Memory Of A Free Festival charts a path through the gentile Jazz, Blues and Folk Festivals inspired by the Newport Folk Festival, (although there was a massive rumble at the 3rd Beaulieu Jazz Festival between fans of Trad Jazz and Modern Jazz which sounds wonderfully surreal in 2017), through to the floating anarchy at Stonehenge and stopping at all points in between. The title of the book is more of an opportunity to squeeze in a Bowie reference (although there are pictures of the free festival organised by the Beckenham Arts Lab that inspired the song from the Space Oddity album……“The sun machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party”, but bring a rain coat just in case) and also includes pictures from the freak festivals that charged admission, so you get great 60s pictures/posters/flyers from the National Jazz & Blues Festival as it slowly went psychedelic, the 14 hr Technicolour Dream, the Festival Of Flower Children at Woburn Abbey, the iconic free concerts in Hyde Park.
The early 70s were the real golden age of the Underground Festival…………………in the wake of Woodstock there were several “bread-head” festivals such as the massive Isle Of Wight festival which surpassed Woodstock in numbers, and got it’s fence torn down by French anarchists turning it into a free festival, The Bickershaw Festival was held in a swamp near Wigan, totally chaotic as it pissed down with rain all weekend, and of course the hardy Reading Festival which has always reflected the changing tastes in rock music (the line up in 1973 featured Rory Gallagher, The Faces, Quo, S.A.H.B, Magma, Genesis and John Martyn among others)…………………elsewhere the freak flag was being flown at events like the acid soaked car crash of a festival Phun City, a creepily misogynistic relocation of the Notting Hill freek scene to a field in Worthing, the authority baiting Windsor Free Festival whose final year in 1974 was broken up by an massively violent Police over reaction and the legendary early festivals at Glastonbury. There are pages of really interesting pictures from this era, more about the vibe about these events than the bands that were playing, it will be an eye opener to anyone who’s first recollection of festivals is the heavily commercialised big modern events that are part of the social calender than a freak scene right of passage. The final section of the book covers the more politically driven RAR events and the anarchy of the early 80s festival scene where along with Stonehenge, Glastonbury was still like the Wild West with cool bands a good 15 years before the fence went up. More personal recollections than the history of the UK festivals, if you where there it’s a blast from the past………….if you were too young, it’s a snap shot of what festivals were like before big money sucked the soul out of them.
Ok, we admit we are looking at the 70s/80s Underground with rose tinted shades, it wasn't all gentle freaks and groovy people that turned up to these festivals as there was always an element of shady characters and right nasty bastards that you had to be wary of……..we are a bit too young to have gone to the iconic early 70s festivals, we started going late 70s but knew we had to keep our wits about us to prevent wandering into really fucked up situations and watch out for scallies and thieving grebos. The large scale free festival was killed off when the law came down on the rave at Castlemorton like a ton of bricks, but even if the bands are a bit shit nowadays festivals have improved…….the bogs are no longer stinking cess pits, festival food has come a long way from just being botulism burgers and warm beer and you are unlikely to get a kicking from the local biker gang. There are still some really cool, low key festivals out there if you look.
Published by Cicada Books, Memory Of A Free Festival is out NOW and available from good book shops and the usual on line outlets.
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Sunday, 18 June 2017
SAM KNEE - MEMORY OF A FREE FESTIVAL : THE GOLDEN ERA OF THE BRITISH UNDERGROUND FESTIVAL (Circada Books 2017).
They don’t do festivals like they used to……………..even the smallest boutique festivals today are, usually, pretty well organised with the bands running on time, plenty of decent food/drink, well thought out camping areas and the security not provided by the local biker gang. Heavy on images but a bit light on text, Memory Of A Free Festival (The Golden Era Of The British Underground Festival Scene) by writer Sam Knee collects together a load of photos, many previously unpublished, from the polite, CND supporting Jazz festivals of the early 60s all through to the mid 80s Stonehenge Festival where a meeting of minds of the original 60s/70s Freeks and the 80s Anarcho-Punks brought down the wrath of Thatchers Government, using the Police Force as state sponsored stormtroopers. Arranged in chronological order and held together by Sam Knee’s brief text putting the pictures in context, the photos document a lost world, maybe more innocent and certainly less money orientated than nowadays, that maybe only exists now in the farflung fields at Glastonbury well away from the main stage. It’s not the definitive history of the late 60s/early 70s UK festival scene, that book has yet to be written, and is light on the social/political ideas of the time that informed many of the festivals from that era but is a interesting meander through recent history with many of the photos unofficial, personal memories of the people who where there.
