A series of one hour All-South African mixes to enhance the Public Facebook Group “Jive Talking and Eyeballing”, which is an interview showcase of both South African and International artists. https://www.facebook.com/groups/623022481618491
1. Bus Station – Fly Paper Jet 2. Morrison Hotel – Jack Hammer 3. Judas – David’s Confession 4. The Boogie Mansion – Martin Rocka And The Sick Shop 5. Vampyre Girl – The Awakening 6. Hammerhead Hotel – Falling Mirror 7. Shade Of A Ghost – Fetish 8. Hello (I Am Ghost Town) – Dance You’re On Fire 9. Gypsy Toy – Ann Jangle 10. Van Tonder – Piet Botha 11. Werewolf In The House – Falling Mirror 12. Ghost Riders In The Sky – Brian Finch & Ken E Henson 13. The Fisherman – Jack Hammer 14. Farewell To Gypsy – Bonekey
1984 saw the start of the UK miners’ strike and that same year the Provisional IRA tried to assassinate Margaret Thatcher by planting a bomb at the Conservative Party’s conference in Brighton. The aids virus was discovered, and the computer game Tetris first appeared. The summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles where local lass Zola Budd (representing Britain) collided with Mary Decker during the 3000m and neither finished the race (And if you want to be a trivia expert, Romania’s Maricica Puica went on to win the race). PW Botha was inaugurated as first State President of SA and news came through of the famine in Ethiopia which led to the Band Aid single and Live Aid concert later that year. Also, the Vatican finally officially forgave Galileo for saying that the earth revolved around the sun (368 years after the event). On the film front a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared in a movie called ‘The Terminator’. The year also saw the births of Calvin Harris, AB de Villiers, Trevor Noah, Olly Murs, Prince Harry, Katie Melua, Dizzee Rascal, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and Trey Songz while we said goodbye to Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Count Basie, Richard Burton, and Truman Capote who all died. The police raided the Stander Gang hideout in Houghton killing gang member Patrick McCall and on the opposite end of the spectrum we sam Desmond Tutu being awarded the Nobel Peace prize.
Based on a points system of 30 points for a number 1 position, 29 for number 2 etc down to 1 for position 30, the following are the top 40 chart performers for the year (Note: this does not necessarily reflect sales):
I Want to Break Free
Red Red Wine
To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before
Islands in the Stream
99 Red Balloons
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
All Night Long (All Night)
Break My Stride
What’s Love Got to do with It
Big in Japan
Ray Parker Jr.
Dancing in the Dark
Say Say Say
Somebody’s Watching Me
I Just Called to Say I Love You
Love of the Common People
Colour My Love
Radio Ga Ga
Catch Me (I’m Falling in Love)
Tonight, I Celebrate My Love
Hold Me Now
When Doves Cry
Boys do Fall in Love
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
Where is My Man?
You can compare this to the list published in Top 40 magazine in 1989 which can be found here:
Lloyd Ross is synonymous with Shifty Records and the Vyfster theme, for releasing albums by Sankomota, Koos Kombuis, the Kalahari Surfers, Vusi Mahlasela, Tananas and many other artists who would probably not have been recorded otherwise. Shifty Records did ground-breaking work for alternative and underground music in South Africa and much of the credit for that is due to Lloyd Ross who started the whole thing with a few other people. Time to investigate. Lloyd Ross kindly let me interview him in person in Cape Town and yes, we did keep our social distance.
Q. Hi Lloyd, I heard you went to the UK and when you came back you auditioned to play in the Radio Rats. Did it start there or before that?
A. Hey Ernesto, I am one of those guys who was always into music and like a lot of people did before the arrival of the cassette tape, sat with my record player and my guitar and learned songs by playing a section of a record over and over again until you learned the notes.I had a band in the navy with two other guys. We had the great idea of heading for their home town of East London after we got out in 1976 or 7 to turn “professional”. The band was called Horses In Transit and it lasted only a few months. In 1978 I went to the UK and where I met people who were big fans of punk and I got very much into it. I was only there for about 8 months and when I got back, while passing through Joburg, I saw the Radio Rats at the Market Cafe, run by David Marks. I really liked them. Then probably at the beginning of 1979 I read in the Sunday Times that they were looking for a guitarist. I got hold of Jonathan Handley who said: no, that was a misquote, we are not looking for another person to join the band. I told him that I was going to come for an audition anyway. I took my Fender Strat and hitched up to Joburg, spending my 21st birthday in a school bicycle shed in some godforsaken Free State town. So anyway, I got up to Joburg, to their practice room in Springs, which they shared with Corporal Punishment, did the audition and the band said Ja, you are in. Then I sort of fell over for a month, because I’d picked up some kinda weird ear infection in that bicycle shed. Every time I stood up, I hurled. I went back to Cape Town, convalesced, got my things in order, went back to Joburg and played with them until they broke-up for the first time which was the end of 1979.
Q. Did you do any recordings with the Radio Rats?
A. Yes, I played on Rocket Road…
Rocket Road: that was me on guitar, Dave Davies (vocals), Jonathan (guitar & vocals), Herbie Parkin (bass), and a guy called Pierre de Vos on drums who I see played with Tim Parr as well. He was the drummer for Baxtop at one stage. Of course, Jonathan called the drummer Pierre de Sade, as he does, ha, ha.
Q. You returned to Cape Town after that and then co-formed the Happy Ships?
A. I arrived back in Cape Town and got a job in a pizza den and got various bands together. I was in a band called Rubbish which was kinda punky but more new wave. Energetic music. A three piece with a guy called Wayne Raath on drums and Mark van Niekerk on bass. I then met Warrick Swinney (Sony) who had been playing with Guillaume Rossouw in the Rude Dementals and put the Happy Ships together. That was Wayne Raath again, Warrick, myself, a guy called Phillip Nangle and Hamish Davidson who now meditates for world peace in the Rocky Mountains. Hamish is a Transcendental Meditationist. Their philosophy is if you get 1% of the world’s population to meditate, it will change the world. They pay for people to meditate and he is one of those guys… and he was on sax. The Happy Ships was a wacky stream of unconsciousness sorta band. A lot of fun to play with. Everyone played everything, except for Hamish, who played sax…and meditated. Oh, and we had another occasional member in Jonathan Partridge, who played the pocket.
Q. You said you made some good contacts in Joburg?
A. When I was playing with the Radio Rats I met a lot of musicians and in particularly Ivan Kadey. He was playing in a band called National Wake…
The way we met is, I was looking for a place to stay while playing with the Rats. I was walking through the dilapidating Randlord district of Parktown & it was evening and I heard the unmistakable sound of a Fender Stratocaster emanating from a rambling rundown randlordish house. I went up and knocked at the door. I introduced myself and said: nice riff, and asked if he knew of a place to stay. I ended up staying there for the time I was in Joburg. Occasionally National Wake would be staying there too, the whole band; the Khoza brother Punka and Gary, One Eyed Mike, etc. Ivan and I started planning the studio then, the idea of it at least…Was this the beginning of Shifty Records?
A. Not really. It took a while for us to get it together. It was only when I got back to Johannesburg to work in the film industry that we got together again.
Q. So it was you and Ivan that started Shifty Records?
A. Yes. I bought my gear with the money made in the film industry. Ivan and I bought different stuff. Ivan bought a mixing desk and some microphones. I bought the tape machine, some outboard gear, cables and that kind of thing. It was an Otari 8-track machine. The first affordable 8-track machine actually because it was a half-inch and before that, multi tracking was an expensive affair on 2 inch machines, completely unaffordable for people in our position. We came in at the right time to do independent recordings where you did not need to mortgage your house, not that we had one, to do recordings.
Q. So that was how Shifty Records was born?
A. We had the studio but where to put it? Ivan was in an apartment on Rockey Street and I was kinda footloose, so we bought a caravan! But what to call the enterprise? A caravan meant we had a mobile studio, so we though of words indicating moving and eventually came up with the name Shifty. Funnily enough we did not record our own music at that stage. I was bandless, and so was Ivan. This was 1983 and Ivan didn’t get much time off from his architectural duties. Even though he helped set it up he was unable to participate in the dream of recording, but he was always there in spirit.
