= FEBRUARY 2011 =  
Edgar Broughton Band
Yoshio Machida
Clive Wright
Ghosts in the Basement comp
Ian A. Anderson
Three Bonzos and a Piano
Chris Thompson
The Beginning
Four Quartets
Fern Knight
Giant Sand
Oak, Ash & Thorn comp
Aleppo Pine



When I was a small boy, literally just out of short trousers, I bought my first ever long player. The fact that it was Deep Purple’s “Fireball” is unimportant (although some of it still sounds good). What is relevant is that it was on Harvest records, the hip subsidiary of EMI records, one of the many offshoots of major labels established in the wake of psychedelia, acid folk and the like. This was in the days when labels would often advertise their other wares on the inner sleeve. Even when “Fireball” would remain safely sheathed I would spend hours gazing in wonder at the black and white depictions of other releases and which provided an opening to another world of strangely evocative cover art with odd titles and by mysterious and as yet unexplored acts as Syd Barrett, Pete Brown and whichever band he happened to be fronting at the time, Tea and Symphony and the Third Ear Band.

Not least of those to get my attention were the first two albums by something called the Edgar Broughton Band. The name smacked of something from a bygone age – a Dickens novel or a old-time preacher perhaps - and the covers were something else. The one with the young lads literally hovering in the archway of a church or castle was one thing. The other one, their debut, with the distorted as-seen-though-a glass band photo, could not disguise the fact that these were a bunch of bad-assed hairy mothers of the type that my dear old Dad would routinely tut about, whilst questioning their morals, hygiene and protestant work ethic. So that was it, then. Without even hearing a note or knowing the faintest detail about them (other than one of them might have been called Edgar Broughton) and whilst still in junior school, I was, in the parlance of the day, “on the bus”.

You may by now be thinking “well this is all very well, but where is he going with all this”?  Well, EMI has just re-issued the five EBB albums originally released on their Harvest imprint between 1969 and 1973. In addition, there is a reminder of what an incendiary live prospect they were courtesy of some hitherto unreleased material recorded at Hyde Park, London in 1970 (when, incidentally, the concerts used to be free).

So who, then, were the EBB? Originally from the historic but decidedly unhip town of Warwick in the English Midlands, Rob “Edgar” Broughton (guitar and vocals), his brother Steve (drums) and their friend, 16 year old Arthur Grant (bass) alighted in Notting Hill in late 1968. Right time, right place my friends as Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove were rapidly becoming the burgeoning epicentre of UK freakdom much the same as Haight-Ashbury had in America a couple of years previously. Occasionally aided and abetted by a second guitarist, Victor Unitt, EBB would soon become flag waving agit  rockers of the late 60s/early 70s hippie movement, a formidable live draw propelled by a heavy psychedelic blues sound and Edgar’s phenomenal if untutored singing. And what a voice – not only did this guy have a name like a fire and brimstone preacher he sounded like one. Comparisons are most obviously made with the late Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) although at his inspired best – and it was a distinctly hit and miss affair – Edgar could rival Arthur Brown for sheer emotion and passion even though he may have lacked the latter’s operatic range. Even when it didn’t quite work then at least there were favourable comparisons to be made with Tony the Tiger from the Kellog’s Frosties advert. It really was that grrrreat!

The band’s debut from 1969 was Wasa Wasa, for many the archetypal EBB recording. The magnificent, opening number “Death Of An Electric Citizen” heralds a sonic blast of turbo powered cosmic gutbucket blues, the perfect vehicle for Edgar’s growlin’, howlin’ wolf persona. The heavyweight “Why Can’t Somebody Love Me” finds Edgar introducing a curious gargling vibrato to an already impressive vocal armoury, but the highlights here are “Evil” – ushered in by a God of Hell Fire type Lucifer laugh and which is easily as riveting and Hammy Horror as anything Black Sabbath would soon be doing – and the outstanding “Love In The Rain” which is as fine an example of a three and a half minute freakout as you’re ever likely to hear (you’ll be hard pushed not to start idiot dancing, I promise). There’s also humour and social commentary, albeit a bit heavy handed, in the shape of the anti-war “American Boy Soldier” which takes the form of a Mothers of Invention pastiche do-wop and a similar penchant for shock horror establishment baiting (“The American army...wait ‘til the Russians get hold of you”). Now if only I’d heard all of this when I was still in junior school goodness knows what effect this might have had on an impressionable young mind (ahem).

There follows three single cuts, two A-sides and one B side, which I’m guessing may be a legacy of a previous CD release and the usual tendency to make use of the space available. However these are no mere filler, no sir.”Out Demons Out” is probably the iconic Broughton number, borrowed from an incantation by the Fugs from when they tried to levitate the Pentagon in 1968 (those really were the days), and more than anything else is responsible for why Edgar and the boys were often pigeon-holed as the scene’s rabble rousers – the peasant army at the vanguard of more serious and effete artists of the day. Like many signature tunes (think “Silver Machine”, “Stairway”) it is a little over hyped and not the best example of what the band has to offer by any means. However it played its part and I’d take this over the 20 minute Glastonbury Fayre version any day. “Up Yours” is what might have commonly been termed a novelty single if it were not for the fact it was an out and out rejection of the political system and a sound riposte to government. Over an orchestral do-wop background the singalaong chorus involves the band blowing raspberries “to you and all of you in Whitehall” whilst no doubt bending the arm, and waving two fingers at the microphones (American friends are welcome to try the same routine with just one). Great stuff, and works a treat at a party after a few beers. The B-side “Freedom” is a soulful, funk-light number that gives Edgar room for over-wrought vocal expression against a somewhat more tasteful musical backdrop.

