Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Sam Gopal—
Escalator


Released 1968 on Stable
The Seth Man, July 2000ce
This is the only album I know of released on Simon Stable’s fabled Stable label, along with The Deviants’ second methedrine-damaged offering, “Disposable.” And “Escalator” is just as street casual and doped up an affair. Sam Gopal was fronted by the young tabla player of the same name as Sam Gopal Dream, an acoustic raga-without-sitar group that had previously performed at UFO and other hippy London venues. But by the time they recorded this, their first album, he had added not only electric guitar, but also former Jimi Hendrix’s roadie, Ian “Lemmy” Willis to the lineup on further fuzz guitar and vocals. I imagine it was in all certainty against Gopal’s will he started knocking them into a fiercely lumpen rock outfit whose only missing ingredient was a drummer, the loping basslines often operating as a rhythmic substitute. The album is weirdly mixed and a super crude production, completely tipped in the favour of Lemmy’s vocals and fuzz guitar, making it sound even more imbalanced. The sum total of percussion on this album is tabla, finger cymbals (on one track) and either a session drummer or Gopal forsaking his ancestral instrument for a rented drum kit on the “You Really Got Me” hijack, “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A squeezed and barely reigned-in fuzz guitar rebounds all over the place uncontrollably as a youthful Lemmy sings “The face in the mirror is screaming insanely” over the blistering rave up. And all the remaining tracks sound as rough, down at the heels and hunkered down as the band members themselves. In fact, all the tracks are about as drugged and unglamourous as the members of Sam Gopal themselves: which, from one look at the cover shot, is an achievement as they all look ‘street’, stoned and pissed off as hell.

This album pre-dates Lemmy’s induction into Hawkwind’s ragged ranks by several years, but the germ of Hawkwind’s (and in time, Motörhead) “The Watcher” is in the horribly fuzzed and equally-strung out “You’re Alone Now.” On other tracks the bass player seems to be playing very crude early Motörhead runs, so they may have been parrot-taught or even played by Lemmy himself. One of them is “Escalator,” opening up directly in a double-tracked careening guitar solo screech out over the lyrics “And if you think you love me livin’, baby/You’re gonna love me when I’m dead.” It’s a hip-shaking rocker looking desperately for a drummer to rock it out. Backing session singers on a cover of “Season Of The Witch” is the only concession on the album, probably a result of coaxing from their rough trade seeking and ultra-straight producer Trevor Walters, whose picture was the only thing adorning the back cover besides the record label’s logo.