Icarus Peel has been leading West-country psych sensations The Honey Pot and writing songs for Crystal Jacqueline for several years. Somehow, he's also found time to record several solo albums including Tea at My Gaffe, Sunflower Army and Sing!!. His first two albums have distinct flavours of their own. Tea at My Gaffe is a collection of mainly shorter, idiosyncratic songs with an obviously English flavour, while Sunflower Army blends a big rock sounds with a more rustic feel. It’s a mix Peel has perfect over the years and which he employs for his new long-player Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow.
Released this October, Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow is as bizarre, eccentric and engaging as ever. Indeed, what could be more bizarre and eccentric than a concept album about an undertaker who only buries single people? For that is what Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow is. A good, old-fashioned concept album like they used to make about good (an undertaker) and evil (a gang of villains up from the smoke). It was written as a bet and Peel won. It’s not at all dark, but rather it’s peppered with a light, wry humour which seasons Peel’s hook laden psych pop songs and beautiful ballads. It evokes memories of long agos and times gone by, it’s as English as tuppence and as gentle as the bygone time that inspired it.
Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow is available as 180gram black vinyl LP and very limited edition 4 CD set that includes Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow and re-mastered versions of Tea at My Gaffe, Sunflower Army and Sing!! housed in a handmade wooden box. And if that’s not enough, the CD version of Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow includes an additional song ‘Auntie Powers Her Nose’ previously issued on the Barnburner EP.
They make us proud to be English, these eccentric, hugely talented artists who seemed to disappear sometime after the early 1970's but have now made something of a comeback. Sure, they all look back to the golden days of the 1960s for inspiration, but the fact is this small but expanding group of musicians are using those sounds as a springboard for their own vision and creating wonderfully refreshing music. Three names come immediately to mind, Glenn Prangnell who explores the more beat side of the 1960s with Groovy Uncle and Suzi Chunk while throwing in touches of Northern Soul as 60's film soundtracks filter in and out of his music, then there’s one-man band multi-instrumentalist Chris Wade who, under his Dodson & Fogg project, shows no signs of letting-up with his unique blend of psych/prog and folk and finally we have Icarus Peel, the West-country’s very own Syd Barrett who is the brains behind the Honey Pot and Crystal Jacqueline.
The last we heard from Peel was The Honey Pot’s ‘Inside the Whale’ album, which explored Peel’s darker musical side although the single release at the time, ‘Lisa Dreams’, was a perfect slice of English summer pysch which is still spinning round in my head months after the first hearing. Over his previous solo albums Peel has shown that he’s no one trick pony, ‘Sunflower Army’ had a more rockier vibe while ‘Tea At My Gaffe’ was as English as the title would suggest. For his latest album on the wonderful Mega Dodo label Peel has taken the concept route, another nod to his 60's influences, and created an album centered around an undertaker and a bunch of villains. And it’s wonderful…
The album owes less to ‘Tommy’ or ‘S.F. Sorrow’ and more to the work that Mark Wirtz did for his ‘Teenage Opera’ project. Try to imagine Syd Barrett or even Kevin Ayers having a hand in Wirtz’s ‘Teenage Opera’ and delving deeper into characters like Sam, Auntie Mary and Grocer Jack and you’re part of the way there at least. Add a few embellishments from Dave Mason period Traffic and it becomes even clearer. It’s also very English evoking a period and place in time that some even doubt existed at all (it did); it’s certainly recalls a place that we will never see again; a England that is long since gone. Peel has been no stranger to showing his love of 1960's English psychedelia before but this time it’s more apparent than ever before. While it’s very English it’s far from the toy-town pysch that so many bands of that era embraced. There’s humour in Peel’s writing, which was usually missing from concept albums of that period, for the most part ‘concept’ meant that the band in question was trying to make a more serious statement but there are more than a few times during ‘Forget Me Not Under Pussy Willow’ when the smiles break out.
The fourteen-track CD album (just one of the formats available, more about that at the end of this piece), and, yes, that includes the minute-long spoken introduction because it forms an essential part of the album, much like Stanley Unwin’s contributions to ‘Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake’ (another classic album that ‘Forget Me Not…’ owes a passing debt to) doesn’t have to be listened to in one sitting to be fully appreciated. Apart from that short introduction and the penultimate song, ‘Here’s The News’, which is another short, spoken word piece, every song here would have been pulled off as a single back in the day so radio-friendly and hook-laden they are.
