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Richard Manktelow

SINDELFINGEN: FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH…..

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SINDELFINGEN: FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH…..

My name is Richard Manktelow and I was the founder and musical composer of Sindelfingen, a progressive rock band that existed from 1969 to 1974. The band was not a full-time professional touring outfit, played only locally (and rarely!) and never had a record deal, nor achieved any sort of fame.

One might imagine that any public interest in an unknown band from nearly forty years ago would end right there. However, as a result of a limited edition, privately recorded album called “’odgipig”, which the band recorded at the end of 1972 and released in 1973, and which has subsequently become ultra-collectable, Sindelfingen has posthumously garnered a following out of all proportion to its impact at the time. The album has enjoyed such latter-day success for two reasons; its extreme rarity in its original form and the fact that most prog-rock collectors and commentators consider it an excellent album in its own right and not simply an expensive curio.

Only 99 copies of the original album were pressed. The main reason for this was that, in those pre-VAT days, a run of 100 or more would have been subject to Purchase Tax. This would have made an already pricey LP prohibitively expensive, quite apart from the fact that we were unlikely to shift that many copies anyway. The band simply didn’t gig enough to build up the sort of live following that might have made a bigger run viable. About sixty-five copies went into private collections and another twenty-five or so went to local record shops, though I have no idea how many of those eventually sold. I actually threw away the few remaining copies in the late ‘70s, inadvertently adding to the value of the originals in the process.

Since then, the album has become so sought-after (at one point having a book value of around £1000) that there have been a number of re-issues on vinyl and on CD. Most of these have been legitimate releases but there are now companies in other countries selling unlicensed copies and downloads, so I find myself today in the unlikely position of being bootlegged, despite never having been even remotely famous!

What is obvious, however, is that little is known about the band itself. This has led to all sorts of speculation and incorrect assumptions from reviewers and commentators. I thought that I should now attempt to lay the ghost to rest, so to speak.

THE BAND

Sindelfingen began at a jam session at a local youth club. From this inauspicious acorn a typical rock trio grew, consisting of myself, bass-player John Currie and drummer Bill Basden. I think Bill, like me, was about 18 while John was a year or so younger and still at school. I regret I have no idea what became of Bill, who left after about a year. He was briefly replaced by Alan Parry before we recruited Roger Thorn, who is the drummer on the album. Roger was a young but already experienced drummer, a Ginger Baker devotee who possessed a vast twin kick-drum set-up; he also brought with him a glockenspiel which he had liberated from his children, perhaps not unsurprisingly.

At the time I was occasionally playing host to one Roger Woods, a contemporary of John’s who would turn up at my flat begging a bed for the night if he missed the last ‘bus home. Roger was a charming chap, very smart and very much into the same kind of music as we were but with no instrumental knowledge or skills. However, when the inevitable happened and Roger left his family home, moving into my flat full-time, he also moved into the band.

Right from the start I had written for the band and we had quickly progressed from heavy riffing and endless improvisations to playing long, complex compositions with the emphasis on arrangements rather than jamming. We also took the brave (though perhaps unwise) decision to play exclusively our own material. Given that the music was ‘difficult’ and not perhaps accessible to many people; it’s easy to see why we didn’t gig much - but boy! did we ever rehearse! Since most of the rehearsal process took place at my flat and Roger was invariably there, I began to devise glockenspiel parts for him to play. At first these would only serve to add a new texture to quiet passages but gradually we added more and more parts until he was playing throughout every song, sometimes with two beaters in each hand. We also had a small bass keyboard made, which Roger used as one might use organ bass pedals and which was dubbed in Sindel-speak the ‘Wartwortfunger’; this was identified in the sleeve notes as ‘bass oscillators’ or some such nonsense. For more information, see the ‘Trivia’ section.

