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Nektar

+ {Roye Albrighton}

Englishmen abroad, NEKTAR were based in Hamburg, from November 1969 onwards. Ex-pats comprising Coventry-born frontman/guitarist Roye Albrighton (ex-Outsiders, ex-PEEPS, ex-Rainbows), keyboardist Allan “Taff” Freeman, bassist Derek “Mo” Moore, sticksman Ron Howden and liquid lights/visual addition Mick Brockett, the space/prog-rockers were big on the continent, and surprisingly astronomical in the States.
Art-rockers of a heavier persuasion than most in the said genre, NEKTAR decamped to that haven of all things krautrock and progressive: Germany. They cut their cosmic concept debut in the summer of 1971 for the Bellaphon label, and unfettered their gloriously named JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EYE {*8}, later in the year. With titles a la `Death Of The Mind’, `Burn Out My Eyes’, `The Nine Lifeless Daughters Of The Sun’ and the KING CRIMSON/ELP-esque `Astronaut’s Daughter’, one perceived these guys were partial to a few sugar-cubes with their PG Tips.
But in spite of the cliched lyrical fare about the nuclear race to oblivion, the band were surprisingly sharp instrumentally and the songs seldom deteriorated into formless noodling.
NEKTAR’s follow-up, A TAB IN THE OCEAN (1972) {*8}, was more of the same Mellotron-manic cohesion; production switching fully from engineer Dieter Dierks to side-kick Peter Hauke. A side-long, near 17-minute title track to just about match GENESIS’s shapeshifting “Musical Box” of tricks (and coincidentally issued in Germany the same month as chart-hopping `Foxtrot’), Albrighton and Co deserved a bit of recognition in Old Blighty. Very ‘eavy but not so ‘umble, `King Of Twilight’ rumbled along like a prog-inflicted URIAH HEEP or DEEP PURPLE, and the possibility that the song might be hit fodder must’ve been – or should’ve been – considered.
By 1973’s …SOUNDS LIKE THIS {*7}, a simpler, bluesier NEKTAR were finding their own identity within the prog/hard-rock chasm. United Artists had seen their way to release this double-set in tandem with attendant single, `What Ya Gonna Do?’, a funk-driven step backwards squeezed either side of `New Day Dawning’ (interpolating The BEATLES’ `Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ and lengthy side two opener, `1-2-3-4’). A tad self-indulgent and spontaneous in a way only ARGENT, WISHBONE ASH and MAN could achieve at the time, sides three and four were mainly filled with raw and edgy 3-piece-suites, `A Day In The Life Of A Preacher’ and `Odyssee’.
Later that same year, NEKTAR garnered several glowing reviews for fourth album, REMEMBER THE FUTURE (1973) {*8}, a record splitting the sci-fi supposition of one magnum opus concept over two sides. and ten segments within each. At times as serene and sedate in all its harmonic inter-play, no one could have guessed it would reach the US Top 20 when issued by Passport Records the following June. As “Close To The Edge” as any YES album (or indeed BJH set), one could cherry-pick each segment and turn up `Images Of The Past’, the gentile `Wheels Of Time’, the title track and side two opener, `Returning Light’.
Bypassing the somewhat overlooked German-only, part-live/part-studio LP, SUNDAY NIGHT AT LONDON ROUNDHOUSE (1974) {*7} – side two comprising recordings (such as their own `Summer Breeze’) from the Chipping Norton Studios – a magical and mystical NEKTAR were once again toasting to their Stateside success by way of Top 40 peak, DOWN TO EARTH (1974) {*6}. Augmented by ROBERT CALVERT (as ringleader/MC), VAN DER GRAAF’s Chris Mercer (on saxes) and P.P. ARNOLD (on backing vox), the circus theme of the LP was evident on the lumbering, APHRODITE’S CHILD-ish `Nelly The Elephant’ (not the novelty tune), `Astral Man’ (a US Top 100 entry) and `Early Morning Clown’. Ambitious to say the least and not loved by short-fused prog buffs, the novelty-type `Fidgety Queen’ was picked out as a single, although with the pop-centric `Oh Willy’, `Little Boy’ and `Show Me The Way’ on board, WINGS or 10CC they were not.
