Seasons They Change By Jeanette Leech (Jawbone Press)
As it happens, I’d been thinking of buying Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change, so I was chuffed when Art & Music asked me to write this review. And I was doubly pleased when the book arrived. Held in hand, it gives an impressive first account of itself. At 352 pages it’s not long by any stretch, nor is it a hardback, but it has serious heft, and the weight helps give an impression of authority. Top marks to Jawbone Press for presentation. On flicking through the pages the first substantial thing you’re greeted with are the plates, lusciously reproduced. This is unconventional, but it works really well – introducing you visually rather than lexically to the various rag-tag, woollen-clad, florainhabiting folks you’re soon to read about. It’s an intelligent arrangement, and it was with high expectations that I started in on the text. The book documents the more experimental strands of folk, from the early ’60s to the present day, focusing on two periods: the initial, hippyera flowering of lysergically tempered acts such as the Incredible String Band and Holy Modal Rounders, and the 21st century renaissance of that golden dawn, as personified by the visionary/comical (according to your viewpoint) Devendra Banhart. As to whether the book’s any good or not, it depends on what kind of reader you are. It is an exhaustive – and I mean truly, truly exhaustive – index of the obscure and esoteric, and if you’re after a resource to point you in the direction of some unheard-of treasure you absolutely must The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk own this book. Honestly – she’d make Alan Lomax blush. But if you’re after a read that informs you beyond who was playing, what they released (or didn’t), and when it was released (or not), you might, like me, find this book at times intensely hard-going. There is not enough of the richer story behind what the author writes – the influence of personalities, the interconnectedness of unrelated incidents, the significance of happenstances. In fairness, it gets significantly better towards the second half, where you sense that Leech is gaining in confidence with both her writing and the handling of her subjects – and also through documenting the coming together of the two generations – but too often, especially in the opening chapters, it reads like the notebook of an overly scrupulous lepidopterist. This is most obvious in the author’s
tendency to taxonomise.
Acid-folk. Psych-folk. Prog-folk. Free-folk. Anti-folk. Freak-folk. So finite, so good, but nothing had quite prepared me for this: ìFrom the outset, kosmische musik was characterised by structural breakdown, extreme sonic intent, and hardcore freakishness. With this Hydra of possibility, it didn’t take long for new heads to sprout, one of which was Krautfolk.î That’s right. Krautfolk. The litmus test of whether a book about music is any good is whether it sends you back to the music itself, and by this standard Seasons They Change succeeds: there are several albums I’ll be seeking out come payday, and innumerable more of which I was previously unaware. Jeanette Leech is clearly passionate about folk under the influence, and Seasons They Change provides an important service by documenting in incredibly minute detail the releases, commercial or otherwise, that make up acid-folk of the past half-century. With such density of material, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the narrative is at times not the most compelling. I certainly feel more informed for having read the book, and if psychedelic folk is your thing you need to buy this book. As a corrective to the at times stolid prose, however, just remember to pick up a copy of Rob Young’s Electric Eden while you’re at it. Dave Watkins