Leslie Kleinsmith

At Montreal: Anatomy of a hit song that gets them moving in Cape Town

The late Tony Schilder . . . composed At Montreal more than 30 years ago to boost the profile of a club and the song turns out to be one of the most popular tunes on the Cape scene.

 26 May 2018

At Montreal, you can always have a ball

Where the girls are so pretty

And the guys seem to know they have it all

Picture this: a jol or a stage show is as flat as last week’s beer and going nowhere fast. Then someone plays Montreal and voila! – the joint comes alive and everybody’s clapping, stomping their feet, dancing!

That’s it! That’s what that song can do. It’s like an adrenaline shot for a slow-moving gathering that’s just short of rigor mortis.

But why? It’s not as if it is purple prose. It’s not an international hit. It’s not even a South African hit. But it is a Cape Town hit. A big hit.

What is it about Montreal and the people of Cape Town, particularly those from the Cape Flats, (and those in the diaspora in Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto . . .)?

This is my little effort to try to put it all on the record, as it were: how Montreal came to be one of the most popular songs around. Music historians like to do it for songs like Hogey Carmichael’s Georgia On My Mind and Paul McCartney’s Michelle. 

So let’s unpack Montreal.

Bassist Gary Kriel . . . was with Tony in the recording studio to lay down tracks for At Montreal. 

 

Tony composed the song almost 40 years ago, with his daughter, Delene, contributing to the lyrics.

But there is so much more to the story than just those bland facts.

The song refers to a nightclub in Manenberg that was extremely popular in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Initially the venue was called The Sherwood, also very popular in its early days, but the patronage dwindled after a few years. To get the place back on its feet again, the management called in Taffy du Toit who sang with jazz combos in Cape Town nightclubs before moving, briefly, to Canada.

“They gave me carte blanche to get the place up and running again,” Taffy, who now lives in Adelaide, said. “I had been in touch with Tony, with whom I had sung in a white club before I left. When I came back he was playing in The Surwell with Gary Kriel and Leslie Kleinsmith. It wasn’t exactly a swinging joint with hipsters.

“When the time came to launch the revamped Sherwood, I didn’t have to ask them twice.”

Taffy du Toit . . . named the new club Montreal.

How did it come be called Montreal, then? “I had spent some time in Montreal in Canada and I found it to be such a vibrant  place, it left a lasting impression on me. When it came to naming the place, I couldn’t help but think of the good time I had in Montreal.

“One night, Tony and the band surprised me by playing At Montreal. It blew me away. It was such a nice gesture. The crowds just loved it.”

The song itself was recorded in 1984 at UCA Studios in Bloem Street for Paddy Lee Thorp’s Mountain Records. Tony recorded all three of his albums on that label.

“I don’t know how many takes were necessary in the recording it but I suspect that Tony and the guys were pretty well rehearsed. It would have been recorded rather quickly,” Paddy said. “Montreal first appeared on the album Introducing Tony Schilder. It was quite popular and went out of print pretty quickly.”

Ten years later, Paddy took the group back into the studio to redo the track for a CD and add Jonathan Butler’s voice as a duet with Robbie Jansen.

A feature of the recorded song was the fact that neither Jonathan nor Robbie sang the lyrics the way Tony had written it.

“It annoyed the shit out of Tony from the very beginning,” Paddy said. “I think the only guy that knows what the real lyrics are is Leslie Kleinsmith. He was the one who used to sing it with Tony at the club.

“Jonathan and Robbie come from a school of singers who don’t pay a helluva lot of attention to lyrics. They will get it right and see to it that it rhymes but they would come with the most incredible lyrics.”

Paddy said there were quite a few versions of Montréal recorded.“

“I have recorded three versions. The latest version is the one that is going to be part of the forthcoming Cape Jazz volume, which is an instrumental version by Ramon Alexander. The Sons of Table Mountain played it as did Tony’s son, Hilton, with his various groups.

“If you talk about standards, it is a jazz standard in the Cape. It is among the top five jazz standards in the Cape, along with Seventh Avenue and Mannenberg.

Paddy point’s to another irony of the song Montreal.

Paddy Lee Thorp . . . released At Montreal on Mountain Records.

“The most popular version of Montréal on the radio was Leslie Kleinsmith’s version. He recorded it with the SABC as part of their transcription recordings. It was never released commercially. It was one of those unfortunate things that used to happen in those days. The SABC only circulated these recordings internally. They never had the commercial rights to the recording. That belonged to my record company.

