Nick Saloman is crazy as a squirrel on whip-its, at least when heís making his guitar gurgle like methane bubbles rising from a greasy marsh or tearing off a solo like Hendrix with a head full of acid dreams. But right now, as he talks on the phone from his home in London, heís a mild-mannered bloke with one eye on the soccer match on TV. "Itís kind of a surprise, really, more than I ever could have dreamt of," he says of his status as the psychedelic undergroundís reigning rock-guitar hero. "When I was younger, I really did want to be in a band and tour the world and have LPs out, and it just didnít happen. I kind of resigned myself to never having that ó playing little pubs in London and thinking that was as far as Iíd ever go. After all, I had reached the grand old age of 30."
But the fortunes of Saloman, whose catalogue of Bevis Frond recordings is being reissued in the US on the Rubric label, began to turn a few years before that. In June 1982, when he was a more sprightly 28, he had what could in retrospect be called a lucky accident. It probably didnít feel lucky as his motorcycle plunged into an unfilled hole left by road workers and he flew over the handlebars into a railing, fracturing his elbow, ulna, radius, several toes, and his right heel and lacerating his head and chest. But three years later a small settlement allowed him to cover his debts, buy a car, take a vacation, and purchase a cassette Portastudio to make his own album.
Saloman played all the instruments on that 1986 disc, which he called Miasma, and he named his recording project the Bevis Frond. The album was an inspired Jekyll/Hyde act. It zipped from the daredevil Hendrix howl of "Wild Afternoon" to the pure pop of "Splendid Isolation" to the Pink FloydĖinspired baroque miniature "The Earl of Walthamstone" to the epic "Maybe," a worthy companion to Jimiís "All Along the Watchtower." The í60s-style psychedelia Saloman grew up on was the connective tissue for all those songs, but the jagged nerve endings were all his own. After all, heíd spent years in dives with names like the Hope & Anchor trying to get to the point where he could make a recorded artistic statement, and all that bottled energy blasts through in the growl and rip of his leads and his solos and the sheer thrust of Miasma.
Initially Saloman had 250 copies pressed, and when the LPs were delivered, he passed a few out to friends and "figured the rest would be in the attic for decades." But one of his pals gave a copy of Miasma to Funhouse Records, a shop and distributor up the road. They called Saloman to ask for 200 more. A few weeks later they ordered another 500, then asked when the next Bevis Frond LP would come out. Soon foreign distributors were calling.
"I hadnít even thought about making a second album," Saloman admits. Today heís recorded 20 under the Bevis Frond name, and the homespun label he dubbed Woronzow has become a freak flag for the psychedelic-rock underground, releasing albums by the likes of Sabbath-inspired UK-based metal sorcerers Scorched Earth and Oregonís twisted popsters the Brother Egg. And over the years the Bevis Frond have become a full-fledged band who record in real studios. Better yet, Saloman has realized his wish to quit his day job and tour the world ó or at least much of Europe and the US.
"Iím surprised that interest in what Iím doing slowly continues to grow. I guess there must be some natural attrition, when people get fed up with 20-minute guitar solos, but I obviously like them, because if I didnít I wouldnít play them. They can be excruciating if theyíre not very good, but I think that if any music is good ó well, then itís good and thatís that.
"The thing about the Bevis Frond is, Iím not doing it for anybody else, and I guess Iím kind of a loony in that respect. I never consider what people are going to think. The only consideration I give them is that I donít want to rip them off. But as far as content goes, it is purely what I like. I canít stand people telling me what to do. Thatís why I never liked having a regular job. So itís better to just be a maniac and work in a vacuum."
Saloman might feel heís working in a vacuum, but over the years heís become more the eye of a slow-building hurricane. For much of the past decade word of the Bevis Frond and Woronzow has gotten out through the Ptolemaic Terrascope fanzine heís co-published and the Terrastock psychedelic music festivals organized by its editor, Phil McMullen. New Bevis Frond albums have made their way into US stores through small indie labels like Reckless and Flydaddy, each one garnering a little more attention in the mainstream music press. Whatís more, his guitar contributions to Boston singer/songwriter Mary Lou Lordís 1998 major-label CD Got No Shadow (Sony/WORK) didnít go unnoticed.
