16 May 2017
When I started this blog, I titled it Music Legends of Cape Town and the intention was to focus on those entertainers – solo artists and band members – who had achieved that certain status.
In a reflective moment recently, musing about the people whom one could accord that description, I realised there was one group of entertainers, from that Sixties-Seventies era, who flew under the radar . . . deejays.
Yep, deejays. And there were some very popular deejays who thrilled music-lovers and club-goers when that form of entertainment took hold in the late Sixties
Think Jeff Johnson or Thomas “Harkie” Harkett or even Ely’s Coming. They had a solid following wherever they played.
But the focus of this piece, which launches, on the blog, my new 20 Questions With . . . segment is on a deejay who brought a lot more to the table than just spinning discs.
Trevor “Tubby” Welby-Solomon, along with Peter Smith, took deejaying to a another level with the introduction of innovative “atmosphere” gadgets like the colour wheel, strobe lights, smoke machines.
Cape Town club-goers on the Cape Flats had never seen anything like it when Tubby and Peter – Audiovisual Creations as they were known – hit the scene in 1968.
Initially, Peter spun the discs and Tubby took care of sound and lights. When Peter emigrated to Australia around 1970, Tubby kicked on and went on to become one of the most sought after sound and lights consultants in Cape Town.
For almost 20 years he was the dominant figure on the deejaying scene, first with a huge following in backyards and big community events, and then as the big attraction in clubs when the disco era really took off.
In those early days when bands dominated, Tubby provided an alternative. The standard question people asked was: “Where’s Tubby playing this weekend?”
His contribution to entertainment on the Cape Flats deserves to be acknowledged. Hopefully these 20 questions below will give you a better idea of his contribution.
[Editor’s note: I have to declare a conflict of interest of sorts. I count Tubby (or T.K. or Fatman as I sometimes call him] among my closest friends.
I met him in Columbia ’68 club in 1968 where he and Peter were deejaying. I was blown away by the music, colour wheel and strobe (I think that contributed to it, not the “Gauloise” I was smoking). It started a friendship that led to me being the bestman at his marriage to Avril, and my wife and I being godparents for their children. My wife I could understand. Me? Godparent?
Anyway, I couldn’t see any mileage in interviewing him one-on-one him for fear of being given a blunt character assessment about my heritage in case I hit him with a hard question, so I opted for 20 Questions with . . . Trevor Keith Welby-Solomon.]
- How did you start out as a deejay and what did you first playlist look like?
Funny you should ask. I did not start out as a deejay, [guitarist] Peter Smith had just been through with the Jet Set and then Jarret’s Jade and suggested that deejaying may be a good outlet for his musical talent.
I was seconded to make things happen as the psychedelic age was upon us and we had just been to an Ars Nova do in the Students Union at UCT where I was studying architecture at the time. We thought it was real cool and wanted to do something similar, so I was the one who had to make that happen while Peter looked after the music.
Remember, this was 1968, and the equipment did not exist for mobile discotheques (at least not in South Africa). Club venues that went psychedelic used theatrical lighting and studio mixers etc., so we had to build our own equipment to make it happen.
With respect to playlists, that’s a pet peeve of mine. Deejays who have a playlist are really entertaining or indulging themselves instead of watching the crowd and choosing the right music to keep them engaged. Don’t get me wrong, we introduced innovative music at the time and people did turn up for the music, but more than that, they turned up for the experience and, of course, the other great people who followed the scene.
- Where was your first gig – a garage, a club or a backyard – how many attended and what was the charge – if there was a charge at all?
Can’t remember exactly, but it was probably the Wynberg Youth Centre or the Corpus Christi Hall next to the Immaculata School. No idea about the entry fee.
- In the early days when deejaying started becoming popular and offering an alternative to bands and clubs where it was mainly pop music fare, people like you and others of your ilk had to scrounge for gigs. How did you get yours and how regular were those gigs?
To the best of my recollection, we never really had to scrounge for jobs, but you may wish to ask Peter about that. We had pretty regular gigs and a solid following.
- What set you apart from other deejays of the time, people like Jeff Johnson, Thomas Harkett, Ely’s Coming?
I would like to think that we created something entirely different. Their music had a lot of traditional jazz and soul music and even some mainstream pop, whereas we brought along what we called “underground music” at that time, absolutely nothing that you would hear on Springbok Radio or Lourenco Marques.
More than that however, we were into creating an environment which was a bit of the surreal because before us, nobody was using sound pulsed lighting, slide projectors, movie projectors, strobe lights and smoke machines into the gig. I don’t think that anybody had a mobile console with two turntables and a mixer before us.
