Khan : a history (Part 6)

Khan in 1972 : Steve Hillage, Nick Greenwood, Val Stevens and (seated) Eric Peachey

With Val Stevens back from Toronto, Khan began rehearsing in preparation for upcoming engagements. But the new recruit quickly found himself frustrated with the equipment provided by the band.

We rehearsed for several days and although I learned the majority of the album I felt quite uncomfortable because I was given a cheap little organ – a Hammond but only a consumer home version – to play on, and it sounded awful to me. I was used to playing a Hammond B3 with 2 Leslies, a Fender Rhodes piano and so on, and now I was reduced to playing this dinky little organ ! I felt totally embarrassed inside ! Steve responded that it was all they could afford to provide me. I wished I had more equipment – fuzz, wah-wah, echo, phaser and so forth – but there was no money ! Meanwhile, Steve had his array of guitars and distortion and fuzz boxes and echo chambers and delays and so on. He had his sound machine at full throttle ! But, of course, I couldn’t make an issue out of it because I was just the new guy. Throughout my entire duration with the band, I felt humiliated that I couldn’t perform to my standards because of the deficient equipment I had to use, I couldn’t even use my clavinet because the music had no ‘funky’ sections. Even to this day, I feel uneasy about my contribution to the band due to that dinky organ. How would Steve have felt if he was handed a cheap little guitar that sounded awful ? He would have cancelled the tour !

Other than that, Stevens remembers enjoying his time in the band :

I liked everyone in the band but we never hung out together – Eric would always go home to his wife and Steve would always go home to his ‘element’. Nick became my roomate, and we lived together in a house we rented on Ling Road in Canningtown, East London. Nick and I had a lot of laughs together and he became my closest friend in the band.

It is difficult to determine when exactly Stevens began gigging with Khan. Since Steve Hillage remembers Dave Stewart only playing a handful of gigs before and while the album was being recording, it would seem possible that Stevens joined as early as January 1972. He remembers sharing the bill with Lindisfarne, which Khan did on February 12th, but also, confusingly, on June 24th – the final gig by that line-up. The earliest gig he can be positively determined to have performed was with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in Cornwall on March 25th.

We opened for Genesis in, I think, Manchester, and several other stops in Liverpool and Scotland – I definitely remember Dundee, and our Glasgow stop was cancelled due to excessive violence.

Roadie Steve Gannon cited other gigs of the period as standing out in his memory :

At Durham University, we opened for Chicken Shack – I remember it, because after the gig we sat around listening to Stan telling jokes while we drank a lot of Newcastle Amber Ale – there were crates of it in the dressing room, we eventually put a crate of it in the van for later consumption.
I also seem to remember a gig in Liverpool opening for Lindisfarne as well, a very large venue but I can’t remember much more. Also a gig at a university in, I think, Wales where there was a bomb scare as we were loading the equipment in and we had to leave the building with the Hammond organ still in the service elevator. After a while, we were allowed back in and everything continued as normal.

On March 30th 1972 Khan played their first gig abroad – as a last-minute replacement for Atomic Rooster at Brussels‘ Salle de la Madeleine [thanks to Jean Jième for details on the exact date and location]. Remembered Gannon :

We went to Terry King’s management office one Friday about noon and were told to get our passports and be ready to fly out that evening ! We had trouble finding Eric who was out shopping, but eventually caught up with him and flew from Biggin Hill airfield to Brussels on a very small plane. We played the gig and were driven out into the country to stay at someone’s house, where Hillage and I stayed up all night listening to the owner’s excellent record collection. We flew back the next day.

The closest thing to a European “tour” occurred in late April 1972 when Khan played a 3-night residency at Frankfurt’s Zoom Club, in Germany, followed by a televised appearance in Montreux, Switzerland. Val Stevens remembers the Zoom Club as a “high moment, performance-wise” :

I used to bring my reel-to-reel tape recorder along to record our performances so that I could learn the songs a little more afterwards in my hotel room. In one of the songs, I was playing a solo – on that horrible little organ – and I decided to experiment with the on/off switch. Much to my amazement, and everyone else’s, I got a Jimi Hendrix-like bending of notes and feedback. This lasted for at least 30 long seconds ! We were all listening to the tape afterwards in the hotel room – of course we were all stoned ! – and when this section came up, we were all blown away in amazement. I remember Steve’s red eyes lighting up ! I remember being requested to replay that section over and over at least 5 or 6 times. On future gigs, I tried to do it again, but could never achieve the same result. Maybe it was a bad power source in Frankfurt.