Saturday, 10 June 2017
From the stages of the UFO Club, Mothers and Middle Earth to Cropredy in Oxfordshire and from a fresh faced very English version of Jefferson Airplane to revered elder statesmen, it’s been a long strange trip. Now celebrating their 50th anniversary, Fairport Convention have outlasted their peers from the late 60s/early 70s UK underground Folk Rock scene by several decades. Formed in London in 1967, Fairport Convention are the hardy perennials of the British Folk scene with a continually shifting line-up, which has over the years seen such Folk Rock luminaries as Richard Thompson, Judy Dyble, Ashely Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Sandy Denny, Dave Swarbrick and Dave Pegg as integral members of the band. Massively influential during their early years, they were the first band to take traditional folk out of the clubs and into the concert halls playing for a Rock audience with their 1969 album Liege and Lief being the yardstick by which all Folk Rock bands are still measured against. The soon to be released lavish seven CD box set, Come All Ye – The First 10 Years, celebrates and explores the band’s creative heyday, beginning with their eponymous debut for Polydor in 1968, through all of their seminal albums for Island Records and finishing with tracks from their two albums for Vertigo, The Bonny Bunch of Roses and Tippers Tales. Of the 121 tracks featured here, 55 are previously unreleased and includes key tracks and alternate versions from all of their classic albums, single B-sides, BBC Radio Sessions, 5 songs from the French TV programme Pop 2 (December 1970), 5 songs from the Television show The Man They Couldn’t Hang (1971) and the audio for an entire concert at The Fairfield Halls, Croydon (December 16th 1973) plus 2 songs recorded live for the Scottish Television programme, ‘Anne Lorne Gillies – The World of Music’ (1976). The box set comes complete with liner notes by respected English writer, Patrick Humphries. However, as tracks from the first four classic albums from the 60s are dashed off pretty quickly, with very little previously unreleased material, within 2 CDs it really depends on how much you like the various incarnations of the band led through the 70s by Dave Swarbrick before you shell out nearly £60.
Discs 1 and 2 chart the band’s progression from Dylan/Joni Mitchell/Byrds obsessives to totally re-imagining British electric folk music for decades to come in a three year burst of creativity second to non. Although patchy in parts as the band find their feet, the debut Fairport Convention album is somewhat under rated with some excellent tracks on the record. Come All Ye – The First 10 Years collects four album tracks from the debut and a couple of songs from a John Peel’s Top Gear radio session in the summer of 68, including the scorching cover of The Merry-Go-Round’s ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’ which features Richard Thompson’s stunning Acid Rock guitar playing……………………if you take the “English Jefferson Airplane” analogy to it’s logical conclusion then the first album can be considered as their version of Takes Off, then What We Did On Our Holidays is the English equivalent of Surrealistic Pillow (ok it’s a tenuous connection, but try running with it). What We Did On Our Holidays is an absolute stone cold Psych/Folk/Rock masterpiece. Judy Dyble had been replaced by Sandy Denny, considered by many to have been Britain’s finest Singer/Songwriter, forming a formidable male/female duel vocal partnership with Ian Matthews plus with the stellar talents of Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, Martin Lamble and Ashley Hutchings this line up of the band could have easily gone toe to toe with anything America could offer at the time. Included from Fairport’s second album is an alternate version of ‘Mr Lacey’ taken from the Sandy Denny box set, Richard Thompson’s first really great song and Fairport Convention's unofficial anthem ‘Meet On The Ledge’ (plus the B-Side from it’s single release, ’Throwaway Street Puzzle’) plus a couple of fantastic previously unreleased tracks (a alternate take of the band’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Eastern Rain’ and an A Capella version of ‘Nottamun Town’ stripped of it’s Raga Rock arrangement). Five tracks from this album does not do What We Did On Our Holidays justice………if you have not heard the record before and have been put off by the supposed image of Fairport Convention being only for weird beard and sandals real ale enthusiasts, go check it out as it is a brilliant Psychedelic Folk Rock record that has more in common with Dylan, The Byrds and the S.F. Ballrooms than dusty Folk Clubs. Disc 1 closes with four tracks from the excellent Unhalfbricking album which was the transition point from the Fairport’s having a psychedelic edge to being the full blown electric Folk Rock band they became after a ram raid on Cecil Sharp House and escaping with an armful of obscure Trad Folk