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Never mind the baldies: here's The Monks

Infamous 60s garage outfit The Monks ready two CDs-worth of material in advance of the 13 April release.

"There are very few records I go back to constantly, CAN’s Monster Movie and the Monks’ Black Monk Time." - Mark E. Smith, The Fall

Black Monk Time / The Early Years 1964-65
Albums reissued 13th April 2009 on Light In The Attic

You couldn’t make The Monks up. Five shaven-headed, black-clad former GIs stationed in German who stuck around in Europe to turn beat music on its head and create garage punk. Theirs was a holy racket like the world had never witnessed.

The story begins in the early ‘60s, when American squaddies Gary Burger, Larry Clark, Dave Day, Roger Johnston, and Eddie Shaw found themselves stationed in the small German town of Gelnhausen. Day-to-day of life on the base was dull, but these five had a distraction – a British-invasion-influenced beat combo called The Torquays. Discharged from active service in 1964, the band decided to stick around and tour the bierkellers of Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Munich and Nuremburg throughout 1965.

The path from breezy beat to skuzzy proto-punk began was paved by svengalis Karl Remy and Walther Niemann, who met the band in Stuttgart. The name came like a revelation from above, and the transformation was cemented with a major image overhaul involving black clothes, rope ties, white instruments and scalps shaved clean like a monk’s tonsure. The new style was all about tension, repetition and clarity of message. “"Why do you kill all those kids in Vietnam?” demanded the album’s opening track – an astonishingly direct statement from five former soldiers.

Snapped up by Hamburg-based Polydor International, the group recorded Black Monk Time in Cologne in November of 1965. They toured non-stop for the next year and a half, sometimes playing double sets in three towns a night, but the album fell flat. Challenged to write a career-jolting single, The Monks delivered the poppy Cuckoo, and soon found themselves sharing bills with fellow rock and roll pioneers The Troggs, The Kinks, and Jimi Hendrix.

But the breakneck pace began to take its toll, and cracks began to show. Remy was disillusioned with Cuckoo’s softer sound, and the management team broke up in bitterness. With mounting tensions, the band focused on their upcoming tour of Asia and the prospect of a new album, but it wasn’t to be. On the day before their departure, Burger received a note from Johnston reading: "I can't take it any longer. I'm going back." And the band was over.

Over time, pop culture rediscovered the Monks. Fanzine Ugly Things did an extensive Monks piece/interview in 1992, and Shaw wrote a book about the group in 1994. Eventually, all of the Monks reconnected and reunited for a handful of events, most recently a 2007 tour of Germany and Austria. With the passing of Day and Johnston, future tours are not guaranteed, but the music sounds as vital as ever. The 2009 Light In The Attic reissue of Black Monk Time and The Early Years 1964-1965 is to be filed with pride alongside the Velvet Underground, Can, The Stooges, and Fela Kuti in the great record cannon in the sky. Long live The Monks!

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