Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music

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9780571237531: Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music

Rob Young investigates how the idea of folk has been handed down and transformed by successive generations - song collectors, composers, Marxist revivalists, folk-rockers, psychedelic voyagers, free festival-goers, experimental pop stars and electronic innovators. In a sweeping panorama of Albion's soundscape that takes in the pioneer spirit of Cecil Sharp; the pastoral classicism of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Peter Warlock; the industrial folk revival of Ewan MacColl and A. L. Lloyd; the folk-rock of Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, Shirley Collins, John Martyn and Pentangle; the bucolic psychedelia of The Incredible String Band, The Beatles and Pink Floyd; the acid folk of Comus, Forest, Mr Fox and Trees; The Wicker Man and occult folklore; the early Glastonbury and Stonehenge festivals; and the visionary pop of Kate Bush, Julian Cope and Talk Talk, Electric Eden maps out a native British musical voice that reflects the complex relationships between town and country, progress and nostalgia, radicalism and conservatism. An attempt to isolate the 'Britishness' of British music - a wild combination of pagan echoes, spiritual quest, imaginative time-travel, pastoral innocence and electrified creativity - Electric Eden will be treasured by anyone interested in the tangled story of Britain's folk music and Arcadian dreams.

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About the Author:

Rob Young graduated in 1989 and was the editor of The Wire for 4 years up to 2004. He has recently been series editor of Black Dog's stylish monographs of influential record labels - including books on Warp Records and Rough Trade. He is currently in the middle of a novel based on the life of 17th century Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ELECTRIC EDEN (1: The Inward Exodus)

The battered Austin, its fifty years clearly legible in rust and mud flecks, slowed to a halt, the motor spluttering on its empty fuel tank. The doors spread their wings and two of its three occupants emerged onto the country road, taking stock of their position among the hedgerows before rolling up their sleeves to push the vehicle, while the third, a slight female, took hold of the wheel in the driver’s seat. As the tyres bit against the rough tarmac and the car began to move off, one of them, Robert, caught sight of something glinting behind the thorny hedgerow. He called to his friend John to stop pushing for a moment, and to his girlfriend Vashti to apply the handbrake. She climbed out of the car and together they vaulted the gate.

It was a Gypsy caravan, or more accurately, an old baker’s delivery cart, constructed from tin sheets covered with fading brown paint. A curved roof crowned it, and its wheels, which looked as if they had been taken off a vintage motor car, were mounted on a buckling chassis. How many miles had this unroadworthy jalopy already travelled? The three friends could not tell, but they set off down the short path in search of its owner. He was soon found: a Gypsy, or as he himself styled it, a Romany, sitting with his pots and pans and keeping his horse, Bess, company.

His wandering life appealed to Robert Lewis and Vashti Bunyan at just that moment in their lives. Until their friend John James’s car had run out of petrol, they had been fleeing from their last home, a camp in a clearing in some Kentish woods, where they had been living for several months among piles of home-made wooden stools and tables, log fires, bivouacs and hammocks. The clearing was decorated with Lewis’s giant sheet paintings, part of the art diploma he was enrolled in at Ravensbourne College of Art, near Chislehurst on the fringes of south-east London. The land was just at the back of the college, and in 1967, with a few weeks to go before his time was up, Lewis strung up a bivouac under a giant rhododendron, hung more sections of canvas between trees and bushes, and began executing a series of paintings in the outdoors. In the late spring, his girlfriend Vashti resigned her post as an assistant in a veterinary practice in Hammersmith, picked up a blanket, a pillow, her guitar and her dog Blue, and boarded a bus bound for Chislehurst. Was he pleased to see her or did he fear that the introduction of a live-in partner in his woodland idyll would jeopardise his diploma prospects? Whatever his initial feelings, the pair made a little haven of their forest home, constructing rude furniture from felled branches and logs and singing Vashti’s simple songs around the campfire in a small and picturesque clearing. As Lewis daubed his canvases, Bunyan sat on his mildewed mattress with her feet on a patch of threadbare carpet and sewed curtains for their rudimentary bush dwelling by the light of an oil lamp. ‘We made a little heaven in the wood,’ she said many years later.

