The Gonks


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

32 thoughts on “The Gonks”

  1. Hi, I am the person referred to in the above article. However the name is spelled incorrectly. Should read – ‘ Clive Goodwill ‘
    Many thanks,
    Clive

  2. Hi Nick,
    I was wondering why Third Eye doesn’t get a mention? It seems the focus is all on the Jo’burg scene of that time. Pity as there was so much happening in Durban at the time.
    Regards,
    Dawn

  3. Hi Nick
    Thought it may be interesting to add that Lazy Life was recorded at the Troubadour Studios and the following (some of whom stood in for the original members as they were not available) played for the recording:

    The late Rob Clancy on drums
    The late Ken Henson on rhythm guitar
    Craig Ross on vocals
    A Bass player whose name escapes me
    Myself on lead guitar (I played a borrowed Gibson Les Paul with an untunable B string!)
    Craig, Billy Forrest and myself sang the backing vocals

    This recording was subsequently released without Craig’s voice due to some contractual committments with Gallo and ultimately Billy sang the lead vocals. The recording was a great success, sold 2 or 3 gold records I think.

    Regards

    Rod Aitchison

  4. Hi Rodney
    I read with great interest your article regarding Lazy Life and just wish to make some comment to the same. At the time Lazy Life was recorded I was the studio drummer for Troubadour Records and did a lot of work for them through Billy Forrest. I also did the backing on one of his Quinten E Klopjaeger LP’s that year as well as other recordings for various groups ie Ricky Pelling, Van Wyk Bros and….can’t remember the others as I was just hired to be part of the backing group. I can also remember Billy giving us musicians all a copy of the UK version of this number to take home and listen to and to let him know what we thought. You were right when you said that the feedback was pretty negative. Nobody liked it but Billy. However, as a paid studio drummer, I agreed to play drums on the recording and can remember Les Goode being on bass. I thought Johnny Sharpe was also there but I could possibly be mixing that up with our own subsequent recording of Green Onions (A side)with Watermelon Man (B side)under the name “The Gonks” which once again Billy produced. Interesting…… and I was wondering if Billy may have had recorded Lazy Life with two different groups. It would have been possible as he was the record producer. What is clear to me is my drumming and I know I am on the record that eventually hit the charts.

    In the meantime best regards

    Albert Rossi

  5. Hi i’ve just found a copy of a record by a group called The GONKS on the DECCA LABLE
    with the A side as the GONK SONG and the B side That’s All Right Mamma is this the same Group ????

  6. Hi Albert

    Thanks for your comments on the recording of “Lazy Life”. I am beginning to think that there might have been two versions of the song and that there is confusion as to which version did what. Directly after Billy replaced the lead vocal with his own voice, we received a copy of the record we recorded (also containing performances that were instantly and undoubtedly recognisable as ours) and to our minds this was definitely the version that was released to moderate success. The Gonks were not recording session musicians but we were a gigging band who lived and played in Durban. To hear that there was possibly another band called the Gonks who also recorded Lazy Life sounds extremely unlikely and it would be very interesting to hear further comment on this from others who may have been involved in this song.

    Regards

    Rod Aitchison

    1. I was firends with the late Kenny Henson since 1965 & remember him telling me on more than one occasion that he “played guitar on the number Kinda Lazy Life, on which Billy Forest sang”. He also mentioned this point to me when he was writing his Autobiog, during the months before he sadly passed away. Kindest regards, John K.

      1. Hi John are you related to the Mc Dermotts. My Uncle Noel was in the band the gonks.

        A knottenbelt married my Grandmother Nathalie Doreen who is the mother of Noel Mcdermott
        Interesting to hear from you.

        Regards Shaun

  7. Hi davlyn

    The group you are referring to is NOT the same one that recorded “Lazy Life” during the late 60’s. There seems to be some suspicion that there might have been another band called “The Gonks” somewhere!

    Regards

    Rod Aitchison

  8. Hi Albert and Rod

    I’ll try and clarify the confusion. Albert’s “Gonks” were in fact Impulse featuring
    Les, John E and others.BTW. The Gonks can be heard on a South African CD compilation
    Astral Daze 2 issued by Retrofresh label.

    Kind regards

    Tertius

  9. Hi Tertius

    Firstly, thanks for reminding me that it was with Impulse that I recorded “Green Onions” (A) and “Watermelon Man” (B). The line up was as follows: Johnny Sharpe (guitar & vocals), Les Goode (bass guitar & vocals), Nic Martins (organ), John Elliott (sax) and myself (drums & vocals). I think age must have confused me 🙂 71 this year. Secondly, with regard to the continued confusion over “The Gonks” I just want to add the following comment taken from the SA Rock Digest.This info was written years ago.

    Quentin E Klopjaeger With The Gonks, Lazy Life/ The Long Way Home, TRS-E-9093, 1968

    The Gonks: John E Sharpe/ John Elliot (sax)/ Albert Rossi (drums)/ Other

    I suppose only Billy Forrest could clarify the confusion around the recording of his hit “Lazy Life” but I’m beginning to think that maybe Sharpe, Elliot and myself were used to fill in for the missing members of the original Gonks band. Like I said, I was the study drummer for Troubadour Records at that time.

