Various – I’m A Freak, Baby: A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych and Hard Rock Underground 1968-72

I'm A Freak cover

It was always there: the blues. Frustration. Angst. Paranoia. The bleaker edge of human experience expressed in song, expressed in sound.

As 1967’s Summer of Love faded into Autumn, and the drugs got heavier and the outlook more pessismistic (especially for the young) that context began to colour the music being made in Britain’s venues and youth clubs, with bands searching for increasingly intense ways of expressing themselves. The touchstones were already there: ‘Helter Skelter’, The Who, the intensity of power trios like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience; the amplifiers were getting louder, the riffs crunchier and the groundwork was being laid for what would ultimately become hard rock and heavy metal.

The blues were never far away though, and Grapefruit’s superlative 3CD set traces the development of the British scene from the pioneering work of Jimmy Page-era Yardbirds and heavier mod bands such as The Open Mind, to the (greasy) fringes of provincial Zeppelin and Black Sabbath fandom, energised by the possibility of simply turning up the volume and rocking out to a few mates down the local boozer.

If there’s an air of crossover between some of this early rock and prog, it’s typified by opener ‘All In Your Mind’ by teenagers Stray, an epic built on Hawkwind-style drive and guitars solos wah-wah-ed to within an inch of their lives. That expansive mix of riffage and freakery found favour with little-known outfts such as – cough – Sweet Slag and The Kult (whose ‘Occult’ descends/transcends into a free form wig out complete with honking sax), as Crushed Butler and The Pink Fairies turn up to represent a snotty, pre-punk rock element that favoured a more concise format.

Heavyweights Deep Purple and Uriah Heep are reminders the sound could find a wider audience among the record buying public but perhaps inevitably, the real treats are found on the perimeter, distanced from big city fashion and where an album like Paranoid (which actually reached number one in the charts) resonated with a new generation of alienated youth. Middlesborough could throw up the gnarled ‘Father Of Time’ from Cycle; Salisbury’s Jerusalem out fuzz them all on ‘Primitive Man’ (“You knew only lust!”), and how could ‘Skullcrusher’ by Dumfries’ Iron Claw be anything other than tremendous?

Overall, this is another fascinating glimpse into an often provincial scene, that while never turning up a ‘Purple Haze’, nevertheless offers almost four hours’ worth of oil-stained denim and heavy grooves, proving there was more going on than long-haired kids content to sit around giving Led Zeppelin II yet another spin.

About Douglas Baptie (208 Articles)
Editor at Words & Guitars. Lives in Carlisle, far away from 'that London'.
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