Featured image: Appletree Theatre
“Jack Hopkin’s Curiosity Shoppe is a bucolic place populated by gnomes and faeries, stocked with musky muskets and antiquated leather bound volumes in ancient tongues. A village green with a resident town crier (yours truly) shouting old news over the clopping cobbled streets. In other words, a column dedicated to recommendations from the peak of the psychedelic era, undiscovered in plain sight, and often fabled much like Atlantis. Make yourself at home and look among the wares on display…”
At the time of writing (June 24 2017), it is fifty years to the very day that four prophets, The Beatles, unleashed the juggernaut of “All You Need Is Love” onto an unsuspecting, but wilfully surrendering world. I do hope some of the magic of that compendious incantation will rub off onto this column, which may be described as a patchwork quilt of different shades and colours, or alternatively a messy stream of conscious spiel enough to make even the most verbose Kerouac inspired beatnik blush, largely depending on whom you ask or, more importantly, how much I’ve bribed them.
Whilst my finger searches blindly for the pulse in today’s music scene, accidentally poking eyes or even worse from time to time, there are a lot of records from psych’s golden age of ’67-’68, both singles and LP’s, which I would delight in sharing with you.
One of the oddest of these I’ve come across is by The National Gallery, a studio group who have an eponymous LP out subtitled Interpretations Of The Paintings of Paul Klee. This record serves as another link to the 1960’s fascination with the surrealist art nouveau of the 1920’s, for other evidence of this trend, look no further than the faux music hall of the Beatles, boutiques with intentionally campy names such as ‘Granny Takes A Trip’, and, perhaps most glaringly of all, Nirvana‘s performance of “Rainbow Chaser”, replete with lashings of spattered paint courtesy of none other than Salvador Dalí. Indeed, this particular album comes with peaks and troughs. It’s most worthy offering, however, is the second track, “Diana In The Autumn Wind”, which you really ought to try to hear. Beginning quietly, with a melancholic folky melody reminiscent of early Fairport Convention, there is some increasingly throbbing fuzz accompaniment leading up to the chorus. And what a chorus it is, much like “Hey! Mr Carpenter” by The Fox, much of the appeal lies in the repetition of the title in an almost mantra-like manner- not that that freakbeat 45 shares much in terms of style. Imagine the Growing Concern performing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” with a baroque arrangement featuring plaintive horns, and you’re not far off this kaleidoscope of a cut. This is an LP worthy a listen, but one that rarely matches the excellence of “Diana.” Not strictly psych but more so sunshine-pop, fans of other ‘of their time’ studio projects like The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds and Present Tense by Sagittarius, will find much to enjoy, or at least pass the time pleasantly with.
One of my personal favourite new discoveries is, Playback, by The Appletree Theatre. Purportedly a favourite record of ‘John’s‘, both Lennon and Peel, at the time of its 1968 release, that serves as an indicator that the contents of this suitably quaint sleeve- featuring a pastel coloured tree grinning much like a Cheshire Cat, can’t be bad. This is an album that truly makes the most of it’s long player format, which means needless to say there are ‘Sgt Pepper‘ influences spread like a Day-Glo rash, only to be expected given the 1967 recording date. This is a record which achieves the ‘song cycle’ rather better than the better known debut of the Steve Miller Band; indeed, the ‘gimmick’ here is that we are listening to a play, complete with overtures and acts, subtitled ‘The Altogether Overture’, ‘Acts I-III’ and ‘Epilogue’.
Straightforward pop sensibilities clash with strange psychedelic undertones in the cheery, “Hightower Square”, complete with a spoken word beginning so peculiar it just works (pity the same couldn’t be said of the Beacon Street Union‘s similar effort). “I Wonder If Louise Is Home” is typical of the time ‘hippie-meets-square’ tale but with a twist- we view proceedings through the eyes of the comically voiced straight in a track which sees the Appletree Theatre at their most ‘Zappa-esque’ (this is a cut which may well have come straight from the Mothers‘ We’re Only In It For The Money LP) whilst “Brother Speed” has some raw Motown influenced instrumentation and pounding vocals. Highlights are the tender “You’re The Biggest Thing In My Life”, with a sentimental lyric and a really rather beautiful organ lick which snakes through like a freshwater stream, and the finale song “What A Way To Go” which follows on from the funky and florid instrumental “Lotus Flower.” Through this haunting finale replete with intricate harmonies, the Theatre sound transcendent and distant. The illusion of the Appletree Theatre is shattered by reality in much the same manner as “A Day in the Life” serves as a comedown from ‘Pepperland.’
One of the greatest unheralded masterpieces and inexplicably largely out of print, you should nonetheless try to find it- otherwise I shall wind up furrowing my brow in anger and I’m sure you shan’t like that.
Whilst Cherry Red Records‘ excellent psych collection, Love, Poetry and Revolution, is hardly new news, it’s still worthy of an honourable mention. Many excellent hits that never were here, namely the Procol Harum inspired “Teagarden Lane” by the Jason Crest, two cuts by The Mirage – “Wedding of Ramona Blair” and “Ebeneezer Beaver” and excellent demo material from the Flies, Blossom Toes and Tintern Abbey. Cherry Red is a label to watch – as well as reissuing worthy material from worshipped cult acts like July and The Misunderstood, there is also a subdivision of the enterprise called Grapefruit, specialising in obscure U.K. psych, which has recently released a new compilation by the name of, Let’s All Go Down And Blow Our Minds, (quoting The Alan Bown and setting the tone of the contents rather nicely) which is also very good and features one of the oddest 45’s ever committed to wax- Geranium Pond‘s lysergic underwater calliope hymn “Dogs In Baskets.” Definitely one to watch.
On a more contemporary note, be sure to look up the Electric Octopus, a group gigging extensively in Belfast and beyond specialising in psychedelic jamming akin to that of the Grateful Dead. With just the right amount of exposure, they might just end up doing very well indeed.
Whilst there is still some solstice magic left in the summer light, the sun is quickly setting to leave a bruised sky and even though there are countless other sounds I want to discuss perhaps these would best be saved for another time. I hope my sophomore effort has been worthwhile and that it finds you in good health and even better spirits at the beginning of what promises to be a long and beautiful summer.
Learn how to play the game. It’s easy, you see.
Love from your friend Jack
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