Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Culpeper's Orchard

Culpeper's Orchard

AOTM #110, July 2009ce
Released 1971 on Polydor
Side One
  1. Mountain Music Part One (6.27)
  2. Hey You People (1.29)
  3. Tea Party For An Orchard (6.10)
  4. Ode To Resistance (5.55)
Side Two
  1. Your Song & Mine (5.34)
  2. Gideon's Trap (5.44)
  3. Blue Day's Morning (2.12)
  4. Mountain Music Part Two (7.33)

Note: Although I briefly mentioned this Anglo-Danish quartet in DANSKROCKSAMPLER1 (my Album of the Month #49 for June 2004CE), this their self-titled debut LP was such a consistent work that I figured it would make perfect listening during these long Midsummer days.

What Time Is It? 17th Century

Replete with extremely catchy songs, fiery Dervish-like guitar solos, confidently self-referential lyrics from a Wino Weinrichian poet/guitarist, all the while the entire ensemble spewing euphoric vocal harmonies over intricate and furiously hard-edged arrangements, this Album of the Month owes its artistic success not to any great dream of originality, but to the wild spirits of each of its performers and especially that of its primary writer – one Cy Nicklin – and his clear desire to contribute highly accessible Hippie Dream music that sat well alongside such million-selling contemporary heroes as The Moody Blues, Crosby, Tween, Nash & Young, Led Zeppelin, Traffic and The Who. Ooer missus, get that lot wrong and it coulda been God’s Own Abortion. Ah, but the Uber-thorough Nicklin & Co. made damn sure they goddit entirely right. So the wonderful results are somewhat like that vigorous, enormous and ever-unfolding medley on side two of the Beatles’ ABBEY ROAD as executed by the overtly Power Trio muscular but acoustically-driven FOUR SAIL-period Love, featuring the Obsessed’s Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich on lead vocals. There, now we’re approaching Ye Culpeper’s Orchard pleasure centre. Add to that several dollops of Buffalo Springfield’s elongated and countrified version of ‘Bluebird’, and a few of the more uproarious moments of Yes’ 1970 album TIME & A WORD and 1971’s THE YES ALBUM and you’ve probably hit the nail on the head… never forgetting (natch!) the obvious influence of Mason Williams’ ubiquitous ‘Classical Gas’, the infectious licks of which pervade the very veins & arteries that fuel this entire Body of Anglodanskwerk. Phew! So, for sure this is Wannabe music from Back In The Day, but it’s the kind of artfully-constructed and heftily executed Wannabe music that presses all the appropriate buttons at the right times and still sounds mighty fresh here in good old 2009CE. So, if yooz looking for something new from your Nostalgia, and you need a disc that rocks like Wishbone Ash’s ARGUS but one that doesn’t also immediately remind you of being dissed by some chick at youth club, you’ve come to the right place. Or maybe you never dare mention the Moody Blues because work friends always just say ‘Nights in White Satin’, while you still secretly seek the euphoric rush of bliss that cascades over your entire Outer Mantle whenever Justin Hayward’s Hank B. guitar solo kicks in over M. Pinder’s stentorian piano on the tailout of ‘The Story in Your Eyes’. Then, Baby, you just arrived home and CULPEPER’S ORCHARD is the album for you.

