Reviews in this issue:
The Magic Mushroom Band were originally formed back in 1982 when, allegedly, guitarist Garry Masters (aka Garry Moonboot) heard Kim Russell (aka Kim Oz) singing in the bath and crawled through the bathroom window to invite the owner of the voice to join his band! Along with the third core member of the group, guitarist Gary Twining (aka Ed 'Eddie' Bones), and a variable collection of other musicians, the group set about gigging and released the first of several limited edition cassettes. It wasn't until 1986 that the debut album, The Politics Of Ecstasy, was released on the group's own Pagan Music label as a limited edition of 500 copies. The follow-up, Bomshankar, released by Aftermath Records in 1987, was more consistent in terms of recording quality and sold well enough for Aftermath to release Eyes Of The Angel in 1989. Two more limited edition, privately pressed albums on Fungus Records followed: Process Of Illumination in 1990 and Spaced Out in 1991. By this time Masters, Russell and Twining had been joined, in what was to be the most consistent line-up, by Wayne Manor (bass), Marc Swordfish (drums and programming) and Sam Turner (violin). Signing with Magick Eye records, the band released a further three albums; Re-Hash (a collection of older material re-recorded utilising more advanced studio equipment) in 1992, RU Spaced Out 2 in 1993 and Magic in 1994 (by which time the group had abbreviated their name to The Mushroom Band).
Since 1994, The Mushroom Band have been on a seemingly permanent hiatus while various members have concentrated on the off-shoot band Astralasia, an ambient / trance / dance act originally formed in 1990. Astralasia are probably most widely known to progressive fans for their remix of Porcupine Tree's Voyage 34 (Phase III) released by Delerium Records as a limited edition EP.
Voiceprint Records have recently required the rights to all the Magic Mushroom Band material released by Magick Eye and have reissued the last four albums in a remastered format. In addition, to round off the story, a fifth CD collating all the, now extremely rare, singles originally issued between 1991 and 1994, has been released.
Magic Mushroom Band - Spaced Out
Tracklist: Astralasia (7:59), Look Into The Future (3:21), Feel So Fine (4:04), Equasian (3:27), Freedom (4:09), My Hat (5:04), Squatter In The House (6:50), Aquasian (3:30), Aravinda (3:34), Pictures In My Mind (4:46), It Just Takes Time (5:56)
Originally released in 1991, Spaced Out saw The Magic Mushroom Band taking on the mantle previously held by Hawkwind. Astralasia kicks things off in a relatively ambient mood with lots of swirling synths and typical sax and flute mayhem from special guest David Jackson of Van Der Graaf Generator fame. The title of the track underlines the close association with the off-shoot band of the same name and the influence they had on the Magic Mushroom Band sound, particularly on the next album. This influence is particularly prominent on the other instrumental pieces on this album. A very mellow approach is taken on Equasian, a gentle acoustic guitar and saxophone piece which is revisited on Aquasian with the sax replaced by a flute. The remaining two instrumental numbers have a more rhythmic feel. Squatter In The House has a more prominent beat and is laden with female moans that even Jane Birkin would have been proud of Aravinda features a more ethnic percussion track and some haunting and atmospheric flute work courtesy of Mr Jackson.
The remainder of the album consists of some very fine songs, which are mostly sung by Garry Moonboot, Kim Oz taking charge of the lead vocals on only one track, Freedom. Tracks like Feel So Fine, It Takes Time and Look Into The Future (which features a great violin riff by Sam Turner) are classic space rock numbers and will be a delight to any follower of the genre. However, top billing must go to the classic Pictures In My Mind which is not only psychedelic, spacey, rocky and foot-tappingly good, but also contains a chorus that sticks in the brain for an eternity. Close to a perfect Magic Mushroom Band song.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Magic Mushroom Band - Re-Hash
Tracklist: Magick Eye (8:10), Love Ressurection (5:36), Who Can Say (4:52), Are You Experienced (6:31), Turban Paranoia (6:02), Squatter In The House (7:17), My White Bicycle (3:39) (NB The track order given on the back of the CD is incorrect. The correct order is as given here and as printed on the back of the CD booklet)
Re-Hash is a collection of older material from the early tapes and albums re-recorded using a few more studio tricks and toys that were not available when the songs were originally laid down on tape. The aim of these re-recordings was also to present the songs in the style of the off-shoot band Astralasia. As a bonus, a couple of cover versions of classic 1960s songs were added. Opening track Magick Eye firmly places the group into the Gong camp of spacey, tripped out music. Synthesisers to the fore, an incisive guitar solo and a patented Gilli Smyth space whisper courtesy of Kim Oz, they even throw in a didgeridoo for good measure. The unconventionally spelled Love Resurrection is a rather more straight forward, dare I say it, pop song. Of all the Magic Mushroom Band's output, this track sounds the most dated, the beginning and ending is very 1980s synth-pop separated by a somewhat overlong Duane Eddy guitar riff. Who Can Say has a big chorus, lots of synths and an overly-prominent drum beat while Turban Paranoia and Squatter In The House are on a par with some of the more dance orientated remixes produced by Ozric Tentacles. The latter song is enhanced by some nice sax and flute work by an uncredited contributor (although chances are it is David Jackson).
