Cherry Red takes a deep dive into the mystic realm of acid folk – and lives to tell the tale
Release Date: 18th November 2022
Label: Strawberry Records – a division of Cherry Red Records
Much has been written on the subject of acid folk – or, if you prefer: psych folk, freak folk or even folk funk. Subtitled Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, Rob Young’s excellent Electric Eden (2010) was an in-depth exploration of the genre and Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change (also 2010) was similarly extensive. Both books traced the Genesis and development of the genre, identified the key influencers and exponents and established the scale and boundaries of the music, without attaching a rigid definition to the style.
In his excellent essay that he includes in the booklet notes to this new Cherry Red compilation, author, songwriter, musician, producer and sometime DJ, Richard Norris, has, eventually, made a brave attempt to apply a definition to this music. It is, he says, “…a hybrid music, influenced by both the revival of traditional folk that gained pace during the early and mid-twentieth century, and also by the technicolour dawn of the psychedelic era.” And, again in Richard’s words: “Deep in the Woods focuses on the outpouring of back-to-the-land meets the LSD folk flavours that emerged swiftly, between 1968 and 1975.”
And there’s a lot to get through, here. 54 tracks, spread over three discs and featuring around 50 artists. It’s a measure of the depth and width of the psych-folk classification that, despite following the same path as UMC’s equally eclectic 2012 compilation, Electric Eden – the soundtrack to accompany Rob Young’s book, there’s hardly any duplication of material and I reckon that Deep in the Woods forms a pretty good companion to its predecessor.
The choice of material selected for the compilation is, indeed, inspired. First of all, there are selections from what I’d term “The usual suspects” – bands and performers that you or I would readily classify as psych-folk acts and which you would confidently anticipate would be included on any meaningful compilation of that music. So, for example, Trees are here; they’ve been enjoying something of a revival lately, particularly since Gnarls Barkley sampled Geordie, a track from Trees’ second album, 1971’s On The Shore on their track St Elsewhere. Trees’ popularity has also bloomed in the wake of the 2020 deluxe boxset of their recorded work, issued to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. Here, they’re represented by Murdoch, another track from On The Shore, a fairly typical example of Trees’ sound, laced with the acoustic guitars of David Costa and Barry Clarke and a superlative, powerful vocal from Celia Humphris.
Marc Ellington is another of the names that I was unsurprised to spot amongst the cast of Deep in the Woods. Massachusetts-born, Marc came to the UK in 1967 to avoid being drafted to serve in Vietnam and he stayed here for the rest of his life. Like many people, I was probably most aware of Marc through his role as a backing vocalist on Fairport’s 1969 Unhalfbricking album, but between 1969, he was prolific in his own right, releasing a string of five albums, culminating in his 1975 offering, Marc Time, from which the track, You Just Can’t Believe What You See, featured here, is taken. It’s a song that sits right on the “funk” end of the folk funk continuum, full of choppy guitar licks and vocal harmonies that jump right out of the CSN guidebook.
Arrival are possibly a less-anticipated presence in the collection. They’re probably most famous for their two 1970 hit singles, Friends and I Will Survive and for their well-received appearance at the massive 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The band’s trademark sound was the tight four-part harmonies, delivered by vocalists Dyan Birch, Carrol Carter, Paddy McHugh and Frank Collins, but that’s a feature that’s missing from the track selected for Deep in the Woods. Taken from the band’s eponymous 1970 album, La Virra is a funky, piano-driven instrumental.
I’d heard about Dando Shaft long before I’d ever heard any of the band’s music. Formed in Coventry in 1968, the band’s lineup included multi-instrumentalist Martin Jenkins, who later went on to play with Bert Jansch, and, even later, with Dave Swarbrick in Whippersnapper; super-guitarist Kevin Dempsey, who also later featured in Whippersnapper and who regularly tours with American fiddler Rosie Carson; and vocalist Polly Bolton, of future Albion Band fame. Dando Shaft lay claim to two tracks on Deep in the Woods, both taken from the 1969 album, An Evening With Dando Shaft: Cold Wind, a Balkan-flavoured bluesy number and Rain, a fantastic blend of frantic mandocello, jazzy rhythms and folky vocals.
