=  FEBRUARY 2008  =

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Fairy Cakes comp


Try Me Out #2 comp

Simon Lewis (Editor)

Sharron Kraus

Jeff Penczak

Six Organs of Admittance

Mats Gustafsson

The Habibiyya


The Human Beast


Meic Stevens


Volcano The Bear




(CD from Psychic Circle)


Once again, Nick Saloman and the Psychic Circle imprint shatter the myth that all the good pop psych songs have already been comped with this second collection (subtitled ‘Fairytales Can Come True Vol . 2’) of 20 more popsike gems originally recorded between 1966-71. The set opens with the aggressive stomper, ‘Honey Do’ by Crackers, a pseudonym for The Merseys, which surprisingly failed to capture the public’s imagination. The Foresters’ claim to fame may have been introducing Ringo to the music of Buck Owens, which Saloman suggests may have let to his recording of ‘Act Naturally,’ but their contribution here, ‘Mr. Smith’ is a pleasant folk rocker with an infectious fuzz break that is pleasing in a Chad & Jeremy or Peter & Gordon style. Collectors will drool with glee at the 1968 Oak acetate version of The Youth’s ‘Meadow Of My Love,’ a pleasant pop ditty with Monkee Davy Jones’ name all over it. This is the only known version of this song in existence!


Lloyd Banks’ ‘Look Out Girl’ is an infectious cover of a P.F. Sloan track that originally appeared on The Grass Roots’ debut album, ‘Where Were You When I Needed You” and I must commend Saloman on the variety of material included here, such as Scott Henderson’s  Toytown-ish pop via the flute, violin and tambourine-driven ‘Saturday Night People.’ Saloman then returns to covers of American classics, literally, with Sasperella’s soulful rendition of the Classics IV’s ‘Spooky,’ which features a ferocious guitar solo that belies its pop trappings.


International pop fans will appreciate Saloman’s ventures beyond the British Isles for tracks from The Bats and 14. The former came from Cape Town, South Africa over 40 years ago and still perform there today, so if you’re ever in the neighbourhood of one of their concerts, perhaps you’ll hear them perform ‘Listen To My Heart,’ an uptempo handclapper with great harmonies and a faint Beatlesque aroma. Sweden’s 14 are also on hand to deliver the delirious confection, ‘Umbrella,’ with wah wah guitars, backward tape loops and a harpsichord backing that’ll stay with you for days!


England’s answer to Brian Wilson, Mark Wirtz is known for his Toytown pop-flavoured productions and the infamously aborted ‘A Teenage Opera.’ Here he is represented by The Guards’ ‘Fantastic Fair,’ a track that was previously featured on RPM’s 1997 Wirtz compilation, ‘The Go Go Music of Mark Wirtz.’ Elsewhere, the compilation’s title track is another bouncy pop number with giddy keyboard tinkling courtesy Mike Quinn & The Breadcrumbs and Peter & Gordon throw backwards drumming, their inimitable harmonies and strident horn blasts in our direction for the decidedly psychedelic pop of ‘I Feel Like Going Out.” Toss in a previously unreleased demo version of Chuckles’ ‘I Thought you Thought’ and Oliver Norman’s hopelessly obscure cover of Cat Stevens’ ‘People People’ (unrecorded by the author) and you’ve got one of the best releases in Saloman’s compilation series – another incredible collection that is chock full of should-have-been hit singles that will surely appeal to fans of 60’s Top 40 radio, despite the fact that, like me, most of you may be hearing these songs for the first time. But thanks to Nick and Psychic Circle, it certainly won’t be the last. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD from Psychic Circle)


Nick Saloman and Psychic Circle return with the second volume in their Ballroom Beat series (we reviewed Vol. 1, ‘I Walk The Lonely Night’, last April), featuring “20 previously uncomped slices of prime British Beat 1964-66.” What you’ll find inside are artists who “typify Saturday night in a provincial dance hall,” including several Scottish acts, two bands whose members would go on to form King Crimson, a ‘Coronation Street’ actor and a band that would ultimately top the charts when they changed their name to Marmalade. The Echo Sounds were a Scottish band who inexplicably only released singles in Germany after winning a Frankfort Beat Contest. 1965’s ‘Too Late Now’ is a hard-driving, happy foot stomper. The League of Gentlemen are the first of the Crimson-derived acts, with Robert Fripp and Gordon Haskell featured on the swaying pop ballad, ‘How Do They Know.’


