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.
Once 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.
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.
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.
Related artist(s): Octopus
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more
Chicago-Based Surabhi Ensemble Tours the World in January – Surabhi Ensemble was formed more than a decade ago in Chicago with the aim of bringing together musicians from varying traditions to make music. Saraswathi Ranganathan, who plays veena, assembled a cast that includes Arabic oud, Spanish guitar, and percussion from Africa and India. This month, the group will be sharing their sounds with concert-goers in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. » Read more
Seaprog Festival Seeks Donations – Seaprog is a small festival in Seattle that highlights creative music from many genres with artists from around the world. It's also a US non-profit organization. They're seeking donations to help keep the ball rolling. Starting in 2013, the organization has been growing, and has featured such artists as Free Salamander Exhibit, Jack o' the Clock, Nik Turner, Cabezas de Cera, Miriodor, Thinking Plague, and many more. » Read more
The Seventeenth Dream of Dr Sardonicus Festival Tickets Now Available – Fruits de Mer Records and their merry crew of psychedelic explorers are getting set to present the next The Seventeenth Dream of Dr. Sardonicus Festival. The dates are set for August 2-4, 2019 at The Cellar Bar in Cardigan, Wales. They've also announced that the legendary Groundhogs will top the bill. » Read more
Charles O'Meara (C.W. Vrtacek) RIP – A true musical original has left us. Charles O'Meara, who recorded under the name C.W. Vrtacek, was a wild-card musical talent, ranging from complex progressive rock to introspective modern compositions, with stops at many places inbetween. » Read more