David Id, 2008-01-11
Wot I Know So Far…
Zorch were (and still are, pending any as yet unkown claimaints) england's FIRST all-synthesiser band and were formed in the early 70's by Basil Brooks and Gwyo Zepix. A brave gesture, since the music scene at the time was developing a strong slant towards power-rock after the prog years, so they were always placed in the experimental bag and not really given their due credit by the record-buying publicoid, apart from the underground tech-geeks and the spacers and us at GonG.
So… very experimental, and very much before their time (they would even tell you that they were created from a time warp themselves) 20 yrs or so before the techno/rave boom, I (and many others) feel they seeded many a path.
Very obviously stimulated by GonG; i remember meeting Basil at many a gig and he would talk about his project as an all-synthesiser group, we gave them every encouragement. Basil was also very inspired and impressed by Tim's use of the AKS, the first Brit synth designed and built by Electronic Music Studios of Putney, London. This was a more portable, giggable version of their VCS3, pioneered by the likes of Brian Eno and Pink Floyd and seen very much as a brit challenge to Moog across the pond-it's still highly revered for it's distinctive sound today amongst electronic composers because of the richness and depth of it's sounds, due to a rigid policy of using high quality components, particularly the oscillators. It also had a unique pin-matrix patching system used to create it's generating pathways, making it a very versatile instrument as well as an exploratory technical tool. Consequently, Zorch decided to be not only an all-electronic, but also an all-EMS band, and the relationship served both sides well; the band gaining access to prototype gear, customisations, and the EMS studio (the only dedicated electronic music studio in the uk, maybe Europe, at the time) for accepatable rates (ie: free, had to be done; no-one was rich in those days, come to think of it we still aint…) The company obviously benefiting from the exposure.
Zorch grew and became somewhat of a collective, emulating their GonG heroes in as much as developing their own sound system and lightshow, and all living, working, and R&D'ing in a cottage commune lost in the Surrey pine forests. And also… playing some of the spaciest (trippy, if you like..) and experimental music this side of the green planet. Some pieces were rythmic and dance oriented (although with a much slower BPM than we are now accustomed to) while others were ambient floats and yet others totally one-off experiments. (I remember a favourite tune: Adrenalin… started with a slow pulse that very gradually, over 10 minutes or so, got faster till it was a tone, then eventually a scream, each cycle getting layered with a new sound till you thought it had nowhere to go, and then went there…) No drum machines or rhythm composers were ever used, it was all sequenced electronics, and it was and still is beautiful.
Of particular interest to me, and other sound historians: the chap buiilding and running the Zorch PA system was one Tony Andrews, carrying out his own experiments and the quest for the smallest, loudest, and most accurate sound box ever achieved. These early dabblings earned Tony a name and reputation which has been increasing to this day, saw the birth of Turbosound, and eventually Funktion-One where he is still making what many (including me) consider to be the most efficient and best sounding enclosures on the planet…
The reflex bass cabinet designed by T for Zorch was a monster that delivered full punchy bottem end 2 or 3 times louder (and totally clean) than it's size would indicate, and the 218 is still one of his most popular products, the basic design relatively unchanged: now is that ahead of the wave or what?
The Basil connection with the first Hillage band (he was invited to play synthi's when Steve set up the band after leaving GonG) also carried Tony with it, so Steve became the first touring act to excusively use Tony's designs, both house systems and monitors; the relationship again served both parties really well.
Tony's then wife, Silver, was the on-stage dancer for Zorch.
The origin of Gwyo's name: It goes back to the time the UK postal service introduced post codes (zip codes for our colonial cousins). 1974 I believe, saw the arrival through the letterbox of Churt House cottage (Zorch HQ in those days) the very first mail with an additional line added to the address: GU10 2PX. One Howard Scarr was the first up that morning and, not being able to find this mysterious GWyO ZePiX amongst the various bodies spread around the house, decided it was a suitable identity to assume. As simple, and as mundane as that, but nonetheless an interesting example of how beaurocracy can sometimes produce poetry…
I honestly can't prattle on about the sound and not mention the lights…
John Andrews (bizarrely or otherwise, no relation) developed the maddest, trippiest (he named it Acidica for fairly obvious reasons) projection system seen this side of Jefferson Airplane. He developed many a unique device to deliver a specific effect and many of these Heath Robinson type constucts were later honed down and sold to companies like Optikinetics, and marketed world wide. He, like Tony, is revered worldwide by his peers for his achievements.
Some of the techs involved also went on later to develop the first big digital studio sound desks, SSL. I mention all this not only for historical background but to indicate that Zorch was not only a band, but also a bunch of pioneering nutters, very boldly going where etc. etc. without whom the world would be quite a different place, at least in the sphere of music and electronics.
Basil is now a semi retired world traveller and diver (man after my own heart), Gwyo of couse took on the keyboard role in Gong for a few years, and currently lives in Germany and works as a synthi developer (the Virus is one of his).
ZorchMusic.com is the band website - they still exist, if in a very loose manner, and gig on very special occasions, last being, as has been rightly said, at the Gong UnCon in 2006. They would do more if a promoter set it up but sadly, as is the nature of most creative endeavours, they are seen as uncommercial with a limited market and therefore unsaleable. I guess it's up to the world out there, and all you lot with ears of truth and hearts of love, to try and change that. As far as I know you can get product from Basil via the site, and I know that Jonny (sometimes) has 2 CD's in the Bazaar, and these are probably the best, most representative works:
Ouroboros : first album, recorded in EMS studio.
Glastonbury Live : last album from the Assembly Rooms a few years ago.
With these 2 you have a pretty complete representation of then and now, and the developements in between, both excellent in space-out and music terms… Zorch's trademark style, for me, perfectly merges experimental electronic ideals with more organic musical forms, forming a bridge which few have crossed. This creates something quite unique, an art form developed in a lab, but evolving into something alive with soul and large dollops of spirit, that which the likes of Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, as appreciative of them as I am, never did for me.
Well… I seem to have rambled on somewhat, apologies for that; it's just that, whilst attempting to restore life into the few fuzzy braincells left to me with these memories, others heretofore unknown to me, popped up to say "hey, what about me…?" Hope it's been usefull to somebody.
David (Id) Westrop 11.01.2008