The Gnome Reserve in West Putford, North Devon does exactly what it says on the tin. Hundreds of bearded, fishing rod-handed garden ornaments are dotted around the woodland in which it’s situated. “Wow, that is a lot of gnomes,” says Purson frontwoman Rosalie Cunningham, sporting a floor-length cape and rocking a look best described as ‘pyschedelic Morticia Addams’.
She’s not wrong. It’s also the perfect place for Purson, who, with their psychedelic sound and retro finery, could easily live in a world populated by fantastic beasts and mythical creatures. It’s an approach that has served them well – the Essex band are spearheading a new wave of British psych-rock. So tune in, turn on, and let’s meet them properly…
Purson is Rosalie Cunningham
The band’s second album, Desire’s Magic Theatre, is a whirling fairground ride of folk, psychedelia, prog and gothic rock – though given that Cunningham plays most of the instruments, it’s nearly a solo album. “I play guitar onstage by default, because it made sense to sing and play guitar,” she says. “But I prefer singing, bass, keyboards, drums…”
They’re not scared of the ‘P’ word
“‘Psychedelic’ is the most overused term, but I’d use it to describe us,” says Cunningham. “For me, ‘psychedelic’ is music that encompasses all the senses and takes you elsewhere. I think our music does that.” The 25-year-old singer has an old head on young shoulders – she listens exclusively to music “made between 1967 and the mid-70s”, from The Beatles and T.Rex to Van der Graaf Generator and Genesis. Not that it limits her songwriting. “If I feel like writing a folk song, I write a folk song, or a heavy metal song, or a progressive song, or a pop song,” she says. “We maybe go down more roads than a lot of other ‘retro’ bands.”
You can blame it all on Southend.
Cunningham, guitarist George Hudson and keyboard player Sam Shove grew up in the Essex seaside town (the line-up is completed by bassist Justin Smith and drummer Raphael Mura). The fiercely independent Cunningham bunked off classes at her all-girls grammar school to listen to music. By the time she was 16, she had moved to London and formed her first band, mod-goths Ipso Facto. But Cunningham was determined to prove that she was more than just a girl with heavy eyeliner and a cool wardrobe. “I could already hear what Purson was,” she says. “It was all happening in me, but no one saw it.”
Drugs? Just say ‘yes’!
Cunningham isn’t shy of admitting the influence psychedelics have had on her songwriting. “I think they’ve been very educational for me,” she nods thoughtfully. “They’ve impacted my way of writing, living and viewing my place in the world.”
New song The Window Cleaner, was inspired by a memorable magic mushroom trip, when she and a friend watched the sun come up in a park. “It was beautiful. I connected with nature, then went home and wrote that song as quickly as I could play it.”
They’ve survived a kidnapping.
On tour in Belgium one year, the band’s van broke down. They were soon picked up – though their rescuers turned out to be highly dubious.
“They locked us in their garage full of broken cars,” says Cunningham. “No one was around for miles. None of us had phone signal or food. It quickly descended into Lord Of The Flies.” Eventually they managed to call the police, only to remember the ‘souvenirs’ they’d picked up. “We thought, ‘We have loads of drugs, so we’re going to have to eat them all now.’ So we did, and the garage turned into this magical fairy-tale land.”
There are big plans afoot
Ultimately, Purson is a vehicle for Cunningham’s bigger vision: one that involves, orchestras, film scores and even fashion. “I’d like to make it a spectacle,” she says. “Psychedelic music should take you to you to another setting, a different smell, different colours. It should be an experience.”