Kensington Market

Kensington Market was a Canadian psychedelic rock band from Toronto that released five singles and the 1968–69 Warner albums Avenue Road and Aardvark.

Members: Luke Gibson (vocals), Keith McKie (guitar, vocals), Alex Darou (bass), Eugene Martynec (piano, guitar), John Mills-Cockell (keyboards, 1969), Jimmy Watson (drums)


Background

Kensington Market formed in May 1967 when singer–guitarist Keith McKie teamed with musicians assembled by former Paupers manager Bernie Finkelstein.

McKie (b. November 20, 1947) was born in St. Albans, England, and migrated to Canada with his family at age six. In the mid-Sixties, he fronted The Vendettas, an unsigned garage band from Sault Ste. Marie that opened opened local British Invasion shows (Dave Clark Five, The Searchers) and almost replaced The Hawks ans Ronnie Hawkins’ backing band.

Finkelstein linked McKie with German-born guitarist Eugene Martynec (b. March 28, 1947), formerly of Bobby Kris & The Imperials. They completed the initial four-piece lineup with Irish drummer Jimmy Watson (b. August 23, 1950, Belfast), a cousin of Van Morrison; and bassist Alex Darou (b. January 6, 1943), McKie’s former Vendettas bandmate who recently backed (future Blood Sweat and Tears) singer David Clayton-Thomas.

The name Kensington Market came from Toronto’s bohemian district. On June 4, 1967, they made their live debut at the Night Owl on Avenue Road. They signed with Stone Records, a subsidiary of Robert J. Stone of Canada Limited with local license of the UK Island roster (Nirvana, Traffic, Wynder K Frog).


1967 Singles

In July 1967, Kensington Market released their first single: “Mr. John” backed with their namesake theme song; both Keith McKie originals produced by Bernie Finkelstein.

A. “Mr. John”
B. “Kensington Market”

“Mr. John” reached No. 76 on RPM, the Canadian singles chart. In October, they released a second McKie-penned, Finkelstein-produced single.

A. “Bobby’s Birthday”
B. “I Would Be The One”


Developments

Between the completion and release of “Bobby’s Birthday,” Kensington Market added singer Luke Gibson (b. November 5, 1946, Toronto), the former frontman of Luke & The Apostles.

Kensington Market held a residency at Boris’ Red Gas Room, Toronto. In September, they went to Montreal and cut six soundtrack contributions for Ernie’s Game, a love-triangle drama starring Alexis Kanner and Judith Gault. The film also features Leonard Cohen, who contributed one song.

In late 1967, guitarist David Rea (a Gordon Lightfoot and Ian & Sylvia sideman) summoned Kensington Market for a jam session. Impressed with the outcome, Rea contacted his bassist–producer friend (and Cream associate) Felix Pappalardi, who traveled from NYC to see the band. Felix secured them a deal with Warner Bros. and flew them to New York to record their first album.

With the album complete, Kensington Market returned to Toronto for multiple shows at Boris’ and EL Patio. On July 28, 1968, they supported Jefferson Airplane at McMaster University in Hamilton.


Avenue Road

Kensington Market released their debut album, Avenue Road, in August 1968 on the Seven Arts division of Warner Bros.

Avenue Road features three songs by Eugene Martynec (“Phoebe,” “Beatrice,” “Presenting Myself Lightly”) and six by Keith McKie, including “Girl is Young,” “Looking Glass,” and “Colour Her Sunshine.”

The album opens with a re-recorded version of their second Stone b-side, “I Would Be the One,” released this time as an a-side backed with Luke Gibson’s contribution, “Speaking of Dreams.”

Felix Pappalardi produced Avenue Road and conducted strings on “Aunt Violet’s Knee.” McKie sings everything apart from “Presenting” (Martynec), “Speaking” and “Beatrice” (both Gibson).

A1. “I Would Be the One” (2:37)
A2. “Speaking of Dreams” (2:26)
A3. “Colour Her Sunshine” (3:00)
A4. “Phoebe” (3:38)
A5. “Aunt Violet’s Knee” (4:21)
B1. “Coming Home Soon” (2:45) originated in the Vendettas’ set.
B2. “Presenting Myself Lightly” (2:15)
B3. “Looking Glass” (3:21)
B4. “Beatrice” (2:20)
B5. “Girl Is Young” (3:08)

Sessions took place at Century Sound Studios in Manhattan on W. 52nd St., where Pappalardi produced Avenue Road in sequence with albums by Cream (Wheels of Fire) and the Apple Pie Motherhood Band. The album was engineered by Century staffer Steve Scheafer, also credited on the 1969 Atlantic release Detroit Latitude 42° 30′ Longitude 83° by jazz reedist Yusef Lateef.

