The other day I took a long hard look at my CD collection and wondered how many of the discs that I love from the 90s and beyond ever got a vinyl release?
There’s clearly a treasure trove of great psych pop albums which are just waiting for someone to re-package them.
Sugarbush Records seem to agree with me, for in recent years the enterprising label has taken a series of superb digital only releases and put them out on vinyl. The Junipers’ Paint The Ground, is a classic example (there’s a new album from them soon ) and the label have also issued two Orgone Box gems in Centaur and The Lorne Park Tapes.
Latest to get the vinyl resurrection is Duncan Maitland’s Lullabies For The 21st Century an album that originally made its digital debut in 2012.
Such is the quality of the album that it was clearly a no brainer for Sugarbush to issue it on vinyl, in this case a striking psychedelic purple. So, let me tell about Duncan Maitland. He might not be too familiar, but he has a pretty impressive pop CV that includes stints with everyone from XTC to Honeybus’ Colin Hare. He currently lives in Ireland and so not surprisingly this has a whiff of a Pugwash (who he plays with sometimes) album about it in that there are obvious debts to XTC, The Beach Boys and The Beatles.
Lullabies feels like a proper old fashioned pop album too – one that rewards repeated listens. It washes over you, but in a good way and before long you’ll be humming the melodies, marvelling over the arrangements and generally falling in love with it.
Highlights – well the opener, Your Century, is a glorious entree – kicking off with 70s-esque guitars which break into a wonderful Beach Boys Surf’s Up era chorus. The spectre of the Wilson Brothers also hangs over Crash Position and the big slowie Handbirds, which both remind me of bands like The Pearlfishers and The Sunchymes in their slow build and gloriously uplifting choruses. I am also smitten with the album’s closer – Insect Under the Stone – which marries a shuffling jazzy beat to a wistful tune. It reminds me a little of Martin Newell’s fun, but rather odd Light Programme album. Up To You is another gem that’s an intriguing mix of Magical Mystery Tour Fabs, ELO and That’s All by Genesis and Lucky You is a 70s AM perfection.
The only downer is that, Two Of A Kind, his genius Syd Barrett cover, never made the cut. It really is one of the few Syd covers that trumps the original.
Nevertheless this is a wonderful album and it is wonderful to have it on vinyl. If you ever love The Beach Boys, Pugwash or adventurous 60ish melodic pop you will cherish this. Highly recommended.
Now Duncan, how about some new tunes?
Buy Lullabies on vinyl here.
People who weren’t there tend to assume that the early 80s was one long orgy of shiny, futuristic New Romantic pop. However check out any episodes of Top Of The Pops from the era and you discover a different story. For in spite of those strangely bequiffed keyboard touting duos the first few years of the decade were actually dominated by a series of revivals.
Mod, Heavy Metal, Rockabilly and Ska all became briefly fashionable again and gifted us bands as diverse as The Jam, The Specials, Iron Maiden and errr The Polecats.
There was however one revival that was always unlikely to trouble the chart compilers that was the return of 60s influenced psychedelia
Punk’s year zero approach had meant that anything that smacked of the late 60s and flower power was about as welcome as music hall. This in spite of the fact that many of punk’s main protagonists, like Captain Sensible John Lydon and Charlie Harper, to name but three, were in fact serious psych heads.
Yet for a brief period in 1981 and 1982 there was a flowering of a psychedelic sound that sought to take the template from the late 60s and turn into something to excite and inspire 80s kids.
Many of the original so called new psych bands were, not surprisingly given their Mod roots, not actually that psych. Bands like Mood Six, The Marble Staircase and Direct Hits seemed more interested in recreating the 1966 Swinging London vibe of bands like The Herd, Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich in their bendier moments, than they were of aping the far out projected sounds from a couple of years later. The original club around which the sounds coagulated, The Groovy Cellar was also more ‘Mod gone weird’ than full on psych, boasting a playlist that encompassed everything from early 60s girls bands through to bubblegum.
Yet as the movement blossomed, so all kinds of psychedelic individuals sneaked out of the closet and became part of a scene the music papers christened ‘new psych.’
Sensing a potential musical gold rush WEA records enlisted several of the bands to contribute to what has become new psych’s key legacy – the compilation album A Splash Of Colour.
What Cherry Red Records has done is to round up the tracks from that original album (minus two) and then delve further into the 80s psychedelic archive to deliver a triple CD box set, complete with extensive sleevenotes, which document the rise and fall and rise again of London’s second summer of love.
The original Splash Of Colour album quite rightly IMO received mixed reviews. I remember for example, Mark Ellen dissecting it on Radio One, praising some of the tracks but saying that he much preferred the likes of Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Nicely (more of whom later). It seems a bit harsh to say it now but there are a few tracks that may be could have remained in the archive.
Then again alongside the efforts of the jostick jokers are genuine pop gems that sound as fresh and vibrant now as they did back in the day.
Exhibit A being the album’s opener, Just Like A Dream by Mood Six which zips along powered by a relatively aggressive vocal (well for Mood Six anyhow) swirling keyboards and a dramatic chorus. It tells the tale of an imminent apocalypse which lest we forget was worrying most of the planet in the Reagan Brezhnev era.
Mood Six’s second track Plastic Flowers, sadly isn’t the version from the original album, but instead hails from a few years later. Nevertheless is a lovely silver of baroque pop with a touch of The Left Banke (whose albums were reissued in the UK around this time) with its harpsichord style keyboard and delicate mannered vocals.
As memorable as both tracks are (and indeed the EMI single Hanging Around and its Barry meets Bond instrumental B Side Mood Music) they don’t really tell the whole story of one of the most exciting London bands from the early 80s. Far better to recall them as a great great live act and for their second album, A Matter Of, a perfect distillation of classic 60s Ray Davies influenced songwriting and 80s jangly guitar.
