A Brief Overview of Psych Folk and Acid Folk (1960's-Present)

Tuesday, July 01 2008 @ 01:00 AM PDT

Contributed by: Gerald_Van_Waes

Focusing on the terms..
While general media since the 80s seems to be afraid to use the term “psychedelic” and try very hard to avoid any association made with it, while they can’t go beyond the most recent popularisation of independent folk, especially after the launch of Devendra Banhart as a new symbol for it who gathers and names with his interest more of it together, suddenly they call everything which they can not define well within the contemporary folk expressions, “freakfolk” or “weird folk”. The term ‘wyrd folk’ was already suggested in the New Bruton Town newsletter community in order to list within this category most creative acoustic examples. Myself I chose to focus at first around the term “psychedelic folk” some 10 years ago, even when it was hardly used, trying to bring together such groups into one website (since 7 years), hoping also that they would unite better some day, something which after some time luckily happened a bit (because many such new groups and singers more often meet on stage). The actually more broadening term of ‘acid folk’ I think was first used in a different context by singer-songwriter Perry Leopold. And after having discovered bard Gwydion’s LP I noticed that also the pagan community knew some of their own folk inspirations worth giving notice. The French Folk Magic Time guide who uses outside traditional folk terms similarly also included the Pagan folk, besides using another term, enchanting folk, they also realized the importance of certain Christian folk music examples, and recognised the creative importance of ancient music.

60s-70s in the UK and US

A Scottish group which made a breaking point and who made the difference, with the usual traditional folk and folk-rock expressions, very clearly was The Incredible String Band, who also used sitar and semi-Indian singing, creating in fact a new genre. Many groups followed their example (Dr.Strangely Strange, Sun Also Rises, Forest, Tea & Symphony,..), even in other countries (France : Mormos ; Germany : Langsyne, Fit & Limo ; Holland : Elly & Rikkert on “Parsival”). Even early Tyrannosaurus Rex fitted within that area, while Donovan was the singer-songwriter/pop artist, -with his own Indian guru-, who kept the right mood going for a wider public. It was since 1966 that sitar and Indian flavours became popularized, so it is logical that it also influenced folk music and reshaped it. The weirdest group from that period without doubt was Comus, still a trademark for how far in expressions a “folk”-related group from that period could be. While most groups in England remained inspired by the traditional genre, still with great success, some of these bands had their own freedoms, which especially most folk-rock, folk and slightly acidfolk related Kissing Spell releases prove very well. The most original folkrock band with free expressions I think was Spyrogyra (not to confuse with the jazz fusion band Spyro Gyra!!), while also Gryphon proved original ideas mixing medieval folkrock and psychedelic/progressive ideas (especially since their second). Also Bread, Love & Dreams had its own originality. Most of the acid/psychfolk was not popular at all. While bands like the ISB-offshoot C.O.B. are now legendary examples in the collector’s milieu, the band members in their time had hardly survived.

Some other names to trace, who found reissues : These Trails (Hawaii), Fuchsia, Garry Higgins, Magic Carpet & Oriental Sunshine (both with sitar/Indian influences). Bands that had a genre of their own : Third Ear Band (raga-alike improvisations), Pearls Before Swine (US), the Peter Howell related albums (Ithaca, Agincourt,..) and Renaissance (symphonic art-folk). Some Christian psych-folk albums that were reissued : The Christ Tree, Silmaril, 11:59, (and from Kissing Spell “folk-rock” series : Caedmon, Water Into Wine Band). Most recommended Pagan-folk artists : First Of May, Lady Isadora and on the edge of the genre, and more recently : Green Crown (with Prydwyn, later with Stone Breath).

Also guitar music could have had more acid inspirations if it was not slightly limited in range. The most known guitar music stimulator John Fahey (with h!s label Takoma) actually hardly had accepted Robbie Basho, while today he is more the guitarist who became a guru-alike example of open inspirations and raga-esque explorations. His re-appreciation, also thanks to the efforts of people like the German guitarist and partial follower Steffen Basho-Junghans, made a whole new generation of new guitarists stand up, while also hanging loosely in the shadow of this new scene, some of the drone and experimental folk artists and groups.

