A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Friday, May 31, 2002

Welcome Back, Musos! I received a few more Brit psych-folk discs in the post in the past few weeks, so I'll make this a "Part II" to the one I did a month or two ago. I *finally* scored a Dr. Strangely Strange CD from E-Bay in my third attempt! I was out-bid two other times in some fierce auctions. I have their second album, called Heavy Petting, originally released in 1970. My initial reaction upon listening was "Holy Incredible String Band, Batman!" I mean, these guys sound like either a String Band side-project or the *best* I.S.B. cover band in the world. Lead singers Jim Goulding and Ivan Pawle even have the trademark Robin Williamson and Mike Heron vocal stylings down pat--you know, the s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d emphasis on certain words and different pitches of voice within one bar of music--not quite yodeling but not linear singing, either. It turns out that both bands were friendly so this is probably more of a shared interest in pennywhistles, recorders and trippy, New Age philosophical lyrics. They also shared a producer in Joe Boyd, who was the house producer at Sound Techniques studio in London, where the I.S.B. recorded all of their most influential records (i.e. The 5000 Spirits.., The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, etc.) and the place where Nick Drake and the early Pink Floyd made their first records. "Heavy Petting" was the follow-up to Dr. Strangely's first album Kip Of The Serenes, released in 1969..and re-issued on disc in 1992 by PolyGram in Germany--and which I actually saw at a convention and didn't buy..D'Oh..it's *way* out-of-print now! Ivan Pawle had actually guested on a couple of I.S.B. albums, namely Changing Horses in '69 and U in 1970..and he helped out Mike Heron on his first solo record, Smiling Men With Bad Reputations, in 1971. Musically, "Heavy Petting" resembles later I.S.B. albums like I Looked Up, where the folk sound has more than a dash of rock n' roll injected--electric guitars, steady (but slow) drum beats--not congas, but a full drum kit and a noticable lack of Eastern instrumentation. In fact, that's a big difference between the two groups...D.S.S. do not augment their sound with any Middle East or Indian flavors--no gimbris, sitars or tabla anywhere...whereas the I.S.B. merely toned down the drones on their later albums--it seems D.S.S. did not make use of them *at all*..surprising, really. All in all, an excellent record, if you like I.S.B. music..if you don't, this may not be your bag...I'm in luck, though, 'cause I dig the String Band and "Heavy Petting" makes a nice companion album to their catalog. Now, as you may know...Dr. Strangely Strange took their name from the comic book character Doctor Strange, who was something of a counter-culture hero (along with The Silver Surfer and Thor--this may be due to Ken Kesey's "Merry Prankster" influence). If you're a fan of the Doc Strange comic book..or of comics in general..check out my man Neil's site--you can get to it from the link in the sidebar at the top of the screen--he's always got the latest scoop on Doc Strange's world and lots of other goodies, with plenty of links to relevant sites..and the site has excellent graphic design, too--lots more than "Schizoid Man"..but hey, at least I have my background again! Check his site out, for real..you can't go wrong!
Another group I discovered in The Tapestry Of Delights (Vernon Joynson's extensive tome on English beat/blues/psych & prog) was called Forest. One more of those "2-albums-only" bands, they issued "Forest" in 1970 and the follow-up Full Circle in 1971. The Beat Goes On label re-issued both albums as a 2-CD set in 1994. I came through on an E-Bay auction and got the disc from a cool seller named John Culver in England. They were a three-piece of multi-instrumentalists and their music is Celtic trad-folk with a bit of a hippie slant to the lyrics..one of the tunes on the first album is called Would You Like A Smoke. The first record contains shorter compositions and lots of pennywhistle and acoustic guitars where they began to jam on the follow-up. Some interesting ideas on both and expert-playing, but I would only recommend this to fanatics of the genre..definitely *not* essential stuff. The same goes for Gnidrolog, an acid-folk group founded by the Goldring brothers and who released their first album, In Spite Of Harry's Toe-Nail, in 1971. These guys were riding the crazy train as evidenced by the opening cut..I think it's called Love Man Life Death, but I'm not sure..it opens with a full-out electric freak-out, then segues into it's proper folk leanings. It nearly 8 minutes and contians a few tempo and mood changes before fading out. The rest of the album continues in it's unique psych/folk/prog vein--especially the two-part title track. It's pretty weird and would probably only appeal to prog freeks or those who are curious about what the sound of some English folkie lads ingesting 500 micrograms of LSD each would be like. They recorded a follow-up to "..Harry's.." called Lady Lake in 1972 and I'm trying to get a copy but it seems to be sought after by the prog cognescenti on E-Bay--perhaps later for me then...
Gryphon had quite a novel approach to the progressive scene, they pretended it was wayyyy back in Olde Englande an' got medieval on yr ass! I have their first record (self-titled), from 1972 and Raindance, from 1975. These guys had the whole get-up..mandolins, lutes...they sang in close harmonies...*and* still managed to "rock out" as best they could in a madrigal stylee. They even have a cover of The Beatles White Album chestnut Mother Nature's Son on "Raindance". It seems odd to me that more Renaissance Fayre people aren't hep to Gryphon and would rather buy Blackmore's Night CDs..but Gryphon are the authentic stuff and I would've played their music back when I still rolled the duodecahedral die in Dungeons & Dragons quests..but I just have to spin their discs now an' remember the goode ole daze. It's amazing these cats even got to record one album, never mind five..but it goes to show how much less compartmentalized certain record labels were in the early 70s.
Bringing things around to the beginning of the post, I visited an Incredible String Band fan site and found out that "U" is *finally* going to be released on CD on July. It's the only one I need for the full catalog..way to go Elektra Records. They've been issuing some great stuff lately--specifically the deluxe Forever Changes CD by Love...the Tim Buckley 2-CD retrospective...and the 2-disc sets by Judy Collins, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Buckley. "U" isn't among the brightest lights in the I.S.B. catalog--but it does have stellar moments--especially the opener, called El Wool Suite..featuring some excellent sitar-playing by Mike Heron. I'm still keeping my vinyl copy--but having the convenience of compact disc works for me, too.
That's all I've got--except to say that a week from today..myself, The Purple One--Prince, Tom Jones and the drummer for the Stone Temple Pinheads will all be one year further along in the universe..ouch! Yep, it's me birthday next Friday.."another year over..and a new one just begun"..brings a tear to me eye, it really does...HA HA HA HA...awlright, peeps...keep chillin'!!