Danish Progressive Rock At Its Best - Part 1

by Piotr Tucholski for Tarkus no. 21, June 2002
Eik Skaløe

In 1967 Eik Skaløe and Stig Møller formed the group Steppeulvene (Steppenwolf). They recorded only one record - Hip. Next year Eik went out to India and presumably died. When you listen to Hip album you find it Bob Dylan-influenced beat music, however be aware that it is one of the most important records in Danish rock history as it became a catalizator for other musicians.
The main reason is the fact that it was sung in Danish, for the first time. Hip seems to be written into Danish rock fans memory. Even now, after over 30 years, it is a cult band in Denmark. During my short visit in Copenhagen, I entered the record shop and had a conversation with a young man working there. He asked me:
- Are you interested in Danish rock?
- Oh yes, I like it a lot.
- You must listen to Steppeulvene. It's ggreat!

My adventure with Danish rock began a few years ago when I read an article in local music magazine. I was very impressed with... names like: Alrune Rod, Thors Hammer, Culpeper's Orchard and many others. Soon, I found that rock from Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, being under influence of music from America and England where the counterculture began, has its own, very special feeling. Moreover, in late sixties when progressive rock was created and new music styles were appearing day after day, one of them was rock with jazz influence. It is very characteristic for Danish music of late sixties, as many jazz players started to play beat and rock with great success e.g.: Burnin' Red Ivanhoe, Rainbow Band, Blue Sun, Dr. Dopo Jam and others. If you have a chance, give them a try and listen. Scandinavian element and professionalism of the musicians make the music unrepeatable and very worth listening.

Discography: *
1. HiP 1967 Metronome

[1] CD - Elap

* The default media type is LP, otherwise noted. Types of reissued records are specified. Singles, EPs are not listed.


Ache started in 1968 heaving their roots in the hippie subculture of Copenhagen. They played a mixture of beat, symphonic-rock and classical-rock with strong organ and guitar interplays. Ache was said to be Danish equivalent of Procol Harum but its music was also under influence of Van der Graaf Generator and The Nice (great combination anyway!). The first album The Homine Urbano includes only two compositions. On side A there is a title track composed for ballet (performed in e.g. Copenhagen and Moscow). On Little Things (that covers the whole side B) the musicians started working in 1968 and since then they developed it piece by piece. According to them the composition is about little things that exist around us. It is slightly better developed than The Homine Urbano and must-have not only for symphonic-rock proggers.

Ache were planning to create Ache Rock Theatre an artistic event. This idea, unfortunately, failed due to lack of money, but music on their second album Green Man(except track Acheron) comes from that show. Compositions on this record are shorter (none exceeds 9 minutes) which enabled musicians to present more diverse material. Some tracks remind of the previous album (Equatorial Rain, The Invasion, Acheron), some are more like hits e.g. beautiful Shadow Of A Gipsy or titled Green Man. The last composition is Ache-ish cover of The Beatles' We Can Work It Out.

Torsten Olafsson said in 1971 about their music: When listening to music you may sometime imagine sceneries on situations appearing from far away, from sub consciousness, and when experiencing sceneries or happenings you may as well put sounds or music to them; and in both ways picture and sound will be linked together, and you will always believe them to belong to each other".
Ache soon disbanded but in 1976 reformed in different line-up and recorded two albums. The first rock opera Pictures From Cyclus 7 is said to be a better one.

1. De Homine Urbano 1970 Philips
2. Green Man 1971 Philips
3. Pictures From Cyclus 7 1976 CBS
4. Bla Som Altid 1977 KMF

[1]+[2] 2LP - Philips 1976
[1]+[2] CD - Universal Music 2000
[1]+[2] CD - Free Records 2000

Alrune Rod

Alrune Rod [The Mandrake Root] was another important group for Danish rock, like Steppeulvene singing in native language. They were classic representatives of counterculture in terms of colorful clothes, long hair and that music... They are said to play the concerts with "neverending" compositions. First self-titled album is a very good psychedelic rock with echoes of early Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead. They second one Hej Du presents the same high level with great 21-minute suite Perlesøen [The Pearl Sea]. Unfortunately, the following albums were not as excellent, presenting more mainstream rock style. According to Ref. 2 the only interesting among their later works is the final album Tatuba Tapes, recorded live.

