bassist Jeff Simmons quit the Mothers just prior to filming 200 Motels at Pinewood Studios in early
1971, the first candidate to replace him was actor Wilfrid
Brambell (1912-1985), best known for his role in the British
television series Steptoe And Son. He had also played Paul McCartney’s grandfather
in The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night.
Brambell rehearsed with the band for about a week, then decided he couldn’t handle it anymore. When Ringo Starr’s assistant Martin Lickert walked into the dressing room, the band thought he might be good for the part of ‘Jeff’.
In the home video The True Story Of 200 Motels, Zappa says of Lickert, “He took the script and he read it and he sounded good and then we found out that he was a bass player. I think he’s good for the part... quite professional on screen and as a bass player he’s not astonishing, but he can make the parts.”
That was the start of Lickert’s brief time as a Mother.
He later became a bookmaker, a horse race owner and finally, a barrister. He died suddenly, in his late 50s, in March 2006.
In 1993, after appearances on Danny Baker’s BBC Radio 5 show and After All TV programme, I arranged an interview with him in the heart of London’s legal district, the Temple.
I played him A Bunch Of Adventures and Martin Lickert’s Story from Zappa’s audio documentary of the ‘vaudeville’ band, Playground Psychotics (1992), as I took up my spot on the bench.
I notice the accent’s
changed a bit since then. Where do you originate from?
The West Midlands – which is a bit different from that accent.
What were you doing before
you came down to seek your fame and fortune in London?
I always wanted to be a rock musician and to that end I had a couple of groups in the West Midlands. Interestingly enough, the first group we ever got together had Bob Plant of Led Zeppelin singing – and he’s still as bloody tight as he was then!
He went off with various groups and the rest of us sunk away. He obviously had star potential. We used to jam at a pub called the Seven Stars near Stourbridge Junction. One night we had Stan Webb from Chicken Shack, Chris Wood from Traffic – who’s regrettably died since – we had a future all-star band. But I won’t say I was very good at it.
I had a succession of no-hope day jobs. Then I came down to London in 1969 with 19 shillings and 6 pence in my pocket. I eventually got a job as an office cleaner. On the first day I was cleaning brass railings in Regent Street and the second day they sent me to get the marks off the walls at the Apple Building.[i]
Someone said, “Do you want a job as an office boy?” An office boy then was getting eight quid and I was getting ten quid for cleaning dirty marks, so I thought this was a huge drop in wages. But clearly there was more potential than polishing buildings. So that’s what I did. I started work as an office boy for Apple.
They had quite a few
employees around that time, didn’t they?
This was their place at Savile Row – I wasn’t around in the Baker Street days, where I think they were lucky to have any fixtures and fittings. Anyway, I did that for nine months and then Ringo’s driver, a chap called Alan Hagan, lost his licence.
Do you remember those stubs – you’re probably too young to remember; instead of those zig-zag lines, there were these stubs – he parked across those. What we call a ‘totter’. So that was the end of him. Ringo put me on three months’ trial and that was it. It was great, a lovely job – great chap. Took me to America – I’d never been out of the country before.
Can you tell me your
version of how you came to be in 200
It’s exactly that – although I said I went out for some cigarettes, but I seem to remember it was tissues from Uxbridge because Ringo had a terrible cold.
So had you been around
much before then and met the band?
Oh yeah, because I had to take Ringo to the rehearsals at Pinewood, which is where it went on. Bloody good. Ringo very kindly said, “Alright, I’ll get Mal Evans[ii] to drive”. He’s dead now, too. So Mal drove for Ringo and I stayed with the Mothers at some…poor hotel!
Zappa was presumably in a
No, he was staying at a house in Holland Park with Janet, Lucy[iii] and Gail.
Had you heard much of his
stuff before then?
No, I thought he was weird. But he was absolutely straight; it immediately struck me how conservative he was – you know, nothing like Jim Black!
Did you get to meet Jeff
Simmons before he quit?
No, I don’t know anything about Jeff Simmons other than I was glad he left – purely for selfish reasons.
Did you actually play and
record the stuff live at Pinewood?
We played and recorded it live, but whoever was doing the mixing and whoever was doing the sound job clearly wasn’t listening very closely to the bass parts. So I think Frank in fact re-recorded and overdubbed most of it.
For someone of my limited ability, some of the stuff on that album is pretty difficult.
The True Story Of 200 Motels video shows you playing a
six-string acoustic on the song Mystery
Roach – was that just a posed shot?
In fact, I play six-string better than I play bass.
There’s also a scene with
you playing bass in a corridor with Ian Underwood.
That would be us rehearsing then. If it hadn’t been for Ian, my limited abilities would have come to the surface a lot quicker than when they got back to America and listened to the master!
At the time of making the
film there apparently was some bad feeling between the director, Tony Palmer,
and Frank. Was that evident at all?
Not to me. I don’t think I was close enough to the nub of things to be let in on that. So any screaming and shouting certainly went on behind closed doors.
He threatened to erase the
master tapes at one point.
Maybe it would have been better if he had of done!
Have you watched it
It was on telly – I didn’t watch it. But someone here – who shall remain nameless – her boyfriend works for Sky and she mentioned to him that I was in chambers and he said, “Oh, I’ll get him a copy.” So he got me one, courtesy of Sky. Then when I did Danny Baker, he gave me one – I’m not sure if I was supposed to have walked off with that.
He said he’d recorded Slade In Flame[iv] over the top!
Well, I’ve yet to see if he has.
