Various Artists: Another Splash of Colour: New Psychedelia in Britain 1980-1985
This thorough three-disc history will make you an instant scholar of a movement that many don't know about, but should.
Right now, at this very moment, someone somewhere in the world is jamming in a practice space or sitting in their bedroom, guitar in hand, toiling away in search of a killer ska punk song. One of the side effects of music media’s longstanding love affair with shiny new objects is that the official narrative of pop usually involves one trend after another, multiplied by 60 years. What happened in the late 1970s? That’s easy: disco and punk. How about the early 1980s? Well, that’s a little more complicated: new wave, hair metal, hip-hop…and also psychedelic rock?
Another Splash of Colour: New Psychedelia in Britain 1980-1985 is a vastly expanded edition of WEA Records’ A Splash of Colour compilation, which came out in 1982 and featured two tracks each from Mood Six, Miles Over Matter, the High Tide, and the Doctor. It also introduced listeners to the Times, the Silence, the Earwigs, the Barracudas, and the Marble Staircase. All of those contributions are included here, along with 50-plus others from dozens of “Nu Psych” artists culled from a five year stretch that isn’t often remembered (at least in the US) for a psychedelic rock explosion. It happened against the odds, spilling up out of London’s Groovy Cellar and The Clinic clubs onto the streets these defiantly colorful revivalists shared with the strikers and rioters of Thatcher’s grey Britain.
America did have a parallel with the Paisley Underground, but at the time that Los Angeles-centric scene didn’t make a huge dent in the popular conscious outside of the world of college rock. Bands like Dream Syndicate, Opal, and the Green Pajamas were critical and regional darlings, but, save for isolated incidents like the breakout commercial success of the Bangles and Prince (God rest his soul) signing the Three O’Clock to his Paisley Park imprint on Warner Bros. Records, the movement has had more impact in its afterlife than back in the day, when it had to compete with all the leather, perms, and pyrotechnics that guitar bands were expected to flaunt on MTV.
Perhaps the UK has a track record for holding on a little more steadfastly to the 1960s, as evidenced by the cyclical Mod Revival that has popped up occasionally since the ‘70s, not to mention Britpop’s domination in the middle of the 1990s. Still, when you close your eyes and imagine British music in the 1980s, you’re more likely to see synths and shoulder pads, or overcoats and glum facial expressions, rather than incense and peppermints. A Splash of Colour didn’t capture an entirely straightforward revival (even if that’s what the practitioners intended at first), but more of a scrappy repurposing. The collective voice of the myriad interpretations of psychedelia spread generously across Another Splash of Colour’s three discs is one tempered by its time.
Volunteering as a mission statement for this once-aspiring renaissance is Miles Over Matter’s “Something’s Happening Here”, a snappy Mod-hippie hybrid with a melody in the vein of the Jam adorned, complete with flower power flourishes. Retrospectively responding to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, it highlights the internal struggle against earned cynicism: “Just ‘cos the Love Generation blew it / Don’t mean we have to / We’ve got to get on down to it / It’s up to you." The battle of realist versus idealist continues in the second chorus, which swaps in Richard Hell’s Blank Generation, taking it to task for its own failures.
The most familiar names here, such as Julian Cope, Robyn Hitchcock and the Soft Boys, the Legendary Pink Dots, the Monochrome Set, and even Elvis Costello’s backing band, the Attractions, are scattered across the track list. There’s a song from the Damned in disguise, recording as Naz Nomad & the Nightmares, as well as solo cut from Captain Sensible. Fans of Creation Records will recognize a few of the label’s early signees: Biff Bang Pow!, the Jasmine Minks, and Revolving Paint Dream.
Those names might be the first to pique your interest, but the wealth of deeper cuts and pleasant surprises will hold it. The Times’ “I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape” plays it faithful to pop simplicity until the unexpected bit of radio theater over the middle eight. Nick Nicely’s “49 Cigars” is a Kinks-ian take on “Tomorrow Never Knows”, with a sense of humor about itself. Playing spot-the-influence is always fun, but so too is speculating which songs might have been influential in their own right, even in a small or indirect way. “Work”, by Blue Orchids (a band consisting of a few former members of the Fall), almost sounds like it could have been taken from Obits’ last album, with Martin Bramah’s voice cracking in strain like Rick Froberg. The Third Eye’s “Pass Myself” is like Ride covering Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam”.
Putting this time capsule treasure chest into context are the hearty liner notes, which include a number of pictures of some truly ace fashion and haircuts. Helen Donlon’s succinct introduction about the scene and how it was brought on in part by the vacuum left by Paul Weller retiring the Jam early sets the stage well for the 30-odd pages of step-by-step history that follows. Providing more than the typical tidy overview, a unique pleasure that Another Splash of Colour affords is that it allows one to become something of an instant scholar of a movement that many at this point either haven’t heard of or don’t remember, but should.