Ever since the CD boom of the 90s, the market has been flooded with easily affordable and easily accessible rock compilations. These sets, often adorned by artwork showing a guitar or having a car and open road theme have typically been aimed at the undemanding listener – the kind of person wishing to revisit the classic rock singles of their radio filled youth; the kind of person who’d happily listen to Thin Lizzy’s greatest hits in their car forever. You’d think the market would eventually run out of these people as their target market, and yet year after year, cheap comps featuring Thin Lizzy’s ‘Boys Are Back In Town’, Rainbow’s ‘Since You Been Gone’ and Free’s ‘All Right Now’ seem to fill supermarket shelves continually.
For most people, British progressive rock band Curved Air are known for two things: being the first band to ever issue a picture disc and for the having the legendary Stewart Copeland having occupy their drum stool in the mid 70s. Considering that vocalist Sonja Kristina had previously been an important part of the London theatre scene in the late sixties – appearing in Hair – and Curved Air actually scored a UK top five hit single in 1971, you’d expect them to be more widely celebrated. Perhaps the reason they aren’t is due to lots of their classically- and jazz-derived music being very hard going. Their earlier work often values complexity over obvious hooks – something that makes the funky ‘Back Street Luv’ single seem like something of an anomaly – and the way they switch between different moods from track to track can, at first, be disorienting. They are very much a band that requires a lot of time and patience before most of the listening rewards become obvious.
Between a world of cancelled and postponed gigs and time spent in lockdown, 2020 has been a troubled year, but nevertheless, time marches on. Unbelievably, we’ve reached December and our traditional countdown to Christmas has begun.
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.
As part of Cherry Red’s “12 Days of Christmas” sale, Esoteric Recordings are offering a 20% discount on a selection of their finest titles over the next few days. It’s a great chance to plug a few holes in your collection, or perhaps treat yourselves to a Christmas present or three.