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12 Bar Club, London 16 June 2007

Dr Strangely Strange is a band I first knew about around 1969, aged about 11. My big sister had bought their first album 'Kip of the Serenes' on its release, having enjoyed, like many, a taster of their delightful uniqueness in 'Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal', a strangely (!) endearing track featured on the Island compilation album 'Nice Enough to Eat', which itself has brought deep joy to many (and together with the earlier sister sampler 'You Can All Join In', formed the basis for my entire record collection and special love of this genre).

Then, in a rare act of big-sisterly generosity of spirit, she shared her first playing of it with me. Aged 11, I giggled and grinned throughout that and each (numerous!) playing thereafter of 'Kip of the Serenes', and I can't begin to tell you just how thrilled I was to witness the good Doctor releasing the same gleeful, playful spirit into the small, devoted audience I was a lucky part of at the 12 Bar Club on Saturday 16 June 2007!

It had never occurred to me in 1969 - or at any point in the interim for that matter - that in 2007 I'd be singing along to a live performance of 'Oddly Normal', 'Roy Rogers', 'Ship of Fools, 'Donnybrook Fair', etc etc, sharing the experience with some of my favourite people on Earth (and elsewhere!) and grinning all over my stupid face! If Heaven exists and I'm not refused admission, I'd like to think that's how I'd spend eternity! On Saturday at least I surely had a sneak preview of the Kingdom of Heaven!

An exclusive (limited ticket entry!) date in a tiny but superbly atmospheric venue, it was their first gig in very many years, timed to coincide with the release of the album 'Halcyon Days', a collection of previously unreleased songs from 1969-70 plus 3 new songs, which of course I am now enjoying. In fact, the new material has the same innocent yet wise charm of the old. The world today needs that charm.

The evening's entertainment began with the showing of two short films, 'Strangelies in Dalston' a beautiful 1969 silent film by Iain Sinclair, played to an inspired soundtrack mix of 'Kip of the Serenes', which followed 'ULYS' (James Joyce's 'Ulysses' in 5 minutes!), a breathtakingly creative animation (also silent, though unintentionally!) by Tim Booth.

The hugely talented and fabulously dramatic 'Something in the Water', supporting, were on next - and I would urge you to check out their mySpace site.

Then the anticipation could contain itself no longer! Original Strangelies Tim Booth, Tim Goulding and Ivan Pawle, together with Joe Thoma (a band member since 1980) on fiddle and mandolin, took to the stage and plunged straight in with their 'hit' (!), then proceeded to delight us all with their unique gentle hippie-esque blend of Irish folk-rock, a bit bluesy too in parts, and the perceptively poetically surreal in song for the best part of 2 hours, intertwining the known and the loved with snippets of the newer and the newly unearthed. I already have a special affection for the 'Halcyon Days' track, 'Horse of a Different Hue', not least because Joni Mitchell once raved about it!

Having opened the set with 'Oddly Normal', I wondered what they could possibly close on, but they thrilled me once again with a song I know well and love, 'Sign on My Mind', an epic track from 2nd album 'Heavy Petting' (1970) featuring Gary Moore - yes, THAT Gary Moore, and, no, he didn't leap from the wings to do his guitar solo! Shame!

Throughout, these lovely, funny, ageless, limitless people gave of themselves completely. But, were it not for Adrian Whittaker (who kindly appears on one of my 'Folk Connections' shows, talking about the Incredible String Band Book he edited, 'Be Glad') and partner Deena Omar (my good friend for many years, who also contributed to 'Be Glad', incidentally), I might not have known about it at all. Indeed, without them it might not have happened at all.

Adrian was a key figure in unearthing the previously undiscovered material and indeed (with the help of Brian O'Reilly of Hux Records, Joe Boyd, their former record producer and founder of the legendary Witchseason Records, and Dr Strangely Strange themselves) in getting 'Halcyon Days' released. Deena and Adrian together alone organised the event - and I gather Deena also acted as ('electric'?!) landlady to the band at the weekend. Adrian's interview with the band - and I think a recording of the gig itself - will be aired on Resonance FM in the near future.

This was, without question, my favourite gig ever - unlikely to be surpassed by any to come. For me, it really doesn't get any better than this!

Review by Jeanette Howlett

Folk Connections

Hux Records

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