A Brief History
Belgium is not one of the countries best known for its contribution to the progressive rock scene. However, one band that does often crop up when one considers the musical scene that originated form this country, one must surely mention the group Univers Zero. However, the origins of this legendary band lie within a progressive trio called Arkham, that during its brief history became one of, if not the most, popular Belgian progressive rock band.
Before delving into the history of the band, one should also ponder on the band name and its origins. First of all, all those who know about the music of Univers Zero, also know of Denis' fascination of H.P. Lovecraft and his works. Many of these works have been incorporated into the works of this band in one way or another, and it seems that the H.P. Lovecraft fascination started way before the formation of Univers Zero, as the band name amply indicates (Arkham is the name of a town central to the Lovecraft mythos). In actual fact I have also found written down that the band name was actually Achime, and Arkham is the French translation of the town name.
Anyway, back to the history of the band which was formed in 1970 by keyboardist Jean-Luc Manderlier, drummer Daniel Denis and bassist Claude "Piccolo" Berkovitch who had previously had a stint with Here And Now. The band rehearsed for about three months, playing a music clearly influenced by the freer improvisational bands such as Captain Beefheart and Soft Machine, before embarking on their first concerts which gave them instant success within their homeland.
However in October that year, Berkovitch left the band to be replaced by Patrick Cogneaux, formerly of Knives And Axes. Rehearsal space was shared with another band called Lyze, whose members included guitarist Roger Trigaux, bassist Guy Segers and trumpet player Claude Deron. Deron would eventually join Arkham in the years to come while all these three musicians would be fundamental to Denis, who would in time recruit them to form Univers Zero.
1971 was a year of rehearsals and touring, with the band also playing major festivals in Belgium such as the Cocripop Festival in Charleroi and the Freeshow in Josphat Park in Brussels. On September 4th of that very year, the band also played as opening act for French legends Magma, a concert which would have a telling effect on the band's future. Cogneaux himself left the band in late September 1971 and was replaced by guitarist/bassist Paolo Radoni (Here And Now), by which time the band was slowly becoming less elaborate and improvised.
The end of the band seemed to be near, though they did augment their lineup to that of a five piece with the addition of trumpet player Claude Deron and guitarist Fran�ois Arnadeau (Jellyfish) which also allowed Manderlier to expand his compositions to that based on jazz-rock bands such as Ian Carr's Nucleus. Musicians seemed to be lasting only a few concerts, such as Christian Ramon who also appears on the only recordings of the band and was hired for one particular gig as the band did not have a bass player at that time!
In March 1972, Magma were being restructured and band leader Christian Vander remembered the band Arkham and asked Denis and Manderlier, to join Magma. Both joined the band but Denis only lasted a few concerts and opted out due to clashes and personal differences with fellow drummer Vander. Manderlier remained with Magma and appears on one of their finest recordings, the 1973 Mekan�k Destrukt�w Kommand�h.
The last Arkham concert took place in May 1972, in Holland with the lineup of Mandelier, Denis, Radoni and Vincent Kenis (later of Aksak Maboul). In 1973, Denis and Claude Deron formed Necronomicon which in 1974 evolved into Univers Zero with the addition of Roger Trigaux, Guy Segers (bass), Patrick Hanappier (violin), John Van RijmenanTt (sax) and Vincent Motoulle (keyboards).
Arkham - Arkham
Tracklist: Upstairs In The Granary (5:11), Eve's Eventful Day (Part 5 & 6) (3:22), Monolithic Progression With Anticipated Rupture (8:00), Brussels Shortly After (8:30), Bleriot: Visibility Poor (8:18), With Assays Of Bias (10:21), Eve's Eventful Day (Part 3) (4:45), Riff 14 (8:48), Tight Trousers (4:37)
Musicians: Jean-Luc Manderlier (Hammond organ, electric piano, clavioline), Daniel Denis (drums,
whistles), Patrick Cogneaux (bass and some strange frequency modulations), Claude "Piccolo" Berkovitch (bass on
Track 3), Claude Deron (electric fugelhorn on Tracks 8 and 9), Christian "Djoum" Ramon (bass on Tracks 8 and 9)
All music composed and arranged by Jean-Luc Manderlier
Remastered by Didier de Roos at Fields Studio, Belgium, June 2001
Tracks 1, 2 recorded July 4th, 1971 at M.J.c., Feluy, Belgium
Track 3 recorded June 1970 at RTB, Brussels, Belgium
Track 4 recorded at "The Recreation", Brussels, Belgium
Tracks 5, 7 recorded 1971, Brussels, Belgium
Track 6 recorded June 26th, 1971 at the "Cocoripop Festival", Carleroi, Belgium
Tracks 8, 9 recorded April 28th 1972 at M.J.c., Verviers, Belgium
The only album that features Arkham material that is available till today is this offering from Cuneiform Records. In itself the album features a number of live recordings from throughout the whole of the band's career, and also shows the various line-ups that the band had as well as the variation in style that each lineup change also brought about.
