Freedoms Children - Battle Hymn of the Broken-Hearted Horde

2009-06-25 09:22
 
Battle Hymn of the Broken-Hearted Horde
 

A hallucinogenic hodgepodge of pastoral folk, psychedelic pop and utter progressive rock excess this long lost 1968 debut goes some way to cementing their reputation as South African acid rock visionaries.

Sure, tuning into bassist Ramsay Mackay's arcane South Africanised Scottish beat poetry broadcasts might be a tripped out tab some 21st century ears might initially find hard to swallow. But whatever you do, don't fast forward through those rather earnest in-between song poetry recitations.

"They're part of the whole mind altering experience, man" chuckled Rock of Ages guru and Retro Fresh main man Benjy Mudie when I asked him for help navigating the psychedelic minefield of folk, rock, quaint madrigals, pop and far, far out beat poetry. "Don't sweat it" he smiled. "Maybe just listen to Julian". Julian Laxton. A mythical figure in SA rock. I'd heard his name mentioned with reverence by more than one SA guitar god. And it turned out to be a good tip. Tuning into Laxton's shape-shifting guitars on the majestic psych-pop daydream "Kafkasque" and the ultra-rare Kraut-rock implosion "My Death" (a bonus track on the CD reissue) I had what you might call a Rosetta Stone rock 'n roll moment.  

Battle Hymn is a drug album. "One cannot understand the '60s without knowing that drugs only played a part in what was naturally coming out of our brains. Drugs made a metaphor of which the reality was already in that generation" explains drummer Colin Pratley in an interview with Nick Warburton. As Warburton points out in his fantastic liner notes, drugs became as inseparable from the band's music as the politics of the time  – grass, black bombs, purple hearts, LSD, were all essential ingredients in creating the band's music.

"Something subliminal happened to kids in the '50s and '60s that was precursor to the drugs," explains Prately. "Drugs was not just about drugs. In the beginning Freedom's Children took no drugs [and] what we saw on the drugs was what we were aware of anyway…that the world was (and still is) run by squares who relied on fear and authority to stifle any way of seeing the world differently. "The '60s drug scene is much more related to people who took drugs in the 19th century, starting with the Romantic Movement in poetry and thinking and moving on to the Symbolists in France – people such as Verlaine, Rimbaud and Bauderlaire".

Original rock 'n roll animals like Verlaine, Rimabud and Baudelaire, are you kidding me? There was no turning off the trainspotting taps. Mirages of Procol Harum's psychedelic pop splendour haunted "Season". Mates were debating how much of an influence Traffic was, but damn if "Judas Queen" didn't have me hearing Cream-era Eric Clapton lurking beneath the more expansive guitar rock freak-in moments. And I went even further back, to the vaudevillian Brit-rock burlesques of early Pink Floyd or The Kinks on the bizarre "Mrs Browning". I felt the pull of emotional exile beneath the ostensibly whimsical British country daydream of "Country Boy", got lost in the mariachi-brass band laced acoustic folk ditty "Ten Years Ago" and simply shook my head smiling while the harmonica-laced blues prog rock excess of "Miss Wendy's Dancing Eyes Have Died" washed over me.

Astra (1970) and Galactic Vibes (1971) may be the critic's choices, but for me, discovering what progressive rock freedom really means all started with tuning in...and dropping out to Battle Hymn, and a psychedelic sound that's so damn lysergic that its conceptualism almost defies decryption.
First the original master tapes of this long out of print 1968 debut LP went up in smoke thanks to a fire at the EMI studios back in the mid 70s. Then vinyl copies started appearing on the net with a $6100 price tag. For a while there it did seem that Freedoms Childrens reputation as "one of the best rock bands the world never heard" would remain a barstool debate for ageing Record Collector readers.

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Jimmy 2009/06/25 12:14 PM
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!STRANGE!
Jean 2009/06/25 12:16 PM
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I just heard this album, and I can't stop laughing. I used to jam in a garage with a hippie called Simon when I was in matric and I'm pretty certain he used to play this record on his turntable while we drank quarts of beer between 12 bar meanderings. Those were the days.
foo 2009/06/26 8:18 AM
About 10 years ago these guys got together again to stage a comeback. My girlfriend at the time got the part as keyboard player. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with them in a big house they rented to stay and rehearse in, somewhere just out of Jozi. Also sat through a lot of recording of the new album at Downtown Studios. Dunno exactly what happened but that album never got released. Argh.
Peter 2009/07/14 12:39 AM
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I have an original vinyl of this album. Where can I sell it for a lot of money? Absolutely stunning album, fantastic songs, the only record I have heard with an advert on it! ("Try the new Pwepsi Pwlus!")
Dennis Robertson 2012/02/28 10:25 PM
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I am the Dennis Robertson who sat night after night working with Ramsay Mackay on the songs he would play the tune on his guitar then we would sing the songs together I went into the studio and recorded the whole album with ramsay. after we hadput down the tracks the studio called Peter Vee and Stevie Trent to sing some of the tracks i left Johannesburg shortly afterwards and IT WAS ONLY THREE YEARS AGO THAT I MANAGED TO GET HOLD OF A COPY OF THE ALBUM. some of the best days of my life whilst we worked on that album
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