- You have tertiary qualifications in architecture but you are better known as an electronics expert and a “lights and sound man” for gigs. How did that come about?
Well I guess I have somewhat covered that above. To create the environment we wanted, we had to build everything ourselves and I just became the guy because I understood the most about the emerging technology at the time. The sound and lights part of the business evolved when guys like the Rockets, Pacific Express, Little Wing, Oswietie, etc. also wanted lights at their gigs.
We also then introduced mixing the sound from the auditorium instead of back stage. The ruling sound system was the Shure integrated mixer amp on stage with 2 column speakers. We introduced 8 and 16 channel mixers, with separate amplifiers and speakers and brought separate bass speakers into the mix and on-stage monitors, so the artists could now actually monitor their onstage performance.
- Where and when did you first introduce your strobe lights and colour wheels as part of what you offered at gigs?
That was really from day one, that was our plan and that’s why we used the name Audiovisual Creations from the start. We were creating surreal environments in mundane places like church halls, factories, back yards and marquees.
With respect to the strobe, I had built ours from a kit and even the Luxurama did not have one. When [top US singer] Adam Wade was on tour and appeared at the Lux, he requested a strobe. They had to borrow ours for the shows.
- In your early days as a deejay, the popular music trends embraced pop music, rock ’n’ roll, soul music, psychedelia, underground. Where does your own taste fit in in that spectrum – and what did you give to the people on the dance floor?
I don’t know that I have any specific genre that moves me more than another, music moves me and what I give to the people on the dance floor is what makes them move. As I mentioned earlier, a playlist means nothing to me, I have an arsenal of music available from which to select the most appropriate disc for the moment. It is truly situational, you watch the crowd and gauge the mood and the level of energy and play to that.
- Do you think club owners saw deejays as the cheaper option to paying bands, or was there another reason that saw the rise of DJs and discos?
I think they saw it as an emerging trend. It started off as useful infill before and after sets by the bands. We were resident at the Sherwood, Beverley Lounge and The Goldfinger Lounge where the primary entertainment was the bands, before moving on to The Galaxy for the opening stint and the 524 which were primarily discotheques.
- As a backyard/garage deejay, where was your biggest crowd and how strong was the “Audio-Visual” following?
I think our biggest gigs were probably the marquee events we held for Demons Baseball and Softball Club at City Park and at the Sylvester home in Limerick Road in Athlone. Probably 400 – 500 people.
- Where was your favourite venue and why?
That would be a tough one, but it would be a toss-up between the Sherwood Lounge where we were resident with Pacific Express for a good spell and the 524 [in the old Landdrost Hotel] which was a great discotheque environment.
- As your popularity grew, you came to the attention of licensed venues. Where was your first permanent deejay spot and do you have an idea of how many clubs you covered over the years?
The first permanent gig we had was the Sherwood Lounge. We then got the opening three-month contract at the Galaxy where I did not actually deejay; that was done by Kevin (Cocky) Stoffberg. After that we got a long-term gig at the 524. We played other venues like the Beverley and Goldfinger.
- With your penchant for electronics, lights and purity in sound, you moved from more than a deejaying role to one that included consulting in the set-up of new clubs. Three of the top clubs of the time were the Sherwood/Montreal, 524 and The Galaxy. Were you involved there?
Yes, we were involved in all of those plus some initial consulting on the Space Odyssey [in Salt River] where we helped in the procurement of the [lit-up] dance floor because [owner] Anwar Ismail wanted the same floor as used in the film Saturday Night Fever.
- The Galaxy/Westend is the only one still going 30-odd years later. Did you visit the venue when you visited Cape Town a few years ago?
Sadly, I did not, spent too much time catching up with family and friends.
- From the mid-Seventies, Cape Town and SA was wracked by social protest on the streets and music proved to be a popular platform at UDF rallies. Did this spill over into the clubs?
I can’t say that I have any vivid recollections of that actually being the case, but it could be that by then I had started a drafting business and was doing building plans and consulting on club design at that time.
- Did your playlist ever reflect the mood of the populace? Did you spin songs like Eddy Grant’s Give Me Hope Joanna, Dollar Brand’s Manenberg or any other protest song? Did you get involved with protest?
I think that Give Me Hope Joanna came out in 1988 and by that time I was doing predominantly fashion shows and corporate gigs. Manenberg however became a standard at the time it was released around 1974. Our “protest”, or more like poking a finger at authority, was to play songs like Blue Mink’s Melting Pot or songs from Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar which were all banned in South Africa at the time.
