SYD ARTHUR’s Psychedelic Daydream Sounds: Talking Shop with Liam Magill and Raven Bush


Syd Arthur’s Liam Magill showing off his supercool electric fingerstyle

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.


Syd Arthur is Liam Magill (vocals, guitar), Raven Bush (violin, mandolin, keys), Joel Magill (bass, vocals), and Fred Rother (drums, percussion).

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.


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Kurt Cobain on how to play guitar

Kurt Cobain, who Rolling Stone Magazine ranked as the 12th greatest guitar player of all time, teaches you the value of music theory in this rare video (at 1m50s):

“I have no concept of knowing how to be a musician at all, whatsoever. I mean, I don’t know the names of chords to play. I don’t know how to do major and minor chords on a guitar at all. I couldn’t even pass Guitar 101. Folk Guitar 101. Everyone knows more than I do. …I never learned how to read the music. I just copied the other people that took the time to learn how to read… [Dave interjects, “He’s a good drummer.”] …if you go by a text you’re kurtcobainjspretty limited, you know.”

“[I’m a] songwriter. I have no desire to become any better of a guitar player. I’m not into
musicianship at all. I don’t have any respect for it, I just hate it. To learn how to read music or to understand arpeggios and Dorian modes. It’s just a waste of time. It gets in the way of originality.”

So, if you are one of the many, many guitarists who think technical proficiency makes you a good musician, then that ostensibly means you and I are probably both better musicians than Kurt Cobain. Except, probably not. So forget music theory. You can have fun sitting in your room practicing your stupid rock solos which all only use the same scales anyway, but the audience doesn’t care how good a guitarist you are. They can’t even tell when you suck. All they know is whether or not it makes them feel something. That’s all that matters.

A Nirvana Reunion Fronted By J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr


Nirvana just performed for the first time in over 20 years at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, Annie Clark, and Lorde. Joan Jett was good. She could front a reunion tour. But it all just makes you miss Kurt’s wild, cigarettes-and-gravel voice. It was really his band, his songs, on his orders. Still, it’s hard to resist nostalgia made flesh. Then, after the Hall of Fame, there was a secret show at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, with the addition of Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis and Deer Tick’s John McCauley. Watching J Mascis cover School changed my mind. Maybe they could pull off a reunion tour. Here’s why:

1. J Mascis fronting Nirvana on School. It sounds like Kurt’s voice aged, say, 20 years.

Compare that to Kurt playing School live at Reading 1992.

2. Kurt Cobain asked Mascis to join Nirvana. Twice.

3. Style. Mascis’ gear isn’t the same, but it’s close enough and at least it wouldn’t be an imitation. Jazzmasters and also Jazzmasters and then more Jazzmasters. Kurt didn’t play Jazzmasters, but he did play Jaguars. Yeah, J’s sound is different. Personally, I don’t see what Kurt saw in those short scale guitars, but he got a lot out of them. He’s totally underrated as a guitarist. And yeah, J’s technique is very different and more precise. His solo on School is nothing like Kurt’s vicious, sloppy attack in the Reading performance. I prefer that angry, sloppy style, personally, but hey, it’s like David Gilmour and Syd Barrett, only J Mascis can actually play Kurt’s songs.

J Mascis rig rundown (Check out this site to read about Kurt’s equipment)

dinosaur jr – feel the pain