Paul Roland: In The Opium Den: The Early Recordings 1980-1987

Cabinet of earliest curiosities from ‘the male Kate Bush’.

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Idiosyncratic singer, songwriter and author Paul Roland has been called some lofty things during the course of his 55 years on this planet, including “the Lord Byron of rock”, “the male Kate Bush” (by old psychedelic mucker Robyn Hitchcock) and even described as “too intellectual for me” by Frank Zappa.

He named his earliest influences as classic authors HG Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft and MR James, and obviously has a very soft spot for comic book icons such as Dr Strange, which explains the sense of magical mystery that blends with the ornate gothic backdrops and cerebral float of psychedelia garnishing the rich panoply of his vast catalogue. Whether conjuring Victorian murderers, supernatural visitations, villainous buccaneers or doomed soldiers at Waterloo, everything Roland does is an intricate labour of love realised through his arcane, wonder-tinted microscope. It all started on the three albums and singles gathered on these two CDs. His luminescent dream music begins with 1980’s debut album The Werewolf Of London, which contains such sepia delights as The Cars That Ate New York, Blades Of Battenburg and Lon Chaney, inspired by his deep love of great old horror films. The mischievous spectre of Syd Barrett is rarely far away, particularly in the wispily precise English vocals on the howling title track. Roland was so taken with Syd that he produced an uncanny cover version of Floyd’s Matilda Mother, which appeared on 1987’s Danse Macabre, along with further horror-psych masterworks such as Witchfinder General, Requiem, Twilight Of The Gods and the title track of this set, whose hallucinogenic waft could be a consummate portrait of Roland’s antiquated lost fantasy world. Although also littered with sinister horrors, freak‑show pain and heartless judges, it’s often a much headier place to get lost in than the real nightmares of the internet-crazed 21st century. This set provides the perfect entry point into the creative maze which continues to expand today.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!