Pell Mell Exceptional things like this unique CD collection containing seven albums from the heyday of the era of “Deutschrock” often have a very interesting history of origins.
Thomas Schmitt and I know each other from the beginning of the collaboration for Pell Mell since the early seventies. Over the years, we spoke about lots of things but we never had the idea to release a collection of the music of Pell Mell and their follow-up Skyrider. Everything lay way too far back to think of that.
About two years ago, Serge Bloch, the owner of French label Long Hair Music, asked Thomas Schmitt to get photos from the old days of the band because he wanted to re-master and re-release the album “Marburg” on vinyl. Like we did in the old days Thomas asked me to take care of the organisation. Early 2012, after a lot of talks and brief negotiations, saw the vinyl re-release of the long player “From the New World” which had also been re-mastered. If I had not already been collaborating with Manfred Schütz before on the vinyl re-release I probably would have never had the idea to do this and have never gained this superb CD box for all.
Whilst gathering the material I developed a new liking of the project Pell Mell, and before my mind’s eye I saw further vinyl albums released on this label. But our partners at Long Hair Music did not seem to share my ideas. However, inside of me the wish to release the complete oeuvre had grown, including the last albums which I considered musically superior than the first two and besides, two of which I had produced myself. Due to problems of the former record company these albums have practically never fully seen the light of day. Same goes for the two albums by Skyrider, the band that evolved directly from Pell Mell. Their second album had never been released. We finally found the tapes in several old boxes in a dark corner of Thomas’ cellar, and thank god they did not decompose or break a hundred times. The album “Skyrider 2” is a master piece of the recent German musical history. Fans of Pell Mell, I beg your pardon, the development from Pell Mell to Skyrider is a gigantic creative achievement and no treason!
In 2011/2012 I was already intensely working with MIG Music’s Manfred Schütz and Ecki Stieg in Hannover on the re-release of all Karthago albums, so it was obvious to bring the project Pell Mell to them. After that it took more than year until all parties concerned were aboard and until we were in the clear to release a sophisticated precious collection including all seven albums on four compact discs.
Then the real work began. At first, the rights were to be cleared before we could even think of a contractual agreement for the project. Dieter Dierks and Fred Hoog from Breeze Music were especially cooperative in this matter. Also, I would like to thank Dr. Dietrich Justus Noll who played the organ with Pell Mell for some time and who came up with a couple of photographs from his personal archive showing that Pell Mell had been a genuine rock band - despite the classical adaptation and the bourgeois’ parallel career.
The medal for enormous patience definitely goes to Wille at MIG who was in charge of the project. Not only had he had to put up with me and wait for my text, no, it was Thomas Schmitt, too, who was messing with his tidily produced schedule. As usual, Thomas and I would receive discs with the remastered digital result. Nobody had noticed anything except for Thomas having returned to Marburg after a longer stay in Africa: The complete side A of the “Moldau” was too fast and one tone too high. He thought that nobody could dance the peasant’s dance – this had gone unnoticed by everyone except Thomas because they knew that dancers then (and now) could have taken intoxicating or performance-enhancing substances and were all able to dance at any tempo given. But it was the higher tone that finally convinced us. It simply was not be possible to play it like this on the violin; and for sure Thomas Schmitt was not someone who would tone down his violin before the recording like heavy metal musicians use to do. But where exactly lay the mistake? Amazingly it occurred already on the original album. That means that the owner of this box will be the first one to hear “Die Moldau” like Pell Mell recorded it. That has not been quite simple. In all this mess one tone (offbeat) had got lost between the third and fourth track of side A. But now everything sounds perfect.
The expression “pell-mell” means helter-skelter, disorderly and confused. They chose this name in regard to their musical style that mixed classical with other elements of contemporary popular music. Everywhere, Pell Mell was categorized as a band that played classical and rock for many reasons: a lot of their songs were adaptations of classical pieces, the arrangements were mostly “classical” and the violin, an instrument typical of classical music, had taken over the part of a lead guitar.
