Seasons They Change: The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk

(Jawbone Press)




That famous broadcaster, the late Paul Harvey, used to end
his famous commentaries with a signature line: “And now you know…  the rest of the story.” Were he concluding a reading of Seasons They Change, he might have summed it up by declaring, “And
now you know…  the entire story.” That’s an indication of how thoroughly author
Jeanette Leech explores her subject matter, which for all intents and purposes
transcends the expansive promise of its subtitle. In fact, at an ample 350 plus
pages, it’s a remarkably thorough treatise on the rise, fall and revival of the
modern folk movement, told from a British perspective and rendered from the
‘50s onwards. Ostensibly an attempt to link the modern “nu-folk” idiom — or,
as it’s unapologetically described in the current musical vernacular, “freak
folk” — with its trad origins, it covers a lot of ground, from early
forerunners of Britain’s modern folk mélange like Shirley Collins, Davy Graham
and Ewan MacColl, to American auteurs like Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley,
unconventional innovators who cast a wide net as far as ambition and invention.


The early heroes of this thematic tangent, the Incredible
String Band, Pearls Before Swine and the Holy Modal Rounders chief among them,
are given ample credence for their mesh of weirdness and wonder, but Leech goes
way beyond the otherwise obvious namedropping and references dozens of other
artists that even the most ardent aficionado 
might be hard pressed to identify. That’s especially impressive in light
of the fact that despite various articles and commentaries, this is the
author’s first attempt at writing an actual musical tome. The territory finds a
clearer focus once the trajectory finds its way into the format’s resurgence,
with artists like Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and the Espers credited for
bringing the style back to prominence.

Likewise, there’s never a sense that Leech would ever even
think of scrimping on the subject matter. Filling in the gulf between folk’s
two prime periods, the Sixties and the new millennium, she takes various
detours into Blues, Punk and, of course, pure psychedelia. In the latter case,
the book offers one of its most significant revelations, that being the origins
of the term “psychedelic.” Early on, there’s this telling passage.


term, coined in 1957 by psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond, was originally used to
describe hallucinogenic drugs, but by 1963 – thanks to Timothy Leary and Aldous
Huxley – it had come to refer to any experience that mimicked a hallucinogenic
: kaleidoscopic Colours, altered reality, expanded consciousness. In their
rewrite of banjoist Charlie Poole’s ‘Hesitation Blues,’ The Holy Modal Rounders
included the lines: ‘Got my psychedelic feet/In my psychedelic shoes/I believe,
lordly mama/Got the psychedelic blues.'”

Fortunately, for all its scholarly insights, the book never comes across as too
dry or deadpan as far as its narrative is concerned. While it’s never short on
facts and footnotes, there are ample anecdotes in its sustained storyline to
keep the reader enticed. Ultimately, Seasons
They Change
, is a well-written, thoroughly researched text, as absorbing
and intriguing as the music and material it defines,


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