On the surface, it would seem that the British blues boom has been well served by compilation discs over the years. On closer inspection, that hasn’t really been the case at all: the best anthologies tend to be label specific (Blue Horizon’s ‘The Blue Horizon Story’, Decca’s ‘The Blues Scene’ and Immediate’s ‘Blues Anytime’ series, later repackaged as an excellent four CD set by Charly Records). The bulk of the rest seem too concerned with repackaging bits of ‘Blues Anytime’ with cheap, inferior packaging. There hasn’t ever really been a decent compilation covering a lot of ground from different labels, or one unafraid to dig a little deeper beyond the usual suspects.
1966 was very much a turning point for pop music. Many acts that were considered beat groups had started to branch out and to think beyond live performance. With orchestral tracks like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘For No One’ Paul McCartney pushed forth the idea of baroque pop. John Lennon, meanwhile, was experimenting with tape loops and early forms of electronica. His ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, closing The Beatles’ 1966 masterpiece ‘Revolver’, is often considered to be at least partially responsible for the birth of true psychedelia. While it’s obvious Lennon’s sound collage took a massive leap towards the mind expanding sounds of ’67, many other bands were sowing the seeds for change a little earlier. As early as 1965, The Kinks pushed boundaries with their single ‘See My Friends’ – a mix of jangling sixties pop and raga music – while even the Dave Clarke Five had occasionally sounded a bit…out there for the era with an increased use of reverb. While the roots of psychedelia could be argued over almost indefinitely, The Yardbirds’ ‘Shapes of Things’ – a fuzzy mish-mash of beat-pop and soft druggy haze – pre-dates the release of ‘Revolver’ by several months and is very much in the mould that would come to be known as freakbeat. An important branch of the psychedelia family tree, freakbeat took the bones of the sixties sound, loaded it with fuzz and wasn’t shy in exploiting the left/right split for stereo head trips. In 1966, this was very much at the forefront of emerging alternative sounds.
A product of the late 60s freedoms and musical experimentation, British folk-rock gave the world a few classic albums in its formative years. Fairport Convention’s ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’ and ‘Leige & Leif’, both released in 1969, arguably took the musical fusion from being of cult status and into the more mainstream. Now considered indispensable by fans everywhere, these are albums without which Led Zeppelin’s third album might not exist in quite the same way…or even at all. Often taking a more trad direction in their early years, Steeleye Span captured the fingered-ear of folkies with 1970’s ‘Please To See The King’, whilst Lindisfarne also gained a great deal of commercial success with a slightly more raucous take on a rapidly growing genre, even if that success has been somewhat overlooked in the passing of time.
This is a golden opportunity for those who love the nooks and crannies of British psych and pop-sike to explore various semi recent releases at bargain prices.
Between 2016-2018, Grapefruit Records released three excellent box sets exploring the nooks and crannies of the British psychedelia movement. The three anthologies featured in excess of over two hundred tracks and even included items which even the more devoted psych obsessive hadn’t heard before. Having almost exhausted that particular avenue, the same label’s ‘Come Join My Orchestra: The British Baroque Pop Sound 1967-73′ from November 2018 provides an interesting side-step. In the wake of numbers like The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘For No One’ and the Stones’ ‘Lady Jane’, baroque pop became in vogue and all manner of artists – obscure or otherwise – turned to applying strings and flutes a-plenty. Not quite straight pop, but never as ostentatious as prog rock would make the orchestra, the seven year stretch bridging the two decades turned up all kinds of treats. While often favouring the singer songwriter over the pop bands, ‘Come Join My Orchestra’ is a great celebration of these sometimes forgotten musical experiments – and with seventy eight tracks ranging from the cult classic to genuinely obscure, there’s a lot here to take in.