What is “Toytown Pop”? The label, coined by fans and collectors, refers to the more mundane and child-friendly aspects of the psychedelic era and psych pop movements. It is chiefly concerned with everyday life, shops, buses, swings in the park, and has an obsession with being home in time for tea. In terms of lyrical concerns and overall concepts, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more…1967.
For those who aren’t regular visitors down the rabbit holes of cult 60s pop, The Beatles’ ‘Penny Lane’ is a good example of this musical niche with its busy narrative driven by people and casual observations, and to a lesser extent, the optimistic tone and bounce of ‘Good Day Sunshine’ could also fit the remit. Obviously, due to licencing agreements and costs – as usual – you won’t find The Fab Four anywhere on ‘Climb Aboard My Roundabout’, but Grapefruit Records has unearthed a whole world of other treats to ensure that this three disc set is a very comprehensive journey through Toytown, and is never less than interesting.
Since the label’s launch in the late noughties, Grapefruit Records has worked tirelessly to bring top quality reissues to fans of cult 60s and 70s sounds. Thanks to their archive digging skills, previously unaffordable vinyl albums by Skip Bifferty and Picadilly Line were no longer an extortionately priced mystery; Jeff Lynne’s early years with The Idle Race were reappraised, and dark psych combo Zior reached the ears of many people for the first time.
For all of their well loved archive releases, it’s a trilogy of psych themed box sets featuring hits, misses and rarities from 1967 (‘Lets Go Down And Blow Our Minds’), 1968 (‘Looking At The Pictures In The Sky’) and 1969 (‘Try A Little Sunshine’) that best advertises the label’s eye and ear for great reissues. With that in mind, it seems only natural that the label would raid the archives of psychedelia’s peak years for their hundredth release, and ‘Think I’m Going Weird’ is Grapefruit’s biggest and most adventurous release to date. With over 120 tracks spread across five discs, a larger format book sharing a wealth of important historical detail and rare photographs (with no obvious overlap from the previous 60s psych sets) this British take on ‘Nuggets’ is something of a jewel in the label’s crown.
The late 60s and early 70s were a great time for experimentation and free spirited sounds. From within the psychedelic scene came various bands who were less enthralled with rainbows and being “home in time for tea”, preferring instead to stretch blues origins into dark and heavy places, inspiring a generation of guitar heroes. Others took a mod and freakbeat approach and ladled on the distortion thus creating a more inventive take on a garage rock sound, something which arguably helped to spawn punk. By cranking their amps and embracing an artistic freedom, there were a whole spectrum of bands slowly changing the musical landscape. The original ‘I’m A Freak Baby’ box set (released by Grapefruit Records in 2016) gave a solid overview of the era for the curious listener. Although it featured a lot of material that keener rock fans would already own, it still played well as a compilation in its own right. Popular tunes by Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac could be found alongside cult numbers by Pink Fairies and The Groundhogs, as well as a few genuine obscurities from Barnabus, Sweet Slag and Cycle. A second triple disc set released in 2019 offered more gems, but dug even deeper for rarities with unreleased tracks from Natural Gas, Thor, Tarsus, and more besides.
Grapefruit Records’ 3CD anthologies covering music from 1970 and 1971 captured a British music scene during a period of change. Psychedelia may have been considered long gone, but various pop bands still seemed keen to dabble with the quirky and odd. Although the artier side of the era’s pop and rock scene during that period was often interesting, these sets suggested that the era didn’t always have a clear identity.
There are no such issues with ‘Beyond The Pale Horizon’, a triple disc collection promising to bring “The British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1972”. By the time 1971 had coughed its last and the pop and rock machine rolled into the new year, progressive rock was a dominant force within the album buyers’ market, while glam rock and hard rock were never far away from the singles chart. Between these two or three musical tribes, ’72 came with a strong musical base, but – as always with Grapefruit’s abilities to dig through a rich musical history – the year offered so much more greatness. Naturally, three discs really isn’t enough to paint the most complete picture, but the chosen highlights within ‘Beyond The Pale Horizon’ offer the kind of listening experience that so many lovers of 70s pop and rock will find both nostalgic and educational.
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.