Ora è la volta degli Hapshash & The Coloured Coat, uno dei combo più
bizzarri e originali della scena psichedelica anglosassone, che in un
certo senso anticiparono lo stile ferocemente “free-form” dei primi Amon
Duul (quelli politicizzati della prima incarnazione). Il gruppo era
formato da due grafici, Michael English e Nigel Weymouth, a cui si
aggiunse il produttore Guy Stevens, che lavorò in seguito con grossi
nomi della scena rock come Mott The Hoople, Spooky Tooth, Free, Clash
(produsse “London Calling”) e che morì alcolizzato nel 1981. Il team
grafico degli Hapshash & The Coloured Coat firmò dei bellissimi
poster e manifesti, in perfetto stile psichedelico, per gente del
calibro di Pink Floyd, Arthur Brown, Soft Machine
e Incredibile String Band. Si trattava quindi di una band formata da
artisti disegnatori, non da dei veri musicisti. Il primo e storico
album, dal surreale titolo “Featuring The Human Host and The Heavy Metal
Kids”, fu coraggiosamente pubblicato nel 1967 dalla Minit, una
sussidiaria della Liberty (negli USA fu pubblicato dalla Imperial e con
una grafica leggermente diversa) in un fiammante vinile rosso. Si tratta
di un disco fondamentalmente anarchico e di “impatto”, nel senso che è
mirato a colpire con forza l’ascoltatore, e dove ogni virtuosismo
strumentale è messo al bando. Bastano già le prime battute di “H-O-P-P-
Why?” per rendersi conto dello spirito iconoclasta di questi tre
individui, che si alternano vicendevolmente ai vari strumenti: un
baccano sconnesso e follemente percussivo, in netto anticipo su ciò che
faranno un paio di anni dopo i tedeschi Amon Duul. Anche “A Mind Blown
Is A Mind Shown” non è da meno, situandosi dalle parti del coevo
“Parable Of Arable Land” dei Red Crayola.
esotismi orientaleggianti di “The New Messiah Coming 1985” esulano in
parte da tutto questo fracasso, ma la vera oasi di pace si ha nei
vocalismi mantrici di “Aoum”, in cui il sacro Om intonato dai tre regala
aromi mistici come non mai. L’apoteosi del loro caos sonoro si ha però
nella conclusiva “Empires Of The Sun”, una specie di loro “Sister Ray”,
dove il drumming incede ossessivo, tenendo più o meno sempre lo stesso
ritmo per ben quindici minuti. Urla isteriche si fondono con suoni di
campanelli, campanacci, fischietti e strumenti a percussione vari, fino
ultimi minuti, dove si intrecciano un parlato colloquiale in lingua
spagnola con un lugubre proclama stentoreo. Splendida la veste grafica
della copertina, ovviamente opera loro. La presente edizione su
Esoteric/Cherry Red surclassa nettamente le precedenti ristampe su
Repertoire e Akarma, sia a livello di suono che di ricchezza dei
libretti. Solo la ristampa in vinile da parte della Sundazed eguaglia
questa appena uscita, a meno che uno non possieda la rara stampa
originale dell’epoca. Per i completisti, la Cherry Red ha ristampato ora
anche “Western Flier” (Liberty 1969), secondo album degli Hapshash,
meno pregante e interessante di questo capolavoro qua.
Hapshash and the Coloured Coat was an influential British graphic design and avant-garde musical partnership in the late 1960s, consisting of Michael English and Nigel Waymouth. It produced popular psychedelic posters, and two albums of underground music.
The silkscreen printed posters created by the pair advertised underground
"happenings", clubs and concerts in London, and became so popular at
the time that they helped launch the commercial sale of posters as art,
initially in fashionable stores such as the Indica Bookshop and Carnaby Street
boutiques. Their first album of psychedelic music, produced by a
collective in early 1967 and including many famous names, is now seen as
being influential on the early works of Amon Düül and other pioneers of German Krautrock, as well as inspiring sections of the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request album.
Their posters remain highly sought after. The original artwork for a poster advertising Jimi Hendrix's 1967 concert at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco – depicting the guitarist as a psychedelic Native American chief with a hunting bow in one hand and a peace pipe in the other – was sold in 2008 by Bonhams for $72,000. Between October 2000 and January 2001, the Victoria and Albert Museum,
which owns the originals of many of their posters in its permanent
collection, mounted a retrospective exhibition of their work titled
"Cosmic Visions–Psychedelic Posters from the 1960s".
