Third Ear Band - Alchemy

Third Ear Band - Alchemy
Authored By John Nicholson

If you’re not familiar with the pleasures of the Third Ear Band then if you love music which walks a different path to most, you’ll love this, their debut album recorded in 1969. Firstly, what a great name for a band. We’ve all heard of our third eye, our mystical pathway to metaphysical understanding, so why wouldn’t there be a third ear which allows us similar access to the unknown? A third ear hearing sounds that the other two ears can’t register is a great notion, I think.

They evolved out of another wonderfully named group 'The Giant Sun Trolley' who revolved around the psychedelic scene at the UFO club in London. They were supported and publicised by John Peel on the radio and he even played Jew’s harp on the record.

They were signed to EMI’s progressive label, Harvest.  And the fitted very well in that environment.

So what is this like? Well, it’s mostly instrumental for a start and some of the song titles will give you a clue.  "Ghetto Raga", "Druid One", "Stone Circle", "Egyptian Book of the Dead." Yes it’s all very experimental, sort of ambient folk with Eastern faroutness thrown in. There’s no electric guitar on the record but plenty of chimes, drums, tabla, wind chimes, hand drums, oboe, recorder, Pipe, violin, viola and cello. 

It’s all very transportative. At times it feels like you’re halfway up a mountain in 14th century Mongolia and at others in a 1969 squat in Notting Hill smoking dope and dropping acid while someone beats a washing up bowl with a spoon for 8 hours. 

Ghetto Raga begins with something droning and something else also droning, then something parps and a viola is bowed and is that a hurdy gurdy throbbing? If it isn’t it should be. In comes the tabla and suddenly we’re in an ashram on a steamy summer in southern India with the scent of cumin and turmeric in the air. The whole thing begins to take a trippy twist and before the 10 minutes is up, you’re tasting colours and smelling sounds.

No there isn’t a hit single on it! They produced over the coming two or three decades over 10 records, a couple of live albums and several compilations, eventually evolving into what we’d know as New Age music. 

Despite Peel promoting them, they didn’t really have any commercial success, this is very niche music and was always really only going to appeal to Heads of a certain vintage but it is a tremendous record and one which will take you to a place you may never have been, or at least haven’t visited for a few decades.

It is also very rare. A first pressing in good condition will cost you £100-£125, a second pressing £50. Even reissues fetch up to £20. Recently repressed on new vinyl too.  

Now, where are my Rizlas?

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