Zior

Zior was an English post-psychedelic hard rock band that released a 1971 self-titled album on Nepentha (UK) and Global (Germany). Their demoed second album, Every Inch a Man, appeared in 1973 on the German Intercord label. Between the two albums, Zior (under the band alias Monument) recorded The First Monument, released in late 1971 on Beacon Records.

Members: Keith Bonsor (vocals, keyboards), Peter Brewer (drums), Barry Skeels (bass, vocals), Mark West [aka Woolly] (guitar, 1970), John Truba (guitar, vocals, 1970-72)


Background

Zior stemmed from a musical partnership between singer–keyboardist Keith Bonsor and drummer Peter Brewer. After they teamed with guitarist John Truba and bassist Barry Skeels, they launched a dramatic stage act and caught the attention of Rolling Stones soundman Billy Farley.

Bonsor hailed from Canvey Island, where his first instrument was drums, which his father acquired from the retired member of a local big band. He also sang in the church choir and played his father’s upright piano. In time, he taught himself classical and boogie-woogie pieces by ear.

At school, Bonsor played Fender bass in the Essex 5, a beat covers band that lured drummer John Martin from The Roamers, the band of schoolmate Wilko Johnson. After they left school, Essex 5 gigged twice weekly and gained opening slots with national bands, including The Animals, Cream, Manfred Mann, and a late-period lineup of the Graham Bond Organization. Essex 5 also won a national Melody Maker contest and played recurrently at London’s Cromwellian Club, where they performed for assorted rock luminaries (Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison).

Essex 5 collapsed when Martin (aka ‘Big Figure’) reteamed with Johnson in an embryonic Dr. Feelgood. Bonsor formed a writing partnership with Mark Wensley (aka Mark West), a former Radio Luxembourg DJ. They formed Cardboard Orchestra, a pop act with (future Kursaal Flyers) guitarist–singer Vic Collins. Their single “Zebedy Zak” (b/w “Mary Tell Me Why”) appeared in April 1969 on CBS. The a-side, an upbeat orchestral psych number, features string arrangements by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Cardboard Orchestra toured their act with drummer Peter Bewer and cut a second single, “Nothing But a Sad Sad Show” (b/w “Yes I Heard a Little Bird”), with arranger Johnny Arthey. Bonsor and West also wrote “Angelina,” a 1969 Pye a-side by The Wake, a pop act with (future Rubettes) keyboardist–singer Bill Hurd.

During this period, Bonsor (a longtime multi-instrumentalist) seized on the Hammond organ and the (newly marketed and exceedingly loud) Orange Matamp amplifier, which Fleetwood Mac left behind at CBS Studios. After Cardboard Orchestra gave their final performance at the Soho Whiskey a Go Go, Bonsor conceived a new act with heavy music and dramatic visuals.

Bonsor retained Bewer and formed Zior with bassist Barry Skeels and guitarist John Truba. Skeels originated in Bum, a Basildon hard-rock band that cut two 1968 acetates and morphed into Iron Maiden (not the famous metal band), which recorded a long-vaulted 1970 album (released in 1998 as Maiden Voyage on Audio Archives).

Zior played universities and underground clubs and built an image around black magic and horror, enhanced with masks, handmade props, psychedelic lights, and Bonsor’s trance-like intensity. During each show, he summoned a female audience member for a mock sacrifice, which was always stopped (and the victim saved) by the God Zior, who appeared from behind a screen.

Zior’s act polarized fellow performers. In Birmingham, Robert Plant jumped on stage and jammed with Zior. On one occasion, they were double-billed with Scottish popsters Middle of the Road, whose singer, Sally Carr, fled the show in horror once she heard of Zior’s alleged witchcraft.

Zior performed for a BBC Halloween Special and filmed a Marquee Club scene for Groupie Girl, a 1970 British drama with fellow psychsters Opal Butterfly.

Zior signed with Nepentha, a short-lived Philips subsidiary started by ex-Kinks and Troggs manager Larry Page. They linked with Bill Farley, an associate soundman for assorted sixties acts (The Pretty Things, The Wheels, The Belfast Gypsies) who now worked at TPA Studio, a musky flood-prone facility on Denmark St.


