From The Incrowd to Ekseption to Trace and beyond - the saga of Rick van der Linden, keyboardist extraordinaire from Holland.
"From the beginnings to the first album."
The origins of Trace coincide with the beginning of the musical career of Rick van der Linden (b. 5.8.46 in Badhoevedorp, a small village near Amsterdam in the Netherlands) When Rick was 5 weeks old, his parents (his father was an industrialist) moved to Rotterdam. The young Rick took up his primary studies there. He learned piano at 7 but gave up at 9 - he found no fun in practicing the instrument! At the age of 11, Rick and his family (he was the second child of the 5 van der Linden children) moved again, this time to Haarlem, a medium-sized town about 12 km from Amsterdam. He followed normal lessons at the "Triniteitslyceum" but at the age of 13 he took up the piano again, studying under the guidance of a pupil of famous teacher, Professor Piet Vincent at the Haarlem School of Music. By 15, Piet Vincent had taken Rick on as a private pupil. When Rick was 17, he entered the Haarlem Conservatoire where Aad Broersen and Albert de Klerk taught him the rudiments of the organ. Rick finished his studies two years later at the age of 19 and passed exams at the Hague's Royal Higher School of Music, achieving honours in piano, organ, harmony and counterpoint. Rick decided to become a teacher at the Haarlem Conservatoire and also taught elsewhere.
In 1963, Rick has discovered and become enamoured of English rock. He also liked jazz and ballet music while remaining a great fan of the classical masters. But he wanted to enlarge his musical abilities in other fields and so he took a job in the piano bar of a nightclub, playing foxtrots, boogie-woogie, ragtime, films soundtracks, blues, tango, pop, Strauss waltzes and cabaret tunes. He was also writing music for ballet ensembles at this time and in 1964 formed his own band, a piano-bass-drums trio, which played skiffle and contemporary hit tunes. Rick then set up a brass-reinforced septet which also played cover versions of hits. Both nameless bands were formed for fun and rehearsal only, and never played gigs. In 1965, however, Rick joined the Occasional Swing Combo. This was another septet, bass, two guitars, drums, piano, vocals and violin. The repertoire was standard jazz. Simultaneously, Rick was also touring Holland playing with symphony orchestras, and appearing as soloist in concerti by Bach, Rachmaninov, Beethoven and Mendelssohn.
In 1958, a band called The Jokers was formed in Haarlem by guitarist Huib van Kampen. They quickly built up a local reputation as good cover-version combo. The years passed and the personnel changed, and then The Jokers became The Incrowd. In 1966, Occasional Swing Combo shared a gig with The Incrowd, the former on a small stage, the latter on the main stage. Rein van der Broek, a trumpeter who'd joined The Jokers in 1959 and had stayed on, checked out the OSC performance which was scheduled between the two halves of the Incrowd set. Rein was very impressed by Rick's piano playing; the two frequented the same jazz club, and Rein met then Rick. After a jam session together, Rein suggested that Rick joined Incrowd, an offer which Rick accepted. Shortly afterwards it was discovered that another Dutch band had already adopted the name Incrowd, and the band were forced to change their name. They found the word "exception" in an English book, and liked the sound of it, but gave it a Dutch twist by spelling it Ekseption.
At this time, the band's repertoire consisted entirely of cover versions. Rick (who replaced organist Johan Timmers) joined guitarist/singer Huib van Kampen, bassist Hans Alta, saxophonist/flautist/guitarist/singer Rob Kruisman, drummer Tim Griek and Rein (who supplemented his trumpet playing with some organ) in his new band. Rick inherited the band's Farfisa organ, the first time he'd played the instrument.
In 1967, Cor Dekker replaced Hans Alta and Peter de Leeuwe became the new stickman in place of Tim. A little later, in 1968, Rick was dazzled by a Nice concert in Rotterdam; he was especially impressed by their performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto which subtly coupled up rock and classical forms. He believed that, like them, he too could mix the two genres successfully.
