Hedgehoppers in 1971, left to right: Alan Avon, Bill Honeyman, Colin Turner (and front) Mick Matthews
|Tony Kaye (guitar, vocals)|
John Askey (bass)
Dave Birkenhead (organ)
Bill Honeyman (drums)
October Original Hedgehoppers Anonymous lead singer Mick Tinsley and drummer Glenn Martin (who has joined after the top five success of “It’s Good News Week”) have participated in a swansong tour of Sweden and Lapland with bass player Howard Livett and guitarist Ian Atkinson.
NME, November 26, 1965
The Colour Supplement, Phil Tunstall at top
January Sandie Shaw & The Streamliners appear at the MIDEM Festival in Cannes, France.
The Colour Supplement, Phil Tunstall in front
The King Pins with Colin Turner, Star Club promo, Germany, late 1966.
South African sleeve from early 1969 showing a short-lived lineup, photo taken November 1968
Left to right: Bill Honeyman, Mick Matthews, Colin Turner and Dave Birkenhead
|November Kaye, who wants to concentrate on a management role for the band, drops out and Matthews take over lead vocal duties briefly until Phil Tunstall joins from The Colour Supplement in December. Kaye’s sons will later write for Robbie Williams.|
December Future Hedgehoppers’ singer Alan Avon’s band, The Toyshop record a lone single for Polydor Records – the Carter/Lewis penned “Say Goodbye To Yesterday” c/w guitarist Tony Todd’s “Send My Love To Lucy”. John Askey leaves after this recording and Maurice Cope takes over on bass.
After arriving in South Africa, March, 1969
Article from the Natal Mercury
January Hedgehoppers Anonymous are invited to play a three-month residency at Tiles nightclub in Durban, South Africa but Dave Birkenhead is unable to participate in the South African tour and stays behind to join The Look Twice Band.
Left to right: Bill, Mick, Phil and Colin in 1970, shortly before Phil Tunstall’s tragic death.
Photo by Barry Oliver
January Hedgehoppers Anonymous sign a deal with the Highveld label to record three tracks.
1971, left to right: Mick, Colin, Alan and Bill
January To avoid any potential legal problems with Jonathan King who still owns the name, they drop the Anonymous tag and become Hedgehoppers.
1971, left to right: Mick Matthews, Colin Turner, Alan Avon and Bill Honeyman
March (4) Shortly after watching their beloved Stoke City beat Chelsea in the League Cup final at Wembley, Matthews leaves the band and returns to the UK. He later returns to South Africa and forms Ballyhoo, who will have significant success in the 1970s. Hedgehoppers carries on as a trio and back Wellington Count Judge on the Mojo single “Noma Kunjalo” c/w “Salani” as The Cool Cats. A few months later, Honeyman is killed in a road accident and the band splits with Turner returning to the UK.
I Started Out To Write A Song, by Mick Matthews and Adrian English (awaiting publication).
Information on the King Pins from the Starclub Hamburg site. The photo montage is their copyright.
Live dates sourced from Melody Maker, Birmingham Evening Mail, The Evening Sentinel, and Nottingham Evening Post.
Many thanks to Mick Matthews, Alan Avon, George Glover, Tertius Louw, Marq Vas, Benjy Mudie and Gavin Furlonger. Thank you to George Glover, Mike Nixon and Paul Stevenson for passing on details about The Colour Supplement, to Joe Toriati for the photos of this band and to Marq Vas for 45 label scans.
Thank you to Mick Matthews and Benjy Mudie at Fresh for permission to use the Hedgehoppers’ tracks. Keep an eye on Fresh Music’s website for the forthcoming Hedgehoppers CD: www.freshmusic.co.za
Mick Matthews and Adrian English’s I Started Out To Write A Song is awaiting publication.
Copyright © Nick Warburton, 2010. 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.
I have tried to ensure the accuracy of this article but I appreciate that there are likely to be errors and omissions. I would appreciate any feedback from anyone who can provide any additions or corrections. Email: Warchive@aol.com
From left: Alan Avon, Bill Honeyman (in back with glasses), Mick Matthews and Colin Turner. Photo by Gavin Furlonger
Freedom’s Children, July 1968, left to right: Craig Ross, Colin Pratley, Harry Poulos, Julian Laxton and Ramsay MacKay
|Formed at the height of the hated apartheid era, Freedom’s Children swiftly became South Africa’s most innovative sons, incomparable to anyone both musically and politically during those turbulent years. Their explorative, sonic excursions pushed the musical envelope and broke down barriers, culminating in the groundbreaking Astra album, arguably one of the era’s most overlooked recordings. The problem was no one was listening beyond South Africa.When Freedom’s Children tried to establish a profile in England during 1969, the group soon ran into problems. Thanks to British policy on the apartheid system, most of the band’s members were refused work permits and could only play gigs illegally. All hope of establishing themselves on the burgeoning London rock scene was thwarted and with it any chance of launching the band on the international stage.|
Arguably, it might have been an entirely different story if circumstances had been more favourable. At least, that’s the view held by one influential person – the band’s one-time manager Clive Calder, nowadays one of the most successful men in the international music business thanks to his companies Jive Records, Zomba Music Publishers, Zomba Management and Zomba books.
For those who are not familiar with his name, Calder’s record label has spawned international hits with Tight Fit, A Flock of Seagulls and Billy Ocean, while his publishing represents the Stiff catalogue, Bruce Springsteen and The Stray Cats. He’s also been mastermind behind the careers of Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys. Calder, however, has never forgotten his South African roots and his work with Freedom’s Children. A few years ago, he was quoting, saying the band “was then and probably still is today the only South African group that, given the right circumstances in the right geographical location, could have become an internationally successful rock band by just by being themselves and doing what they did.”
Like all great artists, Freedom’s Children’s story is littered with its own share of conflicts and disappointments, perhaps more so. But now with the cloak of apartheid lifted and a growing interest among ’60s aficionados of the hidden treasures to be found beyond British and American shores, perhaps the brilliance of Freedom’s Children’s music can finally be appreciated.
|At the centre of the band’s story and the man responsible for providing the creative spark that drove the group through its glory years was poet, songwriter and bass player Ramsay MacKay. One of South Africa’s rock geniuses, Ramsay MacKay was actually born in the Scottish Highlands on 15 August 1945. Arriving in South Africa in 1953, aged 7, his family settled in Graskop in the Eastern Transvaal.Taking up bass in his early teens, MacKay’s first musical venture was Eshowe, Zululand band, The Stilettos. Changing name to The Beathovens in the early ‘60s, the group became one of the first South African bands to specialise in R&B. “I knew this guy whose father was American, he was a missionary,” says MacKay from his home near Edinburgh where he records with his latest project, The Fumes. “He went back to America for his holidays when I was at boarding school, so I asked him to get me Chuck Berry and any other rhythm ‘n’ blues he could find. He brought Bo Diddley, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters. I really got to love that music and still do now. We started to play them in this band called The Beathovens and must have been one of the first bands in South Africa to do so”.|
From there, MacKay and fellow Beathovens, Angelo Minietti and Gary Demmer moved to Pretoria where they formed a new group, The Lehman Limited in October 1965, alongside future Freedom’s Children sideman, keyboard player Nic Martens and self-confessed jazz addict, drummer Colin Pratley (b. 27 June 1946, Springs, South Africa).
Both musicians had previously played together in The Navarones (Blue Blue Feeling), a Johannesburg group formed a year earlier, before going their separate ways in mid-1965. Before forming The Lehman Limited, Pratley also briefly drummed with The Upsetters, another local group led by British expats (and future members of Canadian underground legend, Influence), Andy Keiller and Louis McKelvey, although Pratley left before that band got round to recording its lone single.
The Lehman Limited soon fizzled out and during the summer of 1966, MacKay and Pratley joined forces with singer Mick Jade in The Seven Faces, a more experimental project, which despite its name only contained six musicians.
Once again, the band proved to be a transitory move. MacKay and Pratley then headed to the coast and Durban. “We were living on the beach,” remembers MacKay. “We were living like bums. We were so close to just being nothing and then became something. It was so amazing what happened really. The chances of us doing it were really small because we came from the outside. We were still country hicks in the big city, well especially I was, having been brought up in the Eastern Transvaal and Zululand. We were living in the beach hut and sleeping in schools. We survived on our wits. I don’t know how long it lasted for, I can’t remember. I don’t know how long we could have gone on but then we met Kenny. He was already quite well known.”
The Kenny in question was future South African guitar legend, the late Ken E Henson (b. 28 March 1947, Durban) who had recently tasted some success with (no relation) The Leemen Limited. An established local act, The Leemen Limited’s recording legacy comprised two excellent singles for Trutone’s Continental label – covers of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Under My Thumb” and ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and, on the second outing, a cover of Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper’s ‘In The Midnight Hour’ backed by John Mayall’s ‘Heartaches’.
Ken Henson’s band before Freedom’s Children, the Leemen Limited, 1966
left to right: Jimmy Thompson, John Smook, Nick Dokter, Richard Wright, Ken E Henson
|Henson was intrigued by MacKay and Pratley’s musical ideas and in December 1966 he introduced his former pal from The Leemen Limited, blues singer and James Brown fanatic, Jimmy Thompson (b. Demetrius Thomopoulos, Greece), to contribute keyboards and vibes. Together the musicians created a new revolutionary group that drew its inspiration from The Mothers of Invention’s “freak-outs”. South Africa had never seen anything like it.As MacKay explains, it was Henson who came up the band’s reactionary name. In a conversation with the bass player, Henson made a reference to “freedom’s sweet, after which MacKay added “children” and henceforth the band became known as Freedom’s Children. “It was a combined effort,” confirmed Henson, from his Durban home in 2006, on the genesis of the band’s name. “I said, ‘We should call it, Freedom’s Sweet’ and I think there was a British blues band around that time with the name so Ramsay said, ‘What about ‘Freedom’s Children?’”|
It was certainly a bold move considering the political climate at the time and was the first in a series of provocative moves that stoked the authorities’ ire. “You don’t call yourself Freedom’s Children in South Africa without a good reason,” says MacKay. “We were banned on most radio. Freedom’s Children meant something back then.”
“The name was deliberate,” adds Pratley. “It was an expression of what we wanted to do with our music. The music [at the time] was very commercial and it had to be that way. There were a lot of good musicians but they weren’t taking any chances, so we took the chances.”
Jimmy Thompson, pre-Freedom’s Children
|Initially, the band found work at the Le Macabre nightclub, housed in Durban’s Butterworth Hotel, playing standard R&B numbers. Then in March 1967, the group announced that it would be holding a “freak-out” there, starting on Saturday, 4 March. As a way of attracting people to the happening, MacKay wrote an article for Durban’s Natal Mercury, which was featured on the paper’s Wednesday “In Set” teen page three days before the event.The publicity describes Pratley as “a demon on the drums…[who] has instincts of barbaric savagery in his bass pedal actions. This often results in broken drums and loss of drummer while he takes a trip on a freak-out.” Demetrius meanwhile “plays vibes, piano and also shines at ‘Scotland the brave’ on organ. He dabbles in drama, has a yen to be an actor, reads Shakespeare and does a tidy bit of dancing on stage.”|
It then goes on to describe Henson as “a torturer…of the guitar. He will go to any lengths to create weird sounds” and “paints vocal pictures of fairy tales and solitary men.” As for MacKay, he is described as “a poet and owner of weird thoughts. Quote: We stand in corridors of time watching the processions of paper banner gods. Freedom is commercialised you can buy it…pay with death.” Both Henson and MacKay are credited for writing most of the group’s compositions, like the aptly titled, ‘Journey For Lost Souls’.
As for the “freak-outs” themselves, the paper’s reporter warns the public that, “the boys will be playing their wildest music. The name for it is ‘psychedelic music’ because it is accompanied by flashing lights, numerous voices gabbling in foreign languages, a simultaneous film show and anything else that will contribute to the chaos.” He then goes on to say, rather ominously, that the happening would not go on all evening because, “apparently, human nature just couldn’t stand it. But it will take up half an hour…and the boys will challenge anyone to stay watching longer than 20 minutes.”
For MacKay, Le Macabre represented a high water mark in the group’s musical development and was where Freedom’s Children’s music was at its most experimental, most original and strangest. “We played to pre-recorded sound effect tapes,” he points out. “The show incorporated films, jelly projectors, dry ice and white sheets around the total area, including the audience so that the audience and the band was one thing, it was a happening.”
