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Exclusive interview with Mike Kellie

Monday, 10 June, 2013 - Modified on Sunday, 23 June, 2013 at 4:11 pm


The Hidden arrive at Brewood on June 22nd to take the wraps off a project that has been in the making for some time. It’s certainly an interesting line-up with an exciting mixture of great

experience and raw new talent, but the Bridge Inn gig on the 22nd will be their first as a band in front of a live audience. Drummer Mike Kellie explains ‘The band came out of an album I’ve done rather than the other way around. The album is finished but not released yet and is called ‘music from The Hidden’. I know the band is going to develop as we go along but it sounds great at the moment. I’m really excited about it and bursting to play to an audience. As a drummer I’m really ready to speak. I’m coming out and testing the water. If I’m going to do it then I want it to be great and I want people going home satisfied.’   


Alongside Kellie and singer Greg Platt Lake are likely to be Tony Kelsey on bass, Julian Crook on keyboards & vocals, both well known to Brewood as members of The Move from last year’s Brewood Music Festival, and Robbie Blunt on guitar, a stalwart of Robert Plant’s band and session player for many big names including Tom Petty and Julian Lennon.


Mike Kellie himself has had an amazing career. Best known as an original member of both Spooky Tooth and The Only Ones, Kellie has also featured on numerous great recordings and tours by other artists such as Joe Cocker, Traffic, Peter Frampton, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Thunders.


In an exclusive interview with Mike, Village Times spoke to him about his incredible career.


VT (Village Times) - Why the drums?


MK (Mike Kellie) I don’t actually know. I just seem to have been born with rhythm, I’ve always looked on it as a Godly gift.



VT - There was no musical lineage in the family?


MK - No, definitely not. Listeners yes but not performers. I was always fascinated by drums, be it listening to them or watching them being played. That led to turning old coal scuttles with the interior bucket upside down and using a couple of hearth brushes as a very juvenile way of creating the effect of a snare drum. Then, in what were the early days of television, there was Jack Parnell on Saturday Spectacular playing a Premier kit and I was fascinated by watching him. So I really think it was born into me but I’m never really sure if it’s still going to be there when I sit down to play!



VT - Did you then start to play in bands at school?


MK - Not in school no. Coming into my teenage years, you were either in the Youth Club audience or you were in the Youth Club band. It’s quite a sociological story when I think about it now because it was the era when youth was beginning to have a face. Two school friends & I somehow found ourselves playing at St. Michaels Youth Club in Hall Green in Birmingham on a Friday night. By this time I’d got a snare drum and a hi-hat. We were all about 14 at that time.


From there I used to hang about on Saturdays at Tudor Grange Athletic track in Solihull, know as “the track”. There was a small brick built headquarters with a couple of changing rooms, a café and a central room with a stage which seemed like a canyon back then! All the local bands used to play there.


So, I went from St. Michaels Youth Club to ‘The Track’, started forming bands and seeing other bands coming in from around and I guess somebody had seen me play. One evening I had a call from Brian “Monk” Ffinch (two f’s, that’s how he spelled it). Monk was the baritone saxophone player with Pat Wayne and The Beachcombers from Birmingham. He asked me if I fancied coming up to Birmingham to play with the band. That led me to Birmingham,  & eventually London, Europe and the World!!


Establishing himself as main player in the influential and burgeoning Birmingham music scene, Mike was involved with a number of bands in the city. Perhaps most notably as a founder member of much vaunted and respected outfit The Locomotive. But, it was with The VIP’s where things really started to take off.


VT - Steve Winwood was instrumental in hooking you up with the VIP’s?


MK - Steve was ready to leave The Spencer Davis Group and I was in a band in Birmingham called The Locomotive with Chris Wood on tenor sax & flute. Chris, Steve & Jim Capaldi were forming Traffic at that time, around the latter part of 1966. The other band that Chris Blackwell, who managed the Spencer Davis Group, had was the VIP’s from Carlisle. They were a great rhythm and blues band and had come down to make it in London having conquered the North. Their drummer, Walter Johnson, missed his family and went back to Carlisle. Hence, in the office one day Steve suggested someone call me. I had a day job in a wood yard in Olton. I got a phone call from friend Paul Medcalf who said ...“Steve wants to know if you’re interested in joining this band...” So I was off, next day, straight from New Street Station, with my drums, to Paddington. Met by VIP’s road manager, the legendary Albert Heaton I was driven to 155, Oxford Street where I met Mike Harrison and Greg Ridley. I met the rest of the band later that evening. The next day I was in Paris playing at Olympia with the VIP’s without any rehearsal!!  We were bottom of the bill, Chris Blackwell had done this deal for the band to open a star studded variety fundraiser in aid of UNICEF. It was held at Paris Olympia & was televised worldwide, similar to the way ‘All You Need Is Love’ was done. The VIP’s had a single out in France on Fontana and we were over to promote it, a Joe Tex song called ‘I Wanna Be Free’. So I had no real rehearsal, just the journey over in the van. We did the TV show after I had phoned my mother from a Post Office in Paris earlier that day and said ‘Mum, look in the Radio Times, I think we’re on a TV thing tonight.’ The record became a big hit in France following that show.


