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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Crystalline - Axe Music (1970 uk, heavy psych with raw fuzzed out guitars and dreamy female vocals, 2012 Guerssen release)



Axe did not make a lot of music, but they made some phenomenal music. Some of the best ever to emerge from the swamp of heavy British psychedelia, certainly some of the rarest, ft is heavy but luckily never takes either of the two usual wrong directions: dexterity leading to wanky prog noodling, or high volume leading to endless bludgeoning riffs and not much else. 

Unlike most stuff hyped by dealers as "prog psych" or "heavy psychedelic', which all too often is merely mindless proto-heavy metal, Axe were something very special. They managed to pull off a ma|or coup: they could blend heavy guitar, fuzz-overloaded amps and plenty of silky ribbons of Raga moves with female vocals, Vivienne's pensive yet direct vocal delivery, and poetic lyrics which tend towards folk structures, into a form that is proudly psychedelic, and still avoids all the usual pitfalls of such a marriage of unlikely elements. Explosive and astounding, they demolish similar femme-lead efforts like Curved Air or Shocking Blue. 

But this mix of styles is not to suggest that this is a 'happy medium', or a compromise. Yes, the heaviness is occasionally leavened with some occasional folkish inflections, but these do not predominate, and in many ways the mention of 'folk' does the music an injustice. Too much so-called "acid folk" is folk first and acid last. Axe were no lay-down-and-die "acid folk" weeds. There sound is first and foremost spine-tingling acid rock. They made use of imaginative and trippy fairyland lyrics, deeply immersed as they were in the whole hippie thing. 

Here's a representative quote from their masterpiece 'Here From There': "Long ago in times of old / When knights were strong and bold, / When fairies lived beneath the trees /And flew about on bumblebees / They bathed and swam in moonlight shafts, (In toadstools large and small / Are tiny lights and chimneys tall, / Fiery dragons roar through caves / Sending out a mist-like haze, / Fat, stout trolls beneath bridges lie (Waiting to grab whatever comes by....'And yet, despite its unbridled musical brilliance and perhaps because of the hideously botched Kissing Spell "reissue", the Axe LP still languish in deepest obscurity. (The profile of the Axe LP is starkly contrasted with an album like Jesse Harper's "Guitar Absolutions" (or whatever you wanna call it), which is also "heavy", also "acetate-only", also "big bucks", also made "available on vinyl and CD formats"). 

But, Jesse gets a lot of glory and even some mainstream media attention, whereas Axe get pretty much sod-all and not even get a mention in something like RC's (comprehensive ha ha ha) "Psych Trip" series! I guess those hacks just didn't, couldn't, get it. Doubtless, in their Pigeon Hole World they'd automatically call the Axe recordings "Progressive" just because they're heavy and from 1970. Such folks have a tendency to compartmentalise "prog" and "psych" as it they are always totally separate, unrelated entities, even in the face of obvious over-laps. 

Of course, yeah you guessed it Jesse Harper did gain inclusion in RC's 'Trip'...and he's a New Zealander! All this despite the fact that ol' Jesse's album isn't even a patch on Axe's! ( (Isn't it time that the world woke up to the fact that Axe were superb? Isn't it time that Tony Barford was recognised as one of British Psychedelia's greatest guitarists? "This Machine Kills" were the words Donovan had on his guitar, but never would they have been more appropriate than on Tony Barford's Gibson. Tony Barford is one of the truly great long lost psych-rock guitarists. 

His playing could make paint blister, and piles of old newspapers to spontaneously burst into flame. It would cause retired Colonels to choke on their port & lemon, and it would strike maiden aunts stone cold dead.
by Paul Cross


Tracks
1. Another Sunset, Another Dawn - 4:08
2. Peace Of Mind - 3:08
3. A House Is Not A Motel (Arthur Lee) - 4:45
4. Here From There - 7:53
5. Crimson Nights - 6:15
All songs by Crystalline except where noted.

Axe Music (Line-Up Fll, 1968)
*John (?) - Vocals
*Mark Griffith - Guitar (Later Shadows Bass Man)
*Mick 'Zulu' Knight - Hammond Organ
*Roger Milliard - Bass
*Stevie Gordon - Drums

Axe (Line-Up #2, 1969)
*Vivienne Jones - Vocals
*Tony Barford - Guitar
*Graham Richards - Saxes & Flute
*Roger Milliard - Bass
*Stevie Gordon Drums

Axe (Line-Up #3, 1969-1971)
*Vivienne Jones - Vocals
*Tony Barford - Guitar
*Roger Milliard - Acoustic Guitar
*Mick Knobbs - Bass
*Stevie Gordon - Drums
This line-up were for a short time known as Crystalline.
Under which name they recorded the acetate demo tracks.

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