Zior

Zior released their self-titled debut album in June 1971 on Nepentha (UK, Australia) and Global (Germany). It features ten Keith Bonsor originals, including “Oh Mariya,” “Your Life Will Burn,” “New Land,” “Quabala,” and “Before My Eyes Go Blind.” Two songs (“Za Za Za Zilda,” “Rolling Thunder”) are credited to one David Kaplan — later identified as singer–songwriter Alan James “Bugsy” Eastwood, who appears as a guest vocalist.

Due to a clause in Bonsor’s earlier publishing contract, he relegates writing credits on all but two of his songs (“Oh Mariya” and “New Land”) to Peter Brewer.

Bonsor sings lead and plays organ, bass, and flute on Zior, which features Brewer on piano and harp in addition to drums and percussion. Bassist Barry Skeels and guitarist John Truba provide backing vocals.

A1. “I Really Do” (2:58)
A2. “Za Za Za Za Zilda” (2:40)
A3. “Loves Desire” (4:00)
A4. “New Land” (4:10)
A5. “Now I’m Sad” (4:05)
A6. “Give Me Love” (2:42)
B1. “Quabala” (3:20)
B2. “Oh Mariya” (3:20)
B3. “Your LIfe Will Burn” (3:15)
B4. “I Was Fooling” (3:05)
B5. “Before My Eyes Go Blind” (3:25)
B6. “Rolling Thunder” (3:05)

Sessions took place across three days at TPA, where members crashed in the adjacent office spaces. Farley earned his first album-length production credit on Zior. Bonsor arranged the material with Peter Lee Stirling — aka Peter Charles Greene, the vocalist of the interlinked post-psych studio projects Hungry Wolf and Rumplestiltskin (not to be confused with Peter Green).

Zior sports a vertical gatefold sleeve with a crimson-tinted photo-negative of forest creekside scenery with a shady horseback figure in the distant center. At the lower front, there’s a quote from the album’s penultimate song:

Love cannot exist in Hell
because the world is kind
take a look and help yourself
before my eyes go blind

The purple monochrome inner-gate spread captures three-fourths of Zior inside a barn. Post-psych freelance artist Keith MacMillan (credited under the mononym Keef) designed the Zior sleeve in sequence with the lavish six-fold cover to Brass Rock 1 by Heaven. He also created 1969–72 cover visuals for numerous acts on Vertigo (Affinity, Beggars Opera, Black Sabbath, Colosseum, Cressida, Fairfield Parlour, Jimmy Campbell, Manfred Mann Chapter Three, Nirvana, Warhorse) and RCA Neon (Brotherhood of Breath, Dando Shaft, Indian Summer, Raw Material, Shape of the Rain, Spring, Tonton Macoute).

Zior was the fifth of five albums issued by Nepentha (cat# 6437005), preceded with titles by Dulcimer, Robin Lent, Pete Dello & Friends, and the 1971 UK version of the 1970 debut album by Dutch post-psych heavyweights Earth and Fire.

Nepentha lifted “Za Za Za Za Zilda” as a single, backed with the non-album Bonsor–Brewer cut “She’s a Bad Bad Woman.”

B. “She’s a Bad Bad Woman”

In Germany, Global issued “Za Za Za Za Zilda” as the b-side to “Loves Desire,” then re-released the song as an a-side (b/w “Oh Mariya”).


Monument

As Zior made the rounds, Bonsor met Antiguan music mogul and Beacon Records founder Milton Samuels, whose contract with Beacon’s master label, Decca, required a set number of albums by a looming date. He offered Bonsor £300 to assemble an album overnight.

Bonsor accepted the challenge, despite a lack of fresh material. He summoned his Zior bandmates to TPA Studio on Denmark St., where they recorded an album of improvised material in one dusk-to-dawn session. They attributed the recording (made outside their Nepentha contract) to Monument, named after London’s Monument Tube Station, which Bonsor traveled on a regular basis.


The First Monument

Zior (incognito as Monument) released The First Monument in October 1971 on Beacon (UK) and Decca (Germany). It features ten numbers credited to ‘Steve Lowe,’ a pseudonym Bonsor devised to evade detection by his publisher and Zior’s label, Nepentha. (Lowe was the maiden name of Keith’s wife.)