The Rustiks’ Beatlesque sound may have been what attracted them to the attention of Brian Epstein – that and the fact that he was one of the judges in a beat group contest they won. ‘Can’t You See’ originally appeared on Decca in 1965 and is a charming slice of pop that should have fared better. Bobby Shafto was one of numerous clean-cut solo artists who never quite cracked the charts, which is surprising considering the effervescent, Herman’s Hermits-styled ‘Love Love Love’ included here. Trainspotters may be keen to know that members of Shafto’s backing band, The Roofraisers would later top the charts with Mungo Jerry (‘In The Summertime’).


One of Glasgow’s top bands, Dean Ford and The Gaylords’ ‘Mr. Heartbreak’s Here Instead” may be one of the most Beatlesque track of the lot, and I can certainly here the Fab Four tucking this away on a B-side of one of their early releases (Columbia put this out in 1964). It was written by Benny Gallagher (of Gallagher & Lyle) and the band would later move down to London and hit the big time after changing their name to Marmalade (‘Reflections of My Life,’ ‘I See The Rain’). The Epics’ ‘My Little Girl’ is a hippy hippy, shake shakin’ rocker with a snappy backbeat courtesy Bill Fifield, who would later gain fame after changing his name to Legend and joining Marc Bolan in the 1970-74 incarnation of T. Rex.

Listening to this collection and hearing these songs for the first time, I’m amazed at how many attempts were made to replicate the Beatles’ success via the bouncy melodies, lovely harmonies and snappy beats and one of the best of the copycats included here were The Peeps, whose ‘Got Plenty of Love,’ a 1965 Philips release, could easily have fooled the unsuspecting masses into thinking it was some obscure Paul McCartney rarity. The band would go through several name changes as they moved in a more progressive direction, with guitarist Roye Albrighton eventually forming Nektar.


Fans of the long-running British soap opera ‘Coronation Street’ may remember Chris Sandford appearing in three 1963 episodes as milkman, Walter Potts. Decca hooked him up with The Coronets for 1964’s ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ and the result is exactly what you might expect form a singing actor: over-dramatic emoting to lyrics that are recited as lines from his day job! I do, however, like the pleasant harmonies and infectious melody of the otherwise unknown Gobbledegooks’ ‘Now & Again.” The Addicts’ one-off single for Decca in 1964, ‘That’s My Girl’ is the perfect embodiment of all things that I love about British Beat: raw, melodic vocals, punchy backbeats, and sparkling guitar solos…too bad they couldn’t follow it up.


Trendsetters Ltd. are the other band whose members would go on to form King Crimson, with brothers Pete and Michael Giles making brief stops in The Brain and Giles, Giles & Fripp, before Mike and the aforementioned League of Gentlemen’s Robert Fripp formed Crimson (although Pete would briefly return for ‘In The Wake of Poseidon’). Their contribution, ‘Move On Over,’ however, is a rather pedestrian attempt at Beatlesque pop. Jim Pollock was a Scottish refrigerator salesman who was discovered by comedian Ken Dodd, changed his name to Gidian, and released several fine singles for Columbia in the mid-60’s, of which ‘Try Me Out’ is one of the better efforts – a toetappin, fingerpoppin’ ditty with a big brass band backing!