Photographer Bart Schoales took the front- and back-cover photos, which show the band huddled in Northern snow. An alternate US pressings shows the image reduced in a rusty frame with graphic elements (stars, bolts).

“I Would Be The One” reached No. 59 on the RPM singles chart while Avenue Road reached No. 39 on the corresponding album chart.

Kensington Market performed at the Canadian National Exhibition, an August 18 community event at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. They embarked on a tour of the US, where they supported the Steve Miller Band and Chuck Berry at the Fillmore West in San Francisco (9|7) and did a four-night stand with Spooky Tooth at the Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood (Sept. 12–15). In October, they played three nights with Pacific Gas and Electric at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom (Oct. 18–20) and another three-nighter with Jeff Beck and Earth Opera at the Boston Tea Party.

In early 1969, Kensington Market welcomed a sixth wheel, John Mills-Cockell (b. May 19, 1943), an electronic music enthusiast who studied composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music and performed with Intersystems, a multi-media collective.


Aardvark

Kensington Market released their second album, Aardvark, in April 1969 on the Warner – Seven Arts. It features thirteen songs numbered sequentially across two sides.

Keyboardist Gene Martynec co-wrote eight songs: one apiece with manager Bernie Finkelstein (“Cartoon”) and singer Luke Gibson (“The Thinker”) and four with guitarist Keith McKie — “I Know You,” “Ow-Ing,” “Side I Am,” and “Have You Come to See.”

He co-wrote the opener, “Help Me,” with producer Felix Pappalardi, who contributed an interlude (“Ciao”) and co-wrote “Dorian” with Gibson, who also contributed to the Martynec–McKie number “Said I Could Be Happy.”

McKie lone-wrote “If It Is Love,” “Half Closed Eyes,” and “Think About the Times.” The last two feature John Mills-Cockell on Moog synthesizer, also heard on “Help Me,” “Said I Could Be Happy,” and “Cartoon.”

A1. “Help Me” (2:45)
A2. “If It Is Love” (2:42)
A3. “I Know You” (1:58)
A4. “The Thinker” (2:27)
A5. “Half Closed Eyes” (2:29)
A6. “Said I Could Be Happy” (2:21)
A7. “Ciao” (1:13)
A8. “Ow-ing Man” (2:35)
B9. “Side I Am” (3:17)
B10. “Think About the Times” (2:53)
B11. “Have You Come to See” (3:03)
B12. “Cartoon” (2:30)
B13. “Dorian” (6:46)

Sessions transpired at three studios between Toronto (Eastern Sound) and New York City (Allegro Sound, Mira Sound) with Pappalardi, who seventh-wheeled Kensington Market with supplemental bass (“The Thinker”), organ (“Think About the Times”), piano (“Ciao”), and trumpet (“Side I Am”).

Felix produced Aardvark in sequence with the debut album by Jack Bruce (Songs for a Tailor) and the Windfall Records release Mountain by ex-Vagrants guitarist–singer Leslie West, who teamed with Pappalardi in the project’s spin-off band, Mountain.

Veteran jazz soundman Bob d’Orleans engineered Aardvark and Mountain as well as 1969 Pappalardi-produced albums by David Rea and Jolliver Arkansaw.

Aardvark appeared in a gatefold sleeve designed by one Bruce Meek. It shows an aardvark figure on a toy stage (front) and an illustration of an anthropomorphic homebody aardvark, encircled with mirrored nature panels under a lighthouse.

“Side I Am” appeared before Aardvark as the b-side to “Witch’s Stone,” a non-album McKie number. In June 1969, Warner lifted “Help Me” as their final single (b/w “Half Closed Eyes”).


Later Activity

Kensington Market embarked on a spring ’69 tour that included a May 25 show at Toronto’s Rock Pile with Milkwood and Grand Funk Railroad. By summer, they trimmed to a duo of McKie and Gibson, who performed an acoustic Saturday-afternoon set as Kensington Market at the Toronto Pop Festival, a weekend event (June 21–22) with sets by Alice Cooper, Bar-Kays, Blood Sweat and Tears, Nucleus, Procol Harum, Rotary Connection, Steppenwolf, and Sly & The Family Stone.

Gene Martynec became a backing musician and producer for Bruce Cockburn and Murray McLauchlan and an auxiliary for Edward Bear and Rough Trade.

Luke Gibson reformed Luke & The Apostles for the 1970 True North single “You Make Me High” and cut a 1972 solo album, Another Perfect Day.

Keith McKie resurfaced in 1981 with a solo album, Rumours at the News-stand.

John Mills-Cockell made two albums with the proto-electronic combo Syrinx and launched a solo career.


Discography:

  • “Mr. John” / “Kensington Market” (1967)
  • Avenue Road (1968)
  • Aardvark (1969)

Sources:

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