“Tony was allowed to do the transcription recording and the SABC played the hell out of it .

“Robbie’s version was not as well known as Leslie’s version. When we finally did the Jonathan and Robbie duet, it became the version of choice.”

Leslie has his own particular memories of Montreal.

“Tony, Willie van Bloemestein, Cecil Ricca and myself were playing at Scruples in Welcome Estate when Taffy came in one night and said he was re-opening Sherwood as Club Montreal . . . and two weeks later, there we were.

“We opened Club Montreal and I broke the song. We played at the venue two or three years, every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.”

What many people ask is: if Leslie was the regular singer in the group, how come he never recorded it with the band for commercial release.

The way he recalls it, it was all a bit of miscommunication about being at the studio on the day they were due to record.

“I got a call from Paddy about 11am wanting to know where I was,” Leslie said. “Well, I had had a late night from coming home from the gig and watching movies until the wee hours.

“Apparently Paddy had organised with Tony and Tony was supposed to give me the message but he didn’t. Words were spoken and I didn’t end up doing the vocals, Robbie did.

“How do I rate the song? For me it is one of those obscure songs that you never really pay much mind to and then it shocks you. That’s how the public reacts to it. For me it is just another song but it turned out to be almost a national anthem for the club goers.

“What amazes me about the song is it’s simplicity; it is straight forward, it’s got a nice dance groove to it. But I do cringe every time I hear it on the radio and I hear the wrong words.

“Everywhere I go I have to sing it. At the recent Suidooster festival, I did a medley that included Club Montreal and Flying High. They crowd hears the introduction and there is this roar from the audience.”

Hilton Schilder said they played the song whenever he did a tribute to his father “and the crowd always goes bonkers”.

“It’s a feelgood song and it’s local song with a local composer, not something imported. It’s just a happy song.”

Last word from Gary Kriel, the bassist on the recording and long-time band member with Tony Schilder: “It was just an advert for the club, man. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Leslie Kleinsmith . . . best known version of At Montreal but never recorded it for release.

MONTREAL lyrics (courtesy of Leslie Kleinsmith)

At Montreal,

You can always have a ball

Where the girls are so pretty

And the guys seem to know they have it all

Club Montreal

the jazz is wild and free

You can swing with your lover

And your wife can discover

She’s a queen

(Chorus) In your jeans or your sable

You’ll find you are able to fly

With a glass in your hand

And the sound of the band you’re not shy

So come one, come all

To the place that has it all

Where the vibe is so happy, ask a girl or a chappie to dance

It’s a social experience, summer winter or fall

When you hear the good vibes call, at Montreal

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Alistair and Loukmaan and ghoema in Sydney. What’s next?

 

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Sydney rocked to ghoema music as Alistair Izobell and Loukmaan Adams – ably assisted by their musical director, pianist Trevino Isaacs – brought a touch of the Cape Flats to the Harbour City last Saturday night.

Performing at the Hurlstone Park Club, filled practically wall-to-wall with expat Capetonians, the two singers thrilled the more than 350 people with a set that went from funk and blues to “opskud” and ghoema.

They belted out perennial Cape Town dance floor hits like All Night Long, Shining Star, Give Me Hope Johanna, Hot Hot Hot, toned it down with a Malay Choir Song and a moody Misty, before cranking it up with the “traditional” stuff – Daa’ Kom Die Alabama, Januarie Februarie, and Dina Na Kannakia.

It was all hi-energy, dynamic and vibrant. One wouldn’t have expected anything less from these two seasoned performers. As they are wont to say on the Cape Flats: Die jol ruk!!

The occasion, a swish Black & White Ball, was a “fly-in-fly-out” one-off gig put on by Beryl Crosher-Segers as part of her project to raise funds for scholarships for needy pupils in Cape Town. It was sold out months before the event.

Beryl Crosher-Segers . . . bringing a bit of "local is lekker" for expats in Australia.

Beryl Crosher-Segers . . . bringing a bit of “local is lekker” for expats in Australia.

Beryl, who lives in Sydney, has had much success over the years with this type of show. She’s brought over Leslie Kleinsmith, Terry Fortune, The Rockets, Alistair, and the late Tony Schilder and Zane Adams. The Jonathan Butler show was the only concert-type performance she arranged.

Her dinner-dance shows certainly strike a chord in the South African ex-pat community in Sydney (with its distinctly Cape Flats flavour mind you) and one is left in no doubt that at midnight they’ve had a great time. The dance floor was always full.

