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From Live Peace in Toronto to the Thin End of Wedgies in Soweto - Excerpts from David Marks' HY Story:
Hanley Sound - Brooke Benton - Sammy Brown - Phiri - The Drive - 1971 to 1974
A Quote from one of the worlds leading audio & sound engineers - Stephen F. Temmer taken from a speech delivered to the AES Audio Convention in Australia, 1983. Stephen Temmer is a classically trained musician who started his recording & sound engineering career in 1943. He has recorded the world's best Rock & Classical music - from ACDC to the Vienna Boys Choir (of which he was member). Here is a quote from his speech: (Stephen Temmer ):
"In the technological age of communications in which we find ourselves it is easy to confuse the medium with the message. The message is MUSIC. The medium is immaterial as long as it serves to bring the message to the maximum number of people at the minimum price! Let's all work on that aspect of the message rather than expecting the consumer to assume the additional costs of financing the (record & radio) industry's hobbies."
Sound People - Sound reinforcement, audio, recording, mixing - what would the world of communications, art, news, media, entertainment & documentation be without those sloppy vested people in torn jeans & long hair who stalk around the film sets or wade through a sea of penguin suits & iced jeweled ladies -masking tape, pliers & wires in hand; those okes - & cherries now too - who rub shoulders back-stage with the famous & set up among the poor in the stalls?
In one month a sound person's work environment can be cut out in places that most people couldn't dream of in a life-time; dusty township stadiums, serious bored room seminars, roached out 5 star hotels or politically varnished press room conferences. Sound people - no matter how good or bad they may look or may be - are often the most important spoke in the mass communications wheel. More often than not, on paper at any rate, they are also the least technically qualified. Sound is the last & least considered budget item for a theatre's tender, a company's entertainment list or politician's campaign trail - next to the music & musicians. With or without a State-of-the-Art 56 Digital split Board Rig in a venue or Napster out in cyber space, the status quo remains: décor & decorum, lighting & eats, car-watch & MC's - all budgeted for & well considered long before the sound & the music; why can't they play the event for free - we'll ply them with drinks, throw in a meal & they can get the publicity? And the sound people will do the job for what? How much? You must be joking? I have an uncle who owns a Trading store & he keeps Amps in the back room; for that sort of money we can buy a dozen PA's. Come to think of it, we don't need a band - let's hire a PC & a one-fingered DJ.
Sound people and Musicians are usually perceived to be at the bottom end of the human mood chain - despite the essential delight they bring & the odd insight they share through their music & muse. Apparently (we hear say) Audio is the least known & the most subjective of all the human senses. It is also the least understood (or appreciated?) technical element of production; until the gallery cannot hear what the hell is going on at the same deafening level as in the expensive seats; or when nobody can afford to record the music that we insist on downloading for free. It'll be the sound person's fault.
Everybody hears a mix or a piece of music differently - it depends on mood, environment & status. But there is another feature to a sound person's makeup that few people on the other side of the spotlight would know about. Sound people are often, if subliminally, the most respected persons at the gig - even if they are used as the scapegoat or whipping bwana-boys by the producers & the stars when the show screws up. The soundman has the fate of the artist or performer in hisher hands & ears & what - if anything - lies between them. It is the sound person who has access to almost every confidential facet of production politics. Good or bad, for better or worse, the sound sound engineer, mixer, recordist, is the one person married into the production from the start & remains there until the last wire & words are wrapped. The first person to arrive at the gig & the last to leave; with a confidential all-access back-stage pass to the dressing rooms, management & performers; as well as all manner of odds & ends technical & political that need to be ego & audibly reinforced or inflated. And then heshe goes out into the audience / crowds & feels their way around the rumour & the vibe. The world's most celebrated artists would often stoop to whisper in the lowly unkempt sound person's ear - Hey man, how was that? How am I doing out there? OK? What should I tell the people? A little more voice in de monitor...
