The Triumvirat Biography
According to Hans Bathelt, "Before (Triumvirat) we had been playing Top 40 stuff in local bands in Cologne. Our material as Triumvirat was strongly influenced by the English group 'The Nice'. In fact, we played some of their songs, ('Rondo' for example). Being fans of 'The Nice,' we loved it when 'ELP' got together...Keith Emerson's style was great!
Werner "Dick" Frangenberg, a mathematics student, also played in another dance band, and soon did not have time to rehearse with Triumvirat. He left the group, and was replaced by Hans Pape on bass in 1970. With Pape injecting some life on vocals and bass, the group soon began to experiment with studio recording.
After learning that EMI Records in Cologne was looking for new German groups, this early lineup sent in a tape. EMI loved it, and they were soon with their first record contract.
EMI sent the three to the studio, and the result was a smart, classically adapted debut recording, "Mediterranean Tales: Across The Waters," that was released on Harvest/EMI in 1972. Hans Pape was a welcome addition at the time. Hans Bathelt remembers, "Vocals were important because neither Jürgen or I could really sing." Hans Pape did most of the vocal work on 'Mediterranean Tales', except "Eleven Kids" and the verses of "Broken Mirror", where Jürgen sang.
Given the energy and talent in these stages, the follow-up album was destined to be grandiose. At the time, creativity abounded the trio and a writing style developed in which Jürgen would first conceptualize the musical themes, and upon hearing them Hans Bathelt would write the lyrics. At that time a common thread of sorts was emerging in the lyrics and a concept album (perhaps one of the definitive in its genre) was born.
The result was "Illusions On a Double Dimple" (1974 Harvest/EMI), a very personal look at life's have and have-not's from the perspective of the latter.
During the recording of "Illusions," Hans Pape left. The reason was simple, Bathelt recalls, "He had just gotten married, and his wife didn't want him to quit his steady job and go on tour. We quickly found a good replacement in Helmut Köllen. Helmut was Jürgen's cousin, and a few years older. He was a mechanic and played part-time in various Cologne bands like we all did before. Helmut played bass, guitar, and had a very good voice." A very good voice indeed, and he could also write lyrics and songs on his guitar. He had been hanging around the studio with the band, watching his favorite cousin perform, when he began chiming in on vocals.
"Illusions On a Double Dimple" became the perfect vehicle to fuse Fritz's symphonic, virtuoso keyboard performances with Bathelt's flawless, imaginative drumming and Köllen's melancholy, highly original vocal styling.
Amazed at the technical prowess of the band, EMI gambled on allotting the trio extra studio time to record. With Fritz at the musical helm, Triumvirat exceeded all expectations with "Illusions," a highly personal concept album that included accompaniment by the Cologne House Symphony Orchestra (now known as the "Cologne Philharmonic"), and the Kurt Edelhagen brass section. Critics liked "Illusions," the group was justifiably proud, and it slowly caught on in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
Hans continues, "In those days a guy named Alec Johnson was working in the export department of EMI in Cologne. He sent a copy of "Illusions On a Double Dimple" to Capitol Records in the USA, and got a positive answer." Capitol issued the album, which became the group's first release west of the Atlantic.
They soon flew that direction, and performed some 40 dates as the opening act for "Fleetwood Mac." On August 10, 1974, Triumvirat's "Illusions On a Double Dimple" appeared on Billboard's "FM Action" special survey chart at #2, second in new play only to Stevie Wonder's "Fulfillingness' First Finale."
Inspired by this success in the studio and increasing airplay on both sides of the Atlantic, Triumvirat wrote an historical concept album based on the battles of Spartacus, the warrior who led a slave revolt against the Roman Empire in 73 B.C. Bathelt's album concept included the idea for the cover: a small white mouse staring down from inside a charged light bulb. This, one of progressive rock's quintessential works, (and recorded in just twenty-nine days), literally jumped into the stores and onto the radio in the spring of 1975. It was engineered by legendary studio whiz Geoff Emerick, who is best known for his engineering work on The Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".
"Spartacus" was what Capitol Records in the USA was looking for. The music, still evolutionary and "pushing the envelope" was now conveniently packaged into shorter, radio-friendly cuts. It caught on rapidly in the USA, Canada (especially Quebec), Europe, and burgeoning progressive rock markets such as Brazil and Argentina. Fritz, Köllen, and Bathelt toured Europe with Grand Funk Railroad, and the States with different bands such as Supertramp, Nektar, Caravan, and others.
