Digging the Rubble

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1: The Psychedelic Snarl.

A few words in praise of Rubble, the 20-disc collection of (mostly) British psychedelic singles released by the Bam Caruso label from 1984 to 1991. A reader of Rob Chapman’s Psychedelia and Other Colours would find the Rubble series an indispensable companion to the second half of the book which explores the unique styles of British psych. Ideally you’d read the book while having these and other compilations close at hand, something I didn’t manage so I’ve been going through the discs myself this week, listening out for some of the many singles that Chapman discusses. The Rubble title is a nod to Lenny Kaye’s 1972 collection Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968, the first reappraisal of the garage/psych era whose success spawned Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond, 1964-1969, a not-so-good attempt to do the same for the UK, and Children of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Second Psychedelic Era, 1976-1995. The original Nuggets was followed by the long-running Pebbles series which sprawls over 28 discs collecting obscure garage singles.

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2: Pop-Sike Pipe Dreams.

What I like about the Rubble series, apart from its covering a favourite zone of musical history, is the way that each volume is titled in a suitable manner beyond a mere number: the title of volume 8, All The Colours Of Darkness could have been used by Coil during their LSD period. Then there’s the sleeve designs by the great Phil Smee, one of the founders of Bam Caruso, the collector of many of the featured singles, and a first-rate artisan of psychedelic graphics: there’s a Louis Wain cat on volume 2, and more of those letterforms by Roman Cieslewicz on volume 10. Smee deserves a post of his own but covering such a lengthy career would be a daunting task: Discogs lists 784 separate releases, and that’s only his design work. The design on the first run of Rubble albums was credited to “Harvey S. Williams”, a Smee pseudonym playing on the name of Elektra Records art director William S. Harvey. Harvey S. Williams was also the designer of the short-lived and rather wonderful Bam Caruso magazine, Strange Things Are Happening, issues of which are advertised in the inner sleeves of the early Rubble albums. (The magazine borrowed its title from a 1968 single by Rings and Things which is featured on Rubble 4.)

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3: Nightmares In Wonderland.

The Rubble series has been reissued on CD many times, and is currently available as The Rubble Collection, a glossy cube containing all 20 discs in card sleeves together with two booklets that reprint Phil Smee’s original sleeve notes and band photos. The Rubble albums sound a little rough today when many of the songs which were taken directly from old singles have been resurrected and can be heard elsewhere in better quality. Subsequent compilations have also cherry-picked many of the better selections but this is still the ideal place to start if you want to immerse yourself in the toyshop/kitchen sink surrealism that is British psychedelia.

• See also: Richard Norris reminiscing about working at Bam Caruso, and choosing 20 favourite British psych records.

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4: The 49 Minute Technicolour Dream.

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