighted to take up the opportunity to publish it. So it was that in the 27th year of their activity the following exchange took place:
PT: When and where did Guru Guru start, who was involved in the early line up and what were the band's initial musical influences?
MN: We started on the 4th of August 1968 at the Holy Hill Festival in Heidelberg, Germany. We came from a free jazz background and were turned on by Hendrix, the Stones, the Who etc and wanted to do our own electrified music. I founded Guru Guru with Uli Trepte (bass), the first guitarist was Edi Nageli and we had a singer named Hans Sax then Jim Kennedy from the USA joined on guitar and then Rudi Sparri came in on sax — they all stayed for only 3 ‑ 6 months until we met with guitarist Ax Genrich. Our musical influences would have been Coltrane, Monk, Miles etc and contemporary music including ethnic music from India and Africa also Hendrix especially and Zappa, Cream and Pink Floyd.
I'm curious about the name Guru Guru. Where did you come across it or come up with it?
When I was researching in 1967 for a band name, after smoking an opium pipe the name "The Guru Guru Groove Band" came into my mind.
Uli Trepte was with you for the first three albums, why did he leave and how did you get Bruno Schaab into the band?
Uli Trepte wanted to take over and write all the compositions without Ax and me. So we did not agree and he had to leave. Hard luck but what could we do? So Bruno Schaab, a young bassist came in and he did his best but he could not really fill the hole (Bruno played for 1 year with us). So we got Hans Hartman, a fine experienced bass player and an old friend of mine from Zurich, and we toured for 1½ years together.
Who were the other people who came in at the time? There was a completely new line up for the "Dance Of The Flames" album other than yourself.
Hans Hartman and I made "Don't Call Us We Call You", that was the trio of Genrich, Hartman and Neumeier, and for "Dance Of The Flames" we had Hans Hartman, Hauschang Nejaderpur on guitar and myself. With Hauschang Nejaderpur Guru Guru became a bit more jazzy. On "Mani Und Seine Freunde" I got a little help from my friends Helmut Hattier and all the other Kraan's and Mobi Moebius (Cluster) and good old Champion Jack Dupree and Conny Planck. I very much enjoyed that recording session, it was the first time I could do what I wanted and it's my favourite album.
"Mani Und Seine Freunde" was a different Guru Guru album in so far as they abandoned the trio format and invited various guests to partake in the recording. The addition of Tommy Goldschmidt and Ingo Bischoff gave them a more melodic sound. Certainly it was not as intense as the Uli Trepte days, but Mani could still use sound effects to create some pretty amazing and classic Guru Guru material such as "From Another World" and "Wood Dream" which recalled the effects passages of "Immer Lustig". Mani also had the Moebius and Rodelius duo fresh out of Cluster along, then making up Harmonia with ex-Neu member Michael Rother. Mani returned the compliment to Harmonia playing on their "Deluxe" album for Brain, recorded in the Summer of 1975. Lest we digress too much let's resume our chat with the Guru himself.
Are there any of the approximately 2500 live shows Guru Guru have played that stand out in your memory?
There are many shows which were remarkable. One of the greatest was in Munich in 1978 in the Olympic Stadium with about 6000 people present. The stage was in a small lake and the public were sitting in an amphitheatre. We had a real good concert and in the end I stood in front of the mike and said, "OK people, let's do the 10 year Jubilee Swim with Guru Guru", put down my clothes, shouted "Follow me!" and jumped together with the three guys into the water. About 200‑300 others took off their clothes and splashed in the water to the music of Herbie Hancock's "Just Keep On Doing It". We had a great "ringel rein" and orgy. Big fun, many of the people couldn't find their clothes any more... and the Police did not appear.
When did guitarist and sax player Roland Schaffer join Guru Guru?
Roland joined us in 1975. Then Guru Guru became a quartet for the first time. We recorded "Tango Fango" etc.
Did you do most of your gigs in Germany only or did you
play in any other countries?
Most gigs were in Germany, although we also did shows in France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Holland and in the USA in 1980, but never in England. I tried! But, I think they didn't want us, and there was this funny Musicians Union exchange (all the UK bands came to Germany but not many German bands went to the UK.)
Who was doing the spoken parts in "Electric Junk" (lead track of the devastating second album "Hinten") and in "Der Elektrolurch"?
On "Electric Junk" that was Uli Trepte speaking. "Der Elektrolurch" is my voice. The new version of "Der Elektrolurch" will soon be released in conjunction with Jurgen Eugler from The Krupps.
When was the Guru Guru Sunband that recorded the "Hey Du" album formed? Was it a move towards a bigger line up that made you form it? Who else was involved?
Guru Guru Sunband was formed in 1980 when I cracked my knee and I got a second drummer. Butze Fischer was my right hand and left knee! We played 2 Drum Sets and lots of percussion. The others were Ingo Bischof (keyboards/piano) from Kraan, Gerald Luciano on bass and Roland Schaffer on sax and guitar.
Moving along to some later Guru Guru albums which have come out in the last 10 years or so, "Cosmic Hole", "Jungle" and "88". Who was in the band for those albums and how different was the musical style from before?
"Cosmic Hole", "Jungle" and "88" were recorded with a new line up. Hans Reffeft guitar, Barbara Lahr vocals and bass, Uli Zufle sax and Rolf Sohaude drums and bass. We played from 1984 to 1986 and from 1986 to 1988 with Erwin Ditzner on drums and Uli Krug on bass. "88" was with Hans Reffert on guitar, Lisa Kraus on vocals and Wietn Wieto on bass (in '89 Wolfi Zeigler was on bass). It was a different style of music but also psychedelic and funky.
When did your solo career start?
It started in 1981 when the bond broke again for the 5th time. Then I collected all my instruments around me, pulled myself back from people for weeks and tried out what I can do alone. This was another important step.
Mani's one-man show is another dimension to his career, and in 1993 his first solo album "Privat" was released. It's a powerhouse display of pyrotechnics allied to a marvellous sense of rhythm. It's also the first CD housed in a cover resembling a cheesebox I have yet laid eyes on. For a man who once played a duet with a power shovel it is just one more step on a continuing journey.
When did your other project, the zen-rock duo "Tierre Der Nicht" begin?
In 1989 when I met the guitar enfant terrible Louigi Archetti in Zurich. It's the real here and now music. European Hypnodelic, 100% improvised.
Who is in the current Guru Guru line up? Is it the same as on the new album "Wah Wah"?
Like in 1977 with Roland Schaffer on guitar and sax, Dieter Bornschlegel on guitar, Peter Kumstedt on bass and myself on drums and vocals. The new CD "Wah Wah" was recorded in December 1994 with Heinz Gimbus on bass in the Krupp‑Studio in Dusseldorf.
Finally what are the current plans for Guru Guru?
Playing like always and trying to get out of Germany sometimes.
And that's where our chat ended. A busy man is Mani Neumeier, and with the current Guru Guru line up the glory days of 1978's "Guru Guru Live" are not far away. This is not however a band living in the past: they are moving on, creating new music where their characters can find further means of expression. Long may you run Mani und seine Freunde.
Written and directed by John O'Regan, produced by Phil. © Ptolemaic Terrascope, August 1995.
Thanks to Mani Neumeier and to Rainer Zellner.