Pilgrims’ progress: Vashti Bunyan, her dog Blue, horse Bess and Robert Lewis on the road to Skye, 1969.

Vashti Bunyan’s drawing of herself and Robert Lewis camping in woods near Ravensbourne College, 1967. Note approaching bailiffs.

But the spell in the sylvan paradise did not last more than a few weeks. A banishing god appeared in the form of a suited Bank of England official, representing the true owners of the land, flanked by two policemen to enforce the eviction. They clutched a summons Robert Lewis had previously received – for taking a pillion passenger on his motorbike without a licence – and the wonk from the bank added an admonishing lecture about the breakdown of civil order if everybody suddenly decided to go and live in their wood. Frogmarched to the edge of the forest, they telephoned John James with news of their plight, and after some minutes his Austin came rattling around to pick them up.

Her name – and it’s her real one – is almost too perfect. Vashti comes from the Old Testament’s Book of Esther: a Persian queen banished for refusing to dance in front of her husband’s guests. The Bunyan family have never proved any lineage to the seventeenth-century author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, but the name is richly evocative of quests in search of paradise. Bunyan herself was no stranger to the milieu of the music business. On a trip to New York when she was eighteen, she found a copy of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and became hooked on the singer’s music, and quickly developed an intense desire to become a successful pop singer. She won a place at the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford, but spent a whole term skiving off her lectures, instead teaching herself to play the guitar, writing songs and becoming lost in a world of music. When she tried to pass off this non-attendance as a different and valid form of art, her supervisors were not amused and in 1964 she was slung out.

The following year, she met Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham through an actress friend of her mother’s. The svengali was practically the same age and soon developed a crush on Vashti, but could not bring himself to declare it.1 He signed her up to fill the gap left by Marianne Faithfull, who had just left his stable, giving her a song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, ‘Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind’, as her first single on the Decca label. ‘I wanted to be a pop singer,’ she admitted later. ‘There was no way Andrew Oldham took this innocent folk singer and tried to mould her into a pop singer, that wasn’t what happened at all. I was ready and willing…’ She was a female singer with her own songbook, which, she recalls, was unusual. ‘There weren’t many female singers who wrote their own songs. Whenever I knocked on doors, they were looking for people in sequins and ballgowns, not a skinny art student with an old jumper with holes in it and a guitar slung over her shoulder.’ Vashti, however, fought against the standard practice of women singers singing other (men’s) songs, and the B-side of that first single contained a composition of her own, ‘I Want to Be Alone’.

Perhaps that song expressed a sentiment that made her unfit for massive pop stardom. In 1966, apparently shaking her head one day and looking at the predominantly sad tenor of the songs she was writing (or stung by the comments of others), she and her friend Jenny Lewis came up with a throwaway tune called ‘Seventeen Pink Sugar Elephants’. A Canadian producer, Peter Snell, surfaced out of nowhere and bought her out of her contract with Oldham’s Immediate label, hoping to sprinkle his own stardust on her. The poet Alasdair Clayre had begun sending lyrics for her to set to music, and her ‘Pink Sugar Elephants’ tune fitted the words of a piece of his called ‘Train Song’. When this found its way onto a single, it received almost no airplay and failed to puncture the charts. Some months later, Immediate co-founder Tony Calder managed to sweet-talk Vashti back to the studio, which proved to be a waste of time, commercially speaking. ‘Winter Is Blue’, despite its recording session being filmed by Peter Whitehead for his hip documentary Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, and eventually re-recorded by Oldham himself, never came out; neither did ‘Coldest Night of the Year’, sung by Vashti with the boy duo Twice As Much; nor her own ‘I’d Like to Walk Around Inside Your Mind’, which Oldham complained needed a string section and more dramatic production, only no one could be bothered. That was Vashti’s Summer of Love; the following year, 1968, she dropped into a spiral of depression during which she walked away from the metropolitan music business. ‘That was the nosedive time, when I realised that I had to get out of London.’

She had encountered Robert Lewis in 1965 when, driving through the Suffolk countryside in the middle of the night, she picked him up as he was hitch-hiking. They kept in touch but it wasn’t until two years later that she discovered he was camping in the woods in the grounds of his art college.