Released one year later Sing Brother Sing is a more ambitious and varied collection than its predecessor, although whether this actually makes for a stronger set is a moot point. “There’s No Vibrations, But Wait” is certainly one of the band’s most gratifying pieces – a spoken word delivery over voodoo beat and that slightly funky guitar showcased earlier on “Freedom”. Elsewhere, while there’s plenty to satisfy fans of the band’s more raucous material, such as “Momma’s Reward (Keep Them Freak a Rollin’)”, “Old Gopher” and “Granma”, the rest of the album is a curious mixture of somewhat unsettling conceptual pieces like “The Moth” and the quite repellent “Psychopath”, acoustic numbers (“Aphrodite”) and throwaways (“Officer Dan”). Others like “Refugee” and the brilliant “It’s Falling Away” suggest that Beefheart still had an influence (“Trout Mask Replica”, Beefheart’s anti-classic had been released months earlier). Appended here is the cut and shunt classic “Apache Dropout” melding Beefheart’s “Dropout Boogie” with the Shadows’ “Apache”. Bizarre, maybe, but not as daft as you’d think, particularly as Edgar’s bravura performance would relegate Van Vliet to second place in a sing like the Captain contest.

In retrospect Sing Brother Sing now sounds like a transitional album between the primal scream of Wasa Wasa and the rather fine self titled third album. Released in 1971, Edgar Broughton Band (the one with the cover depicting all the meat carcasses, including a human one, hanging from hooks) is a mature and, compared with the Brothers’ first two efforts, accessible album full of strong hooks and (gasp) melodies. Goodness knows what some fans must have thought of the sublime opener “Evening Over Rooftops” with its chilling strings, acoustic guitars, ornithological narrative and female backing vocals. Suddenly it seemed a long way from doing it in the road. Not that the album lacks for guts or the occasional spot of polemic, there’s plenty of attitude here for heaven sake, it’s just that even the more in your face numbers seem more thoughtful and overall the album benefits from far better and more sympathetic production than its predecessors. At times there is a decidedly down-home feel to proceedings not least on the country rocker “Piece Of My Own”, the proto-ecological ragtime of “Poppy”, the acid-folk of “Thinking Of You” and the classy “Hotel Room” which could pass for a theme for an imaginary (modern) western, while “Mad Hatter” is as mellow and funny as anything the Canterbury sceners were coming out with at the time and with a nice extended guitar solo to boot.  “Call Me a Liar” brings a bellicose curtain down on what has to be the most polished and, some would say, accomplished album Edgar and the boys ever produced (and proved he had a singing voice and not just a bellow to shatter plate glass at fifty paces). Mind you, whether anyone nowadays would have the nerve to write something called “Getting Hard/What Is A Woman For” let alone find anyone prepared to release it is another matter.

1972’s In Side Out (which if memory serves me right had a clever if somewhat dour black and white origami cover) tends to get overlooked following as it did in the wake of the acclaimed self-titled near-masterpiece. This is a great shame as this is a strong set in its own right – pretty much on a par with its predecessor in fact, Early signs are encouraging, from the impressive opening three part number and, through “I Got Mad” (proving that the band could still rock and holler with gusto when the chips were down). Moving on, “They Took It Away” and “Homes Fit for Heroes” deal in turn with the plight of the homeless and a contemporary twist on the old Lloyd George promise of decent homes for soldiers returning from WWI and are both excellent songs with spot-on social commentary, something which In Side Out has in abundance whereas its predecessor was, generally, much safer in this respect.  There is plenty of humour too, a hearty reminder that despite the rants and the polemic, the EBB never took themselves too seriously. ”Double Agent” is a fine wistful acoustic ballad underlining the maturity and confidence of a band four albums in and hitting their stride. But lest we need reminding what a psychedelic powerhouse combo Edgar and the boys could be, the 11 minute “It’s Not You” nails the post-it note firmly in the centre of our collective forehead in stunning style. If Edgar Broughton Band is perhaps their most critically revered album, In Side Out also lays a pretty strong claim to the title of best in class. As I said, quality wise it’s difficult to get a king size Rizla between them. A couple of classy bonus tracks (single B sides “Someone” and the percussive campfire groove of “Mr Crosby”) thrown in, and you can’t reasonably ask for more.