If Mood Six were The Beatles of new psych then Miles Over Matter could stake a claim to be the scene’s Rolling Stones. Boasting a much tougher sound than their rivals – which was as much influenced by the reissues of 60s garage punk band albums from the likes of The Chocolate Watchband and The Electric Prunes which were just starting to land in the UK – Miles Over Matter had a fantastically theatrical frontman in Miles Landesman, a great guitarist /songwriter in Steve Counsel and a de rigueur swirly keyboard sound the really only could come from the early 80s.
For some bizarre reason WEA passed on the band’s best track, the almost perfect swinging beat pop nugget, Love Song (which surfaced legitimately for the first time on the band’s recent compilation), instead plumping for Something’s Happening Here, a Strawberry Alarm Clock influenced clarion call for a new Love Generation, and Park My Car a quirky XTC-esque slice of toytown psych. The latter in particular with its liquid guitar finale, sounds superb three a bit decades om.
The two other highlights from A Splash Of Colour, which are both featured here, are The Barracudas droney Byrds-influenced Watching The World Go By and another contender for the movement’s leitmotif, The High Tide’s Dancing In My Mind. For reasons which I guess have to be money/copyright-related, the compilers have not added The Times I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape from the original LP but opted for an inferior, but still fun version from a few years earlier.
Away from A Splash Of Colour and the acolytes of the nightclub at the epicentre of the new movement the Groovy Cellar, the best psychedelic music of the early 80s was being made by individuals for whom the late 60s with just one colour of their musical palate.
Much has been written about Nick Nicely and his glorious 1981 Strawberry Fields Forever single Hilly Fields. If that isn’t the the best song on the compilation, then it is probably is its B side the Tomorrow Never Knows re-write 49 Cigars. Check out On The Coast from his Psychotropia album which really should have been the follow-up single. His mix of psychedelia and electronica, see also John Foxx, was an avenue of the genre that to this day is still largely unexplored.
Never really part of the movement but also responsible for many of the best 60ish pop tunes from Britain in the 80s (and beyond) was Robyn Hitchcock and his renegade band of psychedelic popsters The Soft Boys. In an era of punk-induced nihilism, the band with its mixture of Byrdsie jangle, folky harmonies (you just knew they loved a bit of Pentangle and Steeleye Span) and Barrett-esque instrumental interludes were never going to amount to more that just the odd gig at The Rock Garden. Hitchcock has however had the last laugh. Underwater Moonlight, the band’s second album, is now regarded as one of the best album of that or in fact any decade. The compilers have opted for Only The Stones Remain from The Soft Boys and the eery, slightly sinister It’s A Mystic Trip which was one of several brilliant songs Hitchcock recorded, but subsequently rejected for his debut album Black Snake Diamond Role.
Another act on the fringes of a movement were The Monochrome Set a band who shared Mood Six’s predilection for turning every gig into an event. On The Thirteenth Day is an inspired choice capturing the band at its most edgy.
Mod goes psych
Many of the early new psych bands began their career peddling beat and Motown influenced music to an ostensibly Mod audience. And Another Splash Of Colour include several great examples of what happens when pill poppers go lysergic. In my opinion the pick of the lot are Squire whose recorded output dwarfs every other Mod band from the era with the exception of The Jam. No Time Tomorrow is the psych jewel in their crown, although practically everything from their singles album, including Does Stephanie Know and My Mind Goes Round In Circles would still have been stand outs on this compilation.
The Purple Hearts Hazy Darkness is another top example of what happens when Mod band goes all experimental as is Doctor Ben by The Direct Hits and The Heartbeats’ Forever.
By summer 1982 the original psychedelic revival had pretty much ran out the steam with most of the clubs closing and the bands splitting up or moving on. In many ways then psychedelia became just another musical strand to be plundered rather than, as Miles Over Matter might have preferred it a dawning of a new Age of Aquarius.
One of the original psychsters, Talk Talk, re-cast themselves as Duran-alikes, before re-gaining their experimental edge on the epic Spirit Of Eden. Ironically though for much of 82 and beyond rather than disappearing psychedelia somehow became very much a part of mainstream British pop music. Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Beatles cover, Dear Prudence made Top of the Pops while two band members Robert Smith (also of The Cure) teamed up with that drummer Budgie to create a very trippy album called Blue Sunshine under the moniker of The Glove.
Neither appear here though a few acts who scored bona fide top 40 hits are included including Julian Cope’s very Barrett-esque Sunspots, a highlight from his second album Fried. Kimberley Rew would score a monster hit with new band Katrina and The Waves and Walking on Sunshine. Probably not generating quite as many royalty cheques is Stomping Around The Word, a similar slice of catchy 60s pop which is included here. Then there’s The Icicle Works whose debut album hovers somewhere between the doomy Doorsy/Velvets psych of fellow Scousers Echo and the Bunnymen and the lighter dreamy pop of Mood Six. Their debut single Nirvana is on board here.
Other highlights from the first two discs include The Attractions’, sans Elvis Costello, Slow Patience, Scarlet Party’s one hit wonder the very Beatley 101 Damnatians and Wivenhoe Bells from the the kings of the 80s cassette – Martin Newell and his Cleaner From Venus.
Psych hits the garage and indie
While disc one is probably the most interesting from a historical perspective it’s disc three where the garage punkers and indie pop chancers take over that is musically the strongest. Two bands stick out. Firstly The Prisoners who concocted a minestrone of Northern Soul, American Garage Punk and Small Faces/Nice influence keyboard sounds on the excellent Reaching My Head. And then Another Splash Of Colour also marks the debut on CD of psychedelic London’s long lost greatest live act The Playn Jayn. Hopefully both of their albums will be reissued soon, until then check them out on YouTube and swoon over the mania that is the live version of In Your Eyes.
