Written by Brandon Biallas
The 1960s has become synonymous with U.S. hippie culture and the iconic psychedelic music that was spawned from it. But did the 60's spirit and visions for society (hallucinated and otherwise) really die out with the decade? Travel back in time with us as we explore Britain's New-Age Traveler movement; an equally influential counterculture movement with its own rapidly-growing music and art scene. Little did the world know that this very same movement would eventually give birth to one of the most eclectic and insanely-strange bands that continuously channels that same psychotropic spirit to this day.
At times, even the mere mention of the “1960s” is enough to conjure up countless psychedelic, flower-laden images in the mind’s of those who are aware of the predominant zeitgeist present at that time in the United States. Potentially as a radical response to the suffocating social-conformity that defined the previous decade, the 1960s has come to be synonymous with hippies, passionate anti-war sentiment, and copious recreational drug use. Many are well-aware of all that, however one topic I have rarely seen discussed is the counterpart hippie-movement that was happening around the same time, right across the pond in England, which eventually came to be known as the “New Age Travelers”.
The New Age Travelers (or Crusties) was a counter-culture movement that first began growing out of free festivals held throughout the 60s and 70s, such as Glastonbury Festival or the larger-than-life Stonehenge Free Festivals in Great Britain. Much like its U.S. countercultural counterpart, this social movement largely espoused the same beliefs, especially when it came to anti-war protest. One notable example happened during the 1980s when a group of the Travelers' mobile homes moved across country together in convoys. One group of Travelers came to be known as the Peace Convoy after visits to peace camps associated with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This movement had faced staunch opposition from the British government, exemplified by the authorities' attempts to prevent the aforementioned Stonehenge Free Festival, which eventually reached a boiling-point, in an event that came to be known as the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985. The Guardian would go on to label this event as “one of the largest mass arrests of civilians since at least WWII, possibly one of the biggest in English legal history".
So what the hell does any of that have to do with some British psychedelic rock band? Ozric Tentacles was formed at the very same Stonehenge Free Festival later on in 1983, where brothers Ed and Roly Wynne, drummer Nick "Tig" Van Gelder, bassist Eddie Myer and keyboardist Joie Hinton, performed as a band originally called Bolshem People. After playing a mind-melting, six-hour straight jam session, the group was eventually asked what the name of their band was, to which Ed Wynne replied, "Ozric Tentacles". The name was one of the ideas they had come up with in a conversation the band had about good names for alien breakfast cereal.
In a way, Ozric Tentacles are the perfect summation of the New Age Travelers movement itself; an eclectic group of constantly rotating characters gathering around a central dogma of free-thinking, mind-expanding, cosmos-exploring music. Founding member/guitarist, Ed Wynne epitomizes this central dogma. People may come and go from social movements but the core ideas that hold them together are a constant, unwavering force, in so long as at least one person remains to keep that fire alive. In a career spanning 4 decades and over 15 albums, it takes nothing less than an unstoppable force to keep Ozric Tentacles from losing steam. Ed Wynne, as the only remaining founding member of the group to this day, is undeniably the unifying, creative force in question.
Each album from Ozric Tentacles takes you on a psychedelic journey, regardless of the substances you may or may not have ingested before listening. The band effortlessly combines electronic effects that interweave with jazz rock under their psychedelic jam-band umbrella. The album Jurassic Shift from 1993 was my first exposure to the band and is an excellent example of these musical traits. Pulse-pounding drums and bass lines kick off the track with this primal ferocity. Shredding guitar and flute solos decorate the prehistoric landscape that they build in your mind. I don’t know of any other band that’s come closer to sonically emulating what it must be like traveling back in a time to drop acid with dinosaurs.
So where are they now? Today, Ozric Tentacles continues to release music and tour as often as possible. Their latest album, Space For The Earth, officially dropped in 2020 and received warm reception from fans. Founding band member, Ed Wynne continues to be the driving musical engine in the band, recently recruiting his wife and son to lend their respective musical talents to the group. With the band’s current trajectory, it doesn’t seem like Ozric Tentacles is going to retire anytime soon. Now if I’m being honest, I don’t like thinking about a band that has contributed SO much music to the world, possibly being doomed to obscurity in the bargain bins of your local record store. Yes they’re niche and highly eccentric but somehow I crossed paths with their strange music on this beautiful mess we call planet Earth. Was it divine intervention or merely coincidence? I’ll leave any mystical interpretations to you.
Ozric Tentacles is not the type of music that normally catches my ear but I can’t stop thinking about their obscure, yet powerful legacy. To me, weirdness is what makes music great. Weird music perfectly demonstrates that there is always something out there for everyone. No matter how strange others might find your particular creative tastes to be. Now I can’t say with a straight face that their music is for everyone but if you are truly in the mood for something imaginative, other-worldly, and sometimes alien beyond comprehension, maybe you should give Ozric Tentacles a listen.