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Love, Poetry and Revolution: A Journey Through the British Psychedelic And Underground Scenes

October 26, 2014

Love, Poetry and Revolution: A Journey Through the British Psychedelic And Underground Scenes

Various Artists “Love, Poetry And Revolution” (Cherry Red
Records, 2014)
    With the emergence of CD box sets, two specialities seem to
be rising to the top like natural selection. Perhaps one’s a direct result of
the other, who knows, but we now have the best label compilations (Island,
Vertigo, Harvest, Dandelion, Dawn etc.) along with current labels compiling
genre anthologies. Just released by Grapefruit Records, under the Cherry Red umbrella,
is Love, Poetry and Revolution, a triple-CD clambox dedicated to British
psychedelia from 1966 to 1972. And it’s a rare beast too.
    As with all
bestiaries, classification isn’t usually high on the list until zoology
establishes where to fit what’s found. After all, who could imagine that a
zebra is technically a camel or that a koala isn’t a bear? Popular music is no
different at a time when histories are being compiled and co-ordinated thanks
to hindsight and records from archaeological digs. Psych is usually defined as
free-use of effects like fuzz, wah-wah, reverb, phasing and other tape tricks,
with occasional use of exotic instruments. A fuzz tone pedal was first used in
1965 apparently—I’m no historian—but kindred effects appeared over a decade
before with the amplifier as a source, such as on Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 and
Chuck Berry’s Mabellene; my particular fave is the one man band Joe Hill
Louis’s Boogie In The Park, an astonishing rocker from 1950 leaving Bill Haley
without a paddle.
    Psych was first coined in late 1965 with the
13th Floor Elevators of Texas, but as it gained ground split into two variants:
popsike and underground (Edgar Broughton Band, Amon Düül, Pink Fairies,
Quintessence, Stray etc.). The second form had no claims on the charts—so they
said—and ‘to sell out’ was unforgivable treason, signalling different markets
at one fell swoop. Fans were staunchly possessive of their own preference. This
box set makes no distinction between the two strands, though surely “underground”
doesn’t apply to bands who simply, and sadly in many cases based on what’s
here, were unable to get into the charts. This, of course, may be
hair-splitting. Psych is also supposed to reflect the experience of psychedelic
drugs, but there’s little that is “crazed” in the results here. Definitions
blur, and sub-divide, with freakbeat, mod-psych, and prog—or is the latter only
when extended beyond three minutes? Today there’s also the derivative popsicle.
As the booklet shows, a typical week at the Marquee could see Elmer Gantry (a
noticeable absence here), Jason Crest (who are), Blodwyn Pig, Van Der Graaf
Generator, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, another week with Traffic, The
Nice, Ten Years After, The Open Mind, and London Youth Jazz Orchestra. Heady days
indeed! At first glance there seems no rhyme or reason to this issue. No
anniversary, noticeable shift or itch to reappraise what’s been forgotten,
nought—except darn fine taste with some amazing archive discoveries including
bands unable to issue any recordings. 
    Perhaps the
revival of the genre heralds it? Neo-psych is enjoying a high profile since the
90’s (Elf Power; Kula Shaker) to today’s overdrive with Tame Impala, Goat,
Fuzz, Toy, Hidden Masters, Wooden Shjips, the staggering Nebula, even the North
Mississippi Allstars who boogie-fuzz the 
blues like there’s no tomorrow in the wake of their mentor R.L.
Burnside. Grapefruit’s David Wells traces Britain’s ancestry with some tasty
comestibles on this “trail of breadcrumbs” as his only map.
    Technicolor suddenly exploded on monochrome
mid-60s Britain when not only society but musical expression felt a need to
spread its wings in the wake of revivals of blues and folk music. Clubs and
universities opened their doors before festivals climbed on the bandwagon, pop
covers morphed into experimentation, rock, and fusion with jazz and other
styles from as far away as India and Japan. The only order of the day was
choice, for musicians and audiences alike. At a time when the rebellious
decided not to stand for the national anthem in the cinema, and you could smoke
there or on the plane because they had more sophisticated air-conditioning that
sucked instead of blowed poisonous chemicals, the new style spread even into
fashion and musty BBC who could no longer miss what was in front of their eyes.
A revolution of arriving without travelling, as Harrison put it.
