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!
Q. Jonathan Handley of the Radio Rats said of you, “…the Corporals were completely fucking unacceptable. They smoked dope and were very political”. Your comment to that? Time to call in the exterminators?
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…
Ernesto Garcia Marques 30/07/2020