Mr Paljas, the ground-breaking Cape Town musical few can remember


12 January 2022

On this day, 60 years ago, the musical, Mr Paljas, opened at the Labia Theatre in the Gardens in Cape Town with a cast of 30 which included artists who were to become well-known names in local entertainment.

Whilst it was nowhere near as successful as King Kong, which was a Johannesburg production put on the boards a few years earlier by some of the people who created Mr Paljas, the play did generate a degree of interest in the “coloured” community.

Although the Eoan Group, established in District 6 in 1938, had been active in the community, its focus at that stage was largely opera and ballet. Nothing as ambitious and with such a large cast as Mr Paljas had been produced on the Cape Town scene.

The essence of the play involved a “bergie” [tramp], Mr Paljas, who wanders into a West Coast fishing village that has fallen on very hard times. The local fishing company packs up all their machinery and leaves the village – but they leave behind their boats.

Street-wise Mr Paljas inspires the villagers to make use of the boats. They smarten it up and the men head out to sea. Long story short, the boats come back fully laden and the village prospers. Of course, local politics come into play and there are side issues which eventually sees Mr Paljas driven out.

Not much is documented about the musical but the little that there is on web indicates that there are a few twists and turns in the story.

Singer Danny Joseph played the lead role of Mr Paljas and Maud Damons, a well-known name in entertainment circles featured as Tina, the local flirt.

A young Thandie Klaasen

Other members of the cast included Thandie Klaasen, Gerry Arendse and Colenso Mama.

The musical is significant also in that it generated an album of the play’s songs performed by celebrated jazz pianist Chris McGregor who was starting out in his career and was to go on to form the legendary group The Blue Notes and then Brotherhood of Breath.

McGregor was listed as musical director for Mr Paljas. On the soundtrack of the play, McGregor had Dudu Pukwana (alto sax) Nick Peterson (alto) Cornelius Khumalo (baritone and clarinet), Denis Mpali (trumpet), Blyth Mbityana (trombone) Joe Mal (bass) and Cornelius Joya (drums) in the orchestra.

The 16 songs of the musical included tunes like To The Boats, More Fish In The Sea, One Bright Day, Ghoema Song, Lighthouse In The Sky, and Goodbye Paljas.

The driving force behind Mr Paljas was Stanley “Spike” Glasser.  He wrote the music based on a book by Harry Bloom. The lyrics were written by Beryl Bloom. Glasser was also musical director and wrote the arrangements for lyricist Todd Matshikiza’s King Kong. Harry Bloom wrote the King Kong book,

Considering the strong connection between the main people behind King Kong and Mr Paljas, there was a view that Mr Paljas would be as big a hit as King Kong which opened in 1959. King Kong, billed as an “all-African jazz opera”, was a smash hit that went on a two-year run around SA and then on to London.

In apartheid South Africa, King Kong was seen as the entertainment world thumbing their noses at the ruling party. Here was black and white South Africa working comfortably together to produce an international hit.

Yet, that success never translated in the same way to Mr Paljas.  It opened in the Labia to some acclaim (the Labia being the “in” white theatre which welcomed black patronage).

After the Labia run Mr Paljas did little community halls on the Cape Flats and then . . . nothing.

Maud Damons and Stanley Glasser. Picture: Social media

It made Danny Joseph and Maud Damons household names in the community and was another stepping stone for Thandie Klaasen to bigger things.

But the play itself . . . nothing.  In doing my research for this piece, I asked some people involved in theatre whether they had any knowledge of Mr Paljas.  None had. I wasn’t able to establish whether anyone of the original cast is still alive. Brussels-based Cape Town man, Milton van Wyk, who is researching the Golden City Dixies, unearthed two clippings from the Rand Daily Mail referencing the musical. One, from 13 January 1962 announced the opening of the show and that live theatre allowed them to allow “mixed audiences”.  The second, on 2 March 1962, said the show was not the financial success  it was anticipated to be and would not to taken to Jo’burg, and tour SA and Rhodesia.

Maud Damons did end up in London where she plied her trade as a jazz singer and a few years ago did a few gigs at Kaleidoscope in Claremont when visiting her hometown. She died last year.  Glasser died a few years ago, also in London, a celebrated music academic. Glasser and Damons fled South Africa after being charged under the hated Immorality that barred relationships between white and black.

Click on images to enlarge

[Blogger’s note:  If anyone is aware of any member of the cast who is still around, drop me a message. I’d like to have a chat to them.

All photographs sourced from social media.]



Molly Baron . . . when you smiled, the whole world smiled with you

22 November 2020

Veteran Cape Town musician John Arthur Baron, died suddenly on Thursday. Many music lovers won’t know that name. They’ll remember him as Molly Baron, long-time drummer of one of South Africa’s best-known groups.

They’ll remember a dedicated musician, a humble person, a great entertainer – and someone who had one of the most welcoming smiles a human could ever possess.

Fellow performer Sophia Foster put into words what his fans and music peers will remember most: “His personality, was . . . you know . . . you could see him coming a mile off. It was that smile. The smile never ever left him. It was always the smile.”

Not unexpectedly, Molly’s death saw an avalanche of condolence messages and tributes on social media, such was his popularity.

This blog, in acknowledging his status as one of the legends of South Africa’s music industry, profiled his long career in a lengthy piece here. But that wasn’t even near enough to accommodate the life story of a Bellville South boy that began back in 1967. From a poor background, with minimal education, he nurtured his love for music that saw him strut his stuff from the townships to society’s highest stratas.

