The sounds of psychedelia’s peak from 1967 and going into 1968 have been well documented. Whether delving into the classics of the era or digging for obscurities, there are a wealth of great tunes to be found within an eighteen month period. By 1969, the musical tide was very much turning; British whimsy and three minute pop gems about myriad cups of tea and talking gnomes had largely been pushed aside for harder rock sounds. Various bands clung on for dear life, of course, and even well into 1969 there were bands across Britain knocking out various 7” pieces of plastic for the psychedelic cause. In another volume of musical history, Grapefruit Records have dug deep to bring three discs of interesting cuts from the year. The results are quite often less gaudily coloured, but you’ll still find a few bands sticking to familiar formulae. While at least half of the material gathered here is more of the well-honed pop/rock variety than flat out psych, the journey is one that’s still more than worth taking. Covering over seventy tracks in all, such a box set could seem daunting, but the curators have included at least ten familiar names, which actually adds to the commercial appeal without detracting from the potential obscurities and rarities.
Looking at a few of those more familiar tunes first actually helps to get in the mood before going far deeper. The post-Steve Winwood Spencer Davis Group – fresh from contributing to the brilliant teen movie romp Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush – are represented by ‘Letter From Edith’, an album cut that finds them rocking relatively hard on some beat-psych that leans far more towards their Mod origins than any wilting petals from yesteryear’s flower power; an early cut from Barclay James Harvest channels elements of The Moody Blues with a lovely echoing and layered production that is as perfect a snapshot of ’68/’69 as you could hope for, while British band Nirvana (always on the fringes of sets such as this) lend some very British charm with pop-rocker ‘It Happened Two Sundays Ago’. A tune that has obvious overhangs from The Beatles, it also keeps a keen eye and ear on music being made by The Move concurrently. It’s worth hearing, even if this box definitely features more interesting stuff elsewhere. Speaking of Roy Wood and The Move, their ‘This Time Tomorrow’ is very much a product of its time, with wistful vocals, bongos and spacious arrangement very much suggesting the aftermath of soft drugs, half a world away from the threatening dirge of 1970’s ‘Hello Susie’ and certainly not as endearing as ’67s ‘Flowers In The Rain’. More interesting, The Pretty Things’ ‘You Might Even Say’ twists a few garage rock staples into something a little looser around the edges, with gently warbling vocals and finger cymbals that say “late 60s” like very little else. Like a demo from The Byrds’ ‘5D’ period or perhaps a deep cut from The Who’s ‘Sell Out’, it manages to convey a sense of other worldly whilst remaining very accessible to fans of beat-oriented sounds.
Ralph McTell’s obviously folk derived ‘Summer Come Along’ is a definite highlight, sounding like a cross between something slightly rocky from Fairport colliding with the whimsy of Jethro Tull. This is a real eye opener for anyone who doesn’t know much about McTell; the arrangement is just lovely, with a world of multi-tracked vocals sitting atop dancing basslines and a banjo. Echoes of Bert Jansch throughout are a major plus, too. After hearing this, it’s easy to imagine people heading straight for Ralph’s 1969 long-player ‘My Side of Your Window’ in anticipation – just brilliant. All too often overlooked for their contributions to the arse-end of the psych movement, Status Quo are represented by a non-album single, a cover of the Everly Brothers ‘Price of Love’. While the heavy on the treble recording certainly helps to place things in period and the multi-layered vocals are fairly typical of sixties Quo hits, it’s nowhere near as interesting as their own ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ or ‘Paradise Flats’. However, if it’s inclusion here acts as a reminder that there’s more to the earliest Quo than ‘Matchstick Men’ or ‘Ice In The Sun’, then its work is done. The Kinks’ Dave Davies also offers a solo track, ‘Creeping Jean’, a classic hybrid of loud garage rock and disorienting grooves which really showcases a slide guitar evoking Brian Jones’s contributions to The Stones’ ‘Little Red Rooster’. Somewhere near the noisier end of the vaguely psychedelic pop scale, it’s a classic, classic slab of Kinky goodness – but then, since the recording also features his brother Ray and the rest of the band, it’s hardly surprising it sounds as great as it does. [Originally an overlooked b-side, the stereo mix ‘Creeping Jean’ can now be found on the deluxe edition of The Kinks’ ‘Village Green Preservation Society; the version included here is the infinitely less psych, more intense mono recording, as per the original 7”.]
