Brett Marvin & The Thunderbolts
As the London-based Country Blues and Roots crew return with a new album, longtime follower Pete Sargeant talks past, present and future with singer and percussionist Jeff.
As Christmas week starts in London’s West End and after a weekend of troubles, what better way to unwind than to catch up with Brett Marvin frontman Keef Trouble? They have lost a couple of band members on the way, but that strutting, good-natured blues music is celebrated once more on a new album release from the group, this time assisted by various alumni from the legendary electric soul maestros Kokomo. Jeff sips a latte and tells all…
JLTT: If we start at the beginning, I used to see you play gigs in Newport Court near Leicester Square tube station, at weekends because I was at school.
KT : Yes, I think you’re talking about Studio 51..we indeed used to run the club and the sessions there. We took over from Jo Anne Kelly and Dave Kelly..the Stones had it before us and we did it then for about three or four years..
I compered a Dave Kelly show but two weeks ago, his sons are in the band!
So the lineup then was..well we had Jona Lewie on piano, Jim Pitts on vocals, Pete Gibson on vocals..yes, three lead singers in those days..with mandolin, washboard, guitar..
And you play the zobstick..I remember Graham (Hine) on slide guitar
Oh yes, a very accomplished slide player
I had a chat with him one time at the 100 club..he used open G tuning
Well we played there so many times, usually headlining..Ron Watts used to run it, didn’t he ?
You guys had met where, though?
It started at school, Pete – the Sixth Form…we formed a band, made our own instruments and our lead singer Gibbo was an art teacher, he came down from Liverpool Art College, got into the Royal College of Art but blew it out and came to teach us, at Thomas Bennett Comprehensive School. So we did Art in the Sixth Form , unheard of in those days, we did pre-Dip..formed a little blues band..Gibbo had a blues club he used to run. So we started there, Dave Kelly spotted us, got us a few gigs sorted in London..Mike Raven loved us and started playing our tracks, on the radio. John Peel, too…
No, the BBC by then..Mike Raven loved our band used to come to shows
I remember, Jona Lewie had all his song lyrics written down in a book and he would select one and mutter ‘It’s from the heart’ as he started the number!
He’s still doing the same numbers now that he did then..that he did forty-five years ago (Laughs)
Then there’s those two songs which made him a mint (one of which was ‘Stop the Cavalry’ – PS )
I don’t know about a mint, but I wrote the lyrics to the ‘Kitchen At Parties’ song..I think it’s been on an IKEA advert as well…but on the Xmas one,he plagiarised Mozart’s Rondo In D, to get that..probably unconsciously
Well, yeah a major scale melody, lifted …
So we were all at art colleges thereafter, around London and all over the place
As were Pete Townshend and Bryan Ferry
Yes, Ferry was at Royal College…and half the Bonzo Dogs were at art college
Yes, we did a few gigs with Ruskin Spear..the thing about those days, you did the music for love ..you didn’t do it for wages..and you did your art, for love..got a grant for college if you were lucky..you were paid to go to art college and develop your own ideas, be creative..and that’s how the music all came about. Now John Peel, when Fleetwood Mac did ‘Albatross’, he refused to play it, because ‘They’d sold out!’ Those times, if you did anything commercial you were selling out..you were a breadhead..
That was thrown at Jethro Tull and everyone who came after
Nowadays it’s very different – everyone’s into wages and self-promotion
Let’s get to the hub of this – how come you guys were so into blues music?
I think when we at school, in the Sixth Form, we played blues records while we were working..Robert Johnson , we had the ‘Rural Blues’ compilation ..everyone else was into Bob Dylan and The Beatles, but we for some reason, mainly Graham I suppose, we liked the old country blues
Sleepy John Estes?
Yes, Estes..Slim Harpo..House
We opened for him at a Town Hall gig, incredible..you know, the Blues Federation brought all these old blues guys over, to play here..he was maybe 65, we thought he was like a granddad! He had a big bottle of whisky with him, they got him up onstage…he had a guitarist supporting him , but there we were supporting our hero ! Now at Studio 51, Howlin’ Wolf came down..Dave Kelly brought him down
I saw that tour, when they played Tolworth, Wolf played the whole show to a little blond girl
I had just bought an album in Scotland and I got him to autograph it..he was looking at it, checking out the royalties to see whether he had been paid..he wrote ‘Chester Burnett’ right across the album. Kelly had met him at Heathrow, as he arrived in the country and Wolf went straight to the khazi, to change out of his suit and get his levi’s on..his wife nagged at him to dress up smartly and he didn’t dare disobey her! A big bloke like that!
You as a band had this almost good-timey sound going..it wasn’t miserable blues it was very upbeat
In those days, prog rock was about and all very serious..Hawkwind would play the colleges and go on for about half an hour on one piece! We went on and got the whole audience up dancing ..we’d give out cans and maraccas and get the audience to play along..it was great really..and of course, we toured with Clapton, didn’t we? ‘Derek & The Dominoes’ …doing the Greens Playhouse and Hinesy had his gold National, all tuned up and ready..Clapton had got it before we went on and changed all the tuning back to standard !..so we go in stage and Hinesy’s guitar is all in the wrong tuning…Clapton actually wanted to buy this guitar off Graham ..he said I’ll give you any one of my guitars, take your pick..Hinesy refused and no deal was struck! Of course, now whatever guitar he’s chosen would be..er..valuable – ‘ As used on…’ HAHA !
(I relate my Arthur Louis guitar story, Hendrix gave him a white Strat – which I have played – at the Bag of Nails one night )
Bag of Nails..we were signed to the Gunnell Brothers at one time..
Yeah and John.
I opened for Lonnie Donegan once and we were talking about blues..that’s how I heard early blues, on Donegan records.
The Alberts also played Studio 51..and that was Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers..Milligan was going to play trumpet with us at the RoundHouse, but he got cold feet and pulled out..he loved Brett Marvin..then we used to play The Marquee..the old Marquee.
With Jack Barrie? You were always a band out of kilter, not part of the heavy mainstream yet you could play the music so well.
Musicians seemed to like us… What we could see was a roots thing..not long after this, Taj Mahal came along and immediately I felt, hang on! this is from the same place as the Bretts..
Quite correct..that and early Beefheart It’s the rickety, syncopated feel isn’t it?
Yes. It’s similar to the Stones..usually everybody follows the drummer, like a metronomic thing..but with us and the Stones , the drums tend to follow the rhythm guitar…Graham had a nine-string guitar, home made..and Jim Pitts used to pay slide mandolin!
That’s where I stole it from..I do that today!
Jim, Lord rest his soul is gone now, but a lovely chap..anyway for the new record, because two of us had snuffed it, Brett Marvin were quite depleted, so I started using some of my mates, from the band Kokomo…Mel Collins who played with the Stones..Tony O’Malley the keyboard star..I thought let’s use friends on it..same as the Stones and the Beatles did..hence we’re carrying on the legacy..I write ‘The Night’ and ‘Blue Boar Inn’ and ‘Stranger Than Strange’, with Gibbo…we’re trying to keep the name going..and do things….and why shouldn’t we? Gibbo and I think it’s the best album we’ve ever done.
What pleased me is, it doesn’t sound slick. I’m not saying it sounds duff, it just doesn’t sound airbrushed.
It’s not all done to a click track..and we’ve tried to make it varied..and somehow different from before ..the first track is our piano play who died ,Taffy Davies..and I thought let’s put him on there, to remember…so we’re going to do another one, again with the friends we’ve made over the years.
More info on www.keeftrouble.com and or SunHouse Records