Wednesday, 22 July 2015

"Dust On The Nettles: A Journey Through The British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72" by VARIOUS ARTISTS (2015 Grapefruit 3CD Box Set Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...A Branchy Tree..."

I love box sets like this. Brilliantly put together, chock full of forgotten left-of-centre music that’s worth rediscovering (mostly Acid Folk) and all of it presented in fact-filed style by good guys who genuinely care (compiled by David Wells and John Reed). In terms of Audio and Presentation everything about "Dust On The Nettles" on the Grapefruit Label (a part of Cherry Red Records) feels classy and even features some big-time scoops in Previously Unreleased demos for mighty names like Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band and Tyrannosaurus Rex.

I know my music from the period (or at least I thought I did) – but I’d happily admit that there are obscurities on "Dust On The Nettles" that have completely eluded my decades of scouring racks – and they’re not the kind of musical creations that should be forgotten either. Some of these rarities number 10 copies (The Moths) or 99 copies (Frozen Tear) while others made it unto decent independent labels like Dawn, Pye, Island, Dandelion, Immediate and Decca. It’s also pleasing to say that apart from a few rough tapes here and there and despite the myriad sources – the audio is exceptionally good throughout - and as you can see from the total playing times – each disc is generously chock to the gills. There’s a ton of stuff on here – so once more with our dandelion stalks and joss sticks unto the pagan green altars (ye heathens of England)...

UK released 29 June 2015 (July 2015 in the USA) – "Dust On The Nettles: A Journey Through The British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72" is a 63-track 3CD Set in a Clamshell Box on Grapefruit CRESEGBOX 030 (Barcode 5013929183001) with a 36-page booklet and pans out as follows:

Disc 1 (78:34 minutes, 20 tracks):
1. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – THE PENTANGLE (from their debut UK album "The Pentangle" released June 1968 on Transatlantic TRA 162. Also issued in the USA as a 7" single on Reprise 0794, A)
2. Willow’s Song – MAGNET (Recorded in 1972 for "The Wicker Man" Soundtrack LP but not issued)
3. Come All You Travellers – WIGHT (September 1970 French-Only 7" single on French Festival SPX 147)
4. Love Is A Funny Thing – SPIROGYRA [with Barbara Gaskin on Lead Vocals] (on the UK LP "St. Radigunds" released September 1971 on B&C Records CAS 1042)
5. Images Of Passing Clouds – GARY FARR (recorded 1968, Previously Unreleased Demo Version)
6. Peek Strangely And Worried Evening – SYNANTHESIA (on the LP "Synanthesia" released November 1969 on RCA Victor SF 8058)
7. Glass Of Water – BOG & CAROLE PEGG (on the UK LP "And Now It Is So Early: Songs Of Sydney Carter" on Galliard GAL 4017)
8. Winter Is Blue – VASHTI BUNYAN (on the Various Artists Soundtrack LP "Let's All Make Love In London" released July 1968 in the UK on Instant INLP 002)
9. Winter Is A Coloured Bird – COMUS (from the 3-track 7” Single EP "Diana" first released in the UK January 1971 on Dawn DNX 2506 – non-album track).
10. The Seagulls Scream – CHRISSIE QUAYLE (from the 1970 UK LP "Sounds Like West Cornwall" on Sentinel SENS 1001)
11. Stories Of Jesus – CLIVE PALMER (recorded 1967, not originally issued)
12. Amanda – STEVE PEREGRIN TOOK’S SHAGRAT (Recorded circa November 1969, Not Originally Issued)
13. Curious Crystals Of Unusual Purity – BRIDGET ST. JOHN (from the August 1969 UK LP "Ask Me No Questions" on Dandelion S 63750)
14. Roses For Columbus – MARK FRY (from the June 1972 Italian LP "Dreaming With Alice" on ZSLT 70006)
15. Till The Morning Comes – DANDO SHAFT (from the May 1971 UK LP "Dando Shaft" on RCA Neon NE 5)
16. Black Girl – MARY-ANNE (Paterson) (from the April 1970 UK LP "Me" on Joy Records JOYS 162)
17. The Garden Of Jane Delawney (from the May 1970 UK LP "The Garden Of Jane Delawney" on CBS Records S 63837)
18.  Weirdsong Of Breaking Through At Last – PRINCIPAL EDWARDS MAGIC THEATRE (from the February 1971 UK LP "The Asmoto Running Band" on Dandelion Records DAN 8002)
19. Minas Tirith – OBERON (from the August 1971 UK LP "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on Acorn OBE LPS 1)
20. Prisoners, Victims, Strangers, Friends – PAPER BAUBLE (recorded October 1970, Previously Unreleased)

