5 min
8 Aug
2014

Mike Lease

Recently I went through my old youtube favorites and stumbled upon an upload named “beat group – hi , bird lp 60s library”. The track is actually named “Studio G’s Beat Group – Hi, Bird”, it’s a 60′s instrumental Hammond groove. I was interested and contacted the writer/organist Mike Lease, as I could barely find any info on this release. It turns out that we should be ashamed we never heard of Mike Lease, the Welsh man was super involved with the London scene of the sixties!

Where did music start for you? What influenced you, or moved you to pick up an instrument?

When I was very young, my parents said I would sit mesmerized by the bagpipes whenever they came on the radio … From about 3 or 4 years old onwards, apparently, I pestered my parents to learn the piano, persistently. [We had no instrument in the house ... ]. Sometime before my eighth birthday they procured an old piano from somewhere for me, and I started lessons with a lovely lady, continuing with her for about 2 – 3 years, before we moved to a different area .. I made rapid progress with the classical repertoire to the delight of my teacher, although other styles of music would occasionally float through the radio air waves, like Mahalia Jackson’s “Didn’t it Rain” & “Poor Man but a Good Mam” by Sonny Terry & Brownie Mcghee, which deeply affected my young musical “soul” …

How was the music scene when you were an adolescent, were you involved in a specific scene? Did you play in a band?

My adolescence covered the late ‘50s, early ’60s … I started off by playing in a dance band trio – piano, string bass & drums, then joined several local rock bands in Gwent, South Wales. I had strong interest in jazz and [especially] blues. My piano style had been initiated by hearing Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”. [Aged about 13 years old. I formed probably the first out-and-out rhythm’n’blues band in my local area. I left for the capital [London] in 1963, aged 17, and flung myself into the music scene there… I wanted to get into blues exclusively, and met & accompanied the young Beverley Martin [then Kutner] for a while, also forming a blues trio [Mose Allison style] playing for river-boat parties up and down the River Thames [!].

Did you stay in London for the rest of the decade? Did you record/release anything in that period?

Yes, carrying on from my arrival in London, blues work gradually petered out, and I reluctantly began to accept that I might have to look for some “rock” work instead. In 1964 I answered an advert in Melody Maker [the musicians' weekly newspaper at the time], wanting an organist [I didn't have an organ at that time]. It was a band called the Zephyrs and they offered me the job. So I purchased a Farfisa [portable] Italian organ and joined the band … We went up & down the UK [60,000 miles in about 9 months !]We released several singles one of which, “She’s Lost You” [with me singing] was a minor hit in 1965. This got us on quite a few big tours, and we appeared in 2 films – “Be My Guest” & “Primitive London”. Unfortunately, there was quite a lot of friction within the band, eventually I got completely sick of it, and left the group. I started doing some song writing [my last recording with the Zephyrs was my first composition], and doing session work, then was headhunted to join a French singer called Teddy Raye for work in Spain. This person turned out to be a complete psychopath, and the Spanish “adventure” was a real roller-coaster ride. This particular episode would fill a book … ! Eventually in late 1965, I returned to the UK, and seriously focused on songwriting & building up my reputation as a session musician, playing with various groups & ad hoc outfits. I became friendly with Denny Cordell, an interesting “original” producer & he gave me a lot of session & arranging work.I re-met up with Beverley Kutner, and played on an album of hers which Cordell was producing. We attempted to set a group for her, with John McLaughlin on guitar, but it didn’t take off. I also worked with Denny Laine, who had just quit the Moody Blues, and even played one gig with Jimi Hendrix – I was good friends with John “Mitch” Mitchel, who booked us both for a last-minute gig, opening some club or other … At this time I also deputised for John Mayall, [who was out of his head at the time!] with Peter Green, etc in the “Bluesbreakers”. I also had a regular gig on the London West Indian scene in a reggae-type outfit called “Ramon & his Contrasts R’n’B Band … In 1966, Tony Hatch asked me to record a single of 2 of my songs, singing & playing piano. “The Many Faces of Love” & “Morning” was released on the Pye label. McGlaughlin was on this recording. It made no progress in the charts, and I realised that I was not destined to be a singer … ! I was also musical director of an act called the Pyramid, at Cordell’s behest, who developed an intricate stage show, with me on Hammond. – Incidentally, I am currently re-involved with this group, working on the album we never did at the time…. We did release a single, “Summer of Last Year” & “Summer Evening” in ‘ 66.

THE ZEPHYRS _1.tif

What happened next? I see the Pyramid 45 was released in ’67 (On the label it says: “Music Director: Mike Lease”!!), what happened after ’67? By the way I also found a link on youtube with your performance in “Be My Guest”!