It’s when moving away from the more obvious, though, that ‘Try A Little Sunshine’ really comes into it’s own. Giving the box set its name, the number by The Factory really encapsulates the slow change-over from psych to experimental hard rock with a four minute belter. Managing to be heavy on the overdriven guitars, yet retaining a feeling of falling into a haze, the track is like a lost album cut from The Who – all swirling riffs and unrestrained drums – and is, perhaps, one of the finest underground tunes ever. Stylistically, there’s a lot of this kind of thing peppered throughout 1969, not least of all during the ‘Underture’ from ‘Tommy’, but on the basis of this track alone, The Factory should have been far more successful. The bouncing piano of Paper Bubble’s ‘Being Human Being’ suggests at least one McCartney fan within their ranks on a number that constantly veers between whimsical. It’s equally endearing and annoying, so it’s easy to imagine this might have found fame as the theme for a kids show had the opportunity arisen.
Often mentioned by psych lovers, Orange Bicycle represent a far more traditional psych pop sound. Their featured track ‘The Last Cloud Home’ includes a world of multi-layered harmonies, a lush and fluid bass and light garage rock guitars, all used in a way that makes them sound like Crouch End’s answer to Jefferson Airplane. Despite their English roots, there’s a massive Haight-Ashbury thing going on and it’s all the better for it. Originally a b-side to a cover of Dylan’s ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’, this is an amazing track and cast iron proof that there were some that just couldn’t let go of 1967. In a contrasting mood and defiantly English, Jason Crest – a rock band from Tonbridge – are not exactly easy listening. The b-side to their fifth and final 7” ‘Black Mass’ has a vocal style that’s by turns shrieky and scratchy…and always bordering on the disgusting. …And yet despite Terry Clarke’s best efforts to wreck a five minute freakout with something that sounds like Joe Pasquale impersonating Arthur Brown, there’s something about this track that feels like a must-hear. Maybe it’s the droning church organs; maybe it’s the tape manipulation and crashing drums; whatever it is, it’s always in spite of Terry. This piece of experimental ugliness comes from the same school of thought that brought the late 60s proto-hard rock by Elias Hulk (also signed to the Philips label at the time) and Second Hand. It’s challenging…but should be obvious to most as to why it’s included here. Not least of all because the scant works of Jason Crest are highly sought by freakbeat fanatics: you can expect a 7” single featuring this track to set you back a three figure sum.
For great pop harmonies, look no further than The Freshmen, whose two minute belter ‘Mr. Beverly’s Heavy Days’ is like experiencing the best bits of The Zombies’ ‘Odessey & Oracle’ via a Beach Boys filter. Also worth an ear, Fat Mattress (featuring Noel Redding) are a band who could be a British Byrds on the basis of their user-friendly ‘Petrol Pump Assistant’, while the more interesting Angel Pavement are a fine vocal oriented pop troupe that could be The Turtles. Their ‘Green Mellow Hill’ – another highlight from a box full of gems – more than occasionally hints at ‘Happy Together’ throughout. Lifted or not, it’s absolutely fantastic 60s pop that’s not to be missed by lovers of the style. Also enjoyable, Fleur-De-Lys’ ‘Liar’ offers a fantastic moody verse with a grumbling bass and subtle guitar harmonics, before exploding into a strong chorus arrangement, again, of the Jefferson Airplane variety. With so much of a good grounding, a little more than a one line chorus would have been nice, but shifting into a bluesy breakdown to finish, it’s easy to hear why Fleur-De-Lys have become one of the era’s more celebrated underground acts. A brilliant surprise, Davey Payne & The Medium Wave Band are represented by their sole single, ‘A Walk In The Sunshine’. An odd piece of popsike, this manages to capture the mood of a late 60s pop/rock tune and then bolster it with a bunch of orchestral flourishes that are closer to the works of Johnny Hawksworth than The Kinks or Orange Bicycle… Bigger sixties thrills in barely over two minutes you’d be hard pressed to find. [Note: this is a different Davey Payne to that of Kiburn & The High Roads/Blockheads fame.]
