Sorry for being away from my writings for so long!
The truth is that I've been buried in records to listen to and absorb for ages. Also, my job as a cat caretaker at the SAVE animal shelter (you should donate to them if you're local to the Princeton area- they are the one pet shelter who never put the animals down if they aren't adopted) and things have been kind of not so jolly.
I no longer can see England as the Paradise I dreamed it is and I guess these 3 rather ferociously "Decline And Fall Of The British Empire" records from back in the 1960s prove that. However, England is still special and I still hope to go there this summer and meet some of my true mates there.
England has been through some rough times, but during the 60s the whole world was in an upheaval. A revolution was going on and music was part of that revolution. No rules were set as to what you could and couldn't do anymore and if there was a rule the mindset then was to break it. A complete opposite of when the music industry got greedy after that adventurous period between 1966-1970. I've said July is the best psych record ever. Well, I would stick by that and just change it to high rank in the top 5- it isn't like these 3 where a darker, more menacing sound that foreshadows the hard rock assault of the early 70s underground scene is prevalent for the entire album. I tend to prefer the harder, darker, more "underground" British psych of The Koobas and these other two- underground but very catchy. Even into the early 1970s or mid 1970s England's underground was producing some excellent music that I would say is some of the best in the world. The problem would be that England was also producing the worst shite ever recorded by the likes of Deep Feeling, Beggars Opera (although this Scottish band were to change after 3 horrible albums into a solid hard rocking guitar band after booting out horrid vocalist Martin Griffiths), Magna Carta, and Capability Brown (who I refer to as "Incapability Brown"). Had the rot set in there too like I've said it had in America? Am I just one of those music fans who complains all the time about things like sick gory lyric writing, bad vocals, horrible playing, and the like that I can pick out of any bad prog rock release? Well, no. I love progressive rock when done properly, but prog has to have muscle or else a real aching sense of beauty or it just won't work. I'm more of a Camel or Yes person than Gentle Giant or the band I'll take over them any day Genesis. Genesis actually could be seen as a continuation of the unrest in Bulldog Breed, Rust, and The Koobas in the 1970s and it would be funny to speculate that since the late Tony Stratton Smith managed Genesis after The Koobas the whole idea of "The Knife" was ripped off from "Barricades." The problem with Genesis was that they had all the perfect ingredients, but the cake wasn't always the same when they baked it. A little more spice would have helped, but give them credit- they were a good hard working band who went on to major success only after about 4 or 5 years of being a band who had not one hit to their name. The problem with post 1969 British music is that it went into a million different directions some of which was marvelous and some of it just horrible. I love the 1970s and I'll stretch it into the 1980s that some great music was still being made. Even in the 90s there was a sort of revival of British pop psych only harder edged with the likes of Blur, Radiohead, Portishead (these last two would have qualified as ULTRA UNDERGROUND in the 60s/70s) and The Stone Roses NOT Oasis (pretend Beatles- just teenybopper re-baked rubbish). Where the fun really is though is back in 1968/1969 when these three gems were conceived and/or released. In the case of The Koobas and Bulldog Breed 1969 was their year. Rust were an Anglo/Australian heavy psych/rock trio who were living in German and recorded their album there in it has been said 1968 or 1969. All three of these records rock and rock hard.
The Koobas let's start with, shall we?
The Koobas formed in 1964 in Liverpool just in time to be a small part of the Merseybeat boom that was started by The Beatles. They even shared the same manager in Brian Epstein. Luck was incredibly bad for The Koobas for their entire career. As 1965 turned to 1966 then 1967 to 1968 excellent singles were recorded and miraculously none of them were huge hits. From the beginning of their career till the end the band was comprised of the late Stu Leathwood (Vocals, guitars, keyboards), Roy Morris (Lead guitar, vocals, sometimes lead vocals on their 1969 self titled masterpiece), Keith Ellis (Bass guitar, vocals), and Tony O'Reilly (Drums, percussion, backing vocals). Despite the huge amount of talent and adventurousness contained in the group it just wouldn't happen for them until they had a bit of a splash with a version of Cat Stevens "The First Cut Is The Deepest" which Rod Stewart would later rip the vocal from for his version. I love Rod Stewart when he was great, but listening to The Koobas record on the songs Stu Leathwood sings sometimes I think that Rod owned a copy of the record and played it a million times while calculating his next career move. Leathwood's next career move after The Koobas really shows the similarity. He would go on to just one more band- Harlan County who were a steal of Rod Stewart's early solo releases and a good steal at that. It could be it's just an uncanny resemblance- high, throaty, soulful, melodic vocals, but not too high. The high pitched harmonies of The Koobas on their eponymous 1969 album and reissued brilliantly by the long since defunct Bam Curuso as Barricades recall Uriah Heep. This was before Uriah Heep would perfect the high operatic harmony singing that even now is their trademark, so it would be interesting to speculate perhaps MR. Ken Hensley or David Byron too had a copy of The Koobas. Indeed, Hensley's pre Uriah Heep projects The Gods and Head Machine bear a resemblance to The Koobas' sound.
