Well. The Pink Fairies, who like Hawkwind were stalwarts of the Notting Hill scene and free festival regulars back in the 1970s, can hardly be accused of rushing their releases. Naked Radio is their first release since 1987, and in fact began life as a Deviants album – The Deviants and the Fairies having long had a symbiotic, inter-connected relationship. With the death of Mick Farren, the Deviants would seem to have been put to rest, and so this evolved into a Fairies record, the band now fronted by Andy Colquhoun.
Back in the Seventies, the Pink Fairies were one of those hippy bands that were strictly of the ‘cult’ variety – never actually popular in the traditional sense of the word, and defiantly anarchic and counter-cultural – something that would stand them in good stead come the punk revolution, when hippies were the enemy but bands like the Fairies, Hawkwind, Gong and Here & Now could somehow transcend simplistic labelling and so became part of that nebulous world where the hippies and the punks collided.
But let’s not hold that against them. Bands like the Fairies were no more responsible for the crusties than they were for the flowers-in-the-hair hippies. It’s just that their underground, frenetic stoner rock proved to be the perfect soundtrack for people with unwashed hair and ill-fitting jumpers before the rave scene emerged.
This new album suggests that age has not mellowed the band – at least in their recreational interests, as rhythmic opener Golden Bud would attest. The Hills Are Burnin’ is a more psychedelic and pulsating affair, with a global warming theme, while Runnin’ Outa Road (there are a lot of missing ‘g’s in these titles) finally kicks the album into gear, with a driving, rocking sound that also benefits from grittier vocals than the previous two tracks, both of which sounded vocally rather too polite.
I Walk Away is a faster-paced, cowpunk tale of escaping things that hold us back (“hey smash restrictions”), while You Lied to Me is a more laid back, late night jazzy affair, initially not helped by Colquhoun and Jaki Windmill’s ill-matched, discordant vocals. In the end though, this pairing might be the making of the track, once it settles in, and it’s curiously reminiscent of Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English LP.
Elsewhere, the album plays with blues (Stopped at the Border), no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll (Deal Deal) and dabbles in fast-paced rockers (Down to the Wire), while the lyrics are mostly variations of being up against the system – some of which are more convincing than others.
There are three Mick Farren songs on the album – When the Movie’s All Thru is a laid back, groovy affair, and Naked Radio is a sparse, despairing affair – but Skeleton Army is perhaps the closest to what we might want from the Pink fairies – riff heavy, revolutionary in spirit and unquestionably the best thing on the album. And perhaps the next best thing here is Colquhoun’s Mick, a tribute to their fallen leader, which is like a mini history lesson covering the glory days of the counter culture.
Oddly – or perhaps not oddly, given that the current band members are all more well-travelled, worldly fellows than the Fairies of the 1970s – the album has a distinctly American (sometimes bordering on Americana) feel, seemingly taking place in a world of stretching highways, deserts and blazing sunshine. None of which you tend to find on Ladbroke Grove.
That’s not a criticism, by the way. Thank God the band are not simply reheating old glories, which many an act of their advancing years might choose to do. While there is little on this album that is especially memorable – and certainly nothing that has the thrusting intensity of their early work – it’s good to see that the Fairies are, in their own way, maintaining a purity of vision.
The CD comes with a bonus DVD, which features a selection of supplementary delights – three rehearsal tracks from Brighton in 2015, a few rather stilted and basic promo videos (the band awkwardly lip-syncing in a room, spiced up by 1980s-style video effects) and interviews with three band members – none of which is essential. More interesting, though, is a 2014 live show from the 100 Club, which is over 30 minutes of material – basically shot, but interesting as an example of a rawer Fairies, and including old classic material like Do It and Uncle Harry’s Last Freakout, which give a feel for the band at their hippy-punk best (though we recommend tracking the Glastonbury Fayre album for the definitive live versions of these tracks).