    
    This is a
compilation of trip-seeking pioneers, and their tales are as interesting as
what they produced. There are household names (now) along with names not
familiar in their own households. The first CD appropriately kicks off with
Deep Feeling, a Midlands band that spawned such classics as Traffic, Spooky
Tooth, Family and Blossom Toes. Their Pretty Colours featured on Luther Grosvenor’s
anthology Floodgates a few years ago, and some of their unrealised ideas were
revived in early Traffic in 1967. Sunbeam Records have issued all their known
recordings based on the later DJM LP of 1971. The fascinating www.brumbeat.net
(which has some of the funniest memories of small bands anywhere on the net)
highlights the important history of a band that first started as The Hellions.
When Eric Burdon was played the acetate of Pretty Colours he described it as
psychedelic, thus spreading the word of this new style in the Black Country.
    Legendary acts
feature as often as those only vaguely known in legend. The Californian
five-piece The Misunderstood, brought to Blighty by the raving (about them)
John Peel, still only recorded a handful of songs in ’66 of which this track
highlights effective use of different-tempo hand-clapping. An early 45 on a
fledgling United Artists and chugging ’68 LP track by the influential Spencer
Davis Group are keyboard driven, as is The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s Devil’s
Grip, their debut single, and flunked follow-up to Fire in late ’68
(Nightmare). Tread Softly For The Sleepers by the Hi-Fis is in the same vein,
issued by the German Star Club no less when spending most of their short life
on the Swiss-German border. The Mirage, an early backing band for Elton John
but had several singles in their own right, adapted keyboard interest by
employing the variant harmonium for a lovely Wedding of Ramona Blair
(presumably no relation) and more standard fare on the unreleased Ebeneezer
Beaver which, alas, fades out just as a superb guitar solo appears. Great
wah-wah guitar livens up the Respect’s unreleased studio take from the summer
of ’69. 
    The last of the
four acts featured twice are The Deviants, an untypical ballad from their debut
platter and the Stable-issued track that backed Mick Farren’s A-side Let’s Loot
The Supermarket, proto-punk with a vocal style recalling Can’s Monster Movie.
Other legends include Alan Bown, a pre-Bolan B-side of John’s Children, and Serendipity,
a sextet with links to Blodwyn Pig and pre-Deep Purple Mandrake Root, on a
hypnotic fuzz guitar and keyboard romp. The In Crowd—lined up to feature in not
one but two films, then elbowed out of both—soon became the better-known
Tomorrow, after changing style to go with the flow of The Who, Yardbirds, and
Hollies on three Parlophone singles. By then the future Yesman Steve Howe and
Twink (Pretty Things, Deviants, Pink Fairies, a true undergrounder) were in the
band often featured on Peel’s Perfumed Garden. Tomorrow was the first-ever act
on his Radio One show in ’67, their My White Bicycle being a later hit for
Nazareth. Different styles are clear with The Drag Set, who rehearsed with
Hendrix and fated to record with Joe Meek just a few days before his suicide;
their early Santana-like guitar contrasts with the pre-CSNY of Felius
Andromeda’s beautiful melody. Drag Set became the legendary Open Mind, whose
classic stomper Magic Potion is also featured.
    Mike Stuart’s Span
leads with fuzz bass, but due to Decca’s odd apathy the Brighton group became
better known as Leviathan, whose heavy origins are shown here. Surely the
laurel for the unluckiest act never to achieve a contract in spite of frequent
gig-page appearances goes to the Welshmen of Jade Hexagram. The storming
Crushed Purple is resurrected from their Marquee tapes in 1968. One In A
Million’s demo Man In Yellow features a teenage Jimmy McCulloch before
Thunderclap Newman / Stone The Crows / Wings and an overdose at a younger age
than Hendrix. This was recorded the same year as their 45, a style befitting
their support of The Who’s first Scottish tour (McCulloch later recorded with
them). Clifford T. Ward’s career is spotlighted with Simon’s Secrets’ Naughty
Boy (CBS 1968), one of numerous non-charting singles in a career hampered by
camera-and-tour-shyness then finally blighted by multiple sclerosis, when he
literally crawled to his studio to record his final album.
