Words by Robert Lee
The overdraft-bothering world of record collecting is a minefield, especially for any self-respecting ‘psychedelicist.’ Outside of Northern Soul, British folk rock, (especially it’s acidic off shoots,) boasts some of the most eye-watering price tags on the market. But for every four figure collector’s item by Moonkyte or Fresh Maggots, (VG+, naturally…) there’s incredible music waiting to be had for the price of a bag of Monster Munch, in your local bargain bin, as long as you’re willing to leave your prejudices at the door. So next time you’re in a ‘Sue Ryder’ or ‘Cat’s Protection’ shop, in search of original Owl Service paperbacks or that perfect Ossie Clark dress you’re sure will show up some day, take a couple of minutes to flick past the Paul Young and James Last LP’s and take a punt on one of these…
#10 Al Stewart – Love Chronicles (CBS, 1969)
A fine midpoint between his early troubadour period, and his soft-rocking “Year of The Cat” fodder. Prime-era Fairport Convention and Jimmy Page back Stewart on this lyrically bleak collection, and although Stewart’s voice isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of Darjeeling, (a plummier take on Marc Bolan’s fey tenor), the arrangements are sympathetic and include far-out studio effects, sometimes reminiscent of Astral Weeks. “Life and Life Only” has a certain Ray Davies quality to vocal and a memorable minor key groove. The 18-minute long potted life history of the title-track is a good showcase of Page’s lead guitar, even if I do find Stewart’s song writing a little wordy for my tastes on occasion. Stewart’s 1972 LP Orange (commonly known as the ‘Afghan Coat album’) is also worth exploring.
#9 Prelude – How Long Is Forever (Dawn, 1973)
For anyone looking for the missing link between the sunshine-pop of the Free Design and the femme-folk of Linda Thompson or Beverley Martyn, early Prelude is a good place to look. The album’s quasi-religious vibe is somewhat misleading, with the artwork and some of the song titles (“God”, “Sign of The Times” “Beauty of The World”) suggesting a ‘Jesus music’ element, although lyrically this isn’t particular evident. “God”’ has an unusual mix of sickly sweet vocals, fuzz guitar and tribal drum break and will get under your skin after a couple of listens. “Johnson Boy” is a subtly funky folk-rocker, whilst “Carry Me” shows a distinct Crosby, Stills & Nash influence. Their biggest hit also features; an A Capella take on Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush.”
#8 Strawbs – Strawbs (A&M, 1969)
The debut album by the eternally unhip London group, Strawbs. “Tell Me What You See In Me”, with its Moroccan instrumentation and ’67 style pop-psych vocal could easily be a lost Incredible String Band tune, and should be included on every acid folk compilation, alongside Pearls Before Swine or Comus. The Gainsbourg-does-Sgt Peppers style arrangement of “Oh How She Changed” holds up, and is ripe for crate digging reappraisal. “Or Am I Dreaming?” has a period toy-town charm, although the Donovan/Tyrannosaurus Rex-aping whimsical lyrics feel somewhat forced. Pickwick’s 1973 budget pressing of their previously unissued 1967 album All Our Own Work featuring Sandy Denny is also easy to come by and worth picking up.
#7 Parchment – Light Up The Fire (Pye, 1972)
Not quite as common as some of the other albums in this list, but it still crops up relatively frequently. Most of the album is pleasant, if unremarkable, early 70’s Xian Folk, but it does feature two tracks which should go down well with the heads. “Son of God” is a gently trippy groover with a distinct George Harrison flavour to the second half and plenty of phased vocals. The real pick here though is the acid-tinged, “Love Is Come Again”. Parchment were clearly listening closely to Pentangle around this time, although this song ventures into more psychedelic waters than Jansch & Co ever dared. French Horn, Sitar, Dulcimer and doomy drums combine with a traditional Scottish melody to devastating effects, alongside some heretically earthy lyrical content. Both of these tracks have recently been comp’d on the Folk Is Not A Four Letter Word, and Under The Silent Tree collections.
