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Mad Yodel

6 Jan


There will always be another amazing record you haven’t yet heard, but it’s also true that a wealth of unreleased recordings exist that would blow minds, if only somebody ever saw fit to release em. This is what Nigel Cross at Shagrat Records has made a career of: mining the archives for aural documentation worthy of serious reconsideration. Since I last checked in with Nigel a few years ago, he’s released previously unheard, early 70’s jazz rock jams by American ex-pat Londoners FORMERLY FAT HARRY, post-MOBY GRAPE twang by THE DARROW MOSLEY BAND, and amazingly fluid psych sessions ca. 1971 by Brit master musicians HORACE. Now, hot on the heels of a 10″/book by late 60’s SF ballroom kings MAD RIVER, Nigel gives us the Presumed Lost CD by ex-MAD RIVER multi instrumentalist Lawrence Hammond. And what a confoundingly great, sincerely stellar record it is.

Up front I should admit I’ve never been a diehard fan of MAD RIVER’s schizo, acid rock cut-ups. The BEEFHEARTian jaggedness of their first LP and cowpoke trippiness of their later Paradise Bar & Grill record do have wiggy moments, moments I once savoured deeply when courting “altered” states of mind as a young adult. But MAD RIVER also had a perverse knack of changing the psychic flow without warning, often at the most inopportune of times. And more than once, I’ve pulled that first rec off the deck mid-tune, as the music therein was threatening to sour my trip, bigtime. Clearly though, group leader Lawrence Hammond had some serious talent, and long after he’d left the SF Sound behind he recorded an album that illustrates those strengths beautifully.

From the outset, Presumed Lost announces itself proudly as unabashed country & western, free from most California country rockisms proliferating at the time. Originally recorded for but unreleased by the then-waning Takoma label in the late 70’s, Lawrence’s songs alternate between lilting, southwestern country/folk and a kind of ambitiously composed, spit-shined country pop popular in Nashville then; indeed, his “John Deere Tractor” would later be covered famously by THE JUDDS. He proves himself master on a half dozen instruments (gtr, piano, fiddle, mandolin) while sidemen like banjo player John Hickman and renowned fiddler Byron Berline are consistently sympathetic and always ring in with nimble, biting precision. It’s true that all of this has as much to do with acid rock as Marty Robbins does, but if you can’t sit still for a Pete Drake pedal steel solo . . . well, that’s your loss, partner, not mine.

At heart this is a vocally-driven record, and Hammond’s voice! Good God, what pipes. Few others this side of FAMILY’s Roger Chapman – or even THE FLESH EATERS’ Chris D. – have possessed a voice so divisive as Mr Hammond’s. While I can empathise with reactions noted in Eugene Chadbourne’s review of Lawrence’s first solo LP, Coyote’s Dream, to my ears his mad yodel here is utterly captivating. His lyrics, too, are also fairly unique in the field of C&W: bittersweet narrative punctuated with naturalistic imagery and western colloquialisms. It’s erudite but ornery stuff that gets me believing Lawrence could’ve founded a High Lonesome School of Cowboy Romanticism all his own.

Two songs do bear noting for their peculiar magic: “Papa Redwing Blackbird” is a gorgeous falsetto psych folk number that’ll send chills down your spine every spin, while “Love For The Hunger” is the sort of dark and brooding tune THIN WHITE ROPE might’ve covered to great effect a decade later. But as amazing as those tracks are, they are but diversions in a central, more powerful journey, one where Lawrence nudges country music in a profoundly soulful direction few have ever tried to. A trip worthy of serious reconsideration, indeed.


Wolf Whistling

28 Feb


Best band going in England right now? WOLF PEOPLE, that’s who.

To really appreciate these guys you may have to rethink your relationship to so-called retro rock. Not unlike ELOPE and WITCHCRAFT from Sweden, London’s WOLF PEOPLE reinvent 60’s & 70’s sounds in ways that’ll get you believing it never faded away in the first place. The use of musical history here ain’t nothing like SHA NA NA’s silly 70’s/50’s shenanigans nor THE B-52’s camp 80’s/60’s fashion nor even OZRIC TENTACLES’ clueless 90’s/70’s cosmic pilfering. No, these are future-forward musicians who just happen to be coming of age at a time when lost older musics are a viable and indeed modern foundation for inspiring sonic newbuild.

I can’t take credit for discovering these guys. Mr. Nigel Cross, he of the amazing Shagrat Records label, hipped me to these guys a while back – thanks Nigel. As WOLF PEOPLE have been in holed up in Wales for the past few months recording their first full-length, I only recently got to see em do it live at cozy What’s Cookin’ in godforsaken Leytonstone. I swear I still ain’t the same since.

