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Psychedelia and Other Colours by Rob Chapman

Rob Chapman – Psychedelia and Other Colours (Faber)

From the appearance of the cover, one might think that this is going to be a fab book with all kinds of wonderfully groovy colourful photos of bands performing with a backdrop of psychedelic lights projected behind them. Well, you know the old expression about a book and its cover. In fact, there is not one single photo contained in the over 600 pages of this tome.

What you do get in this book is a hefty amount of information relating to the progress of the drug culture and its impact on the music scene in the latter half of the 1960s. It’s a book that fits in right between two other recent volumes – 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded by Jon Savage and Never a Dull Moment: 1971 – The Year That Rock Exploded by David Hepworth.

No mention of things exploding in the sub-title of this book but, the text inside certainly does relate a lot of heads exploding as psychedelic drugs (more specifically LSD) began to make inroads into the counterculture movement of the sixties.

Jon Savage’s book goes into great detail about the social and cultural times leading up to the year 1966. There’s a bit of a sense of deja vu when reading Chapman’s book but, that is what I was expecting. So, not much of a disappointment there.

After a general introduction, Chapman divides his time towards firstly concentrating on the scene in the USA and then on the UK. This shows both the parallels and differences in the way in which psychedelia took shape in the midst of both (counter)cultural situations.

While you’ll see familiar names from this era appear – such as Timothy Leary – there are also many more people discussed who may not have been as vibrant on the radar (at the time or since).

Throughout the book, Chapman does an enviable job of connecting the dots which relate to musical events in both the live performance realm and the release of specific recordings. Of course, a fair amount of time is spent on such artists as The Beatles and their turning (on) into the direction of pot and LSD and Pink Floyd’s areas of cerebral and sonic explorations.

But, as you’d expect in such and exhaustive cultural and musical survey, it’s the efforts of the countless minor figures that accounts for a great deal of the story. Some of the here today, gone tomorrow artists mentioned include The Drivin’ Stupid, Fe-Fi-Four Plus Two, The Factory, Jason Crest, Tintern Abbey etc… Of course, there are a lot of the more familiar bands like, Love, Moby Grape, The Incredible String Band, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and other usual suspects.

To conclude the volume, the final section – Afterglow (Which Dreamed It?) – attempts to tie up some loose ends and reflects on the aftereffects.

For anyone with a keen interest in this era and specifically psychedelic music, this book stands as a well-researched and extremely detailed survey. It sent me scrambling to my music collection to find out if I had recordings of many of the songs mentioned on my various psych LP and CD collections. That’s usually the sign of a good book for me.

 

Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins by Ian Abrahams

I recently posted the following brief review of this book on Goodreads:

Quite a well researched book that would be enjoyed by any hardcore Hawkwind fan. I’m sort of glad that I waited to buy this one as the 2017 updated version brings the story up to date.

There are a couple of things that would have made the book a bit better. There are a number of black and white photos scattered throughout the book. They seem to be out of place. It may have been better to include them in their own section in the middle of the book. It’s also strange that Stacia who was an integral part of the band’s performance visuals is not pictured at all!

Although album releases are detailed during the normal course of the story, it would have been nice to have a thoroughly annotated discography at the end of the book. Sure, people can look up that stuff online. But, why not have it right there in your hands while you are reading the book?


After posting the review, author Ian Abrahams dropped me a message with a useful link:

Thanks for the review, really appreciate it! For an annotated discography, have a look at the blog that’s associated with the book: http://sonicassassins-book.blogspot.c… as I’ll be continuing to post bits and pieces there that didn’t make it into the book itself.

 

Patti Smith – M Train

PattiSmith-book-MTrain

I think that I probably heard about Patti Smith around a year before she released here debut LP – Horses. It wasn’t long after that point that I saw her in concert at the Ford Auditorium in Detroit. It inspired me to track down a copy of her limited run single which was released some time before – Hey Joe / Piss Factory (Mer Records, 1,500 copies) – which also featured Television guitarist Tom Verlaine. I also bought her poetry books like Babel.

Her last book – Just Kids – was about her life with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (who photographed Patti for the cover of Horses). M Train is a different animal to that tome.

In her latest book, Patti relates stories from various  moments in her life. She jumps around from event to event not taking any chronological approach. During the course of the many chapters, Mapplethorpe does not get a single mention… although Gumby does (really!).

Here, Patti talks about hanging around her favourite haunt – Cafe Ino – where she ponders life and jots down notes. During the course of the book, she travels around the globe both on her own and with others including her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith (of MC5 fame). She talks of her life with Fred in Detroit and her travels with him.

Much of the time, Patti is fascinated with the lives and deaths of numerous writers. This brings her on journeys around the world including Japan.

She also speaks of being involved with a rather secret society called the Continental Drift Club. It seems to be fine to reveal its secret nature since it is now defunct.

She talks about finding and purchasing a rather dilapidated property on Rockaway Beach. This event turns out to be rather bittersweet since it was one of the few properties in the area to survive a strike by Hurricane Sandy.

Patti relates all of her stories in a breezy manner which draws the reader into her often fascinating life adventures. Another excellent read, indeed.

PattiSmith-HeyJoe-Mer-US

 

Sandy Denny: Remembered Again

SandyDenny-book-IveAlwaysKeptaUnicorn

Sandy Denny was one of the richest voices to come out of the British music scene during the 1960s and ’70s. She was a person who was much admired and respected within her area of folk and folk-rock music. Unfortunately, at the time of her death in 1978 at the age of 31, the promise of her hard work seemed to never be fully realized.

Mick Houghton’s new book about the late British singer brings together impressive amounts of information which help to gain an insight into the events which shaped her path through her musical career.

Many surviving members of her inner circle of friends and fellow performers have been interviewed to provide an insight into her rise and fall. These include people like Richard and Linda Thompson, Al Stewart, Ralph McTell, John Renbourn and members of Fairport Convention. Archival interviews with many other people including her late parents are also mined for extra depth into her character.

Denny began singing in folk clubs when just barely into her mid-teens. She sang what were called floor spots. These were performances by young hopefuls whereby they could sing and play a few songs without having yet achieved the status of being a credited performer on the main stage. Eventually, she did move onto that stage where she succeeded in attracting the attention of the audience and other folk musicians.

The story traces her first recordings with other musicians such as Alex Campbell and Johnny Silvo to her move to join the Strawbs with Dave Cousins. Of course, the thing that may be of most interest to many people was her joining Fairport Convention as a replacement for singer Judy Dyble.

Her days in and out of Fairport are covered in lengthy detail and bring the experience to vivid life. This includes such events as the horrific van crash which took the life of drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson’s then girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn. Fortunately, Denny was travelling in another van with Trevor Lucas and his bandmates from the group Eclection. However, that did not prevent her from feeling the scars of the tragic event.

Houghton artfully weaves the story dealing with Denny’s involvement with Fairport Convention, her departure to start her group Fotheringay and her time as a solo recording artist.

Her personal life and relationships are also covered in great detail. Both that personal life and her musical life were often victims to her own emotional ups and downs. Bouts of insecurity often seemed to derail her attempts to keep things both musical and personal on a steady track. The addition of heavy drinking and cocaine use also served to keep things off a productive path.

I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn (a line from Denny’s song entitled Solo) is a well documented and well paced book which helps to put Sandy Denny’s life and career into perspective nearly forty years after her death from a fall down the stairs.

This is essential reading for any fan of British folk music from that era.

(I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn by Mick Houghton is published by Faber & Faber, London)