I knew Molly from the time he joined the Rockets as a kid barely able to see over the drumkit and I have many good memories of the years I wrote about him. But I will leave it to his fellow entertainers and industry people – the likes of Jonathan Butler, Sophia Foster, Colin “Bones” Delight, Jerry Watt, Richard Jon Smith, and DJ Tubby Welby Solomon – to acknowledge the life and times of John “Molly” Baron.

Colin Bones Delight – lead singer with The Rockets for many years

Colin “Bone” Delight

“I first met Molly in 1971. I had been playing with The Fantastics but the band broke up and I was at a loose end. One day I was lying at the swimming pool at Athlone Stadium sunning myself when I looked up and saw Molly standing over me along with the legendary club manager “Laughings”. They wanted me to join the band because Robbie and Georgie had left.

“He invited me to rehearsals and, from there, history just took over. I was lucky to have Molly take me in, so to speak, and show me the ropes. I hope people reading this can understand what type of person Molly was. People want to talk about struggle, we struggled. We did it tough, we slept in Laughings’s van after the shows. He wouldn’t go home to Bellville after a gig. So I slept in the van with him.

“Molly was a good person. He had an expression on his face when he worked that reminded me of my grandpa. That is why I was so fond of him.”

Jonathan Butler – started with The Rockets as a teenybopper in 1972

Jonathan Butler

“I will always remember Molly as a fearless drummer, a great singer and a fabulous musician. He was the glue that kept the Rockets together when I was with them.

“It was when I became a Christian and saw Molly became a Christian too that we got close and shared our faith.

“My time with Rockets, as their youngest member, was very exciting but very tough also. The guys in The Rockets were like big brothers to me. It was hard at times but I felt very close to them.

“Bones was and will always be my big brother. I don’t think this generation knows that I was the youngest Rocket.”

Jerry Watt – lead guitarist of The Rockets and still leading them today

Jerry Watt

“I was with The Fantastics but we split after our singer Mikey Davids died. I joined The Rockets and Bones joined with me.

“From a young age, Molly – all of us – we were all driven. We wanted the band to be a household name. We wanted the people to remember us for as long as possible. There were hundreds of bands that did the same things we did but we did it differently. We would go to Strandfontein bungalows and rehearse for weeks at a time. That’s how we got to be more creative, working on things like choreography.

“In life, nothing is forever, people get married, people get divorced, people make choices. Molly pursued a solo career, which he did well. He was a great drummer, very solid, one of the best in the country. When he went solo, he started playing guitar, which he did well. He recorded a couple of albums and started doing gigs as a duo.

“Molly was very dedicated. When we did gigs, I drove the truck with the equipment. He would go ahead two-three hours before me to set up the sound at the venue and other issues. By the time we get to the gig, we would have a quick sound check and, boom, we’re on!

“We were all focussed on making the Rockets brand a success. We worked hard; nothing was given to us on a platter. We had our share of hardships. Today The Rockets is a household name. It was a shock when the news came.

“We will always have those memories of what we built together.”

Richard Jon Smith — 70s superstar in SA, backed by The Rockets on big tours

Richard Jon Smith

“I miss a very dear brother to my family and me today, as he suddenly is not with us anymore. I feel that void of his laughter and little sayings and more laughter.

“Molly, you were such an inspiration to so many all over Africa. Just your smile opened anyone’s heart and all was well.

“You were the Rockets always, because you were the mascot.”

Trevor “Tubby” Welby Solomon – DJ and sound and lights consultant for The Rockets on big gigs

“Tubby” Welby Solomon

“It is with a heavy heart that I reminisce on the passing of Molly Baron, a leading light on the Cape Town music scene for many years and a consummate professional in fulfilling his business commitments with whomever he had a deal. In an industry rife with a lackadaisical attitude towards punctuality and commitment, Molly was an exception.

“Whatever shenanigans the group got into in their free time, when it was rehearsal time or time to set up for a gig, Molly took control, the tomfoolery stopped and the group would do their thing with exceptional talent and dynamic delivery. Molly was not only progressive in his music, he was always forward looking in his performances and would always call before shows to organise what sound and lighting would work in the venue.

“I’ll never forget the first time we did the sound mixing from within the auditorium at the Panorama in Elsies River. We had to sit in the seats between the patrons with our mixing desk, what we did not realise was that from time to time the stop was passed down the row and we had to take a skyf before passing it on. That was before Covid of course.

“Another example of Molly’s progressive thinking was when he called me from Mossel Bay on the last leg of their South African tour on their way back to Cape Town. We discussed sound and lighting requirements and he asked for ideas to make a big splash on their return. I suggested chartering an aircraft to fly them from Mossel Bay to Cape Town and Molly eagerly agreed, if other international groups could do it why couldn’t they? Goodbye Molly Baron, thanks for the ride, you shall remain in our hearts and minds forever. See you on the other side brother.” Tubby.

Sophia Foster – veteran diva and support act on The Rockets tours.

Sophia Foster

“I worked with The Rockets in the mid ’70s on the big tour with RJS, Jonathan Butler, Ronnie Joyce, Bones Delight and Lionel Petersen. And then I toured with the Rockets on their own with Sydney Vellan’s tour.

“You know, I have never come across such an even-tempered person.  He became quite spiritual. The smile never ever left him.   It was always the smile. Like always, just such an amazing spirited person.

“He was such a good leader, even with all the politics going on, and whether everyone was gerook. He was also gerook but he was level headed.

“When I was on stage and he was leading the band behind me, he was brilliant.   He knew his stuff. He was the first and youngest drummer I worked with that was like the older guys like Monty Weber and Gilbert Matthews. For his age, he played brilliantly.