That same year, Ekseption played at the band contest of the Loosdrecht Jazz Festival, then the most important event of its kind in Holland. They were required to play one pre-arranged tune (Dizzy Gillespie's "Taboe") and two themes of their own choosing (these being Art Blakey's "Avila at the Tequila" and Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" in an arrangement very close to that of Love Sculpture). Rick still playing his Farfisa organ and now equipped also with a Hohner electric piano, helped Ekseption to first prize. This was awarded by a professional jury, among who was one Tony Vos, a famous Dutch jazz saxophonist and an artistic director at Philips.
The band's prize was a contract with Philips which enabled them to cut one single. Tony went further, however, and gave the band much advice. At the time, the group still lacked a composer and stuck to cover versions. Their single consisted of two covers of themes by Bix Beiderbecke, but Phonogram judged this material to be "out of date" and refused to release the record!
By his classical background, Rick suggested that the band perform two modern, electrified versions of classical pieces for their single in a similar vein to The Nice. These would be Beethoven's "Symphony No.5" and Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance". The other musicians in the band were incredulous and thought it was Rick's joke, but they went ahead and recorded them - for fun, more than anything else, as they didn't have any other material to record. Finally, the long-promised single emerged, released 20th March 1969. It remained neglected for three months, but Tony Vos' wife, who was a broadcaster on Radio Free Veronika, a Dutch independent station, gave the record airplay every day, particularly the "Symphony No.5". Eventually the public picked up on it and the single went on to achieve great success in Holland. Philips released it throughout Europe and it was an enormous hit.
Ekseption were aiming to play these titles at the Haarlem Free Festival in 1969. This was an event which attempted to introduce different facets of popular music for all kinds of audiences (notably young people). For the first time that year, a classical orchestra (The North Holland Philarmonic) were booked to appear at the festival and Ekseption wanted to play alongside them. But the orchestra refused to appear with a rock group, judging the idea 'degrading', and Ekseption had to play by themselves!
Philips, wanting to follow up the success of Ekseption's single, got the band to record an album in the 4-track company studio. Here Ekseption performed numerous classical themes, such as Bach's famous "Toccata" and "Air", Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre" and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", with the cleverly arranged themes supported by dynamic rock rhythms and incisive brass riffs. The smooth and modern sonorities of the organ offered a contrast with the classical structures of the themes, and the use of the mellotron, popularised by the Moody Blues, added an orchestral dimension with its string reproductions (the mellotron used for this album was studio- owned). Ekseption also showed jazz leanings with an interpretation of "Dharma for One", a jazzy number from the first Jethro Tull's album, and a Cannonball Adderley's song. There was also an original composition, based on a jazzy tempo and which was alleged to be a band song, but was in fact Rick's work.
This eponymous debut album was hugely successful worldwide, and notched up gold status in several countries. Ekseption toured Europe and Canada, with Rick simultaneously playing his new Hammond organ and Hohner electric piano on stage. In 1969, Rob, Huib and Peter left the band, Rob for musical differences, Huib to become a teacher (he really didn't want to be a professional musician). They were replaced by Michael van Dijk on lead vocals, future Alquin vocalist, Dick Remelinck on sax and flute, and Dennis Whitebread on drums. That same year the band recorded a concept album "Beggar Julia's Time Trip" which included four more classical adaptations and a clutch of Rick's own compositions, which took up more than a full side of the album. He had developed quickly from arranging other people's numbers to writing his own! Two horn players, one of them being the producer, Tony Vos, were invited as guests, and Linda van Dyck guested on backing vocals. For 1970's album, "Ekseption 3", Steve Allet replaced van Dijk and Peter de Leeuwe was recalled on drums. Tony Vos guested. The album comprised four classical adaptations and five of Rick's songs. The following album, "00.04", recorded without Steve Allet who had left, was cut with the assistance of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This 1971 marriage of rock band and orchestra was the realisation of a long-standing dream of Rick's, but the union was less than successful, the orchestra tending to fade into the background, rather than reinforcing the sound of the rock band.