Sound people, like singers, Bassists, Blues Harp players & criminals are not made they are borne - you either know or you don't. It's part skill, a little lame luck but mostly circumstance & feel. It's the one profession that every young person in the world wants to do. Next to the director / producer & the pop star, sound is the most powerful & seemingly easiest position to be in - no problem. Coincidence or job requirement? Sound Person wanted - must be an ex-bass player. I have a list of 13 bassists turned sound engineers out of the 14 I know. Bass Players - the heartbeat of any Band of musicians - all seem to become sound people when they grow up. A few of the world's great sound engineers & studio producers are ex-South Africans - who played bass, believe it or not. They couldn't survive on peanuts & bananas in Johannesburg, so they work out of the music jungles of London, Amsterdam, Tokyo & New York. There are schools of thought, lighting, stage design, acting & yes, music too, but sound? Only two countries have so called legitimate Schools of Audio Sound & Recording. And even their qualified learners are only marginally accepted & without hands-on the road experience, they will find it very difficult to be entrusted with a performer's livelihood. There is countless 3 day, 3 week, 3 month or 3 year crash courses in Learn How to Be A Sound Engineer in 3 quick & easy lessons. They are just that - crash courses - usually with disastrous consequences for the poor bugger who parted ways with the folks' tuition fees. Unless you already know everything there is to know about sound - which nobody on earth does, but everybody on earth claims - you will learn little. If you are a bass player, it may help. Break a leg!
Basically, the only revolutionary change in sound technology since the 1930's - & perhaps since Caesar's time before that - has been the material used to make a sound system work. (See Stephen F. Temmer's Paper on Music & Technology) Microphone & speaker technology has basically remained static for 70 years - the only real revolutionary feature of sound has been the invention of the revolving Long Play record, mutli-tracking, the Stereo Transistor Amplifier & the Fender Strat. The rest has been up to the sound people - oh yes and the Fender Precision Bass & suntan lotion as well...I suppose?
Lastly - The shadowy Back-stage spotlight on the politics of intrigue on tour, in concert or at a public event, never escapes the attention of a good sound person who looks & listens; that's perhaps why the stars use them as a sounding board & confidant. It is all part of the sound sound person's unwritten job specifications. You seldom hear of sound people breaking the silent unwritten back-stage code of conduct. Selling exposé's to the tabloids about the people they sound, mix or record has never been an option for the good sound engineer. The Hidden Years Story will not betray the trust vested in me by the many great (& sometimes not so great) artists & personalities that I've had the privilege of recording or mixing (with &) for over 3 decades. However, I can't help but look around from the vantage point of the mixing console. Old routes & new directions! From where I stand I've seen & heard almost half the world within & the wilderness without. Archiving traditional moods in the Transkei, stringing for foreign news groups in Angola; rigging radio microphones in politically besieged buildings; setting up speakers for spoon benders in Bloemfontein & amps for mind blowers from Woodstock to Soweto; multi-tracking in the mountains & air-conditioned studio suites, on safari, in the office & lounge. Few people are lucky enough to get a better view than the soundman! Here are some sound & music anecdotes from that Hidden Years Story. All this for a song, at the speed of sound - & it still looks pretty amazing!
Alhambra Theatre Doornfontein, rehearsal rooms - 1974
What are those black things on the stage floor for? They are called MONITORS Eugene - the things that TOMA (SIMONS) calls Wedgies - loudspeakers for musicians to hear themselves. Why are they facing the wrong way? That's the point Eugene - they have to face backwards - that's how musicians' hear themselves on stage. Have you ever heard SAMMY BROWN sing so in tune, Soweto Brass blowing so accurately & backing vocalists' sound so relaxed? They can hear themselves at last! Get those fucking things out of here! What are you trying to do? For 20 years we've been doing OK without that modern rubbish, now you want to go into my township & screw the system up? Get them out of here now! I'm not interested!
I was most upset - like a sandpit full of kids being told by the head-kid that your new shiny expensive toy (that nobody else in the pit could afford) is stupid anyway. Eugene Madonsela was a well-known impresario; a stocky hands-in-pocket promoter with a large front that you didn't mess with. Gene (to his friends) was always ready with a wry comment & a sideswipe smile - sneering, head tilted half cock he could make most born guilty suburban, farm musicians & technicians under his command, feel uneasy; sure you're my brother if you say so, but can I trust you? ...You're all the same.
Henry & the others didn't say much about the Gene scene with the wedgies in spite of their obvious delight at having monitors. The musician's weren't going to mess with Eugene on the issue. So I turned the monitor speakers around & made them look like loudspeakers. You start with monitors now, Gene prophesied, & soon every damn musician in Soweto & Alex is going to want those things...we've done OK without them so far, so don't get clever with me! Eugene never got to know just how accurate his prediction was. In the 80's his worst fears were to come true. Most rock 'n rollers & Jazz musicians from his time had learnt to adapt to the old fashioned high powered column sound systems without monitors - especially township Musicians who had an uncanny way of judging their mixes & dynamics off the house sound system, no matter how big & bad or loud those old columns sound systems & audiences were. Concert PA's had no Equalization or graphics & the only control you had over monitors was volume.
