02. Born To Be Free (5:45)
03. And The Eagle Chased The Dove To Its Ruin (6:38)
04. Ab Initio Ad Finem (The Opera) (10:54)
05. Facilis Descencus Averni (9:37)
- Fred Hasson / vocals, harmonica, bongos
- Dave Laverock / acoustic, electric & bowed guitars, vocals
- Leary Hasson / organ
- Jessica Stanley-Clarke / flute, vocals
- Richard Hicks / bass
- Mike Fouracre / percussion
MARSUPILAMI were an English proto-prog outfit who relocated to the Netherlands. The complexity of their music is quite unusual for the times - we're talking 1970 here, when the big guns such as YES, GENESIS and CRIMSON were barely coming out of the woodwork. A mixture of blues, experimental jazz and hints of folk, their music is often dark and foreboding, favouring perilously complex structures. Try to imagine a mixture of KING CRIMSON, JETHRO TULL, the STRAWBS and EAST OF EDEN.
Their two albums feature weird/oblique melodies and harmonies, lots of heavy keyboards, electric guitar and flute (at times purposely off key), with the drummer pounding on his skins as if his life depended on it. This is very early prog and you particularly feel this in the organ work, which has a typical early 70's psych feel. Their second album, which features an additional member on flute and sax as well as the appearance of the Mellotron, is an ambitious concept album about the brutal culture of ancien Rome - quite a sordid affair, really, but well done. It has a slightly better sound than the first album although most progsters generally favour the first.
One of those early 70's group that should've emerged but didn't , like Audience, Comus, Gnidrolog and a few more, this south-west England sextet, built around the Hasson brothers Fred (vocals) and Leary (keyboards) and the latter's girlfriend Jessica Clarke (flute and vocals), released two superb albums that have gone way too long without being noticed. The group toured in 68 & 69 heavily in the UK and Continental Europe (from Denmark to Switzerland), even opening the first Isle of Wight Festival that year and played in the first Glastonbury fest the following year. They finally secured a record deal with the folk-specialist Transatlantic label (Pentangle amongst others) and recorded their self-titled album in June 69 (ITCOTCK is still months away), but for some reason, it was only released on April 70. Would've things changed heavily if the album had been released before KC's debut? We'll never know, but Marsipulami's sombre and slightly spooky flute- laden music, often evoking mythology, certainly was groundbreaking stuff and should've caught many more "underground public" ears, but the offer was plentiful in those times and the places in the sunshine a bit scarce.
Back in 69, the sextet's sound was definitely anchored in the 70's, even if the guitars still had a fuzz thing, and groups like Purple or The Nice were not as "modern", but the songwriting was maybe a little too close from one song to another, or the band wasn't able to arrange that the tracks had each its own proper atmosphere, precisely like ITCOFTCK or Nursery Cryme. Indeed, from the opening Dorian Deep, the atmosphere is often sombre and brooding, heavy and borderline angry (Hasson's sometimes off-key and perfectible vocals induce this), organ-driven, with the fuzz guitar and the flute (sounding more like Latimer than anderson) adding more drama, Fouracre's drumming being very strong, this leaves Hicks' bass playing often the anchoring role, but does it brilliantly. The A-side is made of three semi-lengthy tracks, building the group's overall sound, but the flipside's two epics are what the group is all about
By the time of the second-last track Ad Initio (an instrumental), despite their own little intro, we're sort of lost as to where we are as all the tracks have the same ring to them, but here there is also a bunch of classical music themes revisited, the whole thing going down in a chaos of eternal damnation and hell promised, but alas Leary's organ is resurrected through the apocalyptic end and provides a suitable outro. The last track has a more brilliant passage where a cello appears and gives directly another colour to the last minutes of Descencus Aveni., which in its opening stages was reminiscent of early Wishbone Ash despite Jessica's flute, and if it disappears for a while, it comes back as soon as the singing returns (WA's debut was released in early 70, but remember this album is early 69)
The first track here, Dorian Deep begins on a pretty ominous note that doesn't quite let up throughout the album. Eventually a powerful bass-driven song unfolds, with the organ and drums helping to build up the atmosphere while the vocals (always melodramatic and occasionally downright manic!) sing an unusual melody. Dorian Deep is a fantastic piece with Mike Fouracre's frantic drums occasionally being quite tribal in nature, and Jessica Stanley Clarke's flute flittering about constantly ... there's even time for a bit of poetry before a high octane jam takes over.
To Be Free starts off as languid flute-driven piece before suddenly exploding into another frenzied jam, although the Leary Hasson organ solo gives this one a jazz tinge ... that is until the harmonica solo comes in! Finally the flute reclaims the piece and the listener is thrown back to that now seemingly distant melllow beginning
The imagery in And The Eagle Chased The Dove To Its Ruin is pretty neat (although I'd be lying if I said that lyrics were Marsupilami's greatest strength). I must say that though that this is probably my least favourite track, and I think that's because it's the one with the most vocals and the least instrumental interludes.
This minor aberration is more than made up for by Ab Intio Ad Finem (The Opera) which runs for nearly 11 minutes. It begins with a musical box kind of sound before a march gradually takes over. Some churchy organ creeps in and after 2 minutes, an excellent organ/tribal drum jam ensues and after a minute or two, some delightful flute chips in. It then becomes a guitar freak out, before flute leads the band back into a pastoral section, before everything takes off again on a wild jazzy jam at around the 7 minute mark. Although the churchy organ outro seems a tad predictable when it arrives, I still think this is probably my favourite tune.
Facilis Descencus Averni is a different beast altogether, perhaps even more jarring than the most manic moments of Dorian Deep. There's crazed laughter, more poetry, a garish instrument (I can't figure out what ... perhaps a distorted organ) that reaches in and almost tears at one's ears, and a another high-powered jam, with a drastic switch to a meditative flute passage ... before the great jazzy vocal part restates itself.
There is a vibe that reminds me occasionally of Quintessence and at other times of Iron Butterfly, but Marsupilami probably has more to offer the average prog fan than either of these two bands. The intermitently off-key vocals may put some off, but I love these sort of rare prog albums, by bands who were indisputably prog, yet were done before the likes of Yes, Genesis and ELP hit their peak.