As nice as it is though, it serves only to satisfy a particular need, and that is to provide the crowd with that nostalgia fix, a catch-up with old friends, and that warm inner glow of their times at, say, The Galaxy.

But isn’t there more to what our performers have to offer? Wouldn’t it be great if we had a bit of change of speed . . . like maybe a concert that displays the full range of skills? Local is lekker . . . but shouldn’t we be wanting more of them?

And does the ex-pat community have to restrict itself to just music performances? Is there scope for theatre?

What if someone kicked along the idea of bringing My Word! Redesigning Buckingham Palace, the late Richard Rive play about District 6? Or A Class of One: Cold Case – Revisiting Dulcie September, a play about the late Athlone ANC activist assassinated in Paris in 1988. The first stars actor/director Basil Appollis, the later acclaimed actor Denise Newman.

Both theatrical works are part of the political narrative integral to the community’s history. It is part of the nascent process of documenting the stories before they become folklore.

I’m no expert in the costings involved (I have not seen either show) but . . .

One option that could be looked at is crowd funding. In fact, the Dulcie September production was put on the boards earlier this year in Cape Town via crowd funding over the Internet.

These observations aren’t directed at or intended to put pressure on Beryl. She has done her fair share. They are, I hope, the start of an on-going discussion to kick this idea along.

Discuss away. All comments welcome. There is a box for a comment/reply below. Please use it.

Trevino Isaacs, one of the new breed of Cape Town musicians who give hope for growth in musical development on the local scene.

Trevino Isaacs, one of the new breed of Cape Town musicians who give hope for growth in musical development on the local scene.

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Robert Davids . . . a life unfulfilled

Robert Davids . . . playwright, musician, composer.

Robert Davids, Cape Town musician and  playwright, died  last week, aged 79.

In the early days of my journalistic career, back in the late Sixties, when I plied my trade as an entertainment reporter at that august yet sensationalist tabloid, The Cape Post, I must have dealt with hundreds of musicians.

The majority have faded in the mists of time, in part due to the fact I have been out of the country for 30 years.

But Robert Davids I do remember. Quite distinctly. Quite emphatically.

He stands out in the memory because he was . . . different. Not peculiarly different. Not funny different. No, different as in a class above most of the others.

I may not be able to detail the minutiae of all of our interactions but the gist of it was he was always looking for a write-up on some project or other.

I do remember his music play, Goodbye District 6, and his passionate belief in it. Unfortunately, that passion was not shared by as many people as he would have liked. More’s the pity.

robert in young days

A young Robert Davids

Almost 20 years later, another local work, District 6 The Musical, was a resounding success. Was it that Robert was too far ahead of his time? Too prescient?

In all he wrote five plays: Goodbye District 6, Friday Friday, Sound You Fool, a one-man satire Sugar Coated Pill, and a children’s space fantasy, Monsters. He also penned numerous musical compositions.

I remember him wandering into our newspaper offices on a few occasions to update me on his latest project/venture or band he was with. On a number of occasions I saw him playing with various groups around the traps. Not contorting himself in a vocal frenzy, not laying down some heavy licks on the guitar. No, just quietly pounding out an enchanting rhythm on the congas. Congas? Yeah, that’s what Robert brought to the table. Something different, something to bend the dominant paradigm.

Unfortunately, newspapers of the Sixties and Seventies servicing the black communities did not lend themselves to in-depth interviews in the entertainment space.

It would have been something special getting into his head and having a deep and meaningful with Robert. He had the intellectual rigour that could have produced something eminently readable – and given us an insight into his musical thought processes. He would have been a marvellous subject for an interview on this blog.

Now we are left to ponder on what might have been. More’s the pity again. He will be, he should be remembered.


 

Terry Fortune’s Tribute

Terry fortune

Terry Fortune . . . Robert wrote a song for him in the musical.

It was early 1969, I had just turned 20 and was still living with my parents in Allenby Drive ,Retreat. One day I got a call: “Hi, it’s Robbie.”

“Who?” I asked, puzzled.

“Robbie Davids . . .”

“Oh hi,” I answered. After the normal pleasantries he said: “I’ve written a musical theatre piece about District 6 called Goodbye District 6′. It contains vocal songs and instrumental pieces . . . all original.”

