I’ve been going to see Helicon as often as I can since early 2018 but for various reasons thought this run of four dates was beyond me…until I got the very welcome offer to jump in the van with the band and keep them company on the road. I’ve spent many hours and covered many miles in vans with bands but not for decades so it needed carefully weighing up…2 to 3 minutes of consideration later and the deal was done!
First night of the tour was at the Golden Lion in Todmorden; it was described to me years ago as the ‘psych capital of the north’ so it had a lot to live up to. It didn’t disappoint. A big gathering of northern gig regulars were there as well as others from further afield. It was a hot, sweaty and crowded gig and Helicon hammered straight into a series of songs from the latest ‘God Intentions’ LP (out now on Fuzz Club) before taking a trip back in time to previous album tracks, everywhere I looked people were grinning and dancing, eyes closed and lost in their own ‘Heliconia’ world. The band was originally put together by brothers John-Paul and Gary Hughes and tonight was all the more special for being Gary’s first gig back after a long absence; it just felt right seeing him back, on keys and guitar. The whole band are seriously good musicians, most with other musical projects on the go, and the chemistry on stage works beautifully, guitarist Mike Hastings and bass player Billy Docherty dominate one side of the stage with the Hughes brothers on the other; at the back drummer Seb Jonsen is a joy to watch as he always looks to be having the best night of his life! Centre stage is Graham Gordon who alternates between conjuring sounds from the keyboards, playing a devilish sitar, a quick turn as the great god Pan for ‘Tae The Moon’ and generally stirring the crowd up in his own madcap Groovy way…The rest of the band are slightly more reserved, just as well really!, but clearly have such a passion for the music and enjoy playing so much that it is infectious.
Helicon’s music walks the line between dark and light; it’s psychedelic but never whimsical, always earthed and rooted in reality, powerful and direct but varied and expansive. Existential psychedelia? They’re deadly serious about the music but have huge fun playing it. At times it is dark and gritty but can explode into kaleidoscopic colour. Half the time the guitars are fuzzy, dirty and noisy and the other half sublime and entrancing. There’s a lot going on in a Helicon song and they seem on the crest of a creative wave at present.
Songs like ‘Seraph’ ‘Permo’ ‘Flume’ ‘In The End’ ‘Come On Get Off’ and ‘Pure Filth’ seem to mainline straight to my subconscious and connect in that weird way that music can, twisting sounds into emotions. (the latter three don’t even make it into the set at present such is the strength and depth of material available) There’s something about the way they put their music together that resonates. I have no idea why certain chords, sequences of notes or tones can produce this effect but I’m very glad they can. Searing psych rock, swathes of sound, slightly melancholic but uplifting at the same time.
The trip from Yorkshire to Axminster in Devon was long and painful, the true glamour of tour life manifesting as sore backs and knees. This could only lead to ….Kozfest! This small scale festival has been running for a while now and I suspect it hasn’t changed much over the years; very much rooted in the old hippie free festival scene with a cast of characters that have been there and done it all many times over; the whole feel was chilled out and friendly with the music alternating between two big marquees. Helicon were to headline one of these – Judge Trev’s Place. No idea who Judge Trev is or was but looking at the rest of the crowd he probably had something to do with Gong or Hawkwind! Set up time was short and soundcheck even shorter but this didn’t seem to phase the band in the slightest and as the tent started to fill up they launched into the set. It was another stormer with the assembled cosmic dancers (even the ones that were too stoned to get out of their deck chairs!) picking up on the band’s energy and giving it back; it felt like a real celebration. After packing up we spent the rest of the night taking in some of the weird and wonderful things that Kozfest offers, before all piling in to sleep in a large tent provided by the organisers.
After free coffee and a good chat with some festival stalwarts we piled back in the van and hit the road again. Driver and manager Stevie couldn’t resist the lure of the ancients however so we did a bit of a detour to Stonehenge…after perplexing a few tourists and with druidry complete and counter culture rituals observed it was onwards to Northampton, the home of Bauhaus and Alan Moore and as we were to find out a whole cast of other eclectic souls.
I go to a lot of gigs; most are good, a lot are great and then there are others that transcend that and stick with you forever. These are the ones that give you those special moments – hair sticking up on the back of your neck, a tear in the eye, a feeling of peace and power at the same time – that make all the travelling, planning, waiting and expense worthwhile. Every night on this tour was one of those and none more so than at The Black Prince. I could see plenty of others in the room feeling the same; there just seemed to be an abandoned joy in the air and big grins all around, just as there had been in Todmorden and Kozfest.
After a memorable night with the underworld denizens of the Black Prince we grab a much needed few hours of sleep before we head to more familiar territory for me in east London, unfortunately during an epic rainstorm. Paper Dress Vintage is, not surprisingly, a vintage clothes shop but the second floor has a gig space, with seriously good sound. Another one of the things I love most about the gigging scene is the community and that pretty much wherever I end up there will be friends and familiar faces. That was certainly the case tonight and for the fourth night in a row I was in that space where everything makes sense and nothing else matters. Helicon have been going a while and there is a lot of love for the band; the way they are developing, with each record fuller, richer and more accomplished than the last I can only see that increasing. I often see bands that are good but that I don’t expect to be listening to far into the future; Helicon are building something permanent that exists outside genre labels and fashions.
So our last tango in Hackney was another successful one to end a great mini tour and we all disperse around the country to resume normal life…don’t know about the band but I felt refreshed, inspired and ready for more!
If you’ve never experienced Helicon, live or on record, I urge you to put that right. In the meantime recreate the set in your own home: – Dark Matters/Flume/Heliconia/Zen Roller/Devil On Your Tongue/Permo/What You Love Will Kill You/Seraph/Tae The Moon……More live dates to follow in September and October.
Goodies available at Bandcamp
Gary Powell August 23