Oberon - A Midsummer’s Night Dream [Grapefruit Records/ Cherry Red - 2021]
Originally released back in 1971 A Midsummer’s Night Dream was one of the more wonkily atmospheric, primal and rare records of the 1970’s psych/acid folk scene. It was first put out as a private pressing of just 99 copies- making it one of the most sort-after releases from the more oddly turned end of the genre. Here from Cherry Red’s Grapefruit Records is a deluxe double CD reissue of the album, featuring the original album and an unheard live set recorded three months before the album was recorded.
The two CD’s come in a six-panel digipak- this takes in a moody black & white cover artwork, taking in a selection of small creepy faces peering from out of a tightly weaved woodland. Inside and underneath the discs, we get a picture of the band playing live, and there’s also a glossy twenty-two-page inlay booklet- featuring a new twelve-page write-up about the band and the album, full lyrics, and a good selection of pictures and related artwork. So, a really nice and classy presentation for this psych/acid folk oddity.
Oberon were a seven-piece from Oxford- with all but one of the members been students at Radley College. The band seemingly lasted just two years between 1970 and 1971, playing a fair selection of local gigs including supporting Kent-based psychedelic/ hard rock band The Pretty Things. A Midsummer’s Night Dream was there the only album, with only really two of the bands - Julian Smedley and Jeremy Birchall, going on to doing anything after the band dissolved.
The band brought together- Charlie Seward- flute, guitar, vocals. Julian Smedley- Violin and vocals. Chris Smith- acoustic and electric guitars. Robin Clutterbuck- guitar. Jeremy ‘Bernie' Birchall- bass and piano. Jan Scrimgeour- vocals and guitar. Nick Powell- drums, and Hug Lupton- lyrics.
The original album took in eight tracks in all with a total runtime of thirty-nine minutes, and it’s a decidedly wonky and wavering sonic journey with the band moving between a clanging and primal flute and wondering guitar workouts. Onto hazed folk-rock drifts with mumbled and haphazard blends of male and female vocals, and a wavering and warbling jazz touched Gershwin cover. Through to wonky instrumental blends of folky guitar strums, flute and string tones. Onto quirkier hazed, banging and crashing- to-wavering blue guitar fed hippy-dippy freak-outs top with cryptic and wavering to rising male singing.
The second disc takes in a live set recorded in the spring of 1971- this features seven tracks and has a full runtime of thirty-nine minutes. As this was recorded before the album, the sound of the band is even more wavering and wondering. With the set featuring five original tracks, and two covers including the collective worth distinctively wonky-if-charming enough cover of "Scarborough Fair". It’s certainly interesting to hear the band try to gel and blend their instrumental treads here- but at points, it’s all a little too wonky and lopsided for its own good- so worth a play if you enjoyed the album, but be ready for a very lo-fi and bent selection of songs.
It’s certainly great to have a classy reissue of this wondering and wavering psych/acid folk debut- and the packaging/bonus disc make for nice extras/ bonus. I’d say you’ve got to have a love for shambling and haphazard folk, and folk-rock to fully enjoy and get Oberon sound- but for my money, it’s a rewardingly lopsided ride.