Written by Gerald van Waes
Originally Contributed: Tuesday, July 01 2008 @ 01:00 AM PDT
Focusing on the Terms
Modern media, in general, has since the 80s seemed to be afraid to use the term psychedelic, and tries exceptionally hard to avoid any association with it. While they can’t go beyond the most recent popularisation of independent folk, especially after the launch of Devendra Banhart as a new symbol for it whom gathers and names — with his interests — more of it together, suddenly they begun to label everything which they can not define well within the contemporary folk expressions, freakfolk or weird folk. The term wyrd folk was already suggested in the New Bruton Town newsletter community in order to list within this category the most creative acoustic examples. I chose to focus, at first, around the term “psychedelic folk” some ten years ago, even when it was hardly used, trying to bring together such groups into one website (since 7 years), hoping also that they would unite better some day, something which, after some time, is luckily finally beginning to happen a bit (because many such new groups and singers more often meet on stage). The broader term of acid folk, I think, was first used in a different context by singer-songwriter Perry Leopold. After having discovered bard Gwydion’s LP, I noticed that the Pagan community also knew some of their own folk inspirations which were worth giving notice to. The French Folk Magic Time Guide, who uses outside traditional folk terms similarly, also included these Pagan Folk influences, besides using another term — enchanting folk — they also realized the importance of certain Christian folk music examples, and recognized the creative importance of ancient music.
60s-70s in the UK and US
A Scottish group which made a breaking point and who made the difference, with the usual traditional folk and folk-rock expressions, very clearly was The Incredible String Band, who also used sitar and semi-Indian singing, creating in fact a new genre. Many groups followed their example (Dr. Strangely Strange, Sun Also Rises, Forest, Tea & Symphony, etc.), even in other countries (France: Mormos; Germany: Langsyne, Fit & Limo; Holland: Elly & Rikkert on Parsival). Even the early Tyrannosaurus Rex fit within that area, while Donovan was the singer-songwriter/pop artist — with his own Indian guru — who kept the right mood going for a wider public. It was since 1966 that sitar and Indian flavours became popularized, so it is logical that it also influenced folk music and reshaped it. The weirdest group from that period without doubt was Comus, still a trademark for how far in expressions a “folk”-related group from that period could be. While most groups in England remained inspired by the traditional genre, still with great success, some of these bands had their own freedoms, which, especially most folk-rock, folk and slightly acid-folk related Kissing Spell releases prove very well. The most original folkrock band with free expressions was Spyrogyra (not to confuse with the jazz fusion band Spyro Gyra), while also Gryphon proved original ideas mixing medieval folkrock and psychedelic/progressive ideas (especially since their second album). Also, Bread, Love & Dreams had its own originality. Most of the acid/psych folk was not popular at all. While bands like the ISB-offshoot C.O.B. are now legendary examples in the collector’s milieu, the band members in their time had hardly survived.
Some other names to trace, who found reissues : These Trails (Hawaii), Fuchsia, Garry Higgins, Magic Carpet & Oriental Sunshine (both with sitar/Indian influences). Bands that had a genre of their own : Third Ear Band (raga-alike improvisations), Pearls Before Swine (US), the Peter Howell related albums (Ithaca, Agincourt,..) and Renaissance (symphonic art-folk). Some Christian psych-folk albums that were reissued : The Christ Tree, Silmaril, 11:59, (and from Kissing Spell “folk-rock” series : Caedmon, Water Into Wine Band). Most recommended Pagan-folk artists : First Of May, Lady Isadora and on the edge of the genre, and more recently : Green Crown (with Prydwyn, later with Stone Breath).
Also guitar music could have had more acid inspirations if it was not slightly limited in range. The most known guitar music stimulator John Fahey (with h!s label Takoma) actually hardly had accepted Robbie Basho, while today he is more the guitarist who became a guru-alike example of open inspirations and raga-esque explorations. His re-appreciation, also thanks to the efforts of people like the German guitarist and partial follower Steffen Basho-Junghans, made a whole new generation of new guitarists stand up, while also hanging loosely in the shadow of this new scene, some of the drone and experimental folk artists and groups.
