After a horrendous nightmare of what seemed to be a perfect Birthday at the end of April I freaked and went stupid. I lost a lot of the best records from my collection and headed in a spiral towards self-destruction. Now I am pulling out of that spiral, but the Birthday wasn't all bad because the records that were in good condition mostly turned out to be great and this masterpiece from Hokus Poke must certainly be the best progressive/late psychedelic/melodic hard rock crossover ever to come out of anywhere- especially England. Also, Moonkyte are in here as their album makes it to the same heights as what I would call the best Great Britain produced- Northwind, The Parlour Band, Asgard, Renia, Fable, Moonkyte, and Hokus Poke the two in question here. All these bands came out at around the same time between 1971-1973 and it was a topsy turvy time for music, but also the best, most creative period.
-Moonkyte- a long time love-
There just aren't any other records quite like Bradford's Moonkyte. Privately released in England in 1971 and licensed to Metronome in Germany (I have the German copy and it sounds GREAT) they were unlike any other band yet there are traces of the kind of brilliance that flows through everything from The Kinks to UK Kaleidoscope around Faintly Blowing to Asgard to the softer side of British pastoral psychedelia where the main things to set Moonkyte apart from all the rest are several. In Dave Foster and Dave Stansfield they had two superb songwriters who knew their history back to front. The lyrics dare I say are practically a rock equivalent of Shakespeare's musings! The instrumentation is completely unique: two harmoniums, tin whistles, glockenspiel, sitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass and drums. The music they created is perhaps best described as a kind of late 60s influenced laidback psychedelic folk rock with elements of progressive rock, but the rich tapestries they create and the amazing stories they tell are unlike anything else around.
For instance the first track "Search" is haunting, melodic, beautiful, and completely has your mind tuned into all the different things going on. The vocal is rich and smooth and very inviting. It's like Dave Stansfield is saying "Come On In- Have a Bit of Tea and Listen To Our Music With Us." You can't help but accept the invitation. "It's The Same Thing" is the other side of Moonkyte's songwriting coin. Dave Foster supplies the more carefree and jovial songs like a jester to Stansfield's wise man. This is a blissful track. Serene, delicate, but solid. Then we are plunged into the strange, darker side of Moonkyte which keeps the rich layerings of instruments and warm sounding voices in "Way Out Hermit," and "Girl Who Came Out Of My Head." These songs have a resignation to them. They are saying that he is way out there and could care less, he is playing with you and saying "Don't you wish you had an imagination too?" Some of us do and we are the ones who love Moonkyte. Harmoniums and sitars together with eccentric vocals create a kind of madcap psychedelia somewhere between Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd days and the 1967/1968 period Kinks. The lyrics to all songs on this album are highly literate without being pretentious. They are too good spirited to be considered pretentious as they are not looking down at you. "Tapestry Girl" is one of the most amazing songs ever written where all sorts of weird and devilish things happen which seem out of the creations of a mad genius/poetic wizard and have me going "How did he come up with this?" wishing I came up with it!
The story line of the song is that during a rainy afternoon a girl in a tapestry comes to life and then Victorian soldiers come to life and rape her of her virginity! A bit of Asgard spiciness in here, but unlike anything else!
Most of Moonkyte's music is reflective yet upbeat, riveting lyrically and gentle musically: a kind of fragile psychedelic pop that avoids the twee and goes for something deeper, something more about the history of England and the eccentric behaviors of people. One song sounds almost country rock "Lead This Sinner On," but the ghostly harmonies deliver it from standard country rock to more of a gut feeling summed up by rusty old rotting-railroad tracks music. If you get what I mean. "Where Will The Grass Grow," well I could expound on every track here. The music and words are magical and it is a shame that Moonkyte were overlooked at the time because they were unable to get any kind of backing in the industry. They aren't folk. I would have to disagree with that genre pigeonholing except for the fact that this is folklore- ancient English folklore like in the grim, bloody "Blues For Boadicea" which is about before England really even was England- during the time of the Roman invasions. Moonkyte give you a creepy feeling for this one. A folkrock Oddesey And Oracle would describe the kind of passion and fervor in Moonkyte's music, but damn the term folkrock this is psychedelic as you can get. Everything gets jolly after "Boadicea" with "Happy Minstrel" and "Jelly Man" which closes the album on a loopy drugged out psyched note where the feeling of shaky jelly is echoed in shaky gelatinous vocals.
Moonkyte's stay was all too brief. The fact they managed to record such a staggering masterpiece and not get noticed at the time is unbelievable. For everyone who loves music that defies description and categorization and can be only described as its very own unique hybrid of strange and wonderful inventions Moonkyte is an essential listen. This one will never leave my collection ever.
-Hokus Poke The Band That Rocks The Band That Soars Into The Stratosphere-
London Area Hokus Poke came out on Vertigo Swirl right around the time the label was about to change over to more standard releases in 1972 and the complete absence of copies when I looked for 18 years for it coupled with the fact that I got it for $400 which compared to the going price of a really clean copy (which mine is...) of $800 to $1500 makes this THE RAREST VERTIGO SWIRL. Never reissued except on CD ages ago by Repertoire and never properly described (online sources and the stupid Tapestry Of Delights are bollocks) here is Hokus Poke the way Hokus Poke really is!
