Review Revue: The Zoo: Uncaged 1978-1982

I know I’ve tried to think of a name for this phenomenon before – maybe even on this very blog – but what do you call a super group in reverse; i.e., a relatively obscure and unsuccessful band whose members go on to achieve great things? How about a pour grepus? (Think about it.)

One fantastic example of a pour grepus is the ironically named Big in Japan, who don’t seem to have been big much of anywhere, despite member Bill Drummond’s starting Zoo Records to release their work and that of other struggling Liverpool bands. While they didn’t make it very far as a band, their members reached far and wide, ending up in bands such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the KLF, and being involved with many other important artists as producers and label owners.

This particular posthumous Zoo compilation seems to have first been released in 1990 by something called Document records, about which it’s hard to find much information. (The ever-helpful, if spartan, discogs.com reveals it to have been a short-lived “UK re-release label for Buzzcocks and Zoo label releases.”) Some at KCMU didn’t seem to know much about it when it arrived in 1990, but that didn’t stop them digging it.

“Someone smarter than me should supply the historical context of this collection. I can respond to it only musically: early Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes, plus some less known bands of a similar stripe. Pretty cool.”

“Well, Todd, I’m not claiming to be ‘smarter’ than you, but I can tell you that the common denominator here is Liverpool, circa 1980, and that all of this stuff is pure ‘scouse‘ and very hard to find.”

“As mentioned on the back notes, these records originally came out on Zoo Records, a label started by Bill Drummond to showcase some of the bands that were coming up in Liverpool at the time (Drummond himself had been in Big in Japan). The label gained notoriety when the Bunnymen & Teardrops became popular. And now Drummond himself is enjoying a bit of success as 1/2 of the KLF! There may be hope for Poneman’s demos yet . . .”

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