The subsidiary labels within the Cherry Red family aren’t shy of mining the mod, soul and freakbeat archives in the name of a great compilation. The now defunct RPM issued a string of box sets, beginning with 2011’s ‘Looking Back’ and culminating with 2016’s ‘Looking Stateside’ which became a pleasingly comprehensive journey through an alternative 60s, and Strawberry Records’ similarly structured ‘Halcyon Days’ and its timely delivered follow up ‘I Love To See You Strut’ – issued in 2020 and 2022, respectively – proved equally essential.
The British blues boom was arguably one of the most important movements in musical history. Not only did it launch the careers of various guitar heroes – players much loved for decades afterwards – but the guitar driven sounds also paved the way for a whole universe of rock music. With that in mind, it’s interesting how few compilations have celebrated the British blues scene. Aside from Grapefruit Records’ excellent ‘Crawling Up A Hill’ box set, any other releases have been label specific, leaving a huge gap in the market for a set to explore some of the more niche sounds from the era.
‘Shake That Thing: The Blues In Britain 1963-1973’ is perfect in that regard. This three CD set from Grapefruit casts a much wider net than their earlier box set, but never loses site of its core objective. Bluesy sounds are out there, front and centre, at all times, but it also looks beyond the usual suspects to celebrate blues laden tunes shared by other singer songwriters, folkies and rock bands during a hugely transitional period.
Throughout the late 60s and early 70s, the landscape of rock music shifted. Over the course of five or six years, psychedelia gave way to hard rock, and a heavier approach to both blues and rock gave birth to a sound that would eventually be considered the birth of heavy metal. ‘We’re An American Band’, a 3CD set from Cherry Red’s retro subsidiary Grapefruit Records, charts these musical changes on the US rock scene, bringing together various key tracks and fantastic album cuts. In doing so, it ventures far deeper than your average compilation, despite presenting several very familiar names.
In 2017, Grapefruit Records released ‘Let’s Go Down & Blow Our Minds’, a three disc anthology bringing together psychedelic favourites, rarities and unreleased gems from 1967. The set proved so popular that similarly curated box sets covering 1968 and 1969 swiftly followed. A comprehensive voyage through an interesting landscape, capturing an era where new studio trickery pushed rock and pop music forward apace, between them, this trio of releases comprised an unmissable treat. For those who couldn’t get enough psych and freakbeat, the label even issued a further five discs’ worth of material from the era in the lavish ‘I Think I’m Going Weird’, a release that brought some of the biggest underground gems to public attention since Bam Caruso Records unleashed their ‘Rubble’ series of releases in the early 90s.
Despite the comprehensive amount of material from 1967 filling ‘Let’s Go Down’ and the ‘…Weird’ box set, Grapefruit have uncovered yet more gems from the year with ‘Too Much Sun Will Burn’. You might think at this point that another psych box would feel like overkill – but you’d be wrong. More so than ever before, this set brings a wealth of rare material via a set of tracks that were recorded in 1967, but not actually issued at the time, and a great selection of harder to find 7” sides. Obviously, some of these have crawled out on other comps over the years, but it’s great to have them easily accessible and in one place. There are also a few genuinely unreleased cuts to tempt the hardened collector, making it a release that should please a broad spectrum of psych lovers.
Subtitled ‘Pastoral Psychedelia & Funky Folk’, this three disc anthology from Strawberry Records delves deeply into an era where folk music adopted a more progressive approach, and prog/psych bands weren’t afraid to get whimsical. Although the music within isn’t always easily pigeonholed, the bands and artists featured cross genres and moods freely, in a way that captures a period like no other, mixing folk narratives and very English tones with the worldly haze of a prog rock experimentation and a love of jazz. Without these genre-bending pioneers, John Martyn’s ‘Solid Air’ mightn’t be the much loved masterpiece that it is, and Al Stewart might’ve been forever stuck in a Dylan-esque narrative rut. And that’s just scratching the surface.