Marsupilami was an English post-psych six-piece band that released two albums on Transatlantic Records in 1970 and 1971.
Members: Mike Fouracre (drums), Fred Hasson (vocals, harmonica), Leary Hasson (keyboards), Richard Lathan Hicks (bass), Dave Laverock (guitar), Jessica Stanley Clarke (flute, vocals), Pete Bardens (percussion), Mandy Riedelbanch (woodwind), Bob West (vocals)
Marsupilami emerged in Taunton, Somerset, in 1968 as the outgrowth of R&B rockers Levitation, which featured Anglo-French keyboardist Leary Hasson. That year, Levitation toured Southern Spain with the last-minute addition of Hasson’s brother, Fred, a former choir singer who assumed the mic from their deserter frontman.
Back in the UK, the brothers recruited a more committed set of musicians: guitarist Dave Laverock (ex-Sabres) and the former rhythm section of blues-rockers Justin’s Timepiece: bassist Richard Lathan Hicks and drummer Mike Fouracre. Leary’s flutist girlfriend, Jessica Stanley Clarke, completed the six-piece lineup.
Clarke, the granddaughter of renown food writer Ruth Lowinsky (1893–1958), traded vocals with Fred, who also played harmonica. The band took its name from the Belgian comic character Marsupilami, a yellow leopard-like creature premiered in 1952 by comics artist André Franquin. Their initial influences ranged from folk (Fairport Convention) and jazz (Miles Davis, John Coltrane) to post-psych (Soft Machine, Yes, Frank Zappa).
On August 29, 1969, Marsupilami opened the second Isle of Wight Festival, a three-day event that also featured performances by Aynsley Dunbar, the Battered Ornaments, Blodwyn Pig, Blonde on Blonde, Edgar Broughton Band, Joe Cocker, Eclection, Fat Mattress, Family, Gary Farr, Free, Gypsy, Heaven, Marsha Hunt, Mighty Baby, The Moody Blues, The Nice, Pentangle, The Pretty Things, Third Ear Band, and The Who.
Marsupilami signed with Transatlantic, a longstanding folk specialty label with a recent slew of post-psych acts (Circus, Stray, Jody Grind, Little Free Rock).
1970: First Album
Marsupilami released their self-titled debut album in April 1970 on Transatlantic (UK, NZ). It features five lengthy songs, mostly by chief writer Laverock, who wrote two numbers (“And the Eagle Chased the Dove to Its Ruin,” “Facilis Descencus Averni”) and partnered with Fred Hasson on the opener, “Dorian Deep.” Leary Hasson composed the 10-minute “Ab Initio ad Finem (The Opera)” and collaborated with the other two on “Born to Be Free.”
Marsupilami was produced by Mark Edwards, who also oversaw the debut album by Curved Air (Airconditioning) and assorted MCA/Decca recordings by the husband/wife pop duo John & Anne Ryder. Sessions took place in June 1969 at Sound Techniques Recording Studios off London’s King’s Road. The album was engineered by folk producer John Wood (Incredible String Band, Al Stewart, John Martyn, Nico).
The Marsupilami cover layout is attributed to the design firm Diogenic Attempts Ltd., also credited on the 1970 debut album by Atomic Rooster. The album’s catalog number (TRA 213) placed it between label titles by ex-Deviants singer Mick Farren (Mona – The Carnivorous Circus) and the live in-studio free jazz session attributed to The People Band.
Marsupilami were a popular live act in the Netherlands and Germany. In March 1970, they played the Hamburg Easter Festival, a three-day event at the Ernst Mercke Halle with performances by Black Sabbath, Killing Floor, Chicken Shack, The Greatest Show On Earth, Renaissance, Groundhogs, Tomorrow’s Gift, Day of Phoenix, Hardin & York, Flaming Youth, Xhol Caravan, Krokodil, and Warm Dust. Marsupilami’s set included a jam based on the Howlin’ Wolf blues standard “Spoonful,” recently popularized by Cream.
“Dorian Deep” appears on the 1971 German Metronome comp Gettin’ Higher with cuts by Steamhammer, Birth Control, Alice, Ame Son, Caravan, Gong, Amon Düül II, and the aforementioned Transatlantic labelmates.
For their next album, Marsupilami added singer/lyricist Bob West and German reedist Mandi Riedelbauch. They teamed with ex-Them and future Camel keyboardist Peter Bardens, who made two 1970/71 solo albums as a solo artist on Transatlantic.
Marsupilami’s second album, Arena, appeared in 1971 on Transatlantic. As on the preceding album, side one contains three songs, this time co-written by Leary Hasson and West: “Prelude to the Arena,” “Peace of Rome,” and “The Arena.” Fred Hanson collaborated with the pair on “Time Shadows,” which shares side two with the group-composed “Spring.” The songs concern the barbaric nature of the Roman Empire.
Bardens, credited as “a lovely guy” who plays percussion on select passages, produced Arena under coordinator John Whitehead (Punchin’ Judy, Pasadena Roof Orchestra). The album was engineered by ex-Ora bassist Robin Sylvester, who also worked on 1970/71 albums by East of Eden, The Fox, Raw Material, Black Cat Bones, Jericho Jones, Rory Gallagher, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, and Jan Dukes de Grey (Rats and Mice in the Loft). He would soon manage and mentor Byzantium.
Arena features Leary on organ, piano, electric piano, Mellotron, tubular bells, and “fire extinguisher.” Laverock plays electric, acoustic, and bowed guitars. Riedelbauch plays alto and tenor saxophone, plus flute on “Spring.” In addition to lyrics, West is credited with voice and a “large mouth-piece.”
“Prelude” appears on the two-LP Transatlantic comp Heads and Tales with cuts by Gerry Rafferty, Jody Grind (“Bath Sister“), Pentangle, Mr. Fox, and Storyteller.
Marsupilami disbanded in mid-1971. Leary Hasson joined CMU and played on their 1973 second album Space Cabaret.
Clarke played a fictional flutist, Jessica, in the 1973 Doctor Who serial The Green Death. Under her married name Jekka McVicar, she became a herb cultivator and renowned horticulturalist.
Fred Hasson went into media and served as Head of Corporate Relations in the BBC Regional Broadcasting Directorate. In 2001, he became the CEO of TIGA (The Independent Games Developers Trade Association).
Marsupilami and Arena first appeared on CD in 1989 on the German Line label. Both albums have since been reissued multiple times on different regional archivist labels, including four reissues apiece on Esoteric Recordings.
- Marsupilami (1970)
- Arena (1971)
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