Birthed at Oldham Art School in 1965 alongside The Blueskeepers (later to become Barclay James Harvest) by drummer Barry (Baz) Duckworth, bassist Paul Meredith and guitarist Rob Oliver, The Designers felt the need to find another guitarist and a singer to make up a five piece. Guitarist Alan Mills and singer Mick Ward, both of whom had grown up at school with Baz, were invited to join.
As the group got bigger the name got smaller and The Designers became Design. Their first gig, an unpaid “audition” at the Top Twenty club in Hollinwood saw them delivered on the back of Alan’s dad’s open pick-up.
Their music was blues and soul and they soon discovered they had a knack for singing harmony. This came about purely by necessity. The soul music consisted of brass parts which, if you didn’t have a horn section, left gaps in the music. The phrase “bap-badap” sung in three part harmony soon began to fill the gaps.
Oldham Carnival - 1965
Rob left the band after about a year and was replaced shortly afterwards by organist Paul “Danny” Kaye. A bricklayer and keen rugby player he also worked as a bouncer at “Jackie’s” night club which was situated over the top of Shaw Co-op. Danny was a real handy lad to have around, as was the magnificently outrageous (and very, very big) Tony (Val) Valenti who roadied for the group later on. Who could ever forget the sight of Val carrying Marshall 4x12 PA columns, one under each arm???
A name change came at this point and Design became This Generation. Danny stayed for a while and left in early 1967. Work pressures would not allow him to go on the trip to Wuppertal, Germany where the group spent (or endured) two weeks doing 3/4 of an hour on and a 1/4 off from 7:00 pm till 1:00 am (2:00 am weekends).
Whilst this was an adventure, with a set list that only covered a couple of hours including patter and the waffle (which were no use whatsoever in Germany) this meant singing the same songs three or four times a night.
The arrival in late 67 of Trevor ‘Tinner’ Lear (from Rochdale group Water Board) brought a new dimension to the group’s sound with his stunning vocal range.
This enabled the group to step up to more sophisticated horn parts by doing covers of songs by ”Blood Sweat and Tears” and “Chicago”.
Bap-badap never sounded so good!!
Tinner’s vocal range also gave the group the opportunity to sing real words in harmony. Songs by vocal groups such as The Four Seasons, The Carpenters and the Beach Boys quickly made up the core of the set lists. It was inevitable at this point that this would become the main focus for almost all the music the band played from then on.
Along with Tinner’s arrival came another name change to Pepper Tree. They concentrated on gigging from Eastbourne to Galashiels. Work for Radio 1 came along in 1969.
The radio gig went like this: the group would turn up at the BBC Hippodrome theatre in Hulme at 6:00 pm on a Monday night to record six songs in four hours. This was no mean feat and was brilliantly overseen by BBC producer Johnny Wilcox. The tape would then be sent to London and five of the songs would be chosen to be played one a day on shows hosted by Terry Wogan, David Hamilton, Tony Brandon and Johnny Walker to name but a few. They would be repeated a fortnight later. The band got ninety quid for the first week and sixty quid for the repeat. Great money when you consider that the group were slogging round the UK for ten to fifteen quid a night less commission. Of course, petrol, digs and grub money would come out of what was left.
With Tony Hayes as their agent at Stuart Littlewood Associates (SLA) in Warrington the group turned pro in 1971 to take up a summer season on Jersey (pictures below).
On returning to the mainland Paul left the band and Tinner moved from rhythm guitar to bass. Working with Tony Hayes brought the group alongside outfits like “Mud” and “Sweet” When Mud did their first headline tour in 1974 the group were invited to do support gigs at Hull Civic Hall, Brighton Dome, Birmingham Town Hall, Newcastle’s Mayfair Club and Manchester’s Free Trade Hall.
A recording deal was struck at this bringing yet another name change and Pepper Tree became “Ferret”.(Don’t ask).
Thankfully the single bombed and management allowed the group to call themselves “Pepper Tree” once again. Incidentally, copies of this extremely rare single, “Hudson Bay”, are now being advertised on Ebay as collector’s items and, as I write, they are selling for more than the original price. Dear Mr Taxman, I can testify that no royalties have been received - ever!!
Pictured left: Alan, Trevor, Baz, Mick
Trevor left the group around 1972/3 to do a summer season in Cleethorpes alongside Jenny Darren, Toni Baker and Graham (Walt) Fielden in “Stoney End”. He was replaced by two brothers, Peter and Arthur Bird, from the Oldham group “Treacle” who played keyboards and bass respectively. Now a five piece again the group focused once more on the vocals and carried on quite successfully until 1974 when they split for the first time.
They reformed about six months later with Mick on lead vocals, Alan on guitar and vocals, Tinner on bass and vocals and on drums and vocals was new member Martin Brewster (who, bless him, has been in more bands and knows more musicians than anybody I know). Now a new vocal band had been raised from the ashes and they worked well together for another couple of years before throwing the Pepper Tree towel in for a second time in 1976.
Peter, Arthur, Alan, Mick and Baz - with Seamus
Twelve years would elapse before the phoenix would stir and rise yet again. In 1988 Jimmy Semple, who played together with Alan in “The Klue” in 1964, was drumming behind a duo made up of bassist Micky Walker and rhythm guitarist Johnny Pickering. Jimmy invited Alan to join on lead guitar. Looking for a name for the outfit Jimmy suggested Pepper Tree and, as Alan was the only member of the original band still playing at that time, they began appearing under the name on regular Tuesday nights at the Weavers on Huddersfield Road in Oldham.
