On December 30 1968, blues band Gethsemane opened Jethro
Tull’s show at the Winter Gardens in Penzance.
For the group’s young lead guitarist Martin Barre (b. Nov
17, 1946, Birmingham), the concert was a second
opportunity to impress Jethro Tull’s lead singer Ian Anderson
who’d passed over Barre the previous month as
the band sought to replace the recently departed Mick Abrahams.
In the ensuing weeks however, the position
was filled by future Black Sabbath guitarist Tommy Iommi.
But Barre’s luck was about to change. Recognising
that Iommi’s guitar style wasn’t compatible with Jethro Tull’s
new musical direction, Anderson remembered the shy guitarist
he’d met a few weeks earlier. When the Penzance
show finished, Anderson didn’t waste time in poaching
Barre from the struggling blues group. The pairing of
Anderson and Barre would result in Jethro Tull becoming
one of Britain’s biggest selling bands of the ‘70s, and
one of the country’s most successful exports throughout
the next two decades.
For Barre, the climb to the top had not been easy. Yet
despite the hardships, the ride most definitely had its perks,
bringing the guitarist into contact with some of soul
music’s true greats.
Little is known about Barre’s first explorations into
music. Although the guitar was always his preferred choice of
instrument, he 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 circumstances, Barre appears to have resumed
his musical career in early 1966 after being
encouraged by his friend, Chris Rodger, a sax player
from Solihull to reply to an advert in Melody Maker
asking for a horn player to join a new mod/soul group
called The Motivation. In the event, the group enlisted
both musicians and the pair spent the next two years
working the British club scene supporting people like
Lee Dorsey, Alvin Robinson, The Coasters and Ben E King.
When Barre and Rodger joined The Motivation, the group
had recently emerged from the ashes of beat group
Beau Brummell & The Noblemen (which itself had evolved
out of Johnny Devlin & The Detours). The
Motiviation’s bass player Bryan Stephens and keyboard
player/singer Mick Ketley had been members of
both groups, which hailed from Bognor Regis on the UK’s
Stephens had formed The Detours in February 1960 and had
recruited Ketley from another local group,
The Soundtracks, in late 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 Manfred
Mann, Matt Munro and others in February 1964, before
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.
The relationship however, was relatively short-lived and
following a string of singles for Columbia Records,
the group parted company with Brummell after opening
the famous Piper Club in Rome on 1 October 1965.
On the way back from Rome, The Noblemen got a gig at
the famous Big Apple club in Munich opening for
The Spencer Davis Group. While the show went down extremely
well (Ketley remembers The Noblemen
upstaging the headliners), most of the members decided
that the group had run its course and dropped out,
leaving Ketley and Stephens to start The Motivation from
scratch in early 1966.
Back in London, the new band started to take on shape
with the recruitment of Welsh singer/guitarist
Jimmy Marsh and drummer Malcolm Tomlinson (b. June 16,
1946, Isleworth, Middlesex), both of whom
had been playing with James Deane & The London Cats
for a couple of years. As Ketley recalls: “We had
met both Jim and Malcolm when we were still Johnny Devlin
& The Detours preparing to become The
Noblemen. They played at a local gig in Littlehampton
called the Top Ten 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.”
Little is known about Marsh’s background beyond the fact
that he had formed The London Cats sometime
during 1964 to work the club scene in Germany. Tomlinson
meanwhile was a talented musician, who while
primarily a drummer was also equally adept at guitar
(and later flute), and whose voice bore some
resemblance to Rod Stewart’s. 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 was fortunate
to witness the nascent Rolling Stones get
their act together. The Flames later recorded a demo
with the late Joe Meek, but the group soon fell apart
when Tomlinson’s accepted the job with The London Cats.
A few weeks later, Barre and Rodger were recruited via
the Melody Maker advert. 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 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.”
The new look group headed off to Italy where it “cut its
teeth” as the house band at the famous Piper club
in Rome for six months before returning the UK around
August 1966 to work for the Roy Tempest Agency
backing visiting US soul acts. Ketley has fond memories
of this period. “Lee Dorsey was great – we played
the original Cavern club with him and supported Ike and
Tina Turner at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester.
Alvin Robinson gave us a chance to play some real soul/blues.
It was this influence that led us to create
Gethsemane later,” claims Ketley. The group’s keyboard
player also remembers a party where The
Coasters introduced the band to an unknown black guitarist
just arrived in the UK called Jimmy Hendrix!
Besides supporting top soul acts, The Motivation also
began to gig under its own name and from early 1967
started to work the club circuit opening for UK bands
like Pink Floyd and Cream. In fact, it was as
The Motivation that they shared the bill with Eric Clapton’s
band at a memorable date at the Upper Cut in
Forest Gate on 1 July 1967.
Despite the steady work however, the pressures on the
road were beginning to take its toll, and sometime
in the autumn both Jimmy Marsh and Chris Rodger decided
to leave. Around the same time, another
London band called Motivation signed to Direction Records
and the group retreated to Bognor and the
Shoreline club to reassess its musical future.
A decision was made to change the group’s name and a new
lead singer was sought to front the band.
Stephens and Ketley remembered a singer/guitarist that
they’d met at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg
while playing with Beau Brummell in late 1965 and invited
Denny Alexander to join the reconstituted outfit –
now going by the more “progressive” name The Penny Peep
Alexander, like his erstwhile colleagues, had been active
since the early ‘60s, playing with Liverpool bands
The Aarons, The Secrets and finally The Clayton Squares,
with whom he had 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 never the less brought both
a strong voice and some powerful original
material, including The Who-inspired song ‘The Model
Village’ to The Penny Peep Show.