It’s pointless highlighting just a few tracks as each one is a killer, but ‘Something I Should Say’ is a dreamy summer Sunday afternoon psych soundscape, the female vocals complimenting Peel’s and the lysergic musical backing beautifully. ‘It’s Raining’ is the sound that Marriott and Lane would have created had the Move’s Roy Wood joined the Small Faces. ‘Catch Your Breath’ is a gentle acoustic ballad that Stevie Winwood would surely have found a place for on ‘Mr. Fantasy’. The following ‘Melody May’ follows in a similar vein; it’s absolutely stunning, before the next couple of songs find Peel back in Barrett/early Floyd territory.
It does require listening to in one session to gain the benefit of the whole story that is just as captivating as those concept albums we’ve loved in the past but the fact that the album is really made up of at least a dozen cracking 1960's inspired singles means you can also dip into it at any time if time is tight just to hear your current favourite without any loss of enjoyment.
And, no, I don’t give a flying one if this reads like a gushing schoolboy hearing the greatest album of all time for the first time. The fact is that Icarus Peel, who already has a remarkable body of work, has created one of the top three concept albums of all time. Any music lover who has even a passing interest in English 1960's psych needs this album. You’ll not only hear elements of your favourite bands in here but you’ll also hear a contemporary artist at the top of his game.
At the time of writing the Mega Dodo site at http://www.mega-dodo.co.uk lists the following as being available; Limited Edition (200 copies) 180 gram black vinyl with lyric sheet, the first 50 signed by Icarus Peel, a beautiful Limited Edition handmade wooden box (100 copies) containing remastered CD versions of ‘Tea At My Gaffe’, Sunflower Army’ and ‘Sing!’ along with ‘Forget Me Not’ so you get the entire Icarus Peel solo recordings in one neat box or the vinyl LP of ‘Forget Me Not’ along with the 10” Barnburner EP signed from which the bonus track on the CD version of ‘Forget Me Not’, namely ‘Auntie Powders Her Nose’, one of the more Barrett flavoured tracks, is lifted from as a bonus. Whichever version you choose it will be worth every penny.
Icarus Peel's new solo album "Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow" opens with tinkling piano and a welcoming voice; the narrator describing the album before it opens…
The first main cut is 'Forget-Me-Not,' a folky, proggy song - distinctly late '60s, one thinks of Small Faces… whimsical and lots of wah-guitar. 'Job Shiver' is more poppy, while 'Planting People' again brings out the wah-guitar, but with trumpet synths and a martial drumbeat. The funereal organ echoes the undertaker who is the main character of this concept album. 'It's Raining' returns to the narrator, and then a distinctly retro-sounding West Coast track, with a terrific tune and lots of attitude. Some great slide guitar playing here. This is what used to be called The Single - an album highlight without a doubt. 'We Came, We Saw' also ramps up the slide quotient, but the cut is a bouncy song in bluesy style. "We came, we saw, we thieved…" - the baddies of the piece, and from the Big Smoke as well… 'Something I Should Say' returns to the narrator for the third time, before… side B.
To side B then… 'Catch Your Breath' is a Floydian whimsy, with Crystal Jacqueline supplying backing vocals and a supple backwards guitar threaded through the piece. Another highlight of the work. 'Melody May' brings arpeggiating acoustic guitar to the fray, as a softer ballad hoves into view. Some lovely chord changes here, augmented with subtle synth backing. Very nice. 'Auntie Powders Her Nose' has a hint of those story-telling early Genesis tracks to it. 'Intimidation' marries a folky riff to a story of Big Smoke gangsters - "a professional kick in the teeth" indeed. 'Just Deserts' rocks out - great backing vocals augmenting the chorus. More great fuzzy guitar too. 'Here's The News' -deploys a phone call and a TV voice: bank robbers fail in sleepy town! .
At the end, 'Endings Happily' brings the sun to the little town - a great multi-voiced chorus with lots of zip and extra instruments, plus Leslie'd guitar in a sparse arrangement. Great bass here; a nice spacey guitar solo in there too. The narrator ends it all: "away you go." Definitely one for fans of those marvellous late '60s concept albums.
