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Grit interview

July 28, 2020

Grit interview

Psychedelic hard–rock with furious drumming and stunning lead guitar by this unknown until now London based band. Guerssen Records did the first ever reissue, and it includes the four tracks from the original acetate (taken from the master tape) plus two bonus tracks taken from lo–fi, crude rehearsals: “1000 Miles” (a Grit original) and a killer demo version of “Mineshaft”.


Born from the ashes of a London band called Merlyn, Grit consisted of Frank Martinez (lead guitar, vocals), Paul Christodoulou (bass/vocals), Tom Kelly (drums, vocals) and Jeff Ball (vocalist).

Frank, nicknamed “Spider”, has an interesting story: at the beginning of his musical career he auditioned for Joe Meek at his Holloway Road studio. Later, he also played with a band called Grand Union – who supported Pink Floyd in 1968 – and with members of the John Dummer Band. An electronic wizard, Frank also worked building amps and electronic equipment at Nolan Amps, MIDAS, etc. He built the Twin Stacks and PA’s that later would form part of Grit’s equipment.

 

Tom Kelly came from a band called Connexion and Paul Christodoulou had played in Merlyn along with Frank. After some attempts, the definitive line–up of Grit was born when Frank and Paul convinced drummer Tom Kelly to join them, after assisting to a Nazareth concert. They also recruited powerful singer Jeff Ball after an ad in Melody Maker.

On Christmas Eve, 1972, Grit recorded a demo at SWM Studios and two copies of a one–sided 12″ acetate were pressed for promo purposes. It featured four self penned songs: the killer “Mineshaft” (pure underground fuzz hard–rock) and two lengthy numbers: “Child and The Drifter” (with some furious drumming, stunning leads and hard–prog moves) and the hard–psychedelic suite “What Do You See In My Eyes” / “I Wish I Was”.

Armed with the acetates, the band visited some music agents in London but nobody was interested. But while looking for a manager, they found a company who secured them a Greek tour. This was a true adventure and they managed to appear on television and play with big names from the Greek psych–prog scene like Socrates and Peloma Mpoklou in big festivals. Sadly, due to a family problem, Frank had to leave the band and return to England. That was the end for Grit.

40 years later, one of the two copies of the original Grit acetate was found at a flea market in Germany, which led to its inclusion in the 7001 Record Collector Dreams book by famous collector Hans Pokora. The band still remained a mystery until 2019, when, by pure chance, Alex Carretero from Guerssen found Frank Martinez and he opened his vault, which included the original master tape of the Grit acetate and several tapes with rehearsals from Grit and Merlyn.

 


Interview with guitarist Frank Martinez

Would you like to talk a bit about your background? Where and when did you grow up? Was music a big part of your family life?

Frank Martinez: I was born in Camberwell, London, for the first three years I lived in Southwark, then moved to Islington. I got into music when I was 15 years old, started on Spanish guitar. One summer, 1966, I took guitar lessons from Paco Peña, a Spanish flamenco guitarist, at his house in North London. I dropped flamenco and moved on to electric guitar, which I started playing finger style.

My first beginners group was with drummer Robert Sturt, we did a guitar drums duo, I had a Kay Speed Demon and a Vox AC15. We rehearsed at the YMCA in Finsbury Park, and some local church halls. Robert joined the band “Storm” as drummer. I think Robert later went on to being a vocalist.

I went to Joe Meeks Studio to see if I could do some recordings there, he auditioned me, liked what I did and gave me a song to learn, the song was “Have I The Right To Hold You”, later a Honeycomb’s hit, he said he may need another guitarist, (true story).

Around 1968 I was nicknamed Spider, which stuck with me till the end of my playing, I think the person who initiated my nickname was Frank Kane, guitarist from Nobby’s Mob.

I studied electronics at Southgate Technical College, some of the places I worked at were Nolan Amps Holloway Road, Watkins Electric Music in Offeley Road and MIDAS Audio Mixers at North Grove.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music? What brought that about for you?

