April 26th, 2009

The Penny Peeps

Penny Peeps 1967/1968.
Penny Peeps 1967/1968. Clockwise front: Martin Barre, Denny Alexander, Malcolm Tomlinson, Mike Ketley and Bryan Stevens

Penny Peeps - Meet Me At The Fair - mp3
Penny Peeps - Model Village - mp3

Aficionados of UK freakbeat will be familiar with the Penny Peeps’ Who-inspired rocker “Model Village”, which graced the ‘B’ side of the band’s debut single for Liberty Records in February 1968. With its swirling organ, driving guitar and powerful lead vocal, the track is justifiably revered as a minor ’60s classic and has turned up over the years on a number of compilations, most notably the Rubble series and the box set Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers.

Little is known about the Penny Peeps, aside from the fact that they recorded two hopelessly obscure, yet highly collectable singles, which today fetch ridiculous sums of money. Collectors may be surprised to learn, however, that the Penny Peeps’ guitarist was none other than future Jethro Tull axe man Martin Barre (b. 17 November 1946, Birmingham), who had joined the band in 1966 when it was known as the Noblemen.

Perhaps more surprising is news that the Penny Peeps recorded around 15 demos for the label in early 1968, including the marvellous “Meet Me At the Fair”, the band’s preferred choice as ‘B’ side for “Model Village”. The infectious soul-tinged rocker was subsequently dropped in favour of the more commercial “Little Man With A Stick”. As fate would have it both “Little Man With A Stick” and its follow up single, “I See the Morning” sank without a trace and the group’s lead singer, Denny Alexander, departed that summer. The group briefly continued under the name Gethsemane before the musicians went their separate ways in December 1968.

While Martin Barre subsequently “landed on his feet” joining highly respected blues band, Jethro Tull, the music he recorded with his pre-Tull bands has been sadly overlooked. However, with the discovery of the Penny Peeps’ demos, the continued interest in “Model Village”, and news that most of the band members have finally been reunited after nearly 40 years, provides a perfect opportunity to set the record straight.

To put the music in context, it is important to look back to the genesis of the group and Martin Barre’s pre-Penny Peeps career. Although the guitar was always his preferred choice of instrument, Barre also learnt saxophone and flute at an early age and around 1963 joined his first serious group, the Birmingham beat combo, the Moonrakers. While the group operated for a number of years under the leadership of singer John Carter, it’s not certain how long Barre worked with the band because he also studied architecture at Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) sometime during the early-mid ’60s.

Whatever the exact details, Barre appears to have resumed his musical career in mid-1966 after being encouraged by fellow ex-Moonraker, sax player Chris Rodger (b. 16 October 1946, Solihull, Warwickshire), to reply to an advert in Melody Maker on 23 July asking for a horn player to join a soul covers outfit called the Noblemen. In the end, the group enlisted both musicians.

The Noblemen, late 1965.
The Noblemen, late 1965. Bryan Stevens (middle) and Mike Ketley (second right)

The current Noblemen had morphed out of Beau Brummell & the Noblemen and the Beau Brummell Orchestra (which itself had evolved out of Johnny Devlin & the Detours). The Noblemen’s bass player Bryan Stevens (b. 13 November 1941, Lha Datu, North Borneo) and keyboard player and singer Mike Ketley (b. 1 October 1947, Balham, London) were the only surviving members of both bands, which hailed from Bognor Regis on the UK’s south coast.

Stevens had formed the Detours in February 1960 and had recruited Ketley from another local group, the Soundtracks, in 1962. The band had recorded a one-off single, “Sometimes”, for Pye Records in late 1963, and appeared as newcomers on Granada TV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars alongside various other artists in February 1964. Around this time, a London group called the Detours spotted them performing on TV and decided to change their name to the Who! The Detours meanwhile soon went through their own transformation after meeting South African singer Mike Bush (aka Beau Brummell).