Also by the mid 80s scenester Alan McGee was creating a buzz with his clubs, gigs and of course record label Creation. Another Splash collects a few early singles from his roster the best of which is The Revolving Paint Dream’s Flowers In The Sky. There are also a few other Creation influenced acts such as The Dentists and their timeless mashup of The Byrds, The Smiths and The Leaves – Strawberries Are Growing in My Garden.
The great thing about the boxed set is that while there is clearly an element of nostalgia, and anyone who bought the original album will probably love having shiny crystal clear CD versions of tunes, it also houses plenty of music that’s never been available on CD and would probably even be unfamiliar to even die hard collectors from the time. Like The Onlookers whose You Know Everything is an ultra obscure, yet fabulous piece of Beatley pop music, the previously unreleased Connect from Future Daze (compilation album please!) and tracks from Freight Train and The Chicanes which will only be know by serious collectors of the Bam Caruso label. Then there is The Third Eye’s proto garage psych Pass Myself, another contender for the grooviest track on the disc.
By the mid 80s psychedelia had become a key part of indie music. Australia had gifted the world The Church and The Triffids, while the US had conjured up with the Paisley Underground bands (The Three O’Clock, Rain Parade and The Bangles) as well as the jangle meisters The DBs and Let’s Active. In the UK XTC were plotting their next adventure as their psych alter egos The Dukes of Stratosphere, while mainstream indie bands like The Smiths were channeling The Byrds and The Beatles.
Psychedelia arguably had its key moment at the end of the decade with its most significant album since the 60s arriving in the guise of the debut from The Stone Roses. Psych also played a huge role in the career path of Primal Scream and quite several of the key Britpop acts. And there’s also a good case of arguing that REM did a very sensible thing in befriending and working with Robyn Hitchcock. They took The Soft Boys sound to a much wider audience potentially saving themselves millions in legal fees.
As I said earlier Another Splash Of Colour is way more that just a historical documentation of a glorious, and some might say rather naive and short-lived period in British pop music. It’s also a treasure trove of long forgotten 45s and album cuts and is a wonderful listen from start to finish.
Obviously invest in it straight away. And if you can’t get enough of 80s psych here is a Spotify playlist of more tracks from many of the bands who feature on it. Plus a few from the bigger names and the odd act that will probably star on Another, Another Splash Of Colour.
Buy the album here.
In my book no one took the music of The Beatles and conjured up something as fresh and vibrant the 90s as Rick Corcoran and his Orgone Box pals. Over the space of a couple of years he penned a series of tunes that Noel Gallagher, Jason Falkner and that chap from Cotton Mather would have traded bodies parts to have written.
The tragedy is that the band is still largely a footnote in 90s indie, perhaps because after releasing their legendary debut and its almost as good follow up, Corcoran and his band seemed to vanish.
And now comes The Lorne Park Tapes a record (yep it is vinyl only for now) comprised of demos recorded on a makeshift four track in a Bournemouth flat in the early 90s. Music made in a front room on the south coast realty should not be this good, for in spite of its rough and ready nature the Lorne Park Tapes are fantastic.
Yes sonically there are limitations. Every track has an eerie echoey feel to it, and there’s an edge, and some might say scruffiness to the recordings – but that really only increases their charm.
Some of the tracks have been issued before in more realised versions, but there’s plenty of new delights for us hardcore fans. Favourites, well pretty much every track zips along with gloriously guitar, soaring vocals and harmonies and inspired chord changes. Even the tracks that pay closest homage to the Fabs – In The Right Hands and Hard For Me for could easily be Beatles For Sale out-takes – sound fresh and joyful.
But the two that have long lost pop classic stamped through their middle are Just Like a Woman Should Be, and Last Ride On The Jets both of which featured later on the second OB album Things That Happened Then. The former is a big, brooding ballad helmed by a Macc-esque bass that builds beautifully into a glorious middle eight and then a clever finale where the band go a little Led Zeppelin.
Last Ride is an explosion of pulsating guitar riffs, quirky chord changes and swooping harmonies.
The great thing about the Lorne Park Tapes is that it just works brilliantly as an album. It is utterly addictive. They are going to have to use a digital version soon as I fear the grooves on my vinyl will be worn through overplaying.
Let’s hope Rick returns to his attic to pull out some more gems shortly. There’s a few more to listen to here on this Y/T playlist including Just Like A Woman Should Be.
You can get it here
These days it is pretty easy to make an album. Cut a load of tunes in the morning, whack it up on Bandcamp at lunchtime, and by the end of the day you have gained a whole new cult following in, ooh Finland. It wasn’t always so. Before Postcard, Creation and the other renegade pioneers tore down the corporate walls (well, sort of) and established the indie labels in the early 80s, actually making and releasing an album relied largely on the whims of large global record companies.
So many bands who really ought to have gone on to great things inevitably fell between the cracks – victims of the record companies’ rather lame obsession with constantly finding the ‘next big thing.’
And a classic example of a band who never quite got to see their music spinning round at 33 RPMs are Miles Over Matter. Formed in London at the tail end of the 70s they, along with The Barracudas and few other mod type bands who swapped poppers for something a little more lysergic, pioneered what became known at the time as the new psychedelia – a genre which is soon to be celebrated on the forthcoming Cherry Red Another Splash Of Colour boxed set.
To put it in context, forming a band in thrall to the tail end of the sixties at the end of the seventies was actually a hugely brave, and some might say ludicrous thing to do. Punk’s year zero approach, even though its snarl and energy ironically was steeped in mid 60s beat and garage, meant that anything that smacked vaguely of hippiedom was about as cool as music hall.
In an era where pop constantly eats itself chewing up bits of the past and then re-inventing for a new generation – via streaming sites – the new psych was arguably the first time (ok, second time following on from the 50s rock and roll revival of the early 70s, and the mod revival that ran in tandem with it) that a genre that consciously attempted to restate the past and drag it into a new decade emerged.
