Caught by the River

Caught by the River presents…Seasons They Change

18th January 2011

Opening proceedings at this weeks ‘do’ at The Social is Jeanette Leech, author of ‘Seasons They Change: The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk‘. We asked Jeanette, who will be reading extracts from her book, to tell us her top ten records from the Acid Folk genre, and this is what she said:

1. The Incredible String Band – Wee Tam And The Big Huge [Elektra, 1968]
While both The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion and The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter are incredible records, it’s ISB’s double album of sweeping experimentation that I identify with the most. The songs came from an intensely creative period for the group (all living together at the time) and the wildly ambitious brushstrokes confidently raise an early bar for the genre of psychedelic folk, which ISB all but invented.
2. Comus – First Utterance [Dawn, 1970]
First Utterance is an acknowledged milestone of the British underground and, for me, the ultimate acid folk album. Notwithstanding pure moments of transcendence – like the twelve-minute pastoral grace of ‘The Herald’ – Comus’s debut album is a contorted foray into a heart of darkness. With frenzied bongos, flute and guitar, and coal-black lyrics sung by a voice that could whip between howling pain and thrashing malevolence, this is as disturbing and visceral as music gets.
3. Tim Buckley – Lorca [Elektra, 1970]
By the time of Lorca, Tim Buckley was a persona non grata at his label Elektra for his devotion to experimentation and his distaste for playing the music industry game. Buckley’s commitment to exploring every nuance of his astonishing voice and his penchant for improvisation ensured Lorca was years ahead of its time in its abstracted, free-folk sound.
4. Linda Perhacs – Parallelograms [Kapp, 1970]
“I’m spacing out… spacing out…” sings Perhacs on ‘Chimacum Rain’, the opening track to her sole record. “I’m seeing silences between leaves”. Although it may sound like archetypal hippie murmurings, Parallelograms was a unique concept album, an exploration of Perhacs’ belief in ‘thought forms’: the visual expression of sound. This record is a perfect example of how psychedelic folk music could be the conduit for a strange, personal vision quest.
5. COB – Spirit Of Love [CBS, 1971]
It’s usually COB’s follow-up, Moyshe McStiff And The Tartan Lancers Of The Sacred Heart, that gets into ‘best of’ lists and, although I think that’s a phenomenal album, my heart is with COB’s debut. COB comprised the restless Clive Palmer – a founder of the Incredible String Band and the Famous Jug Band, and a general maverick figure – alongside Mick Bennett and John Bidwell. Channelling an esoteric, cryptic air, with flashes of Palmer’s childhood in vaudeville, Spirit Of Love is pure poetry.
6. Current 93 – Swastikas For Noddy [L.A.Y.L.A.H. Antirecords, 1988]
It must have been quite a surprise to Current 93 fans when, in 1988, the group’s founder David Tibet ushered his sound from the aural abrasions of his early work to the acoustic twists of Swastikas For Noddy. He coined the genre name ‘apocalyptic folk’ to describe the album, reflecting his personal fixation with the Christian Armageddon. Tibet was a rare example of an artist experimenting with folk music in the late 1980s, and his trailblazing was key to the new generation of wayward folk artists.
7. Stone Breath – The Silver Skein Unwound [Camera Obscura, 2003]
Timothy Renner’s Stone Breath was born in 1995. This group, barely acknowledged at the time, were nevertheless tremendously important as a pioneer of the contemporary wave of acid and psychedelic folk music. Their animalistic, gnarled sound is as intricate and unique as a weaver’s nest. There’s no doubt in my mind that this dark and uncanny record – the last from Stone Breath for six years – is a classic.
8. Vashti Bunyan – Lookaftering [FatCat, 2005]
Vashti’s story – the horse and cart, the pilgrimage to Skye, the gossamer songs she wrote on the journey – is now almost part of British folklore itself. Her follow-up album to Just Another Diamond Day, coming thirty-five years later, may have exhibited the same delicate grace but it was a world away in its substance. While Diamond Day was embedded in her then day-to-day life, Lookaftering was a work of reflection. It was the story of a hundred hurts and joys, from the hugest to the tiniest, wrapped in Bunyan’s subtle, heartbreaking whisper.
9. Espers – Espers II [Wichita, 2006]
Containing one of the most epic psychedelic folk tracks of all time – the astounding opener, ‘Dead Queen’ – Espers II was the sound of a poised, articulate band at the absolute top of their game. Infused with scholarly knowledge of the genre’s past, but prickled with fresh splinters of cynical modernity, Espers II provided gravitas to the movement tagged as ‘freak folk’.
10. Lau Nau – Nukkuu [Locust, 2008]
The Finnish scene, centred on Fonal Records, has produced some of the most exciting music of recent times and Lau Nau’s haunting, intangible album is simply tremendous. Played on dozens of unusual instruments, these compelling, rhythmic glaciers of sound drip away until all that’s left is shimmering puddles of free-folk wonder.