Brummell, who now owns a naturist valley in Northern Transvaal, had arrived in England in 1961 and worked under various pseudonyms before adopting the title, “Beau Brummell”, named after the British dandy of the 19th century, in late 1963. Recruiting the Detours (now renamed the Noblemen) as his support group, Brummell allegedly toured around the UK, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Italy in a converted London ambulance, equipped with a cocktail cabinet and other accessories and is even believed to have performed before the Aga Khan while in Rome! Not surprisingly, his exploits gained him front-page headlines.

While in the Italian capital, the group opened the famous Piper Club on 1 October 1965 before heading home via Germany without Brummell, who opted to stay behind for a while. Reunited with Brummell, the group played a weeklong show at the Storyville in Frankfurt in mid-March with Liverpool band, the Clayton Squares, featuring singer Denny Alexander (more of which later). Finally splitting with Brummell, the Noblemen remained in Germany for a few months where they got to know another touring group, the Burnettes, featuring future Jimi Hendrix bass player Noel Redding.

The Noblemen, spring 1966.
The Noblemen, spring 1966. Clockwise (front): Bryan Stevens, Bernie Smith, Keith Gemmell, Jim Field, Chuck Fryers and Mike Ketley

On their return to England in June 1966, most of the Noblemen dropped out, leaving Stevens, Ketley and guitarist Chuck Fryers with the name. Back on their home turf, Bognor Regis, Stevens quickly recruited London singer Jimmy Marsh (b. 9 April 1941, Salem, Carmarthenshire, Wales) who in turn recommended a new drummer Malcolm Tomlinson (b. 16 June 1946, Isleworth, Middlesex) to replace outgoing Bernie Smith.

“We had met both Jim and Malcolm when we were still Johnny Devlin & the Detours preparing to become the Noblemen,” remembers Ketley. “They played at a local gig in Littlehampton called the Top Hat club which was owned by Bob Gaitley who managed Brummell and us and ran the Beat Ballard and Blues Agency which was famous in the south in those days.”

Bryan Stevens continues the story. “Bob Gaitley gave me Jimmy’s number when we needed a singer after we left Beau Brummell. Jimmy came down to Bognor and we got working with him shortly afterwards as he was a good ’soul’ singer doing cover versions of Otis Redding hits.”

The singer had a long musical pedigree. His first band, the Fairlanes, formed in 1961, gigged largely on American airbases but also got the opportunity to back cabaret acts Kathy Kirby and Vince Hill. The following year he formed the Del Mar Trio who on one occasion performed on a ferry to Bolougne with Jerry Lee Lewis. Sometime in 1963, Marsh played an impromptu jam session at Sound City on Shaftsbury Avenue, the top music store in the country, backed by none other than Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. The Del Mar Trio’s guitarist Allen Bevan worked at the music shop and later that same year introduced Malcolm Tomlinson, who worked at nearby Drum City.

Tomlinson was a talented musician, who while primarily a drummer was also adept at guitar (and later flute). His first musical outing had been the west London band the Panthers, but this was short-lived, and in 1962 he joined Jeff Curtis & the Flames, the house band at the Ealing Jazz Club. While playing with the Flames, Tomlinson witnessed the nascent Rolling Stones get their act together. The Flames later recorded a five-track acetate with the late Joe Meek, but Tomlinson moved on in late 1963 to join the Del Mar Trio.

The new line up decided to try its luck on the south coast during the summer of 1964 and thanks to Bob Gaitley got the opportunity to play at his venues, the Top Hat and the Mexican Hat. Gaitley also arranged an audition for EMI at Abbey Road under the direction of Bob Barratt in February 1965. Four tracks have been logged under the name “James Deene & the Del Mar Trio” - “You Know How”, “Pocket Full of Rainbows”, “Like A Baby” and “Haunting Me”. The group then changed name to James Deane & the London Cats and in April headed for Germany to play the club scene. Over the next 12 months or so, the group members drifted back home leaving Marsh on his own in Germany.

“Bryan found out where I was [in Germany] through the consulate and would I be interested in fronting the band,” explains Marsh. “I got a plane home and I went straight to the south coast and the Shoreline club.”