The snobby music press was rather brutal – in many ways the new psych bands were easy targets – though some of the bands, most notably Talk Talk, went on to produce music that was much more in keeping with the more synthy futurist vibe that was so in vogue.
Miles Over Matter though did have their champions, and with good reason. I never saw the band – too young, but Melody Maker scribe and future NME Editor Steve Sutherland suggested that they were an absolute riot – a blast of new wave energy, yet never afraid to push the boundaries Interstellar Overdrive style.
Up until this release the band’s sole recorded musical legacy was two tracks on the Splash of Colour album, an attempt by WEA to round up the new psych bands. The record label was two years too late, but the tracks that MOM donated were fine examples of their craft. Something’s Happening Here is in IMO the weaker of the two. Powered by a wonderfully swirly keyboard and the best use of ba baba babas for over a decade, it zips along in pleasant fashion before succumbing to very Beatley phasing. The lyrics though. “Just because the love generation blew it don’t mean we have it to,” a clarion call for a new era of flower power and peace and love was never going to endear the band to the music press at the time.
Arguably the better cut was Park My Car. Lyrically this was rather more obvious – though still something of a mystery to this small town young teen – and the melody though was pure toytown psych of the highest order, somewhere between the Electric Prunes and early incarnations of XTC. Its dreamy, effects driven and way too short guitar solo is an absolute delight.
The return – 30 years later
Sadly for MOM, Splash Of Colour didn’t quite usher in the second summer of love in the way WEA had imagined and the record company passed on the set of demos the band had recorded for them. And not long after the band split, becoming a very very brief footnote in the history of alternative 80s pop.
And that should have been the end of the story, except that a couple of years back, over 30 years on from when they were created, a series of MOM demos landed on YouTube. Those who remembered the band, were genuinely surprised and delighted, and in a way shocked at their quality. And its is these demos, which include tracks from the band’s inception and runs through to their final demos and some live recordings, which make up this disc.
Vagabonds deserves way more of a listen that it will probably ever get. Misty eyed paisley shirted power poppers, who now tout teenage sons and daughters who are Tame Impala fans, will probably swoon over tracks. There is however more than enough on here to not only suggest that MOM could have gone on to much greater things, but also that they could actually win over a new generation of fans. Cult act in the making? Quite possibly.
The tracks recorded for WEA are a unique take on psych inevitably influenced and fueled by the time they were recorded. They really were way more than revivalists. The swirly keyboard patterns, edgy guitars really don’t sound too much like anyone else, in spite of their obvious influences Nuggets. The Beatles and Syd’s Floyd.
Highlights? Well additon to Park My Car is Love Song, which slips in with a dreamy guitar before bursting into a Nuggets area tune – reminiscent of say the Magic Mushrooms or the punky tracks of the Strawberry Alarm Clock. The edgy guitar runs are joyous.
Genius Beatles cover
My other two favourites are Dare Truth Kiss or Promise, their very own Interstellar Overdrive – I bet this was amazing live down The Clinic with the light show in full flow. Then there’s the quite superb take on The Beatles’ It’s All Too Much. Not many Beatles covers get close to the original, but this one might just have trumped it.
I Saw You There is another goodie. It is firmly rooted in the Strawberry Fields era pop psych of bands like of Tomorrow and Traffic, but it is clear that MOM had also been listening to tougher US garage pop acts like The Electric Prunes and The Blues Magoos.
You get to hear snatches of other bands that are familiar here and there, but ironically most of those bands followed later in the 80s and 90s. MOM were real psych pop pioneers. Who else in 1982 was covering Father’s Name Is Dad?
The CD comes with some entertaining sleeve notes and live tracks- which will, certainly be fascinating to anyone who saw then live.
Hopefully the Another Splash of Colour comp will encourage a few more people to invest in this rather wonderful CD. You can also hear them on Spotify and YouTube.
So, this is what I have been listening to (while not updating my blog) in the last twelve months.
1 Whyte Horses – Pop or Not – Ok, so here’s the plan. We’ll create a stunning album of 60s influenced psych pop, but we will only release it on vinyl and then we’ll make sure the record takes ages to come out.
All of which would not be such a sorry tale were it not for the fact that The Whyte Horses’ Pop Or Not is utterly fantastic. It is rooted in Manchester’s past with nods to both The Stone Roses and some of the city’s B listers in The Mock Turtles and World Of Twist, but sounds like a record that could only have been released in 2015. Gglorious hummable tunes (Promise I Do and Peach Tree Street are pop dynamite), slightly bonkers instrumental interludes (Relance II) and fantastically creative arrangements (Feels Like Something’s Changing). And even a song or two that pays tribute to the more unhinged of the Ye Ye girls (La Coleur Originale). So only about 200 people have heard this classic pop album. And I would bet that quite a chunk of that 200 have it as their album the year. I know it is sloppy seconds but the sublime single Snowfall is on Spotify and you might find a track or two on YouTube. Otherwise you might find your bank balance a good £50 lighter.
2 Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance – Neil Diamond is not a name you’d expect to feature too prominently on lists of albums of the year in 2015, but there at the end of this album’s wonderful confessional opener, Nobody’s Empire, is a soaring finale that’s pure Forever In Blue Jeans (or maybe it is Cracklin’ Rose😉. As Girls In Peacetime demonstrates yet again Stuart Murdoch has a way with pop that’s utterly unique. If you are going to be a musical magpie – and who isn’t these days – far better to steal from the best and the most unexpected. Pretty much every track is a total gem from the disco-lite interludes of Play For Today and Enter Sylvia Plath through to the floating psych finale of Today (This Army’s For Peace) this is a Belle & Sebastian album that is rich in melody, ideas and humour. A wonderful reinvention of a truly great band.
