Chasar: Chasar (1983)

Fessing up, in the interest of transparency: the following is a comprehensive revision of a piece I wrote for an old web project called 100 Axes about 8 or 9 years ago. For a brief while in the late 80s I did some roadying for the band and I had guitar lessons from their guitarist Alec Pollock, who also went on to record and co-produce my band Dog Moon Howl‘s first album last year. I also ran Chasar’s first authorised website. For this fresh take on the review, I listened to my original copy of the tape which I bought new in 1984.

A classic power trio featuring the aforementioned Alec Pollock on guitar/vocal, Peter Marshall on bass/guitars/pedals and brother Jim Marshall on drums, Chasar were local boys done good, from our neck of the woods yet touring the country, recording for Tommy Vance at Radio One and getting regular mentions and play on Tom Russell’s legendary Clyde Rock Show. They’d also self-released their album on cassette. All-in-all, a pretty big deal when you’re from the arse-end of nowhere, particularly back then.

I borrowed the tape from a mate at school and I was blown away. There was a big Rush influence, but this was heavier, with the most obvious other influences, I would say, being Ozzy-era Sabbath and Randy Rhodes-era Ozzy.  Now, in those days, Rush and Ozzy were just about as cool as it got for your average teenage heavy rock fan. There was also a strong contingent of newer bands – the tail end of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.  I remember Mama’s Boys, Heavy Pettin, Preying Mantis and Glasgow as being of particular interest, as well as the related prog movement of the time, particularly Pallas and Marillion.  Although these days they’re considered to be part of the NWOBHM, at the time Chasar seemed to be a bridge between those two camps of metal and prog.

Listening now, this is still an outstanding set, with the indie, low budget production doing it a lot of favours by avoiding any Big ’80s Production pitfalls and leaving the whole thing still sounding fresh. The first track, Destiny, was a regular live opener and remains one of my favourite tracks. A jagged riff with an anti-oppression lyric straight out of Thatcher’s Britain: “I was never meant for here, I was born to fly/But now you’ve got me in your cage I’ve got to run, do or die …” Alec’s somewhat raw vocals, seen by some at the time as a weak point, now stand as one of the principal reasons Chasar doesn’t sound as dated as many of its contemporaries. A reluctant singer, Alec avoided the fashionable scream-for-effect histrionics associated with metal acts of the day and his straight ahead rock delivery lends the album an extra edge.

Visions Of Time is the first of the album’s epics, a great brooding beast of a thing, immediately contrasted with Deceiver, a three-minute rocker with a violent riff and girl-gone-bad lyrics. Side One closes with another epic, Kings. The first song the band ever wrote together, this sees them wearing their Rush influences on their sleeves – and a song about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, no less! Still, that doesn’t stop it being a fine tune even if much of it sounds like it could be an outtake from 2112.

Side Two kicks off with Lights, continuing the epic theme, this time with a surprisingly chirpy feel (in as much as a seven-minute power-trio rock song can be ‘chirpy’…) and a scary guitar solo.  Next, a left-turn into the full-on heavy rock of Gypsy Roller.  Always a live favourite, it leaves no arse unkicked with a big riff, ferocious, shred-machine solo and Lizzy-esque lyrics about gypsies and sheriffs and that. Gypsy Roller would be the album highlight for me but for the album closer, the epic to end them all, Underground.

Underground embodies Chasar at their best. Each band member’s strengths are to the fore – Alec’s leads switch from ‘atmospheric’ to ‘blazing’ in a heartbeat while Peter expertly treads the line between ‘solid’ and ‘flashy’ and Jim’s almost jazzy drumming is a standout throughout. The song is nine minutes long but it never gets boring due to a dramatic, multi-faceted framework (the aggressive, not to mention impressive, main riff doesn’t kick in until two-minutes into the track) with a dark lyric serving to round out the album’s overall mood. It’s intense.

My old tape hasn’t survived the decades unscathed.  Plenty of wobble and dropouts to testify to its residency in my old Panasonic Walkmanalike.  These days, I’d best stick to the vinyl.  The original tape release ran to either one or two thousand and was largely sold out by 1985, when the album was given a vinyl release by American Phonograph. A year or two later there was a European release on Mausoleum under the title Gypsy Rollers. The latter made it to CD sometime in the late ’80s. Since then, there has been at least one “semi official” CD release on a dodgy Spanish-based Euro label. The tapes are a real rarity and the last time one went online it fetched around £25. The vinyl does crop up – the American Phonograph version can go from £20+ to silly money and seems to average around £40 in the right condition. The Mausoleum version is slightly more common and is usually around the £18 mark. The Mausoleum CD’s a bit of a mystery.  If you can pick up a copy of Chasar, whatever the format (or title), you really should.