WOLF PEOPLE are a 5-piece who explicitly harken back to that oft-overlooked pinnacle of British music, when English whiteboy electric bluesrock was breaking out of trad American imitation in dozens of completely unexpected, uniquely inspired directions. Like bands of that original psychedelic era, WOLF PEOPLE riffs are rugged and bluebased but fold in jazzy/eastern influences seamlessly. Songs belie well thought out prog ambition, while band interplay demonstrates a deep love of complex rhythmic exploration. Full-on hardpsych freakouts are juxatposed with beautifully restrained vocals, and wildass improvs are tempered by a tense, measured decorum. A particularly English worldview shapes their thing, and it’s goddamn glorious to behold.

Yes the flute will remind you lunkheads of JETHRO TULL, while the bluesy riffs will have the more astute among you thinking Peter Green-era FLEETWOOD MAC or perhaps MIGHTY BABY. But what’s really going on here is 5 dudes at the absolute top of their respective games, inspiring/challenging each other to go one step beyond. The passion & fire stoking their train avoids any pat historical comparisons, and their singer – oh man! He is one haunted, soulful shouter fr sure.

Here it’s 2009, and you still got Brits capable of expressing themselves in ways that they, alone, will forever own. Seeing this enacted live was a true goose-bump raising experience. I can’t wait for the new CD.

WOLF PEOPLE – “Caratacas (Live)” (B-Music Migrating! Caustic! – Mutatable! Tour 7″, Battered Ornaments, 2008)

Orc Revolutions

9 Nov

Nigel Cross entered my consciousness in the 2nd half of 80’s as the patchouli-dipped, English hippie apologist within the wider Forced Exposure magazine crew. His occasional FE contributions yearned for the daze when free rock festivals, a vital underground press, and that magical combination of dope & fucking in the streets posed a very real threat to the English bowler-hatted establishment at the time. And his astute reevaluations of the 60’s/70’s got me wondering just what kinda glorious racket bands with names like JOHN’S CHILDREN, MAGIC MUSCLE and PINK FAIRIES might’ve once gotten up to.

Now Nigel had already been at it for years in the pages of Bucketful of Brains mag gushing about Desert/Cali psych revival gtr bands and the like, but hey I didn’t know anything about that then. I was coming at things as a disaffected punker kid who only knew he wanted to distance himself from the rigid HC then happening in SoCal (UNIFORM CHOICE, anyone?). Nigel’s writings helped kick start my interest in all manner of psych/rock/folk music outta late 60’s and early 70’s England, inadvertently helping me to contextualize so many of the big and little differences I’ve encountered since moving to the UK in 2005. It was the start of a beautiful journey that I don’t expect to finish for another few decades.

Nigel began Shagrat Records in 1990 waxing unheard archival recordings by obscure late 60’s/early 70’s musicians, as well as new material by the wild modern-day cats he championed. Now-deceased underground cartoonist/artist Edward Barker designed and created most of the sleeve art, nicely connecting the label to its proper historical antecedents. And every one of this label’s releases has been totally fascinating, if not downright amazing. Despite a near-total lack of web presence by Nigel or his label, Shagrat Records is still an active concern: the SCREW 10″/CD combo came out late last year. What follows is what I believe to be a complete discography, plus personal observations. Few of these titles are still readily available, but I trust that the industrious among you will be able to scratch up alot of em online if you search hard enough.

The 12″/10″ers:

SHAGRATNothing Exceeds Like Excess (ENT 001 12″) – This was Steve Peregrine Took’s band after he’d been edged out of Marc Bolan’s increasingly chart-conscious T REX. Some of their recordings strum with a tougher but still magicmushroom-enthused early T REX sound, while others burn hard, mean, and dark like a Syd Barrett-led HAWKWIND ZOO with real gtr firepower (courtesy of a pre-PINK FAIRIES Larry Wallis). Sound quality is rough as hell, but that just adds an attractive sepia-toned aura to the sonics. Had they persevered, SHAGRAT coulda been real contenders in the degenerate phase of underground English psychedelia. Clips of these tracks, plus those found on the 7″ single mentioned below, can be heard here.

THE REDBIRDSTruth Justice and a Wholesome Packed Lunch (ENT 002 12″) – Awesome, sonicboomin’ bluesrock by this Larry Wallis-led band from the 90’s. Larry hollers/plays so confidently and his band is so tight, this actually bests the great PINK FAIRIES reunion disc from ’87 – not an easy feat. They shoulda produced more but apparently the demon alcohol was gumming up the works around this time. Not on CD yet but damn well should be and soon.