Switching labels to Decca (UK only), and roping in SYNERGY synthesizer stalwart Larry Fast as an additional guest player, RECYCLED (1975) {*6} – the grandiose sci-fi concept concerning a future living primarily from discarded materials – only managed sales to shore up the US Top 100. Poignant in the fact that NEKTAR were “wombling” bits and pieces of prog-rock for nigh-on half a decade, the manufactured aspect was never so severe as on `Unendless Imaginations’, `Cybernetic Consumption’, `Automaton Horrorscope’ and the perennial refugee warning of the MANFRED MANN’s EARTH BAND-like `Marvellous Moses’.
A shock-to-the-system shake-up in personnel led to Albrighton (and Brockett) moving aside for Dave Nelson; not the NEW RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE bluegrass picker. Roye would find solace in SNOWBALL (a band part-led by PASSPORT’s Curt Cress), but despite three arena-rock-centred LPs (`Defroster’, `Cold Heat’ and the not-to-be-sniffed-at `Follow The White Line’), they were frozen out by 1980.
Back at the tail-end of 1977, NEKTAR set off in a fated journey on MAGIC IS A CHILD {*5}, a more studied, synth-sprinkled symphonic affair that lacked the sparkle and zest of their earlier work. Not thought worthy of a bona fide British release, although that never bothered them in the past, the subject fodder, here, from `Away From Asgard’ and `Midnight Lite’ (respectively depicting mythical tales from Norseland to the Black Forest), to the Fab Four-ish `Love To Share (Keep Your Worries Behind You)’, producer Jeffrey Kawalek was in essence ineffective. Trivia nuts would find that the child in question (at least on the sleeve shot), was a 12 year-old child model/actress Brooke Shields, about to take controversial lead roles in both Pretty Baby and The Blue Lagoon.
Unable to sustain much interest in their new line-up, NEKTAR’s last remaining member, Freeman, enticed Albrighton back to the fray, roping in drummer David Prater and fellow-American born bassist Carmine Rojas (both swiped from BABY GRAND), to see out their swansong set, MAN IN THE MOON (1980) {*4}. A lacklustre set out of sync with its perennial peers or the incumbent new wave of acts littering the pop/rock market, the only commendable thing was Roye and Co’s message of impending global self-destruction; tearing oneself away from the `Telephone’ and `Too Young To Die’ tracks, the record’s only memorable showpiece of substance seemed to be the creepy concluding title track.
The 80s and 90s were a complete wash-out for NEKTAR, with only a solo ROYE ALBRIGHTON coming back into the fray on the musical front with the self-financed fanclub-only THE FOLLIES OF RUPERT TREACLE (1999) {*4}. Another semi-concept based loosely on an elf-ish sandman loved by children who could see him, the CD’s proper release came a few years on when the trusty Voiceprint Records (rest home to prog stars), thought it a worthy piece to unfetter now that NEKTAR looked to be on a reunion trail.
Reduced to a compact trio spearheaded by songsmith Albrighton and retainer Freeman, plus drummer/percussionist Ray Hardwick in tow, they turned the clock back to the 70s with an enticing prog-styled set, THE PRODIGAL SON (2001) {*6}. A simpler and seductive approach to their post-millennium reunion, the quieter flourishes on `The Drinking Man’s Wine’, `Now’ and `Terminus – Oh My’, were touching, if not the band of old.
