Mark Leeman Five “Memorial Album”

The UK didn’t produce garage bands; in post-austerity Britain few enough people had cars, let alone covered accommodation for them. The Brit equivalents cut their teeth during the early sixties in youth clubs or in the few schools whose music teachers were sufficiently broad-minded to admit that anything more recent than Elgar was actually music. In these restrictive settings a rash of teenage groups got together on cheap instruments to bash out joyous covers of the black American underground sounds recently imported by merchant seamen and cult blues enthusiasts. The Animals in Newcastle, the Rolling Stones in Dartford, the Spencer Davis Group in Birmingham and those four lads in Liverpool all offered their own distinctive takes on R’n’B, coloured by their preferred influences: Berry and Diddley for the Stones, Hooker and Jimmy Reed for the Animals and the Spencers, Tamla and Arthur Alexander for the Fabs. The Mark Leeman Five chose to enhance their R’n’B with a smattering of funky jazz via the likes of Booker T, Ray Charles and Nina Simone, mostly courtesy of their trump card, the splendid acoustic/electric pianist and occasional organ player Terry Goldberg. Along with the spiky guitar of Alan Roskams and the solid rhythm section of David Hyde (bass) and Brian Davison (drums) came the aggressive, punky pipes of Mark Leeman.

The Five assembled at school in Woolwich in 1961, and their initial influence was clearly Joe Meek judging by their first demo single. The second covered Barrett Strong’s “Money” – well before the Fabs got hold of it – and indicates their change of direction. Sometime in 1963 they cut an eleven-track demo album which was two years ahead of its time and didn’t find a sponsor. Undaunted, Leeman and the lads built up a formidable live following around the capital until spotted by Manfred Mann’s manager Ken Pitt in January of the following year; an impressed Pitt subsequently ensured prestigious support slots to the Manfreds. Twelve months later a single “Portland Town” b/w “Gotta Get Myself Together”, the latter benefitting from harp by Paul Jones, finally hit the record racks. Five months further on, and tipped by their peers as the band “most likely to succeed”, the Five’s train hit the buffers when Leeman was killed in a car crash on his way home from a gig in Blackpool. Vocalist Roger Peacock was recruited to replace him, but as a tribute to their former frontman the band kept the same name. Three further singles were released, but the zeitgeist was past and the Five folded within a year. The only member to find subsequent celebrity was Brian “Blinky” Davison, who went on to thump the tubs with the Nice.

The Five’s recorded oeuvre remained in limbo till 1991, when with Ken Pitt’s assistance See For Miles released this compilation which includes both sides of the two early demos, both sides of the four later singles and the whole of the demo album (allegedly previously unreleased, although I’ve found reference to it as Rhythm And Blues Plus!, including cover art, on one website: possibly a few pressings did escape). The three final singles, produced by Denny Cordell, are competent, unremarkable Manfred-ish fare, deliberately commercial.

The second demo single and the album are revelatory; though all the tunes are covers, the musicianship is impressive and the energy is astonishing, the latter blasting through the unpolished but surprisingly clean production. Goldberg’s stomping electric piano take on “Green Onions”, IMHO, blows the original away. His boogie-woogie piano and Roskams’s bluebeat guitar power a fine, edgy rendition of Simone’s “Forbidden Fruit”, while “Work Song” and “Let The Sunshine In” hold up easily against the better-known versions by Mose Allison and Ray Charles. The straightforward R’n’B cuts include the overworked staples “Shame, Shame, Shame”, “Got My Mojo Working” and “You Can’t Judge A Book”, but the Five attack these as if they’d never been heard before, with Goldberg’s piano always to the fore.

The Memorial Album has never seen a re-release and is now hard to find; I picked up my copy in a record store clearout some ten years ago. However, copies can be found at a price, and both collectors with an ear for early British Invasion influences and fans of quality R’n’B garage music from the Animals to the Mysterians should hunt down this fine early
example of the genre.

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“Green Onions”

:D CD |  1990 | Sfm | at amazon ]


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5 Comments.

  • jesselun

    Cool!Thanks!

  • Len Liechti

    The website I referred to above belongs to a collector who has indeed located an original copy of the album under the title Rhythm Amd Blues Plus! It appears that about twenty copies were pressed up and sent to record companies in early 1964; the artwork as shown on the guy’s fascinating webpage is clearly handmade. Given that the companies didn’t bite, it’s gratifying that any of these has survived, and its rarity is unquestionable. On the other hand, the Memorial Album CD benefits from remastering of the original tapes which had passed to Ken Pitt who hoarded them carefully for nearly thirty years, and his efforts have allowed many more of us to enjoy the same material.

  • W

    Interesting stuff. Thanks.

  • Paul

    I remember seeing The Mark Leeman 5 at the The Baths in Scunthorpe. They were very good and their version of ” Forbidden Fruit ” should have done better.

  • Richard Lanchester

    I saw this band live just once, as an opening act in a night of rhythm and blues in London about 1965,(I had hitch-hiked up there for the show as a young teenager).
    It was their first show after the singer died, and they were making it a memorial gig for him. They were absolutely excellent,the show really powerful and memorable- so much so that I remember the name to this day, and was reminded just now by seeing a reference to them in Eric Burdon’s autobiography.

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