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Sunday, 13 August 2017
New from the Belgian label EXAG Records an exciting new project that transcends borders and genres. The concept of the BLACK’EX Split Series is to take groundbreaking/innovative new music from two artists, from two different countries and then press it on to a limited edition 10” vinyl record, creating connections between artists from around the world, building bridges between countries that otherwise may never exist. BLACK'EX Split Series #1 brings together Dave Cocks from Italy, better known as one half of the duo Throw Down Bones with French artist Monolithe Noir who now resides in Belgium.
Side A features ‘Borders’, the first solo effort by Cocks which focuses on his personal journey of fleeing the centre and finding himself in the peripheral places. Cocks makes use of Noise Militia equipment, handmade pieces by Throw Down Bones partner Frankie combing primordial beats, looped electronics and noise to create something that falls between a dark ambient soundscape and a deeply psychedelic drone out. Hazy vocals courtesy of Nadia Daou (TAU) lace through the rhythm amassing a veritable tapestry of rich texture within the sound. Side B features ‘La Bégum’, a more experimental piece using old school modular synths to create a track that has echoes of early 60s/70s adventures into electronic music. The track reverberates with a hypnotic energy whilst exuding a catchy countenance that has the feel of proto-techno as imagined in a 60s Musique Concrète workshop.
BLACK'EX Split Series #1 is out NOW and available from either the EXAG Records store or their Bandcamp site here……………………………….
where you can stream the tunes. Keep ‘em peeled for further releases from this series.
Saturday, 12 August 2017
New from the delightfully quirky, thoroughly English Indie/Psychedelic/Whatever label Gare du Nord Records is the first solo album from the Arch Drude’s little bro’ Joss Cope. Although generally best known for his contributions to Julian Cope’s albums Fried and St Julian where he co-wrote the songs 'Pulsar' and 'Christmas Mourning' with Julian and Donald Ross Skinner, Joss Cope was part of the mid 80s Creation Records “psychedelic scene” playing with Crash, The Weather Prophets, Rose McDowell and Biff Bang Pow before putting out two albums of his own work with Something Pretty Beautiful. In 1991 he formed the psych band The United States of Mind with Ashley Wood(Chemistry Set), Dave Morgan and Greenwood Goulding (Rockingbirds), (only one eponymously titled album of blistering British psychedelia was released on the appropriately titled DyscFunctional imprint, before the band split in 1994) and in more recent years he’s played guitar with psychedelic soulsters Dexter Bentley and bass with Sergeant Buzfuz, as well as becoming inspired to write songs for himself again. Unrequited Lullabies is his first collection of his own work since the late 80s………… recorded in Finland with with a trio of top Helsinki musicians, guitarist Veli-Pekka Oinonen (Nights of Iguana, Leningrad Cowboys), bassist Esa Lehporturo and percussionist Ville Raasakka with………..erm……….. Irish keyboardist O’Reilly O’Rourke (which we are convinced is a Julian Cope pseudonym on the lines Double DeHarrison), it’s an album of 60s inspired Neo-Psychedelica which combines English whimsy with an acid fried intensity of the more subtle Nuggets influenced bands of the 80s and has already been described as Syd Barrett fronting The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.
Cut from the same cloth as Julian Cope’s first two “Tamworth” albums and the Creation Records mid 80s output, Unrequited Lullabies is a riot of jangling guitars, Psych Pop smarts, fuzz freak outs and off the wall psychedelia that, along with more current influences, channels Kevin Ayers and the “Canterbury Scene” possibly more than Syd Barrett and the hip London bands from the Sixties. It’s a wonderful record that proudly shows off all it’s influences………………the stand out tracks among a bunch of really great tunes have be the supercharged jangle pop of ‘Learn To Float’, the beatific and tripped out ‘Cloudless Skies’, 'Started Something' and ‘Turned Out Nice Again’, a very groovy ‘Nobody Knows This Is Everywhere’ and the bucolic album closer Streaming’. It’s fair to say that many of the songs here would not sound out of place on the early Julian Cope solo albums and fans of those records are really going to love this, however with a record packed with beautifully constructed Psych Pop songs Joss Cope has shown that both the Cope brothers are brilliant songwriters. Check it out People.
