Khan : a history (Part 7)

This cartoon history of Khan (for a factually accurate version of the band’s story, the present blog is definitely preferrable !) was published in conjunction with the release of Space Shanty.

The Deram tour with Caravan and The Parlour Band (soon to become A Band Called O) took up most of June 1972, and consisted of ten dates including one at London’s Lyceum. I have mentioned before that I was unable to find a single article on Khan during my research in any of the music weeklies of the period, which I still find incomprehensible (and justified the research presented here). There was one small exception, however – a short review of the Lyceum concert in Melody Maker. Michael Benton wrote that Khan…

…gave a really exceptional performance. The title track off their album “Space Shanty” got heads nodding and swaying, but it was their surprising closing number, the Shadows’ old hit “Wonderful Land”, which brought them the loudest applause of the evening.

That’s it – the sum total, to the best of my knowledge, of the press coverage devoted to Khan during its 18 months of existence. I am less surprised that the Ottawa Music Company (of which Steve Hillage was an occasional member during 1972) received the same treatment (or lack thereof), having no record deal or management. Less so with Khan who were signed on one of the main British record labels.

In any case, the June 1972 tour would prove the original Khan’s swansong, with both Nick Greenwood and Val Stevens departing after a final gig in Reading with Lindisfarne. I asked Steve Hillage the reason for Greenwood’s departure :

I think the ultimate problem was that I was becoming more ambitious musically and the new music I was imagining didn’t sound at all like the sort of things Nick was looking for. He could feel this and it was becoming very frustrating for him. Eventually I had to admit to him that I didn’t really see him in my future musical plans. It wasn’t a confrontation. I really liked and respected him, and in fact because of this I owed it to him to be honest. He understood, and so he decided to leave. It is fair to say that the departure of Nick felt like the lifting of a dark cloud, since he had not been happy for some while.

ngreenwood68Roadie Steve Gannon’s offered insight into Hillage’s decision :

Nick was a person with strong opinions and would probably have been better off running his own band. I don’t remember any real clashes between him and Steve. I remember Steve saying he had to take a break for a while. I think he was worn out from trying to do too much. He was staying up for days writing and recording at home. He was very driven by his vision and this, coupled with the strain of touring and dealing with the different personalities, just became too much.

In any case, as Hillage explains :

As Nick had a such major place in Khan Mk1, with him leaving the band it was effectively broken up.

This was bad news for Val Stevens. Unbeknownst to him, Hillage had decided to use Greenwood’s departure as a pretext for asking Dave Stewart – whose band Egg was on the verge of splitting up – to become the band’s new keyboard player. Remembers Stevens :

I loved the band and I had never predicted that it would end so abruptly. At first, I thought that I was the one who was getting the boot, but when I found out that the whole band was being canceled I was quite confused. I didn’t understand, nor was there even a get-together with the band members to discuss why. The guillotine came out of nowhere !

Stevens remains somewhat bitter about the episode :

I didn’t know that Nick and Steve had a falling out, no one told me anything. I would have absolutely stayed with the band, especially now that the tour was over and the pressure was off. As I said before, I would have shipped my gear over and made more contributions to the band, musically, vocally and collaborating on new songs. It was a huge disappointment for me. It would’ve been special, and honorable, for Steve to meet with me personally and tell me his feelings about the issues with him and Nick and why he wanted to dissolve the band. I understand his bond with Dave Stewart, I have bonds with my friends too but to just let me know on a second-hand basis was cowardly and below the belt. I didn’t join the band on a short-term basis. I didn’t get paid for rehearsals, nor was the touring money or the humiliation of playing that horrible organ worth the effort. If it was about money, I would have stayed in America and made way more money. It was about dedication, commitment and working towards a goal for me. I don’t resent Steve, I just wish it would’ve turned out differently.

There is an intriguing and rather colourful aside to Stevens’ departure, as recalled by Gannon :

I recall Steve calling me on the phone one day to say that I should hide our van. It was a rental van that we had on contract for a long period of time. We’d fitted a plywood partition between the cargo area and the driver/passenger area in which we’d fitted some airplane seats, one pair of seats and one group of three seats arranged in an L pattern so that the cab of the van felt something like a living room. Anyway, the reason why he wanted me to hide it was that it had Val’s Hammond organ in it, and some guys were trying to re-possess it. Apparently Val had bought the organ in Liverpool and only made a couple of payments before disappearing to London. Before I could move the van, not parked outside my house but further down the lane, they were knocking on my door, I told them the van was being serviced and they should come back that afternoon, they seemed to accept this and left. Twenty minutes later, I went to move the van, and before I’d gone a few hundred yards they screeched to a halt in front of me ! They demanded I open the van – they had a court order to re-possess and were very disappointed to see that Val had had the organ cut into two pieces to make it easier to move…

This may have led to Val’s departure as he no longer had an instrument, but I’m not sure.

The above story is probably mostly accurate except for Val Stevens’ part in it, since he clearly didn’t own the organ in question (which he hated), which had been provided to him by the band. So this can’t have factored in his dismissal, which seems entirely to do with Hillage’s intention to forge a partnership with his old friend Dave Stewart. Steve Gannon insisted that Stevens “was a good keyboard player and easy to get along with”, although Eric Peachey cryptically remembers that “he lacked a bit of discipline on the road. There were a few problems that sort of started to arise, and it was decided that it would maybe be a good idea if we parted company”.

In any case, the end of Stevens’ involvement with Khan also marked the end of his stay in the UK :

I decided to return back to Canada within two weeks of the band breaking up. Of course I continued my musical career. Back in Canada, I formed a group called Hairafter with 4 singers from the musical “Hair” with Wayne St. John. I started a group with Walter Rossi called Influence and played with Michel Pagliaro, Charity Brown and so forth. I moved to Los Angeles in 1979 and have been here ever since. I’ve worked with numerous highly talented musicians in various venues but have never again put an effort into forming or joining an original band.

As for what became of Nick Greenwood, as mentioned earlier his solo album Cold Cuts, although released in 1972, had actually been recorded in 1970, so there was no visible post-Khan activity from him. Dick Heninghem remembers :

Nick and I got another prog-rock band together called Lodestone. The drummer was the guy from Taste [John Wilson] and the guitarist was Dick Wall from Cashmere Bouquet. We recorded some demos at the famous Livingstone studios in Barnet, later Wood Green, where we both worked briefly. This stuff was really good, a mixture of prog and jazz. We called them “The Barnet Tapes”. It featured an unbelievable sax player from Toronto called Ray Wierstein. That was our final attempt at prog-rock. We then built a studio at Nick’s house in Clapton and started recording pop songs and advertising jingles. Nick built a commercial studio in Walthamstow with three others. He ended up doing Irish pubs with his brother and eventually went solo and that’s what he’s still doing.

Greenwood has a Bandcamp page with recent material, some of it also featuring Heninghem, a creative partnership that has endured for over 50 years now !

The next and final post in this series will cover Khan II, the shortlived, final line-up of the band, co-led by Steve Hillage and Dave Stewart.


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