“He was a class act when it came to managing the group’s business. He was very together when it came to rehearsals and he was quite strict with those guys. You must remember we were on the road, everybody got it together and we were so tight. It took a strong captain to run that ship. There were lots of side things happening but when it came to the gig, everybody pulled together.

“The sad thing is, I worked and spent so much time on the road with Molly and the rest of those, yet I do not have one picture of myself with them.”

Blogger’s Note: As a journalist I have lots of fond memories of dealing with Molly as the spokesman for the group, but one stands out: He always dropped in to see me whenever the group came back to Cape Town after a long time away on tour to see if he could get some publicity for upcoming gigs. On this one occasion, coming back from Natal, he walks in, smiling that smile of his, and dropped a packet on my desk.  With an impish “this is for you”, he beckoned to open it.  Inside was a tightly wrapped “parcel” of the finest “Durban poison” you could lay your hands on. Up to today, I can’t think why he gave it me to.  I never inhaled a day in my llife.

Such was the humour of John Arthur Baron. Loved you for it Molly.

The early Rockets, from left, “Bones” Delight. Claude Brown, Frank Brown, Molly Baron, and Jerry Watt.


Related material

Molly Baron: A ‘Rocket Man’ . . . and yes, it’s been a long, long time

Jerry Watt: The Rockets’ clean-living and stable Mr Fantastic

Bones is still a sheer delight 

Sweet, gentle Walter Brown — gone but not forgotten

All material on this blog is copyrighted and permission should be obtained  to publish any part of it

Heritage Day, D6 vocal groups, and the museum that must not die

Chico Levy, Salie Daniels with The Playboys and, on right The Falcons, from left, Biba Petersen, Mana Petersen, Tommy Peters, Ama Petersen and Taliep Petersen. Click on the picture to enlarge.

24 September 2020

Do the names The Ambrosias, The Playboys, The Falcons, The Splendours or The Emotions mean anything to you? They absolutely would, if you had any connection with District 6.

They were all singing groups who had their roots in District 6 in the late ’50s and ’60s before the apartheid regime uprooted the community and turned the area into a wasteland.

Today is Heritage Day, a day to remember and acknowledge our past . . . the things that mattered then and matters now. Heritage is about past tangible things like buildings and intangibles like customs, music dance sports etc.

For many, those singing groups are part of the heritage of people who lived there and who have passed it on to their children.

There wasn’t a stage show in the ’60s that didn’t feature any one of those aforementioned groups and others like The Telstars, The Rockets (not the pop band) and Hi-Lites. They would feature on the bill on that small stage at The Star Bioscope with the likes of Ebrahim Rodrigues, Ismail Parker, Vernon Saunders and budding stars Zane Adams and Taliep Petersen.

The Rockets vocal group, one of the most popular groups that came out of District 6 in the Sixties. [Elspeth Davids and Neesha Abrahams are the women, any help with naming the others would be appreciated.]

Those were great days for the D6 people. Life might have been a struggle for many but when it came to entertainment it was alive and vibrant. After a week-long slog on the factory floor, light relief on a Saturday afternoon was a stage show at the Avalon or one organised by “Sakkie vannie Star”.

It would feature their neighbours, their brothers or sons (daughters in some cases) but almost always someone from District 6.

Today, all those groups and entertainers and their venues have to be remembered because it is part of someone’s heritage.

There is no better institution that ensures people remember the District 6 heritage than the District 6 Museum housed in the old Methodist Church on the corner of Buitenkant and Albertus Streets. They have been doing sterling work for decades in keeping alive the memory of District 6 alive.

The museum, since its establishment in 1989, has been a cynosure for those who want to imprint indelibly in people’s memories the apartheid’s forced removals, be it District 6, Newlands, Wynberg, Claremont, Mowbray, is never forgotten.

Within its walls are mementoes and street signs bearing names of families who lived on it . . . Eckhardt Street, Pontac Street, Aspeling, Stuckeris, De Villiers . . . a link to the past but never forgotten.

A clipping from The Post in 1968. The Ambrosias in the group are Rashaad Craayenstein, Solly Junior, Gouwa Abrahams, Achmat Abrahams and Isgak Felix.

Sadly, this beacon of a community’s heritage is in danger of closing its doors, another victim of the flow-on effects of Covid-19.

The museum has relied, in the main, on donors and a steady stream of international visitors, who came to hear, first-hand from former residents of life in the area.

When the Government closed the international borders, the principal revenue stream dried up. It doesn’t get funding from the authorities, and in an effort to continue operating, it has launched a local and global appeal for people to donate any amount to help them keep their doors open. They would like donations to start at R50, the normal price of an entry fee.

Donations can be made by EFT to their Standard Bank account 0707 293686, branch code 020 909. The Swift code for foreign donations is SBZ AZA JJ.

Local artists, along with many other organisations, have joined the campaign to save the museum. Tomorrow (September 25) the Save D6 Benefit Concert will be live streamed on social media from the 44 Long Street venue. It will feature, among others, Madeegha Anders and her children Jawaahier and Ashur Petersen, Loukmaan Adams, Nur Abrahams, Jarrod Ricketts, Mujahied George and Claire Phillips. The concert starts at noon and goes to midnight.

Some of the performers have a strong link to D6. The father of the Petersen siblings is Taliep Petersen.

Nur Abrahams, one the top entertainers in Cape Town, is, of course, the son of Gouwa and Achmat who were part of The Ambrosias. He’ll be celebrating his heritage big time no doubt.

Tickets for the concert – R80 – is available until October 1 and can be bought here:

I’ll be celebrating Heritage Day by tuning in and doing my bit to save the museum. As a proud Trafalgarian, I trudged to school from the station up Hanover Street and hung a right at Tennant Street, then left at Constitution and right into Birchington Road to get there.