I’ve a confession. By the time I had the means to satisfy my urge to get to know all those strange and to me exotic Harvest albums (that is, I didn’t have to save up five weeks pocket money to buy one regular priced LP) most of the interesting ones were out of print and way outside the means of someone in their mid-teens. The one EBB album still available from this era at my local emporium (the imaginatively titled Records and Tapes on King Square, Barry, South Wales in case anyone was familiar with it) was 1973s Oora. I hated it. Sure, while the groovy cover still depicted these rather scary looking hippie guys, what was happening within? Horns, strings, acoustic strumming, light jazz, female backing singers? Pop music??? Yuck!! I must’ve played it twice through, given one or two tracks an additional spin, filed it away and sold at in a record fair twenty years later. Anyway, such is the folly of youth caught on the cusp between Hawkwind and punk rock. With the benefit of hindsight this is a delightful album from the opening two part “Hurricane Man/Rock and Roller”, the psychedelic swamp blues of “Roccocooler”, the by turn tuneful and ballsy “Eviction”, the suspiciously 10CC sounding “Oh You Crazy Boy” (no, really!) “Things On My Mind” (the nearest here to an out-and-out rocker but which still can’t resist strings and a harmony chorus) through to the corking ballad “Green Light” and beyond. It’s hard now to think I had this for twenty years and never appreciated what a little gem I had tucked away between later purchased (but earlier vintage) Broughton and the next album in the alphabetical/chronological list (the aforementioned Arthur Brown as it happens – and I bet you thought we just threw these reviews together). Most of all I miss that cover and the “weemeenit” sticker. I never got over those damned covers...

That’s not quite all folks!  The band’s 45 minute set supporting stable mates Pink Floyd at Hyde Park in 1970 (one week before the notorious Phun City festival) is featured in its entirety and is a damned fine document of the marauding people’s band that was the Edgar Broughton Band live. The six extended tracks include a barely controlled version of “Love In The Rain”, the anti-smack “Silver Needles” a tribal “Drop Out Boogie” (but without the Apache), “Refugee” (dedicated to “the homeless people”), and a slightly out of tune “American Boy Soldier”, marred only slightly by the fact that whoever Edgar was calling and responding to was either not in character or was mixed too far back. Last and not least of course the band’s crowd pleaser “Out Demons Out”. After all these years I still don’t get off on the chanting and clapping and the exaltations to get it together but when the band kicks in, well, there probably wasn’t a better sound to be heard at any festival in the land. Quite how “Saucerful of Secrets” and all that post Syd noodling afterwards is anyone’s guess (or maybe you were there..).

And there we are. By 1974 the band had parted company with Harvest and both artist and label began a slow decline. The EBB continued to release albums and surface for gigs and tours periodically, most recently at the Aylesbury Friars 40th anniversary gig. A glance at Edgar’s website (http://edgarbroughton.com/) shows he is still as committed as ever to left wing and libertarian causes (wikileaks, fighting the spending cuts) and still gigs as a solo artist, playing people’s private events for a day of their wages which he calls “A Fair Day’s Pay For A Fair Day’s Work”, It’s a great idea, and entirely in keeping with the ethos of those long ago halcyon Harvest years.

Now, I’m not going to try and kid you that this is all five star, every-home-must-have- one material. Some of it, particularly on the first couple of albums, has not aged particularly well while much of the lyrical content was very much of its time as well. However there’s more than enough to justify the comparatively modest investment required, quite a few nuggets of genuine brilliance and a lot of incisive social commentary, much of which will still resonate today, and that voice!. The ony let-down is the packaging. As this is a 4 CD set featuring five albums and a live set (as well as singles and B-sides) it is inevitable that a couple of albums are split over two CDs which is a bit irksome unless you’re a fan of vinyl in which case you’ll be used to a half time pause. It may not have proved economical but this could have been avoided if, instead of a clunky old double jewel case with the original front covers reduced to thumbnail prints, we’d been treated to a slip case with the CDs individually packaged in a reproduction of the original artwork.

The covers... It always comes back to them damned covers. (Ian Fraser)



(CD from Amorfon records, 2-31-8 Aobadai, Aoba, Yokohama 22709962 Japan www.amorfon.com)

The occident meets the orient in the shape of Canadian Ryan Waldron’s ethno forgery project Talugung, which documents his fascination with gamelan, the prime indigenous musical form of the eight main islands of the Indonesian Republic. First found caressing western sensibilities in the Great Paris Exhibition of 1889, it influenced Debussy (though don’t ask how that showed itself in his work) and, during the next century, Messrs. John Cage and Lou Harrison.

The exotic sonorities of gamelan’s gong’n’bell tuned percussives feature on a number of pieces such as ‘Rain on Giant lenses’, ‘Low Temperatures’ and ‘Falling Sawdust’, though these veer away from purist concerns (‘Nonesuch Explorer’ and ‘World Arbiter’ stock the real thing…) due to their reliance on a hand-built / found objects set up. Info on these devilish contraptions is unfortunately pretty scant. I’m guessing that tuned logs figure in ‘Zinc Drop Multiplication’ but as for the sources of what seems to be the moans of a sentient mangle (‘Creekside Corroded Iron Band’) and the “collapsed lung harmonium variations” of ‘Undersea Shadow Evening’ – well, your guess is as good as mine… maybe better….