1. Alrune Rod 1969 Sonet
2. Hej Du 1971 Sonet
3. Alrune Rock 1972 Sonet
4. Spredt For Vinden 1973 Mandragora
5. 4-Vejs - 1974 Mandragora
6. Tatuba Tapes 1975 Mandragora

[1] LP - Little Wing 1993
[2]+[3] 2LP - Sonet 1979
[1]+[2]+[3] 2CD titled: Sonet Arene 1969-72 Sonet/Polygram 1998
[3] LP - Sonet 1974

Alrune Rod in concert
Blue Sun

Blue Sun 1970

Formed in 1969 in Copenhagen, Blue Sun was hippie band having their roots in avant-garde jazz-rock. Most of their works come from live recordings - mostly improvisations dominated by sax, organ and guitar. The music is mainly instrumental, with some South African inspiration. The band was very popular at that time among youngsters, having strong spiritual power when they performed live. Their album from 1973 presents similar style but a bit more peaceful with leading sax and vocal, alternately.

1. Peace Be Unto You 1970 Spectator Records
2. Blue Sun 1971 EMI
3. It's All Money Johnny 1976 Genlyd
4. Blue Sun 73 1992 Danish Music Archives, archive live recordings
5. Live 1970 2001 Karma, CD archive live recordings

Burnin' Red Ivanhoe

One of the biggest names of Scandinavian progressive groups that became well-known worldwide. Their music can be described as progressive jazz-rock under influences of beat, R&B, psychedelia... The compositions present often improvisational long passages with Karsten Vogel's (soprano sax, alto sax) musical visions. The other members are: Kim Menzer (flute, violin, trombone, harmonica), Ole Fick (guitars, vocals), Jess Stæhr (bass), Bo Thrige Andersen (drums).

Burniní Red Ivanhoe 1970: Fick, Andersen (obscured), Menzer, Stæhr, Vogel

They started in 1967 but the first album appeared two years later. It was double LP M144. By many considered their best. The comparison to The Who is especially clear in this early period. Most of the compositions have lyrics in native language but this changed with the following records where dominating language was English. The second, self-titled album presents the same style and similar record structure: after dynamic opening Across The Windowsill (on M144 it is famous Ivanhoe I Brøndbyerne) compositions of various style and atmosphere come: R&B Rotating Irons, dynamic blues-rock Gong-Gong, The Elephant Song, the ballad Near The Sea, etc. The last track is titled Secret Oyster Service - does it remind you of something? The third album WWW is probably their most progressive work. The music is more placid without crazy sax solos and R&B tracks; also over 8-minutes excellent 2nd Floor, Croydon has more progressive character. In the same year the band recorded LP with Danish folk singer Povl Dissing. Although the compositions are more folk oriented and all lyrics are in Danish there are some moments, especially over 10-minutes Tingel-Tangelmanden that could be interesting for progressive rock fans.

The group split in 1972 but before it happened they recorded one more album - it was "live in studio" Miley Smile/Stage Recall. Surprisingly, it contains only three old compositions: Ivanhoe I Brøndbyerne, Rotating Irons and Indre Landskab (however in different versions). The rest presents fresh material like rousing The Monster Song, funny cover version of the old standard Red River Rock or the longest and the most typical for the group, jazzy Bareback Rider. The album ends with R&B Goodbye, which is the musicians' farewell. All in all, Miley Smile/Stage Recall is another excellent position in group discography.

In fact, two years later one more album appeared signed as Burnin' Red Ivanhoe. Its story is pretty interesting. Vogel was a member of Secret Oyster at that time. He found (Ref. 2) that he collected some compositions that were not appropriate for experimental style of this group and decided to release the new album under old band name. Right On appeared in 1974 and is another "mandatory" item for BRI fans (unfortunately, this album is extremely difficult to find and very expensive). As for the members, there were former musicians of BRI: Vogel, Andersen, Fick, Secret Oyster: Knudsen and Day Of Phoenix: Karsten Lyng (vocal), so the band name on the album was used rather for formality. This record has rare moments when you hear the echoes of Burnin' Red Ivanhoe (mainly instrumental parts with sax solos) but more often of Day Of Phoenix' first album. The opening track reminds of Uriah Heep very much! In 1980 the group in old good line-up released Shorts, containing pop-rock compositions, quite enjoyable but it is a different story. Burning Red Ivanhoe was one of the most important and typical Danish rock representatives of that time. Fortunately, its rich discography is the evidence of wonderful musicians' output.