The high lead voice on some tracks on The Koobas is lead guitarist Roy Morris. The Koobas had something to say that had been bottled up for too long. Their lack of action on the singles front wasn't exactly going to lead to an album so with the show just about over before throwing the towel in just like The Zombies had done with Oddesey And Oracle they went into the studio and made their masterwork. They'd never followed conventions nay they'd defied them, so view the album as an act of defiance. A rock and roll band through and through with pop hooks thrown in they made an album of solid hard edged psychedelia that dabbled in prog rock, pop, and soulful moves whilst every song was drawn together by a funny little bit of playfulness. Of the 3 masterpieces of British psych here The Koobas are the least downtrodden sounding, but underneath the lively exterior there is a lot going on that suggests a kind of "Decline and Fall" concept. While it explodes in "Barricades" which could be called psychedelic metal the rest of the album takes old English music hall traditions in an effort to illustrate a kind of sequence of songs more about endings than beginnings. It could be pure speculation on my part, but I think the "Ending" concept is more than just about the end of the band. The troubles had started in Northern Ireland. There were riots everywhere around the world. Flower power was dying out fast. England's future as a world power looked questionable and the whole idea of an "Empire" was beginning to seem rather dated and bewildering. Ray Davis and The Kinks would release Arthur and that would be a theme Ray would come back to many times since that seminal record, but the 1969 album that takes the cake for Prototype hard rock psych/poppsych must be The Koobas. Currently the value of this jewel is over 1,000 US dollars and also over 1,000 pounds! Ouch! When an album doesn't sell and a cult ensues around it look for things like that to happen. It must really piss the band off they made nothing off it, but the adulation then again may make it all worthwhile.
Song highlights are many. Here's a personal little run through. "Royston Rose" is an out and out rocker beginning the record with heavy dirty guitars, strong vocals, pounding rhythms, and a really kind of subtly sinister groove. It sounds like they are about to turn into Led Zeppelin on this one! Roy Morris has a funny voice- very high and with a slight lisp, playful and unpretentious. Very impressive song and a great way to start an album. "Where Are The Friends" is a more reflective number with sombre atmosphere and a fantastic lead vocal from Stu Leathwood in a song again powered by superb guitar riffs. Side One gets really heavy again with "Constantly Changing" which manages to combine the high Uriah Heep progressive leanings with the hard rock side of UH or Zeppelin of "Royston Rose." Like the title this song constantly changes- you don't know where it's going to end up! "Here's A Day" is the most lighthearted track on Side One- a very pleasant slice of pop psych reminiscent of The Idle Race- another great band who never made it despite 3 brilliant LP releases. This song is about a day that goes nowhere. "Fade Forever" closes the side and could be called Heavy psychedelic R&B! Leathwood's soul vocals are understated, unpretentious, and really shine on this track along with the hard hitting yet melodic guitars, bass, and drums. There's some nice mellotron passages too.