“Ok, come around”, I said. He did, early the next morning in his 1966 Volkswagen fastback. I listened to the music and loved it. He had written a song for me to sing called Mr Hammer Man, a protest song pleading with the bulldozers to stop the destruction.

Goodbye District 6 was written nearly 20 years before the famous musical by Taliep Petersen and David Kramer’s District 6 The Musical’.

We rehearsed for months and eventually staged it at the Space Theatre in Long Street, and then a jazz venue in Green Point run by Merton Barrow. We also performed it at the Lansdowne Civic Centre and various other community halls.

On keyboards was Aubrey Kinnes and Robbie played vibraphone. I also remember he had his two brothers, Cyril and Stan, helping with the technical stuff.

Goodbye District 6 received rave reviews in the local newspapers but it finally ran aground when we did the Wynberg Town Hall and the impresario ran away with the money – the story of our lives.

Robbie was eager and hungry for success. But by the ’70s apartheid bit savagely. There was no room for artists to be creative, let alone for protest music or theatre in an apartheid South Africa. Due to this and other factors, many of my peers in the music industry regrettably never achieved their dreams but they did sow the seeds that that’s artists should nurture and use to develop.

During the ’70s I saw Robbie lugging his vibraphone and congas to the Sherwood, the Goldfinger, the Beverley in Athlone, and the Jolly Carp, jamming with the guys. He loved being part of the industry and playing music.

Then he disappeared off the scene and I didn’t see him for years until fairly recently. It was Greg and Fiona’s renewal of their wedding vows and Robbie was there. He said to me: “I’ve rewritten Goodbye District 6, added new songs and want to do it as an opera.”

He was as eager and enthusiastic as ever. Next year it will be 50 years since District 6 was proclaimed an area set aside for white occupation . . .

So . . . Robbie my bro’ . . . you will probably knock into Zane, Taliep, Monty Weber and the other main “manne”. Give them our love . . . and if you guys decide to put on something – and you are looking for a singer – don’t look my way! I’m staying right here . . . I’m not going anywhere soon.


Greg Davids – a son remembers

Our Dad did not hold down a 9-5 job. He did not leave at the crack of dawn or return before sunset exhausted from a day of unappreciated toil in the service of another’s dream. Nor did he conform to the expectations for a black man in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s’ worth to be defined by the daily sweat on his brow or the callous-formed hands of one who was used to hard labour.

Instead, he dared to dream about how greatness could exist from within. He considered creative expression as a nobler alternative and reasoned that when sculpted as a platform for social commentary, the arts would eloquently give voice.

Robert Herman Alexander Davids, with the burden of a long name and a difficult childhood – the effects of which would often weigh heavily on his relationships with others – chose his innate creativity to make his mark.

To achieve this, he defied the convention of the time, the staid societal norms and the constraints of an unjust political system. Without reference and the support of but a few, he redefined the stereotypical image of the musician of the day – he did not drink or smoke, he worked hard and he went straight home most nights.

With self-actualisation as his strongest attribute and steely self-imposed discipline, he helped re-invent the role of the musician in South African society. He became a househusband, one of the first local musicians to trade a steady day job in order to commit time to developing his craft. His dream was to become an accomplished music composer and arranger.

Our father diligently spent each day carrying out first the duties of tending the children and the home and then with discipline and focused intent, honed his ability to read, write and arrange music.

He also created several clever inventions that saw him face-to-face with a business world for which he was no match. A big part of his routine was practising his instruments: drums, congas, vibraphone, piano and voice. This daily practice regime exposed us to culture – the arts, music, and an appreciation for theatre.

We grew up singing our Dad’s catchy songs, recorded and performed by great local artists, played back live, on the reel-to-reel, long player and eventually the wireless: Hammer Man, Friday Friday, We Live In A Double Bed, Fight For True Love, and Hello Ms Phone – how cool was that!

He was a lifetime SAMRO member. At night, after he helped with supper, often cooking the family meals, he would slip onto the music club scene and became the alter ego of his daily self, the Hip Cat, the Conga Man. With his psychedelic painted congas, bongos and timbales he created a role for Latin percussion on the SA jazz scene.

Appearances with the bands of the day, The Four Sounds, Henry February Band, Sabenza, Pacific Express, pre-Tananas Steve Newman, and many others, his playing added new colour to their music and helped build a solid swing groove which became his signature sound.

His spirited performances and soaring percussion solos informed generations of music lovers. These nightly gigs sadly never realised the intended income for our Dad or most of his generation of musicians.

