Album Review

Various Artists – Think I’m Going Weird: Original Artefacts From The British Psychedelic Scene (1966-1968): Boxset Review

Grapefruit’s landmark 100th release – an eclectic delve into the British psychedelic scene period that came between pop and prog

Release Date:  29th October 2021

Label: Grapefruit Records

Formats: 5CD Boxset

It had been coming for quite some time.  By 1965, bands and audiences – in both the UK and the USA – were becoming bored with the three verses, chorus and middle eight format of the standard pop song, weighed down as it was by inane “My baby loves me” lyrics and formulaic guitars, and were looking for something new.  Studio technology was advancing and bands were keen to explore the outer sonic limits of what could be achieved, and LSD – that “wonder drug” that (allegedly) allowed music makers to actually see the notes they were generating had made its tentative appearance on the music scene.

The Yardbirds – 1966

Of course, The Beatles had pricked up their ears and tuned in, particularly after George Harrison’s dentist, one John Riley, had spiked George’s John’s Pattie’s and Cynthia’s coffees during a dinner party in March 1965… but it was arguably The Byrds and The Yardbirds that stole the march to give the wider public their firsts tastes of what was to become known as psychedelia with their 1966 singles – respectively Eight Miles High and Shapes Of Things.  And, indeed, those Things would never be the same again.

Incidentally, the term “psychedelic” first saw light of day in 1956 when it was used by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond as a collective term for the hallucinogenic drugs that were beginning to be used in psychotherapy.  It was first applied to music in 1966 when it was used to describe the musical styles emerging in San Francisco that were apparently influenced by drug use.  Something was definitely afoot!

Psychedelic music quickly assumed its own characteristics; studio effects such as backward tapes and phasing were absorbed, keyboard instruments – Farfisa organs in particular – started to play a more prominent role, surrealist lyrics became the order of the day and no self-respecting psychedelic wannabe would consider releasing a record that didn’t include at least a touch of electronic sound from a mellotron or theremin. 

The UFO

But at some point, the British psychedelic practitioners and their American counterparts went their (slightly) separate ways.  The American psychedelic scene, based mainly around the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco (but with sizeable pockets in the Midwest, on the East Coast and in Texas) tended to veer towards the jam-heavy acid rock characterized by bands such as The Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish and The Grateful Dead.  In Britain (well…. initially, London), however, the approach and imagery was far more whimsical.  The musical style was more recognizably linked to the pop tunes that preceded it, lyrics drew heavily upon childhood memories, acoustic and brass band instruments, piccolo trumpets and, crucially (thanks, no doubt, to the influence of The Beatles) eastern instruments such as sitars were used more commonly.  Furthermore, to reflect the Britishness of it all, Victorian and music hall imagery took centre-stage – images that were ably and abundantly catered for by Notting Hill and King’s Road boutiques with names like I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet and Granny Takes a Trip.

British psychedelia blossomed during the years 1966-1968, the period covered by this fascinating new collection from Grapefruit Records – the label’s landmark 100th release – with established bands such as The Who and The Small Faces enthusiastically embracing the psychedelic culture, and newer bands such as The Move, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd, The Incredible String Band and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown achieving rapid yet significant success.  A thriving club scene that included venues such as UFO and Middle Earth provided a fertile breeding ground for other less successful but equally (arguably more) significant outfits such as Family, Fairport Convention, Dantalian’s Chariot, Blossom Toes and Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera.  It was a vibrant, intense and highly productive period that grew from the innocence of the pop scene and paved the way for the seventies and prog rock (and as if to emphasize that particular point, there’s a lovely preview within this collection of what a group of young Charterhouse students, calling themselves Genesis and mentored by Jonathan King – himself an Old Carthusian – were getting up to before they got down to the serious business of ejecting tenants (by Friday), watching the skies and preparing supper whilst dressed as a flower.)

Almost inevitably, it was over quickly.  By mid-1968, a back-to-basics mentality, ignited to a large degree by the success and accessibility of The Band’s Music From Big Pink was sweeping across Britain and the USA.  It was a wave so strong that even the likes of The Beatles, The Stones and Eric Clapton were unable to resist it.  Equally strong, at least in the UK, was a revitalized interest in Chicago Blues.  So it was that, spurred on by bands like Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack, or by The Band, the re-emerged Dylan and Gram Parsons, many of the former psychedelic magicians shed their kaftans and moved on to something more rootsy, workaday and, ultimately, equally rewarding.  But it was tremendous fun whilst it lasted!