Local manager Mike Clayton, who also handled Brighton’s
The Mike Stuart Span, soon snapped up the
band, and The Penny Peep Show began rehearsing its new
material at the Shoreline club. As Ketley
points out, “The Penny Peeps with Denny Alexander was
unbelievable but really from the start we
were at odds with Denny who wanted to be ‘pop’, (nothing
wrong with that but we really wanted to do
‘our own thing’ and be creative)”.
Despite the differences in musical taste, The Penny Peep
Show soon returned to the stage and in December
1967 opened the show and provided musical support for
The Scaffold at Brighton’s Dome, before heading
up to London to play at Hatchettes in Piccadilly Circus
later in the month.
With Clayton bankrolling the group and with Barre now
firmly ensconced on lead guitar, The Penny Peep
Show started to attract record company interest and in
January 1968 signed a deal with Liberty Records.
Shortening the name to The Penny Peeps, the group’s debut
single, ‘I See The Morning’, a cover song,
coupled with Alexander’s ‘Model Village’ was issued the
following month and gained some radio exposure
from Radio 1 DJ, Tony Blackburn.
“Tony Blackburn opened his Radio 1 show every morning
for a week with ‘I See The Morning,’” 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.” (Note: a mint copy of the single will now set
you back about £35.)
As the single hit the shops, the group travelled to London
and opened for The Mike Stuart Span at the
famous 100 Club in Oxford Street. However, the decision
to bury “Model Village” on the flip side of the
band’s debut, coupled with a weak follow up, “Little
Man With A Stick” c/w “Curly, The Knight of The Road”,
did the band no favours and soon afterwards, Denny Alexander
left (subsequently becoming a publican).
At the same time, Liberty Records terminated The Penny
Reduced to a quartet, the group started to incorporate
blues and soul elements into its repertoire. It also took
on a new moniker, In The Garden of Gethsemane, which
was soon abbreviated to Gethsemane. As Ketley
acknowledges, 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.
Over the next six months, Gethsemane gained steady live
work sharing the bill with a wide range of acts,
including The Yardbirds, David Bowie, Edgar Broughton
and Fleetwood Mac. They also attracted the
interest of DJ John Peel who allegedly became a big fan.
Sometime during the summer of 1968, Gethsemane piqued
the interest of Bee Gees producer Robert Stigwood,
and through this association Gethsemane 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 recorded ‘Grease Monkey’
(written by Tony McGhee),” says Ketley and “we did our
version of ‘Lady Samantha’…but Elton did not
like our version.” 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.
“Greasy Monkey” fitted well into the group’s stage show,
but the decision to cut the Elton John song
seemed a rather unusual choice. Perhaps the decision
to cut the track had something to do with Tomlinson’s
involvement with the up and coming singer/songwriter
who recruited him to play drums on three tracks –
“Lady Samantha”, “Across The Havens” and “Skyline Pigeon”
for a BBC radio session taped in late October.
Whatever the reason, the disappointment and frustration
surrounding the album sessions appears to have been
a major factor in driving the band apart. When Barre
got the “gig of his dreams” in December 1968, the
other members may have been a little surprised but were
also ready for a change.
Having led a number of groups from Johnny Devlin &
The Detours through to Gethsemane, Bryan Stephens
decided to sell his bass and used the money to help finance
his studies. Returning to college,
he later became a surveyor.
Mike Ketley meanwhile returned to the south coast. Switching
from keyboards to bass, he joined forces with
a couple of former Noblemen and for a couple of years
worked in a local band called The Concords. He later
abandoned live work and now has a senior position at
Stephens and Ketley reunited earlier this year when Johnny
Devlin & The Detours held a reunion in June.
Among the guests at the reunion was former Soundtracks
guitarist Ray Flacke, who later went on to play
with Mark Knopfler. Ketley has also recently re-recorded
The Penny Peeps’ “Model Village” with his son’s band.
Besides Martin Barre, only Malcolm Tomlinson maintained
a musical profile. Following Gethsemane’s demise,
Tomlinson moved to Toronto with his former Jeff Curtis
& The Flames cohort Louis McKelvey and together
they fronted rock bands Milkwood (who appeared alongside
The Plastic Ono Band at the famous
Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival concert) and Damage. (In
an interestingly side note, McKelvey was one of
the many hopefuls who had auditioned for Jethro Tull
following Mick Abraham’s departure, but was passed over).
In the early ‘70s, Tomlinson briefly worked with former
Elektra band Rhinoceros, and Toronto artists Bill
King, Syrinx and Bearfoot, before recording an album’s
worth of material with future funkmeister Rick
James, which was subsequently shelved. In the late ‘70s
he issued two solo albums for A&M Records and
continues to live and work in Toronto.
I’d like to acknowledge the following people and publications
for providing material: Mike Ketley, Malcolm
Tomlinson, Bryan Stephens, Louis McKelvey, Mike Read,
Garth Chilvers, Tom Jasiukowicz, Vernon Joynson,
Hugh MacLean, Pete Frame and Record Collector.
I apologise for any inaccuracies and welcome any clarifications,
corrections and additional material.
I can be contacted at Warchive@aol.com