As Monument, Zior made full use of TPA’s equipment, which included Fender Vibro Champ® amps and a Revox tape machine (with echo). On First Monument, Bonsor plays Clavinet, Hammond c3 organ (Leslie filtered), and Beckstein grand piano. Trubor’s guitars include Rickenbacker, Gibson Les Paul, Epiphone (acoustic), and (on his solos) a self-customized Hofner Colam.

1. “Dog Man” (3:17)
2. “Stale Flesh” (3:45)
3. “Don’t Run Me Down” (2:26)
4. “Give Me Life” (3:51)
5. “The Metamorphis Tango” (3:54)
6. “Boneyard Bumne” (4:24)
7. “First Taste of Love” (3:22)
8. “And She Goes” (2:33)
9. “Overture for Limp Piano In C” (3:30)
10. “I’m Coming Back” (2:55)

Zior improvised First Monument in one six-hour session, which started with Brewer and Bonsor, who jotted down random ideas in anticipation of his bandmates. John Trubor arrived and experimented with odd chords and sounds. Several songs took shape by the time Barry Skeels entered TPA, where they recorded most tracks in single takes. Bonsor played his piano parts blindfolded and improvised lyrics at random.

The back cover features liner notes that describe ‘Steve Lowe’ as “a founding member of a thriving witches coven in Essex” and maintains that Monument’s “other three members all share his dedication to the occult, a dedication which shows in their music.” The writer alludes to other bands (possibly Coven, Black Sabbath, and Black Widow) that “profess an interest in witchcraft and voodoo,” but states that it’s “no mere gimmick” in Monument’s case.

Bonsor produced First Monument, assisted by engineer Bill Farley. Zior removed all evidence of their presence before TPA staff arrived the next day. 


Breakup

Due to the album’s clandestine status, Zior didn’t tour behind The First Monument. Instead, they recorded a demo for a second proper Zior album. Farley presented the tracks to Larry Page, who showed no interest.

In December 1971, Nepentha issued one track from the sessions (“Cat’s Eye,” backed with the Zior cut “I Really Do”) as the label’s final release. Global released the single in Germany with the sides reversed. Nepentha’s collapse signaled the end of Zior.

Bonsor and Brewer continued as the Bear Brothers, which cut the 1972 heavy rock single “Red Shoe Trucken” (b/w “Bondiago”) on Zebra Records.


Every Inch a Man

In 1973, the demos for Zior’s intended second album appeared as Every Inch a Man on the German Intercord label. It features one Brewer-written song (“Angel of the Highway”) and twelve credited to Bonsor, including “Have You Heard the Wind Speak,” “Time Is the Reason,” and the conjoined tracks “Entrance of the Devil” and “The Chicago Spine.” Side Two features the 1971 a-side “Cat’s Eye.”

A1. “Entrance of the Devil” (2:10)
A2. “The Chicago Spine” (4:10)
A3. “Have You Heard the Wind Speak” (3:10)
A4. “Time Is the Reason” (2:44)
A5. “She’ll Take You Down” (3:45)
A6. “Dudi Judy” (2:50)
A7. “Strange Kind of Magic” (3:21)
B1. “Ride Me Baby” (1:55)
B2. “Evolution” (3:55)
B3. “Every Inch a Man” (4:35)
B4. “Cat’s Eyes” (3:20)
B5. “Suspended Animation” (3:15)
B6. “Angel of the Highway” (5:55)

Intercord (Global’s parent label) issued Every Inch a Man in a single sleeve that reuses the image from the inner-gate of Zior. The German-only release of the 1971 demos occurred without the knowledge of Zior’s members. Intercord lifted “Strange Kind of Magic” as a single (b/w “Have You Heard the Wind Speak”).

Every Inch a Man remained a rarity until its 2003 reissue on Arkama, an Italian archival label devoted to post-psych classics.


Post-Zior

Bonsor revived the Bear Brothers moniker for the 1977–78 funk singles “Love Is” (b/w “Hitch On the Witchitaw Cricket”) and “Zsha – Zsha – Zsha.” He produced a 1978 reggae version of the Billy Joel ballad “Just the Way You Are” by ex-Paragons singer John Holt.

John Truba joined a Newcastle band called Ghost. Barry Skeels amassed a huge guitar collection and opened a custom valve amplifier business in Ireland.


Discography:

  • Zior (1971)
  • The First Monument (1971 • Monument)
  • Every Inch a Man (1973)

Sources:

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