Who knows, we might yet see a reissue as the band is back together, with Iain Tait (vocalist from the band’s post-album lineup) back in the fold, also taking up bass duties after Peter Marshall’s tragic death in the ’90s.  Maybe we’ll even get Album Two … in the meantime check them out live if you get the chance.  They haven’t missed a step – still insanely good. - Chasar


The Monkees: Head (1969)

For the longest time this album was a real rarity and a curio.  When I first worked in record shops as a boy in the mid-80s, you could only get it as a pricey import.  Readily available now to download and even on vinyl, it remains something of curiosity.

Of course, that would be bad enough if this was an album by any number of minor players in the US psych scene of the late 60s.  But it’s by The Monkees, ferfucksake, from a movie co-scripted by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson. Oh, and it’s fucking great.

Perhaps, as The Monkees’ teenybopper audience started slapping their fins for whatever fresh new fish the corporate music machine decided to throw them, the band failed to find a new, more mature, audience due to a lack of perceived credibility.  That might account for the album’s initial lack of success but not its continued relative obscurity.  Oh well.  Onto the music.

The album is a mashup of dialogue/sfx snippets, incidental music and seven original songs, compiled and sequenced from the film soundtrack by Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson), with the songs produced by the band.  It can be something of an assault on the senses but it’s never less than engaging.

Those songs, though, are what make this an honest-to-goodness classic, with most of the tracks being performed by one or two “Monkees” and a host of guest and session musicians.  Amongst those appearing on the album are Ry Cooder, Neil Young, Carole King, Dewey Martin, Stephen Stills and Leon Russell.

Porpoise Song (Theme from Head), written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, is one of the great psych-pop recordings. On this version (the 1985 Rhino reissue), the four-minutes-plus running time is more or less commensurate with the better known single version which is odd as the original album version is under three minutes.  This seems to be a slightly clunky remix/remaster as there’s what at first listen sounds like a vinyl jump at the beginning of the extended section but which might actually be an audible edit.  Whatever, a great number.

Ditty Diego ─ War Chant is a psychedelic piss-take of the original Monkees TV theme, written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, in which the band lays out the nature of the movie’s structure and addresses their image (“Hey hey we are The Monkees/You know we like to please/A manufactured image/With no philosophies”).  This morphs into Mike Nesmith’s terrific garage rocker Circle Sky which is let down by an appalling mix.  The movie version is live and just about perfect but this studio recording, while still worthwhile, has Nesmith’s lead vocal buried so deep in the mix that it’s virtually inaudible.  A problem from the original release frustratingly preserved on the reissue.

Can You Dig It, one of two superior writing efforts here from Peter Tork is a guitar-led psych-pop gem with lead vocal from Mickey Dolenz.  Interesting side-note: musically, Richard Thompson’s Easy There, Steady Now  from 1994’s Mirror Blue is an almost-suspiciously close cousin to this one.

As We Go Along is the album’s mellowest moment, all flute and acoustic guitars.  Another Carole King composition (with Toni Stern), this is the one featuring, amongst others, Cooder, King and Young on guitar.  Daddy’s Song, written by Harry Nilsson, is entertaining and gives Davy Jones his music-hall moment in the spotlight, followed by Frank Zappa’s fitting comment from the film, “[that] song was pretty white”.

The last “proper” song on the album is a rocker with obvious nods to The Doors, Peter Tork’s Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? with Tork taking lead vocal and sharing guitar duties with Stephen Stills.  With its propulsive bass and frustrated lyric , this and Can You Dig It should serve as a rebuttal to those who buy into the myth that Mike Nesmith was The Monkee’s only real songwriting talent.

The album bows out with Swami – Strings etc., another Nicholson sound collage based around a monologue from the film, a reprise of Porpoise Song and the film’s classical-themed orchestral end music.  A suitably chaotic close.

Given its scarcity I willingly shelled out about £6 for the tape.  It’s not really in great condition – after a couple of plays I can’t help but note a slightly stretched quality to the less busy passages – and what really disappoints is just how lame the packaging is.  Where the original LP came in a “mirrored” sleeve (so you looked at the cover and saw your own head, geddit?) here we have a grey, one-sided j-card lacking any recording or release info, not so much as a songwriting credit.  For the factual details above you can thank my ancient creaking memory and Wikipedia.  Unless you’re some kind of cassette purist, I’d suggest looking to another format for this one and perhaps avoiding the 1985 reissue due to that odd glitch in Porpoise Song. - the monkees head