If you google the term “classic rock” these days you will surprisingly not find rock bands from the last 50 years that have adapted classical music but early bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Kinks, The Yardbirds and The Who. If you then search for the term “symphonic rock” which has also been a common label for the music of Pell Mell, internationally you will come across names as The Nice, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Yes, Kansas, Camel, from the Netherlands Focus and Ekseption. In Germany you will only find Triumvirat, TeDeum, Anyone’s Daughter and Novalis – amazingly few considering that in the world, Germany holds the most extensive tradition of classical music. Models for Pell Mell were most likely The Nice, Genesis, Kansas and Yes, a little later maybe Mike Oldfield. Bands who stood next to Pell Mell in their adaptation of classical music were The Nice, Ekseption, Triumvirat and Focus. Except Focus they were all pure instrumental bands, had neither solo nor harmonic vocals, and used an organ or a flute as their lead instrument and no violin. In Pell Mell however the violin was the main instrument, and organ and keyboards were only second solo but first accompanying instrument.
In these days, the violin was only seldom played in rock music. It’s a Beautiful Day or Curved Air featuring singer Sonja Kristina and the latter Police drummer Stuart Copeland or the folkloristic Fairport Convention are worth mentioning. Jerry Goodman (The Flock, Mahavishnu Orchestra) was an outstanding genius of improvisation in rock music as was Jean-Luc Ponty in jazz. These days, the violin has nearly vanished from rock music. Good-looking young pop stars like Vanessa Mae, David Garrett and Lindsey Stirling or eccentrics like Nigel Kennedy dominate the market for violin music.
Hence, Pell Mell was definitively something very special and distinctive in the era of “Deutschrock”. In contrast to many other bands of that period the members of Pell Mell were certainly no performance artists in a musical and visual way but all about skills and mastering their instruments in a classical sense. The audience and the critics as well (amongst them a renowned personality like Reginald Rudorf from the “Frankfurter Rundschau”) appreciated that, being underlined by the fact that GEMA registered the music of Pell Mell not as popular but as so-called “serious” music.
Mastermind and frontman of Pell Mell was Thomas Schmitt or in other words: Thomas Schmitt was Pell Mell. As good as each of the other musicians was, for the band’s greater direction he was interchangeable. But without Thomas Schmitt, Pell Mell could never have existed as a live and studio band over all these years and the follow up band Skyrider would never have evolved. Born in Darmstadt in 1950, the son of a lawyer finished his A-levels in 1968, went to the German army, began to study law immediately changing university from Mainz to Marburg and was admitted as a lawyer in 1977. Still in school, he went to musical academy in Darmstadt focussing on violin. Until 1966 he played solely classical music. In 1967, in his first band Crash (with latter CBS/Sony Manager Andy Kirnberger on guitar), he played the organ. Soon after having arrived in Marburg in 1970, he became the violinist in a band called Modlins which changed their name into Pell Mell Ltd. Early 1971, Pell Mell Ltd won a competition for young musical talent at the Rhein-Main-Halle Wiesbaden, the main prize being demo recordings for the Frankfurt based record label Bellaphon. The group split up even before the deal was closed, the reason: too many musical and human differences. The rest of the band had more something like Cream in mind and did not like the success and the dominance of the violin. Together with drummer Mitch Kniesmeijer from the original line up, Thomas found Otto Pusch for the organ, bassist Jörg Götzfried and singer Rudolf Schön, nickname “Schöni”, who reminded everyone somehow of Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan. With Schöni he discussed the concept that developed into the typical and unique sound of Pell Mell from their first long player “Marburg” on, growing more professional and complex with every year.
Thomas Schmitt is an extraordinary personality who could cause quite some friction within the different line-ups of the band and their surroundings. At the time while nearly all rock musicians stood against the establishment, Thomas could rather be described as inherent in the system. As a student he was attentive with good grades, a top athlete, an excellent swimmer and tennis player, he played classical music, against the trend he joined the German armed forces, studied parallel to his career as a musician and received a degree as a lawyer. It was a kind of ambitious goal-oriented career straight from the book without any loss of time. He translated his ideas directly into action which resulted here and there in a loss of friction. His creativity was rather channelled than spontaneous and can be measured at the straightforward development of Pell Mell’s music leading consequently to the founding of Skyrider.
