Miles Over Matter – Vagabonds of Psychedelia review

miles1These 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.

Re-inventing psychedelia
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.

miles 2

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.

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