“Just because the blank generation blew it!”
In among the sonic soup of the post-punk years, the vibrant British psychedelic scene barely registers in the authorised histories. Largely dismissed by the music press at the time, significant numbers of musicians were still keen to draw from the well of late 60s rock and pop, building a healthy network of labels, clubs and fanzines that allowed it to flourish. Some took their influences into the charts and had commercial success – Echo & The Bunnymen, Teadrop Explodes; others like Robyn Hitchcock built the foundation for a solid cult career. Others still delivered an album or a few singles before disappearing into the ether.
Covering the peak years of 1980-85, Cherry Red’s new 3CD box set will ring few bells for those not there at the time, but Neil Taylor’s authoritative sleevenotes explain the context and how a resolutely underground scene (sometimes quite literally – as with Doctor & The Medics’ gig at Chiselhurst Caves) sought to recapture the spirit of musical adventure and positive vibes of the 1960s.
There’s an obvious crossover between some of the material here and the parallel mod revival and power pop genres but other tracks such as Nick Nicely‘s Syd Barrett channeling ‘It’s A Mystic Trip’ or Blue Orchid‘s strident ‘Work’ hint at something much stranger. Critics may have complained about new psychedelia’s rear view mirror perspective, but time is kinder. Sure, the lineage is obvious: The Third Eye (could they have picked anything more psych-y?) lift a Monkees riff – or is it from Fire’s ‘My Father’s Name Was Dad’? – but there’s a moddish sneer that stops it simply being lazy retroism. The general air of eccentricity and Sixth Form surrealism that pervades much of this material (‘Strawberries Are Growing In My Garden [And It’s Wintertime]’, ‘Plastic Flowers’, ‘The Festival Of Frothy Muggament’) simply echo the Lewis Carroll, C S Lewis and Stanley Unwin-isms of the original movement, painting a picture of psychedelic Albion distinct from its cross-Atlantic counterpart. When America does rear its head – as on The Damned’s (appearing here in their Naz Nomad & The Nightmares alter-ego) Electric Prunes cover, it’s much more reverential.
Towards the end of the period, seeds were being sown for the nascent Creation label (both Jasmine Minks and Alan McGee’s own Biff Bang Pow! show up) doing the groundwork for Primal Scream and The Stone Roses to take paisley-tinged guitar pop out into student unions across the UK and beyond. Another Splash Of Colour doesn’t rewrite the history books; what it does prove is that the halcyon years of 1966-67 reverberated long afterwards, and that the bands featured on this fine set deserve more than being minor footnotes in that story. Recommended.