On Stage: Celebrating 50 years of Nektar at The Flash

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


Nektar means different things to different people.

It could be a keyboard controller, a scientific research company from San Francisco, or a manufacturer of honey crystals.

To some, Nektar could mean a fine dining restaurant in Mexico’s Yucatan region, a juice bar in Greece or a wine bar in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

For music fans, Nektar could mean only one thing – the stellar prog rock band that is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Nektar is a British progressive rock band that was formed in Germany. Two of the original members are still in the band – bassist Derek Moore and drummer Ron Howden.

“It’s been 50 years since our first gig in Germany – 50 years came in November,” said Moore, during a phone interview last week from his home in Chester, New Jersey.

Nektar’s current lineup features Derek “Mo” Moore – bass, vocals; Ron Howden – drums, percussion, backing vocals; Ryche Chlanda – guitars, lead vocals; Randy Dembo – bass, bass pedals, acoustic guitar, backing vocals; Kendall Scott – keyboards; and Mick Brockett – special effects, lights and lyrics.

On January 9, Nektar will visit the area for a show at Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org).

Nektar is touring in support of its comeback album “The Other Side” which is being released this month via Esoteric Antenna.

“We decided we were going to do a new album,” said Moore. “We knew we had a cache of good songs from the 1970s that we didn’t release so we brought them out.

“The first track we worked on was ‘The Other Side.’ Then, we built it piece-by-piece. Even though some of the songs are really old, they also are really fresh.

“Some songs go back to 1974 – songs that were never finished. This whole album was recorded live. Later, we added to some of the tracks.”

Nektar formed in Hamburg, Germany in 1969. The founding members were Roye Albrighton on guitars and lead vocals, Allan “Taff” Freeman on keyboards, Derek “Mo” Moore on bass, Ron Howden on drums and artists Mick Brockett and Keith Walters on lights and “special effects”.

“I was in Hamburg playing with a band and Ron was in another band,” said Moore. “The bands switched drummers. Ron and I have been playing together ever since. We’ve played together for over 50 years so we know exactly what each other will do when we’re playing together,”

Nektar’s debut album, “Journey to the Centre of the Eye” (1971), consisted of a single song running over 40 minutes, with the last 100 seconds of the first side repeated at the beginning of the second side to maintain continuity. The follow-up, “A Tab in the Ocean” (1972), drew on more conventional rock and blues influences. The band’s third album was the heavily improvised live-in-the-studio double LP, “…Sounds Like This” (1973).

Nektar’s U.S. release, “Remember the Future” (1973), propelled the band briefly into mass popularity. The follow-up, “Down to Earth” (1974), was another concept. The next two albums were “Recycled” (1975) and “Magic Is a Child” (1977). The group disbanded from 1982-2000. Nektar then went through nine different lineups before disbanding again from 2016-2018.

“I retired in 1978 and came back in 2002,” said Moore. “We started about a year ago with a new lineup.”

In early 2019, Howden approached the newly retired Moore about reviving the original band. When Moore agreed, former members Randy Dembo (bass and 12-string), Brockett (lights, projections and atmosphere), and Ryche Chlanda (guitar and vocals) joined the project along with keyboardist Kendall Scott.

“Ron and I got into it and decided to go out with a new band,” said Moore. “Me and Ron and Ryche clicked right away. We added Randy on bass and then got Kendall Scott, who was a friend of Ryche. Then, we got Mick back with his light show.

“We made the decision to go on the road because the music is that good.”

Nektar fans – young and old – have been responsive to the tour.

Earlier this week, Nektar played to a packed house at the Sellersville Theater. That’s an impressive feat considering the show faced several obstacles – post-holiday doldrums, a mid-week show, cold weather that makes you want to stay indoors and a venue that is a long drive from just about everywhere.

“We could have played bigger venues on this tour, but we picked intimate venues – small clubs,” said Moore. “We want to interact with our fans.”

The tour itinerary includes intimate venues such as Orion Studios in Baltimore, the Iridium in New York City, the Middle East Night Club in Cambridge (MA), Daryl’s House in Pawling (NY) and Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton (MA).

“We have three hours of music we can play – without any talking,” said Moore. “But we like to talk with our fans. The show is about 100 minutes plus an encore.

“We play three or four pieces from the new album. We also play a smattering from older albums – a lot of music from the past.”

Video link for Nektar — https://youtu.be/ZObgrlHChJI.

The show at Kennett Flash will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40.

