Formed in Germany in 1969, English quartet Nektar is often regarded as one of the most influential bands of the 1970s. Pioneers of psychedelic/space rock and futuristic live shows (including lights and pictures), their initial output contains some of the most adored records of the genre. In 2000, after a 20 year hiatus, the band reformed and has since released 3 more studio albums. In celebration of their amazing career, Nektar are currently touring with Brainticket and Huw Lloyd-Langton (Hawkwind) as part of the "Space Rock Invasion USA" tour. SOT's Jordan Blum recently spoke with Nektar founder, vocalist, and guitarist Roye Albrighton about the legacy of Nektar.
SoT: How did this new tour come about?
Roye: It started off with Cleopatra [Records] wanting to release our "Best Of" album as Retrospektive. I happen to mention that Nektar needed to tour the USA again and they suggested we do it as part of a package tour with Brainticket and Huw Lloyd.
After further negotiations we had a definite time slot in which to do it.
SoT: Can you discuss the songs you'll be playing during the tour? Will it be a retrospective on Nektar's career? Will it focus on some albums more than others?
Roye: We will endeavor to play as much from the bands catalog as possible with the time available to us with the added music from later albums. Most definitely we'll include A Tab In The Ocean, Recycled, and Remember The Future, but with the time available and the pieces being so long, we will have to alternate the set list during the tour.
SoT: You're joined by Brainticket and Huw Lloyd-Langton of Hawkwind on this tour, and you used Hawkwind poet Robert Calvert on Down to Earth. Have you always been a fan of these bands? How did they come to complete the touring trio?
Roye: Both bands were picked by Cleopatra as they thought it would be a good mix of styles for the tour. I can't say that I ever heard anything from Brainticket but I have heard a little of Hawkwind. I guess during the time that ourselves and these bands were around Nektar were touring heavily, and when we weren't, we were in the studio making the next album.
SoT: Can you discuss a bit about how Nektar formed? From what I understand, you were in Hamburg in the late 1960s and saw the other three guys at Star Club under the guise of Prophecy.
Roye: Almost right. I was in Hamburg with my own band, Rainbows in 1968. One day, I was passing the Star Club (next to the Reeperbahn) during a day off, and I happened to hear a drummer rehearsing all by himself. Upon further investigations, I introduced myself to Ron Howden. We hit it off together, and for the next week we played together as a twosome during the closed hours of the club.
Just before I left Hamburg to go back to the UK, Ron told me that the guitarist of the band was leaving. He asked if I would be interested in working with him and the rest of the bank they called Prophecy. I said, "As long as you are in the band, absolutely."
When I was back in the UK a few months later I got a telex from the bass player asking if I wanted to join them in Hamburg. On November 5th 1969, I arrived at the docks in Hamburg, and Nektar was born.
SoT: It's been said that Nektar found more success and fame in Germany and USA than in Britain. Do you agree with that sentiment and if so, why?
Roye: I guess it's just a case of logistics, really (although we did do a few short tours of the UK.) Our main fan base at the time was in Germany and later the USA.
We recorded several albums in the UK and also did a live one at the Roundhouse, but it was Europe and the USA that were calling.
SoT: One thing Nektar was always known for was its light show and theatrics (courtesy of Mick Brockett, of course). What made you guys incorporate such a high level of visual aid into your live act?
Roye: The idea of portraying the music we play in lights, pictures, and movie came at the early stages in Nektar's career. Unfortunately, technically, the equipment we really needed was not invented then so we had to do with what was available— converted slide projectors. I must admit that Mick did a great job in making it work, but some of the praise must also go to Pete Lango for the stage design and lighting.
SoT: You've always thought of Brockett as a fifth member, correct?
Roye: I think this is a misconception. Yes, he was portrayed as a 5th member but only in the live arena. Essentially, he left the musical compositions and performances to us and we left the lights to him.