Presumably you’ve not had
any contact with Zappa or the Mothers since then?
About a year afterwards, I had some contact with Frank. He wanted to know of a decent restaurant.
In London, there are many – or were many. There used to be one called Keats in Hampstead, quite cheap. I said, “Well, Ringo goes there sometimes and he seems to like it.” So he said, “Okay, well lets all go out for dinner.” I think Keats, up until the time that it closed, used to send him menus across the Atlantic to try and encourage him to come back. Obviously they’d make a decent bundle if he goes there with over nine people. But I’ve had no contact after that and I understand Frank’s ill?
Yes, quite seriously ill.
I didn’t know anything about that until somebody told me. I don’t read the music press and the only place I would have picked it up off would have been the news.
The Daily Express said he had six months to live two years ago.
Well, I’m glad they got that wrong!
He’s got prostate cancer,
which has spread to his bones.
Oh shit. Does that stop you playing then?
Well I don’t think he’s
picked up the guitar for a long time; he tends to record exclusively on the
Synclavier now.[v] Did you continue to work with Ringo after the
I did. I was going to go back with the Mothers, but I really wasn’t good enough – no, I shouldn’t say that: they discovered that I wasn’t really good enough. I’d already said to Ringo I’m gonna go back because they’d said, “Do you want to play?” And then I had to ask Ringo if I could go back to work with him.
But it wasn’t the same – I would have left at the drop of a Fender, as it were. I went back to work with Ringo for about three months and it didn’t work out, so that was that.[vi]
So how did your subsequent
I then worked for CBS as a promotion man in 1973. I got out of London in the mid-1970s. I eventually bought a bookmakers shop – I was a bookie for a bit. But again, my bookmaking abilities were about as good as my bass playing.
I came back down here at the end of 1981. My wife I met through my cousin’s husband, who was a pupil barrister at the time. So was she. They said, “Why don’t you read for the bar?” I said, “Christ, the last time I did anything like that was in 1964!”
I got a place at South Bank Polytechnic, did a law degree there from 1982 to 1985. Then in 1985/86 I did my bar exams and that was it. I was called to the bar in 1986.
So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I’m glad to say that it seems my abilities in this respect are a lot better than bass playing or bookmaking.
Finally, have you got any
good stories about the Mothers, Ringo, Keith Moon – anything that happened during the making of 200 Motels?
Well, I’ll tell you one. Lucy Offerall had got the hots for me. One night we’d all been down in the bar of the hotel and as usual, with Keith around, everyone was pissed out of their brains and I sort of lumbered up to my bedroom at about 10 o’clock and passed out. I was on the second floor. Lucy said, “Oh Keith, I want to get into Martin’s bedroom.” He went, “Don’t worry, my dear, I’ll get you in.”
Apparently it was pissing down with rain outside, he climbs out onto the window ledge, creeps along, smashes my window, gets in, opens the door. I woke up absolutely covered in glass and Lucy!
It was just a good, fun time. You know, Ringo was extremely good... letting me off for that time.
You were also gonna play at the Albert Hall?
That’s right, we were all gonna play. But that bunch of buggers at the Royal Philharmonic, after they’d grabbed the money for 200 Motels – I perhaps shouldn’t say this: let’s say that after they’d done the film, they didn’t want to demean themselves in public. It was the lyrics that caused the trouble.[vii]
So you didn’t end up in
court defending Frank a few years later!
No, no. He’s what I would call a very clean living, drug-free man. He used to take great exception to those members of the group that used drugs.
Yes, they’ve been the
downfall of many members over the years.
That’s right. He used to go mad if they would sneak off for a joint or whatever. I think he could stand Jimmy’s drinking – if you can stand Jim, you’d better stand his drinking!
Interview conducted on Friday 5th November 1993. The complete transcript can be found in Andrew's book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa's Other People (Wymer UK, 2017).
Photo of Martin in his Temple chambers taken by the Idiot Bastard.
[i] 3 Savile Row, the Headquarters of the Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd., and home to the Apple Studio.
[ii] Malcolm Frederick Evans (1935-1976) was road manager, assistant, and friend of the Beatles.
[iii] Janet-Neville Ferguson (aka Gabby Furggy, because Moon Unit couldn’t say ‘Janet Ferguson’) and Miss Lucy Offerall, who played groupies in 200 Motels. Ferguson was married to Zappa’s technician Paul Hof (one of the faces of the two headed roadie on the cover of Over-Nite Sensation) and sings on the albums Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970), Waka/Jawaka (1972) and The Grand Wazoo (1972). Miss Lucy was a member of the a cappella girl group The GTOs, and also appeared in Zappa’s films Uncle Meat and Video From Hell. She passed away in 1991 having contracted AIDS.
[iv] The 1975 film starring the band Slade - unlike 200 Motels, it has been described as ‘the Citizen Kane of rock musicals’.
[v] One month after this interview, Zappa passed away.
[vi] Jimmy Carl Black suggested that Lickert began to act like a rock star after 200 Motels and trashed Starr’s London flat.
[vii] In his book Shell Shocked, Howard Kaylan suggests that plans for the Royal Philharmonic and the Mothers to perform the score from 200 Motels in a sold-out show at London’s Royal Albert Hall was all an elaborate publicity stunt on Herb Cohen’s part. The performance was banned by the Hall as “the programme content was not agreeable to us”. In 1975, Zappa and Cohen unsuccessfully tried to sue the Crown for breach of contract at the Old Bailey.