SAMMY wanted these wedgies for every show & as that tour developed so too did his pitching. He sang in a high soprano / falsetto & had a tendency to scream over a loud band, especially in larger halls & stadiums, & now he was starting to relax & sing with far more accuracy. We eventually got the monitors working through a series of skilful slight of hand stage dressing techniques & speaker stacking designs. However, the feedback didn't fool Eugene. What's that squealing noise? Don't worry Gene everything's under control; we're working on it. TOMA - the sound carpenter from Cape Town & a one third partner of the early 3rd EAR SOUND company - had a wayward wicked sense of humour with Eugene & most of the uptight artists & managers, on stage.
Having a (so-called) mixed-race partner often had its challenges on the road in the small white suburbs & towns, but in the townships & on University Campuses, this was a unique & very acceptable combination in the 70's. What we earned, when we earned; we shared as equally as we could after repairs & expenses. We would sound an entire weekend Township Festival from R250 to R300 transport & accommodation included - if we were paid at all. Try telling that to our barefoot wives with babes on hips, back in Bellevue & Hillbrow. DON WILLIAMSON (RIP) - a Southern suburbs Jo'burg booitjie & an RPM trained Studio sound engineer helped Toma maintain the equipment from their shared Regent Street suburban house in Bellevue, Johannesburg. There was no such thing as on-stage mixers, so Don & Toma usually did the Microphones placements & testing & added to the general jovial PR on-stage with a few Cane & Cokes behind the amp wracks. When & if there was any lighting, Toma would handle that as well. The mixing & live desk-to-tape-deck recordings was done out front by myself - no bands had their own sound people in those days - & Don would later take on most of the road tour mixing duties. We all shared in the humping & loading. Don & I each had a VW-Kombi so we shared the driving as well. He had a 1600 1970 2nd Hand Panel van & I had a 1963 split-window genuine German tear-drop1300.
The scale of economics - running a sound system in South Africa - was something that we could not explain to musicians, so how would the fans understand? It took us sometimes 2 days to do a set-up - soldering & connecting & re-inventing ways of getting a sound out of the loudspeakers at all. What people saw - almost every weekend - at some or other Township Stadium or Hall (more often than not filled to capacity) was a couple of bwana-boys & a coloured Oakie pulling wire & jumping on & off stage - up until that time in local cultural history nobody but whites made money out of blacks - right? We never gave it a thought at the time but the odd shady promoter would not have advertised the fact that we were only employees; it suited them to use the country's status quo to good effect - especially if they lost at the gate. What were these non-blacks doing in the township anyway - exploiting us again? Don, Toma & I would be left loading the gear, wrapping up wires & rapping out explanations in a dark township stadium: - hey, comrades, we had nothing to do with the money; we have no idea why the stadium rent or the musicians haven't been paid.
The 1971 BROOKE BENTON tour of the Townships was 3rd Ear Sounds' first official gig - promoted by Soweto garage owner PAYNE TSHABALALA - son of the notorious (so called) Mayor of Soweto EPHRAM TSHABALALA & East Rand Daveytown Music promoter JACKSON MORELY. Brooke was an amazing professional & a very patient man - considering that the tour was an unmitigated mismanaged disaster.
While doing one of those badly promoted last minute arranged shows at the old Mamelodi Bioscope Hall, Brooke could take it no longer - after a week in the country bedeviled by mismanagement & un-promised payments, he & his musical director who had patiently spent many weeks rehearsing the Soweto based backing band, stormed off the stage in mid song, just as an instrumental solo began. The band kept playing & taking solos for about half an hour, before somebody noticed - Hey, Brooke is definitely not coming back. He & his crew had driven straight for the airport. Legal proceedings soon followed I believe. Needless to say, 3rd Ear Sound was never paid what we were promised - & the wrapping & rapping at the end of the concert by 2 wired up pale-faces was a fast-tracking event. We may look like promoters in disguise, but please believe us ...it wasn't us, honest! We all went back to one of the bro's shacks in Mamelodi & got motherless on home-brew (uMkomboti).