Years later, I was to spend my formative years as a journalist working at The Post in Hanover Street, which is where I met The Ambrosias, Chico Levy and The Playboys, Mac Emeran and Colin Martin of The Splendours and a host of other performers who were local heroes.

You don’t know where you’re going in life unless you know where you come from. It’s all heritage.

To the international readers of this blog (and there are many of you, my site tells me that) please support this worthy cause. In Australia that R80 converts to $6.65, NZ is $7.19, Canadian dollar is $6.35, US dollar is $4.77, in the UK that R80 coverts to £3.75 and the Euro to 4.05.

All material on this blog is copyrighted and permission has to be obtained to reproduce any part of it. Pictures from Warren Ludski archives.

The Emotions . . . from left, Abduraghiem Leggett, Fatie Jardien, Abdullah Barodien, Mustapha Barodien.

The Splendours . . . men from top, Colin Martin, Bobby Jamal and Mac Emeran. Women, from top, are Denise Roman, Merle Hendricks and Joy Hendricks.

Sophia Foster’s Aretha tribute is pushing for a world audience


Sophia Foster, the head of the Foster Foundation, with the all-female cast of Sista’s Tribute To Aretha which will be live streamed next Sunday

Singer Sophia Foster is reprising her Sista’s Tribute To Aretha Show that hit the boards in December last year – with one huge difference. This time she’s going global.

The veteran diva and her Fostering Foundation kids will present the same show next Sunday, September 13, going live in an online streaming event.

Unlike the first outing of the show that was put on at the Nassau school in Newlands where only 220 people could attend, Sophia is banking on a much bigger audience, courtesy of modern technology and the reach of the internet.

“My broer,” she says in her trademark opening line, “I’m hoping that the response is huge. We’re counting on thousands and thousands buying tickets. It’s for a very good cause.”

The original Sista’s Tribute To Aretha Show was Sophia’s acknowledgment of the role the Queen of Soul played in her formative years.

Sophia used the first performance to showcase the talents of the young artists she mentors as part of Fostering Foundation that she set up to nurture raw talent.

“We put on a wonderful first performance last December and followed it up with a couple of corporate gigs but Covid 19 kinda brought things to a halt,” she said. “There were so many people who were dying to see the show but we went into lockdown.

“However, we can’t stagnate indefinitely. Now technology gives us this great opportunity to not only put on this show again for a few hundred people but to take it out of a suburb in Cape Town and present it to the rest of the city, the rest of South Africa, and to the world.

“We’re all pretty excited about that. We know how much people overseas hanker after something from home. Now ex-pats in Australia and New Zealand can watch it next Sunday night, South Africans in Canada and America can watch it early on the Sunday morning and in the UK they can watch it with us on a Sunday afternoon.

“And if they can’t watch it live, it will be available for delayed streaming for about 10 days after that. Everybody’s a winner!”

Tickets for the show can be obtained at and costs R75. [That’s about $5 in Oz and NZ, about $4 in North America and cheap-cheap in the UK.]

The show will be aired from Aki Khan’s Penny Lane Studios in Wynberg.

It will once again feature an all-female cast made up of the young performers but this time there will be one big change – Sophia herself will be joining them on stage.

“Performing at Penny Lane Studios will be like coming home,” Sophia said. “The studio is close to where I grew up as a child.”

The recent easing of the lockdown restrictions has meant the students and Sophia can get in a number of days of rehearsals to fine-tune the presentation.

“I can tell you … it’s dynamic. It’s alive. It’s vibrant.”

As can be expected, Sophia will make full use of the extravagant wardrobe she wore on stage when she was much in demand on the hotel circuit in Southern Africa.

Sophia also has the expertise of experienced dancer Tilly Daniels Barber to polish the choreography of the young cast.

Unlike previous shows taped at Penny Lane Studios where performers played to a room filled with camera and lighting crew, Sophia has used the tricks she has learnt over the years to turn the studio in a mini-theatre accommodating about 20 people.

“It will help the young ones who could find performing to an empty room a bit daunting.”

Sista’s Tribute For Aretha cast going through their paces for next Sunday’s show which will be live-streamed.


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Richard Ceasar and Camillo Lombard online . . . that’s tops, dog!

Blog Editor’s Note:  This article was written and posted  before the developments that have enveloped one of the people featured prominently in it.  The show has since been cancelled. This blog is a firm believer in the rule of  law  and allowing courts to decide the matter rather than taking any action that prejudges the issue. The article will remain on the blog until further notice but no comments  will be allowed.]

Camillo Lombard’s group, Top Dog SA, has lined up another musical top dog, singer/guitarist Richard Ceasar, to headline the band’s next online streaming gig.

It goes out next Saturday, August 1, and Top Dog is hoping that with Richard as the main act, the event will have huge appeal to expat South Africans living in Australia and New Zealand.

“Richard enjoys a huge following in both countries because he has performed there over the years and maybe this will be something nice for his fans in distant parts,” Camillo said.

Top Dog had its first online gig in May as musicians moved to the online platform to make up for the money they would have earned with live gigs.

“Our gigs have been few and far between and we have had very little support from the national government in this regard,” Camillo said.

“We have to do what we can. Like everyone else, we have to put food on the table. This is our way of doing it.”

Camillo said the group knew they had to come up with something different as a follow up to their first gig.

“We thought long and hard about which artists to feature. Richard is well loved by many audiences in Cape Town and around the world. He was a perfect fit.”

“We’ll use the occasion to celebrate a Cape Town legend.”

Camillo said viewers of the show would be treated to a “repertoire of contemporary jazz, toe-tapping music seasoned with great improvisation”. It will include some of Richard’s originals and “an amazing song penned by our own Ebrahim Khalil Shihab (Chris Schilder)”.

