The legend: 1973 – 1977
Toten Herzen formed in 1973 from the fragments of two earlier bands: singer Dee Vincent and bass player Elaine Daley came from Lincoln-based Cat’s Cradle, whilst Dutch band After Sunset delivered lead guitarist Susan Bekker and drummer Rene V. The marriage was administered by local rock promoter and scrap metal dealer Micky Redwall.
Cat’s Cradle and After Sunset were appearing on a triple bill at Hooly Goolys in Ipswich alongside Cambridge band The Scavengers. After one member of The Scavengers fell off stage the two bands had to improvise and Redwall persuaded the four better players to ditch their less interesting bands to create a formidable new one. Redwall, a collector of World War Two memorabilia, came up with the name Toten Herzen (Dead Hearts) and a legend-to-be was born.
(Later accounts of the band’s origins claim there was a fifth member, Peter Miles, a local guitarist, who went missing before the first album was recorded. Claims that he was eaten by the other band members were never proven.)1
Toten Herzen’s first album in June 1973, Pass On By, was largely unnoticed on release, but did relatively well in Europe particularly Holland, Belgium, Germany and Austria.
A tour of the UK and Europe went by quietly with just the occasional hotel room wrecked and tales of drunken parties. Nothing the average rock band wasn’t already used to.
Facing obscurity and the emerging trend of glam rock the band stepped away from the scene in the spring of 1974 before going into Foghorn Studios in Kings Lynn to work on new material. The result was the seminal album We Are Toten Herzen and the controversy was immediate.
The album cover had Dee Vincent gorging on Susan Bekker’s jugular vein. Publicist for the band, Izzy Starling said the cover was a tribute to Peter Miles (a photograph of his headstone was used on the innersleeve).2 At the time the band refused all interviews leaving Starling to cover for them. Censorship was never very far away and the band’s image veered from pale faced emaciation to bloated excess. The press described them as ‘vampiric.’3 They were goths before goth was invented.
The following UK tour was described by venue owners as chaotic, violent and bloody with people bringing dead animals into the halls and theatres. On one occasion in Bradford police impounded a horse box containing a dead pony.4 The tour of Europe was bedevilled with police searches and drugs investigations, but no substances were ever found, no charges ever brought.
In November 1974, Dee Vincent held a rare interview with Melody Maker in which she described her life as undead and ‘very liberating.5
In 1975 We Are Toten Herzen was racking up platinum sales all over the world. The band’s whereabouts leading up to their third album was the subject of speculation with various commentators putting them in the Caribbean, Canada, Ireland and even Penzance.6 The album, Nocturn, was released in May of that year.
Noted for its sonic construction, Nocturn was bigger, heavier and gloomier than its predecessors. Its frantic key signatures and varied rhythms brought the band critical acclaim as well as commercial success.7
But throughout the process rumours surrounded Susan Bekker’s health after being hospitalised in Germany with a serious blood condition. Because of the band’s reluctance to do interviews, the public drew their own conclusions. A roadie from their 1974 tour claimed to have witnessed the band drinking the blood of people backstage and that Bekker picked up an infection as a result.8
The press, turning a blind eye to the facts, ran with the conspiracies: the band never do interviews, never play festivals because they would have to perform in daylight, were never seen during the day, and never performed in France because there was too much garlic.9
In 1975 Toten Herzen appeared on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test and played an eighteen minute set. At the end they were asked to confirm or deny the rumours that they were vampires. Dee Vincent replied simply ‘we are not vampires, we are the undead.’
In August 1975 the tour promoter for Alice Cooper offered the band a six figure sum to play support, but the band declined claiming they were the real thing, and not pretenders.10 In September they played their first tour of the States and caused a particularly nasty row in Boston and New York, two cities with large Catholic populations.11 Toten Herzen’s twenty seven dates Stateside were sell outs and the band arranged to go back in ’76 to do a bigger arena tour.
The rumours followed them into 1976, but the band, management and record label, Crass, were happy to let them propagate. They travelled to Europe to record their fourth album, Black Rose, and the arena tour in both Europe and America sold out.
The first serious controversy to hit the band occurred on their return to the UK when the family of Peter Miles sued them and their management over his disappearance. The family claimed they knew what had happened to Miles, but were refusing to reveal anything. The Daily Mirror claimed the band were a bigger threat to society than the IRA.12 The judge in the court case, Mr Justice Behringer, ruled in their favour.13
Toten Herzen now appeared to be untouchable with Black Rose becoming their biggest selling album and tours sold out. Groups of fans were claiming, and in some cases boasting, that they had been attacked backstage.14 Again, no charges were ever brought against the band members.