Nonetheless, unlike city festivals, township shows were a pleasure in the 60's & 70's. There were no fights inside the playing field. People squeezed every last drop of enjoyment out of their hard earned Rands. The white Rock festivals were another thing altogether. There we could charge a little extra - when we did get paid. These were the segregated festivals that BILL HANLEY did not want us to use his sound-systems for - but there was no way that we could turn them down. Our idealism - saving the world through massive sound systems - gave way to the cold hard reality of economics & the need to save families, friends & us first. From a firm financial footing we could get 100 Megawatts & blast our way to freedom. Ready, Aim, Sing!?
These gigs helped pay the rent & we (3rd Ear Sound) were desperately trying to show Bill Hanley in the USA that we were not just a bunch of freaked-out SAfrican hippies. We really wanted to get some money back to Hanley Sound in the USA for this equipment. In the city festivals, produced mainly by Clive Calder and Ralph Simon (Sagittarius Management) - Ellis Park, Out of Town Club, Margos @ Meredale and the Rainbow - hooligans would often break up what they referred to as Hippie & Moffie Rock & Roll gatherings. Most of those doing the fighting, or at least starting the brawls we were later to find out, were Policemen anyway.
If ever there was a problem at a township festival, we were always assisted by the locals - helped out of the area or given cover when needed. This continued right up to the LION LAGER ROAD SHOWS in the 80's - when township festivals became downright war-zones. the infamous BRENDA FASSE, YVONNE CHAKA CHAKA & HOTLINE Lion Larger Show at Kings Park in Durban, 1st November 1986. 85 000 people and the comrades let loose raining bottles down from the stands onto the mixing consul manned by a couple of pale-faces. The first time this had ever happened to me at a black festival. Ian Osrin was one of the engineers that day, and people formed a human shield, escorting him back stage. With road manager Patrick Miller they were escorted into the Pantechnicon stage dressing rooms. One Coke bottle exploded on my left cheek, earning me a fleeting slight blue eye and a permaenet Zulu stripe, that is now starting to look more like a pronounced wrinkle of age rather than the once proud war-scar of my sound daze.
Brenda tried to appeal for calm and the stadium erupted. It didn't work and I tried to keep the music going. Then PJ Powers (Hotline - the only other pale-faces on the festival) bravely had a go, by simply stepping out on stage and plugging in; then all hell broke loose. The rain of shattering glass intensified while I tried to feel for a fader to give her some volume and spin a tape. The missiles made eerie sound effects as they whistled and spat, exploded and shattered on the processors, mixer and scaffolding around this lone white stranger in a sea of black body guards.
Eventually it got too much - and with my shattered specs and bloody cheek - I was hustled into this human tortoise shell and slowlydragged in, crawling out into the chaos of the ducking and diving crowds, and making our way under umbrellas, jackets and cooler bags, back-stage. There was very little damage to my person and but for some bruises, not much to the shell as well. Later learnt that 4 people had died.
By 1985, I had been doing this sort of thing for 17 years and this was by far the biggest stadium crowd I had ever seen. It was a miracle that there weren't more deaths. Although one will never know. Many believe the death toll was far higher, but this was Botha's South Africa; slap in the middle of his Rubicon reforms, so fatal human figures were kept to a secret few.
Later In 1986, while sounding a Peter Snyman and Mike Fuller Tzaneen Township festival, all of us - black and white, musicians and managers - had to be escorted out by the SADF - under Helicopter cover and with a SAP escourt. Perhaps these events could be likened on a larger scale to the MICKEY MOST & THE PLAYBOYS Rock brawls in those East Rand Town Halls? The most memorable one was at Springs with the legendary US rocker GENE VINCENT, and is the subject of its own chapter.
The only non-blacks at the early 70's Township festivals other that my children - either Lisha or Dylan - were TONY CAMPBELL (RIP) & BOB DENTON who often accompanied Don, Toma and myslef - taking pictures and absorbing the jorl. Later RODNEY BARNETT (RIP) also used to pop in and out. The management would sit in the cars back-stage with their artists or they'd be counting money at the gate, ready to evacuate at the first sign of a Tear-Gas cannister.
As the years wore on & the dog-eat-dog newly born Sound Industry of South Africa started to stretch in the late 70's, many root-stories would grow into urban legends; war stories by rival Sound Companies and their crews began to surface. Without exception all those early music sound companies evolved out of 3rd Ear Sound & Bill Hanley's Woodstock Bins, no matter how much money they have made to say otherwise. But the industry has matured and become extremely hi-tech and internationally comparative and innovative; pity then that the campfire or barroom war stories that one hears from music & sound people have become so boring by comparison to what was happening in the USA and UK. The reason? JUst as with music, you can't reinvent history. The world doesn't work like that. (Re: Sound / Safari Geoff Lonstein saga).
