The Canterbury sound of the late ‘60s and the golden-era of the 1970s has been home to many in that circuit from bands like; Caravan, Soft Machine, Khan, Egg, and Hatfield and the North. But there was one band that was a part of that scene that had a disturbing, beautiful, yet ominous sound of the Acid Folk scene in the 1970s and that band was Spirogyra. Taken their name from a single-cell organism, the group was formed in the late ‘60s by Martin Cockerham as it started originally as a duo, but then Martin decided to added three people who were a part of the Kent University folk club during that time period.
Alongside Cockerham, the band also considered Barbara Gaskin on vocals, Steve Borrill on Bass Guitar, and Julian Cusack on violin. And last year, the good people at Esoteric Recordings have finally given the three Spirogyra albums the reissue treatment it deserves. Their first album, St. Radigunds, originally released on the B&C record label in 1971, Along with special help from Dave Mattacks on Drums and VCS3 synthesizer by Tony Cox, the band received some recognition and with Martin’s lyrics that took a political level and look into different territories that is well deserved and it hits you like a kick in the gut from the moment you put the album on. And not to mention, enduring the band’s five centerpieces.
Songs like the ominous, The Future Won’t Be Long, deals with a story that before the war came around through the mind of a story-teller that everything was for the working man by going through dealers in honest trade, but some who knew their place and situation while and the right woman for him and then everything goes to hell. The intense acoustic guitar strumming along with Cusack’s violin is powerful that reminiscent of Graham Smith of String Driven Thing and Colin Pearson of Comus while Cockerham and Gaskin’s vocals sets the situation and tension with a view of what is to come.
Time Will Tell, starts off with Cusack’s haunting violin introduction that is touching as Borrill’s bass and Martin’s rhythm guitar and Barbara’s gentle vocals comes in. The song deals with death and its telling the listener, if you are not happy of living in the corrupted world, you might as well have to suffer through it, but at the end she sings “What you want to be you must try to be, you will all be free.” Meaning whatever you want to be, you will be free from all of the difficult situations. It is disturbing, yet strong lyrical backgrounds and it opens eyes on what is happening right in the past, present and now in the 21st century.
Then there’s the fantasy with the heavy acoustic strumming on Magical Mary with some thunderous bass and violin duel that has a mid-tempo along with the guitar in which it includes a chugging sound and the drums to give it a dream-like atmosphere with a psychedelic tense while the fingerpicking touches on Captain’s Log, has the Captain writing the last days of his life in his journal and not knowing when they are going to survive or not in the thunderous yet dangerous oceans they are in.
The closer, The Duke of Beaufoot, begins with a classical-guitar introduction and featuring the VCS3 synthesizer going into a high and low frequency as the Bass/Violin comes in as Cockerham’s voice comes into the picture as he tells the story about who the character is. He sings at times like Roger Wootton and bits of Chris Adams of String Driven Thing flown in there, and then Barbara comes in the last verse as the tempo gets a little faster but then calms down in the last few minutes by becoming a ballad as both Martin and Barbara do a duet together as if the sun had shined up and the climatic bass/violin/guitar rhythm section gives it a big push.
I have listened to St. Radigunds, about 10 times already and I am simply blown away from what I’ve heard from a band that was ahead of their time. And they can write and tell a story throughout their music in the history of Acid and Progressive Folk by giving it a huge jolt. They are now one of my favorite bands to come out of the 1970s. And hats off to the liner notes by Sid Smith, who received help from Richard Morton-Jack of Sunbeam Records, Rick Biddulph who would later join the group in 1971 playing Mandolin, the blogsite It's Psychedelic Baby, Max Kimber, and Max Hole, who was Spirogyra's manager, for a lot of credit on the research they did on preparing for the notes.
So if you love Comus, Trees, Mellow Candle, and Spriguns, Spirogyra are the band you need to check out.