According to MacKay, the band’s use of strobe lights was possibly the first time they had been used outside California. “It was not bought. It was home-made and involved a guy who was almost part of the band actually twirling contacts on an open board mechanically to achieve the strobe effect, at some personal risks,” he explains. “Due to the strobe lights and the intensity of volume people had epileptic fits. At this period in time, nobody knew that strobe lights gave people epileptic fits. This is how the band became notorious, because of society, the press, the police and even the Mayor of Durban who all tried to suppress what they thought was happening – that we were brainwashing the youth.”
So intense were the shows that some people ended up being hospitalised. When it became clear that the strobe lights were causing epileptic fits, the band was forced to put warning signs up, as MacKay explains. “It became known as having a ‘frothy’ and was quite a cultural event as people started having ‘frothies’ without being epileptic, but probably just stoned.”
While playing at Le Macabre one night, representatives from the South African Broadcasting Corporation dropped by (unofficially) and captured one of the band’s “freakouts” for posterity. “When we were doing the freakouts, two guys from the SABC came and privately recorded us with this tape recorder and they took us back to the SABC and played it to us,” remembers MacKay. “Man, it really blew my little mind. I don’t know what happened to that tape. I didn’t even think to ask for a copy.”
Soon afterwards, Freedom’s Children found work at another Durban club, Tiles where they played for a few weeks before moving on to the Scene 70. However, while the band clearly reveled in upsetting the establishment, its first record label, Troubadour, wasn’t prepared to take the same risks, and according to MacKay was so scared of getting into trouble that it issued the group’s early recordings under the name, Fleadom’s Children. (Producer Billy Forrest later explained that the label was forced to change the name because government-funded radio stations refused to play their singles as Freedom’s Children.)
|Troubadour had signed Freedom’s Children in the summer of 1967 and hooked the group up with Forrest, who, at the time, was South Africa’s most successful male pop artist. However, Freedom’s Children’s line up had recently undergone a radical shake up with two new members joining the ranks to replace Jimmy Thompson, who left after a dispute to concentrate on running his own Greek restaurant.To start with, the band added lead singer and electric pianist Craig Ross (b. 27 January 1946, Durban) from local band, The Gonnks. Initially starting out as a drummer with another Durban band, The Clansmen in 1963, Ross found himself lead singer by default one night when the band’s vocalist got food poisoning and was unable to perform. An instant success with fans and band alike, he gave up drumming to specialise in singing and in 1965 formed The Gonks, appearing on the singles, ‘You Can’t Stop Me Loving You’ and ‘Nobody But Me’.|
Freedom’s Children also decided to take on board a second lead guitarist in the form of Julian Laxton (b. 17 July 1944, Johannesburg). A prodigious talent, Laxton had started playing guitar at an early age, inspired, the legend goes, by American country guitarist/singer Merle Travis, who visited South Africa in the ‘50s and stayed with the Laxton family. Equally adept on the drums, Laxton began his career in the early ’60s playing guitar with local bands, The Commanchees and The Avantis before moving to Durban to work with The Nevadas during 1962-1963. While there he helped piece together The Five of Them, who played professionally at Claridges Hotel.
Shortening their name to Them, the group recorded two singles for EMI’s Parlophone label, ‘I Want To Be Rich’ and ‘One Time Too Many’ and then travelled to Johannesburg in late 1965. On arrival, Laxton ran into aspiring folk singers Mel Miller and Mel Green, who were in the process of recording their debut album. A mutual friend of the duo, David Sapire, suggested that they add a lead guitarist to “improve their sound” and duly recommended his brother – Julian Laxton! The re-named Mel, Mel and Julian recorded three albums for CBS before Laxton got itchy feet to play rock music again and took up the offer to join Freedom’s Children.
As Henson recalls, “We started playing on that whole dual guitar thing. We were doing a lot of Yardbirds, Cream and Hendrix covers at that point as well. That was before Ramsay started writing prolifically.”
Julian Laxton, pre-Freedom’s Children
|With Forrest handling production duties, Freedom’s Children entered the studios that summer and proceeded to lay down four tracks in one session. Understandably, the label went with what it thought were the two strongest cuts for the band’s debut single, issued towards the end of 1967. On the a-side was a raw cover of Tony Colton and Ray Smith’s ‘The Coffee Song’, which Cream had also recorded, initially for inclusion on their debut album Fresh Cream. Nestled on the flip, meanwhile, was the band’s tribute to The Rolling Stones, a bristling version of ‘Satisfaction’ with a heavy guitar work out courtesy of Laxton and Henson. A rare outing at the time, the single is now almost impossible to find but fortunately both sides have recently turned up as bonus tracks on Fresh Music’s digitally remastered Astra CD.Aficionados of the band, however, are still waiting to hear the two remaining tracks from that session, which were duly rounded up for the group’s second Troubadour single, issued a few months later. Credited again to Fleadom’s Children, the single comprises an outstanding version of The Yardbirds’ ‘Mr, You’re A Better Man Than I’ (composed, incidentally, by Mike Hugg of fellow South African, Manfred Mann’s group) backed by a cover of The Fleur De Lys’ ‘Mud In Your Eye’. While the a-side was a relatively well known number (and later covered by dozens of bands, most notably The Sons of Adam in California), the flip seemed an unusual choice, especially as The Fleur De Lys were hardly household names.|
According to South African rock journalist Tertius Louw, the connection was probably made through Forrest, who’d recorded a cover of Gordon Haskell’s ‘Lazy Life’ as a single using the pseudonym Quentin E Klopjeager. Henson provided the guitar on the recording, which also saw backing from The Gonks. The Fleur De Lys of course often supported South African singer Sharon Tandy who was resident in London during the mid-‘60s and knew Forrest well.
By this point, the band had moved on from Durban’s Scene 70 and travelled to Johannesburg to play the 505 Club where, according to MacKay, they worked for over a year, playing six nights a week. “ was the big gig,” adds Pratley. “Everyone needed to play there. It was an underground club in Hillbrow, which was a very cosmopolitan area.”
Drugs had started to enter the picture and later became as inseparable from the band’s music as the politics – grass, black bombs, purple hearts, LSD, were all essential ingredients in creating the band’s music. Nevertheless, MacKay is quick to put the band’s drug use into context. “Something subliminal happened to kids in the ‘50s and ‘60s that was precursor to the drugs,” he explains. “Drugs was not just about drugs. In the beginning Freedom’s Children took no drugs [and] what we saw on the drugs was what we were aware of anyway…that the world was (and still is) run by squares who relied on fear and authority to stifle any way of seeing the world differently.
“The ‘60s drug scene is much more related to people who took drugs in the 19th century, starting with the Romantic Movement in poetry and thinking and moving on to the Symbolists in France – people such as Verlaine, Rimbaud and Bauderlaire,” he continues. “One cannot understand the ‘60s without knowing that drugs only played a part in what was naturally coming out of our brains. Drugs made a metaphor of which the reality was already in that generation.”
While the group was forging ahead into new musical territory, behind the scenes one of Freedom Children’s founding members was on the way out. “I was with the band for about 18 months and had to leave due to domestic problems,” explains Henson looking back on his sudden departure in early ‘68. After a brief respite, Henson signed up with beat group, The Bats for a six-week stint and then formed the jazz group, The Sounds. “I was going to stay with [The Bats] permanently,” he says. “But they already asked Pete Clifford to join and he arrived back from England.” It didn’t matter, by 1969 Henson had put together a much more ambitious project, South Africa’s second legendary band, Abstract Truth (who deserve a feature in themselves).
Eschewing the two-guitar approach, Freedom’s Children duly recruited 19-year-old Marc Poulos (aka Harry Poulos) on organ and vocals. A hugely gifted multi-instrumentalist, Harry Poulos had played in a number of Durban bands during the early ‘60s before turning professional and teaming up with Four Jacks and a Jill (formerly The Zombies) in May 1966. During his time with the band, he added keyboards to the single ‘House With The White Washed Gables’. The group’s poppy sound, however, proved too restricting for such an imaginative and versatile musician and in June 1967, Poulos left to form Little People, who backed soul singer Una Valli at the Club Nine Eyes. When Little People folded, Poulos briefly found work with the band Privilege.
Freedom’s Children stayed on in Johannesburg and recorded the Harold Spiro/Phil Waldman composition, ‘Little Games’, which had been covered in the UK by The Yardbirds the previous year, with new producer John Nowell. The track would resurface in April 1968 as the b-side of Freedom’s Children’s debut single for EMI subsidiary, Parlophone Records. (It has also been included on Fresh Music’s remastered Astra CD).
While ‘Little Games’ was a competent enough performance, it was hardly representative of the band’s rapidly evolving sound. To see where Freedom’s Children were heading, listeners had to flip the record over to hear Ramsay MacKay and Harry Poulos’ ‘Kafkasque’, one of the first songs that turned up on Freedom’s Children’s debut album, Battle Hymn of the Broken Horde, released later that year.
By the time the single had reached the shops, however, Craig Ross had split from the group, his girlfriend having given him a “me or the band” ultimatum. Ross subsequently played with a succession of groups, including Parish News, The Pack, The Third Eye, a reformed Gonks and Jigsaw. Today he lives in Durban and designs kitchens (and occasionally sings in clubs).
“Craig was a good singer and performer,” says MacKay of his former colleague, “and the band took up a more rock ‘n’ pop ‘n’ soul kind of sound. This was quite a bit different from our psychedelic beginnings. We also had two guitars so it was a much denser sound. The people who followed the band at this time began calling us ‘Freedoms’ and as far as I know they still do.
“At that time we were playing 4 x 45 minute sets six nights a week for months on end. It became a way of life. You’ve got four hours a night to work on it. It’s a lot different from playing one 40 minute show every now and then”.
On the cover of Teenage Personality, July 18, 1968
Click for larger image
Click for larger image
|Soon after Ross’s departure Laxton and the band parted. With the guitarist joining John E Sharpe’s band, The Crystal Drive, Freedom’s Children now consisted of Ramsay MacKay, Colin Pratley, Harry Poulos and sax player Mike Faure, who was recruited from Johannesburg group, The Square Set.“I had jammed casually with Freedom’s Children on a number of occasions,” remembers Faure on his entrance into the group. “Then on 27 June 1968, I received a telegram from Harry Poulos, who had been asked by Freedom’s Children to contact me, re: joining the band.|
“I enjoyed working with the band, even though we were from different places musically. I was from more of a soul, funk, blues, R&B background, which was pretty far removed from their established style, though there were places where it came together quite well, especially with Harry’s organ style.”
The new set up, however, was short lived and soon afterwards the band split into two camps with Poulos and Faure forming a new group called The Laughing Convention with former Ronnie Singer Sound drummer Jeremy Dreyer and bass player Henry De Wet.
“Harry and I came up with the name in our Jo’burg flat, by placing little slips of paper in two hats,” notes Faure. One hat for adjectives or verbs, one for nouns. My words were nouns. ‘Laughing’ and ‘Convention’ were the first words drawn from each hat, and so it was.”
Faure says that he and Harry left Freedom’s Children mainly because the group was “calling it a day”. He regrets that no recordings were made but points out that the band was pretty much winding down by then anyway. The Laughing Convention started a two-month contract at the Blow-up club in Cape Town on 1 December 1968 but the band’s tenure was cut short when Poulos left for England in early 1969 (more of which later).
MacKay meanwhile provides another explanation on the split. “We actually left the band because we got tired of it. We weren’t happy with the sax player and the organ. [Also] it was getting very heavy with the politics. We looked pretty radical for the time and got searched all the time. We just wanted to play somewhere we didn’t have to worry about all that.”
With this thought in mind, MacKay and Pratley made plans to relocate to London that summer and establish a new version of Freedom’s Children overseas. Before setting off for England in late 1968, the pair started recording tracks with John Nowell, “a strange guy” according to MacKay, who, together with executives at EMI, would raise eyebrows a few months later over the handling of the Battle Hymn of the Broken Horde album.
From the outset, MacKay and Pratley found themselves at loggerheads with the producer and only got as far as recording the backing tracks with help from former Dusty Springfield and Floribunda Rose guitarist Pete Clifford and keyboard player Nic Martens (fresh from a stint with The Neil McDermott Group).
“I played a bouzouki solo on there, a rather strange one I must say,” remembers Clifford, who was playing with The Bats at the time. “I’d known Freedom’s Children for a long time because Colin Pratley, the drummer, was a good friend of mine and of course I knew Julian Laxton. We were all friends. I used to be very much in to a heavier form of music than I was playing with The Bats. I wanted to get into heavier music so when I could I used to finish the gig with The Bats and I used to go down to EMI studios and record with Freedom’s because Julian wasn’t always there.”
