Where is the Rock of our Past?

Where is the Rock of our Past?

By Jonathan Duguid

Have you ever wondered whatever happened to our favourite South African rock bands of the 1980s?
I certainly have, and in search of an answer, I caught-up with ‘The Godfather of SA Rock’, Benjy Mudie.

Mudie joined WEA/TUSK Records in 1976 and says he started signing bands immediately. He describes the early-to-mid 80’s as “a rich period in SA music”. Shortly after 1986 Mudie joined Gallo. He then left to start Fresh and Retrofresh, and currently is an A&R consultant for Universal Music; hosts a retro music show on 702/CapeTalk; and is writing a book.

Starting off with eVoid, Mudie told me that after their success from 1982 to 84 in SA, they moved over to the UK, where sadly, they never broke through. The brothers recently re-formed and released a new album, but have since gone their separate ways.

Bright Blue split up in the late 80s, but re-formed briefly in 2000, where they cut a few new songs. Revival briefly came when Michael Buble did a cover of ‘Weeping’, a song Mudie describes as “the unofficial anthem – a landmark song to the period”. As for the band, Robin Levetan (vocals) went solo, Peter Cohen (drums) is now with Freshlyground, Dan Heymann (keyboard) moved to the US, and Tom Fox (guitar) and Ian Cohen (bass) are both in Cape Town and are still musically active.

Another band you may remember, Ella-Mental, had great success with their SA album ‘Uncomplicated Dreams’. After this they moved to Ireland and made a second album with Warner Bros under Stewart Levine (who’s had commercial success with the likes of Simply Red).

The album didn’t do too well and they returned to SA in the early 90s.
Heather Mac went into the corporate world for a little under a decade before returning to music (and theatre).
She released a solo album in 2011. Tim Parr continued (and continues) making music, and released a solo album in 1994. The two have very recently jammed a few gigs together, along with their daughter Amber Parr.

Benjy Mudie describes rock as “a peculiar beast” that comes in waves. He says 1982 to 88/89 was a major wave for SA rock, being almost poetic as it forged so hard for a new South Africa, and then the advent of democracy coincided with the end of its reign, mainly because more international music started infiltrating SA, something that Mudie recalls, “had a devastating effect on the South African music scene”.

At the end of our conversation Mudie said something very poignant, “This music needs to be heard – it’s part of the soundtrack to our country!” (You can hear this soundtrack at retrofresh.co.za.)

Talking of great SA musicians of the 80s, Johnny Clegg will be playing unplugged at the Bay Harbour this Thursday August 15 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost R250.

If contemporary music is more your thing, Tim Small will bring his blend of melodic alternative folk to the Octopus Garden in St James on Saturday August 17 from 8pm. Entrance is free.

Also, on Tuesday August 20 at 8pm, SA’s first crowd sourcing event will see Sannie Fox, The Brother Moves and Derek Gripper perform at the African Slave Church at 40 Long Street. R100 is the cover.

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