I started writing my own music late, after joining the band Merlyn, were Paul (bass guitarist) was the main songwriter.

Were you (or other members) in any bands before forming Grit? What kind of material did you play? Any recordings?

Before Grit, I was in a Reggae band with two Jamaicans, did a few local gigs, forget their names. I do remember we did two sets, one all Reggae where they would sing, and a rock blues set, where I would take over, Cream and Mayall songs.

Then, I met Kostas (bass guitarist) who had an important gig at Hampstead College Of Art, supporting Pink Floyd, the bands name was Grand Union. We only did that gig, went down quite well, we had a Flute player/vocalist, split Hammond Organ, good young 16 year old drummer, Kostas bassist and myself on guitar.

After this I joined up with a mixed group, members where Barbara (vocalist), John (guitarist), Linda (bassist), forgot drummer’s name. We went to Germany summer of 1969. We did American Army bases and clubs. At one army camp, the Bad Nauheim Camp, the Commander got us to play the wake up call, Reveille, at 6:00 am in the main camp field instead of the Bugler. We had to get up at 5:00 am to set up, the soldiers didn’t know what was happening, we where there for three weeks.

On returning to UK, I left this band and joined The Panick, with Mick (guitar, vocalist) and Tom on drums (not Grit’s drummer). We did a residency at the Cock Tavern, Holloway Road, London.

Members of The John Dummer Band where going to form a new band, Thumper Thomson, Adrian Pietryga and forget who else, they auditioned me and gave me two Dummer LP’s to listen to, one of the LP’s was a master copy, first print, titled John Dummer’s Famous Music Band with hand written titles, I still have these LP’s. We rehearsed at some studio in Hampstead, at that moment I was working, studying and standing in with other groups, and had little time, and decided to drop out.

From here after playing with few other bands I auditioned with Merlyn and got in with them. After a few changes Merlyn became Grit.

Together with Michael Parker you registered the name Grit in Autumn 1970, but you didn’t find any suitable bassist. What kind of music did you want to play at the beginning?

Michael and I were thinking for a name of the band we were forming, and one day while walking around London we saw a grit bin, where sand is stored that is used on icy roads, that’s the name, we said, “Grit”, and on the 20th of October 1970 we went to the registration office to register the name.

At the beginning we were into rock and blues…Cream, John Mayall, Jimi Hendrix were our favourites, we liked to freely jamming along to songs, build as you play sort of.

Were you part of any others bands? Any recordings or releases by them?

Yes, as mentioned above, there are recordings of Merlyn (sent to Guerssen), and The Panick (very low quality for any use). There are also very good material from Tom’s “Mean Machine”, and Tom’s and Paul’s “Kelly” formation.

What was the first song you ever composed?

My first song was “1000 Miles”, followed by “What Do You See In My Eyes” in conjunction with John Russell.

Can you elaborate the formation of Grit? How did the line-up came together?

After joining Merlyn, if I recall, Paul was trying to convince Tom to join us to form another band, he was hard convincing, but changed his mind when we went to see Nazareth, a Scottish Rock band. We advertised in Melody Maker for a vocalist, and Jeff Ball joined in.

You worked at Nolan Amps, Holloway Road, London, and built the Twin Stacks and PA’s that later form part of Grit’s equipment. What kind of equipment did you use as a band?

I was studying electronics at Southgate Technical College, and worked at Nolan Amps, here at Nolan’s I built a 100W pa amp (named it Spider PA, can be seen in photos at the Angel Pub to the right of the stage) and two speaker stacks, which later became part of Grit’s gear. I personally used a Kelly 50W Head with my stack, Paul had a Hiwatt 100W head with his stack, Jeff had a Sound City 200 PA head and two column speakers.

How did you decide to use the name ‘Grit’?

Well, I did forget about the Grit register of 1970, until after getting the final formation of the band together we were looking for a name, and I recalled the Grit name, they all liked it and accepted to use it.