Due for release 6/10/17, Unrequited Lullabies will be available on vinyl, CD and as a download. Pre-orders are being taken here…………
Saturday, 5 August 2017
New from the Spanish crate diggers Guerssen Records is the latest re-release, via their Mental Experience imprint, in their ongoing reissue program of the willfully obscure Krautrock records originally issued by the Pyramid label. Galactic Explorers' Epitaph For Venus is another album shrouded in mystery from Pyramid (The Psych/Space Rock label Psi-Fi produced six "reissues" of albums by this supposedly long lost label around 20 years ago. In some circles, these releases were generally considered to be a hoax and it was widely believed at the time that the albums were recorded in the mid '90s in the UK during the height of the Krautrock revival) and a candidate for being dubbed 'Ambient' way before Ambient existed as a genre.……………..produced by Toby “The Mad Twiddler” Robinson in Cologne, circa 1974, Epitaph For Venus is an album of minimal Kosmische sounds that bring to mind the meditative ambiences explored and developed on the early Tangerine Dream Ohr releases, with plenty of Minimoog, analogue synths / keyboards, effects, loops, tape manipulation and treated percussion.
Although two of the the three long tracks have previously surfaced on Virgin Records hard to find Unknown Deutschland compilations, however this is the first time any of these tracks have been widely available on vinyl and whether or not this record is an “authentic” Krautrock album does not diminish the quality of the music presented here. The album opens with the gentle pulse of ‘Lunarscape’, a nearly 20 minute bliss out of extended minimalistic atmospherics with subtle jazzy touches added to the mix ,where the trio of Johannes Lutz (Mini Moog, Hammond Organ and……err….Lunatron), Holst Seisert(Synths, Fender Rhodes and Effects) and possibly the best known of the band due to his work with the German Prog Rock/Free Jazz outfit Dzyan, Reinhard Karwatky (Synths, Percussion and Organ) pilot a trip of translucent beauty, surfing on sine waves across the rugged surface of the moon. The other two tracks on the album are very much in the same style………….’Ethereal Jazz’ is much more of an abstract, 60s/70s European Free Jazz influenced piece that ebbs and flows with the cosmic tides while ‘Venus Rising’ is a exercise in Kosmische soundscaping, it’s a trip to the centre of the brain where you can see ancient solar systems forming and listen to the vibrations cosmic winds as you are transported to the furthest out parts of the minds eye. For fans of minimal, experimental cosmic sounds and krautrock pioneers such as Popol Vuh, Sand, Peter Michael Hamel, Tangerine Dream, Baba Yaga, Cluster, Cozmic Corridors and Brainticket, this is well worth your time.
Remastered from the original tapes and with liner notes by Alan Freeman, head boss at Ultima Thule and author of The Crack In The Cosmic Egg, Epitaph For Venus is out NOW on vinyl and CD from very cool record stores and all the usual suspects on line. Also available directly from the Guerssen Records website or from their Bandcamp page here.............
Saturday, 29 July 2017
As one of the more hallucinogenicly warped bands to emerge from the thriving Italian Psych Rock scene, the Italian duo of Andrea Bellentani and Simon Maccari have been exploring the darker side of the Psychedelic Experience since 2001 as The Diaphanoids. Fuzzed up and re-toxed, The Diaphanoids return with a new album of their very own sleazy, iconic brand of psychallucisergic rock. Released by People In The Sky Records, Blessed Poisons follows their previous releases, 2008’s dreamy retro-inspired Astral Weekend and the 2014 follow-up, LSME. which blended together 70’s cosmic flavours, fuzzed-out guitars and motorik beats, as the final story in this epic trilogy that has travelled through inner and outer space, alternate dimensions and realities in a highly altered state of mind. Stoned immaculate, Blessed Poisons is the sound of transcendent visions, of scarves drenched in oils, blood full of fractured rhythm, translucent guitars and acid drenched vocals blasted through the kaleidoscopic prism of a blown mind.