Bridget St. John is another artist enjoying something of a late-career renaissance, thanks mainly to the recent sequence of Cherry Red reissues of her early work – most recently the 2022 compilation of her 1974-1982 UK and US recordings, From There/ To Here. Bridget was, of course, mentored by John Peel, who signed her to his Dandelion label in 1969. She features twice on Deep in the Woods, with a couple of selections taken from her 1972 album, Thank You For: Fly High, a spacy, folky song that ticks every possible “psych folk” box and Silver Coin, a sweet, contemplative folk ballad. And it’s great to be reminded of that beautiful, intimate, slightly husky voice once again!
The British, original, Nirvana entered our collective consciousness when their track, the wonderful Rainbow Chaser, was included on the 1968 Island Records sampler, You Can All Join In. Originally a vocal duo: Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos, the duo had, by 1971, separated and the 1972 Nirvana album, Songs of Love and Praise was, primarily, a Campbell-Lyons solo project. Nova Sketch, a track taken from that album and included here, is a loose, jazzy piano instrumental with a compulsive Latin rhythm.
Another Peel/ Dandelion discovery, Kevin Coyne, was an intense and thoroughly unorthodox performer. His vocal delivery, his open-key guitar style and his no-holds-barred lyrics – which often dealt with difficult subjects such as self-harm, mental illness, loneliness and old age – were entirely unique and, to be quite honest, not to everyone’s taste. But, to his followers, he took on a god-like status and many successful musicians – John Lydon and Sting amongst them – have cited Kevin Coyne as a formative influence. I personally came across Kevin back in 1974 when he was touring to promote Marjory Razor Blade, his first album on the Virgin label. I bought the album and played it to death. It was folk, Jim, but not as I’d known it and his inclusion on a compilation such as this one is a no-brainer. The chosen track, Flowering Cherry, is the ‘B’ side to Kevin’s 1972 single, Cheat Me, is a Dylanesque restrained curio with a sparse production, bass way out in front and some pleasant guitar fills.
Mighty Baby are a band that I always tend to classify as one of those outfits destined for big things who fell at the point of takeoff. Evolving from top mod band, The Action, Mighty Baby released two albums – their eponymous 1969 debut and, in 1971, A Jug of Love. They’re another band that appeared at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival and, just maybe, their fate was being scribbled onto the wall even then. A review of the festival noted that, although the band were well received, getting the audience up on their feet and accompanying the bashing on their improvised percussion, the reviewer, Brian Hinton, suggests that “…by 1970, Mighty Baby’s freewheeling, essentially uncommercial music, was already becoming an anachronism.” Be that as it may, the band members were amongst the first in the musical community to embrace the Sufi faith and they are regularly credited with bringing the faith to the attention of Richard Thompson. It’s the title track of that second album that’s been selected for inclusion on Deep in the Woods, and it’s an inspired choice – a pedal steel-laden slice of country-flavoured folk rock, that adds a quirkily English touch to a very evident Byrds influence.
But, as well as acts and song that fit snugly within the common perception of psych folk, there’s quite a lot on Deep In The Woods that, at first reckoning, most of us might struggle to slot into the genre…
…Curtis Knight, for example. The late American soulster is infinitely better known as the frontman to 60s R&B outfit, The Squires, which featured a certain guitarist, James Marshall Hendrix, within its ranks. After Hendrix became famous, Squire and his manager, Ed Chalpin, released a string of budget-priced early recordings with the sole aim of grabbing a wodge of the Hendrix dollars. By the early 70s, Knight had located himself in London and had formed Curtis Knight Zeus – the band’s lineup featured the young future Motörhead guitarist, “Fast” Eddie Clarke – and they recorded Sea of Time, a collection of psychedelic, funk-influenced songs, including the underground favourite, The Devil Made Me Do It. New Horizon, included here, is another track from that same album. Surprisingly, New Horizon does fit the bill for a compilation of psych-folk tunes – it’s folky and pastoral, with occasional bursts of raunchy gospel thrown in for good measure, and Knight’s vocal – always his great strength – is passionate and gutsy.
