Grapefruit box sets tease further British 70s treasures

How many British sub-genres to rock and pop would you say came and went in the handful of years from the mid 60s to 1973? Baroque pop, heavy psych, psychedelia, psychedelic pop, underground, popsike, singer-songwriter, female vocal folk and folk-pop, just to name a few?

If you know and care about these distinctions, I would call you a certified nerd. And in that case, at least one specific 3CD clamshell box in the series of such boxes offered up by the Cherry Red sub-label Grapefruit certainly has your name on it.

Or you might be a different kind of nerd, who, just like me, simply want all of the stuff from that era because you think most of what was made there and then is most often great, but at least always interesting to hear. Like me, you then probably appreciate the talk of sub-genres as a story-telling device, but in your heart you really just want to hear all of it.

But in both of these cases, you have been served well by two decades of increasingly barrel-scraping reissues and you might already have it all. Could this be a bit of challenge even for pop archeologist David Wells who is heading up Grapefruit?

At least I am feeling the pinch as we now get a look at avant-pop and art rock on a three-CD collection titled Lullabies For Catatonics as well as an examination of progressive pop on a ditto collection called New Moon’s In The Sky. Both collections contain an incredible amount of great music, but to put it bluntly: I have all but a few tracks on these boxes already. And regardless of what kind of nerd you are, if you are in the market for this, I suspect you might have most of it too.

But here’s the thing. The few tracks I hadn’t heard before here are truly special – and they also tantalisingly point to hidden treasures yet to be unearthed.

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There are in fact only three tracks I previously didn’t have on Lullabies For Catatonics. But what they lack in numbers they certainly make up for in substance! First of all, there is As You Like It, a band that rose from the ashes of Tales Of Justine and here contribute the lovely and very tuneful ‘No More Sunshine Till May’.

This track really makes you want to hear more from them, and it turns out you might well do just that at some unspecified point in the future. More exactly, they recorded a full album 1972 at the R.G. Jones studio in Morden – from which the present track is taken. But then they recorded another full album at Chalk Farm. Incredibly, neither of the albums were ever released, due to commercially trickery and subsequent failure by their manager. Given that a track appears here, I assume that Grapefruit have obtained the rights and could release both albums rather than just tease us with a track like this! Wow!

And as if finding one full set of hen’s teeth wasn’t enough, a similarly unbelievable story unfolds with the folky yet progressive sounds on ‘The Machine Grinds On’ by Gnome Sweet Gnome. Yes, that band name might sound like a garden variety joke, but the music here certainly is for real, and imbued with exactly that playful whimsy I just can’t get enough of. Again, there is potentially lots more where that came from: We are offhandedly told that Gnome Sweet Gnome recorded “a couple of albums” that only made it to acetate stage, while the liners tease us with a sound amalgamating early 70s Genesis with Canterbury scene acts like Caravan. OK. So I would pay an arm and a leg to hear those albums, not just this one song!

In all honesty, the third previously unreleased track here, ‘Can I See You?’ by former Donovan backing-band Open Road is every bit as amazing, with its moody mellotron and soft string backing. And once again, the inclusion of the track here teases more treasures to come. Because although the first Open Road album, ‘Windy Daze’ from 1971 was indeed released and is a pretty decent album, nothing there is even half as good as this, which comes from their second, fully completed but never released second album. 

So again, wow!!

Please, please David Wells, release all these albums now that you obviously have access to them!! I am counting to at least five full albums that have not yet seen any release in any shape or form in the intervening (close to) half century. That is a sub-genre in its own right, worthy of its own box set! 

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Although the New Moon’s In The Sky box doubles the number of tracks I did not have before from three to six even though it just focuses on the year 1970, they struggle to live up fully to the by now extremely highly set expectations. But that’s not to say the sky is empty here, maybe it is more that the moon doesn’t shine as brightly as the stars on the previous box.

For starters, four of the tracks, from Bill Oddie (of the Goodies fame, no less!), Love Street, The Iron Maiden and Canticle, are from singles and as such might not point to further treasures. But, as often is the case, there’s more if you scratch the surface. And – no, it is not because the Iron Maiden here have any relation to the metal spectacle that came later. Instead, this bunch came from Essex and were actually called Bum; a name deemed too offensive and thus changed to Iron Maden for their sole single that went nowhere. A real bummer that, because it turns out they recorded a whole album that never got beyond acetate stage!