For Richard, life today is a quite different scenario to what he was doing in July last year. Then he was performing on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean stopping off at ports in Greece, Italy, Spain, France . . . living the dream.

Richard Ceasar . . . from cruising in the Mediterranean to online gig.

The online gig comes at a time when he has to find ways to promote his newest album, The Cape Town Old School Jam, that he released a few weeks ago. It is available now on online platforms like Spotify, Deezer and iTunes. Richard says it is a mixed bag of old favourites that people like to request when he plays.

“It is probably the last time I will be doing something like that. I have reached the stage in my life when I want to do my own stuff to explore my own creativity,” he said.

The online gig will also feature local singer Candice Thornton who is a graduate of the Cape Music Institute and is fast making a name for herself on the local scene. She has released two singles, Superhero and Four Leaf Clover. Top Dog engages her when they need a lead singer.

Tickets for the event can be obtained via Quicket and, here’s the rub . . . it will cost only R50. Camillo says price that is appropriate for a cash-trapped local audience but for the expats, it is a drop in the ocean. R50 equates to less than $5 in Australia, New Zealand and Canada and little more than two British pounds.

“We appeal to our international audiences to purchase as many tickets as they can afford to support our initiatives during Covid 19,” Camillo said.

They are hoping that overseas viewers will buy multiple tickets per household as a gesture.

Singer Candice Thornton . . . a guest spot on the Top Dog-Richard Ceasar online gig next Saturday.

Don’t hold back you expat music lovers in Oz, Kiwiland and in the Northern Hemisphere. Dig deep and buy up big. It’s the least you can do.

Four musos leave us to rock on at a big gig in the sky

Drummer Gilbert Matthews who made a name for himself in South Africa in the Seventies before settling in Sweden. He died last weekend. Photo: Rashid Lombard

3 July 2020

We lost Big Beats guitarist Ivor Wagner on Monday. We lost Spirits Rejoice drummer Gilbert Matthews last weekend, and Invaders and Chayn Gang keyboardist “Spewy” Pillay the week before. And Respect bassist Melly da Silva passed away a few weeks before.

All four made their mark in the Swinging Sixties in bands that had huge followings in Cape Town and, in the case of the Invaders, around the country.

Ivor Wagner started out with the Big Beats in the very early Sixties as the lead guitarist. Apart from tapping successfully into the sound of the very popular UK group The Shadows, the Big Beats were noted for the fact that Ivor and bass guitarist were both blind.

Ivor Wagner . . . passed on.

When the Big Beats faded he linked up – as an organist – with top Cape Town group Respect (which had Melly da Silva on bass). Respect was one of the first groups to embrace the psychedelic and underground music styles of the late ’60s. Ivor took to it like a duck to water.

When Respect disbanded, Ivor joined jazz pianist Tony Schilder in a “white” City nightclub, he switched to playing the bass guitar, and by all accounts, excelled at it.

He left for London with his young family in ’72 where he studied law and became a successful solicitor specialising in property law . . . a remarkable achievement for a vision-impaired man who had gone as far as Std 6 (Grade 8) when he entered the workforce as a switchboard operator. When he retired, Ivor came back to Cape Town to settle. He died on Monday in Oudtshoorn where he lived with his partner Lynette Deyce. He was 78.

Melly da Silva started with a group called The Shannons in the mid ’60s and had a strong neighbourhood following in the northern suburbs. He moved on to the Lunar 5 that had vocalist Bernie Brown as its charismatic frontman.

The Lunar 5 had a bigger following and recorded songs like Hi Hi Hazel and She’s Yum Yum that enjoyed pretty good sales for the time. Melly moved on to The Raiders for a while and then formed Respect with guitarist Issy Ariefdien and drummer Noel Kistima. They were innovators.

He settled in Australia in 1970 where he worked in the IT industry. He died in May, aged 75.

The late Mel da Silva, left, and Noel Kistima with whom he formed Respect.

Rajin “Spewy” Pillay started his career in Durban where he was from. He played with Naked Truth and then Chayn Gang with Jack Momple on drums and Henri Donjeany on guitar.

The group was one of the first Durban groups (with The Exotics) to head to Cape Town to make it their base.

The Chayn Gang broke up because some wanted to go back home. Spewy did odd gigs for years but concentrated on making leather goods (it was a ’60s peace and love thing and Spewy, with his ever present headband, and shoulder-length hair, lived it to the full).

The Invaders found him playing in a white club in Durban and were looking to broaden their repertoire and their appeal to accommodate the changing music styles of the late Sixties. Spewy hit the road with them.

Invaders lead guitarist Joe Moses, who kept in touch with him over the years, remembers it well: “We met him in this white club and he sounded great on keyboards. He had a nice style.

“We asked him to come and play for us. At first he was reluctant and long, hard think about it, but he eventually he came around.

“Spewy had a cool manner and what I remember most about him was his quality leather products and his habit of having his Alsatian dog, Tessa, on stage with him all the time.

“Just recently we made contact and he asked me if we could team up again because, as he put it, he had never played with such nice guys. I didn’t know what to say. Now he’s gone.”

Gilbert Mathews was a fixture on the jazz-fusion scene in the ’60s, moving around to different groups wherever there was an opening for a skins man who was comfortable in the genre. He ended up with Spirits Rejoice, one of the top groups in the country and recorded the eponymous LP with them. He moved to Sweden in the ’70s and plied his trade there.

Photographer and jazz promoter Rashid Lombard was deeply saddened by the passing of the four musicians, all of whom had a part in shaping his life as a young man growing up in Athlone.