Being away so long, Marsh didn’t know “the scene” or the “mode of dress” required for the new group, which later that year became the Motivation. “There’s me, I turned up at the Shoreline, my hair’s all swept back, American button down shirt, Levis and a pair of boots. I remember Bryan saying something to me, ‘It’s not your singing Jimmy; it’s your clothes and your hair’.” Stevens took Marsh to Carnaby Street and kitted him out in the latest attire.

Shortly after Marsh and Tomlinson’s arrival in July 1966, Barre and Rodger were recruited via the Melody Maker advert. “I remember we met outside Sound City in Shaftesbury Avenue and it was touch and go whether or not I took him on as a sax player,” remembers Stevens.

According to Ketley, Barre’s sound and technique was not particularly good at this point and from the outset, Rodger assumed the more prominent role, playing solos and supporting Barre until he got up to speed. “It wasn’t until months and months later that we would go to bed after a gig to the sound of Martin practising on his 335, and wake up in the late afternoon and Martin was still playing that we realised that he was a much better guitarist that he was a sax player,” says Ketley.

In fact, Barre later admitted to taking the job, so that he could get into the band and play guitar. “It wasn’t until we had formed the Penny Peeps and especially Gethsemane that Martin owned up to getting the sax job under false pretences,” says Ketley. “Clever really and by then we had other plans so it was fine.”

At the time, Noblemen guitarist Chuck Fryers was still pondering his future and whether to stay with the current line up so there was no need for a guitarist. Fortunately for Barre, Fryers decided to leave the band early on and return to Italy where he played with a number of noteworthy groups, including the Sorrows, thereby enabling Barre to double up on guitar and sax.

With the new line up settled, the Noblemen got some publicity photos taken. One photo, shot in Bognor Regis that summer, depicts a very young Martin Barre holding his guitar in the waves on the local beach.

With the new line up settled, the Noblemen signed up with the Roy Tempest Agency and one of their earliest gigs was supporting US soul act, the Vibrations at Tofts in Folkestone on 23 September, where the group again ran into Redding, who only a few weeks later would be playing with Hendrix. The following month, on 16 October, the Noblemen supported Edwin Starr at the Beachcomber Club in Nottingham alongside John Mayall’s Blues Breakers.

The Noblemen, summer 1966.
The Noblemen, summer 1966. Left to right: Mike Ketley, Martin Barre, Jimmy Marsh, Chris Rodger, Malcolm Tomlinson and Bryan Stevens

To break from the former group, Stevens renamed the band the Motivation in November 1966 and a fresh batch of photos were taken in London at Park Lane near Hyde Park and on Bognor Regis train station.

As the Motivation, the six-piece found itself heavily in demand, working with such notable soul artists as Alvin Robinson, Ike & Tina Turner, Edwin Starr, Lee Dorsey, the Coasters, the Drifters and Ben E King, to name a few.

“I think Roy Tempest booked the soul artist to come over,” recalls Stevens. “We met them at a practice room in Tottenham Court Road and had about three hours with them before going out on the road. Usually, we started at the US base in Bayswater Road (7pm) then onto Boston Glider Dome in Boston, Lincolnshire by midnight and sometimes then to a place in Leicester for a 6am show!”

Motivation, Bognor Regis Station, late 1966
Motivation, Bognor Regis Station, late 1966

Stevens remembers one particularly amusing story while touring with the Coasters. “We were backing [them] on a 7-day tour of England and had a double nighter in Manchester - two large working men’s clubs. I think it was the Princess and the Domino clubs, owned by the same promoter,” he recalls. “We went on the first venue and went down very well, in fact there were encores and it made us late leaving. Then we had to pack up all the amplifiers and follow the promoter’s car on a dash to the other club the other side of Manchester.”

Arriving nearly an hour late, the group set up its amps behind the stage curtain where it could hear the drunken crowd starting to get rowdy. With no time to waste the promoter raised the curtain to a huge cheer and hurried the Coasters on stage. The trouble started immediately. When one of the singers politely asked the drunken crowd to quieten down, some in the crowd continued to shout out. Upset by the reception, the singer responded with an off-the-cuff remark, which was met with a torrent of boos and beer bottles. Soon both the singers and the band (minus Marsh) were in a headlong retreat to the dressing room.

