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Psychic Circle

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Dusted's Rob Hatch-Miller rounds up a series of releases on Psychic Circle.

Psychic Circle

Nick Saloman may have been born too late. He’s dedicated his professional life to keeping the music of the 60s alive through his band the Bevis Frond and the magazine Ptolemaic Terrascope, which he co-founded with Phil Mullen in 1989. Now he’s expanding his influence as a historian of psychedelia through his partnership with the nascent Psychic Circle record label.

“The label,” Saloman explains, “is owned and run solely by Steven Carr, who was James [Plummer’s] partner in Radioactive till they parted company a while back. My role is purely that of a hired compiler and sleevenote writer. I have nothing to do with any other aspect… I ran my own label for many years, and I have no wish whatsoever to get involved in the business side of things again.”

Mr. Saloman’s first act with the label is a series of compilations, each of which focuses on a different genre of music from the 60s and 70s. Each disc is impeccably sequenced, and very few of the tracks have been released on CD before—not an easy feat, considering the sheer number of psych, rock, pop and soul collections that have been released over the years.

“I bought the original Nuggets on vinyl when it first appeared all those years ago,” Nick remembers, “and [I] reckon that some of the early ones, like Chocolate Soup, were really influential.”

These days, Saloman says, “I tend to buy comps to fill gaps in my own collection, so I generally favour those that have things I don't know or haven't managed to track down before. As a buyer of comps, I've been increasingly disappointed by… the number of times certain tracks show up on various CDs. So my ideal comp would have to comprise tracks which had previously been passed over, or just not known.”

While Nick Saloman’s self-imposed rule could have led him to dig up a bunch of forgettable relics, the songs he found are mostly remarkable. I can think of only one song, out of 140 on seven discs, that I consistently skipped over. And only a handful of artists were familiar to me when I initially glanced at the tracklistings. Even longtime collectors of 60s music may not recognize many of the band names and song titles.

The first release in the series,Lovin’ Fire, is subtitled “Psychedelia Melts Into The Progressive” and includes twenty heavy groups from the late 60s and early 70s. Much of it is in the mold of great Vertigo bands like Patto and Jade Warrior and Juicy Lucy, whose singer appears here with his later band Ray Owen’s Moon. Another band on the CD, Rainbows, later changed their name to Still Life and recorded for Vertigo as well. There’s an unusual and amazing version of legendary pop songwriter John Carter’s “The Clown,” done by a band called The Warm Sensation. My favorite track is the folky “Rainbow Chasing” by Andromeda, a band that was previously known as Felius Andromeda. Their original single “Meditations,” a true psych classic, can be found on numerous other compilations. Unfortunately this otherwise incredible disc contains one practically unlistenable track: Children’s awkward and irritating cover of “Piece Of My Heart.”

The next Psychic Circle compilation, I Walk The Lonely Night, is quite a bit different from the first and might actually be my favorite CD in the series. The tracks are from the early-to-mid 60s and have a more typical British Invasion sound. A 1964 track by early Beatles drummer Pete Best is on here, and the great “She Laughed” by The Zephyrs has echoes of Van Morrison & Them’s version of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go.” The Secrets were fronted by the great pop singer-songwriter Clifford T. Ward, and their track “Such A Pity” has an incredible sped-up Roy Orbison vibe. The Chevlons’ “It’s My Problem” is one of the catchiest songs on the disc. Their later LP under the name Cartoone features Jimmy Page on lead guitar and is well worth tracking down if only for the amazing single “Knick Knack Man.” Another band, The Mighty Avengers, became quite famous after they changed their name to Jigsaw and recorded the one-hit-wonder AM radio classic “Sky High.”