songs. Unhalfbricking was the first record Dave Swarbrick played on, a veteran of the Birmingham Folk Clubs, Swarbrick brought a more traditional folk sound to the band, however the epic reworking of the folk tune ‘A Sailors Life’ that Denny had brought to the band, on this it is the Swarbrick free version from the Sandy Denny box set that is included along with previously unreleased alternative takes of two classic Denny songs ‘Autopsy’ and ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’. More than half of Disc 2 documents what was Fairport Convention’s greatest moment, the seamless melding of Folk Roots and amplified music that was Liege And Leif…………….THE British Folk Rock album. A seminal work, which said it all but launched a thousand imitators. Come All Ye – The First 10 Years collects together assorted alternative versions and Peel sessions featuring tracks from this groundbreaking record including a raw rehearsal version of ‘The Deserter’ and another couple of tracks from the Sandy Denny box set, fantastic alternative versions of ‘Come All Ye’ and ‘Matty Groves’ along with a thrilling John Peel’s Top Gear session from September 1969.
By January 1971 Richard Thompson had left Fairport Convention following Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings on to other projects leaving the band to be steered by Dave Swarbrick deeper into traditional English Folk and the next 3 Discs of the box set becoming generally a series of diminished returns unless you enjoyed the albums recorded after Full House. The highlights of Disc 3 are a previously unreleased live performance from the French TV show Pop2 in December 1970 and the songs recorded for the BBC for the 1971 TV show The Man They Could Not Hang broadcast around the time Babbacombe Lee hit the shops. Disc 4 contains various odds and sods put down on tape around the time of the albums Nine and Rosie with a large majority of the recordings tracks previously unreleased and Disc 5 contains collects together many of the recordings/radio sessions made around the time Sandy Denny rejoined the band for their Rising for the Moon album which was a partial return to form, but a poor seller and resulted in the band fracturing again, limping on for a few more years with Swarbrick at the helm, before considering calling it a day after the disappointing Tippers Tales. After a career spanning 12 years, 15 line ups, 16 albums and 20 members Fairport Convention intended to disband in August 1979……….however they were soon back with original member Simon Nicol and ever present member since Full House, Dave Pegg leading the band through it’s most stable period in it’s history, maybe living off past glories a little and no longer the innovative band they were at their 1969 peak but still with a legion of hardcore fans that have grown up with the band.
It’s Discs 6 and 7 that will be of most interest to the Fairport faithful……………recorded for the 1974 Live Convention album Disc 6 has the full set from the show at the Croydon Fairfield Halls featuring the Country Rock tinged line up of the band featuring guitarists Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue with all but two tracks previously unreleased and Disc 7 contains the Live at the LA Troubadour 1/2/1974 recording previously available as part of the Rising For The Moon deluxe reissue. Taken from the soundboard, the sound quality is excellent throughout and the performance is a fascinating snapshot of this short-lived lineup (Sandy Denny, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Trevor Lucas and Jerry Donahue). The setlist is a typical Fairport mix of songs old and new, traditional and covers, with a fair sprinkling of material from Sandy’s solo albums as well as a song from Fotheringay. Interestingly, contempory Fairport songs seemed almost under-represented (one each from Rosie and Nine), although What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief all get a look in with one song from each. Despite the diversity of sources, there is a cohesion to the performance and it’s great to have the chance to hear six fine musicians in top form and, perhaps equally importantly, sounding like they’re enjoying themselves. So there you go, seven discs marking the first 10 years of Fairport Convention beautifully presented with extensive sleeve notes……………..from the sparkling, innovative first three albums for Island which would easily rank in a poll of the best records of all time to a slow decline into pointlessness by the end of the 70s and with a hefty price tag perhaps for hardcore fans only……………….a curate's egg of a box set, depending on your opinion of the overbearing influence Dave Swarbrick had over the band during the 70s. Down in our psychedelic basement we prefer the Fairport Convention from the UFO Club and Middle Earth having had our minds blown by a second hand copy What We Did On Our Holidays as impressionable teenagers, but it takes all sorts………………maybe this one is for the Folkies and not the PsychHeads.
