As a contrast to the ‘Progessive Pop Sounds’ sets from Cherry Red Records subsidary label, Grapefruit, this anthology from sister outlet Esoteric opts for something far more rock oriented, and although the four disc delve into 1970 doesn’t necessary dig too deep for obscurities, it still plays very well as a compilation in its own right. In a little over four hours, it serves up nostalgia, unfamiliar curiosities and enough genuine classics to give a solid overview of the year’s prog-leaning and guitar heavy sounds.
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.
In terms of split releases, this EP is very impressive. It ticks all of the boxes that a great split should in that, firstly, it introduces listeners to two great bands they might have missed and, secondly, it pairs some interesting original material with some well chosen covers.
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.
Long before joining Roy Wood and Bev Bevan in The Move, a young hopeful named Jeff Lynne became a member of a Midlands beat group named The Nightriders. Soon after Lynne’s arrival, The Nightriders mutated into The Idle Race, a move reflecting a gradual shift from 60s beat group sounds to the burgeoning psychedelic scene. Despite releasing two albums and a handful of singles, The Idle Race failed to make much of a commercial impact in the 60s, but due to Jeff’s later megastar status as the leader of Electric Light Orchestra and part time Wilbury, their work has built a cult following.