Various Artists - I’m A Freak, Baby album review

Three-CD set of unheralded countercultural delights.

Album art for the compilation I'm a Freak, Baby: A Journey Through The British Heavy & Psych Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72

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The narrow glow of hindsight tends to reduce British psychedelia to an easy set of signifiers, from granny glasses and Ally Pally love-ins through to key albums by the likes of Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Traffic. But out in the provinces there existed a host of bands for whom peace, love and the rest of it were little more than forced affectation. Their music was instead cast with a raw physicality that bullied psychedelia into a street-tough product of the working class that took the 60s R&B explosion to its natural conclusion.

Throwing up gold from comparitively unknown bands.

These are the artists celebrated in the exhaustive I’m A Freak, Baby…, which, as the full title suggests, does its business at the intersection of heavy rock and the dawning progressive age. Some of it’s familiar, but most of it is less so. The Groundhogs’ mighty Cherry Red, for instance, once made it onto Top Of The Pops. The Gun’s Race With The Devil was another sizeable chart hit, its riff appropriated by Jimi Hendrix at the Isle Of Wight Festival. And neither Deep Purple’s Fireball or Fleetwood’s Mac’s The Green Manalishi – the song that marked their full transformation from blues fetishists to something altogether darker and more unsettling – require much of an introduction.

The real boon of this wonderful collection is its ability to throw up gold from comparatively unknown bands. Disc one houses the brutal proto-punk of Hot Smoke And Sassafras, originally by Texan outfit Bubble Puppy, but here laid waste by Sudbury no-hit-wonders The Mooche. The brilliantly named Crushed Butler offer the scintillating My Son’s Alive, while the biker groove of Wicked Lady’s I’m A Freak is a precursor to the punishing cosmic mantras of Spacemen 3 and their ilk.

Ladbroke Grove’s rich underground scene is represented by Hawkwind’s Sweet Mistress Of Pain (back when they were still known as Hawkwind Zoo), alongside Edgar Broughton, The Deviants and The Pink Fairies, whose amplified call to revolution – Do It – serves as an audio companion to Jerry Rubin’s book of the same name. Further afield you’ll find rare nuggets from Jerusalem (the stoner metal of Primitive Man), Timperley combo Stack Waddy (the assaultive Bring It To Jerome, with singer John Knail mewling like a cornered wildcat) and the magnificent oddness of Second Hand, a South London four-piece whose 1968 missive, Rhubarb!, was one of prog’s first shots across the cultural bows. And if you’ve yet to discover the loud’n’lairy sound of The Kult, Hellmet, Factory or Sweet Slag, Luton-based purveyors of self-styled “guerrilla jazz rock”, then this is where to start. A fascinating time capsule of largely forgotten home‑grown talent.

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.