Originally formed as The Apaches in 1965, a personnel change a year later brought about the new name The Drag Set, who enjoyed a solid reputation and a modicum of success on the London blues circuit throughout 1966, backing such visiting luminaries as Wilson Pickett and John Lee Hooker. In 1967, they laid down some tracks with a ?very enthusiastic and encouraging? Joe Meek, but his suicide less than a week later quashed any potential release. In March, the CBS subsidiary Go released their debut single, the Mod-inflected ?Day and Night? b/w ?Get Out of My Way.? Despite favorable reviews in Record Mirror and NME, the single sank without a trace (although the band would rework the A-side in the future ? more about that in a moment). About this time, the band?s management were, um, muscled out of the picture by well-known boxing promoter Benny Huntman, who installed his son Roger as manager. By now, ?a lot of bluesy bands were starting to go psychedelic, and we were no exception,? exclaims bassist Tim du Feu, who ?thought up the name The Open Mind to reflect our attitude towards life.? Armed with a new moniker and wardrobe (?At the same time we got leather suits made, which were very unusual for the period. You could say we started the look that people like Iron Maiden took up a few years later?), The Open Mind became staples on London?s psychedelic scene, playing at legendary venues like Middle East, the UFO Club, the Electric Garden (supporting Pink Floyd on opening night!), and The Marquee (opening for The Electric Prunes), and enjoying the company of such burgeoning talents as Jimi Hendrix, the Soft Machine, Joe Cocker, Arthur Brown and Jon Anderson. The latter, then ensconced as lead vocalist with The Syn was actually offered the lead vocal spot in The Open Mind to allow lead guitarist Mike Brancaccio to concentrate on his six string, but, as du Feu tells us, ?Mike?s refusal to be sidelined put paid to that?.? Anderson, of course, later enjoyed the spotlight that seemed to eternally fail to shine on The Open Mind when The Syn evolved into Yes.
All of this perfunctory material is included in Sunbeam?s typically informative liner notes to their reissue of what many consider one of the lost gems of the UK psychedelic era. Recorded in the spring of 1969 by Johnny Franz (enjoying his current success with Scott Walker and Dusty Springfield), du Feu relates that it was actually engineer Fritz Fryer who was ?far more interested in helping us find the right sound, as well as experimenting with double tracking, echo and so on.? Rhythm guitarist and lead singer Terry Martin (nee Schindler) agrees, adding ?Franz was probably the wrong producer for us, but he did an OK job all things considered. Fritz was far more engaged, constantly making suggestions and trying different things out.?
Opening with the storming, blues of ?Dear Louise? the album is chock full of Brancaccio?s punchy pop/psych gems, all brimming with vitality, lovely harmonies (featuring Kiki Dee and Madeleine Bell), searing guitar breaks, du Feu?s throbbing bass lines and manic drummer Philip Fox?s shuddering fills that rival Keith Moon in their ribald intensity (listen to The Who-like aggression of ?Try Another Day?). Add Martin?s strident wail and you?ve got the makings of an essential item that belongs in any psychedelic music fan?s collection. Dig Martin?s pants-shredding squeal on ?I Feel The Same Way Too? as it floats effortlessly over Brancaccio?s Townshend-esque riffage that reminded me quite favorably of ?I Can See For Miles? until that heavy metal middle eight takes over, predating Deep Purple?s similar sounding ?Smoke On The Water? by several years!
Side two opens with both sides of the band?s debut single, ?Horses and Chariots? ? sort of a pop/psych rendition of the tale of the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse ? and the syrupy, sludgy blues of ?Before My Time,? which sounds like a fertile cross-pollination of Black Sabbath and The Doors. Brancaccio?s razor-sharp solos inject a double-shot adrenaline rush into ?Free As The Breeze,? which again features the band?s falsetto harmonies throughout the chorus and his guitar pyrotechnics takes center stage on ?Girl I?m So Alone,? a reworking of the aforementioned Drag Set single, ?Day and Night.?
The band?s classic, post-LP single, ?Magic Potion? c/w ?Cast A Spell? make up the first two bonus tracks. Frequently cited by psych aficionados as one of the ten greatest singles of the UK 60?s psychedelic era, the A-side comes across like Steppenwolf on steroids, with Brancaccio and Martin?s guitars blazing away behind Martin?s suitably psychedelic lyrics, ?Take a drink from my magic potion/Soon you?re going to really feel fine/One sip and you?ll see things you never saw before?.? The track immediately became a favorite on John Peel?s legendary BBC 1 radio program. The short flip is like an answer song, with a slightly poppier sheen, but still sounds like a ballsier Who retread (in a good way). But what really makes this the definitive reissue of The Open Mind?s material (easily supplanting Tenth Planet?s vinyl reissue from a few years back.) is the inclusion of both sides of the Drag Set 45. ?Day and Night? is a kick-ass, Mod-inflected barnstormer, clearly showing the influence of The Who, while the softer, melodic pop of ?Get Out of My Way? is even better, and might have been a hit if it were flipped over to the A-side. Think Peter & Gordon with a Dave Clark 5 chaser! So what we have here is an essential reissue that you need to own?NOW! 10/10 -- Jeff Penczak (31 July, 2006)