Always assisted by the locals - helped out of the area or given cover when needed. This continued right up to the LION LAGER ROAD SHOWS in the 80's - when township festivals became downright war-zones. In 1985 we had to be escorted out of Tzaneen by the SADF - with Helicopter cover - perhaps not unlike the MICKEY MOST & GENE VINCENT Rock brawls in those East Rand Town Halls, 1963? TONY CAMPBELL (RIP) & BOB DENTON taking pictures (in the early 70's & later RODNEY BARNETT (RIP)) - sometimes accompanied by family & friends, were usually the only non-blacks in the Township crowds. The management would sit in the cars back-stage with their artists or they'd be counting money at the gate, ready to evacuate at the first sign of a flying Rock or Tear-Gas cannister. As the years wore on, & the dog-eat-dog Sound Industry of South Africa grew, the sort of root-stories to come out of the many rival Sound Companies - directly formed from 3rd Ear Sound & Bill Hanley's Woodstock Bins - were nothing like the campfire or barroom war stories that one hears from music & sound people in the USA & UK. Their stories would be boring by comparison to what was happening in Africa - given the changes & social environment in which African sound events & festivals took place. (Re: Sound / Safari Geoff Lonstein saga)
For example, not many, if any, sound technicians & music media people in SAfrica today know that it was the generosity & foresight of BILL HANLEY to whom many of them owe their livelihood & industry? Bill & his Hanley Sound team - JUDI BERNSTEIN-COHEN, HAROLD COHEN & DAVE FREESE (See Jefferson Airplane & Peace in Toronto Rock 'n Roll Revival) - were pioneers of Concert & Festival Sound Reinforcement in the USA for the world's greatest talent - The Beatles at Shea Stadium '64 / '65 to Woodstock in '69. It was Bill & his sound team who sent that first dedicated music Sound System out to Africa - Eyethu Cinema, Soweto - the BROOKE BENTON tour 1971. But it was Master Jack that supported 3rd Ear Music's families & the maintenance of gear as well as the Wits FREE PEOPLES CONCERTS & many of the Folk Festivals, the recordings, photographs & at least 6 of 3rd Ear's 12 Clubs, for many years. Ofcourse contributions in kind & favour by so many musicians & friends are acknowledged & discussed at length throughout the book.
Apart from hands-on help by students & the odd folk musician at the Free Peoples Concerts at Wits, we did get the scaffold stages donated by Mr. MALCOLM PIPE - but in the main we relied on that one song to eat & pay the rent. (We will never forget the flatbed furniture truck from BEN SEGAL & City Upholsters - & the late JAMES KHUMALO, the driver - who helped us transport 4 tons of Woodstock Bins into the weirdest of places - not to mention those horrible but welcome trucks from SAVS (South African Student Volunteers) at Wits.
Many years later, while speaking to BILL at the 1997 Woodstock reunion (on the late MAX YASGUR'S farm in upstate New York) I was embarrassed to say that the new breed of SAfrican Sound People had no idea of their recent roots & the Woodstock connection.
Dorkay House, Union Artists & the Woodstock Connection - One of the most memorable monitor & howling feedback experiences goes back to Hanley Sound & Toronto, Canada September 1969 - the Doors, John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band - Live Peace in Toronto Rock & Roll Revival Festival - & it was while promoting the Crosby, Stills & Nash tour of South Africa, 25 years later (1995), that this funny synchronicity sound experience had a coincidental sequence. (NEXT EDITION).
What did the Big Band American Township Jazz musicians & Civil rights Freedom singing Hippie Folkies have in common back in the 60's? It certainly wasn't the 3 Chord progressions & living life-styles. One country world's apart! The laws of the land made strangers of us all - but it also drew many people who would never normally have socialised, together. Today in Durban or Johannesburg a Jazz musician would no more jam with a Folk or Rock musician than a Radio DJ would know the difference.
Ben & Audrey began informally recording, collecting & promoting suburban singer songwriters & dusty township refugees who had been avoided by the mainstream music promoters - COUNT WELLINGTON JUDGE, MALOMBO JAZZ MAKERS, ALLEN KWELA, KIPPIE MOEKETSI, JEREMY TAYLOR, AARON 'BIG VOICE JAKE' LEROLE, COLIN SHAMLEY, MIKE DICKMAN, CORNELIA, CREDA MUTWA & a host of other folk 'n jazz greats. In 1971 3rd Ear Music mixed a few shows for director BARNEY SIMON at Dorkay House & at the BMSC (Bantu Men's Social Club) in Eloff Street, Johannesburg.
