Canterbury Soundwaves

Like most hippies, I spent much of my twenties in a fug of hashish, losing myself in fantasy fiction and listening to prog-rock. One of my favourite albums was this, Caravan's third (and I think greatest), In the Land of the Grey and Pink.

It's fair to say that I know every note. Never ones to invest too much thought into their lyric-writing - 'standing on a golf course, dressed in PVC, I chanced upon a golf girl, selling cups of tea' - the music nevertheless conjures extraordinary images, with Dave Sinclair's fluid organ riffs and solos carrying the imagination into far off times and places, and always staying the right side of self-indulgent prog-noodling. I'm sure I've unconsciously incorporated many of their harmonic ideas into my own songwriting.

Another band that I couldn't get enough off back then was Gong, who I've blogged about before. Hard to say which of theirs was my favourite, but on balance it has to be Angel's Egg.

Psychedelic guitars, jazz dischords, spacey textures and Daevid Allen's surreal but allegorical Planet Gong mythology add up to an album that is as beautiful as it is unpredictable. Hard to imagine that anything this good could be made in today's climate of bland conformity to X-factor, market-driven dross.

What both bands have in common is that they were part of the so-called Canterbury Scene, a loose agglomeration of bands and artists that emerged out of this small Kent city from the late 1960s through to the mid 1970s, and which also included Soft Machine, Egg, Kevin Ayres, The Wylde Flowers, Matching Mole, Robert Wyatt, and so on and so forth.

Something must have been in the ether for the Canterbury Scene seems to have produced some of the most inventive, unusual, odd, occasionally silly, and out there music of the psych-prog era. Record companies were just happy to put musicians into a studio, leave them to it and see what they came up with. Heady days. It's a rich seam that is very definitely worth mining.

Happily, my friend Matt Watkins (author of the most excellent Secrets of Creation) is producing a monthly podcast covering the music of this period. Lovingly produced from - get this - his caravan in Canterbury, it is full of interesting anecdotes, obscure and hard to find gems, and many long lost rarities (not least, in episode three, a live recording of Frank Zappa jamming with Caravan). So do check out Canterbury Soundwaves. An excellent podcast dealing with a vital and exciting chapter in the history of British Psych music.


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