In a world awash with psychedelic compilations, from mixtures of the mighty to the obscurest of the oddities, it’s sobering to remember a time... which was, admittedly, some three decades back... when the music was fresh enough still to feel like a recent memory, but distant enough that it felt like the chiming of another planet entirely.
Less than a decade separated 1975 from 1967, the same distance as divides us now from 2005. But consider he two spans side-by-side, and is it just me being nostalgic (and old)? Or has time really passed a lot faster, and a lot less definitively, this century than it did back then?
We digress. Today you cannot turn around for psych compilations. In 1975, you could walk a million miles and still not find one. Reason enough for the UK New Musical Express to taunt its regular readers with a couple of Britpsych compilations that existed only in the mind of writer Charles Shaar Murray - and, if truth be told, have still to be replicated, all these years on. One, drawn from the vaults of Polydor, creaked beneath he weighty genius of Arthur Brown, Julie Driscoll/Brian Auger & the Trinity, Thunderclap Newman (two tracks apiece), Cream, John’s Children, Martha Hunt, Blossom Toes, Fleur de Lys, Kevin Godley, and the Soft Machine; the other, raiding the EMI archive, grasped Tomorrow and Pink Floyd (two each), the Yardbirds, the Smoke, Dantalian’s Chariot, Love Sculpture, the Jeff Beck Group, Deep Purple and the Edgar Broughton Band.
And the only reason I’m telling you this is because it took me fourteen years to actually get my hands on every track on both albums (Fleur de Lys were the hold out.) Today, you could probably compile the same albums in ten minutes of downloading, because our attention today is so much more focused that it sometimes feels as though there’s not a note of music played between 1967-1970, on either side of the Atlantic, that has not now been anthologized into staleness.
Sometimes. But the appearance of a new 3CD box set might well make you change your mind.
Love, Poetry and Revolution: A Journey Through the British Psychedelic and Underground Scenes 1966-1972 (Grapefruit/Cherry Red) exceeds the chronological brief, of course. But not so you would notice. Three themed discs (the title gives them away) may well bristle with familiar names... the In Crowd, the Misunderstood, the Spencer Davis Group, the Alan Bown!, the Deviants, Hawkwind, Bill Nelson, Kevin Coyne .... might also hit some of the same highs as Mr Murray’s age-old dream comps, via Arthur Brown, Blossom Toes and John’s Children.
The Fut’s “Have You Heard The Word” rings bells from sundry old Beatles bootlegs, when there were rumors that this might have been them (it wasn’t); and Forever Amber are beloved by the Mojo-reading, Guardian-guided, Zooey Deschanel-admiring set.
But for every name you know, there’s going to be two or three more that leave you either scratching your head or fanning the lightbulb that just went off in your memory, urging vague recollections to reveal themselves. Sun Dragon, Complex, Simon Finn, the Crocheted Doughnut Ring, Paper Bubble, the Mirage.... And skipping through the booklet, you find out why. Unissued session tapes, rare private pressings, forgotten acetates, super-obscure singles....
Sands’ “Mrs Gillespie’s Refrigerator” was a Bee Gees song gifted via the two groups’ shared management (Robert Stigwood) as the final release on his Reaction label. Deep Feeling’s “Pretty Colours” was “recorded circa October 1968,” and we can’t be more exact than that; Peter Howell & John Ferdinando’s recital of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” was recorded for their local village’s theatrical production, and only ever pressed on an absurdly limited edition souvenir LP, handed out to friends and performers.
Labels whose lifespan can be measured in barely more minutes than the songs they released... Stable, Advance, Go and Beacon... flicker into vivid life, and no matter how many times the Polydor and Decca archives have been plundered for CD compilations in recent years, betcha still haven’t heard the Cortinas’ “Phoebe’s Flower Shop,” the aforementioned Doughnut Ring’s “Two Little Ladies,” or Felius Andromeda’s “Cheadle Heath Delusions.”
All of which is fascinating enough; sixty-five largely unknown, generally forgotten odds and sods scraped together into three generally thematic CDs, and hours of happy scrapbooking for those of us prepping for the next Acid Heads Pub Quiz. (Sixty-six tracks, actually - there’s a bonus Lol Coxhill song wrapping up disc three.)
“What six sided green object did not release a song about dropping a ten ton weight upon Ritchie Blackmore’s old band in 1968?”
Easy! Jade Hexagram with “Crushed Purple.”
What really makes Love, Poetry and Revolution stand out, however, is that this is good stuff. No, correct that. This is great stuff. You know, after all, how these things usually work - you’re promised umpteen discs of delicious detritus, and you wind up with 100% understanding of why most of it was forgotten in the first place. Coz it’s rubbish, innit?
Not so here. I’m not claiming every track is supercalifragilistic... you’ll find a few that are expeditiously dozy. But both conceptually and musically, they hang together with ape-like tenacity, swinging from the trees, munching bananas and smoking the skins, and time and again sending you reaching for the booklet to try and determine why you’ve never previously experienced Neon Pearl’s “Just Another Day”... Serendipity’s “Castles”... Czar’s “Ritual Fire Dance”?
Well, you have now. Them and sixty-odd others. And doesn’t it feel good? So good that, as soon as it’s finished, I’m going to compile a similarly far-reaching box set of lost treasures and far out classics from the mid-late 2000s. Just to prove a point, you see. To see if it can be done.