I'd sampled a few tracks off here and been blown away by them prior to hearing the whole album, but what an album! A twin guitar led psychedelic rock into melodic progressive rock band centered around the talents of lead singer/guitarist Clive Blenkhorn, guitarist/steel guitarist Roger Clarke, bass player Smith Campbell, and drummer Johnnie Miles their album emphasizes the soaring guitar work of Blenkhorne and Clarke and unpredictable soft/hard contrasts where songs that begin relaxed such as their epic "Sunrise Sunset" turn into molten raving heavy guitar mind blowers where the savage axe work takes the songs into the sky and the whole soaring sound of their harmonies, guitars, and the rock solid rhythm section make for a great album with the added bonus of intelligent lyrics. "H P Boogie" begins the record with crystal clear guitar lines and driving rhythms and the call and response vocals in the chorus bring to mind The Small Faces and The Open Mind. Blenkhorne's jamming with Clarke and his appealing somewhat high and raspy voice are the other main features along with some unexpected changes and progressive inclinations.
Hokus Poke most definitely are progressive, but without any of the pretensions. I can detect the influences of early Genesis, Yes, and Wishbone Ash together with their solid hard rock and psych credentials, but you never can predict any song on this album and where it's going to end up taking you. You'll be on quite a journey. I would put Hokus Poke in with the likes of Northwind and The Parlour Band when they are in a relaxed mood, but then there is the storming blasting guitars and bashing drums and bass which make them much heavier musically and leaning further towards hard rock, but you can't pigeonhole them. "Sunrise Sunset (The Sunset)" is a long track that begins with dreamy laidback beautiful shimmering guitars and very nice carefree vocals before going into a soaring chorus and then reflective again. You think that the song is just going to be a drifting lazy day by the sea when all of a sudden the guitar solo builds and builds then erupts. Blenkhorne and Clarke's passionate wailing guitars and the volcano of crazed rhythms build up into a veritable heavy psych storm with much classy use of wah-wah and fuzztone. I'd go right out there and say this is even more exciting than anything on the previously mentioned The Open Mind's album. "Big World Small Girl" is a gentle, happy, deceptively free easy number where all is calm and peace after "Sunrise Sunset" masking a put down lyric of a fame and fortune seeking ex girlfriend who he could care less about.
Of course she learns her lesson the hard way and he says "Big world Small Girl." The vocals on this track are very intriguing- multilayered with a bit of a Pre Queen vibe like if Queen had started off a softer kind of a band. Maybe Queen unplugged is a good way to describe the harmonies which sound like they spent a lot of time on them. "Down In The Street" takes the laidback vibe of some of the album and mixes it with a clean rock groove complete with sassy vocals and crunchy guitar riffs.
If ever there was a huge level band that missed out on huge level success it was these guys! The songs are so infectious! The energy level is so inspired! Unfortunately, Vertigo wouldn't do anything for this band and they really never even made it big on the club circuit although a club gig was what got them signed. Perhaps the adventuresome nature and changing times which should be said the band were very much abreast of just didn't gel for Hokus Poke, but as any underground band would have it they stayed close to their dream of making music and as long as they were recording the album nothing was going to fuck their dream up. "Hag Rag" (Side Two's first track) is I must admit a stupid title, but it's a song all about demons, human sacrifice, and "Then As The Air Turns Foul And Red The Goat Of Hell Is Seen." Very ominous, but also a bit tongue in cheek. It's the heaviest song on the album and really sounds like a precursor to Queen and it would be interesting if they ever shared the stage when one band was about to make it big and the other was about to head for obscurity. I love Queen. I love Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon. I firmly consider them a band who got the respect they deserved, but dare I say Hokus Poke are as good!? I would say that. You can't be any better than Queen or The Kinks so these guys are as good as the big ones. They are the big one. The most fun and creative adventurous rock and roll band there ever was or is likely to ever record an album. "Hag Rag" is really heavy with big harmonies, menacing lead vocals, and brilliant guitar work. It's the one number penned by drummer Johnnie Miles and I wonder what his trip was to write something this dark. "Living In Harmony" follows "Hag Rag" and couldn't be more opposite. It's the easiest most laidback track on the album with very pleasant vocals, a cool mellow bluesy feel, lyrics all about feeling good, and a certain really kind of nice quality about it that makes you just want to relax as much as they are. The album's two closers "Time And Space" and "The Poke" take all the differing influences, elements, and approaches of Hokus Poke and meld them together- very melodic, very driving, as good as you can get. I wish these guys would get more respect. They aren't a blues rock band and don't sound like Cream and that's all you get when you try to look them up online. While I may be a bit late to bring them to the light of the buying public I'm glad I could bring them to the light at all- they are an amazing band and these two stay in my collection forever no question.
My final advice to myself? Don't make your life worse and don't freak out and go crazy because a few little things went wrong. I hope I won't have to be paying back for this decline much longer and these two masterpieces lift me out of any depression I'm in. Find them and cherish them as much as I do.