The box sets released by Grapefruit Records covering the second half of the 60s managed to bring together a lot of interesting material under the loose umbrella of psychedelia. The four box sets – featuring music from 1966-69 respectively – also took in bits of pop, freakbeat and folk, but with so many phased guitars, recurring themes of teatime and other whimsy dictated by a general soft drugs haze, they often felt like coherent packages. Once the yearly exploriations move the into the 70s, there isn’t quite such a focus; with the first wave of psychedelia in its death throes, as well the rise of hard rock and singer-songwriters, the early 70s paint from much broader musical palate.
A stylistic indecision hasn’t stopped Grapefruit from digging deep and turning up loads of interesting things to fill ‘Peephole In My Brain: The British Progressive Pop sounds of 1971’, of course, and its three discs are brimming with obscurities, flop singles, half remembered gems and deep album cuts. With the vaults of Harvest, Vertigo, Ember and various other labels truly raided, it’s a set that’s quite quirky in its own way – and a reminder that there was far more going on at the time than the Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Yes and Tull-loving rock historians would have you believe.
After spending years fronting Ramones obsessives Tough, bassist Chris Polecat revived The Stinking Polecats. It was an unlikely move, given that Tough had gained some really positive press and the Polecats had been away for fifteen years – more than your average hiatus. But like so many good punk bands, those fifteen years might as well just have been two or three, since upon their return, the band merely picked up where they’d left off and sounded as good as ever.
For many melodic rock fans, guitarist Josh Ramos is a man who’ll need no introduction. In the 90s, he was a member of The Storm, a fine AOR band that featured ex-Journey men Gregg Rolie and Ross Valory. He later achieved success as driving force behind Frontiers Records signings Two Fires, an act much-loved by genre fans the world over. At other times, he’s been a member of Hardline, a melodic rock outfit who’ve battled on against changing fashions and changing line ups, but could often be relied upon for a decent end product. Yup, Josh has always kept himself busy, and while his approach to things might make him seem like a “man for hire” rather than a genuine star in his own right, he’s often made some smart career choices.
Vocalist John Payne will be familiar to most as having been the singer with Asia between 1991 and 2006. For a lot of people, he’s often that bloke who “isn’t John Wetton”. A somewhat unfair tag, maybe, but prog and AOR fans aren’t exactly known for being open to change, especially where a favourite vocalist is concerned. Despite Payne being treated by some as an “also ran” or some kind of stand in until Wetton returned (which he eventually did), it doesn’t change the fact that Asia’s 1992 album, ‘Aqua’ is their best work (‘Little Rich Boy’ and ‘Who Will Stop The Rain?’ are amazing songs) and in many ways, 2006’s ‘Arena’ remains one of the band’s most musically rich works, with a few tracks veering away from their pomp style and drawing influence from the smoother sounds of Toto. Unless you’re completely ignorant (like those people who have somehow written off over thirty years of a Fish-free Marillion after hearing three songs in 1989), John Payne’s contribution to Asia cannot and should not be undervalued.
Likened to early Replacements meeting with Johnny Thunders, the Dogmatics were very much a cult band on the Boston rock ‘n’ roll/power pop scene in the 80s. During their original run, they toured with Dinosaur Jr., The Bangles, Hoodoo Gurus, The Fleshtones and dozens of other well known rock bands. Tragedy struck in 1986 when bassist Paul O’Halloran died in a motorbike accident and with just two studio albums to their credit, the band called time on their short career. [A twenty track anthology, ‘1981-86’, brings together twenty Dogmatics recordings and is the ultimate primer for anyone unfamiliar with their work.]