Various Artists: Acid Jam 2

Various Artists
Acid Jam 2

Before Acid Jam 2 there was, predictably enough, the original Acid Jam. In 1988, Nick Saloman, the one-man epicenter of latter-day British psychedelia (co-boss of Woronzow Records, publisher of The Ptolemaic Terrascope and brains behind The Bevis Frond) herded a hand-picked bunch of collaborators into a converted pigsty near London’s Heathrow Airport. After a two-day recording session, Acid Jam was born.

Now, 12 years later, a sequel has finally arrived in the shape of this double CD set. Following a similar modus operandi, Saloman and Bevis Frond cohort (and former Hawklord) Ade Shaw convened a gathering of the extended Woronzow clan in Gold Dust Studios, Bromley. Additionally, contributions were solicited from some old friends and the Woronzow archives were combed for any other material appropriate for inclusion.

The dramatis personae of Acid Jam 2 reads like a who’s who of British psychedelia and to trace the musical pedigrees, histories and myriad intersections of the participants would be a gargantuan task best left to rock genealogists of the Pete Frame variety. Suffice it to say that alumni of Hawkwind, Camel, High Tide, and Magic Muscle, as well as members of The Alchemysts, The Lucky Bishops, and the Outskirts of Infinity are among the cast assembled for this album. Even Nick Saloman’s daughter sings on one number.

This is an acid rock extravaganza comprising 14 diverse tracks — equally divided between instrumental and vocal numbers — with a total running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours. Although the spirit and sound of this recording harken back to another period entirely, at the same time, Saloman and friends — by some paradoxical sleight of hand — have created an album that somehow feels wholly contemporary and is completely free of faddish, superficial retro-ism.

The album opens on an epic note as Nick Saloman leads us through the long and winding, moody ax-grind of “Reformation Blues”, sharing guitar duties with former Frondsman Bari Watts. Other tracks featuring Saloman’s vocals that are particularly strong include “Change in the Weather” and “Just a Point”. The former is punctuated by changes in tempo and suffused with guitar pyrotechnics and swelling Hammond organ, while the latter has the weary, melancholy timbre of Saloman’s vocals underscored by beautifully pained guitar solos.

The mournful tone of “Just a Point” resonates on the instrumental “Funeral Ballet Music”. This is exactly the dirge-like number that the title would lead you to expect; its relentlessly pounding drums (courtesy of Outskirts of Infinity’s Ric Gunther), its spiraling, distorted guitars and its doomy keyboards suggest a gloriously beefed-up version of the Cure at their best. The pace picks up and the sound changes considerably on the 16-minute “Deep Space Divers”, a sci-flying, synth-twittering track in the Hawkwind tradition that has Bari Watts on guitar again alongside dueling vocalists Saloman and Shaw.

Rustic Rod Goodway of ’70s festival faves Magic Muscle steps up to the microphone for another of Acid Jam 2‘s epics, “Ice Plug”. This chugging track might bear a passing resemblance to early Motorhead’s “Lost Johnny”, but the overall effect is one of an accomplished faux orientalism to rival Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”. This is thanks, largely, to the violin provided by another ex-Hawkwind member, Simon House (also formerly of High Tide, the legendary British prog/psychedelic could-have-beens).

Another High Tide member, Tony Hill, takes the floor with Ade Shaw and ex-Camel drummer Andy Ward for a couple of guitar workouts entitled, logically enough, “High” and “Tide”. And, for the glorious 15-minute jam that is “Negative Blooty”, it’s the turn of Dorset’s Lucky Bishops. Everyone has their say on this number, but its strengths reside in the thick bass of Alan Strawbridge, the heavy, lush Hammond of Tom Hughes and some well-placed xylophone by another Hammond named Grenville.

While the most idiosyncratic interlude on Acid Jam 2 is perhaps “Deef”, which sounds not unlike a meeting between Can and Captain Beefheart at their most unhinged and scattered, the low point comes on “Desert Sands” (recorded live at Terrastock III in London). OK, that requires some qualification. It’s only the first 10 minutes or so of “Desert Sands” that are dubious, as Rustic Rod’s vocals and the endless “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” type of bass line become a tad turgid. After that ill-advised overture, the guitars of Paul Simmons and Saloman kick in, and things pick up and space out into some serious grooves for the remaining twenty minutes.

The jam ends on a high note with the short and sweet “Star Map”. Here Bari Watts’ solitary guitar soars to the accompaniment of Saloman’s simple piano melody, the two conspiring to evoke the valedictory emotions appropriate to a closing track.

When I return to the foundational recordings of acid rock, it’s often the case that they never quite live up to my memory of the genre. It seems that my imagined version is constructed out of isolated moments of timeless brilliance within a given track, whereas I conveniently suppress the weaker elements that would now confine the overall sound to the ’60s as an historical curiosity. But while, from the perspective of the early 21st century, classic psychedelic rock is often disappointing to me, the present CD gives us an idea of what the form might have sounded like, or perhaps even did sound like, to those who were listening to it the first time around. On Acid Jam 2, in a creatively — and quite brilliantly — anachronistic way, Saloman and his troops fashion their music from the more sublime leitmotifs of psychedelia, bringing to life an imagined version of the genre, 30-plus years later.