1. M144 (2LP) - 1969 Sonet
2. Burnin' Red Ivanhoe - 1970 Sonet
3. W.W.W. - 1971 Sonet
4. Miley Smile/Stage Recall - 1972 Sonet
5. Right On - 1974 Sonet
6. Burnin' Live (MC) - 1974 Instant Sound
7. Shorts - 1980 Pick Up Pulp
8. Spotlight Burnin' Red Ivanhoe 1969-74 (CD) - 1990 Sonet Spotlight, compilation
9. Lack Of Light - 1998 Polygram
10.Povl Dissing with Burnin' Red Ivanhoe: 6 Elefantskovcikadeviser - 1971 Sonet

[1] LP - Sonet 1979
[1] CD - Sonet/Polygram 1997
[2] CD - Germanofon
[2]+[3] 2LP - Sonet 1980
[2] LP - Warner
[2] LP - Telefunken
[2] LP - Stateside
[3] CD - Repertoire 1992
[3] LP - Dandelion
[3] LP - Telefunken
[4] LP - Telefunken
[6] LP - Danish Music Archives 1991
[7] CD - Elap 1995
[10] CD - Universal Music 2000

Culpeper's Orchard

Beautiful cover of Culpeperís Orchard first album

This band recorded one of the most beautiful records in Danish rock history. This self-titled album presents excellent electric guitar rock with some folk influences. There are heavier compositions like Mountain Music Part 1 and 2 along with beautiful songs Blue Day's Morning or Gideon's Trap with nice calm piano working. Very good English vocal comes from Englishman Cy Nicklin. The music is often compared to many well known groups which results from unique style and quality. I prefer comparison to Crosby, Stills & Nash but it gives you only hazy idea. This album was re-released on CD in Germany and is one of the most difficult to get on CD (LP is also rare and expensive). However, last year it was unofficially reissued.

Next album Second Sight was recorded with Ken Gudman (from Young Flowers) on drums that replaced Rodger Baker. It didn't reach the high standard of its predecessor, however some tracks are still very good like Julia or Keyboard Waltz. Third record was recorded with Cy Nicklin, Michael Friis from the old line-up plus three members of other Danish progressive group Blast Furnace but it didn't reach big interest. The last album is more into pop-rock direction.

1. Culpeper's Orchard - 1971 Polydor
2. Second Sight - 1972 Polydor
3. Going For A Song - 1972 Polydor
As Culpeper:
4. All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go - 1977 Sonet

[1] CD - Polydor/Forgotten Jewels 1991
[1] CD - Progressive Line 2001
[2] LP - Melody 1979 (released as 2LP with album of Moirana)
[2] CD - Polydor 1995
[2] CD - private
[2] CD - Progressive Line 2001

Day of Phoenix

The group was founded in 1968 by Cy Nicklin (later in Culpeper's Orchard) with Karsten Lyng Nielsen, Jess Staehr Nielsen, Ole Prehn and Henrik Friis Nielsen. They released the first single (1969) and participated in different events but in 1969 Cy Nicklin left the group and was replaced by Hans Lauridsen (and Stæhr by Erik Stedt Rasmussen).

In 1970 the band released the LP Wide Open N-Way. The music is psychedelic rock with clear feeling flowing from American bands. The lyrics are all sung in English. I met very different opinions about this album but it is definitely interesting and original work. Its producer (and of the following one) was Tony Reeves, ex-Colosseum bassist. Wide Open N-Way was warmly received and got some interest worldwide. Two years later the group reformed (besides Karsten Lyng and Ole Prehn there were three BRI members: Ole Fick, Jess Stæhr, Bo Thrige Andersen) and recorded the second album. Unfortunately, it presents mediocre rock compositions far behind its predecessor.

1. Wide Open N-Way - 1970 Sonet
2. The Neighbour's Son - 1972 Sonet

[1]+[2] 2LP - Sonet 1979
[1] CD - Repertoire 1994
[1]+[2] CD - Universal Music 2000

The cover of Wide Open N-Way
Dr. Dopo Jam

And here is one of my favourites - Dr. Dopo Jam. Formed by Kristian Pommer in 1968 has its own unrepeatable style - rock with jazzy influences and a big doze of humour. It consisted of eight members (!) with strong brass section (trumpet, tenorsax, sopransax, flute).

The music is full of unpredicted twists and turns and musical jokes. That may give the impression that eight musicians don't control their playing and then you realize that everything is rather well planned and the particular pieces lays themselves out into a colorful pattern. First two albums are equally great. In 1981 Pommer with two members from old line-up and three new ones formed the group again and recorded third and last record: Cruisin' At Midnite. Although the musicians play many instruments and brass section is strong again the album lacks of power and freshness. However, due to many interesting ideas, it is recommended for Dr. Dopo Jam fans. The note from album cover is a good comment: "... It would be a pity to say that the band sounds like in the old days, but the main thing, the challenge to the listeners, is still there".

1. Entrťe - 1973 Zebra
2. Fat Dogs and Danishmen - 1974 Zebra
3. Cruisin' At Midnite - 1981 Dopo Di-Doo Platts

[1] CD - Germanofon
[2] CD - Germanofon

Dr. Dopo Jam

End of Part 1...  Click here to enter Part 2

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