Three from the Galaxy of Kozmik Ken’s Psychedelic Dream Festival | Article and photography by Jack Gold-Molina
The UK’s incredibly rich space rock scene has managed to continue to thrive, despite the lockdown and the dangers of the pandemic over the past two years.
This is with the exception of the painful losses endured during this time, including beloved festival icon and emcee Kozmik Ken. Behold, here are three fine examples of the fruits of these artiste’s labors.
Kozmik: Ken’s Story – DVD
Written, produced and directed by Jay Cantebrigge
Research and interviews by Jay Cantebrigge & Paul Woodright
“A man, some technicoloured clothing, and a dream….”
“Kozmik” Ken Ingham passed away 26 June 2020, at the relative beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to a pulmonary embolism. This film, produced for Real Hazy Events and The Electric Salad Company, is a tribute to the “Psychedelic Womble” known as Kozmik Ken.
A presence at psychedelic music and space rock festivals throughout the UK and Europe for decades, Ken’s passing came as a shock to his many, many friends and to those closest to him. As Gunslinger and former Hawkwind bassist Alan Davey once told me, “You have to understand, people here have known each other for more than 40-50 years.”
It was well known that Ken’s favorite band was the Grateful Dead, and it showed in his laid back but at times unpredictable demeanor. This was possibly, at least in part, a reflection of the Dead’s loose, improvisational nature. Ken ran the fan club Deadheads In Europe; he edited Spiral Light, a Grateful Dead Fanzine; and he was written about in Relix: The Book: The Grateful Dead Experience by Tony Brown and Lee Abraham, published in 2009.
Ken also worked with Porcupine Tree in their early days as a tour manager and driver, and he also ran their merchandising. As a DJ, he had an extensive record collection; he produced his own radio show called ‘The Kozmik Ken Experience’ and many others over the years on various radio stations including Supernova Radio, Aural Innovations, and Spider Radio.
He dreamed of having his own psychedelic music festival and that finally came to fruition in 2011 when ‘Kozmik Ken’s Psychedelic Dream Festival’ began– the name ultimately shortened to ‘Kozfest’.
“This picture of Ken (asleep) in a chair was knocking around on the internet,” said Deviant Amps guitarist and Kozfest co-founder Paul Woodright when he was interviewed for the film. “We thought, ‘It would be great’. I saw that Wattsfest wouldn’t be happening, so I rang Bobbie (Watts). So, we managed to knock out the very first Kozfest.”
“It’s great fun, that’s why we do it,” Woodright told me in a separate interview done in 2016, describing how Kozfest got started. “This all happened from a Facebook picture that went up. I couldn’t do it on my own, obviously.”
“Paul knew about this site from a previous gig he had done, and he had a chat with the landowner Bobbie (Watts),” festival stage manager and Kozfest co-organizer Mark “Snake” Lee said to me in the same interview. “We were very lucky. We broke even the first year, and all of the bands got exactly what we promised. You’ll never play Kozfest for free. We won’t ask you to play for free, it’s as simple as that. The artist deserves at least to get paid something.”
“If you haven’t got bands, you haven’t got a festival,” Woodright told me. “It should be about music. This is about giving a style of music that doesn’t usually get a lot of coverage a chance to get 500 people to dance to.”
“It’s become almost a tight-knit family,” Lee told me. “I would suggest that at least 250 of our ticket buyers are here every year, and they all know each other. From the first day, everybody turned up and knew who everybody else in the field was. You can do your own thing in your own space for a few days. They really appreciate that.”
“And they have influenced the future, like if they have come along and had an idea,” said Woodright. “The sacred space area, that was Jo’s idea. She asked about if we could do one. There is a drum circle here, over the weekend. That’s how Wally’s tent built up, the little tent next to the bar.
“And that’s it. The festival builds on itself, and the bands do the same thing. They are often looking for another band to play with. It’s organic. It has kept itself small, and people like it small, so we are not going to change that bit of it. Everyone knows what to expect, and it is good for the bands as well. As I say, it becomes family.”
“I have been playing at Kozfest since 2015 with Magick Brothers,” said violinist and guitarist Graham Clarkwhen he was interviewed for the film. “We did a lot of songs by Daevid Allen. It was poignant because he died only a couple of months before. It was really moving, a really beautiful concert. You could hear a pin drop. And since then, I have been back every year. The festival is just a lovely, lovely experience.”
According to former Hawkwind and Hawklords guitarist Jerry Richards, Ken was one of those people who had “the energy that ‘we can do this, there is no problem, don’t panic, don’t worry about it’…a calm energy. One could have confidence in his ability to motivate people. Volunteering…it showed a remarkable side to certainly the English free festivals where most people involved in it are not doing it for the money. They are doing it because they can, and they love to do it.”
“You just knew that he was always there for you, that he would hear what you had to say, that he would always feel for you. He will never be forgotten,” said guitarist and bandleader Roz Bruce.
