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House band of the free festival set ?

   Zorch were the first electronic band in the UK and they played at almost all the early free festivals of the mid

seventies. This article, from an unknown fanzine of the time , chronicles their rise and fall and also their activities at a number of the major free festivals, most notably Stonehenge.

dread god of inner worlds,
opener of the inner doors to secret silent depths
where reigns the realms of energies,
half known and partly understood
That day
I let you into me
And stood
Exposed and open to the universe
Upon the sunlit
Silent plane
And there before me
Stood the secret altar of
a silent centre
of the cosmic centrifuge
and the music started
rippling , roaring
twisted up my open soul and mind
tearing link from link
sucking both my mind and body
pouring in a writhing
deep and dangerous demon
til I stood quite lost
and shattered on the ebbs and flows
of currents I could not comprehend
dark it felt and dangerous

A lot of other people really enjoyed it !
    Even so, for Basil Brookes , then one quarter of Zorch and more recently of the Steve Hillage band . this poem , sent to him some months after the event and in total four foolscap sides of horribly real bum trip – brought home the central dilemma of the responsible and visionary synthesiser player ( or indeed anybody ) – "can I control for good the power that is in my hands. "
Most people who came into contact with Zorch during their turbulent three year lifespan would unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative the above question.
Dark and dangerous ….sure , occasionally , but grandiose , perfect, the sound of pleasure too.

    If the lows of Zorch, England’s first and only all synthesiser band , really were any more terrifying than anybody else’s it was because there was a special manic tension in their music – a sense of extremities absent from a the anaesthetic blandness of contemporary sound.
And what ego OD star tripper plays exclusively Free Festivals and benefits ?
There’s a gap now that Zorch has left us because of business disinterest , unprepared to sponsor pioneering and the band’s own stoned organisational untogetherness.
    The story starts in 1973 . Basil is living in Kentish Town ‘s notorious Charrington Street squat. He has been turned on to electronic music by an uncle who produces documentary film scores.
Gwyo Ze Pix has dropped out of East Anglia University through 'nervous exhaustion 'and in the summer , has arrived in London where he places an advert in the Melody Maker .
"Anybody from Planet X wanted to join synthi freak for band "
At the audition Basil and Gwyo met up with another synthesiser player , Neil Thorpe , ( aka "Captain Electric ") who also possessed an auto drum !
    The three of them formed a free from all synthi outfit and called themselves Zorch. Neil
brought in a mate from Ipswich , Cary - an American who in the words of one ex band member 'was a bit of a bozo and had this terrible lightshow with slides of aeroplanes and things' .
The following year they all moved down to a beautiful cottage in the country at Churt , Surrey , which was owned by Basil’s gran . Here they were joined by Glyph Owenson , who'd just dropped out of Exeter University and played guitar through a hi if synthesiser . Glyph they met through an ex girlfriend of Basil.
In the tranquil Churt setting Zorch recorded their first tape which they dutifully packed off to all of the record companies with neat little hand written letter.,
    Replies, ( when they came at all ) were not encouraging ; predominantly a case of 'sorry chaps , you don’t quite make the grade ', although Richard Williams, then A & R man at Island, sent a friendly refusal stating synthesiser /electronic music hadn't come of age yet and the only band as yet to pull it off were the American Tonto's’s Expanding Head Band.
That was the year of the Dark and Dangerous Stonehenge trip.
"We knew Wally Hope who got it all together. This was the first one there. So the band all piled in to the old green van and made it there."

Thus was the will of the gods.

