The Kingdom Story

For the uninitiated it may be difficult to understand where Kingdom ends and Domain begins, so I will further confuse matters by revealing that it all really started with Epitaph. In 1986 Epitaph was practicing in Unna five times a week, and producing some really good numbers. Bernie Kolbe (bass) had come back from Hanover, and all the other guys were local – Cliff Jackson (guitar), Mario Schramme (guitar), Volker Sassenberg (keyboards) and Freddy Dietrich (drums) - everyone living within 6 kilometres of one another. Everything was coming together well, so the band checked into Frank Borneman’s Horus Sound Studios where they recorded seven live demo tracks in just three days. As far as the band was concerned this was going to be the new Epitaph album. Horus owner Frank Borneman was impressed, and set up a deal with Markus Rohde from Semaphore Records.

Cliff Jackson remembers that “Frank liked the sound, but reckoned it just didn’t sound like Epitaph, and if we wanted to market it properly we should change the name. So we took the name Kingdom. He was probably right because it was full of keyboards, no double guitars, lots of harmony vocals. It was not as freaky, no long solos, everything very compact. It wasn’t Epitaph at all, we cut everything down to pure rock sounds.”


‘Kingdom’ went back to the studio and started recording. The whole album took nearly a year because they could only get in when it wasn’t busy. The guy they’d signed the contract with, Markus Rohde, didn’t actually have any money at that time. He was just running a little record company from his two-room flat in Nuremberg. He would however later have the biggest independent record company in Germany. “When Frank rang us up and said there’s a few days free in the studio, we’d go in and record,” recalls Jackson, “there was always a different recording engineer, so by the time we’d finished the album we’d had 5 different engineers on it and I ended up producing the album so we could at least maintain some continuity.”

In the middle of recording Mario Schrammer left the band. He was messing around with a band called the Ace Cats, and they had a No. 1 hit so he was playing more with them. Cliff ended up doing all the guitar tracks, and during mixing (around Christmas 1986) they took on a new guitar player, Axel Ritt. Everything remained characteristically chaotic, with the band turning up at the studio to do the mixing and finding the desk in the corridor. They sat around for 2 days waiting for a new desk to turn up. Despite the chaos, the album turned out fine and it was released by Teldec in 1988. Although Cliff wasn’t convinced it would do all that well, within 6 weeks they’d sold 8,000 albums and had a double-page in MetalHammer. This was all without any special plugging by the record company, and they got great write-ups in the UK editions of Kerrang and Metal Hammer. Metal Hammer listed Kingdom as No. 3 in the album charts and a US band called Kingdom Come as No. 4. The American record bosses didn’t want to release the album stateside because they thought that the retailers would get confused between Kingdom and Kingdom Come and end up not stocking either. Weird logic, but the movers and shakers of the music industry have never been known for their creativity or logic. There was never a problem with White Lion and Whitesnake. So a year after the album was released the band changed its name to Domain, and the album was re-released under the new name. The name Domain actually came from the computer world; Cliff had seen a computer magazine at his brother-in-laws where there was a big article about domains.

Then the clothes changed: while the band was still Kingdom they decided to dress up in gear that made them look a bit like knights, with lots of shiny leather, a blend of J. Geils Band and Kiss. And it worked. When they walked on stage you could feel the sharp intake of breath from the audience, shock and awe as it should be. The band’s look went down well, but because Teldec hadn’t thought of it they put in their veto. Teldec was soon bought out by Warner Bros, and became East-West.When Warner Bros bought Teldec they said they’d not be changing anything, but they immediately replaced the head of Teldec with a Warner man. He in turn brought in two new, and famously inexperienced, people to run what now became Front Row Records – the A&R guy had previously been in telephone sales, and the new rock supremo at Teldec thought they should be back in the scruffy jeans look. The next development was a phone call from German TV’s ZDF channel. A producer had heard the album and wanted them to do the music for a new TV film, Bastard, starring sensuous small-screen goddess Gudrun Landgrebe. Heart of Stone was used for the title music, and the band’s music was also used throughout the film. This moved the band into a completely new area - recognition by the TV gods.