Other upcoming shows at Kennett Flash are Fabio Mittino & Bert Lams (of California Guitar Trio) on January 10, “33 1/3 Live’s Killer Queen Experience” on January 11 and 12.

Craig Bickhardt

Craig Bickhardt, another act with a career spanning several decades, a recent album, a preference for performing intimate shows and a set list that includes songs from the very early days, is also playing in the area this weekend.

On January 11, the Living Room at 35 East (35 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, https://thelivingroomat35east.com) is presenting a show billed as “On A Winter’s Night — A Solo Acoustic Evening with Craig Bickhardt.”

Bickhardt first appeared on the radar in the early 1970s when he played in a band called Wire and Wood – a band that opened for Bruce Springsteen in his early days and played top area clubs such as The Main Point.

Bickhardt has music in his DNA. His father Harry worked at WIP radio in Philadelphia and moonlighted as a big band musician.

“My father, who just died a few years ago, was a big band musician for more than 50 years,” said Bickhardt, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from his home in Glen Mills.

“Every Saturday night, he put on a tux and headed to a gig. It could be anything from a concert at a night club to a wedding.

“Seeing what he did made me believe that I could be a working musician. His love of performing was passed on to me.”

Another link to music in his family home when he was a kid led to Bickhardt’s pursuit of a career in music.

“I found an old Stella guitar in my parents’ attic when I was 14,” said Bickhardt. “I taught myself to play. That began my experimentation with guitar.

“Plus, I lived near the Main Point. I used to go there all the time. I remember watching Doc Watson’s finger picking and listening to Eric Andersen’s great songwriting. That was my college education in music.”

Bickhardt was a graduate of Haverford High School – as was his father. He grew up in Havertown – just a stone’s throw from the Main Point’s location in Bryn Mawr.

“I didn’t go to college,” said Bickhardt. “I just jumped into this as soon as I got out of high school. I went to L.A. with Wire and Wood in 1974.”

By the mid-1970s, Bickhardt was co-lead singer/guitarist in Wire and Wood, an eclectic country-rock quintet that won a fervent East Coast following. The group relocated to L.A. in search of a record deal and succeeded in attracting the interest of Bob Dylan’s former manager Albert Grossman, who signed them to his Bearsville/October Records label. Unfortunately, Wire and Wood’s album was never completed, and the group called it quits soon after.

Bickhardt signed to a publishing contract with EMI in 1982. Among his first musical recordings were two songs for the soundtrack to the 1983 film “Tender Mercies,” one of which (“You Are What Love Means to Me”) charted at No. 86 on the Billboard country singles chart. He also sang background vocals on Reba McEntire’s 1984 album, “My Kind of Country.”

From there, he found work as a songwriter, with one of his first cuts being “That’s How You Know When Love’s Right,” which became a Top 10 country hit when Nicolette Larson and Steve Wariner recorded it as a duet. He also co-wrote “You’re the Power” with F.C. Collins for Kathy Mattea and The Judds’ Number One hit “I Know Where I’m Going,” in collaboration with Don Schlitz and Brent Maher.

“I left L.A. and moved to Nashville in 1983,” said Bickhardt.

After Paul Overstreet departed the country music trio S-K-O (formerly Schuyler, Knobloch and Overstreet), Bickhardt was recruited to take Overstreet’s place in the trio. As a result, the group was renamed S-K-B (Schuyler, Knobloch and Bickhardt). Bickhardt made his debut on the group’s second and final album, 1987’s “No Easy Horses” on MTM Records. The album contained several songs that he co-wrote, including two of its singles – “This Old House” and “Givers and Takers.” S-K-B disbanded in 1989 after MTM closed.

“With S-K-B, we tried to re-create the feelings of the college age and the era of festivals,” said Bickhardt. “There was a really healthy vital community.”

After a while, Bickhardt had his fill of living in “Music City.”

“I moved back to the Philadelphia area in 2006,” said Bickhardt. “I saw the winds of change in Nashville and didn’t like where it was going. I didn’t want to write in a committee of songwriters. And, I wanted to get back to performing.”

Since moving back to the Delaware Valley, Bickhardt has released five albums — “Brother to the Wind” (2009), “Live at Sellersville Theater” (2011), “The More I Wonder” (2014), “Carrying A Dream” (2017), and “Home for the Harvest” (2018) – as well as three albums with Idlewheel, a musical project he has with former Poco member Jack Sundrud.

