Spontaneous Combustion

Hailing from the Poole suburb of Oakdale, Spontaneous Combustion initially came into existence in 1968 with the formation of Transit Sound by four Henry Harbin School pupils, guitarists Gary Margetts and his best friend Steve Evans, Tony Brock who also played guitar but switched to drums and Gary’s younger brother Tristain, or ‘Tris’ to his friends, on bass. They rehearsed their set of rock covers at the Oakdale Boys Club, two old Nissan huts in Learoyd Road, Poole. Then honed their repertoire at village halls and youth clubs in the area, or any venue that didn’t serve alcohol as they were still in their early teens, under the watchful eye of their manager Bill Margetts, Gary and Tris’s dad. In 1970 it was decided that they should slim down to a trio and that Steve Evans should be ousted. Gary, who was not fully behind the decision as Steve was his best mate, was designated the person to relay the news, it was a dastardly deed that played on his mind for years.

Transit Sound circa 1968, Left to Right: Tris Margetts, Steve Evans, Tony Brock & Gary Margetts

The new line-up made their debut at the annual ‘Bournemouth Regatta Beat Group Competition’ on Saturday 15th August 1970 on a makeshift stage erected on the beach west of the pier, to an audience of interested locals and curious holiday makers. Being a typical English summer, the rain clouds rattled in off the sea soaking the band, equipment and onlookers, however, they would not let a few showers dampen their shot at picking up the prize and doggedly played on risking the possibility of electrocution. They beat off the opposition, including a very good band called Goliath, and were presented with the trophy by Radio One DJ Pete Murray. As they posed for photographs, the band announced that they would be turning professional in the New Year, changing their name and recording an album, hopefully in April.

Transit Sound on Bournemouth beach in August 1970, Left to Right: Tris, Tony & Gary

Meanwhile, Greg Lake, another Oakdale resident, was making a name for himself firstly with Robert Fripp in King Crimson and latterly in ELP with the keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer. Lake’s friend, John House, had recently signed a management deal with Transit Sound who Greg vaguely knew as they had practically been neighbours, (he used to live in Dale Valley Road a stone’s throw from the Margett’s family home in Nansen Avenue). Greg pulled a few strings by introducing the band to EMI’s Nick Mobbs, who signed them to the new subsidiary label Harvest, an imprint specifically launched for up-and-coming progressive bands and already home to big hitters Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. He also offered to produce their debut album and gave the band a new name, Spontaneous Combustion, after a Cannonball Adderley number. When asked about his involvement, Lake underplayed his contribution by stating that, “They asked if I could come in and produce a couple of tracks to give them a leg up” and that he was, “Happy to help them”.

Spontaneous Combustion listening to a playback in 1971, Left to Right: Gary & Greg Lake seated, manager John House, EMI’s A&R man Nick Mobbs, Tris & Tony standing

Prior to the band recording their debut album, Lake invited the band to Advision Studios where ELP were recording their second album, Tarkus. Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer had prior commitments and left early. Greg suggested they use the couple of hours of free time to record a song and Gary offered “Just a Dream” which he had written with his friend Mike Rowe. They set about working up an arrangement on which Lake played piano, Gary sang, Tris played a simple bass line and Tony Brock joined the other three on backing vocals, it was engineered by ELP’s producer Eddie Offord. The song was never released by Spontaneous Combustion, however, in 2012 it was released on a deluxe reissue of Tarkus by mistake. Apparently the remix engineer, Steve Wilson, who was collating the material for the release, found the song buried away on a master tape of Tarkus and assumed it was recorded by ELP with Emerson on vocals. He didn’t know the title of the song and called it “Unknown Ballad” with a credit to Keith Emerson as composer.

