Sitar, psychedelia and live, live music!


‘After-thoughts’ on another sold out night at the remarkable Golden Lion venue:

with Alan Dearling

Upstairs in a venue perched above the Rochdale Canal in Todmorden, West Yorkshire – jam-packed with music lovers. First up, ‘Sister Wives’, then ‘Helicon’, and then more live music in the weekly Open Mic downstairs at the Golden Lion. So much music. Great to have such a special pub that provides djs/live music/talks/community events and much more – even visiting UFOs!

I have to say that on occasions like today, in the morning after, as I start to check and edit pics from the night before – I’m perhaps more in an ‘after-shock’, rather than having ‘after-thoughts’. Upstairs at the paid gig, it was loud and absolutely wedged… But, a special psych-vibe.


The name of the band has many meanings in many cultures. Amongst them, ‘Helicon’ was the abode in central Greece of Apollo and the Muses. That sounds super-cool! Their sounds and sources are extremely diverse. A helicon is also a tuba-like instrument with a coil to fit over the head. Absolutely nothing to do with sitars, keyboards and guitars! Here’s a link to Helicon:

There’s quite a lot about them on the web including lots of video and music links. I agree whole-heartedly with Shindig magazine which wrote, “Helicon have become a mythical force in the UK underground over the last 10 years.”

Gideon Coe and Deb Grant on BBC Radio 6 Music have been lauding their ambitions and talents and in particular their rather cosmic third studio album which was released earlier this year. It’s entitled ‘God Intentions’, and released on Fuzz Club. It’s been mastered by Mark Gardener (Ride), and their collaborators include Lavinia Blackwall (Trembling Bells), Anna McCracken, a string quartet, French avant-garde violinist Sotho Houle and more. 

Helicon was formed in 2011 by brothers John-Paul and Gary Hughes in East Kilbride, Glasgow. They are quoted as saying that they wanted to be musically creative, “Channeling the cosmic noise of their Scottish homeland and sitar-led, opium-tainted sounds of India with the neo-psychedelic swoons of 90s San Francisco”. To date, they have released 3 singles, 9 EPs, 3 studio albums and 1 Fuzz Club live session album.

Graham Gordon – a master of strange facial expressions!

Helicon are increasingly involved in musical collaborations. This includes their recent single with Will Carruthers (ex-Spacemen 3 , The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spiritualized, Dead Skeletons) in what they call, “…a hilariously profound, mind-melting single”, ‘I’m More English Than You, You C*nt!’.

HELICON is: John-Paul Hughes, Gary Hughes Graham Gordon, Mike Hastings, Mark McLure, Billy Docherty and Seb Jonsen.

Live, they were doomy, visually creative – lots of intricate inter-play of sounds, with layers of electronica and drones. And, it was pretty loud, fuzzy walls-of-sound, at times reminiscent of early Hawkwind gigs in the days of Lemmy. A number of my mates at the gig commented afterwards, and Helicon told me: “Yeah, it was a bit too loud on stage for us too!”

But the band went down a storm, garnering dozens of favourable comments. If you enjoy Spacemen 3, Can, Ozric Tentacles, Dream Machine and Wooden Shjips, you’ll be interested in the music of Helicon. One of my friends said she had mates who travelled to Yorkshire from Swanage in Dorset for the gig and she said, “It is the best band I’ve seen so far this year.”

Here’s a brief excerpt from an interview in ‘Stereo Embers’ by Paul Gleason with the two founding brothers in Helicon:

“JPH: I’d written the melody for ‘In a Sad Red Dusk’ (from their EP, ‘Gehenna’) using a sitar pedal, and whilst it sounded OK, I knew it would find a whole new dimension if we used a real sitar. Fortunately, we knew Graham, the sitar player, from gigging together over the last few years and asked him to join us for the recording. We were so pleased with how it turned out that we’ve brought him out on the road with us to play live. As luck would have it, he too is a degenerate, drunken nincompoop, so he fits right in.

GH: We have known Graham for a good few years now, and we thought sitar would sit nicely in our latest recordings. He has become a big part of our sound.”

Link to interview and the video of ‘In a Sad Red Dusk’:

Here’s an Ab-Fab video clip of ‘The Sun also Rises’ from The Fuzz Box Sessions:

Sister Wives

Bilingual Welsh/English dreamweavers // Breuddwydwyr Dwyieithog – possibly ‘bizarrely’ from Sheffield.

Pounding rhythms, swirling spectral keys, chants – four psychedelic ladies… reminding me a bit, especially on the more folksy numbers, of Sally Oldfield/the Sallyangie (with brother, Michael). Brim-full of Celtic folk tales…but at the edgier, darker end of the Celtic fringes. There’s even hints of Velvet Underground. The four members of Sister Wives take turns in singing, but Donna on keyboards is frequently centre-stage. Sister Wives are:

Donna Lee, Lisa O’Hara, Liv Willars and Rose Love.

Video of a live Sister Wives’ set from Shacklewell Arms, London:

Personally, I’m more attracted to their folkier tracks, and was impressed with the singing from drummer, Lisa. She is in haunting-form on ‘Hares on the Hill’ from their latest album, ‘Y Gawres’, but ‘Baron Hill’ and ‘Streets at Night’ also left musical imprints on my ever-depleting brain-cells!

Check out their album on Bandcamp:

Then downstairs at the Golden Lion’s Open Mic Night, I was able to enjoy some fun and musical frolics from three of The Free Sandwiches and some fine trumpet finessing from Manchester’s Rick Burrows… Another singular night of LIVE music.


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