South East London’s Showtimers must have been one of the first British bands to release material on their own label, Showtime, which saw two 6-track EPs hit the shoppes in the mid-60s. The wonderful Mersey sound of ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’ originally appeared on the first (1964), and fans of Peter & Gordon, Chad & Jeremy. Gerry & The Pacemakers, et. al, as well as the American Everly Brothers are sure to dig this and search out their other releases. The set ends with the theme from pirate radio station Radio Caroline, ‘I Love You Caroline’ by Birkenhead’s Pathfinders. It’s more Beatlesque, harmony pop that not only reinforces the Beatles’ influence on British pop, but is another fine example of how talented these “copycat’ bands really were. And although I’m sure there were dozens of such artists, many of the best (although, unfortunately obscure) are now available from Psychic Circle and Nick Saloman.  (Jeff Penczak)




(Woven Wheat Whispers)


Originally recorded in January, 2005 to celebrate the births of Lucy Elizabeth and Jay Rowan Fletcher, the album was never intended for release; however, it was briefly available directly from Sharron at the end of 2005 (when the twins said they were “quite happy to share it with other people!”) Now you can download it (with all new artwork) at the Woven Wheat Whispers site. Chronologically, the album falls just before her collaboration with Christian Kiefer, ‘The Black Dove,’ (Tompkins Square, 2006), and it captures a playful side of the young Oxfordian that has surprisingly been missing from her discography, full as it is of murder ballads, ghostly love letters, and other traditional tales of loss and mayhem. The seventeen fairy tales and nursery rhymes run the gamut from a piano-and-percussive-toys backed ‘Sing A Song of Sixpence’ to the a capella quartet renditions of ‘Herrings’ Heads,’ ‘Three Blind Mice,’ ‘The Tree In The Wood’) that find Krauss accompanied by Zoë Bicât, Jane Griffiths, and, presumably the twins’ dad, Colin Fletcher. It is surely the jolliest release in Kraus’ oeuvre, and will most assuredly inject some well-needed levity into everyone’s lives, no matter what their age.


A forlorn banjo and gentle, acoustic guitar accompany Kraus’ gorgeous, lilting soprano on the tender lullaby, ‘All The Pretty Horses,’ which should send even the most precocious brats off to la la land. Bicât joins Kraus on another a capella version of the children’s favorite, ‘London Bridge,’ and the call-and-response arrangement of tracks like ‘Herrings’ Heads’ and ‘Hunt The Wren’ encourages audience and group participation, which should help draw even the shyest child out of their shell. The astute listener may even recognise the inspiration for ‘Billy Bardo’ in the compositional structure of ‘Hunt The Wren.’ On so many levels, I can’t recommend enough this collection of adults having the time of their lives singing children’s nursery rhymes! Even baby sitters may pick up a few tips on getting their charges down for the night from such somnambulist lullabies as ‘Sleep, Baby, Sleep’ and closer, ‘Gaelic Lullaby.’ And, honestly, who, of any age, isn’t up for a rousing rendition of the old favorite round, ‘Three Blind Mice’?


I commend Kraus and her accompanists (along with the twins!) for not only recording this extremely personal album, but sharing it with the general public. Fans of In Gowan Ring may recall similar children’s recordings in B’Eirth’s repertoire, several of which are available on his ‘Compendium 1994-2000’ collection (Blue Sanct, 2000; also available at W.W.W.), but it is refreshing to hear an entire album dedicated to these wonderful, timeless tunes. I also must call special attention to ‘The Tree In The Wood,’ one of those cumulative lyrics along the lines of ’12 Days of Christmas’ and ‘The Old Lady and The Fly’ – sadly missing, but maybe for Vol. 2! It’s a memory exercise that will challenge adults and children alike and adds the element of gamesmanship to the album that makes it even more fun to listen to.


Admittedly, this would make a perfect birthday present for younger children – after all, that was its original intention – but it can also serve as the perfect antidote to hours spent in front of the boob tube with Barney™ The Dinosaur as a babysitter. Mums and dads who are fans of traditional folk music will also find a lot to enjoy, and I can highly recommend this collection to teachers of kindergarten and young grade school children, as there is an entire musical curriculum awaiting herein. Also, with the simple percussives, flute and guitar backings, these songs could serve as the perfect soundtrack for any gathering of young folk, be they around the camp fire, at a boy/girl scout outing, etc. It also proves to me, at least, that music does indeed soothe the savage breast – more so than shoveling endless doses of Ritalin down kids’ throats these days. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD from Drag City (http://www.dragcity.com)


I first met Ben Chasny back in the late ‘90s and it would be pretty cool if I could say that I already then predicted this whole free folk scene to be the next thing. Nothing could be further from the truth but in retrospect it does seem that Chasny was one of the originators of the scene. Contrary to many of his followers his always been capable of refining and developing his musical palette, both under the Six Organs of Admittance moniker but also in other combos such as Comets on Fire and Badgerlore.


