The reunion of Kaveret may be getting all the attention this summer, but another fabled, but less heralded Israeli rock band is also recalling past glories.
The Flying Baby never got off the ground, so to speak, in a commercial sense, but their two English-language albums, in 2002 and 2004, and countless performances in Israel and the US have secured their immortality in the indie rock world.
The launching pad for both acclaimed singer/songwriter Geva Alon and all-around musical virtuoso Gadi Altman, the band’s music was rooted in an expansive jamming, no-frills rock sound forged by young kibbutzniks growing up on British and American ‘60s rock & roll.
“I was 19 when we got together in 1999 – it was my first serious band,” said Alon last week in a phone call from his home during a break for rehearsals for the band’s comeback on July 5 and 6 at the Barbie Club in Tel Aviv. The shows will mark the special re-release of Flying Baby’s debut album Inner World, which has been remastered and will include a bonus CD of outtakes, and live and radio performances.
“We were kibbutz friends,” said Alon, who grew up in Ma’abarot near Caesarea. “The drummer, Reshef Shadar, was from my kibbutz, Gad lived in the next kibbutz over, Magal, and Shaham Ohana the bassist was Gadi’s army friend. We would get together for fun in a kibbutz shed and play songs we liked, and from there, we moved on to original stuff.”
The fun got more serious when the band went into the studio in 2000, and within a day recorded enough songs for an album, which two years later was released as Inner Voice. The music synthesized the psychedelic power trio ethos of ‘60s artists like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience with straight-ahead melodic rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival and some mellower country rock elements that would become more prominent in Alon’s subsequent solo career.
“We were really happy with it, since we absolutely had no intention of making an album,” said Alon.
“We were just thrilled to be in a recording studio, and it went so smoothly that we left after a day there with an album’s worth of material. We thought it was great and that the world should hear it.”
Inner World received widespread accolades and was hailed by one critic as the best non-Hebrew Israeli rock album since The Churchills’ 1968 album Churchelim. Spurred on by the positive reaction, the band, reduced to a trio when bassist Ohana left and Altman moved to bass from guitar, decided to try their luck in the US. They spent a year and a half there, living hand to mouth and performing wherever they could, including a show at The Knitting Factory in New York City.
“We were very young and quite naïve, just off the kibbutz,” said Alon. “We didn’t have a lot of experience living in the real world.”
Returning to Israel wiser but not much better off, the band recorded and released the sterling Pain to Give in 2004, but within a year they had run out of steam. Alon went on to his heralded solo career, releasing his first album in 2006, and Altman has enjoyed diverse success, producing others, fronting his own band Sugar, Peanuts and the Circus and even reaching the quarterfinals in last year’s The Voice TV competition show.
The band has played together in one-off situations since breaking up, but the decision to restore and release Inner Voice – which has been unavailable for the past eight years – prompted Alon and his former bandmates to see their time together in a new light.
“I dove really deep into the record project, remastering it and choosing the material to put on the bonus CD from tons of unreleased tracks, radio shows and live performances,” said Alon.
“I had a lot of fun doing it and it brought back a lot of memories. The album captures a moment for us. We were young and didn’t know much about recording albums. That’s why there’s a lot of magic when you record your first album, you don’t think too much about it.
“Even listening to it now, I think, ‘wow, that was great.’ It has something raw that you don’t see a lot of today when everybody is so professional and every little detail is pored over and produced. Then things just happened, we recorded it the way we played it and it has a lot of character.”
Rehearsing for the Barby shows with Altman and drummer Isar Tannenbaum (of Rockfour) who joined the Flying Baby in its final days in 2004, has also been an exercise in nostalgia for Alon.
“We end up talking about shows, tours and experiences we had together. They’re lovely guys and still good friends of mine,” he said.
Alon, who with his last two albums, In the Morning Light and The Great Enlightenment, has forged a growing fan base in Europe, especially England, is not averse to the notion that the Flying Baby could be a continuing entity after the Tel Aviv shows – something along the lines of Neil Young (whom Alon has been regularly compared to) alternating his recording and touring with Crazy Horse alongside his own separate career.
“It’s possible that we’d keep it going, you never know what’s going to happen.”