You started playing around 1972. At first you were trio in need for vocalist. After few auditions, Jeff Ball was selected. Jimmy Russell (John Russell’s brother) joined Grit as roadie and technician.

We didn’t set off as a trio, we auditioned for a vocalist, then started gigs. John Russell was a good supporter to the band, always helping out until he got married. Jimmy Russell, John’s younger brother, took over and joined us as roadie, and on the trip to Greece Kostas Berou also teamed in as roadie, the band then was six members.

The band played around Hornsey throughout 1972. Would you recall some of those concerts and bands you played with?

I remember a local talent concert at Hornsey some time before Grit, maybe around 1967. I forgot the band’s names. A local school teacher songwriter got the event going and we had to play one of his songs, the one we chose was “Such Things As These Are Wonderful”, nice ballad. We were third out of four participants.

Grit did a few gigs: Working Man’s Club, The Angel Pub, UpStairs Ronnie’s, hard remembering the rest.

How was the band accepted by the audience?

Grit went down quite well, especially in Greece, nicknamed us ‘the Bomb’…

What influenced the band’s sound?

We could say The Doors are on top of the list here, we added “L.A Woman” to our rep, more to our style. I think we liked those long songs where you could break into jams.

What was the local scene? Any other bands worth mentioning?

The bands I recall are The Spiral, The Equals – I visited their rehearsals in Hornsey – great musicians, Nobby’s Mob (with Nobby Clarke), The De Hems and The Storm.

“The recording was done on the fly, no rehearsal, only set up and go”

During Christmas 1972 Grit recorded a demo at SWM Studios, 32/34 Clerkenwell, London. Two copies of a one-sided acetate LP were pressed for promotion. What’s the story behind your album?

The recording was done on the fly, no rehearsal, only set up and go, with one minor 3 second dub to clear a drop out. As Tom said in the liner notes of the Guerssen reissue:
“The recording: this was made at a studio in Clerkenwell where I had recorded with my previous group. Unfortunately we did it just before Christmas (Christmas Eve?) and the sound engineer did not really apply himself well to the job. I think he’d had a fair bit to drink”.

We had two tape copies and two one-sided aluminium based acetate LPs printed.

On the LP’s, to be able to fit all the songs on one side, the engineer reduced the bass guitar level. The tapes where ok though with full response. The songs were written by the band. “Mineshaft” (Tom), “Child and the Drifter” (Paul), “What do you see in my Eyes” (Frank) and “I wish I was” (Paul). Another track written by Tom was “Surrounded by Four Grey Walls” (not recorded). The idea was to do a recording for promotion, not for selling.

Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?

Wish we had taken more time to do the recording, the solo parts are all ad lib, never the same twice, always different.

Grit advertised in Melody Maker and Mantas Production’s (Greece) got in touch. The band accepted the offer and set off for Greece the night of 23 April 1973. 

Yes, we advertised in Melody Maker for a manager, and we found Manta’s offer interesting, we didn’t have to debate much on going. From Tom’s memory:

“The main things I remember about Grit are from the time we were in Greece (May to July 1973). I think we advertised in the Melody Maker for a Manager and one of the responses came from Kon Mantas who offered us work in Greece. The four of us plus Kos and Jimmy went through Europe to Athens in Frank’s six wheeled Red Transit (Tranny). Had a great meal in a hotel in Yugoslavia, went wrong way around a roundabout in Greece and panicked a cyclist coming the other way. The silencer on the van developed a hole and as we drove on sounding like a tank, we turned a corner and our very loud van got stuck in the middle of a funeral procession, we didn’t quite wake the dead. I think Frank temporarily fixed the hole by wrapping a Coca Cola can around the pipe.