It was for the Phoenix Players production of PHIRI & we were introduced to a host of bands that needed sound advice. 3rd Ear's township lifestyle had begun. PHIRI - perhaps one of the most underrated big-band message musicals to come out of Dorkay House - & still to be discovered / uncovered - was presented by PHOENIX PLAYERS & boasted a great cast of stars - some of the KING KONG & SPONONO actors, dancers & musicians, who didn't make it into exile & who returned to face the music in SAfrica, from Britain & the USA. PHIRI played in the townships & on Wits campus through part of 1971 & '72. Written & directed by BARNEY & the legendary KING KONG bandleader MACKAY DAVASHE with the late CYRIL MAGUBANE (playing guitar from a wheel chair). The cast also wrote some of the songs & GORDON WALES choreographed. It was perhaps too adventurous & too big to keep on the road; poor timing & marketing also contributed to it's premature close. It was not condemned to a short run as one academic claimed - through second hand experience - because of expensive equipment, sets & other white production values. Bullshit! That was part of it - even white sound people & black musicians have to eat & pay rent. There were some tensions between members of this extremely talented & headstrong cast, but nothing that could not have been managed like any other star-studded big band musical, anywhere in the world - if the sponsors & funders had had a little more faith & resilience. PHIRI could have made money despite the social upheaval & the political situation at the time. With or without sets & equipment & other white production values - Just like Eugene's on-stage monitoring?
The townships were starting to simmer on a number of levels - underground mainly - whether we knew about it or not. The reality was that PHIRI had a big band & a big cast to feed & transport. Whenever sets & equipment couldn't be used or moved - through lack of venue infrastructure - electricity or space - we would often just improvise. Township people had ways & means of making a show work. PHIRI was an impressive show with a great band: - MACKAY DAVASHE was MD; BUCS MATIWANE, Piano; ERNEST MOTHLE, Bass & NELSON MAGWAZA, Drums. The horn section: DENNIS MPALE & GEORGE TYEFUMANI, trumpet. On Saxes there was BARNEY RACHABANE, MIKE MAKHALEMELE, HENRY SITHOLE. The cast of singers, actors & dancers included SOPHIE MCGINA, ABIGAIL KUBEKA, SAM WILLIAMS, CORNEY MABASO, DAVID PHETOE, STANLEY FATS DIBECO, COCKY TWO BULL THLOTHALEMAJE, HARRIET MATIWANE, percussionist / actor ALI LEREFOLO & a young FELICIA MABUZE (SUTTLE), among many.... a cast of thousands when you took into account that every audience was as much part of the show as the musicians & actors.
My eldest daughter Lisha had been around this world for just 5 days when Fran had to work the Door of the National Folk festival in Sandton, Johannesburg, while I was on the road with Brooke Benton. But it was PHIRI that gave Lisha a unique taste of South African theatre when she was 1 month young. Fran brought her to see one of the first runs of PHIRI, which opened at the Diepkloof Community Hall in Soweto on October the 28th 1971. Cradled in arms Lisha fell asleep, sipping politely on a naturally packed supper under a coloured net shawl with few of the other white guests politely nestled around the mixer & rows of rickety old fold-up bioscope chairs.
As usual it took the best part of a day to design, wire & install the sound. In most Townships at just around sunset or soon thereafter - when people returned from work in the Cities - the voltage would drop so low that you could fry an egg on the amps. Even though we didn't use the full Woodstock Bin rig for the PHIRI tour, we could trip the electricity in an entire shanty town suburb & all we were using were a couple of DC130 Crown Amps to drive the old Meazzi & Vox speaker columns, daisy-chained to 2 x A-7 Altec Flamencos. Before the days of wedge monitors, those Flamenco speaker cabinets had posed as on-stage monitors for many illustrious bands - from the FREE PEOPLES CONCERTS at Wits to CHASE from Chicago, BARKELY JAMES HARVEST from the UK, CHRIS DE BURGH from Ireland & DOLLAR BRAND from District 6. They were also used as the full house system for at least 3 Folk Festivals. They are still in use to this day - crowding out our lounge as the family house system. About a 1000 of those old rusty fold-up metal bioscope chairs were neatly zigzagged in rows across the creaking wooden sprung floor. The 3rd Ear Sound mixing console (2 x 4 Channel Shure ME Rotation pot mixers) was situated in the centre of the no-ceiling low-roofed cavernous hall - about 20 rows from the front of the stage. Mixing (sound) in front of the action was foreign in those days - & the arguments with caretakers, promoters & audience as to why we couldn't mix from behind the stage (without stage monitors?) - just like they had been doing for the past 20 years - is a book on it's own. How are people behind you going to hear?
