The following is an excerpt from chapter one of “The Jason Zodiac Files”, Jamie Carter’s biography of Jason Zodiac. More information can be found here.
I had a weird dream the morning before my interview with Screaming Lord Smith. I dreamed I was standing in a desert, maybe somewhere in North Africa, with great sand dunes towering around me. I don’t often remember my dreams these days, but this one was vivid. The colors of the sand dunes and the sky were glowing reds and purples and browns, and I smelt smoke and exotic fruit on the wind. And the singing … there was a high-pitched, beautiful singing all around me, no words, just voices raised in harmony.
I wasn’t alone. Someone stood in front of me, the figure of a man, his skin dark, his features in shadow. One hand pointed down at the ground and I knew there was something buried there. I fell to my knees, plunging my hands into the desert, sweeping away the sand to dig a hole.
It was slow work, the painfully slow effort of moving within a dream, the sand sliding in to fill the hole I was fighting to make. The sand was coarse, glittering with the sheen of old gold, scorching my hands with the desert heat. I kept digging.
I buried my arms in the ground up to my elbows, my fingertips at last finding something solid, trying to get purchase. My face pressed against the surface, the hot sand threatening to blister my cheek. The voices in my head – was something beneath me singing, or was it the sand itself?
I found a solid grip on the object, and pulled it upwards, wrenching it free, the sands boiling upwards as it rose. The whiteness of bone. Dark, hollow eyes, sand dripping out of the sockets. Elegantly curved, sharp horns. The skull of a goat. I lifted it up, its face to my face. The bone was smooth, slippery to the touch, and in the cracked shining surface of the forehead I could see my own reflection –
Waking up. The music still in my ears, chiming guitars, ethereal vocals, droning sitar. Of course. The Sky-Vendor’s Crown, one of The Banana Sundial’s biggest hits. The song was coming to an end; it must have kicked off my dream. Why, today of all days, would Kiss FM take a break from their usual R&B and indie shite to play something from 1967? And why The Banana Sundial?
Which echoed the question that had been in my head for the last few days – whatever happened to Jason Zodiac?
My wife Katy helped me fix some ham and toast for breakfast. My son Nick called in on the way to work, like he often does. He’s a good lad, always helps around the house, often comes to watch the football with me, more like a good mate than a son. Not exactly a rock and roller, though. I taught him guitar, and he had his own band for a while, but these days he’s happy to be an electrician. Maybe I’m the only person who’s a little sad about that, but then I’m fifty-six years old, and kind of retro. Everyone jokes about it. It’s why I got this job at Fugue magazine.
I took the M5 Southbound past Bristol, to Junction 23 – and Glastonbury. I was due to meet Matt Mackenzie on top of the Tor at eleven o’clock, and it was best to get an early start as the roads are always shite. Why Glastonbury Tor? Well, Matt always did have a flair for the dramatic. That was his real name. Matt Mackenzie. The man who played Screaming Lord Smith, member of the T-Service.
As the cult TV buffs out there will remember, the BBC drama series The T-Service ran for three seasons between 1967 and 1969. It was a sci-fi horror comedy thriller about a super-team backed by the British Government, a group of eccentric characters saving the world from a different threat each week. It was pitched as the BBC’s answer to the colorful psychedelic spy shows that ITC were putting out, like The Avengers and The Prisoner, and a companion show to Doctor Who. The star of the show was Jason Zodiac, a flamboyant swinger with a command of occult magical arts and a knack for pulling dolly birds. The other regular characters all had their own back stories and super powers too: Screaming Lord Smith, Tangerine, Uncle Jack, Camera Obscura, token American liason the Someday Man, all led by the scientific genius Doctor Chess, and receiving their assignments from a shadowy government contact known only as The Minister.
Great names. They don’t make TV like that any more, eh?
One reason why The T-Service had gained such notoriety is that it had fallen victim to the BBC video-wiping purge in the early 1970s, and only a handful of episodes actually existed. The stories where The Beatles and Mick Jagger had appeared were still around, of course, but classic stories like The Unexpected Question, The Camelot Run, Death by Chocolate and Festival of the Damned were lost forever.
Or so we thought, until Matt Mackenzie contacted Fugue magazine, claiming to have unearthed an 8mm film copy of Festival of the Damned.
I got to the Tor just before eleven, parked the car, and trudged up the hill to the famous artificial mound, with its signature spiral path winding toward the beautiful stone tower on its crown. A cold February wind scythed across the fields, but I’d wrapped up warm in quilted jacket, scarf, sweater and gloves, so it wasn’t too bad.
When I got to the top of the hill Matt was standing by the stone tower waiting for me. I recognized him from his publicity shots; he’d put on weight and lost some hair, but his face was still the craggy, lined, handsome face that had got him the part on the show. Screaming Lord Smith’s super-power was a jacket that emitted psychedelic blasts of colored light that confused, blinded or hypnotized the baddies. Which is pretty funny when you remember that the first T-Service series was filmed in black and white. Today, though, there was nothing psychedelic about him; he wore a long black wool coat that almost stretched down to his feet.
“Good morning, Mr. Smith,” I said. “Or can I call you Screaming Lord?”
He laughed. We shook hands. “Hello, Mr. Carter.”
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