‘Shelter from the Ash’ takes small pieces from all corners of Chasny’s multi-faceted back catalogue and glues them together to one stunning album that is a collision of styles and inspirations, but that somehow still manages to come out in one piece. Many tracks have a strong contradictory feel, at one moment moving across a plane of gracefully dancing guitar explorations but in the next veering off into a squealing fuzz guitar freakout well worthy of the most appreciated psych guitar equilibrists out there. But it's not the technically complicated guitar playing that makes this a worthwhile record, it's the stream of emotions and colors that have been baked into every single note that makes it utterly hard to escape from. 


In a way there’s really no point in mentioning specific tracks as this more than ever feels like a cohesive whole that in terms of sequencing and structure probably was more thought out in advance than anything he’s done before. Ancient guitar histories are hidden in clouds of modern drones and draped in folkish embellishments but along the trail to aural euphoria we're also treated with a kind of energy and beauty that’s been molded and distilled down to its purest essence.  Seek out ‘Shelter from the Ash’ and be blessed. Another chapter in the experimental folk book is taking form. (Mats Gustafsson)






Formed by three ex-members of Mighty Baby following several life-changing trips to Morocco and the subsequent joining of the Sufic order led by Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib (from whence the band’s name), the seeds for the mellow, meditative vibe of the album were actually sewn on Mighty Baby’s brilliant second album, ‘Jug of Love,’ which actually featured the other Habibiyya members, Californian husband and wife, Conrad and Susan Archuletta playing flute and rattle (credited to their Muslim names, Zahara and Ab’dal Kabir) on ‘The Happiest Man In The Carnival.’ Predominantly performed with a barrel load of eastern instruments like shakuhachi, koto, zither, Bina organ, nay flute, Safi drums and mandola, Sunbeam’s typically informative liners and Ian Whiteman’s opening essay explain that the band sat around in a circle on a carpet and meditated prior to commencing the recording sessions. The album begins with the self-explanatory ‘Two Shakuhachis,’ as Ian and Susan diet on the traditional Japanese bamboo flute, inviting the listener to join the performers’ meditative state. Susan’s gentle, deliberate plucking is at the core of ‘Koto Piece,’ with Roger Powell’s Safi drum pounding a steady backbeat under Whiteman’s soaring flute lines and additional shakuhachi interplay with Conrad.


Viola, Michael Evan’s mandola, nay flute, Bina organ and Powell’s hypnotic drumming breath a carnival-like energy into the chanting ‘The Eye-Witness,’ which might entice the listener into a case of happy feet, resulting in subdued dancing and flailing about. Three of the four tracks on side 1 are titled after their main instrument, culminating with Evan’s ‘Mandola’ solo. Oboe, nay flute and intricately interwoven guitar interplay from Susan highlight this hypnotic piece, a folky, psychedelic excursion that closely resembles the mellow vibe of ‘Jug of Love.’


While most of the tracks on side 1 have a surprisingly Western flavour, Conrad’s zither, Powell’s syncopated drumming and more spiritual chanting at the heart of the title track, imbue it with a slightly more Eastern ambience. And while heads who discovered this little heard album on it’s initial release on Island 35 years ago probably enjoyed it with a couple of bowlfuls in the spirit of the day, the album is essentially a meditative, spiritual exercise that can be enjoyed today both as a calming diversion from the hectic pace of everyday life, and a soundtrack for self-contemplation. It’s also a must for Mighty Baby fans as the logical successor to ‘Jug of Love.’