This was a 7 O'clock show - I strolled out for a smoke break at 15 minutes to 7 & peeped around the dusty, dark & coal smoked back streets of Diepkloof; there was hardly a soul in sight. 5 minutes to 7 & I thought - in the words of Market Theatre director MANNIE - oh no not another great musical message going down in a blaze of artistic glory? The sound was actually working with no show-buzz & we hadn't blown the ESCOM power grid in Soweto yet. The cast were ready & raring to go behind the tattered dyed sheet curtains; the band back-stage were searching for courage in bottom of their half-jacks or tuning up through the purple haze & the hall was eerily empty - but for that one neat row of suburban white executives & technicians, seated dutifully in the middle of the Diepkloof Hall. Then suddenly - a deafening roar as the crowds spilled out of that old tin town with a vengeance into the single bricked echo-chambered recreational hall. It was a stampede to remember & one that will, I am sure, remain imprinted in Lisha's DNA forever. The hall was filled in 20 seconds flat.
I've never argued with the promoter's logic of keeping crowds locked outside of meetings, festivals, clubs or theatre productions in townships, until the last minute & then suddenly, opening the doors - or having them rammed down - in a human stampede that would have defied the Battle of Rorke's Drift. This was an inherited precautionary measure that many music & boxing promoters followed - wait & see if the cast / band / fighters pitch, before letting people in - just in case! In the Townships anything can happen to a band or an act on the road to the show. Roadblocks & blocked roads, potholes, mud & getting lost or worse. In the USA & Europe, this sort of crowd control, or lack of it, had resulted in deaths - & the 3rd Ear Sound crew had a few nasty narrow escapes at a couple of shady township promoted concerts. In one such event - featuring a popular American group & promoted by a team of Jo'Burg Booitjies, who have become the biggest independent record & music company in the history of the USA (names, dates & places in the Hidden Years Story) - the promoters had rounded up the audiences & filled the hall in good time. 7:30pm for an 8:00pm show. They were really proud of themselves. None of this rushing & crushing for us, we'll show the township promoters who the bosses are!
As was often tradition for festivals, the promoters hired a few Bakkies, strapped with battery driven Megaphones & sent them blaring out around the dusty township streets advertising the show all day. At 5 minutes to 8 the hall was eventually jammed packed - not even standing room - with no American act or the local backing band, in sight. At 8:00 on the dot, I notice the promoters leave the building through the makeshift box office & via backstage. I'm at my mixing console slap in the middle of yet another sepulchral township vestibule. No places to move my feet never mind my entire self. I had been through this movie before - Dee Jaying in low light to keep the crowds controlled with a pre-recorded 1/4" reel tape on the old Ferrograph tape deck. But at 10 minutes past I'm running out of my usual local funky pre-show music & the murmur of the masses has turned into rumour & exaggerated tongue-clicking - the promoters have ducked - again!? This was 1972 - CD's & Compact Cassettes were some years away ...& the thought of playing a 12" Vinyl record on those sprung township hall floors? Not a good idea. Point is - one didn't have the luxury of instant selectivity, so rewinding a 7" analogue reel tape back & forth to find the desired number wasn't going to work under these strenuous circumstances. How much more of Julian Bahula's Malombo Live at Cy Jaffe's Film Studio, can the people stand? 8:15pm & not even the MC's are prepared to step out on the stage again. They have made more than enough terrible jokes & excuses. It's as if everybody in tin town is now focused sharply on this lone pale-face in the middle of the throng - the heat of people's eyes like par-cans on the back of my neck start curling my shoulder length hair & I feel like a little virgin about to be sacrificed at the stake. I sink deeper into the rusty old fold-up bioscope deck chair. The only other reel I had was a compilation tape I'd made up for the folk club. I'd already changed reels to record on (the same tape deck) at 8:10pm thinking that the curtains would go up at any moment. Not knowing what I had on the compilation reel I slapped it on. Randy Newman - fun, but no match for the mood of the moment; the shuffle & rustle of restless feet grows; the slow handclaps are getting steadier & louder. 8:20pm & now there's a crowd around the console & I'm trying to give a few guys a lesson on this impressive bank of 2 X 4 channel mixers - the clapping is starting to reach somewhat of a fever pitch while Colin Shamley live at the Troubadour did his best as the next sound track shifted to Bob Dylan wailing: throw my ticket out the window, throw my troubles out there too...tonight I'll be staying here with you - but that didn't work.