The two cover versions, Hendrix's Are You Experienced?' and Tomorrow's My White Bicycle' are brave re-makes of classic numbers. The Hendrix cover probably works best transformed as it is into a psychedelic maelstrom with sibilant vocals and an excess of phasing. In contrast, My White Bicycle is brought into the modern age but is marred by the prominent programmed drums.
So, was the attempt to merge Magic Mushroom Band songs with the contemporary Astralasia vibe a success? The album definitely has a much more dance-orientated feel which probably won't sit too comfortably with the average prog rock fan. The over abundance of programmed drums and incessant beats throughout the album can be a bit tiring and detract from the song, confirming my belief that dance music is not something that is actually easy to listen to, in the same way that prog rock is not easy to dance to! However, the album is saved by probably the best version of Magick Eye that the group ever recorded.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Magic Mushroom Band - RU Spaced Out 2
Tracklist: New Day (3:59), Hubbly Bubbly (5:42), Remember Your Future (4:35), Bunk (2:57), Dandelion Parachute (3:15), Hurry On Sundown (6:16), More Bunk (2:16), Herbs And Spice (4:53), Thought Train (2:48), Life Is So Strange (6:37)
The 1993 album R U Spaced Out 2 saw the Magic Mushroom Band return to the more familiar "psychedelic space pop" sound that they are most associated with. And a welcome return it is too! A first class mixture of instrumentals and top rate songs that took the band closest to a Hawkwind sound than they had been before. This is no more evident than on opening track New Day with it's initial synth 'lift-off' effect to the Arabian inflection to the chorus that is reminiscent of Hassan Ishaba from Quark, Strangeness and Charm. Synthesisers fulfil a very Tim Blake role emphasising the spacey nature of the music and work particularly well on the melodic and very fluid guitar dominated instrumental Hubbly Bubbly. Bunk and More Bunk are, as one would suspect, two halves of the same coin being a very jaunty piano based instrumental with added flute on the second part. In many ways, these instrumental numbers, which also includes Thought Train with its classic Hammond organ sound, act as linking pieces between songs which gives the album a strong cohesion and allows it to flow smoothly.
The songs themselves demonstrate how the band had advanced over the years each being good examples of precise song writing. Remember The Future features the underemployed Sam Turner on violin backed by some simple, but effective, slide guitar work by Ed Bones. A semi-acoustic interlude occupies the middle of the album with the jolly Dandelion Parachute (which shares a common music parentage to Golden Green by The Wonderstuff) and a cover of Hawkwind's debut single Hurry on Sundown which is slightly more psychedelicised than the original. Herbs And Spices takes things in a more funkier direction with synthesised horn stabs while closing track Life Is So Strange breaks out the acoustic guitars for a camp fire sing-along which is simultaneously uplifting and reassuring - a great way to end the album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Mushroom Band - Magic
Tracklist: When Dreams Collide (6:19), Microburst (1:42), Let It Fly (4:48), Halfway Down And About To Fall (6:26), There's The Twist (2:49), Microburst II (2:50), Overlife Sensation (4:14), Denmark Elephant Grey (6:14), Freefalling (6:32)
1994 saw the swansong release by The Mushroom Band who had fortunately only lost the magic from their name and not their music. The album opens rather sedately with When Dreams Collide which incorporates the Hare Krishna chant and, as any chant should be, is rather repetitive. For the first time on a Mushroom album the bulk of the tracks are instrumental including, in what is something of a characteristic trademark, one track that is split into two parts. On Magic this track is Microburst, a pure synthesiser piece which is a mixture of Pink Floyd's On The Run and Hawkwind's The Forge Of The Vulcan. Elsewhere, Halfway Down And About To Fall, Denmark Elephant Grey and Freefalling are all relatively undefined pieces that tend to drift but ensure that the tag of 'space rock' can still be firmly applied to the band.