MacKay, who’d written most of the songs for the project on his own or with Poulos, also found time to record the talking parts between the tracks. Soon afterwards, “we came to London and sort of forgot about it,” he admits.
Colin Pratley picks up the story. “We recorded some tracks and we told EMI in South Africa that we were going (to England) and there was no way we were going to wait around. We never got to hear the finished product until the album had been sent to England.”
|In their absence, Nowell, following EMI’s instructions, set to work putting the final touches to the album, changing words here and there on some songs and also adding brass to several tracks. EMI also made the controversial decision to place two Pepsi promotions on the end of each side of the album. “I think the record company said something about ‘Well, we’ve got to get promotion to pay for it because we won’t pay for the cover,” says MacKay. “I don’t think I knew that they were actually going to put it on the record. I don’t know how we came to record Battle Hymn. We were about to leave for London and found ourselves laying down tracks for a record. Freedom’s Children then consisted of Colin Pratley and I. As it did in the beginning.”Since no vocals had been laid down before MacKay and Pratley’s departure, EMI also instructed Nowell to bring in several singers to complete the tracks. Steve Trend was one of the singers hired, while female backing vocals were provided courtesy of Stevie Van Kerken. The remaining tracks featured former It’s a Secret lead singer Dennis Robertson and some other singers, one of whom MacKay thinks might be Peter Vee but the other remains unknown.|
With all this fiddling, one could be forgiven in thinking that the whole project might have ended up an unmitigated disaster. But even with its obvious flaws, Battle Hymn of The Broken Hearted Horde stands up surprisingly well even if isn’t what MacKay and Pratley had initially envisaged.
Looking back, MacKay describes the album as a ghost because neither he nor Pratley were present to oversee the making of the album. “On some tracks we are not playing at all. On others we left very basic tracks and no guide vocals. Some of the songs are very different to what was planned. The fact is we recorded an album but we were not there. The whole thing was really put together by John Nowell. It’s sort of accurate to how things had become in South Africa for us… very confused. We had to move on and take quite a chance by going to London. It was very heavy back then. We had had enough. It’s a pity about Battle Hymn. That we were not there”.
On listening to the album today, Battle Hymn of The Broken Horde sounds remarkably fresh and contains some beautiful period music, which ranges from hard rock workouts like ‘Judas Queen’ and ‘Eclipse’ to more pastoral pieces like ‘Season’ and ‘Boundsgreen Fair’. The album’s eventual release in spring 1969 went virtually unnoticed, as did a new single, which coupled ‘Judas Queen’ with the non-LP and ultra rare track ‘Fare-Thee-Well’. Perhaps this wasn’t such a surprise bearing in mind that Freedom’s Children were no longer an active unit on the South African music scene.
|Over in England, Ramsay MacKay and Colin Pratley decided to continue with the Freedom’s Children name and, after finding their feet, decided to bury the hatchet with Laxton and also encouraged Poulos to rejoin.The former members left their respective groups and flew to London around February 1969 to stay at MacKay and Pratley’s digs in West Kensington. As MacKay points out, it was not a particularly good time to be a South African in the UK. The musicians came up against a lot of prejudice during their stay, which must have seen quite ironic in light of the band’s anti-apartheid stance back home.|
More problematic was the difficulty in getting work. Because most of the band couldn’t gain work permits, Freedom’s Children were unable to get consistent gigs and had to work illegally. Nevertheless, one early performance found the group opening for Pink Floyd at the Country Club in Belsize Park. “All I remember about Pink Floyd is seeing Roger Waters’ tonsils as he screamed ‘Careful with that Axe Eugene’,” says MacKay.
What he does vividly remember is an audition to back American soul singer Geno Washington at London’s famous jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s. “He was just telling us, ‘play funky man, play funky’. He had a bottle of whisky and a roast chicken, I remember this clearly. He was telling us to play funky and we were this acid-freak group. We were looking at each thinking, ‘What the hell is funky?’ I think that the singer’s manager gave us our taxi fare home.”
In the early months of 1969, the band received some rare publicity when US trade magazine Billboard ran a brief article on EMI South Africa in its 1 March issue. “The Freedom’s Children project is one of the most ambitious to be undertaken by a local group,” the review said. “The album revolves around a central theme and each track is introduced by spoken verse.” The snippet added that the album was being released in the UK where Freedom’s Children are now appearing.
Indeed, by the time the magazine appeared, Freedom’s Children had picked up further sporadic gigs, including another show at Hampstead Country Club on 6 April with Van Der Graaf Generator. “I remember [them] coming up to us after we played and saying they liked our sound as it was different,” remembers MacKay.
The show, however, proved to be one of Pratley’s last with the band. Faced with visa problems, the drummer begrudgingly returned to South Africa leaving the others to draft in a succession of inferior replacements – three Englishmen, including a one-eyed drummer from Liverpool, and 19-year-old South African Terry Acres, who today owns Prosound, a huge sound systems company in South Africa. “Colin was a very good drummer,” says MacKay on the dilemma of replacing such an integral member. “He had a certain style, a way of playing so it was very hard to find someone to play like him.”
Acres was hardly a stranger to the band having taken drumming lessons from Pratley in Springs during the mid ‘60s and also followed Freedom’s Children during its early days. He had left South Africa during 1969 with the intention of studying in the UK when he crossed paths with the group again. “In London Julian knew a mutual acquaintance in John Kongos. That’s where we caught up and they needed a drummer,” he recalls. “I was only with them for a few months and probably only because I had a brand new premier drum kit. Certainly my drumming talents were not up to the band’s standards.”
With Acres on board, the remaining musicians, joined by English flautist Robin Clapham who was also a member during this period, recorded a demo for EMI in a studio around Tottenham Court Road. Those recordings offer a tantalising glimpse of the band’s next project. “We recorded this one 15-minute piece of music, which probably had a couple of songs in it but we played it as one thing,” says MacKay. “Some of these [songs] were re-recorded when we got back to South Africa and became part of Astra.”
Julian Laxton went further in explaining the genesis of the album in an interview with Raymond Joseph in 2004. “We had lots of time to practice,” he recalled. “…I had invented a gizmo, which was the beginning of my black box [a modified echo box]. …I got some interest from a company that was keen to develop it further and produce a prototype. In return they gave us a place to stay and some music equipment, which is how we came to start working on Astra. It took about eight months of experimenting and hard practice to get it right.”
By the end of 1969, Freedom’s Children had acquired a manager, a shady “Mafia type” character who put the band up in a flat above a nightclub in Dunstable, a commuter town some forty miles north west of London. “We did do quite a few gigs actually but in weird places,” remembers MacKay. “Places that you wouldn’t put a rock ‘n’ roll band. It was like he didn’t know. He was going on about trying to break into rock ‘n’ roll but he didn’t know what it was.”
It was through the manager, however, that the group came into contact with South African singer Emil Dean Zoghby, who was resident in the UK at the time and later wrote the music for, and played in, the rock opera, Catch My Soul. MacKay has clear memories of the singer dropping in to see the band at rehearsals to offer encouragement and feedback on the songs.
During the band’s countryside retreat that winter, MacKay also remembers the musicians dropping acid together. For the sensitive Harry Poulos, the trip appears to have been a turning point and MacKay describes his colleague a changed man after the experience. “Acid back then was very strong – it was quite an unsettling experience,” he explains. “South Africa is an extreme country because of the total cruelty and then everyone normalises it. That could drive you crazy on its own, and if you took acid on top of it…”
When the musicians returned to Cape Town by boat in early 1970, Harry Poulos’ erratic behaviour became a cause for concern. Soon afterwards, the troubled musician abandoned the group, and following a brief stint with former member, Ken E Henson’s Abstract Truth, he joined The Otis Waygood Blues Band, assisting with the albums Otis Waygood and Ten Light Claps and A Scream. Events sadly took a tragic turn when Poulos died after jumping off a building, another casualty of the psychedelic era.
The enigmatic musician was always going to be difficult to replace but fortunately Freedom’s Children came up trumps with the late Brian Davidson, an amazing singer, who according to Laxton was a bit like Robert Plant in that he used his voice like a musical instrument. Recruited from soul band Coloured Rain during a talent-scouting mission in Cape Town, Davidson’s powerful voice was the perfect mouthpiece for the band’s astral rock. (In an interesting aside, Brian Davidson and Colin Pratley are rumoured to have collaborated on an album with Pete Clifford in 1969 called King of The Axe-Grown Maker under the name Grunganc Flerc.)
With Pratley back in the group’s ranks (following a brief stint in The Third Eye alongside Craig Ross), it was time to get down to business. Catching a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, the band went immediately from the airport to see Clive Calder, formerly a bass player with local bands, Birds of a Feather and Calder’s Collection among others, but now working as an A&R man for EMI. “I took my suitcase, and it had all my writing, all of my songs on tape that I had done in London,” recalls MacKay on the personal disaster that unfolded. “I left the suitcase in the office as he wanted to show me the studio and when we came back it was gone. It really hit me hard. I lost all of these songs, so I had to start from the beginning again.”
|Fortunately, some of the material that MacKay had written in England – ‘The Homecoming’, ‘The Kid He Came From Nazareth’, ‘Tribal Fence’ and ‘Medals of Bravery’ were already well rehearsed and fully arranged, and it didn’t take long for Davidson and Pratley to learn their parts. Abetted by Calder as executive producer and part-time member Nic Martens, who was invited to engineer the album, Freedom’s Children entered EMI’s Johannesburg studio that spring and began work on Astra.Looking back on the sessions, MacKay credits Calder for allowing the band the licence to experiment. “He just gave us total freedom, which in those days in EMI was a miracle and he did that which is quite an amazing thing to do. Also, he was sort of a rebel. He was always well dressed and well groomed but he loved it when we caused havoc, when we played loud.”|
Nic Martens meanwhile had a more hands-on role, working with the band to produce the record. As it turned out, he’d just returned to South Africa following a brief spell in England where he’d spent several months hanging out at EMI’s Abbey Road soaking up the atmosphere and picking up recording techniques.
Another influential figure was classically trained pianist, Gerald Nel. “He was older than us and used to be a ballet dancer,” remembers MacKay. “He was a very good pianist and he plays a lot on Astra. He was there for the whole album but nobody ever mentions him. He really enjoyed himself. It was something totally unusual and unexpected for him.”
Over the years, conflicting stories have emerged over Astra’s recording with most members, including Martens, claiming it took as little as three days from recording to final mix. “What many are unaware of, is that Astra was recorded from a Friday night, to the Monday morning,” he told Raymond Joseph in 2004.
While Pratley and Laxton also concur with Martens’ recollections about the album being recorded over a weekend, MacKay remembers things very differently. “I think it’s a big myth that we recorded it in one weekend. As far I remember anyway. It was exhilarating to make but quite a lot of hard work is in it. Some parts were written in the studio as the whole theme of it was developing. Also there was a lot of sound experimenting going on.”
One is inclined to believe MacKay’s take on events considering the complexity of the tracks and the recording process, but whatever the truth, Astra remains a startlingly piece of work and dare I say it, a seminal album from that era. With MacKay’s social-philosophical songs providing a template to launch from, the whole group works as a collective to push the musical envelope and create an inspired and highly original piece of music.
As the band’s musical backbone, Pratley and MacKay’s playing is superb throughout and the listener is immediately struck at how telepathic the two musicians are in their musical interactions. Pratley’s intricate and pulsating African drum rhythms sets the geographical and political tone for the album, and helps to create an atmosphere that reflects perfectly the turmoil which characterised the apartheid era while MacKay’s solid melodic bass lines add vigour to the heady mix.
Martens’ contributions are equally distinctive; both mean and menacing and chillingly hypnotic, his keyboard weaves throughout, accentuating the overall sense of isolation, fear and repression. Davidson’s voice meanwhile adds another instrument to the mix. Sounding at times slightly reminiscent of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and Spooky Tooth’s Mike Harrison, his singing is superb throughout. At times his voice soars majestically while at others it growls with anger at the injustice of the political situation home and abroad.
