Graded on a Curve: Tintern Abbey,
Beeside: The Anthology

Formed in London in late 1966, Tintern Abbey are deservedly legendary, having released a solitary single on the Deram label a year after forming, and then only a smattering of post-breakup cuts…until now. Beeside: The Anthology is Real Gone Music’s 2LP distillation of the 2CD Complete Collection that was issued last year by Grapefruit Records, and for vinyl-loving aficionados of Brit-psych, the wax (purple, don’tcha know) rates as an essential purchase, in large part due to a surprising level of consistency combined with sharper than usual stylistic focus. But the goodness is not infinitely available; in fact, there is only 1,500 copies, purchasable on August 5.

It’s safe to assume that most folks who weren’t haunting English record shops in 1967 got hip to Tintern Abbey through “Vacuum Cleaner,” the B-side to “Beeside” (together they comprise that sole 45), as included on Rhino’s stupendously swank Nuggets II (Original Artyfacts From the British Empire and Beyond 1964-1969), a 4CD set released in 2001.

But in fact, by the release of Nuggets II, Tintern Abbey had already landed on a half-dozen comps, kicking off in 1980 with Chocolate Soup for Diabetics, the inaugural entry in a series that was (largely) devoted to UK psych and freakbeat (i.e. the garage rock of the UK), with both “Vacuum Cleaner” and “Beeside” featured on that humdinger of a first volume.

Further reinforcing the quality of Tintern Abbey’s single is that both sides turned up on See For Miles Records’ The British Psychedelic Trip 1966-1969, and on two Bam-Caruso Records collections, Staircase to Nowhere and the sixth volume of the Rubble series (essentially the freakbeat equivalent to the Pebbles US garage comps).

“Busy Bee,” one of the few tracks to slip into the public sphere after Tintern Abbey’s 1968 dissolution, was included on the Cherry Red subsidiary Grapefruit Records’ impressively assembled 3CD set Love, Poetry and Revolution (A Journey Through the British Psychedelic and Underground Scenes 1966-72). There was also four tracks on a 2006 7-inch EP benefitting Oxfam.

Grapefruit’s Complete Collection is a downright marvy bit of business, and for a reason that’s right there in the title. Yeah, it’s a stone cinch that anyone with a passion for UK psych and freakbeat will want it close at hand, but Real Gone’s truncation exudes nary a wisp of disappointment, as it savvily opens with the combo punch of the single and then follows those tracks with some of Tintern Abbey’s best stuff.

First, a few words about the 45. Both tracks really get to the core of what’s so special about ‘60s Brit psych at its best, specifically pop melodicism (and with frequent touches of the twee and/or shades of the musical hall) combined with the seductive (often faux) druggy surrealism, that possesses a distinct appeal when it was dished out by what Bob Dylan once called “little bands.”

Side one numbers like “Tanya” and the raga-esque “My Prayer (Early Version)” portray Tintern Abbey as a cohesive unit in what are basically no-frills rehearsal recordings, while “Bodmin Blow” is a gnarly gush of acid guitar. “Let the Wind Blow” is also quite raucous, and in a manner suggestive of The Creation (the echoey thump of the drums really puts the icing on this particular cake).

Side two opens with “Stickleback,” which frankly presages Guided by Voices at their most Move-ish, while “Busy Bee” is a fiesta of resonating guitar. “Do What You Must” tangles with a more straightforward garage template, and “Nightfall” blends that mode with what we’ll call proto-Renaissance Fair enunciating and then finishes in the a ballpark not too far from rockin’ soul. Recorded in Polydor Studios, “Mrs. Daily” adds some regal horns to non-detrimental effect.

Really, it’s only side two’s finale “Blue Pants,” which finds Tintern Abbey striving for the lyrically vivid but coming off more than a little goofy, that reveals the band faltering a bit, though the datedness has its own minor charms. And over on side three, “How Do I Feel Today” is a gliding psych-pop gem, while “Magic Horseman” is an energetic mover, with a greater emphasis on keyboards, that spills over into “My Zoo.”

On the garage side of the equation, “My House” offers a killer riff-repetition and the expansive “Life Goes By” delivers a vaguely Eastern undercurrent. This leaves side four, which vies with the opening side as the strongest stretch on Beeside, with the muffled gruffness and melody of “Reaching for Nothing,” the utterly non-embarrassing psych-dusted early Who-style ruckus of “Witchcraft,” and the outro tandem wallop of the wiggling-burning hard rock-foreshadowing “Strange Dame,” and the wonderfully bent Mellotron drenched warpage of “Snowman (Master 2).”

Tintern Abbey were far from the only act in the annals of Brit-psych to release one single while extant, but Beeside: The Anthology makes clear those two songs weren’t a rapid-fire outburst and culmination of creativity, as was the case with so many other bands, but the tip of a long hidden and terrifically twisted iceberg.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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