The EPITAPH story begins in the winter of 1969/70 at what was back then Dortmund’s top music venue Fantasio. Down in the cellar, FAGIN’S EPITAPH, consisting of Yorkshire guitarist and singer Cliff Jackson, Scots drummer James McGillivray, and German bass player Bernd Kolbe practised and refined their repertoire, before emerging from the depths to play gigs as the house band between such big names as Black Sabbath, Rory Gallagher, Yes and Argent . The band was already showing a good standard of professionalism, and their big break came as Champion Jack Dupree cancelled his Fantasio appearance and the popular blues pianist Günter Boas stood in for him with FAGIN’S EPITAPH as his backing group.
Günter Boas’ producer recognised the band’s potential, and it was not long before they had signed their first record deal with Polydor, moved to Hannover, shortened their name to EPITAPH and, along with Klaus Walz as second guitarist travelled to London’s Wessex Studios to record the eponymous album Epitaph, released in the autumn of 1971.
This was followed by gigs across Germany and an invitation to appear on the legendary German music show Beat Club in 1972, EPITAPH’s first TV appearance.
In April 1972 the band were back in the studio recording Stop, Look and Listen (Polydor), before playing numerous gigs that included all the major German festivals of the day.
McGillivray left the band at the end of the year, to be replaced by Achim Wielert (who later went on to marry a French lass and become Achim Poret), whose straightforward, powerful style manoeuvred the band into a stronger rock direction. EPITAPH then undertook two USA tours in August and November, also signing a contract with the US record label Billingsgate Records and recording their third album Outside the Law in Chicago under the aegis of Billingsgate boss Gary Pollack.
It looked like their big international breakthrough was within reach; Outside the Law was showered with praise and appreciation, and sales were going well. Irving Azoff (manager of Eagles, REO Speedwagon, Journey) and Seymour Stein (producer of bands like Fleetwood Mac, and credited with discovering Madonna) approached EPITAPH. And then Billingsgate Records had to file for bankruptcy. The planned mammoth USA tour was cancelled, and to avoid being saddled with the debts made by their record company, EPITAPH disbanded in January 1975.
But in 1976 they were touring Germany again with the line-up Cliff Jackson, Bernd Kolbe, Klaus Walz and Jim McGillivray, where their melodic, American-oriented rock caught the attention of Christian Wagner, director of the German TV music show Rockpalast, who contracted them to do a gig for the show. Shortly before they recorded the show at the WDR studios in Cologne on 2 February 1977, Jim McGillivray left the band and was replaced on drums by Fritz Randow (Eloy).
In the summer of 1977 Klaus Walz and Bernd Kolbe left the band, to be replaced by guitarist Heinz Glass, bass guitarist Harvey Janssen and keyboarder Keyboarder Michael Karch. Soon afterwards EPITAPH joined the Hungarian group Omega on its extensive European tour. Then in 1978 EPITAPH appeared as support for Omega at three legendary concerts in Budapest, where they were given a rapturous reception by an audience of over 30,000. This new line-up recorded EPITAPH’s fourth album Return to Reality, which was released on the cult Brain label in April 1979.
At the end of the year, EPITAPH went on a German tour with ex-Scorpions guitarist Uli Roth and Accept. As Rockpalast’s Peter Rüchel saw them in Dortmund he spontaneously offered them another gig on the show. After this second Rockpalast appearance, recorded on 3 September 1979 and broadcast on 25 November 1979, EPITAPH went into the Hot Line Studio in Frankfurt, to record their See You in Alaska album, which was released at the beginning of 1980, also on the Brain label.
Michael Karch left the band shortly thereafter and EPITAPH continued without keyboards, being described by the Hamburger Morgenpost as “down to earth, powerful and no fills”. And this was how they showed themselves on their 1981 live album, which was recorded at gigs in Wertheim, Dallau and Triburg during their See You in Alaska tour.
In the autumn of 1981 Jackson got the almost original line-up back together: Klaus Waltz took over from Heinz Glass, Bernd Kolbe replaced Harvey Janssen on bass, and Norbert Lehmann replacing Fritz Randow on drums. EPITAPH produced their Danger Man album for the small record label Rockport and presented the first single from the new album of the TV show Rockpop. After their TV appearance, EPITAPH appeared full of their old vitality at the 1982 Pfingst Festival in Würzburg and Munich, on the bill alongside groups like ZZ Top, Saga, Saxon, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Extrabreit and Spliff.
As German band Grobschnitt celebrated their 15th anniversary in 1986 at the Stadthalle Hagen, they were supported by an astonishingly fresh formation by the name of EPITAPH, who played the best laid-back rock music. A series of concerts followed …
… and while this was going on, the band was writing new material that developed such a momentum of its own that they decided to present it under a new band name. This resulted in the birth of Kingdom, which shortly afterwards had to change its name to Domain, because the US band Kingdom Come claimed rights to the name and the record company Teldec got cold feet. Domain released three albums between 1987 and 1994 as well as the Best Of Collection 86-92. Domain created furore with Heart of Stone, a title song written for an episode of German hit crime series Tatort.