Rick had been busy re-equipping himself. He now played synthesizers (he was among the first European pop musicians to use them), harpsichord, pipe-organ and mellotron. On "00.04", Ekseption played four themes by Rick, three classical renditions and once again re-asserted its jazzy leanings (all the musicians were fans of Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Miles Davis, etc.) with a version of Jimmy Smith's "Monlope", and Rick's jazz-inflected original, "Piccadilly Sweet".
Ekseption's fifth album, entitled, "5" was released in 1972 and featured a rendition of The Nice's "For Example", six classical workouts, and three of Rick's own songs. One of these, "My Son", features Rick junior, then only a baby, in the background!
There were some conflicts in the band, Rick and Rein found themselves in opposition to the other members, and forced Dick Remelinck and Peter de Leeuwe to leave, being replaced with Jan van Vennick and Peter Voogd. Problematically, the press coverage of the band was now concentrating on Rick as band leader due to his composer/orchestrator role. He'd never presented himself to the world in this way, although the other musicians were beginning to get jealous of the attention the press lavished on him. After 1973's album, "Trinity" (five of Rick's songs, one by Tony Vos, three classical rendition and an adaptation of a Peruvian traditional tune), the other band members asked Rick to leave. An agreement was hammered out with Philips whereby it would be publicly announced that Rick had decided to leave Ekseption and form a new band, to show off the full range of his talents. And so in September '73, Rick left Ekseption after seven records (including one "Best Of" compilation), all of which had gone gold in various European countries - some had even won platinum status. Philips concealed the split by making an announcement to the press that Rick was forming a new trio named Ace.
In fact, Rick didn't form Ace until January 1974. He chose the name because it seemed to signify a successful and talented and motivated person. With the new aggregation, Rick wanted to produce a virtuosic, sophisticated, symphonic and classically-inflected music with a predominance of organ and keyboard work. He chose a keyboards-bass-drums format with the focus on the organ as a solo instrument; this would enable him to expand fully on his talents as a player, even more so than in Ekseption.
Rick recruited Peter de Leeuwe (b. 31.12.47) first. Peter played drums with Ekseption and also guitar and drums for the blues group, The Bintangs. The pair began rehearsals in January 1974, but Rick considered Peter to be lacking in technique, and sought Pierre van der Linden (b. 19.2.46, no relation) to replace him. Pierre, who was considered the best drummer in Holland, had taken up the sticks at the age of nine. A fan of Buddy Rich and Art Blakey, he'd started his career in a school group called Johnny & The Cellar Rockers. Then he drifted through ZZ & The Maskers, After Tea, Tee Set (a pop group who scored one worldwide hit), Brainbox (where he met up again with childhood friend Jan Akkerman), and of course Focus. Pierre was to leave Focus after three years, at the end of 1973, after personal fallouts with Thijs Van Leer and Jan Akkerman. After a short spell with Groep 1850, another famous Dutch progressive band, Pierre took a break from performing, concentrating on brushing up his technique and giving some drumming lessons.
Rick contacted Pierre on 19th February 1974, the drummer's birthday, Pierre considered the offer to be the best birthday present he'd ever received! He knew of Rick's talent and had always wished to collaborate with him. Peter de Leeuwe was duly replaced and Rick set his sights on the country's best bassist, Jaap van Eick (b. 17.10.44). Jaap had a long career behind him. After finishing his studies at art school, he joined the band called The Moans, before being signed up to one of Holland's most famous bands, Cuby & The Blizzards, a blues-rock group comparable with the best English proponents of the genre. After two and a half years, he left Cuby for Blues Dimension, then The Motions, Panda, the progressive band Solution and Livin' Blues. Despite his blues heritage, Jaap possessed a brilliant technique and aimed at producing ambitious and evolutionary music. He could also play guitar and sing. Like Pierre, he also accepted Rick's offer of a place in Ace. Rick now had the best drummer and bassist in Holland (both self-taught, incidentally) in his trio.