Due for release on 28th July, Come All Ye – The First 10 Years will be available from all good record shops and the usual online outlets…………….this can be yours for about the price of 17 pints of scumpy.
Monday, 29 May 2017
New from Heavy Psych Sounds, a stunning return to form from L.A. Space Rockers Farflung……..“Imagine, if the bastard child of Amon Düül II and Hawkwind arose from the ashes of America, stark and glimmering, bathed in the energetic glow of the Stooges”……….Following the lumpen heavy Stoner Rock of the disappointing 5 (which included an ill-conceived cover of Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’), the Unwound Celluloid Frown EP evokes the early Farflung albums of swirling, Hawkwind influenced Space Rock such as A Wound In Eternity and 25,0000 Ft Per Second. Mixing gargantuan riffs with more trippy, atmospheric passages, like fellow US psychonauts White Manna, Farflung have taken inspiration from classic early 70s European Space Rock/Kosmische Musik and added a million volts worth of pure Detroit proto-Punk energy to create a new record that is like a pimped, supercharged nuclear powered Star Cruiser heading deep into uncharted space on a full pelt wild ride to the furthest corners of the universe………….Fasten your safety belts, engage your breathing apparatus, it’s a trip and there aint no coming back.
In space, no one can hear you scream………Unwound Celluloid Frown reaches maximum velocity immediately, ‘ You Will Kill For Me’ rips a hole in the cosmos with a massive riff and spiraling synths sounding like Black Flag on acid. The EP twists and turns through 33 minutes of lysergic grooves and slamming riffs, alternating from dark and hypnotic tracks like ‘We Wish For Wounds’ and Axis Mundi to the squalling Space Rock of ‘Silver Ghosts With Crystal Spoons and the holy union of Hawkwind and Neu! On the throbbing title track. After, what we thought, was a huge let down, Farflug have followed 5 with a thrilling new EP of premium Space Rock that ranks among their best releases.
Out NOW on Heavy Psych Sounds, the Unwound Celluloid Frown EP is available on limited edition blue vinyl, regular black vinyl, CD and as a download from the label web store and Bandcamp site here………………
https://heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/farflung-unwound-cellular-frown where you can also stream the EP. Also available from the usual on line outlets and your local furry freek vinyl store.
Sunday, 28 May 2017
There is always a concern with “iconic” bands reforming and after, no doubt lucratively, returning to their greatest moments deciding to record new material…………..the results aint always pretty. On the odd occasion it works, the chemistry and magic that originally made the band so great has remained, however going back into the studio can lead to tensions that split the band first time or simply the creative spark has gone. In the wake of the “Shoegaze revival” that has seen many early 90s bands reform, there was a massive commotion when it was announced that there was finally going to be follow up to MBV’s seminal Loveless album which soon died down once everyone twigged that it wasn’t actually very good, sounding like out-takes from the Loveless sessions and half formed ideas recorded sometime towards the end of the 90s. Since the Jesus And Mary Chain have reformed their records have been solid if not spectacular and we are hoping that the new Ride recordings are more Nowhere than Tarantula. After 22 years since the release of their last album, another classic Shoegaze band, Slowdive, have a new album in the record stores……………….and it’s absolutely brilliant!! Still sounding like Slowdive but with a modern reboot, their self titled fourth album is the sound of a band pushing forward and still relevant, not simply revisiting former glories. The new Slowdive LP can be seen as the next step following the more experimental and massively under rated Pygmalion album, although there is nothing quite as good as ‘Souvlaki Space Station’ (from the Souvlaki album) this is their strongest set of songs on one album the band have ever recorded.