Opening with the cacophonous head rush of the albums title track, Blessed Poisons is a full-throated battle cry from the Psychedelic Underground. From tracks such as ‘Too Many Stars And Not Enough Night’, with its ecstatic floating guitars and shimmering keyboards, to the smacked-down drums and hashed-up guitar solos of ‘Iconize Yourself’ the album oozes hallucinatory rage echoing out into a dead, empty reality. It’s modern Psychedelia at it’s best, deconstructing tripped out influences from the last 40 years, pulling together the lysergic proto-Punk of Suicide and Chrome, 70s Krautrock, Neo-Psychedelic 80s Post Punk, swirling Shoegaze and experimental soundscaping The Diaphanoids have created a record that is reassuringly familiar while pulling Psychedelic Rock well out of it’s comfort zone into uncharted corners of a cold dark universe. One of the most Psychedelic albums released so far this year and well worth checking out.
Blessed Poisons is released 11/08/2017 on CD via People In The Sky. Available from all the best groovy record stores and the usual suspects on line.
Saturday, 22 July 2017
Arriving through our post portal, one of the furthest out records you will hear all year…………………….Fiore Spietato is the fifth album from Unimother 27, the recording alias of Italian multi instrumentalist and bedroom Psychonaut Piero Ranalli ( if his music is anything to go by this man is a veteran of at least a 1000 psychic wars) and contains five freaked out tracks of Acid Rock squall, twisted Psychedelic improvisations and trippy Space Rock. Aided and abbeted by drummer "Mr Fist", Piero deconstructs the assumed “laws” of Psychedelic Rock and reassembles the music in strange and twisted shapes.
His music is hard to describe, but if you could get your head round the concept of a bus with Chrome and Acid Mother’s Temple on board tipping over a cliff, then this is the sound of the wreckage. It’s not the easiest album to get into, but after a few listens the Acid squall becomes near transcendental. The opening track ‘There Is No Trip For Cats’ is a LSD soaked guitar wig out that sounds like Alien Soundtracks era Chrome on a bad come down…………and it gets weirder. ‘Hierophantes’ is an angular guitar improvisation dragged along by clattering drums while ‘Something About The Clouds’ is broken Krautrock glued back together the wrong way round and is completely deranged. This is certainly not easy listening, however beautiful melodies emerge from the chaos from time to time…………. ‘The Wheels Of Memory’ is a fantastic guitar improvisation which has echoes of blissed out 60s West Coast guitar bands such as QMS and the Steve Miller Band. Clocking in at around the 15 minute mark the albums title track is a winding, spiraling track that anyone into the Cosmic Jokers will really love, slowly fading out into a gentle hum of feedback. It’s not going to be to everybodies taste, however if you like you Psych Rock further out there than most then you are likely going to dig this.
Fiore Spietato is out NOW and you can pick up a copy on Discogs here and check out the Pineal Gland website for more weirdness.
Friday, 21 July 2017
Seeing that 60s Psychedelia really didn’t hit the UK provinces full on until 1970, there was always a flip side to Swinging London. For every band of dilettante acid dandies freaking out at the Roundhouse or getting it together in the country there were a dozen hard gigging bands playing the northern clubs and discotheques every weekend. Apart from a few isolated pockets outside of the groovy epicenter, the fall out from the Summer Of Love was a London thing…………that’s where the really ambitious bands had to base themselves, however seeing that the Pop charts were full of hip tunes, a watered down version of Psychedelia seeped into almost every town in the UK. There were loads of venues and a load of bands available to play them……….they were hardworking professional musicians who could make a decent living mixing a dash of cabaret and comedy with a set of Freakbeat/Psych tinged pop tunes and if they were lucky they would be given an opportunity to record a single. Toby Twirl were one such band, originally from Newcastle they were playing regular gigs between 1968 until 1971……..they had the threads but were slightly uncool and no doubt the closest they came to a psychedelic experience was the hallucinogenic effects of Newcastle Brown Ale, but by the sound of their long overdue debut album they could really tear up a dancefloor on a Saturday night in Blackburn. The tapes of previously thought lost demo and showcase recordings were recently discovered by the band's drummer, John Reed, which have been carefully transferred to a digital medium and professionally mastered. This mix of original songs with a collection crowd pleasing hits of the day is soon to be released as a limited edition 180 gram LP and CD by the good folk at Mega Dodo.