A generous collection of five bonus tracks from the original recording sessions complete the package. While some, like the flute-driven ‘Procession of the God Intoxicated’ have an incomplete feel about them, the two part ‘Peregrinations’ and ‘Peregrinations Continued’ replicate the album’s improvisational, spiritual vibe. The latter even introduces a jazzier element to the band’s arsenal. Both Ian and Susan expressed their frustration that some of these tracks were eliminated from the final album, whose sequencing was controlled by outside forces. Unfortunately, Ian notes, the band was “subsumed into the [Sufi order of the same name]. It wasn’t the music…we had recorded which ended up driving things. The musical group got taken over actually, and buried, suffocated. Which was tragic.” Fortunately, thanks to this definitive reissue, we finally have the opportunity to experience the complete Habibiyya! (Once again, Sunbeam also treats us to a (double) vinyl edition, with the bonus tracks tucked away on the second disk!) (Jeff Penczak)






This Edinburgh band’s sole album, originally released on Decca in 1970, has recently become a bit of a cause célèbre amongst the reissue crowd, this being its third release in as many years behind the Akarma (2005) and Universal (2006) remasters. One listen and you can understand its attraction, particularly with power trio fanatics who’ve worn out their Cream and Hendrix collections – for starters, guitarist Gilles Buchan has certainly got his Clapton and Hendrix wah-wah tricks down to a science!. Originally a quartet known as Skin, the band shed lead singer Colin Hay (coincidentally, the name of fellow Scot and future Men At Work vocalist!) when they drove down to London to record this album. (Hay’s participation was limited to the cover artwork.) Finding that Skin had already been copyrighted, they chose their new moniker from a character that appears in the two opening tracks. ‘Mystic Man’ introduces us to said character, with unusual, Crimsonesque time changes ultimately finding the band stopping dead in their tracks for some avant garde noodling that’ll soil the shorts of even the most ardent Faust fans before gathering up the reins and resuming their heavy, bluesy riffage. The beast returns in ‘Appearance is Everything, Style Is A Way of Living,’ a spoken-word lyric that leaps out from its theatrical trappings that bear more than a passing resemblance to Zappa & The Mothers. It features brain frying, acid guitar from Buchan, syncopated drumming from John Ramsay and head splitting, thunderous bass from Ed Lynch, and was quite unlike just about everything coming out of Scotland in 1970. The frenetic energy continues on ‘Brush with The Midnight Butterfly,’ which reminds me of the asymmetrical, free-form jamming of krautrockers, Amon Düül, as well as the psychedelic, jazzy stylings of Soft Machine (a programme from a 1970 show in the booklet reveals that one of their (unrecorded) tracks was “a tribute to Soft Machine”). Fans of Daevid Allen’s future excursions with Gong may also find a lot to like.


There’s a cuddly, boy-next-door, Greg Lake-like warmth to Lynch’s vocals on their cover of Mike (Incredible String Band) Heron’s ‘Maybe Someday,’ which again implores Crimson comparisons. The neo-jazz, avant garde accompaniment had this Crimhead reaching for his ‘Court of The Crimson King’ album. ‘Reality Presented As An Alternative’ borrows the unusual naming scheme Soft Machine used on their second volume and the Beast’s sound reflects a more Sabbathian arrangement (particularly Geezer Butler’s penchant for doubling Tony Iommi’s lead melody lines) with some nascent Martin Barre-isms peeking out from within. (Have a listen to ‘Benefit’’s ‘To Cry You A Song’!) Throughout these remarkable recordings, you’ll also be treated to the embryonic seeds of Hawkwind, the proto-metallic bite of Alice Cooper, and the progressive blueprint of Steve Howe’s frenetic fretwork with Yes (check out ‘Naked Breakfast’ and ‘Circle of the Night’). This esoteric, ahead-of-its-time release is essential listening to fans of avant garde psychedelia, and with individual historic essays from all three members, full lyrics, and numerous rare photos in the 16-page booklet, this may be the most definitive reissue yet. (Vinyl junkies will also drool over the 180g, virgin vinyl, gatefold edition!) (Jeff Penczak)






