Article '93 -Jurassic Shift


Article Courtesy of STUART WOODMAN.


OZRIC TENTACLES are more than just a bunch of stoned, addled Seventies-obsessed, nouveau hippy retro-heads. A lot more. They are, in fact, very much The Sound Of Young Britain, tapping into the nation's craving for sprawling, epic Music Of The Mind. Melody Maker's very own astral voyager, Paul Mathur, charts the Ozric's rise and rise, gets together with them in the country (maaan) then joins them for a celebratory album-launch beano (for the now Top 10 ' Jurassic Shift ' ) at Tower Records.

ONE WAY IN

So i'm sitting in a Camden pub, reading the recent Maker cover story about The Orb and Pink Floyd, when a hippy of indeterminate age comes and sits down next to me " i thought your lot didn't like that kind of thing" he says. "You should check out more of it. You know, sometimes, i sit down and smoke grass with my kid and listen to Floyd. It makes you want to go out and climb trees and fly kites. Ever done that?" Yeah, all the time squire. "Hmmm. I met this girl once and she wouldn't f*** me until i went to this club and saw a band she liked. They were called Ozrickle Tentacles or something, and they were completely weird. I can't remember if i f***ed her afterwards. Can't remember much if you want to know the truth. Can you buy me a drink?" It's not Ozrickle, it's Ozric Tentacles. The band that even addled hippies think are weird. this, breaking the habit of a lifetime, is a true story.

A HISTORY

Ozric Tentacles got together around the time of the 1983 Stonehenge Festival, driven by a mutual liking for widdly-twiddly guitar sounds, "jams" that go on for as long as it takes, and an unshakeable belief that - if you smoke enough marijuana to floor a herd of pink elephants - everything will make perfect sense. In the past 10 years they have made 12 albums, half on cassette only release, started their own label - Dovetail - and sold enough to guarantee chart placings for each if they had chosen to bar-code and chart return them. They have played just about every major festival, and regularly put on impromptu performances- such as those at last year's Glastonbury that drew crowds of 3,000 to after-hours sessions that went on for longer than life itself. A six-hour show is, for them, well within the bounds of probability. In 1987, their Punch-meets-Bez figure, jumping Jon, took to the stage to play flute, leap about and strike some shapes that then, as now, only make complete sense in the oceans inside his head. He's been an integral part of the group ever since. They have a bass player called Roly, who is currently "resting" after too close a relationship with alcohol, and his place is currently being filled by a 23-year-old called Zia. They named their group after a "concept" breakfast cereal. Along with Back To The Planet and The Levellers, Ozric Tentacles are part of the traveller's Blessed Trinity. They are sometimes boring, often brilliant and unlike any other group on the face of the earth. And they have a spin-off Techno outfit called Eat Static - who fulfill a similar role, only faster.

WHAT WE WANT YOU TO THINK ABOUT OZRIC TENTACLES

That they're daft, untogether hippies. That they sit around all day smoking dope and tying dogs to bits of string. That they know and love all the other travelling bands. That they satisfy all our vicarious desires to turn on and drop out. That they nobly refuse to play the game. That they're crusties.

WHAT YOU PROBABLY OUGHT TO REALISE ABOUT OZRIC TENTACLES
None of the above.

One thing about an Ozric Tentacles interview is that it should take place at the converted mill-housein the countryside outside Bath owned by the Ozrics founder Ed and his brother Johnny, who manages the band and runs Dovetail Records. It's a place almost as deceptively iconic as the group themselves, and is usually lazily described as some kind of loopy commune populated by children, dogs and a vast collection of bongs. In reality, it's beautifully designed, has one child, one prgnant girlfriend, one dog, a couple of cats, two thousand teapots and a recording studio. It could pass muster in the most select of interiors magazines. Ozric Tentacles are almost as wealthy, in full posession of their aesthetic facilities, and are having a very good time indeed. It's more "The Good Life" than The Adventures Of The Raggle-Taggle Hippies. Two of the band members live in, gulp, London. The manager has a sports car. They're doing all right. Their new album, "Jurassic Shift", is confidently expected to go Top Five with pre-sales of over 20,000, making them just about the most successful, truly independent group ever. Time to lob all preconceptions out with (the regularly-flushed) bathwater.

"I'm sure people have the wrong ideas about us a lot of the time", admits Ed. "It's probably because we've done what we've done without ever really telling people that it's got any message or anything. We've been surprised by how popular it's got. We make records because we want to, not because we feel anything is expected of us. We enjoy it." And what a strange, wonderful thing they do. It could be jazz or dub or funk or just guitar wank, depending on the angle you're coming from. Almost all the time, their "songs" are vocal-free, rumbling and spiralling into an altered consciousness that hypnotises, captivates and floods with movements of genuine beauty.

You can't hum it, but you could get lost in it forever. And about a tenth of the time, they make the likes of The Orb look like they're mucking about with ambient Play Dough. They really do blow your mind. Before the interview, the photo-session. And the manager has an idea. Having researched the surroundings and asked a few regulars in his local pub, he has a plan for us to sneak into the back of ahuge country estate, part of the grounds of a house owned by the writer, Anthony Powell, and his wife, Lord Longford's sister. There's a folly down by the lake, apparently. And a Keep Out sign. We're there.