There was a surprising turn in the EPITAPH story when guitarist Heinz Glass celebrated his 25th anniversary as a professional musician with a concert in Kaiserslautern venue Kammgarn, with almost all the bands he’d ever played with. EPITAPH was naturally also there and played 8 numbers which went down so well that it was clear to all involved that it was time to get the band back together.
The EPITAPH reunion concert took place on 22 January 2000 at the Lindenbrauerei in Unna. The memorable concert was a complete success and was released on DVD with the title Live at the Brewery. The sound track of this legendary gig was released on CD as Resurrection (Hurricane Records).
EPITAPH was back with a vengeance! Numerous concerts and tours followed, which tied in smoothly with their earlier successes. This resulted in them being booked for their third Rockpalast concert, part of the Krautrock Festival recorded at the Harmonie in Bonn from 21 to 23.12.2004.
In September 2005 the band went back into the studio to record the first EPITAPH album in over 20 years. Remember the Daze, recorded between September 2005 and August 2006, was a resounding comeback album with a line-up that included original band members Cliff Jackson and Bernd Kolbe, with Heinz Glass and Achim Poret.
Remember the Daze was released at the end of March 2007 (in-akustik) and made quite an impact. Fans and critics were equally impressed. Music magazine breakout attested it was “… a phenomenal comeback …”, good times praised”… the studio album with all the attributes of a superband …” and the renowned trade magazine Musikmarkt said “… unmistakeably Epitaph!”.
And if that was not enough: Just two years later, ii August 2009, EPITAPH released a second new studio album Dancing with Ghost (in-akustik). With crisp rock rhythms, polished harmonies and perfect arrangements, the band impressed yet again. As Cliff Jackson put it: “I think that with Dancing with Ghosts, we have managed to reinforce our claim to have remained authentic, and to be true to our roots and our identity, but also to have moved on and developed further.”
EPITAPH’s ongoing significance was also undoubtedly documented by the May 2011 released 2 DVD set Live at Rockpalast (mig music) which included their three appearances on Rockpalast in 1977, 1979 and 2004. The same goes for the re-release of the 1974 Chicago album Outside the Law released by mig music in October 2010, and the re-release of the Danger Man (mig music) in 2012 – on CD for the very first time.
On 27.11.2012 the motto was STILL STANDING STRONG AND BACK IN TOW as Epitaph invited numerous guests for an unusual benefit concert at the Capitol in Hannover, the city that became the band’s second home back in the 1970s. In this three-hour journey through four decades of band history, Bernd Kolbe, Cliff Jackson, Heinz Glass and Achim Poret were joined on stage by Klaus Walz (JANE and EPITAPH), Klaus Henatsch (NEKTAR), Volker Sassenberg (KINGDOM-DOMAIN), Tim Reese and Anca Graterol.
The opening number DANCING WITH GHOSTS was accompanied by dancing and drumming Indians, and the Epitaph hymn LONG LIVE THE CHILDREN featured a complete children’s choir as background singers. The audience was also wowed by the acoustic set which also included the brilliant addition of Tim Reese on violin. It was only to be expected that this musical highlight was recorded in HD and multi-track for a live double CD and a live DVD, both to be released in September 2013.
Photo: Holger Hütte (C)
After the acoustic titles went down so well at the STILL STANDING STRONG AND BACK IN TOWN gig at the Hannover Capitol, it was obvious that it was time to record an unplugged album. For Cliff Jackson this was a logical outcome, because work on virtually all Epitaph numbers starts with an acoustic guitar before the song gets to be a proper EPITAPH rock number; so for Cliff this was just “back-to-the-roots”. And that’s how, with the support of a few guest artists, “THE ACOUSTUC SESSIONS” was born. An album with twelve newly arranged titles drawn from the last 40 years of the band’s history, and with two brilliant acoustic cover versions of the Jimi Hendrix classics, “All Along the Watchtower” and “Villanova Junction”.
March 2015 saw the release of the OUTSIDE THE LAW 40th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTORS BOX (mig music). The worldwide limited edition of 250 was a real delight for fans;the box included a vinyl LP, CD, booklet and a variety other special fan items (see Shop for more details) as well as a numbered certificate signed by the Outside The Law line-up.
The long awaited newrock album “FIRE FROM THE SOUL” was released in Spring 2016,with guest artists Tim Reese, Klaus Henatsch, Agnes Hapsari and Pete Sage. Drumming on the new album is Jim McGillivray, a founder member of the band, who has returned to replace Achim Poret. The title song “FIRE FROM THE SOUL” is a 9-minute rock symphony that goes from baroque folk to orchestrated gothic, and “ANY DAY” promises to be a rock classic.
To meet the demand for acoustic performances, EPITAPH will be producing a live acoustic DVD in 2016 entitled “THE OLD STATION ACOUSTIC SESSION”, featuring numbers from their “THE ACOUSTIC SESSIONS” album as well as some new, previously unpublished acoustic titles.
EPITAPH has been a constant in the rock business for over four decades,and the new album demonstrates once again that they have lost nothing of their magic, vitality and class. The band story continues!