Khan : a history (Part 3)

Although Steve Hillage and Nick Greenwood‘s paths had crossed on the Isle of Wight in 1968, it appears Hillage didn’t immediately think of him for the bass player’s position in his band. As he recalled in 1978 :

I met Nick Greenwood through a Melody Maker advertisement.

I suppose what Hillage means is that only after auditioning Greenwood following that MM ad did he realise they’d previously met. Eric Peachey remembers :

I think Steve put an ad in Melody Maker for musicians. They got together, got on very well, hit it off. And I got a call from him saying, ‘I’ve discovered this amazing musician’, which was Nick talking about Steve. He was really, really impressed with Steve’s musical ability.

The Hillage-Greenwood duo immediately began auditioning potential drummers and keyboard players. Interestingly in the context of the complex Canterbury Scene family tree, their first recruit was a drummer by the name of Pip Pyle. Hillage :

Pip Pyle was the best drummer we found from the first period of auditions and he joined Khan. I’d known him since 1970 at Canterbury – I believe I’d met him with Steve Miller and Phil Miller at the house of Dave Sinclair. We hadn’t played together, though.

Pyle’s stint in Khan was to be shortlived, as Hillage explains :

Pretty soon after he’d joined, he was offered a recording job playing drums on Daevid Allen’s solo album “Banana Moon”. Soon after this Daevid asked him to join Gong – it was an offer Pip couldn’t refuse and I gave it my blessing, despite it causing me some problems, because I thought Gong were really cool. Actually this was the start of my own contacts with Gong.

I asked Pip what he remembered of his membership of Khan, to which he explained that it was…

…more like an audition than rehearsals really if I remember, of which I did only two or three. Actually their music didn’t impress me much at the time and probably the feeling was somewhat mutual. Strange coincidence that he was a mate of Dave Stewart, who I didn’t know at the time.

Khan now had to find another drummer, which prompted Greenwood’s suggestion that his old friend Eric Peachey would be perfect for the job. Peachey himself was less sure.

They were holding auditions in Covent Garden. Nick had asked me to join, but I wasn’t sure. He said, ‘Well, come along anyway, just see what you think’. And to be perfectly honest, I was so appalled by the standard of drumming. I mean, I wasn’t a particularly technical drummer, but I could play time. My thing was feel, really, which I’ve always thought was very important. And being self-taught as well – but I had good time, I was a good rock drummer. And I was appalled at how sloppy most drummers were. I thought, ‘Oh, my God… I’ll help them out!’ (laughs)

Khan were still missing an organist at this point. Remembers Hillage :

After several months of not finding a suitable keyboard player I decided to approach Dick, who had also been part of Nick’s previous project. For a while the combination of myself and the other three worked really well. We became, in the second half of 1971, a really good live band.

Early Khan poster, showing the original line-up with (l-r) Nick Greenwood, Eric Peachey, Steve Hillage and Dick Heninghem.

And so Khan, by April 1971, was finally complete. Or just about – Heninghem had just got married and was only able to join the others in rehearsals after he’d returned from his honeymoon in Corfu. But now that the band were finally complete… Nick Greenwood left ! Remembers Heninghem :

Nick suddenly disappeared back to California to play in Richard Barcellona’s band in L.A. – it was his studio in Hollywood where Cold Cuts was recorded. So Steve, Eric and I had to recruit another bass player – can’t think of his name, I just remember he was extremely short ! Then Nick called from L.A. to say that things weren’t working out and could he rejoin Khan ? So I had to blackmail Hillage by threatening to leave, so Nick rejoined !

Now complete at last, Khan then set to work. Remembers Hillage :

The group was put together in Hertford. This was near where Nick and Dick lived. We were all paid a very basic retainer which seems ridiculously low to me now, but at the time it wasn’t really seen as scandalous.

Eric Peachey had more detailed memories of that early period.

Once I’d said OK, we started rehearsing more or less straight away. We rehearsed for two or three months in an old oast house out in Hertfordshire. We were very strict, very conscientious. I lived in Islington, and I’d be up at 7.30 or 8am in the morning and would catch a train out to Hertford, or I’d meet Steve and he’d drive out, and we’d be rehearsing by 9.30. We worked a lot. Obviously it relaxed a little bit when we were gigging more and touring. But Steve did an awful lot on his own, on his tape recorder and whatever. He had written most of the material, but didn’t have lyrics, so Nick helped him with the lyrics.

Dick Heninghem confirms :

We rehearsed every day in Hertford in the old maltings – we had the old oast house, which was circular and had interesting acoustics! Nick designed and built the band’s PA system, which was vastly superior to the crummy old WEM columns most people used.

