In 1965, Ulm School Of Design graduates Karl Remy and Walther Niemann happened across a five-piece band playing in a bar in Stuttgart (Germany), called The 5 Torquays. The members of the group were all Americans – ex-GIs who had been stationed from 1961 to 1964 at a US Army post in Gelnhausen, close to the East German border.
Discharged in 1964, the five decided to stay in Germany, playing the clubs and taverns of Frankfurt, Munich and Nuremberg, practising in the afternoon, performing at night, partying until morning and sleeping until the afternoon . . .
Remy and Niemann transformed The Torquays into an anti-Beatles, stripping down their original material to repetitive minimalist mantras which built up peaks of nervous tension, where lyrics became abstract shouted insults (“I hate you baby, but call me!”) or near-nonsensical Dadaist chants.
Apart from singing songs about hate, paranoia, self-doubt, James Bond and the madness of Vietnam, they also used feedback as a weapon. It was industrial music with strangulated vocals, melody replaced by brevity and the kind of emphasis on repetition that became the calling card of later Kraütrock bands.
After rejecting a number of different anti-band names (Fried Potatoes, Molten Lead, Heavy Shoes) the collective settled on The Monks. The associated image was a masterstroke – all black with long hooded capes, white rope ties and hardcore monk tonsures, with every step of their makeover photographed for the German teen mags.
Relocated to Hamburg’s Reeperbahn and fuelled by booze and speed (Clark excepted) the mood became heightened. A contract with Polydor Germany followed and, after a month of rehearsals, the band recorded their debut LP, Black Monk Time (March 1966).
The chorus to their debut single ran “Complication! CONSTIPATION!” . . .
The band began a non-stop tour for a year and a half, playing three towns a night. They were regularly attacked in the more religious southern Germany, but a Monks fan club started up in Köln, with devout fans replicating the band’s tonsured image.
German television appearances followed, and in July 1966 The Monks played live on Beat Club to a TV audience of six million.
Tour exhaustion began to take a toll on the group and an increasingly boozy Karl-H Remy left.
Their singles became poppier but the band finally split up on the eve of a planned tour of South-East Asia in 1967. The band members went their separate ways, reforming in 1999 for the Cavestomp garage rock festival.
Drummer Roger Johnston passed away in 2004 and electric banjo genius Dave Day died in 2008.
Guitar, banjo, vocals