“I recorded most of ‘Home for the Harvest’ at my house but some of I started in Nashville,” said Bickhardt. “I always have had a small digital studio at wherever I was living. I co-produced the album with John Mock, and we finished recording it in the winter of 2017/2018. It was released in October 2018.

“In my live shows now, I’m doing songs from all my records. I am trying to concentrate on the recent record.”

Bickhardt will also be doing a concert on February 14 at Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) with his daughter Aislinn Bickhardt.

“Just being able to have an audience to play for is an incredible feeling,” said Bickhardt.

Video link for Craig Bickhardt — https://youtu.be/OGtcUeb7csg.

The show at the Living Room at 35 East will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Anther upcoming show at the Living Room at 35 East this weekend is “John Byrne Band – Acoustic” on January 10.

John Byrne

Singer/songwriter John Byrne is a native of Dublin, Ireland who first worked in the United States when he was in college and then moved to this country more than 20 years ago. He is now a resident of the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.

Byrne is playing shows in support of his new album, “A Shiver in the Sky.”

Recorded at Spice House Sound in Philadelphia and produced by long-time collaborator Andy Keenan, the new album shows his band of multi-instrumentalists vibrantly executing 10 new originals. Strings, horns and guitars escort Byrne’s vocals through a set of songs about living and pushing forward through negative times.

“I have six musicians who I use all the time for big shows,” said Byrne, during a recent phone interview. “When we hit the road, it’s usually acoustic three-or-four-piece. It’s the same line-up without bass and drums. Everyone in the band lives in Philly.

“The band has been around for 10 years. We recorded our first album, ‘After the Wake,’ in 2009 and it was released in 2010.”

“After the Wake” was released to great critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic in 2010. With influences ranging from The Chieftains to Planxty to Bob Dylan, Byrne expands upon the musical and lyrical traditions of his native and adopted homes. The John Byrne Band followed its debut disc with “Celtic Folk” in 2013 and “The Immigrant and the Orphan” in 2015.

“When the first album came out, I was working as a teacher in Norristown,” said Byrne. “I was teaching at an alternative school called Lincoln Center. When the album did so well, the side project became a main project and I quit teaching.

“One of the songs on the new album – ‘Time Ain’t Changed a Thing in this Town’ – was inspired by what we’ve seen while touring. We tour a lot in the Midwest and come across towns who have had the life sucked out of them. Norristown is a town like that.

“A lot of the album is about facing trauma. The original title was ‘What If We Don’t Die Young’ but we decided to change it. The album is about – how do we push on? It’s about understanding that things will happen to you and, if you push through them, they will pass.”

The album offers inspiration to people who are dealing with adversity.

According to Byrne, “Things will happen to you and they can be immensely painful, but they won’t be there forever. If you don’t let them break you, there will be a new version of yourself that emerges and has learned the skills to live with this pain.

“There are cautionary tales, songs about dealing with addiction, about immigration, about relationships of all kinds, about facing prejudice, about leaving things behind. They all ultimately carry a similar message — that living carries with it the possibility of balancing out regret or mistakes that you’ve made with a future that contains something brighter.”

The album evolved with songs that were uplifting.

“When I looked at what I had written, that’s what the songs were talking about,” said Byrne, a former soccer player in school who is a big fan of Dublin’s Bohemian F.C., a team that competes in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland. “When I looked back at the album, I saw that it was all positive.”

Video link for the John Byrne Band – https://youtu.be/3teMyc8QdKk.

The show at the Living Room at 35 East on January 10 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host “OPEN MIC NIGHT” on January 9 and “BEST OF OPEN MIC NIGHT 2019 AKA: FORK CANCER! A FUNDRAISER FOR MARISSA” on January 11.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present “80s Dance Party” on January 10, The Samples with special guest Rugby Road on January 11 and Tab Benoit on January 12.

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) will present Chris Grunwald & the Slow Response and the Dirk Quinn Band on January 9, Scott Sharrard and Stolen Rhodes on January 10, Brown Sugar (Rolling Stones tribute) on January 11, and Sean Kelly of The Samples on January 12.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents Kashmir on January 11.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) is presenting Simon Phillips Protocol 30th Anniversary Tour on January 10, An Intimate Evening With JD Souther on January 11, Tribute To Dave Brubeck & More Performed By The Eric Mintel Quartet on January 12, Jane Monheit on January 12, We Banjo 3  on January 14, and Mames Babegenush on January 16.

The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) will present Matt DiMaio’s Birthday Show featuring The Tisburys, Barney Cortez and more on January 11.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,  www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) hosts Sephardic Treasures on January 11.

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