Words by Jack Hopkin
So you’re preparing your groovy seasonal playlist, and, being the hip scenester you (no doubt) are, you’re enlisting the services of trivialised troubadours, under-appreciated underdogs and misprized minstrels. The chilly chanteuses with their hidden gem recordings, commonly eschewed and neglected in favour of yet more airplay for Wham! and Wizzard. Steeleye Span’s ‘Gaudete’? Check. Bert Jansch’s ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’? Essential, I hear you chortle. The Door’s ‘Wintertime Love’? A bit of a stretch, but given the gap in the market for psnowy psychedelia, we’ll allow it.
After all, both classic and modern day psych groups are trapped in the ‘California Dreamin’ mentality of wishing the winter away. Blue skies and fresh flowers may make for more appealing backdrops for trippy dreamscapes than the arctic tundra, and, after all, the Summer of Love did give way to a winter of discontent. That said, come December, it can be a bit grating as a psych fan to listen to lyrics pertaining to good day sunshine when your extremities are at very real risk of being chewed off by that old pervert scourge, Jack Frost (no relation, I assure you.)
Thankfully, London’s prime neo-psych outfit, Green Seagull, have set out to plug this gap with their beautiful new Christmas single ‘First Snow of Winter/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’. Released earlier this month, both sides of this 45 are classic additions to Green Seagull’s acclaimed psychedelic oeuvre.
2018 has been a vital year for Green Seagull. Whilst the group, consisting of Paul Nelson, (formerly of New Electric Ride) Paul Milne, (ex Hidden Masters and Magnetic Mind) Sarah Gonputh and Elian Dalmasso, have been together since 2016, it was earlier this year that their debut album, ‘Scarlet Fever’, was released on Mega Dodo Records to critical acclaim and rave reviews.
‘First Snow of Winter’, with it’s baroque structure, silk smooth West Coast vocal harmonies and jangling, tinsel guitars, could well be a long-lost recording by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the ‘Pretty Song from Psych Out’ tailored for an English winter rather than a San Franciscan summer. It should be stressed, however, that this ode to everyone’s favourite frosty phenomenon is by no means a Christmas song and as such is free of the kitschy over sentimentality of most perennial favourites. Rather, the lyrics depict the passage of the season, spanning from the titular first snows to the eventual bloom of the first flowers of spring from beneath winter’s frozen facade.
Green Seagull, you’ll be pleased to know, retain their moody, atmospheric sound on this original composition. The result is a heady, quixotic, pseudo-Elizabethan slice of unique psychedelia sure to delight fans of ‘Aftermath’ era Stones, Country Joe & The Fish, the Fallen Angels, and others of their cosmic stable. Yet, comparisons are largely futile – unlike a number of other neo-psych groups, Green Seagull are not derivative, showcasing an affection for 1960’s psychedelia that doesn’t descend into outright mimicry. They wear their influences proudly on their sleeves but are by no means a tribute band rehashing old glories.
The B-side is an impressive feat in itself. Who knew that the festive standard, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, could sound so refreshingly hallucinatory? The lysergic gloss of Green Seagull’s uptempo interpretation imbues this age-old arrangement with a sense of unpredictability and a hint of dormant menace. After all, for every visitation courtesy of Father Christmas, scientists claim, there are three undertaken by Krampus. Green Seagull’s ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is moreso a liberation than a simple cover and is not to be missed.
One of three singles released as part of the sixth edition of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club (the other two courtesy of London band Oh! Gunquit and Bristol singer-songwriter Rachael Dadd), ‘First Snow of Winter’/‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is limited to a run of 320 copies, each pressed on snow white vinyl. I hope it’ll make its way into your home and your head. Just be careful not to smudge that pristine white finish with jam fingerprints.
Green Seagull are in the process of recording a second album and are also set to support the legendary 1960’s garage psych group the Seeds next April. Definitely a band to keep your third eye on – but in the meantime, here’s hoping for a green Christmas.
Get the single digitally or on limited edition snow white vinyl here
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