There was a time… it was a while back, admittedly, and probably most people who might remember it are now so old they don’t remember much of anything any longer… but there was a time when debut albums were something to look forward to.
Thing of wonder, things of surprise. New artists, new songs, new styles, new notions. The days when record companies signed bands because they thought they were buying something new, as opposed to something that could be molded into the same shape as every other band in the land.
Of course there are exceptions, and don’t worry, nobody here is even going to suggest that your precious Coldplay are less than immaculate geniuses who have never sounded anything like a warmed-up Radiohead.
Nevertheless, Spin Cycle is old and grouchy enough to believe that the golden age of debut albums spanned the void that divided 1972 (the first Roxy Music) from 1986 (the Len Bright Combo) and that, since then, hens have more teeth and fish have more lips than there’ve been sparkling debuts from untapped talents.
Enter Crystal Jacqueline. Enter Icarus Peel. Enter the Honey Pot. Enter (it’s getting mighty crowded in here) a trio of albums, Tea at my Gaffe, The Honeypot and Sun Arise, that not only ooze all the qualities that one seeks in a maiden outing, they abound with so many that it’s difficult to believe none of them even existed before a few years ago.
And even harder to believe that they all hail from the same household (and much the same multi-instrumentalist songwriter), in a tiny town in west country England that was hitherto best known in musical circles for rearing the almighty TV Smith, punk rock legend of so many years renown, than for conspiring a new psychedelic revival.
Looking Through Gary Gilmore’s Record Collection
Crystal Jacqueline and Icarus Peel met, says Peel, “in a covers band, many many years ago. They played throughout the world on ships and in hotels, everything from Lynryd Skynryd to Cole Porter, Abba to Gram Parsons.”
Settling down on the very fringe of Dartmoor, Icarus was first to make a musical move, spilling out the wealth of inspiration, influence and … if you’ve heard it, you’ll know what we mean… insanity that became 2009’s Tea At My Gaffe. It’s psychedelia, Jim, but not as we know it.
Perched within those pastures that some like to dub acid folk, which tends to mean you can hear an Incredible String Band influence in there someplace, it also toys with punchy, perky nonsense pop (the maddening “Plastic People”), demented doggerel (“Drip Drip Drip Walking Wakeful”), and sometimes everything at once.
Imagine if the early Pink Floyd had kidnapped the even earlier Donovan, and force-fed him nothing but artichokes and as-yet-unmade Bevis Frond records. You’d come close. Asked to confess to some musical influences, Peel and Crystal ran off the Doors, Love, the Small Faces, the Electric Prunes, Jimi Hendrix, Kevin Ayers and Jefferson Airplane, but they were probably just being polite. A far more pertinent response would have been a sonic portrait of their own imagination and chemistry, shot through with whatever it is they feed themselves in that part of the country, to produce such unique songwriters.
Meanwhile… “Meanwhile,” continues Peel, “Crystal Jacqueline had brought out a bluesy rocky disc called ‘Heal Yourself’”; Icarus himself unleashed The Sunflower Army, “slightly more pastoral” than its predecessor, and Sing.
But of even weightier consequence was the release, on Fruits de Mer,of Jacqueline’s first maxi single, “A Fairy Tale,” a scrumptious slab of soft focus psych that opened with possibly the greatest Troggs cover since [fill in your own favorite here, but don't mention Wet Wet Wet. I'm going for Billy Nighy's].
“Cousin Jane” wasn’t only elected fourth favorite song amid the label’s entire output at the end of the year. It was also instrumental in the birth of Sun Arise. An album, lest we haven’t drooled sufficiently, that will leave the most jaundiced ear shivering with excitement and glee, and reduce the most modernistic born-too-later staring wistfully back to an age when all this was the future, and Century 21 was just a kid’s show on television.
Peel: “Mega Dodo boss John Blaney was staying with us, and he heard the tracks for a possible album. He immediately said ‘I will release that on my label’,” and so it came to pass. The CD appeared last fall, the vinyl just last month (and it’s already all but sold out), and just in case you don’t get sufficient Crystal from the album, the same month saw Fruits de Mer release the double EP Crystal Jaccqueline and The Honey Pot, a lovingly crafted and packaged collection of covers, originals and artwork, delivered complete with a short story.
Which, for those of you who are paying attention, is where the Honey Pot comes into things.
“The Honey Pot started out as a bet,” declares Peel, before detailing how radio DJ Marrs Bonfire (and staunch Mega Dodo supporter) challenged Icarus, famous for fairly long tunes, to produce an album of shorter 60s/psyche songs, something akin to Revolver, perhaps.
This he accomplished, with drummer Wayne Fraquet, Crystal and Iain Crawford all adding to the festivities. And the ensuing album, packed with such treats as “Hazy Recollections,” “Sweet Orange Sunshine” and “Comfy’s Secret,” was so well received that a band had to be formed, gigs arranged… and a revolving door of bassists and other guests established to bring the group up to strength whenever one looms.
Which is more than enough to keep anybody busy, but there is more. “Future plans,” says Peel, “are to keep on keeping on!!!” He and Crystal have begun playing as an acoustic duo as well as the live band, with their initial burst of gigs including a well-received spot at the just-passed Fruits de Mer Crabstock festival in Wales. The Honey Pot’s date sheet, meanwhile, includes the Lapstock festival in July and a Special event at the Exmouth Pavilion in August, “A Strange Groovy Happening By The Sea.…”
There’s a split EP by Icarus and Mega Dodo bandmate Mordecai Smyth on its way, and if you reread the interview with label head Blaney, you’ll doubtless locate other secret doings therein.
Recording is in progress for second albums by both the Honey Pot and Crystal Jacqueline, targeted for release next Spring, with the Pot threatening this time to reap the rewards of an imaginary holiday t
hey spent on the West Coast of America many years ago, imbibing those sounds that keen ears pick out of their usual brew… almost all of whom, one hastens to add, also made a great debut album. Apart from maybe the Airplane. Their second was better, and their third was even more so.
But it’s a long time since any of us went bathing at Baxter’s, and longer still since we wanted to. So let’s go bathe in a honey pot instead. And don’t forget your pink litmus shirt.