Toby Twirl were formed from the ashes of several Newcastle Beat groups and were briefly signed to Decca Records. The group released three singles on Decca……..'Back In Time', ‘Toffee Apple Sunday' and 'Movin' In'. Although critically acclaimed in later years, as these tracks have appeared on countless Freakbeat/Psych Pop compilations in the last two decades, none of the singles charted due to lack of major radio play at the time. The lost recordings that appear here walk a fine line between a cheesy desperation to get a hit single and a solid night club act. Side one of the album is very Pop orientated but includes a very cool cover of the Beatles ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man and the aforementioned Freakbeat tune ‘Movin In’. Side two is bonkers…….in a good way. There are covers of Steppenwolf and The Guess Who (‘Born To Be Wild’ and ‘American Woman’), a straight cover of ‘Something’ (for the slow dance), The Everly Brothers ‘When Will I Be Loved’ done Trojan moonstomp style and a fantastic cover of the Easybeats hit ‘Good Times’ which sounds like a Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels out take. Toby Twirl were late to the Psychedelic party and although there are some great tracks here, it sounds as if they were at heart a cabaret band (all be it a very successful one and were a top draw around the North of England) and played what worked for a beered up Saturday night crowd as opposed to finding their own path. They were good at what they did………the songs are played immaculately, the close harmonies are as tight as you like and they were a proper party band but they lacked the visceral energy and originality of bands such as Tomorrow or the Move and remind us of the Rock influenced club/cabaret bands that used to rock up on TV talent shows like Opportunity Knocks and New Faces in the early 70s. It’s a strange release for Mega Dodo, but all the same if you dig the seriously obscure side of British Pop Sike this will be right up your street. It’s a rare glimpse of the other side of the Psychedelic 60s.
Due for limited release 06/10/2017, keep ‘em peeled for pre-orders.
Monday, 17 July 2017
ALISON O’DONNELL - CLIMB SHEER THE FIELDS OF PEACE (Mega Dodo LP, CD, D/L). RICHARD BONE - AGE OF FALCONRY (Mega Dodo CD, D/L).
July sees the release of a couple of strange and beautiful albums from the ever reliable boutique label Mega Dodo……………….
Irish Folk singer Alison O’Donnell really should need no introduction, but for those of you new to her music here’s a brief biog………….. Born in Dublin, Alison O’Donnell recorded her first single, 'Feeling High', in 1968 for Simon Napier Bell’s SNB label at the age of 15 with the cult Progressive Folk-Rock band, Mellow Candle. They signed to Decca's Deram label in the early 70s and gigged their only album Swaddling Songs extensively in Ireland and Britain, appearing in concert with the likes of Genesis, Thin Lizzy, Donovan, The Chieftains and Steeleye Span before splitting up in 1973. Now considered a Folk Rock classic, Swaddling Songs was “rediscovered” during the Psych/Acid Folk revival of the mid noughties which led to a renewed interest in her work and an invitation to join Irish Wyrdfolk outfit United Bible Studies among various collaborations with the new breed of twisted Folk artists including a fruitful meeting of minds with English Psych Folk band The Owl Service. Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace is Alison O’Donnell’s first proper solo album since 2009s Hey Hey Hippy Witch (a much under rated record that features contributions from various members of United Bible Studies, The Owl Service, Circulus and musicians from Mellow Candle) and is a collaboration with Dave Colohan from Raising Holy Sparks and mixes Folk and Electronica with remarkable effect. Although Folktronica is a genre that you would not immediately associate with Alison O’Donnell, as with her previous albums, Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace is at turns unpredictable, chilling, heart-breaking and exhilarating as acoustic guitars and snaky synths combine with O’Donnell’s vocals to send shivers down the backbone; it easily stands shoulder to shoulder with her best work. Deeply atmospheric and stunningly beautiful, Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace is Folktronica it best. Stripped down to stark and unfussy arrangements, the beauty is in the their simplicity, giving plenty of space to Alison O’Donnell’s wonderful voice in the mix, the songs have an ethereal quality not a million miles away from the pastoral psychedelia of United Bible Studies and Kate Bush at her more daringly experimental moments. Sometimes sounding almost like devotional music from a time before electricity and at other times having a more quirky, modern feel this is a collection of some of the finest Folk based songs you will hear all year.