Capitol Records was happy with "Spartacus", but the lack of a pure hit single kept Triumvirat from arriving at the elite status enjoyed by some of the headline acts.
At the end of that tour, while in Los Angeles, Helmut announced one day that he as leaving the group to start a solo career. Jürgen and Hans tried in vain to persuade him to stay on. Helmut was writing a lot of songs and had a different musical direction in mind. He flew back to Germany to work on a number of things, including addressing problems regarding his draft status with the West German government. (This chapter of the group's history seems to be the inspiration behind Helmut's "Playing This Song Together"...)
Hans Bathelt recalls, "Jürgen and I stayed in L.A. and auditioned a few bass players. We decided on Doug Fieger [who later formed "The Knack" and had a hit single with "My Sharona"]. As EMI wanted us to record a new album in Germany, we had to go back. Things were very chaotic at that time. We hadn't written enough material, studio sessions were canceled, and so on. Very soon Doug got fed up with the situation and left. We thought of Werner Frangenberg and he rejoined on bass. With an ad in the "Melody Maker," we found Barry Palmer for vocals."
The first recording with Barry Palmer as Triumvirat's lead vocalist was the curious "Take A Break Today", which was a blatant attempt at a pop single. "Spartacus" wasn't climbing the charts as meteorically as they had hoped, and, ever the pragmatists, Capitol was convinced that it was time for a change in musical direction. It wasn't.
"Take A Break Today" was issued around Christmas, 1975, with an accompanying "B" side of a live recording of "The Capitol of Power" from a Los Angeles concert, just days before Helmut left the band.
The new lineup soon released "Old Loves Die Hard" (1976), an album true to the Triumvirat "sound." "Old Loves," however, was the first departure for Triumvirat from the concept-type album, and was more of a loose association of songs that were perhaps difficult to write with all the newfound studio tension (as evidenced by the lyrical barb in "I Believe"). "Old Loves" did not sufficiently buoy the attention demanded by "Spartacus". There was no ensuing tour, and soon Hans Werner, and Barry left because Triumvirat was no longer "functioning as a group."
Meanwhile, Helmut had been writing and recording at "Conny's Studio" in Wolperath, Germany. (Conny Plank was a legendary producer famous for his work with the Scorpions, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Annie Lennox, and many others.) Köllen had some Triumvirat-style keyboard and production support from Jürgen, and Hans Bathelt even co-wrote "The Story of Life" with Helmut. Deter Petereit of "Passport" was invited to play bass; Matthias Holtmann, who had played in the group "Hollywood" with Arno Steffen was enlisted on drums, and Helmut's beloved sister Elke Köllen was (among others) working on background vocals.
They had most of the tracks down on the still-unfinished and unnamed album by November 1976. Jürgen and he had re-established their working relationship to the point where Helmut was invited to rejoin Triumvirat on the new concept album that Fritz was writing and producing based upon the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano at Pompeii in 45 a.d. The reunion of Helmut and Jürgen was not without its flaws, however. Köllen felt that some of the songs were outside of his vocal range, and for that and several other complicated reasons, it simply didn't work.
During this time, Helmut and Barry Palmer had developed a good, non-competitive relationship. All involved agreed that it was best to invite Barry to rejoin the group.
On May 3, 1977, after returning home from a long day of recording, Helmut decided to crank up to some of his unreleased studio tracks on his car's cassette player. Within an hour of listening to the music inside his insufficiently ventilated garage, Helmut Köllen was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes, and was accidentally poisoned to death at 27 years of age.
"You Won't See Me," as it was named by his friends for one of his favorite Beatles songs, was his solo album released posthumously by Harvest/EMI in Germany in 1977.
Every single member of Triumvirat that time suffered deeply at the loss of their close friend and an unforgettable musical talent.
Jürgen however, did his best to put his grief aside, or at least use it as a creative outlet. The only original Triumvirat member, along with Barry Palmer returning on vocals, soon bounced back in big style. He was writing songs with his own lyrics now, and recruiting top-notch replacements. Among them was the technically precise session drummer Curt Cress, who had been famous in Europe for playing with his group "The Curt Cress Clan," and Klaus Doldinger's "Passport." Deter Petereit, who had been playing working with Jürgen on Helmut's album, joined on bass. This tight lineup produced "New Triumvirat Presents Pompeii," (so-called "New Triumvirat" for a short time, apparently due to a brief legal entanglement over the use of the name "Triumvirat"), a stunning concept work that rivaled Triumvirat's finest moments.
