“Eno”: Alphons Sinniger’s long-lost 24-minute 1973 documentary on Brian Eno is… lost again

By on December 28, 2017

In 1986, Brian Eno appeared on the BBC Channel 4 show The Tube,” talking with co-host Jools Holland, and as a lead-in to the segment there was a prepared montage clip which featured footage from the rarely-seen 24-minute 1973 documentary Eno, directed by Alphons “Alfi” Sinniger.

The documentary isn’t online in its complete form and remains relatively unseen since the 70s, and this video — featuring the single version of his track “King’s Lead Hat” — repeats part of that “Tube” intro a few times.

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We’re sharing the entire “Tube” interview we’re highlighting near the bottom of this post so you can see Eno in the mid-80s, where he mostly talks about what he was doing at the time. As you can see, this clip above was interspersed with illustrations culled from Russell Mill’s book of Eno-inspired art, More Dark than Shark, accompanied by a montage of sounds from Eno’s musical output from the 70s.

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The track you hear here is actually the 7-inch single version of “King’s Lead Hat,” one of Eno’s more rollicking rock album tracks, featured on Side One of his 1978 album Before and After Science, the last album of Eno’s during his early solo heyday of the 70s, and right before he transitioned completely (for awhile, anyway) into ambient, experimental and electronic music, as well as becoming one of the top producers of his day.

Sinniger’s film captures Eno right at the start of his solo career, when he was still known by his last name, and shows him performing “Re-make/Re-model” with the band Roxy Music (he’d already left the band by the time Sinniger had come along, appearing on their first two albums), recorded during a live performance on January 5, 1973, at the Olympia, in Paris. Here’s just a snippet (again, just a fragment of the song):

Eno initially didn’t even appear onstage with Roxy Music, but instead chose to sing background vocals off to the side of the stage, where he operated a mixing desk which processed the band’s live output with a VCS3 synthesiser and tape recorders. He eventually began appearing onstage with the band — as you see here — playing synth and adding to the proceedings by dressing elaborately, becoming a glam fashion icon in the process.

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Eno says he became bored with being a “rock star,” and quit Roxy Music after they’d finished a promotional tour for the second album, For Your Pleasure.

Roxy Music At Royal College Of Art In London 1972

Sinniger’s Eno also shows him recording several tracks for his first solo album, Here Come The Warm Jets, with Roxy Music’s guitarist Phil Manzanera, session guitarist Chris Spedding (who also put out some fine solo albums of his own in the 1970s).

The songs featured were “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” “Blank Frank” and “The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch,” a fantastical song Eno says was based around the idea of having a love affair with a young black man from Paw Paw, Michigan, who reportedly had the ability to set things on fire with just his breath.

We also apparently see Eno relaxing at home, putting on eye makeup, and also working with the Portsmouth Sinfonia, an orchestral group of students from the Portsmouth School of Art in England, who were formed in 1970 by one of their founders, a teacher at the school, composer Gavin Bryars.

The Portsmouth Sinfonia were initially thought to have been comprised of musicians who were either a non-musician or, if a musician, you would play an instrument you were unfamiliar with, although Bryars later disputed that this was an entrance requirement for the school was a “scurrilous rumour put about by the BBC.”

Eno joined the art-classical orchestra, playing the clarinet, and subsequently he ended up producing their first two albums: The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics (released in March 1974) and the live album Hallellujah! The Portsmouth Sinfonia Live at the Royal Albert Hall (recorded during their infamous May 1974 concert, released in October of that same year).

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“King’s Lead Hat” — the track we hear beneath the video up top — was actually remixed and remodeled and released as a 7″ single, in January 1978, a rarity in that Eno didn’t have too many 45-rpm releases during his entire run as a solo artist.

The non-LP b-side was “R.A.F.,”  a co-writing effort with Judy Nylon and Patti Palladin of the group Snatch. R.A.F. (for “Red Army Faction”) also featured Phil Collins on drums and Percy Jones on bass, both members of the band Brand X, who are doing a variation here of the rhythm track for their own “Hate Zone.”

The vocal samples, spoken in German, were surreptitiously recorded by Judy Nylon in Germany, and the entire track — which features Andy Fraser of the band Free on drums — took only four hours to record. “King’s Lead Hat” failed to chart in either the UK or the U.S.

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Nylon and Palladin also appear with Eno in some of the studio footage we see in Sinniger’s film, and also appear on the picture sleeve on another of Eno’s rare EPs, “Baby’s On Fire”/“Fever” which were taken from a John Peel session he did on BBC 1 on March 26, 1974.

It’s Nylon, by the way, who in October 2001 told the 3AM Magazine online blog:

“Somewhere in the vaults at Island [Records], there is an early seventies video of me and Polly Eltes performing my guitar Kama Sutra (cheesy moves from arena rock), edited to the typewriter sound on Taking Tiger Mountain, then played back on a pyramid of old TV sets with Eno in a beret standing in front singing his vocal. This was pre-MTV. I would love to see it again; it must be hilarious.”

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“King’s Lead Hat”‘s title, by the way, is actually an anagram of “Talking Heads,” a band that Eno met backstage when they were touring in England with the Ramones.

He would end up producing their second, third and fourth (also: best) albums between 1978-1980 (More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain In Light).

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Sinniger’s film hasn’t shown up online in its complete form, not anywhere that we know of, but instead there are parts of it that have appeared in other programs besides “The Tube,” including a BBC4 Roxy Music Story documentary, which, in turn, some of which was later featured in the 80s VHS home video compilation Roxy Music Total Recall: A History 1972-1982(1989, Virgin Music Video).

According to Eric Tamm’s 1995 biography, Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound, music critic Lester Bangs — who described “King’s Lead Hat” as a track that emphasizes “Eno’s affinities with new wave in its rushed mechanical rhythms” — loved Eno’s first solo LP, calling it “incredible.”

You can read a 20,000-word interview that Bangs did with Eno titled “A Sandbox in Alphaville,” which first appeared in Musician magazine in 1979, and then remained unpublished online until it appeared on the Furious website, circa August 2003:

Here’s a bonus video (better quality too): Eno with Roxy Music, in 1973, on the German TV show “Musikladen”, Musikladen studios, where they performed “Remake/Remodel” from their eponymous debut LP, as well as several more songs from their second album, For Your Pleasure:

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Thomas G. Douglass

    I just saw the entire 24 min. documentary on 12/30/2017 and emailed the twitter video link to my cousin. He couldn’t find it because it was taken down.