Hurdy Gurdy were a Danish power trio with an interesting history as it was their name that inspired the title of the well known Donovan song, Hurdy Gurdy Man. Originally they had formed in the sixties with Mac Macleod, an influential guitarist on the British sixties scene around St Albans who had inspired Donovan and mentored him, teaching him the finger picking style that a lot of folkies had learned (such as John Renborn and Bert Jansch) and Donovan wrote this song for Macleod as a thank you. The story goes that Donovan in turn taught this style to The Beatles In India and this inspired songs such as Blackbird and Julia.
Macleod had ‘split’ and gone to Scandinavia where he ended up as bass player and singer in Hurdy Gurdy (that he named). Work permits in those days meant he had to leave Denmark and so the band travelled to England where the Danish members would ultimately face the same problem. If you go to the Hurdy Gurdy Man video post there is a piece from Ptolemaic Telescope magazine that tells the story of Hurdy Gurdy Man.
The short version is that Donovan wrote the song for Mac and the band but when he heard Hurdy Gurdy’s heavy interpretation he decided not to let them record it stating it’s not how he imagined it, wanting a more airy version of the song. So although Hurdy Gurdy did record a single in England with Macleod, they didn’t record this song. Donovan in fact recorded a pretty heavy version of the song himself (for him) that must have been inspired by Hurdy Gurdy’s power trio take on it. The song went to Number 5 in The US and number 4 in the British charts. Ultimately, guitarist Claus Bøhling and drummer Jens Otzen went back to Denmark, picked up new bass player, Torben Forne and recorded an album for CBS in 1971 that was releasd in 1972. Claus sang on the album as without Macleod they had no singer – it was the first time he had done so and not in his own language.
The album is contemporaneous stylistically of Cream/Hendrix but it wasn’t until Hendrix was gone and Cream had long split up that the album was finally recorded and released. The album starts with Ride On and immediately shows off Bøhling’s fluid playing and tone.
Next track The Giant has a very odd almost electronic beginning but quickly turns into the riffy early seventies Rock Psych that they are known for. The sound of these records is the thing, dry bass and drums, lots of solos and vocals that frankly don’t matter that much. it’s not about that, of course songs and melodies are important and they suffice but it’s the era that we are listening to and that’s the appeal. We are listening to it in the spirit of the times and this would have been a great band to see in a club in Copenhagen in the early seventies.
Tell Me Your Name is like a Cream or Ten Years After jam. Bøhling would have only been about 22 when he recorded this. Otzen plays a forgotten style of drums, Forne plays that busy bass style (also seldom heard these days) typical of the era. It’s fascinating listening to this style and contemplate how adept they were being so young.
Peaceful Open Space drops neatly (and too late era wise) into sitar and raga, one imagines that it is just Jens and Claus jamming and that Claus has been practising on the sitar and Jens on the tabla. Vocals come in after 3 minutes and it’s a bit like the Incredible String Band’s wry folk. George Harrison supposedly wrote an extra verse for Hurdy Gurdy Man and it was certainly him that inspired bands like this to use sitar on their records.
Bøhling plays harmonica on Babel’s Tower and it continues in the style but it has an interesting rhythm that it reminds me of The Groundhogs.
Spaceman has that classic ‘English isn’t my first language’ scenario. “I wanna do you , do you no harm”. Bøhling disliked his vocals intensely on this album but it’s that naieveté that gives the record its serendipity. Stumbling across a Danish band from the early seventies with a guitarist who plays like Alvin lee, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix and sings in a Danish accent makes me smile. It’s like watching an old b/w film, one that no one remembers with talented actors you’ve never heard of. I never switch off films like that, I’m abnormally attracted to them, well it’s the same with music and this album is a perfect example of that tendency. It’s the same as my attraction to Japan’s Flower Travellin’ Band, listening to them do cover versions of King Crimson and Black Sabbath and completely getting the feeling 100% right. On this record despite its shortcomings the feeling is 100% right.
Lost In The Jungle has Bøhling jamming with himself, there’s some great echo drenched stabs along with his buzzing guitar riffs – Jens playing like Mitch Mitchell, it’s another great early seventies jam.
The album ends with You Can’t Go Backwards, an ironic title perhaps as it is an out and out blues style song that puts Bøhling firmly in the company of his contemporaries from the late sixties.
Bøhling joined the jazzier and well known Danish band Secret Oyster who had evolved out of Karsten Vogel’s Burnin Red Ivanhoe. If you want to compare the Hurdy Gurdy album to your favourite albums of the era, Bøhling to your favourite guitarists of the era or even your favourite singers or lyricists of the era, then this might not be for you but if you want to be transported to that era and hear great Danish musicians (who had they been English would probably be someone you had heard of) then this album might just make you smile too.