On The Brink is an entirely instrumental disc comprised of TV themes, film soundtrack excerpts, library tracks, lounge, and dance music. Several pieces feature Big Jim Sullivan on sitar. There’s a fuzz guitar version of “It’s Your Thing” and a gritty Hammond-organ-driven rendition of Bobby Timmon’s “Moanin’.” One of the best tracks, the Keith Mansfield Orchestra’s “Soul Thing,” was apparently sampled on the Dangerdoom album. Most of the compilation sounds like it would fit perfectly in an old British spy movie. Some of the tracks are amazing and while the CD would probably be great to put on the stereo for a party, overall it’s one of my least favorite releases in the series.

One of the better discs, Hide And Seek, has more of a soul sound. Jason Knight’s Northern Soul classic “Our Love Is Getting Stronger” is a real floor-stomper with a horn section reminiscent of Otis Redding’s classic “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” Barry St. John’s “Turn On Your Light” is also flat-out fantastic, an uptempo soul track with distinctively rock guitar playing. “Sign On The Dotted Line,” is a great cut by a South African singer about being pressured into a record contract. Cinnamon’s excellent “You Won’t See Me Leaving” has kind of a girl group sound and was written—and possibly performed—by Barbara Ruskin, whose songs were recorded by the Seeds and the Foundations.

White Lace & Strange collects twenty “Heavy Psych And Power Fuzz” tracks by American bands. Some of the material is strongly reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and the influence of Hendrix is quite apparent on tracks like “Angeline” by Genesis, which lifts the riff from “Foxy Lady.” The Lemonade Charade’s “Hideaway Of Your Love” sounds like a hybrid of “Sunshine Of Your Love” and “Crosstown Traffic.” There’s even a song by Noel Redding’s post-Hendrix Experience group Road, and the band T.I.M.E. has ties to Steppenwolf. Albums by Fields and the Illinois Speed Press are pretty easy to come across in the States, but neither band is very well-known and their tracks are definitely good enough to merit inclusion on the CD. Blues rock is definitely the focus here, which makes me wish there was an even heavier, Sabbath-influenced, proto-metal installment in the series.

Fairy Tales Can Come True, a psychedelic pop collection, is one of the finest Psychic Circle titles. The disc opens with “Summer Of Last Year” by the Pyramid, whose Zombies-esque harmonies were voiced by a pre-Fairport Convention Ian Matthews. Members of the Roulettes went on to play in the post-Zombies group Argent. “See The People” was the only single released by Jackie’s Lomax’s first band, which shared manager Brian Epstein with the Beatles. It’s an absolutely fantastic track. Like Jackie Lomax, Gallagher-Lyle were affiliated with the Beatles’ Apple Corps. There’s also a track from the Irish band Dreams, which was led by soon-to-be Thin Lizzy guitarist Eric Bell. Almost everything on the disc is infectiously catchy and the sounds are more overtly psychedelic than those on any of the other comps. If any disc in the series is really in the Nuggets tradition, it’s this one.

The label’s latest release—Who Needs Tomorrow?—focuses on garage rock bands, with some folk-rock thrown in the mix as well. Merrell Fankhauser & HMS Bounty are one of the best and most well-known groups on the disc, and there’s some great International Artists-style Texas psych from The Countdown Five. A raspy and energetic cover of Fred Neil’s “That’s The Bag I’m In,” by Kin Vassy of Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, is also terrific. Another highlight is the catchy and highly psychedelic title track by the Silver Byke, whose guitarist played in a late incarnation of the Left Banke. The disc ends with a great track from singer-songwriter Val Stoecklein’s first band The Blue Things.

Though this series is Nick Saloman’s first official foray into the world of compilations, he does have some experience as a DJ, “for Radio Caroline during the 90s, and then for an internet station called The Album Zone.” He’s also been practicing for this kind of endeavor for most of his life. “I've been an inveterate compiler since I was a kid,” he recalls, “I used to compile fantasy albums on to reel to reel, then cassette, and then CD, just for my own amusement.”

“I really enjoy finding undiscovered little gems and sharing them with like-minded folk,” Saloman concludes, “and that's really all I'm interested in.” Needless to say, his practice, and expertise, and genuine love of this music have resulted in a genuinely great collection of CDs.

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