    Another rare gem
is Neon Pearl, featuring Peter Dunton of later T2 fame, a seminal band on the
touring scene. Unusually this is an acoustic track—the only one on the first
CD—without drums, T2 being one of the few with a drummer-vocalist-principle
songwriter. His melancholy, hypnotic vocal clearly hadn’t changed by the time he
incarnated into the rocking It’ll All Work Out In Boomland (Decca) three years
later, though with The Flies he approaches T2 without the searing guitar
crescendos. The weirdest name prize has to go to Crocheted Doughnut Ring, whose
Polydor release Two Little Ladies (Azalea and Rhododendron) is as musically
innovative as the name is silly, almost a psych anthem in itself. They even
flogged the absurd theme on Simon Dee’s TV show, to what purpose remains lost
in the mists of time—or just in the mist. It came with the territory, as with
the early demo by Blossom Toes hoping not to be late for tea, a hardy perennial
period theme, Sand’s Mrs Gillespie’s Refrigerator penned by the Bee Gees, or
The Shame’s homely advice to a little girl proffered by Greg Lake. After all,
it was the era of basin hair-dos, collarless suits and Carnaby ties. 
    Equally rare is
Tintern Abbey’s Busy Bee demo for what later became Beeside c/w Vacuum Cleaner
(Deram 1967), their only release and deemed by many the archetype psych single.
In spite of financing by a millionaire associated with the International Times
underground paper, Tintern performed no UK gigs. The demo was recorded at R.G.
Jones in Morden, Surrey, a hundred yards from my school and next to a 17th
century churchyard and, more usefully, an ancient inn. The first demos by the
Yardbirds, Stones and Stray were recorded there, as well as Quo and even Sonny
Boy Williamson before the studio was demolished by the council for a hideous
college. Jones relocated to Wimbledon, finally shutting shop a decade ago when
one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious studios. After its debut was
voted Melody Maker’s folk album of the year, the in-house Oak Records issued
The Bo Street Runners (Mick Fleetwood, Mike Patto, Tim Hinkley), and The
Gremlins (featuring the later Fleur de Lys’ vocalist). The Story of Oak
Records, An Anthology of R.G. Jones (Morden) Recordings
featured The Mike
Stuart Span and Nico/Cale-like Velvet Frogs.
    The second CD
continues the chronological, eye-opening trail through personnel histories as
they incarnate on different demos and singles. A classic example is the
aforementioned Pete Dunton, reappearing in The Flies when he penned both sides
of their ’68 RCA single. The East Londoners blagged important support gigs,
including Hendrix at the Roundhouse, and some see the seeds of garage-punk in
their 65-68 work highlighted on a CD release in 2002. Dunton then went on to
Please for a fistful of demos—Strange Ways here is a melodic treat—before
jumping ship for the better-known The Gun with the Gurvitz brothers, the
remainder forming Bulldog Breed and also Infinity for a still-born concept
album about space, matter (Arthur C. Clarke) and…curry (East End). Their
Venetian Glass, written by keyboarder John Da Costa (his autobiography is at
the Psychspaniolos blog), featured in their constant gigging when with the NEMS
agency. Sun Dragon’s contribution from their one LP Green Tambourine (MGM 1968)
featured Blackmore, Lord and Paice of Deep Purple, while Shy Limbs’ CBS single
Love, in the vein of Manfred Mann and Procol Harum, sees Greg Lake on
bass/vocals (as also with The Shame). Soon after he joined King Crimson whose
Robert Fripp, also from Bournemouth, adds guitar here.
    At first glance
West Coast Consortium seem Californian in looks and la-la’s but were a North
London male quintet specialising in harmony pop. After Pye changed their name
from Xit and told them to “cut out the hippy tosh”, they had a no.22 UK hit in
early ’69 but the chosen track is from unused home recordings six months
earlier. Consortium soldiered on until 1975 trying to get an LP out, so it’s
ironical that three CDs have been devoted to them since (on Angel Air, Castle,
Wooden Hill). Kent’s Jason Crest (1967-69) suffered the same fate from Philips,
even though one single —among five in 18 months—was translated into a French
chart-topper while doing BBC shows and touring Germany. Their unreleased
Teagarden Lane, swirl-phased with confident vocal harmonies like Barclay James
Harvest, is one of less than 20 songs highly-rated by psych collectors. The
frustration might be seen when one of them joined heavy merchants Orang-Utan.
    Named after a
1940s novel and film set in 17th century England, Forever Amber’s The Love
Cycle
seems loosely based on that romance, certainly for the brashly
sentimental track here. Appearing in January 1969 in only 99 copies to avoid
VAT, the subsequent fame is almost staggering. Mojo, The Times, and The
Guardian have all listed it as one of the great albums of the period, if one
can get past the moronically world-ignoring “to hear before you die” buzz
expression. It’s pretty nifty for a 16-track slice of vinyl costing £200 after
19 hours of studio work in Cambridge, when only the final track clambers to
anywhere near four minutes. A more subterranean fame marks Second Hand’s A
Fairy Tale
and here is a demo of the title track. Their follow-up LP Death May
Be Your Santa Claus
, organ-based (sometimes exclusively) with Lol Coxhill
guesting for the odd jazz flourish, was a film soundtrack based on a young
black militant’s nihilism. Both housed in weird covers, they were akin to
Arthur Brown’s Galactic Zoo Dossier of the same year and Beefheart; heavy
psychedelic could have been coined just for them. Nurse With Wound cite Second
Hand as an inspiration. 