It's Side Two's opener that is the most violent track musically, lyrically, and vocally- the freaked out "Barricades." Heavy piano and guitar riffs at the same time drive along this track of bomb effects, screaming guitars, a recitation of Rupert Brooke's "Grantchester" and just about everything else they could think of. The lyrics are based on the riots, destruction, unrest, and violence erupting everywhere. As stated, I can hear some of the beginnings of "The Knife" by Genesis here as it is a very disquieting, riveting experience. Unfortunately, Side Two then goes into the one dud track here- an awful version of "Piece Of My Heart." This is so boring I don't think I even want to waste my pen on it. It sounds almost bad on purpose, but not even funny just stupid. The Marmalade did it a lot better. "Gold Leaf Tree" will wake you up if the previous track made you full of inertia. This is progressive rock before it really had ANY ground rules set. Keith Ellis excels both as the main writer here and for his brilliant driving bass parts. The strong vocals, soaring vibrant music, brilliant Mod drumming, and beautiful lyrics make this a real highlight. Amazing song! "Mr. Claire" is a Stu Leathwood track and very joyful, very nice. It's here that he sounds the most like Rod Stewart, incidentally. "Mr. Claire" has some swinging guitar and rhythm section work, great mellotron, and a beautiful vocal from Leathwood. The closing track "Circus" is the most celebratory offering here, but beneath all the laughs is another early progressive number that makes you never know what to expect next. I can hear The Beatles in this one where for the rest of the album I'm thinking more Small Faces gone heavier, but there's that Marriott/Lane brilliance in here too. There's lots of fun on this track with lines about lions, elephants, funny voice overs, just a blowout of joy. Then when the album ends you really wish there could be an answer for some of the heavier stuff on here lyrically. Is life a joke to laugh at and take lightly? I don't have the answer. Maybe The Koobas had it and didn't have enough time to make it more obvious to us. This album is fantastical. It's about the best British psych album ever along with the other two I'll discuss here, but I wanted to give the most detail to The Koobas. Find the reissue or CD of this if like me you simply can't afford an original or find one for a more reasonable offer- and to think that back in 1996 when I was a green 20 year old I was the one responsible at a record show for a funny English character/dealer getting 300 pounds for it then! Seems like nothing now! But this album seems like something that might be worth all the money it goes for...
And Now Onto Bulldog Breed!
Bulldog Breed were a band who came out of The Flies, Please, and The Gun who were already more underground acts than many were during their time. Before Asgard guitarist/principal writer Rod Harrison already had a vision of the British Empire rotting and crumbling away into nothing. Together with drummer extraordinaire Louie Farrell from underground heavy psych masterpiece group Gun and ex Flies/Please members Robin Hunt (Lead vocals, flute, guitar, keyboards) and Bernie Jinks (Bass guitar, vocals) they made an album similar to The Koobas if they got really angry on a second release. There is so much venom here on this record that it's almost scary. The toytown poppsych numbers which hearken back to the whimsy of 1967 are a refreshment, a little bit of a cleanser for the violent heavy psychedelic onslaught of the rest of the album. Very much an underground band, Bulldog Breed have the Mod vibe still intact, but complete with overt Satanic themes dark doomy Sabbath style metal is lurking in the grooves. It's faster than Sabbath and Robin Hunt much less subtle in his delivery than wonderful Ozzy, but Ozzy, Iommi, Butler, and Ward would love this. So should you. The reason is easy to point out- despite how frightening in power this album Made In England is it's also a record full of mischievous playfulness and high energy. I can't give a run through of all 14 tracks, but if you want to know why Bulldog Breed is the most underrated British psych masterpiece I can tell you there is not even a mediocre track present on this record out of all 14! Fantastic musicianship, a multitude of different genres being covered tastefully, intelligent pissed off lyrics, and snarling vocals make for a real masterpiece. Sometimes the music is soft, happy, or reflective, but those moments are fleeting. "When The Sun Stands Still," "Sheba's Broomstick Ride," "I Flew," "Paper Man, "Reborn" and the other heavy tracks here are the perfect beginning for British underground rock. There's a lot of psychedelic rock with the brilliance of early hard rock takes on the fall of the Empire, the follies of people who try to think their humdrum lives mean something, and Satanist lyrics all creating a Devilish brew of Hammer Horror fun! Bulldog Breed used to be ignored. It wasn't mentioned in the same breath with other conceptual and semi conceptual records it actually blows out of the water or any of the highest of psych records, but when word got out the price shot up really high. What pisses me off is that nobody ever talks about how this is essentially Asgard before Asgard and T2 before T2 or even a mention of the Gun connection. Personally, Asgard and Gun are top favourites with me, but I'd rate this even higher than T2! Wow! There is such an English vibe here even as they sing about it all going to rot. There's a resilience. They aren't gonna go down without a dirty and mean fight. Bulldog Breed clearly are a Take-On-The-World group and that irreverence shows here in a big way. Every track will try something a little different, a little offbeat, and that makes for a lot of fun. If you don't know your English history you'll learn something about England here. It's great, all of it. It's a shame nobody gave this band the push they deserved because had they Bulldog Breed could have been even bigger than Black Sabbath. Bold words, but listen to the record and you'll know what I mean.