VT - Was the VIP’s where you really started to hone your skills?


MK - No, not really. I certainly continued to develop. Throughout all this time I had influences starting to creep into my playing. I wasn’t particularly aware of my style but I was aware of other people’s styles. In The Locomotive for example I was drawn to the influences of Chris Wood and Monk Ffinch. Monk in particular, being a few years my senior, took me under his wing and taught me about things like the Be-Bop era with Gillespie & Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and all that stuff. Max Roach was a real influence at that time. A lovely drummer & so laid back. I will always remember that it was Monk Ffinch who told me ‘….if it swings, it’s good!’ I think that applies to all music, In truth I’m just a jungle drummer, I’m not a technician, it’s just a form of sending messages from one tree to another as I hope you’ll see at Brewood on the 22nd!



VT - The next step from here for you was the band Art?


MK - That’s right. Over that Summer of Love in 67 it morphed from being 4 of the original VIP’s and me to 2 of the original VIP’s and me. We needed a guitarist so called Luther Grosvenor who joined us from the Worcester band ‘Deep Feeling’ for whom Jim Capaldi had been the singer & occasional drummer.



VT - Did Art have a clear, defined redirection from The VIP’s? 


MK - I’d love to say yes, but no it didn’t. There was a sociological change in direction because if you can imagine what London was like then, we were a little clique. The creative, artistic bubble was like a family. Art was formed because the lead & rhythm guitarists from the VIP’s, on their way back to Carlisle, Christmas ‘66, decided to leave. They’d had enough. That left Mike Harrison, Greg Ridley and me in need of a guitarist. So in the same way that Steve had recommended me, his then girlfriend, Penny, said ‘...why don’t you try Luther...?’ Luther came down on the train with his guitar and an AC30, and we fitted like gloves. From there the name Art came about and we made what is now a very collectable album called ‘Supernatural Fairytales’. This was during the Summer of Love in 1967 and we were living in a flat in Sussex Gardens on a £12 a week retainer from Island records. Guy Stevens, who was very much part of that label family, produced the album.



VT - How long did Art last before transforming into Spooky Tooth?


MK – About a year I think. We continued playing France as The VIP’s & The Star Club in Hamburg & I remember we had a young Keith Emerson on keyboards for a few months.  We only went out on tour as Art once just after ‘Supernatural Fairytales’ was released. The album itself was really just a collection of backing tracks rather than actual songs and although we’d been trying to pretend we were all songwriters, which you had to be by then, Chris Blackwell was starting to think ‘what do you do with a problem like Art?’ 


While all this was going on, Steve, Jim, Chris and Dave Mason were getting ready to launch Traffic and they did a trio of warm up gigs in Sweden. The band supporting them in Stockholm was a band called ‘The New York Times’ with a guy singing and playing Hammond organ who Blackwell liked. So he brought them back to England, sacked the band, kept the singer/songwriter/organist Gary Wright, brought us all into the office one day, introduced us and said ‘Right... last chance, you’re going to make a band, what do you need?’ So New Jersey boy Gary went to Harrods and bought a Baldwin electronic harpsichord. He had this song called ‘Sunshine Help Me’ which was very catchy & became our first single. We changed the name & Spooky Tooth was born. By then a friend of Gary’s, also from New Jersey, Jimmy Miller, entered the picture and began producing both Traffic & Spooky Tooth albums. That continued until Jagger made Jimmy an offer he couldn’t refuse! Jimmy also produced the first Steve Gibbons solo album “Short Stories” which Gary & I played on. ...good songs, good album.



VT – Things really started to move for Spooky Tooth from there?


MK - Yes, we were being championed by people like John Peel and we toured up and down the country around the club circuit. It was a vibrant time. The pirate radio ships really helped us all. After that we went to Europe and then America beckoned. Traffic went over at the beginning of 68 and we went over in the summer of 68.



VT - That tour really helped to establish Spooky Tooth in the US?   


MK - Oh yes, they were there with arms wide open. But, it was a powerful band. The harpsichord on one side of the stage, Hammond organ on the other, Luther and Greg Ridley in the middle and me at the back.  

