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Various Artists Various Artists
Album: Spaced Out: The Story Of Mushroom Records
Label: Grapefruit
Tracks: 21+25

Mushroom Records was one of the most esoteric of the collectable labels of the early 70s. Although not finally launched until Spring 1971, the label was actually founded in north London in 1970 by experienced producer and engineer Vic Keary who’d been working during the 60s as Maximum Sound Productions, issuing records by acts as diverse as bluesman Alexis Korner, folkie John Williams, underground psych-rockers Second Hand and Felius Andromeda, “femme pop” obscurities The Carolines, pop hopefuls Tuesday’s Children and mod band The Attraction. He was more interested in making records that might become hits… a philosophy that continued on into the label over which he presided. As did the band Second Hand, who are represented by a total of five tracks on this new compilation which devotes a disc apiece to records issued under the Mushroom imprint and to Vic’s MSP recordings (spanning 1963 through to 1972). Spaced Out is in fact the first-ever compilation to tell the Mushroom Records story; it does this suitably exhaustively by offering a cross-section of its output alongside a similarly eclectic mix of music from the label’s pre-history that informed and formed its eventual policy.

Over the course of its astonishingly brief three-year history, Mushroom Records issued one of the most dizzyingly varied menus of any label, concentrating on underground music in all its manifestations; in addition to several of those categories already mentioned it unashamedly embraced less orthodox singer-songwriters (intriguing protest/acid-folker Simon Finn and Greek emigré refugee Andreas Thomopoulos) and a whole slew of more obviously folkist acts (the rough, lusty Irish a cappella of The Liverpool Fishermen, the more contemporary politically aware Celticism of duo Callinan-Flynn, and a host of enthusiastic minor-league performers on the live, club-recorded Mushroom Folk Sampler, from which are sourced three cuts including a cover of Robin Williamson’s Dandelion Blues). Most significantly, Mushroom Records gave exposure to niche performers like avant-garde jazz sax man Lol Coxhill and a contingent of Indian musicians as well as the inspirational fusion of Alisha Sufit’s band Magic Carpet – even leased some unissued Ravi Shankar tapes from EMI in India (sadly not represented on this set). Valuably however, the first disc of this set also includes two tracks that were recorded in 1972 for Mushroom but “fell by the wayside” and were never released: the gloriously laid-back time-capsule Americana of Gordon, Ellis & Steele’s Don’t Wait Till The Morning and the ramblesome acid-folk of Urban Clearway’s Puckaree.

The second disc of Spaced Out contains plenty of obscure gems that have never previously appeared on CD, most of them 45s rather than LP tracks. The Attraction is represented by vibrant mod-beat classic She’s A Girl and the swinging-London cacophony of Party Line (which coincidentally also crops up on RPMs recent Night Comes Down anthology); the era’s chaotic musical melée is extended forward into Second Hand’s The World Will End Yesterday. Alex Korner’s Blues Incorporated, Tuesday’s Children, Felius Andromeda and the latter band’s later incarnation Andromeda also get two tracks each, while John Williams contributes three excellent tracks (style ranging from dreamy pastoral to Matthew & Son-era Cat Stevens). Vic recorded his share of out-of-synch curios too, and here we get the chance to sample Angelina’s wispy 1965 would-be-Meek soundalike Wishing My Life Away, Denis Couldry’s blowsy, stripperesque James In The Basement and a forthright sock-it-to-’em cover of soul classic Knock On Wood by Oliver Bone, and Mel Turner’s soulishly funky yet ultimately disposable singles White Christmas and Jungle Harlem (recorded seven years apart).

Spaced Out comes with a brilliant 20-page booklet, which contains a memoir by Vic himself and reproduces an impressive collection of ephemera amidst David Wells’ erudite essay chronicling a hitherto largely undocumented label; in fact, the whole exercise only whets my appetite for reissue of some complete Mushroom LPs, if any licensing difficulties can be surmounted. For after all, Mushroom “epitomised the excitement and diversity of the progressive era”.

David Kidman