Life & Culture

Bobby Gillespie’s Tribute to Can

To celebrate a new book about Can, co-written by one of the band’s founding members, the Primal Scream icon shares his sleeve notes for one of their records

  • TextTom Connick

The pulse of Can’s propulsive sound is inescapable. Insistent percussion and driving basslines form the backbone for their motorring psychedelia – a key ingredient that remains part of the modern music language, in everything from pop music to post-punk, techno to new wave.

The German group, formed in Cologne in 1968, were part of an emergent faction of avant-garde musicians, dubbed ‘krautrock’ by a decidedly un-PC British music press. Alongside the likes of Neu! and Tangerine Dream, Can’s core, four-piece line-up eschewed convention at every turn, weaving music as captivating as it was confounding. Tracks wheeled on for tens of minutes, built around a dedication to repetition that bordered on obsessive. Audibly hypnotic, and utterly revolutionary, Can’s creations were like nothing ever heard before, and have left an indelible mark on everything that has come since. If such a thing could ever exist, the experimental music rulebook would surely list them as its co-authors.

While Can’s legacy might be eternal, its members sadly are not. 2017 saw the loss of both parts of Can’s game-changing rhythm section – drummer Jaki Liebezeit and bassist Holger Czukay, who passed away in January and September respectively – while guitarist Michael Karoli died back in 2001. The surviving members of the group reunited last April, however, for The Can Project – a reimagining of their works which saw them collaborate with The London Symphony Orchestra and former Another Man cover star Thurston Moore, among others. It’s testament to the resilience of Can’s music, and the ineffable, transcendent vibe which it creates, that despite the loss of some of its key members, the band can still play on.

For decades to come, Can’s impact on musical past, present and future looks set to remain undeniable – everyone from dance acts like Caribou and Four Tet, through the countless indie and post-punk groups that populated the last decade, to more experimental newcomers like Boy Azooga and Sorry, owe Can’s rhythmic qualities a great creative debt.

One such devotee is Primal Scream icon and another Another Man cover star Bobby Gillespie, whose own hypnotic sounds draw extensively from the Can manifesto. To celebrate the release of All Gates Open: The Story Of Can, co-written by Rob Young and the band’s own Irmin Schmidt, Bobby Gillespie shares his sleeve notes for the 40th anniversary edition of Tago Mago.

I’ve loved the Can ever since I was a teenage punk rocker, I bought Cannibalism in a fire sale ‘cos it had a weird spacey cover and sleeve notes by Pete Shelley from the Buzzcocks. The music was like nothing I’d ever heard before, not American, not rock and roll, but mysterious and European, a true occult sound. John Lydon was always checking for them and I loved PIL. A lifelong connection had been made. A few years later, when I played in The Jesus & Mary Chain, we did a creepy crawl version of Mushroom that twinned William Rieds white hot sheet metal symphonic feedback guitar violence with Jim Morrison reincarnated as Jim Reid in a black leather rock and roll fantasy death rattle low moan blues – I was born and I was dead perfect.

Fast forward to summer 1997, a chance meeting in Cologne with Sarah Lowe leads me and Mani being invited to dinner with the Can (Michael, Irmin, Holger, Jaki). Over the course of a delightful evening, I gave Jaki a copy of the new Primal Scream single Kowalski, hoping that if he liked it, then maybe we might play together, make a record, (he did like it, especially the drums, which we’d sampled from Halleluwah), three weeks later, Jaki came to our London studio to play drums on some new music we had recorded. One track was an insane Kevin Shields staring at asteroids psycho freak out guitar O.D. instrumental (untitled and unreleased) the other was our version of the 60s garage classic the Third Bardos ‘I’m five years ahead of my time’, Jaki played his magikal over them, we were spellbound in the presence of a true master. Halfway through the session Liam Gallagher and his friend Brian Cannon turned up, Liam wasn’t aware of Jaki, but Cannon was freaked, he was a massive Can-Head, offerings were burnt, sacrifices made, the ceremony continued, Sarah Lowe called, “Can Michael come over?” “Yeah, sure, of course,” I said, “For fuck’s sake, Michael Karoli!” So there was five of us, Andrew Innes on guitar, me on vocals, Jaki Leibezeit on drums, Michael Karoli on guitar and Liam Gallagher on one finger piano. We jammed our arses off, till five in the morning, hard and heavy on a two chord Karoli groove, what a night! I’ll never forget it. We all fell out of the studio arm in arm and walked up the road high and happy, blasted by the magick of Can, The Can!

All Gates Open: The Story of Can by Rob Young & Irmin Schmidt, published by Faber & Faber, is out now