When Bob Dylan and his then unnamed backing group (previously known as The Hawks and soon to be christened ‘The Band’) retreated to Woodstock in 1967 they began documenting a legendary body of work which would later become known as ‘The Basement Tapes’. The songs and the sound signalled, both musically and spiritually, a return to old times, a simpler rural life, an embracing of domesticity and to the roots of American music – stripping away the technicolor gloss that psychedelia and the Summer of Love was so enthusiastically applying, turning his back on the avant garde and experimental for something more earthy, something real.
Even without seeing a commercial release (finally emerging in 1975) ‘The Basement Tapes’ and the circumstances around it’s creation became monumentally influential inventing arguably what we now call ‘Americana’ and in turn creating the perfect weather for British Folk-Rock. When a number of the songs were circulated later that year as publishing demos for potential cover versions the wised up and the tuned in saw the unique opportunity and went to town recording their own versions of never before heard songs from the master himself, scoring hits for Manfred Mann and Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger amongst others. More historically providing The Byrds with ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ and ‘Nothing Was Delivered’ as jewels in their seminal ‘Country-Rock’ masterpiece ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ and The Band with ‘I Shall Be Released’ & ‘Tears of Rage’, centre pieces of their peerless ‘Music From Big Pink’. Another group who took the opportunity to not only record a number of these songs but to immerse themselves in the antique weirdness of Dylan’s new/old was London’s ‘Fairport Convention’ and take the baton they did, creating an album every bit as influential and genre defining as their American cousins.
‘Unhalfbricking’ boasted not one but three Dylan tracks including ‘Million Dollar Bash’ from the Woodstock Basement sessions. Dylan’s influence on the album is palpable, undeniable, but what puts this record so far ahead of the folk-rock peloton is a trio of pioneering, self-penned/arranged pieces that place this remarkable record at the very pinnacle of British Rock music. Sandy Denny’s incredible ‘Autopsy’ and the magical, almost ancient ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ are both time stopping classics…her voice, pure, simple and so very ‘English’ with Richard Thompson’s guitar playing equal in it’s originality and arresting beauty throughout. ‘A Sailor’s Life’ provides a glimpse of what would lay ahead on the ‘Liege & Lief’ album…a magic and compelling melting pot of traditional English folk music, West Coast cosmic jams and a mysterious ancient spiritual transcendence….stunning and essential stuff.
The beguiling sleeve photo shows Denny’s parents standing outside of their Wimbledon house while the band lounge barely in sight in the back garden Like Dylan’s Woodstock asthetic perhaps… a celebration, an embracing of a home sown tradition, a search for age old truth but with a magical vision at it’s heart.
Del Day and Danny Wilson run Union Music Store in Lansdown Place