Much more in line with the heavier neo-prog scene (a la DREAM THEATRE et al) – due to Howden’s return on the drum stool – NEKTAR were at least giving old codger prog-lodite dinosaurs something to sink their chops with EVOLUTION (2004) {*7}. The added attraction of bass man Randy Dembo was also a necessary missing piece of the jigsaw to their own developing post-millennium existence. Bumping up the levels to 11 and tapping into the spine of prog by its very (r)evolutionary nature: hard and heavy, the lite and contemporary also shone through on `Old Mother Earth’, `Child Of Mine’ and `After The Fall’, whilst NEKTAR ticked off several boxes on their bucket-list by way of true-to-form `Camouflage To White’, `Phazed By The Storm’, `Dancin’ Into The Void’, `The Debate’ and German-only single fodder, `Always’.
Time out for Taff and Dembo resulted in steadfast Albrighton and Howden forced to recruit NEKTAR newbies Steve Mattern (Hammond organ, keyboards) – to replace filler Tom Hughes – Steve Adams (guitars, backing vocals) and Desha Dunnahoe (bass, backing vocals) for the ambitious BOOK OF DAYS (2008) {*5}. Featuring three back-to-back tracks clocking in at over 10 minutes, `Doctor Kool’, `The Iceman’ and `Where Are You Now’ (the flowing `King Of The Deep’ not short at nearly 9 minutes), the pages turned into chapters… and so on.
Cornily-titled but nonetheless worth the admission price, the live anniversary aspect of their time on Planet Earth, double-CD FORTYFIED (2009) {*7} celebrated, er… 40 rollercoaster years; Peter Pichl (bass) filled the berth of both Dunnahoe and Adams, whilst Klaus Henatsch (keyboards) superseded Mattern. Drawing on their big guns, `Tab In The Ocean’, `Remember The Future Part 2’ and `Recycled Part 1’ (positioned at strategic points of interest as not to burden the listener with shades of OTT uber-drive), NEKTAR proved their prowess once and for all.
A progressive-rock behemoth in a scale never previously encountered, 2012’s star-studded covers-only comeback, A SPOONFUL OF TIME {*6} was again ambitious to say the least. Pichl overlooked for the official introduction of YES man Billy Sherwood (bass, synths, vocals) – among giants of the genre – Purple Pyramid/Cleopatra were behind, er… the brainwave. Pointing out only the classic rock tracks in running order (and affiliated guest spots) and leaving prog fans to fill in the (well, almost!) obvious original artists, the 14 on board comprised: `Sirius’ (ft. Michael Pinnella), `Spirit Of The Radio’ (ft. Mark Kelly), `Fly Like An Eagle’ (ft. Joel Vandroogenbroeck & Geoff Downes), `Wish You Were Here’ (ft. EDGAR FROESE), Gamble & Huff’s `For The Love Of Money’ (NIK TURNER & Ian Paice), `Can’t Find My Way Home’ (STEVE HOWE, Derek Sherinian & Mel Collins), `2000 Light Years From Home’ (Simon House), `Riders On The Storm’ (Billy Sheehan & ROD ARGENT), `Blinded By The Light’ (Joakim Svalberg & GINGER BAKER), `Out Of The Blue’ (Simon House), `Old Man’ (David Cross), `Dream Weaver’ (Jerry Goodman), `I’m Not In Love’ (RICK WAKEMAN & Joel V) and `Africa’ (Bobby Kimball, PATRICK MORAZ & Joel V).
Jumping aboard their DeLorean mobility scooter again for the enterprising TIME MACHINE (2013) {*6}, Albrighton and Co had one last chance to role back the years – as it turned out. An album that resonating with each atmospheric re-entry (so to speak), much like time itself, NEKTAR points were limited from the wrinkled-retainer reviews of so-called prog-sters. Okay, Roye’s vocal chords were not at their strongest; fragile rather than fanciful, but there was merit to lengthy instalments, `A Better Way’, `If I Only Could’, the title track and the finale, `Diamond Eyes’. Sadly, after a long bout of illness caught up with him, time was called on Roye on the 26th July 2016.
© MC Strong 1997/GRD series // rev-up MCS Jul2016

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