A lot of developments in his life surprised even his closest environment. He would go for blond women with ample bosoms only to marry a fragile exotic beauty later. He started construction, went from Germany to Spain, then the Caribbean and has just finished his first building in West Africa. Besides English and French, he is speaking Spanish and somewhere in between he also made his pilot’s license. Seen in total, he is a piece of art in itself. We, the management, appreciated his reliability. Thomas was the only musician we did not need to accompany to every show. Everything worked and the fees were on our account no than three days.
At the age of 17 he was chosen for a course with a youth orchestra in Switzerland. For this event the most talented musicians of young orchestras from all around Europe came together. To play the complete Dvorak symphony “From the New World” and symphonies by Tchaikovsky and Mahler together with 80 young fellow musicians in front of the scenery of Lake Geneva was an unbelievably symphonic bombastic experience that captivated him growing his idea to translate all that into rock. The horn sections he had heard later inspired him for three voices as a central theme in his musical work, including Skyrider.
Pell Mell was one of the most successful German rock bands of the seventies. But no matter how straight Thomas was his band had the same problems like others: alcohol, drugs and group dynamics. The band played in the same clubs as the Scorpions, Jane, Birth Control, Kraan or Karthago. You met Udo Lindenberg at Onkel Pö, Inga of Frumpy at the Fabrik, Ufo at Zoom in Frankfurt, Frank Diez und Ingo Bischof at Quartier Lation in Berlin or Karthago with Joey Albrecht and Nektar at some festival in Southern Germany. Experiences out of the ordinary, too, would make the life of a rock musician exciting. Like in December of 1973, in the middle of the very first oil crisis in Germany with its Sunday driving ban, when the band played in a small club legend called the Red Egg in Schönsee, in deepest Bavaria, which was an absolute must for the career of a German rock band. A special permit for driving in hands, the band went on the snowy road home at 2 a.m. in the morning at minus 18 degrees Celsius – until their old Mercedes postal services bus broke down in the middle of nowhere with its Diesel fuel frozen. Thanks to a long fur coat two of the boys made it to the next emergency phone. But help did not arrive – all cars of the motorway maintenance were frozen, too. When 8 a.m. a snow plough finally arrived for towing, most of them mentally had been prepared to die.
At Schöni’s last show, a festival with Status Quo and The Small Faces at Circus Krone in Munich, where each band had to play two sets, both Schöni and Steve Marriott fell too deep in love with a bottle of whiskey. The result was that the Small Faces were only able to perform their first set with PP Arnold as a singer and Pell Mell had to be an instrumental band for the first part of the evening.
Thomas was the front man of the band, who due to his intensive and extreme body work at the violin soon was rewarded with the honorary term “the devil’s fiddler” by both critics and audience.
Schöni, not only the singer but also writer of the bands’ lyrics, would be the “womanizer”. He would capture the hearts of the most beautiful girls and we all were deeply impressed when he conquered a “cherry queen” from the rural area around Frankfurt.
When Otto Pusch had to leave the band for the armed forces his position at the keyboards was taken over by Dr. Dietrich Justus Noll who also played the saxophone. For the players this exchange did not come that easy because Dr. D.J. Noll felt more inclined to jazz. But the story about the Hammond that went together with Otto Pusch and the do-it-yourself organ that Dietrich brought in will make you smile. There was always something to fix at this DIY organ, hence everybody got used to it being set up before all other instruments. A table or a school bench would have to be organized as a substructure, a soldering iron and tin would be held prepared and sometimes a continuous tone would have to be suffered for an hour which seemed to make the start of a concert impossible.
Due to their classical background Pell Mell was able to enjoy several shows that other bands of the time couldn’t. Those were performances with a variety of orchestras – 1972 and 1973 at the Frankfurt Jahrhunderthalle, at “POP 73” at Niedersachsenhalle in Hannover and 1974 at the Eissporthalle Freiburg. The extensive musical material had been written by Thomas himself. In 1975, the band was invited to the legendary jazz festival “Jazz Bilzen” in Belgium. In December 1976, the WDR recorded the classical parts of Pell Mell’s show live at the large broadcasting hall in Cologne for the series “Kleine Nachtmusik” (Little Night music). In March and April 1977 the band went on a long tour through Poland invited by the Polish Jazz Society. Originally announced as the Co-Headliner, from the first day on they played as the Headliner because the American top act had cancelled. The band delighted crowds of up to 10.000 people in huge venues as well as more than 75.000 at two stadium shows in cities like Wroclaw, Katowice, Krakow and Warsaw.
