Ozit-Morpheus Records is one of the most ambitious and fastest-growing independent labels in the UK. Now with an American office in Century City, Hollywood, Los Angeles, the label was started in Northwich, Cheshire, by Chris Hewitt, who still oversees operations with the help of Darl Morgan, who runs the US office. Hewitt explains the name of his company thus, "The ethos of the label is to always be 'underground' and the roots of the idea for a label go back to the halcyon hippy days of the late '60s and early '70s. The Ozit part of the name was 'culled' from two magazines of that era, International Times (IT) and Oz."
The founders of these long defunct publications would no doubt be amused to discover that Ozit-Morpheus has become extremely successful without attempting anything too anti-establishment, something which the underground press considered obligatory. These days, it's easier to infiltrate and operate within the system than to become a martyr. Ozit-Morpheus (the Morpheus part of the label name was what Morgan had called his label before plighting his troth with Hewitt) only grew into a full-time label about five months ago as the international success of their extensive and fast-expanding releases accelerated the need for 24 hour a day operations. Ozit's first act was a duo/trio called Tractor. Hewitt: "Back in Rochdale in 1968, guitarist Jim Milne and drummer Steve Clayton were recording as The Way We Live with school friend John Brierley operating the primitive recording equipment. Their first album as The Way We Live, 'A Candle For Judith', appeared on John Peel's Dandelion label in 1971 and this was quickly followed by a name change to Tractor and a second album in 1972."
Also in Rochdale in the early 70s, student Chris Hewitt was promoting bands at local venues and links with the 'Music Liberation Front' in Liverpool, organised by former Liverpool scene sax player Mike Evans and Bit Information Service in London, led to Hewitt promoting community benefit gigs in Rochdale featuring Ladbroke Grove artists such as The Pink Fairies and Skin Alley. The underground ideology of the Pink Fairies/Hawkwind/International Times, etc., had a profound affect on Hewitt, who became Tractor's manager, while the group became leading lights in the local 'counterculture' scene of North West England. In the 80s, Tractor launched its own label, using the label name Roach Records (which is now under the Ozit-Morpheus umbrella) and in the early 90s, a character called Dr.Graham Bell introduced Chris Hewitt to both Chris Adams of String Driven Thing and Big George Ross Watt of Big George And The Business. Hewitt soon arranged a reunion gig after 18 years for Chris Adams of SDT and SDT violinist Grahame Smith (also ex-Peter Hamill and Van Der Graaf Generator), as well as bringing Big George And The Business to unsuspecting English audiences. Former SDT drummer Billy Fairley is now living in Canada, and he introduced Chris Hewitt to a friend of his, David Bacha, who would also become an Ozit-Morpheus artist a few years later.
In 1996, with the Deeply Vale 20th Anniversary event underway, Hewitt and Dave Edwards assembled enough finance to launch the Ozit-Morpheus record label. Hewitt drafted in designer Steve 'Jacuzzi' Hardstaff, a legend for his sleeve work on the celebrated untitled Led Zeppelin album (the one which includes 'Stairway To Heaven' - aka Led Zeppelin VI, aka ZOSO), 'Grave New World' by the Strawbs and at least one album by The Icicle Works (to name but a few). Hardstaff gave Ozit-Morpheus releases an "underground hippie" identity with his artwork, and Tractor members Jim Milne and Steve Clayton have become involved in production work for the label, as well as supervising the forthcoming transfer of the entire Tractor/Way We Live catalogue to Ozit-Morpheus administration.
Both String Driven Thing and Tractor have legendary status as underground prog rock bands from the early 70s, so the three SDT albums (all complete with extensive biographical artwork), as well as Chris Adams' new solo album, coexist happily with the Tractor releases. More previously unreleased Tractor and SDT albums are in the pipeline to feed an international demand which some may find surprising. Four albums from Glasgow blues/rock legend Big George (former guitarist with The James Dewar Band) are in a similar vein to the two North American rock and blues albums by David Bacha, whose band, at one time, included blind slide guitar phenomenon Jeff Healey.
