It is the mid 1970s.
I am doing my high school homework and the scratched-up over-played LP is
spinning in the old portable record player again, and my Dad is poking
his head into my room and yelling at me to "turn that bloody racket down" -
In my Dad's book only the classical greats played 'music'. Too bad he'd never
appreciate the modern classics like Nektar's A Tab In The Ocean. Today I
am older than my Dad was, at that time, yet Nektar is still rocking our world.
They've been doing it since 1969, and now – in 2006 - they're on the verge of
releasing a new album and launching a tour.
Sea Of Tranquility's staff has taken the time to review Nektar's catalog of
studio releases as well as several compilations and live albums - so read on for Duncan Glenday's
biographical summary, as well as our collation of our interviews, articles, and
reviews of Nektar's back catalog. Collectively - at a staggering 17,000 words -
these constitute what must surely be the most comprehensive retrospectives of
Nektar's music anywhere, ever.
And remember to bookmark us for our review of the upcoming CD, Book Of
See below for a comprehensive band bio, our catalog of reviews, and our
interviews and articles.
Four displaced Brits met in Germany and formed a band.
That sounds like an
unlikely story, but their successes swept across continental Europe and crept
into America. So they packed their bags and moved to New Jersey, and their
successes swept across America and crept along in Europe.
Were they an English band, or German, or perhaps American? Was the music
early English prog, krautrock or just intelligent rock? It didn't matter in the
1970s, and Nektar flouted convention in so many other respects anyway.
Nektar's early lineup would be stable for many years. Charismatic frontman
Roye Albrighton was a virtuoso guitarist who had shared a stage with Jimi
Hendrix. Allan "Taff" Freeman was a unique keyboard player. Derek "Mo" Moore was
a Rickenbacker powerhouse. Ron Howden exhibited a fluidity rarely found in a
drummer. The quintet comprised four musicians and a lights and visuals virtuoso
who was credited with full band membership. Light technician Mick Brockett had worked with Pink Floyd in the late
sixties and developed some of the most creative lightshows the rock world had
Bellaphon signed the band in 1970 and their space rock LP Journey to the
Centre of the Eye was hailed an instant classic. The music meandered from
instrumental to vocal, from aggressive to slow and spacey, and from standard
rock to electronica to abstract psychedelia – and did all that within the context of one 40-minute song loosely divided into 13 continuous parts of spacey, adventurous rock exploring a range of sounds that would be considered
innovative even today.
The band was off to a running start, and soon had three gold albums
under its belt (Remember the Future, Down to Earth and Recycled,
each selling over a quarter million copies) and by 1976 they had a billboard
top-100 single and five top-200 albums including one that dipped its toe into
the top-20. This was Remember the Future, which made no. 13 in the
American charts. It was essentially one song broken into the two parts necessary to fit onto a vinyl record. Although that wasn't the only time Nektar produced such a sweeping epic, it was the style that set this one apart.
Nektar's other albums were aggressive progressive, but this one had long
passages of pure funk. It was defined by upper-register riffs played through
plenty of Wah, which were repeated and reprised many times across the album, and
formed the backbone to the whole piece. There was elegant guitar work
interacting with a grinding Hammond, there were frequent shifts and tidal ebbs
and upbeat tones, and a consistent build up, pull back, return to that funky
groove and build up again. That long, flowing format led to plenty of
opportunities for solos and improvisation which is one of the reasons "Remember
The Future Part 2" is Allbrighton's favorite piece to play live.
Nektar In The 1970s
Other highlights followed. Concept album A Tab In The Ocean gathered
the band a whole new following and featured "King of Twilight" that would later
be covered by Iron Maiden and modern progressive outfit French TV. Sounds Like This was "recorded live" in the studio and was described by Elton John
as "an extraordinary album". Recycled was released in 1975 after being
recorded in France and London and one mix was engineered by Beatles technician
Geoff Emerick. The album featured a full choir and the guest appearance of
American synth-wiz Larry Fast, from Synergy and later a member of Peter
Gabriel's band. There were TV appearances in England and chart successes in
America and in many circles Nektar was listed alongside the big 5 early prog
Yet it was their live performances that gained the band a dedicated following that is as strong now as it was in 1976, when the band moved to America. Nektar started a rigorous touring schedule as soon as they arrived here, and the band had to charter a 747 jetliner to transport all the lighting and sound equipment.
