To those not around at the time, it’s difficult to explain just what made the Pink Fairies great. Musically they were a multiple car crash involving psychedelia, heavy metal, MC5 proto-punk and hints of prog. With a big sense of humour and a lot of drugs. Did I mention the drugs? They did like the drugs…
Part of the Ladbroke Grove counter-culture of the early ‘70s along with Hawkwind, with whom they shared many a stage, paid or otherwise, during those hazy, halcyon years. Indeed, for a while it seemed that it was hard to find a festival without the Fairies playing outside the gates for free. Unbelievable, they actually managed to stumble into a record contract with Polydor, for whom they recorded three albums which have gone down in alternative folklore, all of which are here in this rather lovely clamshell box.
The 1971 debut, Never Never Land, was unfocused (if it hadn’t been we’d want to know the reason why!), but it contained some undeniable classics. The opening zip-gun pre-punk thunder of Do It manages to take on the Stooges and the MC5 at their own game and show them the door. Quite why this hasn’t been cited by more of the 1977 new wave crowd is a mystery – the New York Dolls would have sold their lipstick to sound like this. Right away after this opening blast however come the dreamy, psych-ish tracks Heavenly Man and War Girl, while later on comes the full on mania of Uncle Harry’s Last Freak-Out, which sounds like its title. Best of all is the non-album B-Side to the Do It single, The Snake, included here as a bonus track. Containing one of the dirtiest, meanest and downright heaviest guitar riffs you’ll ever hear, some still cite this as the greatest Fairies track of all. It has some competition, but they’re not far wrong.
Second album What A Bunch Of Sweeties, a year later, was a more professional sounding affair (though that is relative, we’re not talking Steely Dan here), but even before its release the band had managed to split up, with singer/guitarist Paul Rudolph leaving owing to, among other things, an unhealthy drug habit. I did mention those drugs, right? Anyhow, once the album appeared they reformed again with Larry Wallis taking on the guitar duties, and all was right with the world – for a while at least. The album perhaps contained less great songs than the first (there were two covers, The Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run and The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There), but it all sounded great, with the bizarre Pigs Of Uranus based on a Gilbert Shelton comic.
1973 saw, sadly, the last Fairies’ album of their 1970s incarnation, but also the best. Kings Of Oblivion still stands as a true classic, covering all of the band’s far-flung bases, yet summing them up better than anything else they recorded, and rocking like an absolute beast. The standout cut City Kids is still one of the best flat-out 100mph adrenaline-fuelled rock songs ever – it was covered by Motorhead, after Larry Wallis brought it into their repertoire, but even they couldn’t match this for sheer edge, power and sheer exhilaration. That was far from all though, as it was backed up by seedy, sordid gems like When’s The Fun Begin (answer – if you listen to this song, never) and the anthemic yet grimy Street Urchin. Chromium Plating and the instrumental Raceway keep up the kick-ass rock credentials, while the lengthy I Wish I Was A Girl addresses trans-gender politics before most people even knew it was a thing. Typically of the Fairies, Raceway was an instrumental by mistake. They recorded the backing track but had to go to Scotland to play before returning a couple of days later to record the vocals, only to find that the album had been sent to pressing without them knowing. Oops. No matter, it still sounds fantastic.
With an informative booklet containing all manner of period posters and other memorabilia, as well as original artwork (including the classic Sweeties gatefold spread). This is a great way to get this timeless, well, time-capsule. The only minor complaint would be that it would have been marvellous to get their 1976 Stiff single Between The Lines / Spoiling For A Fight, but then again it IS The Polydor Years, so that’s logical at least. There are bonus tracks for all three albums though they are mostly single edits and alternative versions – I really wish a vocal take of Raceway could be found, but most probably doesn’t exist.
The band have come and gone again multiple times over the years, always leaving some great recordings and gigs, but never topping this initial burst of creativity. Oh, and two of the booklet pages are in the wrong order, and if that doesn’t sum up the Fairies better than anything I can say, then I don’t know what does…