“The crowd started running after us climbing on the stage and chasing us into the dressing room,” remembers Stevens. “We just got into the dressing room before they grabbed us. The Coasters started to barricade the door. Then we looked around and they were getting out their pistols and checking how many bullets each of them had!”

When the noise in the hall eventually quietened down, the band retrieved its amps and managed to get out of the club. “We were given a police escort out of Manchester and onto the M6,” says Stevens.

Jimmy Marsh adds that there is more to the story. “We got to the club and all the bouncers are like Teddy Boys. They were nasty. One of the bouncers wanted to know what we were going to do. I chimed in and said, ‘Well, I’m the lead vocalist and I usually do half an hour before the Coasters come on’. He said, ‘You sing one song’ and my back went up. I always remember saying, ‘Well, fuck you, I’m not singing and I headed off for the bar, so they’d have to bring the Coasters on straight away.”

Perched at the bar, Marsh remembers the beer bottles being thrown at the stage. “The lead vocalist was so camp, it was outrageous and of course up there a man’s got to be a man.

“Then one of the bouncers came over to me and said, ‘We’re going to have you’. Well, I hadn’t done anything so I told him to f-off. Anyway, I finished my drink and headed for the stage door and two of them came up behind me and threw me through the door.” Marsh remembers losing it completely and taking on about five or six bouncers.

“Finally, we got out and, nervous reaction, I’m sitting there in our converted ambulance laughing hysterically. Bryan said to me, ‘You’re mad’ and I said, ‘Well they started it’ and they did.” As the singer points out, Roy Tempest later presented them with a bill for £30 to cover the damage!

Aside from opening and supporting US soul acts on the club scene, the Motivation also began to gain work on the burgeoning rock circuit. On 12 November, the band was advertised as playing at the Oasis club in Manchester.

Jimmy Marsh also remembers appearing at the Mojo club in Sheffield sometime in late 1966 on a bill featuring Rod Stewart and Steampacket, Sonny Childe & TNT and Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band. Other notable dates during this period include opening for the Tremeloes at Carlisle Town Hall and Chris Farlowe at the 400 Club in Torquay.

The opening months of 1967 were no less busy and featured appearances at gigs as far as field as Penzance’s Winter Gardens on 6 January, the Blue Lagoon in Newquay on 7 January, Swindon Locarno on 14 January, the Carlton Ballroom in Birmingham on 10 February and RAF Benson in Benson, Oxfordshire on 16 February.

The following month, on 4 March, Motivation returned to London and played with C James Blues and Malcolm Magaron at Tiles.

On two occasions (6 February and 6 March), the band opened for the Herd at the Marquee in Wardour Street. On the second occasion, Marsh remembers surprising his band mates by announcing that he wanted to sing a Roy Orbison classic, “Running Scared” among the usual soul numbers. At first the band refused to play it but relented when he threatened to walk off the stage. Marsh notes that the song brought the roof down.

Motivation at Syon Park, spring 1967.
Motivation at Syon Park, spring 1967.

Sometime in late March, the Motivation got a new set of publicity photos taken on the banks of the River Thames near Syon Park. They then set off for Rome to perform at the famous Piper club for six weeks, playing six hours a night until 3am. While there Marsh remembers Ray Charles’s dancers came in and asked the band to prolong their solo so they could dance to the music. Marsh promptly leapt off the stage to dance with them!

The pressures on the road, however, began to take their toll. “When we were in Rome I had to attend the hospital,” recalls Marsh. “I punctured my vocal chords and to get it fixed, you would have to be a big time operator to foot that kind of bill.”

With his health failing, Marsh left the band and returned home. He dropped out of the music business, only resurfacing briefly in the early ’80s with the short-lived west London band, A Touch of Gold. Looking back, he has this to say. “A big problem with Motivation was the rivalry. Martin [Barre] was my favourite; he was a lovely kid. I always thought good luck to him when he made it.”