So… a world away (obviously) from Ryan’s work with improv/instro sextet The Riderless, ‘Anura’ (initially inspired by Frog Call!) successfully fuses the garden shed tinkering and ingenuity of Richard Lerman or Dave Knott (found on Anomalous Records) to the brittle beauty found on ‘The Glass World of Annea Lockwood’ [the cover of my copy has ner named as Anna, but she since seems to have reinvented herself as Annea]. (Steve Pescott)




(CD from Amorfon records, 2-31-8 Aobadai, Aoba, Yokohama 22709962 Japan www.amorfon.com)

The ninth release from steelpannist and Amerfon label boss Yoshio Machida comprises a series of installation soundtracks that have been commissioned by a tres chic French jewellers by the name of Van Cleef and Arpels (no, me neither – the only Van Cleef I know co-starred in spaghetti westerns…) ‘Spirit’ sees an ever so slight departure from the Machidan oeuvre inasmuch as the solo pans now have some company in the form of an otherworldly ersatz chamber quintet made up of saxist Kunikazu Tanaka, cellist Seigen Tokuzawa, bassist Tatsu, Yashidi Daikiti on sitar and Kohei Kawamura on gamelan gongs.

The combination of the six fashion a contemporary classical / minimalist hybrid wherein sparkling tonal points peek out of a lush black velvet backdrop - which comes as no surprise given the composer’s remit. Personal favourites would have to be the ceremonial sounding ‘The Spirit of Nature’ with its Nepalese birdsong recordings and ‘Farewell’ where elements of the Penguin Café Orchestra and France's ZNR are brought to mind. (Steve Pescott)




(CD from www.darla.com)

     Perhaps best known for his ambient work with Harold Budd, Clive Wright is one of the finest exponents of ambient guitar, something that is demonstrated to perfection on this album, a glistening deep-space exploration of sound that is best heard with no distractions and ,quite possibly, a flickering candle.

    Recorded live at The Intergration, a wooden dome situated in the desert of southern California, the improvisations were accompanied by projections of the Perseid Meteor shower (courtesy of a local astronomer team) as well as the night sky itself. Reacting to the images all around him, Wright manipulates his guitar through a variety of effects, creating a breathtaking musical interpretation of the moment,  both slow and sparkling with sudden rushes of energy that are, presumably, sonic metaphors for the meteors themselves.

    Over six long tracks, each named after stars/constellations,  the guitar shimmers beautifully, a gentle ripple of sound that floats gently away, to be replaced by more of the same and ever widening pool of sound that is relaxing and spacious.

   Managing to retain interest over an hour whilst still holding the atmosphere of calm is no mean feat, yet Wright pulls it off easily, his playing always tasteful and controlled without falling into New Age tedium. No doubt this would be even better with the visuals as well, but closing your eyes and drifting away is a highly recommended alternative. (Simon Lewis)



VARIOUS ARTISTS - GHOSTS FROM THE BASEMENT - Lost songs, dreams and folkedelia from the vaults of Village Thing '70-'74
(CDs from www.weekendbeatnik.com)

Born of a grand idea and run from a small cottage in Gloucestershire, Village Thing released some of the finest and most enduring “Folk” albums of the early seventies, focusing on the artist and the music rather than profit and fame. With a roster that included Ian.a.Anderson, Wizz Jones, Steve Tilson and a host of others, the music was never less than interesting and with originals now selling for loads of money, this compilation is a welcome way to dip your toes into the labels back catalogue.

    Opening with the gorgeous tones of “See How the Time is Flying”, Wizz Jones proves how sweet his playing is, the guitar and voice blending perfectly, telling a melancholy tale of growing older. Mr Jones also plays guitar on “The Sky”, accompanying Derroll Adams, whose Banjo plays a jaunty rhythm on this lovely tune, although it also contains a melancholic air.

   With most of the contributors regulars at folk clubs around the country, it is no wonder that the performances are alive, filled with energy yet retaining a raw emotion, no more so than on “Get Out Of my Car”, a tale of picking up the devil in your car, performed with gusto by Al Jones. Also beautifully performed is “Grey Lady Morning”, a haunting tale from Dave Evans, whose album “Elephantasia”, I remember listening to in my youth, courtesy of a friend who worked in a second-hand record store and got all the bargains.

    One of the first albums to be released on the label was by The Sun Also Rises, a duo of Graham and Anne Hemingway, their music reminiscent of The Incredible String Band in the way it twists and turns, the album getting good reviews but failing to set the world alight. There will be a lot more about Ian.A.Anderson later, so we will leap nimbly over “Time is Ripe” and concentrate instead on Chris Thompson and the delicate “Her Hair Was Long”, a song that could be used as a definition of Acid-folk, softly swirling from the speakers in an early morning mist of beauty.

    Over twenty tracks, which I do not have time to mention individually, much as I would like to, this album demonstrates a wide range of styles that can be tied together loosely with the folk label, yet are also underground, singer/songwriter, hippyesque or acoustic. The fact is,  there is not a duff track in here, the album flowing in a natural way, each song a small gem, perfect for a rainy day and a cup of tea (with cake), peculiarly British and wonderful. Also to be applauded is the care and attention to detail, the album comes with a full colour booklet and a foldout sleeve that lovingly tells the tale of Village Thing, the notes written by Ian.A.Anderson, whose affection for the period shines clearly, his writing witty and informative, not only on this booklet but also on the one contained in “Time is Ripe” a rather fine compilation of his work for Village Thing, the disc subtitled “Rare Psych Folk from the Village Thing 1970-73”, which tells you where we are headed next.
    That same friend who owned an album by Dave Evans also owned discs by Ian.A  (as I shall now call him), the one I remember best being “A Vulture is Not a Bird You Can Trust” if only for the cover and title, the music being lost in time to my memory.
    With a strong voice and exemplary guitar technique this compilation opens with the title track, a powerful performance driving the tale of questioning your direction, you will find yourself singing along. Mixing folk with blues and rock, the twenty track on this retrospective are a varied bunch, the country-ish “One More Chance” sharing time with the acoustic psych brilliance of “Marie Celeste On Down” or a jaunty folk version of “Paint it Black”, the tune almost drifting into Toytown-psych reminiscent of The Idle Race. On “Mr Cornelius”, the surreal lysergic flow of the lyrics adds much to the tune, whilst “Policeman's Ball” is a rockier affair with some fine slide playing and drums from Pick Withers, soon to join Dire Straits.

