The sixties were cool. The hippie counterculture that was fuelled by the consciousness expansion of LSD had given rise to some major impacts on society, and the flower children protested ‘Nam by day whilst partying naked in the dying sunshine in the evening. This is the image I like, anyway – which is probably why I associate the sixties with California more than anywhere else. After all, it was in San Francisco where the hippies had made their unofficial base of operations – Owsley brewed the acid (and gave most of it away for free), The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane took the sound that The Beatles had started and gave it even more of a psychedelic twist, and Iron Butterfly almost single handedly invented metal with their extended heavy jam sessions. What a place to be.
Of course there were British hippies and some great music coming out of our little island, but… well, it was all a bit shit wasn’t it? When you compare the British scene to the American one, it’s like comparing Easy Rider to Withnail & I – one of them roars across the desert in the blazing sun, the other one whimpers in the rain in the middle of nowhere. The thing I had overlooked with this analysis was that just as both of these films were great in their own way, so were the sixties countercultures. Sure San Francisco gave us The Dead and The Airplane, but London gave us Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones.
The most important band to talk about in any musical discussion of the sixties is The Beatles, but it was their success which ultimately removed them from the British scene. They were true world-beaters, and influenced bands all over the globe – and in the end, missed out on the British answer to psychedelic rock – progressive rock. Pink Floyd are the band that most typify this transition (whilst King Crimson, of course, remain the masters of the genre) with their Barrett-era psychedelia and then the subsequent move into progressive rock. Whilst sounding wildly different to later albums such as Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd’s first effort, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, is a truly fantastic album. Well, cross that with some pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles, and you’ll find Skip Bifferty.
The influence of the ever-prevalent Beatles is clear in this record from the start with songs like ‘Jeremy Carbine’ and ‘Come Around’ sounding almost like ‘Hello Goodbye’, but other tracks such as ‘Gas Board Under Dog’ sound more like Syd Barrett madness. The result of this mix is a happy one, with only the occasional misfire, and we’re left with a very fun little album. Skip Bifferty were most definately hippies but they were clearly having fun with it (a humorous newspaper article clipping is included on the inside cover which describes how the band, bored with the “monotony” of the green grass in their garden, painted it red and got evicted) – unlike, say, Quintessence, another psychedelic London band who despite creating some excellent music were rather bogged down in the ‘spiritual’ side of the LSD experience.
The second disc of the album contains some very rare BBC sessions with the band, but unfortunately the sound quality is terrible. As this is a freebie I let it slide, but really there could be no way to warrant charging people money for these grainy recordings. Much better are the two Heavy Jelly tracks included on the disc – the infamous ‘I Keep Singing That Same Old Song’ and another worthwhile number, ‘Blue’.
All in all, this is a rather brilliant little nugget of music history. It’s certainly an acquired taste, but if you like The Beatles and early Pink Floyd – or indeed, any of the pre-progressive rock British scene – you should love this. It’s a shame that the band haven’t been afforded fonder memories than they seem to have been. This CD is easy enough to find online, but good luck spotting it in your local record store.