Steve Palmer, Terrascope
We have always had a soft spot for Ye Olde English Psychedelia……….as much as we love the tales from the States of getting blasted on acid in the Nevada desert and having psychedelic visions there is nothing quite like getting it together in the bucolic countryside with its green rolling hills and going for tea and cake nicely stoned. Pulling together influence from Kevin Ayers, early Pink Floyd and Traffic, Caravan and the Canterbury Scene, The Kinks and……err…..Genesis with also a cheeky nod in the direction of Robyn Hitchcock and The Dukes Of Stratosphear, Icarus Peel, from West Country gentle people The Honey Pot, has a new solo album, Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow, due for release which is as English as tuppence and as serene as the bygone time that inspired it…………..evoking a whimsical and mystical era of tea shops, warm beer, cricket on the village green, penny chews, vicars on bicycles, £sd and free from worries outside the borders of this green and pleasant land, if this record was possibly anymore “English” sounding, misguided Brexiteers would totally miss the point of this amiable record and be using it as an example of “how things used to be” before the pernicious Johnny Foreigner in Brussels made the rules. Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow is as bizarre, eccentric and engaging as Peel’s previous solo outings and what could be more bizarre and eccentric than a concept album about an undertaker? This is a good, old-fashioned concept album like they used to make about good (an undertaker) and evil (a gang of villains from the smoke). It was written as a bet and Peel won, somewhat tongue in cheek it’s not at all dark, but rather it’s peppered with a light, wry humour which seasons Peel’s hook laden Psych Pop songs and beautiful ballads that recall a golden age of English Psychedelia.
Linked together by spoken word narration, Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow is jam packed with great tunes which mix 60s Psychedelia, Folk-Rock and songs with a more early 70s Prog Rock feel as the story unfolds. The stand out tracks from a whole bunch of fantastic numbers must be squally, swirly Psych Pop of ‘It’s Raining’ which is not a million miles away from classic Roy Wood/The Move and the delightful ‘Melody May’ which has the feel of gently stoned vibe of the first Traffic album. The CD version of Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow includes an additional song ‘Auntie Powders Her Nose’ that is a prime cut of Floyd/Barrett psychedelic whimsy previously issued on the Barnburner EP. As a complete album Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow is utterly charming trip back half a century to a land full of psychedelic possibilities which will brighten up the quickly darkening nights of Autumn……..If gentle, very English, idiosyncratic Psych Pop that evokes memories of long agos and times gone by is your thing then this record needs to be on your turntable.
Another quality release from Mega Dodo, Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow will be available as a limited edition black vinyl LP (250 copies) and CD on 7th October from your groovy local record store (if you have one) otherwise you can buy it directly from the Mega Dodo webstore. There is also a very limited edition 4 CD set (100 copies) that includes Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow and re-mastered versions of the three previous Icarus Peel solo albums (Tea at My Gaff, Sunflower Army and Sing!) housed in a handmade wooden box. At time of writing there are no details about pre-orders being available so best keep ‘em peeled and check the Mega Dodo website/Facebook page for more details.
Strange Things Are Happening
Icarus Peel is a busy boy. He's the leader of West Country Psych wonders, The Honey Pot, a band where Peel's exceptional guitar skills come tho the fore in beat driven 60's Psych. He also writes and performs with Crystal Jacqueline, a more Renaissance like affair.
His solo work is largely very anglophile storytelling. the exception being his rustic rock album, The Sunflower Army. This is his fourth album and it's a concept album and the world is certainly ready for more concept albums.
The album is very much in the territory of quintessential albums by the likes of Todd Dillingham, Syd Barrett and Martin Newell. Great storytelling. The story here is one of Good Vs Evil and a chance to surround great Psych Pop with Rock and Folk. Some great songwriting and more importantly, real wit. This is demonstrated to full effect in the opener, Forget-Me-Not.
The album is released the superb Mega Dodo label. I rate this as high as I do, Sugarbush. Mega Dodo is releasing some superb Psych lately, a real competitor for Fruits de Mer. The label is a real resting place for the unusual and should be heard.
Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow is a perfect example of this. It's to be listened as a whole, across all 13 songs. Each is different and adds something to the whole. The CD adds the magnificent, Auntie Powders Her Nose as a Bonus Track.
The album is also available on 180g Vinyl and as part of a very limited 4 CD Box Set with remastered versions of the three previous Icarus Peel albums, Tea At My Gaffe, Sunflower Army and Sing!!.
You should investigate Icarus Peel more, an eccentric talent, talent being the operative word.
I Don't Hear A Single
Icarus Peel Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow
Mega Dodo DODOLP 17 (LP)
As a cornerstone of Mega Dodo's psych roster, Icarus Peel has done sterling work both as leade' of The Honey Pot - their excellent Inside The Whale is one of the label's highlights this year - and inhis writing for, and playing on, Crystal Jacqueline's albums. Here, he's providing them with a concept LP under his own name, a quintessentially English soundtrack, of distinctly West Country persuasion. His very own ... Village Green Preservation Society perhaps.