Released on Danish Polydor Records, in 1971, to absolutely no international response whatsoever, this CULPEPER’S ORCHARD LP was entirely the work of two Danes (lead guitarist Niels Henriksen and bassist Michael Fries) and two Copenhagen-based Englishmen, drummer Rodger Barker and former Sandy Denny associate and songwriter Cy Nicklin. Following a brief Danish tour with Denny, Nicklin had become ensconced at the Free Christiania Commune, just outside Copenhagen, where he briefly joined the band Day of Phoenix. But the arrival from the UK of drummer Rodger Barker prompted Nicklin to put together a band specifically for performing his newest songs. Providentially, Culpeper’s Orchard’s early signing to the Danish division of Polydor Records allowed the band’s songs to gestate, as they were able to hire a huge farmhouse in which to ‘get it together in the country’, in the style of the Band, Traffic and suchlike. And there’s certainly a genuine sense of rich artistic remove from the everyday urban bustle that informs, nay, pervades this record; Nicklin even including a verse about rushing out to see a storm, but discovering that the noise was actually’ Rodger practicing the drums’. CULPEPER’S ORCHARD opens with the euphoric six-and-a-half minutes of ‘Mountain Music Part One’, a masterful offering that commences with a Krauty Amon Düül 2/Curved Air-style riff, over which Cy Nicklin declaims in a husky voice somewhere between Steve Stills, Burton Cummings and Justin Hayward. An almost Who-ian madness ensues in the form of one hell of an elongated guitar power drive (Niels Hendriksen, what a fucking mental cunt!) until some semblance of order is restored in the last minutes, wherein reed organ and harmony vocals take over. Then we move into the ultra-brief Rent-a-Hippie CSNY catchy catchy chorale of ‘Hey, You People’, which concludes violently with a terrific Pete Banks-informed early Yes steal, before melding seamlessly into the epic six-minute prog ballad ‘Tea Party for an Orchard’. This is the closest we get on the whole LP to a truly twee sub-Dave Mason Moment, but as this song is still one helluva catchy bastard, we forgive its trespasses moments later when the whole mix up-ends us & sends us off into a spaced out 7UP world of ring modulators Dieter Dierks-stylee. Thereafter, the band performs a live edit which allows them to change horses and cop the most unashamed ‘Yours is No Disgrace’ tailout you could imagine, just like side one of THE YES ALBUM as played by DÉJÀ VU-period Crosby Stills Nash & Young (not that the two are so far apart, anyway). The near-six-minute-long epic ‘Ode to Resistance’ closes Side One, and is pure WHEATFIELD SOUL-period Guess Who as interpolated through the stereo FX in ‘Yours is No Disgrace’. Oo ja, mein hairies! Earlier this year, I remarked in GLAMROCKSAMPLER that I often experience a real yearning for that genre’s massed clatter (the Glitterstompf thump, the dive-bombing Les Paul guitars, Mick Ronson and/or Tony Visconti’s post-IMAGINE string sections of archetypal Glam Rock) without ever wishing to resort to one more spin of hoary faves such as ‘The Jean Genie’ or ‘Metal Guru’. I admitted also that I often seek AND find solace in certain lost Glam Efforts not because they are as artistically sound as those so-called greats, but because these lost tracks – in accepting the Glam Rock metaphor as delivered to them by the masters – often contain all of the aforementioned Glam Ingredients, but carefully re-gurgitated in a manner that gives them the appearance of being new. So it is in that same manner that Culpeper’s Orchard works so well here in 2009CE. The album is thorough, consistent and horribly more-ish. ‘Your Song & Mine’ opens side two with huge acoustic guitars and the sensational opening lyric:

“Rainbow from your arse will fill the skies - blows your tears away”

Whoa, go Cy go. Maybe he figured that to lay it out all Shakespearean-like would render the lyric more opaque, therefore less offensive to Danes, especially over a demented & catchy-as-a-bastard Moody Blues/Buffalo Springfield hybrid. Then follows the bizarre and vast ballad ‘Gideon’s Trap’, a kind of funereal ‘A Day in the Life’-meets-Thunderclap Newman’s nine-minute-long behemoth ‘Accidents’ though in possession of a mighty & euphoric tailout somewhat akin to Mick Ronno Moonage Daydreaming over ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Beautiful … effortlessly beautiful. Propelled shamelessly by Rodger Barker’s Play-In-A-Day-Like-Beatle-Ringo blip-blop-der-bop-der-bop bop bop, this song reaches a Cosmic Climax not because it is possessed of greatness, but because the recorded version just absolutely refuses to back off. Next up, and stuck quite appropriately in the Boneyard,‘the super brief Blue Day’s Morning’ is just alright‘Through My Sails’ common-or-garden CSNY fodder, ho-hum. Nevertheless, it’s with Cy Nicklin belting his head off in his best proto-Wino Weinrich dialect, that’s how this wild album concludes. Even better, the mighty seven minutes-plus of ‘Mountain Music Part Two’ is an entirely different musical beast to its opener namesake on Side One. Sure, it’s another intricately arranged hard rock song, but this one has a strangely ornate production that kind of pre-empts SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH, as the final two minutes of this album reach higher & higher, as though a fuzztoned PARANOID-period Tony Iommi had become accidentally caught in the lush and overly-elaborate rigging of ‘Spiral Architect’, only to discover that his volume & tone knobs had jammed. Luckily for us, or watt! It’s an epic conclusion to a fabulous piece of work.