The three remaining tracks are quite a diverse collection of songs. Let It Fly is one of the finest psychedelic pop songs in the band's repertoire, an energetic number that uses Kim Oz's vocals to good effect on the chorus (it's a mystery why her vocal talents were not used to a greater extent on any of the albums); There's The Twist is a Syd Barrett / Kevin Ayers pastiche, a wry humorous ditty; Overlife Sensation is an ambitious song that includes a sampled choir which combined with the organ sound gives the song quite a gothic feel. I'm not entirely convinced by this song, it has some very good elements (particularly the guitar work) but lacks a degree of cohesion lacking in other songs.
It is possible that the dominance of quite simple instrumentals and the variety of song styles is an indication that the group was running out of ideas, which may have been a factor in the decision to lay the band to rest. That is not to imply that Magic is a sub-standard album - many of the group's followers consider it their finest work and it is equally likely that the band thought there were not able to better it. It is an enjoyable album with some very fine moments and the quality of the music and recording is on a par with the best of their previous work. However, when I'm in the mood for some Magic Mushroom Band, I just have the feeling that Magic will be second choice after R U Spaced Out 2.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Magic Mushroom Band - Singles And Rarities
Tracklist: Pictures In My Mind (4:48), Squatter In The House (6:46), Eight Miles High (6:12), Magick Eye (8:10), Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (14:44), Life Is So Strange  (6:03), Turban Paranoia [Bombay mix] (6:03), Astralasia [Tribe All mix] (7:15), Slap Tongue Squeaky Bonk [remix] (12:33)
Voiceprint have catered for the collectors and completists by drawing together the four CD singles released by the Magic Mushroom Band between 1991 and 1994. The Pictures In My Mind single from 1991 included two tracks taken directly from the Spaced Out album. Although it is understandable and probably desirable to include all the tracks from the singles, personally I could have done without hearing Squatter In The House again. Third track on the single was a cover of Eight Miles High by The Byrds. The original song is somewhat of a masterpiece so any cover version that attempts a straight re-recording is bound to fail. Fortunately, the Mushroom's don't fall into that trap and have turned the song into a dreamy slab of psychedelia. Slowed down and with added slide guitar, female vocals and other sonic effects, this rendition works very well.
The title track of the Magick Eye single is also a direct cull from its parent album, Re-Hash. As that album was not an entirely successful (in my opinion) attempt to incorporate dance elements into the Magic Mushroom Band sound, it is good that the stand out track from the album is available on this release of singles, particularly considering the second track on this single was a fifteen minute version of Pink Floyd's Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun. This cover is a more faithful representation of the original than Eight Miles High, although it does have subtle differences! An ambitious choice for a cover version but one that does work well and is one of the highlights of this CD.
The rarities element of the CD's title is the inclusion of the complete Freshly Picked EP released as a promotional CD in 1993. This consisted of an edit of Life Is So Strange from the R U Spaced Out 2 album and remixes of Turban Paranoia (from Re-Hash) and Astralasia (from Spaced Out). The edit of the lead track is not that drastic, trimming about 30 seconds off the original and the remixes are somewhat perfunctory, Astralasia coming off worse by the addition of an annoying back beat. Final track, Slap Tongue Squeaky Bonk, is from the last single The Fungus Amongus which was credited simply to Mushroom. This remix version (by Astralasia) is quite mellow and in more of a trance style. Due to limitations of space the other two tracks from this single, Time Just Takes It (UVX remix) and Aravinda (Original Spaced Out Mix) are not included although the title would suggest that the version of Aravinda was the same as on the album release.
Overall, Singles And Rarities is a decent enough compilation of the obscure and hard to find singles although somewhat inessential compared with the original albums. It would have been nice if the single tracks had been added to the contemporaneous albums as bonus tracks but I guess if the cash generated from releasing them as a separate CD provides revenue to finance further obscure and hard to find back catalogue reissues then we shouldn't complain too much.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10