    Mushroom Records
formed especially to release a thousand copies of it in 1971, gaining further
kudos when bringing out the classic Magic Carpet too from their offices
opposite the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm (Alisha Sufit still performs interesting
work today with her own label, Magic Carpet Records). Simon Finn’s Pass The
Distance
was their second release, but withdrawn due to a dispute over the
artwork. His Laughing ’Til Tomorrow shows how regrettable that was; he later
emigrated to Canada and turned his back on the industry. Talking of labels, a few
choices appeared on the eclectic Beacon Records (1968-72), most renowned for
the first albums of UFO when more spacey psych. The Fut’s 7” Have You Heard The
Word (1970) appears on numerous Beatles bootlegs after Yoko Ono tried to
copyright it as Lennon’s in 1985. In fact it was the result of a drunken
Australian session with one of the Bee Gees, leaked to Beacon without their
knowledge. Taiconderoga’s Whichi Tai To (Beacon, 1969) seem early precursors of
dyslexia—their name misspells a US town (or a Witkacy novel character) and
their song title (Maori?) couldn’t have helped. In true Beacon mode, it was a
one-off by Train, a hard-gigging five-piece at the heavier end of late
psych/early prog. Their drummer went on to Gentle Giant while the 18 year-old
guitarist changed his name, and age, when forming The Damned at the dawn of
punk.
    The Cortinas—their
only 7” here was after Mick Taylor left—soon opted for the less racy name
Octopus for a classic one-off LP on Penny Farthing. The original was messed up
by the label so the CD reissue on Rev-Ola is the first-ever as the band
intended with 10 bonus tracks. Not to be confused with a mid-70s German prog
band of the same name—several names have since been nicked especially by
American groups—they had a wide repertoire live, covering Neil Young, Cat
Stevens, Yes, and Beatles! This is their Badfinger style. Complex, “Fylde’s
leading group”, were one of the first to issue 99-copy private pressings so the
rare demo Images Blue is welcome. Their songwriter Steve Coe later penned
Monsoon’s hit Ever So Lonely. 
    Among the obscure
on the second CD are those with longer-lasting influence, such as The Liverpool
Scene, a loosely-defined ensemble that adapted musical forms for a poetry
theatre mixing wry social satire with anarchic politics. They centred round
Adrian Henri, whose old school tie network included many useful friends in the
media, Andy Roberts (unduly neglected yet worked with The Beatles without
credit) and Mike Hart whose two great albums on Dandelion hark back to The
Liverpool Scene. Less known than The Scaffold, they believed the effect of a
poem is more important than the poem itself which works as an agent to convey
the poet’s message (the French poet Rimbaud did the same, as did the
Surrealists of course). John Cooper Clarke and Attila The Stockbroker were in
the same vein, while the devastatingly humorous side reappeared on Hart’s solo
LPs to good effect. (The box set has a hidden extra track—I’m guessing its Mike
Hart’s family!) We’ll All Be Spacemen Before We Die, complete with NASA intro,
is a rare cull from a ’69 TV series broadcast only in the north-west of
England. Spacey, heavy Gong mixed with Tractor no less.
    Also from
Dandelion is Principal Edward’s Magic Theatre with one of the red label’s first
singles, the violin-led Lament For The Earth. The commune group from the
University of Exeter were also multi-media like the Liverpudlians but with less
humour and, it’s said, more arrogance. Their second LP was produced by Floyd’s
Nick Mason, a fan at the time. This reviewer considers them rather more typical
of the counterculture than The Liverpool Scene, but the beauty of this fine
collection is its allowance for different viewpoints. The closer by Kevin
Coyne, Evil Island Home, is a mesmeric take on modern life as powerful today as
when recorded for his first solo album at the end of Dandelion’s days.
Completing the label connection is Beau (i.e. Trevor Midgley) with the
title-track from his second LP, Creation, which featured the legendary Tractor
duo adding pumped-up fuzz, a fusion style he still sporadically reprises today.
