Various Artists – I’m A Freak Baby
Released 29th July 2016
A new 3CD boxset expansively subtitled “A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72”, this is a thorough documentation of the previously much overlooked British Post-Hippy era, featuring both key songs from the main players of the UK Rock Underground of ’68 to ’72 along with super rare tracks from virtual unknowns….LTW’s Ian Canty acid-tests the water as the reality set in after that long “Summer Of Love” trip, to a time when loud ‘n’ heavy trumped flowers and beads in term of importance …..
It’s certainly not my own idea, or indeed a fresh one…but in fact it has been suggested in many circles over the past few years, that the early Hippy and Punk scenes had more things actually in common than differences. The thinking being that 1977 was like the negative image of 1967. If we follow that notion to its logical conclusion, does that mean 1968 (where this collection begins its journey) has a great deal of common ground with 1978? Maybe the years that stretched beyond into the new decade each time matched up a little too? When Syd Barrett left Floyd in 1968 there were still many bands up and down the country shod in kaftans playing versions of the love and peace sound of the previous summer, whilst the more experimentally inclined set out to explore the outer limits of Psychedelia. When John Rotten left the Pistols in 1978, there were still of lot of groups festooned in safety pins singing about anarchy and bondage, but also many of others pushing a sound influenced by Punk into many other different areas. The written word was the main mode of communication of the ideals of either scene (in 1967 pirate radio stations began being shut down by the authorities after the inception of Radio One, closing one means of relaying the aims of the Counter Culture), with underground newspapers in the 60s and fanzines in the next decade.
Okay I may be stretching a point somewhat and you could perhaps still be unconvinced by this argument but one thing is true – the scene that came after the ’67 highpoints like those nights at UFO and the 24 Hour Technicolour Dream did possess folk who attempted to apply their values in the real world, to try to push for some kind of concrete change through protest. For their part, the bands themselves set about making a right royal racket into the bargain, employing some of the sonic accoutrements of Psychedelia married to a tougher and louder sound.
The atmosphere in 1968 was a substantial rougher one too, with the May riots in Paris for instance showing that the young people of that country weren’t going to be pushed around (for a while France teetered on the brink of a new civil war). Clearly the problems in the outside world were not going to be solved by merely handing out flowers to soldiers. In the UK the underground press was booming following the lead of the International Times and bands like many of those featured here were staples of those periodicals, chiming in with a back to basics, realist version of the Hippy dream. They took it out of Carnaby Street and the posh recording studios, into the provinces and on the streets.
Although this remains an often ignored time in British music history, it nevertheless provided us with a lot of super-noisy, extremely hairy, very loud, unruly and above all supercharged Hard Rock. As the years went by Black Sabbath and Led Zep’s first recordings joined Jimi Hendrix to become crucial influences on many with an unwillingness (or as mooted in the sleeve-notes, self-diagnosed lack of technical ability to meet the complicated demands) to play elaborate Prog Rock the common denominator. There are many bands today like Blood Ceremony and Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell who have picked on this type of Proto-Punk-Metal-Hard Rock (call it what you will), the relentless “Stoner With Attitude” stance, who relish harnessing the heavyweight power and the glory of that time to their own ends. Which brings us to this new collection which seeks to redress the balance somewhat on this neglected time and salute the rocket powered Grebo heroes of 68-72.
Though “I’m A Freak, Baby…” does feature a few well known and often compiled tracks, it would be churlish to leave off something like the Pink Fairies’ “Do It” or (Jesse Hector’s Proto-Punk/Neo-Mod crew) Crushed Butler with “My Son’s Alive” (both are featured on the first disc in this collection) when you are trying to present any kind of clear picture of the UK Underground scene. The Fairies’ Notting Hill Freak brothers Hawkwind (in their early Hawkwind Zoo guise) and Mick Farren’s Deviants crop up too, but that is just one aspect on presented here. We also have the Blues-ridden Proto-Punk of the Groundhogs “Cherry Red” (so good that one of the UK’s finest record labels copped the name), their long time running mates Stray (still led by guitarist Del Bromham all these years on) with the lengthy, power packed beauty “All In Your Mind” and the original Iron Maiden (the Basildon outfit beat the East End mob to the name by over half a decade) proffer the gentler (well for this comp anyway), mid-paced “Falling”.
Of the not quite so well known tracks on this initial CD, the doomy phased power riffing of the Cycle’s “Father Of Time”, what appears to be an attempt “gargling as vocals” on Factory’s metal-tastic “Time Machine” and Wicked Lady’s unstoppable classic title track stand out, but the whole thing is an enlightening and enjoyable trip back to the hirsute days when ear-splitting volume and manic head-shaking were the order of the day. Mostly this part of the collection is full-on, no holds barred, Power Rock but Charge manage to sneak a little Funk into their “Rock My Soul” and there is always a bit of R ‘N’ B lurking round in the bottom of the mix.
