Joe Boyd - White Bicycles - Making Music in the 1960s
Bob Dylan's been in the news lately, having a good old moan about digital recording and how to his ears, nothing from the last 20 years sounds any good. Someone who shares a similar opinion is Joe Boyd, who in his autobiography White Bicycles laments how little musicians actually play and record together anymore - how direct injection means players can now record their parts separately, digital technology making redundant the need for the band to huddle together in the studio and record live. This collection, to sit alongside his book, gathers together 23 songs, presenting the full range of production work undertaken by Joe Boyd and his Witchseason company, including several rare and unreleased recordings.
Boyd was an important figure in the sixties, at the centre of much music-making. In the summer of love he was running the coolest club in London - the UFO club, which saw residencies from Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, and bands like The Move. He is also best known for his work with Fairport Convention, a crossover folk / rock band that built on the traditions of English music with a contemporary twist. Also, he nutured and guided Nick Drake through his career, sharing the frustration for the lack of recognition and great sadness at his demise. Two Drake songs are present on this release - the gleefully ironic Poor Boy, where he casts a wry smile over his apparent troubles, and the gorgeous Way To Blue, a song aching with sadness from the first rush of strings. It is a song to make the head feel heavy, the tiredness and weariness from Drake a strong force that could sap the lightest spirits.
Other highlights on this collection include Arnold Layne by Pink Floyd - Boyd was responsible for the production on this, their debut single, but was ejected from the producers chair for the album by their record company. In this day and age it sounds slightly stodgy, the voice dark and flat in the mix of organs and guitar, but as a track it is full of atmosphere. Lighter than this is the hysterical Granny Takes a Trip by The Purple Gang, all cockney piano, kazoos, washboards and tongue in cheek lyrics of old ladies on the drugs. Because It Wouldn't Pay is a song iLiKETRAiNS would enjoy, a lament at Beeching and the death of the railways. Opening track Crossroads is now considered a blues standard, but at the time was full of originality in its mix of blues and rock.
A lot of these songs do sound slightly fuzzy with the passing years (in particular Soft Machine with She's Gone), but there is something precious about the intimacy of some of the music. Vashti sounds so warm and tender as she sings Come Wind Come Rain, whilst Fotheringay, with singer Sandy Denny are just marvellous. Strange music indeed comes from the pen of The Incredible String Band (which can only be described as bonkers-folk), with three tracks by Fairport Convention providing a more traditional folk edge.
This is recommended for anyone who has a passing interest in British folk, or just music in the 1960's. They certainly did things different in those days, where artists experienced more freedom and less pressure. Some of these bands produced multiple albums each year, given opportunities precious few bands receive now. This is a fine collection, even better if listened to as a soundtrack to the hugely entertaining book.