It's a whimsical record, despite its central character being a local undertaker and protagonists a bunch of bad guys down from the big city. No graveyard black humour though, but songs of gentle wit and delicious absurdity delivered with a feather-light touch, with a lovingly applied sheen of 60s psychedelia polished into their very grain.
Icarus reaches back to a previous Mega Dodo release, his Bambumer team-up with Mordecai Smyth, for the well-worth resurrecting and joyously anarchic Auntie Powders Her Nose, but otherwise this is new material linked up in a manner reminiscent of Under Milk Wood - full of characters, some of whom get (as the song says) their Just Deserts (sic), with things, of course, Ending Happily. A warmly nostalgic set with bucolic charm that ably captures the feel of a different time.
lan Abrahams, Record Collector
ICARUS PEEL Forget-Me-Not Under Pussy Willow ★★★ MEGA DODO LP / LIMITED EDITION 4-CD BOX SET
The male lead of The Honey Pot (the West Country’s answer to Jefferson Airplane), Icarus Peel has a name that conjures notions of Victorian eccentricity. It’s quite ﬁ tting, then, that he has produced what to all intents and purposes is an antediluvian concept album featuring narrative links, a village undertaker as hero, villains from “the smoke”, and for which twin amber mellotron and pastoral whimsy alerts are deﬁ nitely warranted. Its quaintness balancing precariously on the edge of tweeness at times, the daytime airplay friendliness of, say, ‘ForgetMe-Not’ is nicely counterbalanced by the darker undertones of ‘Floating People’ and ‘Intimidation’, decent arrangements and a ﬁ ne ear for a disarming, melt in the head melody. Peel’s voice, too, sometimes something of a Marmite experience even in the same sandwich, works well on the material here. All said, the old school charm is undeniable, while rest assured that selective exploration will yield dividends.
Ian Fraser, Shindig
Mega Dodo is the emcee for a Battle of the Bands double b-side 10″ between UK psych-popsters Icarus Peel and Mordecai Smyth under the nom de guerre Barnburner. Both are busy men: Mordecai Smyth is coming out of his corner after Dial ‘M’ for Mordecai, while Icarus Peel summons his strength after his recent Sing!! and throwing punches on Crystal Jacqueline’s Sun Arise as well as maintaining a head of steam with The Honey Pot. Contributing 3 songs each, Peel and Smyth go toe-to-toe with their respective brands of decidedly English psych pop. Being that both are consummate professionals and gentlemen, they’ve also covered each other; Peel takes on Smyth’s Almost Murder Ballad while Smyth works out on Peel’s Plastic People. Peel’s other contributions, Auntie Powders Her Nose and Crystal Jacqueline are prime Peel. Auntie Powders Her Nose has a healthy dollop of ’60s psych whimsy conjuring up the spirit of a time when pop was populated with characters like Arnold Layne. Crystal Jacqueline … if you’re familiar with Icarus in any level and his day-jobs, then you can guess what that slice of summery fancy is all about. On the other side of the canvas, we find Smyth in a more pensive mood, though by no means dour. Out In The Stars is an open invitation to ‘set sail down the river’ with a slightly bittersweet mix of nostalgia, melancholy and resignation. Plastic People is the counter-punch to Auntie Powders Her Nose, replete with confetti, Timbuktu and perfectly wasted time. It may be Peel’s glove, but Smyth’s paw slips right in as snug as if it were his own. Smyth provides the last round with the wonderfully floating and fluid Drifted Along, a tune that delivers just what the title promises. Despite its lyrical twist of fate and fortune, it’s a perfect send off and in its own way proves that what’s been flying around more than punches is respect.
