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 remained.

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
Website by Rogue Communications
We were at the first
Isle of White Festival in 1969!
Arena (1971) - Audio CD
Digitally remastered by Esoteric Records
Marsupilami (1970) - Audio CD
Digitally remastered by
Esoteric Records
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 and recoded
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.