Various - I’m A Freak Baby album review

This compilation album offer a comprehensive trawl through Britain’s hard-rock genealogy

Fleetwood Mac band photograph
(Image: © Getty)

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Although it’s widely accepted that the mutation of the UK’s somewhat twee brand of psychedelia into fuzzed-up proto-metal was heavily informed by northern industrial wastelands and a depressing working-class experience, the contribution of minor bands from across the country is less examined.

Serving as a sort of riff-based gazetteer with an industrial-sized dragnet, this absorbing compilation supplies just under four hours of the good, the bad and the occasionally ugly. Of the more well-known names on offer – Deep Purple (Fireball), Fleetwood Mac (The Green Manalishi), Uriah Heep (Gypsy), it’s the quality of the songs that flags them up as bands to endure, rather than any false-memory hindsight.

The Ladbroke Grove scene is well represented with pleasingly unhinged offerings from the Pink Fairies, Edgar Broughton Band, Mick Farren’s The Deviants and a nascent Hawkwind (still appended by Zoo in 1969), their S&M- themed Sweet Mistress Of Pain a balanced mix of 60s whimsy and sax-driven drone rock.

Even more illustrative of the shift from flowers to foundries is the remarkable Escalator by Sam Gopal, prominently featuring the erstwhile Rockin’ Vicker, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister. Encompassing overdriven blues, wild tablas, wah-wah guitar and a sprinkling of cosmic icing, it’s a kitchen sink of delight. Elsewhere, The Yardbirds’ Think About It is notable for an early draft of Page’s Dazed And Confused solo, and some Cretaceous heft is provided – both musically and lyrically – by Jerusalem (Primitive Man) and The Move (Brontosaurus).

The teenage wastelands of gasometers and ash-grey skies are referenced heavily in some of the artwork, not least the album’s cover (Little Free Rock) and the rubbish-strewn back alleys on the dubiously-named Sweet Slag’s Twisted Trip Woman. In a serendipitous example of life/art imitation, the singer of these Luton-based nihilists went on to work as a bin man, was promoted to head of waste management and eventually elected as county councillor in Bedfordshire: manufacture your own metaphor…

As with any compilation, it’s never entirely clear how much clearance from publishers impacts on the criteria for inclusion, but there are rare treats to be mined here.

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Tim Batcup

Tim Batcup is a writer for Classic Rock magazine and Prog magazine. He's also the owner of Cover To Cover, Swansea's only independent bookshop, and a director of Storyopolis, a free children’s literacy project based at the Volcano Theatre, Swansea. He likes music, books and Crass.