Other European Countries, Canada, & Australia

Many of the late 60s, 70s acid/psych and progfolk bands from Germany are already reissued now. I don’t think these groups hung much together, but it is clear that within the inventive Krautrock being popular in Germany, a period of making experiments, and longer improvisations with structure, also the acoustic examples were inventive and creative. Examples worth tracing are Emtidi, Hölderlin’s Traum, Carol Of Harvest, Bröselmachine, Kalachakra, Dom (as an acoustic drone trip), Siloah, Emma Myldenberger, Langsyne, Amon Düül’s  “Paradieswärts” (Amon Düül II were a progressive band with an eclectic mix), and Witthüser & Westrupp. Most popular in Germany were the folk-rock band Ougenweide, with strong roots in German medieval folk, showing also a Jethro Tull influence in some of their arrangements. A unique place and style in Germany has Popol Vuh, showing a mixture of Indian/progressive/meditative music. Nowadays, one of the only psych-folk bands is Fit & Limo. But the interest from some of the neofolk bands to expand is also present, something which the latest Werkraum album proves well.

France knew a large folk and folkrock scene, with some areas of traditions having their share of influences. But because France knew also a strong avant-garde scene, this influenced also at least some folk inspirations (like early Higelin with singer Brigitte Fontaine, or in the music of singer Cathérine Ribeiro wih Les Alpes). Most of the French examples however remained depending somewhat on French folk traditions. The most outstanding progressive folk items I have heard are not reissued yet. Much better documented is the French part of Canada, Quebec, which knew already many reissues (on Progquebec mostly). The Quebec styles are rather unique. This style knows rather long tracks of very arranged art arrangements, and is mostly a mixture of progressive/jazz/symphonic. On the other hand the scene knows also a few other, outstanding avant-garde projects (of which L’Infonie is extremely weird and interesting).
From Australia I can recommend the folk-prog item of Madden & Harris, and what is related with the band Tully, like Extradition.
The best examples of the Spanish folk-rock scene that I know of mostly are mixtures of flamenco with rock. Defintely psychfolk is Musica Dispersa, in which weird folk songwriter Sisa was a member. For more psychedelic/progressive acoustic examples it is recommended to look for the better Basque examples, which are also rather unique examples of subtle and gentle progressive acoustic music, like Haizea, Itziar and early Itoiz,…

Holland knew a few very good folk-psych albums but only few of them were reissued. Elly & Rikkert (as well as their side-project, Het Oinkbeest) are still traceable.

Outside Europe, and the English speaking countries it is harder to trace great acid/psychfolk. Japan knows much psychedelica and many weird singer-songwriters, with a highlighting period of great examples at around 1972-1973. Nowadays especially Kan Mikami is remembered for his weird expressions. Recent groups that have unique places are the eclectic and often psych-folk from Ayuo, and the funeral music from Trembling Strain. Also good to mention is folk-psych band Ghost. Korea knew many delicate singer-songwriters since the early 70s. From more recent date it is Kim Doo Soo which should be remembered best. In Israel nowadays Goldoolins are worth tracing.

The New Weird Folkies
I can hardly say that there are many scenes within the acid folk, although it is already for years that very interesting groups gather around Philadelphia. Just recently Greg Weeks got his own sub-label from Drag City, Language of Stone, who gathers many of the new promising bands. But what can be said for sure is that psychedelic & acid folk had a new birth in the US at first, which is only just recently being followed with the appearance of new groups in the UK. What caused a sudden interest were mainly two reasons : the band Espers for instance, although still relatively small in popularity, became one of the more successful bands of the scene. Weird and loosely inspired was already Bonnie “Prince” Billy, who I think caused the stimulation of some new Americana weird groups, vaguely bringing with them lots of chamber-weird folk bands (Silver Mt.Zion, Volcano The Bear,…). It was especially some post-hippie charisma around Devendra Banhart that draw full attention to the existence of something that is already remembered as weird folk America. Although Devendra sounds like a vague distillation of 70s Tyrannosaurus Rex, it is very much thanks to interviews with him, through his help with Arthur magazine that all the new bands started to get attention, and play more together, and gather a more steady publicly interest. Within this historical evolution it are especially the interests of certain people (me included), and certain specific labels that released much of it that made the interest grow along. Instead of naming here all the bands involved, it is I think better to name some of those early labels who not just occasionally dug deeper into the genres. The early ones were Secret Eye (as one of the first), Locust Music, Digitalis Industries (for the drone folk scene mostly, helped by their magazine (Foxy Digitalis), a magazine that looked slightly digging a comparable terrain compared to Ptolomaic Terrascope (UK). This interest was followed by Dream magazine and Arthur magazine. I might have forgotten more, but you can always dig deeper into the provided links.

Useful Links:

Psychadelic Folk
New Bruton Town Newsletter
Legal download Service
French Folk

Written for the Heathen Harvest Webzine by Gerald Van Waes
© Heathen Harvest 2008