"Zorch set up stage facing the Stones, ……200 yards away .1974, it wasn't heavy at all . Not many people there . Best so far. First day the whole band played and we went down pretty well."
The following day was Basil’s solo set.
" We didn't do many gigs between then and the Windsor Free Festival. The band all trundled off again in the old green van
There were lots of different stages. Simon Renshaw was the organiser of by far the most together stage with Tony Andrews PA and John Andrews lights. 'wow we thought , gotta play at this one '
Zorch started their set at midnight, by which time there were only a few trippers left staring at the stage. Zorch played possibly their best set ever through to the morning .Out of the session were forged many lasting friendships. Simon Renshaw took over as manager . Tony Andrews took over the PA and John Andrews ( with the then Max Master and the Meteorites ) joined on lights. Newcomer Tony's lady , Silver, began dancing with them . John and Cary were clearly incompatible so the latter split . Everyone else moved down to the now near commune at Churt.
    At this stage Zorch’s music and show was becoming decidedly more bizarre. Songs had titles like 'Nice bananas Nasty Bananas' and 'All Bran Barn Flan ' The band used to indulge in much silly prancing about on-stage with TV’s on their heads as masks! The Virgin Acts agency managed for a while . They secured Zorch one gig................ at Liverpool Stadium supporting the Groundhogs. This traumatic event, ( the audience shouted at them to play some REAL music ) appeared in the letters page of the Melody Maker 'I left my mind somewhere last night and Zorch are welcome to it' ! wrote reader Jane Westbrook of Liverpool ( in fact one of several stoned forgeries dispatched to the music press by the band themselves.
    In Easter 75 , Zorch played their last gig as a four piece in exotic Horsham . Neil prayed aloud before the audience over the bands intro tape--- an increasingly common act that was regarded as 'a bit of a wank 'by certain members of the band. Neil split off to India after followed by Glyph soon afterwards.
    Although interest in the band was now hotting up, ( including a page article : 'Zorch light up' in Let it Rock ), the band were never playing more than one gig a week. 'It cost so much with all the gear , and we weren't well known enough to command more than 100 pounds a gig. '
    Stonehenge 75 saw another memorable set dogged as had happened before by the LSD band ( a bunch of very heavy downer freaks featuring Terry Ollis ex, Hawkwind ) . The band let their stage to the likes of Skywhale and the 101’ers and played the night before the Solstice for about an hour 'really good going strong ' until John blew a fuse on the lightshow. Just as it was fixed a desperate scream came from the crowd ’ you can’t go on ‘ and someone cut the mains power cable.
    At Meigan the same year they first met Gong , with whose remnants Gwyo jammed ( Basil being incapacitated by LSD . Zorch didn't make Watchfield because they had surreptitiously ensconced themselves in Peter Zinoviev's EMS studio ( unbeknownst to the owner who was away on holiday on Scotland ) for a week making a tape and film with the video synthesiser, Basil did the same again this year with Tim Blake only they got caught !
This 1975 tape they were well pleased with and they sent it out to all the record companies again. However, their thoughts of 'This is it 'were dashed when once more no one was especially interested.
    With lack of work , exposure and impact outside the small alternative circuit , Zorch became disillusioned. A projected gig with Steve Hillage at Kingston for a Release Benefit was blown when the council refused to allow a Lightshow on a Sunday. Tony was the first to split with his high class PA . John got into designing disco machines. Gwyo left to join Skywhale , whose pianist had just quit . He' s now into more conventional keyboards and not quite so much electronics.
They bade farewell at a miserable gig at Brighton Tech , although the fact that this was their last gig was not apparent to them at the time.
    Basil and John still live down at the cottage . 'I hung around for a long time with nothing in mind, ' says a reflective Mr Brooks. 'Then Steve Hillage got his band together . I think if Gwyo had not been touring with Skywhale he would have been in Steve's outfit rather than me . It was good touring with him because Zorch had always been frustrated about not being able to tour . I met Malcolm Cecil from Tonto in the states. If Zorch had had the bread and decent equipment we could have put on the show we wanted to put together. A total environment is still my dream , lights everywhere, multiphonic sound systems . As many channels as possible, dancers , theatre people posing as members of the audience , mobiles hanging from the ceiling, foam baths' .

And from the Planet Earth – the sound of Zorch !

More about Zorch here

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Free rock festivals of the 70s and 80s

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