As Cherry Red Records announce a triple CD issue of psych classics, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman ponders on the enduring appeal of the genre.
The raptures that greeted the news that Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia would return in 2020 served as a timely reminder that blissed out, mind-expanding guitar pop remains a genre with both a future and a hold over the UK’s alternative music scene.
Pinning down the sound and ethos of modern day psychedelia has proved a hard task: by its very nature it continues to be redefined in its varying guises, many of which Liverpool’s festival have brought us from across the pond over the years whether it’s the beauteous dirge of Wooden Shijps, the garage rock of Allah-Las or Brian Jonestown Massacre, or the various shoegazers and droners which have graced the event’s stages of the last decade or so.
One neat by product of the continuing interest in psychedelia has been the chance for past masters of the style from the UK to reform, re-engage and resurrect their sound for modern audiences. The likes of Loop, The Telescopes, the Jesus and Mary Chain and The Stairs have all come roaring back in recent years to remind crowds that psychedelia didn’t begin with the likes of Anton Newcombe or Kevin Parker.
Possibly spotting an opportunity, those reliable curators at Cherry Red Records have now collected a whole gamut of these venerable veterans on a stunning new 3CD, 60-track set exploring the UK’s psychedelic scene in the late 1980s.
Taking The Velvets, The Doors, The Byrds and a plethora of psych originals found on the ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Pebbles’ compilations as inspiration, the latter half of the 1980s saw bands across the UK replace their angular post-punk sound with a gentler, weirder direction, fusing jangly guitars and bowl haircuts, paisley heavy wardrobes and the remnants of the glam, goth and garage revival scenes with a new positivity and enlightenment offered by the ecstasy and LSD that began to reach every suburb and estate in the land.
From the ‘shoegaze’ movement to ‘Madchester’, the Mods to the out and out revivalists and beyond, all of these disparate but intertwined scenes collide in wonderful harmony again on Losing Touch With My Mind.
Nowhere is this spirit better exemplified than on the set’s opener The Stone Roses’ Don’t Stop. The fourth track on the band’s classic 1989 debut album, it’s arguably that LP’s least essential song, being merely a remixed backwards version of the same band’s Waterfall. But what the song does capture is that dizzying time when festivals, alternative lifestyles and neo-hippydom, raves, fashion and an encyclopaedic knowledge of 1960s recordings came together, for a brief time, in a blissed out, fuzzy replica of the late 1960s, re-imagined by a generation with little else to play for.
Within a few years, or months in some cases, of many of these songs release dates, psychedelia had breached the mainstream. The Roses appeared with the Happy Mondays on Top of the Pops in early 1989 and soon the likes of The Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets (both represented here) were storming the top ten. Elsewhere Primal Scream would ditch the jangle pop of 1987’s Imperial and produce a generation-defining album while The Shamen’s experimentation with beats, samples and playful drug references on the same year’s Christopher Mayhew Says would lead directly to 1992’s number one hit Ebeneezer Goode.
All the big hitters are here and it’s to their credit that so many stand out. Spacemen Three lend the box set its title with a demo of a song taken from 1986’s Sound of Confusion album and they still sound like one of the most influential acts of the time. Listening to them unshackle psychedelic rock from its origins in the 60s and give it an updated and modern vernacular, it’s hard to disagree with Wolf Eyes main man Nate Young who recently stated “Why is anyone else even bothering, when they did it?”
Of course much of this music used to be known as ‘neo-psychedelia’ – an outgrowth of the British post-punk scene, also called acid punk., which was the term first applied to the music of Cambridge’s Soft Boys whose erstwhile leader Robyn Hitchcock is represented here with the chillingly weird Syd Barrett-isms of Lady Waters and the Hooded One. From the same generation, Captain Sensible’s Exploding Hats and Teapots is one of the set’s many surprises.
Naturally one of the delights of such a collection is reappraising the ones that got away. Quite how Gary Ramon’s space rockers Sun Dial have never quite made the breakthrough is anyone’s guess when you hear the excellent Exploding In Your Mind. Likewise Anglicised Americans Ultra Vivid Scene excel on Staring at the Sun while Pale Saints remain another of the lost bands of the era.
Liverpool, naturally, is well represented. The aforementioned Stairs provide the knowing Pink Floyd-isms of I Remember A Day with the Boo Radleys’ shoegazey Aldous a reminder that they were a very different band pre-Wake Up Boo! Barbel provide the mysteriously lovely Income Tax.
While on the face of it, much of the music on Losing Touch With My Mind is a hopelessly retro exercise, what really emerges over the set’s 61 tracks is how many of these acts were in fact looking back to look forwards. So much is brazen about their raids on the second half of the Sixties, from their fashion sense to their music to their drugs of choice, but as the bands who quickly profited from the emergent indie dance scene were to find, their melding of the influences of acid house and the communal spirit of rave culture was arguably the last time the UK indie scene tried anything new.
By the mid-nineties (just five years after the last songs on this compilation), the 60s were still ripe for pilfering but it was the suburban songwriting of Ray Davies and Steve Marriott which appealed more than the likes of Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett and Lou Reed.
Perhaps psychedelia’s fade from view as grunge and Britpop took over was in fact the 90s’ loss and the noughties’ gain because three decades on this outstanding and underrated music still has the capacity to blow minds.