Listen to the Colour of Your Dreams: Part One

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Blame these things: the Jon Savage booklet, and Mojo Presents Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers (design by Phillip Savill).

One of the commissions for the New Year is psychedelia-related so to get in the mood I’ve been listening to the six CD compilations of psychedelic songs I made some years ago. I must have spent about five years gathering everything on these discs which comprise 132 selections in all, three for UK music and three for the USA, covering the years 1966–1969. The impetus was an annotated booklet listing “100 mind-expanding masterpieces” that Jon Savage had compiled for Mojo magazine in 1994; a revised list was published in 1997 along with some debatable contemporary additions. Things came to a head (so to speak) in 2001 when Savage and fellow Mojo journalists put together a four-CD collection of prime UK psychedelia for EMI, Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers, which included many of the songs from Savage’s list. That collection and the Rhino Records Nuggets box began the mania to accumulate everything on Savage’s list. Once I’d started burning my own compilations the Savage 100 quickly expanded when I realised that I ought to include more favourites of my own.

To start the year, then, I’m uploading all six compilations to Mixcloud beginning with the UK selection. Despite all the effort and the number of songs this still isn’t a definitive collection. As Savage observes in his notes, the late 1960s was a time of massive over-production by record companies with hundreds of singles released, especially in the UK. Many one-off releases by obscure bands are as good as those that topped the charts which is why psychedelic compilations are so numerous, and why omissions are unavoidable.

With that proviso here’s the first part of the UK collection covering the years 1966 to 1967. The tracklist below indicates in bold the songs from the Savage 100 with notes about my additions. The listing is by order of release although this isn’t strictly accurate throughout. I’ll be uploading the rest of the compilations over the next few weeks.

UK Psychedelia, Part One by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

Dialogue — Alice In Wonderland (From Jonathan Miller’s BBC film, 1966.)
The Beatles — Tomorrow Never Knows
The Rolling Stones — Paint It Black
The Creation — Making Time
Craig — I Must Be Mad (A ferocious single by a band that only released one other 45 before splitting. Carl Palmer is on drums.)
Donovan — Season Of The Witch
The Yardbirds — Happenings Ten Years Time Ago
The Misunderstood — I Can Take You To The Sun (An American band who moved to London in 1966. This was their second and final single, and one of John Peel’s all-time favourites.)
Cream — I Feel Free
The Beatles — Strawberry Fields Forever
Pink Floyd — Interstellar Overdrive (Savage has the version from Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London which runs for almost 17 minutes. The version here is the shorter one from Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.)
The Smoke — My Friend Jack
The Poets — In Your Tower
The Move — I Can Hear The Grass Grow
The Troggs — Night Of The Long Grass
Traffic — Paper Sun
The Jimi Hendrix Experience — Are You Experienced?
Tomorrow — My White Bicycle (Savage has a later single, Revolution, but I much prefer this earlier 45.)
John’s Children — Midsummer Night’s Scene
Dialogue — Yellow Submarine
The Beatles — It’s All Too Much
The Attack — Colour Of My Mind
Small Faces — Green Circles

Previously on { feuilleton }
What Is A Happening?
My White Bicycle
Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake
Tomorrow Never Knows
The Dukes declare it’s 25 O’Clock!
Yellow Submarine comic books
A splendid time is guaranteed for all

The Trials of Oz

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If it’s a surprise to see Cockney geezer Phil Daniels masquerading as the erudite (and non-Cockney) Thomas De Quincey in The Art of Tripping, it’s even more of a surprise to see Hugh Grant in wig and hippy gear as Richard Neville in this 1991 dramatisation of the obscenity trial against Neville’s Oz magazine. Grant wasn’t exactly unknown when this was made but it was prior to Four Weddings and a Funeral so the casting didn’t seem very notable at the time.

The play was written by Geoffrey Robertson QC from the trial transcripts to observe the 20th anniversary of a lengthy and very public trial. Robertson in 1971 was an assistant to John Mortimer, the magazine’s lawyer, so the reconstruction may be taken to be an accurate one. In addition to Grant as Neville, Simon Callow plays Mortimer, Nigel Hawthorne is prosecutor Brian Leary, and Leslie Phillips is Judge Michael Argyle. Among the witnesses there’s Alfred Molina as George Melly (yet again; see yesterday’s post), and Nigel Planer as DJ John Peel, both of whom were called to testify that the notorious “School Kids” issue of Oz wasn’t an obscene publication. The trial, like the earlier drug busts against the Rolling Stones, was as much about the State trying to clobber a bunch of anarchist upstarts as anything that involved the pros and cons of antiquated laws. The three defendants—Neville, Felix Dennis and Jim Anderson—were also accused of “conspiring to corrupt public morals”; the obscenity issue was merely a pretext for getting the longhairs into the dock.