The last big tour, already under the name Skyrider, in the summer of 1982 took the band alongside Clout, Supermax and Eddie Grant around the Mediterranean countries Italy, France, Spain and the islands Mallorca and Ibiza.
Directly after founding the first original formation of Pell Mell, in the summer of 1971, Thomas Schmitt composed the tracks of the first album “Marburg”. Rudolf Schön wrote the lyrics and the freshly formed band started rehearsing.
Around the same time, Peter Hauke, Bellaphon label manager and producer had listened to the demos from the young talent’s competition and so the first recording contract was closed. In the winter of 1971/72 “Marburg” was produced at Dierks Studios in Stommeln near Cologne – in an incredible three days’ time for recording and mixing only. A terrific performance! The compositions and the “free parts” of this album were arranged and fixed by 100 per cent. Partly due to the influence of the original band the parts of the violin were less than Thomas had had in mind.
“Die Modau”, the audience’s favourite at live shows, and “City Monster”, one of the tracks from the competition already existing as demo were the ones emphasizing on violin. Andy Kirnberger played the electric guitar in “The Clown & the Queen”. This tune was rather untypical for Pell Mell. “Friend”, another track without violin, has a very interesting intermediate part with mouth percussion. At shows this developed rather by chance, here it is fixed. Each track of the album has a character of its own.
Pell Mell sounded new and different from other German rock bands and so “Marburg” rotated more often than the average bands’ debut at radio stations. The material of the first album was too short for a ninety minute or two hour show. In these cases the band drew back to older material, and the audience could enjoy “America” or free interpretations of songs by The Beatles or John Sebastian. Separate ideas about the tasks and responsibilities of a record company led to a split from Bellaphon after a relatively short time.
It was a concert performance that convinced Dr. Peter Hanser Strecker from music publisher Schott in Mainz to sign the band for their own label Music Factory, at that time distributed by Phillips. In 1973, together with Wolfgang Sandner and Dr. Peter Hanser Strecker, the band produced their second album “From the New World” at Rhein-Main-Studio, Frankfurt. Highlight of the production and the title track is the consequent arrangement of a classical piece, the fourth movement of Dvorak’s symphony “From the New World”. The band stayed true to their calling delivering a classical interpretation on side A, using side B for their own composition with many voices.
The tracks for side B Thomas composed at an old piano at his hotel during vacation in Italy, Lago Maggiore. Although the solo for the violin cadenza in the symphony was completely fixed, in contrast to the first one this album offered plenty of room for improvisations. The organ and keyboard parts were played by two organists. When Otto Pusch had to join the German armed forces the journalist and confessing jazzman Dr. Dietrich Justus Noll took over at the keys – on stage and in the studio. “From The New World” was very successful. The sales sticker for the album showing the statue of liberty styled in pop art inside a pink neon ring was to be seen at every motorway service station and rock club throughout Germany. The album cover served as the concert poster. With this album Pell Mell had enough live material to finally throw America, The Beatles and other arrangements out of their repertoire. At this time Comelius and Marcellus Hudalla from Berlin took over the management.
When Music Factory also did not turn out to be what the band expected from a record company Dieter Dierks offered them a record contract with enough recording time in his studio in Stommeln near Cologne - provided that I did the job of the producer. In 1975, we then began the production of “Rhapsody” in Stommeln. From the time at Dierks’ house in that village near the Rhine I still recall this feeling of something like “musical scouting” – as Schöni called it. That was as impressive as the stable smell of rock greats like The Stones, Tina Turner, Scorpions and many others that had also recorded here, the studio’s gigantic technical and instrumental equipment and the experienced engineers.