   After the short and pastoral (with birdsong!) “Goblets and Elms”, we get to “The Maker/ The Man in the High Castle/The Last Conjuring” a suite of songs that could only come from the late sixties/early seventies , a fact that only adds to its charm as far as I am concerned.

    Once again packaged with love this is another collection that should be in your collection, if only because it contains a song called “Shirley Temple Meets Hawkwind”! I rest my case. (Simon Lewis)



A delightful souvenir of the latest incarnation of the Bonzo Dog Band, featuring Sam Spoons, Roger Ruskin Spear and Rodney Slater, with Dave “Piano” Glasson, who’s played with various Bonzos on and off for over 40 years. The quartet tackle the expected variety of styles, from vaudeville to rockabilly (‘Old Geezer Rock’ may be the new anthem for us 50+ Bonzoids), with spoken word segments, Pythonesque skits, and Spike Jones-styled lunacy tossed in for kicks. The lads (who are approaching 70) are obviously enjoying their ‘Senior Moments’ – a jollity farm of a tune which asks “Where’s my memory gone?”; ‘Bin It’ is a spoken-word piece about trying to remember which products are recycled on which days, and they fondly recall past glories on ‘Shirts 2010’. Slater also pays tribute to the late Viv Stanshall, with whom he formed the original band nearly 50 years ago, with a tender-but-not-mawkishly sentimental rendition of Viv’s ‘Ginger Geezer’.

For you collectors and completists, they even include the original 1979 Rough Trade single ‘Punktuation’ (“listen for the blips”), which Roger, Sam and Dave (no, not THAT Sam & Dave) originally recorded when they were going by the name Tatty Ollity. Glasson explains:

That was recorded at Olympic Studios in 1979 for A&R man Nicky Graham; we thought there might be some mileage in a comedy single, but eventually decided against it! We managed to interest Rough Trade in distribution and they took 400. I have only 4 singles remaining! The lyrics are by Dr John Gribbin (well known astrophysicist and popular science writer) and I wrote the music. The version on Hair Of The Dog is the very same track lifted off our Tatty Ollity 45 rpm vinyl - not a new version. The lineup is Dave Glasson- vocals, piano & organ, Roger Ruskin Spear - tenor sax and typewriter, Sam Spoons - drums, Dave Knight (RIP) shouts/ responses.

The energy levels have never been higher, the harmonies are impeccable, and the tongue-in-cheek ruminations on growing older, and wry observations on the “follicly-challenged”, the benefits of prunes, and the men in the white vans bring reality a little closer than one would care to imagine!

Some tracks might remind you of the halcyon days of Ian Dury & His Blockheads and Madness trapped inside The Firesign Theatre, but that old trad jazz aura still hovers in the air (let’s all Charleston to ‘SatNav Sally’, swoon to ‘The Sheik of Araby’, and drool over Sam’s spoons solo on ‘Out of The Box’) and, while some tracks suffer slightly from the lack of visual accompaniment, you can resolve this minor shortcoming by making sure you catch them when they come to your town. The latest gig schedule is available at their site.

As I place the finishing touches on this review, I note that today (January 31) is Johnny Rotten’s birthday, which reminds me of his famous quip, “Rock n’ roll’s supposed to be fun. You remember what fun is, don’t you?” Thank God we have these wide-eyed, sexy sexagenarians to remind us. (Jeff Penczak)

A Terrascopic interview with the three Bonzos is in the process of production



(2xCD from Sunbeam)

Continuing our little mini-tribute to Ian A. Anderson’s Village Thing label, we present one of the label’s final releases, a classic “acid folk” gem courtesy New Zealander Thompson, who recorded this eponymous effort late in 1973. A cosmopolitan world traveller, Thompson lived in the US and Canada before settling down in London to join Julie Felix’ band – he appears on Clotho’s Web (RAK, 1972). Another move (to Ireland) yielded a couple of recordings for a 1974 sampler that are included in the wealth of bonus tracks (19!) which accompany this deluxe reissue, which also includes Thompson’s lengthy liner notes describing his influences for a number of the recordings, as well as his numerous contacts throughout the music world, from Davy Graham and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee to Stevie Ray Vaughan and labelmates Wizz Jones and Derroll Adams.