Then there’s Laxton’s sonic explorations, enhanced by his “black box”, which is, in fact, an echo box that has been modified to give a bigger choice of echoes. His blistering fretwork is also noteworthy, particularly on ‘Tribal Fence’ where he punctures the often-dark atmosphere with stabbing solos of breathtaking beauty. “Everybody who was there had to be there,” insists MacKay on the personal chemistry behind the recording. “Without one it couldn’t have sounded like that because everyone is adding so much to it.”
The idea for Laxton’s modified echo box emerged one night when he was sleeping. “I dreamt of putting a cardboard tube over a radio with a microphone inside the tube, which moved up and down,” he remembers. “I woke up and actually built this contraption and put the microphone through a tape recorder so I could hear the effect. It was amazing, it was ‘phasing’ or phlanging to a degree.”
It was only once Freedom’s Children were back in South Africa in early 1970 that Laxton finally realised his dream. “I got an old echolette echo chamber, which I modified with extra record and playback heads as well as speeding up the capston about 20 times,” he says. “One set of heads on the machine was attached to a device that moved the second playback head back and forwards. The speed of the machine could also be varied with [and] created that weird space ship sound.”
MacKay also remembers the group’s use of the studio’s echo plate, which he recalls had a very big hollow sound. “It’s in a room all on its own and we went in to it and kicked it to get the bomb explosions.”
Astra line up, 1970, left to right: Nic Martens, Julian Laxton,
Ramsay MacKay, Colin Pratley and (seated) Brian Davidson
|Crammed with sense-riveting sound effects, Astra kicks off in dramatic fashion with ‘Aileen’, one of the oldest songs that MacKay brought to the band. Dating back to the La Macabre period, the original Freedom’s Children had even got as far as rehearsing the song but never played it live. “That’s why it’s so short,” explains MacKay. “It’s just a mood thing.”“You see where Astra really comes from, is we had this flat in West Kensington. When the Americans landed on the moon…we took all our beds and put them in a semicircle around this little black and white TV,” explains MacKay on the inspiration behind his writing for the album. “Anyway, we took this acid and when they landed on the moon we were tripping. It was such an experience, I shall never forget it and that’s what Astra appeared out of.|
“It has no concept as such. It takes the experience of the moon landing and works from there through to 1970. The songs are all individual in their own right but they seem to fit into what happened on the album as a whole. We were really there when we recorded it. The ‘60s was a different planet from the Invasion of the Body Snatchers we’re on now”.
As MacKay explains, a number of the songs on Astra also explore other topical issues, both at home and abroad. ‘Medals of Bravery’ is a case in point and is a thinly veiled comment on the futility of the Vietnam War and how it robbed the generation of its youth. “I think in the middle with the really heavy metal part, where the voice is very high, it says, ‘America, utopia, you taught me how’ then it goes into this really slow, beautiful part,” he recalls. ‘Wear your medals of bravery’ is like the old men reap the young men. That’s what the song is about.”
Closer to home, ‘Tribal Fence’ and ‘Gentle Beast’, with its line “there’s a traitor in your midst” are political statements about life in South Africa under apartheid. “When I was a kid in the bush, people had to drive some way in the night to see a movie,” explains MacKay on the significance of the chanting used in ‘Gentle Beasts’. “On the drive back in the backseat of my father’s car my imagination would wander depending on what film had been shown. I remember one film about the Mau Mau in Kenya. Very scary when you are 10 or 12 years old and everybody is telling you to watch out for the blacks. ‘B’ movies are very poetic to a kid. Dracula is a very white man in the third world. I guess we were colonised by American and British movies, but we were in the middle of Africa. These things crept into the songs a decade later. Politics and voodoo sort of made sense.”
Another politically charged song is ‘The Kid He Came From Nazareth’, which was partially recorded when Calder heard the finished album and censored the use of ‘Nazareth’. In the end, Davidson went back in the studio and re-sang the line, changing ‘Nazareth’ to ‘Hazareth’.
MacKay picks up the story. “The point of the song is Jesus is an outlaw. Because the apartheid government was very Calvinist Christian, the Old Testament, you know, and its greatest ally was Israel. I thought, ‘The Kid He Came From Nazareth’, with all the religious connotations of what was going on in Israel and what was going on in South Africa. This Kid became a symbol because he said love your neighbour not just yourselves.
The album closes with ‘Afterward’ which according to MacKay is “after it’s all over, the previous part of the record and our parts in it. Short versions of all the songs are played in a different style and they end with musically what has already happened, I don’t know if this makes sense. I think Astra’s got a lot of emotion in it and it still comes back to me even now …there was a great atmosphere in the studio and when we listened to the whole thing back after the mix and all the edits and stuff the sun was coming up…it felt quite surreal”.
Over the years, rock fans and critics have tended to see Astra as a concept album about Christ, but MacKay dismisses this. “As I’ve said it’s not a concept album as such and it’s only got one song about Jesus Christ on it,” he concludes. “It’s got this idea of space but yet within this huge vast infinity of space and planets, there’s this little ball, where these fuckers are telling one lot of fuckers to live on this side of the fucking fence.”
Galactic Vibes 1972 lineup, left to right: Colin Pratley, Julian Laxton, Barry Irwin and Brian Davidson
|Soon after Astra’s release Ramsay MacKay quit the group abruptly. “I had fallen for a girl and moved back to Durban,” he recalls. “It seems stupid now and I guess it was, but that’s what happened”.Over the next few months, he found work with Ken E Henson’s band Abstract Truth, although no recordings were made. With MacKay gone, Freedom’s Children added former October Country bass player Barry Irwin and the entire band (minus Davidson) returned to the studio to play on three tracks on Dickie Loader’s A Breath of Fresh Air album, released in late 1970.|
Irwin’s recruitment, however, presented its own unique problems thanks to the colour of the musician’s skin. Travelling around the country in a VW Kombi and living off R1 a day each, Pratley remembers the group’s new bass player having to sleep in the Kombi because hotels refused to let him stay. At concerts in really political towns, he even had to wear a T-shirt over his head because of his colour!
The band ventured back into the studio during 1971 to record Galactic Vibes but despite some strong moments, including the dazzling ‘That Did It’ with Davidson’s demented vocals and Laxton’s Led Zeppelin-inspired guitar break, the new album paled in comparison with its predecessor. Soon afterwards, Pratley and Davidson broke away and headed to Durban where they joined forces with MacKay and Henson to form yet another version of Freedom’s Children.
|Left to his own devices, Julian Laxton briefly hooked up with the multi-racial Afro-rock band Hawk, who toured England in 1973, appearing at the Reading Festival and recording an album for Charisma as Joburg Hawk (MacKay penned most of the band’s material, incidentally). From there, he consolidated his reputation as an engineer and producer and went on to record a string of solo albums over the next 30 years. Today, he runs his own club in Johannesburg, playing blues-rock.The new Freedom’s Children line up, meanwhile, soon ran afoul of the authorities, as MacKay explains. “Nobody ever mentions that we played with black jazz musicians called Molombo Jazzmen, and that we played with them when it was against the law to be onstage with a black person. We played to a packed Durban City Hall with skeleton masks on and our hands painted white under florescent lighting. This was the first time a black and a white band had played on stage. We were at the forefront of the political situation. We were hounded by the police.”|
Not surprisingly, the group soon imploded and during the ‘70s and ‘80s the individual members carved out careers in widely differing musical fields. While Brian Davidson kept a relatively low profile, briefly returning to the spotlight with The Lancaster Band in 1978 and then The Council, Ramsay MacKay became hugely active in the Afro-rock field, playing bass with The Paul Clingman Band and penning the socio-political rock opera Orang Outang. In 1982, he released a long-awaited solo album Suburbs of Ur on the Principal label before relocating to London where blues legend Alexis Korner expressed an interest in recording his material.
Ken E Henson also moved to England and in 1972 briefly worked with US country-rock band Daddy Longlegs before doing session work for Leo Sayer and Roger Daltrey. During the mid-‘70s, he returned to South Africa and joined Collinson McBrian, where he was reunited with MacKay and Pratley (the latter fresh from the latest Freedom’s Children line up featuring future Yes member, Trevor Rabin alongside Davidson and Martens – the group even recorded a single, ‘State of Fear’).
The trio joined forces yet again in 1977 for an album on Warner Brothers that was commissioned by the South African Council of Churches called Let Us Become Men. The following year the trio collaborated on a further project, under the guise of Harambee, which means “spirit of togetherness” in one of the African languages, and recorded the album Giving A Little Away.
Throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Henson performed as one half of South Africa’s most sought-after pub duo, Finch & Henson who reunited on numerous occasions, most notably in 2005. Sadly, he died on 24 May 2007 after suffering from emphysema.
Colin Pratley, who has become a master of the African drum, joined forces with violin maestro Dave Tarr in 1980 and recorded a lone album as Wildebeest. He then laid low for a decade before emerging in 1990 for a Christian album entitled A New Day. A collaborative effort with Ken E Henson, the record appeared, rather mischievously, under the Freedom’s Children banner.
In fact, it wasn’t the last time the band’s name was used for a recording. In 1996, Ramsay MacKay flew back to South Africa to collaborate on an album with Brian Davidson and Ken E Henson. Assisted by three new members, the new Freedom’s Children album, entitled Mummies (Back From The Dead) remains unreleased to this day.
Davidson subsequently fronted his own group, which re-recorded MacKay’s ‘1999’ from Galatic Vibes. Sadly, it was his last recording. After playing with The Live Wire Blues Band, the singer left South Africa in 2000 to teach English in Thailand and on 4 December 2002 died (many suspect murdered) in mysterious circumstances.
Despite Davidson’s passing, there are some that still believe there is a future in the band, especially after Fresh Music’s CD release of Astra effectively opened Freedom’s Children’s music up to an international audience. Colin Pratley, who today runs a shelter for Aids babies in Durban with his wife, feels that the album has stood the test of time and would welcome a reunion with Laxton and MacKay to play the album live again in its entirety. “It’s just an amazing album,” he says. “I can actually hear Astra made perhaps with the band members and the London Philharmonic. I would love to do that [with the] African drums. It would be an amazing concert.”
Ramsay MacKay, however, is not convinced that such a project will ever reach fruition. With his latest band, The Fumes, he has little time for the past and is saving his sharp social-political comments for the conflict in the Middle East. In many ways though, it’s a return to the themes explored on ‘The Kid He Came From Nazareth’.
Special thanks to Ramsay MacKay for the great insights in to the band’s music. Thank you also to Ken E Henson, Colin Pratley, Julian Laxton, Craig Ross, Mike Faure, Pete Clifford and Terry Acres for taking the time to contribute to this article and to Tertius Louw for the use of photographs and for his invaluable editorial input.
Copyright © Nick Warburton, February 2008, All Rights Reserved
This article originally appeared in Ugly Things magazine in its summer 2007 issue.
To contact the author, email: Warchive@aol.com
Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Scrugg live, left to right: Chris Demetriou, Jack Russell, Henry Spinetti (hidden) and John Kongos
|Buried in the welter of superlative singles issued in September 1967 was an intriguing release by an Anglo-South African group with a suitably ‘flower power’ name, Floribunda Rose. A forgotten gem, ‘One Way Street’ c/w ‘Linda Loves Linda’, should have been a resounding hit but despite being plugged incessantly by several notable radio stations, it barely made a ripple.Floribunda Rose may have been lost to a bygone age but its lead singer and principal songwriter remains one of South Africa’s most successful exports and would years later become synonymous with one of Brit Pop’s most enduring anthems, The Happy Monday’s ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’.|
Born in Jo’burg on 6 August 1945 to Greek parents, aspiring singer/songwriter and guitarist Johnny Kongos had formed his first group, The Dukes, when he was 15 years old and began carving out a local following playing at his mother’s club, the Fireplace in Boksburg.
Joined by former Mickie Most & The Playboys guitarist Hank Squires in 1962, the group morphed into Johnny Kongos & The G-Men and over the next three years released nearly twenty singles and half a dozen albums for the Teal and RCA labels.
In late 1963, Kongos made his first exploratory visit to the UK but despite auditioning for a couple of major labels, and running into Hank Squires’s former band leader, Mickie Most, now a fledging producer, Kongos failed to make an impact.
Empty handed, he returned to Jo’burg and reformed The G-Men. Plans to consolidate his earlier successes, however, were soon thrown in the air when the singer was called up for national defence training in late 1964.
Returning to civilian life six months later, Kongos picked up where he’d left off and recorded a final single with The G-Men, ‘Until It’s Time For You To Go’, which secured a release on Teal, the South African distributor for the Pye label.