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Oz 28 (1970). Art by Raymond Bertrand.

This isn’t a lavish production—it’s stylised to the extent that the public gallery is made up of cardboard figures—but it’s good to know that there’s a (rough) copy out there after my tape of the original broadcast developed a fault. Not available, unfortunately, is the live studio discussion that followed in which Jonathan Dimbleby spoke to Geoffrey Robertson, Germaine Greer and others about the trial. The discussion featured a delicious moment when Dimbleby referred to Greer’s feminist issue (no. 29) as “C-Power Oz“. “Come on, Jonathan,” said Greer, “it was Cunt Power Oz!” Dimbleby then spluttered “Anyone can say ‘Cunt Power Oz‘…” and hastily moved on the discussion.

A year after his TV appearance Geoffrey Robertson was in Manchester Crown Court appealing an earlier ruling of obscenity against David Britton’s Lord Horror (1990) novel. I was in the public gallery on that occasion, and it was an education seeing how little had changed since the Oz trial, with a similarly Philistine and deeply ignorant judge presiding. Robertson overturned the ruling against the novel but a ruling against one of Savoy’s Meng & Ecker comics was upheld. In 1995 we were back in court attempting to argue for a jury trial against further rulings of obscenity, this time against one of my own comics, Hard Core Horror 5. (That issue is now the opening section of the Reverbstorm book.) We failed that time thanks to a magistrate who was even less inclined to listen to any argument.

The Oz trial may seem quaint and farcical today but the issues remain pertinent: some forms of art will always be in conflict with laws that are out-of-date, badly written or maliciously applied. And once you’re standing in a courtroom your opinion about the situation is of no consequence; you’re at the mercy of the people who make the rules.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Martin Sharp, 1942–2013
Raymond Bertrand paintings
Raymond Bertrand’s science fiction covers
The art of Bertrand
Oz magazine, 1967–73

Weekend links 187

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Delia Derbyshire (2007) by Iker Spozio.

Whatever you think of Doctor Who, Delia Derbyshire’s recording of Ron Grainer’s theme tune is a landmark piece of electronic music. Those glassy electronic tones still sound unique today, not least for their having been created using rudimentary oscillators and much laborious tape editing. In Radiophonic Workshop: the shadowy pioneers of electronic sound, Joe Muggs looks at the history of the BBC’s electronic composers. If you’re a Radiophonic-head then the Alchemists of Sound TV documentary from 2003 is essential viewing.

There’s more (there’s always more): Delia Derbyshire – Sculptress of Sound: part one of a seven-part radio documentary about the great electronic music composer, and Blue Veils and Golden Sands, Martyn Wade’s radio play about Delia. Related: Delia-Derbyshire.org, Delia Derbyshire: An audiological chronology and A History of the Doctor Who theme. And don’t miss: Silence Is Requested In The Ultimate Abyss (1969) by Welfare State and White Noise, an incredible slice of electro-psychedelia from the John Peel Presents Top Gear album.

• “Why don’t books for grown-ups have illustrations any more?” asks Christopher Howse. Some of them do, this past week I’ve been finishing a new series of illustrations for a story anthology.

• From 2006: Ian Penman on cigarettes, espionage, and the masterful (and superior) television adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

It was Malcolm [McLaren] who suggested that the main characters be a boy who looks like a girl who looks like a boy and vice versa. What was strange was that, actually, in 1985 this was nobody’s vision of the fashion industry. Since then, fashion and fascism have crept closer: you’ve got John Galliano doing his promotional bits for the Third Reich, you’ve got Alexander McQueen killing himself, you’ve got Versace and that horrible, violent stalker coming for him. Since it was written, almost all of it has come true apart from the nuclear winter, but I think we’re working on that. The actual society that the story happens in is much more like the society we have now than culture was in 1985.

Alan Moore on Fashion Beast, Situationism, and why he hates superheroes.

• KW Jeter talks about his latest novel, Fiendish Schemes, and the “cultural juggernaut” that is steampunk.

• Grit and Social Dynamics in Smoke Ghost: Elwin Cotman on the weird fiction of Fritz Leiber.

The Secret Lives of the Vatican’s Gay Cardinals, Monks, and Other Clergy Members.

Don Cherry & Organic Music Theatre, live in the RAI TV studios, 1976.

• Otherworldly Art and Photography: Mlle Ghoul finds the best things.

• From 1998: Rahma Khazam on composer Bernard Parmegiani.

• Mix of the week: Marshland: The Mix by Hackneymarshman.

• “Let’s colonize the clouds of Venus,” says Ian Steadman.

J. Hoberman on David Cronenberg’s Visual Shock.

The Delian Mode (1968) by Delia Derbyshire | Tom Baker (1981) by The Human League | Doctor Who? (1984) by Doctor Pablo & The Dub Syndicate

Ptooff!

