Syd Arthur, psychedelic rock virtuosos from Canterbury, opened last night for Sean Lennon at the Great American Musical Hall in San Francisco. Both bands were fantastic. Thanks to Liam for hanging out with us to talk shop at the expense of time, tobacco, sleep, and beer.
Syd Arthur’s music is like a stream of consciousness soundscape of psychedelia, rock, and funk, with undertones of folk and jazz and blues and more. It all makes for a really unique sound infused with some real history. Both Syd Arthur and Sean Lennon’s The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger are rarities in a psychedelic music scene dominated by electronica. It’s great to see a 21st century English psychedelic rock band with solid influences. It’s great to hear psychedelic music performed by people who can actually play instruments. It’s great to see two bands in one night that would both make a young Syd Barrett proud.
You know a band is good when they sound even better live than when all tracked up and mastered. These guys are great musicians. Raven Bush (violin, mandolin, keys) explained that his music background is academic; he knows his music theory. It shows. His mandolin solos are a thing to behold. And I’m sure it made his night that he got to play violin with Bob Weir from The Grateful Dead in Sean’s encore.
Liam Magill (guitar, vocals, songwriter) says he comes at music more organically. His guitar style is a great mix of technicality and forceful attack, the kind of style that does develop organically over time as you find your own way. Liam does the lion’s share of the songwriting, and while touring can suck, I was amused to hear him say he just takes his electric keyboard on the road and does some contemplative composing. He also said he composes a bit on the flute, which is pretty damn cool, because there is definitely a little Jethro Tull in there somewhere.
Here’s what really got me, though: Liam has a vicious guitar fingerstyle. It’s something you don’t expect to see played on a Stratocaster, on rhythm, in front of a wall of sound. He brings the plectrum out as needed, but where everyone else would use a pick, Liam uses a sort of aggressive funk clawhammer with percussive slaps, downstroke strumming, and string-assaulting upstroke plucking. He’s got that aggressive Neil Young attack (although Liam actually moves his wrist) and the hard strumming of an angry John Lennon rhythm, but he does almost all of it without a plectrum. It’s an aggressive technique, it really stands out, and it works wonderfully in their music. Who needs a guitar pick after watching that? Not me.
So, you should really check out Syd Arthur. Go see them touring with Sean Lennon or at Bonnaroo. Take some 2c-e, 2c-i, 2c-whatever, DMT, LSD, shrooms, mescaline, maybe even some peyote if you can find it. Take them all together. And check out what real psychedelic music is, based on solid influences, performed by people who play real instruments.
Syd Arthur is touring with Sean Lennon and will be at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in a few weeks.
Syd Arthur’s new album, Sound Mirror, is out now in the US and coming out in June in the UK. Check it out.
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sydarthur
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/sydarthurband/
On Band Camp: https://sydarthur.bandcamp.com