The first Spooky Tooth break-up happened around 1970 but Mike certainly wasn’t left twiddling his sticks. There was a brief involvement with the Steve Gibbons/Denny Laine/Trevor Burton project ‘Balls’ and, between the late sixties to early seventies, various sessions ensued with the likes of Jackie Lomax (produced by George Harrison), Joe Cocker, Paul Kossoff and Andy Fraser from Free, Peter Frampton and recording and touring with French superstar Johnny Halliday.


MK - Johnny Halliday used to come over to record his backing tracks with English musicians, sing the songs in French then release them in the French speaking world. Mickey Jones was the guitarist with Halliday’s band in France and he knew Gary Wright. Gary got involved playing keyboards on some of these recordings and then asked me to come along and play, I guess because we were flavour of the month! This was all at Olympic Studios and that was how I met Johnny. So we did those recordings at Olympic with Peter Frampton on guitar, Pat Donaldson on Bass, Gary on Hammond and Keyboards and me on drums. That’s how I got to know Frampton and played on his solo album after Humble Pie.


Later on studio engineer Chris Kimsey called me up and said ‘do you want to do a tour with Johnny?’ I must admit that I got a bit carried away on that tour, it was like touring with Elvis! Villages and towns throughout France would put up a big marquee for the gig and then the great restaurateurs would take us back to eat afterwards. So having seen France with the VIP’s with no money, I was suddenly seeing it with money floating around all over the place.



VT - At what point do The Only Ones enter the piece?    


MK - Spooky Tooth broke up again in about ’74 and the last proper Spooky Tooth album was called ‘Witness’. It’s a good album and we recorded it at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The Muscle Shoals band had become involved with Island through Traffic & so with them now being part of the family and us being in the States a lot at that time, it was a case of just go down to Muscle Shoals and record. Following the break-up of Spooky I was living in Chelsea & keeping my drums at a rehearsal studio in The Furniture Cave in New King’s Road. The owner was from Lima, Peru & was a friend of mine. His name was Manolo Ventura. Whilst at the studio one day Manno said to me “...Kellie, there’s someone I want you to meet...” He was aware that I was looking for a song-writer, a front man; not looking for a band to join, but looking for a song-writer.  He took me into one of the rooms. At this end was a blonde girl just sitting & at the other end were three guys playing music. John Perry was playing bass, Glenn Tilbrook was playing guitar and Peter Perrett was playing rhythm guitar and singing. We were introduced and got on really well & I enjoyed what I heard. That evening we went back to Blackheath where Peter & wife Zena had a rented bungalow. Peter played me his demos. That was it. I made a conscious decision, this is the guy I’m gonna play with. We’re gonna get a band together –I’m gonna play with you!



VT - It seems an interesting move to make given your musical background?


MK - It was an interesting move but it was song orientated. Song and image. This is quite controversial but, you can’t carry the front man and you can’t carry the drummer. If you have to, you can carry everybody else. To this day between Peter and I there’s that line when The Only Ones are on song. The way I play his songs, whoever may replace me in the future if we ever split up, they’ll never do it like I do.



VT - I guess someone can come in play beat for beat but it still won’t be the same?


MK - No it won’t, it’s a colour thing. 



VT - You’ve described Peter as being one of the great great rhythm players… 


MK - Yes, I’m glad you picked up on that! It’s a much missed fact that rhythm guitar is a talent all on its own. Bruce Welch in the Shadows, Keith Richards, Peter - there aren’t many of them.



VT - Does that affect how you play? Wouldn’t you more naturally tie in with the bass player?


MK - That’s an interesting one. I’m a metronome. That’s essentially what I am. The colours I paint are for the song, not for anything else. On a painting when an artist has got a blank canvass he starts with a vision and eventually it goes from him putting stuff onto the canvass to the canvass telling him what it needs. It’s exactly the same journey with a song.



VT - Was there any resistance from fans or musicians about you being in The Only Ones given what you’d done before?


MK - Yes, yes there was. It was a social revolution, people were growing up with ‘no future’ and I, and the bands I’d been in, were part of the problem. I was from the generation that they were all hating and rebelling against. I had long hair, been in one of those bands, touring America and now I was purporting to be in a Punk band! It wasn’t a punk band but we were under that umbrella.



VT - You’re in a pretty unique position musically in terms of straddling those genres?


MK - It has been mentioned before but its one of those things you realise with hindsight. It’s a fascinating story and I do consider myself blessed.



VT - Were you conscious of this at the time?


MK - No, I wasn’t thinking ‘we’ve got a social revolution here and I wanna be part of that’. No, no, no.



VT - You weren’t conscious that from being in Spooky Tooth that this was very different?