Teldec were impressed and decided to put in some real money, allowing the band to record at Vissellord Studios in Hilversum, one of the biggest studios in Europe. The band enjoyed rubbing shoulders with Def Leppard, who were there dubbing their video. The band spent about six weeks there. The prices back then were about 3,500 deutschmarks a day. While Heart of Stone was recorded in Hansa Studios, the rest was all done in Hilversum. Cliff got on well with one of the bosses there and asked what the charge would be if they came and recorded a whole album there. The studio offered Cliff a half-price deal. Cliff then called Teldec to inform the rock supremo of the great deal he’d made. Office Man was not happy about Cliff encroaching on his territory, and made it quite clear that Cliff should keep out of what didn’t concern him. Teldec Office Man then called the studios and negotiated the price up from 1,800 to 3,200 deutschmarks a day. Not one of his best telephone sales.

The band had what is known as a Bandübernahmevertrag, which means that the band had to cover all the costs. So office man had just cost Domain 1400 a day for 6 weeks just to exercise his power. Nice! The band, as was quite normal with such contracts, had absolutely no say in things. The company could spend what they wanted and deduct it from any earnings the band made, and this meant that the band ended up in hock to Teldec for a good half a million, partly due to the irresponsible overspends by Office Man. This “screw the bands” type of contract was standard practice at the time.

“All the same,” remembers Cliff, “We had come from nowhere, so I suppose we were quite pleased just not to be back in our 4m x 4m rehearsal room.” “Our practice room was so crowded, what with mates hanging out there and a dozen crates of beer in the corner. You’d have more space to rehearse in one of Motörhead’s bass bins”

The second album got great reviews, and it was completely different – the first album to be recorded at Vissellord studios on digital tape. So Domain was the test band for Hilversum’s first digital album production. The album was released and the band was shipped off to Mont Saint Michel on the Normandy coast to record the video. The record company put a lot of money into a top-class expensive shoot (which the lads of course had to pay for themselves) Sales of the album topped 80,000, the boys made several appearances on German TV, including the massively popular Ronnie’s Pop Show.

The grunge look came in with the name change to Domain, as did the promise of a stateside release. The clothes stayed, but nothing stateside. “Oh well, that’s rock and roll” says Cliff, “but we did get to pay for it all!”

A couple of tours followed, but then a disillusioned Volker Sassenberg left, taking drummer Freddy Dietrich with him. This left Domain as a three-piece combo with Cliff Jackson, Axel Ritt and Bernd Kolbe.
By now Warner Bros was more interested in pushing US bands in Germany than marketing native German bands singing in English. They dropped the whole Front Row label stable so that rock would now only come from US bands they had under contract, bands like Van Halen. This means that Kingdom/Domain was a victim of globalization before it anyone had heard of globalization.

Still being under contract to Markus Rohde, now a major player, the band could have been in a worse position. Domain left Teldec and Markus even got some money back from them (not that the band saw any of it), and the next album Crack in the Wall was released by Semaphore in 1990. Lacking the WB distribution, the album did not sell too well. By now Markus Rohde had a large staff, but they were still just breaking even and couldn’t afford any major advertising, so somewhere along the line Domain got lost in the corridors of rock, and the band members just drifted apart.

About seven years later Axel Ritt recorded an album under the name Domain, and Cliff then learned another invaluable lesson about German civil law. If you don’t use the name (and they hadn’t used it for 7 years) it reverts into the public domain (sic.). Axel had then registered the name for himself. “I’m over it now”, says Cliff;, but the Domain you see on tour today has nothing to do with the Domain that was – apart from the fact that Axel was in it for a while.”

The idea behind this this release is purely to ensure that some good music doesn’t get lost, a good piece of German 80’s rock. The music may have had its roots in standard international rock, but it was still something very German – and one of the few bands that could actually sing English without it sounding like – well,
the Lords.

The album Lost in the city to be released 2011 will also include 4 bonus tracks recorded at the Unna 50 Years of Rock festival,18.10.2008 is therefore a good retrospective view of German 80’s English language rock as exemplified by Kingdom/Domain.

- Alistair A. Tarwid