Personally I have always been involved in protest movement, which was the reason I was offered an exit permit instead of a passport when my entire family emigrated to Canada in 1968. I turned down the exit permit and stayed behind because I was in my 4th year of Architectural school at UCT which was a six-year course. It was late in 1968 or early 1969 when we started Audiovisual Creations.
- You were a mentor for a number of young men and women who soaked up everything you knew about lights, electronics and sound. Who carried on your legacy when you left?
I don’t know about a legacy, but on the deejay side there are people like Kevin (Cocky) Stoffberg, Philip Poole, Robin Santon, Brian Dennis, Roslyn (Rosie) Dantu, Segon Martin, Donovan Daniels and Keith Zimri. On sound and lighting; Andre Darling, Billy Domingo and Rafs Mayet. On the promotional side there was Rashid Lombard, Paul Gordon and Denis Daniels.
We had great fun promoting the Leon Ryan (Bianca Fox) “The Rose Tour”. Working with Bianca was always a gas.
We also did a promotion with the Rockets where we chartered a plane to fly the group from Oudtshoorn to Cape Town for the Cape Town leg of their tour. There could be others my old mind just can’t recall.
- For much of the time you were deejaying vinyl was king. What are your thoughts about CDs, MP3s, wavs etc and are you happy that vinyl is making a comeback?
I’m for what’s relevant for the occasion, what gets the job done. From an entertainment perspective, the music is the medium, if you get too involved around the technology of delivery, you may miss the opportunity to entertain. I have no particular favourite at this time, I just want the delivery to be high quality that delivers the subtlety of tonal change, vocal clarity and instrumental nuance that conveys the effort put in by the artist to inspire and move the listener.
- Would you be able to hold your own in today’s hip-hop world with two turntables in front of you, rapping to the crowd and scratching our discs, backcueing etc? What are your views on modern deejays and the fact that some of them are international stars?
Hell no, just not my style. I think that some deejays have enormous talent and musicality and many of them have harnessed that talent together with good entrepreneurship and have had tremendous success.
I don’t think that those who create great playlists and perfect segueing, scratching and backcueing are the ones who experience great success, it is those whose have harnessed that talent and used it as arrangers and producers in collaboration with others, who have the most success.
The role of the deejay has evolved to the point where they play an important part in many types of productions, so the art of collaboration and integration are very important.
- How many records did you own, what were your favourite dance tracks and did you have a formula for getting a slow crowd going?
Probably around 800, but I don’t have access to all of them right now.
Truly, if I wanted to dance on a whim I would have to say Tony Schilder’s Montreal, which is such a classic and is the embodiment of that Cape Flats dance rhythm. Choosing others is really a relative thing; it is always relative to the crowd, the environment and the occasion.
My all-time favourite get-up-and-go number is Natalie Cole’s Mr. Melody if you want to jumpstart the crowd. Others like Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, Basia’s Promises, Grace Jones’s La Vie En Rose are good starters with an introduction that allows an “ou” to spot someone to ask for a dance before the full beat hits the speakers.
We thought about those things because we were there to create an environment for enjoyment and building relationships and even egged on people in the crowd when we could see things developing. Try that today with the continuous stream of non-stop music displaying the deejays technical expertise and not giving you the chance to take a break and change partners or cross the floor to hit on somebody you’ve been eyeing across the room.
- Santa Esmeralda’s Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – is that song special for you in anyway?
Memory is fading, nothing specific comes to mind except Mammy Blue.
What was the highlight of your time as a deejay-sound- lighting engineer. What was a low point?
Tough one. High points:
- Doing the music and compering for the Freudenberg Fashion Show that was the only international fashion show in South Africa. I did this for about five years in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
- Doing the commentating for the 25th Anniversary Total Rally in Transvaal and the Free State at the time.
- In both these instances, these international companies had many other choices available.
- Recommending speaker placement and audio settings to Tom Jones’ long-time manager Gordon Mills because Tom Jones wasn’t happy with his monitor settings during a rehearsal at the 3 Arts.
- Taking Scherrie Payne of the Supremes for a drive around the Cape Peninsula with a buddy in a red Volkswagen Beetle and stopping over for lunch at the Casa Del Mar in Houtbay.
- Something that was without precedent at the venues we played and very close and personal was the stabbing death of Irwin Darling at the 524. Irwin was a close personal friend and an enthusiastic volunteer who was always willing to step in and assist when anybody needed any help. We had never had that happen in all the years and venues we had played and it was especially devastating because he was a close friend.
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