The cultural theorist Bernard Gendron posits that by the late sixties “the idea of a permanent underground began to seep in - a rock avant-garde permanently sequestered on the sidelines, and permanently in revolt against the mainstream”. Harvest Records was a self-conscious attempt by the corporation that owned The Beatles to tap into this ‘market’. The hope was to make this ‘underground’ overground. The cynical reality was that the maxim ‘throw enough shit against the wall and some of it is bound to stick’ seems more likely to have been the overarching idea at work here.
Basically, it’s a melee of ‘progressive’ (this was well before the notion of ‘prog rock’, remember) and early heavy metal. The material is equal parts canonical (Pink Floyd, for example) and justifiably obscure (to anybody under sixty years of age), Names that are still remembered today are, most with some fondness: Mike Chapman, Deep Purple, Kevin Ayers, Shirley Collins, Roy Harper, Syd Barrett, The Move, Barclay James Harvest, Electric Light Orchestra and Be Bop Deluxe. Names that have been swallowed up by history, but still remain un-regurgitated, include (and these are just a few from a long list); Panama Jug Band, Tea & Sympathy. Forest (briefly given CPR by the ‘free folk’ trend of a few years back), Quatermass, Bakerloo, Climax Chicago Blues Band, Babe Ruth, Strapps, Bombadil, Unicorn, Gryphon,
And then, on the final disc, you have a few 1976-7 oddities such as The Saints (including the fantastic ‘This Perfect Day’, one of the undoubted highlights of the whole shebang), The Banned (a one-hit wonder, with a nod to the mid-sixties ‘Nuggets’ punk era, ‘Little Girl’), The Shirts (sounding a bit like The Strokes, or should that be vice versa?) and good old Wire. Sadly, punk and new wave spelled the end of the Harvest adventure.
In a funny way, the revelation here, for me, is how well The Edgar Broughton Band stand up! People of a certain age will have indelible free festival memories associated with this scruffty trio, a kind of then-ubiquitous anarcho-hippy Oasis, which also contained two brothers. Tracks like ‘Out Demons Out’ (magick was a theme of the time, see also Black Sabbath and Black Widow) and ‘Apache Drop Out’ ( a neat melding of Hank Marvin and Captain Beefheart) have stood the test of time far better than any of us would have then considered possible. Their sound is not that far away from ‘I Am the Fly’, to be honest, however unlikely that may sound.