Another success story for Ozit-Morpheus has been the Audio Collage and Spoken Word series. Hewitt, "Combining Zappa-esque editing techniques with zany underground artwork from Steve Hardstaff has made the series highly interesting and collectable. There are three Jim Morrison releases, one from The Fab Four (Beatles), one from John and Sid as The Sex Pistols, one from Sid Vicious alone titled 'Probably His Last Ever Interview' and a spoken word biography of Phil Lynott/Thin Lizzy." The Jim Morrison releases led to Ozit-Morpheus tying up with erstwhile Doors organist Ray Manzarek and Darryl Reed for their latest music and poetry album, 'Freshly Dug'.
A sister company of Ozit-Morpheus Records is Billy Fury Ltd., set up with Albie Wycherley (aka Joe Meek artist Jason Eddie), who is Billy Fury's brother, and their mother, Jean. The 'Wondrous Place - Live' album has been substantially successful and further Billy Fury and Jason Eddie rarities will follow. An album distributed by Ozit-Morpheus is 'I Never Met Colette' (a reference to a famous Billy Fury track) by Albie Wycherley.
The Deeply Vale connections continue with two brand new releases. The first is by Nik Turner of Hawkwind, 'Live At Deeply Vale, 1978', which, says Chris Hewitt, "has a brilliant Steve Hardstaff CD booklet conjuring up the whole ethos of the Free Festival movement." And the second is Pete Farrow's 23-track folk/rock album, 'Who Says There's No Beach In Stockport?' (reviewed in this issue).
The new Phil Lynott spoken word album, 'I Am Just A Cowboy', was produced in conjunction with Phil's mother, Philomena, and also includes eight songs performed by Dizzy Lizzy, "the world's closest tribute band to Thin Lizzy." Like many Ozit-Morpheus releases, it contains excellent paintings by the label's resident artist, Chris Daniel.
Hewitt and Hardstaff were also invited to assemble the packaging and remaster ex-Beatle, Pete Best's 40th Anniversary album for the Casbah Coffee Club, birthplace of The Beatles. This album is also distributed by Ozit-Morpheus Records, while another scoop for the label is Captain Beefheart's 'Live In Liverpool' album, passed on to Ozit-Morpheus by the late Roger Eagle, a major promoter in the North West music scene.
Doctors Of Madness frontman Richard Kid' Strange recently agreed to re-release three of that group's albums, as well as further possible projects. The first Doctors Of Madness release on Ozit-Morpheus, 'Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms', has received critical acclaim and two further albums will follow, with extensive biographical details and bonus tracks which include Dave Vanian (of The Damned) and T.V. Smith (once of The Adverts). There are already two Smith albums released by Ozit Morpheus, 'Last Words On The Great Explorer' by Smith's Explorers and T.V. Smith's 'Channel Five, both featuring extensive bonus tracks and biographical information.
Future plans include an album of remixes featuring the voice of Jim Morrison with tracks supplied by remix artist Karl Fog, who is a mastering engineer for Ozit-Morpheus when not writing and performing his own music. An album with a track from each of the major artists who appeared at Deeply Vale in the 70s is also on the cards, as are two albums from the Tractor archives, one of totally acoustic songs and the other - a collection of all the group's heaviest material.
As if that wasn't enough, a new album by The Deviants (profiled in Record Buyer, last issue) looks a distinct possibility, while other new signings include Merseyside progressive band Inside The Pyramid and a younger, more dynamic act from the North West, Mr.Blonde. Adding to the frenzied activity, West Coast punks Total Chaos will shortly have their album released by Ozit-Morpheus Records (UK), and the label has also intrepidly ventured into vinyl with a recent double LP by Tractor/The Way We Live, 'Steve's Hungarian Novel'.
Despite this plethora of material, Chris Hewitt and his cohorts endeavour to keep the hippie dream alive by involving Ozit-Morpheus (sometimes foolishly, some may say) in live gigs promoting the label's artists (frequently at a loss).
As Hewitt explains, "The future is bright, the future is Ozit."