Not surprisingly, half the band get lost before we even get there. But, after a while, we've regrouped and are yomping through mud, nettles and quite a lot more mud, all the time half expecting a gamekeeper with a blunderbuss to insist that we git orrrff his laaand. About now, i decide i hate the countryside even more than ever. "Finsbury Park isn't like this," says one of the London residents of the Ozrics, and you can sense he's almostwistful about the piss-stained buss station and the psychos with knives.

The folly itself is extraordinary; a crumblingold spa bath with arches and bridges and plants that could bring you out in a rash. We seem more excited about it than the band, and i suddenly realise that they'd probably be a lot happier indoors. All this country ramble thing, it's US It@s OUR idea of what being an Ozric is about. It's patronising as hell. Later in a nearby pub (the first time half of them have seen such an establishment in years), i wonder whether the Ozrics feel entirely comfortable with the image that gets strapped to their shoulders. Are they really at one with nature and all that?

"I think we're obviously going to get lumped in with the whole crusty thing" says Jon. "Just because we play all those festivals and things. But we're nothing like BAck To The Planet or The Levellers, and i'm sure their fans hate what we do. It's just an easy pigeonhole for journalists to put us in. I don't think what we do is fashionable or anything."

Determinedly fashionable it may not be, but - for now - it's at least in step with a certain desire for Music Of The Mind, spacey abandon and trance-heavy escapism. Like it or not, they're modern, certainly more modern than the rest of their peers. But does that bring a self-conscioussness to what they do?

"We like to keep developing," says keyboardist Joie, "and it is important that we move things along a bit on each record, see what we can do with the technology that's available. What we don't do, though, is just use things for the sake of it. We could never say what Ozric Tentacles are meant to sound like, but we know in our heads, and when it comes out we've got it." The same ethic applies to the notoriously lengthy live shows where people have been known to fall asleep at the beginning of one of their sets, get a full quota of shut-eye, and wake up to find the band still ploughing away. The band admit that live shows are part communication of whatthey've already recorded and part experimentation, a search for that moment when the Ozric inside their head becomes real, becomes tangible.

"We do get those moments a lot," insists Ed. "If there haven't been at least three times during a set when i've felt that tingle where the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, i don't think we have been a success. You really have to have that."

And you also have to have a healthy disregard for "professionalism" and constructive dullness. The band thrive on accidents and errors as much as anything, still maintaining that if any of them makes a mistake they have to repeat it four times, taking it as a starting point for whatever might happen next.

"That's the thing about when people call us a dance band," says Ed. "I think ther is that thing in the music that you can dance to. There's a beat, but it's organic, it can grow into something completely different. Maybe that's what people like about us."

The bottom line for Ozric Tentacles seems to be that they don't much care whether people like them or not, and the specific sound of their records probably doesn't affect the amount they're going to sell.

Ozric Tentacles have an audience who buy their records to subscribe to a lifestyle, TO BE THE BAND. Only, these days, the people who want to be in the band aren't just the old Stonehenge crowd and the travellers. They're the students and the Radio 1 listeners. They're you, they are. "There are a few of the original fans who think we've sold out," says Joie, "but you're always going to get that aren't you? We're not going to say we only want a few people to hear our records. The more people the better. There's still a lot of fans who have been right into us from the beginning, and who like what we're doing now."

Do you get any strange fan letters?

"We used to get ones that were really weird. But not so much any more."

Any strange requests?

Says Ed, "someone wrote to us and said they wanted to give birth to their kid at an Ozrics gig. I told them i thought it would be a bit much." Constantly able to confound even their own audience, there is in the Ozrics a complete lack of any recognisable pop ethic. They really aren't ones for choruses or words for that matter. Surprising, perhaps, since, as we're sitting in the kitchen at the mill, Jumping Jon whips out a guitar and sings a quite marvellous song about brown rice, middle-class, lentil hippies that could easily set him up as a kind of Roddy Frame for the brown rice'n'tofu set. Within the Ozrics' work however, he restricts himself to one flirtation with vocals - a long, rambling, eco-illogical rap.

"I've never really liked vocals," insists Ed. "Words always get in the way, make everything too specific. Our music is more about creating moods and giving the listener the chance to get whatever they want out of it. Music is better than singing."

This is a view sharedby the ret of the group, perhaps explaining Merv and Joie's decision to use their offshoot, Eat Static, as a vehicle for Techno, the supreme instrumental headf***. It's a curious co-existence, since they don't seem entirely comfortable with any kind of body-rooted hedonism.

"There's a clear line between what me and Merv do with Eat Static and the stuff we do with the Ozrics, even though we'll often have both the groups on the same bill," explains Joie. "It's not like we'll ever write a song and think, now is that for the Ozrics or for Eat Static?"

It must be strange to have a world inside your head that doesn't even consider interfacing with pop. Surely there must come a point when you're doing the hoovering and you start humming a banal Top 30 hit? It can't all be shimmery guitars and stratospheric bass lines...