This 65-minute concert, recorded live at the Half-Moon on July 24, 2007 is the crowning jewel in Sunbeam’s incomparable reissue series of the 65-year old Welsh bard, which also gather his seven EPs and assorted singles and compilation appearances across two previous releases. Before a small, but appreciative audience (no doubt turned on to Stevens via the Sunbeam reissues), Stevens’ first gig in over 30 years culls tracks from the EPs and his ‘Outlander’ (Warner Brothers, 1970) and ‘Gwymon’ (Wren, 1972) LPs. The evening begins with Stevens alone on stage with his acoustic guitar for the Dylanesque, troubadour love song, ‘Love Owed’ (from ‘Outlander’). Humbly imploring the audience’s indulgence (“Even if you can’t understand the words, I hope you enjoy the melody”), Meic turns to his native tongue for the gaily strolling ‘Cân Walter’ [‘Walter’s Song’, a tribute to his late uncle that originally appeared – attributed to Mike Stevens – on his second EP, ‘Rhif 2’ (Wren, 1968) and can be heard on Sunbeam’s ‘Rain In The Leaves’ collection]. Billy Thompson’s fiddle adds a melancholic touch and the lovely, lilting backing vocals of Lleuwen Steffan add a pleasant accompaniment to Stevens’ gruff, but pleasing vocals – equal parts Alex Harvey, Steve Gibbons and Kevin Coyne. The three-piece band, including Marks Williams (drums) and Jones (bass) punch a jolt of lightning into ‘Rock On Victor,’ while the animated ghost of the Sensational Alex Harvey hovers over ‘Cân O Dristwch’ [‘Song of Sadness’ from Tenth Planet’s 1997 ‘Ghost Town’ compilation, although the track was written in the late 60s.] It sounds like nothing less than Harvey channeling Tom Waits through a ‘Threepenny Opera’ outtake!


Stevens is in fine humour throughout, chatting amicably with the audience as he introduces the songs with short stories, wherein we learn that the rousing ‘Rue St. Michel’ was “written in France a long time ago while they were teaching me how to drink in Brittany” and that ‘John Burnett’ is a about a murderer. Egged on by Stevens, Thompson’s gull-like fiddle scrapings add a haunting air to the original, 45-year old version of the autobiographical ‘Ghosts of Solva’ (Stevens’ home town in Pembrokeshire). Steffan returns to duet on the lilting lullaby, ‘Blue Sleep,’ a 1970 B-side, and we’re also treated to the rollicking, barrelhouse clap along, ‘The Great Houdini,’ originally released as ‘Y Brawd Houdini’ [‘The Brother Houdini’] on the 1970 EP of the same name. Stevens is having so much fun, he even muffs the opening verse, and I can easily imagine Harvey or Gibbons having a field day with this tale of “An excellent tightrope walker/Who wants to fuck my daughter.” While most of the concert is sung in English, Stevens returns once again to his more comfortable tongue for the tearful ballad, ‘Môr O Gariad’ [‘Sea of Love’].


    The concert introduces us to a phenomenal talent who is so much more than “the Welsh Dylan,” and, like Nick Drake, Stevens may be more popular 30 and 40 years after his original recordings. Fortunately, Stevens is still with us and you should make a point of seeing him if he comes to your town. (Jeff Penczak)




(Beta-lactam Ring Records http://www.blrrecords.com)


The legendary Volcano the Bear has been around for quite a while now, slowly gaining a slightly larger audience for their confounding and somewhat eccentric musical blend. This beautifully wrapped disc for Beta-lactam Ring is as always based around fucked-up folk structures and jazz oddities but compared to a lot of the previous outings the layered sound collages and noise in the vein of Nurse with Wound get quite a bit of exposure.


Subtly ominous drones desperately try to hang on to a myriad of sonic fragments including (but not limited to) disjointed percussive riffs, crackling electronics, incongruous guitar work, crumbled trumpet melodies, clattering found sounds, field recordings, eastern-sounding folk pop pieces, ceremonial sea whispers, cabaret characteristics, bursting free jazz concoctions, sorrow-laced clarinet playing, toy instruments, distorted voices, drum circle folk, huge exploding blobs of multicolored drone toxic and all sorts of shady noise destruction. Seriously I can’t think of much music this totally “punk” in spirit yet ultimately genre-restriction free. Although I like ‘Amidst the Noise And Twigs’ a lot I wouldn’t place it quite on par with their finest recorded work, but fans will definitely need this one as well. As far as newcomers go the best starting point is probably the massive double disc ‘Classic Erasmus Fusion’ which I believe has been reviewed in these pages as well. (Mats Gustafsson)