Motivation at Syon Park, spring 1967
Motivation at Syon Park, spring 1967.

He also remembers a story regarding the future Jethro Tull guitarist. “After I left them I was living in Notting Hill Gate in Pembridge Villas and Martin turned up at my place. I always remember the girl who lived in the room next to me had a lovely clarinet, which she was going to sell and he wanted it but didn’t have the money. I said, ‘Martin, do you want me to get it for you?’ He said, ‘No, thanks’. Next thing I know he’s worth millions!”

With Marsh gone, the Motivation headed home via Germany, and while on route played some US air bases with an American singer called Kathy, who they’d met at the Piper club, and, at the same time, provided back up for country and western singer/comedian Don Bowman.

Back in London around late May/early June, Chris Rodger quit the band and returned to Birmingham. More importantly, with Marsh gone, the group needed a new singer.

As fate would have it, Stevens and Ketley remembered a talented singer from the Clayton Squares who had shared the stage with Beau Brummell & the Noblemen at the Storyville in Germany back in March 1966. They duly invited Denny Alexander Thomas (b. 10 March 1946, Liverpool, Lancashire) to join the Motivation to fulfil outstanding dates, including a prestigious gig on 1 July, opening for Eric Clapton’s band, Cream at the Upper Cut in Forest Gate.

“When we decided we wanted a change after Jimmy Marsh, I contacted Denny who agreed to join up with us,” remembers Stevens. “I went up to Liverpool and brought him down to Bognor where he stayed at the Shoreline Hotel (the only teenage hotel run by teenagers for teenagers in Bognor) while we got a new act together before going out on the road again.”

Alexander, like his erstwhile colleagues, had been active since the early ’60s, playing with Liverpool bands Tony & the Chequers, the Aarons, the Secrets and the Kinsleys. Alexander’s greatest success, however, came with the Clayton Squares, who he joined in February 1965 and with whom he recorded two singles for Decca in late 1965 and early 1966. The band, which was managed by Don Arden, had played extensively at the Cavern but had arrived on the scene too late to capitalise on the success of the first wave of Merseyside bands.

Alexander, who had been working in Germany with the London-based group, the Thoughts after leaving the Clayton Squares, brought both a strong voice and some powerful original material to the new Motivation line up.

However, within months of Alexander’s arrival, another band called Motivation signed to Direction Records and the group headed back to Bognor to reassess its musical future.

After rehearsing new material, largely comprised of Alexander originals, at the Shoreline club, the Penny Peep Show (as they were now called) resumed live work in the local area.

Motivation

Through Pete Hockham, formerly one of Bob Gaitley’s agents at the Beat Ballad and Blues agency and now working for Brian Epstein’s NEMS agency, the band signed up with NEMS and gained regular work in the London area. One of the group’s first London dates took place on 8 February 1968, opening for the Mike Stuart Span at the famous 100 Club in Oxford Street.

That same month, the group signed a deal with Liberty Records and got to work recording over an album’s worth of material, most of which comprised demos. “When the Peeps got the Liberty contract, I also got a song writing contract with them from Metric Music, which was on Albermarle Street at the time,” says Alexander. “When I went to sign my contract there was also a duo who were part of band called the Idle Race. One turned out to be Jeff Lynne later of ELO fame and fortune. A third person sitting in the corner very quietly and looking very shy and schoolboyish turned out be Mike Batt!”

“The contract required a certain amount of songs in a certain period,” continues Alexander “and the band used to act as session men - and therefore got paid which helped when gigs were scarce. Most songs were recorded at the Marquee studio at the back of the old Marquee club in Wardour Street. I probably wrote about 15 or 16 songs.”

Some of these songs, such as “Helen Doesn’t Care” and “Into My Life She Came”, which features Martin Barre on flute, are little gems. So is “Meet Me At The Fair”, which the group had envisaged would be coupled with Alexander’s organ and guitar driven rocker “Model Village” for the band’s debut single. Instead, Liberty chose to go with the poppy Les Reed-Barry Mason collaboration, “Little Man With A Stick”.

