The band Marsupliami borrowed its name from the Belgian cartoonist André
Franquin who created this comic character in 1952. Marsupilami was a cross
between a monkey and a cat, yellow with black spots; cute, resourceful and
anti-authority. Perhaps not an obvious choice, but the progenitors of the
group, the Hasson brothers Fred (Vocals and Harmonica) and Leary (Organ),
with their Anglo-French upbringing, had grown up with comic characters like
Tin-Tin and Les Pieds Nicklés. Pre-empting Prince by several decades, the
idea was to use the symbol rather than the name. When Transatlantic
Record boss, Nat Joseph, wrote to seek permission, he neglected to mention
this and so clearance was given for the name only. At that point a name
change was suggested, but Nat Joseph said the name was cool and so it
The idea for Marsupilami began in 1968 following a tour of Southern Spain,
organised by Leary for his school r&b band, 'Levitation.' At the last minute
Fred, who had sung in the school choir, was drafted in as a replacement for
the absent lead singer. Returning to the UK the band secured a gig in its
home town metropolis of Taunton, backing the Joe Cocker Band. Fred and
Leary were completely smitten with what playing live offered but none of the
other members of Levitation could make the commitment. The band had to
reform going through numerous iterations, including a short period when a
bassoon was featured. The eventual line up for this eponymous first album
was largely recruited through poaching musicians from local bands. The
rhythm section of Mike Fouracre (drums) and Ricky Hicks (bass guitar) came
from local blues outfit Justin's Timepiece and Dave Laverock (guitar) came
from a semi-pro band, the Sabres. Leary's flute playing, art student
girlfriend, Jessica Stanley Clarke (now Jecka McVicar, Britain's foremost
organic herb grower) completed the line up.
In a short time most of the members of the band were living in an unused
farmhouse, with a huge barn serving as an 'open all hours' rehearsal studio.
Musical influences were catholic by any standards. Classical, Jazz and Rock
records littered the place and many artists were listened to like Coltrane,
Miles Davis, Fairport Convention, McCoy Tyner, Messian, Pharoah Sanders,
Soft Machine, Yes and Zappa. Under these influences the music of
Marsupilami soon evolved from cover versions to a very particular brand of
progressive rock. The synthesis of musical influences that you hear today
was the result of careful listening, inspired writing, hours of relentless
practicing and some superb musicianship.
What Marsupilami needed more than anything else was a recording contract.
This was the topic of conversation in the 'Full Moon' pub in Taunton's High
Street, which was overheard by an eccentric looking barefoot guy called
Julian Palmer-Hill. 'George', as he was known by band members, was
considerably older and wiser, had rejected an army career and after hearing
the band, volunteered to be its manager. George hitch-hiked to London as
promoter and soon got results.
MCA were interested but Marsupilami signed with Transatlantic Records, an
independent label that the band identified with. Transatlantic wanted to
diversify into rock music. Their stable was mainly folk artists such as
Pentangle, John Fahey and the The Humblebums (Billy Connelly and Jerry
Rafferty), and it also published a catalogue of stuff too weird or far out for
most labels to take on: John Cage, Bret Marvin and the Thunderbolts, and
Frank Zappa's 'Uncle Meat', adopted when the Verve label bottled out over
his use of 4 letter words.
Marsupilami's gig schedule started to go from the sublime to the ridiculous.
One week it might be a fete in a Somerset village, and the next outing could
be London's Roundhouse, Farx Club or one of the free festivals with bands
like Quintessence or Mighty Baby. In the summer of 1969 Marsupilami backed
Deep Purple at a packed Barnstaple Town Hall, and turned the billing on its
head, with Jon Lord in the audience to witness the band's eclipse his own
outfit. Marsupilami were the first band to play on the first day of the 1969
Isle of Wight Festival, followed by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Nice.
They played the inaugural Glastonbury on September 19th 1970 and were
the first electric band on the pyramid stage in 1971. In Exeter they won the
South West Regional leg of the Melody Maker Best Band Competition, but
were disqualified from the final because of signing a record deal - the prize
for the competition winners.
Marsupilami were popular on the Continent and especially at Paradiso in
Amsterdam and the AMVJ in Rotterdam. The band also appeared at the 1970
Hamburg Easter Festival alongside Alexis Corner, Chicken Shack and
Renaissance. Waiting all day to play, the band finally went on at 5 a.m, only
to have the plug pulled by the riot police 30 minutes into the set. This
debacle guaranteed the band the first slot the next day - they brought the
house down with the only music not written by them, a jam session of
Spoonful - the finale of every Marsupilami set.
