Exposé Online banner

Not to be confused with the many other bands of the same name, the German Octopus was perhaps the classic Sky-label band. The band was conceived in Frankfurt, Germany in 1973 by bass player Claus Kniemeyer and guitarist Pit Hensel. Kniemeyer was playing in American G.I. clubs with a commercial rock band at the time. However, he had a desire to make a more heavily conceptual music. Upon meeting like-minded Pit Hensel, who had previously been playing jazz, Octopus was born. With powerful singer Jennifer Hensel (no relation, apparently), organist Werner Littau, and drummer Dieter Becke, they made their live debut in February 1974 at the Fachoberschule Frankfurt.

by Mike Ohman, Published 1996-08-01

1975 saw the band embarking on a summer tour of Germany, with an astounding sixty or so performances. This led to their first time in a recording studio, with the intent to record their first album. This was unfortunately cut short prematurely, as the studio time financially broke the band's producer. To raise funds for their recording debut, the group went back on the road for a further 60 concert dates in early 1976. This grueling schedule apparently proved too stressful for drummer Dieter Becke, and he quit the band. His replacement was the talented Frank Eule.

Octopus - The Boat of Thoughts coverOnce again, Octopus found themselves in the studio (Tonstudio Hiltpoltstein), this time starting from scratch and financing their recording themselves. At last striking a deal with Sky Records, their recording debut, entitled The Boat of Thoughts (Sky 009), was at last released late in 1976. Showing surprising maturity for a recording debut, The Boat of Thoughts gracefully mated heavy rock with lush symphonics. The interplay between guitarist Pit Hensel – whose style had become ever more rock based, and keyboardist Werner Littau – whose athletic Hammond organ playing was enhanced by innovative use of Mellotron, Moog synthesizer and string-ensemble, was the band's instrumental focal point. The powerhouse bass playing of Kniemeyer, and especially Eule's non-stop riffing at the drum kit, give the rhythm section an undeniable strength. It's all topped off by the indescribable deep contralto belting of vocalist Jennifer Hensel, whose low-pitched voice defies comparison, yet is very strong and excellent. The band as a unit show remarkable resolve over such rhythmically complex pieces as "First Flight of the Owl," "We're Losing Touch," and the feature-length title track. As symphonic and conceptual as they can often be, Octopus never let you forget they are a rock band. Thanks to that tendency, The Boat of Thoughts stands today as a classic in German progressive.

Octopus - An Oceanb of Rocks cover

In December of 1977, Octopus returned to the studio with another new drummer (Seppl Niemeyer, who had replaced Eule in October of that year) to record their second album, entitled An Ocean of Rocks. In spite of the lineup shift, no major change in style had occurred from one album to the next, the memorable dialogs between Pit Hensel's guitar and Littau's keyboards still being central to the band's music. This album is their most conceptual of all, not only including a sequel to the first album's "The Delayable Rise of Glib" (about a young boy dealing with abject poverty), but also an entire suite of songs based on the mythology of Atlantis. Littau's instrumental "The Shifting of Space and Time" is a high point, a real showcase for his keyboard playing.

Octopus - Rubber Angel cover

Guitarist Pit Hensel quit the band in August of 1978, citing personal and musical differences. His replacement was Düsseldorf-based guitarist Winfried Kowallik, who had played with both Straight Shooter and Streetmark. Their sound started moving away from the conceptual progressive stuff and toward a more linear, hard-rock orientated sound. But for the recording of their third album, Rubber Angel, in the spring of 1979, they recruited producer Jochen Wenke. He cast the band into a more pop-disco type of sound, similar to that of another band he produced, Supermax, a setting in which they sounded most uncomfortable. Only the mellow, pensive "Roly-Poly Bumble-Bee" even hints at a progressive sound.

As of this writing none of the Octopus albums have been reissued on CD, but fortunately this will be remedied soon. With their first two albums, Octopus quite possibly represented the apex of the mid-70s German progressive scene. These albums beg to be rediscovered.


Filed under: Profiles, Issue 10

Related artist(s): Octopus

Latest news

2017-05-19
First ProgStock Festival Set for October – October 2017 will see the inaugural edition of a festival called ProgStock in Rahway, New Jersey at the Union County Performing Arts Center. With a definite slant towards neo-progressive music, the event is sure to please many fans with the inclusion of such artists as Echolyn, Glass Hammer, and Aisles. The festival will take place October 13-15. » Read more

2017-05-05
Clive Brooks RIP – Word reaches us today of another sad passing in the music world. Drummer Clive Brooks, best known as a member of such Canterbury bands as Egg, Uriel / Arzachel, and Groundhogs, has died at the age of 67. Details are sketchy at this point. The news was reported on Nick Mason's Facebook page — Brooks was Mason's drum tech. » Read more

2017-05-02
Col. Bruce Hampton RIP – The phrase "He died doing what he loved" is almost a cliche, but in the case of Col. Bruce Hampton, it couldn't be more true. Hampton, who was born Gustav Berglund III, collapsed on stage at his own 70th birthday celebration and later passed away. The event took place at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. » Read more

2017-04-16
ProgDay 2017 Announces First Bands – Flor de Loto, Sonar, and Infinien are the first three performers to be announced for the 2017 edition of the long-running ProgDay Festival. The 23rd ProgDay takes place Saturday and Sunday, September 2nd and 3rd, at Storybook Farm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. » Read more

2017-04-16
Allan Holdsworth RIP – Surely in the list of artists who have contributed to the sound of modern music, there is a special spot for guitarist Allan Holdsworth. His name is known to virtually every student of the instrument in jazz and rock, and his style has been so widely emulated that it's hardly worth mentioning anymore — we can just assume that every guitarist has Holdsworth as an influence. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Satoko Fujii Quartet - Zephyros – Maybe it’s meant as a challenge to the listener, maybe not, but pianist Satoko Fujii has placed the most difficult track on her latest quartet offering first in sequence, as if saying, “You made...  (2004) » Read more

Museo Rosenbach - Zarathustra – Although this Korean release is the fourth reissue of this album, its tenuous distribution still means that this, possibly the greatest Italian symphonic rock album of all time will still remain hard...  (1995) » Read more

Legendary Pink Dots - Plutonium Blonde – Coinciding with the Dots’ October/November 2008 US tour was the release of Plutonium Blonde, which might well be their best in many years. Plutonium Blonde combines many of the shifting styles...  (2009) » Read more

After Genesis - The Cryme of Selling Lambs – Classical aficionados are well familiar with the concept of reinterpreting compositions from composers alive and dead. It’s different for rock music, as we overwhelmingly prefer the original...  (2007) » Read more

Bert Jansch - Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning – Drawing a British folk icon out of semi-imposed retirement can seem like an impossible task. But contrary to many fans’ expectations, Bert Jansch not only demonstrated the delicate finger...  (2008) » Read more