Line-up included

Norman Barrett vocals, guitar
J.D. Hughes sax, vocals
Les Williams bass, vocals
Barry Davenport drums
Mary Zinovieff synth, violin
Pete Solley synth
George Lynon guitar
Russell Cordwell drums
Jim Frank drums

gravy train

Back row: Norman Barrett. Russ Caldwell.
Front row: JD Hughes [wearing shades]'
George Lynan. . Les Williams.

A Potted History of "Gravytrain"

by JD Hughes

Way back in the late 60s I was playing saxaphone and flute  in a soul band called "Spaghetti House" in the Liverpool St Helens area.

The band split up but the bass player, Les Williams (ex The Incas), the drummer, Barry Davenport (ex John Rotherham Trio, a modern jazz outfit), the guitarist Dave "Dig" Rigby and myself, decided to try a smaller band playing covers and arrangements of current rock bands eg Cream and Jethro Tull.


The guitarist soon split, being more into Country than rock, and eventually we found Norman Barret, ex The Hunters.

We soon started writing our own stuff based around Barry's jazz ideas and Norm's melodic feel and great singing voice. Much of the material explored unusual time signatures,  involved some harmony playing and improvisation sometimes for twenty minutes at a time!

We became involved in a multi-arts project, in Manchester, called "The Construction Company", which was an eclectic mix of musicians and poets. One of the bands we gigged with a lot was Sleep, who had a kind of Barclay James Harvest feel to them.

Our manager also managed them and arranged for a London record producer to come to a gig at the Free Trade Hall to meet them.

The record producer, Jonothan Peel heard us on the same bill and offered us the contract and not Sleep!

We did some work for the Robert Stigwood organisation and the Noel Gay Agency. This involved backing Emile Ford at a "Rock'n' Roll" festival at Wembley Stadium. Playing on a huge concert at the Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen in front of Danish royalty and weirdest of all, being the resident band at a disco in the Italian Adriatic resort of Rimini!


We changed record labels from Vertigo to Dawn (owned by Pye).

Altogether we released four albums, which have since been re-released on CD., and are still available (I've just bought copies).

We later added a second guitarist, George Lynan (ex Magic Lanterns), to further progress the harmony riffing idea, he sadly died without warning in his sleep last year.

The drummer, Barry left to be replaced by Wigan lad Russ Caldwell.

The albums were entitled "Gravytrain",   "A Ballad of a Peaceful Man",  "Second Birth" and "Staircase To The Day" .


We toured Holland in '72 and gigged up and down the country with many of the main bands of the time eg Rory Gallagher, Roxy Music, Nazareth, The Nice, Atomic Rooster, Mott the Hoople, etc, etc.

the Pearls

The Pearls during a recent gig in France

We were unlucky to have the van plus gear stolen which forced us off the road for a few months, during which time we each got gigs with a cabaret band.

When we eventually re-equipped, the work wasn't there and we were all working with other outfits and just drifted apart, getting together for the occasional Gravytrain gig and writing material for the final album.

I left the band in 1973 in order to work in Germany with a cover band.

Since then, l qualified as a music teacher, working in the North West, retiring in 2003 but still playing in bands including "The Pearls" doing French gigs with ex-Grit Band members Chris Smith and John Hunt [not featured on this photo].

Norman formed a Christian rock band, and I believe has just joined a cabaret band. Les grew fabulously wealthy with his entertainments agency and Russ opened a music/baby clothes shop in Wigan and has recently sold up and gone to live in France.                  

End of tale

Local gigs included:

  • Manchester University.
  • Bamboo Club. Stockport.
  • St Helens Cricket Club.
  • Pigmarket. Cucheth.
  • Private Garden Party (with The Grit Band) at Risley (next door to Prison).
18 Nov 1968

MEN 18 Nov 1968

London gigs included:

  • The Marquee Club.
  • Dingwalls. Chalk Farm.
  • Hope and Anchor. Islington.
  • Roundhouse. Dagenham.
  • Greyhound. Croydon.
  • The Speakeasy.
  • Thames Polytechnic (with Barclay James Harvest).
  • Discography


  • Gravy Train (Vertigo 6360 023) 1970

  • Ballad of a peaceful man (Vertigo 6360 051) 1971

  • Second birth (Dawn DNLS 3046) 1973

  • Staircase to the day (Dawn DNLH 1) 1974
  • All reissued on CD by Repertoire (REP 4063-WP, 4122-WZ, 4164-WZ and 4133-WP) 1991.


    • Strength of a dream/Tolpuddle episode (Dawn DNS 1036) 1973
    • Starbright Starlight/Good time thing (Dawn DNS 1058) 1974
    • Climb aboard The Gravy Train/Sanctuary (Dawn DNS 1115) 1975.





    I remember U. XXXX. and I loved u cos u were a bunch of twits (changed so as not to offend :-) just like ss.   Destruction Company !,  All I can say is "WE LAFFED OUR BOLLOKS OFF".   WE LOVED IT, an I still get a sore "clock" when I think about it, (never had a sore *rse)

    Thanks Lads,)XXXX.  U were THE BEST, an we Loved U . 

    You idle twits were playin when we were fightin at St Helens Town Hall,  You were nearly as good as the scrap.  Luv U Pals !!!!. 

    Harry (The Fwuerk) Greene 
    (Bass with Sleep)

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    Comments (1)

    Topic: Gravy Train
    Roger savage (Leeds) says...
    John! "Voovah" on trombone. A35 van with sparks flying. Facebook me for more!
    18th August 2017 6:02am

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