The fruits of the ensuing sessions turned up on the singer’s debut UK single – the folky, self penned ‘I Love Mary’, backed with the poppy Kongos/Leroy number, ‘Good Time Party Companion’, released that September. Credited to John T Kongos, the single was well received but did nothing chart-wise.
004 in Personality, November 1965
|004Soon after the single’s release, Kongos was back in South Africa beginning work on a fresh clutch of songs with the intention of recording an album. One night in April 1967, he dropped into the 505 club in Jo’burg’s trendy Hillbrow district and caught British group, The 004 entertaining the crowds (see The 004 page for a closer inspection of this fascinating group). Suitably impressed, he approached the band members after they’d finished their set and asked them to help him cut the planned album as paid musicians.|
A hugely popular live act, The 004 had arrived in South Africa by boat in July 1965 on the back of a contract offered to the group’s lead guitarist, Pete Clifford (b. 10 May 1943, Whetstone, London). A former member of Dusty Springfield’s backing group, The Echoes, Clifford had first visited South Africa during 1964 and participated in the singer’s infamous tour where she was deported for refusing to play to segregated audiences.
While the tour had been a PR disaster, Clifford had been promised some lucrative work by Trevor Boswell, husband of South African 1950s star, Eve Boswell, and co-owner of the Keleti Artist Agency, if he could return from London with a new group.
Clifford sought around for suitable musicians and quickly recruited Welsh rhythm guitarist and singer Brian Gibson from The Laurie Jay Combo, who in turn recommended fellow countryman, bass player and singer Jack Russell (b. 29 April 1944, Caerleon, Wales).
Gibson and Russell had known each other for years, having first worked together in The Victors, resident band at the Latin Quarter, one of London’s top theatre restaurants.
“I had a call on the Monday from Brian,” remembers Russell, who was working as a manager for Vox in Dartford at the time. “He asked me if I fancied joining him in a band that was going to South Africa. I said, ‘Yes’ and asked, ‘When do we go?’ He said, ‘Thursday!’”
With Londoner Peter Stember (today a successful US-based photographer) completing the line up on drums, The 004 sailed for Durban and soon shot to local fame as one of the top groups working the clubs, so much so that they landed jobs supporting Gene Vincent and The Ivy League.
During 1966, the band released a handful of singles for CBS, including ‘The In Crowd’ and a decent album, It’s Alright, before Stember returned to the UK in August.
In his place, The 004s recruited Dutch-born, South African raised drummer Nick ‘Doc’ Dokter (b. 24 July 1945, Kampen, Overijsel, The Netherlands), who possessed an impressive musical CV, including a stint with The Leemen Limited alongside South African guitar legend, the late Ken E Henson.
Originally a bass player, Dokter moved to drums early his career after the sticksman in the garage band he was playing in gave up music for a regular job. Working with future A-Cads singer Sammy Evans in a factory making boilers, the pair struck up a friendship and in an interesting turn of events both ended up joining Johnny Kongos’ group The G-Men after the singer was called up for military service.
“We all went and played at John’s place, the Fireplace,” recalls Dokter. “From there I met Kenny Henson, who needed a drummer, so I moved to Durban to join Leemen Limited.”
After two rare singles on the Continental label, including a great version of ‘In The Midnight Hour’ backed by John Mayall’s ‘Heartaches’, it was time to move on again.
“I was just hanging around and Pete Clifford approached me. Peter Stember was leaving The 004 and he just said, ‘Why don’t you just come out and play with us?’ I was really a young kid and I had no experience of playing big clubs. They kinda took me under their wing.”
With Dokter filling the vacant drum stool, The 004 spent the remainder of 1966 consolidating their live reputation. When Gibson handed in his notice in early 1967 (later joining progressive rock band, Abstract Truth, alongside Henson), The 004 briefly recruited guitarist Barry Mitchell from rival band, The In Crowd, but the line up never gelled and when Kongos dropped into the 505, the group had been stripped to a trio.
“John originally offered a job to Jack and Pete,” says Dokter. “I wasn’t included in this. Eve Boswell’s son was originally going to be the drummer. He did some demos with Pete and Jack but it didn’t work out. I happened to be in one of the sessions and just took over.”
As Kongos recalls, he always intended to employ a Farfisa organ sound on his album so when Clifford, Dokter and Russell took up the offer to record with him, they were joined in the studio by a fifth member, Chris Demetriou (more commonly known as Chris Dee).
Former keyboard player with Johannesburg’s finest R&B group, John E Sharpe & The Squires (see the Chris Demetriou interview page for more information on this band), Cyprus-born Demetriou had appeared on all of The Squires’ classic singles, including covers of The Kinks’ ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ and Paul Simon’s ‘I Am A Rock’, as well as the highly sought after Maybelline album.
“John located me through the Jo’burg Greek club,” remembers Demetriou. “I was invited to his house and the next thing I knew we were planning to leave the country and seek fame and fortune in London.”
As Kongos relates, his plan had always been to return to the UK with a band as soon as possible and use the recordings to secure further work. Looking back on the sessions, he dismisses most of the material as forgettable.
“I had written a bunch of songs and I basically wanted to do demos. I went into the studio with all of the guys and wound up taking that ‘album’ of demos to the UK.”
As events panned out, the band got half way through the recording when Kongos made a proposition: rather than pay the musicians for the sessions, he would cover everyone’s fares to UK.
Chris Demetriou, 1967
The as-yet unnamed Floribunda Rose in Jo’burg, May 1967.
Left to right: Pete Clifford, Jack Russell, John Kongos, Chris Demetriou and Nick Dokter
|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.
Scrugg, 1968, left to right: Jack Russell, Chris Demetriou, John Kongos and Henry Spinetti
|ScruggWith Dokter out of the picture, the remaining members returned to London where Russell and Demetriou found themselves caught up in a police raid at their shared flat. “Unbeknown to us, while we were away in Germany and Scotland our road manager had been renting our rooms out,” says Russell, recalling the tragic event.|
“People had been using our place as a doss house and these guys had been dealing. We hadn’t a clue the police had been watching the place and we arrived back the morning they hit the place. We were fitted up and forced to plead guilty. We were fined £50 and got front page of The Sun.”
Putting the loss of Dokter behind them, Russell returned to the Welsh valleys and brought back 16-year-old wonder kid, Henry Spinetti (b. 31 March 1951, Cwm, Wales), younger brother of Victor Spinetti and today Katie Melua’s drummer.
With two weeks’ work lined up at the Top Ten in Hamburg, kicking off on 1 March, the group headed for the continent bearing a new name – Scrugg. “I chose the name because we wanted a more earthy image and I was a fan of Earl Scruggs the banjo player,” admits Russell.
“That was a suggestion that we all made,” chips in Clifford, who believes the name was discussed while he was still a member. “We were all trying to think of a new image and I think I left on the verge of Scrugg because I’ve got a picture of Floribunda Rose and then in brackets it says ‘Scrugg’.”
Under its new guise, Scrugg returned to the studios with John Schroeder to work on the first of three classic singles, which, as David Wells rightly points out in the liners for the John Kongos’s compilation album, Lavender Popcorn, “remain exquisite examples of the psychedelic pop sound.”
Scrugg’s debut outing, released on Pye in April 1968, coupled two John Kongos numbers – ‘Everyone Can See’ backed with ‘I Wish I Was Five’. The latter is undoubtedly the stronger of the two and is notable for Lew Warburton’s stirring string arrangement (based directly on Russell’s bass line) and Demetriou’s moody organ playing, which heightens the tension, building to a dramatic climax. A yearning for the innocence and honesty of youth, ‘I Wish I Was Five’ should have been the side to plug and perhaps not surprisingly the single went nowhere.
Two months later, Pye rushed out a follow up, a cover of Scott English’s poppy ‘Lavender Popcorn’, backed by the Kongos penned ‘Sandwich Board Man’, which the singer says was inspired by said character who he used to see regularly on Oxford Street.
A noted songwriter, English, had serious pop credentials and had scored hits with covers of ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ and ‘Bend Me Shape Me’, but the group was uncomfortable recording such a blatant teeny-bopper, bubblegum track. The band’s producer, however, overruled any objections and even contributed to the recording by playing piano with a plectrum! “John Schroeder said, ‘You’re doing it’,” remembers Russell. “‘You’ve had two of your own and you’re doing one of mine now, so shut up!’”
Tailor-made for the pop market, ‘Lavender Popcorn’ should have been Scrugg’s commercial breakthrough but like its predecessors faded into obscurity.
Scrugg live, left to right: Chris, Henry (hidden on drums), Jack and John
|Forced to make a living on the road, Scrugg resumed their busy touring schedule travelling the length and breadth of the country and taking in towns as far as field as Newcastle, Birmingham and Penzance.Debuting on 3 August 1968, the band also became regulars at London’s renowned nightclub, Scotch of St James, returning again for shows on 7 and 14 September and culminating with a two-night stand on 27-28 September.During this hectic period of touring, Scrugg participated in a historic moment in rock history, opening for a “mystery” band of superstars at a show at Sheffield University on 23 November.|
“We opened for them and then watched their show,” says Kongos. “We all agreed that these guys would probably not make it because ‘who needed another Cream?’ so we gave them the thumbs down. They were called Led Zeppelin!”
With Zeppelin’s star in the ascent and Scrugg’s future looking bleak, the end was in sight.
John Kongos and Jack Russell on tour in Scotland
|In early January, Scrugg’s final single was released and coupled the Kongos’s rave up, ‘Will The Real Geraldine Please Stand Up and Be Counted’ (a song originally recorded for the album session in Jo’burg in 1967), with the singer’s ‘Only George’, a kitchen sink tale about break-up and divorce, introduced by Russell’s freakily distorted vocal.DJ John Peel remained a huge fan and opened his show numerous times during its first week of release but despite the publicity, it failed to chart. Dispirited, the musicians decided to call it a day, bowing out with a two-night stand in Margate, Kent on 18-19 January.|
In the aftermath of Scrugg’s split, Kongos went on to establish a successful solo career in the early Seventies, scoring hits with ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ (co-written with Demetriou) and ‘Tokoloshe Man’. He currently resides in Arizona and is preparing material for a new album.
The others meanwhile maintained a less visible, albeit rewarding careers. Spinetti became a top session drummer, working with the likes of Roger Chapman, Bill Wyman and Eric Clapton while Demetriou co-wrote several songs for Kongos’s debut album, Confusions of a Goldfish, and later oversaw recordings for Mike D’Abo and Cat Stevens among others. He currently lives in Esher, Surrey and is a pastor in a local church.
Russell, who gave up playing music in 1969, later ran a successful specialist advertising agency before retiring in 2005. Aside from a brief reunion with Pete Clifford and Brian Gibson where they played at a theatre in Hampton Hill, Middlesex to celebrate Russell’s 6oth birthday, he currently plays solo sets at the Rising Sun pub in Twickenham.
Aficionados can expect to pay hefty prices for Floribunda Rose and Scrugg singles. Mercifully, Castle compiled an excellent CD in 2001 called Lavender Popcorn, pulling together all of the recordings, including the previously unreleased Scrugg track, ‘Patriotic’, although regrettably the BBC radio sessions were omitted.
Despite that small oversight, the CD is recommended to anyone who feels the urge to savour some of the most exquisitely recorded British psychedelic pop.
Clockwise from top left: John Kongos, Henry Spinetti, Chris Demetriou and Jack Russell
|A huge thanks goes to Jack Russell for his generous assistance in pulling the story together and for offering the use of his private photo collection and live gig list. Thanks also to John Kongos for his insights into the group, Chris Demetriou, Nick Dokter, Pete Clifford and David Wells.© Copyright Nick Warburton, May 2008, updated January 2009. All Rights ReservedTo contact the author, email: Warchive@aol.com|
Left to right: Louis McKelvey, Les Goode, Sam Evans, Hank Squires, Dick Laws and Rob Kearney
|Mid-1960s beat merchants The A-Cads heralded an exciting new age in South African rock music and were promoted by the local press at the time as a super group of sorts.|
The band’s leading figure, rhythm guitarist/singer Hank Squires (b. Henry Stephen Smitsdorff, 20 May 1941, Johannesburg, South Africa) was well-established in South African musical circles, having previously worked with British expat Mickie Most, then a popular singer in South Africa and later one of rock’s most successful producers.
Hank Squires’ early career
Squires’s career began in the late 1950s when he made his debut on the city’s fledging rock ‘n’ roll scene playing with the popular rock ‘n’ roll outfit, The Playboys.
