Martin Lickert

When 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.
    As well as his supporting role in 200 Motels, Lickert also makes a cameo appearance in Genesis drummer/vocalist Phil Collins’ autobiography Not Dead Yet (2016).
    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 some of the dialogue portions 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.

So 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.
    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 Motels?
It’s exactly that. 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 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 different hotel?
No, he was staying at a house in Holland Park with Janet, Lucy 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!

I was fortunate enough to meet Black recently.
Did he tap you up for a tenner?

No, but the editor of T’Mershi Duween bought him a beer.
    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!

Do you still play music at all?
I’ve got a Fender six-string at home. In fact my daughter, who’s six, she got the guitar out about three nights ago – she’s started taking piano lessons – she said, "Do you still play this, dad?" And that was the first time I’d picked it up for two years, I should think. But, yeah, I enjoy it.

At the time of making the film there apparently was some bad feeling between the director, Tony Palmer and Zappa. 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 lately?
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 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. Did you continue to work with Ringo after the film?
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.

So how did your subsequent career start?
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.

We shouldn’t call him Ringo anymore – he likes to be called Richard Starkey now he’s in his fifties and a grandad.
Really? Oh, good.

You were also gonna play at the Albert Hall?
That’s right.

I’ve got a picture of you standing outside with a kipper tie and your wide lapels.
Someone sent me that picture. Yeah, 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.

So you didn’t end up in court defending Zappa 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 interview can be found in my book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa's Other People(Wymer UK, 2017).