You mentioned “Be My Guest”, I forgot that I got very friendly with Steve Marriot [who was a young actor in the film]. While I was still in the Zephyrs, we met up and he asked me to join him in a band he was forming to be called the Small Faces … He’d only been playing the guitar for a short while, and I declined his offer [one of many professional mistakes.... ]. But there was an ironic footnote to this saga. When I was in Spain, Teddy Raye [the French singer] had failed to pay us anything after a hard tour around Spain, we’d had a big fight with him and he later smashed up most of the band’s gear and disappeared … As I was sitting on a beach wondering what the hell we could do next, an English traveller walked by with a “Melody Maker” under his arm. He gave it to me and I looked up the charts – the Small Faces had gone straight in at No. 1 with “What Ya Gonna Do About It”…! This was in ‘ 65.
On with the story … – The Pyramid included Iain Matthews, who went on to have a number 1 hit “WoodStock” with his band “Matthews Southern Comfort”. Quite a number of people I had worked with subsequently became successful, and asked me to join them, all of whom I turned down… These include Denny Laine, Labi Siffre and Iain [there were others, but I’ve forgotten…. I had started to get interested in the Spanish Guitar in ‘ 67, [classical & flamenco], which was increasingly consuming my interest. I continued session work and gigging around until Ray Royer & Bobby Harrison, who’d been acrimoniously kicked out of Procul Harum, prevailed on me to join “Freedom”. We worked night & day on the 14-song score for “Nerosubianco”, writing, recording and filming non-stop for about 5 / 6 months, and then did some gigs. We also recorded a single “Where Will You Be Tonight” On the last gig I decided to call it a day after being thoroughly sickened by the band’s drug-fuelled performance – for example 2 members of the band were playing totally different songs simultaneously from the one we were supposed to be playing… Prior to this we had a roadie called Harvey who drove like a maniac and was a compulsive thief. I had eventually given the band & management an ultimatum that either he was fired or I would leave – [we had come close to death on numerous occasions!]. He was fired, but eventually ended up driving for folk-rock band Fairport Convention, where he caused a fatal accident, killing several people … – [Jack Bruce's album "Songs for a Tailor" was dedicated to one of his victims]. Basically Freedom was my last professional rock band. By 1969, I had turned my back on the Rock world, and was back in South Wales studying the guitar, turning down all offers to rejoin my previous occupation…. I did form my own jazz – rock outfit several years later, which had quite a successful gig-run for a while….

So you went back to wales after an adventurous trip to London. I stumbled upon your name because of what seems to be some kind of a library release by a band called the Studio G’s Beat Group. After reading all this it feels kind of weird knowing you from such a, relatively seen, small release. Could you tell me something more about it though?

Of course – I’d gone to Wales to visit my parents, and got an emergency call from Studio G’s boss. He wanted me to do a recording that evening of 6 original tunes fro his “library”, and book the musicians. The other musicians were friends in London who happened to be available that night. I caught the train & wrote the pieces on the 3-hour journey, got to the studio, recorded them in a 3-hour session, then caught the late train back. Unfortunately, this man was a crook & and I found out decades later that he’d robbed me of most of my royalties … [!] This was also true of Freedom’s manager, and we were robbed of what would have been in today’s money about £250,000 … This was quite a common feature of the “beautiful” ‘ 60s, I’m afraid – lots of well-known bands were victims of management-fraud, like “lambs to the slaughter” we were – Beatles, Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, etc., etc. Also the music scene started getting infiltrated by real criminals with the drug market … it all started to go really sour with Manson [Beach Boys connection] & the murder by Hell’s Angel “stewards” at the free Stones concert … Any illusion of “Flower-Power” had by then hit the dust…

I’ve seen or heard about this flip side of the music scene before. Actually, most 60′s bands I spoke to have been a victim of these wolves that run the industry. Sad but true.

If I’m correct you, after you went back to Wales, kind of said good bye to the hectics of the 60′s rock-scene.. You mentioned you formed a Jazz band in the 70′s, how did that work for you?

It was known as MLB [Mike Lease Band]. It was virtually all my thematic compositions plus a lot of improvisation … We only had one recording of it – our first gig, in fact … We lasted about 2 / 3 years – it was really good by the end, but several band members had to go away to find work & I didn’t have the energy to re-start it … Actually, a specialist “nostalgia” recording company was going to release this cassette-recorded live item about 10 years ago, but I lost touch with them. They had released a 45 limited edition of 2 of the Studio G tracks previously, and were very interested in this MLB recording also…

I’ve seen that Studio G reissue on Discogs, it’s on “Licorice Soul Records”.

I think that wraps up most of it. How is music treating you now, I read something about you being a teacher? Finally, could you tell me something about you being involved with some kind of Pyramid reunion you mentioned earlier? Is there going to be a full album release? Old Material, new material?

Yes -Licorice Soul – I might recontact them …
The Pyramid material is mostly old – but never recorded … The intention is an album’s-worth, but its slow-going. Main problem is logistical, Iain’s in the Netherlands, Steve is in Paris, Albert’s in London and I’m in Wales…!
My main professional instrument is currently the fiddle – trad. Irish & Welsh styles. I also teach [mainly] guitar [all styles] as well as fiddle, blues piano, and various other instruments…