Training to become an electrical engineer, Squires soon abandoned Johannesburg Technical College after witnessing a concert by English émigré, the late Mickie Most (real name: Michael Hayes), a singer of modest talent who had moved to Johannesburg in 1958 to marry his South African fiancée. Impressed by the singer’s performance, Squires approached Most for guitar lessons and after a few months joined his original backing group, The Playboys.
Most’s move to the colonies proved to be extremely fortuitous – his British solo recordings (as well as singles recorded with future producer Alex Murray as The Most Brothers) had all met with widespread indifference back home. However, after changing his name, Most and his newly formed group quickly established themselves as one of, if not, the most successful band(s) in South Africa, scoring six consecutive South African hits over the next three years (including one with Jackie Frisco). And although Most would subsequently return home during 1962 to try his hand at production, he would continue to maintain contact with Squires, seeing him as one of the few musicians in South Africa that he thought had the potential to go on to greater things.
Squires, meanwhile, had already left The Playboys prior to Most’s departure for the UK and formed a new band, The Silhouettes. This short-lived outfit also featured another ex-Playboys member, Leon Booysen (bass), alongside the late George Hill (drums) and the late Archie Van der Ploeg (lead guitar). During The Silhouettes’ short lifespan, the group supported singer June Dyer on her number one single “Whirlpool of Love”. Squires moved on soon afterwards and joined another local group, The Giants, who scored a number one hit in late 1961 with “Dark and Lonely Street” and also recorded a rare album entitled Meet The Giants. The Giants subsequently changed their name to the Rebels and became June Dyer’s backing group.
While his old friend Mickie Most struck gold in the UK as a producer for The Animals and Lulu, among others, Squires kept busy performing and recording with Johnny Kongos and The G-Men. This exciting band was arguably one of the best outfits to emerge in South Africa during the early-mid 1960s and included some of the city’s most accomplished musicians. The group’s potential, however, was cut short when the band’s singer (and future solo artist) John Kongos (best known for penning the international hit “He’s Gonna Step On You Again”, made famous by indie revellers The Happy Mondays in the 1990s) left to do national service.
Kongos later enjoyed moderate success with his solo work and his UK bands Floribunda Rose and Scrugg. The former also featured English expat Pete Clifford, who had toured South Africa with Dusty Springfield and worked with Tom Jones before forming The 004 and later joining South African rock-comedy group, The Bats.
Kongos’ replacement in The G-Men was another expat, singer Sam Evans (b. 1947, Glasgow, Scotland), a short, burly man with a rough-edged voice, who had arrived in South Africa in early 1964 after fronting a number of now long forgotten bands back home. Evans would ultimately become Squires’ first choice as the singer in what would become The A-Cads. Another former G-man, drummer Robbie Kearney (b. South Africa), fresh from a nine-month army stint at Simons Town naval base, joined him soon afterwards.
Before such a project could materialise, however, Squires left The G-Men during December 1964 to pursue a short-lived solo career. Spotted playing in a club by Mickie Most (on a flying visit to South Africa), Squires was subsequently offered a recording contract and a single, a cover of Fats Domino’s “I’ve Been Around”, produced by Most, was issued in spring 1965. A follow up single, “Stand By Me”, produced this time by Squires, also failed to attract much attention and the singer began to look around for fresh adventures. After brief stints with The Falling Leaves and a short-lived line up of The G-men featuring John E Sharpe, Squires started to put together a new group that would storm the South African charts.
Johnny Kongos & the G-men, 1964, l-r: Jesse Sumares, Johnny Kongos, Ed Burns (with bass), Rob Kearney (drums) and Hank Squires
The Falling Leaves, 1965: Leib Brews, George McCauley (on chair), Hank (standing) and Arthur Fisher (high chair)
|The A-Cads form|
Formed during October 1965, The A-Cads were essentially the brainchild of English émigré Peter Rimmer, a former support musician for the likes of Marty Wilde and The Tempests, who had decided to try his hand at management following his move to South Africa in 1963. By the time that Rimmer ran into Squires, he had become the manager of the Rand Academy of Music, and it was probably this experience that inspired him to form what would essentially be the first South African super group. Squires immediately recruited Evans and Kearney for the new project. He was also instrumental in bringing in the band’s remaining members, lead guitarist Dick Laws (b. 15 May 1946, London, England) and bass player Les Goode (b. 10 September 1946, Surrey, England). Both musicians had impressive pedigrees and were first-rate musicians.
Londoner Dick Laws had first visited Johannesburg in early 1963 when his band, Bill Kimber & The Couriers, got work in the city through local-born businessman Frank Fenter who had seen them play in his London coffee bar and raved about them to friends back home. Like many British artists who ventured to the colonies during this period, the group arrived to be greeted like visiting royalty. Over the next year or so, Bill Kimber & The Couriers scored a string of South African hits for the Renown label, including covers of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and Booker T & The MG’s Green Onions. They had a starring role in South Africa’s first rock movie, Africa Shakes, where they also backed local singer Sharon Tandy on various songs, including the well-known R&B hit, “I’m Movin’ On”.
The Couriers eventually returned home, but Squires was convinced that Laws was key to his new group’s success, and with Rimmer’s support, managed to coax him back to join The A-Cads. Laws brought with him a unique guitar style and, perhaps more importantly, an in-depth knowledge of the UK rock scene, as well as choice material to cover.
Les Goode (real name: Les Gutfreund), meanwhile, had emigrated from England in 1952 and played with Shadows tribute band, Les Beats, which morphed into The Nitwits, before working with The Deans, formed in 1963 with the late singer/guitarist John E Sharpe. Coinciding with the arrival of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Deans subsequently adopted the more progressive name John E Sharpe and The Squires and quickly became Johannesburg’s top R&B attraction.
The A-Cads’ unusual name appears to have been, according to press releases from that period, a compromise between Rimmer and the band. Apparently Rimmer was keen to name the group after the Rand Academy, while the group members’ preferred choice was The Cads, the result being The A-Cads. After weeks of intensive rehearsals, Rimmer duly launched The A-Cads at a cocktail party at Ciros in Johannesburg, hosted by A G J McGrall, a managing director of a well-known record company. The event attracted a great deal of publicity and made the front cover of the South African music rag, Record Express.
|Soon afterwards, the band signed a recording deal with Teal Records (with distribution by RCA Victor) and, on the recommendation of Laws, recorded a stunning version of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ “Hungry For Love”, which reached #1 on the South African chart in January 1966. The South African music press was quick to praise the band’s debut disc, with one review quoted as saying “an excellent disc by an excellent group, backings are great, and vocal beautifully handled, this is about the best record ever produced in South Africa…”Laws’ piercing guitar work on the single’s b-side, a storming version of Bo Diddley’s “Roadrunner” meanwhile, provided a more accurate insight into the group’s musical abilities and hinted at its potential to develop into a formidable force. In addition, the track featured some amazing throat shredding vocals from Sam Evans. However, as the next few months would prove, the band would never capitalise on this early success.|
During December, The A-Cads began work on an album, and while in the process recorded a cover version of The Small Faces’ “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”, which for some inexplicable reason was later omitted from the album when it was issued the following spring. To add to the confusion, the track was finally issued as a single following the album’s release and after the band had relocated to London in April 1966.
Unfortunately during the recording process, the band started to unravel as Laws increasingly voiced his objections over the choice of material being presented to the group. As he later recalled: “A lot of stuff we did was just floating around in memory (Chuck Berry, Rufus Thomas etc.), old favourites, that sort of thing. But some of it was producer Derek Hannan playing us things in his office that he thought would be good for us. I never agreed with his choices, but then I had a distinct vision of what the group should be. I always thought that it would have been better if Teal had just let us loose in the studio to get on with it ourselves (as we did initially with “Hungry For Love”). I think the band would have lasted a lot longer and surprised a few people.”
Louis McKelvey, Andy Keiller and the Upsetters
At this critical juncture, Squires decided to introduce a second lead guitarist Louis McKelvey (b. 31 October 1943, Killorglin, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland), as Laws looked increasingly to be on the verge of splitting. McKelvey, whose family had moved to Twickenham during his adolescence, was already a seasoned player on the West London club scene.
His earliest musical venture had been local group The Persuaders, but he quickly jacked this in to become the lead guitarist in R&B outfit Jeff Curtis & The Flames, regulars at the famous Ealing Jazz club. Though no recordings ever emerged from this period, The Flames did record an acetate comprising four tracks for the late, legendary Joe Meek. The band also spent a brief period playing at the Star Club in Hamburg and secured some bookings as a backing group on cross-channel ferries with big names like Jerry Lee Lewis.
After the band’s drummer Malcolm Tomlinson quit the band to play with The Del Mar Trio, McKelvey eventually grew restless and took off for South Africa with his newly wedded bride (not before joining Tomlinson’s band in Germany for about a month’s worth of gigs).
McKelvey’s parents had run a theatre production company in Leicester Square and on their travels had been struck by Cape Town’s beauty. McKelvey’s dad was briefly director of theatre in South Africa and the guitarist had spent part of his childhood in the country. On the look out for fresh musical adventures, he decided to follow their advice and return to South Africa for a few months.
Arriving in Johannesburg around September 1965, McKelvey quickly fell in with another expat, singer Andrew Keiller. Though relatively new to the music business, Keiller had nevertheless, witnessed first-hand many of the hotbeds of the early London rock scene (including a brief incarnation of The Rolling Stones featuring Carlo Little and Rick Brown), before moving to South Africa in March 1964 and recording a single for Continental Records, “Find My Baby” c/w “Elaine”. This was followed by an album, Round About Midnight, which was held back for release until mid-1966 when it was given a write up in Teenage Personality in its 12 May issue.
Within a short space of time, Keiller and McKelvey established one of Johannesburg’s finest beat groups, The Upsetters, with former Playboys member Leon Booysen (bass) and future Freedom’s Children member Colin Pratley (drums), who soon made way for George Hill.
Thanks to Booysen’s contacts at Trutone Records, the band (with George’s brother Frank on the skins) recorded a single for the label, “Daddy Rolling Stone” c/w “Pain In My Heart”, at EMI studios in Johannesburg. The single’s a-side, which was brought to Keiller’s attention when he heard The Who cover it, is an arresting R&B tune written by Derek Martin and features some fiery guitar work from McKelvey. The flip meanwhile is more restrained and is the same Otis Redding song that had recently been made popular in the UK by The Rolling Stones.
The group’s name appears to have been McKelvey’s idea – The Upsetters being his idol, Little Richard’s original support band. The Upsetters proved to be particularly apt as it was also a fashion at the time to insult the audience and, according to sources close to the band, Keiller was keen to emulate what The Who were doing back in London.
Shortly after the single’s release, the band underwent a number of personnel changes as Leon Booysen and George Hill both left to be succeeded by 18-year-old drummer Gregory Allen Plotz and former Johnny Kongos & The G-Men bass player Jesse Sumares.
The new Upsetters line-up ventured back into the studio to record further material for a follow up single – “Down Home Girl”, “Boom Boom” and “High Heel Sneakers”, but for some inexplicable reason, the tracks were subsequently left in the can. Perhaps it was this disappointment that led to the group’s collapse later that autumn.
Whatever the reason, Keiller decided to return to London in late November and the others drifted apart after a short Bloemfontein tour with the A-Cads the following month, during which Sam Evans handled vocals for both bands. It was shortly after the final tour that Squires approached McKelvey about joining The A-Cads.
Dick Laws and Sam Evans depart the A-Cads
As mentioned earlier, McKelvey’s primary role appears to have been to take over from Dick Laws, who had increasingly come to blows over the band’s musical direction.
As Laws later admitted: “The band was moving in a super-commercial direction, recording puff pieces like “Fool, Fool, Fool”. I was interested in keeping the heavier sound of “Hungry For Love”. Also, there were too many people involved in the band’s management – three managers actually. It felt like no one was interested in the music itself. Producer Derek Hannan was coming up with these hits (which I suppose was his job). Yet the success of “Hungry For Love” should have proved that a song doesn’t have to have an infantile hook to top the charts, but no one was listening.”
Within weeks of McKelvey’s arrival, Laws abandoned the group, initially to work on a solo rock instrumental album for Teal Records, but he soon lost interest and the project was shelved. Over the next few years, Laws would maintain a relatively low profile, working occasionally with The Derick Warren Sound in South Africa during 1969. However, that same year he joined Tommy Roe’s visiting support band and subsequently moved to the US. During the early 1970s, Laws contributed to Tommy Roe’s critically acclaimed albums We Can Make Music and Beginnings, but has kept a low profile since then, although he is still active musically in Los Angeles where he resides.
