the classical years...
I grew up in Johannesburg in the apartheid years, starting classical piano at the age of 5
studying under Adolph Hallis
The formal path was rigorous. In this extract from the 29th Young Artists Concerto Festival I am playing the 1st Movement of Beethoven's Concerto No 1. Jeremy Schulman is conducting the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra. It's a week or two before my 12th birthday.
However the airwaves were always alive with township jive, jazz, kwela and gospel and it was not long before jam sessions at downtown Jo'burg
music stores led to clandestine basement sessions at home in the white suburbs.
Much is owed to Ernest, the vibes player. The soulful musician seen in the
Winston Saouli painting above (which still sits over my piano at home)
often reminds me of him.
the folk years...
An important part of the SA music scene was the ILAM, The International Library of African Music, founded by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey and subsequently by sons Andrew and Paul. Here is a link to a short video on Andrew and the ILAM.
The heartbeat of the SA folk scene for a lot of us though was SAFMA , and the recordings done in the Jo'burg home of its founder, the late Ben Segal. It was here that I first met Andrew Tracey around 1966 and sang and played flute on an impromptu recording of Jean Bosco Mwenda's Bumbalaka, arranged and led by Andrew - really inspiring....
It was at Ben's, too, that I recorded one of the first songs I ever wrote, Old Timer, which went on to be covered by a number of musicians. Here is a version by Mike Dickman and the Elastic Head Band
and here a later version recorded by Abstract Truth cohort Ken E. Henson after I had moved to the UK where I recorded a version with Daddy Longlegs
I have recently added a third verse however and hope to record it later this year perhaps with Tonal Tales....
The Abstract Truth
At that time much of Jo'burg's folk scene was centred around Hillbrow clubs like the Nitebeat and, down the hill, the Troubadour .
Mike and I went on to form “The Flood” and after the group disbanded, the two of us headed to Durban to join South Africa's “Abstract Truth’, an association that was to produce the band's “Silver Trees” album for EMI/Polydor in 1971
Do You Want to Dance
The fuzzy Silver Trees album cover photo was the work of Swiss photographer, Teak Glauser, using an original technique which gave a rainbow aura to anything that moved.
Typically, the record company did not want to pay for a coloured sleeve hence the final result!
We had a regular gig for a while at the Totem Club in Durban but the group grew from there and became a South African phenomenon.
Considered an "acid-rock" group at the time we would probably drop neatly into the "prog-rock." category today
(from Silver Trees album 1971)
Blue Wednesday Speaks
(from Silver Trees album 1971)
In this photo we are onstage at Jo'burg City Hall. Unfortunately, as I recall, there was a wrestling match on that night between Kalahari Wildman and Tarzan Jacobs and the post-show encounters between the fight fans and the long-haired stoners did not go well!
From L to R: myself on Farfisa, Sean Bergin on sax, Harry Poulus on bass, Ken E Henson on guitar and George Wolfaardt on drums