Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘Black Monk Time’ the 1965 debut from The Monks.
Jarheads, bored in West Germany, bored of waiting for Russia to invade whilst their counterparts in Russia were bored, bored waiting for the United States of America to invade. It could have been worse though, you got four square meals and a hot shower every day, unlike your fellow marines in Vietnam. After all, who wants to kill babies when you can drink German beer and talk to Frauleins at the weekend? But, despite the plumb nature of the assignment, boredom bit hard in Gelnhausen army base for five jarheads in particular who spent their time playing Chuck Berry covers for the sake of their sanity at every available juncture. They called themselves the 5 Torquays and started to play support slots near the base. It became so enjoyable that when they were discharged from the army they decided to stay in West Germany and pursue music full time.
They found themselves playing the same Hamburg venues that had hosted The Beatles several years previously, but they had no interest in being the next Beatles or Stones, in fact they wanted to be the anti-Beatles, the anti-Stones. Long before Bowie cooked up the lyric “My brother's back at home with his Beatles and his Stones. We never got it off on that revolution stuff. What a drag, too many snags,” they were looking past pop, kicking against the system, searching for a voice that reflected their life experiences, that questioned the given norms of authority. They didn’t realise it at the time but The Monks quest for a sound that separated them from the pop herd would place them at the forefront of forging two distinctive genres of music, Punk, and Krautrock.
Before long they decided that they would need to set themselves apart from the mainstream approach to rock ‘n’ roll both visually and sonically. Settling on the new moniker The Monks, they became the visual antithesis of The Beatles and The Stones by shunning the current trend for long hair, acquiring the traditional medieval tonsure haircut of devout Christian monks and wearing cassocks and nooses around their necks to create a striking visual distinction between them and their competitors and indeed their audience.
The Monks’ 1966 debut ‘Black Monk Time’ was panned by critics and audiences were left baffled by their unique appearance, onstage antics, and the frantic angry nature of the soundscapes they produced. Audiences simply weren’t prepared for the spectacle of three people huddled together hand-fretting a feedbacking electric guitar that was lying on the ground, or slamming several tambourines at a time against their heads or their instruments or lyrics about baby killing soldiers and their explicit sexual desires.
By 1967 it was all over, The Monks, were no more, but their legacy would reverberate in artists as diverse as The White Stripes, The Talking Heads and The Fall, Beastie Boys, Silver Apples and The John Spencer Blues explosion. Countless others have suckered on Gary Burger’s unhinged speak/scream vocals, on Eddie Shaw’s grinding fuzz bass, on Dave Day’s manic, syncopated electric banjo, on Larry Clark’s wildy oscillating organ and Roger Johnston’s crunching drums.