While in Felix’ band, Thompson befriended her percussionist, Keshav Sathe, who, along with fellow Magic Carpet-er, Clem Alford add hypnotic tabla and tamboura to Thompson’s droning, sitar-like guitar lines on opener, ‘Hugo Spellman,’ named after a legendary Auckland bandleader. Thompson and Sathe’s lengthy improvisational jam on the freeform acid freakout, ‘Her Hair Was Long’ is another highlight, generated from many hours hanging out, playing and listening to music together. Thompson’s nimble fingerwork is amply demonstrated on ‘De Debil Take De Blue-Tail Fly,’ recorded live at Trinity College during his spell in Ireland. Although it clearly suggests Graham’s influence, Thompson says it was actually influenced by Stevie Winwood’s piano playing on John Barleycorn Must Die!

Elsewhere on the original album, Brian Dunning’s soaring flute work adds a pastoral, reflective quality to Thompson’s tender folk ballads and the goodtimey Kings of Rhythm add a down-home, country vibe to ‘Young Lust,’ which Thompson recorded with the band in his homemade garden shed/studio during his time in Ireland. The album ends with a heart-warming acoustic instrumental, ‘Love.’

Among the bonus tracks on the first disc, there are two extended, alternate takes of ‘The River Song,’ which illustrate Thompson’s creative process enroute to the final, recorded version and which also appear to include additional tabla accompaniment from Sathe (in lieu of Ed Deane’s second guitar on the album). Sathe also joins in on an extended take on ‘Love,’ although I must say I enjoyed the intimacy of the solo version on the album a wee better.

The bonus tracks that round out Disk 1 and feature throughout Disk 2 are lifted from all phases of Thompson’s solo career. Highlights include the hypnotic ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ from the aforementioned Irish sampler (First Thrust, 1974) which bears the same sitar-like guitar drone as ‘Hugo Spellman’; the childlike simplicity of the Donovanesque nursery rhyme, ‘As I Walk Out’; the sitar & tabla-drenched, Tim Buckley-ish ‘[Untitled]’ track – see note below; the tender story-song ‘Where Is My Wild Rose?’; the rolling, minstrelsy paean to his hometown, ‘Hamilton’ that’d sound damn fine in Arlo Guthrie’s set list; and the rainy day floater, ‘Sunday Lunch’.

[Frustration Alert: The sequencing of my copy of Disk 2 does not match the track listing. The unlisted bonus track (identified as ‘[Untitled]’ in my audio player and featuring sitar and tabla – could this be Clem and Keshav?) seems to be track two, so tracks two through 12 are mislabelled by one, which makes the credits a bit of a nightmare to untangle.] (Jeff Penczak)



(CD on Uptown Hitsters)

There’s nothing on this Swedish supergroup’s debut (featuring members of Dungen and The Works) to dissuade my contention that the best pop psych music in the world emanates from Scandinavia. ‘Sometimes It’s So Hard’ storms out of the gate like a long lost Hollies treasure; bubbly, wah-wah guitars propel ‘All In Time’ across the room on the back of snappy power pop backbeats, and ‘Time of your Life’ boasts guitar chords as expansive as the North Sea. But it’s the subtle touches like tinkling glockenspiels, heart-melting harmonies, soaring violins, and the odd whistling in the dark that raise this above your  standard-issue, cookie-cutter pop psych album.

The project began (pardon the pun) as a solo effort for Hammond organist Anders Ljundgren, but a few friends and bandmates from other projects joined in to flesh out Ljundgren’s pop confections. Dreamy, Beatlesque psych numbers like ‘Find Out’ suggest that ‘Strawberry Fields’-era Beatles has spent months living in Ljundgren’s head, ‘She Is In Everything’ intimates Curt Boettcher producing The Monkees, ‘Feel For Me’ is soulful strutting Madchester a la Stone Roses (I think that’s ‘I Am The Resurrection’ dancing around inside its grooves), and the somnambulistic, Eastern-flavoured ‘The Light Has Gone Out’ resurrects the spirit of Mr. Harrison. The set ends with the tighter-than-Pat Benetar’s-spandex funky strutter of ‘Here She Comes’, which sounds like something Paul Weller’s (unsuccessfully) been trying to conjure up for several albums now.

Let’s hope they stay together long enough to develop the promise suggested by this marvellous collection of upbeat, catchy, sunshine pop. (Jeff Penczak)



(CD from Wooden Step Records www.four-quartets.com)

Long-time followers of the Terrascope and veteran Terrastock festival attendees alike will immediately recognise the name behind Four Quartets: Bristol-born singer-songwriter and skilled multi-instrumentalist Rob Sharples. Now 28 (and thus proving that time really does fly…), Sharples can now add arrangement to his already impressive armoury, having spent the best part of a year holed up writing and self-recording this extraordinarily mature and composed debut album under the Four Quartets persona.

The opening track ‘Whitewash’ sets out the artist’s stall immediately and very effectively: a lilting, catchy vocal refrain set against a rolling surf of guitar, cello and percussion. The delivery overall reminds me somewhat of a young Greg Weeks – everything’s here that endeared me so much to his early recordings, long before the days of Espers: the same breathy intimacy to the vocals; the same exquisite guitar licks; a similar sense of quiet desperation and delicious melancholy coupled with a very literary lyrical bent (‘Death of a Salesman’ especially). All that’s missing really is the Mellotron – then again sadly Weeks gave that up as too much like hard work after his first album as well. Shame. ‘Another 6/8’ and ‘A Parting of the Ways’ both tread a similar sonic path to ‘Whitewash’ and are likewise stand-out numbers to my mind.

