|Floribunda RoseAccording to Russell, it made sense to return home and crack the British market, especially when Kongos had connections in the music industry. “He would have been a fool not to do that,” he says. “He had a contract in his back pocket with Pye and a contract with Maurice King who ran the Walker Brothers among others; it was a stable worth getting into.”|
Before setting off by boat in May 1967, the newly formed group posed for some publicity photos in Kongos’s Jo’burg house. Then, a few days’ later, set sail for England, writing and rehearsing material, including the Kongos-Russell collaboration, ‘Linda Loves Linda’, in preparing for the assault on the British market.
Throughout the long journey the group struggled to come up with a suitable name. “I wanted to call it Kongos’s Magic Dragon but [John] wouldn’t have it,” says Russell.
In fact, as the bass player explains, the musicians only agreed on Floribunda Rose on the way to their first gig! Having arrived at Maurice King’s office during their first week in London, the manager calmly informed the musicians that they had a gig the next day and studio time booked a few weeks later.
A second hand camper van was hastily purchased in Earl’s Court and the band set off for its debut gig – a small club in Castleford, West Yorkshire on 14 July, stopping off in central London on route to pick the elusive name.
“John and I walked across the street in Baker Street to a book shop, desperate to find a name for the band,” recalls Russell. “Flower power was at its zenith, so we plumped for Floribunda Rose. A bloody daft name but that was where people were at.”
After a handful of gigs in the north and the midlands, including shows in Tadcaster, Burnley and Tamworth, Floribunda Rose made their London debut at Tiles on 19 August.
Around this time, the group also cut its debut single under Schroeder’s watchful eye – the poppy ‘Linda Loves Linda’ – supposedly a tale of female narcissism, backed by Kongos’s infectious, and rather Beatlesque, ‘One Way Street’. The plug side, with its ‘Everyone is Loving Everywhere’ lyric, ‘fairground’ organ and free-form ending, chimes perfectly with the ‘peace, love vibe’.
Released in September 1967 on Pye’s Piccadilly subsidiary and the same week that Radio 1 aired, ‘Linda Loves Linda’ benefited from its publicity and was heavily plugged by Tony Blackburn and Pete Murray.
“We were very lucky,” says Russell. “Maurice King was an operator. He knew his stuff and employed a plugger who would go round the BBC with new releases.”
“In those days you had to get on the BBC play-list. We were on the first week of Radio 1. Only three singles a week out of the 80 releases used to get on that, which was fantastic.”
To coincide with the station’s launch, the group recorded a BBC Radio 1 session with Brian Matthews on 25 September for a show that was replacing Saturday Club, cutting new versions of ‘Linda Loves Linda’ and ‘One Way Street’, along with covers of Paul Simon’s ‘Bright Green Pleasure Machine’ and ‘59th Bridge Street Song’. None of the tracks have been released and remain buried somewhere in the BBC archive.
Yet despite getting on to the new play list, recording a live session and having a Juke Box Jury appearance as ‘mystery band’ (on 8 September) and being voted a hit, the single stiffed.
The group returned to the daily grind of touring, often travelling hundreds of miles to play small clubs and sharing the bill with the likes of The Zombies, Dave Berry and Lonnie Donegan to name a few.
“Most of our gigs were up and down the M1 at less prestigious venues,” recalls Demetriou. “We did play some university events and supported more well known acts.”
“There are lots of little funny things that happened with Floribunda Rose,” adds Kongos. “It was really corny actually – attempting to jump on the ‘Flower Power’ bandwagon. We did dumb things like throw out flowers to the crowd at the end of a the gig [which] went down really well in Workingmen’s clubs (not!)
“I think the best thing about the band was that we did really intricate medleys of known songs – a little like Vanilla Fudge, in the sense that the versions were very different.”
Book-ending the year, Floribunda Rose spent a month playing at the Top Ten in Hamburg, grafting for six hours a night to a largely unappreciative crowd. While there, Dokter remembers rubbing shoulders with the musicians that would later go on to form the nucleus of heavy rock band, Deep Purple.
Exhausted, the group drove home non-stop, heading straight for the Scottish Highlands in the first week of January where the first cracks in the band’s precarious line up surfaced.
“We did one [10-day] tour of Scotland [and] that was the last thing I did with them,” remembers Clifford, who left after the final gig on 14 January. “I then flew out from the freezing cold to the humid heat of Durban and nearly died. I had a pair of leather jack boots and a Scottish hiking jacket!”
Pete Clifford returns to South Africa and joins the Bats
Back in South Africa, the guitarist joined The Bats, appearing on the highly sought after Image album (which includes the superb ‘Money Ain’t Worth a Dang’) and also playing numerous sessions, most notably providing bouzouki on Freedom Children’s debut album, Battle Hymn of The Broken Hearted Horde. During the late 1960s and 1970s, he became one of South Africa’s most respected guitarists and continues to tour with The Bats.
“[Pete] and John just butted like rams,” explains Russell on the guitarist’s dramatic exit. “Pete was very experienced. He had worked with some major people. He knew his stuff and was a good guitar player but basically John didn’t want a lead guitarist.”
“Pete Clifford was an incredible guitar player and so was John,” adds Dokter. “They were both very talented. It was good for Pete to actually go on his own and work with The Bats and John had the freedom to do what he wanted to do.”
Kongos has the last word: “Pete was not satisfied with the lack of progress in the band – it wasn’t easy travelling hundreds of miles to little gigs and winding up almost out of pocket at the end of the day. Musically too, it was not satisfying for us because we had different ideas. We got on each others’ nerves and could have been the model for Spinal Tap if we’d made it.”
Nick Dokter departs
With Clifford gone and Kongos assuming lead guitar duties, it wasn’t long before Dokter also bailed. “Nick was married and his wife was getting bored with the difficulties of not making money,” explains Kongos on the drummer’s departure in late February after a 10-day stand at the Nova club in Kensington, West London.
A qualified boilermaker, Dokter briefly returned to South Africa where he worked a day job while playing with various local groups. In the late 1960s, he moved to his country of birth, Holland, and returned to school to study engineering. Turning down an offer to join The Golden Earring, he subsequently emigrated to Canada in 1969.
During the early 1970s, he got back into playing and recorded an unreleased album with 5 Man Cargo, which later morphed in Cross Town Bus. Through this group he met promoter Bruce Allan and ended up working for his agency for nearly two decades, although Dokter did make occasion trips back to South Africa where he played with his old buddy Kenny Henson in his duo, Finch & Henson among other projects.
“Needless to say, being on the road for 20 years, six-to-nine months at a time, took its toll and I became a studio/session drummer,” says Dokter, who retired from playing full-time in 1989 and currently lives in Vancouver. In the summer of 2009, he plans to visit the UK and catch up with Jack Russell, who he hasn’t seen since early 1968.