Sticking with the Hendrix connection, I was equally surprised to see Fat Mattress included on the album’s roster – although maybe I shouldn’t have been. Fat Mattress was, of course, the band formed by Noel Redding, bassist in The Jimi Hendrix Experience. By mid-1968, Redding was becoming increasingly frustrated by the limitations of his “sideman” role in The Experience, and was keen to expand his horizons, playing lead guitar and singing; Fat Mattress was the vehicle that allowed him to realise that ambition. They weren’t with us for very long; Redding quit the band in 1970 whilst recording the band’s second album and Fat Mattress fell completely apart shortly afterwards. My own previous experience of the band was limited to their 1969 single, Magic Forest, a track taken from the band’s first album and a sizeable hit in The Netherlands and a song that would certainly have fitted well within the theme of Deep in the Woods. Instead, the compilers have selected Leafy Lane, a track from the band’s second album and a delightful slice of poppy pastoral psychedelia. Life is full of surprises and Leafy Lane prompted me to make a note in my diary – “Check out Fat Mattress a bit more thoroughly…”
Duffy Power was around before The Beatles. Indeed, his 1963 cover of I Saw Her Standing There (a recording that also features Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Graham Bond) was one of the first recorded cover versions of a Lennon/McCartney composition and the pre-fame fabs had auditioned to be Power’s backing group whilst he was incumbent amongst the Larry Parnes stable of would-be pop idols, alongside the likes of Marty Wilde, Billy Fury and Johnny Gentle. As Duffy matured, so did his musical inclinations and he developed a growing fondness for jazz and blues. He sang with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and became a close confident of future Pentanglers Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. I Need You, his featured track on Deep in the Woods is taken from his 1972 solo album – an album that included contributions from the likes of Alexis Korner and Dana Gillespie. I Need You is a wonderful amalgam of pastoral folk, with Pentangle-like jazzy leanings and more than just a touch of passionate white soul.
Perhaps one of the more obscure choices for inclusion on Deep in the Woods is Hanging on an Eyelid, from Streatham-based proggers Second Hand. Originally known as The Next Collection, Second Hand were put together in 1965 by teenagers Ken Elliott, Kieran O’Connor and Rob Gibbons. The band changed their name to The Moving Finger when they signed with Polydor records in 1968 and then, in quick-order, Spinal Tap style, changed once again to Second Hand, when they learned of another band with the Moving Finger moniker. They recorded three albums before their 1972 disintegration, with success proving elusive throughout their career. Hanging on an Eyelid, taken from the 2nd Second Hand album – Death May Be Your Santa Claus (1972) – is a fascinating song; an absorbing blend of jazzy Cole Porter coolness and ELP-style orchestral rock. It works, but I’m not convinced that it sits comfortably within the concept of this collection. But does that really matter?
Back in 1974, Global Village Trucking Company was a band in the ascendancy. Their lifestyle and beliefs – they lived together in a Norfolk commune, they rejected offers to sign with commercial record companies and were regular performers at free festivals – won them a large following (including the likes of John Peel) and they were a major draw on the then-thriving college gig circuit. Their eponymous, self-released album came out in 1974 and included The Inevitable Fate of Ms Danya Fox, the track selected for this compilation. It’s a pleasant enough song – a good example of the blue-eyed soul that was so popular within the Pub Rock movement that was going great guns at around the time of the album’s release, but I suspect that its inclusion on Deep in the Woods is more a factor of the band’s pastoral hippy lifestyle than its generic compatibility.
I was even more surprised to see a song from Mick Farren’s Deviants amongst the Deep in the Woods track listing. Originally The Social Deviants, the band was put together by singer, songwriter and social agitator Mick Farren with members chosen from London’s Ladbroke Grove community. Musically, the band took their cue from The Who, The Velvet Underground and The Mothers, hence my surprise at their inclusion on a folk-themed compilation but, in fact, their chosen track, Bun, taken from the band’s 1967 album, Ptoof, is a soft, pleasant, almost ambient, couple of minutes of instrumental guitar and is a fully appropriate selection.
The other name that took me a little by surprise as I scanned the Deep in the Woods track listing was Bill Nelson. A long-term favourite on this site, Bill is obviously best known as the leading light of Be Bop Deluxe. His featured Deep in the Woods track, Rejoice is taken from the 1971 debut Bill Nelson LP, Northern Dream, yet another record to championed by John Peel when it was released – Peel’s publicity was instrumental in EMI signing the nascent Be Bop Deluxe to their Harvest label. The compiler’s choice of Rejoice is entirely justified; it’s a delightful taste of rich, baroque folk – engaging and highly atmospheric.