And now thereís the chronological US re-release of the Bevis Frondís albums on the New York CityĖbased Rubric, which began last fall with the simultaneous reissue of Miasma and its follow-up, Inner Marshland. Recorded just a year after Miasma, Inner Marshland sounds the better for the experience Saloman got on his four-track recorder and as a singer. It may lack Miasmaís frequent sense of frenzy, but thatís quibbling, because from the opening backwards guitar tracks (over a bubbling swamp) to the bruising blues rock of "Medieval Sinese Acid Blues," with its sprawling, sparring overdubs, Salomanís performances are spot-on. He even swings a mean Syd Barrett imitation, softening his voice and adding acoustic guitar and organ to "Hey Mr. Undecided." Then he delivers "Iíve Got Eyes in the Back of My Head" with the powerful authority of a lost Seeds number. Both of these neo-classic discs were reissued with additional tracks that detract a bit from Miamsaís immediacy but fit Inner Marshlandís more deliberate nature.
Now the third Bevis Frond LP has just been rejuvenated. Triptych, from 1988, is another all-Saloman affair, with some of his most scalding guitar work and best songwriting. It includes the 20-minute epic "Tangerine Infringement Beak," a sort of mini-suite that travels from guitar acrobatics to a spare keyboard melody and groove mix to a wash of bells and feedback, as well as "Lights Are Changing," a number that Mary Lou Lord covered on her 1995 Kill Rock Stars label EP. And as we speak, Saloman is just finishing up a brand-new album in the studio with his band. Rubric plans to release that CD, tentatively called What Did for the Dinosaurs, later this year.
The hallmark of all the Bevis Frondís material, besides the free-range sizzle of Salomanís distinctive and raw fingerpicked style of rock guitar, is the variety it embraces within the psychedelic realm ó really, within all forms of classic rock. "Perhaps thatís because I grew up in the 1950s, although I was really young then," Saloman offers. "I really loved rock and roll from the start and started buying the Surfarisí singles and the Chantaysí ĎPipeline.í Thatís when I started playing guitar. I wanted to be like the Shadows or the Surfaris, and then the Beatles came along and all the British groups that rose up alongside them, like the Hollies and the Kinks. Then I started taking more notice of songs than guitar tunes. I liked the fact that the Beatles wrote their own stuff, and it made me feel that I could do it. So I started writing songs when I was really young and kept on following it.
"When the psychedelic thing hit, I was 13 or 14. I started getting gigs in 1968, at 15. It was a time when I was really impressionable, and it was so exciting going to see bands like the Pink Floyd. The sound was so different and they were pushing the boundaries, and yet they seemed like pretty ordinary people. I thought, ĎI love this; this is good, and I could do this too.í There was just a freedom the music had to it; there didnít seem to be rules. And then I was faced with Jimi Hendrix, which was very liberating. The idea was, ĎYou can do whatever you like,í so thatís what I did. I embraced the idea that I had the freedom to express myself any way that I wanted.
"You know, the fact is that I write songs and play the guitar just because I like to write songs and play the guitar. I would write songs and play guitar forever whether anyone listened to it or not. Itís the same as my playing soccer with my mates every Thursday night. I am no good at it, and it costs me five pounds a week, but I will move heaven and earth to be there every Thursday just because I love doing it.
"The difference is that Iím a lot better at writing songs and playing guitar than I am at football. And the fact that Iím never going to make it as a professional footballer doesnít upset me at all, much like I wasnít upset when I felt Iíd never be a professional musician. Itís because I donít do it for that. I do it because I love it.
"Of course, the nice thing about being able to make it as a musician is that I donít have to work a shit job ó which Iím glad for."