Which is how they found themselves marooned halfway home with a broken-down car, with an open future, staring transfixed at this house on wheels, their minds whirring with new possibilities. Two weeks later they came up with the money to buy the cart and the horse from its Romany owner down there in the field. The cash was lent to them by Donovan Leitch, whose reputation as the Grand Vizier of the British hippy folk scene was at its height. One of Robert’s college friends knew Donovan, and they began hanging out with the singer and his circle. Once the cart was purchased, they repaired to the singer’s small cottage in Essex to make it roadworthy.

Donovan’s success after the Dylan-influenced singles such as ‘Catch the Wind’, ‘Colours’ and ‘Universal Soldier’ was in part due to some steerage by his new producer/svengali Mickie Most, who had urged the young artist to trick out his acoustic folkiness with generous helpings from the new palette of psychedelic colours creeping into pop production in the wake of such records as The Beatles’ Revolver and The Kinks’ Face to Face. In 1965 he was still immersed in the Woody Guthrie/Dylan knock-off protest folk of his first LP, What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid, while on his second, Fairytale, he began to inch towards a more bucolic mode with the inclusion of ‘Jersey Thursday’ and ‘Summer Day Reflection Song’. At the time Bunyan got to hang out with him, Donovan was rich on the proceeds of his third LP, Sunshine Superman, a UK compilation culled from the US releases Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow. From a landowner named Donald MacDonald, he had just purchased three remote Scottish islands, Isay, Mingay and Clett, near Skye’s north-west Vaternish peninsula, where he and his friend/‘manager’ Gypsy Dave intended to set up a ‘Renaissance community’ of artists, musicians and poets in a row of tumbledown shepherds’ cottages. In tandem with this dreamy project, he released the double album A Gift from a Flower to a Garden in 1967, which included a languid slice of Highlands picturesque, ‘Isle of Islay’ (another song, ‘And Clett Makes Three’, dates from the same period, but was never officially released). A Gift comprised two LPs clasped in a box: one with electric pop songs, the other a series of acoustic fairy tales. These benignly stoned odes fondly and naively imagined a long-lost, bucolic Avalon where like minds of a forever-young Flower Generation might gather in peace, singing, dancing, smoking, making love and contemplating the universe in a guilt-free environment. Its sleeve included a photo of Donovan in Rishikesh, India, where he had just been staying with The Beatles and other celebrity truth-seekers on a high-profile creative retreat under the tutelage of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

And Clett makes three: Donovan surveys his newly purchased Isle of Skye fiefdom, 1968.

He flew back high as a magic carpet with a pipe-load of Eastern mysticism and a newly piqued interest in Celtic medievalism and Victoriana, manifested in songs such as ‘Guinevere’, ‘Legend of a Child Girl Linda’ and ‘Season of the Witch’. As well as odes to the grooviness of his London pop set – ‘Sunny Goodge Street’, ‘Hampstead Incident’, ‘Sunny South Kensington’ – the LP waved a rallying freak-flag for British hippies with its laidback anthems such as ‘Epistle to Dippy’ and ‘Preachin’ Love’. Now, with his purchase of a faraway island kingdom, Donovan was planning to use his status as counter-cultural guru to convert this pipe dream into a living experiment.

His international fame was at its zenith. He had just featured on the cover of the inaugural issue of Rolling Stone, and this Glasgowborn youth was styling himself ‘the last of the English minstrels’2 in interviews. He had attempted to escape the mounting legal wranglings over his music by fleeing to a Greek island, but the exile had not worked, and now he declared he was seeking ‘a place where the twentieth century had never existed’.3

His latest music, though, was nothing if not supremely cosmopolitan, eclectic and outward-looking. He had employed a wide variety of musicians from mingled disciplines: Phil Seamen’s jazz drumming, Jack Bruce’s hard-rock bass, etc., and a trailer-load of unusual ethnic instruments, including the obligatory-for-the-age Indian sitars and tablas. Scorned by ‘serious’ folk fans and viewed uneasily by the likes of his one-time mentor Bob Dylan, Donovan seemed to want to wish all the attention away just at the moment he had reached his artistic and financial peak.