Rust Arrived Today And Red Notes Of Decay Were Played Quite Loudly.
Rust's one foray into vinyl Come With Me is the one of these 3 that's still the most underrated and I can't figure out why. Nothing they'd go on to do after this album would equal it both as later members of the excellent for their first album Freedom or as the great but a bit hard to take in large doses Creepy John Thomas. Vocalist/guitarist "Creepy" John Thomas came from Australia and met up with Walt Monaghan (Vocalist, bass) and drummer Brian Hillman in Germany presumably. They were living in Germany when they recorded Come With Me as Rust Underground in 1968-1969 on the budget HorZu label. This record is every bit as good as The Koobas and every bit as good as Bulldog Breed. It can be considered a cross between both, but with more of the anger and disillusionment of Bulldog Breed than the whimsical side of the The Koobas. Johnny Thomas comes from a blues rock background and his voice and guitar reflect that. He has a strong kind of Lou Reed/Mick Jagger thing when he sings and his rockin' guitar is an important factor in Rust's sound. Monaghan and Hillman are the more psychedelic influenced in the group and instead of a mess it all falls together brilliantly with not a weak track in the lot here. "You Thought You Had It Made" was probably called "Fuck You" and they had to change the title- it certainly is a nasty, angry note to begin a record on about a falling out with a particularly annoying ex girlfriend. Thomas sounds downright vulgar and in the process puts both the Pretty Things and The Rolling Stones to shame. Imagine a more psychedelic Stones or an across the pond Lou Reed prototype glam/heavy sleazy blooze rock and you'll get a good idea. The rest of the album is very different- just as heavy, but also much less blues oriented. The lyrics become political or else very personal. Revolution is suggested as the only way to make the world a better place. Songs like "Please Return," the title track "Rust," and "Doesn't Add Up To Me" are whole lyrics of unrest and uneasiness. The rest of the album follows that same kind of wasted and depressed yet very exciting path. I really would say that with the great very Germanic production which includes loads of effects, the excellent musicianship, and absolutely top notch songs this album should go for 1,000 pounds. It has the sounds of a monster and it is a monster, but try finding an original copy and it will be hard, but won't cost you Koobas type money. Rust are a band who can adapt their heavy approach to great hooks and melodies with no problem whilst they also are a band where you have to listen to all the lyrics to all the songs because they have a whole lot to say.
Was England really this bad off? It seems it was, but people wouldn't know how much worse things would get till the 1970s when every day and every night soldiers were getting killed and people were getting bombed by the IRA. An inept government would not make things any better and by the time musicians tried to catch up with what Rust are saying in the Punk/Thatcher era the whole thing had lost any sense of fun that was there. It all was a cash in and you'd do better to look into the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal than any Sex Pistols crap. I never got "Punk Rock." My take on it is just the same as Ray Davis in the CD bonus track on Sleepwalker "Prince Of The Punks" or any number of Ray/Dave Davis punk era tracks taking the piss out of it as sensationalistic talentless garbage. Rust are more dangerous that any garage punk 60s bullshit or late 1970s early to mid 80s punk rubbish and it is probably just that dangerous, violent, spitting-in-the-face-of-society attitude which made them so short lived. They were too ahead of their time. There's some ugliness on this record, but it's a good kind of ugliness that I think I like more than the affectation of Ugly put on by The Stones. This record is one where you know there won't be a followup because everything there is is thrown into the album leading you to not even speculate about a second release. Rust's time with us on record didn't last long, but what we got out of it is very impressive and I'd rate this as one of the best records ever made for heavy psych or Anglo/Germanic rock in general.
All three of these The Koobas, Bulldog Breed, and Rust are saying the same thing, but they also all say in the music that you have to keep your faith up and keep fighting for your beliefs and your own personal vision. I'd recommend all 3 as the 3 best heavy psych records of the 60s and if you give them a listen you'll see why. Keep on rocking and keep on believing in music and your passions. That's what these 3 say and I still think England even if it may be flawed is something pretty special.