Heralded by, of all things, the sound of an accordion playing a sea shanty (on Writing On The Wall’s ace “Bogeyman”), we move on to disc two. This one goes off the beaten (to a pulp) track of the previous CD a little with the likes of the VU inspired Velvet Frogs “Jehovah” and the decidedly strange Second Hand (whose bass player early on was Arthur Kitchener, who went on to lead his own Two Tone era Ska band the Originals and later play in Oi! boys the Last Resort!). The Move and Deep Purple are possibly the most well-known acts on this one: Roy Wood and Co contribute their bid for acceptance on the “Progressive Rock” scene which constituted the “Brontosaurus” single, with Purple’s Gillan-vintage fast-paced “Fireball” stacking up favourably with alongside the more hard headed company like Skid Row’s (not the US band) “Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You” and the distorted, stop-start chug of Dark’s entrancing “Zero Time”. Jerusalem’s “Primitive Man” says it all – primitive is exactly the right word as every musical instrument in sight is pounded to oblivion.
From Preston, Little Free Rock’s restrained but powerful “Dream” mixes a bit of the Stooges in and is a highly pleasing bit of rare, grease-encrusted Proto-Punk, a gem in fact that shows faint signs of their mid-60s Mod Beat pasts in the tight instrumentation. Hailing from Dumfries are Iron Claw whose epic “Skullcrusher” is a fuzzed up wonder too and Stack Waddy’s pre-empting of Dr Feelgood on “Mr Make Believe” for me is just another reason why this bunch of Manc headcases should be lauded – singer John Knall urinated on stage at an Elektra Records showcase gig, a fine display of Punk Rock attitude five years too early. Their “Bugger Off” LP should be sought out by anyone who values the kind of ultra-loud mayhem they specialised in.
Finally we arrive at the third selection from this quality box and for my money the best was saved for last, this being a choice assortment of hidden gems. The legendary, sadly departed Lemmy plays on “Escalator” by Sam Gopal, it is only fair that the most Proto-Punk man and full on Rock and Roller the UK has ever produced shows up on here. This is a full-on, galloping rehearsal for Motorhead almost a decade later, with Gopal’s tabla fighting a losing battle to be heard in the background. The Blues Boom was long since over and “Rumours” still a way off into the future when Fleetwood Mac laid down “The Green Manalishi”, but this is more than enough to convince the average observer that they were generally a better proposition before they started marrying each other all the time. A late period Yardbirds composition, “Think About It”, is much enhanced by a wild Jimmy Page guitar solo, taped just before they transmuted into Led Zeppelin. Rocking revolutionaries Third World War seem to set the tone for Strummer and the Clash a few years down the line, even if the lyrics now evoke “Citizen Smith” more rather than urban insurrection.
From High Wycombe, the Gun are represented here by their big hit “Race With The Devil” which to my ears is a Heavy Metal trailblazer on a par with “Paranoid”. Adrian Gurvitz may have come up with “I wanna write a classic” in the 80s, but in heading up this band in tandem with with his brother, on this monster he already had. The Mickey Finn, in contrast, are more a throwback to Freakbeat with their rocking “Garden Of My Mind”, all upfront vocals, descending chords and tension, a real cracker. Different again is Morning After’s boogie punker “Trying To Find My Way Back Home” which could almost be one of the grubby (but fun) bands rubbing shoulders with the Pork Dukes and Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds on the indispensable “Streets” comp of 77! The Taste’s many sectioned barnstormer “Born On The Wrong Side Of Time” hits the spot for me too, finding influence in the Who’s down-home rockers of a similar vintage. Even taking these highpoints to one side, everything else on this disc is good to blinding as well, bring this compilation to a very satisfying conclusion.
There are surprisingly few out and out duds throughout the entire collection – though personally I’ve never really been able to quite get my head around the appeal of the Edgar Broughton Band, but can it really be argued that they don’t deserve a place on here with “Love In The Rain”, given their standing and involvement in UK Underground Rock at the time? Stonehouse’s “Nightmare” doesn’t do a lot for me either, but that’s about it, though some of the extended riffing, Robert Plant style-screaming and lengthier jams may test the less committed listener more than a bit. If you can stay with it though, for the most part though there is enough pure invention, variety and noisy thrills on offer to keep one captivated and many rare, marvellous gems are unearthed along the way.
All things considered, “I’m A Freak Baby” is a fascinating excursion to a mostly long forgotten time in the UK’s music history, beautifully presented and designed in a clamshell box with informative sleeve-notes on each band inside a nicely illustrated booklet. To get the best out of this trip you’ll have to be ready for some awe-inspiring heaviness along side the Psychedelic touches and general strangeness, but if you are, strap yourself in and be ready for quite a ride…..
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here