Kensington Market

TrackAlbum / Single
Half Closed EyesAardvark
Side I AmAardvark
Aunt Violet’'s KneeAvenue Road
Looking GlassAvenue Road
DorianAardvark
Ow-ing ManAardvark
Bobby'’s Birthday1967 single (Stone SX-721)
I Would Be The OneAvenue Road
Coming Home SoonAvenue Road
If It Is LoveAardvark

 

Contributor: Jerry Tenenbaum & Bill Munson

Archaeology should not be required to bring to light the efforts of Kensington Market to marry beautiful and intelligent songs with compelling and at times highly progressive musicianship. But archaeology, at least outside of Canada, is a necessary approach to knowing this group.

This Toronto-based group of superb musicians put forth two albums that easily met the sonic standards of the day – the late 1960s – and that still stand up well, both sonically and conceptually, by today’s indie-oriented standards. Indeed, they would most likely do exceedingly well today. (I grew up not far from Kensington Market, the neighbourhood after which the band was named. JT)

The original lineup was Keith McKie (singer/songwriter, formerly with the Vendettas), Gene Martynec (piano and guitar, formerly with Bobby Kris and the Imperials), Alex Darou (bass, Vendettas) and Jimmy Watson (drums). Luke Gibson (singer/songwriter, formerly frontman for Luke & The Apostles) was added later in 1967 upon the demise of that band. John Mills-Cockell (synthesizer, keyboardist) joined formally in 1969, after having been a sideman on the group’s second album. He had previously recorded three at the helm of Intersystems, an avantgarde multi-media group.

Bernie Finkelstein was the catalyst for their union. He was already a growing force in Toronto, having stormed New York with the Paupers before selling his interest to Albert Grossman, and ploughing the proceeds into backing the charismatic Keith McKie. In the summer of 1967, the new band began to play local coffee houses in Yorkville and high schools elsewhere around Toronto, and released two 45s on a small indie label: Mr. John/Kensington Market and Bobby’s Birthday/I Would Be The One.

With growing local success, Finkelstein signed them to Warner Brothers. They soon toured the USA with their first album release, Avenue Road, produced by Felix Pappalardi, then best known as Cream’s producer. Reviewers gave this album very high praise, with Ritchie Yorke calling it the finest album ever produced by a Canadian band. In 1969, their second album, Aardvark was released (Pappalardi again producing) and a second US tour followed. It is also notable that Ian and Sylvia used McKie’s Please Think on their Full Circle album. Also, the 1967 film The Ernie Game had featured a number of otherwise unreleased Kensington Market songs.

Lyrically the songs (mostly McKie’s) were intelligent and sensitive, and Martynec’s musicianship contributed to the complexity of the music. Live performances were of a very high calibre. The album production is worthy of praise. But still, though hailed in the Toronto area and respected across Canada, Kensington Market did not achieve commercial success by the standards of the time.

Darou has passed while one can still hear Keith McKie and Luke Gibson locally in Toronto on rare occasions, at Hugh’s Room for example.

The legacy of Kensington Market is its fusion of rock and beautiful melody. After the group dwindled to nothingness in 1971, McKie, Gibson, Martynec and Mills-Cockell all stayed with Bernie Finkelstein and his new True North label. Martynec produced Bruce Cockburn’s early records and virtually all of Murray McLauchlan’s. He also appeared on Lou Reed’s Berlin playing synthesizer, a skill he’d learned from Mills-Cockell. Gibson did a 45 with a reformed Luke & the Apostles and then recorded a solo album, Another Perfect Day. Mills-Cockell returned to the avant-garde, scoring some success with the band Syrinx.

It seems perfectly clear that Kensington Market, had they remained intact, would have soared with Finkelstein at the helm – just like Bruce Cockburn and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings did in later decades.

Of the 10 songs chosen for this toppermost … what can we say about Side I Am, pure KM at their finest; on Aunt Violet’s Knee, Keith softly takes a big breath in the silence before he delivers the final line. This is the only song on Avenue Road on which Felix Pappalardi plays bass, in this case because he knew exactly what he’d had in mind when so carefully orchestrating a string quartet; I Would Be The One is pure pop, great harmony, love the horns and the arrangement; a great opening for an album; and in Coming Home Soon, admire the opening riff and love the sentiment; we’ve all experienced it at one time or another and they caught it dead centre.

 

Nick Warburton on Kensington Market (2008)

Kensington Market biography (Wikipedia)

You can find all these great tracks on YouTube (see below for a selection) but, at the time of writing, only one, I Would Be The One, is on Spotify and iTunes. Shameful. There are a few more tracks on Last.fm and both albums can be sampled at AllMusic and are available online at Amazon and elsewhere.

Half Closed Eyes
Side I Am
I Would Be The One
Aunt Violet’s Knee

TopperPost #245

1 Comment

  1. David Lewis
    Apr 6, 2014

    So many great Canadian bands. Do you send the Biebers out of the country and keep the good ones for yourselves?

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