plankton – a fruits de mer collection

back in the day when we were all so much younger, some of us hairier, a fledging label took root initially dovetailing its elder sibling Bracken records. It was a quiet affair, there was promise of sounds hinted in krautrock, psychedelic and progressive phrasings, the latter being a genre that over the proceding years had come to be accepted albeit cautiously welcomed after years of exile by the music press fashionista, an acceptance one suspects begrudgeoned by a realisation that what emerged on their favourite sons (Radiohead) ‘hail to the thief’ full length was summed up by the careful albeit stark evaluation that if it sounded prog, looked prog and pretty much walked prog then the chances were, all things being accepted, that it was prog. Of course I’m being flippant here, there had been many crossovers alluding to progs heritage – both post rock and a lot of the trippy ambient / club sounds of the early 90’s clealy owed a debt. However, back to the script. Fruits de Mer seamlessly took over the harnesses from Bracken records, its first release was by a much adored New York based psyched out collective by the name of Schizo Fun Addict who themselves had pretty much taken up residence on the former labels enviable roster. Several years down the line and with a landmark 100th release looming large (Honey Pot’s ‘ascending scales’), fruits de mer have since established a reputation that’s second to none, compared to the classic labels of yore – vertigo, island and charisma, the label has built up a formidable back catalogue of vinyl releases. And perhaps this is the key to their success – that vinyl element and bloody mindedness to stay faithful to a medium that was still largely ignored in the early days of the label. Add to that, and much in tune with labels such as Static Caravan and Polytechnic Youth, its run by a record collecting fan, who by the very nature of being a fan knows exactly what another like minded fan wants / expects – therefore we’ve had limited editions, factory cock upping coloured vinyl variations, test pressings, flexi discs, cassettes – one version if I recall rightly even including a walkman, box sets, lathes, freebies for early bird orderers, a subscribers club, festivals and more. More than a label, a family. One of fruits de mer’s earliest supporters, the esteemed Record Collector, went as far as to press up a limited edition release as part of their record club, that gathered together several key note early outings from the label. The set entitled ‘plankton’ has long since been sought after not only because of its relative scarcity but also for the fact that it gives the opportunity to revisit those sold out releases (most of whom fetch upwards of £50 a shot these days) however, through careful negotiation the label has been given permission for a limited pressing of 300 CD’s to be made. A remastered 11 song strong rich picking through the first dozen or so singles including everything from the original wax pressing of ‘plankton’ even down the rogue Pretty Things live nugget that came pressed on the sets one-sided seven-inch bonus cut. This compilation comes housed in a gatefold digi sleeve replete with extensive liner notes penned by head honcho Keith and heads out with the acid psych swing of Schizo Fun Addict’s superb rendition of ‘theme one’ – originally penned by George Martin, for many years it was the fanfare marking the start of broadcasting for Radio 1 until later being hoodwinked by Van der Graaf Generator as their own, left in the hands of the Schizo trippers this overlooked classic assumes an acutely cooled groove that sits somewhere between the Walking Seeds ‘bad orb…’ and John Cameron’s macabre ‘psychomania’ theme. Next up, frequent FdM flyers and soft psych alchemists Stay get all chill tipped and woozy with the sitar laced mesmerina of Strawberry Alarm Clock’s ‘rainy day, mushroom pillow’ here oozed in all manner of head tripping 60’s lazy eyed bliss kissing Hammond hued hullucinogenia. Then it’s off into psychedelic oblivion courtesy of two happenings from Vibravoid, the first a neatly psychotropic take on Amon Duul II’s freaky ‘eye shaking king’ is given the trademark hairy beatnik treatment emerging out of the other side as though its fallen through a bad tripping Butthole Surfers wormhole, however its way they do to the Floyd’s ‘set the controls for the heart of the sun’ that might just lift the preverbial wigs clean off your third eye channelling headspace, so warped and out there we fear some space cadets may well never return to normality. Whatever haoppened to hausfrauen experiment is a question wwe’ve long pondered on many a sleepless night, for early in 2010 they dropped off a killer 4 track covers EP – notable for a killer version of the Silver Apples ‘oscillations’ – however it was their smoking and somewhat subtly sleazy and slinkily seductive starry eyed disco-fied take on Eno’s ‘baby’s on fire’ that had us all agog and swooning in the aisles – very Cobra Killer all said. Anyone will tell you that covering Nick Drake is a cautious thing given that in their original form they are as near to perfection as you could wish. ‘day is done’ is one such track from the toppermost essential part of the hallowed Drake canon here covered once upon a time with much aplomb by Mellow Candle-r Alison O’Donnell whose ghostly rustic and dream charming application drew to its formidable faint and fragile palette a supernatural kiss. In many respects it was Mark Fry’s remodelling of his own acid folk nugget ‘dreaming with Alice’ that marked the label out as being not only special, but a player quick to establish a unique niche in an over populated underground label market, perhaps into the bargain giving hint as to its direction, pull and visioning – this track being a cornerstone of the aforementioned acid folk scene and claearly a forefather and influence of the magical Nick Nicely. Those fancying enchantment unbounded may do well to fast track your way through the track listing to the adoring pastoral psych folk of Us and Them’s take on tudor lodge’s ‘home to stay’ while many – the types not quite in the know – may snigger at the thought of a Bee Gees cover – snobs that they are but let us put things into perspective here, prior to going disco the Gibbs were master alchemists of the song craft, their debut full length is certainly deserving of re-assessment which while you’re there you’d be doing yourself a favour tucking in everything up to ‘trafalgaer’ for an eye raising earful. Enough with the lecturing, step up to the plate the Sidewalk Society – taken from the labels first – game changing – full length ‘a phase we’re going through’ these dudes take up the Gibbs ‘red chair, fade away’ and endow it with fracture toning shimmers of freakbeat wooziness while from the same album an early visit from the Chemistry Set found them breathing new life into Del Shannon’s forgotten tear stained gem ‘silver birch’ leaving the pretty things to wrap up matters with much gusto with a ripping live take of the strut sassy rock-a-hula ‘midnight to six man’. Did I mention it was essential, what was that – I didn’t – well it’s essential.

For the forgotten back story of ‘theme one’ and various GM excerpts go here…..  

a legend in our own lunchtime

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