Gannon also remembered the listening session at the hotel :

When we got back to the hotel after the gig we were listening to the tape when there was a knock at the door. Thinking it was probably the management complaining about the noise, I opened the door to find two Dutch guys with a very large joint enquiring, “We heard the music, may we come in and listen ?”

The Zoom Club was located in a night life district of Frankfurt, and the Hotel Steeg had a separate wing where all the musicians, dancers and late night people would stay. As I remember it was a fairly large club, it would probably hold a couple of hundred people. When we left the Zoom after the last night’s gig, the club manager gave us a matchbox full of hash.

Adds Peachey :

We were there two or three nights. We extended, improvised and jammed, depending on the situation – the first night, there were very few people there, and we jammed the whole night.

Steve Hillage’s most vivid memory of the club did not concern Khan’s performances :

At the Zoom Club I remember that for the time they had an amazing sound system. They played “It’s All Too Much” by the Beatles. It sounded so great that I resolved that I wanted to do my own version – which eventually appeared on the album “L”.

Khan were next booked to play at the Rose d’Or festival in Montreux, Switzerland. Remembered Gannon :

After our last performance at the Zoom we drove through the night to get to Montreux in time for afternoon soundcheck. After the show, we went to a club in Montreux for a reception for The Doors. We had the following day off, and the next day drove home in convoy with Caravan. I remember we drove onto the ferry at Dunkirk on the last fumes of petrol. When we reached England, Caravan had to tow us off the ferry to a petrol station !

Eric Peachey kept a vivid memory of the band’s arrival in Montreux :

I remember as we drove into the city, I had this footlong beard, and they’d produced a magazine for the festival which had this photograph of us, so people had seen this, and when we hit town, people would yell – we were celebrities ! Simply because of this footlong beard – that was quite ridiculous… Anyway, our performance was being televised, maybe they still have it on tape, and the big moment was, just as we came on, and we hit that chord, Steve broke a string ! Snap ! He just ran offstage, while we jammed for a while, until he came back on.

Stevens has a far more traumatic memory of the string-breaking incident :

Within the first minute Steve broke not one, not two, but three guitar strings ! He took his guitar off and started stringing up new strings. Meanwhile, we kept playing and were all looking at each other, not knowing what to do. It was an eternity until Steve got through with stringing and tuning his guitar. This was absolutely the worst moment of my life, to have all of Europe’s eyes on me while I was struggling with that horrible organ. My face was beet red and I must have sweat a litre within that five-minute eternity !

Khan visited Belgium for the second time shortly after returning from Montreux : a festival with, among others, Belgium’s own Lagger Blues Machine (headliners Patto failed to show up) sharing the bill, on May 11th 1972 in Moustier-sur-Sambre. Remembered Steve Gannon :

I remember it as some kind of street fair. That was the occasion when I had to bribe the customs official to let us in as it was a public holiday. He was refusing to sign and stamp the carnet and merely said “vacance”, which I understood to mean holiday. I tried to explain in schoolboy French that we were playing music for the holiday. He shrugged. I left the office to explain the situation to the rest of the band when a guy walked across the border and asked what the problem was. He was an Englishman who lived there and had spotted the English license plates on the truck. He went in the office and soon came out to explain that I needed to put, I think, a 50 francs note with the carnet on the official’s desk. I went back in and put the papers on his desk with the money, whereupon he promptly signed and stamped everything and wished me good day !

On their return to England, Khan would embark on a long tour with Deram stablemates Caravan and The Parlour Band, coinciding with the release of Space Shanty. This would prove the swan song of Khan #1, as we will discuss in the next blog post.


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