Over a longer period, we were living in the direct surrounding to the Dierks family. We had breakfast and lunch at the table and corner seats with cushions from the Sixties, lovingly looked after by Mother Dierks, surrounded by Dieter, emerging from time to time, the beauty and sunny charisma of his Swiss ex-wife Corinna Fortmann, chief engineer Heiner Freisz, Dieter’s brother Bartel who did have nothing to do with all this musical stuff but was ever present and later Fred Hook, who was leading the office. Before the recording, Thomas had changed the band’s line up. In addition to the three pillars of the first two albums, Thomas Schmitt, Rudolf Schön and Cornelis Mitch Kniesmijer, came Götz Dräger (bass), Cherry Hochdörfer (keyb) and Ralph “Flipper” Lippmann (voc, keyb, electric and acoustic guitar). Especially with the high talented and versed “Flipper”, who was an extraordinary creative partner, Thomas had multiplied the bands’ instrumentals and vocal possibilities. Once more outstanding was the classical adaptation of “Rhapsody” by Liszt on side A, a title being very popular in classical music itself. Superb was the flute part born from the live experience with one from “Moldau” and certainly influenced by Yes, Genesis and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. The whole production developed into one big happening. We experimented with all the new possibilities that revolutionized the market for synths and studio techniques just at that time. Suddenly all things were possible that we would never have thought possible, and new soundscapes were opened up. On top of that Dieter allowed us to be the first to work with his 32-track machine that he had let develop especially for himself - clearly, a benefit to our “hunger for tracks” due to the complexity of the music. Unfortunately the wondrous machine was continually broken. The developer from Konstanz at the Bodensee had just left Stommeln when again something stopped working or freshly recorded tracks vanished as if by magic. At that time we did not have mobile phones to ask the guy to turn around, come back and fix it. Thus, we had plenty of time to enjoy the hospitality of the Dierks Family but came under pressure because after us the Scorpions were already sitting in the starting blocks. I cannot even say how we achieved finishing this production. The colourful mixture of creative heads in this happening was extended by the guest musicians Joey Albrecht and Tommy Goldschmidt from Karthago and the Chilean wunderkind from the band Santiago, Chico De Los Reyes at the grand piano. Joey played the electric guitar and the bass, Tommy percussion. I regard the album as very well-rounded and closed in itself, as on a very high level musically.
1976/77 “Only a Star” was recorded in the Dierks studios which happens to be the last album by Pell Mell in a fixed line-up that was seen also was seen on stage. The main difference was at first glance, that this time it was side A which presented the bands’ own compositions and the classical arrangements – movement 1-3 of Dvoraks “From the New World” went to the flipside. Actually, these were the first signs of a very independent musical development of Thomas Schmitt. It was a phase when the musicians wanted to show their skills, a thesis in a musical and production engineering sense. Everything was fixed, no space for improvisation – musical acrobatics like Marillion or Genesis at the final stage. Developing this was mental work on the highest level without any thought on an eventual position in the Top Ten. Today Thomas himself gets frightened about all that what he then wrote in full conviction. I love this album. Except for the new drummer, Wolfgang Claus, it was recorded in the same line-up like “Rhapsody”. In my view, Wolfgang is nearly two meters tall. He is a superb drummer full of power and dynamics so you could easily be afraid that the parts of the drums kit could be flying around your ears. On top of that Wolfi is a positive persona through and through who will make always make you laugh which was very good for the working atmosphere with this complex material. I have taken this production to my heart because we had a super constellation of musicians for all of Thomas’ mental capers. The multitalented Ralph “Flipper” Lippmann paired with Cherry Hochdörfer were two keyboarders each one with a different character, and the first played the electric guitar like he had been in a heavy metal band for a long time. Besides Rudolf Schön, both Flipper and Wolfgang Claus had great rock voices each one in an individual way and they might have served as a lead singer in any good rock formation. Thus, within the production, each voice could either be inserted solo, together or in different musical colours for vocal harmonies. To me, “Only a Star” is an exciting journey through universe. Listening with your eyes closed you are flying through space. The music of “Only a Star” compensates easily all the missing pictures of George Lucas.
