Prog and Psych: A Kind of Love-In

syd barrett

At times the two seem completely disparate. However psychedelia was prog’s liberal parent, first past the post in groundbreaking sonics and complex compositions from when it first adorned a ruffled garment and cast a glance at a sitar back in the mid-late 60s.

Its influence grew the superstars of the 70s and in the 80s it flourished once again from the mod revival that led up to the second summer of love, and the

20 year anniversary re-release of Sgt Pepper. In the 90s, long-lasting acts such as Ozric Tentacles, The Bevis Frond and Steven Wilson – as Porcupine Tree – would emerge.

Kavus Torabi (centre) and Knifeworld are still living the technicolour dream.

Kavus Torabi (centre) and Knifeworld are still living the technicolour dream.

Wilson’s tastes were shaped by Marillion and folk proggers Solstice, who even graced the cover of Sounds magazine thanks to then-editor Geoff Barton. Geoff’s had a soft spot ever since for prog-friendly psych within his monthly Prog Roundup for Classic Rock. “It tends to come from the unlikeliest of sources,” he says, “but certainly Fruits De Mer [records] are playing their small part by releasing stuff by July, the Chemistry Set, The Luck Of Eden Hall, Soft-Hearted Scientists and Sendelica.”

Taking the psychedelic blueprint and weaving extraordinary bassoon-centred progressive pop around it is Knifeworld’s Kavus Torabi, now also headman for Gong. “Syd Barrett is my Elvis!” he cries when we touch on the subject.

“Psychedelic music, by virtue of what it was pioneering, was progressive,” he says. “As a blanket term, it should makes you feel otherwordly so it could be either Steve Reich, Moondog or My Bloody Valentine,” he nods. “I miss that strangeness in today’s music and that’s what Knifeworld try and create. But I hear it in what Stars In Battledress are doing, Rob Crow, Prefuse 73, These New Puritans’ Field Of Reeds album and Trojan Horse, who have really got that psych element and progressive ideas.

Solstice on the cover of Sounds, thanks to Geoff Barton.

Solstice on the cover of Sounds, thanks to Geoff Barton. (Image credit: Solstice)

Right now, the magic is happening in various styles at various psych fests spread across the globe from Texas to Liverpool to Eindhoven. But alongside the kraut noise of White Hills, the kaleidoscopic trippiness of Morgan Delt or the avant-garde rave of Teeth Of The Sea are genuine unit-shifters such as Tame Impala, once Beatle-esque reverb merchants, now suppliers of chart-busting electronic dance music.

Currents must be the most progressive thing they’ve done,” says Thomas Walmsley, bassist with young Kettering psych rockers Temples. Thomas’ record collection is brimming with golden-era prog, which gave depth to their debut album, the 2014 UK Top 7 hit Sun Structures. “Prog for me is about discovery, not being confined by rules. It’s at its best somewhere between exploration and the virtuoso element. That’s the sweet spot.”

Currently recording a “more progressive and erratic” follow-up, Thomas feels excited about the future of prog and psych. “Until recently prog was still perceived as a dirty word to a lot of musicians – and listeners. Psychedelia gives it freedom. It’s come on the back of kids listening to shoegaze and bands like The Coral who always come back to the song, showing they can be progressive but relevant and digestible. Together these scenes can bring in world music, jazz, dance music, it’s all allowed.”

Jo Kendall

Jo is a journalist, podcaster, event host and music industry lecturer with 23 years in music magazines since joining Kerrang! as office manager in 1999. But before that Jo had 10 years as a London-based gig promoter and DJ, also working in various vintage record shops and for the UK arm of the Sub Pop label as a warehouse and press assistant. Jo's had tea with Robert Fripp, touched Ian Anderson's favourite flute (!), asked Suzi Quatro what one wears under a leather catsuit, and invented several ridiculous editorial ideas such as the regular celebrity cooking column for Prog, Supper's Ready. After being Deputy Editor for Prog for five years and Managing Editor of Classic Rock for three, Jo is now Associate Editor of Prog, where she's been since its inception in 2009, and a regular contributor to Classic Rock. She continues to spread the experimental and psychedelic music-based word amid unsuspecting students at BIMM Institute London, hoping to inspire the next gen of rock, metal, prog and indie creators and appreciators.