By Nick Warburton
- Gary Laub (aka Hamilton) – lead vocals
- Peter Vernon-Kell – lead guitar
- Chris Palmer – bass
- Fedon Tilberis – drums
The Hamilton Movement, 1965, from left to right: Chris Palmer, Gary Hamilton, Peter-Vernon Kell and Fed Tilberis (below) (photo used with kind permission of Chris Palmer)
Originally known as simply The Hamilton Movement, the band was formed around the St John’s Wood/Chalk Farm area of north London in 1962 and initially didn’t have a name.
Fronted by lead singer Gary Laub (later becoming Gary Hamilton), the original line up also comprised bass player Chris Palmer, rhythm guitarist Ian Hunt and a lead guitarist called Graham. The original formation was joined soon after by drummer Fedon Tilberis.
Not long after Tilberis’s arrival, Graham, the lead guitarist, moved away from London and Mike Allen took over. Taking on the name The Moondogs in 1963, the musicians gigged locally until late 1964 when Ian Hunt left. In early 1965, Mike Allen also departed and, after taking on two new members, Costas and Bernie, the group became Cell Block 5.
“Costas was an ex-pro who had played US bases in Germany; he was a men’s tailor by trade. Bernie was from Rochdale. They were then in their late Twenties,” remembers Tilberis.
“We practised in the cellar of a scrap shop in south London that they knew. They did a three-nighter with us in a Greek Street cellar club called Les Cousins, after which Bernie left. Costas stayed on for a London suburb gig. They were only with us for about seven or eight weeks.”
Cell Block Five (photo used with kind permission of Chris Palmer)
In spring 1965, the musicians changed name again to The Reaction when Costas and Bernie left and the remaining members finally took on lead guitarist Peter Vernon-Kell, who’d recently been playing with The Macabre, a regular support act for The Who at the Goldhawk Social Club and frequent visitor to the Ealing Club. In an interesting side note, Vernon-Kell had been a member of The Detours, the group that became The Who.
Just prior to Vernon-Kell’s arrival, Tilberis came across a demo studio called Rayrick in Chalk Farm while looking for a practice room. The drummer struck a deal with the studio’s owners, Rick Minas and Bruce Rea, which allowed the musicians to practise at Rayrick Studios for free whenever it was available. In return, the musicians would offer their services as a backing band for sessions whenever the studio owners needed them.
Abetted by guitarist Mick Green from Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas, The Reaction auditioned for Rick Minas and Bruce Rea and, impressed by what they’d heard, the owners brought in impresario Robert Stigwood, who offered Gary Hamilton a recording deal.
With Peter Vernon-Kell now on lead guitar, Stigwood presented the group with two numbers that he wanted to record as a debut single – a cover of The Velvelettes’ hit, “Really Saying Something”, coupled with a cover of Rick Minas and Mike Banwell’s “I Won’t See You Tonight”.
Before the band entered Regent Sound in Denmark Street to cut the two tracks at the demo session, Vernon-Kell came up with a new name to replace The Reaction, which, as the band’s drummer admits, was too similar to popular R&B outfit, The Action.
“He came up with The Hamilton Movement name in the pub before the session; we thought it was great,” remembers Tilberis, who adds that Gary Laub adopted Hamilton as a stage name at the same time.
“Stigwood must have been happy with the name and the demo results because about a week later, he booked Olympic Sound for the main cuts.”
As the band’s drummer continues, the songs went well with only a couple of takes per playback and vocals. With Stigwood in the producer’s chair and abetted by Graham Bond on piano, the two recordings were released by Polydor in August 1965.
The single entered the Radio Caroline charts at #65 on 23 October and climbed to #53 the following week for two weeks before dropping off the charts.
However, not long after, the first signs that all was not well came when Stigwood started to sell the band as Hamilton & The Hamilton Movement, which suggested that the group was simply there to back Gary Hamilton. That wasn’t all.
“Only Gary was allowed to perform on Ready Steady Go using our playback, though we were allowed to attend the show,” remembers Tilberis.
Aired on 22 October 1965, the show also featured The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Searchers and Chris Farlowe & The Thunderbirds.
Despite the ominous signs, the group began gigging incessantly and landed some high-profile engagements.
