Various Artists: Dust On The Nettles

A must-have chronicle of the time folk went underground.

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It wasn’t just rock music experiencing a dramatic transformation in the 1960s. That same current of creativity was busy reshaping jazz on both sides of the Atlantic, while in the UK, the post-Dylan folk community hurriedly peeled off their Arran Isle sweaters, looking to a lysergically-enhanced summer for inspiration. The dizzying whirl of ideas floating through the air was truly soaked up, as documented in this superb three-disc collection.

The shadow of the original acid folk pioneers The Incredible String Band falls particularly heavily upon a few songs here, and they and the other greats are present. Yet for every Comus, Vashti, Pentangle, Anne Briggs, Trees, Fairport Convention, Tyrannosaurus Rex et al, there are performers who, although less well known, are often just as engaging and, in some cases, a revelation. Gerald Moore’s rousing electric guitar-heavy setting of John Bunyan’s words on Pilgrim should have been a huge folk rock hit but inexplicably laid unreleased until this set. Amid a bevy of earnest, politely strummed ballads there are a couple of atypical outbreaks. Mary-Anne’s 1970 Black Girl, featuring a pre-Henry Cow Geoff Leigh, contains raucous echo-drenched freak-out rumbling with urgent pulses and turbulent acoustic guitar. It’s an easy leap from here to the delirious trance-states exercised by early Amon Düül.

Away from folk music’s social commentary, the mystically inclined subject matter (often with a pagan undertow) gets welcome attention with songs that slip into fantasy and metaphysical reveries, with baroque pop strings and haunting choirs. Duncan Browne’s Galiban and the incomparable Shelagh McDonald’s Stargazer demonstrate just what was possible with some imagination and a budget big enough to make it happen.

That said, some inclusions in this category deserve their obscurity: Dry Heart’s Meeting By The Moonlight Mill is laughable, its brevity its only saving grace. Despite this, and one or two obvious puzzling omissions from the psych-folk pantheon, the selection and its expansive accompanying booklet make Dust On The Nettles absolutely essential.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.