Also new from Mega Dodo is Age Of Falconry by American Electronic musician Richard Bone. With roots in experimental Electronica, Richard has been releasing solo records on his own Quirkworks label since the early 90s and Age of Falconry is Richard’s first release with Mega Dodo. Richard’s versatile compositions walk the edge of combining the abstract with contemporary Electronica. His music steps out of the ordinary, transforms into unusual shapes and spheres, the latter ranging from hypnotizing and a bit foreboding to free form compositions with quirky elements occasionally lurking underneath. Age of Falconry has a haunting beauty at work on many of its tracks, juxtaposed with a cheery warmth, both elements sitting comfortably next to each other despite their polar opposite natures. It’s an album that mixes together many of the strands of modern Electronica………..the opening track, ‘Queensberry Wilde’, is a beguiling piece of Folktronica, where elsewhere there are hints of Eno’s Music For Airports and Apollo albums and elements of Ambient soundscaping and minimal Krautrock compositions. Tracks such as the haunting ‘A Shooting Star Was I’ and ‘Winged Persia’ are Eno-esque in their construction while other tracks like ‘Mabuhay!’and ‘Damfino’ sound like they have come from one the fantastic early 90s Ambient collections that labels like Warp and Leaf used to put out. There is a darker side to Richard Bone’s work as exemplified by the weird and glitchy ‘Urgent Curious’ and the brooding ‘Apotheosis’ which are in stark contrast to the lighter compositions on the album. If you are a fan of 80s/90s Ambient music, this is a record you need to check out.
Both albums are out NOW……………..Alison O’Donnell’s Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace is a limited edition vinyl and CD release while Richard Bone’s Age Of Falconry is a limited edition CD release only. Available from all good record stores and on line outlets with copies also available directly from the Mega Dodo store or bandcamp page here https://megadodo.bandcamp.com/merch
Sunday, 9 July 2017
Strange things are happening in South America……………Outta Uruguay come one of Fuzz Club’s latest signings, the fuzzed up and freaked out boy/girl duo Las Cobras. Psychedelia has always been deeply ingrained in South America's culture and history, harking all the way back to the 1960s with the politically charged Tropicalia movement. Things are no different now either; it’s host to a wealth of great bands such as Follakzoid, Boogarins and The Holydrug Couple, to name just a few, and with their debut album Temporal, Las Cobras can be added to this list. It’s a totally mesmerising journey through warped synths, tropicalia percussion, lysergic bass-lines, smoky vocals and chiming, fuzzed-out guitars, influenced as much by Psych/Rock 'n' Roll greats such as BJM and Suicide as it is wildly immersed in the lysergic sounds of Psychedelic South America.
Driven by fuzz bass and the kinetic rush of a hot wired drum machine, the songs on Temporal pull together Las Cobras wide range of influences, from the hazy swirl out of ‘Dark Waves/Beating Hard’ to the Tropicalia flavoured,dreamy title track the duo of Sofía Aguerre and Leandro Rebellato explore their unique vision of Psych Rock filtered through the lens of traditional Latin American sounds. At times the album is a joyous head rush akin to Os Mutantes at their best, and at other times the luscious kaleidoscopic elements are dropped in favour of a more darker, sinister, fuzz fest propelled by motorik percussion with distorted guitars, foreboding bass lines and enthralling harmonies from both Sofia and Leandro. It’s experimental in the sense that Las Cobras are still trying to pin down their “sound” and having a blast trying to figure out what works the best…………..’Nothing Against You’ has the vibe of The Kills on a serious downer while ‘So Much Love’ is a brutal, bass heavy, echo laden sonic assault and sees the band dive into darkly enticing psychotropic waters. For a debut album from a band that only formed a mere 12 months ago it’s way better than could be expected and gives the perfect insight into the mystical, all-encompassing sounds of Las Cobras. We can’t wait for this band to seriously get there shit together and unleash what they are really capable of…………….it’s gonna blow minds.
Temporal is out NOW on Fuzz Club records as a limited pressing of 300 copies on coloured vinyl and available from all good record stores and on line outlets, with copies still available to buy direct from the Fuzz Club shop or their Bandcamp page at https://fuzzclub.bandcamp.com/album/temporal where you can also stream the album.
Saturday, 1 July 2017
DA CAPTAIN TRIPS - ADVENTURES IN THE UPSIDE DOWN (Vincebus Eruptum Recordings/Phonosphera Records LP, CD, D/L).
