• Vinyl
  • Date : 31.05.2024
  • Running Time : 40:25

Third Ear Band – Druid One – Live At Essen Pop & Blues Festival 1970

Despite not being at least initially among the scheduled groups (in fact, the band’s name does not appear on the poster or the official program for the event), Third Ear Band played at the Zweites Essener Pop & Blues Festival on April 24, 1970. The evening’s packed program included, among others, The Flock, Ekseption, Rhinocerous, The Groundhogs, It’s A Beautiful Day, and the still-unknown Black Sabbath, who had recently debuted their self-titled album.

Coming to Essen (Germany), Third Ear Band stayed overnight at the Rheinischer Hof hotel at Edwig Strass 11 (four band members, manager Steve Pank, and two sound engineers), and on the evening of the 24th, between 9 and 10 p.m., they played their set on the main stage. On that first evening, in the long afternoon that began at 4 p.m. with bands taking turns on two stages, the Groundhogs had played just before them, and the Oscar Benton Band would play after them. The first of the festival’s two days ended at 2 a.m. with a performance by The Flock.

Other times, one would say, considering the sad homogenisation of today. Times when progressive, blues rock, hard rock and folk music could be played in the same festival.

It was thanks to an enlightened young man, Konrad Mallison, who in 1969 had emptied the intuition to invent the most famous alternative music festival ever held in Germany, only after attending the Bath Festival of Blues the year before, while on holiday in England.

The 49 minutes of Third Ear Band’s live set, recorded by NDR TV, ending with what appears to be the tuning of the instruments, suggests that the length of the gig was longer and that at least one or two tunes are missing from the roll call. But the extraordinariness of this find, the quality of the sound, and the choice of music permormed, make this set worthy of going down in history among the few other great bargains available in the catalogue (e.g., along with the wonderful concert filmed by French TV on May 28, 1970 and available on the Web) in one of the most interesting phases of the band’s history.

In fact, the concert in Essen, played by the quartet line-up with Sweeney on hand drums, Minns on oboe, Coff on violin and Smith on cello, falls just a few weeks before the release of the second album, known among fans as “Elements” despite being titled simply “Third Ear Band” (released in June 1970), and the recording, also in Germany (on July 2 and 3), of the stunning soundtrack for NDR TV animation short movie “Aebelard” by film maker George Morse with overexposed psychedelic illustrations by painter Herbert Fuchs. Entitled “Abelard & Heloise,” it is one of Third Ear Band’s most significant works, which remained unpublished for almost thirty years (it only come out in 1997 with my first book on the band) and which would have deserved to be released even then.

Of these two excellent works, in Essen the band premiered shortened versions of “Earth” and “Water” and one of the six-part soundtrack, the third, featuring a beautiful oboe theme by Paul Minns.

It’s interesting to catch the group just during the Abbey Road recordings (held in a few sessions in April and May 1970) at a stage when these tracks still seem to be in progress: “Water,” whose earliest recordings dated months before, was here reprised in a version with a minor key and it is very short compared to the one later released, limited to a repetition of the main theme without the improvised studio variations. Even more surprising is the performance of “Earth,” only 3:00, much shorter than the album recording, with Ursula Smith engaged in pizzicato and Coff playing his violin with a plectrum.

In between the two novelties and the excerpt from “Aebelard,” in Essen the band offered old “Alchemy”’s warhorses they had been playing for over a year in concert such as “Druid One,” with an unexpected vocal intro, “Ghetto Raga,” “Mosaic,” and “Area Three” (but without John Peel’s Jews Harp!), showing a incredibly brilliant interplay: the structure of the compositions, whether raga scales or free improvisation, is based on Sweeney’s hypnotic rhythms (however, not always precise) and Smith’s cello, with predominantly a rhythmic function, on which Minns’ oboe and Coff’’s violin phrasing are grafted – now rigorous, in chasing each other on the raga scales, now erratic, unpredictable.

The final effect, caught in its slow, mesmerising unraveling, also renders the atmosphere of the festivals of these years, with a participating and attentive audience, eager to hear the music even when, between tunes, the musicians indulge in tuning their instruments or simply catching their breath.

From this concert, filmed by German TV, only the performance of “Earth” has been circulating on the web for a few years now, and is part of a DVD documenting the festival (titled “Pop & Blues Festival 1969-1970,” it was not officially released in USA by RareRock DVDs).


Luca Chino Ferrari

writer and lyricist

editor of Ghettoraga, the Third Ear Band’s official web Archive



Side A:

  1. Water 03:50
  2. Abelard & Heloise (Part 3) 06:08
  3. Mosaic 05:41
  4. Area Three 07:58

Side B:

  1. Druid One 05:47
  2. Ghetto Raga 07:50
  3. Earth 03:11

total: 40:25 min.