In Athens we met Kon Mantas who was a nice guy but definitely had little or no experience as a band manager. He put us into a flat in a fairly luxury block and before long the six of us proved too much for the other residents and we were visited by the police and had to leave. Kon booked us into two rooms in the Minion Hotel. Demitri, the Deputy Manager, became a friend. Water fights became one of our main amusements with Kos keeping score of winning attacks. Other residents were not amused with noise and flooding.

With not much work coming in, Kon started doing decorating to earn money to pay the hotel bill. He was paying us 15 shillings a day for food. He then got us a residency at Jimmy’s Discotheque bar outside of town (not exactly the Marquee). Not many customers, not much pay. Jimmy’s wife cooked us meals out back. We got bored one evening and played each other’s instruments.

We played at a pop concert in front of three thousand people, I think maybe a university. Open air gig at Palais des Sports Festival, Thessalonica, seven thousand in audience, paper aeroplanes flying around. Went down really well at both concerts. The promoter did not pay us. We chased after him in van and managed to get petrol money from him.

TV appearance on Top of the Pops: they told us to stay on our positions on the stage but needless to say we jumped all over the place. They loved it and invited us back for a second appearance. We had some publicity in Fantasia magazine. We also appeared on the Golden Shot TV programme where we mimed to our music. We did four TV appearances in Greece overall.

The Hotel bills were not being paid by Kon. The Hotel Manager would not release our passports. We eventually got them back and hastily left one evening.

We really knew how to live (in Athens). Breakfasts of goat’s yoghurt, bread and sugar, sometimes lunch at a Wimpy bar (I had fried egg burgers), snacks at Peter’s where Souflagi Tom (vegetarian) was invented. We borrowed some go-karts from the beach one night and drove them on the roads. The Hotel Minion is still there.”

At the Thessalonica gig, there was 7000 or more public, if anything was to go wrong it was there. On the second song of the set Frank broke a string, got behind the speaker stack to replace it, while the band jammed along, Kostas tried to help, but Frank was faster replacing the string on his own, later during the set Paul broke a string on his bass, that’s how hard the band was playing, Kostas ran around looking for Paul’s replacement strings, and helped Paul change it, the rest of the band carried on playing, and to top the show, Tom’s snare drum tilted to one side and fell over, something on his snare drum stand loosened and Kostas ran on stage, got under the drums and held the snare drum in place until that song ended, the crowd roared, must of thought it was part of the act, and while I started “What Do You See In My Eyes”, Tom fixed the issues he had with his drums, and we continued, the audience started flying hundreds of paper air planes around the stadium, and the band finished the set with no more mishaps.”

Kostas recalls here, that we let the other bands at the show use part of our gear, stacks and PA, as it was better than theirs.

What was the music scene in Greece? Concerts were often held in local cinemas almost every Sunday morning (customary for Greek bands at the time).

Found the music scene somewhat as in UK, don’t remember going to any Sunday morning concerts. Remember going to some evening bars and seeing bouzouki players. Referring to our gigs the biggest one was at the Sports Palace in Thessalonica, over 7000 audience. Another sports centre in Athens here a 1500 to 2000 audience, rest of gigs clubs.

“Girls wouldn’t stop screaming, and would throw match boxes to the stage with phone numbers.”

Grit did at gig in a university stadium in Athens, along with the bands Peloma Mpokiou and Socrates.

This was a good gig, we was supposed to go on after Peloma Mpokiou and before the main act Socrates, but had a little hustle from Peloma Mpokiou who pushed us on first, I bet they regretted it after. We started first and the audience gave us a long applause and cheers, girls wouldn’t stop screaming, and would throw match boxes to the stage with phone numbers. The set went down well. It was Paloma Mpokiou’s turn to take the stage, so Jeff and I decided to go round to the back to hear this band, as we walked into the arena people started screaming and shouting, load of noise. I said to Jeff this must be a good band listen to the crowd, and as I turned round to Jeff he was being pull up to the stands by his clothes, the girls were grabbing him, I had to hold him by the waist to bring him down, and all the time we were there they wouldn’t stop screaming and shouting, we couldn’t hear Peloma Mpokiou.