Roger learned all of his parts by rote, an amazing feat for someone with no formal knowledge of notes, chords or keys. He also managed to perform accurately on stage, despite not being able to clearly hear what he was doing – these were the days of loud backlines and no monitors. This did, however, encourage us to invest in a (for 1970!) state-of-the-art 200-watt WEM PA, complete with high-frequency horns that rendered the glockenspiel not just audible but potentially painful to the ear. My current pub-friendly gigging PA has 200 watts just for foldback; how times have changed!

The notion of recording our own private album had, by mid-1972, been discussed and pretty much agreed when a fairly major crack appeared in the wall. John, to everyone’s chagrin, left to move to London and pursue a more active professional musical career. One should remember that we all had day jobs and the band, though without doubt the biggest thing in our collective lives, was scarcely profitable or even self-financing. The fact was that though we hung out together constantly and practised incessantly, we performed only sporadically; John wanted more than that and who could blame him? Nonetheless, it’s fair to say that the rest of us felt most upset by this. John was a great friend as well as a great player and because the bass parts we had developed were so original and difficult to play, it was hard to imagine anyone else being able to take them on, let alone fit in socially; certainly no bass player of our acquaintance could do it. In the end, as we couldn’t find a suitable player, we invented one.

Enter Mark Letley, at that time only 16 and still at school. (Mark, Roger, John and myself all went to the same grammar school in Rochester, though in different years – there must be something in the water! Mark’s younger brother Matthew, of whom more shortly, also went there, making the final version of the band entirely grammar-school educated; not so much street credibility as ‘avenue’ credibility, perhaps.) Mark was not a bass player but a finger-style guitarist with a repertoire of classical and folk pieces, who had strayed into our circle via mutual friends. Inviting him to replace John wasn’t as bizarre as it sounds, however, as to play the intricate parts I was writing required something more than long hair, indifferent chops or the triumph of hope over inexperience. Mark was from a musical family and knew his stuff. Within a few weeks he was playing all the parts accurately, just in time to record the album.

There was one further change in line-up before the band folded in 1974. Roger Thorn was forced to vacate the drum chair when his work took him out of the area for several months. His place was taken by Mark’s aforementioned brother Matthew, at that time an angelic and baby-faced 12-year old but already a phenomenal player who brought a new funkiness to the band. This final line-up produced much new material, including “The Princess and the Predator”, a 13-minute instrumental fairytale written as a piece for dancers which is available on some reissues of the album and represents, in my estimation, the best recording we ever made.

Roger Woods left us and moved away in 1974; at that point Sindelfingen ceased to exist as a regular band, though various incarnations have continued to perform specific projects over the years. Most notable among these is “The Triangle”, a sacred work originally written as a multimedia piece for Easter and which has only ever been performed in churches. A heavily edited set of excerpts of this, recorded live, has also been released. “The Triangle” typically featured myself and Matthew with Simon Hurst on keyboards and flute and Melvin Arnott on bass, together with dancers, lighting and even a string section on one occasion in 1979. This last performance, sadly unrecorded, also featured a guest vocalist, the unspeakably beautiful and talented Valerie Hill, who is now Mrs. Matthew Letley.

Where are they all now? I fear I have lost contact with both Rogers and I don’t know if either of them is still involved in music , though in the case of Roger Woods it would seem unlikely. I also have no idea regarding the whereabouts and activities of Alan Parry, though I do know he played in other bands, or of Melvin Arnott or Bill Basden. If anyone reading this knows any of these people, please ask them to get in touch with me as it would be great to hear from them (and anyway, both Rogers are owed royalty payments of sorts!)

John eventually became one of the country’s most sought-after bassists, performing stints with artists from Slash to Bob Monkhouse and all points between, playing on a number of hit records (though I suspect he might not want you to know about ‘Barbados’!), writing for publications like ‘Guitarist’ magazine and also working as a tutor at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance.’ where he specializes in advanced funk and rock techniques. He really is the most astonishing player – check him out!