THE ARCHERSThe Green Ray (ENT 003 12″) – The first waxing by an early 90’s band of ex-HELP YOURSELF fellas who subsequently changed their name to THE GREEN RAY. It’s perhaps their most effortlessly transcendent moment: instrumental jams slowly coalesce around loose themes that build, relax, surge, and glide in accordance with the principles of deepest GRATEFUL DEAD-like intuition. As an aural floatation device, I can think of few with more buoyancy. Most of these tracks were eventually corralled on to their Fragile World CD, but somehow their great take on Don Cherry’s “Brown Rice” found here got left behind.

SANDOZPay Attention LP (ENT 004 12″) – The kind of unknown recording you always hope somebody’ll unearth, but rarely does. Completely gone and twisted, over-the-top BEEFHEARTian rockgrunt n blueshowl by an early 70’s band nobody’d ever previously heard wind of. Really, the only peers this recording has in the UK were some weirder EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND moments, the prog end of STACKWADDY, and perhaps that RUSTIC HINGE LP exhumed by Reckless Records in the late 80’s. Why this record isn’t revered by more connoisseurs of high-energy pre-punk, I know not. Five stars all the way.

DYNAMO HUMFour Cute Creatures (ENT 005 10″) – Totally hot side-project of THE SCREAMING BLUE MESSIAHS, this one’s dedicated to the memory of DR. FEELGOOD’s Lee Brilleaux for good reason. A postmodernized companion piece to THE REDBIRDS EP discussed above, this one funnels distorted slide gtr delay straight through a tap at the Lobster Smack pub on Canvey Island, before lurching out of your speakers fullborn. Betcha these guys were killer live.

THE GREEN RAYSighs, Whales and Trees (ENT 006 12″) – These were mid-90’s instrumental recordings by the band that once was THE ARCHERS, proving not only acid but gtr strings are still capable of shoving even hardened cynics headlong into Never Never Land. Anybody who mistakenly thinks OZRIC TENTACLES were some kinda pinnacle of 90’s English gtr psych oughta be schooled by these old-timers.

BRIDGET ST. JOHNThe First Cut (ENT 007 10″) – Not unlike Vashti Bunyan’s, Bridget’s femme croon usually sounds a bit too cloying for my ears. Certainly, she never exuded the grounded, historical conviction of Shirley Collins nor the solitary, outsider strength of Nico – two people she’s most often compared. But somehow these quiet vocal/gtr recordings – apparently recorded at Al Stewart’s home in ’68 – cast her in a much more satisfying, fireside glow. Disregard all the tepid, weak-willed singer/songerwritery shit that followed in the wake of stuff like this, and you too will be able to appreciate this deeply.

AMBERPearls of Amber (ENT 008 10″) – Mac MacLeod’s acid folk duo with Julian McAllister, who mastered quite beautiful sitar drones and tabla rumbles to drive their modal longings eastward. While I have rarely find patience for this kind of thing from today’s crop of bearded mumblers, I absolutely fucking love hearing it from the OG hippie set. Most (though not all) of these tracks were reissued on Mac’s Cherry Red career CD anthology, The Incredible Journey Of The Original Hurdy Gurdy Man.

SCREWBanks Of The River b/w Devil’s Hour (ENT 009 10″/CD) – Yet more lost genius from the late 60’s, this one in the vein of THE YARDBIRDS’ Roger the Engineer, had that band dug Don Van Vliet a bit more. These guys apparently played Hyde Park with THE STONES in ’69 and probably nearly bested them pouty, spoilt headliners. The bonus CD-single is of a track entitled “Psychedelic Harps”, which is exactly that: two harmonicas battling inner and outer demons like a pair of Mel Lyman clones on righteous blotter. Nuts!

The 7″ers:

SHAGRATAmanda 7″ (ORC 001) – Two further tracks from the sessions discussed above: one acoustic, the other one electric. Prime stuff.

MICHAEL HURLEYNational Weed Growers Association 7″ (ORC 002) – Michael’s an American treasure, and this song’s an anthem for every grey-haired boomer who never ever stopped rollin and blowin them fat, sticky joints.

WIZZ JONESEasy Rider 7″ (ORC 003) – UK folkie Wizz plugged in briefly in ’69 to record this tribute to Dennis Hooper’s boring flick, backed by FORMERLY FAT HARRY. Had to wait to ’93 to be heard.

MAC MACLEODCopenhagen Lites 7″ (ORC 004) – Two ’67 tracks from the guy who’d form AMBER a few years later. If Donovan hadn’t been such a pansyass wanna-be pop star, he’d have sounded like this.

The odd man out:

CHICKEN LEGS WEAVERWishbone Hands LP (Ecstatic Yod/Shagrat Records, CLUCK-01) – The one I haven’t heard! Though if it’s as good as their “Nowhere” CD from 2006, that’s pretty damn solid indeed.


So thanks a helluva lot, Mr. Cross – we’ll always love your writing here at PS Recon. Can’t wait for Shagrat Records to drop yet another round of mutant folk/blues monsters into my local record shop.