Slowdive have gone and taken the whole Shoegaze genre by the scruff of the neck and dragged it into the future. Taking the epic ‘Rutti’ from the Pygmalion album as the “jumping back on” point and incorporating the more American Alt Rock influenced sound of Mojave 3 in their sonic pallet, Slowdive reflects the bands maturity as songwriters. Opening with the crystalline ‘Slomo’, it’s still classic Slowdive with dense layers of guitars and voices but there is a much more muscular spine to the ethereal swirl that they have always been known for……….‘Star Roving’, ‘Everyone Knows’ and the stunning ‘Go Get It’ are impressive modern Psych Rock songs, both tidal waves of immense, distorted guitars and thunderous drums, Slowdive have certainly “bulked up” during their time away. This is a seriously impressive record with tracks like ‘Don’t Know Why’, ‘Sugar For The Pill’ and ‘No Longer Making Time’ deep pools of sonic serenity and the album closes with the staggeringly beautiful ‘Falling Ashes’, Slowdive may, in some quarters, been accused of being soulless in the past but there is no way you could ever get that to stick with band who recorded this album. One of the essential records of 2017.
The self titled fourth Slowdive album is out NOW and in all good record shops, released by Dead Oceans, and available on vinyl, CD, limited edition cassette and as a download also from the label on line store and the Slowdive Bandcamp page here https://slowdive.bandcamp.com/album/slowdive.
Outta the fertile Copenhagen Psych scene, Danish trio The Sonic Dawn have a slightly more skewed, idiosyncratic vision of 60s Garage/Psych than most bands mining the the same rich seam, their latest record, Into the Long Night, sees the band find real gems from a wider range of influences than most. On the surface The Sonic Dawn mix of 60s Freakbeat and West Coast Psychedelia, pulling in inspiration from jazzy Sitar Pop to heavy Psychedelic Rock, takes in the same acid infused influences as many of their peers, however the new album is deceptively complex, fluidly shifting between late 60s pop, mid 70s fusion and more modern Psych Rock strains crafting a style of familiar elements that is immersive yet decidedly their own.
Following a swirling 'Intro' piece, Into The Long Night kicks off proper with the mellow West Coast groove of ‘Emily Lemon’ and continually shape shifts through nine tracks of excellent Psychedelia. With a urgent electric piano riff, ‘On The Shore’ channels early 70s Jazz/Psych fusion before the album crashes into the groovy 60s Beat influenced ‘As Of Lately’………..the technical term, we think, is “all over the shop” as the record twists through heavy Psych Blues before taking a massive left turn into the beautiful, laid back and shimmering ‘Light Left On’ before finally closing with the electric sitar headswirler ‘Summer Voyage’. There is a lot to love here………..The Sonic Dawn have recorded an album that spans the whole 60s/70s Psychedelic spectrum and is the perfect soundtrack for hanging out on a balmy summer’s day with a few beers and something interesting to smoke.
Out NOW via Heavy Psych Sounds on vinyl, CD and as a digital download from their online store, the usual online retailers and all good record shops. Also available directly from the band from their Bandcamp page here https://thesonicdawn.bandcamp.com/album/into-the-long-night where you can also stream the whole album. Check it out People.
Sunday, 21 May 2017
Swordfish Records have been an vital part of the Birmingham music scene for as long as we can remember as both a shop and an idiosyncratic boutique label supporting local talent. Following the excellent BLACKASH Black Witch EP, Swordfish Records have now released the debut album from Brum Prog/Psych sextet The Mothers Earth Experiment. The band seem to have come from nowhere and risen rapidly, following their debut EP in Sept 2015, their first live show was supporting Gong a month later…………….no doubt with heavy friends and serious connections there’s no scuzzing about playing at the bottom of the bill at The Wagon And Horses with a bunch of unknown local bands, as they have since played the Lunar Festival and opened for Syd Arthur, Purson, Acid Mothers Temple, Braids, Arthur Brown And Soft Machine ,to mention a few. Continuing on a upwards trajectory, their debut album hits the shops this weekend.
