Jan Dukes de Grey

Before we jump into 1972, lets catch two final one album wonder English neo-folk bands. Bands like these show the great aspect progression and complexity are starting to define the sound of their music. No longer content with paying due diligence to tradition they’re seeking to go beyond it, experimenting with arrangements that recall the past but are so abstracted, and improvised as to be firmly planted with an eye towards the future.

In 1971, the Jan Dukes de Grey released a record out of the ether so unlike their first bit of acid folk, and most of English folk-rock, that it defied much categorization. This group formed in Leeds on 1968 by Derek Noy and Michael Bairstow was influenced by Donovan, Dylan, and the Dead. Their first release 1969’s Sorcerers was a wild and aimless mish-mash of psychedelic folk best left to the forgotten bin of the time. Finding themselves dropped by their record label for selling mere nothings of that bit of worthwhile experimentation but grating listen, they had to do something else to prove their mettle.

Mice and Rats in the LoftI album cover.

Somehow, Derek and Michael seeing and hearing all these new folk-rock bands like Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Incredible String Band, as they toured with big acts like Pink Floyd and the Who, wisen up to the idea that they could use their bit of offbeat playing style to go big in the folk realm. That’s what they did with the 3-track epic neo-folk behemoth of Mice and Rats in the Loft. By adding a third member, a rock drummer Dennis Conlan, they fattened up their sound immensely and built sprawling winding jams incorporating flutes, organs, strings, acoustic guitars, Zelda Chords/autoharps, and nearly any and every non-electric guitar instrument they can get their hands on to play with. Adding to this sprawl was the truly wacked out lyrics and vocals of Derek.

Another adherent to the school of Roger Chapman and Captain Beefheart vocals, he’d start off by singing hippy diatribes that he would slowly evolve into the devolved chaos of a madman, nearing punk snide levels in doing so. The brilliant part though is that every step of the way, no matter how many shifts in tones Derek goes through, the musical accompaniment mostly provided by Michael, went even further out in that emotional direction.

“Sun Symphonica” Part 1.

“Sun Symphonica” Part 2.

Simply listen to one of the true folk masterpieces, their 18-minute long “Sun Symphonica”, specifically what transpires after the 4 minute mark, where the song shifts from its original flower power “I love the sunshine” lyrics/message into a much more primal Motorik-sounding Germanic groove and feeling, then into Progressive Soul recalling Curtis Mayfield’s work in America or Caetano’s work outside of Brazil but in their hands properly twisted, all the while an insanely Comus-like folk groove continues to build and mutate around it and Noys vocals…then you’ll get how wiggy and out there this kind of music is, and somehow by mere feeling is so thoroughly English it could only be created from their own folk tradition. I highly recommend staying for the rest of the album, the next track “Call of the Wild” which uses the Bo Diddley riff for EXTREMELY nefarious pagan-folk purposes is something you won’t hear often. Anyway, more uniquely English neo-folk tomorrow…

Listen to Mice and Rats in the Loft at Grooveshark.