This lineup played in Germany, notably performing "Hymn" from this release on the important German TV musical show "Disco." "Hymn" was huge in Germany, and became their best-selling single.
Jürgen involved even more session musicians on 1978's "Ala Carte." Barry Palmer shared lead vocal duties on this release with David Hanselmann, whom Jürgen and Capitol hoped had a "Top 40" voice; Werner Kopal (Helmut's friend from the Cologne group "Jail") and Matthias Holtmann, an alumni from Helmut's solo sessions, joined on bass and drums.
Barry sang a catchy cover version of Brian Wilson's "Darlin, " and also sang on "Waterfall," the album's first single, which the band performed on the "Disco' TV show in Germany. The album was a rather eclectic mix of pop tunes with Barry, and more progressive tracks with Hanselmann.
The singles didn't catch on soon enough for Capitol in a market dominated by "disco" and punk releases, again there was no U.S. tour, and Triumvirat was dropped from its U.S. record deal.
"Russian Roulette", the last project under the name "Triumvirat" was a very impressive pop effort, full of session musicians (including Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro from "Toto") and featuring the comic relief and lyrics of Arno Steffen on vocals. The punkish "Party Life" was released as a single, and the group performed a live lip-synch on "Platenkeuche" ("Helga and Frank's Long Play Kitchen") TV show in Germany. "Roulette" was a diverse album that included an infectious reggae jam on "The Ballad Of Rudy Törner." It was an enormous departure, however, from their trademark sound.
Still no major international hit singles were achieved by this time, and, after a couple of aborted tours featuring Steffen, Hanselmann and Palmer, Jürgen dissolved the Triumvirat format in favor of doing certain album projects including the film score for the movies "Es Icht Nicht Leicht Ein Gott Zu Sein ("It's Hard To Be A God" - the single featured Grant Stevens on vocals), the soundtrack to the film "A Woman For Certain Hours", worked with the group "Gansehaut" with ex-Triumvirat members Curt Cress and Deter Petereit, as well as Wolfgang Hieronymi, Dieter Rosenberg and Gerald Dellman for the album "Aublicke" (1983), and paired up for an album with Ralf Hildenbrutel as "Millennium" (1991), that was as faithful to his classical roots as was "Mediterranean Tales."
More recently, he has stayed in Cologne, working with such novelty acts as "Thekenschlampen" (translated as "The Fabulous Bar Sluts"), German actress/comedienne Hella von Sinnen (Germany's answer to Ellen DeGeneres), and in late 1997 did the arrangements for a well-known German band called "The Puhdys".
The Triumvirat story hardly ends here. Some of the greatest chapters of their story have yet to be told. 1998-99 will mark the renaissance of one of the most talented musical ensembles ever to hail from Cologne. Welcome back, Triumvirat !
Hans Bathelt went to work as a label rep for EMI in 1977, later caught the computer bug and now works as a software consultant in Cologne. He has been happily married for the past ten years.
Matthias Holtmann is the afternoon drive time DJ on SDR3 Radio in Stuttgart, Germany, and the host of "Extra Spaet" or "Extra Late," a monthly MTV-style video show.
Barry Palmer did vocals on the 1984 Mike Oldfield album, "Discovery", which sold tremendously well in Europe, worked again with Jürgen on the "Gaensehaut" records, and Fritz produced a marvelous single of Barry's c. 1984 called "Shimmering Gold". Barry released a self-titled album in the U.K-only in 1986, and is currently close to wrapping up a very exciting new project co-written by Scottish architect/studio whiz David Duncan.
Arno Steffen continues to perform and record with the Cologne-based group "LSE."
Helmut Köllen remains alive through his recordings, and this biography and website are devoted to his dream of "Playing This Song Together."
"I have a dream that we can change it...
"The Hazy Shades of Dawn," from "Spartacus."
Special thanks to Hans Bathelt and Barry Palmer for their invaluable assistance with this biography.
©1995-2001 Russ Schenewerk, modified: 16 February
This is what I know. If you can add to it, feel free to
© 1995 - 2003 The Triumvirat Homepage, Triumvirat Net. All Rights Reserved.