“I remember the first time we met, it was at Kozfest in 2017,” said Omar Aborida, guitarist for Dead Otter and Cosmic Dead. “Dead Otter was playing and it was our first experience playing outside of Scotland as a band. It was a bit daunting. As we soon as we walked onto the stage and Kozmik Ken started to announce us, he just calmed the whole situation. I think it is because he embodies what psychedelic music is all about, what it should be about, and how to compose cosmic events. He absolutely brought everything to a great level.”
Full disclosure: yours truly was also interviewed for the film because I knew Ken. In the interview, I mentioned that the first time that I met him was at the 2016 Strawberry Fayre in Cambridge. He was playing percussion with Julia and Andi Sowden’s band Tanglemist, and Simon Edgley introduced us. I was in the UK on a “research” visa and was also playing drums and percussion with Nik Turner at Sonic Rock Solstice Festival and at Surplus Festival.
Ken genuinely reminded me of Lemmy, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to at length one afternoon in 2010 in Boise, Idaho, of all places. Like Lemmy, Ken had a gruff demeanor but he cared deeply for his friends and for others. A great example of this is when I played with Nik Turner and Flame Tree at Sonic Rock Solstice. Ken introduced us by saying, “Okay, okay, okay, okay. We’re going to start to get a little bit jazzy on your collective asses now.” I never did learn what happened to the first copy of the Flame Tree album that the label sent him for review….
Ken’s at times crotchety exterior could be attributed to his devotion to the UK space rock scene and his need to support the independent festivals that thrive within it. There was a recurring theme throughout the film. It was out love and respect for Ken, and I share this sentiment: We hope that he is enjoying his magic carpet ride in space.
Paradise 9 – Science Fiction Reality
Paradise 9 is a fine example of a masterful UK space rock band. Founded in 1997 by Gregg McKella, the lineup has undergone many changes over the years with McKella its main constant and leader. Paradise 9’s lineup on their latest CD release consists of McKella on vocals, guitar, glissando guitar, synth and clarinet; Alternative TV and Spaced Ogs guitarist Tyrone Thomas; Casual Affair’s Neil Matthars playing bass, and Deepskin’s Wayne Collyer on drums. A word about the production – it is tight and clean, the music adventurous.
From the punky opening verses sung by McKella to Thomas’s bluesy, psychedelic guitar work on the first track “These Are The Days”, the band takes off to interstellar space – a place of “science fiction” and “science fact”. Here lies the conundrum that sets the tone of the album and begs a very real and difficult question: What have we done to this planet?
On the title track, McKella’s synths caress the mind while the band’s songwriting provides a glimmer of hope in the face of “ever increasing conspiracies…spreading seeds of doubt.” However, the straightforward lyrics make it painfully clear that while we as a race may be unhappy with the current state of our planet, we are blindly continuing to make it profoundly worse.
Science Fiction Reality is a bittersweet, beautifully written and skillfully performed album. Tremendous space rock with an intelligent and optimistic zen-punk message, it takes the listener on a deeply psychedelic exploration of what is happening within our world and to the earth.
The musicianship and the musicality are of the highest order. The lyrics are often difficult to take because they ring true. Dystopia could easily become a global way of life due to climate change, terrorism, war, and a multitude of economic and political factors. In many countries, it already has. As a people, we are failing our planet, and that has to change.
Deviant Amps – Countdown to a Cosmic Ego Death
Deviant Amps are by all accounts space rock veterans. Started in 1982 by guitarist and vocalist Paul Woodright, they weaved their way forward over the next 40 years first selling cassettes at festivals and gigs, and finally CDs. Deviant Amps is the true definition of a stalwart UK space rock festival band, in all of its glory and its rich history. What’s more, Woodright is himself one of the founders and organizers of Kozfest.
On Countdown to a Cosmic Ego Death, Woodright is joined by legendary Ozric Tentacles synth player Seaweed, freshly recruited bassist Justin Prescott, and the great Keith Chenery on drums and percussion. The lineup on their most recent CD is solid, deeply dynamic, and they flow like it’s nobody else’s business.
Deviant Amps stand alone in their own cultivated musical voice, and this recording is intensely psychedelic space rock. While staying true to their roots and refining their own distinct flavor, they have created an album that has a heavy, down to earth feel. At the same time, it is not in any way overbearing like so many “psych-rock” bands tend to be. With lyrics like “No one had seen his face before, he came with ancient ways,” and “Can you hear it in the distance, here comes the procession of madness,” the music tells a story that takes the listener to places unknown and mysterious yet also very familiar to those who have been paying attention.
So, climb aboard your star cruiser, brace yourself for a wild ride, and proceed at high velocity into the depths of some of the finest rock and roll ever recorded. Just don’t shoot any asteroids because there may be miners or scientists working on them. Space rock’s inner dimensions reveal themselves in truest form here, the players tempered through many, many years of festivalizing and performing psychedelic music at the highest levels of musicianship and form. More than that, as shown in Ken’s story, they really do care about each other and the people who have attended their shows, bought their albums and been their closest friends literally for decades.
They are people who believe in leaving things better than they were before they arrived, and all you have to do is attend a festival to see how that is evidenced.
Headline photo: Jack Gold-Molina