Monday, 20 May, 2024 in Music

Guerssen Records and My Subsequent Love Affairs

Thousands upon thousands of musicians struggle over chord progressions and melodies, amassing notebooks crammed with poetic observations and figurative expressions in an attempt to shape a song. 

Occasionally, when the clouds of artistic struggle part, the chords and words become attracted to one another forming a structure. Chorus and verse align transforming these thoughts into ‘something’.

Money borrowed for studio time, these recordings are produced and mastered into a solid black disc. With timing, and luck, some of these recordings may sell, then played with the artist hoping his work attaches itself to the neurons in the listener’s cerebellum. More often than not they drift, leaving no footprint, evaporating into the ether. 

But, it may not end just there. 

This is where Guerssen Records raise their determined head above the parapet and snatch those long lost pressings from obscurity, offering listeners the delight of hearing music that was previously believed lost forever. 

Most of these musicians have passed, but I take heart imagining them smiling warmly as I discover their art, recorded as innocent, inspiring and innovative teens or twenty-somethings. 

Guerssen Records emerged in 1996, based in Catalonia, Spain, specialising in reissuing private pressings and some of the most obscure and impossible to find recordings from the ‘60’s through to the ‘80’s. Their impressive catalogue boasts psychedelic and folk masterpieces, most of which would have remained unheard with the exception of a few wealthy collectors. And importantly, they pay the artists. 

Many years ago by chance I read about Oliver Chaplin in an article about Syd Barrett. Welsh musician and farmer Oliver had recorded a private pressing named Standing Stone in 1974. In a remote farmhouse, his brother Chris recorded Oliver’s songs onto a portable 4-track reel to reel TEAC machine. Chris had previously worked for the BBC and was at the controls during Syd’s sessions. 

Oliver Chaplin, 1974

In a barn, surrounded by farm animals, Oliver played echo laden and distorted guitar whilst his brother created unique acid/folk DIY ‘mutant psychedelic blues’. Despite its rough lo-fi sound these recordings were incredibly beautiful and timeless. 

Only 250 copies of ‘Standing Stone’ were pressed for family and friends but the record was largely ignored apart from John Peel who loved the album. Virgin were subsequently interested in distributing the record. Oliver refused, deciding the music industry wasn’t for him and instead travelled around Europe before returning to Wales to work on the farm (when Oliver was tracked down a few years ago, he still had original copies leftover). 

This piqued my curiosity and despite finding some tracks on compilations, the record was rarer than a truthful politician and well beyond my price range. 

Then, to my over-excited glee, Guerssen announced they’d be releasing ‘Standing Stone’ along with unreleased tracks on a follow up, Stone Unturned. With the tracks restored, it sounded like the great lost record I imagined. 

Guerssen first attracted my attention with some stellar releases by artists such as Filipino/San Franciscan band Dakila, an acid/Afro psychedelic rock band with fuzz laden 1972 self-titled album. Then, Boogie’s 1968 fantastic raw demo album In Freak Town, a band who shared stages with such luminaries as Quicksilver, Flamin’ Groovies and Moby Grape

No sooner had my pulse decreased they blew my psychedelic, freaky mind with two of the greatest psych records ever committed to vinyl: The Axeman Cometh and Psychotic Overkill by guitar legend Martin Weaver’s band, Wicked Lady. These two albums are the stuff of legend amongst like-minded psych worshippers.  Fuzzy and excessive, containing the quintessential underground tracks I’m A Freak and Run The Night. Many years ago, the thought of owning these obscure records filled my dreams. Guerssen Records realised them. 

The treats for my lugs kept coming. Cologne Curiosities: The Unknown Krautrock Underground, 1972-1976 contained tracks I’d only previously read about. They’d been released on CD in the nineties and proved elusive to track down. Bands who I believed only existed in my kaleidoscopic imagination, such as Astral Army/Fuerrote/Baal etc, recorded mad, wild, raw and dark Kosmische killer psych, influenced by Can and Birth Control. These mysterious bands who existed on the fringes of the Cologne music scene recorded their jams and demos for their own amusement. Guerssen collected them and revitalised this unpublished music. The ‘Nuggets’ equivalent of Krautrock indeed. 

It doesn’t get any better … or does it? Reader, it does. The acetate only (four copies were pressed) 1972 recordings by London band Grit was discovered by Alex Carretero (Guerssen) in a long forgotten vault. Vocalist and guitarist Frank Martinez, who auditioned for Joe Meek and supported Pink Floyd in a previous band, became a regular in the Greek psych scene after leaving Grit and saw his killer early recordings released with renewed love and appreciation. 

Add lost classic releases by Orang-Utan, Crystalline, Bacchus, The Flow and the spaced out acid folk genius of Pete Fine with his 1974 private press concept album On A Day Of Crystalline Thought and you have an unrivalled collection of records only a few lucky souls have ever heard. 

Holy Grail’ albums is an overused and mostly undeserved tag, but with Guerrsen you have a label utterly committed to releasing high quality records, containing accurately researched liner notes and photos whilst giving the artist due recognition, respect and financial reward. 

Never has this attention to detail been more evident than with the 50th anniversary release of Tips zum Selbstmord by Necronomicon. This record is the real deal. Named after the Lovecraft book and formed in Germany, this original five hundred only private press was housed in an opulent cross shaped fold out cover. Original copies were beyond rare and desired by serious psych heads. 

What did Guerssen do? You’ve already guessed. They faithfully reproduced the 1972 elaborate cover, hand numbered the sleeves, with Walter Sturm (vocalist and guitarist) signing the copies, with detailed notes, photographs and sourced from the master tapes. Providing the band with a graphical and musical representation of their celebrated conceptual masterpiece. This is how to re-release classic ‘fallen between the cracks’ records. 

So, my love affair and obsession with long forgotten records continues. As John Peel remarked, an artist puts their soul into making music, especially their debut recordings. Whether it’s a three minute, three chord punk record or an eighteen minute progressive song resplendent with organ, strings and a choir. Their work deserves proper recognition and treated with respect. 

This record label does that.



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