The earliest recording is from June 1970 and features the very first lineup that the band had with Manderlier, Denis and bassist Claude "Piccolo" Berkovitch. Recorded at Radio Television Belge (RTB), Belgium's national radio, one find a band that is already very keen on improvisation with influences from the already rich Canterbury scene with Soft Machine at the forefront of their inspirations. Monolithic Progression With Anticipated Rupture has a hypnotic touch to it as the band explore a number of melody lines that are expanded on in a rhythmic way as the rhythm just pounds on and on giving a metronomic feel to the whole track. Only in the final two minutes does the band rally unwind as each musician seems to wander off into a freer form of playing.
By November 1970, the time of the next recording on the album, Berkovitch was replaced by Patrick Cogneaux. The whole music seems to have acquired a more dramatic feel in their style. Listening to this rather muffled recording of Brussels Shortly After, the band seem to have adopted a style very much like various other trios from the same era such as EGG and also in a way, Emerson Lake & Palmer. Of course the brunt of musical excursions is borne by the keyboards while the bass and drums keep up an impressive rhythm which is only occasionally joined in by the keyboards.
The majority of recordings on the album come from 1971 which could be considered as the most stable year in terms of lineups for Arkham. Two recordings remain undated, and they are Bleriot: Visibility Poor and Eve's Eventful Day (Part 3). Starting off with the characteristic whirling sound of the Hammond organ fan, Bleriot: Visibility Poor could be considered as a form of space rock piece of music as it features mainly a series of swirling and swooshing amidst the occasional keyboard doodle, almost like Keith Emerson in his famous feedback "solos".
There are 3 parts of Eve's Eventful Day available on this album, Part 3 and Parts 5 and 6 (which were recorded at a separate concert in July 1971). One of the main differences between Arkham, an many of the other bands mentioned previously in this review is the fact that there seems to be a lack of a melody line that allows certain tracks to have that essential distinctive touch. At time, such as in Parts 5/6 there does surface the occasional melody, yet this is drowned in an aura of dissonance.
The final set of recordings are taken from a concert on April 28th, 1972 when the band lineup had once again changed. "Session" musician Claude "Djoum" Ramon stand in on bass while a new musical vent appears in the form of Claude Deron on electric flugelhorn. The addition of the flugelhorn gives the the band and especially Manderlier a broader front on which to present music. In fact the material from this period (Riff 14 and Tight Trousers) is possibly the best defined of the music that is available on this collection. One could argue that it is also the least "rock" of what has been offered, yet Arkham thred the line somewhere between jazz and rock. At times one can feel that the band has that Nucleus influence, yet they can stand it on their own and it is a pity that they did not progress much further within the musical vein that they were in during this period. The presence of the flugelhorn also seems to free Manderlier from having to continuously solo, thus creating a more vibrant rhythm section as well as create various duets that would have been virtually impossible to come up with in the trio format.
Arkham are an important stepping stone in the mainland Europe progressive rock scene. Unfortunately till today they have only been a footnote with no recordings available to show what they were all about. Thankfully this is no longer the case.
There is no official website dedicated to Arkham. However, various snippets of information regarding this band
could be found on the various sites dedicated to Univers Zero. However the best source of information regarding
Arkham would be the Cuneiform Records website.
However, should you have any further information regarding Arkham that could be added to the site, do not hesitate to contact me.