At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss prog psych revivalists Purson as pure retro pastiche. Easy, but wrong.
Just five minutes into this intimate Bristol show, it’s clear that Rosalie Cunningham and her bell-bottomed boys are sifting the runes of the prehistoric past for magical inspiration, not slavish imitation.
They open in theatrical manner with the title track of their new album, Desire’s Magic Theatre, a perfumed swirl of fairground psychedelia and clobbering glam rock bombast. On lead vocals and joint lead guitar, Cunningham cuts a commanding voodoo priestess figure, her voice charged with a stern but flinty quality that invokes obvious ancestors like Grace Slick, and some more surprising, like Siouxsie Sioux. But her band are equally striking visually, especially keyboard player Samuel Robinson, a golden-haired dandy with a penchant for wild Wurlitzer flourishes. Very Brian Eno.
Purson are not afraid to wear their influences proudly, from King Crimson to Comus to Deep Purple. The spooky occult vignette Spiderwood Farm is the biggest headbanger, a hard-driving juggernaut that pays homage to Sabbath and Zeppelin, with just the right amount of vaudevillian humour in its creepy crawly lyrics. And Electric Landlady is brazen in its debt to Jimi Hendrix, from its nudge-nudge title to the tumescent Purple Haze-sized riff and its heroically stoned lyric about Mother Earth and gypsy treasures. Never mind that Kirsty MacColl coined that punning title back in 1991 – creative recycling is obviously Cunningham’s forte.
Most of these tracks feel designed to crank up to 11. The chief exception here is The Rocking Horse, an eerie sea shanty full of minor key mood shifts. But the dominant mood is hell-for-leather frenzy, from the acid-funk groove of Well Spoiled Machine to the majestic, climactic, mind-bending blow-out The Sky Parade.
Purson still sound like a work in progress. On their more generic blues rock numbers, they could be just a nostalgia act. But most of the songs are loose and combustible, always on the verge of a freak-out jam. It’s a questing attitude that belongs to tomorrow as much as yesterday. Crucially, these time-travelling retronauts understand that the past is not a prison, but a gateway to undiscovered country.