16 Jan 2018
Looking At The Pictures In The Sky – The British Psychedelic Sounds Of 1968
In 2016, Cherry Red issued a 3-CD clamshell box set with the curiously unwieldy, if ultimately accurate, title of Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds – The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1967. In that collection, familiar touchstones from psychedelia’s year in the sun sat comfortably alongside a connoisseur’s selection of demos, alternate versions and bona fide rarities. This year’s sequel moves on to 1968 and follows a similar pattern, both in its cumbersome title and noble agenda.
Clocking in at nearly four hours, Looking At The Pictures In The Sky – The British Psychedelic Sounds Of 1968 is a lovingly picked collection that yields many rewards both for longtime fans and newcomers. While it’s true that a handful of the tracks are either overly familiar or frustratingly over-comped (e.g. Procol Harum’s ‘In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence’, The Factory’s ‘Path Through the Forest’, Fire’s ‘Father’s Name Was Dad’) there is also surfeit of truly inspired choices, oddball one-offs, and legitimate lost gems. Circle Plantagenet’s ‘I Will Not Be Moved’ is an example of a song with all three of these attributes. Featuring duduk-like keyboard, spidery guitar lines and a powerful chorus, it’s a welcome addition to any psych fan’s collection. I’m truly grateful for finding it here. Thankfully, there is a clutch of mini revelations like it scattered across the set.
One of the delights in a box that collects tracks from the same year comes in detecting the impact of contemporaneous sounds upon a wide assortment of bands. It’s the musical equivalent of watching seeds planted in spring bear fruit in the summer and fall. Of course, the Beatles always figure heavily in discussions like this, as one imagines groups scrambling to emulate everything from George Martin’s elaborate production touches to Ringo’s deceptively hard, always hypnotic drum fills. In a way, it’s almost comical to think how many bands seem to have heard McCartney’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and thought, “Right, let’s pen a thoughtful, quaint character study of a doomed English eccentric.” And so in Ms. Rigby’s wake, we are introduced to a cast of titular characters that includes Messrs. Pinnodmy, Lion, Dillbury and Partridge; Felicity Jane; Sycamore Sid (a song by Focal Point that shamelessly appropriates the piano riff from ‘Drive My Car’!); and a chap named Maxwell Ferguson. The Attack’s ‘Mr. Pinnodmy’s Dilemma,’ easily the best of these portraits, is perhaps too well-known for those who have been collecting psych for years, but it’s always a pleasure to hear John DuCann’s truly energizing, innovative guitar work. DuCann – who unfortunately passed away in 2011 without receiving due recognition for his contributions, having played pivotal roles in bands like the Attack, Andromeda, Atomic Rooster and Hard Stuff – holds the distinction of being at once the most ubiquitous and underappreciated guitar player in all British rock music (look for him on another standout track from the set, ‘Sunday Morning’ by Five Day Week Straw People and ‘Magic in the Air’ by the Attack, from the Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds collection).
It should be pointed out that this is not a collection aimed at chin-stroking audiophiles. Most of these tracks were not sonic marvels in the first place and were, in some cases, sourced from pop-and-crackle-addled acetates and treasured 45s. Quibbles about sound quality are rendered irrelevant, however, when discovering a track as darkly ethereal as ‘Yesterday Was Such a Lovely Day (Elsie)’ by Sadie’s Expression. Pops and sibilance abound, but it’s stop-you-in-your-tracks discoveries like this that make deep-dives into box sets worth your time and money. ‘She’ by Tuesday’s Children, ‘Nightmare’ by Gass Company and ‘Ice Man’ by Ice are all newfound favourites in this vein.
With sets celebrating 1967 and 1968, Cherry Red has created a formidable and affordable six-disc series. On top of delightful discoveries, the package is well annotated/illustrated, and provides a thorough overview of British psych that’s a must-buy, both for comp-hardened veterans and lysergically-curious neophytes.
Get it here.