Notes from underground

One of my favourite albums ever, recently reissued. This review originally ran in Classic Rock.

The Deviants

Ptooff!

Esoteric

The (Social) Deviants were the great steaming turd in the hippy dippy strawberry incense world of the late 60s London underground scene. First and foremost they were psychedelic hooligans, upsetting the nicey nicey comfy reveries of the docile hippies, scaring them from the stage of the UFO club in the wee small hours. While everyone else was turning off their minds, relaxing and floating downstream, The Deviants were making trouble. They were like The Sex Pistols a decade too early – they were, in fact, one of the first bands ever to be described as ‘punk rock’ – and as well as the sneering attitude and leather trousers, they also pioneered the DIY ethic, promoting community gigs and releasing their first album Ptooff! independently.

Their revolution-first-music-second ethic has borne up rather better over the years than many of their contemporaries. Opening track I’m Coming Home sounds like a low budget strung-out version of The Doors who are just straight enough to grasp a rudimentary I’m A Man riff while frontman Mick Farren sneers and spits his way through the ensuing acid deranged mess. There is the amazing Nothing Man, a Fugs/Zappa-like collage of disjointed music, noise and FX with Farren reciting an equally crazed poem that almost seems to prefigure sampling. The anti-consumerist Garbage is definitely a punk rock song, maybe something by The Fall, that they miraculously managed to channel from the future. The final song Deviation Street is like eight minutes of Bo Diddley playing on an airport PA with lots of stoned-freak conversations recorded and laid over the top. It’s an attack on self-satisfied hippie complacency more savage than anything Lydon would later dish out.

There are two tracks by bass guitarist Cord Rees that don’t really fit, where he mistakenly imagined that The Deviants could be a ‘proper’ band. But in an odd way it’s these glaring flaws and the fact that this is such an amateur effort – in the best sense of the term – that makes Ptooff! an album that is in every way as pioneering as Piper At The Gates Of Dawn or Sgt Pepper.

This welcome reissue restores the original fold-out quasi pop-art cover, 1967 sleeve notes by John Peel and new ones by Mark Powell.

No phoney nostalgia here. This is the real sound of the English psychedelic underground and A Whiter Shade Of Pale it ain’t.

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