Touring took its toll, though, and led to the departure of Roye Albrighton in
December 1976 when he moved back to England. He was replaced by American Dave
Nelson, who recorded Magic is a Child in 1977 featuring a young Brooke
Shields on the sleeve. The pop-oriented, metal-influenced Man In The Moon
was released in 1980 and then – to all appearances – the Nektar story was over.
Taff Freeman, Ron Howden and Mo Moore remained in America, Roye was in England,
and the band was relegated to the distant memories of millions of fans.
In 1999 guitarist and front man Roye Albrighton suffered a serious illness and was given just weeks to live. A last-minute
procedure was performed, and after a few scares his recovery began and today
he is in remarkably good health. This gave the band a new appreciation of life
and like Roye, Nektar was literally resurrected from its deathbed. After a long
drought they released the aptly-named Prodigal Son in 2000 – and Nektar
was back. Two years later Remember The Future was remastered, and
Sunday Night At The London Roundhouse was released – this was a Concert
played and recorded in 1973, and the double-CD included previously unreleased
The grandest moment in the band's return was the reunion concert that
headlined NEARfest in 2002. The original lineup was there, including Mick
Brockett with his still-impressive light show, as well as guest artist and old
friend Larry Fast as a second keyboardist, and Scott Krentz provided supporting
percussion and backing vocals. The band had aged well – but they had aged
– so Michelle Eckert and Maureen McIntyre provided the high notes and the
glamour that otherwise eluded the band.
Despite three of the original artists living in the USA and one in England,
the huge NEARfest success was followed by a flurry of tours, festival
appearances, and a program of remasters through Eclectic Discs who did a
wonderful job of reworking the back catalog. The new CDs all included previously
unreleased bonus material, they were remastered from the original tapes, and
many of them now featured 5.1 SACD surround sound for a glorious listening
Now a successful businessman in New Jersey and unable to tour on a large
scale, Mo Moore left Nektar rather than impede his friends. But there was an
American kid called Randy Dembo who had grown up listening to Nektar, and Mo's
1970s performances had encouraged him to take up the bass at a young age. After
a chance meeting with Taff Freeman on a commuter train and in a story that
sounds as unlikely as a movie script, Randy became Mo's successor.
Besides the upcoming Book Of Days, Nektar's most recent CD is
Evolution – produced by Julian Hastings, son of Caravan veteran Pye
Hastings, and released in 2004 with fanfare and accolades and supporting tours.
Nektar always had the ability to provide music with hooks – those melodies that
stay in your mind long after the CD has stopped spinning. And while Evolution has many wonderful qualities, those hooks are the strongest component of the new record. First-time listeners may think it sounds like rather linear rock at first blush. But it only takes one or two more listens to appreciate that all the progressive elements are there, along with very strong musicianship. Albrighton's stamp is all over this music – from the vocals, through the lyrics to the guitar-driven instrumentation. Taff Freeman's keyboards also take a lead role here, and his elegant piano work plays a central role in many tracks.
Then, after 34 years, Taff Freeman – now nostalgically describing himself as a 'Scottish
Hippy' – left Nektar. Roye's son Che plays in an English band called Audio Porn,
and Che's friend Tom Hughes was recruited to stand in for Taff on their American
tour of 2005. Hughes's musicianship, his ability to learn the material in record
time and his sense of team-play earned him an invitation to a slot in the lineup
Today Nektar's lineup is best described as fluid, with several band members
stepping is as needed, and revolving around Nektar stalwarts Albrighton in the
UK, and drummer Ron Howden – still a displaced Brit, now living in the USA's
mid-Atlantic region. No two albums were ever the same, and this spread of
musical styles yields a live performance that you'd be well advised to see.
You never quite know what to expect, except that you can expect Nektar to
blow your socks off.
Interviews / Articles