3 Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit – Who knew that this generation’s Jonathan Richman would turn out to be a 28 year old Melbournian with a wry take on coffee shops, real estate and rooftop encounters. It isn’t just about the endearing lyrics though. Apparently all the songs on Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit resided in Courtney Barnett’s head and weren’t shared with her band until they stepped into the recording studio. Maybe that’s why it all sounds so fresh. Like Richman (and Morrissey), she has perfected the heart of making the mundane and miserable sound intriguing and uplifting. Lyrically Depreston is as down as it sounds, but musically it zips along and it is near impossible not to sing along with the ‘if you;ve got a spare half a million,’ refrain. No One Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party and Debbie Downer are fabulous 60s influenced garage punk, while An Illustration of Loneliness has roots in the Dylan/Patti Smith songbooks. But when the songs are this good who cares about influences. Courtney Barnett really is the best Australian songwriter since the golden days of the 1980s.
4 Diane Coffee – Everybody’s A Good Dog – Who knew that that the real talent in Foxygen, whose We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors is one of the decade’s best albums, would turn out not be neither of the main songwriters, but the drummer? On Everybody’s A Good Dog, Shaun Fleming, aka Diane Coffee takes the psych motown sound patented on his debut up a notch or two (most notably on Mayflower and Everyday), and sneaks in a Beach Boys influence to stunning effect on the album’s opener Spring Breathes (a track of the year contender in this parish). Soon To Be Won’t To Be is dubby psych with a huge chorus, while Duet has a genius hook. Everybody’s A Good Dog is a hoot from start to finish. Tuneful, smart and huge amounts of fun without ever coming across as being too pleased with itself.
5 John Howard And The Night Mail – In which the ‘should have been massive in the 70s’ troubadour enlists the contemporary incarnation of the wrecking crew in the guise of the Gare du Nord mob, and delivers maybe the finest album of his career. There are nods to Howard’s heroes Bowie (In The Light Of Fires Burning) and The Kinks (London’s After Work Drinking Culture) , as well as his own 70 recordings too. Yet just when it veers too much towards the melancholy comes a bit of slapstick, as on Deborah Fletcher. Stand outs include the opener, Before, a classy ballad with a genius and totally unexpected finale, and the uptempo psych pop of Intact & Smiling. Pretty much everything on this gem of an album is stunning. Here’s hoping that they all get together to create another album next year.
6 Simon Love – It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time – A potty mouth version of Emitt Rhodes, Simon Love’s debut album is playful, witty, and a tad fruity too. The dual fingered salute of Motherfuckers and the sublime Macca cover Dear Boy are two of many real stand outs. He might sound like he doesn’t give a f**k, but tracks as perfectly realised as Elton John and Sweetheart, You Should Probably Go To Sleep, are clearly labours of love. Apparently it went to number one in Austria.
7 The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World – IMO the REM by numbers of The King Is Dead didn’t really do justice to the band’s incredible back catalogue, so I was blown away by just how good its follow up, which landed in January, is. Sure there’s the odd misstep (I could live without ever hearing Philomena again) but Make You Better is the band’s best single in ages, while Lake Song revels in Nick Drake melancholy and boasts some of Colin Melloy’s most enigmatic lyrics in a while. Then there’s the closer – A Beginning Song – a lighter in the air anthem of the very best kind. As anyone who saw them this year will testify, live they are better than everyone else.
8 Gothic Chicken – Lift The Cobweb Veil – Wonderful uplifting, and at times ever so silly, 60s british psych pop from a band who up until now have been all about obscure covers. Lift The Cobweb Veil boasts so many singalong tunes, including the genius pop of Westward Ho – a paen to the seaside town they forgot to close down, with a chorus that’s so good it rivals early 70s Stackridge. Overthrow is prime Blossom Toes 67 style lysergic pop, while it is a while since anyone has recorded anything as silly, and fun, as Pitta Bread Man.
9 Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun – The Mancunian’s second album takes his Lee Hazlewood meets Dark Side era Pink Floyd vibe further out into the stratosphere. When I Was Young would be the perfect soundtrack to a psychedelic western, while Follow The Sun really ought to be a duet with a girl called Nancy. Best of all is If I Could Tell You, seven minutes of cosmic folk that floats off into the ether courtesy of Gilmour-esque guitar and Wright-like keyboards.
10 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Pish – Back in 1996 Anton Newcombe and his psychedelic cohorts produced three excellent albums under the BJM moniker. In 2015 the ever prolific adopted Berliner went for the trio again, and of the three – the others are an excellent album with Tess Parks, and a soundtrack inspired album, Pish is the one to play first. This is a restatement of the BJM’s classic Stonesy shuffling 60s sound. Six great new tunes and a superb Thirteenth Floor Elevators cover. The title track floats into your head on the back of fuzzy guitars and takes up residence there for days, while Here Comes The Waiting For The Sun is classic hypnotic psych.
11 Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab – Beyond The Silver Sea – A companion set to the Gothic Chicken album, Beyond The Silver Sea is a slightly bonkers concept album which pairs a rather strange Orwell-esque meets the swinging 60s tale with a host of great Beatley pop tunes. City And The Stars zips along like The Raspberries and The Shoes, and the floating psych of The Stars My Destination is a Bohemian Rhapsody in miniature (but in a good way). This is a wonderfully creative, beautifully crafted album. Apparently the follow up is already recorded and ready to go.
12 Martin Courtney – Many Moons – Delightful jangle pop, that to these ears has the edge on the tunes from his day job band Real Estate. Love the Sarah Records Brighter/Blueboy era influence of the album’s finale Airport Bar. The album’s key pop gem though is Little Blue, so good it really could be mistaken for some long lost 70s cult hit. And if you can’t get enough of Many Moons, there is also a Spotify playlist of tunes that inspired the record too.
13 – The Magnetic Mind – Is Thinking About It – London’s premier psychedelic groovesters – their words not mine – deliver cosmic pop in spades in a fantastic albums that howevers between the wiggy freaks out of Jefferson Airplane and the fun harmony hoedowns of The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and The Love Exchange. A Lot Of Getting Used To is not too far removed from The United States of America in their poppier moments, while How Can You Be So Sure deserves prime place on a Russ Meyer soundtrack. They were great live too.
