❉ Paul Abbott takes a trip through ‘The British Proto-Psychedelic Sounds Of 1966’.
This 3-CD set from Grapefruit records is subtitled, ‘The British Proto-Psychedelic Sounds of 1966’ and from that starting point, the listener is invited onto a journey with some well-known names, some legendary Sixties weirdos and some complete unknowns. Deciding what is and isn’t ‘proto-psychedelia’ relies on us having some idea about what ‘psychedelia’ itself is. The implication here is that 1967 really sees the start of British Psychedelia and that these tracks show off aspects of, our demonstrate the pathway to, the world of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Hollies’ Evolution and Butterfly or The Moody Blues’ Days Of Future Passed, amongst many others. It’s worth noting that Grapefruit Records have picked their own representative selection for 1967 in another box set, Let’s Go Down And Blow Our Minds, the spiritual sequel to this collection.
Not every band had the freedom and opportunity to grow and experiment that The Beatles, The Hollies or The Moodies had. It seems very unlikely that Pye Records were granting Brum-beat group The Uglys unlimited studio time and unfettered access to Mellotrons, but they still managed to turn out one of the more psychedelic recordings on the first CD, A Quiet Explosion, layered as it is with eerie organs and heavily effected bass guitar. It’s also lyrically enigmatic – seemingly socially conscious, anti-war but also anti-apathy and certainly not just about ‘love’.
If these are some proto-psych standards to measure the tunes in the collection by (creative use of the studio/lyrics about topics beyond boy-meets-girl) then a lot of the tunes fall short of those marks, but that doesn’t make them any less deserving to be in the collection and, in fact, makes the set even more intriguing. Working out why a tune has been included is one of the joys of listening through. Rod Stewart’s B-side I Just Got Some takes some figuring out though, dirty lyrics notwithstanding. There’s a definite compiler’s logic at play in the collection and you’ll come across little seams of styles or attitudes, such as the section of CD3 featuring a great tranche of songs showcasing parpy-organ sounds from the likes of The Hollies, The Zombies and The Rocking Vickers.
Of course, the influence of The Beatles is felt throughout. Nothing comes into being in isolation, of course, and when Bowie recorded I Dig Everything his approach wasn’t the same as The Beatles were taking with proto-psych tracks like Rain or the not-at-all-’proto’ Tomorrow Never Knows (covered on this collection by The Mirage who do a great harmony-laden job of it). In fact, even Please Please Me makes an appearance, covered in hard-rockin’ ‘66 style by The Score as does Taxman by Loose Ends. There are plenty of big names on here in their own right though – The Hollies, The Bee Gees, The Pretty Things, Marc Bolan, The Move, The Kinks, The Yardbirds and more.
There’s a lot of what might be better described as ‘Freakbeat’ on the album and certainly still a lot of lyrics about boys being annoyed at girls and over the course of the 3 CDs you start to become painfully aware that you’ve not heard any female voices at all. Eventually we get a few backing-vocals here and there, but female representation is left up to Beverley Martyn’s version of Randy Newman’s Happy New Year which does mainly seem to have been included because of the (all-male) hard-rock supergroup of John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Nicky Hopkins accompanying her. But, in fairness to the compilers, the female influence on psychedelia was probably more profoundly felt in the world of folk and folk-rock in the years to follow.
What this collection does show is the possibilities for the coming years, the various pathways rock music would take in the coming decade and beyond. The accompanying booklet by Grapefruit’s own David Wells puts both the songs and the artists into career contexts and is a great read-along accompaniment to the compilation, although I could happily have read many more pages about what drove an otherwise straight-down-the-line R’n’B band to produce the comedy number Molly Anderson’s Cookery Book, the silly highlight of the set. It wasn’t all nuclear war and girls in 1966, you know.
Peppered through with some demo versions and alternative mixes, the 84 tracks of the set are a fantastic slice of British sounds from 1966 and an evocative document of the rock scene at the time. The best way to enjoy this collection is to get yourself settled down with your cup of tea (LSD spiked sugar-cubes optional) and listen along as the British rock scene emerges from black & white into colour before your very ears.
❉ ‘A Slight Disturbance In My Mind – The British Proto-Psychedelic Sounds Of 1966’ (CRSEGBOX066) is out now from Grapefruit Records/Cherry Red, RRP £17.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Paul Abbott runs Hark! The 87th Precinct Podcast, which takes a look at each of the books in series in turn, but usually turns quite silly. He also makes noises with his band in Liverpool, Good Grief, and spends the rest of the time thinking about Transformers, The Beatles, Doctor Who and Monty Python.