Adds Peachey :

Nick built our PA speakers, physically in his bedroom. He actually constructed our PA. There was no foldback whatsoever. I had no mikes on the drums for example. I used to bleed, physically. I played with chair legs, literally, just trying to be heard !

There were difficulties of a more musical nature, as Peachey explains :

He was incredibly patient with me, and really went out of his way to help me – fantastic patience, really ! Coming from my blues, shuffle rock’n’roll backbeat, four-to-the-bar background, to suddenly be confronted with 5/4’s, 13/8’s was very hard work. We had this code we used with numbers instead of notes, and I would count the beat, and they would write the beats in. When you’re playing very technical music like that, it’s very important, beat placements, and playing cross-rhythms and whatever. To make it so it flowed was difficult… It was very tricky material, very interesting, although I always felt that a lot of those tunes actually contained material for three or four songs. Steve had so many ideas, so much to get out…

The first Khan gig ad I could locate was for a date at the Marquee Club on July 2nd 1971 supporting Steamhammer, but Peachey remembers the very first Khan gig was at the Central School of Art, so probably sometime in June.

Peachey remembers that Hillage’s guitar set-up was particularly innovative for the time.

Steve was one of the first to use two Watkins Copycat echo chambers. On stage, he had this sort of swirling, spinning effect – which you do at the touch of a button now, but at the time it was quite an interesting effect. He was pioneering that sort of thing.

Of Khan’s early gigs, Heninghem remembers :

Khan were a popular draw and we blew East of Eden off the stage at Durham University and did 4 encores. The gear I used was Vincent Crane’s old L100 Hammond going through a fuzz box, wah-wah pedal and Leslie tone cabinet. The Leslie was on its last legs and died at the Lyceum supporting Genesis but we still went down OK.

That Lyceum date, on October 14th 1971, appears to have been Heninghem’s last with Khan. In any case he had left the band by the time recording began for the band’s début album. The exact reasons for his departure are disputed. The most colourful version came from Dave Stewart, who stepped in to replace him for the duration of the recording sessions :

I distinctly remember Dick stretching Steve’s patience to breaking point by saying he couldn’t do gigs on a Sunday because his wife liked to cook a chicken dinner that day. Steve and I thought that was just completely insane. Khan was a great band, and I thought that any keyboard player worth his salt should have been proud to play with them – chicken or no chicken !

Eric Peachey made no mention of the chicken dinner when we discussed the subject.

I was never really sure what the basic problem was. Insecurity. Dick likes to be secure. He had a job right through his career, pretty much, apart from a very brief period. With Khan, there wasn’t much money. He was struggling. I think he wanted to get back into teaching – he’s an arts teacher. He was just finding it very difficult to continue. And there were various differences of opinion over musical direction, as happens in bands. Also, it had taken too long to get to the point of recording an album.

Peachey’s recollection prompted the following from Hillage :

Dick was certainly, if I remember well, somewhat impatient to get going with the album – although by today’s standards recruiting a band from scratch in the spring and getting a record deal and recording an album by November/December of the same year does not seem inordinately slow. I remember there was a bit of an ongoing personality clash between Nick and Dick – Nick would accuse Dick of showing insufficient motivation. This obviously connects to Eric’s comments.

As for Heninghem himself, his recollection centers on Hillage’s reluctance to involve him in the writing process.

The problem between us was that he wouldn’t let me compose, just solo, although a lot of the stuff was pulled together in rehearsals by all of us. Bearing in mind that I wrote the whole 7-minute opening sequence to “Cold Cuts”, including the words, and although Nick and I shared writing credits, some of the songs were mine. But Hillage, as the leader of the band – and a terrific guitarist – eventually decided that I had to go.

Khan roadie Steve Gannon offered an interesting perspective on the split :

I think Dick felt a little restricted at having to play exactly what Steve told him – it was technically difficult music, with unusual time signatures etc. Dave Stewart was much more in tune with what Steve was trying to do and was a natural choice for the album.

Although Heninghem has no recollection of such a session, and didn’t recognise his own playing on the tracks, it would appear it is him playing on the bonus tracks on the 2004 reissue of Space Shanty, “Break The Chains” and “Mixed-Up Man Of The Mountains”. These clearly pre-date the album recording, and the organ playing sounds nothing like Dave Stewart, who confirmed to me that it definitely wasn’t him playing. It seems likely that both songs were recorded for a potential single, which was rejected and thus only survived as a test pressing.


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