14 Jacco Gardner- Hypnophobia – Ok, so it gets a bit yacht rock in places – there’s a whiff of largely forgotten late 70s band New Musik at times – but the second Jacco album is another baroque psychedelic gem. It lacks the killer tune (Clear The Air) that had thousands of eagerly anticipating the debut, but the instrumental interludes on Grey Lanes and Hypnophobia, where strange keyboards jostle with medieval sounding string instruments are totally intoxicating. Fair play to the guy for delivering an album that largely sounds unlikely anyone else – a rarity in 2015.
15 Ultimate Painting – Green Lanes – Album #2 from the Trouble In Mind Records’ token Brits is a tad more accessible and Beatley than their debut and all the better for it. So many great pop tunes especially Break the Chain with its Hey Jude-esque. Also on TiM Records the Dick Diver album has many fine songs, while if Peter Stringer-Hye can keep up the standard of his debut EP on an album he should have a contender for record of the year in 2016.
16 Emma Swift – Don’t share, but the Aussie chanteuse’s debut mini album is actually more than a year old. However its recent arrival on Spotify, and her 2015 gigs and single with Robyn Hitchcock, meant I only discovered this lovely sadcore country-esque album this year. King Of America sounds like Emmylou Harris fronting Galaxie 500, while Bittersweet has 70s classic country hit written all over it.
17 Blur – The Magic Whip – Great to have the back, obviously. But TMW didn’t really connect with me in a way that even the much underrated Think Tank does. That said There Are Too Many Of Us is such enigmatic tune and one of my favourite songs of 2015, Mirrorball is classic Blur ballad territory while Lonesome Street pays homage to The Great Escape with its weird intro, quirky time changes and genius chorus.
18 King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard- Paper Mache Dream – With Tame Impala going all Daft Punk and cocking an ear to a few Michael Jackson albums, there’s clearly a vacancy for a new king of Aussie psych. Step forward The Gizzards. In a slightly surprising move the Melbournians have mellowed out and channelled mid 60s Donovan on this dreamy psych lite trip. Odd instruments, weird time changes and tunes like Bone and the bouncy title track which could have come from the pens of messrs Ayers and Barrett. This really is loads of fun.
19 Darren Hayman – Florence – Another low key gem from the prolific urban folkster. Florence boasts its fair share of slow, gentle folky strums with twists like the bizarrely named opener Nuns Run The Apothecary. IMO it is on the more poppy stuff – Break Up With Him – which blends in a bit of vintage electronica that it shines brightest. Then again Didn’t I Say Don’t Fall In Love With Him, has a title, a brooding sound and lyrics that would fit perfectly on Hefner’s seminal The Fidelity Wars album.
20 Cat’s Eyes – The Duke Of Burgundy – In which the perpetrators of possibly my favourite album of the decade return with a soundtrack to one of the year’s funniest and most bizarre films. The Requiem is breathtakingly beautiful, while the title track conjures up Francoise Hardy in her late 60s folky period. Another album next year please?
21 The School – Wasting Away And Wondering – Another flawless set of indie 60s girl group-esque crossovers from the welsh genius popsters. Don’t Worry Baby and All I Want From You Is Everything sound like the band have been given the keys to The Brill Building and summoned up the ghosts of long gone genius tunesmiths. Every Day nails the Shangri-las meets 80s indie sound of Camera Obscura, while Do I love You, is a genius Dexy’s style toe-tapper. Like a sunny day in winter, this warming, uplifting and a little surprising too.
22 The Lilac Time – No Sad Songs – It turns out that domestic bliss in a rural Cornwall hideaway hasn’t affected Stephen Duffy’s way with a winning folky pop tune. He’s definitely a bit more chipper these days too. The title track is both a gloriously uplifting waltz and, with its Christmas time as a child, refrain, a paean to a fulfilling relationship. All the usual Duffy trademarks are here too including the slide guitar, gentle mandolin, subtle drumming and best of all the Emmylou to Stephen’s Gram harmony vocals of Claire Duffy. Love the way too he still insists on dressing like Noel Coward.
23 – Louise Le May – A Tale Untold – Pastoral folky pop from a very special songstress. This album, which has been a long time coming, has shades of Kate Bush on the beautiful Cassandra and Judee Sill and Judy Collins on the opener Broken Child, yet is delivered in a lovely, low key very English manner. Other stand outs include Be My Guru – reminiscent of the long lost Brighton band The Mummers – and Sink and Swim which novelist Jonathan Coe loves so much it inspired a chapter in his new-ish book Number 11.
24 Ralegh Long – Hoverance – Inspired by 60s and 70s songwriters -John Howard, Nilsson and Alex Chilton on his more melodic moments, Ralegh Long has crafted an album of songs that pull off a unique trick of sounding both epic and low-key at the same time. The guitar and piano instrumental interludes on No Use and The Light of The Sun are exquisite, while Islands recalls Ed Harcourt at his best. A really warm and wonderful debut.
25 -Beaulieu Porch – The Carmelite Divine – A low key entry for an album that landed on Bandcamp at the start of the year. The psych pop which made the BP debut such a gem has given way to a more dreamy shoegazey sound that works wonderfully, especially on opener In Warm Water Over Iceland and the eerie Now Is Infinity.
26 – Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth – Another fine album from the Lake District based country-esque janglers. The opening track, Bring Our Empire Down, is possibly the best thing they have released so far, while the uptempo All I Can Say rustles up the ghosts of Buffalo Springfield and The Long Ryders. I wonder if they have been listening to Guadalcanal Diary (Here For You Now) and Hearts And Flowers (Pages Of My Mind) too. Highly recommended if you like a bit of country rock.
