So for those of you who got the title, enjoy your chuckle at that. You’re welcome ; ) Those who don’t should watch the episode, “The Germans” in the series Fawlty Towers. And now for something completely different with Triumvirat from Koln, West Germany formed in 1969. The band name coming from the Latin word, ‘Triumvirate” meaning a group of three powerful men, they embarked on a very maligned career as being the doppelganger to the UK’s Emerson, Lake & Palmer and often sited as ripping them off.
That couldn’t be any farther from the truth as the two bands albeit both Prog were both very different despite the fact that they both were pretty much defunct by 1980 when Prog was killed by MTV and the re-emergence of Pop music. For the most part it was just the set-up of the band that made them comparable to ELP; keyboards, bass and drums and someone doing the vocals along the way. But why would they be considered a rip off to ELP? There were plenty of other three-piece bands out there and in the UK at the time who could have easily been considered the “ripoff” artist to ELP but why pick on your own people right? No, you pick on the people next door and we’re sort of ok with that for some reason. So unfortunately for Triumvirat they never got the chance to really prove themselves so long as ELP were still going even if they were two completely different groups in the Prog genre. “Illusions on a Double Dimple” from 1974 is their second album, their first being 1972’s 8 song epic Lp,”Mediterranean Tales” that set the precedent for their follow up album that is by far I feel their most well known album and their best, their first coming in a very close second. Illusions technically only having two songs on it is actually broken down by segments to 12 twelve songs as listed on the back of the album.
The album cover is total Prog and I have no clue what it means but it is by far a very recognizable cover for anyone who wishes to seek this album out which I highly recommend! I’ll say it now, THIS is definitely one for your Prog Collective and the Friars of the Prog Assembly didn’t bat an eye on letting them in to the Halls of Prog, welcomed cheerfully. A grand piano opens up the album with a graceful sway of notes that set your mind at ease initially followed quickly by a vocal regaling about something as simple as life. Then as the piano notes trickle to almost a standstill this heavy synth note drops on you with blitzkrieg effect not apologizing for a second as the bass and drums add to the devastation that is now creating an epic sound of total PROGgness telling you that you are in for a great album. With every Prog album you never know what to expect from a band when they release a new record and this certainly is no different as it opens your mind and eyes to a wall of huge sounds and has almost no electric guitar in it except for one small part and you’d miss it if you were too involved listening to it. Acoustic guitar adds complimentary chords throughout the record to accentuate the mammoth keyboard tones and deep bass lines that hold the foundations together as the drums rumble onward and pummel against the walls knocking them down with such force that only rubble lay in its path. But it’s the synths and keyboards that are really the prime blood flow and nervous system of the band, everything else is just as important to making the recipe work and they’re the body to this juggernaut German outfit.
Triumvirat’s first tour in the US was in 1974 as the opening act for Fleetwood Mac and did a two month stint from October 2nd to December 1st with them. A couple of bootlegs exist from that tour including a great performance from Ultrasonic Studios Radio Broadcasts WLIR 92.7FM hosted by Paul Robinson in Hempstead, NY, October 1st 1974, the day before the tour started. Also floating around on various bootleg compilations of the band is ABC’s In Concert Tonight and clips from the Academy of Music in New York City in ’74 as well should you wish to source those out, worth it just to hear the band at a very raw stage and at their best I feel. They did tour again in North America in 1975 on the bill with ELO and Supertramp throughout the US and Canada but they cancelled out of the 1976 N.A. tour for some reason. There are bits of the Philadelphia ’75 show circulating but by this time their follow up Lp “Spartacus” was the main focus of their set list now favouring that album instead. Opening acts weren’t the main interest of bootleggers since their main objective was the headliner and to conserve cassette tapes the first band or two never got recorded so we are grateful for what we do have. If you get nothing else, get the Ultrasonic show as it is the full Illusions album live and a brilliant performance at that.
Unlike ELP I find that Triumvirat were more conservative and classical in the sense of theatrics as they didn’t stab the keys with daggers or ride it across the stage or have it tumble on top of it’s player which to me I found to be rather silly and a clap trap for attention over musicianship. The songs on the album are well constructed with tempo and timbre changes throughout making it fill the Prog recipe complete and by technically only having two songs on the album makes it truly a Prog album as well. The vocals are well sung in a mid range with beautiful harmonies and octave jumps now and then making it come across more like four or five singers as back ups than just two of them. The first half dives in to heavy synth rock with the section known as “Triangle” and carries through the swirls and sways of the keyboards from one end to the other gaining momentum with the bass and drums gleaming as they trounce along. The album regales the story of life and loss and finishes off with the first half ending on a punch only to open up with a fast paced piano entrance in part two to contradict the entrance of part one. Acoustic sections of songs brings you back to a softer side of Prog and allows you to glide through passages as the album progresses through. The album utilized the keyboards more as it was against the norm to not have heavy guitars in music at the time which is probably why they got nailed as ripping off ELP, they really only used acoustic guitar in small parts and the occasional song like “Lucky Man”.