    All the best

    Albert

  10. Hi Tertius

    Sorry…. just two corrections to my previous reply. Firstly, I meant that it also be addressed to Rod and secondly you will find the comment I attached at http://www.rock.co.za under Johnny Sharpe & The Squires.
    Regards

    Albert

  11. Hi Albert

    Unfortunately I cannot comment on who accompanied Billy Forrest on Lazy Life recording. However, I can confirm that Ricky Pelling also recorded Lazy Life.
    Maybe you played on his recording while the Gonks back QEK on his?

    Your views?

    Keep on skin bashing!

    Tertius

    PS You are welcome to contact me via Rock Digest

  12. Nice one Nick – wish you’d been in touch back before the Hidden Years Music Archive’s millions went missing (ref – 3rd Ear’s R4.6 Million NRF research grant goes AWOL >> http://www.3rdearmusic.com/forum/forumapr08/deadline.html <<). With your permission, I would love to submit what you have done to SAMRO (who now store our HYMAProject) and perhaps post a link from our 3rd Ear Music website for local researchers? (That is when we get around to updating it) Ukuthula, David.

  13. Hi Guys
    My wife and friends were fans of Craig Ross but he is elusive and we cannot get any music with him on Vocals / Gonks or Freedoms Children.
    Can you help. We live in Brisbane Australia.
    Regards
    Bruce

  14. Hi
    Does anyone have the contact details for Nic Martens. The last contact I had with him was about 10 years ago when I lived in Switzerland. He was living in Cape Town at the time
    Regards
    Albert Rossi

  15. Hi Tertius

    Yes, Albert is quite right. To clear up any confusion about ‘which recording (strange what one remembers subjectively) I remember quite distinctly making a mistake on the bridge (I think – wrong chord) and wanted a retake, but it seems I was the only one who was concerned – and anyway Albert, 71 is somewhat elderly, but not yet ancient (getting close though).
    Regards
    Nic

  16. Hi guys I have just stumbled acoss your site and nostalgia has set in. John Elliot and Sam Evens were good friends of mine and we spent many a good night at the Skyline Hotel Hillbrow. I would love to make contact with John and renew our friendship so if anyone out there knows his whereabouts please forward my email address to him.
    Mike Halpin.
    Auckland, New Zealand.

  17. In about 1973/1974 the Gonks reformed with Craig Ross (vocals) Benny Browne (me – lead guitar) my brother Tim Browne ( rhythm guitar) Clive Goodwill (bass) and Kendall Kay (drums). We did about 6 month stint at the Los Angeles Hotel in Durban.

    1. Hi Rod! This is a blast from the past for me. I have retired to Hilton and have just read your note that Craig passed away in 2012. I am so sorry to hear that as I had hoped to meet with you guys sometime. Drop me an email at clancy@iafrica.com if you get this. Mike Clancy

  18. Hi Rod, If you need directions to Craigs funeral on Sunday,just give me a call on 083 966 7486 or email me on gknott@mweb.co.za or gerald@mapdev.co.za.

    Rod have you got any photgraghs of Tiles days.

    I am dying to get hold of some or if you know anybody that has.

    I know Reuben Israel had a lot of photo albums of Tiles, but I dont know where to get in contact with him.

    Kind Regards
    Gerald Knott

  19. Hi Gerald

    Nice to hear from you again. We have a Church band practice every Sunday afternoon but I’ll try and get there this afternoon. I have an idea how to get there so might see you there. Thanks for the offer.

    I have some photos of Tiles but they were only of the first band I played in (The Tribe) and some of the Gonks days. You played for the Allouettes didn’t you? I do have a copy of a NEC Teenage Newspaper that has some pictures of the bands that took part in a Band competition in Pietrmaritzburg on 3 Sept 1966. Weird what we did in those days?

    Regards

    Rod

  20. I remember the Christmas City Hall show. I was the drummer with The Difference. Have made contact on and off with Craig Ross, Rupert Mellor (our organist) who went on to join McCully’s Workshop. The Difference and the Gonks recorded at the Gallo Studio with Graeme Beggs at the same time. The music scene at that time and place was unique. A great time to be alive.
    Neville Kearns

  21. I am also looking for my Uncle Noell Mcdermott. I believe he still lives in Durban. Would love to hear from people who knew him or anyone who knows where he is
    Thank you

    Shaun

    1. To Shaun McDermott

      Noel McDermott is one the brother’s one of which was Patrick Shawn who was my wife’s Father. We found out some years ago that Patrick had died in Durban but very little else. Certainly we would also like to track Noel and his other brothers.

      Best

      Noel Douglas

  22. Hi Noel Douglas I would like to chat to you some more if that’s OK. We have located 2 of Patrick daughters in Durban. They have not seen Noel for a few years now but believe he is still in the Durban area. There is a missing daughter of Patrick who we are trying to locate. I’d love to chat to you my email address is dogchild21@hotmail.com or I can be WhatsApp on 07538324849 kind regards Shaun

  23. Hi Noel Douglas. The the surviving brothers are my Dad is Dermot and Michael they live in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Michaels son is the Harrismith mountain legend Michael mcdermott. I am the son of Dermot.

  24. So interesting to see all your familiar names and read comments. I worked with the late Rob Clancy at Recorded Music Specialists (RMS) in Durban. Rob used to organise some of the gigs at Journeys End, Tiles, etc. and of course played with the Gonks. Maurice Saul – vocalist with the Third Eye also worked with us at RMS. So the Selbys, Ronnie Pavid, et al, would drop in. So sad when Rob passed away in England. I emigrated to Australia 1997 – tried to sell RMS but no takers and sadly had to close it down. I operate Video Media and specialise in music events.

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