Moles & Bicycles

Psychedelia eh? What’s it all about? Bit of a toughie that one.  In its British 1960’s form it can conjure up visions of hairy folk in kaftans singing songs about itsy-bitsy faerie folk, or even hairier folk waging sonic war against the norm, both just trying to storm the doors of perception^.  I’m a big fan of the latter, the former can on occasion make me cough up one of my own kidneys.  I’m all for childlike innocence and whimsy… for children; it all gets far too Christopher Robin for me otherwise^^.

Brit Psych Trip 04

Bought on a whimsical whim ten years ago The British Psychedelic Trip 1966-1969 Vol.2, is a real curate’s egg, running the gamut from the sublimely sublime to the truly nauseatingly twee – just like the movement itself actually.  This 1986 compilation is culled solely from the vaults of EMI records and features Jeff Lynne, David Bowie, Uriah Heep, Mick Taylor, Steve Howe, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, amongst a score of guys that didn’t get the breaks*.

See that man, he’s all alone
Looks so happy but he’s far from home
I ring my bell and smile at him
Then knock over his rubbish bin

Crash! Bang! Wallop! Here you go, in your face! This is pretty much my favourite single from the 1960’s, Tomorrow ‘My White Bicycle’. It comes on like a hurricane of fast-flanged treated sometimes forwards/sometimes backwards guitars, half-whispered vocals and, above all, urgency.  To my ears this was flavoured by amphetamines rather than LSD and is all the better for it.  Inspired by the Dutch Provos communal bicycle movement, this was a sparkling, innovative slice of genius – Psychedelia as anarchy, rather than whimsy.  The guitarist, Steve Howe, was brilliant and flashy, shame it never seemed to work out for him …**

Next up is Idle race ‘Skeleton & The Roundabout’, a brisk little ditty that bridges the gap that you hitherto never knew existed between ‘Penny Lane’ and the soundtrack to Mary Poppins; I rather like it despite that.  Jeff Lynne layers it all up with fairground touches and the producer adds all manner of a la mode details such as stereo-panning. It’s the speed of this track, I think, that keeps it on the right side of the charming/hateful line.

Undercover drug squad, circa '67
Undercover drug squad, circa ’67

I’m also very impressed with the stately, later (1970) pop of ‘In The land of the Few’ by Love Sculpture, featuring 1537-fave Dave Edmunds and Terry Williams, who drummed with Man, Dire Straits and Rockpile, and more importantly ran a blues club in his native Swansea that I visited a couple of times with my dad.  This is pushing the definition of Psychedelia a bit to be included here, it sounds more to me like perfectly put together, polished 70’s pop a little ahead of its’ time.

Brit Psych Trip 01

Unlike Mrs 1537 I loathe Simon Dupree & The Big Band’s ballad ‘Kites’, wind noises and all – it sounds like a too candied confection desperately in search of a heart-warming children’s animation to call home.  Yuk! Interestingly, the band hated it too and then they (mostly) went on to become Gentle Giant.  However Mrs 1537 and I both unite again in our hatred of Keith West ‘Excerpt From ‘A Teenage Opera”.  I remember reading a big feature in Mojo magazine years ago about the genesis and impact of this track, made it sound really interesting.  Well it ain’t.  This like totally blows chunks, Beavis.  I don’t really know where to start constructively here, so I will just content myself by saying that I would rather have a large scorpion inserted up my rectum, {CELEBRITY NAME DELETED FOR LEGAL REASONS}-style, than sit through this again.  It’s so twee that I just want to hurt it and then nip outside and let its’ tyres down.

Beware the psychedelic rectal scorpion!
Beware the psychedelic rectal scorpion!

Okay, pausing only to wipe away the slather from my chin, other curios here include the entirely unremarkable Davy Jones & The Lower Third ‘You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving’, the well-played-but-a- bit-pants Pretty Things ‘S.F Sorrow’ (oh to hear them really rave it up on their primitive thuggish R&B!) and the wild, bluesy and really excellent ‘Real Love Guaranteed’ by The Gods – who went on to become Uriah Heep^* and who had Mick Taylor in their ranks for a while.

One of the best tracks here is provided courtesy of the, rather mysterious, Moles ‘We Are The Moles (Part 1)’.  A slice of genuinely subterranean weirdness, self-produced rather brilliantly and sporting all manner of descending guitar runs, mellotron and crowd noises it shows real class.  So much so that there were hot rumours back in 1968 that the Moles were none other than the Beatles and listening to this it is feasible, however the truth was a little more prosaic, they were in fact Simon Dupree & The Big Band under another name, for reasons best known to themselves.

Brit Psych Trip 05

Quality tails off a bit towards the end although July make a good case for themselves with the elegant, well-structured ‘I See’, but no-one, not even Tomorrow, should have attempted to cover ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.

Overall The British Psychedelic Trip 1966-1969 Vol.2 is a real trip – in the sense of a bit of a journey.  There’s a fair argument here that there’s a good handful of tracks here which have bugger all to do with Psychedelia and a few have too much to do with it.  There is a real sense of adventure running through this LP and the music here, whether I like it or not, hails from that point before the scene got choked with too many bandwagon jumpers and pseuds.  I enjoyed this a lot, just please no more ‘Excerpt From a Teenage Opera’ please!!! No, bring out the scorpion …

Grocer Jack, grocer Jack, get off your back
Come into town, don’t let us down, oh no, no
Grocer Jack, grocer Jack, get off your back0
Come into town, don’t let us down, oh no, no

Brit Psych Trip 07

485 Down.

^oh and some guys from Liverpool, but I’ll skilfully ignore them for now.

^^big secret? I really don’t like Syd Barrett’s songs very much, apart from instrumentally – if my parents heard me say that aloud, it could seriously nix my vinyl inheritance, so Shhhh! Never liked Christopher Robin either, awful little prig.

*some very deservedly.

**before I get an irate comment from Melbourne, I know I know.  PS – check out the introduction to Joe Boyd’s My White Bicycle (still one of the best books I have ever read about the 60/70s scene) where he describes Tomorrow tearing it up at the UFO Club*^ in 1967.

*^as frequented by my parents.

^*is it actually true that Ken Hensley was in the year ahead of Shakespeare in school?


6 thoughts on “Moles & Bicycles

  1. Nothing irate from this Melbourne correspondent. Broadly, we’re in alignment about all the tracks you mention, although I have much less bile around the lesser ones (and I like ‘Kites’ quite a lot).
    If you haven’t heard it, the Tomorrow track ‘Revolution (Phased version)’ is brilliant and I think you’d like it a lot. Some good swooshy sounds.
    Also, I recommend acquiring the album ‘SF Sorrow’. It really does deserve better recognition – not instead of the raunchy R&B stuff (‘Midnight to Six’ is in my Top 10 Sixties singles ever), but in addition. Or at least listen to ‘Defecting Grey’ (unedited) on YouTube.
    About five years ago my pal BB and I began compiling overlooked shards of British psychedelia (and beyond the UK). We got to about five transporting hours worth. That’s a lot of 2’30” songs! So rich, creative, silly and wondrous. I love this music so much I’ve even been fantasising about a blog purely about Psychedelia. Can I put you down for a subscription? There’ll be no mentions of Grocers.

    1. I have a pristine copy of the Tomorrow LP on my MP3 shelves. Great band and you cant beat swooshy sounds.

      I’ll seek out the Pretty Things LP too and I couldn’t agree more about Midnight To Six.

      Sign me up for the psychedelic post, but i think its only fair to threaten a big hissy fit if a certain grocer comes calling!

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