Q. The first release was Sankomota?
A. Indeed. I went down and recorded Sankomota later in 1983, it was our first album release. On a shoot in Lesotho I had seen this band playing at the Holiday Inn and they were really lovely. Spoke to them afterward and asked them to send me a tape. They told me they were banned in South Africa because they had done a tour under the name Uhuru, meaning freedom (not such a good idea for a band in South Africa at the time) and the lead singer was called Black Jesus (an even less good idea) who made political comments on stage so…NO! I thought, we have a mobile studio, we will come to you. I drove down with Warrick Sony and recorded the album in a couple of days. I took the recordings back to Joburg and did some post-production and Warrick added some Tabla and we added some sax from Rick van Heerden and trumpet by Stompie Monana. It was a good album to start with considering where we ended up going… And this is Sankomoto…
Q. Then on to the Happy ships was it?
A.Jip, came down to Cape Town, and recorded in Robin Hawkins garage in Wynberg. He very kindly let us use the space. At that stage, Hamish (Davidson) was already meditating 4 hours a day so we would have to take long breaks.
Q. So when did Warrick (Sony) join you? Was it is the Happy Ships?
A. No, Warrick was still living in Cape Town. I think he was at UCT (University) in 1983 when we did the recording. I had gone to Joburg in 1981 and that is when the studio started coming together. You mentioned you thought the Vyfster theme funded Shifty but seeing as I recorded that on the equipment that I bought with Ivan, it was there before the movie score. That was a money-making exercise, my day job, so to speakThis is the haunting Vyfster theme from the legendary SABCTV series Vyfster….
…Going back to ’79 when I was cooking up this thing with Ivan, the energy of Corporal Punishment featuring James Phillips and Carl Raubenheimer’s creative coming together was very inspirational for me. I viewed it as an indictment on the industry that these guys were not hunted down and recorded. I mean the humour, the melodies, the energy. So that’s why I wanted to record music actually. We did eventually record some Corporal Punishment but that was after their early tour de force in the 70’s. When the studio was going, James came up from Grahamstown where he was doing a BMus and we put down a couple of numbers. Then he and Carl did that Illegal Gathering project in Cape Town on a 4 track cassette which I still think is such great work. I mean fidelity wise it’s crap, but the capturing of the moment was superb. A bit like shooting a documentary with a kak, shaky camera, but what is happening in the frame is an amazing or beautiful sequence. You feel the energy of it and never worry about the technology. The important thing is what is being put down not how it is being put down.
Q. What was next for Shifty?
A. We did Bernoldus (Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand LP), we did a couple of albums on that 8-track. We did Bernoldus, we did Sankomota, we did the Corporals recordings, the Own Affairs by Kalahari Surfers. Warrick probably recorded that on 8-track as well. I was not involved in that though. Warrick did his own thing and in fact, we very seldom collaborated, hardly at all. But we used to see each other every day which was great. If you want a fresh take every day, Warrick is the guy. Very tangential sense of humour. What was said the day before was not repeated the day after. Everything was gouged in intelligence and fun so it was always great to have him around…
Q. Carry on, please..
A. Just trying to think….. the first Mzwakhe album, it was later actually. Look, around that time Warrick came up to Joburg and we replaced the 8-track with a Fostex 16-track which Warrick bought. I had become aware that there wasn’t just this new wave thing happening, but there was this really broad spectrum of quality music from all sectors of society that needed to be recorded. The reason why it wasn’t being recorded by the industry is because it was not considered “commercial”, or was political. This meant it would never get played on the radio, which in turn meant it would be difficult to sell. So unlike pretty much the whole of the industry, apart from perhaps Mountain Records in Cape Town, we recorded music because we considered it worth recording for aesthetic, rather than commercial reasons.
Q. You mean like those worker choir groups?
A. Ja, who would record that in South Africa? Maybe a Hugh Tracy if he had still been around. That goes for a lot of Shifty albums, nobody would have recorded them.
Q. How did you record those worker choirs?
A. That I did with Brian Tilley who ran this thing called Video News Services.. Brian and I traveled around the Transvaal and Natal recording those choirs because it was exciting and we thought it was the right thing to do. That is how we did things, that’s how I still do things, generally speaking, and with my film making a lot of the time.
Q. So there were a lot of different choirs?
A. Sure, we went to the East Rand. West Rand, Britz near Pretoria and then we went down to Durban. Unfortunately, we didn’t film. It would have been fucking great if we had filmed. We recorded people in the midlands, at Mooi River, Durban, the hostels, all over the place. It was really lekker. And it was FOSATU, it was pre-Cosatu days so ja, that was quite an early album as well… This is the DTMB choir..
Q. What was next for Shifty?
A. Next was the Mzwakhe album,. I saw him perform at a leftie thing in Yeoville where I think Johnny Clegg was also playing. He was a poet and he had a lot of charisma and attitude and I thought it could be powerful with some musical backing. I got Ian Herman, Gito Baloi and Simba Morri to workshop the music with him, so that was very exciting. Just get in the studio with musicians that are good at what they do and just lay it down.
Q. How did you hook up with Jennifer Ferguson? Did you see her at the Market Theatre?
A. I probably knew her personally before I heard her play. Her boyfriend Christo Leach was a director of film and theatre and she was acting as a ghost in some weird TV drama. I met her then. She may have told me she played, but then she was doing quite a lot of cabaret stuff in Hillbrow. For me, it has always been about the songs and she was a great songwriter. Also, her headspace, in terms of where we were, politically, you know. It became pretty obvious that we should record her. She always pretty much knew what she wanted, so with her stuff I didn’t do very much production. In fact, generally I tried to be as much removed as possible and let the people get their own stuff together and just contribute on the technical side and arrangements. Although, I’m sure there are those that would dispute that, ha ha! This is Jennifer from her first album…
The second album, which was done years later… she did on her own. It wasn’t recorded with Shifty, it was done at Video lab I think and then we released it.
Q. OK, now for Koos Kombuis, aka Andre Le Toit. He sent you a demo?
A. I really loved the vibe of the demo so I wanted to replicate it with better quality audio. I invited him up to Joburg. I had a PCM machine, an early digital stereo machine that recorded onto Betamax tape. These tapes are like three hours long. So I set him up in the studio and I hit record and I went out. I said just try to do what you did on the demo. I am not going to be here. Imagine it is your own space and do your own thing and I went shopping or something. In those days the studio was in Rand Mines properties, way out near Nazrec on Baragwanath Road. When I came back he was just finishing off. He had been alone for two hours playing. I had also asked him to do the intros, like he had on the demo and I just edited what he had done. I then compared those intros to the ones the original demo cassette and chose the ones with the better vibe.
An interesting aside is that we are actually about to release that original cassette demo. Technically I cleaned it up quite a bit. I then sent it to Koos to see what he thought of the idea. He was initially a little worried about it, but he’s come around to liking the idea.
Q. Why is Koos worried?
A. It wasn’t so much the fact that he had bronchitis, which comes through as coughs and sniffles on the demo, but rather because of some references to girlfriends from back in the day. He had changed names for the studio recordings to avoid hassles. The one has become a lawyer and he doesn’t want to cause shit. I have bleeped those, so he’s okayed it. There are a couple of songs that aren’t on the original. I’ve always loved that tape and I think his fans will do likewise. It is called Voedselvergifting. Though that was one of the few demos I responded to positively, I think I pretty much answered everybody that sent me a demo. And there were lots. Still have them in the archive.
Q. Kerkorrel? How did you get to record him?
A. Ralph Rabie (Kerkorrel) was sent down by Beeld or the Rapport to interview Koos/Andre and they liked each other. Ralph said that he also plays and played him some of his stuff, to which Koos said, well, you are a much better musician than me. I should be interviewing you. When Koos came up to Joburg they got together and the rest is history. The original Gereformeerde Blues Band, Koos was in it but that was for like one or two gigs. He was not a team player.This is Die Gereformeerde Blues Band…
Q. Simba Morri, was he a Shifty artist and was that after the Mapantsula band he was in?
A. Yes, we first recorded Simba as part of Mapantsula for the End Conscription Campaign album and shortly thereafter on his solo Wasamata, with Gito Baloi and Ian Herman backing him up and Jannie Hanepoot arranging the brass. He makes such gentle music, just like the man himself?This is Simba Morri with the album released by Shifty. https://simbamorri.bandcamp.com/album/wasamata
Simba has had some serious health issues earlier this year and had to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. He is home now but I am not sure what the prognosis is so please help the guy out by ordering his albums on Bandcamp.Shifty Records 3 July 2020: ‘Live – Simba Morri’ is out now exclusively on Bandcamp at https://simbamorri.bandcamp.com/album/live … all funds raised will go towards the Simba Morri medical assistance fund (first Friday of the month is a good day to purchase it as Bandcamp takes no percentage of sales on that day… Go get it and share, share, share Thank You!
Q. What other Shifty shifty artists didn’t we touch on?
A. Oh, there are a lot, ha, ha, ha, ha.
Q. Roger Lucey?
A. Ja I recorded his After the Thunder concerts way back, but we never did a proper release with Roger, just a single with his alter ego Tighthead Fourie and the Lose Forwards, which is really a hoot!…
Q. The Genuines, how did that recording happen?
A. I was working with Ian Herman from the very early days, probably even before our first Shifty album when I recorded that Roger Lucey concert and Ian was playing drums. He was like nineteen or something, he was living at Crown Mines, maybe at the back of Roger’s place even, and as soon as I heard him play I wanted to use him on every recording that needed a drummer. He probably ended up playing on 50% of the Shifty repertoire. The Genuines must have come along in 1986/87, the rest of the guys were from Cape Town and Ian hooked up with them. As soon as I heard the Genuines I wanted to record them. It was crazy that I didn’t have to fight the rest of the industry off for them, but that’s just how the SA industry was back then. Probably still it. An incredibly technically proficient band with charisma and a helluva vibe. First we recorded the rock album. This was the single from the Genuines album Goema released in 1987…
Even more fantastic album was Mr. Mac and the Genuines, which was the goema album, not the album called Goema, but the album using the goema tradition. I love the very tight sound of that recording. At that stage, I was using a lot of reverb on everything which is really embarrassing for me now, you know? But that album I produced really tight and the energy that comes through is amazing. That’s what you look for as a producer, you know- which is to manifest the immediate energy of people playing together to be heard for eternity. Not always an easy thing. Robby Jansen and Tony Cedras provided the brass. And here is that groundbreaking album in full…
Q. Tananas was another great Shifty band. Can you tell us about them, please?
A. This is Tananas featuring Ian Herman, the late, great Gito Baloi and the enigmatic Steve Newman… https://tananas.bandcamp.com/album/tananas Ian was living at the studio at that time, that was the second place we occupied at Rand Mine Properties. In the former, we were in a single-story building where we rented rooms from someone called Jackie Quinn who was involved in the ANC. We didn’t know that at the time and she had connections with people in Lesotho. It was after she had moved out of the house she got taken out by the South African military in Lesotho. There was a picture of her lying in the morgue on the front page of the Sunday Times. I could not believe it. The SA press had never published a picture like that before. It was shocking to me, not only because I knew the person, but because of the blatant disrespect that the publishing of the image represented. That was the first house and then there was the mine doctor’s house across the valley that we moved into a few years later. There were only two houses there in this wide open veld near Uncle Charlies. Warrick was also staying at the house. It was just music, that is all it was about and I remember recording the Genuines, both albums there. By the time of the second house, the caravan was no more. Of course, when the caravan was around I did other recordings not yet mentioned, like The Cherry Faced Lurchers Live At Jamesons in 1985. Pulled the caravan outside of Jamesons and ran a cable in and straight on to 2-track. There was no multitrack, no mixing afterward. 2 nights recording, wonderful …
I also took the caravan down to Swaziland in 1985 and recorded a band called Impandzi which was never a Shifty release and then we went to Botswana as well and recorded the Kgwanyape Band. It was like a Tswana-Celtic sound, a beautiful mixture. There were some ex-pats playing in the band, the guitarist was from Germany, Mandolin player from England, a flutist from Australia and the rest of the guys were Tswana.Here is that beautiful album.
Q. OK so Gary, Herselmann, The Kêrels, we have to talk about them…
A. They were playing around Jamesons where a lot of the Shifty A&R was done. I loved The Kêrels, like just about everyone else who saw them. Gary’s personality just shone through the music. You know Gary, he has always got a take on things that transports you from the serious, put it that way. The eternal binger. I think that Jannie (Hannepoort van Tonder of the Gereformeerde Blues Band) has a fantastic description of him: he is the kind of guy that would be jolling for 3 days with no sleep and still be the sharpest, funniest brain in the room. Koos describes him turning into a dog for the Voëlvry Tour, which he did for the whole tour! He would sit under the table and snap at people’s ankles as they passed by. But anyway, this is the first Kêrels album released by Shifty, Ek Sê..
Q. The Radio Rats Big Beat album because I think that was one of the best releases on Shifty. Was that an enjoyable album to make?
It was interesting for me to do that. The Radio Rats were the first proper band that I played in so to revisit them almost ten years later was kinda interesting. The songs were maybe not quite as in the box as their debut Into the Night We Slide but there were some really great songs there. Which was my favourite now? Pesthouse…
Q. The live Shifty releases and there were some really good ones…
A. The Jameson’s thing of course (Cherry Faced Lurchers Live At Jamesons)..
Winston’s Jive Mix Up, I think that album is great but it has never been properly released. That is one we must do on vinyl I think…
Q. There were a few really good compilation albums that featured some artists who did not do full albums with Shifty like Nude Red.. Can you tell us about those?
A. We did 2 compilations back then. There was A Naartjie in our Sosatie and then Forces Favourites and those were quite early albums. Naartjie was probably number 5, around 1985. That had Bernoldus on it and this guy called Timothy that just arrived on our doorstep fresh up from Transkei. I don’t know how the hell he found us. Very sweet guy, he couldn’t play an instrument, but he sang us some stuff and we really liked it. We composed a backing, recorded him and then he disappeared again… He’s on that album but we didn’t even get to know his surname…
Q. there was also this guy Stan James on there wasn’t there?
A.Stan, yes, a very good friend of Roger Lucey and in-fact he performed at Roger’s After The Thunder concert. Both Rogers recording and Stan’s recording on A Naartjie In Our Sosatie are from that concert…Here is Roger..
and this is Stan..
Q. So what are you working on now?
A. It is as you find the time. None of these things are going to make anyone any money. It just happens to be lockdown now so I found a little time to remix The Other White Album (James Phillips). I’ve got the brains trust in – everyone involved that was still around to criticism the mixes. I am also using Willem Moller’s ears as a second opinion. That is going to come out this year to mark 25 years since James’ passing. On the 31st July, on the anniversary of his death we put out a compilation album of the people that performed at the Concert For James. I put the video of the show up recently as part of the Shifty Lockdown Viral Picture Show…
Shifty September, that was a roaring success. what did that mean for you?
A. Hmmm, You came up for it especially, didn’t you?
Me: Ja, I couldn’t miss that…
A. That was such a roller coaster ride for me, hey! Jean Bourdin from Alliance Française approached me to use Shifty to celebrate 20 years of democracy in South. Now, that is a compliment. It was only supposed to be one or two events at the Alliance but it just started snowballing in my head. So eventually we had six events at Alliance, plus the big concert, so it became six months of work. I went through all the archives, videos, all the memories came flooding back. Jean was amazing, you might mention him in this. He is one of those enablers of culture in the most subtle way. He was however there for you every time you needed him, you know, organising the events, trying to find funding, whatever. The Alliance’s are really a language school. That is what they do, but part of their mandate is to promote culture, but Jean was so into music that he always walked the extra mile. He is back in France now, but it is his biggest dream is to open up a jazz club in Joburg because he loves the country and the music so much. As anyone will know, this is not a good idea, but it is a fine dream. Ja, so he was a great help and that is also where Bill (Botes) got involved, another amazing guy. Just does it for the love of it. Tried to pay him, tried to get him to take money from ticket sales, he refused. he spent months on that. He is driven by the love of the music and he makes things happen. It’s nice to have people like that around. and it is a great compliment to a guy like me who is recording the stuff. I really don’t like the act of trying to sell it. Bill loves that shit. Where was he in the heydays of Shifty! Would have been amazing to have had him around.
And then we got to a stage when things started to change. The Robben Island prisoners were released and Mandela was released and we had just recorded Vusi. The CEO of the newly formed BMG Africa was incredibly keen on Vusi and I surmise that he did a joint venture with Shifty just to get Vusi. There were a couple of records that were recorded in that period: Sunny Skies with James (Phillips), Zen Surfing with Robin Auld. I think Matthew van der Want and Urban Creep as well, though maybe I’m wrong about that. That was probably with Tic Tic Bang. Confused. Van der Want/Letcher was after that, brillianT!…
We were only with them for 3 years because it was a fuck up. Their sales staff were not interested in what we were doing so we would make the records and then nothing would happen. It was almost worse than before when we had little idea of what we were doing in terms of trying to sell things, but by that stage, I had had it. There were just too many repeats of these really incredibly talented young people coming through my doors with nowhere to go. Towards the end of the ’80’s, I knew there was no hope for them in terms of a career in SA, so what do you say to them? Stop recording, stop playing, no, you can’t say that. The only thing you can say is: “Go overseas”. It almost felt as though I was facilitating an illusion, you know what I mean? I was incredibly excited about the music, the people around Shifty were incredibly excited about the music, we knew we had done good albums, but often with just one venue in Joburg, sometimes a venue in Durban and maybe one or two in Cape Town, that was it. No radio play because the music was too interesting for radio. And then absolutely no other infrastructure in terms of management, etc. So after you have been doing that for 12 years…
Q. Neil Johnston on Radio 5 was a great help wasn’t he?
A. Ja, Neil was great, Benjie was always very supportive of what we did and journalists were always very supportive – you know Gus Silber and Richard Haslop, all those guys. We only got radio play every now and then. Tim Modese was a DJ at Bop radio and he broke Sankomoto for us. Richard Prior said he wore out 3 albums playing Sankomota over and over again. Sankomoto was always an evergreen for us. Never huge sales, but it always sold every month, timeless, you know… So by the mid-’90s, by the new dispensation, I was ready to move on……You can find the parts of the Shifty catalogue on most online platforms, but Bandcamp has all of it: https://shiftyrecords.bandcamp.com/
On behalf of all the artists recorded by Shifty Records, I would just like to thank Lloyd for all his incredible work and for all the albums that would not otherwise have been heard. Shifty Records is a very important part of South African Music and Lloyd Ross and Ivan Kadey can feel very proud. Cheers Lloyd and thank you for the incredible music.
Q. Howzit Carl, It is an honour for me to be able to help tell your story because as far as I know it never has. Did you start playing in Springs and carry on in Grahamstown or the other way round? A. My first band was in Springs, but don’t ask me now what it was called. All I know was that we wrote our own songs. Pretty much a jam band. We used an old gramophone as an amp. It’s main claim to fame was that we invented a weird kind of guitar synthesiser by putting the record needle on the bass string of a guitar that I’d swapped my bicycle for. The feedback we extracted from that old gramophone was unbelievable. I think that’s where my love for Psychedelia came from. But it’s also probably the single reason we never made it out of the garage. You couldn’t lug a gramophone around to a gig. If anybody out there wants to try doing the same thing with the record needle I promise the sound will blow you away.
Q. Can you tell us about your first band – Amazing Head – which featured Bill Knight in Grahamstown? Bill also mentioned the punk bands, Broederband and later Head Office. Were these just varsity bands gigging around Grahamstown or did you play anywhere else? A. In Grahamstown Bill and I started Amazing Head. We mainly played at the folk club but had a couple of gigs in and around Grahamstown and one in Port Alfred at a dance type thing. Went down like a lead balloon. It was a band with a revolving line up. Sometimes just two or three of us but once when we were playing at the great hall our numbers leapt up to about eight or nine of us. The only reason we played in the great hall was because Colin Shamley or some much bigger act ran out of petrol on the way down to Grahamstown and we were offered a chance to play. As soon as the organisers heard our first song they leapt into action and spent the next half an hour trying to get us off the stage. But we were having none of it and played our whole set. After that we weren’t even allowed to play at the folk club!
Q. And then you had something called “Carl Mark’s”? A. Well. In between Rhodes and the rest of my life there was a period back in Springs when there was nothing do but wait for Godot so Mark Bennett and I got this little folk duo called Carl Mark’s together. One of us had organised a local folk club which had meetings in the East Geduld Recreation club. Musicians like Jonathan Handley, Dave Ledbetter, James Phillips and us played there. I’d heard about this music competition in Klerksdorp. First prize was a recording contract which in those days we thought was quite a good idea. So we decided to get into my little blue beetle and off we went. We played a pretty decent set as far as I remember but we came nowhere. The winner was this old ballie on a bek fluitjie. We couldn’t believe it. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the kompetisie was organised by the Afrikaans Taalkunde Vereeniging. And with a name like Carl Mark’s…. Well.
Q. So did Corporal Punishment emerge from Carl Mark’s? A. Sort of. Jonathan Handley from the Rats had moved into my suburb and although he was from Welkom he was by far the coolest person we’d met in Springs. He was also writing his own songs and was busy getting the Radio Rats together. It was only natural that we’d set up a loose collaboration of musicians even though we weren’t in the same band. We knew after hearing his stuff and jamming in the back yard of his house that that was the way our music should move. Mark and I soon realised that what we actually wanted was an electric band with loud amps and a drummer etc.
Q. So how did Corporal Punishment come about? A. Well after Rhodes university I had the small matter of conscription to contend with. I had never had any intention of going to the Army. There was a Dutch organisation called “Omkeer” which I’d contacted. They facilitated South African conscientious objectors get refugee status in the Netherlands. The only problem was that I had to get there to apply. And there was no way I had that kind of money. I decided to pretend to be insane and managed to inveigle my way into the embrace of military psychiatry. Ward 22 at 2 mil hospital. While I was there I slipped over the fence to the entertainment unit for an interview and lo and behold they accepted me. So there I was. In the first six months of military service. Not my ideal, but better than infantry. At the same time my old pal James Phillips was in the last six months of his stint. I had organised a flat in Pretoria and James used to come around every night and we started jamming and writing songs together. That was the beginning of Corporal Punishment
Q. That was 1978, the disco era. You started off quite funky in the beginning but then you became more alternative. Did the Radio Rats have any influence on you? A. Yes very much so. But other things also influenced us. Even though we started off in the Disco era, it was also just two years after the ’76 Soweto uprising. We’d been conscientised. There was more than just one agenda in our world.
Q. The first time I heard Corporal Punishment was with the 2 songs you had on the Six Of the Best compilation album released by Benjy Mudie’s WEA Records. Did Benjy approach you to submit tracks or how did that come together? You recorded 2 songs for that album, Victim’s Victim and the brilliant Raubenheimer penned; Goddess of Depression. Can you tell us about the latter, which for me is one of the greatest South African songs of all time? Here is Goddess:
A. Well thank you. I think Victim’s Victim is utter rubbish. Something I’m ashamed to admit I wrote. But you’re right “Goddess” is fantastic. Not just because it’s my song but the Corporals gave it such an amazing feel. Much later after Corporal Punishment had disbanded we had a brief revival and played a couple of gigs in Joburg and Lloyd Ross allowed us access to his Shifty mobile studio which was a caravan parked outside the garage where we were rehearsing. We re-recorded some of our songs and “Goddess” was one of them. Even better the second time round. All those songs eventually ended up on the cassette release “The Voice of Nooit” Get it if you can!
Q. Corporal Punishment seem to split between heavy political commentary about the injustices of Apartheid like on Darkie and Brain Damage. Do you think you were a political band or just commenting on the times and your working class background? This is Brain Damage…
A. Of course we were political. The country was completely fucked up. We were involved in an indefensible war. Racism had seduced all the whities into believing that we would always be able to get jobs, we would always have money, our lives would always be safe. All we had to do was look the other way. All of us! The Corporals couldn’t ignore what was going on. But at the same time James and I were in the army, Mark Bennett had a nicely paid job. So what to do. We sang heavy songs about the shit that was going on. I changed my name so that “Sersant Majoor de Koker” wouldn’t find out about my “other” life. In interviews we said that we were just “ordinary okes”. We hoped that the other “ordinary okes” would also start putting up their “ordinary” hands and things could maybe start changing! Jonathan Handley of the Radio Rats said of you, “…the Corporals were completely fucking unacceptable. They smoked dope and were very political”.
Q. Your comment to that? Time to call in the exterminators? A. Yes
Q. The band released a four song EP: Fridays and Saturdays? A. At the time the Rats had secured a recording contract and Greg Cutler, their record producer, had organised a demo recording session at SATBEL studios so that he could familiarise himself with their songs. But Jonathan was our chom and he gave us four hours of their studio time. The Corporals pulled in sober and we recorded 4 songs which ended up on that EP. I then took the EP around to all the record companies, again looking for that idiotic thing, “The Recording Contract”. I think “spat out” would be a good phrase. Corporal Punishment broke up in 1980. James Phillips went to university in Grahamstown and Carl Raubenheimer moved to Cape Town. But Carl and James were to be reunited again in another band called “The Illegal Gathering”. The Illegal Gathering were Carl Raubenheimer (guitar/vocals), James Phillips (guitar and vocals), Wayne Raath (drums) and another Springs alumni, David Ledbetter (bass/guitar & vocals). Legend states that the band spent 6 weeks in the Cape Town summer of 1982 writing most of their songs, rehearsing them, playing live and then recording them (onto a 4 track cassette machine). The songs produced by The Illegal Gathering composed half of the tracks on The Voice Of Nooit, a cassette released by Shifty Records in 1986 which also featured Corporal Punishment. The title, “The Voice of Nooit” was adapted from a poem by James Phillips which was featured in Jonathan Handley’s Palladium fanzine – “This is the Voice Of Nooit”… https://illegalgathering.bandcamp.com/releases
Q. Did you ever try to get this released on vinyl because it would have made an awesome split LP? A. Nope. By this time I’d had it with the record industry. But I am so proud of this little adventure. We infiltrated the Broadway building in the Foreshore. My friend Piet Maree had found this abandoned studio one floor below the American embassy. Already there was the biggest mixing desk I’d ever seen. All we had to do was bring in the Portastudio, the wine and the zol. We also brought in some blankets to dampen the audio in various areas of the studio. We took it seriously. So did the embassy staff who thought we were moving in. Their first cadenza was when James took to stomping through the corridors with his size 12 bare feet recording sound effects. The thing is that the music was absolutely beautiful in its own dissolute way. Three songs were used in the movie “The Bang Bang Club”.
Q. In 1984 you released a brilliant and very controversial compilation LP called “Out Of the Blue”. The LP featured an all Cape Town line-up of bands with songs by The Quarter Zones, Tony Wood, Wunderbah, Carl Helgard (Raubenheimer himself), Under 2 Flags, The Outfitters, Bionic Automaton and The Illegal Gathering. Can you tell us how you came to put this album together? Did you do it in conjunction with Chris Quirke who had his Observatory productions tape distribution? No album or subsequent release captures the excitement and buzz of Cape Town music in the mid-80’s as this release does and it should really be rereleased on vinyl or failing that on CD. Go for it Carl. I will help… A. The thing about that record is that it had a few different silk screened covers so that, apart from the music, if you come across it, and you’ve got one signed by David Rosen, you’re in luck. This is the same David Rosen who went on to become a leading designer in the New York fashion scene so I’d imagine it might even have some value attached to it. Chris and I were both into that Indie thing so his Obs Prods and my Skate productions although similar in intent weren’t part of the same stable. But you’re right. There was some amazing music on that record. I’ve still got a couple but sorry for you. I’m not letting them go.
Q. Carl’s next band caused quite a stir in the live Cape Town scene but alas I never did see Teenage Botha live. It featured Joelle Chesselet, mother of Alice Phoebie Lou. The band played many drunken gigs at the Base, Club Indaba and what else can you say about that band Carl? A. Not so much of the drunken… This was the biggest band I ever played in. At one stage I think there were maybe 14 members in it. The guys were all attracted there by the presence of three extremely talented and dare I say it, beautiful female musicians. What can I say? One by one the guys left until only the musicians who were interested in the songs remained. Teenage Botha wasn’t a bad band by a long chalk but we were playing in an era of uncoolness. The cultural boycott meant that we all had to be embarrassed to be alive. Even now I find it hard to make that kind of statement. Forgive me Steve.
Q. The next band Carl Formed was “Shake Baby” The band managed to get 2 songs on the In from the Cold album. I believe you were not too thrilled at being on an album with all the other, mostly gothic bands…. Here is In from the Cold featuring 2 tracks by Carls Shake Baby band from 1988….
A. Well if you listen to that record you’ll notice that we sound like wedding gatecrashers who refused to dance on broken glass. It wasn’t worth the trouble.
Q. Moving to Cape Town in 1988 I went to go and see Carl’s next band The Beat Poets many times. The bands saxophonist Vernon Matzopoulos ran the Cafe Royal club in Church Street Cape Town and for a few years it was the mecca of the live music scene. Every Friday and Saturday the Cafe Royal used to put on gigs by all the best local bands of the time including, Bill Knight, Koos Kombuis, Valiant Swart, Artvark, the Beat poets themselves, Piet Retief and the Great Trek and many other cool bands. Those were incredible days hey Carl, most definitely a highlight of my jolling days. Can you recall any special moments there? When and why did it close? A. My abiding memory of that club was when I gave up smoking and I used to go there because it was so smoky you didn’t have to put lip to filter in order to smoke. I was there every Friday and Saturday night even if we weren’t playing. Actually I have a very special memory of playing the Cafe Royal. It was December ’89 and I was getting married. Koos Kombuis had a residency at the Cafe and Gary Kerel wasn’t able to make it and I was asked to fill in for him on bass. Of course I was in like Flynn. The other musicians in Koos’s band were James Phillips, Mark Bennett and Steve Howells – all ex Corporals. So… one thing led to another and we had this secret reunion. A one off. Unfucking believable. I’ve got photo’s of Steve Howells looking so beserk that I know we also had to have been that way. The rumours of the demise of the Cafe Royal… Well we know there was a fire and we also know there was an insurance claim but you never heard that from me.
Q. Your next outfit was called A Hundred Camels In The Courtyard? I’d discovered an author called Paul Bowles. One of his short stories was called “A pipe of kif before breakfast gives a man the strength of a hundred camels in the courtyard” I bust that and smoked it. The band had some groovy musicians and some interesting songs but I think I was getting to the stage where it was all just getting to be a little too much.
Q. So where was your mind at that time A. Over the years every time I resigned from a job I’d buy recording gear from my pension contributions so by this stage I had put together a pretty decent recording studio. I went to ground in there. I ended up recording literally hundreds of songs. Some of them are brilliant. Some of them are utter crap!
Q. It was a very sad day for South Africa when James Phillips died and a very sad day for you in particular as James was your mate, your old school buddy and it must have hurt so bad. I believe you were instrumental in the organisation of the Concert for James show at the River Club in Cape Town which featured the cream of south African musicians at the time. Did you put the show together? Not really. It was a collaborative thing. It really couldn’t go wrong. Apart from all the other musicians who’d given their time, we put together a tribute band called “The Phillipstines”. What a line up. Myself on bass, guit, vocals. Dave Ledbetter on keys, vocals, Steve Howells on drums, Hanepoot van Tonder on trombone, Buddy Wells on sax, Marcus Wyatt on trumpet, Willem Moller on Guit, Tim Parr also on guit, Aletta bezuidenhout – vocals and what was that guy’s name from Blood Sweat and Tears also on a horn of some sort. D’you know that feeling when you’re about to fall asleep and it feels like you’re bobbing in a taut spiders web. That’s what that band felt like. There are recordings of that concert but I’ve never heard them. There was another Concert for James show in Johannesburg shortly after this. The shows were slightly different as the Radio rats played at the Jo’burg gig but not the Cape town one…. This was the Concert for James. The day the music died in south Africa and a part of it really did… https://jamesphillips.co.za/concert-for-james/ Lloyd Ross of Shifty Records put together a very moving movie for James called famous for Not being Famous.
Durban film maker Michael Cross also made a wonderful movie on James called The Fun’s Not Over and it is really, really good don’t you think Carl?
A. Michael Cross is an unbelievably talented film maker. He made two impossible to make documentaries. Firstly the Radio Rats and then the James Phillips one. Neither of those films had any kind of access to archival material and yet he still managed to make two utterly watchable movies. Well done Michael.
Q. These days Carl works as a freelance cameraman. Are you still doing that and still making music? I remember years ago you said that one day they would find you collapsed over your PC working on some new tracks. I presume you are still composing your own music and did you write any new songs during the lockdown in South Africa? If you have any music online on Bandcamp or anywhere please share link… A. I spent an incredibly fruitful period in the nineties and noughties recording hundreds and possibly thousands of songs. I stopped wondering long ago about what these recordings mean. What am I going to do with them. One of my biggest failings I’m told is that I don’t know when a song is finished. I keep adding to it. Just one more bit of guitar. Just a teensy little harmony. Maybe another synthesizer pad. During the time of the plague I’ve had a chance to go back to those recordings and what I’ve found hidden in that over recorded miasma are the most beautiful little echoes, the most gentle harmonics and the most hidden roarings of guitars. Me? I’m just going to mine my own trove!
Q. I have just one last question and I would appreciate it if you would give an honest answer. Where is the jol? A. I’ve got no idea.
Thanks so much Carl, Looking forward to more bands and more releases…
1. Bus Station – Fly Paper Jet
2. Hammerhead Hotel – Falling Mirror
3. Alison – Dolly Rockers
4. Getting Better – Scabby Annie
5. Shock Time For Rock – The Popguns
6. Morrison Hotel – Jack Hammer
7. Werewolf In The House – Falling Mirror
8. Kamikasi – McCully Workshop
9. Mucking About In The Dungeons All Day – Radio Rats
10. Monster From The Bog – Psycho Reptiles
11. Bellville Rock City – New World Inside
12. Psycho Bitch – Toxic Shame
13. Boxstar Kitty – Three Bored White Guys
14. Blue Eyed Devil – Th’ Damned Crows
15. Psycho-Babble – Lancaster Band
16. Britney Spears – Tweak
17. Babydoll Blues – The Ragdolls
18. Psycho – Them Tornados
19. Woo Hoo! – Fire Through The Window
20. Baby Girl You’re Gonna Burn! – Peachy Keen
21. Drakilla – The Psykotix
22. Surfin’ With The Goth Gang – Martin Rocka And The Sick Shop
23. Krokodil – Retro Dizzy
24. Buccaneer – Moyawetu
25. Beethoven Is Dying – Koos Kombuis En Die Warmblankes
26. Only Yesterday – Sharkbrother
27. Boomtown Hotel – Valiant Swart
28. Kitchener – Piet Botha
29. Praha Paradise (2007 version) – Ernestine Deane feat Tim Parr
30. Die Gipsy In Jou Oë – Anna Davel
31. Farewell To Gypsy – Bonekey
1. Rock ‘n Roll Party – Ballyhoo
2. The Boy & The Bee – Omega Limited
3. The Eagle Has Landed – Dickie Loader & Freedoms Children
4. The San Diego Sniping Event – Falling Mirror
5. Charlie – Rabbitt
6. Substitute – Clout
7. Guinevere – McCully Workshop
8. What’s Going On – The Third Eye
9. Telephone Girl – Assagai
10. Hard Ride – Rabbitt
11. Candlelight – Richard Jon Smith
12. Astral III – The Invaders
13. Black Night – Omega Limited
14. Evil Ways – The Attraction
15. Better The Devil You Know – Stingray
16. Jo Bangles – Baxtop
17. Fantasy – Trevor Rabin
18. Born To Be Wild – Buffalo feat Peter Vee
19. The Journey – The Staccatos
World in Union (2020 Tribute) by PJ Powers and the Tygerberg Children’s Choir (TCC) is a tribute to all Covid-19 essential workers and public efforts made in fighting the corona virus pandemic. This new version of the song was filmed and recorded by the artists in isolation during the country’s lockdown, and released on Africa Day 25 May 2020.
According to PJ Powers the song choice was perfect for the cause as World in Union is a song that expresses so many things that we as humans need. “ When I did it in ‘95 for the Rugby World Cup it became a song of triumph and victory for South Africa, of unity and strength. This time around I approached the vocal with a sense of healing and hope in my mind, and without changing a lyric I feel that is what we have captured in this version.”
PJ and the TCC were originally scheduled perform at the 2020 Suidooster Festival in Cape Town during May. The project is a proud initiative by the Suidooster Festival in association with CTMA, Die Burger and other festival partners. Keep an eye on our social media platforms for new scheduled festival dates for 2020.
Karina Erasmus, conductor, with members of the Tygerberg Children’s Choir
Willem Moller became known as the guitarist in Johannes Kerkorrel’s Gereformeerde Blues Band but over the years he’s worked with many other musicians. Time to find out who . . .
Hi Willem, good to see you again. Where and how did it all start for you?
A: Hi Ernesto. When I was a little kid, sixties pop was all over my elder siblings’ radios and record players. Certain records had such an exciting beat that I just had to start banging things along! By the age of eight I’d gotten a pair of drum sticks and was hitting anything I could find. Many years later I learnt that those records with the drumming that made me so excited (Beach Boys, Byrds, Monkees, Mamas & Papas, Fifth Dimension etc) all featured studio legend Hal Blaine, so you can blame him for all the noise I’ve made since! My eldest sister was studying music and teaching piano at home so I was also hearing classical music a lot and she taught me the basics of music theory, so I had that understanding of music since I was young. It definitely gave me an advantage. When I was 12 and in Standard 6 (Jan van Riebeeck Hoer, Cape Town) I started my first band, the magnificently named Septic Daisy, with the very talented Conrad Kuhne, who could sing and play piano and guitar, and me on drums. We tried our hand at anything we could – Creedence, Stones, Beatles tunes. The next year we were joined by Izak van Zyl on bass, and a few years later by the late great Nico Burger on lead guitar, by which time we were covering more challenging Led Zep, Deep Purple and prog material. During all this time I was also learning to play guitar.
Q. What inspired you to pick up the guitar?
A. My musical memory goes back to before the Beatles when instrumental guitar pop was big (the Shadows, the Ventures, Duane Eddy), so twangy electric guitar is in my genes! By the late sixties I was listening to Hendrix and the Who and then I saw the Woodstock movie . . . Jimi, Pete, Carlos! When I turned 12, I started getting R5 pocket money (for the month!) New albums cost R4.99 at the time (for a crappy local pressing) so the first time I got R5 I set off for the old Musica in Adderley Street, which then was a really hip record store that stocked everything and had staff who knew about the various genres and new release, and you could listen to an album on headphones before buying. I chose Live Cream simply because I like the cover, I actually didn’t know who the people in the band were. I was really into this heavy blues music but the minor pentatonic scale confused me; it didn’t fit into my understanding of music theory. But on Live Cream there’s a slow blues called Sleepy Time Time with a riff that goes from minor to major, and suddenly I understood how that minor scale works with major chords to establish the blues sound. A light went up! But that song gave me another epiphany: Eric Clapton’s unbelievable guitar solos made me feel an intense emotion every time I listened to them. I couldn’t really explain it but I suddenly saw a very clear goal for myself: I want to know how to do that – play guitar that make people feel emotion.
And this is Sleepy Time Time…
Q. Did you have guitar lessons or were you self taught?
A. I was self-taught, with the help of the many mates I jammed with – we all taught each other. We were forever seeking out new people to jam with as they might know chords or riffs we didn’t! And I listened to records and tried to work out and copy riffs and licks. I was also taking music theory as an extra subject at school, and that knowledge definitely helped me to understand what I was learning. So by my late teens I was the ou in the band who’d work out the arrangements and parts.
Q. What albums inspired you in this regard?
A. When Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness at the Edge Of Town came out the lyrics connected with me in an incredibly powerful way. To this day Badlands has me in tears by the first chorus . . . that album opened my eyes to the impact songs can have when combined with focused arrangements and production. It changed how I listened to music. I guess I started to think like a producer, looking at the bigger picture rather than individual parts or sounds – everything must serve the song; if it doesn’t it must go.
Here’s one of the songs off Darkness that really moved Willem:
Q. You’ve said that you consider the track Adam Raised a Cain to be punk.
A. To me punk is an attitude more than a musical style, and that song certainly has that attitude. I love punk, but then I love all genres – just when I think I don’t like a genre I hear a track that I have to admit is really cool! But there are many artists and tracks I don’t like, for many reasons – mostly to do with them being derivative/unoriginal/formulaic/boring/dishonest, and you find those things in any genre. Actually the word genre has become meaningless; the interesting things are always when people come up with stuff that doesn’t fit into any ‘genre’! In the early seventies I got into the Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter scene big time – Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, James Taylor etc – and by the late seventies I’d gotten bored with loud blues rock and was immersing myself in jazz, particularly post-war jazz and more particularly what Miles Davis, John Coltrane and John McLaughlin were doing in the 60s and early 70s. I’d also discovered the real blues artists that all these loud longhairs I’d been listening to were copying, and immersing myself in that. So I wasn’t paying attention when punk happened in England in 76/7, but I caught up big-time a year or two later. I love the Pistols, Clash, Jam, Ramones, MC5 . . .
Q. How were you introduced to jazz?
A. I first heard Django Reinhardt when I was 12 or 13, and a year or two later I heard Inner Mounting Flame by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra . . . the guitar playing was just beyond me. Also at the time drums were my main thing, and Billy Cobham changed the game! From there various roads led to Miles Davis . . . Miles’ 60s quintet is the highest level of musicianship I’ve ever heard, for me listening to that stuff is a spiritual experience. I also got big time into Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus and many others, and other guitarists like Larry Coryell. Listening to so much jazz changed the way I hear music and particularly the way I play guitar; my chord work is influenced by jazz pianists and my single-line playing by horn players, particularly Miles. I don’t consider myself a jazz musician though, although I’m a capable improviser and can hold my own with modal stuff.
On that note, this may be of use to guitarists out there . . .
Q. In the early 80s you had a band called Nothing Personal. Tell us how you got together – when, where and how?
A. While at varsity I’d met a bunch of wonderful musicians, many of whom have become lifelong friends – Adriaan Eksteen, Steve Louw and Rob Nagel among them. By the early 80s I’d graduated and was doing my 2 years in the army, but I had it fairly easy and had a lot of time to myself. By that time Adriaan Eksteen and I’d been playing together for 6 or 7 years and had a good vibe going. A guy we knew from varsity, Robin Hawkins, who had a band called Artvark was living in a house in Wynberg where he had a rehearsal room with gear where we’d often go for a jam; there were always people hanging out looking for a jam. That’s where we met drummer Simon Falkiner and singer Michael Copley. The four of us hit it off and were soon putting songs together from the riffs Adriaan and I would come up with and Michael’s lyrics. We played our first gig as Nothing Personal at the Movement Too club in Cape Town in December 1982. We weren’t exactly punks but we certainly had punk attitude in buckets! Our sound was more like a mix of Live At Leeds-era Who and the Jam, with a bit of our blues influences thrown in, and we were Bruce & the E Street Band nuts . . . but we played it all with Ramones-like energy. After playing every venue in the Cape Town area for about 6 months we moved to Jozi and tried our luck there. The band didn’t last but I loved Yeoville and I ended up living in Jozi for 20 years.
Q. How did you become a sound engineer?
A. I’d studied journalism, which provided me with an alternative career and I’ve worked on and off at various newspapers and magazines over the years while also pursuing music. By 1984 Nothing Personal was over. I’d quit a copywriting gig I hated and was at a loose end. Some mates with a band and an album out were about to go on tour and asked me if I knew how to mix a band. I’d never actually done it but bullshitted myself into the job . . . basically I learnt by making mistakes! But I did know how a band was supposed to sound and once I got a hang of the technical stuff I became a pretty good front-of-house engineer. I ended up mixing a bunch of bands, permanently on tour – at once stage I lived in the back of Kombi for a year! The gear was often iffy and the venues often unbelievably crap – like the Roxy Rhythm Bar in Jo’burg. I walked in and looked at the place and thought, you seriously play live music in here? It’s a square concrete box! That’s an echo chamber, not a venue! After about 5 years of this type of thing I was asked to mix a musical production in a proper theatre, with good acoustics and equipment. After that I only worked in theatres where you can do a really good, satisfying job. I did live sound on musical productions for another 10 or 15 years.
Q. Talk about Boere Punk and the Voëlvry tour.
A. A bit of background: By the late 80s South Africa was in a terrible state – state of emergency, people being detained and tortured, people dying in townships, a cultural boycott that isolated this country, the SABC and record companies refusing to touch artists that had anything truthful to say about the apartheid regime . . . An incredibly stressful and tense time. Amid this, in places like Yeoville, people were responding with fantastic creativity – they had nowhere to go. The saviour of SA music was Lloyd Ross, who started Shifty Records to record huge talents like James Philips, the Genuines and the Kêrels when no one else would. A few venues like Jamesons let these people play there, and a small but very powerful and influential scene developed. At that time Afrikaans music was basically an embarrassment to mankind – really bad schlage (German middle-of-the-road) songs that got even worse in translation. We all loved James Philips’ Bernoldus Niemand record which, along with David Kramer’s early records, showed that it was possibly to write Afrikaans songs that rang true and had something real to say. In early 1988 trombone player Jannie Hanepoot van Tonder and I’d both heard people talk of this one-man cabaret show at the Black Sun that we should go and watch. That was Ralph Rabie, then already known as Johannes Kerkorrel, and we were blown away by his songs. Also on the bill was Andre le Toit, later to become known as Koos Kombuis. We soon got chatting and, along with their manager ‘Dagga’ Dirk Uys, concocted a plan to start a rock and roll band that could bring Ralph and Andre’s songs to a bigger audience. Hence the Gereformeerde Blues Band. Our first gig, in April that year at the Pool Club in downtown Jozi, was a huge success and we realised we were onto something. At first I played bass and Andre played acoustic guitar, but he wasn’t a band person so Jannie and I asked Gary Herselman of the Kêrels – aka Piet Pers – to play bass, and I switched to guitar. Soon I quit my other gig – I was in Wendy Oldfield’s band at the time – and we started playing lots of shows. Lloyd recorded the Hillbrow/Ry single, which took off, and in January 89 we finished the Eet Kreef album. Meanwhile Dirk had organised a tour of university campuses for the first part of 1989, which became an ongoing, national tour sponsored by Max du Preez’s newspaper Vryeweekblad and named after a Shifty compilation of alternative Afrikaans music – Voëlvry.
Q. I believe there’s an interesting story about the photoshoot for the Eet Kreef cover?
A. The idea was a play on ‘let them eat cake’. So the art director organised a table with a few crayfish (as well some plastic ones) and a few actors to portray the aristocracy stuffing their faces, and then on the back cover you see the proles (the poor band) looking at the scraps that remained. Which is exactly what happened in real life! When we got there the actors had eaten all the crayfish and we were left with plastic props! The disappointment on our faces was real.