But, just maybe, it’s the left-field surprise selections that make Deep In The Woods such a rewarding listen. There are quite a few names amongst the lineup that are new to me, and it’s here, perhaps that the most interesting items can be found.
Take Knocker Jungle, for instance. A strange choice of name, of that there’s no doubt, but the inclusion their two tracks on Deep in the Woods is a truly inspired decision. Knocker Jungle were built around the guitarist/songwriter duo of Tony Coop and Keith Jones and the sound on their self-titled debut album, from which both tracks – Not Even a Letter and Oh to be Free – are taken, was fleshed out by Fairport’s rhythm section of the day, bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Dave Mattacks. The Fairport guys, particularly DM, certainly make their presence felt on both tracks. Not Even a Letter sticks closely to the pastoral folk menu, with its contemplative lyrics and lazy, summery flute touches, whilst Oh to be Free is a rockier affair – dazzling acoustic guitars, underpinned by some wonderfully explorative drumming from Mr Mattacks. Vocally, they suggest to me where Marc Bolan could have headed if he’d eschewed the glitter and the posing and developed the folkier aspects of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Knocker Jungle is certainly worthy of further investigation.
The same can be said of Mike Hurst, another of the compilation’s lesser-known artists whose work has merited two track selections. Although little-known as a performer in his own right, Hurst is another artist with a long and impressive pedigree. He was a member of The Springfields, back in the early sixties, before Dusty broke away to set new standards in white soul vocalizing, but is perhaps best known as a producer-of-some-repute; he’s been responsible for hits by the likes of Cat Stevens, Manfred Mann, PP Arnold, The Spencer Davis Group, New World and Showaddywaddy. Taken from his debut solo album, Home (1970), Face From the Past is a stunning chunk of baroque/funk fusion, whilst for second selection, Place In The Country – taken from the same album – Mike blends his trademark funk with C&W. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
Ray Fenwick’s I Wanna Stay Here is a chunk of early 70s Americana that sounds like an overlooked out-take from Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album, and that’s hardly surprising when you consider that he used Elton’s rhythm section on the track. Probably too smooth and sophisticated to fit the mantle of psych-folk, it’s an excellent song, nevertheless, from a highly respected session musician.
And it’s certainly stretching a point to classify Linda Hoyle’s Hymn to Valerie Solanas as having any kind of folk root – pastoral, psychedelic, funky or otherwise – but it’s a fine song nonetheless. Linda is probably best known as the singer in late 60s jazz-rock outfit, Affinity and Hymn To Valerie Solanas is taken from her 1970 solo album, Piece Of Me. It’s a sultry and sinister song, dedicated to the leader and author of the manifesto of the Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM), who attempted the murder of Andy Warhol in 1968. It might not really fit the album’s theme, but it’s one of the strongest cuts in the whole collection.
And, to be honest, the above examples are a mere scratch on the surface of what is an eclectic and engaging compilation. There’s a whole lot more to enjoy, including quite a few old favourites: Keith Christmas, Trader Horne, Wizz Jones, Yvonne Elliman and Ian A Anderson amongst them. Principal Edwards Magic Theatre even get a look in with The Death of Don Quixote, a track from their much sought-after 1969 album, Soundtrack. Linda Lewis, The Woods Band (featuring founder Steeleye members Gay and Terry Woods) and Heron are all here, plus many, many more. Hours of deep listening pleasure are guaranteed!
As is usual with a Cherry Red product, the whole shebang has been lovingly and thoughtfully assembled. The three discs are housed in an attractive wraparound pack that is illustrated with a delightful Lydon Pike collage. And it wouldn’t be a Cherry Red retrospective without the usual highly informative and tastefully illustrated booklet – as well as the detailed and well-written essay from Richard Norris, there are background notes to all of the selected artists and stacks of fascinating period photographs.
Congratulations, Cherry Red – you’ve done it again!
Listen to Murdoch, the selected track from pastoral rockers Trees, here: