The Truck Store is welcoming psychedelic rockers Kula Shaker for their latest album launch on 3rd February. The Saturday event celebrates Natural Magick, the band’s seventh studio album since forming in 1995. As Oxford’s hub of independent music, the Truck Store has the honour of hosting a ticket-only event. There, the band will treat visitors to an acoustic performance.
The In-Store Launch
Located at 101 Cowley Road, the Oxford Truck Store is the two-store business' busiest location. This independent record shop keeps a robust stock of CD and vinyl music for its local patrons. It’s more than that, however, hosting an in-store coffee bar – Mostro Coffee. It was the obvious choice for one of Kula Shaker’s first stops on their in-store launch tour. The band is performing at humble music shops across the country, which are currently benefiting from the great vinyl revival. Support from bands like Kula Shaker will certainly help the boom.
Buying a ticket to this Oxford event gets you entry to the store from 5 PM until 7 PM when the band leaves. Visitors can get signed copies of their latest studio album – Natural Magick – which releases the day before. Then there will be an acoustic performance of their ‘90s hits plus some stripped-back versions of songs from the new album.
Natural Magick represents an energetic return to form. It’s the first album since their 1999 keyboardist Jay Darlington rejoined the band. A band that has been plagued by stop-and-start hiatuses throughout their journey. But now, their original line-up is back together for thirteen new psychedelic tracks.
Frontman Crispian Mills explained that Natural Magick will focus more on live energy and “that spiritual connection with the audiences that come with it.” As a result, these 13 new songs are shorter than some of the “epics” that Kula Shaker (and psychedelic rock as a whole) have produced in the past. While it sounds like a conventional direction for the band, stacking an album with commercial-length three-minute melodies, this is not the case. Instead, it was born from the desire to play them live to an audience of dedicated fans. That’s exactly what this in-store launch aims to be.
The Story of Kula Shaker
Those unfamiliar with Kula Shaker are in for a wild ride. The band spearheaded a brief psychedelic rock revival in late ‘90s Britain. However, disbandment hindered them throughout their nearly 30 years in the industry.
Formation & Pilgrimage
Kula Shaker first came together in ’95. However, Crispian Mills had been honing his musical talent for a few years beforehand. That was when he met Alonza Bevan, who became Mills’ bassist for a different band – Objects of Desire. That project ended dramatically in 1993, which left Mills wrestling with a lot of negative emotions.
Mills’ solution was an unconventional, yet successful, one. He fled the Britpop scene for a spiritual pilgrimage in India. He spent his time backpacking around the country’s many holy sites. They instilled a deep interest in Hinduism that would stay with Mills for decades.
Two years and another flagging project later, Mills sat The Kays members down - Alonza Bevan, Paul Winterhart and Jay Darlington. He proposed a lot more than a name change. A shift toward more mystical, Hindu-inspired music that doubled down on the band’s pre-existing influences from the 60’s psychedelic scene. Like many rock hopefuls of the time, the band was inspired by the Beatles, so the psychedelic sound was already there, waiting to be tapped.
Kula Shaker's Name Inspiration
The band agreed. They changed their name to Kula Shaker – from King Kulasekhara. Kulasekhara was one of the Vaishnavite alvars. Vaishnavism is the worship of Vishnu as Hindu’s supreme entity while alvar – the immersed – is used to refer to saintly poets that distinguished themselves in his worship.
Vishnu, with his wife Lakshmi, are cultural symbols of love, caring and peaceful co-existence in the universe. Naturally, psychedelic movements have always been a fan of the great blue deity. Kulasekhara, on the other hand, is a lucky figure in Indian mysticism, something that further drew Mills toward the name.
Return & Dedicated Fanbase
Kula Shaker made their way up the UK Singles Chart with songs like Tattva and Govinda. They incorporated Sanskrit lyrics into their music, unheard of in late 90's British rock scenes. They made it to the BRIT Awards in ’97 and found more success after covering Billy Joe Royal’s Hush. However, their mainstream streak ended in ’99 when the band split.
This split happened under amicable circumstances and the band secretly reformed in 2004. They played stealth gigs, which is where they gained a love of small, intimate venues. Another decade of music-making followed with three of the original four band members. After another hiatus between 2015 and 2021, the band put out their sixth album, then welcomed Jay Darlington back into the fold for number seven.
Over the years, Kula Shaker have carved out a dedicated fanbase for themselves. Their dedication goes beyond other communities, as hardcore fans have imitated Mills’ ’93 pilgrimage through India. Since the '90s, Delhi has become a popular tourist destination. It gives fans and curious travellers an easy entry point when exploring one of the world’s oldest cultures/religions.
Fans of Kula Shaker who fly to Delhi can visit historical sites like the Mughal Red Fort or the India Gate, which exist alongside spiritual temples at the Akshardham. Many will naturally gravitate towards the ISKCON Temple, the home of Hare Krishna Vaishnavism, the faith to which Mills subscribes. To pay homage to Kulasekhara himself, it's then also possible to journey to southern India. That is where his birthplace is, at the Trikkulasekharapuram Temple. Heading south from the capital is the most efficient way to experience what the sub-continent has to offer.
For those near Oxford – you can get your dose of Hindi mysticism by seeing Kula Shaker perform live on 3rd February, at the Truck Store. Fans of all things creative can find more updates on music gigs, art shows and more through our What’s On catalogue.