“I remember how pissed off we all were when Liberty insisted that ‘Little Man With A Stick’ should be the ‘A’ side as it was not us and none of us liked it,” says Stevens. “I suppose it was the usual case of the record company wanting to use their in-house song writers.”

Released on 16 February, under the new name, the Penny Peeps, “Little Man With A Stick” c/w “Model Village” failed to chart, although it did gain some radio exposure.

“Tony Blackburn opened his Radio 1 show every morning for a week with it,” says Ketley. “Although he said he liked the ‘B’ side, he never played it. Melody Maker and NME at the time all said ‘Model Village’ should have been released on the ‘A’ side and was much more representative of the band live.”

“Little Man With A Stick” received a lukewarm welcome in the music press, with NME reporting: “A new British number by Les Reed and Barry Mason. It’s good fun with a strong novelty content, but not one of the duo’s most memorable compositions. Competent performance.” (Note: an original copy went for over £250 on Ebay in 2008.)

The single’s release coincided with a memorable show at the Brighton Dome Theatre on 22 February where the Penny Peeps backed the Scaffold on a bill that also included the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and also played their own set. Back in London, the group appeared at London’s Speakeasy six days later.

Throughout this period, the group toured extensively, appearing at Alexander’s former stomping ground, Parr Hall in Warrington, sharing the bill with the Brian Auger Trinity at the Nottingham Boat Club and even making a brief trip to Belgium to play some dates.

“We played in Belgium for an Embassy party onboard a ship tied up at the docks,” says Stevens. “It was rumoured that Sean Connery and Bridget Bardot were in the audience that night but I can’t be sure of that.”

Penny Peeps, 1967/1968.
Penny Peeps, 1967/1968. Left to right: Martin Barre, Mike Ketley, Denny Alexander, Malcolm Tomlinson, Bryan Stevens

In the long run, however, the decision to bury “Model Village” on the flip side of the band’s debut, coupled with a weak follow up, Alexander’s “I See The Morning” c/w “Curly, The Knight of The Road” (issued on 21 June) did the band no favours.

During a gig that summer, the group’s current repertoire was met with an icy response and Alexander realised that drastic measures were needed. In the interval, he suggested that the band play some blues numbers in the second set and with Ketley and Tomlinson handling vocals, the fresh approach went down a storm.

Taking on a new name, In the Garden of Gethsemane, which was soon shortened to Gethsemane, the group began to plough a more blues-based direction but by late summer Alexander had dropped out to pursue a non-musical career.

Retiring from professional playing, he tried his hand as a trainee publican for a while but the venture didn’t last long. Back in Liverpool, he gathered together some friends who had a musical cabaret act and the sax player from the Undertakers and recorded six tracks in late 1972.

The songs - “Don’t Let It Rain (Wedding Day)”, “Crossroads of Life”, “My Last Goodbye To You”, “I’d Like To Get To Know You Girl”, “Your Alive” and “Babe I Love You” remain unreleased to this day.

The songs vary in style although some show touches of a country-rock influence. Like all of Alexander’s songs, the tracks are extremely melodic and a couple could have been huge hits in the hands of a more established artist. With the recordings complete, Alexander turned his back on music and went into the financial services industry, retiring in the early 2000s.

Reduced to a quartet, the new musical direction that Gethsemane took gave the band an opportunity to be more creative and to stretch out during live performances. One of the “features” of the band’s stage show during this period was a flute duet featuring Barre and Tomlinson. “Malcolm would come off drums, I would play ‘Hammond’ percussion and we would try to be creative for a while - in the middle of ‘Work Song’ as I recall,” says Ketley.

From the early autumn onwards, Gethsemane gained steady live work, appearing at such colourful venues as Eel Pie Island in Twickenham on 25 August, the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm on 14 September (where the band’s set was recorded by John Peel, who played it the next week on the BBC), the Nag’s Head in Battersea on 21 October, the Hornsey Wood Tavern in Finsbury Park on 15 November and the Van Dike Club in Plymouth on 29 November (the last two occasions supporting Jethro Tull).