This first Marsupilami album (originally released at Transatlantic TRA 213)
was recorded in June 1969 at the Sound Techniques Recording Studios, just
off London's King's Road, and released in April 1970. The studio, which was
converted from an old dairy and now replaced by flats, was just being fitted
out with some new gizmo's called Dolby's. It is famous for the rosta of artists
recorded there by Joe Boyd: Nick Drake, Incredible String Band and Fairport
Convention but Joe was reputedly not enamoured with the Marsupilami
sound. The engineer was John Wood.
All five tracks were done in a handful of takes, virtually live. The music is
really unique and distinctive; hard to categorise and never emulated. There
are more sublime melodies packed into a single track than most bands of the
period muster in an entire album. Time sequence changes, stylistic shifts and
ruptures of mood follow one another: passages move from light jazzy
ensembles, driving guitar and organ rock pumped up by the rhythm section,
to slow ethereal dream sequences featuring flute, organ and chanting. The
content of the album can only be described as apocalyptic, even misanthropic
at times and the titles penned by Dave (Facilis Descensus Averni [It's easy to
go to Hell!] and The eagle chased the dove to its ruin) contain some
especially gloomy lyrics to accompany the affecting guitar. The only
instrumental on the album, Leary's Ab Initio ad Finem is a musical
interpretation of an Old Testament style sermon, recounting man's demise
through a recent cataclysm.
The band went on to record one more album a year later, entitled Arena
(originally released as Transatlantic TRA 230). It was recorded at Tangerine
Studios in 1970 and produced by Peter Bardens of Them and Camel fame.
Arena was a concept album that continued in the same apocalyptic vein.
After reading 'Those about to die' by Danniel P. Mannix, Leary teamed up
with Bob West, friend, artist and also sometime roadie, to put together the
words and music. Arena drew a parallel between the fall of the Roman
Empire and the declining Western Civilisation but with hope at the end.
The Marsupilami Story
We were at the first
Isle of White Festival in 1969!
Arena (1971) - Audio CD
Digitally remastered by
Marsupilami (1970) - Audio CD
Digitally remastered by
Bob West was chief cheer leader and critic of the band in the formative
years, where he also roadied and more importantly teamed up with Leary to
work on the the 'Arena' concept album, for which he wrote the lyrics:
“.....Moving inadvertently through a gathering of Satans
The ravishing of bodies by the savaging of minds
And the occult is past believing the travelling of meaning....” (Time Shadows)
Not words for the feint hearted but completely apt for the brand of
apocalyptic rock written and played by Marsupilami. His credits include 'large
mouthpiece' on the Arena album.
Bob now lives in France where he is pursuing his artistic talents, not least his
current major project which is designing and building a garden to match the
challenging nature of his writing and painting.
George departed as manager at the end of 1970 having decided that group
infighting over whether their music should become more commercial, had
become terminal; it left Fred to run the band and arrive at the same
conclusion months later. Jessica left the band after the recording of the
second album and the group was joined briefly by Mandy Reidlebauch a sax
and flute player they had met in Germany. When he was detained at the
German border for army conscription dodging, his place was taken by Paul
Dunmall who still plays on the free jazz circuit.
Marsupilami folded in the summer of 1971 and played a farewell concert at
the Classic Cinema in Taunton on a September Sunday afternoon in front of
a packed house. By this time there was a completely new set of shorter
songs, only one of which was ever recorded: 'Lightshine' written by Leary
by the band that he subsequently joined, CMU, on their second album Space
Cabaret (originally released as Transatlantic TRA 259 1972). The trio of
Mike, Ricky and Dave continued as Oceans, played a few gigs and folded.
Marsupilami were proud of the craft and skills they put into their music and
often thought their albums should have been stacked in the Jazz or even the
classical sections of record shops!
In 2010 the band briefly reformed to play Glastonbury with guitarist Julian
Saxby (ex Nina Hagen band and currently Alex Harvey Band), Paul Hodgson
(flute) and original members Fred and Leary Hasson, Ricky Hicks and Mike
Fouracre,and Paul Dunmall but this was not fulfilled, although some
rudimentary recordings exist.
In 2011 the band were asked by Andrew Kerr to play on the rebuilt original
pyramid stage for the 40ith anniversary of the Glastonbury Fayre - Fred
Hasson decided to form an all new line up of younger musicians from his
base in Brighton.