In 1979, Pell Mell split up. Flipper wanted to go his own way with a band of his own, and Schöni wanted to fully concentrate on his profession as a lawyer. Thomas Schmitt had already begun to set up his own recording studio – PM Studio – in Marburg at that time. He dealt with the latest recording techniques and began to learn more instruments and intensify his skills. For a long time he had wanted to play west coast music. He asked his old companion Otto Pusch, his first organist, to take part and with new musicians in spring 1980, he started working on “Skyrider 1”, his first own production. In the province, he discovered an absolute jewel on electric guitar – Ralf Fricke. The violin appears only on one track.
The result was a respectable album: the technical possibilities of the studio were not perfect but the newly founded formation was distributed by the renowned EMI after all. Although the new band went on tour in Southern Europe together with Clout and Supermax in 1982, one could tell by this daily business how difficult it was to establish a new band on stage. Only the awareness of Thomas Schmitt’s name opened doors. Another problem: the material of one album was not really enough for a full live show.
Often, Thomas was engaged by other artists to play the violin and he was occupied with further building his PM studio. When he learned about the possibilities of a 24-track recorder his desire to express himself musically totally awakened like i.e. Mike Oldfield had. He was the master of his thoughts and feelings as a composer, he mastered several instruments, owned a studio so he was independent regarding the time, and furthermore, he knew the recording technique. He could not do that with Skyrider material. The band would have been affronted, and he would have reached his limits with the drums and the vocals at the latest. Logically, he went back to classical music. In 1981 emerged his own version of Smetana’s “Moldau” – a master piece by a one man show. Thomas plays all instruments except for the electric guitar on “Moldau Part two” which is played by Ralf Fricke and the first part of the “Moldau” where Klaus Nass is drumming. Interesting to know that nearly exact ten years after the production of the debut “Marburg” containing the first “Moldau” the new version evolved. It is well-rounded and perfect, mellow, exactly as Thomas wished but lacks the charm of a young impetuous band with all their inadequacies hoping to win the stages and charts of the world over with their very first record.
The fact that Thomas after having bought the 24-track machine could only afford four of the extremely expensive 2 inch tapes led to the mathematically timed division of the material. Two tapes alone were needed for the “Moldau” and the rest for Skyrider 2.
Interpersonally and musically Thomas was not always happy with the casting which recorded “Skyrider 1” and which he performed with. A few good compositions by Thomas Schmitt and Ralph Flipper Lippmann, musicians from Flippers band, the drummer Klaus Nass (who was in a band with Lippmann’s sister Ina) resulted in a melting pot of the Marburg scene’s best musicians. Together, they build a synthesis that delighted both creative heads – Schmitt and Lippmann. Together with guitar wizard Ralph Fricke, they became the cast of “Skyrider 2”.
The titles like “Looks like Rain”, “Loadie” and “Broken Harmony” are at a world class level, the composition as well as the recording. Even today, they would have a chance to enter the charts or captivate a bigger audience live.
Unfortunately this superb band never performed live, and the recording was never released. While compiling this CD box we rediscovered the tracks and exclusively, after 30 years, make them available to the public for the first time. The album was created at the wrong place and the wrong time – too late for Germany. Way too much the listening habit had spun. The New German Wave was the death of Pell Mell and Skyrider, the music of Thomas Schmitt and – in their last phase – together with Ralph Lippmann. Today, all former musicians of Pell Mell live well from the fruits of their civilian parallel careers. Ralph “Flipper” Lippmann is a financial consultant and the only one who is still playing music. Rudolph Schöne is an assurance lawyer. Thomas Schmitt is – could it be any different – the most successful of all, as a lawyer and a building contractor who has now – after Spain and the Caribbean – discovered his heart for Africa.
With a heavy heart he had to stop playing the violin because of health problems. His left hand suffers from the so-called “degenerative fiddlers disease”. For the same reason Yehudi Menuhin i.e. could no longer play the violin and had to work as a conductor and composer at the end of his career.
Cornelius Hudalla, Düsseldorf, March 1, 2013
Tracklisting CD 1 Album - Marburg:
1. The Clown And The Queen 08:51 2. Moldau 05:30 3. Friend 07:11 4. City Monster 08:42 5. Alone 09:26