Cut from the same cloth as tripped out Acid Rock bands such as Monarch, Sendelica and Mythic Sunship, Italian cosmic jam band Da Captain Trips blend languid Dead Head fluid West Coast vibes with spacey 70s Prog/Psych influences in mind bending Adventures In The Upside Down………it’s a concept album of sorts, with seven tracks of instrumental “visionary psychedelia” based on a fantastic adventure of da good Captain floating on the border of reality in the upside down dimension. Working together with Italian Sci-Fi comic artist Roberto Bonadimani who, inspired by the music, has provided several beautiful illustrations for the album cover and the inner gatefold, Da Captain Trips have created a fantastic piece of work that evokes the look, sound and feel of classic early 70s albums that would have once surfaced on the Virgin, Vertigo and Deram labels…………”classic” Rock/Prog fans are going to go nuts for this.
Recorded live in the studio after being honed on the road, Adventures In The Upside Down has been made by a bunch of skilled musicians with an almost telepathic connection as it twists and turns, soars and swirls without dropping a beat or rushing headlong up blind alleys. Like their Welsh psychedelic soul mates Sendelica, Da Captain Trips have the self awareness to know sometimes less is more and that not all cosmic jams need to drag on past the twenty minute mark…………Adventures In The Upside Down sees the band developing expansive soundscapes, but with half an eye on the clock. Like the opening track ‘The Calm And The Storm’, all the tracks here are punchy and stripped of any pretentious self-indulgence that can blight Prog Rock albums. There are some really great tracks here………..with it’s driving staccato guitar riff and lush synth washes, ‘Manta’ pushes all the right buttons for all the ProgHeads while ‘Revelation’ is a……err……revelation, featuring Sendelica’s Lee Relfe on saxophone taking the band deep into the realms of Space Jazz. ‘Dear Zahdia’ and ‘Trepasses Bay’ are epic modern Psych/Prog tunes……………with rock solid drums and bass holding down the bottom end as tight as you like, there is plenty of space for a dizzying aerial ballet between guitar and Mini Moog, with both instruments dipping and diving, feeding off each others energy. The album slowly winds down with the gently reflective ‘Peaceful Place’ and closes with the beautiful part acoustic, part the raging guitars of QMS/Grateful Dead, Summer Of 67 evoking ‘Mother Earth’……….Adventures In The Upside Down is a really cool album of excellent, inventive instrumental Prog/Psych and well worth the time of any discerning ProgHead and Acid Rock loving space cadet.
Out NOW on limited edition vinyl, CD and also as a digital download…………..the vinyl version, released by Italian label Vincebus Eruptum Recordings, is available in either coloured or standard black vinyl (150/200 copies of each). The CD comes via Phonosphera Records in a limited run of 300 copies, both formats available from the usual outlets on line or direct from the band’s Bandcamp site
where you can also buy the download/stream the album.
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.
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.
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………
Very little (if any) remains of the West London Freak Scene since the property developers moved in around 30 years ago. What was once the epicentre of the…..errr……London Underground, Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill Gate, Portobello Road and the surrounding areas, was home to an enclave of freaks, immigrants, drug dealers and bohemians long before the hippies got there and back in the late 60s and early 70s that could hold its head up as England’s answer to New York’s Greenwich Village or San Francisco’s Haight Asbury. It was a special area....Eric Clapton formed Cream whilst living there, Jimi Hendrix died there, Van Morrison sang about it on the song ‘Slim Slow Slider’ on his Astral Weeks album and Nic Roeg and Donald Cammell immortalised it in their cult film, Performance. At the cusp of the 70s, Notting Hill was the base for Freak Scene luminaries such as The Edgar Broughton Band, Mick Farren, The Pink Faries, Sam Gopal, International Times, Juniors Eyes, Marc Bolan’s hippy acoustic groovers Tyrannosaurs Rex, Frendz, Hawkwind, Barney Bubbles, Mighty Baby, Nigel Waymouth,The Pretty Things and never one to miss a bandwagon, Richard Branson, in the wake of the success of his hip record stores including the flagship shop in Notting Hill would set up the Virgin Records label on Portobello Road in 1973 and exploit the alternative scene even if most of his signings were not culled directly from the local community. Part of this beautiful swirling mess were Quintessence, a band very much born out of the Grove, celebrating their home in the song ‘Notting Hill Gate’ (“Getting it straight in Notting Hill Gate. We all sit around and meditate”). A sextet who based their music on ragas and mantras and took their Eastern path very seriously, the band comprised Australians Phil ‘Shiva’ Jones (vocals, keyboards), Ron ‘Raja Ram’ Rothfield (flute) along with Allan Mostert (lead guitar), Richard ‘Shambhu Babaji’ Vaughan (bass), Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling (rhythm guitar) and Jeremy ‘Jake’ Milton (drums). One of the few British based bands to successfully fuse Acid Rock and Eastern spirituality, within months of their formation in 1969 the pretty esoteric mix (even for ‘69) of Psychedelic Rock with Indian devotional music and their electrifying live performances had earned the band a dedicated following and Quintessence quickly caught the ear of Island Records boss Chris Blackwell. In a the space of three years and during a phase of intense creativity Quintessence recorded three classic, timeless albums for Island Records until a dispute over money saw them dropped from the label……………..for the first time the complete Island recordings have been collected together by Cherry Red Records, remastered and released as a 2 x CD set on their Prog/Psych imprint Esoteric Records.