What happened next?

Well, my father became seriously ill and my mother called me to go home. The band talked it over, and as we were not doing any gigs at that moment, decided to end the adventure, and with the little money we had, paid my flight home. On arriving I sent them back the money, so they could return to the UK. The band returned two weeks later in the Tranny, and Grit disbanded at the end of July 1973 approximately.

What about Merlyn? What can you tell me about that band? Any recordings from it?

Merlyn members where George Panteli (vocalist), John Stevens (keyboards), Paul Christodoulou (bass guitar), Frank Martinez (guitar) and have no details of drummer. Yes, there are rehearsal recordings of Merlyn, some of them included as bonus tracks on the Digital version of the Grit reissue on Guerssen.

Are you excited about the upcoming Guerssen release of your material?

Well yes, it was a surprise, how it all happened, the recordings and tapes were ready to be disposed of after 47 years, no one in my family really wanted this old stuff.

Grit acetate

I showed my LP to a local friend in 2019, a vinyl fanatic, and he said “post a picture and the recordings on Facebook and Internet”, wasn’t keen on the idea, but I did, and surprise, first someone from Germany (if I recall well) got in touch saying he purchased one of Grit’s acetates amongst others LPs at a Flea Market, it was in another bands sleeve, and asked me if he could use the material, I told him it was ok.

Sometime later Alex from Guerssen got in touch interested in re-issuing and releasing the album, that just flipped me, lucky I didn’t dispose of the tapes and acetate. The other copy of the original acetate can be found in Hans Pokora’s “7001 Record Collector Dreams” with maximum points for rareness. Well, there was only two pressed!

Would love if you can add additional commentary about the material that will appear on the release.

Guerssen have done some good work on getting the recordings clean, the tapes were laying around untouched for some 47 years, amazing how they held out without damage. The songs were recorded on one take, except for a minor 3 second dub, there are some errors, but there was no more time to re-record.

What happened after the band stopped? Were you still in touch with other members? Is any member still involved with the music?

I left the music in 1974, to move to Spain and work in the electronics field, mainly self employed and some contract work, till retirement. On retiring, I decided to get back to playing again.

Tom Kelly (Grit’s drummer) and Paul Christodoulou (Grit’s bassist) played together before Merlyn’s formation. Tom and Paul went on after Grit to form the rock band ‘Kelly’ and then had a break and, in the eighties, Tom joined the heavy rock band ‘Mean Machine’.

In 1987 Tom moved to Bournemouth and concentrated on painting. He still has a drum kit in his studio and plays pretty much every day.

Paul is in Cyprus playing with the band the Reggae Rockers.

Jeff continues his vocal career in Benidorm in a Bee Gees Tribute band.

I’m in touch with Tom and Paul, and roadie Kostas, but no luck with Jeff, also lost contact with John and Jim Russell.

Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?

“What Do You See In My Eyes” short but a great song, also “1000 Miles”, loved jamming on that one. Best memorable gig was obviously The Sports Palace in Thessalonica, amazing crowd of 7000.

What were some of your favourite bands?

My favourite bands, Cream, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Mayall and Jimi Hendrix are front of the line for me.

Is there still any unreleased material?

Yes there is some lost material, we did a recording at some studio in Athens, but don’t have those tapes.

Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

The release of Grit’s LP, was quite a surprise, never thought anybody would be interested, and it all happened after putting on the Internet in 2019 some band photos and music. I hope it goes down well, and I’m really grateful to Alex at Guerssen and his Audio Engineers for taking the time and interest in getting this going, also thank you for your interest and this interview.

– Klemen Breznikar


Guerssen Records Official Website

One Comment
  1. The Triumph of the Thrill

    Nice interview. Good musicians and a loud well-played guitar but the songs aren't there. More enthusiasm than talent. Much credit to Guerssen for letting another recording that could have been lost forever see the light of day.

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