Disc 2 (79:29 minutes, 22 tracks):
1. Pilgrim – GERALD MOORE (recorded 1972, Previously Unissued)
2. River Lane – MELTON CONSTABLE (recorded 1972, Previously Unissued)
3. Way Out Hermit – MOONKYTE (from the November 1971 UK LP "Count Me Out" on Mother SMOT 1)
4. All Things Are Quite Silent – STEELEYE SPAN (from the June 1970 UK LP "Hark! The Village Wait" on RCA Records SF 8113)
5. Upon Reflection – HERON (from the November 1970 UK LP "Heron" on Dawn DNLS 3010)
6. Love Is Come Again – PARCHMENT (from the December 1972 UK LP "Light Up The Fire" on Pye International NSPL 18388)
7. Stargazer – SHELAGH McDONALD (from the September 1971 UK LP "Stargazer" on B&C Records CAS 1043)
8. There Are No Greater Heroes – TONY CARO & JOHN (1972 UK Self-Financed LP "All On The First Day")
9. Visionary Mountain – JOAN ARMATRADING (from the November 1972 UK LP "Whatever's For Us" on Cube Records HIFLY 12)
10. Glow Of The Firelight – TUESDAY (recorded August 1972, Previously Unreleased)
11. Searching For Lambs – WARM GOLD (from the 1972 UK LP "Sounds Like North Cornwall" on Sentinel SENS 1011)
12. Samantha Carol Fragments – BENJAMIN DELANEY LION (from the October 1969 Privately Pressed UK LP "Satori" on Hollick & Taylor, 70 Copies Only)
13. Fotheringay (Demo Version) – FAIRPORT CONVENTION (recorded February 1969, Previously Unreleased)
14. You Know What Has To Be – FROZEN TEAR (Privately Pressed UK 7” single of 99 Copies released September 1969 on RA Records RA 5001. B-side is a cover version of Free's "The Hunter" that was mistakenly credited as the A)
15. Meanwhile Back In The Forest – HUNT, LUNT & CUNNINGHAM (March 1972 UK 7” single on Pye International 7N 45125, A)
16. First Girl I Loved – THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND (recorded early 1969, Previously Unreleased Demo Version)
17. Halfdan’s Daughter – THE MOTHS (July 1970 UK LP "The Moths" available only on a Deroy Sound Service Test Pressing, 10 copies)
18. The Mutant – TRADER HORNE (from the March 1970 UK LP "Morning Way" on Dawn DNLS 3004)
19. Meeting By The Moonlight Mill – DRY HEART (recorded early 1970, Previously Unreleased)
20. Highways (Misty Mist) – TYRANNOSAURUS REX (recorded August 1967, Previously Unreleased)
21. Gabilan – DUNCAN BROWNE (from the August 1968 debut UK LP "Give Me Take You" on Immediate IMSP 018)
22. Sand All Yellow – KEVIN COYNE (from the November 1972 UK LP "Case History" on Dandelion 2310 228)

Disc 3 (78:50 minutes, 21 tracks):
1. Garden Song – BILL FAY (recorded early 1969, Previously Unreleased Demo Version)
2. Music Of The Ages – C.O.B. [Clive’s Own Band] (from the November 1971 UK LP "Spirit Of Love" on CBS Records S 69010)
3. A Song For The System – EVERYONE INVOLVED (from the 1972 Privately Pressed LP (1000 copies) of "Either/Or" on Arcturus ARC 4)
4. The Colour Is Blue – COUNTRY SUN (from the November 1972 UK Label Sampler LP "There Is Some Fun Going Forward" on Dandelion 2485 021)
5. Silent Village – WILD COUNTRY (from the May 1970 UK 7" single on Trafalgar TRAF1, A)
6. Welcome To The Citadel – MARC BRIERLEY (from the February 1969 UK LP "Welcome To The Citadel" on CBS Records S 63478)
7. The Evil Venus Tree – THE OCCASIONAL WORD (from the February 1970 UK LP on "The Year Of The Great Leap Sideways" on Dandelion DAN 63753)
8. Standing On The Shore – ANNE BRIGGS (from the November 1971 UK LP "The Time Has Come" on CBS Records S 64612)
9. Kind Sir – AGINCOURT (from the 1970 UK LP "Fly Away" on Merlin HF 3)
10. Eagle – MICK SOFTLEY (from the November 1970 UK LP "Sunrise" on CBS Records S 64098)
11. Rosemary Hill – FRESH MAGGOTS (from the September 1971 UK LP "Fresh Maggots" on RCASF 8205)
12. The Happy King – MUSIC BOX (from the 1972 UK LP "Songs Of Sunshine" on Westwood MRS 013)
13. Me And My Kite – FUCHSIA (from the October 1971 UK LP "Fuchsia" on Pegasus PEG 8)
14. Wizard Shep – THE SUN ALSO RISES (from the October 1970 UK LP "The Sun Also Rises" on Village Thing VTS 2)
15. Scarborough Fair – FOLKAL POINT (from the 1972 UK LP "Folkal Point" on Midas MR 003, 500 copies only)
16. Prisoner – MARIE CELESTE (from the Privately Pressed April 1971 UK LP "And Then Perhaps" (No label), 200 copies only)
17. Patrice – SIMON FINN (from the April 1971 UK LP "Pass The Distance" on Mushroom 100 MR)
18. Girl Of The Cosmos – SHIDE & ACORN (from the June 1971 UK LP "Under The Tree" on Solent SM 011, 99 copies only)
19. Elegy To A Dead King – CHIMERA (recorded circa 1968, Previously Unreleased)
20. Silence Returns – BEAU (from the June 1971 UK LP "Creation" on Dandelion DAN 8006)
21. Orange Days And Purple Nights – MOTHER NATURE (from the October 1971 UK 7" single on B&C Records CB 166, A)

