One New Mix CD: The Acid Folk Volume Four
Here it is, my early Christmas gift to you. Making a CDR compilation of classic UK folk-rock has become something of a holiday tradition in our household. Kris always complains that the mixes end up with too much "folk" and not enough "acid". It's ironic, then, that a lot of the more chunky sweater, finger-in-ear, hey-nonny-no tracks on this mix are traditional songs she remembers from her childhood (The Wire's recent acid folk primer was another big influence). And there's plenty of trad stuff on this comp, mark my words.
Nevertheless, there should also be enough flute solos and eastern modes to keep even the most prog-centric hipster satisfied. I'm not sure that this mix quite scales the dizzy heights reached by last year's Volume Three but it features some old favourites, some new discoveries and some really really killer choons. I've even embedded a DivShare player at the bottom of this post, featuring three of my favourite songs from the comp, for your online previewing pleasure.
I have a handful of copies of the CDR, which are intended to be festive gifts for my friends. So, friends: if you want a copy, let me know ASAP and I'll try to get one to you in time to have your granny tripping out on some Comus after Christmas dinner. If, by some bizarre fluke, you are one of the artists included and you feel that this harmless enterprise infringes your rights, let me know and I'll remove your song from the tracklist.
Anyway, without further ado, here's the track-by-track breakdown:
"Song for the Laird of Connaugh" Bridget St John
Lovely opener from this John Peel-sponsored songbird. When I was first starting to get into music, Peel's "failed" Dandelion label was a bit of a running joke among the British music press. Nowadays, his grooming of psych-folk cornerstones like Forest and Kevin Coyne seems extremely forward thinking.
"Ophelia's Song" Shelagh McDonald
A Mike Barnes recommendation. Apparently McDonald had the same arranger as Nick Drake and the same acid psychosis as Syd Barret. The Drake connection is certainly audible on this delightful piece of chamber-folk.
"Break Your Token" Mellow Candle
One of my absolute favourites here. I first heard of Clodagh Simmonds when she guested on Current 93's Black Ships Ate the Sky. That led me to Simmonds' current output with Fovea Hex - a kind of free-floating ambient-folk collective, featuring Clodagh collaborating with a whole heap of avant-notables, ranging from Eno to Andrew McKenzie of The Hafler Trio.
Anyway, it turns out that, in the '70s, she was in an acid folk group called Mellow Candle. "Break Your Token" sounds quite a lot like Forest (another favourite of mine), as you will discover if you scroll to the DivShare playlist at the foot of this post.
"Who's the Fool Now?" Tim Hart and Maddy Prior
The most straightforwardly folky track on the comp. Two members of Steeleye Span get trad, dad. Talking of "The Span"...
"Blacksmith" Steeleye Span
I stayed away from these guys for years, perhaps traumatized by their atrocious late-period hit "All Around my Hat". Turns out that the band's early material is prime UK folk-rock in the vein of Fairport Convention (from whom they were directly descended) and Trees.
Don't believe me? Just scroll down to the DivShare player at the bottom of the post and hear for yourself.
"Red Wine and Promises" Mike and Lal Waterson
Apparently, the album this song featured on (Bright Phoebus) was The Watersons' attempt to get a slice of the folk-rock action. Disconcerting as it is to hear Lal Waterson's voice backed by, like, instruments, this is a wonderful, darkly funny tune. And you just can't detract or distract from that voice. The Waterson's must have been one of the most truly charismatic musical groups of all time and their charisma is beautifully encapsulated by Lal's defiant tone here.
"Ca' the Yowes" Shirley Collins
Joanna Newsom has been been playing this traditional Scottish songs live quite a lot recently. While I'm certainly part of the whole "Joanna Newsom is a Giantess" faction, I can't believe she'll ever top this version from Shirley Collins, backed by a signature arrangement from sister Dolly. Scroll down to the DivShare player at the bottom of the post and judge for yourself.
"Black is the Colour of my True Love's Hair" Davy Graham
Not many people seem to know that this is a traditional English folk tune. Most of you probably think of it as a Nina Simone song, although it's also been covered by some notable US folkies. Admittedly, when it comes to vocal range, Davy Graham is no Nina Simone but I still find this rendition pretty moving and the guitar playing is fantastic, of course.
"Doctor of Physick" Fairport Convention
From Full House, which is kind of their 'Til the Band Comes in. In other words it's the partially-good album that marked the end of the band's classic period. So, no Sandy Denny here but Richard Thompson was still in the band at this point and "Doctor of Physick" is still very much in the style of Liege and Lief etc. Can't wait to hear their Tilt.
"Old Boot Wine" Spirogyra
Flute action! Confusingly this is not the title track from the band's 1972 album of the same name, which featured Fairport alumnus Dave Mattacks on drums. In fact, it's a notably drum-less piece of chamber-folk whimsy from the 1972 album Bells Boots and Shambles. There's a strong possibility that the choirboy-style vocal here is provided by Barbara Gaskin of "It's my Party and I'll Cry If I Want to To" fame!
"Girl from the North Country" Clive Palmer
Fairport weren't the only UK folk-rock act to cover Dylan, y'know. This rendition of "Girl from the North Country" by Incredible String Band founder Clive Palmer is a wonderfully British take on Bob's unmistakable idiom.
"It Don't Bother Me" Bert Jansch
The title track from my personal favourite Jansch solo outing. This song provides a pretty good illustration of what I was getting at in the recent post where I argued that Bert is the living embodiment of punk rock attitude.
"Bruton Town" The Pentangle
More punk rock! I just keep coming back to that first Pentangle album. It's never been beaten. Even the triangle playing is brilliant!
"The Tale of the Spider and the Fly" Synanthesia
Wasn't Mike Oldfield in this band? Don't tell me. I don't want to know. That whole Barbara Gaskin revelation was quite enough for me.
"The Witch" Mark Fry
Okay, this is where we get into the acid-fried, private press end of things. Flute solos, sitars and it's called "The Witch" fer cryin' out loud! Happy now, hipsters?
"Drip Drip" Comus
Well, if that doesn't get you, then this surely will. An incredibly freaky and disturbing song, with fiddle playing that will blow your mind and vocals that will soil your pants.
You could say that "Drip Drip" is a pretty interesting take on the classic British murder ballad formula, as exemplified by "Bruton Town", earlier on in this compilation. Whereas "Bruton Town" disguises its prurient interest in muderous mayhem behind a thin veil of tragic romance, "Drip Drip" wantonly delights in murder, mutilation and - possibly - necrophilia. Unpleasant but awesome and genuinely epic.