Much of the money remained in the hands of exploitative club owners, promoters and bandleaders. Robbie Davids served music first, and with little pressure to financially support his family, seldom insisted on payment. Our Mom, Marj, the main family breadwinner, unrelentingly supported our Dad with his art in spite of the personal price she continued to pay throughout their 52 years together as the wife of a struggling musician.

His numerous creative endeavours did not live up to the commercial success that he promised it would. It did however “set him apart” as an innovator and as a musician who, if the support were different and the creative economy better acknowledged, he might have gone on to enjoy the success his talent deserved.

Robert Davids, through his projects, helped influence the careers of Zelda Benjamin, Terry Fortune, Darryl Andrews, Danny Butler, Vernon Castle, Leslie Kleinsmith, Vinette (7de Laan) & Vincent (The Kumars) Ebrahim and many others. He wrote five locally acclaimed musicals, most notably Goodbye District 6 that preceded the famous musical by a number of years.

He composed, arranged and produced several tunes and recording sessions. He studied part-time music courses at Stellenbosch University, UWC and UCT Music School and continued to study and write music right up until his death.

His last major work was to compose a full suite of tunes for jazz orchestra. His practice and composing regime never slowed. Our Dad was an inventor and an artist, a gentleman and a life long musical scholar.

His earlier works were never without political perspective and he used his creative talent to address inequalities foisted upon the South African people. His music and theatre contributions often were expressions of freedom. To many of his peers he was loved and respected, especially because of his well-mannered demeanour.

His legacy is most evident in his children and grand children. He infused us with passion, creative intellect, critical thinking ability, the gift of time and most importantly, integrity.

As his eldest, the very essence of my joy – music, a lifetime of musical associations and deep friendships – are thanks to my Dad. It is an ever-continuing gift that champions many of my happiest moments.


A daughter’s insight: Janine remembers

My father, Robert, or Papa as he was known to his grandchildren, was a complex man, a man who did not conform to any stereotypical image of a person of his generation.

He was a highly creative individual with a strong moral code.

He was a musician, playwright and inventor who followed values of his choosing and did not drink alcohol, smoke or eat meat. He was a highly private person who shunned large social gatherings and parties.

If he had been born into a privileged family he would have been eccentric. As it was, he merely marched to the beat of his own drum . . .

We’ll remember him for his strong work ethic and discipline and how he was always pursuing some or other project – unfortunately, none was ever commercially successful.

We will also remember his unfailing punctuality – he always arrived early for an appointment or pick up. He was our informal safety officer at home, driving us crazy with his constant reminding to lock doors, pull out plugs and switch off appliances. We often joked about him having OCD and being paranoid, but the firm boundaries that he constructed for himself and those around him provided a home environment that felt safe and secure.

We grew up in a house where music was always played. Papa was always singing and drumming his fingers on tables and work countertops when not listening to albums of classical music. He may have been a jazz musician but he was not a music snob and kept abreast of what was happening on the pop scene by listening to pop music programmes on TV, often with the volume turned up very loudly.

Perhaps because our relationship was often complicated, I don’t think I appreciated, as a teenager, just how cool a dad he was! I am pleased that my children grew up around him. They appreciated him with all his quirks and idiosyncrasies and had a better relationship with him than I ever had.

He often looked after them when we went out because we knew that we could trust him to take care of them. For a long time they considered him their go-to-person for toasted cheese sandwiches and there were days when he spent a good afternoon, and a loaf or two, making their favourite snacks for them. It is a memory that will stay with them forever.

Papa became a vegetarian in the early ’80s and never wavered from the choice he made. In terms of food though, his one absolute weakness was sugar. He loved cakes, ice-cream and chocolate in any form. Family dinners were always very funny because we always tried to get him to wait for all of us to be seated before he started eating and my mother always tried to limit his consumption of desert, to no avail.

As an adult I realised that he had a stronger influence on all of us than what we were ever willing to recognise. He helped shape who and what we’ve become today and I know that we’ve acquired many more positive qualities and characteristics from him than negative ones. Papa, we will miss you, your laughter and tears and your particular brand of madness. Family dinners will not be the same without you but we will always have a bite of something sweet in your memory.

This material is copyrighted. Prior approval has to be obtained before any reproduction.Robert Davids with some of the cast of Friday Friday,

Robert Davids with some of the cast of Sound You Fool, singer/actor Connie Beukes and flautist Calvin Humbles.