As we all know colour was invented in 1966. Before then everything in our day to day lives was black, white, and somewhat grey. That is how it stayed until something strange started bubbling on both sides of the Atlantic.
On one side The Beatles released Revolver, and on the other a whole generation realized that the times were indeed a-changin'. So called beat groups many of which, up until then, had their feet firmly in the R&B camp dropped the suits and adopted the look. The Psychedelic era had arrived. Nothing would ever be the same again.
The vinyl album suddenly morphed from being a collection of singles, b-sides, and other three minute creations into something quite different. I can remember the gasps of astonished wonder when we realized that Sgt Peppers seemed devoid of any gaps in the grooves between the tracks.
EMI’s Parlophone and Columbia labels had already provided the outlet for such bands as Sid Barrett’s underground Pink Floyd, and The Pretty Things. Meanwhile Decca’s Deram label had adopted The Move, Procol Harum, and The Moody Blues.
When Island Records, under the leadership of its visionary founder Chris Blackwell, added its weight behind the movement the more established labels began to hatch plans to launch their own progressive wings.
Pye, who had the likes of Donovan and The Kinks on their roster, were, in fact, one of the last to make this move. One act that Pye did have was The Status Quo whose early psychedelic singles “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” and “Ice In The Sun” began to shift the labels reputation away from being considered as the home of more conservative acts such as The Bachelors and Petula Clark.
In 1969 EMI launched Harvest as their progressive outlet. Pye followed when they created the Dawn label in October of that year. Acts like John Kongos, Donovan, and Man switched from Pye to Dawn and were later joined by new signings Mungo Jerry, Titus Groan, Atlantic Bridge, and Atomic Rooster.
Cave Of Clear Light is a beautifully presented 3-CD box set released by Esoteric Recordings that captures this extraordinary period in the history of not only that particular label but of music itself. The set arrives with superb artwork from Phil Smee of Waldo’s Design and Dream Emporium and contains a finely balanced selection of the best tracks to have made it onto the Dawn label.
The excellent liner notes in the form of an extensively detailed 30 page booklet are written by Esoterics founder Mark Powell whose idea it was to release the Cave Of Clear Light. It follows similar sets commemorating the role that Harvest and Polydor played in the era.
CD one opens with the 1968 b-side by The Bystanders the track from which the set takes its name. It acts as the perfect scene-setter for a disc that includes contributions from Episode Six with “Morning Dew”, a very early and psychedelic Status Quo’s “Paradise Flat”, and Welsh band Man with “The Future Hides Its Face."
Velvett Fogg’s “Yellow Cave Woman”, and the often overlooked Blonde On Blonde’s excellent “Ride With Captain Max” and sitar soaked “All Day, All Night" also make welcome appearances.
Also included are two tracks from one of the labels most significant names Donovan who gives us “Season Of The Witch” and the superb “Hurdy Gurdy Man." If that isn’t enough it also provides “Velvet To Atone” a trademark delicacy from Trader Horne, Woody Kern’s acid drenched “Tell You I’m Gone”, The Mooche’s “Hot Smoke And Sassafras”, and Leicester band Pesky Gee’s “Peace Of Mind.”
Meanwhile, John Kongos, who was to enjoy some later chart success with “Tokoloshe Man” and “He’s Gonna Step On You Again”, serves up “Confusions About A Goldfish” which dates from October 1969.
Mark Powell also provides detailed histories and photographs of every band and artist included. Despite all of his attention to detail and its subsequent presentation the real strength of the set lies in its chosen running order. Thoughtful selection follows thoughtful selection with each sitting perfectly within the set making it surprisingly easy and immensely enjoyable to listen to.
This is a noteworthy achievement for what is essentially a compilation album.
Not only that but it provides a definitive historical guide to the label and the role played by its roster of artists in this remarkable period in the history of British music.
CD two gives us Fire’s jangling “Tell You A Story”, Atlantic Bridge’s memorable “Hilary Dixon”, and a contribution from Atomic Rooster with “Time Take My Life.”
Mungo Jerry serves up a nine minute explosion with his version of “I Just Wanna Make Love To You”, Demon Fuzz add “I Put A Spell On You”, whilst acid folksters Comus arrive with a hazy day “Song to Comus”.
If that wasn’t enough it includes more from Quo and the excellent Titus Groan. Jackie McAuley also appears adding further colour and depth with his baroque masterpiece “Cameraman: Wilson And Holmes.”
The third CD provides tracks by Icarus with “Fantastic Four”, Vince McCusker’s Fruupp with “Decision”, and one of my favourite bands of all time Stray who give us “Stand Up And Be Counted." Quicksand's “Flying”, and selections from Gravy Train, Heron, Pluto, and the all black progressive band Noir, add further flavour.
There is far too much in this extensive set to fully do justice to in such a brief review. Suffice it to say that it is a compilation constructed with a love and understanding for the era. It works so well that it leaves you compulsively listening to each track rather than skipping through to the bands that you may know better than others.
Anyone who has even the faintest interest or spark of curiosity in these extraordinary times needs to get a copy of this set. Sit back and let Mark Powell educate you with the promised “cornucopia of psychedelic and progressive sounds.” It’s a grand claim but it is more than delivered in this Cave Of Clear Light.
Please follow the links above to earlier reviews of many of these artists on Blogcritics' Classic Eurorock series.