The 36-page booklet is beautifully done – each artist gets a detailed paragraph and in most cases their rare albums pictured – the text is also peppered with memorabilia like concert tickets, trade adverts for eclectic labels like B&C Records and Kingdom, double colour plates for Oberon, Heron and Mark Fry with black and whites of all the others. I know the Anne Briggs, Parchment, Heron and Trader Horne album covers fairly well and I've reviewed the likes of Bridget St. John, Dando Shaft and Marc Brierley on quality reissue CDs - but stuff like the Euro releases of Wight and the privately pressed LPs are new to me. The DAVID WELLS liner notes are fabulous – full of details that amaze with pithy observations that tickle your interest for more - while the whole shebang is dedicated to two heroes of the genre who passed in 2014 and 2015 – Clive Palmer of The Incredible String Band and John Renbourn of Pentangle. The audio is by SIMON MURPHY at Another Planet Music and is superb overall (with the occasional dip depending on the rarity of the source).

Disc 1 opens on an absolute winner – Pentangle mixing Traditional English Folk with trippy Rock thereby creating Folk-Rock (or Acid Folk in this case). As Jacqui McShee sings "...a woman is a branchy tree..." and John Renbourn slaps those chiming six strings - the audio on this sucker is awesome – beautifully in your face like 1967's "London Conversation" by John Martyn. It's followed by a clever choice "Willow's Song" – an acoustic ballad from "The Wicker Man" soundtrack (never released at the time) sung by Linda Mackay who played Daisy in the horror movie (apparently Pentangle were lined up to do the music hence the connection). Gary Farr’s track is gorgeous too and so inventive in its rhythms and vocal arrangements. Unfortunately there’s bad tape wobble on the gorgeous Synanthesia track “Peek Strangely And Worried Evening” – as lovely a Folk Rock melody as I’ve ever heard. Former Mr. Fox couple Bob & Carole Pegg make lovely racket on the very Mike Oldfield sounding “Glass Of Water”. Amongst collectors Vashti Bunyan’s sole album “Just Another Diamond Day on Philips in its pretty stippled gatefold has now become a legend for both its Prog Folk musical beauty and its staggering cost (£1500 + to acquire a copy). Here we get Vashti’s equally heralded earlier work at the hands of Andrew Loog Oldham where he teamed her up with members of Immediate’s Twice As Much to produce the spellbinding “Winter Is Blue” for the 1968 “Let All Make Love In London” soundtrack LP. The 8-minute Comus track (EP only) steps away from their usual doom and gloom “First Utterance” songs to offer up a truly fabulous piece called “Winter Is A Coloured Bird” where they come at you like a cross between Deram’s Mellow Candle and Roy Harper on Harvest (a combo that will send shivers down the spine of many). It’s one of those long songs that doe not overstay its welcome but amazes – not just in terms of the acoustic guitar playing but especially the vocal layers – up and down like waves in the sea – inventive and special.