Review in Pop Gear, May 1966
Sam Evans during his time with This Generation in mid 1966
|Laws was quickly followed by Sam Evans, who was keen to go solo and wisely used the success of the group’s debut single to launch his career. After a brief stint with local beat group This Generation, Evans debuted with a revival of Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made of This” on the Pye label, and later that same year scored with Roy Hammond’s composition, “Shotgun Wedding”. Incidentally, the song was at #10 in the South African charts on 12 August 1966 when the Beatles’ hit “Paperback Writer” was removed from the Springbok charts as a result of a SABC Board decision that no Beatles songs may be played on any government-sponsored radio station. They took the decision in response to Lennon’s apparent remark about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus.Later, Evans would go on to record a string of singles throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s for the WRC, Parlophone and Nitty Gritty labels. He enjoyed further chart success with his singles, “Ain’t Love A Funny Thing”, “Goodbye Girl” and “Goodbye Guitarman”. Evans also issued a solo album in 1970 for Parlophone entitled “Ain’t Love A Funny Thing”, but sadly passed away in Johannesburg on 23 December 2004.|
The A-Cads, meanwhile, briefly split up for a few weeks, but soon reformed with Hank Squires handling the vocal duties and McKelvey covering the lead guitar. “Evans and Laws were responsible for the group’s break up,” explains Squires. “Evans conspired to have me kicked out, Laws backed him. Their whole scheme backfired when Les and Robbie joined with me, giving us the majority to carry on as The A-Cads. McKelvey was in the right place at the right time, so I replaced Laws with him.”
The new line-up quickly emerged with a follow up single, “Fool Fool Fool” c/w “Zip-A-Dee Doh Dah” (the b-side in fact had been recorded before Evans’ departure) and, in a rather unusual move, also toured the Garden Route by train with the Boswell-Wilkie circus during the school holiday. One of the most memorable dates during this period was appearing at the Vaal Festival where the band played to 3,000 screaming fans. Soon afterwards, the new line up toured Mozambique.
Hungry for Love
Amid all this activity, RCA Victor issued the band’s album, which credited McKelvey for lead guitar and Dick Laws for bass (Les Goode wasn’t mentioned at all in the sleeve notes!). Curiously, the label also chose to use a rare picture of the short-lived Laws-McKelvey line-up for the album’s front cover with the group pictured on the back of a lorry. The true extent of McKelvey’s involvement in the sessions, however, is a matter of contention.
According to Dick Laws, McKelvey wasn’t around in the studio when he was recording with the group, and Laws is almost certain that he played lead on all the album tracks and three of the singles. Other sources close to the band, most notably Hank Squires, support his claim although McKelvey insists he played on some tracks.
One possible explanation is that both guitarists recorded material for the album and RCA Victor handpicked the best cuts when choosing on a final track listing. That might explain the delay in the album’s release and may also explain why the group’s second single, as well as earlier recordings with Laws – “Roadrunner” and “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” were subsequently excluded.
Whatever the reason, the media was unaware of any musical differences, and its response was overwhelmingly positive. Record Express gave the album a beaming write up in the April 1966 issue: “This tremendous, versatile, local group have followed up their hit single with this terrific album of bluesy R&B type numbers.”
Though no long lost classic, the album, named after the group’s debut single, does show The A-Cads in fine form with the band tearing its way through covers of R&B favourites like “In The Midnight Hour” and “Got My Mojo Working”. If any criticism could be levelled at the record, it would have to be the absence of any original material. Even The A-Cads’ British contemporaries, Them, The Rolling Stones and The Animals were writing their own songs, and The A-Cads’ dependence on such well-trodden material would probably not have helped the group’s cause over the long-term.
The album’s appearance also coincided with the belated release of the non-album track “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”, which as mentioned earlier, had been recorded while Laws was still in the band. Despite the changes in personnel and fresh developments in the group’s career, which will be discussed in a moment, the media continued to sing the group’s praises. Record Express’ Cordy Gunn enthusiastically told readers in that month’s issue: “’Sha-La-La-La-Lee’ is the A-Cads’ best since ‘Hungry For Love’ …I predict that this new single will immediately leap to the top.” Though it never quite matched the success of the band’s debut single, “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” did indeed become a sizeable hit that spring, but by then the band was no longer in the country to promote it.
Departure to London
With Squires’ old mate Mickie Most now acting as the group’s agent in London, the group’s fortunes appeared to be on the up, and plans were made to launch the group overseas. Record Express was quoted as saying in the April issue, that “Louis McKelvey has left South Africa on the Edinburgh Castle bound for London where he’ll meet the other members of the group in a month’s time”.
Pop Gear, June 1966
Pop Gear, May 1966
|Squires and Goode (joined by former member Dick Laws) sailed on the Windsor Castle during May 1966, and the trio ended up renting a flat in Notting Hill Gate where McKelvey occasionally dropped by.|
Robbie Kearney meanwhile decided against the move as he had recently married the leading dancer from the Boswell-Wilkie circus. He would maintain a profile of sorts, reportedly playing briefly with The Falling Leaves and recording with Birds of A Feather in late 1968. Later qualifying as an artist, he went on to design the cover of the Ancient Mariner album, which featured Les Goode on bass! Today, he is a successful artist.
However, plans to get The A-Cads’ singles issued in Europe remained just that, and though a recording company in Amsterdam was reportedly interested, Most’s attempts to negotiate a deal quickly floundered. When the opportunity to play some dates in Hamburg also failed to materialise, and tentative plans to move to India to play at a major festival fell through, Goode returned somewhat despondently to South Africa in September 1966. (Incidentally, Teenage Personality reported in its 21 July issue that Squires was in Hamburg, so perhaps he did play there as a solo artist?)
Re-establishing ties with John E Sharpe, Les Goode became a member of The John Sharpe Set. Goode continued to work with the guitarist and was also a member of his next outfit, Impulse, which was formed in September 1967 with John Elliot (sax), Albert Rossi (drums) and Alan Shane (bass). Impulse recorded a number of tracks, including the fascinating “Melon Man”.
Impulse changed its name to The Board of Directors in August 1968 and recorded two excellent singles: “New Orleans” and “Legend of A Big Toe”, before Sharpe and Goode left in November to put together The Crystal Drive alongside South African guitar legend Julian Laxton from Freedom’s Children. Goode also briefly played with The Derick Warren Sound during this period, recording two singles with the group for the Continental label: “Lingering On” and “Every Other Saturday”.
Since then, he has become one of South Africa’s most highly regarded bass players and has appeared on records by (or played with) such notable outfits as Dickory, Backtrax, Morocko, Foxy and 909. Goode also worked with future Yes member and fellow South African Trevor Rabin’s support group when he toured England in 1979, and during the 1970s was also a member of Hawk. He is currently A&R and owner/director of Great Value Music in Johannesburg, a successful wholesale/distribution budget record company.
Pop Gear, September 1966
|After the A-Cads: Hank Squires and Louis McKelvey in Canada|
Back in England Hank Squires’ decided to trade in a career as a performer. His decision may primarily have been influenced by The A-Cads’ recent demise, but it is likely that other factors played a part. During the summer, the South African division of Columbia Records had released Squires’ solo album Strange Effect, but neither it nor two singles – “Don’t Come Knockin’” and “Strange Effect” had been commercially successful. Nevertheless, the album, recorded in late 1965/early 1966 (largely with the original A-Cads in support, although McKelvey appears on a couple of tracks), did receive a positive write up in the South African music press.
Tony Hamilton writing in Teenage Personality that summer said: “[The album] carries 13 carefully chosen numbers including “It Only Took A Minute”, “Concrete and Clay”, “Up On The Roof” and “My Girl”. Hank has lots of talent and deserves a break. He is now in England, and this new LP may help him over there.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t and after recording a number of demos with American producer Steve Rowland, South African songwriter Hugh Patterson and his mentor Mickie Most, Squires was forced to leave the country. “Due to the politics practised in South Africa I wasn’t able to secure a work permit and had no choice but to leave the UK, so I immigrated to Canada,” recalls Squires.
According to Teenage Personality in its 22 December 1966 issue, Squires recorded a rare single in Europe and then headed to Canada for a three-month engagement after he couldn’t get a work permit to perform in England. Arriving in Montreal in December 1966, he hooked up with McKelvey who’d made the crossing months earlier.
Like Les Goode, Louis McKelvey decided that England was not the ideal place to pursue his musical ambitions and around September 1966 he took the boat to Montreal with only $10 in his pocket. However, after only a few weeks in the city playing with the French-speaking Les Sinners, during which time he performed at the Paul Sauve Arena sporting a Union Jack jacket (an extremely daring move considering the political climate in Quebec), he took off for a cross-country jaunt to Vancouver. Returning to Montreal that December, he hooked up with Our Generation.
Hank Squires in the studio, 1969
|Reunited with Hank Squires, McKelvey helped his former A-Cads band member find work with (arguably) Montreal’s finest garage band, The Haunted, who had recently scored a sizeable Canadian hit with “1-2-5”. Squires would work with the band and be given co-production credit on their lone album, which has since become a popular collector’s item.|
McKelvey was also briefly involved with The Haunted. He was given co-production credit for the single “Searching For My Baby” c/w “A Message To Pretty” with Squires and, according to band member Jurgen Peter, was responsible for suggesting the ‘A’ side’s gutsy guitar intro. In an interesting side note, The Haunted single was given a South African release on the Continental label during early 1968 and was given a positive write up by Tony Hamilton in Teenage Personality.
A short while later, Hank Squires became a talent scout for Johannesburg-based label Highveld and through Jurgen Peter produced a single for Montreal singer, Andrew Storm (real name: Andrew Lacroix). Storm’s single, “Tic-Tac-Toe” c/w “I’d Love To Love You Again”, which features McKelvey on guitar, was later given a South African release on Highveld in 1970. Squires sadly died on July 13, 2009.
McKelvey meanwhile had thrown in his lot with Our Generation – a Haunted spin-off featuring former members Bob Burgess, Tim Forsythe and Jim Robertson. Our Generation already had one single to their credit, “I’m a Man”” c/w “Run Down Every Street”, issued on the Transworld label, but McKelvey’s arrival gave the band a “shot in the arm”. His fiery lead guitar work is immediately distinguishable on the group’s second (and arguably best) single, “Cool Summer” c/w “Out To Get Light”, which was issued in May 1967 and was produced by Squires.
By the time it reached the shops, McKelvey had moved on and pieced together a new musical project, Influence alongside Andy Keiller from The Upsetters. Keiller had arrived in Montreal in April 1966 and spotted McKelvey playing on TV with Our Generation. Influence subsequently recorded an album for ABC in late 1967 before splitting late the following year. McKelvey then worked with the short-lived groups Milkwood, Damage and Powerhouse.
During the early 1970s, McKelvey briefly re-united with Hank Squires, working as a songwriter and session guitarist for Squires’ short-lived studio group Marble Hall, which featured singer Brian Redmond. McKelvey contributed to the group’s lone single, “Marble Hall” (originally recorded as a demo with Influence).
Following his work with Andy Storm, Hank Squires released one more solo recording that year – “Ecstasy”, which appeared on a compilation album called Command Performance. Squires later produced a number of recordings in the early 1970s for a singer known as Martin Martin. Based in Victoria, British Columbia, he is preparing an album of new material, which will be released under the name, SmityBoy.
Interest in The A-Cads has grown meanwhile and an Italian label, Crystal Emporium, brought out a CD of The A-Cads album in 1998 complete with bonus tracks featuring some rare Hank Squires solo material, taken from an unreleased EP recorded in 1966.
Hank Squires in Montreal, 1970
|Many thanks to the following for generously helping to piece the story together: Hank Squires, Les Goode, Dick Laws, Louis McKelvey, Andy Keiller, Tertius Louw, Jurgen Peter, Ian Hannah, Mike Paxman, Garth Chilvers, Tom Jasiukowicz, Gregory Plotz and Leon Booysen. |
Strange Effect LP photos courtesy of Ivan Amirault.
© Copyright Nick Warburton, September 2008. 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.
