Reign in Spain
From an unexpected corner of the world, comes a psych-pop psuccess pstory.
LLEIDA, THE SjALLEST of Catalonia’s four provincial capital cities, doesn’t spring to mind as the place to base a hub for cultish psych, garage, folk and rock. But in 1995, that’s where Antoni Gorgues launched the wonderful Guerssen label, simply because that’s where he happened to be, staring at a future in a well-paid but boring office job, dreaming of doing something in music. “I was deep into the ’90s garage-jod scene that was going on all through Europe, and I started releasing music by some of those acts,” he says. “The first album was by my Barcelona pals The Flashback Five, a very cool garage-psych band. I had no plan at all other than to follow the dream.”
Several years in, he diversified into reissuing hard-to-find titles from the ’60s and ’70s – mostly garage, psychedelia and folk. In 2007, label manager Alex Carretero arrived with his own deep knowledge of those scenes. Those releases are now the label’s prime focus. “The idea is to bring to life albums that went unnoticed at the time but are great,” says Carretero. “We try to avoid reissuing albums just because they’re very rare or expensive. They have to say something to us.”
This has led to unexpected success stories like Wicked Lady, an unknown British power trio operating between 1968-72, who never managed to release an album in their lifetime. But their demos, collected onto two double albums, are among Guerssen’s best-sellers, as are other ’70s hard rock rarities, Farm,
Orang-Utan and Irish Coffee.
Private pressings are a fertile area – like Oliver’s acid folk super-rarity Standing
Stone (a sequel is coming too). And then, of course, there are major-label releases that vanished without trace. A nice recent example is Hokus Poke’s Earth Harmony, an appealing amalgam of late psych, early prog and timeless boogie issued on Vertigo in 1972 – and worth £700 if you can find one in good condition. It’s been reissued on CD a few times but is now back on vinyl in a smart facsimile of its original die-cut sleeve. Guerssen also distributes LPs from other boutique labels around the world. There are currently over 1,700 titles on their website.
“We’re very strict with quality control for our vinyl releases,” says Carretero. “We take a lot of care over audio transfer and mastering. And we’ve checked entire pressings, record by record, to avoid warped copies, which is today’s pressing pandemic.” With pressing delays affecting all vinyl releases, Guerssen have adopted a strict rule not to announce an album’s release until they have it in their warehouse.
Twenty-eight titles are in stock ready to be marketed throughout the year. Among them are: the 1972 self-titled LP by forgotten Fillmore West regulars Filipino-American funk troupe Dakila; ’90s UK psych-pop wizards Bronco Bullfrog’s delightful, sprawling self-titled set, which feels like Oasis colliding with XTC, now on double vinyl; Pop Music, a cute piece of French librar y music issued under the name Structure in 1970 to cash in on the vogue for flutes in rock;
Women And Children First, lost psych by brilliantly named Welsh band Ancient Grease; and a gold vinyl repressing of The Action’s legendary lost album, Rolled Gold.
“It’s pretty hard to do all that work in advance, and a huge economic investment,” says Gorgues. “But we’re able to do it because we’ve been established for so long. It’s tough for newer, smaller labels.” And though Lleida is hardly the centre of the musical universe, being based there gives Guerssen, as a big fish in a niche market, what Gorgues calls “the power of periphery”.
“How did following the dream turn out?” I ask him.
“At this stage, I suppose you could say that it worked out fine!”
“An appealing amalgam of late psych, early prog and timeless boogie – worth £700 if you can find one in good condition.”