This, then, was the artist who bought his own stab at Wonderland, the pied piper whose master plan was to sail off to his private fiefdom singing Lewis Carroll’s line ‘Won’t you join the dance?’, and who put up the money for potential acolytes like Vashti Bunyan and Robert Lewis to make the pilgrimage. But Vashti and Robert planned to make it as much about the journey as the destination.

The USA, its entire coast-to-coast extent traversed and mapped in the space of two centuries, is the place where the wide open road has taken on a vibrant cultural currency. Trail songs of the nineteenth century gave way to a host of ‘freight train’ songs in the blues/Depression era; while rock ’n’ roll’s thrusting, insistent beat, arriving in Jack Kerouac’s dust clouds, has proved the perfect medium for evoking the sensation of freewheeling travel down the horizon-seeking highways of the American interior. Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to Be Wild’, the soundtrack of Easy Rider and later songs such as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ are perfect for slamming on the car stereo and putting foot to the floor, or better still, setting the cruise control for the heart of the sun and kicking back with a jazz Woodbine. The exhilaration of driving itself complements the pulse and throb of rock. On the European mainland, Kraftwerk bequeathed a small tradition of ‘transport music’ in ‘Autobahn’, ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and ‘Tour de France’: time-and-motion music celebrating efficiency and tamed technological energy. Neu!, another German group formed in the early 1970s, refined a motorik groove and drone-guitar riff cocktail that conveyed a vivid sense of eating up the kilometres.

But the land mass of the British Isles is not large enough to have generated a culture of the open road. Leaving aside such one-off terrace chants as Tom Robinson’s ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’, the culture of British travel is more commonly linked to the sense of a quest, a journey undertaken for purposes of knowledge or self-restoration. In that sense, the British road is a road to the interior, of the imagination rather than a physical coverage of distance. Its poetic energy is supplied by lanes, forest spurs and hillside tracks, not motorways and slip roads. A large proportion of its highways, from its smallest bridleways to the main road arteries, have been in place for centuries: Roman roads, such as the A10 that begins at Liverpool Street in the heart of the City of London and leads directly north for eighty miles, connecting Cambridge and King’s Lynn, have been in use for two millennia. Thus, they have accumulated all the fear that would have accompanied long-distance travel in the Dark and Middle Ages, when roads cut through ancient forests, when there were many fewer towns and sheltering posts along the route. Yet still the British traveller seeks out the unfamiliar. Take a look at the shelves of any bookshop section on British travel: you will find very few devoted to exploring its A-roads and motorways. All rambling efforts are focused on byways, lanes, hidden walks, undiscovered villages, forgotten churches, ruined walls and weathered stones: the buried treasures of the British landscape. To wander there, solitary and ...

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Descripción Faber & Faber. Paperback. Estado de conservación: new. BRAND NEW, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music, Rob Young, Rob Young investigates how the idea of folk has been handed down and transformed by successive generations - song collectors, composers, Marxist revivalists, folk-rockers, psychedelic voyagers, free festival-goers, experimental pop stars and electronic innovators. In a sweeping panorama of Albion's soundscape that takes in the pioneer spirit of Cecil Sharp; the pastoral classicism of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Peter Warlock; the industrial folk revival of Ewan MacColl and A. L. Lloyd; the folk-rock of Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, Shirley Collins, John Martyn and Pentangle; the bucolic psychedelia of The Incredible String Band, The Beatles and Pink Floyd; the acid folk of Comus, Forest, Mr Fox and Trees; 'The Wicker Man' and occult folklore; the early Glastonbury and Stonehenge festivals; and the visionary pop of Kate Bush, Julian Cope and Talk Talk, "Electric Eden" maps out a native British musical voice that reflects the complex relationships between town and country, progress and nostalgia, radicalism and conservatism. An attempt to isolate the 'Britishness' of British music - a wild combination of pagan echoes, spiritual quest, imaginative time-travel, pastoral innocence and electrified creativity - "Electric Eden" will be treasured by anyone interested in the tangled story of Britain's folk music and Arcadian dreams. Nº de ref. de la librería B9780571237531

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