Mark continued to work with me on-and-off on gigs and recording sessions right into the ‘90s, as did Simon and Valerie; in the early ‘80s the four of us plus Matthew released a single called “Paper Money” as The Session Band, which is probably even rarer than the “’odgipig” album – anyone out there got a copy? I gather that Mark has recently surfaced from a lengthy period of hibernation and is back playing better than ever, though our paths haven’t crossed again yet.

The most high-profile success has been enjoyed by Matthew who has worked with Magna Carta, Judy Tzuke, Elkie Brooks, David Essex, Vanessa-Mae, Bob Geldof, Snowy White and Hank Marvin and, since 2000, has occupied the drum throne with Status Quo. He and Valerie remain two of my closest and dearest friends and Matthew still occasionally comes out to gig with me when not touring with Quo. I always said I’d make him rich if he stuck with me. I can’t praise Matt highly enough – a lovely man and ridiculously talented.

As for myself, I have continued to write, arrange, record and gig; I was pro for most of the ‘80s, first doing session work and then as a solo singer/guitarist (in 1986 I gave 397 performances, more than there were days!) before becoming a full-time schoolteacher, ending up as Head of Music at Dartford Technology College until I retired in 2008. Not bad for someone with no relevant training or qualifications. I still give guitar tuition, play the odd gig and go out to jam nights. I suspect there’s more to come – you have been warned.

I still can’t believe how lucky I was to work with such a plethora of talented individuals. Why me?

THE MUSIC

The music has been erroneously described by many as ‘folk-rock’. This is obviously down to the predominantly acoustic nature of the recording which, unfortunately, is completely unrepresentative of the live sound of Sindelfingen; indeed, some reviewers have commented that the recorded sound is a little thin and lacking in power, which, compared to our ‘real’ sound, it was.

One issue was that the two studio engineers, though both excellent in their own fields, were BBC trained with a background in recording church music and the like. They had no real experience of recording rock. Another issue was that WE had no real experience of recording, full stop. This was particularly problematic with regard to the guitar sound.

At the time I was using a Fender Twin with no master volume and the only way to get an overdriven sound was to crank it up as I was wont to do on stage, which the engineers would not allow in their tiny studio. In our ignorance we didn’t realise that a small amp might do the job better; we just knew the guitar sound wasn’t working for us. In the end we tried acoustic guitar, more out of desperation than conviction, and to our delight it seemed to work on most of the material. One very heavy track called “The Mammoth” had to be abandoned altogether, which is one reason for the album being so short. The only electric guitars on the album are a clean Telecaster on “Three Ladies” and a Gretsch overdub in the background of “Perpetual Motion”. One result of all this was that we subsequently introduced more acoustic guitar on gigs, miked up through the PA. However, folk-rock we most assuredly weren’t.

The size of the drum booth also caused problems for Roger Thorn. It was so small (and his drum kit was so large) that he was unable to get in or out without moving drums and cymbals, which of course one shouldn’t do once the kit has been miked up. I think that factor, coupled with our relative inexperience, may have caused him to feel inhibited; certainly his drumming on the album is somewhat restrained compared to his live style. The monitoring level in the headphones was also insufficient for a rock drummer and I remember Roger saying afterwards that he couldn’t really hear the rest of us, though he wasn’t the type to kick up a fuss at the time. Roger would remain reserved during an apocalypse.

The studio was only equipped with a pair of 2-track machines so all instruments went down ‘live’ to the stereo backing track. No remixing or ‘dropping-in’ was possible and if there was anything any of us was unhappy about, be it the performance, the mix or even the level of reverberation, we simply had to do it again or agree to live with it. We used the commonly-employed tactic of breaking the long pieces down into shorter sections which were subsequently edited together. The edited backing track was then bounced to a new machine with vocals and any extra instruments being added simultaneously, along with further reverberation. There was no compression or noise reduction, itself a significant factor when you consider how quiet the quietest passages were. All things considered, the engineers did sterling work in coping with the band’s extreme dynamics, something all reviews have praised.