Perhaps if this album had come out before ELP’s “Brain Salad Surgery” it would have made a bigger impact but also against the band was probably the lack of funds to support such a massive tour, gear and stadiums that ELP was packing in night after night and the publicity that they garnered over Triumvirat also didn’t help. The album is entirely sung in English and very well spoken English words that many bands whose native language is English couldn’t sing as clear then and now! I find that with most German/Scandinavian bands that they prefer to sing in English over their native language, which proves that it’s far easier to sing in a different language than to learn how to speak it fluently. Also it helps to gain popularity in English speaking countries better when you speak/sing the language! So with that under their belt they were able to create their masterpiece record. Sadly every album afterwards didn’t seem to have the panache or strength to it as their first two albums did. Seemed to be the thing for Prog bands for the most part, there are some exceptions, put out some really good albums then just kamikaze everything else and sour then disappear by 1980. What is it with that? Triumvirat, ELP, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Yes all went either to their musical graves or became walking dead groups by releasing clap trap pop geared records to conform to the new generation of music fans emerging that wanted to wash themselves of their Prog dinosaur scales and gleefully pounce around with the reinvented “pop” groups and their 2.5minute witticisms of songs that were again about about love and dancing happiness. Not to say that Prog sang about doom and gloom but at least about; journeys,fantasy realms,money, madness and insanity Even bands like The Rolling Stones, David Bowie fell short in to the mindlessness of the pop salvos that were firing left right and centre by doing a duet of “Dancing in the Streets”, shudder.
So the early to mid seventies were the heydays of Prog rock, again with very few exceptions that kept the machine running until 1980/81 where I believe Prog met its final curtain call for a while with the last of the “The Wall” shows in ’81, the wall fell and so did the genre. Sure bands like King Crimson reinvented themselves and came back for a brief four year run until 1984 releasing three albums but it wasn’t quite the same Prog that we knew in the 70’s, awesome as it was, the recipe had changed. So Triumvirat was left to their devices at trying to conquer America as it’s always been said as and ended up footing the bill with other big groups of the time but always having to be more of the “filler” than the main course. Illusions surely should have been a top seller album had it been better marketed in North America but due to the fact that songs weren’t exactly easy to split for commercial radio airplay and singles weren’t abundant for the record so that was a downer for them there. Being on the bill for Supertramp and ELO wasn’t any help either because Supertramp wasn’t really a Prog band as far as I see it, they were more contemporary rock borderline AM radio friendly as goes for ELO, not really your deep or lengthy tracks coming out there to wow audiences with musicianship. Both bands were good at what they did just not a good deal for our German friends from the east. Same can be said for opening up for Fleetwood Mac, not your top billing for the genre that Triumvirat was holding.
“Illusions on a Double Dimple” combines classically trained and rock musicianship all in one basket and maintains it throughout the entire album. The band was also plagued with going through several line-up changes throughout their tenure from 1969-1980 which can also hamper a band’s road to success as well as altering their musical sound creating a hard to follow recognizable tone to their albums. New members, new influences, new songs, new style and not always a good result of the changing shoes as it were. Their albums suffered after Illusions and finally to their demise at the end of the decade so this album definitely held check as their grand release although Capitol records thought that the follow up to Illusions, 1975’s “Spartacus” was better with it’s elaborate orchestrated pieces and ballads but I stand firm on that this album was their swansong and still their best album to date. During this period it was considered to be their best and most classic lineup with Jurgen Fritz (keyboards), Hans Bathelt (drums) and Helmut Kollen (bass, guitar and vocals) but after Spartacus was released Helmut left the band to pursue a solo career and tragically died from carbon dioxide poisoning in his car while listening to tapes in the car’s player while the engine was running in his garage in 1977. Not the best death scene for a musician to go out on considering how most of them OD’d or something that seemed more grand than that.
This album has all the ingredients of the Prog recipe at max levels giving it the full flavours of the genre and keeping with the tradition of; long songs, harmonies, storylines, deep keyboard solos, starts and stops, time and tempo changes and never a dull moment throughout. If you get one major German Progressive rock band’s album from the seventies please consider this one as THE one to get at least to start off your collection of Deutsh Prog Bands because they really do deserve a better seat in the house. Unfortunately no reunion tours or even albums came out of the band. The website for the group run by Barry Palmer has been pretty quiet since 2003 and some of the links are no longer available but for some information you can still check out here;
In the pantheons of symphonic Prog rock, Triumvirat have earned their right to be there and whether you think they are ELP’s doppelganger or just a clever imitation of them that’s up to you to decide but once you hear their music, in particular the Illusions Lp you will see that there is no correlation between the bands.
Great band, amazing album, one of my favs….. again. Enjoy.