SoT: During the 70s, was Nektar ever compared to other bands (Pink Floyd, for example)? If so, how do you feel about that?
Roye: Back in the early years of rock music there were the Beatles and the Stones and the Byrds. None of them sounded like the other; I think it's only within the last 25 years that people tend to want to label an artist's music. I believe that every band has its own style (unless you are a tribute, of course). Nektar is no exception; we play the way we create, and so I feel the need to categorize our music is unnecessary. But, to answer your question, yes, we have been compared to other acts as a kind of cross between [Pink] Floyd and Deep Purple.
SoT: 1973's Remember The Future is often cited as Nektar's first real breakthrough (partially because it was your first release in America). Why do you think this album was such a success?
Roye: I have asked myself that question many times, and to be honest, I have no idea. If you were to look at the charts in those early 70's, above and below us were acts that were totally different from Nektar's music. We kind of stuck out like a sore thumb (which made people sit up and listen, I believe). W.N.E.W. in NYC picked up on the album and it quickly spread westwards to St. Louis and beyond.
SoT: You left the band in 1976 only to rejoin a few years later? What made you decide to do that and do you think it was a good decision in retrospect?
Roye: After our recycled tour, I felt my time with Nektar had come to and end. I wanted to move on and do something different—dabble in other styles and just try other things. I guess in retrospect we have a choice to take the left or the right fork in the road. I went straight on just to be different and to see what happens. I was still relatively young back then and I wanted to see what the music scene had to offer.
SoT: From about 1980 – 2000, Nektar was disbanded. You went on to work with several other bands. Why did you guys decide to take a break and why did it take twenty years (approx) to reform?
Roye: The band didn't exactly decide to take a break. After I left, they made one more album, Magic Is A Child, and then disbanded. It would have remained so to this day had I not got an email from the organizers of NEARfest in New Jersey. They asked if we would get together for a reunion show, and I called all the guys up and we decided to do it. The show went so well that we decided to carry on and see what happens.
SoT: Around the same time, you suffered a potentially fatal liver infection. Were survival and a second chance at life a catalyst for reforming Nektar?
Roye: Not really. After my recovery, I set about writing again and came up with the very personal The Prodigal Son, which is an album of material that goes through my experiences of that traumatic time in my life.
SoT: How do you feel the post 2000 Nektar albums compare to the "classic" ones?
Roye: I feel good about them. Yes, in hindsight, they could have been recorded a lot better, but with a super low budget and management problems at the time, I thought it was more important to get the music out there than not at all.
SoT: Peter Pichl & Klaus Henatsch are the newest members of the band. How did they come to join Nektar and what makes them special?
Roye: Klaus and Peter were the obvious choice for Ron and myself; they grew up in Germany listening to Nektar, and with their unique styles and quality of musicianship, it was a done deal. Ron and I invited them to audition in Hannover and after running through Recycled, it was obvious that they were the ones.
SoT: Nektar has a boxed set coming out soon, correct? Can you discuss a bit about that? Who decided on the song inclusion?
Roye: With the exception of two, the songs on the Retrospektive album were previously picked Those two songs are songs that I did back in the 60's with Rainbows and features the very first guitar solo (albeit short) that I recorded.
SoT: How do you feel about the legacy of Nektar? Would you say you guys were pioneers of a certain sound? Do you see a lot of newer bands borrowing from Nektar?
Roye: I would like to think that Nektar and its music was a part of the musical evolution. We feel honored to have been a pert of rock music history and hope to carry on as long as possible. I think every band consciously or unconsciously borrows from someone else—to say they don't would be hard to believe. It's what makes music live and breath.
SoT: What can fans expect to see at on the tour?
Roye: They can expect a great night's entertainment with lights and sound from all the bands.
SoT: Well I can't wait to see you in August. Thanks for chatting with me, Roye, and congrats on a great career.
Roye: Thanks, Jordan.
Photos Courtesy of the Nektar website