In Conclusion

And thus endeth another Album of the Month, our heroes forgotten temporarily but hardily in a situation that is unexcavable. Purely on the quality of its songs, arrangements & performances, CULPEPER’S ORCHARD is guaranteed a place in future rock’n’roll history. Although I mentioned this album in DANSKROCKSAMPLER, I was then unaware of any second LP by this band. Since then, I’ve discovered that SECOND SIGHT was a disappointing and patchy record. Drummer Rodger Barker was replaced by Danish superstar Ken Gudman of the Young Flowers, but the great songs were few. Still, this one classic debut LP remains as a testament to the healthy state of so-called Progressive Rock back in 1971, a time when the music played by bands of that Genre still owed more to the robust post-Psychedelia of the Youngbloods, the Guess Who, the Moody Blues, etc., than to the tempo gymnastics of ELP, Gentle Giant and their unctuous Conservatory Bumming ilk2. Indeed, 1971 was with hindsight a veritable doorway of decision making for the Prog Rockers: do we continue to mine the healthy song-based seams as excavated by fine forward-thinking late-60s songwriters (Steve Stills, Neil Young, Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee come to mind). Or do we admit to ourselves we ain’t got a single original tune in our bourgeois heads and, instead, hoodwink the audience by choosing the orchestral path of Vanilla Sludge, thus gaining valuable Sunday Times credibility by modifying barely known Eastern European classics by such highly regarded (and rarely heard) Russky composers as Son-of-a-Bitch and Suck-me-off? As evidenced by the geographically-challenged band members who recorded CULPEPER’S ORCHARD, even for those without a brain, ‘twas a No Brainer. The song mattered. And so, like the Druids before them, Culpeper’s Orchard said nothing new; but they said it with such poetic aplomb and respect for the traditions that this music resonates with almost the same truth as that of the Truly Greats. Yowzah or what?

  1. Back then, I wrote: “CULPEPER’S ORCHARD was a highly involved and heavily vocalled and rocked-out take on ‘No Time’-period Guess Who/late Buffalo Springfield as played by THE YES ALBUM-period Yes, with lashings of Procul Harem’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Accidents’ thrown in, and (oo-er) Dieter Dierks at the soundboard. If that sounds horrendous, then it’s my fault because it’s compulsive and euphoric and wholly authentic. This lot was led by an ex-pat Yank [I was wrong, he’s English] by the name of Cy Nicklin, whose self-referential trip is occasionally too twee and cloying, but mainly it’s authentic in a manner similar to that of Burton Cummings and hefts their trip up considerably. Methinks readers of these Cope articles are gonna love or hate this band unreservedly, with no in-betweens. Me, I love this record because I already love and therefore accept its references, but then I loved AXE VICTIM by Be Bop Deluxe BECAUSE not in spite of its Ziggyphilia.”
  2. Although Curved Air was sold to us in 1971 by a Warner Brothers hype entirely based on the presence of a virtuoso classical violinist, the gimmicky 12” picture disc was of such poor quality that the murky results sounded enticingly Gothic and Truly psychedelic in an Amon Düül 2-meets- J. Airplane/CROWN OF CREATION manner.


SECOND SIGHT (Polydor 1972)
GOING FOR A SONG (Polydor Compilation 1972)