Most records that I had been genuinely startled by, or that had completely challenged the way that I listed to music, had come from brand-new releases. This one had already been out for over two decades before I had even been aware of it, and two decades after first hearing it, it still remains unique, powerful and contemporary.
And I suppose what’s even more curious is the utterly strange memory I have attached to this album, which involves sitting in a car with a friend of mine, listening to this eating a whole packet of fig rolls each so that by the time his girlfriend finished school and turned up for her lift home, the Mini’s interior smelled absolutely terrible. Ah, the joys of youth…
So where to start with this? I was already aware of Pink Floyd from childhood – I was 8 years old when Another Brick in the Wall Pt.2 was Number 1 in the UK at Christmas, and the hippier friends of my later teenage years made sure that I was well-versed in Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, as well as talking in hushed, reverential tones about the legendary Syd Barrett, the band’s original visionary genius and eventual tortured soul.
To be honest though, when all I was listening to at the time was the fastest metal and punk that I could find, I didn’t have a huge amount of time for this, and it wasn’t until one of my favourite thrash metal bands of the time progressed beyond the narrowly-defined parameters of their genre that I paid any real attention to the Floyd.
French-Canadian progressive/thrash metal act Voivod released Nothingface in 1989, and it was a complete mind-opener for me, as well as ending up as number 68 in this book listing the top 100 Canadian albums, between Ron Sexsmith & Shania Twain . The music was definitely Voivod, but everything associated with it had changed – it was still fast (in places), powerful and exciting, but it was also measured, melodic and different to anything else I had heard. Central to this record is a tremendous cover of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine which piqued my interest in digging out the original, which I first bought on cassette from Woolworths.
And what an eye-opener it proved to be. Opener Astronomy… was already familiar to me which kind of helped to ease myself into proceedings, but from then on, it was a complete journey into the unknown, and what an excitingly baffling journey it is too. The proto-rock driving riff behind Lucifer Sam, the off-kilter fairytales of Matilda Mother and The Scarecrow, the happily childish The Gnome and of course the sheer lunacy and aural bi-polarity of closer Bike were all completely alien to me, and still raise an eyebrow to this day.
Their live shows at the UFO club were legendary, and rather than trying to replicate the extended freakouts provided by them onstage, the band instead brought the essence of their stage act to the studio, lending an air of strangely quaint chaos (both sonically and lyrically) to a medium still largely concerned with making and releasing singles rather than albums. There are a couple of cases where UFO is brought into people’s homes (most obviously via Interstellar Overdrive, which seems to nick its main hookline from TV sitcom Steptoe & Son), but the majority comes across as a group of people wanting to do something different and succeeding in doing so.
The summer of 1967 may well be more notable for an album released the month prior to this (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), and indeed the Beatles’ opus seems quite happy to take the plaudits for bringing whole new approaches to the way that music is created, recorded and listened to. But The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’s power to push the boundaries can’t be underestimated – even now, as I was driving home the other week with Interstellar Overdrive blasting out of my car’s open windows, I got the filthiest looks from the elderly citizens which just shows how otherworldly and aurally disturbing this stuff still is – I can’t see When I’m 64 getting the same response.