This is Johannes Kerkorrel and the Gereformeerde Blues Band being interviewed by Evita Bezuidenhout for M-Net in 1989 – it wasn’t broadcast at the time because M-Net was scared of government repercussions! Check it here:
This is Lloyd Ross’ documentary on the Voëlvry movement and tour:
Q. I found it interesting how you guys swopped instruments around during your sets.
A. Jannie, Gary and I had all been in bands for years by that time so were pretty experienced. We could all play drums, Gary and I could play guitar and bass, and Jannie is one of the best trombone players I’ve ever heard so there was no way we weren’t gonna feature him! So it made sense to swop around; I thought it gave us an advantage musically, sonically and, on stage, visually. Ralph wrote the songs and could perform them solo at the piano, so whatever we added had to serve the song and make it better. That was the only rule. We were helluva stoked to have Piet in the band – we were huge Kêrels fans and Gary is a rock and roll legend . . .
Q. Who did you play with after the GBB?
A. In the 90s I basically became a sideman for hire. I’d started playing on all kinds of people’s records, which then often led to me working with them on gigs and tours. I worked with Nataniel for about 15 years, which was a fantastic expierence! I played guitar, bass and drums in his shows and mixed many of his big theatre productions. I’ve been fortunate to perform with so many hugely talented people, all of whom taught me things and enriched my life – Nataniel, James Philips and the Lurchers, the Radio Rats, the Pressure Cookies, Big Sky, Luna Paige . . . to mention just a few. I played on various albums with these people as well.
In 1990 I bought an analogue 8-track setup and started my first studio in the basement of my house in Sharp Street, Yeoville. To this day my studio, wherever I live, is called Sharp Street Studio. Over the years I’ve recorded, mixed and produced albums for tons of SA artists and today it’s my main activity; I don’t gig that often anymore. I’ve recorded so many talented people – the Sunshines, Valiant Swart, Henry 8, AD de Vos, the Blues Broers, Bright Blue, to name a few . . . Currently I’m working on projects by people like Dax Butler, Greg Schoeman, Belinda van Zee, Marcia Moon, Bacchus Nel, Riku Latti and Adriaan Eksteen – all great stuff!
Q. Do you remember the Hip Replacements?
A. I recorded their one and only album! Scotty, Bertie and Andrew are all old mates and I loved their tunes and sound. Bertie (Mark Bennett) is a hugely talented songwriter. I played with them a few times over the years too. I even played drums with them once, but they thought I wasn’t hip enough so they replaced me . . .
For more on the Hips: https://www.facebook.com/pg/thehipreplacements.za/about/?ref=page_internal
Check out Ad de Vos:
Willem played on the Radio Rats’ recent album Concise Rock and Roll Primer – for more check:
Q. Tell us about backing Rodriguez on his first South African tour in 1998.
A. Since 1990 I’d been playing on and off with my old varsity mate Steve Louw and his band Big Sky. Early in 1998 Steve called and said, ‘If Rodriguez was to tour South Africa, would you like Big Sky to be the support band?’ I said, ‘Sure, but I thought he was dead?’ Steve said, ‘Well apparently not.’ So we rounded up the band, which at that time was Reuben Samuels on drums, Graham Currie on bass, Russel Taylor on keyboards and my wife Tonia (of the Pressure Cookies) on backing vocals and percussion. Then about 2 weeks before the tour was supposed to start we got word from the promoters that not only did Rodriguez not have a band, he hadn’t played for 20 years and didn’t even own a guitar anymore! So the promoter bought him an acoustic and asked Big Sky (minus Steve) if we would be his backing band if they paid us double. Of course we all knew the songs and had played some of them in cover bands, so we listened to the records and prepared. Then a few days before the first show we were in the old Milestone Studio in Cape Town, rehearsing along with a Greatest Hits CD so we could follow Rodriguez’ voice. Halfway through a song Rod walked in, grabbed a microphone and started singing along. Someone switched off the CD player and we finished the song together! We all looked at each other and agreed, yep we can do this. The tour is legendary. It was the only time in his life the guy performed live to his full capacity – his career stalled back in the early 70s partly because he was stage-shy and wouldn’t tour to his promote his records. Once he realised that Big Sky knew and respected his material and had his back, his confidence grew and he was great on that tour. Sadly from what I’d experienced and heard of subsequent tours, his drinking often got the better of him and some shows have been disastrous – which is sad. His health also deteriorated and he’s gone blind, yet his daughters (who manage him) kept sending him out on endless tours . . . it’s unfortunate. But on that 1998 tour he was fantastic.
Check Tonia Moller’s documentary on Rodriguez’ 1998 SA tour, Dead Men Don’t Tour, which features the man in full force – the live footage in the Oscar-winning doccie Searching For Sugar Man came from Tonia’s film:
Q. How did you meet Tonia?
A. We met in the late 80s in Yeoville. I’d seen her perform with her band Khaki Monitor – which was one of the first alternative bands to use Afrikaans lyrics – and she was doing cabaret work. Then she joined the Gereformeerde Blues Band on backing vocals and percussion for the Voëlvry tour. After that the two of us had a string of blues bands and played in venues around Jozi for years, while she also formed the Pressure Cookies to perform her own songs. We got married in 1996. (Interview with Tonia coming up in a month or so – Ernesto.)
Q. Tell us about making the soundtrack for the local comedy Skeem.
A. I’d been playing with drum legend Barry van Zyl for years. He and James Stewart (formerly of the Usual) had formed a music publishing company and among other things were writing movie soundtracks. Barry asked if I’d be interested in creating the music for a new movie, and that it would involve a band improvising rockabilly jams while watching the images. That sounded like fun, so I was in. In the end the whole deal became a lot more complicated, but much of it did involve jamming some breakneck stuff while watching the movie projected on a wall in the studio, with the director, Tim Greene, jumping up and down as he directed us . . . it’s actually a fun soundtrack to listen to.
Here’s the trailer:
Q. You also worked with Andrew Kay’s band the Skyt Muties.
A. I recorded their album back in the 90s. I thought they were ridiculously good and that Andrew was a real special talent. He revived the band for a few shows a few years ago and I played 2 gigs with them. I love those songs!
Q. What have been some of your proudest moments in your recording career?
A. I’ve recorded hundreds of artists at Sharp Street Studio, especially in the 90s when I guess I was cheaper than anyone else! As it turned out a whole bunch of really talented people never released what they recorded with me and never really recorded again, so I have these gems in my archives . . . Machines of Joy, The Andy Clegg, Rear Window are 3 that spring to mind – really original and quirky material that the world should have heard but didn’t. Those recordings are close to my heart . . . Of the released stuff, there are a few I’m really proud of, such as Valiant Swart’s Mystic Boer (for me his best songs) and Kopskoot, Henry Ate’s Slap in the Face, Randy Rambo and the Rough Riders/Die Naaimasjiene, the Blues Broers’ Sharp Street, Been Around and Cellar Tapes, AD de Vos’ Diep Karoo and Wolfman . . . I also co-produced James Philips and the Lurchers’ album Sunny Skies (with Lloyd Ross), which I think is a fantastic record. I also play guitar on it. I also really love Greg Schoeman and the Comeback Kings’ In my Street and Dax Butler’s Drink in Everything and Trouble in Mind.
Willem: I love the Randy Rambo and the Rough Riders/Die Naaimasjiene stuff! We totally ignored absolutely every rule. There will probably never be another album like Die Saai Lewe . . . Randy is still at it.
Check out Die Naamasjiene’s recent material: https://soundcloud.com/dienaaimasjiene
Q. Any last words/thoughts?
I really miss those musical compadres who are no longer with us – Johannes Kerkorrel, James Philips, Nico Burger, Izak van Zyl, John Mair, Simon Falkiner, Michael Copley . . . all wonderful talents, all gone too soon. You guys rock, wherever you are.
Cheers Willem, long may you rock
Ernesto Garcia Marques 01/07/2020