Sunrise Ocean Bender
And talking of that Mordecai Smyth / Icarus Peel face off here’s the ‘Barnburner’ EP. Described by the Mega Dodo publicity house as the world’s first double b side split 10 inch this outing comes strictly limited as a 100 only pressing on – yep you guessed it 10 inches of heavy duty wax. Upon the grooves 4 cuts of smoked sixties seasonings with each of the contenders admirably acquitting themselves and stamping their weird psych credentials with two tracks apiece. First up Icarus Peel tunes your head inside out with the kookified kaleidoscopia ‘Auntie powders her nose’ which aside being warped and wonky sounds like tomorrow channelling the spirit of Syd albeit here as though refried by a not so much chameleonic but magpie nicking Deram era pre spaceboy 70’s glam deity Bowie. Stranger still is the weirded out ‘almost murder ballad’ – the Peel ones take on a Mr Smyth gem – an impishly macabre murder ballad inscribed in a coolly creepy ‘dark shadows’ styled wonkiness, an Addams Family variant on Nancy and Lee if you must featuring CJ herself hatching dark deeds to the frying backdrop of funhouse sounds of disturbia – quite priceless and much in need of hearing if you ask me. The breezy eyed and coolly tranquil ‘Crystalline Jacqueline’ rounds up Mr Peel’s trio of tasters all succulently dimpled in murmuring early 70’s trippyness. Mr Smyth opens his account with the aforementioned ’out in the stars’ (see the previous ’Evolver’ critique) whilst his take on Mr Peel‘s ‘plastic people’ finds his normally crooked though demurred colouring somewhat dulled and in its place a spiky if not impatient irritation seething in desperation through the floral forays – themselves finding bedfellows with the likes of freed unit and the beatnik filmstars. Last but by no means least ‘drifted along’ is cradled in a becoming bruised baroque / gothica majesty that succulently glides head bowed to a waltz time withering and darkly set grandeur – scarcely a dry eye in the house.
The Sunday Experience
I’m pleased to hear more from Icarus Peel, whose music I’ve only become acquainted with in the past year through his work with The Honey Pot and Crystal Jacqueline. Aunty Powders Her Nose features bouncy Pop-Psych that’s firmly in the Syd-Floyd realm. It’s well produced, with tasty guitar and keyboard arrangements and appropriate placed effects. Almost Murder Ballad is a Mordecai Smyth cover, with killer ripping psych guitar on this dark, doomy, and lightly orchestrated bit of twisted Psychedelia. Peel shares vocal duties with a female singer that I don’t see mentioned in the promo sheet but I’m sure is Crystal Jacqueline. The horn solo is a nice touch too. And speaking of Crystal Jacqueline, that’s the title of Peel’s final entry, a cool grooving 60s West Coast Psych inspired song that’s like a cross between Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan.
I was previously unfamiliar with Mordecai Smyth but these three songs left me interested in checking him out further. Out In The Stars is a soulful Pop-Psych tune with an R&B edge and a Beatles feel during the instrumental break. Smyth reciprocates with a tip of the hat to Peel by covering his song Plastic People. The music begins like it’s going to blast off into space, but quickly becomes a freaky brand of what I’ll call Carnival-Psych. It’s weirdly fun, with piano, flute and effects, and has the briefest of moments when it threatens to explode into something heavier. Finally, Drifted Along is a dreamy but grooving song, once again with an underlying R&B feel, which is offset by flowing Mellotron-like keys. I like the interesting contrasts that all come together nicely.
Honey Pot singer/songwriter Peel previously recorded a double EP for Fruits De Mer with ex-Honey Pot vocalist, Crystal Jacqueline. To add to the confusion, one of his three tracks here is the autobiographical 'Crystal Jacqueline', a lovely pop ditty with a 'Moonlight Mile' guitar riff running around a Geldofian vocal. 'Aunty Powders Her Nose' is a spacey, synth-swashed psych delight with unusual time signatures and Syd Barrett influences aplenty, although the guitar noodling and ham-fisted vocals are a bit overbearing on his cover of Smyth's 'Almost Murder Ballad'.
Smyth's tracks are a little less accessible. Trainspotters will enjoy Neil Young's 'Country Girl' riff sneaking a peek out from behind 'Out In The Stars', but his cover of Peel's 'Plastic People' is angry and tuneless. The Moodies-styled 'Drifted Along' benefits from a dreamy Mellotron backing, but Smyth's vocals are weak and the track is ultimately forgettable.
Personally, and this is a matter of subjective taste I guess, I found Icarus Peel to be the victorious part in the fight theme presented on the album cover. The bubbly organ and careful guitar details of Aunty Powders Her Nose, complete with spacey sound effects, is a surprising and charming take on 60’s psychedelic pop, Almost Murder Ballad a chaotic, psychedelic dripping and dark creation that comes with something of a bad acid trip mood to it, and while his hymn to fellow artist (and partner?) Crystal Jacqueline lyrically walks on a thin line between a lot of different pitfalls I found that by and large they were avoided by an innocent, naive charm, the kind the hippie movement had before it lost it’s innocence you might say.
House of Prog
Olav Martin Bjørnsen / June 29, 2015