The well-known commentator ‘Progressor’ has likened the title track to Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’ and claims not to like it for that reason; if he’s right, it’s an accident. I wasn’t familiar with that work at the time, or since for that matter. The real reference point for this song, believe it or not, is mid-period Cat Stevens, whose albums (especially ‘Tillerman’ and ‘Catch Bull at Four’) I listened to a great deal during the early ‘70s. Other influences on the album as a whole would include the obvious – Yes, Gentle Giant, early Genesis, Crimso – and the less obvious – Bach (‘Three Ladies’ is particularly baroque in style), Stravinsky and jazz (‘Three Ladies’ again) which I grew up with. At least two reviewers have compared us to bands I’ve never heard. Some commentators have called us ‘avant-garde’, which I should have thought was the opposite of what we were; perhaps they didn’t know what it meant. One reviewer even drew parallels between our music and that of the Moody Blues; I confess to being completely nonplussed by that one.

I should also own up at this point; in a perhaps misguided attempt to appear fashionably democratic, the compositions were credited in the sleeve notes to the whole band. In truth I was the one and only writer of all our material, for good or ill. I don’t think any of my colleagues would take issue with this now.

Here, then, are my random thoughts on the recorded music.

‘Song for Dawn’ was a short extract lifted from another ‘epic’ sacred work of mine called ‘Procession’, written to be performed at Harvest Festival time, and was simply about sunrise on a new day. However, Roger T’s wife was called Dawn (now there’s a handle a rock chick might die for; Dawn Thorn!) so naming the song as I did was a dedication of sorts. Dawn was, shall we say, not the most supportive of rock’n’roll ladies (in fairness, she had three children whilst still in her teens, so had more pressing concerns than worrying about some silly band her husband was in) and I guess I was being diplomatic - or a crawler, depending on your point of view!

‘Three Ladies’ was one of the first things I wrote for the band and had been around for about three years before we recorded it. It’s a fast jazz waltz (or 6/8 time for the anoraks) and is simply about three young girls who trot off to the fair in their mothers’ heels and end up on the roundabout. I cannot believe the hidden meanings people have read into this; I can only say none were intended.

‘Today and Tomorrow’ was about an elderly person looking at a baby and trying to see through the eyes of the child, as it were, while knowing that one cannot go back, only onwards toward death. The theme of old age was also explored in ‘Perpetual Motion’ but here the protagonist is wise, strong and never seems to change, so effectively this was ‘Today and Tomorrow’ in reverse, with the young looking to the old; the way kids might view their grandmothers, for example. The two songs were deliberately juxtaposed in the running order, separated by;-

‘Mark’s Bach’ was young Mr. Letley’s party piece at the time so it was included to give him a chance to shine outside of the band; it also served as an interlude between the two aforementioned ‘old age’ songs. This becomes much clearer on the CD version, where you don’t have to stop and turn over the record.

“’odgipig” was really written for my girlfriend Stevie, known to Sindelfingen lovers (and identified on the album sleeve) as ‘Pod the PA King’ because she mixed the live sound for the band. This is precisely the kind of homespun, fluffy-tailed fantasy that she loved. Tragically, Stevie died about 10 years ago after battling cancer, not even reaching 50 years of age. I still can’t quite take that in.

“The Princess and the Predator” was recorded at a later session and in a different studio. By then we had a much better idea of what we were doing. The guitar, courtesy of a small, knackered valve amp, sounds great and Matthew was a much more positive and daring recording drummer than Roger. The glockenspiel sounds like an instrument rather than a toy and the bass is just HUGE! The result was much more like our live sound, overdubs notwithstanding.

If you’re going to buy a Sindelfingen CD, buy one that includes this track, turn it down to deafening, and wallow.