From his (and Dandelion’s) debut single in the summer of ’69, 1917 Revolution
where the guitar echoes the cavalry, to his current work on Cherry Red and
Fruits de Mer, this master of the 12-string is enjoying (like Fry) a belated
but well-deserved renaissance seen with Fables and Façades. His
always-interesting material reflects life in the Britain of its day along with
historical subjects unearthed from the past for a thought-provoking journey.
           
    Hardin-York,
organist-singer and drummer respectively of the Spencer Davis Group, pursued a
career as a duo often seen on ’70s tours and in clubs like the Marquee. Their
first single on Bell, Tomorrow Today, exemplifies what should have achieved
wider notice. Mike Read’s fledgling period as a song-writer is given an airing
with an unreleased demo, before his days as a TV presenter and DJ. Ex-Amber and
The Lost, his track features Atomic Rooster’s later drummer and Virgin Sleep’s
acid guitarist for a surprising What The Dickens. Also better known for
extra-curricular activities were Fat Mattress, formed by Hendrix’s bassist Noel
Redding to showcase his own work. The 7” flute-swirling B-side is a good
example of their creativity, as is a still-viewable German TV performance, with
their shared lead vocals that had a very distinctive, original tone at the
time.
    The chronological
approach shines a strong searchlight on the musical development. The second
half, spanning the last two CDs, includes longer tracks with more acoustic
material from duos like Hardin-York and Paper Bubble’s rare Deram LP. From
Shrewsbury, Brian Crane and Terry Brake had a close link with The Strawbs when
they were still The Strawberry Hill Boys in Twickers. Cousins and Hooper
produced Bubble’s only album and toured together, so fans of early Strawbs may
well enjoy this discovery along with the guitar-and-sitar of The Fox’s
Butterfly. Solo artists continue with Phil Cordell where big label faith later
delivered a UK #5 (as Springwater) and German #1.
    Contrasts permeate
this cross-section anthology, starkly shown by two names without marketing
guile who were both art students. The hippy troubadour Bill Nelson’s Northern
Dream
was pressed in a mere 300 copies by his local record store in Yorkshire
while his counterpart Mark Fry was recording in Italy for RCA. Nelson’s solo
debut displays early his guitar skill, before he formed Be-Bop Deluxe. Today
the local boy made good holds an annual Nelsonica event in the same town as
that record shop. Mark Fry’s Dreaming With Alice, with its linking theme
between songs, initially went unnoticed but has become a psych-folk classic of
dreamy atmosphere and nostalgia laced with subtle sitar. Fans of this should check
out Peter Howell & John Ferdinando’s Jabberwocky, where spoken voice and
tape-looping perfectly complement Lewis Carroll’s surrealistic verse.
    The last CD gives
space to longer compositions, as the psych singles began to overlap with more
experimental prog. Czar, the former Tuesday’s Children disappointed with lack
of interest in their pop singles, debuted under their new moniker at the
Marquee in January 1970 a month before recording Ritual Fire Dance. The
four-piece toured with The Moody Blues, Floyd, Hendrix and early King Crimson,
who all left their traces for a lone album on Fontana with one of the most
reproduced sleeves of the era. It was recorded late night after gigs which may
account for its darker atmosphere. Due to copyright reasons, this demo—based on
a piece in a Spanish ballet—had to be left off the LP. Space rock fans
certainly have in their archives Hawkwind Zoo’s seven-minute demo Hurry On
Sundown, but it’s an inspired inclusion here because Dave Brock still retained
his busking heritage on their debut when they dropped the Zoo appendage and
cheekily spelled their name in marijuana leaves. An edited version was their
first single and featured in a debut Top Gear in August 1970. Kula Shaker (Hari
Om Sundown) and The Petals later did versions of the underground anthem.
    Highlights of
course depend on your bag. History, nostalgia, style, music genealogy or just
the music itself: something for everyone as the saying goes. It’s a British
Nuggets trip without sitar swirlers, a cultural tapestry too though the threads
are still pulling today. The booklet is a well-researched 36-page compendium
full of atmospheric iconography—even the CDs can be easily removed from the
packaging! No track times, but four hours of rare material, some restored to
full-length from master-tapes for the first time along with period-pieces like
an Alice Through The Looking Glass concept and a local TV soundtrack,
region-only issues, and intriguing hidden track. The release is dedicated to
Mick Farren, a true counterculture icon who stuck by his guns for half a
century. The music like the message continues the same way.
Review made by Brian R. Banks/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014
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