August 6, 2021

‘A Further Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground 1968-1973’

The three discs here contain a massive 53 tracks. Fifty three. That’s more heavy psych and hard rock than you could shake a stash of pharmaceuticals at, and the hit rate in terms of quality is remarkably good.

The third in a series of themed compilations, the subtitle of this three CD box, ‘A Further Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground 1968-1973’ gives you a fair idea of the kind of thing you’re going to expect within. As do the two previous volumes, both of which have proved fascinating and both of which share some artists with this release. Which is nice, as you might never have heard of them otherwise, and more material from some of these lost nuggets is only a good thing. The final thing tipping you off is the Grapefruit label imprint, which tends to enjoy the company of releases so far off the beaten track that even the Esoteric roster considers them, well, ‘esoteric’…

The three discs here contain a massive 53 tracks. Fifty three. That’s more heavy psych and hard rock than you could shake a stash of pharmaceuticals at, and the hit rate in terms of quality is remarkably good. It’s not all wilful obscurity, as there are bigger names included to act as rafts to prevent the unwary listener floundering in a sea of baffling unfamiliarity. Even then, however, it’s rarely the low hanging fruit from those acts that ends up here. Some are well known, including Mandrake Root by Deep Purple, Evil Woman by Spooky Tooth, I’m A Mover by Free and Whisky Train by Procol Harum, but elsewhere are some cracking deep cuts for those less familiar with the darker corners of these bands’ discographies. There’s Nazareth, but hands up who expected the debut album track Fat Man? I’m a fan, and even I’d forgotten that! We have Thin Lizzy with Return Of The Farmer’s Son, Budgie with Homicidal Suicidal, Mott The Hoople with The Moon Upstairs, the Pink Fairies with Teenage Rebel and UFO with Prince Kajuku. Hawkwind are represented by the original studio incarnation of Master Of The Universe from the In Search Of Space album, bizarrely laid-back and polite compared to the five decades of live renditions since, but still with an irresistible charm of its own.

But you didn’t come for those, did you? You came for the weird and sometimes wonderful, the kinds of names familiar only from collectors’ guides to mysterious vinyl delights, footnotes in biographies of later famous names or books about obscurely wonderful cover artwork. And oh yes, you get that in spades. We have names here which seem to have come from some kind of otherworldly Scrabble game, including Creepy John Thomas (really!), Sweet Slag, Fuzzy Duck, Bullfrog and Ashkan. The generally demented Mick Farren is represented twice, once with his band The Deviants on the punch in the face which is Slum Lord, and once with a barely contained rendition of Summertime Blues from his terrifying opus Mona – The Carnivorous Circus (‘I was really mentally ill at the time’, he informs us, cheerily, via the booklet). The Yardbirds are a name perhaps surprising to find here, but their contribution is a fine live version of Dazed And Confused, recorded shortly before they split in 1968 and never released until 2018. Keith Relf’s vocals are ragged and often ill-timed, but Jimmy Page is absolutely incendiary. Chicken Shack offer a surprise, with the expected plodding blues actually totally absent from the heavy rocking You Know Could Be Right, which was a revelation to me.

What other highlights have we? Well, there’s Why Don’t You Let Me Try by Wicked Lady for starters, an absolutely storming hard rocker which has never been released before in any form, and an essential nugget if ever there was one. There is the unreleased eight minute version of Hammersmith Guerrilla by cult legends Third World War – understandably having been edited back in 1973 to remove the astonishing opening verse ‘I’ve got just the thing for you, a real cop-beater / A sawed-off, 12-gauge five shot repeater / Get your arse along to Hammersmith town, join the urban guerrillas, take up arms against the crown’. That kind of thing made people a bit twitchy back then, one might say! But it’s all back in place now. There’s an unreleased track by John Peel favourites Stack Waddy called Hunt The Stag, which is a high-adrenaline stormer, and Crush by Bone, which sounds nothing like its title, but is rather nice. The legendary proto-metal of Leaf Hound is here, as is the pre-SAHB Tear Gas and the original recording of Status Quo favourite Junior’s Wailing by Steamhammer. Whoever Mighty Hard were (well, thanks to the booklet, I now know…), they unveil a truly bizarre yet effective version of Paul Simon’s Save The Life Of My Child. Just in case you needed it.

Early CV entries crop up in the shape of the bizarre late ’60s classical-adapting Mozart Versus The Rest from Episode Six, best known for featuring a pre-Purple Gillan and Glover, and also the track Midsummer Night’s Dream by Sam Gopal, sung in a way you probably never thought you would hear him by the one and only Lemmy. It isn’t exactly Bomber or Killed By Death, let’s say that. It’s good though, and proves again that Lemmy could actually sing a bit, at least in those early days. Brian Johnson is also here, long before AC/DC, with Geordie. The schizoid Who Will Buy? by Samuel Prody (who exactly, you may ask) sees the song alternate suddenly and unexpectedly between almost folk-madrigal crooning and the whole proto-prog-metal kitchen sink being hurled at your head. These are the kind of things which deserve to be heard, and we should be thankful that, because of releases like this, they can be.

Of course, with this number of tracks, there are bound to be a few clunkers, and so is the case. Stoned by NSU sounds exactly like the title, and makes you wish you were, while Mineshaft by the appealingly named Grit should reside down one, and Practically Nothing Happens by Ashkan would have been better if it hadn’t happened. Such are the exceptions, however, as the vast majority of what is here is enjoyable even when it is resolutely lo-fi or primitive in its construction. And even the weakest moments are historically fascinating. The booklet which comes with the set is, like the first two volumes, superb, giving not only full track details but also potted biographies of all of the Gollum-like denizens of the dawn of the Seventies which come blinking into the sunlight here. As a primer to the seedy underbelly of that endlessly creative scene, this series really cannot be beaten. If you have ever woken with a start, seized by a desire to know what Cosmarama by Distant Jim sounded like, or perhaps Flavour Of Decay by Sweet Slag, well, here you are sir. Make yourself comfortable. It’s a wild ride…