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.
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.