The group began working intensively in Rick's house in the small town of Den Dolder, about 8 km from Utrecht. The material was Rick's own, written between his departure from Ekseption and the formation of Ace. He presented them to the other two musicians and the arrangements were worked out together. Jaap playing complex bass lines and Pierre laying down jazzy and sophisticated rhythmic patterns, much influenced by his favourite drummers such as Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones and Max Roach. The motivation, enthusiasm and cohesion between the three musicians created ideal conditions for the production of original music. Rick composed elaborate themes but he knew that Pierre and Jaap were more than capable of making something special out of them. Basically the trio was up to the challenge posed by Rick's music. Ace affirmed themselves as a fully democratic entity without a visible figurehead, although Rick's role as a composer and chief soloist inevitably led to him being tagged as such.
Rick received many offers from record companies wanting to sign the band. Philips wanted to keep Rick with them but Rick, unhappy at their handling of his departure from Ekseption, preferred the financially advantageous offer put on the table by CBS. Philips reconsidered, offered him more money and complete artistic freedom. These conditions diminished Rick's annoyance and he relented, signing once again with Philips.
At the beginning of May, the Dutch press announced the formation of Ace, ironically at the same time that Ekseption, with new organist Hans Janssen, were setting out on a tour of Germany to promote their new album. Ace signed the final terms with Philips' boss Jack Haslinghuis on the 16th of May. An album release was promised for September.
Meanwhile, the band had learned of an English band who had copyrighted the name Ace. This group consisted of two musicians from the 60s mod band The Action and two members from the erstwhile progressive outfit Warm Dust; together, they produced a kind of mixture of Beatles-style pop and soul. The Dutchmen decided to rename themselves Trace, a name which they hoped would symbolise the imprint they wanted to leave on the world of rock.
During the final two weeks of May, the group recorded material at Soundpush Studios in Blaricum, Holland, owned by Philips and considered to be one of the best in the world at the time. The trio recorded the whole of their solely instrumental repertoire, and also an adaptation of Dizzy Gillespie's "Tabu" that Rick had played with Ekseption during that band's early days. Jan Schuurman, Trace's sound engineer, was also another throwback to Rick's early Ekseption career, having worked on the first Ekseption album in 1968. Since those days, when he was simply a young assistant, Jan had become a renowned producer and engineer for the Philips organisation. Rick knew he would be able to obtain the required sound for the trio and for his own keyboards with Jan around. The friendship between Jan and Rick as well as the intensive preparation and concentration shown by the trio ensured that the album was recorded in quick time, despite the complexity of music.
Wishing to obtain the best possible reproduction of their music, the trio were fortunate in having the latest models of instruments then available at their disposal. Since leaving Ekseption, Rick had updated his keyboards; he had acquired a new Hammond, supplied free by a firm called Firato on the condition that he underwent an exhaustive photo session with the instrument! He now also used a Stainway Grand Piano, a harpsichord, a mellotron, a string ensemble, and some synthesizers. For one title Rick needed a set of bagpipes, and ordered the best model available direct from Scotland! For the church organ parts, he recorded in the church of Maasluis, near Rotterdam, known for its excellent acoustics.
During the summer of 1974, the music press speculated on the album release and considered it to be a likely landmark in the history of symphonic rock. As a 'taster' of the album Philips rushed out a single in July, featuring two tracks not included on the album. These two songs, "Progress" and "Tabu" received favourable notices from the press and healthy sales.
The album itself consisted of eleven titles. By way of an introduction was "Gaillarde", combining the third movement of Bach's Italian Concerto with a traditional Polish dance and showing to the full the virtuosity of the three musicians. Supported by a rapid and energetic rhythmic base, dashes off an organ solo; male and female choruses and trumpet sounds are reproduced on the mellotron betraying the symphonic dimension of the band's sound. Jaap interposes a break in proceedings with his superb fuzz-bass solo, "Gare Le Corbeau", before the reprise and finale of "Gaillarde"; all the time Pierre demonstrates the variety and richness of his playing, getting round all the polyrhythmic changes of the number.