To contact the author, email: Warchive@aol.com
|The 004 were a mid-1960s R&B group put together at the suggestion of Trevor Boswell, a partner in the Hugo Keleti agency, after Dusty Springfield’s disastrous expulsion from South Africa in late 1964. (Hugo Keleti was the father of Eve Boswell, the South African 1950s star, and Trevor was her husband.) The band comprised of expatriate Britons, who recorded a string of singles and a lone album for the CBS label.Lead guitarist Pete Clifford (b. 10 May 1943, Whetstone, London) had first played with The Jesters and then briefly worked with Georgie Fame in London before visiting South Africa for the first time in 1964 with Dusty Springfield as a member of her backing group, The Echoes. Following the fateful trip, Clifford played with Tom Jones on a UK tour and then formed The 004 to return to South Africa, sailing on the Capetown Castle on 10 June 1965 where the band got its set list together.|
Bass player/singer Jack Russell (b. 29 April 1944, Caerleon, South Wales) and rhythm guitarist/singer Brian Gibson (b. 17 March 1942, Newport, South Wales) had first met in Wales as members of The Victors, who had a residency at the Latin Quarter in London’s West End. When the band broke up in June 1964, Russell toured the Costa Del Sol and Morocco with French pop singer Teddy Raye while Brian Gibson joined The Laurie Jay combo where he met and socialised with Pete Clifford. In March 1965, after the failed continental tour, Russell got a job as production manager with Vox in Dartford. When Clifford had the call from Boswell and was asked to form a band to return to South Africa that summer, he recruited Gibson, who in turn recommended Russell. The band added Londoner Peter Stember on drums to complete the line up.
Personality, November 25, 1965.
Click for larger image
with Gene Vincent and Jackie Frisco, Daily News, December 3, 1965
|After arriving in Durban by boat on 30 June 1965, the group began playing at the Al Fresco Night Club in a hotel on 1 July. The band signed to CBS and recorded a string of singles for CBS, kicking off with “The In Crowd” in November 1965. The following month, the band backed Gene Vincent in Durban for three months.Prior to the release of the group’s debut single, The 004 had briefly relocated to Johannesburg and worked the 505 Club in Kotze Street, Hillbrow. Back in Durban in early 1966, The 004 opened Tiles club, playing with The Ivy League in May. The following month, the band’s lone album It’s Alright was released and contained Gibson’s promising originals, “She’s Going Back Home Today”, “I’ve Found Her” and “Beverley” alongside covers of Curtis Mayfield’s title track and Mann, Weil and Stoller’s “On Broadway”. The album had been recorded in CBS studios in Johannesburg in late 1965 on an old two-track machine with overdubbing rather than the four-track Studer equipment widely available in Europe. During this time, Clifford and Russell did lots of studio work as session musicians recording with Eve Boswell, The Dream Merchants, The Sandpipers (the South African version), Johnny Collini and many others.|
In August 1966, Nick ‘Doc’ Dokter (b. 24 July 1945, Kampen, Overijsel, Holland) was recruited from The Leemen Limited to replace Stember, who returned to the UK and later became an internationally renowned photographer, based in California.
Two months later, The 004 returned to Durban to play at Tiles and on 24 December joined a number of acts, including The Gonks, The Difference and The Dream Merchants to play a Christmas Eve show at Durban City Hall.
In March 1967 Gibson also left and Barry Mitchell from The In Crowd briefly took his place. Gibson later played with progressive rock band, Abstract Truth and lives in South Africa. Two months later, the band met John Kongos who invited the musicians, by then down to trio without Mitchell, to the UK to record that summer.
Clifford, Dokter and Russell recorded with John Kongos as a group called Floribunda Rose in London during mid-late 1967 before Clifford left to return to South Africa to join The Bats. Dokter also moved back to South Africa, albeit briefly, working as a boilermaker. He soon moved to Holland before emigrating to Canada where he played with Five Man Cargo, a UK band who later morphed in Cross Town Bus. In later years, he did session work for the Bruce Allan Agency and currently lives in Vancouver.
Russell meanwhile stuck with John Kongos until 1969 and recorded a string of singles in London as Scrugg before moving in to an advertising agency. He currently lives near Hampton Court.
Article by Nick Warburton
Pop Gear article, May 1966
Click for larger image
August, 1966, clockwise from top left:
Brian Gibson, Jack Russell, Pete Clifford and Nick Dokter
Article in the Natal Mercury, November 26, 1966.
Final group photo, 1967
|List of releases:|
45: The In Crowd/Without You (CBS SSC 599) 1965
LP: It’s Alright (CBS ALD 8911) 1966
45: Goin’ Out Of My Head/Little Miss Trouble (CBS SSC 677) 1966
45: Happening Humpty/Lah To The Power of 6 (Continental PD 9198) 1966Many thanks to Jack Russell, Nick Dokter, Pete Clifford, Vernon Joynson and Tertius Louw
Copyright © Nick Warburton, September 2008. All Rights Reserved
Ed: The oddball single “Happening Humpty” was recorded in order to get Matt Mann to release The 004 from the CBS contract. The band felt suppressed by Mann who offered them no material. Mann refused to release the idiosyncratic and oddball trumpet work by one of South Africa’s top trumpeters. The idiotic inclusion of “out of time” bum notes was deliberate. Mann released the band. Graham Beggs then released the single under the Continental label. It has since become a collector’s item.
John E. Sharpe & the Squires on the cover of Pop Gear S/A, February 7, 1966.
Chris Demetriou is seated at left.
The Gonks, Pop Gear, December 1966.
|South African R&B/pop band, The Gonks were one of Durban’s leading groups in the mid-1960s. Formed in the summer of 1965, the original line up was put together by former Clansmen drummer, turned lead singer Craig Ross (b. 27 January 1946, Durban) and rhythm guitarist and singer Howard Schachat (b. 7 November 1949, Durban). The pair completed the line up with lead guitarist Noel McDermott (b. 31 March 1946, Durban), bass player Brian McFall (b. 26 December 1945) and drummer Rob Clancy (b. 2 May 1948).|
Taking their name from a 12-inch high stuffed doll that was popular at the time, The Gonks’s first gig was at the Lido Resort (playing around the pool) in Umkomass, on the South Coast.
The Gonks’s first big break, however, took place in October 1965 when they played a show at the Journey’s End Moth Hall in Durban North. They then followed this up with a number of appearances at Durban City Hall, at the Al Fresco Terrace on Durban’s Bayside and at various South Coast resorts.
Signed to the Fontana label in late 1966, the band recorded its debut single, a cover of Mike Curb’s “You Can’t Stop Me Loving You” backed by the Edden-Cline-Schachat-Ross collaboration, “Crying My Heart Out”, which was produced by Graeme Beggs for Trutone and featured studio guests, Johnny Kongos, Pete Clifford and Peter Lotis. Issued on Fontana single TF 772 in November 1966, the band’s debut release climbed the South African Springbok charts and peaked at number 7 in January 1967.
The Gonks featured in Pop Gear, June of 1966.
|Interestingly, within weeks of the single’s release that November, the band had returned to the studio to record a follow up, a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Nobody But Me”, backed by the Ross-McDermott co-write, “Woman, Yeah”, which was again produced by Beggs at Gallo’s studio in Johannesburg.|
For reasons that remain unknown, Noel McDermott left the band immediately after this recording (and prior to the debut single’s success) to work briefly with his own group. In his place, the group recruited lead guitarist, Mervin Gershanov from The Mods, another local band, which featured several musicians that would join The Gonks throughout 1967. At the same time, bass player Brian McFall also departed (years later playing with Third Eye) and Barrie Cline from The Deans took his place. (Incidentally, Barrie’s brother Dave was a member of The Mods.)
The reconstituted Gonks line up made a notable appearance at Durban City Hall for a Christmas Eve show with The Difference, Bobby James & The Plainsmen, Jody Wayne, 004, The Dream Merchants and Dunny & The Showmen before further changes ensued.
During early January Peter Gilder, ex-Deans and The Section, took over the drum stool from Rob Clancy, although The Gonks’s original drummer would return later in the year. According to the Natal Mercury newspaper, this line up played at the Arena Club in Durban on 28 January.
Amid all of these changes, The Gonks enjoyed some notable chart success with their debut single –“You Can’t Stop Me Loving You”, which was subsequently included on the 162/3rpm long-playing Fontana compilation album, It’s All Happening.
On 11 March 1967, The Gonks returned to Durban City Hall for a show alongside singer Billy Forrest and R&B group, The Etonians. That same month, the band’s long awaited second release, “Nobody But Me”, backed by “Woman, Yeah” was released on Fontana single TF 784 and became a modest hit.
The single helped raise the band’s local standing and on 29 April, the band played another show at Durban City Hall with It’s a Secret and singer Beau Brummell, who’d returned to South Africa after several years working in UK and Europe with British band, The Noblemen. On 26 May, they also made an appearance at the Scene club in Durban. Soon afterwards, the band recorded two tracks, which were never released: “Ain’t I Met You Somewhere Before, Little Girl” and “Dreams”.
|Also around this time, The Gonks recorded a cover of Gordon Haskell’s “Lazy Life” backed by Neil Diamond’s “The Long Way Home” for the Troubadour label, with singer Billy Forrest producing. Forrest had discovered the song while in England and given it to the band. However, after laying down the backing track, Ross told Forrest that the song didn’t fit the band’s image and so Forrest decided to issue the tracks under the name Quentin E Klopjaeger and The Gonks.Later copies omitted The Gonks and the single (released on Troubadour TRS-E-9093) eventually became a big hit, peaking at number 1 on the Springbok charts on 21 June 1968.|
But we are jumping ahead of ourselves. With the recording done, Craig Ross jumped ship to hook up with South Africa’s premier psychedelic group, Freedom’s Children. In his place, the band recruited guitarist and singer Alan Reid from Gershanov’s former band, The Mods.
Further changes ensued. By the time the group released its third single, “Hard Lovin’”, backed by “You Don’t Know Me”, (issued on Renown N 1416) in January 1968, Rob Clancy had returned to the band to displace Peter Gilder and Rodney Aitchison had taken over from Mervyn Gershanov.
Gershanov would subsequently team up with singer/bass player Clive Calder and others, including English guitarist Pete Clifford from The Bats, for a one-off live album, Live At The Electric Circus, released by The First Electric Jamming Band for Parlophone in 1969. Gilder meanwhile, would later work with Spectrum alongside fellow Gonks member, Barrie Cline.
Soon after the release of their third single, The Gonks underwent further changes with another former Mods member, Trevor Turner taking over bass from Barrie Cline. Rob Clancy also left and was replaced by Roger Johnson. Clancy sadly later committed suicide in England during the 1980s.
With all of these changes, it was perhaps not surprising that the band soon ran its course. By mid-1968, the final line up had imploded and Schachat reunited with former members Craig Ross (fresh from Freedom’s Children) and Barrie Cline in Parish News. The project was relatively short-lived and sometime in 1969-1970, Ross and and Schachat formed The Pack with Clive Goodwill (keyboards), Ian Bell (flute) and Dave Evans (drums) among others.
In 1971, however, Aitchison, Ross, Cline and Dave Evans briefly reformed The Gonks and backed singer Alan Garrity. The band never recorded and soon broke up. Evans then joined forces with Schachat alongside other former Gonks members Alan Reid and Mervin Gershanov in Sweet Grass alongside Ian Bell from The Pack.
When the latter unravelled, Evans then formed Jigsaw with Craig Ross and Barrie Cline. A horn band, Jigsaw also comprised Glen Turrel, Mike Slavin, Dave Ridgeway, Tony Hynde and Kiwi.
Schachat and Gershanov meanwhile formed the group Haggis and played original hard rock music in Durban. They had three different drummers – Richard Pickett, Robbie Pavid (ex-Third Eye) and Bokkie De Beer (later with Johnny Clegg) but the band split when Schachat left Durban in 1974 and moved to the US. The guitarist became a lawyer and currently lives in San Diego, California where he plays in a six-piece classic rock band called 9th Floor Band.
Little is known about the other members of the group, who have all kept a low profile. Craig Ross, however, who still lives in Durban and designs kitchens, occasionally sings live and has enjoyed some recent exposure with growing interest in Freedom’s Children.
Article by Nick Warburton
Many thanks to the following for their help: Tertius Louw, Howard Schachat, Peter Gilder, Craig Ross, Rodney Aitchison, Garth Chilvers, Mervin Gershanov, Tom Jasiukowicz, Dave Evans, Brian Colborne and Rob David.
Nick Warburton is a UK based freelance writer. His website is www.nickwarburton.com.
© Copyright Nick Warburton, September 2008