A long-lost acid folk classic crawls out from the Australian bush to blink its stoned eyes in the sun.
Howard Eynon was born in England but spent his formative years on a dairy farm in rural Tasmania, often vanishing into the bush for solitary adventures when the monotony of farm life became too much. At 17, he hopped aboard his motorcycle and left the farm for good, eventually settling in Melbourne and joining a collection of theatre troupes. During this time he also gained some popularity as a folksinger, which led to an opportunity, over a sequence of months in 1973, to record an album’s worth of songs accompanied by his acoustic guitar and an array of friends from his music and theatre circles. The resulting album, So What If Im Standing In Apricot Jam, appeared on a tiny label in 1974 and quickly vanished. Over time, though, rare copies of the album became highly prized among collectors of acid folk, but its perpetual out-of-print status doomed the work to obscurity.
Forty years on, Earth Recordings is making this long-lost stoner classic available for the masses, and it is a welcome excavation. A madcap collection of queer fancy, double-entendre, irreverent protest, naïve psychedelia, and occasionally stunning sincerity, the album offers absolute joy from start to finish. Eynon’s trippy wordplay is reminiscent of Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers while his voice and playing evoke Donovan. Aynon even underlines the resemblance in “Hot B.J.” singing “if you want to be critical and say this sounds a bit like Donovan, I won’t change it.” And he shouldn’t have to. Whatever one may hear as derivative to any who preceded him, Aynon’s presentation and persona are uniquely his own. Bright, engaging, and whimsical, Aynon comes across as someone who could show up on Sesame Street to sing a song about the joys of turning on and get away with it.
“Wicked Wetdrop, Quonge and Me” sets the fancifully theatrical tone of the album with its multi-voiced perspective on a smoky, locked-in afternoon wherein one partaker’s bad trip is explained away with the exasperated reassurance of “You’re not dead. You just rolled off the settee.” The good humor continues with “Hot B.J.”, which everyone knows stands for “black currant juice” (whatever else could our choirboy of the bush be singing about?). The album abounds with other cheekily irreverent cuts. “Boots & Jam & Head & Things”, the seeming source of the album’s title, begins as a sort of fetishistic breakfast fantasy before morphing into a psychotropic-fueled attack on the status quo. “Roast Pork” transmogrifies a pot bust and trial into a Disneyesque musical as directed by David Lynch.
Another, um, high point of the album occurs with “Village Hill”, a Wordsworthian idyll of wandering not so lonely amidst a cloud of birds whose trills and warbles transmit Eynon to a transcendent state. But it’s a natural high. Waking from a come-down, Eynon “Thought me ought me take a walk to the top of Village Hill” [sic]. He then describes an escape from the dingy indoors “into golden afternoon” where he is met with a catalog of feathered friends and loses track of time as “wintry sun was slowly sinking, making way for wintry moon.” The walk becomes a run and then a dance as he loses himself in the ancient wildness of the wood before summiting to be left speechless by a vision of the town he left behind, now a miniature below him. A lone, Nick Drake-like guitar melody accompanies the singer during his narrative; with the loss of his voice, a violin appears and leads the guitar into a gypsy reel of celebratory freedom.
The musical accompaniment throughout—one might call it “professional amateurism”—fits the loose vibe of the proceedings well. These aren’t songs that call for musical precision, but rather, emotive resonance and the musicians deliver. Whether on percussion, fiddle, flute, or early synthesizer, Eynon’s accompanists all share his wavelength and forward his skewered vision. So What If I’m Standing In Apricot Jam deserves a place in the collection of anyone who enjoys their folk with a generous side of whimsy.