27 Nicolas Godin – Contrepoint – Neo-classical, Morricone influenced shenanigans from the bloke from Air. At its best, as on the six minute Widerstehe Doch Der Sünde and the Brubeck-influenced Club Nine it is utterly addictive.
28 – Younghusband – Dissolver – Angular jerky psych pop trip with plenty of hummable tunes too – see also Ultimate Painting. Blonde Blending is classic 60s by way of the 80s guitar pop.
29 – Co-Pilgrim – Slows To Go – More top class British jangle that channels Reckoning-era REM but reminds me too of obscure 70s Byrds devotes Starry Eyed and Laughing and The Records. The slow burning title track is wonderful and is over way too quickly.
30 – The Sunchymes – Present – Impressive third album from the Beach Boys/Byrds influenced Brit band. The album’s finale Centuria, with its Smile-esque interludes, twangy guitars and 60s Floyd-style chord changes, is an absolutely stunning slice of psych pop.
31 Bill Ryder Jones – Two To Birkenhead – fine album from the ex-Coral fella
32 The Mystic Braves – Days Of Yesteryear – quality garage psych with a twist of two
33 Dick Diver- Melbourne, Florida – great Aussie power pop
34 Odessey and Oracle – Odessey & Oracle and The Casiotone Orchestra – bizarre French psychsters
35 Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness – the Scott Walker influenced tracks are stunning
36 Tess Parks – I Declare Nothing – fab album with the BJM’s Anton Newcombe
37 The Cleaners From Venus – Rose Of The Lanes – another fine collections of Kinksy songs
38 Charles Howl – Sir Vices – fun garagey new wave racket
39 Smoking Trees – TST – swirly psych tunes
40 Vic Mars – The Land And The Garden – English pastoral instrumentals
One of the (few) perks of updating (occasionally) a music blog is that you get to foist on (both of) the readers a round up of the albums you liked best in 2014.
And IMO this has been a cracking year. I really could have made a list of around 40 albums that I reckon are worth a play or two from Damon Albarn through to The Sudden Death Of Stars. Apologies too in the direction of Beaulieu Porch and Of Arrowe Hill which arrived just a bit too late for this list.
I should add that guitars, the 60s and mind expanding pop are my thing – but that should be pretty obvious from the bands featured here.
Here then are my favourite 20 – starting with an album that has soundtracked much of my year.
1 Pete Fij and Terry Bickers – Broken Heart Surgery – Nigh on a decade after ‘the one’ smashed his heart into a million pieces (don’t they always!) ex Adorable singer Fij finally got round to recording his misery-soaked masterpiece. But what saves Broken Heart Surgery from being just a catalogue of calamity with its dark and bitter tales of rejection, stalking and technophobia is the gloriously uplifting guitar of the ex-House of Love chap Terry Bickers. Even at its most downbeat take Parallel (‘there’s a parallel world where everything turns out right and the parallel girl sleeps by my side,) ouch, Bickers’ John Barry-esque twangy guitar sounds make something so bleak sound almost joyful. Fantastic and utterly addictive album with or without a broken heart.
2 The Church – Further Deeper – It really is almost beyond comprehension that a band that has been around so long and created so much great music along the way can still be this ambitious, experimental and downright brilliant. Further Deeper is total redemption for Steve Kilbey and his unique psychedelic visions. Shorn of one of the band’s key members (the elusive Marty Willson-Piper) Kilbey has nevertheless conjured up a suite of songs that take the band’s sometimes jangly, sometimes edgy sounds to new levels. Further Deeper’s finale, Miami, is a total triumph that almost reaches ten minutes but feels like three, while Old Coast Road could grace any of the band’s seminal 80s albums. Wonderful stuff.
3 Temples – Sun Structures – If Benny and Bjorn had given the girls the afternoon off, dropped a couple of tabs and pressed record they’d probably come up with something like the Temples debut. A glorious mixture of dreamy pop songs decorated by soaring harmonies and gentle strings. Northamptonshire should be very, very proud of them.
4 David Woodcock – The year’s other epic break up album, for while Fij and Bickers focussed on dark and bitter tales of rejection, Southend based piano man David Woodcock took a slightly different approach on his fantastic debut album, where over upbeat piano riffs the estuary man tells of ‘37 year single mothers who could teach me a thing or two.’ This is classic English pop with nods to everyone from Blur to Mott the Hoople. And best of all it boast some of the best tunes, and quirkiest lyrics this side of Parklife.
5 The Junipers – Paint The Ground – Strictly speaking this shouldn’t be on this list as it was originally issued as a download in 2012. However a vinyl issue of this stunningly slice of English pop melancholy has been one of my most treasured musical possessions this year. The band have packed their picnic headed off into the English countryside and crafted a gorgeous piece of pop that’s part English folk and part the autumnal early 70s stuff that pops up on some of the Fading Yellow compilations. Simply gorgeous.
6 The Soundcarriers – Entropicalia – In a year where journalists and bloggers tried to capture the essence of what psychedelia is came Entropicalia from Leicester’s Soundcarriers which more than anything else in 2014 totally nails the genre. Entropicalia is smart, expansive, dreamy music which pulls in from the left field of pop, easy listening, folk and jazz from over five decades. You can’t stop missing Broadcast now, you have Entropicalia.
7 Mikey Georgeson – Blood and Brambles – The man behind David Devant, Mr Solo and the utterly bizarre Carfax tossed away the mask in 2014 and issued this masterpiece in his own name. A wonderful minestrone of quintessentially vaudevillian pop it ranges from the Bacharach meets Anthony Newley waltz of Sometimes through to the Springsteen-ish (had he come from the Essex shore rather than the Jersey one) anthemic pop of I see what you did there. Fabulous.
8 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation – Just like his fellow psychedelic troubadour, The Church’s Steve Kilbey, Anton Newcombe’s pop visions seem to get even more ambitious and technicolour the older he gets. Revelation is one hell of a great trip.