MK - I was aware that Peter’s voice was going to challenge people. I’m a passionate person, when I get involved in something I can go over the top with it. I am intense and passionate. Once I’d made my decision I did know it would be different, and I got laughed at an awful lot. Mike Harrison (VIPs & Spooky Tooth) came to see an early gig in Dumfries and he just laughed because after Spooky Tooth it was really something else. The great thing though about that line between the songwriter, front man and drummer was that I could deliver a metronomic drum pattern, similar to the way Bonham used to work with Plant’s vocals... not just bash, bash, bash.   


VT - You also worked with Johnny Thunders?


MK - I was very fond of Johnny.... Peter (Perrett), Johnny and I spent an awful lot of time together. Peter and Johnny were sort of rebels without a cause together when Johnny moved to London. I sometimes felt like their minder rather than cohort but they were good times. We made Johnny’s album “So Alone” in The Crypt in Chiswick, the studio downstairs where Steve Lillywhite and Eddie Hollis (Eddie from Eddie & The Hot Rods) used to hang out. We actually did a song down there with Robert Palmer that has subsequently been lost. It was called ‘38 and Conscience Stricken’ and we just wrote it and recorded it there and then. So, we made Johnny’s album down there, we apparently did a gig at the Lyceum as The Living Dead but I don’t remember too much about it! I have fond memories of Johnny but he was just this Manhattan/New Jersey rascal, a lovely, charismatic, mischievous junkie. A sweet man. 


The last Only Ones gig took place at The Lyceum in 1981 and from there Mike took a two week holiday to Toronto and ended up staying for five years! On returning to the UK Mike took to farming and worked on a Welsh mountain for the next decade.


Various Art and Spooky Tooth reunions took place through the 90’s and 2000’s before The Only Ones were handed an unlikely new beginning.


MK - Against all the odds, and following the use by Vodafone of our hit “Another Girl, Another Planet”  in 2007 The Only Ones were invited to take part in an indie festival called ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ annually held at Butlins in Minehead. Alan Mair approached everyone to see if we’d be interested. In 2005/6 I’d had a preventative cancer operation, which was supposed to be something very simple but turned into 3 months in intensive care because everything went wrong. I came out of hospital on a Zimmer frame and weighing 6 stone. Then there was an 18-month/ 2 years spell of recuperation. So the invitation came in 2007 at a time when I was ok but hadn’t played for some time. So I said, ok let’s have a meeting and go round and see if Peter can do it. So we had this meeting and I said to Peter ‘it’s up to you, if it’s going to happen, it has to come from you.’ After the meeting we went next-door and just played ‘From here to eternity’. In that room, as frail as we were, it was like we’d never gone away. Then all the broadsheets came out and starting doing pieces on The Only Ones coming back, and it all got quite exciting. Then we got a Mojo award for our influence on music but being typical of The Only Ones we didn’t really use it! We did ”Later...with Jools Holland”, but we had no serious management and consequently just let it float away.  

That leads me on to my album because I was so frustrated and I’d been writing songs for a few years. I don’t necessarily consider myself a songwriter but I know all the pitfalls and so should be able to come up with one or two! Once again God opened the door and just down the road from me an old acquaintance & his son had built their own studio. They were waiting for me and I was looking for them. That is how “music from The HIDDEN” was born     



VT - So can the audience at Brewood expect a set of songs from the album?


MK - The songs that work yes, but we’ll also be doing some Spooky Tooth stuff and some other stuff. I won’t be singing although I sing on the album. We’ve got some younger talent in the band and I do like to introduce new performers. Greg Platt Lake is a wonderful talent, he’s a very natural singer and a great guitarist...  so I’m excited about introducing our music. 



VT - Are you a steering wheel drummer?


MK - Everything I do whether it’s playing piano or guitar, has a rhythm. I’ve got a musical head and now I’m blessed that I can work things out and take them to the band, and that’s a wonderful experience. I think I’ve taken something from all the talented people that I’ve known throughout the years and learned something from everybody. But it’s all rhythm based, every single piece or part is a rhythm instrument. It’s all based around the timing. So you start with a rhythm, then add melody. Add lyrics that mean something and a singer with passion and that’s all you need. That’s

what sorts the men from the boys, always has and always will.


Village Times would like to sincerely thank Mike Kellie for agreeing to do this interview.


For more information on Mike, and specifically on his forthcoming album ‘music from The Hidden’, you can visit his website www.mikekellie.com and ‘like’ his facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Hidden-feat-Mike-Kellie/144584118976737


The Hidden perform at the Bridge Inn Beer and Blues Festival on Saturday 22nd June. Tickets priced £17.50 are available to personal callers at the Bridge Inn, High Green in Brewood. Tickets are also available online by visiting www.villagetimes.co.uk/brewoodblues and following the link. You can also visit www.brewoodmusicfestival.com.


For more information please visit www.villagetimes.co.uk/brewoodblues