Europe, Canada, Australia, Israel, & Asia
Many of the late 60s and 70s acid/psych and prog-folk bands from Germany are already reissued now. I don’t think these groups interacted with one another much, but it is clear that with Krautrock being popular in Germany, a period of experiments and longer improvisations with structure (and also the acoustic examples) were inventive and creative. Examples worth tracing are Emtidi, Hölderlin’s Traum, Carol of Harvest, Bröselmachine, Kalachakra, Dom (as an acoustic drone trip), Siloah, Emma Myldenberger, Langsyne, Amon Düül’s Paradieswärts (it should be noted that Amon Düül II were a progressive band with an eclectic mix), and Witthüser & Westrupp. Most popular in Germany were the folk-rock band Ougenweide, with strong roots in German medieval folk, showing also a Jethro Tull influence in some of their arrangements. A unique place and style in Germany has Popol Vuh, showing a mixture of Indian/progressive/meditative music. Nowadays, one of the only psych-folk bands is Fit & Limo, but the interest from some of the neofolk bands to expand is also present, something which the latest Werkraum album proves well.
France knew a large folk and folk rock scene, with some areas of traditions having their share of influences, but because France also knew a strong avant-garde scene, this influenced at least some folk inspirations (like early Higelin with singer Brigitte Fontaine, or in the music of singer Cathérine Ribeiro wih Les Alpes). Most of the French examples, however, remained depending somewhat on French folk traditions. The most outstanding progressive folk releases that I have heard are not reissued yet. Much better documented is the scene in Quebec, Canada, which knew already many reissues (on Progquebec mostly). The Quebec styles are rather unique; they encompass rather long artistic arrangements, and are mostly a mixture of progressive, jazz, and symphonic influences. On the other hand, the scene knows also a few other outstanding avant-garde projects (of which L’Infonie is extremely interesting though strange). From Australia, I can recommend the folk-prog item of Madden & Harris, and the few projects that are related to the band Tully, such as Extradition.
The best examples of the Spanish folk-rock scene that I know of are mostly mixtures of flamenco guitar with rock structures. Definitely of the psych folk vein is Musica Dispersa, in which weird folk songwriter Sisa was a member. For more psychedelic or progressive acoustic examples, it is recommended to look for the better Basque examples, which are also rather unique in their subtle and gentle progressive acoustic arrangements; artists such as Haizea, Itziar and early Itoiz fit into this group. Holland knew a few very good folk-psych albums, but only few of them were reissued. Elly & Rikkert — as well as their side project, Het Oinkbeest — are still traceable.
Outside of Europe and the English speaking countries, it is harder to trace great acid / psych folk. Japan knows much of the psychedelic music realm with their many weird singer-songwriters, with a highlighting period of great examples existing from around 1972-1973. Nowadays especially, Kan Mikami is remembered for his weird expressions. Recent groups that have unique places are the eclectic and often psych-folk of Ayuo, and the funeral music from Trembling Strain. Also worthy of mention is folk-psych band Ghost. Korea, on the other hand, knew many delicate singer-songwriters since the early 70s. From more recent relevance is Kim Doo Soo, which should be remembered best. In Israel, Goldoolins are really the only project worth worth tracing.
The New Weird Folkies
I can hardly say that there are many scenes within acid folk, although it has already been many years that very interesting groups have gathered around the city of Philadelphia. Just recently, Greg Weeks was given his own sub-label from Drag City, Language of Stone, which gathers many of the new promising bands. However, what can be said for sure is that psychedelic & acid folk have had a new birth in the U.S., which has only just recently been followed up with the appearance of new groups in the UK. This sudden interest has conceivably been caused by two things: the band Espers, whom although are still relatively small in popularity, became one of the more successful bands of the scene, and the weird and loosely-inspired Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whom I think caused the stimulation of some new Americana weird groups, vaguely bringing with them lots of chamber-weird folk bands such as A Silver Mt. Zion, Volcano the Bear, and many more. There was also some post-hippie charisma around Devendra Banhart that drew full attention to the existence of something that is already remembered as weird folk America. Although Devendra sounds like a vague distillation of 70s Tyrannosaurus Rex, it is very much thanks to interviews with him, through his help with Arthur Magazine, that all these new bands started to get attention and play more together, as well as gather a more steady public interest. Within this historical evolution, many fans — myself included — and specific labels that released much of this music made the interest grow along. Instead of naming all of the bands involved here, it is, I think, better to name some of those early labels which not only occasionally dig deeper into the genres. The early ones were Secret Eye (as one of the first), Locust Music, and Digitalis Industries (for the drone folk scene mostly, helped by their magazine Foxy Digitalis, a magazine that looked to be digging a slightly worn terrain as compared to Ptolomaic Terrascope). This interest was followed by Dream Magazine and Arthur Magazine. Given the age and evolution of the genres within, there is obviously a great deal more to be said and found. I couldn’t possibly cover everything here, and I’ve given many examples in the provided text above. All that’s left is for you to get out there, and make some discoveries for yourself.