9 Foxygen – And Star Power – Sure it is over long, over ambitious and hideously pretentious, but I wouldn’t have Foxygen any other way. A wonderful distillation of all the wonkiest bits of the early 70s from Lennon to Todd Rungren.
10 The Len Price 3 – Nobody Knows – The LP3’s Glen Page is a class A storyteller. My Grandad Jim recounts wartime heroics over a vicious garage pop tune while the Weller-influenced Billy Mason relates another wartime tale this time of a family friend who built an aircraft in his house. Put simply no one else on the planet is penning lyrics like these at the moment. Nobody Knows is yet another triumph from the Medway boys.
11 Robyn Hitchcock – The Man Upstairs – A wonderful mix of inspired covers (Ghost In You and Ferries) with gentle folky originals San Franciscos Patrol). Just like a Judy Collins album from 1967.
12 The Primitives Spin-o-rama – After a twenty or so year hiatus the band returns with an album of new tunes, and guess what? They are just as much fun as the stuff they put out in their heyday.
13 Ultimate Painting – In the year where we said goodbye to Lou Reed this is a wonderful re-imagining of the third Velvets album. Many glorious tunes.
14 Morgan Delt – A wonderfully bonkers collection of way out pop songs that anyone who loves the trippier side of psych will go bananas for. Barbarian Kings is an absolute classic.
15 The Young Sinclairs – This is the Young Sinclairs – The US janglers finally get their moment in the sun courtesy of some very nice people from N16. This is a sweetly addictive collection of Byrdsie jangles, which to these ears trumps the output of several other higher profile garage folk acts.
16 Colorama – Temari – Another wildly schizophrenic collection from Carwyn and his crew. If you ignore the slightly bizarre yacht rock interludes this holds up really well. The opener Paraglide may just be their best ever song.
17 Balduin – All In A Dream – The Swiss psych pop alchemist, think Jacco Gardner but with the mellotrons turned up to 11, delivers yet another burst of tunes that had they been issued on 45s in the late 60s would have collectors trading limbs for.
18 White Fence – For the Recently Found Innocent – Who style power pop with a twist. Their best album yet.
19 First Aid Kit – Stay Gold. Maybe not quite as epic as The Lion’s Roar, Stay Gold does however boast Cedar Lane, which lyrically totally nails post-relationship melancholy and has the most gorgeous plaintive tune to match.
20 The Paperhead – Africa Avenue – Not quite as bonkers as their surreal Pink Floyd drenched debut but this has better tunes to accompany their wildly original ideas.
Church fan? Well if you are I am pretty sure that when you heard that Steve Kilbey was writing a biography that you revised your Christmas list.
Me too, yet to be honest lurking at the back of my mind was whether after Robert Lurie’s excellent tome about the band, No Certainty Attached, that there would be great deal left to say. Well it turns out there’s plenty.
While Lurie’s book focuses mainly on the music, with a little bit of the singer’s life for perspective, in this book it is not surprisingly the other way round.
So we learn of Steve Kilbey’s life as the son of a ten pound Pom, join him on plenty of adolescent high jinks, and discover much about his early relationships Michelle Parker and Jennifer Keyte, and how they influenced his music. It is all fascinating stuff, especially the part that reveals the band’s obsession with Paisley Shirts!
Several key themes emerge most notably (and this surprised me) how important Kilbey’s English heritage is to him. It is clear that in spite of spending about 80% of his life in Australia there’s still a large chunk of the Kilbey psyche that is made in the south east of England.
In particular, and intriguingly for The Church’s English fans, he clearly has a love/hate relationship with the land of birth. On one hand he is rather cynical about the London music press, which to be honest has never really done his band justice (though to be fair both the reviewers he namechecks negatively have penned rave reviews of the band.)
It is also clear that The Church’s sound owes a great deal to the trip Steve and his wife Michelle Parker made to London where they lapped up all the capital (which was in the midst of its hugely creative post punk renaissance) had to offer. Not surprisingly Kilbey was blown away by plenty of bands including The Only Ones, a key influence on the bands’ debut.
Also rather interesting are the young Kilbey’s early influences – lots of glam, and the Bolan thing has been chronicled many times before – but Chicago!? He also talks about his love for The Easybeats and Russell Morris (of The Real Thing fame) two artists that have over time become cult favourites around the globe. And in spite of praising lots of sixties acts he barely mentions what many fans would see as the band’s key early influence – the Byrds.
Kilbey also goes into more detail about some of the inter band relationships, (sometimes great, sometimes dysfunctional) that Lurie alludes to in his book. He talks candidly about how his experimentation with heroin lead to him to full on addiction to the drug and the bizarre life that screwed up most of the 90s for him, but for us Church addicts yielded at least a couple of classic albums in Priest and Hologram.
Overall it emerges is that Steve Kilbey is very aware that many things conspired against The Church to prevent them from becoming, well a rival to REM as the 80’s key guitar band. Being foisted producers not sympathetic to the Church’s sound, through to not playing the pop star game both early on in England and later on in the US, scuppered any potential sustained break through. One can only dream of what might have hapenned had John Paul Jones produced Gold Afternoon Fix. Sometimes he sounds a little bitter, at other times a little resigned to how things have panned out, but I guess that’s how many of us see our lives.
Sadly the book ends rather abruptly with much of the last fifteen years nailed in a few paras – which is a bit a disappointment as I’d love to know more about the background to the last two albums. Maybe it is still a bit raw and fresh and maybe, knowing how much the publishing industry loves a sequel, he is working on volume two…
Ultimately then as a read Something Quite Peculiar hovers between the waspish humour of Luke Haines books and the gossipy nature of the first few chapters of the Morrissey biography. Kilbey is a talented writer and knows how to spin a yarn tor two. And if you have ever been smitten by the music of The Church or are fascinated by a musician’s creative process purchasing this book is a total no brainer.
It will apparently be available in a digital Kindle format soon.