1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “James Phillips”

3 Force Blues – The Lurchers

Sunny Skies – The Lurchers

Sometimes the clue to what a song will sound like is in the title and with the word ‘blues’ sitting at the end of the title of ‘3 Force Blues’ you have a pretty good idea of what sort of song you’re dealing with. The Lurchers, fronted by that giant of SA music, James Phillips, brought a fuller and more polished sound to Phillips’ songs on their album ‘Sunny Skies’. His earlier stuff with Corporal Punishment, Illegal Gathering and The Cherry Faced Lurchers has a rough, unpolished sound that suited the rough unpolished times we were living in back then, but in 1994 when Phillips put together The Lurchers, which featured Willem Möller on guitar, Lee Edwards on bass, Lloyd Martino on drums and Paul Hamner on piano, the sound seemed to get that little bit more sophisticated.

There is no more of the wild youth inexperience and learning going into the music, here is a man and a band who had matured and knew what they were doing. And ‘3 Force Blues’ would, I am sure, have had some influence on the bright eyed youngsters who were about to launch the blues explosion that happened in Stellenbosh in the late 90’s early 00’s.

Edwards’ bass and Möller’s guitar prowl around the song together, as if eyeing out this gravelling voiced singer, stalking him, watching his every move so that they can adapt and change as they need to  and they do this expertly. While Phillips is aware of those around him, but one can almost see the twinkle in his eye as he tries to weave and bob, challenging them to keep up. It’s a kind of sparring match, tight and tense to those watching closely, but on the face of it, relaxed and confident.

As we moved on from apartheid, Phillips looks forward to the Sunny Skies that he hoped for, but there was still a lot going on to be concerned and angry about. Sadly, about a year after its release, James would die in that carsh crash so he never really got to experience the new South Africa. But his music lives on and will continue to stand as a reminder of where we came from. Based on the Beaufort Scale, a Force 3 wind is a gentle breeze and often after a Force 11 (violent storm) the wind then subsides to Force 3 as nature gets back to normal. ‘3 Force Blues’ is a bit like the Force 3 breeze after the storm. It’s not becalming, there is still movement and disruption which one can enjoy. You can also check out the Robin Auld acoustic cover which, with his gravelly vocals, is just as compelling as the original.

Where to find it:
The Lurchers – Sunny Skies (1994), Shifty Records


Robin Auld:

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Button Your Lip – Illegal Gathering

Illegal Gathering

Illegal Gathering

Illegal Gathering where one of the many Shifty records signings that featured James Phillips. Phillips had been in The Cherry Faced Lurchers, Corporal Punishment, Suburban Blank Boys and What Colours and appeared in the line up of Illegal Gathering alongside Karl Helgard, David Ledbetter and Wayne Raath.

‘Button Your Lip’ first appeared on ‘The Voice Of Nooit’ which was released as a cassette feature Corporal Punishment on the other side of the tape. The songs for the album were recorded in Cape Town in 1985 and would include a version of ‘Hou My Vas Korporaal’, a song that Phillips would make famous under the name Bernoldus Niemand’

Like a lot of the songs from Phillips’ bands at the time, ‘Button Your Lip’ has an ominous sound to it. It’s edgy stripped down stuff that was never going to have people flocking to buy it. It was aimed at an alternative market. One for whom music needed to prick one’s conscious, one for whom words meant more than a happy tune you can dance to. ‘Button Your Lip’ has a strange fascination to it. It lures you into an unsettled place and shakes you up a little before ejecting you, leaving you feeling somehow enriched by the experience despite the discomfort it brings.

During the 80’s in South Africa, gatherings were banned and people had to button their lips if they did not want a run in with the law. But people like James Phillips and his various bands did gather to create some of the most important music of the time. ‘Button Your Lip’ is just one of a multitude of tracks that came out of those creative groups.

Where to find it:
Astral Daze 2 – Various Artists, RetroFresh, (2009), FRESHCD162


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Which Way To Go – Robin Auld

Iron In The Sky - Robin Auld

Iron In The Sky – Robin Auld

If one were to talk of two guitars making beautiful music in a South African context the most obvious thought would be of Steve Newman and Tony Cox. But wait, here we have 2 guitars making beautiful music and there is singing on top of it! But hey, Cox & Newman can’t be expected to produce every single 2 guitared piece in South Africa.

So who are these guitar players and who is doing the singing. Well, as the title of this entry in the list will tell you, one is Robin Auld who one presumes is doing the acoustic strumming and the main vocals are immediately recognisable as his husky laid-back ones. But there is a decidedly South African electric guitar dancing around Auld’s acoustic and this is supplied by one Louis Mahlanga who is a well known name in South African music circles.

There is such a great synergy between the two guitars as they both trying to out joie de vivre each other, that they are sensibly given almost a minute and a half for an instrumental break. It’s infectious music that makes you glad to be alive. Poignantly, the song was co-written by Auld and James Phillips and the version on ‘Iron In The Sky’ was recorded live in Grahamstown. Phillips was killed in a car cash going to perform at the festival and this song is a hugely suitable tribute to him, not only because of its life-affirming beauty, but the synergy of the ‘white’ acoustic sound with the ‘black’ electric guitar to create a rainbow nation song would have pleased James.

