25 January 2020
The death of Steve Fataar last Saturday has been the trending topic on social media platforms as fans of The Flames remember the musician who – to all intents and purposes – was responsible for giving us South Africa’s first “supergroup”.
Without the guidance, drive, innovation and entrepreneurship of Steve Fataar, in all likelihood, there would not have been a group called The Flames.
Yet, it is passing strange that when people remember The Flames of the Sixties, it is not Steve Fataar who comes to mind. No, it is the power and passion of Blondie Chaplin’s guitar and his soulful voice; of Ricky Fataar’s “cuteness” on the drums or on a sitar; of Brother Fataar’s quiet strength on the bass.
The fact of the matter is, Steve Fataar was the heart and soul of The Flames and with his death we have lost one of the greats of our music history.
This blog has already documented in part much of Steve’s story in an interview I did with him to mark his 75th birthday on 14 March 2018. It charts his journey from the early Flames days in Durban, to their attempts to crack it in London and America and his revival as a solo entertainer when he came home.
Steve had health issues for the last few years but it was never going to hold him back. He had found a niche market of music lovers who loved hearing the songs of The Flames and he broadened his repertoire to accommodate a new career as a solo artist.
In typical Steve Fataar fashion, he embraced change and new technology and garnered a huge following on Facebook with his almost daily postings to promote his gigs, be it at Zack’s in Durban, at Alma’s in Rondebosch or a venture overseas to Australia. He was performing just hours before his death.
He used his club gigs not only to “keep the flame alive”, but also to jam with some of his contemporaries like the late Errol Dyers and former Rockets leader Molly Baron and give spots to up-and-coming young talent.
Molly Baron said this week that South Africa owed a lot to Steve Fataar.
“He inspired us in a way that you won’t believe,” Molly said. “I was just a youngster growing up in Bellville South when I was first turned on by the magic of The Flames. I was a huge fan.
“In spite of the fact that he was the leader of the best known group in South Africa he still found time to hang out with us, The Rockets, when we were playing at The Lotus in Athlone. He wanted to check me out because, like Ricky, I was just a ‘laaitie’ drummer.
“Then we caught up with them when The Rockets won the trip to London. We hung out with them and Zayn and they took us to the Blaises club and we jammed with them. It was like a fantasy for me. I idolised them.”
Molly says he learnt a lot from Steve in terms of how to manage a group.
“When Georgie Carelse and Robbie Jansen left The Rockets, it fell to me manage the business of the group. Steve was a role model for me in that regard. ”
“Our paths crossed again a few years ago when he walked into the music shop where I worked and wanted me to do a gigs with him as a drummer. I didn’t need much convincing.
“Steve was just so easy to work with, so passive, so cool. We did a few of the old songs and the crowd loved it.”
One of South Africa’s top photographers, Rafs Mayet, has been a friend of the Fataars since the early Sixties and followed their fortunes from the outset in Durban.
“There is no doubt in my mind that they were South Africa’s first supergroup,” Rafs said. “They had achieved everything they possibly could here and it was only natural that they would try to crack it overseas.”
“As far as I am concerned, Steve was the heart of The Flames.
“Blondie and Ricky may have been the ones more gifted musically and Brother was content to be in the background but Steve was the glue that held the group together. He was the innovator that brought them their success.”
Bernie Brown, one of the stars in South Africa around the time of The Flames in the mid and late Sixties remembers a musician who was confident within himself.
“He was so self-assured, so articulate, so good at making you feel comfortable in his company,” Bernie says. “You could see he was a man in control of the situation and it came naturally to him. He actually wanted me to hook up with The flames at the time, but I was singing with Cape Town’s Lunar Five and we weren’t a bad outfit ourselves.
“Steve has certainly left his mark on South African music and he deserves all the accolades.”
Blondie Chaplin, who lives in LA and performs with Beach Boy Brian Wilson, was too distraught to pay tribute to his friend for this article but did post on his web page: “I never had more pleasure in music as I did with him with The Flames and his brothers through the apartheid times and the politics of manipulation. In LA the struggle continues for our freedom and music.”
As a journalist covering entertainment, I had dealings with Steve Fataar on a number of occasions. He always came across as an affable, approachable person easy to talk to in much the same way as Johnny Burke was with The Invaders.
What I will remember most though are those early years in the mid-Sixties when Steve brought his “supergroup” to Cape Town and wowed the crowds at The Luxurama and Kismet.
I was in awe of their professionalism on stage as they belted out hit after hit the likes of which Cape Town had never seen. The only group that could match them was The Invaders and they pitched to a completely different local demographic.
Their farewell performance at the Luxurama will live long in the memory of those who managed to get tickets to the sell-out concerts. You couldn’t hear the music because it was drowned out by the adoring fans. It was the equivalent of a screaming horde at a Beatles gig.
And nothing was louder than their response to the rendition of For Your Precious Love as Steve narrated the intro to Blondie’s searing, raw voice.
Your contribution to South African music has been huge Abdur Rahman “Steve” Fataar. Enjoy your gigs on the other side with the likes of Brother and Errol Dyers.