"Well i quite like some of the new Sting songs," confesses Joie, "i hum them sometimes.

That's not very fashionable is it?"

Not as such, no.

"We really haven't got much time for most of the records being made at the moment," admits Jon. "It's like, if you get a CD, there's only maybe a couple of seconds that are any good. The rest is rubbish. It's like Suede - why do people love them so much? They seem really ordinary to me."

And what of the Ozrics - do they pass the quality test?

"Oh, definately," says Ed. "It's exactly the music i love."

But for the Ozrics, the music isn't everything. One senses that, as much as anything, it's the sense of the familial, of still being allowed to be a gang, that veins their rationale. They're notoriously benevolent, for example, giving money to the likes of Senser, who played with them regularly simply "because they're mates".

Also, although no other acts will be signed to Dovetail, they're quite prepared to help like-minded souls, even to the point of financial daftness. In addition, the new album sleeve is made from cannabis-free hemp rather than conventional paper, a move prompted by the fact that it's a burgeoning cottage industry.

Not burgeoning enough, however, for them to lose money on the deal. It's easy to mock their ideals, amd you'd probably find me at the front of the queue to do so. But you can't help admiring their integrity.

On the day of the release of "Jurassic Shift", Ozric Tentacles come to London to play Tower Records. The gig is ostensibly free but, a couple of hours before showtime, the queue stretches for several hundred yards andtickets are touted for a tenner.

The audience is a mixture of hardcore Tentacleheads (all ponchos and elaborately-painted copies of the album sleeves ready to be autographed), part time festival junkies, and bewildered men in suits. The CD racks have been cleared and, for half an hour at least, Glastonbury is recreated at the heart of Corporate Central.

As Jumping Jon embarks on a long, fractured speech about hype and homecomings, it all gets very trippily weird. The band breeze through four songs with titles like "Vita Voom", and "Feng Shui", remarkably managing to transcend their surroundings. The response varies from much beard-stroking to slamdancing. It's the oddest thing i've seen in years. And it will guarantee units are shifted by the truckload.

Afterwards, the Ozrics host a party in the rural wilds of Fulham Road, lay on the sort of grub that puts every other record company to shame, and enough dope to keep a South Amarican economy ticking over nicely. The band themselves seem surprised that people keep on telling them how good the show was. It's like they never expected otherwise.

And they're still enthusing. The hugely likeable Joie tells me about a Russian Techno band who've played with the Ozrics a few times, says that he really respects Back To The Planet for their excellence and that he can't wait to play again, "but for longer next time".

Next time you get a chance to give them six hours of your life, grab it. Just make sure there's enough room for your head to explode. Maybe we should start trusting hippies for a bit after all.

THE LINE UP


JON , 30.
Role - "Flootz and Whoopz"
Reason for being in the Ozrics - "It's fun"
Best gig - "Treworgy Tree Fayre"
Favourite other group - "Eat Static, Ullulators, Oroonie O'Loonies"
Event in history you'd most like to have attended - "All of Everything since time began"
Most trasured possesion - "Life"
Ambition - "To make 147 at snooker"
What would you do if you weren't an Ozric - "Travel, Flute"
Biggest fear - "Gaia being trashed by mankind"

ED , 31.
Role - "Guitarist, keyboard textures, production manipulator, space finder"
Reason for being in Ozrics - "Freedom of choice and dreams realised"
Favourite other group - "Kraan"
Event in history you'd like to have attended - "Ancient egypt and seeing Kraan live in 1975"
Most treasured possesion - "Sanity"
Ambition - "Getting Vita Voom to sound okay live"
What would you do if you weren't an Ozric - "Soundtracks for space films"
Biggest fear - "Dipping a B&H in a boiled egg and eating it"

MERV , 26.
Role - "Drums, percussion"
Reason for being in Ozrics - "Wrong place at the wrong time"
Best gig - "Melkweg, Amsterdam"
favourite other group - "Psychick Warriors Of Gaia"
Event in history you'd like to have attended - "Roswell UFO crash, 1947"
Most treasured possession - "My hearing"
Ambition - "To be abducted by aliens"
What would you do if you weren't an Ozric - "Blacksmith"
Biggest fear - "Becoming a blacksmith"

JOIE , 35
Role - "Keyboard buffoonery"
Reason for being in Ozrics - "Far too weird to mention here"
Favourite other group - "Three Mustaphas Three"
Best gig - "Todd/Utopia, Hammersmith 1975"
Event in history you'd like to have attended - "UFO crash at Roswell, 1947"
Most treasured possession - "My dash trough"
Ambition - "To take Merv and Ed to football match"
Biggest fear - "Taking Merv and Ed to a football match"

ZIA , 23
Role - "Bass player"
Reason for being in the Ozrics - "They made me do it"
Best gig - "Amsterdam"
Favourite other artist - "Julian Cope"
Event in history you'd like to have attended - "The Jurassic Age, all of it"
mOST TREASURED POSSESION - "My girl, my bass, my drum machine"
Ambition - "Oh you know, music-related things..."
What would you do if you weren't an Ozric - "Cook food"
Biggest fear - "Spiders, wailing banshees, having to cook food"