A quite prayer that the next track would appeal, please, was not uncalled for. Suddenly, as if by miracle - the (then) unheard of Jamaican Reggae star - Bob Marley & the Wailers - I SHOT THE SHERRIF blared out into the hall. A riot was averted. The crowd erupted as one and danced where they stood - on & over the old fold up chairs. Bob Marley's records were heavily banned - not only from airplay, but for a time from sale as well. My dear friend Mac, who worked at the Berkenshore's Long Player in downtown Johannesburg, turned me (& hundreds of others) on to Bob Marley & The Wailer's - Burnin' LP. I turned up the power & the assembled bad-vibe around the mixer melted out of focus into broad smiles & swaying hips. 8:30pm - & the people are restless by half. One half has made me rewind the tape 3 times - thus avoiding disaster & drowning out the other half whose razor-sharp clicking tongues & piercing angry eyes have waned under the weight of the better half's jiving feet & waving hands. The next track would have meant the end - an own recording of the last Folk Festival in Sandton, full (white) cast in full liberal voice, singing We Shall Overcome, Kumba Ya & Tshotshloza. And just as I was about to blush my way into the throng & pretend I was a visiting Red Indian, a roar went up as the main man from the main act stepped onto the staged & in his best broad Native American drawl, apologised for the local band being late - they had been stopped at a roadblock. Apparently the American visitors were there all the time - sitting in their cars backstage, engines running, waiting for the local backing band to arrive - refusing to come in & pacify the crowds. From that day on, I would imagine, when white promoters did the township trick, they too would have learnt - no entry until the act appears, in full.
The PHIRI artists were ready & waiting & it was the crowds who were late through no fault of their own - but when they finally did get in it was in full party attitude, dancing mood, laughing & joining in - & when the band eventually struck up without warning, there was a second stampede. Every note drowned out by a 1000 rattling rusty folded metal bioscope chairs being dragged like a 1000 bottle bags filled with hubcaps to the very front of the hall. Maybe that's why I still suffer from Tinitis to this day? By the time everybody had settled down there must have been a good 10 yards between the mixing console & the row of suburban white polities & the last row of theatergoers - sitting with necks craned at the very front of the stage. The hall behind was swept clean of any settable object. Let the show begin & the cast of hundreds clapped & danced & I hardly heard a word that I could mix into this great big band of dancing actors & messaged riddled musical extravaganza - Money Makes Madness, Madam Please...songs that have become unheard hidden classics in the un-archived annuals of township theatre history. Save for the odd academic whose objections to white production values were considered an obstacle, the shows were wonderful & thoroughly enjoyed by those who did hear & see. (To be continued)
Hanley & 3rd Ear Sound's SAfrican Woodstock Bin System 1970 to 1985 was a unique state-of-the-art system for that time in Africa - ALTEC designed 4 - 15 marine ply cabinets that weighed in at half a ton a piece, stood 6 feet straight up, almost 4 feet deep & a yard wide. Each of these woofers carried four 15-inch JBL LANSING D140 loudspeakers. The tweeters consisted of 4 x 2-Cell & 2 x 10-Cell Altec Horns. For many years throughout Southern Africa this system was collectively referred to as the WOODSTOCK BINS. They became regular features at most of the Township & open-air Wits Campus & Folk festival Music events...often free-of-charge - the genuine article from HANLEY SOUND INC. of MEDFORD MASS, USA. The mixing end of the system were 3 x 4 channel rotation-pot Shure ME mixers, daisy-chained to give us the awesome capability of mixing 12 microphones all at once. We had one 10 band home-made graphic equalizer for the entire system & a TELETRONIX Limiter/Compressor - our single most impressive & revolutionary bit of gear; all driven to distortion by a bunch of Crown D130 power amplifiers.
The Hidden Years Story (Working Title) Draft Notes SOUND AFRICAN SAFARI - PA History
3rd Ear Music Company est. 1969 (Pty)Ltd.
Contents & opinions expressed in these notes do not necessarily reflect the views of the Hidden Years Music Archive Project, 3rd Ear Musicians, investors, donors or funders. The project has been made possible by a Grant-in-Aid from MMINO & the NAC.
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