Max Kinghorn-Mills of Hollow Hand on Lal & Mike Waterson – Bright Phoebus
One of the records I’ve been anticipating the most over the last couple of months has been the latest from Hollow Hand. While Max has been making music for the last few years and is readying his fourth album, the first on Curation Records, I’d just begun catching up last year. Steeped in a sense of psych-pop and UK folk, his works are entrancing earworms shrouded in a sense of mystery. Before the record is out next week, I asked Max to offer up a pick for the Hidden Gems series and he’s gone deep on a UK folk gem from Lal & Mike Waterson.
“At the age of 19 I was studying music,” recalls Kinghorn-Mills, “living alone in a cosy basement flat and aiming to unearth the best music I could find, all in the pursuit of writing songs. In 2008, music fans were rallying behind web based, winzip rock-journals (hosted by blogspot & wordpress), to share illegal downloads of their beloved rare records. I had no money & considered this online ritual to be my equivalent of ‘crate digging’. I looked for the artwork with the most medieval font, I wanted outrageous outfits & evocative fantasy titles. Often this would lead to disappointment as another Tolkienesque cover illustration infiltrated my downloads folder to reveal yet another total snoozer; more white bluesmen asleep at the wheel in 1967.”
“I found myself moving away from the exhausted, florid perfume graveyard of tail-end 1960s psychedelia and leaning in to the stark, wyrd & severe sound of 70s British Folk Rock. Three of my favourite singers performed in the same group, appeared on the same albums and turned out to be siblings; The Watersons struck my heart like a hammer. Follow any British Folk family tree; most roads lead to Lal, Mike & Norma. When I found an album which really stood out to me I’d ask my Dad & if he had the record in his collection. “Ah” he said, rooting through his Richard Thompson & Shirley Collins LPs, proudly revealing a first edition copy of Bright Phoebus.”
“This is a strange album. Released in 1972, it sounds eerie, from the earth & unlike anything I’ve ever heard since. I discovered the album, with its distinctly pagan ambience, around the same time that I’d started watching my VHS of ‘The Wicker Man’ (a cult classic in the folk horror canon, 1973). To me, these two pieces shared such a strong bloodline that you might have found the Bright Phoebus songs included on Paul Giovanni’s original soundtrack to the film. With its references to all things witchlike & sacrificial (“and to a stake they tied a child newborn, and the songs were sung, the bells were rung, and they sowed their corn”), ‘The Scarecrow’ emanated total heathenry, it was ungodly music. I loved it for this reason.”
“When the folk illuminati are at their most boring they’re not known for their acceptance of the new. It’s understood that Bright Phoebus was rejected at the time of its release by those who claimed it to be deviating from the traditional. It’s clear to me that it sits alone, enigmatic, somewhere adjacent to ‘Sgt Pepper’s..’ & ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’. I would recommend this album to anyone who’s turned off by the old guard, the real-ale corduroy. Their music still rings true every time I listen, Lal & Mike’s punk gestures were never lost on me.”
An absolute treasure of folk’s progression in the early ‘70s, the album has certainly aged well. I can probably say I came across this in the same Blogspot corners that originally fed Max’s interest, though sadly, my parents didn’t have much original press UK folk on hand. The LP is in a bit of a limbo at the moment, rather frustratingly. In 2017 Domino issued a deluxe reissue of the album, but it seems there was contention between them and the publishing holders after the fact. Despite the new life given around that reissue, and great press proclaiming it a lost folk classic, the record now remains rather impossible to purchase in an official capacity. Despite having the reissue overseen by Lal’s daughter Mary Waterson, Domino’s reissue was found to infringe on the copyright of Celtic, who bought the original label, Trailer, in the ‘90s. Seems that Domino still retains the digital rights, which probably didn’t exist in original contracts, so it’s available to stream, but with regards to physical LPs, instead of licensing the record to Domino, Celtic have chosen to litigate it out of existence, even on second-hand sites like Discogs, so it remains almost as hard to find now as originals. It’s recommended for a listen however you come to it, and look out for Hollow Hand’s new album, Your Own Adventure, on Curation Records March 3rd.
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