‘Spaced Out: The Story Of Mushroom Records’ reviewed

❉ A fascinating document of an independent label from the hippy era.

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. You shouldn’t judge a CD booklet by its cover either. But, I am going to judge the cover of Spaced Out – The Story of Mushroom Records though, as it does absolutely no justice to its contents, and this music deserves better. Flip through the booklet, in amongst the illuminating sleeve notes you’ll find lots of lovely period artwork, but the cover looks like a Hawkwind compilation you’d get from an all-night garage. Rant over.

Documenting the brief, but fascinating era of a genuinely independent label from the early 70s, Spaced Out takes in acid folk, prog, free jazz, indian music, and even a steel band. In many ways, Mushroom was like a smaller, less commercial version of Island. Established as an offshoot of Producer Vic Keary’s Maximum Sound and Chalk Farm recording studios, Mushroom was very much a cottage industry, run by a small group of enterprising hippies. In a little over fifteen months, the label released sixteen LPs and four singles, which have become prized among collectors of the esoteric. An early bonus for Keary and friends was a donation of some unreleased Ravi Shankar tapes by some friends at EMI, which added a bit of cache as they started up. Ravi’s not here, presumably for rights reasons, but this just gives more space to the rarer material actually made for Mushroom.

It’s all nicely varied, and quite unpredictable, but filled with highlights. The groovy steel drum-a-thon that is Evil Ways by Les Flambeaux. The barking prog combo Second Hand, who crop up several times over over both discs, and come across as a bizarre cross between Atomic Rooster and Parachute-era Pretty Things. The loveable free-festival-campfire singalong of Jon Betmead’s Dandelion Blues. The Laurel Canyon melancholy of Gordon, Ellis, & Steele’s Don’t Wait Till The Morning. Acid folk nuggets like Magic Carpet’s The Phoenix. Chillum’s short, pretty Land Of A Thousand Dreams, which sounds suspiciously like Floyd’s Rick Wright sneaking out on his lunch break to work on a black ops solo project. The oddly affecting acapella The Ould Triangle by The Liverpool Fishermen, which is like eavesdropping on a pub singalong deleted scene from Under Milk Wood.

However, Mushroom’s equal ops musical policy doesn’t always pay off, witness the atonal pick-a-key lead guitar squiggle that ruins Simon Finn’s Where’s Your Master Gone like a stoned mosquito.  Finn’s other track on this compilation is also a bit dreary. Then again, you can’t please everyone.

Disc 2 of the collection rounds up material recorded during the 1960s at Keary’s Maximum Sound studio, a fair amount of which can also be found on Cherry Red’s excellent recent Night Comes Down collection. There’s more from the admirably deranged Second Hand, but interesting as the rest is, only the paisley mellowness of Andromeda has much to do with the Mushroom tracks of the first disc.

All in all, We Are Cult recommend this heartily to fans of buried treasure (and Buried Treasure Recordings), but please don’t let the terrible sleeve design put you off.

❉ Spaced Out: The Story Of Mushroom Records (Grapefruit CRSEG036D) is available from Cherry Red Records, RRP £11.99

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