FROM:Creem (America's Only Rock and Roll Magazine)
WHEN:v.2 no.9 September 1993 p.16-17
In the bowels of Amsterdam's Paradiso theater, Ed, Zia, Elon, and Joie, four-fifths of the beast that is Ozric Tentacles, sit distracted, legs crossed, on a threadbare orange couch. As roadies, journalists, and record company reps carom around the place like dizzy flies, Ed and John tap a few bits of Moroccan hash into their tobacco cigarettes with studied precision, oblivious to the hullabaloo. The hospitality table is covered with a cheap cold-cut blanket, white bread, pickles, and chips, but no one's eating. Right now, the focus, at least for the band, is on hallucinogens. After all, this is Amsterdam. The stuff is legal, and powerful.
Upstairs, the crowd begins to swell. The band brought a few dozen fans from its native England over on the ferry with it, many of whom are now sitting cross-legged on the floor, mellowing, in their Ozric Tentacles uniform - Ozric T-shirts and ragamuffin bell-bottom jeans. Many also seem versed in the bohemian pleasures of the Dutch. That is, most are really stoned. By midnight, the place will teem with a thousand of the buggers, swaying, shifting, smiling blissfully, eyes closed, letting rockin', space-age riffs take them away.
If you're wondering what the hell the fuss is all about, just who these gents are, here are a few facts: For 1992, Ozric Tentacles will gross over $3,000,000. It's members run their own label, handle their own mail order and distribution business, make shirts, and produce their own music. No publicity, no hype, no nonsense. The bands new record, Jurassic Shift, released last spring in the U.K. (now on I.R.S. in the States), debuted at #11 on the British pop chart, astonishing for a band with no hit single, no celebrity status, and no legitimate mega-corp behind it. To date the band has released ten records, the first six originally available on cassette only, and plans are in the works to make the long jump across the Atlantic. What started out as a ramshackle festival parasite band back in 1983, playing unannounced jam sessions outside it's van for a few counterculture stragglers, has now turned into an impressive cottage industry with a dedicated cast of 30 designers, technicians, and roadies.
"In the early days of the band," guitarist Ed Wynne recalls, "there was a certain 'association' with our core following - that they were the 'out-of-it' types, and a lot of people stayed away from us because of that 'association'. Now we're welcoming those people into the world of Ozric Tentacles."
The association Ed refers to is primarily the drug connection. O.T.'s early following was mainly comprised of Britain's renowned New Age hippies - crusty, smelly folks who spent their days traveling from festival to festival, loving music and living from hand to mouth. Now that the band has jostled its way onto the charts, fans of the band represent a much wider cross-section of the music population.
"Maybe we're so deeply rooted in the English festival culture, we might seem alien to Americans." says Joie Hinton, keyboard wizard and Todd Rundgren disciple, who takes his turn on a fat one. "Someone suggested we may be able to fill the Grateful Dead hole to some younger, ganja-smoking crazies. Of course, the Dead and Ozrics don't really have any similarities beyond the cultish followings we have."
"There's a little mysticism surrounding the band, partly because of our lack of lyrics, partly because no one knows where we're coming from." Ed smiles wryly, the lines in his face betraying a decade-plus of the rock'n'roll lifestyle.
Eoin Eogan, the band's flutist, sits next to Ed fingering his flute. For the better part of the evening. Eogan treats his instrument dearly, as another finger, perhaps. A monobrow crosses his forehead. His tattered purple sweater and dreadfully dreadlocked hair come straight outta Watkins Glen.
"I guess you could say we're 'far in'. I can't explain why people like it. I like it because of the effect it has on people. The instruments just take us over. It's strong stuff. It takes me away." He plays a fleet run of notes on the flute and looks away, uninterested in further questioning.
Ed: "We try to break new ground and explore the musical possibilities of rock really in-depth. The style of music hasn't changed since it was born back in '83 or so... Well, maybe it's becoming more extreme."
It's 10:30 p.m. O.T.'s blacklight juggler, another member of the band's travelling entourage, wows the crowd with colorful streamers, pins, and hoops - suitable entertainment for an altered crowd unable to handle much else. A lazy ring of hash smoke hangs overhead, a hallucinatory halo for the stoned.
When the band hits the stage around 11:00, the phenomenon of Ozric Tentacles becomes clearer. A communal spirit coddles the whole production, from the kaleidoscopic lighting done by the Fruit Salad gang to the custom-designed tapestries handled by an individual named Club Dog. The venue sings of a teamwork dynamic. When finally, after a brief fanfare, the opening grooves scream out, there's a bombardment of lights, and an explosion of atmosphere.
Musically, the band proves as eccentric and captivating as its trappings, if a little less original. Borrowing riffs from such '70's prog-rock monsters as Steve Hillage, Dixie Dregs, Jean-Luc Ponty, and King Crimson, as well as more contemporary references (Joe Satriani, Ministry, and Black Uhuru), O.T. is a riot of heavy hippie grooves and eclectic instrumentation. Ed's guitar cries through the haze. Drummer Merv Pepler and bass player Zia keep the grooves from spinning off their moorings with an anvil-heavy bottom. The sound owes as much to jazz, Asian musics, and acid house as it does to straight-ahead rock. Dry ice (what else?) floods the stage for most of the night, and Eogan, center stage on flute, disappears in a pod of smoke.
Midway through the show, the jam begins. Merv and Zia let go the kite string and watch the rest of the Ozrics drift to rock fusion purgatory, where song structure crumbles and whim takes the reins. Riffs splinter like shrapnel. Protracted solos come casually, sometimes two at a time. The sound changes chameleonesquely, from solid, tightly-wrapped fusion to warped, chaotic drone.
Watching, I remember what Ed told me downstairs before the show: "Gigs are great fun, and always surprising. About a third of a gig is unknown when we start out. How a song begins is the only thing we know for sure. It's not a controlled environment at all." He laughed as he spoke, as if to say, "Just you wait."
Joie: "It's a little disorienting. That's what we really try to do - disorientate you. And it's gonna do you a lot of good." By the end of the gig, I was disoriented, and a little fatigued from trying to keep pace with the vertiginous grooves and haphazard song structures. Word had it O.T. shows often ran over four hours, sometimes even six! The jamming stopped (mercifully) at two-and-a-half hours on this night, leaving me a few leftover brain cells with which to ponder: Would the Ozric Tentacles phenomenon fly in the States? Would the wiggy noise of a gaggle of time-warped, tousle-headed hippies born with late '60s spirit and '90s musical vibes turn any heads in the land of the fruited plain? What a question!