The US mid-sixties psychedelic birth was, of course celebrated in style with Lenny Kaye’s iconic Nuggets compilation, back in 1972 – a collection also subtitled as “Original Artefacts.” And now, taking its cue from Nuggets, a flavour of those heady British psychedelic summer days (and it was always summer back then…) has been captured and bottled in this excellent new 5 CD collection.  As we’ve come to expect from the Grapefruit/Cherry Red stable, it’s another wonderful package.  The five discs and 60-page A5 book, packed with period photographs and reproductions of posters and gig adverts, are accommodated in an attractive hardback book in which David Wells provides detailed notes for each of the 123 tracks included in the compilation, as well as an informative and entertaining essay that describes, in detail, the rise, fall and lasting influence of the British psychedelic scene.

But, of course, it’s the music that matters, and, as usual, Grapefruit have come up with the goods – by the bucketful!

Procol Harum – debut album

Anyone settling down to listen to Think I’m Going Weird… expecting to hear familiar hits is likely to be disappointed, but not, perhaps, for too long.  Many of the big names are here, but in a slightly less familiar guise that you may anticipate.  For instance, The Who are represented by Armenia City in the Sky, a track from The Who Sell Out and the band’s only co-write with future Thunderclap Newman frontman Speedy Keen.  It’s actually an inspired choice – a lesser known yet instantly likeable song that shows The Who in a psychedelic pomp that was so brief that many blinked and missed it first time around.

Likewise, Traffic’s contribution is Utterly Simple, a Dave Mason (the psychedelic foil to Steve Winwood’s white soul) track from their 1967 Getting-it-together-in-the country opus, Mr Fantasy.  The selected Procol Harum track is Salad days (Are Here Again) from the band’s 1967 eponymous debut album and The Move offer Walk Upon The Water, a track from their ambitious first album.

Odessey & Oracle – The Zombies’ 1968 masterpiece

And those examples are just the slightest scratch of the surface of the goodies on offer.  Think I’m Going Weird… is a veritable who’s who of the bands that ploughed their psychedelic furrows during those halcyon days – it’s almost a case of, You name them, they’re here…  Strawbs, Manfred Man, Status Quo, Fairport Convention, The Mindbenders, The Spencer Davis Group, The Small Faces, The Kinks, The Nashville Teens, The Zombies,  The Bee Gees, and The Merseys all show a psychedelic side of their repertoire that you perhaps didn’t know existed (although, in the particular case of The Zombies, if you haven’t heard Odessey and Oracle, their 1968 pastoral/psychedelic masterpeice, you’re really missing a treat).  Family, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown,  The Yardbirds,  The Pretty Things, The Incredible String Band and Tyrannosaurus Rex all remind us what British psychedelia was all about and there are oodles of obscure gems from bands that are only now gaining their first taste of public exposure – bands like Norfolk’s Eyes Of Blond, with their stunning rendition of The Byrds’ Why, Tinsel Arcade with their excellent Life Does Not Seem What It Seems and Crystal Ship, who offer up the magnificent The Blue Man Runs Away – a song with lyrics from Cream associate and famed counterculture poet and performance artist Pete Brown.

And I could go on, because there’s lots, lots more – bands and artists that you’ll know and others that you’ll have never heard of, but each and every contribution evokes that amazing period of the late sixties when anything and everything seemed possible and no-one seemed afraid of reaching for the stars.  With over five hours of playing time, Think I’m Going Weird… is a collection that only the most dedicated acidhead would seriously consider sitting through in a single session, but it’s the perfect set for dipping in and out of as the mood suits, to accompany a summer barbeque, perhaps, or to just relive or rediscover that elusive vibe of ’66-’68. Grapefruit Records have done it again!!

Listen to The Zombies’ Hung Up On a Dream, a track from the boxset, here:

And watch Move perform their psychedelic classic, Walk Upon The Water, another selection from the boxset, here:

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