Mandrake Paddle Steamer were one of the countless UK underground bands that crept about in undeserving obscurity during the heady transitional period between psychedelic rock and prog during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Over the last several decades, the group slowly developed a cult following, despite the fact that they only officially released a few singles during their short life.
Thankfully, the good people at Guerssen Records were able to round up previously unreleased acetates and private reel-to-reel tapes from the band’s archive, clean up the sound, and release it all together here on this fantastic album.
Musically, the record is similar to other classic UK proto-prog bands like Second Hand, Czar and Blossom Toes, but the lyrics and attitude are noticeably darker and far more sinister. The songs growl and quake with ferocious fuzz guitars, menacing mellotrons and electric organs. From arty Ray Bradbury-inspired freak-outs, like the phased-crazy title track and the foreboding “The October Country,” to nightmarish Arthur Brown-esque rave-ups like “The World Whistles By,” this compilation shows how MPS were one of the more macabre—and also one of the most versatile—bands of their era.
Just put on the Arzachel-like dreamy organ-lead “The Doorway to January” or the eerie head-swirling seven-minute epic that is “Stella Mermaid,” and you’ll be instantly struck by the sheer power and imagination that these former art school rockers possessed.
While the music here is great enough to stand up on its own, the album poses so many ponderous ‘what ifs,’ that it’s hard to hear the album without dwelling on them. Every song is strong enough to make you wonder what future albums could have come from this group if they were given as much money, PR and studio time as somebody like Pink Floyd or King Crimson. Additionally, tracks like the otherworldly eccentric multi-movement suite, “Doris The Piper,” are so different, so commanding and so intricate, it makes you truly wonder how the band might have played them live (and how overwhelming it might have felt to see these songs performed in person!)
Alas, we may never know, but at least we have this lovingly crafted document to help spread just how great this mysterious psychedelic band truly were.
You can land this excellent, darkly kaleidoscopic release on vinyl, CD or digital here.