Caught by the River

Strange Things Are Happening

22nd March 2024

Published yesterday by White Rabbit Books, Richard Norris’s dazzling psychedelic memoir ‘Strange Things Are Happening’ is one of the great eyewitness accounts of the heroic years of the counterculture, writes David Keenan.

Every acid house origin story is true, claims Richard Norris, in this dazzling psychedelic memoir, though Norris’s own is as wiggy and unlikely as any, making the first ‘acid house’ album in the UK before he had even heard a bleep of it. 1988’s Jack The Tab, made with Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and friends, was the pair’s attempt to make what they thought acid house might sound like, a methodology that marks out Norris and P-Orridge’s punk/DIY background, literally taking the music at its word, like alla the post-punk bands who truly believed that the Sex Pistols were a group who couldn’t play their instruments and so formed bands that outstripped them in terms of lack of technique and purity of vision.

Growing up in St Albans, in Hertfordshire, Norris’s head was turned by punk and soon he was forming bands — The Innocent Vicars, named in tribute to Lemmy’s first band, The Rockin’ Vicars – and publishing fanzines — 99%, a zine that covered punk, new wave and psychedelic music. But it’s through a meeting with one of the unsung legends of the UK underground, Phil Smee, of Waldo’s Records and Bam Caruso, that his psychedelic initiation truly begins. This whole section is particularly fascinating, as Bam Caruso, through their beautifully designed and programmed compilations of bands like SRC, The Seeds and Hearts & Flowers, as well as their Rubble series, dedicated to unearthing rare UK freakbeat sides, has long been a secret influence on the underground. Indeed, the way that Norris tracks it — writing for Smee’s beautiful but short-lived music zine Strange Things Are Happening (hence the title), putting on 60s nights, becoming involved with mobile ‘happenings’ like Alice In Wonderland, before fully immersing himself in the new dance music — provides an alternative origin story to the year zero of UK rave culture. Early on, at Shoom, he connects with Andrew Weatherall because they are both rockers come out of Peel and post-punk, as opposed to the more typical soul boy background of most early embracers of the new dance music. Heady with possibility, while pining for his own year zero, Norris fully surrenders to the moment and forms The Grid with Dave Ball of Soft Cell only to ride the acid high all the way to the super clubs of Ibiza.

Norris is a great writer, so much so that even the childhood section, which is often the part of the memoir that you wade through or skip over, feels magical, transporting you to early 70s suburbia with all of its possibilities and frustrations. Plus, he always seems to be where the action is. There are cameos from Joe Strummer, Sky Saxon, Bo Diddley, Tom Jones, Damon Albarn, Whigfield…and the book is beautifully structured, from the mandala on the cover to the grid-like patterning of its telling, with everything dovetailing at the end into his work with Erol Alkan in Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve that combines his early love for psychedelic music with radical dance edits. Strange Things Are Happening is one of the great eyewitness accounts of the heroic years of the counterculture, and as such there is something elegiac about it too. Could it ever happen again? Stranger things, etc.


‘Strange Things Are Happening’ is out now. Signed copies are available via the Heavenly Bandcamp page with or without an accompanying CD, or alternatively it is available to buy in a standard edition via

Listen to the latest volume of our irregular audio series Spoken Word and Nature Disco — selected and mixed by Richard Norris on the occasion of his book publication — here.