Another pleasing addition, Grand Union take The Beatles’ ‘She Said, She Said’ in a semi-funky, bass driven direction. The guitar playing is cool and very much retains the mid-60s feel of the original, though perhaps a tiny bit rockier, while brave attempts at harmonies aren’t perhaps as polished as the Fab Four, but still admirable. ‘Morning Way’ by Trader Horne – featuring original Fairport Convention vocalist Judy Dyble – is also of interest, though it’s arguably one of the most period-centric tunes. The band meld what might’ve been a more trad English folk song to weird keyboard bleeps and oddities before fusing vocals in a way that suggests a more vertiginous sound. It’s certainly one for the more curious listener and not necessarily a number suggesting long term enjoyment.
In terms of much bigger obscurities, Peter Howell & John Ferdinando bring treated vocals and relatively tuneless mellotrons alongside spoken word passages on a track that tries hard to emulate the kind of bonkers appeal that Gong were just beginning to make their forte. However, a lack of anything like memorable tune means that this is for psych-pop obessives only. There’s not much to be found within these three discs and seventy-plus tracks that could be called terrible, but this comes pretty close. Thankfully, another track worth checking out, The Explosive’s cover of Tom Northcott’s ‘(Who Planted Thorns In) Miss Alice’s Garden’ is a really appealing oddity. Melding the instrumentation of classic popsike with a reggae-ish rhythm, the recording sounds like a failed solo experiment by Jack Bruce, yet retains a strange charm. It’s a great example of the “anything goes” ethos of those times and how record labels (in this case President) were happy to take a punt on all kinds of stuff, provided it could be pressed onto seven inches worth of black plastic. Although a number called ‘Armageddon’ isn’t as bleak as it sounds, the clumsily named Cape Kennedy Construction Company don’t always use their talents to their best advantage. Occasionally the low-key charm of a hook cuts through, but all too often they sound like Procol Harum without the classical training or arrangement ability. Tuesday’s Children’s ‘Doubtful Nellie’ is almost like Procol with Beatle-esque oddity. It’s one of the better obscurities purely because it stokes up the harpsichord quotient and brings future echoes of My Life Story in the process. Without delving into Pink Floyd’s wandering and sometimes shambolic film soundtracks, few things sound as much like a time capsule of the year than these three minutes. The recording sounds a little fuzzy – presumably, it’s from an analogue source – but it’s utterly loaded with 60s naivete and it’s all the better for it. If at first you’re unsure, stick it out: the closing round of “ba ba bas” are totally worth it.
Rather bewildering, Five’s Company present a rumpty-tumpty music hall pastiche named ‘This Little Boy’, whose clanky pianos and theatrical vocals could lead you to believe it was actually the work of Neil Innes and Viv Stanshall. Whatever and whomever is responsible, one listen is probably enough! In complete contrast and something that helps to make this set really stand, Balloon Busters’ ‘Alcock & Brown’ is an absolutely brilliant track that could have easily been the theme tune to a tutty sitcom, but digging below the throwaway bubblegum pop styled arrangement, a George Martin style care has been taken in the production department. You’ll find swirling noises, fairground overdubs and even a honking saxophone, not a million miles away from things Graham Gouldman could be found recording at Strawberry Studios just a few years earlier. There’s a fine line between the best bubblegum pop and light psych, as this firmly demonstrates, but just one or two listens are all that’s needed before it lodges itself firmly into your noggin, man.
While lots of these tracks have been available elsewhere – most notably as part of the ‘Rubble’ series, a now impossible to find collection of CDs – this set does an amazing job in giving a balanced overview of some of those underground waxes of ’69. While Argosy’s ‘Mr. Boyd’ – one of the year’s great popsike singles featuring Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson and one Reginald Dwight – is notably absent, it’s still a treasure trove of pop. Also It’s been marketed in a way that makes it affordable to anyone with an interest in late 60s pop/rock, or other things that fell through the cracks. It hasn’t all aged well; it isn’t all great, but then it was never going to be. Somehow, though, when viewed as a historical archive, though, this box is amazing. Now you can hear The Factory, Jason Crest, Davey Payne and Balloon Busters without having to sell a kidney, or perhaps revisit Orange Bicycle and Fat Mattress for a timely bit of nostalgia in a much easier way. It might even open your eyes to artists – like Ralph McTell – whom you’d previously dismissed.
‘Try a Little Sunshine’, indeed; while you might have to pan for musical gold, you’ll hear a lot of unfamiliar works along the way…and you won’t be sorry.