Excuse the tardiness. This blog is on an on/off again hiatus for the while whilst I attempt to recharge my batteries. However, there is one release which has been occupying my head of late to the extent that I should write about it. I've been playing a whole heap of Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Charles Brown and Johnny Otis, but I suspect no one wants to read my writing on such guff. It's the punk stuff you want, right? Tough shit, coz today I'm going to write about a bunch of hippie longhairs from the 1970s known as Jan Dukes de Grey. For some folks their name registers a blip as being included in Stephen Stapleton's massive "influences" list in the inner sleeve of Nurse With Wound's debut LP. For most people, that last sentence makes little sense, just as the name Jan Dukes de Grey sparks zero recognition. Have I lost you yet? That's why I'll attempt to inform right now. There's this double CD I have, it's on the Cherry Tree label, and it puts together the band's first two albums, Sorcerers and Mice and Rats In The Loft, from 1970 and '71, as well as as both sides of an utterly bizarre single band leader Derek Noy released in 1974, which includes a twisted, screaming and howling take on the old Leiber/Stoller hit, "Love Potion No. 9".
For lovers of old English acid-folk of yesteryear (primarily the late '60s/early '70s) - and you can count me as one - their recorded efforts of this era rank as a near Holy Grail, right up there with the oft-lauded Comus and their brilliant First Utterance LP (I'm happy to laude all over that one, too, given the chance). I'm less inclined to get thrilled over the re-discovery of supposed "lost gems" from this era of music than I used to be, though I think the band known as Jan Dukes de Grey may just be worth the spittles of excitement which build up in the corners of mouths amongst the collector cognoscenti. After all, they're pretty darn good.
The band was essentially Derek Noy on guitar/vocals (and other exotic instruments) and Michael Bairstow on flute, clarinet, organ, piano, percussion, handclaps and what-have-you. For the second LP, they included drummer Dennis Conlon in the mix. As you can tell by the CD cover above, they were snappy dressers, too. They looked like extras from Witchfinder General or The Wicker Man, and their music was as they appeared. The first album, Sorcerers, has 18 tracks in 49 minutes. They're mostly short, sweet, mystical and you could probably mistake them as being Incredible String Band out-takes ca. The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter/5,000 Layers..., but I could think of worse moments in musical history a band could be lumped with. ISB were the pinnacle of fruity UK acid-folk, so I could think of no higher complement (well, I could, but I won't). The only crucial difference is that ISB were a band of day-glo music, whereas JDDG are as dark and miserable as a long English winter. And their music, as was hip to say, was pretty "far out" and much more expansive and eclectic than ISB's.
The second album, Mice And Rats In The Loft, is a very different matter. There's only 3 tracks taking up its 40 minutes, and the band got a whole lot stranger for their sophomore effort. The title track, in particular, is a gloriously fried number, a mass of guitar feedback and twisted screams. It'd scare the shit out of your average folk-music fan, and for that we should be grateful. The other two cuts, "Sun Symphonica" and "Call Of The Wild", are equally deranged, and the three songs together as a whole make up a truly primo slab of early '70s UK underground rock. The band played around the usual university/pub circuit of the day, with bands such as Van Der Graaf Generator, Edgar Broughton Band and Hawkwind, as well as high-profile slots with the likes of The Who and Black Sabbath, but all this was for naught. They remained a subterranean affair, hip w/ the heads but not likely to break out into a wider audience. That's nothing to weep about. This isn't music meant for a wider audience. It's probably not even music meant for most people who read this blog. But if you're into the Comus/experimental angle in regards to British psychedelic folk of the era - and who isn't? - then these two platters are definitely worthy of the high regard and mythical status they enjoy amongst overweight collector dorks the world over.
The 2CD has a mighty fancy and informative booklet, but if you're one of those vinyl purists/bores, I believe they have been reissued in that format, too (through another label). Did I mention the fact that a teenage Mark Knopfler - the man responsible for leading one of the most shitawful rock bands known to mankind later that decade and beyond - was one of their great champions, writing enthusiastically about them in the local press at the time? His piece is reproduced within. He should've pursued a career in journalism instead.