‘Pirouette’ is aptly named, with Sharples’ vocals dancing up, down and around the scales in a manner not unlike Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel. This, again, is considered A Good Thing. I believe it’s being released as a single, too. For me though the real stand-out of the whole album is ‘A Long Way Down’, an impassioned burst of pure pop prescience, haunting vocals and gorgeous guitar harmony interplay.  ‘Statues’ would make an ideal B-side.

All in all a fabulous album and one which fully justifies my belief in the guy’s budding genius all those years ago. And no, I’m not too sure what Four Quartets refers to either, but knowing Rob I think I can guarantee he hasn’t plumped for the cheap quip that 4Q immediately brings to mind when presented in shorthand… (Phil McMullen)



(CD/vinyl LP on VHF Records www.vhfrecords.com  www.fernknight.com )

Fern Knight served up one of the highlights of last year’s more than creditable Robbie Basho tribute “We Are All One In The Sun”, with their gorgeously ghostly take on “Song For The Queen “ .  Pray be standing, then, for this the DC/Philadelphia quartet’s 4th album and which draws the listener in hook, line and sinker from the very first bars of the opening “From Zero to Infinity” with its dissolute sounding wah-wah and Eastern-flecked sense of smoke and sensuality.

In fact Castings is chock full of timeless melodies reminiscent of the best of turn of the ‘70s alt-folk yet not seeming overly derivative. This is surely tribute to the song writing craft of Margaret Ayre, who penned eight of the nine cuts, the odd man out being a perfectly competent cover of King Crimson’s “Epitaph” on which James Wolf stands out courtesy of some beautifully inspired violin. Ayre’s progressive leanings and a strong gothic theme are underscored by an enchanting and often dramatic soundtrack further emphasised by sword and sorcery style song titles.

The bewitching “The Poisoner”, personal favourite “Pentacles”, and the luxuriant “Long Dark Century” are all first rate, with Ayre’s cello and vocal coaxed along by a strong supporting cast. “Cave and Swords”   sounds like a troupe of Balkan gypsies caught up in a battle of the (brass) bands, while matters take on a darker urgency on “Cups and Wands”, and “The Eye and the Queen” steers us ever nearer to Evanescence territory.  Following the Crimson cover, “Crumbling Stairs” lays matters to rest in superb if typically shadowy style (and to think it was originally conceived as a love song for husband, bandmate and co-producer Jim – still the dark side is ever the more appealing n’est pas?). While just occasionally Castings can seem a little rich and over spiced this definitely an album to revel in it dark sumptuousness. It’s like a powerful narcotic; two hits and you’re hooked. ( Ian Fraser )



(CD from FIRE RECORDS www.firerecords.com )

The umpteenth release from Howe Gelb in his most prolific and enduring guise, that of Giant Sand, Blurry Blue Mountain is a strange affair and what might be termed Lounge Americana, so infrequently do the drums kick into anything more than a shuffle.

However the subdued downbeat theme suits Gelb’s world weary and unconventional vocal to a “t”– his is not a classic or particularly tuneful voice after all and these are not your standard alt-country songs. They are in fact for the most part a collection of spectral, small-hours ruminations – the opener “Fields of Green” will hold a wistful appeal to anyone of a certain age and one suspects particularly men. Gelb opines that they’ve been killing off his heroes since he was 17 and as he gets older so it seems that more and more just fall off the branch or simply disappear – “the wicked wanderlusters and the clowning crop dusters” among them. Now that he is in his 50s he has unwittingly become the “pathfinder” for a younger generation to look to. The song is given extra poignancy by the recent loss of certain old mates, such as Mark “Sparklehorse” Linkous.

Elsewhere, the closest Gelb gets to rocking out is on a cover of his “Thin Line Man” which at 25 years old is acquiring some sort of vintage status, while the latter part of the album veers towards honky-tonk and even lounge jazz. The strongest cuts though are in the first half on which you imagine Gelb jamming with ghostly JJ Cale and Neil Young apparitions (“Monk’s Mountain” for instance) and spectral itinerant Irish labourers (“Ride The Rail” which harks back to the early 90s Sand).

At first listen it’s all a rather strange and somewhat lugubrious offering, which listeners weaned on “Valley of Rain”, for example, might initially have difficulty coming to terms with. Repeated listens bear sweet reward however – this is a slow burner and so my advice is stick with it and you’ll get it, sure ‘nuff. (Ian Fraser)




www.folkpolicerecordings.com )

The late Peter Bellamy’s forty year old long deleted album of Kipling-inspired songs Oak Ash and Thorn is resurrected in stunning style by a collection of some of the finest new-wave of folk artists including a few names with whom the listener might be unfamiliar.

The standard bearer for this intelligent and loving homage is Bellowhead/Boden and Spiers’ Jon Boden, whose “Frankie’s Trade” is guaranteed to set the proverbial neck hairs standing on end, such is the emotion here, heightened by a ghostly voice emanating from an Edison Standard Phonograph – Boden’s, or is it Bellamy’s you wonder?

Elsewhere the fifteen fellow contributors barely put a foot wrong. Tim Eriksen’s “Poor Honest Men” , has more than a whiff of the nasal Dick Gaughan about it and would be a fair enough offering even if after two and a half minutes all hell didn’t break out – Peter Bellamy plays Sonic Youth anyone?