"The Death of Ace" is an arrangement of an extract from Grieg's "Peer Gunt" suite. Rick had visited the master's house in Norway and had even been allowed to play the composer's piano. Originally titled, "The Death of Aase" in Grieg's suite, Rick had decided to call it "The Death of Ace" as a goodbye to the band's erstwhile name. "The Escape of the Piper" originated in a dream Rick had about a concert given by the band being interrupted by a distant and indistinct sound. Then, in the dream, a group of flying bagpipes invaded the stage and drowned out the group's music! Rick wrote the theme of this piece and plays the bagpipes, needling a vacuum-cleaner to give a continuous breath supply!
"Once" is constructed around a jazzy rhythm and has its organ introduction taken up by the rhythm section as a frenetic tempo. "Progression", a long and evolutionary musical suite, is based on a tumultuous rhythm and displays multiple combinations of instruments as well as a large palette of keyboards successively: piano, synthesizer, mellotron, harpsichord and organ. Jaap's heavy bass sound introduces the piece and also ends it with added fuzz. The whole rests on complex musical architecture with many breaks, accelerations and tempo changes. It is a perfect showcase for the band's ambitions towards a refined and virtuosic music.
"Memory" sprang from a meeting in a German hotel between Rick - then on tour with Ekseption - and a Swedish guitar/vocal duo named Nova - who had won a Eurovision competition a few years before. After two bottles of whiskey, a jam session with one of the guitarists began in the hotel hall where Rick's organ was set up. Rick had installed it there to enable him to play and write down any melodies that came to mind. Rick was very impressed with a beautiful Swedish folk song which the guitarist played him. He wrote down and scored the piece and after forming Trace, he decided to include it in the new band's repertoire. The bird song in the intro is reproduced by synthesizers. On "The Lost Past", Pierre discharges a phenomenal solo which complements perfectly the elan of his playing in his purely rhythmic role. The concluding piece, "The Final Trace", shows affinities with "Gaillarde" and reminds the listener of the musicians' skills with a short bass solo, brief synthesizer waves, some caressing organ phrases and a church organ solo of great fullness and solemnity. Rick considered this instrument to be the 'king of organs'.
Rick asked Philips' graphic designer to give him a section of sleeve designs and offer him a few suggestions. Rick wanted a simple and unpretentious sleeve, something that would be sober and direct and representative of the band's music. He chose a relief-paper sleeve with the band logo in blue on a gray background. An insert presented the group and their compositions.
The album was released in Holland on 9th September 1974 and was critically acclaimed. It sold more than 50,000 copies in the Netherlands, and quickly attained gold status. Pressings were made in most European countries and tens of thousands of copies were sold. It also received an American release on the Sire label, and even managed a Japanese release.
Trace's first album establishes the band as one of the leaders in the field of progressive rock, in Europe and internationally. Trace's symphonic and lyrical, elaborate and sophisticated music bears comparison with the best British music of the period, e.g. that of Yes and ELP.
Acknowledgments: Rick van der Linden, Mr. Herman van der Zwaan, Judith Torrop of Philips, Holland, Dorian Cumps, Jacques Toni and Arnold de Schepper.
(Francis Grosse/Paul Stump)
Trace's first album, "Trace" has been released on CD by Musea (LC9709).
1974 Progress/Tabu synfi tabu Philips 6012452 LP Trace Vertigo 6360852 LP Trace Philips 6413505 1975 Birds/Tabu Philips 6012504 LP Birds Philips 6413080 1976 LP White ladies Vertigo 6360855 Dutch charts:
TRACE 16-11-74 ALBUM 38 3 TRACE [Album of the week 21-9-74] 11-10-75 ALBUM 44 4 BIRDS
Rick van der Linden solo albums:
1976 Plays Albioni, Bach, Handel 1977 Night of Doom (soundtrack) 1978 GX1 1981 Solo 1985 Old Friends, New Friends
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