“I knew all four of them,” Rashid said. “At some stage or other I caught their act hanging out in the clubs in Athlone.

“I was 17 years old living in Lawrence Road, in Athlone, when I heard of the group, the Chayn Gang from Durban that moved into a house in Church Street, the next road up from where I lived. They performed at the Columbia ’68 Club and the Soul Workshop, the two hot clubs in Athlone at the time.

The late Spewy Pillay who played with The Invaders and The Chayn Gang.

“During that same period at Columbia, Melly da Silva and Ivor Wagner were with Respect. They were the regular house band there, well-rehearsed and always adding new songs to their repertoire.

“They played the stuff that got me into appreciating music that went beyond the pop and bubblegum stuff that you heard on the radio.

“Through them I got hooked on the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, Blood Sweat and Tears and the like. Those were good times.

“The biggest loss to me is Gilly. He was originally from the Eastern Cape. We grew up together and became family in many ways. Before he left for Sweden, he was a regular at the Beverly Lounge and the Landdrost Hotel, both popular spots for cool jazz music.

“Gilly later joined the super fusion group Spirits Rejoice with Mervyn Africa, Paul Petersen, Duke Makasi and Robbie Jansen. They were dynamite. They recorded the album, Spirits Rejoice, and had a long residency at the Club Montreal in Manenberg.

“It is so sad that we lose all these great musicians in quick succession and now we have lost a great photographer in George Hallett too.”

“They should not be forgotten. They laid the foundation and shaped my appreciation of the different music genres and of photography.”

As an entertainment journalist, I also knew all four of them. If I replayed the soundtrack of my life, Melly and Ivor would feature prominently. And I’d press the repeat button for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Related material:

The life and times of Ivor Wagner

Rajin “Spewy” Pillay (middle) adorned with bangles and beads, with Invaders, from left, Johnny Burke, Dave Burke, Joe Moses and Lionel Petersen.


Marc Lottering hits ‘home run’ with a crowd of 18,000 in the front room

Comedian Marc Lottering . . . broke “attendance” records for his first online streaming show, My Fellow South Africans which went out live.

Comedian Marc Lottering’s one-off My Fellow South Africans show has been a monster, runaway hit. It was H-U-G-E!!!

Ticket sales, according to ticketing company Quicket, came in at about 18,000. That is phenomenal. That’s not me saying it; that comes from Marc’s peers in the entertainment industry.

The first thing most of them did was to crunch the numbers – 18,000 tickets at R70 a pop. Yep, that’s in excess of R1,000,000 for the night’s work. That’s great money in any entertainer’s language, more so as a comedian.

And think about . . . he was performing in a studio that had no audience bar technicians. It is part of the “new normal” where artists have no choice but to go online and stream shows “alive”, as Marc’s Aunty Merle character puts it.

Marc was so overwhelmed at the response that he opened the June 13 show absolutely ecstatic at having heard the news that they had sold 15,000.

Marc Lottering’s Aunty Merle . . . had some sage words as always for My Fellow South Africans.

“We’re rich. I wish I had charged more,” he told viewers (probably in jest).

With more than 60,000 followers on social media and a history of sell-out runs at his live shows in the past, it was kinda expected that he would draw a few hundred viewers.

“I was hoping to sell one thousand tickets,’’ Marc said. “People currently have many shows to choose from.

“As we got closer to show-day, Aki of Penny Lane Studios kept sending through the numbers.  We were all in continual shock as it kept climbing.  And fans were buying from all over the world.

“When we started to creep past 7000, my stomach nerves started losing the plot.  I was like ‘oh flip Marc, you cannot screw this up’.  It got so bad that I eventually asked Anwar [Mc Kay, his partner and manager] that the figures be kept from me. I was not dealing with it.  I just desperately wanted to not be distracted, and to prepare as I would for a normal preview night at the theatre.  Except this was not going to be a preview.  This was going to be the preview, the opening night, and the final performance rolled into one.  It was a crazy feeling.”

A week after the one-night stand, Marc was still in awe of the achievement and how it stacked up as a source of income against a long run at a theatre.

“Seventeen thousand tickets sold! [It ended up being 18,000 when online access was stopped.] I’m really not sure if that will ever happen again.  I made good money.  Everyone was doing the math on their couches and sending me screen grabs with calculator totals.

“The show was shot at a filming studio.  So there were expenses attached, as with any other big theatre show.  Studio and crew costs, opening act costs, PR costs, SARS, . . .

“Anwar and I also support selected charity groups.  But having taken all of that into account, the income for one gig was still helluva good.  There’s obviously no way you could make that money in one night at a theatre.  Which is why I usually run at a theatre for a month or so.  I am mindful of the fact that that live stream show was somewhat of a phenomenon though.”

Although Marc’s last live gig, Aunty Merle – It’s A Girl, ran until the end of February, he, like so many other artists, found himself without work when the national lockdown came into effect in March. Initially he wasn’t keen on “pivoting” to the new online medium.

“I was reluctant.  Everyone else was doing it but I was resisting the idea, as I simply could not get my head around the thought of not having a live audience.  But then so many of my followers were pushing for me to ‘please step forward during lockdown’.

Colleen The Cashier lays down the law about social distancing.

“They wanted to hear what I had to say right now.  So I guess I figured that there would be some support.  I estimated that we would sell around a thousand tickets.  Anwar quietly booked the studio and the put out the flyer.  Quietly.”

Given the success of this event, is he considering doing another?