Although at the turn of the 70s Quintessence were an extremely popular band on the Underground scene, playing the very first Glastonbury Festival in 1970 and the legendary Glastonbury Fayre of 1971 among a host of other festivals and gigs which included selling out the Royal Albert Hall, headlining at the Lyceum Ballroom and playing the Montreaux Jazz Festival, they had kinda dropped right of the radar by the end of the decade (we stumbled across them by picking up cheap second hand copies of Bumpers and Nice Enough To Eat, mainly for the Traffic, Nick Drake and King Crimson tracks but having our tiny teenage minds blown by ‘Ganga Mai’ and a live version of ‘Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Guaranga’ which originally appeared on the Island double LP sampler Bumpers in 1970). Maybe just too damn idiosyncratic to really fit in anywhere, Quintessence have been overlooked many times when a new generation get their minds scrambled by Psychedelic music. However, time has been kind to the band’s three Island releases, still sounding as fresh and vibrant as when they first appeared and with recent releases from new great Psych Rock bands such as Flowers Must Die and Sherpa plunging deep into Eastern music maybe this is the time that Quintessence get the recognition they deserve as one of the most innovative British bands from the early 70s. Released late 1969, In Blissful Company was a distillation of their free form Jazz/Rock inspired live sets where the band would drift into epic Grateful Dead style cosmic jams…………produced by John Barham, who had worked with George Harrison on the Wonderwall soundtrack and would also work again with Harrison on his All Things Must Pass album, In Blissful Company tapped into the late 60s zeitgeist of all thing spiritual, gurus and mystics and Indian vibes; a sudden passion provoked by the Beatles involvement with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, fascinated by his techniques of Transcendental Meditation. In Blissful Company was, in every respect, a landmark achievement. A gatefold with die-cut booklet, it would be Island’s most expensive album packaging at the time. With its Indian god cover art and interior photos of the extended Quintessence ashram, Quintessence represented to the public an alternative way of being. And they all looked very happy.The opening track, ‘Giants’, seers into the brain like a bullet into the third eye…….one of the most underrated Psych Rock songs of the era where Quintessence channelled Acid Rock through a prism of Eastern influences with the track dominated by Allan Mostert’s scorching guitar playing. A fluid, mellow-toned, Grateful Dead influence would determine Allan’s playing in due course; for the time being the Jimi Hendrix sound was where it was at, spiced with a fascination for Ravi Shankar. The debut album from Quintessence is where the West Coast Freak Scene met the West London Freak Scene, both spiritual and mind melting, a collision of squalling Psychedelia and more transcendetal moods with producer John Barham honing their onstage magic into sublime studio sculptures, with inspired touches like the addition of oboe and female choir on ‘Chant’ and slowing down a tambour on tape to create a mesmerisic drone in ‘Midnight Mode’. Evolving into a drone out of epic proportions, ‘Midnight Mode’ closes the album……………it’s mix of mellow vibes and Eastern flavour not out of place in today’s modern Psych scenes. Now considered a classic, the first Quintessence album would have sounded terribly quaint and very dated even only a decade ago, but times have changed and modern Psych bands are now embracing the sounds of the early 70s again with albums such as In Blissful Company ripe for rediscovery and reappraisal.