Disc 2 has a gorgeous Previously Unreleased track in “River Lane” by the delightfully titled MELTON CONSTABLE and you can ‘so’ hear why the fantastic trippy Sitar Folk of MOONKYTE commands some astronomical prices on original vinyl (£400 to £600 in a pop-up Spire sleeve). I’ve never been moved by STEELEYE SPAN but the HERON track is superb (literally recorded in a Berkshire field while smoking Lebanese) – very Matthews Southern Comfort in its English Folk-Rock feel as they sing of “...making daisy chains...” Sung by Sue McClellan - “Love Is Come Again” by PARCHMENT is another Sitar trippy jaunt that makes you want to shake your head from side to side as you exit the city rat race. It’s cleverly followed by the beautiful Robert Kirby string arrangements of “Stargazer” and the Sandy Denny-like vocals of SHELAGH McDONALD. Her two albums on Charisma’s B&C Records have steadily risen in value over the years as people discover their Mellow Candle beauty. I wouldn’t have thought of including JOAN ARMATRADING in this compilation – but it’s another smart choice. “Visionary Mountains” from her overlooked 1972 debut LP “Whatever’s For Us” features piano, acoustic guitars and more importantly a Sitar background that lends the track an Acid Folk hippy feel (Manfred Fred covered the song on their 1975 “Nightingales And Bombers” LP). The Fairport demo is excellent if not a little hissy (Denny’s voice still thrills). With a decidedly dodgy band name like HUNT, LUNT & CUNNINGHAM – their lone Pye single “Meanwhile Back In The Forest” sounds like 1960s Jefferson Airplane meets The Mamas and Papas for a 1972 song (and amazingly there’s a publicity photo for them on Page 24 advertising the single). The 5-minute Acoustic Demo of “First Girl I Loved” by The Incredible String Band is gorgeous – a real find – pure and melodic and a sweet professional recording too. I’ve always thought the Trader Horne album a bit of a masterpiece. Apparently named after John Peel’s Nanny – it sounds like Al Stewart Acoustic Folk mixed with Ian Anderson Flute. Roughest audio cut (clearly dubbed from a disc) goes to “Meeting By The Moonlight Mill” by Dry Heart – which is a damn shame because there’s genius in the guitars and doubled-vocal melodies (I’d love to hear a good tape of this). A highly polished Demo of “Highways (Misty Mist)” has Bolan’s high whine giving the song a huge (bit of a sweet find too). Duncan Browne’s magical classical guitar and top-end vocals imbibe “Gabilan” with a beauty that is quite breathtaking at times. Disc 2 ends with a winner – Kevin Coyne’s Folk Rock “Sand All Yellow” where he sings like a strangulated Captain Beefheart warning about over-zealous Doctors and their helpful pills.

Disc 3 has Clive’s Own Band (C.O.B.) giving us the pretty air of “Music Of The Ages” – another massively collectable album and artist. The hippy nonsense of “come little mirror” at the end of “A Song For The System” by Everyone Involved may indeed be a chant too far for many – but better is the Acoustic beauty of Country Sun’s “The Colour Is Blue” where they sound like America or Help Yourself at their most mellow. The audio on the Wild Country track isn’t great (like a bootleg). I’ve reviewed both of the Marc Brierley albums reissued for CD by Esoteric Recordings (see my SOUNDS GOOD Book – Exceptional CD Remasters 1960s and 1970s Volume 2) – and both are lovely. There’s a superb one-two with The Occasional Word and Anne Briggs – two Folk tunes that feel timeless and yet innovative somehow. And on it goes...

Admittedly after a while it can be hard to hear another fay vocal accompanied by a hovering low-breath flute ensconcing lyrics about communing with dandelions, fairies and a set of stones in Bognor Regis – but – and I do mean this - there is so much to discover on here and more importantly – so much to love. Like Blues and Country – Folk Music seems to throw up an unending amount of genius and genuine innovation for a genre that is perceived by many as being locked into only one groove and one sound. The British Underground Folk Scene from those two astonishing decades seems to finally be coming out to play.

Equal in my books to the wonderful Universal 3CD Box Sets covering the Island, Polydor, Decca, Deram and Vertigo Labels of a few years back (I've reviewed them all) – and acting as a sort of complimentary set to the "Love, Poetry & Revolution" 3CD Box Set that mines similar territory (also on Grapefruit) - there is so much to enjoy on "Dust On The Nettles" – there really is.

A dangling conversation indeed... Well done to the boys at Grapefruit for frolicking in the fronds, snorting fennel and dancing naked around the campfire for us (at my age I tend to keep my clothes on)...

This review and many others like it is available in one of my 5 e-books on CD Remasters: 

SOUNDS GOOD: Exceptional CD Remasters 1960s and 1970s Volume 2...

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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