“There’s been some talk of me doing another live stream show.  It’s probably going to happen around the end of July.  We’ll see.  It all depends on what’s going on inside my head, creatively.  Also, the world is currently a surreal space.  People are fighting for their lives, and people dying.  It sometimes feels as though comedy is not the easiest thing to do right now.  And yet, many have said that it’s a very necessary thing to do right now.  We’ll see.”

While many local acts that have decided to stream live via Facebook from their lounges or garages at home and ask for donations, Marc opted to use the Penny Lane Studios and Quicket ticketing company.

“I wanted to do things right.  I wanted the fans to have as few technical hitches as possible.  Or even better, no technical hitches at all.  Hence me deciding to shoot at a studio where the team knows their stuff.

“It’s also very good for my headspace to leave home to do a show.  I’m old school like that. It just feels right. I have to point out that the show went out live, so there was little room for screwing up.  Many online shows are pre-recorded. Ours was not.  So I needed a solid team.”

Marc’s advice for any other artist who has hopes of emulating his achievement is to treat the show like any other show: “Prepare in the same way.   Not only rehearsal-wise, but also in terms of PR.  Have a solid PR campaign.  That helped me a great deal.  Fans loved the little promo videos of Aunty Merle and Colleen the Cashier.  We were also fortunate to secure radio and TV interviews.  Those were amazing.”

Of the show itself, it was vintage Marc, or should I say Aunty Merle, Colleen the Cashier and Shmiley, the taxi Sliding Door Executive, with lots of new material, some specifically corona virus related.

“Anwar was only willing to direct if I came with only new material,” Marc said.  “So of course I hated him.  I usually do new material with new shows but then I usually have the luxury of fine-tuning the material night after night.  This was going to be different – brand new material into a camera with no idea as to whether the material is landing or not.  It sounded like career suicide.  Well apparently it was not.”

Marc Lottering with a sign language interpreter in a promo. He used one in the show.

The use of a sign language interpreter was commendable. We must always be mindful of people who are hearing-impaired.

For those of you who were not among the lucky 18,000 who bought tickets, (thousands more probably saw it because it’s only fair to assume that many households had multiple viewers glued to the screen) hope and pray that the show could be viewed in the future.

“Some people have asked if they could catch the show online forever, I’m looking into that,” Marc said.

If and when you do get to see the show in the future, be alert to the sombre moment at the end when Marc slips into social commentator mode and reminds people of the other “pandemic” in the community . . . TIK TOK! Very potent.

Ticket seller Quicket revealed some interesting facts about the show. The day before the show, June 12, about 9000 tickets were sold. By the time the curtain went up it had hit 16,500. An additional 2000-plus tickets were sold after the show as viewing was extended for a week.

Marc Lottering . . . online and plugged in.

Indicative of Marc’s far-reaching popularity – and his fans’ yearning for something from home – about 1500 people based overseas bought tickets.

There are lots of local acts streaming online now in an effort to generate an income in lockdown. Emo and Loukmaan Adams had a quite entertaining show with their father on Father’s Day to honour him. The Makhanda/Grahamstown festival has kicked off in an online format and it will feature some brilliant artists. And next month Madeegha Anders has on an online gig as has radio personality Clarence Ford celebrating 30 years behind the microphone.

Support them, local is lekker!


Ramon Alexander and his quartet . . . ‘live’ online in your front room

Ramon Alexander with his quartet, Valentino Europa, Byron Abrahams and Annemie Nel, who perform with him as part of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival that is being streamed online.

Pianist Ramon Alexander realises one of his long-time ambitions this weekend when he takes to the stage, in a manner of speaking, at the prestigious Standard Bank Jazz Festival 2020/Makhanda.

The enterprising musician will showcase his prodigious talents when his quartet is featured on Sunday’s program of the festival – with one significant difference: this time it’ll be an online streaming event.

The jazz program is part of the Virtual National Arts Festival that had its genesis 44 years ago as the Grahamstown Arts Festival. The jazz component goes back 33 years to give performers a place where “artists meet and challenge audiences to expand their expectations of the art form”.

The corona virus pandemic has forced the event, like so many others, to go online and stream to an audience sitting in the comfort of their lounges.

For Ramon, the fact that it is an online streaming event has not taken off the gloss of him being part of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival.

“It has long been a dream of mine to play at the festival,” said Ramon who, back in 2004, was selected as pianist for the Standard Bank National Youth Big Band.

“It would have been great to be live at the festival but for me just being part of it is fantastic, even if it is a streaming event.”

The streaming event itself won’t feature the quartet playing live. It will go out as a pre-recorded set. The group recorded their tunes last week at Artscape.

“It was a very professional set-up on stage at Artscape,” Ramon said. “Standard Bank organised a quality crew to tape the show.

“I wasn’t too fazed that the auditorium was empty. It was like recording in a studio.”

Solo piano links

Ramon said the set would feature some of his older tunes with Dance of Our Fathers being reworked. Other tunes in the set include Apex, Louwskloof se Mense, Ebrahim Khalil Shihab’s Jing’an Park, Oom Robbie Jansen, Roderick and Reflections.

Roderick is a new tune dedicated to his brother who died a few years ago.

The set will also feature a significant part where Ramon plays solo piano as he links the various tunes. “I just feel that is an area of my playing that I need to explore a little bit more.”

Ramon’s quartet is made up of Byron Abrahams (sax), Valentino Europa (bass), and Annemie Nel (drums).

The boy from Mamre hasn’t only been busy preparing for the festival. Behind the scenes he has been working on his next album.

“I have most of it done already,” he said “It’s just a matter of adding one or two more tunes and doing some mixing.”

He has used bassist Chadleigh Gower, Annemie Nel and saxophonists Byron Abrahams and Zeke le Grange for the recordings which were laid down at i-Studios.