The glorious Trembling Bells provide another of the many genuine highlights on offer. Lavinia Blackwall’s voice can, we know, polarise opinion – those who yearn for the “purity” of, say, Shirley Collins are apt to find her a bit over-wrought. Those of us who occasionally like our folk laced with a soupcon of operatic passion (and whatever did happen to Cathy LeSurf) can’t get enough of her. Anyway the Bells’  “Sir Richard’s Song” should settle the argument – Queen Lavinia it is.

However if there’s one song that trumps even this (and for that matter Boden’s impressive opening gambit) then it’s the lovely Unthanks’ splendid rendition of the title track. It all sounds so deceptively simple and yet it’s this simplicity and apparent lack of guile which makes it all the more inspiringly beautiful. Sam Lee reintroduces the juxtaposition between the old (in this case a snippet of Bob Copper) and the refreshingly new with his handsomely interpreted “Puck Song”, accompanied on an eerie and mournful shruti box. As for the rest, the contributions by Lisa Knapp, The Owl Service, Pamela Wynn Shannon, Rapunzel and Sedayne and pretty much everyone else are worthy of your exploration and unstinting admiration.

If like me you’ve always found Bellamy’s voice a bit of an acquired taste or if you are simply unfamiliar with his work then this is either the perfect tonic or else the best possible introduction to the man and his craft. I really can’t recommend this highly enough. If you are only tempted to buy one folk album at the moment then do yourself a favour and make it this one. (Ian Fraser)



(CD from www.rustedrail.com)

Featuring members of United Bible Studies, plus other folk, in various combinations and recorded whenever possible in various locations including Dorset, Ireland and Gambia, this album is a master class in acoustic based eeriness, folk meeting psychedelia in a dark forest and loving every minute.

    Blending acoustic guitar and mandolin over the sounds of running water, “Stonewater” is a short and beautiful opener, that sets the scene. Following on, the slightly more experimental “Impressions of Chloe/Hidden valley” flows gently, using a tin whistle to great effect, the track part tradition, part drone. 

    Although mainly acoustic in construction, the album has a smattering of electricity running through it. This first comes to light on the title track where an e-bow snakes through the tune, the vocal sample adding poignancy to the free form sound. Much more traditional in nature, “Fortis Green” is a jaunty tune that includes a Mandobird, (something I had to look up, very nice they are too).

   Of course it is the huge range of instruments on this album that is one of its joys, the sounds of Tenor Guitars, Accordion, Whistle, Dulcimer, Mandocello and Bouzouki, plus the more usual instruments, mixed together in wonderful ways, meaning that each song has a different flavour, whilst the whole album works perfectly as a whole.

    Conjuring up images of its name “Frozen Lake” is a haunting tune played on Cello, Mandocello and Bouzouki, the song perfectly poised on the icy surface, whilst the drifting nature of “Watching the Fireworks” allows the listener to lie back, the sounds washing over you like twilight falling on a summers eve.

    Over thirteen tracks, this album never fails to impress, emotional, traditional, experimental and just plain wonderful, an album that works on many levels, that can be listened to intently or allowed to drift away in the background, that needs to be heard. (Simon Lewis)



(CD/LP from www.alonerecs.com)
Hailing from Spain, Aleppo Pine play softly psychedelic folk-rock with more than a hint of early 70's UK bands such as Barclay James Harvest, Jethro Tull and Caravan. The fact that they have blended these influences into their own sound and then created a mature and richly imaginative album, is a credit to their talent, especially when you realise that this is the band's debut release.

       Opening with some chiming guitar, “Intro” is just that, a gentle instrumental with rolling violin, the piece slowly unfolding, leading  the listener into the musical journey that awaits. With a delicate flute riff, “Black Wizard” is a fantastic tune, with eastern percussion, dual vocals and a softly stoned feel, the bright production adding to the pleasure. Continuing the eastern feel, the droning strings of “Magic Dolmen” add a mellow sheen to another fine song, the use of a wide variety of instruments, only enhancing the listening experience, the band sounding like The Smell Of Incense, as they gently drift downstream.

     On “Great Golden Morning” a simple yet effective bass line holds the song together, the country groove putting a spring in your step,  the feeling slowly fading with the melancholy atmosphere induced by “Mystic Lady”, a haunting and beautiful piece.

     Turning up the electric guitar, “3rd Eye” is a heavier piece, that is definitely psychedelic, the band mixing sitar drones into the tune for that suitably trippy feel, the guitar soaring into heaven above. Continuing the psychedelic dream, the band drift into West-Coast territory on the excellent “It's All In Your Mind”, which is really “3rd Eye” part two, the two tracks merging together. Equally trippy, “coloured Trees” is another eastern drenched piece of psych, whilst the acoustic guitar strum of “Your Inside World” finally puts your feet on the ground again.

     After, the reverb/echo fest that is “Purple Flashes”, the band do bitter-sweet to perfection on “Dead Garden”, tackling the well worn subject of earth's destruction by mankind, the violin adding a poignant sadness.

Finally, the tale of “Jeremiah Johnson” closes the album, soft and gently as it began, a musical journey that is highly recommended, varied, playful and beautifully realised.
(Simon Lewis)