Michael English had studied art under Roy Ascott at Ealing Art College in West London between 1963 and 1966. He took part in Ascott's revolutionary Groundcourse,
the first year of which focused on changing preconceptions and involved
exercises such as students being subjected to continuous pulses of
light and darkness in the lecture theatre before being asked to walk
over a floor covered with glass marbles.
Ascott later recalled that one of the aims was to create disorientation
"within an environment that is sometimes unexpectedly confusing, where
[the artist] is faced with problems that seem absurd, aimless or
terrifying … Pete Townshend sat on a trolley for three weeks, because he wasn't allowed to use his legs and [Brian] Eno went around with a bag on his head."
After graduating, English briefly worked for an advertising agency. Having become "captivated by the pop movement", however, he was soon selling his pop art designs – described as "a potent mix of art nouveau with hard-edge sci-fi applied to disposable items such as union flag sunglasses" – direct to London's trendy boutiques, including Gear on Carnaby Street. As a freelance graphic artist he was also producing artwork for the counterculture newspaper International Times.
Nigel Waymouth had graduated from University College London, where he studied Economic History, and had also studied art at several London colleges. Following a period working as a freelance journalist, he opened a boutique at 488 King's Road, Chelsea, in partnership with his girlfriend Sheila Cohen and John Pearse, a Savile Row–trained tailor. They acquired the premises in December 1965 and opened as Granny Takes a Trip (GTT) in February 1966, initially selling Edwardian
and antique clothes with what author Paul Gorman describes as "an
up-to-date feel that appealed to the young hippie denizens of what was
becoming known as Swinging London".
They also sold their own designs – "very decadent, flowery and over the
top, but without being totally tasteless" – which were soon in demand
with bands such as the Beatles (photographed wearing GTT clothes on the back cover of Revolver), the Rolling Stones (front cover of Between the Buttons), Cream, The Animals and Pink Floyd.
In December 1966 English and Waymouth were introduced to one another by Joe Boyd and John "Hoppy" Hopkins, co-founders of the UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road, who asked them to collaborate on posters advertising the club. Waymouth said: "They wanted a distinctive style. The idea was to pair us off and see what happened."
The pair worked well together, with Waymouth saying "The chemistry
between us was brilliant", and English describing how their combined
talents "created a very interesting melange of visual delights".
At first they operated under the name Cosmic Colors, but only produced
one poster before changing the name to Jacob and the Coloured Coat,
producing two more works. In March 1967 they chose the name Hapshash and
the Coloured Coat, which suggested both hashish and psychedelic patterning (Joseph's "coat of many colors"). They set up a small studio on Princedale Road in Holland Park, close to the Oz offices, and where, according to the magazine's editor Richard Neville, "their sole inspiration was LSD and their regular 'tripping partner' was Pete Townshend." The posters were then printed and distributed by Osiris Visions, owned by the International Times, in the basement of the Indica Bookshop in Mason's Yard (off Duke Street), St. James's.
The posters they designed for the UFO Club and Oz magazine drew on elements of Mucha, Ernst, Magritte, Bosch, Blake and Dulac, pulling them together in a style that art critic George Melly called "Nouveau Art Nouveau" and Time was beginning to call "Nouveau Frisco". They also designed posters for the Middle Earth club, Pink Floyd (who were the resident band at the UFO), The 5th Dimension, The Move, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Soft Machine and the Incredible String Band.
While other designers at the time opted for "an indiscriminate use of
rainbows and any clashing colour combination, [Hapshash] strived for
maximum colour effect without sacrificing balance or harmony", and
frequently used expensive gold and silver metallic inks, which
previously were rarely seen on advertising posters. They also introduced
a new technique to screen-printing which allowed them to "graduate from
one colour to another on a single separation".
Their work has been cited as an inspiration by surrealistic artist Mark Wilkinson, known for his designs for bands such as Marillion, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.
They also released two albums, Featuring the Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids (Minit: MLS 40001) in 1967, and Western Flier (Liberty:
LBS 83212) in 1969. By this time English had left, and Waymouth
strangely is mentioned in the liner notes as having decided to "record"
the album, but not listed as one of the musicians.
The track "Blue Narcissus" appears on the United Artists Records 2004 sampler All Good Clean Fun CD re-package (Liberty 8660902), but was not on the original 1971 LP.
Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids (1967)