Quintessence’s second, self titled, album was even better. Island originally had signed the band after only a few months of being together, with an album recorded and in the shops around six months later and In Blissful Company reflected this. More sonically adventurous, the second album saw Quintessence riding on a wave of popularity that saw them able to experiment more and this is evident on the opening track, with producer John Barham still at the controls the original studio recording of ‘Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Guaranga’ has a depth that the debut album lacked. Elsewhere, mixed in with devotional mood pieces, there is more Prog/Psych feel with Raja Ram’s spiraling flute piece ‘Prisms’ leading the way for bands like Gong to take trips to the further out there melding together Jazz and Psychedelic influences. Seguing near seamlessly into the the wonderful Twilight Zones,……………these tracks along with the tripped out ‘Only Love’ were possibly as near to perfection Quintessence ever got. Quintessence also included a couple of live tracks that highlight what a great live band they were at the time and what a beautifully fluid guitar player Allan Mostert was……….both ‘Burning Bush’ and ‘St. Pancras’ are full on freak outs that still sound brilliant today. With the record peaking at 22 in the album charts, it looked as if Quintessence were on course to fulfil the expectations of their label and audience alike. One still-born goal they set themselves was an opera/oratorio, requiring an Indian orchestra and Tibetan musicians, based on a spiritual journey from Ladbroke Grove to the East. ‘High On Mount Kailash’ on the second album would be the project’s sole survivor. This record, nearly 50 years after it was recorded, has aged and matured beautifully and really needs you to wrap your ears round it. The second album by Quintessence shows a band at the peak of their powers……………the band were darlings of the music press and the underground earning admiration from such luminaries as Pete Townshend of The Who (who attended Quintessence concerts) and Jim Morrison of The Doors, selling out shows on a regular basis with stunning live performances and Island were negotiating for their records to be released in the USA……..what could possibly go wrong??
Released in 1971, Dive Deep was mostly produced by the band themselves. John Barham had been sacked by Raja Ram and although he returned to salvage some of the tracks at the mixing stage, Quintessence were given free reign to indulge in their predilection to jam and see what happened. Nowhere as good as the first two records but still with a good few great tracks, Dive Deep saw the band moving in a more Prog Rock direction with epic tracks such as ‘Dance To The One’ and ‘Epitaph For Tomorrow’ both clocking in around the 10 minute mark. It’s different, but essentially the same Quintessence but with more of an eye on the expanding Prog/Psych market in the UK. More gentle than before, Dive Deep shows off the band’s outstanding musical ability with the album’s title track being really good while ‘Epitaph For Tomorrow’ is an outstanding song, strange and beautiful in equal measures sounding more like the songs from the previous albums with squalling, fuzzed out guitar running through it’s core. It’s a solid album but was not a great seller for Island records which caused a degree of consternation for the label and in an act of outstanding career suicide, four out of the six band members vetoed an American record deal because of a disagreement over the amount of advance they had been offered. Following the band’s sell out show at the Royal Albert Hall, American tour dates had already been booked with the opening show set to be at Carnegie Hall……………..had Quintessence made it across the Atlantic they would have gone down a storm, more so when they hit the ballrooms of S.F. .Seriously pissed off with Quintessence, Island Records quickly lost interest, dropping the band from the label at the first opportunity and although the first three albums were reissued on CD by Repertoire Records nearly 10 years ago they have to date still yet to have an official release in the U.S.A. . The band resurfaced briefly on RCA’s long forgotten Prog Rock imprint Neon (what RCA hoped would be their progressive equivalent of Harvest, Vertigo or Deram) before singer and principle songwriter ‘Shiva’ Jones along with Dave ‘Maha Dev’ Codling were kicked out the band, never again reaching the creative and critically acclaimed heights of their remarkable first two albums for Island Records and quickly fading into obscurity as tastes changed over the following decades.
Maybe the best band you have never heard of, the music of Quintessence is well worth exploring for any discerning PsychHead, fans of classic Prog and anyone into Indo/Jazz fusion. Out NOW and available from all good record shops/online, check it out People.