In February 1966, Hamilton & The Hamilton Movement participated in a very short tour with The Who, Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages, The Graham Bond Organisation, The Merseybeats and The Fortunes. The first show took place at the Astoria Cinema, Finsbury Park on 4 February and was followed by a gig at the Odeon Cinema, Southend-on-Sea the next day, culminating with a final engagement on 6 February at the Empire Theatre, Liverpool.
Two months later, Stigwood added the group to The Who’s package tour, joining support acts, The Spencer Davis Group, The Merseys, Paul Dean & The Soul Savages, The Band of Angels, The Fruit Eating Bears and Jimmy Cliff & The Sound System (featuring musicians that were to form part of the second incarnation of The Hamilton Movement).
As the band’s drummer points out, Stigwood still saw a future in the band and presented the musicians with an opportunity to record further material, including a cover of The Who’s “A Legal Matter” as a ‘B’ side but for some reason the sessions didn’t go well.
“We weren’t raving about the ‘A’ side and I had trouble with the drum part. Bob let us play one of our tunes that we were working on, but there was no melody line or title at that stage and he didn’t like it. The Olympic session was a blow out and Bob gave us the thumbs down, we were out and the gig flow stopped.”
Tilberis adds that even at this stage, there was still no signed contract, which created more problems with Stigwood within the group.
“Gary’s dad being a shrewd businessman and used to dealing with contracts and small print had deleted a hefty portion of the contract,” adds the drummer.
“That strained relationship came to an end and as far as I know Gary moved to EMI under producer Tony Meehan, ex-drummer with The Shadows.”
With the group splintering, Chris Palmer and Fedon Tilberis stuck together and joined Jimmy & The Rackets, a UK rock ‘n’ roll/beat group that had enjoyed a few chart hits in Germany, Switzerland and Austria during the early-to-mid 1960s.
Jimmy and The Rackets, left to right: Fed Tilberis, Jim Duncombe, Kevin Gillan, Chris Palmer (photo used with kind permission of Jim Duncombe)
Joining long-standing frontman, Jimmy Duncombe and guitarist Mike Bell, Tilberis remained with the Swiss-based outfit until spring 1968 while Palmer stayed on for another year.
The pair appeared on a cache of European-only released singles, kicking off with a cover of Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” backed by a version of George Harrison’s “I Want To Tell You”.
In late 1969, Chris Palmer formed The Chris Palmer Band, which Fedon Tilberis joined. They worked extensively throughout Germany and Switzerland over the next two years.
In 1971, the band recorded an ultra-rare solo LP Fingertips that comprised Palmer and other band members’ numbers for the CBS label. However, in 1972, he returned briefly to the UK before returning to Switzerland later in the decade.
Tilberis rejoined Jimmy & The Rackets in 1976 and stayed for about five years. In the early 1980s, he reunited with Chris Palmer and Jimmy Duncombe on several Rackets gigs before going their separate ways.
Today Tilberis lives in Alsace, France (near the Swiss, Basel border) and has worked with many local Basel bands, including Swiss 1960s specialists, The Countdowns (2004-2008).
Chris Palmer meanwhile scored a #1 hit in the UK Dance Music chart and #26 hit in the Pop Music chart in June 1980 when the jazz/funk band, Surface Noise recorded his composition “The Scratch” for WEA.
Peter Vernon-Kell meanwhile subsequently moved into production, although he also continued to make sporadic appearances on record. Setting up his own PVK Records, he managed former Fleetwood Mac frontman Peter Green and produced a string of his late 1970s and early 1980s albums. More recently, he’s made a name for himself as an executive producer for films and currently runs Cabana Films Ltd from Thames Ditton, Surrey.
As for Gary Hamilton, he emerged with a second incarnation of The Hamilton Movement in late July 1966 after recruiting Jimmy Cliff’s former support band, The New Generation (see future entry).
I’d like to thank Fedon Tilberis, Chris Palmer and Peter Vernon-Kell for helping with the band’s story. Thanks to Chris Palmer and Jimmy Duncombe for the use of their photos.
To contact the author with further information, please email Warchive@aol.com
Copyright © Nick Warburton, 2014. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any from or by any means, without prior permission from the author.