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There’s a sub-genre of the psychedelic album cover in which florid, unfocused and vividly polychrome doodles by friends of the band are used as the principal artwork. (The cover of The Parable Of Arable Land [1967] by The Red Crayola is a typical example.) The art which decorates the fold-out sleeve of Ptooff! (1967), the debut album by British group The Deviants, isn’t quite in the doodle league but it treads a narrow divide between drug-addled scribbles and American comic-strip art à la Jack Kirby. Someone named “Kipps” receives the art credit. Viewed today the swirls and explosions on the sleeve’s outer panels also seem to predict the graffiti art which would flourish a decade later.

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The Deviants were the first musical vehicle for writer and singer Mick Farren who died last week. At the time Farren was known as a journalist for International Times which explains the disembodied head of Theda Bara (from the paper’s logo) floating in the top right-hand corner of the front cover. The lysergic wildness continues inside with an incoherent scene and the promise that “APSARAS—is an Epic forthcoming—a marvel of the Universe—an illustrated saga of a Godwoman. On sale soon.” John Peel provided some sleeve notes. See the artwork at larger size here.

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Charles Shaar Murray penned a memorial note for Mick Farren last week. My favourite track from Ptooff! is opening song I’m Coming Home, a song which demonstrates the group’s ability to combine humour with hard-rock freakout.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
International Times archive

Hipgnosis turkeys

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Here in Britain there’s no Thanksgiving so turkey as a seasonal meal is a Christmas dish. Turkey also has another meaning which the OED can supply:

6.6 U.S. slang. a.6.a An inferior or unsuccessful cinematographic or theatrical production, a flop; hence, anything disappointing or of little value.

This post concerns the latter—turkeys for the turkey season—being a series of bad or merely lacklustre album covers produced by the Hipgnosis design partnership throughout the 1970s. If the label seems unfair it should be emphasised that “turkey” is the designation applied by Storm Thorgerson himself in the appendix to the third Hipgnosis book, For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis (2008). The following are all covers that he says Hipgnosis disliked, although not necessarily because they were bad designs:

There are some designs we would rather like to forget altogether and have been awarded turkeys to denote — no disrespect is intended for the blame lies mostly with us, save for the twin spectres of release schedules and rock egoism — “That’s a jolly interesting idea chaps but… hmm… actually we’d rather have a picture of our good selves.”

A consistent feature of the Hipgnosis books is a refusal to adopt the Olympian attitude that radiates from many design monographs. Thorgerson has always been happy to describe the history of Hipgnosis, and the practice of album cover design, in warts-and-all anecdotal detail, so it’s no surprise if he also admits to failings. You’d be hard-pressed to find other designers who would draw attention to poor work in this manner, especially in a book dedicated to the highlights of a lauded career. Most designers are self-conscious types who can be relied upon to bury their mistakes as thoroughly as possible.

I wrote a brief post years ago about bad cover design but I usually try to avoid such things, there’s already enough junk in the world without compiling lists of it. But this post is instructive for showing that not everyone gets things right however good they might be, and also that everyone has to start somewhere. Most of my early album covers are various degrees of terrible so I try to spare others the accusatory finger. That said, you have to wonder what on earth Thorgerson and partner Aubrey Powell were thinking of with some of these designs.

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Genesis (1968) by The Gods.

Thorgerson’s introduction to For the Love of Vinyl explains the haphazard beginnings of Hipgnosis, pretty much two guys and a couple of cameras. They had no design training but a lot of luck (not least having Pink Floyd as friends), and were learning on the fly, something you can see happening with these early covers. It’s unfair to compare a design like the Gods sleeve to work they were producing a few years later when they had access to a range of professional illustrators, retouchers and models, and also budgets from record companies that paid for flights to exotic locations.

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Gun Sight (1969) by Gun.

This was Gun’s second album. The cover for the first happened to feature the first album cover art by Roger Dean whose career in the music business would run parallel with that of Hipgnosis. Most of the early Hipgnosis covers are simple photos that are occasionally processed in some way. This one didn’t really work out, however, the Roger Dean cover is better.

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Parachute (1970) by The Pretty Things.

But at least the Gun cover doesn’t look like this bizarre attempt at Surrealist collage. Hipgnosis often tried to illustrate the album title but I can’t see how you get “parachute” from this one. The collage approach worked a lot better on the Quatermass album produced the same year.

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Till There Was You (1970) by Pepe Jaramillo.

This was the only cover singled out in the first Hipgnosis book, Walk Away René (1978), as something they didn’t like:

…straight down the line and utterly tasteless as a result — it doesn’t even work as a genteel piece of middle class tweeness.

Continue reading “Hipgnosis turkeys”