#6 Julie Felix – Clotho’s Web (RAK, 1972)
Despite being born in the US, Julie Felix had been a stalwart of the U.K. folk scene for a decade by the time this LP was released, hence its inclusion here. Never gaining much critical applause, she’s often seen as a sub-Judy Collins folk warbler, with her prime time TV show not garnering her much counter-cultural cachet either (despite inviting head-friendly guests included Jimmy Page, The Incredible String Band and Leonard Cohen.) The pop psych/folk funk of the title track should change that though. “Clickety Clack” wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Light In The Attic’s country funk compilations, with its distinctive Bobbie Gentry-esque groove. Mickie Most’s production shines on “The Lean Years” with Danny Thompson’s double bass taking centre stage, and primitive synth strings carrying us home. Her 1971 single, “Snakeskin”(not featured here) is also a big crate digger fave.
#5 The Albion Band – Rise Up Like The Sun (Harvest, 1978)
Late blooming classic from the twilight of the first generation of U.K. folk-rock, and a veritable who’s who of the genre. Richard Thompson’s guitar is sprinkled liberally over the whole thing and also features other Fairport alumni. The jazz/latin/indian fusion of “AfroBlue/Danse Royale” hasn’t aged well and the album’s occasional synth flourishes sound particularly quaint, but the highlights come when the band stick to the old formula. Don’t be perturbed by the date; “Ragged Heroes” and “Poor Old Horse” could easily come from a decade earlier.
#4 VA – Clogs (Peg, 1972)
A cheap way of getting hold of some great tracks by Keith Christmas, Shirley Collins, Shelagh McDonald, Andy Roberts and Martin Carthy, amongst others. Christmas was a contemporary of David Bowie, playing guitar on his Space Oddity album, and released several excellent orchestral psych-folk LP’s between ’69 and ’76. McDonald’s two early 70’s album should appeal to fans of Sandy Denny or Bridget St John. Martin Carthy’s “Lord Randall”, included here, is the version found of his rare 1972 album Shearwater. It’s a moody, modal, droning dulcimer-led murder ballad that could be the blueprint for much of the last decade’s psych folk/folk horror revival. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for Island Records’ Nice Enough To Eat and You Can All Join In samplers for more cheap thrills, including Nick Drake, Dr Strangely Strange, Jethro Tull and Quintessence.
#3 Ewan MacColl – The Manchester Angel (Topic, 1966)
Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to call Ewan MacColl “folk rock” but he bears including here for the incalculable impact he had on the British folk revival of the 50’s and 60’s. His albums crop up regularly in charity shops (excluding the excellent Radio Ballads series, which command big money) and are all worth picking up, as is anything on Topic Records. I chose The Manchester Angel as it’s slightly more common than his earlier works and includes his seminal version of “One Night As I Lay On My Bed.” This is a collection of labour songs, ballads, traditional love songs and shanties and would make a good introduction to traditional folk for the uninitiated.
#2 Lindisfarne – Nicely Out Of Tune (1970, Charisma)
No, wait! Come back! Don’t let images of Gazza rapping along to “Fog On The Tyne” put you off this fine debut effort. With shades of Fairport’s Anglicana, the pastoral groove of The Band and The Faces’ boozy swagger, it’s a must for lovers of frayed denim, cheesecloth shirts and a couple of bottles of Newky Brown on the weekend. With lyrics indebted more to the kitchen sink authors and beat-era surrealists of the previous decade than the cosmic scribblings of their prog-rock contemporaries, it’s aged well and is full of memorable tunes. The atmospheric “Lady Eleanor” reached #3 in the UK in 1971, whereas “The Road To Kingdom Come” and “We Can Swing Together” could come straight off The Basement Tapes.
#1 Steeleye Span – Hark! The Village Wait (RCA, 1970)
Another album often overlooked due to the questionable nature of some of their later work; this is among the high watermarks of British folk rock, comfortably earning it’s place alongside Liege and Lief, Basket of Light or The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. With both Gay & Terry Woods, Tim Hart, and Maddy Prior present here, this album has been called the genre’s own Rumours. Without being glaringly psychedelic, the LP has an underlying wooziness, with Hart’s droning fiddle reminiscent of John Cale’s work in Venus In Furs at times. Gerry Conway doesn’t hold back on the skins and Wolf People were clearly listening to the crisp guitar lines of “Blackleg Miner” and “Lowlands of Holland”. Steeleye Span never managed to recreate the magic found in these here grooves, with Ashley Hutchings coming closest the following year, with his work on wife Shirley Collins’ No Roses album. A flawless collection of traditional music, imbued with the Albion’s pastoral mysticism.
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