Self produced by a band blessed with a self determined vision and drive, The Mothers Earth Project have stated themselves “We feel artistic freedom has become feared within the music industry, and we aim to express what is close to us and raise awareness through our music and art.”, you have to award 10/10 for the sheer ambition of their debut album………however you need to deduct at least a million points for massive self indulgence. As well as being influenced by the thrilling and inventive side of classic Prog Rock they have also absorbed some of the more pretentious elements that blighted the genre back in the day. Crammed with a ton of ideas, The Mothers Earth Experiment debut could have really done with an experienced producer at the controls who would curb some of the excess and streamline the bands sound, stripping back some of the over complex arrangements that the band have not quite got the chops to pull off. You can’t fault the bands desire to experiment and push the envelope as far as possible and there is enough good stuff here that would have made a fantastic EP, however as an album The Mothers Earth Project debut LP is mainly for serious hardcore ProgHeads only. With time, The Mothers Earth Project have a truly mindblowing album in them, but unfortunately it’s not this one…………………….other opinions are available.
Out NOW on Swordfish Records on multi-coloured splatter vinyl, CD and as a download, The Mothers Earth Experiment debut album is available from all good record stores and the usual suspects on line.
Sunday, 14 May 2017
If there is a label anymore quintessentially British than Gare Du Nord Records, then we have yet to come across it………………in a parallel universe somewhere a version of Gare Du Nord exists with David Bowie, Syd Barrett, Marc Bolan, Kevin Ayers, Fairport Convention, Robyn Hitchcock and quite possibly ELO all signed to the label, no doubt a fantasy wish list for this universe. For a while now the GDN family of artists have been releasing a mix of quality gentle psychedelia, 70s influenced Pop/Rock and quirky Indie Pop (usually on the same record) that could not exist anywhere beyond these shores. New to the label and with an album out very soon, Singer/Songwriter Matthew Edwards very English blend of wry melancholia, literate lyrics and avant-garde flourishes is a perfect fit for Gare Du Nord. Born and bred in Birmingham UK but having relocated to the U.S.A in the 90s, Folklore, the new album from Matthew Edwards & The Unfortunates chronicles Edwards' return to his home city after 20 years living in California. Recorded at veteran Indie producer John A Rivers (Felt, Dead Can Dance and many more) Leamington Spa studio and in San Francisco, with contributions from ex members of 70s English Avant-Rock group Henry Cow (singer Dagmar Krause and guitarist Fred Frith) and ex Captain Beefheart, Pere Ubu and PJ Harvey (among others) keyboard player Eric Drew Feldman, Folklore is a beautifully constructed perfect collision of Art Rock and introspective songwriting as cascades of discordant guitars crash headlong into lush Folk-like arrangements that underscore Matthew Edwards’ wonderful songs.
Folklore would work perfectly as an acoustic album, the songs are that good, however the boat has been well and truly pushed out and the album has a massive “wide screen” sound that make the songs sparkle. Pulling together a whole host of influences/inspiration from nearly five decades of popular (and not that popular) music, Folklore blends classic Scott Walker and David Bowie with bucolic English Folk Rock adding Post Punk/Art Rock influences from the likes of Wire into the mix to create an expansive soundscape that has been compared to the work of Stephen Duffy’s Alt Folk Rock influenced Lilac Time, Neil Hannon’s witty and literate The Divine Comedy and the sharp pop sensibility of Edwin Collins’ post Orange Juice albums. The Bowie/Walker influence runs deep here, tracks like the fantastic ‘Ungainly’ with it’s Mike Garson-esque piano melody that could be an outtake from Aladin Sane and ‘The Willow Girl’, were the feel of the mighty Scott 4 is evoked, channel the late 60s/early 70s output of two of the finest songwriters of their generation. Elsewhere there are more modern influences with buzzing Post Punk guitars on ‘I Can Move The Moon’ and ‘When We Arrived At The Mountain’ while the album closes with the frantic ‘A Young Man’ which is not a million miles away from the awesome Post Punk Skiffle sound of The Woodentops. Simply stunning, Folklore is an absolute gem of a record with ten rock solid tunes that is way more than the sum of it’s influences. It’s safe to say that Matthew Edwards & The Unfortunates have recorded an absolute brilliant LP that demands to be heard by as many people as possible, distilling years of experience and musical inspiration into an album that is both comfortingly familiar and starkly experimental………………seriously recommended and then some.
Due for release 02/06/2017 by Gare Du Nord Records and available on vinyl from any record shop worth it’s salt. Pre-orders and download available from the Matthew Edwards & The Unfortunates Bandcamp site here………