The momentum of success carried the band into 1977 and Klaxon Studios in Swiss Cottage for their fifth album. A live recording of their 1976 tour, Dead Hearts Live, was released and immediately banned because of innersleeve photos allegedly showing dead fans they claimed to have killed.15 (The artwork was reissued, but copies of the original sleeve sell today for thousands of pounds.)
The band announced plans for a tour to promote the forthcoming album Staying Alive, but a news story was about to break that they would have no control over.
On March 21st, 1977, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police announced the deaths of the four members of Toten Herzen. No details were revealed, but it later emerged that all four had been staked through the heart and their bodies left in coffins in a tomb in Highgate Cemetery, north London.16
Two days later, on March 23rd, a 29 year old man, Lenny Harper, walked into a police station in London and confessed to the murders.
All tour dates were cancelled. Staying Alive was never released. And the rumours that had gone before were nothing compared to the ones that were about to emerge.
BAND LINE UP:
Dee Vincent, (Denise Leslie Vincent) b 1953 Lincoln – vocals, guitar
Susan Bekker, (Susan Johanna Bekker) b 1951 Rotterdam – lead guitar
Elaine Daley, b 1950 Lincoln – bass guitar
Rene V, (Rene van Voors) b 1952 Rotterdam – drums
Peter Miles, b 1953 Ipswich – rhythm guitar (alleged)
Pass On By
(label – Crass; year of release – 1973; sales 32 780)
02 Strange Behaviour
03 Tell Me I’m Wrong
04 Dirty Dreams (single – no 187 UK charts)
06 Pass On By (single – no 204 UK charts)
07 Love Me When I’m Dead
09 Crown of Thorns
10 Hollow Man
We Are Toten Herzen
(label – Crass; year of release – 1974; sales 954 250)
02 Transformative (single – no 5 UK charts)
03 Electro Therapy
05 Blood on the Inside (single – no 3 UK charts)
06 Facelift (single no 4 – UK charts)
08 Dead Hearts
(label – Crass; year of release 1975; sales 2 212 380)
02 Chase the Lady
03 After I’m Gone (single – no 2 UK charts)
04 Feed Me, Feed You
06 Body Shock
07 Buried Alive
(label – Crass; year of release – 1976; sales 2 675 300)
01 Two Steps Forward
03 Behind the Mask
04 Parade of the Millions
05 Senses Overload
07 Judith Loves You
08 Engage, Sign Off
09 Rotten to the Core
10 The Visitor
Dead Hearts Live (live album)
(label – Crass; year of release – 1976; sales 1 985 000)
01 Dead Hearts
02 Rotten to the Core
03 Senses Overload
04 Crown of Thorns
05 Electro Therapy
09 Speed King (Deep Purple cover)
11 Chase the Lady
13 Crown of Thorns
14 The Visitor
15 After I’m Gone
16 Blood on the Inside
17 Body Shock
(label – Crass; year of release – unreleased;)
1 Shock Wave: The New Heavy Metallists – Alan Duncan (Coleridge Press) 1979 p273
2 Melody Maker (August 1974), We never forget our friends
3 The Sun (November 28th), Nutritionists worry over singing corpses’ influence
4 Halifax Observer (June 11th), Sick fans headless horse was offering for shock rock band
5 Melody Maker (November 1974), No rules in the afterlife
6 Daily Mail (February 20th), Pity the Penzance public
7 The Times (July 5th), Undead rockers who know their music theory
8 Daily Mail (April 12th), Rock band’s roadie in bloodsucking sensation
9 Daily Mirror (December 4th), Ten things a vampire band can’t do (apart from sing)
10 Billboard (August 1975), No show for Brit rockers Toten Herzen
11 Boston Herald (September 3rd), British vampire band in sick crucifix claim
12 Daily Mirror (October 9th), Evil rockers more deadly than the IRA
13 The Times (October 18th), Vampire rock band did not eat original member
14 Manchester Evening News (January 30th), Rock fans badly bitten in monster orgy
15 Daily Mirror (February 14th), Latest rock outrage angers Prime Minister
16 The Sun (March 22nd), Thank god for that