Soul and blues brother: Martin Barre’s early career
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 south coast. 

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 Show.

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 Peeps’ contract.

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 Yamaha keyboards.

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

Nick Warburton © Copyright 2002