Twice yearly, promoter Paul Woodwright, Kozmik Ken, and a bunch of psychedelic music fans from around the country (and even Europe), all descend on the town of Glastonbury and decamp to its most characterful local, The King Arthur, for a long weekend of music. The same extended family, by and large, populate the successful Kozfest in Devon, and several other one-day events around the country, annually.
Psychfest, alongside Easter’s New Avalon Ballroom Weekender, relies heavy on familiar faces from the UK’s psychedelic touring circuit, with local acts aplenty and cross pollination between bands seemingly actively encouraged. The diversity and calibre of the talent on show points to a psychedelic underground that’s resilient, active and flourishing. In spite of some cancellations, this year’s event is another belter. Here are 10 of the standout performances.
The Canterbury quartet have been gigging regularly throughout 2019 and arrive on top form. Their sound is lithe, yet powerful, full of funky staccato riffs alongside their jazz-fusion stylings. Concentrating on tracks from most recent album Brain, their first without wind instruments, the set is full of fretboard explorations, compositional about turns and even features a highly musical, integrated drum solo from Adam Brodigan.
The introduction of a third element has breathed new life into the already vivant sounds of MonkeyTrial. Live percussion now accompanies Clive Mollart’s synths and sequencers and Shaun Bailey’s guitarscapes. Nick Raybould, sitting centre stage, adding handheld percussion, drums and cymbals to the mix. With each gig, the trio’s musical understanding grows, and bigger and brighter shows are surely around the corner. ‘Viking at First’ sounds like a shipping forecast for docking space stations. With an extended run-time this evening, their expansive works are given space to breathe.
A last minute stand-in, replacing Fuck About Club, Andy Bole bridges the worlds of folk, drone and psychedelia like few others. Accompanied and, in some cases, driven along by returning percussive partner Nick Raybould, Bole treats us to a set from the cosmic end of his spectrum. Armed with just a bouzouki and an electric guitar, Bole puts each to good use, utilising a loop pedal to allow him to build his slabs of sound and move from ambient pastures to a bludgeoning attack on his guitar strings with an EBow, striking his strings with the device and showing a pleasing brutality for someone capable of such nimble picking and playing.
Most readers will be familiar with Torabi’s collaborative output: from Gong to Guapo, from Cardiacs to Chrome Hoof, Torabi’s been around. But how does one approach a solo project when Knifeworld, perhaps the entity most closely associated with Torabi, are entirely written for by the polymath? Torabi provides the answer to this poser perhaps more definitively than he’s done to date – Utopia Strong bandmates Steve Davis and Michael York, both present, concur with this assessment. His set comprises entirely of material from his forthcoming album, with two more familiar tracks, ‘Radio To Their World’, and Knifeworld’s ‘The Skulls We Burried Have Regrown Their Eyes”, thrown in to the mix. The former of these uses a loop pedal and Torabi’s harmonium, whilst the latter relies on disturbing, picked guitar parts that are distinctly Torabi.
And what of the new material? Dense, dark and using the same set of instruments described above, it’s contemplative and comparatively static, certainly when placed next to Knifeworld. One track, described by Torabi as “transcendental space rock”, involves audience participation designed to vibrate the entire universe. In short, this is a glimpse into a unique musician’s inner world, and the album cannot come soon enough.
Saturday’s headliners are the psych blues legends Groundhogs. Since bandleader Tony McPhee’s stroke in 2009 and subsequent retirement in 2014, it’s been left to the Groundhogs Rhythm Section to keep the flame alive. Now, drummer Ken Pustelnik’s formed a new band, who tonight tackle Thank Christ for the Bomb in its entirety. The album went top 10 and is ranked as one of these islands’ finest blues rock records. Their set delivers in spades, with punchy tracks stretching out from their concise studio incarnations as heavy bass from Latch Manghat and incendiary drumming from Pustelnik drive the band forward impressively.