During this period, the band shared the bill with a wide range of acts, including David Bowie, Edgar Broughton and Fleetwood Mac. They also attracted the interest of DJ John Peel who allegedly became a big fan.

Without Alexander to front the group, the vocals were shared between Malcolm Tomlinson and Mike Ketley. “Malc always had a great voice,” says Stevens. “At the ‘end’ we were doing cover versions of the Band as we had just got hold of an early copy of Music from Big Pink. If I remember right, Malc sang ‘the Weight’ and ‘Chest Fever’. It was really good.”

Sometime during this period, Gethsemane piqued the interest of Bee Gees producer Robert Stigwood, and through this association signed with Dick James Music (Northern Songs). While the idea was to record an album, the band soon ran into problems in the studio. “We did our version of ‘Lady Samantha’ but Elton [John] did not like [it],” says Ketley.

Far more serious - “musical differences” erupted between the group, Northern Songs and Robert Stigwood. It seems the producer was looking for something much more “poppy” from the group. The sessions were subsequently abandoned.

pennypeeps16.jpg

The decision to cut Elton John’s poppy “Lady Samantha” seemed a rather unusual choice for a blues band. Perhaps the decision was made following an Elton John radio session, taped on 28 October at BBC’s Agolin Hall.

On that occasion, John recorded three tracks - “Lady Samantha”, “Across The Havens” and “Skyline Pigeon”, abetted by a studio group comprising long standing guitarist Caleb Quaye, session bass player Boots Slade and Malcolm Tomlinson on drums. The three songs were played on BBC’s Stuart Henry Show the following week.

Whatever the reason, the disappointment and frustration surrounding the LP sessions, together with an aborted attempt to record with guitarist Jeff Beck (possibly for a Beck session listed on 18 September), appears to have been a major factor in driving the band apart.

After playing a memorable gig at Dundee College of Art on 12 December, opening for headliners, Pink Floyd, Gethsemane returned to London to fulfil a few final engagements before dissolving.

Says Stevens: “The last gig we ever did was at a college in Brook Green, Hammersmith and a guy from Island Records asked if we would be interested in signing up. We didn’t want to know. We had had so many people saying so many times, ’sign here and we will make you famous!’ Anyway, by that time, we had all decided to go our separate ways. Martin Barre had just been offered a job with Jethro Tull following an audition with them.”

Having learnt that original guitarist Mick Abrahams’ replacement Tony Iommi had been dismissed after only a month in the band, Barre phoned Jethro Tull’s singer Ian Anderson to see if he could try out for the band. Barre, incidentally had first auditioned for Jethro Tull when Abrahams left in late November, but Iommi got the nod.

Stevens continues the story. “He didn’t have a very good guitar at the time and mentioned he desperately wanted a Les Paul Gibson for the audition. The guy in the flat below us in our Chiswick flat offered to lend him the £500 - pretty good considering that was quite heavy money in the late ’60s.”

Invited round to Anderson’s flat for a second audition, Barre got the “gig of his dreams”. The rest as they say is history. But what about his former band mates?

Having led a succession of groups from Johnny Devlin & the Detours through to Gethsemane, Bryan Stevens decided to sell his bass and used the money to help finance his studies. Returning to college, he later became a surveyor and currently lives in Chiswick.

Mike Ketley meanwhile returned to the south coast. Switching from keyboards to bass, he joined forces with a several former Noblemen and for a couple of years worked in a local band called the Concords. He later abandoned live work and now works as senior director at Yamaha Kemble Music UK Limited. He lives in Northampton.

Stevens and Ketley have remained firm friends and in June 2002 rejoined former band mates in a Johnny Devlin & the Detours reunion held in Bognor Regis. Among the guests at the reunion was former Soundtracks guitarist Ray Flacke, who later went on to play with Mark Knopfler. Ketley has also re-recorded “Model Village” with his son’s band.