“The Covid-19 situation has put a spanner in the works with this project as well. I am now hoping to have it out by the end of the year or early next year.”

The coming album will be a follow up to his highly successful Echoes from Louwskloof that featured the very popular ghoema tune, Sons and Captains and Essence of Spring which was a collaboration with Shihab.

Tickets to view Ramon’s online streaming gig can be bought here:

The festival runs from Thursday, June 24 until July 5. Tickets can be bought as single event passes, a day pass or a festival-long pass. It features some of the best young jazz performers in the country.

Support the artists. Times are tough!!!

Related material:

Wine-maker Ramon . . . don’t give up your night job


Support your local artists, they need it – and local is lekker!

Top Dog on stage in their virtual concert streamed online last week. The group is planning to do a few more to generate an income now that the lockdown has deprived them of live gigs.

In the midst of all the suffering and grief that Covid-19 has inflicted on us, there has been one little upside (if one can find an upside in such tragic circumstances) – it has allowed us to listen and view “live” some of the best local music in the comfort of our homes.

It has made the dreaded lockdown just a little bit palatable.

In the past week I have had the pleasure of watching concerts by pianist Kyle Shepherd, saxophonist McCoy Mrubata, and the vibrant group, Top Dog, led by Camillo Lombard and DonVino Prins.

It was an awesome experience, particularly for one whose opportunities to watch live South African acts are few and far between. That would be the case for all the expat South Africans who hanker for a taste of the home-grown stuff.

Saxophonist McCoy Mrubata with bassist Lex Futshane and pianist Paul Hanmer performing in their online concert this week.

The online concerts serve another purpose. It is providing an income stream for all the artists, musicians and thespians alike, who have seen the work disappear into the ether when the lockdown was put in place. No gigs, no performances. Nothing.

This is what made watching the concerts all the more satisfying. I was getting a fix of “local is lekker” as well as contributing financially to the performers who have no gigs.

Rashid Lombard, the man who for years was the spearhead of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, says the online concerts have been an “absolute blessing” for the performers.

“People are doing it tough,” he said. “The work just dried up overnight and there was no money coming in. For the lucky few who have put together an online concert, there is some relief but there are thousands of other performers who have nothing.

“I urge people to support these concerts and to be part of an initiative called MuzosDirect. It is a network of musicians, media identities, business people, cultural activists, and music lovers all over the world, who are chipping in to help arts people in desperate need.”

People in the arts haven’t had financial relief from the government. MuzosDirect has set up an online fundraiser – – for people to donate.

“The money will be used to purchase food vouchers,” Lombard said.

Top Dog’s Camillo Lombard said the group appreciated the support that came in via the purchase of tickets to view the concert live as well as the donations that came in afterwards.

Top Dog pianist Camillo Lombard

“We are very pleased with the whole venture and we are exploring ways to generate more such opportunities in the online space,” Camillo said.

A number of studios are equipped to provide top-class streaming services along with quality lighting to give the occasion the full concert ambience.

Kyle Shepherd’s concert was streamed by Penny Lane Studios; McCoy Mrubata’s by Militia Broadcasting; and the Top Dog gig by Victory Kingdom Studios. All three were commendable efforts.

The head of Jo’burg-based Militia Broadcasting, Eban Olivier, said they had been doing sessions “off and on for five years but really started to get to business only three weeks ago”.

Militia currently has a number of concerts available for streaming on demand on its platform, including Bokani Dyer, Benjamin Jeptha, Sydney Mavundla, Mandla Mlangeni and Keenan Ahrends, all of whom lean towards the jazz genre. The average cost of a live concert is about R80 and a stream on demand about R30.

“All genres are welcome on the platform . . . with that said, we do adhere to a level of musical quality,” Olivier said.

Militia Broadcasting’s company has streamed a number of international live concerts, among them big names like Mumford and Sons, Chris Brown and Linkin Park.

“We have sold over 4500 tickets in the last three weeks with only 42 per cent of these tickets coming from our own local soil. It is being promoted straight from artist to fan via social media.”

Kyle Shepherd’s concert was a solo piano performance titled After the night, the day will surely come. It was music of a very high calibre, almost cerebral in places. Not much of the spoken word during the performance bar the opening remarks.

Of his concert, Shepherd said: “My performance will be a reflection and meditation on a time when we can be together again! A musician’s purpose has always and will always be as an advocator of community. As it has been throughout the ages, balance will be restored to life.”

McCoy Mrubata had Lex Futshane on bass and Paul Hanmer accompanying him and the three provided an eclectic set that touched on some smooth jazz, some ghoema and some interesting influences on a tune called Tunisia on which Mrubata played a haunting flute.

DonVino Prins blowing up a storm for Top Dog in the online concert last week.

Top Dog dedicated their set to indigenous African music that embraced their Khoi and San roots, some traditional ghoema sounds, Afrikaans tunes and moving poetry.

All in all three very satisfying concerts for a music lover stuck thousands of kilometres away. Like many other expats in a similar situation, I relish the thought of the smorgasbord of “local is lekker” stuff that is being made available online (even if we watch it on demand at a decent hour).

For those in South Africa, turn off the radio, Chromecast to the big screen telly from your smartphone/laptop and enjoy. I did. And think of the benefits to the struggling artists.

If your entertainment taste is a bit more diverse you can always check out Mujahid George, Loukman Adams and Alistair Izobell on their live stream on Friday June 5. Or comedian Marc Lottering’s My Fellow South African’s live stream on June 13. Click on the link below and follow Auntie Merle’s instruction on how to get a ticket.



To all the ex-pat South African’s living where the exchange rate is a gift from heaven, dig deep and give till it hurts.