Two years after the Moon landings, certain sections of the UK music scene had eagerly grasped the opportunity to ensure the joyous frivolity of the Sixties was firmly put to bed. Whilst glam changed the sunshine for stars, those who had taken note of US garage bands, the youthful Black Sabbath and the fuzz of the Troggs were busy working out how to make their amps cause audiences to spill their drinks and innocent bystanders express that they really didn’t know what the world was coming to. It didn’t matter especially if you only had a knackered guitar, most of a drum-kit and some hokey lyrics, if it was loud enough, strange enough and you could throw a bit of theatre into the mix as well, that was enough to guarantee you if not Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame, then possibly five. Or, in the band Zior’s case, a few seconds.
Formed in Canvey, Southend, Zior’s line-up still hadn’t sorted itself out even by the time they were gigging around London, having essentially morphed from The Essex Five (their drummer would later appear in Dr Feelgood) and The Cardboard Orchestra (whose arrangements were done by – their words – “an effeminate young guy who was always hanging around the studio” – that’ll be Andrew Lloyd Webber then). Ultimately, Zior were a four-piece – Peter Brewer (drums, keyboards and harmonica), Barry Skeels (vocals and bass), John Truba (vocals and guitar) and Keith Bonsor (vocals, bass, keyboards and flute). Skeels was recruited from the band Bum, surely the greatest name of any band and the yardstick by which all others must be judged.
Zior had a plan – a diabolical plan. As Dennis Wheatley’s novels began to sell by the truck-load and Hammer’s filmic output suggested the public were hoping the Middle Ages were coming back into fashion, Zior were happy to sell their souls and base their stage shows and recorded works on the Devil. Live performances included the sacrificing of any young lady straying near the front of the stage, whilst band members would sneak off-stage, run around to the front of the building and alarm onlookers as they crept up behind them bedecked in voodoo garb. Elsewhere, Alice Cooper was also shocking crowds with scare tactics and theatrical endeavour, but never with quite as much sticky tape and cardboard as Zior.
Their first album, bleakly self-titled, featured typically atmospheric artwork by Keef, close enough to Black Sabbath’s debut that careless sorts might confuse the two or at least take a punt on it. Unfortunately, the music within is distinctly half-arsed. There are gentle nods to Cream, with an emphasis on ‘gentle’. There really is nothing to spook the horses and the first four or five tracks merge into one gloopy blues rock mess which screams pot-stained fingers and perfumed candles. Stick around though because come track seven, the tide turns. Quabala‘s mystic ooh’s and ahh’s have a heady atmosphere which is befitting of the album’s sleeve. Similarly, Oh Mariya, feels like a top-notch Pebbles band singing around a cauldron, exactly what the tin promised but is so oddly lacking. Before My Eyes Go Blind threatens Time of the Season type unease but never quite gets there. Yet still, as soon as you’ve heard them, they’re forgotten – no sharpened hooks, no pull to find what you may have missed first time around. For a band associated with Satan, he’s noticeably AWOL.
Disc two covers their second album, Every Inch a Man and opens with stage favourite, Entrance of the Devil, an excellent slightly Beefheartian growl with a much heavier throb than anything on their debut. The Chicago Spine (great name for a band) reverts to the ploddier jams of their previous material but still has a Steppenwolf urgency underneath the surface which keeps you involved. Have You Heard the Wind Speak comes dangerously close to Spinal Tap levels of cod-clumsiness, with hokey lyrics, wind effects and some stereo-testing squawking. The title track is Jim Morrison via Primark, an astonishing (and doomed) attempt at profundity which if nothing else startles you from the blues rock stupor you’ll have fallen into. By all accounts it’s Entrance of the Devil that the band are playing during their brief background appearance in Derek Ford and Stanley Long’s Groupie Girl, the most exposure the band ever got. Sadly for them, Alan Hawkshaw is playing instead of their own music on the actual soundtrack.
The surprise of this set is disc three, an album recorded in only a few hours at the behest of Beacon label owner, Milton Samuel. Billing Zior as Monument and all four band members taking pseudonyms, the album they produced, entitled First Monument, is exactly the sound of the band you’d hoped Zior were in the first place. That’s not to say it’s a lost classic, per se, but it has such a sense of the ludicrous that the more overblown it becomes, the more successful it is.
Boasting on its sleeve that the record is the product of a witches’ coven in Essex (difficult to imagine how that would set the bones a-tremble) with the band as a whole actively practising the dark arts, it feels more unhinged. The music, all performed presumably in as near to one-take as matters (and whilst the band were inebriated) is great, bulging with echoed guitars, rhythms going in all directions and a relentless Hammond organ bringing all the kooky ghost train fun that was previously missing. With titles like Dog Man (about a dog man, obv), Stale Flesh and Boneyard Bumne, it’s great fun and perhaps it was the joint strangeness of these three releases rather than the quality which led to them becoming so collectible. Disc four is the ill-advised 2018 comeback album, which would no doubt be quite the experience live, with some great titles – Vampire Night (“your neck is inviting!”), Crowman Rises (five minutes of cawing) and Entry of the Devil Voices (elements of Vic Reeves’ club singer), if not quite the fangs to carry them off.