Finally, sessions for the first Spontaneous Combustion album got under way at Intersound Studios in the summer of 1971. The initial fruit of their labour was a three track single in November containing two cuts plucked from their soon to be released debut, the melodic “200 Lives” and the tom-tom driven “Leaving”, plus the standalone “Lonely Singer”. The self-titled album followed in January 1972, housed in a lavish comic book style sleeve designed by Paul May. Four of the lengthy progressive rock work outs clocked in at five minutes plus, while the album closer, “Reminder”, broke the ten-minute barrier, only “200 Lives” came in under three. The record failed to impress most music weeklies with the reviewer in Disc & Music Echo commenting, “Brothers Gary and Tris Margetts and Tony Brock are the trio, and each is featured in long, occasionally tedious solos on side one, which consists of three of Gary’s compositions. Not an adventurous set”. Despite less than flattering reviews and poor sales, the record gained a release in America on the Capitol label with a far less striking sleeve.

The band finished 1971 traversing the country promoting the album with a hometown gig at Poole College in North Road on the 10th December and a slew of support spots arranged by the ever helpful Greg Lake, on Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus tour in cities such as Manchester, Newcastle, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.                                                            

For their sophomore effort Triad, released in October 1972, the band utilised the knowledge they had gleaned from Lake and produced the record themselves. This time out the band employed a heavier approach with meatier production values, giving the album a hard rock edge. Despite the improvement, Sounds criticized its lack of heart and soul and bizarrely labelled it a “Liberace / Deep Purple hybrid”. “Triad” appeared along with a non-album single, “Gay Time Night”, written by Chris Redwood from local band Almanak and featured an arrangement and production by Robert Kirby who famously worked with the enigmatic singer / songwriter Nick Drake, but like all their other records it failed to garner much interest. Over the years the band have been compared to several rock acts including King Crimson, especially on the excellent “Brainstorm” from Triad, where a tightly constructed stop start arrangement mirrors the instrumental section of “21st Century Schizoid Man”. However, a closer lineage would be with T2 and Andromeda, two power trios that traded in extended songs with intricate arrangements, sudden time changes and lengthy guitar solos. It’s baffling that both these bands, along with Spontaneous Combustion, never found a wider audience.

Spontaneous Combustion circa 1972, Left to right: Tris, Tony & Gary

To coincide with Triad’s release, Harvest put together a package tour of their artists and sent them out on a countrywide, twenty gig jaunt under the banner of ‘The Harvestmobile on Tour’. Along with Spontaneous Combustion, a combination of either Babe Ruth, East of Eden, Kevin Ayers, Climax Chicago, The Electric Light Orchestra, Barclay James Harvest, Roy Wood’s Wizard or The Edgar Broughton Band augmented each date at colleges and Top Rank ballrooms throughout the UK, tickets 50 pence. For a gig in Bournemouth at the Chelsea Bowl on 26th November, they were joined by Babe Ruth and former Move members Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan in their new band ELO.    

In January 1973 a third and final UK single showcased two different versions of Aram Khachaturian’s most famous work, “Sabre Dance”. The A side cloned Love Sculpture’s top ten hit from five years previous, while on the B side, the same tune received a complete overhaul with the help of another south coast luminary, one R. Fripp Esq. Apparently Fripp and the band spent a week in the Margetts family home in Nansen Avenue, whipping the arrangement into shape before committing it to tape. Two months later an American only single, “Rainy Day”, was released in March 1973. The A side was plucked from Triad while the non-album flip, “Chessboard”, another composition from the pen of Chris Redwood, listed Robert Kirby as the producer, one can only guess that it was recorded at the same session as “Gay Time Night”.

Spontaneous Combustion circa 1973, Left to Right: James Jay Sharkey, Pete Taylor, Gary & Tris

The spring of 1973 heralded changes within the ranks. Tony Brock concluded that Spontaneous Combustion had gone as far as it could and relocated to London to find fame and fortune with former Room drummer Bob Jenkins. While Tris and Gary went back to the drawing board and re-jigged the line-up by replacing Brock with drummer James Jay Sharkey and expanding the line-up to a quartet with the addition of Peter Taylor on guitar and vocals.