Pustelnik first played with Groundhogs in 1965 and officially joined the group in 1967, but this line-up are far from a heritage band. Chris D’Avoine, fronting the group in Tony Mcphee’s place, has a great voice and plays acid blues guitar designed to fry the brain. He’s accompanied by lyrical guitar player Sol Latif, who compliments his playing brilliantly. It’s only when D’Avoine pulls on his acoustic that things go wrong, owing to a connection cutting out. Aside from this misstep, the album and hence the set’s concept deals with the thermonuclear threat fully electrified, and is as intelligent as it is catchy, met this evening with wild abandon from the assembled throng.
With Kozmik Ken guesting on handheld percussion, Dubbal are perhaps the festival’s ultimate jam band, and hence deserve a mention here. It’s a graceful, coherent noise that this collective create, and much credit for this should go to Andy Radburn, Dubbal’s electronics whizz, and Nick May, the band’s guitarist, who adds wigged out squealing strings to the mix. Dubbal’s set is not big, and it’s not clever. It is, however, very amusing – the centerpiece being an attempt to collectively conjure a giant head of Greg McKella, singer and guitarist of scene “rivals” Paradise 9.
The Archetypes are largely a vehicle for the quirky songwriting and funky bass playing of main man Tim Hawthorn, and that’s more the case than ever this evening, with mainstay Laura Tupkera taking a sabbatical. Hence a makeshift line-up sees Hawthorn redub the self-styled pagan function band The Anarchtypes. It’s not all about Hawthorn, though, as Andy Roid on synths and Richard Mason’s ever-present guitar shine brightly. Ultimately, theirs is a set full of catchy numbers that faithful fans sing along with, and newcomers pick up quickly.
Sendelica turn in arguably the finest performance of the whole weekend. Scene regulars, and surely familiar to most present, it’s telling that the Welsh wizards start their set to a half-empty room, with many opting to pop outside and recover from a fiery showing from The Archetypes (see above). It’s equally telling that, by the time they leave the stage, there’s barely standing room on a packed and appreciative dancefloor. Lee Relph’s sax, Glenda Pescado’s bass and Pete Bingham’s guitar combine to transport the listener, their sound full of light and shade and, importantly, musical colour.
Posted by Nurse Moloney II on Sunday, 6 October 2019
The weekend’s surprise success is surely Circulus. Such a whimsical proposal could have gone down poorly at a festival that favoured the muscular sounds of space rock, and it’s questionable if opening with ‘Michael’s Garden’, possibly one of their more fey offerings, is wise. That said, by the time the ensemble, fronted by the incomparable Michael Tyack, hit their stride with the epic, gorgeous ‘Creation Wears A Golden Coat’, there’s not a soul in the room that’s not been won over by their wide-eyed, intricate sound, that borrows from Medieval music as much as it does Genesis. Special mention should go to the band’s synth wizard, Ollie Parfitt, who turns in the best Moog solo of the weekend. “We bring you the entire psychedelic experience, here”, states promoter Woodwright, proudly.
Here & Now
It’s left to Here & Now to round out three days of top notch music. With Keith “Tha Bass” Bailey involved since the 70s, and Mark Robson a regular cohort of Daevid Allen’s, there’s no disputing the band’s authenticity, although, being literally “here and now”, a fluid line-up and new faces are nothing to scoff at. Tonight, and recently, the duo are joined by Gem Cormac Quinn, who plays drums with Kangaroo Moon, and front man Andy Burrows, who treats us to some great glissando guitar during the set, and perhaps the most spacey moments in an otherwise direct sonic assault.
Oft described as “mighty”, the band deliver a chunky, punky set that may not be as transcendental as other acts performing, but still delivers tune after tune in spades. The sound isn’t perfect, but no one seems to mind, and by the time the band conclude with ‘So Glad You’re Here’, the singalong ensures everyone heads home on a musical high. With the line-up for Easter’s New Avalon Ballroom weekender out now, and featuring The Utopia Strong, Cary Grace Band, The Cult of Dom Keller and many more, fans of this music would do well to start looking into accommodation and tickets sooner, rather than later.