Where to find it:
Iron In The Sky – Robin Auld, November 2000, (CDVM27)


Johnny’s Conscience – Corporal Punishment

Johnny’s Conscience – Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment

In the UK, Punk was born out of the disaffection with the dire economic situation there and a general boredom with prog rock. In South Africa, it tended to revolve more about the disaffection with the political set up of apartheid. But where the UK punks tended to be thrashy and noisy, spitting out their venom, their South African counterparts were more refined, but no less vociferous.

James Phillips was one of the people at the forefront of this movement and one of his early groups was Corporal Punishment which he and Carl Raubenheimer were members of. The band’s name could have two meanings – physical punishment (like getting cuts at school, for those of you old enough to remember, but would rather forget such things) or the punishment dished out by the Corporal in the army because you hadn’t rolled up your toothpaste tube neatly enough (once again one for those of you old enough to remember, but would rather forget).

‘Johnny Conscience’ is a dark and brooding affair. It slinks down an unlit back alley in a seedy city, furtive eyes looking left and right, hands pushed deep into pockets. It wearily climbs the stairs, the smell of piss and vomit all around, and finally gets to the dingy flat where it shoots up and fades into oblivion. It weaves its way round your mind, unsettling your nerves and leaving you drained. But there is something addictive about it that keeps luring you back into its foreboding lair. And what is music if it doesn’t make you feel?

Where to find it:
Corporal Punishment – Corporal Punishment (1986) Shifty Records


Snor City – Bernoldus Niemand

Snor City – Bernoldus Niemand

Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand

Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand

When ‘Wie Is Bernoluds Niemand’, his only album under this name, came out in 1984, the public were not quite sure what to make of this cool looking dude with purple shades on the cover. With years of experience under our belts, we now know that that dude was James Phillips and that he made some brilliant music.

James Phillips has recorded under a number of different guises – Corporal Punishment, Cherry Faced Luchers, James Phillips & The Lurchers, James Phillips – and, while the other names produced some interesting stuff, one keeps coming back to where it really all started to take off for James and you put on ‘Wie Is…’

‘Snor City’ is an ode (or odour perhaps) to Pretoria, where Bernoldus pokes fun at the city’s moustachioed civil servants that littered the place. Bernoldus acts as your guide around the city, searching for “net een skoon bo-lip”. The song is cheeky, some (mostly Pretorian bureaucrats of the 80’s) would say irreverent and disrespectful, but then it wouldn’t have had any impact if it wasn’t.

Starting out with a dub bass sound, ‘Snor City’ sort of slides gently into gear. It’s slinky and, despite the subject matter, sort of sexy. It has the sound of one of those songs that play over a scene in a movie where the hero (or heroine) is driving through a city at night in a limousine or taxi watching the lights go by and contemplating some major life event. It’s almost like the song is taking a drive round your streetlit brain as you contemplate the hair on your upper lip.

The version on ‘Wie Is…’ is far slicker than the live version that appeared on the ‘Voelvry Die Tour’ album. The latter does not have that limousine feel to it, it’s a bit more like taking ride a beat up Ford ‘Snortina’ through the lunchtime traffic. It doesn’t matter which method of transport you choose, either way, it’s a journey you have to take.

Where to find it:
Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand – Bernoldus Niemand (1995), Shifty Records (distributed by Tic Tic Bang), Bang CD 007
Voelvry Die Toer – Various (2002), Sheer, SHIF002



Beethoven Is Dying – Koos Kombuis

Beethoven Is Dying – Koos Kombuis

Wingerd Rock 1

Wingerd Rock 1

This is not one of Koos’ better know songs. It appeared on the first of the two Wingerd Rock compilations and is dedicated to the late James Phillips whom Koos toured extensively with during the Voelvry period. Now perhaps one can argue that James Phillips was nothing like Beethoven, but that would be missing the point. Koos is not saying that James was a classical composer, or that his music would be played 400 years after his death, but rather he is recognising and paying homage to the fact that James, in Koos’ (and those of a lot of South African music fan’s) eyes was a genius.

There is a similar feel to this song as there is to Koos’ ‘Who Killed Kurt Cobain’ in that there is an anger that people of such talent were taken from us too soon. Anton L’Amour’s guitar vasilates between harsh angry grunge and atmospheric blues while Doris Delay’s bass hammers away, underpinning the song. There is a sense that the song is all going to fall apart and crumble in a heap, but while the band take it to the edge Koos keeps it together with his Oom-next-door vocals and poignant words.

It is a wonderful song to climb into, get rattled around by it, have your senses pummelled and to come out the other side, a bit battered and bruised, but with that wonderful feeling that you have survived something. You are still alive. You look back and recall those that fell in the song – “Beethoven is dying/Beethoven is dead” – with sadness. You pack their memory into a safe place in your mind and then head out to find the next song. James would have approved of this.

Where to find it:
Wingerd Rock 1: Songs Uit Die Bos (1996), Trippy Grape, TRIP001

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