The material from ‘The Triangle’ was recorded at a performance in 1975, I think. It was simply taken as a reference for the band on my trusty Akai reel-to-reel with two mics about halfway down the aisle of the church. It was never intended for release but, such was the demand for any other Sindelfingen material, we eventually sanctioned its inclusion on a reissue double-album package with “’odgipig” on vinyl in the ‘80s, strictly limited to 300 copies. Sadly, not only has it since been pirated to death but the master tape was never returned to me; Stephen Smith, you are a very naughty boy, in the words of Python. It actually makes very little sense on its own, being primarily the accompaniment for a series of interpretive dance pieces on the theme of Easter, and the editing-out of about half the material (not by myself, I hasten to add) doesn’t help; still, it has its moments.

I should perhaps mention in conclusion that the sacred pieces were not written out of any Christian conviction on my part (far from it, I fear) but rather because they provided the opportunity to write large-scale offerings to be performed in large spaces with dancers, lights and generally the works. The sort of venues otherwise available to us didn’t have the same possibilities, even in the heady, ‘let’s try anything’ atmosphere of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, there would have been a mass exodus in the direction of the bar.

SINDELFINGEN TRIVIA

• There is no truth in the rumour that I ever refer to myself in the third person. Richard would never resort to such a silly tactic.

• Other people who worked with Sindelfingen include vocalist Rosalie Moulton (aka Babs, if memory serves) and dancers Mary Cochran (later Manktelow), Stevie Richards and Jacqui Arnott, all of whom worked on ‘The Triangle’ at various times. There were other dancers involved that I didn’t really know and also Mike Heron’s keyboard player on one performance (what a star!) but I’m afraid that after all these years their names escape me.

• The late Julian Phillips-Gorse also rehearsed with us on keyboards and the then brand-new luxurypoove (that’s more Sindel-speak!) Moog synthesizer but nothing further ever came of this collaboration. My thanks to all and my apologies to anyone I’ve inadvertently omitted.

• Roger Thorn was our only left-handed band member and the only one who was married while in the band. He had three children; twin sons and a younger daughter.

• The Wartwortfunger or ‘bass oscillator’ played by Roger Woods was in fact a modified Rolf Harris ‘Stylophone’ wired into a small keyboard, making Roger one of the few musicians to play, not one, but two instruments no-one else in rock tried. Can anyone imagine, say, Rick Wakeman playing a Stylophone? Even in his drinking days?

• The name “Sindelfingen” was also one of Roger’s contributions. I would occasionally indulge myself with a plastic construction kit and on the side of a Revell box containing a model of a 1930s Mercedes-Benz was the legend, ’Body by Sindelfingen’. Roger couldn’t get over the name and it stuck. At least no-one was likely to confuse us with anyone else, though if one now googles it, one gets tourist information about a resort in Germany.

• And “’odgipig”? Well, ‘hodgepig’ was Chatham slang for a hedgehog. Since the song was about a magical hedgehog, I simply bastardized the spelling and ended up with ‘odgipig. No drugs were used in the creation of this name, or indeed anything else that Sindelfingen produced. It’s good to know that Chatham was responsible for contributing to the world’s vocabulary something other than the words ‘bling’ and ‘chav’! This also explains the hedgehog logo on the front of the sleeve, drawn by myself in an idle half-hour at work.

• Roger Woods acquired the nickname ‘Hymie’’, a most un-PC reference to the profile of his proboscis; we also gleefully modified his surname to ‘Woodstein’. Ever game, he would leave our company with a parting shot of “Remember, my boys – don’t spend it, lend it!” Oh, Roger, where are you?

• In post Sindel-years, Richard once performed a charity gig where he played and sang, 45 minutes on and 15 minutes off in every hour, for 24 hours non-stop. People paid for the songs they wanted to hear. Richard sang and played entirely from memory, did not repeat any song during the 24 hour period and was subsequently unable to converse for the next two days. Some of his peers wish he would do this more often.

• Matthew earned the soubriquet of ‘Snail’ or sometimes even ‘l’Escargot’, though I can’t remember quite why, unless it was an ironic reference to the speed of his playing.