The Detours got together again in 2003 to headline a gathering of ’60s groups from Bognor for a sell out night in aid of the hospice that looked after Barry Benson (P J Proby’s hairdresser) who had died of cancer a few months earlier.

Stevens and Ketley were involved in another reunion more recently - after over 35 years, they finally met up with Penny Peeps singer Denny Alexander over the Christmas 2004 period. Another reunion took place on 29 March 2009.

They have also renewed contact with Malcolm Tomlinson, who, aside from Martin Barre, was the only member of the band to maintain a significant musical profile.

Gethsemane Gig advert

Following Gethsemane’s demise, Tomlinson reunited with his former Jeff Curtis & the Flames cohort Louis McKelvey and in March 1969 moved to Toronto, Canada where the pair formed Milkwood with future Celine Dion backing singer Mary Lou Gauthier. (McKelvey, incidentally, had been one of the hopefuls who auditioned for Ian Anderson and the guitar slot in Jethro Tull).

During his first few months in the city, Tomlinson was called on to play drums and flute on ex-A Passing Fancy guitarist and singer/songwriter Jay Telfer’s ambitious solo album, Perch but unfortunately the recording was subsequently shelved, as was Milkwood’s own album, cut in New York that summer for the Polydor label with legendary producer Jerry Ragavoy.

However, Tomlinson did make a notable session appearance on label mate, Life’s eponymous lone album recorded in late 1969, providing a superb flute solo to the track “Lovin’ Time”.

Milkwood’s greatest claim to fame was appearing at Toronto’s famous Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival concert on 13 September, alongside John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. Yet despite garnering praise from Jimi Hendrix in Cashbox magazine after he’d spotted them playing at the Penny Farthing club in Yorkville Village, Milkwood imploded shortly after a show in Ottawa in late October.

Next up, Tomlinson briefly played with McKelvey in the short-lived biker group, Damage. One of the band’s most high profile shows was an appearance at the Toronto Rock Festival on 26 March 1970, appearing on the bill with Funkadelic, Luke & the Apostles, Nucleus and Leigh Ashford among others.

When that group folded in late 1970, Tomlinson briefly teamed up with former Elektra Records band, Rhinoceros before joining Syrinx in October 1971 and recording an album for True North Records under the name, JFC Heartbeat. He then worked with Toronto-based groups, Rambunkshish and Zig Zag alongside Toronto blues guitarist Danny Marks, before signing up with Bill King’s band during 1972.

More impressive, in 1973 he recorded an album’s worth of material with Rick James and the original Stone City Band, which is still to see a release. Versatile as ever, Tomlinson subsequently played drums with Jackson Hawke and then Bearfoot before recording two solo albums for A&M Records in 1977 and 1979 entitled Coming Outta Nowhere and Rock ‘N’ Roll Hermit before dropping out of the recording scene during the ’80s and ’90s.

However, in 2007, Tomlinson sang on Toronto group, the Cameo Blues Band’s latest album. In June of that year played drums with ’60s folk-rock group, Kensington Market to celebrate the “Summer of Love” and also doubled up with Luke & the Apostles. He continues to perform intermittently on the local scene.

<br>  Bryan Stevens, Mike Ketley and Denny Alexander, March 2009, London

Bryan Stevens, Mike Ketley and Denny Alexander, March 2009, London

Thanks to Bryan Stevens, Mike Ketley, Jimmy Marsh, Denny Alexander, Malcolm Tomlinson, Louis McKelvey, Mike Paxman, Mike Read, Garth Chilvers, Tom Jasiukowicz, Vernon Joynson, Hugh MacLean, Pete Frame, Greg Russo, Melody Maker, NME and Record Collector.Thank you Bryan and Mike for the use of photographs.Nick Warburton can be contacted at: nick_warburton@hotmail.comCopyright © Nick Warburton, 2014. Updated 2009.All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any from or by any means, without prior permission from the author

One Response

  1. Marlene Fox Says:

    Thanks for putting together this fab comprehensive article which takes me back through a lifetime of music ~ all very interesting too. You guys have always had music in your blood. A common interest creates friends for life ~ and keeps you young at heart!

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