Spontaneous Combustion / Time circa 1974, Left to Right: Tris, Gary, Mike Udell & Jode Leigh

Later in the year it was all change again as Mike U’Dell came in on vocals, Alec Johnson took over on second guitar and Jeff ‘Jode’ Leigh replaced Sharkey on drums. They signed with a new manager, Willie McClymont, and spent the next year touring Italy, Germany and the UK. In 1974 the quintet travelled to Cologne, Germany, to record a new album with the legendary Conny Plank at his studio House of Sounds. The choice of producer was an unusual one, as he was a leading light in Krautrock circles specializing in electronic music by the likes of Neu, Cluster, Guru Guru and Kraftwerk. Their third album, Time, took barely a week to record and emerged on the small German BUK label. However, because of ongoing legal complications over the Spontaneous Combustion name, the band adopted the album’s title as their new moniker. The resulting record sits squarely in the progressive rock genre with tricky time signatures, intricate arrangements and in places, an unmistakable resemblance to early Yes. With sales remaining stubbornly low, by the end of the year the band were no more.

Gary Margetts formed the short lived Hit Men with drummer Paul Beavis, bassist John Lee and Robert Luther Smith on vocals and keyboards, before leaving the music scene for good. In 1981 Tris and Jode Leigh received a call from Greg Lake to provide bass and drums on his self-titled debut solo album. Tris stayed on to become a member of Greg’s touring band alongside the Irish guitar maestro Gary Moore and two former members of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, drummer Ted McKenna and Tommy Eyre on keyboards. Performing songs from Lake’s time with King Crimson and ELP, plus selected tracks from his new album, the band debuted at the ’21st Reading Rock Festival’ sandwiched between Wishbone Ash and Nine Below Zero on the Sunday night, before undertaking a seventeen date tour around Britain calling in at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens on 25th October. For his follow up Manoeuvres in 1983, Greg retained his touring band for the sessions, but failed to take them on the road after receiving a phone call from Carl Palmer proposing an ELP reformation. Out of work Tris quit the music business, but over the years has sat in with local New Milton band Subtle or What, as did Gary on occasions and was a member of the functions band Wishful Thinking for several years. Gary now lives on the Gold Coast of Australia while Tris remains in Poole. Tony Brock (see separate entry) went on to a glittering career with The Babys, Rod Stewart and Jimmy Barnes before opening a recording studio, Silver Dreams, in Los Angeles where he lives.

Subtle or What, Left to Right: Keith Collins, Tris Margetts & Nick Bates

There is no doubt Spontaneous Combustion were a talented band and with a fair wind and a bit of luck, they might have made more of an impact. Because of low sales at the time, their albums can reach as much as £300 on bidding sites.

Spontaneous Combustion Discography
Singles Spontaneous Combustion

Lonely Singer c/w 200 Lives c/w Leaving: Harvest (HAR 5046) 1971

Gay Time Night c/w Spaceship: Harvest (HAR 5060) 1972

Sabre Dance c/w And Now For Something Completely Different – Sabre Dance: Harvest (HAR 5066) 1973

Sabre Dance c/w And Now For Something Completely Different – Sabre Dance: Stateside (TSS 4147) 1973 American release

Rainy Day c/w Chessboard: Harvest (P 3558) 1973 American only release

Albums Spontaneous Combustion

Spontaneous Combustion: Harvest (SHVL 801) 1972

Spontaneous Combustion: Capitol (ST 11021) 1972 American release different sleeve

Triad: Harvest (SHVL 805) 1972

Triad: Harvest (SW 11095) 1972 American release

Spontaneous Combustion / Triad: See for Miles (SEECD 472) 1997 Two for one CD Re-issue

Spontaneous Combustion: Esoteric (ECLEC 2339) 2012 CD Re-issue UK

Triad: Esoteric (ECLEC 2340) 2012 CD Re-issue UK

Album Time

Time: BUK (BULP 2005) 1974

Time: Prog Temple (PTCD 8002) 2012 CD Re-issue

Greg Lake singles featuring Tris Margetts

Love You Too Much c/w Someone: Chrysalis (CHS 2553) 1981

It Hurts c/w Retribution Drive: Chrysalis (CHS 2567) 1981

Greg Lake albums Featuring Tris Margetts

Greg Lake: Chrysalis (CHR 1357) 1981

Manoeuvres: Chrysalis (CHR 1392) 1983

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