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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.


Homeland Security

28 May

Yeah it’s all, like, THE ARCTIC MONKEYS and LILY (fucking) ALLEN out here in fair England, probably forevermore. But that hasn’t stopped me from searching out a few old geezers who still do it right, in ways my aging ass can actually understand. Today I’ve come to honour 3 British artists/bands who’ve toiled longer and harder than most along the English homefront, with scant acknowledgement or recognition. And no – they ain’t winning the war for us – but they sure do make it sound mighty sweet as we all go under.

1. PAGAN ALTAR“The Cry of the Banshee” (from the Mythical & Magical, Oracle Records, 2006)

Pagan AltarYou ready for your early morning cup of NWOBHM? Me, I say fill er up mac. PAGAN ALTAR are an original New Wave of British ‘Eavy Metal group, class of ’78/’79. They recorded lots of unreleased demos at the time – see their Volume 1 and Time Lord releases for the goods. Like WITCHFINDER GENERAL, PAGAN ALTAR went for that canal-dredging, early BLACK SABBATH sound rather than the prog/punk attack typified by Di’Anno-era IRON MAIDEN. Which means they kept things slow-to-mid tempo, focusing attention on deeper rhythmic concerns, hence foreshadowing the doom rock revolution of the late 80’s/early ’90s. They also exhibited a stately, mannered decorum (think PROCOL HARUM) that for whatever cultural reason, seems to suit the Brits like a glove. And they could write, arrange, play, and ROCK better than a whole buttload of Brit bands swinging Flying V’s at the time. Sadly, the mulleted hordes didn’t really wanna know.

Sometime in the new millenium, they managed to drag themselves from their SE London grave with twin beliefs in heavy rock and pagan/witchcraft themes wholly intact. Their copious use of hammer-ons may make you smile (they did me) . . . but if you’re someone who laughs at the mere endeavour of playing DOOM-LADEN, EPIC METAL in total ernesty – as if punk had never, ever happened! – well, stranger, then you’re a bigger idiot than I gave you credit for. Their recent CDs (showcasing an “updated” DIO-era SAB sound) are full of great and inspired metal by guys who, in some small way, helped invent the damn stuff. I bow; you ought to, too.

2. THE GREEN RAY“All My Tears” (from Back From The Edge, Senza Tempo, 2006)

green rayHippie stalwarts from Walthamstow (BEVIS FROND country, doncha know) who are also a key offshoot of the MAN/HELP YOURSELF family tree. Which probably means bugger all to most of you, but ALOT to those who can recognize the subtle beauties of 70’s British acidrock. THE RAY continue in that flowing, US west-coast tradition, jammin’ their twin gtrs straight from the heart up into the cold, grey London skies, aiming to blow puny minds with a mere flick of a pick. It’s true HEAD music, unaffected by the fact these guys’ heads are now mostly gray and balding. And if you hipsterz need even more of a reason to check em out, do note that both Forced Exposure and Ptolemaic Terrascope mags sung their praises in the 90’s – with fucking good reason, too.

I just now see they play a monthly residency at The Plough Inn in W’stow – must make a mental note to scratch up some skunk and go ride their magic carpet some evening soon!

3. ALEX FERGUSSON“Dark Angel (Fireball Mix)” (from The Castle, Eis & Licht, 2006)

AlexALEX is both ex-ALTERNATIVE TV and ex-PSYCHIC TV, but he’s done so much more (before/during/after) it’s just silly. He’s been largely passed over in punk/postpunk history books since he seemed content to remain out of the limelight, hidden under the weight of much bigger egos (there are few bigger than that of ATV’s Mark Perry and PTV’s Genesis P-Orridge). But his songs/tunes/riffs always seem totally identifiable to me. He tends to moor an intimate, singer-songwritery pop sensibility (he says he’s a big fan of early Emitt Rhodes) with what’s known over in this part of the world as “neo-folk” (that would be his post-industrial PSYCHIC TV connections). Anybody bothering to look deeper will see that he’s been recording/writing in a uniquely ALEX-ian fashion at least since PSYCHIC TV released Pagan Day way back in ’84 – which, by all rights, oughta be seen as ALEX’s first solo LP.

I am a huge fan of this man’s uncanny ability to use stripped-down instrumentation to communicate often perverse subject matter via simple but delicate pop songcraft. ANYTHING with this man’s name on it is worth exploring before you die.