I first read about Pip Proud in some dealer's catalog back in the late '80s. He was described therein as "The Australian Syd Barrett." That and the album's title, Adreneline (sic) and Richard, made the record intriguing enough for me to lay out the $120 it cost. Australian '60s and '70s stuff was just starting to get expensive. Gerlinde Dzaack of Refugees Records was really the first one to chum the OZ/NZ waters. In her slick catalogs she could describe mediocre prog puh (without actually lying) in a way that made it sound amazing. And while most people were after heavier sounds like Master's Apprentices' Toast to Panama Red or Human Instinct's Stoned Guitar, it was clear to me that the small pressings done by the sub-continent's major labels assured that any oddball stuff would be hard to get if you passed on it. Little did any of us know that eBay and Discogs would eventually make every goddamn record available all the time. Back then, the few established top-end dealers had a stranglehold on pricing, and you were never sure if you'd see another copy, so you just had to jump when you could afford it.
Anyway, the album showed up and even though my copy was a little noisy, the vibe was much as described -- weirdly strummed barre chord guitar, monotone vocals that occasionally tried to pass way beyond their known range, oddball lyrics that combined nursery rhymes with druggy imagery. It was a hell of a cool record. I started asking around about the guy, and learned he had a second album, also on Polydor International. It was called A Bird in the Engine, but was a lot rarer than Adreneline. I only ever saw a couple copies for sale, and never for under $500, which was beyond my means, especially after I stopped buying expensive records in 1990, the year my son was born.
"Weirdly strummed barre chord guitar, monotone vocals that occasionally tried to pass way beyond their known range, oddball lyrics that combined nursery rhymes with druggy imagery. It was a hell of a cool record."
I always sorta wondered about the guy, but I never really saw much about him until Alastair Galbraith recorded a song called "Pip Proud" on his Cluster EP for Raffmond, back in '94. After that, word began to filter out about Pip now and then. David Nichols (of the Cannanes and Distant Violins fanzine) tracked him down in the northern fringes of New South Wales and arranged for Sydney's Half A Cow label to reissue a comp of the two early LPs, a CD called Eagle-Wise. Nichols also got him recording again. There was a single-sided 12" from Blackbean And Placenta which featured some great recordings with Nichols and a few others. This was followed by a fantastic series of CDs for Emperor Jones -- Oncer, A Yellow Flower and Catch a Cherub (a long-distance collaboration with Tom Carter) -- as well as a single done with Galbraith, and One of These Days, a CD compiled from home recordings done in both the '60s and '90s. Pip also played a few live shows during his rediscovery period, which were rapturously received. But his health was steadily in decline throughout the new century, and he died of cancer in 2010.
Now here's A Fraying Space, a new compilation drawn not just from Pip's two Polydor LPs, but also from a private press LP that preceded them, with a few additional bits and pieces. The LP has 14 tracks, the CD version adds three more (all of which sound to have been recorded in the '90s, when Pip was showing a bit of primitive ISB influence). The bulk of the rest was recorded between '67 and '69, however, and it makes for a revelatory set, programmed and mastered quite lovingly.
"Pip has often been sold as "The Australian Syd Barrett," but The Madcap Laughs was issued by UK Harvest on January 3, 1970. Remarkably, Pip's first three albums were all out well before Syd released his first solo set."
As mentioned earlier, Pip has often been sold as "The Australian Syd Barrett," but The Madcap Laughs was issued by UK Harvest on January 3, 1970. Remarkably, Pip's first three albums were all out well before Syd released his first solo set. Twenty copies of De Da De Dum were produced by Grendel Records in 1967, after the project was financed by stockbroker/art patron, Michael Hobbs. The music on that album (four or five tracks of which appear on A Fraying Space) present rougher, home recorded, and somewhat more rhythmically straight versions of songs that would later appear on Adreneline. Indeed, although there were only 20 copies pressed (making it the rarest Australian '60s LP -- so fuck you, Barry Gibb & The Bee Gees' Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs), it somehow caught the ear of Bob Cooley, the A&R man for Australian Phonogram. Cooley gave Pip the money to re-record the album (more or less) under the new title, Adreneline. This new version is cleaner, but still fractured (as you can hear by A/B-ing the two versions of "Adreneline"). Of course, since he was a solo guy with a guitar, Pip began to be called "The Australian Bob Dylan" (a title formerly held by convicted pedophile, Rolf Harris), but rarely has the music press been dumber.
Many of the songs on Adreneline have what anyone would call a very Barrett-y vibe, but other inflections emerge in spots. The guitar on "Purple Boy Gang" (an example of Pip's work when he actually plugged his electric in, rather than leaving it un-amped) has a crazy approach to rhythm-as-lead that reminds me of very early Lou Reed. And the title song mixes whiffs of early Donovan with the kind of whimsical stuff Ginger Baker was writing for Cream ("Pressed Rat & Warthog," "Anyone for Tennis"). The album got decent press, there were live shows and a few TV appearances. Buoyed by this, Cooley signed Pip for another LP.
"But what if - during that time - Syd Barrett heard Pip playing somewhere or a demo or something? Maybe Peter Jenner played Syd some tapes, and he was so amazed by them he began to get ideas for his solo trajectory. I'm not saying it definitely happened, but hey -- the time and place make it a possibility."
A Bird in the Engine was recorded by the Pip Proud Group in the latter part of 1968. Not too much earlier, experimental filmmaker Garry Shead (then better known as a cartoonist for Oz magazine) directed a short film called De Da De Dum. This film reportedly consists mostly of footage of Pip and his girlfriend, Alison walking through Sydney cityscapes with Pip's tunes on the soundtrack. Sounds pretty great. A Bird... uses more plugged-in electric guitar, and there's evidence of a band being present in spots. The title-track recalls the Red Crayola's "Hurricane Fighter Plane" (which I suppose Pip might've heard, although it's not likely). "French Girls" comes off like something that might have been done by Peter Perrett and a very early version of England's Glory. And "She Dwindles Her Fingers" has the same delicacy that marks Nick Drake's best work. Most of the music still makes one think mostly of the Madcap, however. Which is a great example of parallel development. Unless...
Well, Pip and Alison moved to London in 1969. Supposedly John Peel wanted to sign him to Dandelion, and there was even talk of interest from Apple. As with so many other Antipodeans in England, nothing much actually happened. So the pair returned to Australia via Asia after scuffling pretty hard for the better part of a year. But what if -- during that time -- Syd Barrett heard Pip playing somewhere or a demo or something? Maybe Peter Jenner played Syd some tapes, and he was so amazed by them he began to get ideas for his solo trajectory. I'm not saying it definitely happened, but hey -- the time and place make it a possibility. Maybe Syd (and his handlers) even paid Pip to drop off the recording scene so he could "patent" that weird guitar/vocal approach as his own. And maybe this stood until Galbraith's epiphanic discovery of his mom's old copy of Adreneline set a whole bunch of wheels into slow motion.
A process that ends, for now, with A Fraying Space. Don't be a slave to history as it's written. Check this one out and make your own decision.