Jimmy eventually drifted off into something else and Baz was invited to come out of retirement to make up the four piece again.
Unfortunately, Johnny left the band shortly afterwards. An international flavour was brought to the band at this time as the guitar and vocals gap was filled by Alex Reid, a Scottish exile living in Oldham.
The band spread its wings again and began gigging quite successfully. However, old age and gravity eventually got the best of the now quite elderly members. Carting gear all over Lancashire and Yorkshire took its toll.
The final Pepper Tree towel was thrown in (underarm) sometime in 1992.
The final line-up: Alan, Baz, Micky Walker and Alex Reid
Mick Ward, Alan and Martin are each committed Christians now and are all involved in contemporary Christian music and loving it. Tinner, although “officially retired” from music, joins with Alan and Martin to play at fund raising concerts to help disadvantaged children and families in Romania.
Baz, Micky Walker and Alex Reid are still committed heathens and play regularly in what is left of the Oldham pub scene as members of a band called “Sneaky Ending”. Alan, never one to turn down the opportunity to “do a couple”, regularly puts in a cameo appearance with them. They now have very small amplifiers and don’t stray too far from home (in case they get lost).
Many memories abound of years spent doing squillions of gigs. Travelling for hours in draughty, battered Trannies trying to catch some sleep before work the following day. (Tranny meant something else in those days). Humping drum kits, Marshall stacks and PA columns up and down a gazillion stairs (Humping meant something else then as well). Noon and night gigs. The dreaded NP/U gigs (a devilish device designed to keep the groups from knowing what the venue was actually paying the agents). Passing away endless hours in Barratt’s on Oxford Road spending money not earned yet (God bless Adrian Barratt for inventing the “House Account”). Getting threatened by morons because their girlfriends fancied us. Then getting threatened by our girlfriends because the moron’s girlfriends fancied us. Fighting the crowds in Warrington town centre to get a “Hogey” and then trying to get your mouth round the damn thing to eat it. Scoffing curries in the early hours at “Lil’s” (Lung Fung’s) in Middleton with all the other local groups on their way back from a gig. Doing trebles at the Domino, Princess and Georgian clubs on Christmas Eve. Getting picked up from work on Friday afternoon and driving over Shap to Whitehaven or Workington, gigging the Cosmo in Carlisle on Saturday, the Tow Bar Inn at Egremont on Sunday and then getting dropped of outside work on Monday morning, all without a change of socks or underwear.
Oh happy days. We were gluttons for punishment but, like all the other groups who lived the dream, we would not have missed it for the world.
As a "rival" group at the time (D.C.Rave) we used to regularly see our mates Peppertree at the Seven Stars in Heywood. We'd stand in awe at the fabulous "Crosby Stills Nash"-style harmonies emanating from a Sound City PA stack wishing we could all join up & make a super-group!
who poached Tinner for that summer season in Cleethorpes, now plays keyboards for "The Dakotas")
I remember this group very well indeed - they were never out of Barratt's. Trev and the boys were great to have around. I did sometimes wonder if they actually had homes at all, they spent so much time there.
Nice that someone remembers the old House Account. This was something that Adrian let you have if you were a good regular customer, so all the local groups had one. You could say that Barratts Of Manchester was the first store in the country to offer % interest free to its customers. Ah, another first .....keep on rocking.
Barratts of Manchester
Like so many bands, we saw Pepper Tree at the Seven Stars on numerous occasions. In fact, I saw them that often that I knew the repertior, chords and Alan's vocals well enough to fill in for him when he couldn't do a gig. At the time, I didn't have an electric guitar so I borrowed Alan's Gibson 335 and swapped the strings round [I'm left handed].
They had the best harmonies I'd ever heard live and when I got together with Les Brazil (Pink Engine), George Heathcote (Tiger Fog) and John Rimmer we tried to produce a similar sound.
This band became Chalice and we moved to Australia in 1973 where Les, George and I remain.
For 20 years, we made a living from our ability to do all of Bohemian Rhapsody so Pepper Tree's influence stayed with us. Great band and great guys.
Neil Scott - ex Tiger Fog
Its nice to think that in some way we made a difference all those years ago and maybe inspired some budding musicians to try and emulate what we sought to acheive - harmonies were everything!
We never lost our sense of humility and learned as we went along the way. But we still marvelled at what we managed to achieve in a small adapted soundproofed bungalow in Jersey with a small 8 track tape recorder a tangle of cables and the aid of a local record salesman acting as a producer!!! Happy days!!! Or spending 14 hours in the Radio Luxenburg studios in London recording 14 tracks overnight - some of which sounded like a church choir with 'phasing' (you had to be there)
Good times both on and off stage - we met hundreds of like minded musicians - some famous some just wating in the wings.
My endearing memory will be playing the New Century Hall in Manchester as support to Peter Frampton and playing in the open air in Cherbourg town centre to a large crowd of bewildered French.
Mike, I remember you in my flat on Cheetham Hill Road tryin to sh*g my bird's (Yvonne) mate and remember us lafffin like Fwuerk. Tinner hope you are well now. I laffed my c*ck off (never had a sh*g since). You were the best vocal band I ever heard, and really nice guys. I hope you are all well , and thanks for being my Pal, U allways will be. xxxxx
The Pepper Tree were brilliant. Mick Ward's "Jesamine" was superb! My then fiance was Tommy Gidfrey and we went to see them often. Pam Donaldsin. P.S. Where does Mick sing nowadays?