And then there is Love Street, whose cover for the Israeli release of their single here serves as cover picture for the whole box set. It turns out they as well made an unreleased 1970 LP that I would very much like to hear, although it seems to contain a fair share of cover versions.

There are only two properly hitherto unreleased tracks on New Moon’s In The Sky, and in fact both of the acts have appeared with other unreleased tracks on other Grapefruit compilation boxes , so it seems that David Wells is portioning them out across releases in order to always have something unique for the nerdiest collector. More specifically then, the Regime who appears here with ‘Mr and Mrs Franklin’ were also on Come Join My Orchestra with the lovely ‘Dear Amanda’; and Lifeblud who had ‘Waxing Of The Moon’ on Strangers In The Room now appear here with the beautiful, baroque pop sounding ‘Bridge’.

Are there even more pop nuggets from these two bands just sitting on the shelf in the Grapefruit offices, awaiting future box set releases?

How nerdy and how much of a completist are you? If you have read this far, I think you already know the answer, and will want these boxes regardless! 

But I urge you to also let Grapefruit know that you’d really want to see a box with all those unreleased albums only teased and hinted at in these two releases. In a recent interview I did on behalf of Swedish mag Mono (in Swedish only, see link below), David Wells explained the reason for his focus on box sets: “The problem is that single CDs now have the feel of a monthly music magazine giveaway. With a box as well, you have scope within to put in a massive booklet. So it is a more collector friendly format, and it gives me space to expand really on certain bands.”

Well, half a dozen hitherto unknown albums form the early 70 would certainly tick all those boxes! I promise that I will buy a copy regardless of the price of such a set and even splurge on a second copy just to support the cause!


POPARKEOLOG DAVID WELLS ÖPPNAR DÖRREN TILL EN NY VÄRLD

 

Black Midi reinvent music from a full page

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MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a technical standard for digitally playing, editing and recording music. If you think about MIDI as a musical annotation for the digital age, then it is not difficult to imagine MIDI sheet music that is so full of notes that only a computer is fast enough to play them all. Picture the mechanical pianos of the past with their punch-hole rolls for notes in a digital scenario and you get the idea.

Black MIDI takes that picture at least one step further, as it is the concept of sheet music so full of notes that is not only beyond human playability, but also beyond the capacity of computers. Sheet music like that would be so full of notes that to the human eye it would look completely black, hence the  name. And given that there are black MIDI compositions using the maximum number of notes possible in the MIDI standard, around 93 trillion, I am sure any printer would in fact print that just as a black sheet anyway…

The band Black Midi are a young London quartet taking inspiration from such incredibly dense and unplayable music, and as a result the sound they make is cacophonous, manic and frequently quite hard on your ears.

Now if you think that sounds like a description of a Cardiacs record more that anything else, you might be quite right, because if I would be forced to use only a single word to describe the music on this quartet’s amazing debut album ‘Schlagenheim’ it would in fact be pronk, the term invented to describe the musical style combining punk and progressive rock invented by the Cardiacs.

But while pronk is indeed a good starting point, the Black Midi are certainly not copycats. Although they do reach firmly into King Crimson territory both when it comes to fragility and brutal power, hardcore punk when it comes to sheer speed and abandon and the Talking Heads when it comes to postmodern frustration, they stretch beyond that. More particularly, black midi add a sense of post truth disillusion that feels very much 2019 – such as for example when singer Georgie Greep, with a true sense of envy repeats the comment “what a magnificent purpose” over and over again on debut single ‘BMBMBM’ as if someone seeing any kind of meaning is beyond his imagination in the age of fake news.

As is often the case for me, I find it hard review of music that really surprises me, and certainly that is true for this record. I am totally transfixed by this record, to be quite honest, and just can’t stop playing it.

So for now, I will limit myself to saying that the sound on ‘Schlagenheim’ is incredibly fresh and invigorating. And while it is impossible anymore to say that something sounds like nothing else, this comes as close as you are likely to get at least inside of the rock music idiom, while still managing to deliver beautiful melodies and poetic moments. 

It is as if by filling the sheet with so many notes that it becomes totally black, has in fact made it blank. The page that is truly full has enabled these young musicians to start with new musical ideas, from scratch again.

A truly unique album that you need to hear.