• The lettering on the back of the sleeve is in Roger Thorn’s handwriting. Unfortunately, the total running times were incorrectly calculated, though I can’t remember who actually did the maths.

• The cover photo was taken by Stevie, I think, on my old Brownie 127 camera, just up the road from my flat at a location known as the Coney Banks. I believe there’s a commemorative plaque there now to mark the spot.

• The company that printed the circular labels to fix to the two sides of the record made the holes in the centre too small; it was necessary to ream them out before one could play the record.

• The lyric sheets that accompanied the original album were typed by Mrs. Betty Taylor at the Gillingham Council Environmental Health Department offices, where I was ‘employed’, though I can’t really say ‘worked’. She also made the photocopies and didn’t charge me for the paper. There were some errors of spelling but one couldn’t really quibble. I don’t know if she’s still alive but thanks anyway.

• Mark had to learn the recorder specifically for the record. John had previously played the parts onstage.

• Roger Woods used to play rhythm guitar on one song called “The Institute of Attitudes”, a kind of funky 12-bar. As he knew no chords, I simply tuned a spare guitar to a 9th chord and Roger then played by ‘barre-ing’ in the appropriate positions. The lyrics for this song were written, uniquely, by my friend Peter Knight – where are you, Pete?

• Mark hadn’t been provided with a bass rig at the time of recording and had to borrow his father’s Fender Dual Showman head and twin 15” JBL speaker cabinet, hence the reference in the sleeve notes to ‘loaning us the JBLs’. He subsequently acquired a Carlsboro 100 valve head and a frankly ridiculous, wardrobe-sized twin 18” Carlsboro cabinet, together with the nickname of ‘Concorde’, a reference to his sound and volume. His bass on the album was a Hayman that had previously belonged to John Currie; John sold it to us when he traded up to a Rickenbacker.

• The whole band went through a phase, for about a year, of drinking a mixture of stout and cider; mind you, we were young then. The mere thought of it now……..

• The drum kit Matthew originally used in Sindelfingen was covered in a kind of green paisley Fablon and looked like something out of a very bad ‘50s kitchen. Fortunately, for his 14th birthday, his parents bought him a black Gretsch kit which he has since toured extensively and still owns. He also still possesses a vintage Hofner Verithin guitar which the band bought him for his thirteenth birthday. You’re still a crap player, though mate – B,D,A indeed!

• Mark was very, very unhappy about having to sing on the recordings and probably still is. Actually, Mark, I now believe I’m unhappy about it too.

• The title track features me harmonizing with myself (or is that Richard with myself?) with Mark adding a third harmony in places. However, the stereo ‘dialogue’ between the two guitars is performed for real on the track. Mark and I used to do it live on stage as well. He had no choice about singing the harmony then.

• During his obligatory drum solo, Matthew would play not only the kit but also the stands, the mics, the floor, the guitars and amps and anything else he could reach while he bunny-hopped around the stage. I bet he doesn’t do that with Quo.

• I recorded several solo pieces at the same studio and at about the same time, including ‘The Crisis’, ‘Spider Lady’, ’The Dancer’ and ‘Rakehell the Rabbit’, all of which subsequently entered the Sindelfingen repertoire. None were considered for the album. I still have the master tape of those songs.

• Only one member of Sindelfingen ever needed to diet. There is STILL no truth in the rumour that he refers to himself in the third person.

And finally…….

Q):-What was the last song Sindelfingen played?

A):-At Sindelfingen’s farewell performance at the ‘Green Shack’ in 1974, the last song played (as an encore) was an impromptu and unrehearsed cover of the Byrds’ “Hey, Mr. Spaceman”. Roger did not attempt to jam along on the glockenspiel.

So – now you know. Thank you and goodnight, sweet readers.

Richard the Professor

Charing, Kent

January 2009

http://sindelfingenweblog.blogspot.com/

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