Monday 25 June 2012

The Blue Notes – a journey of faith!

Poster courtesy of Ian Bruce Huntley
Amongst Ian Huntley's reel-to-reel collection is a June 1964 sound-desk transcription of the last concert played by Chris McGregor and the Blue Notes at Rondebosch Town Hall in Cape Town, a few weeks before they headed off into exile.

The booklet promoting their last South African Tour before going
into exile in 1964. From left to right Dudu Pukwana,
Monty Weber, Chris McGregor, Mongezi Feza
Tony McGregor, Chris' brother, happily agreed to write a piece for Electric Jive in sharing this recording. Thanks too Tony for the scans of the booklet. Tony points out that the booklet introduces Samson Velela as the bassist and Monty Weber as the drummer, because at the start of the tour Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo had not yet been hired by the band. The concert track-list at the beginning of the tour is also different from what they chose to play at tour-end. 

Seeing this particular concert referenced in Mike Fowler's comprehensive Blue Notes website here, we realised that the song timings in Ian's tapes were just a little bit different. Tony contacted Mike and asked if he perhaps had an audio version we could compare with. It turns out that this particular recording was thought to be 'lost'. 

The master of ceremonies that can be heard on these live recordings is Campbell Gwidza. Stay tuned, there are two other Blue Notes recordings to come. If you missed the two earlier Ian Huntley archive postings on Electric Jive, check them out here (Love for Free) and here (Mankunku gem),

Without further ado - I hand over to Tony to set the scene for a further 85 recorded minutes of Chris McGregor and the Blue Notes that is now added to the public archive.

“Getting out of the country was the goal we had been striving for, and about what would happen afterwards, I had only a vague hope.” – from Maxine McGregor’s biography of Chris McGregor:  Chris McGregor and the Brotherhood of Breath (Flint, Michigan: Bamberger Books, 1995).
When in 1963 Chris McGregor and five other South African jazz musicians got together to form the band which soon gained a large following of jazz fundis in South Africa as the Blue Notes they were embarking on what was essentially a journey of faith – they had little in the way of physical resources and almost no prospects either.

What they had was phenomenal musical talent and originality and a passion to play which consumed them in spite of the difficulties of being a non-racial band in race-obsessed South Africa with its incredibly restrictive laws and customs.
Five of the six members came from the Eastern Cape: Nikele Moyake (tenor sax) and Mtutuzeli (Dudu) Pukwana from Port Elizabeth; Johnny Mbizo Dyani (bass) from Duncan Village in East London; Mongezi Feza (trumpet) from Queenstown and Chris from Blythswood Missionary Institution near iGcuwa (Butterworth) in the former Transkei. Drummer Louis Tebugo Moholo-Moholo was from Langa, Cape Town. He is also the only surviving member of the band, the others all having died in exile except Nikele Moyake who died back in Port Elizabeth.

After the 1963 Cold Castle Moroka-Jabavu Jazz Festival Chris obtained funding to put together a big band using the best musicians from the festival. This band comprising about 17 of the top musos in South Africa did two shows and released the now-classic album Jazz: The African Sound, featuring six original South African jazz compositions all arranged by Chris.
A journalist on the Johannesburg newspaper The Star, Maxine Lautré (later McGregor, as she married Chris), took over managing Chris’s musicians around this time and began to look for opportunities outside of South Africa for them, as opportunities in the country were becoming rapidly scarcer as apartheid hit the music scene harder and harder.

As Chris said in a later interview, “One had to be rash to play in a group like the Blue Notes at the time.” Maxine wrote to contacts all over Europe asking for help in securing paying gigs and one of these contacts organised, with the help of a tape of the band playing, an invitation from the Antibes Jazz Festival for the end of July, 1964.
Then came a hurriedly-arranged tour of South Africa with the objective of raising some much-needed cash to get the musicians to Europe within a few months. Luckily they had already begun the tedious and long-winded process of getting passports – a really difficult issue for blacks in apartheid South Africa.

“It is hard to say what we expected from Europe; certainly we thought there would be no difficulty in finding work,” Maxine wrote in her book. Indeed the only thoughts they had was how to get to Antibes in time!
The gig presented here was towards the end of the whirlwind tour and took place in the Rondebosch Town Hall. So it was one of the last times they played in South Africa, and certainly the last time in Cape Town.

It was a simultaneously harrowing time and a triumphant one. The worries about money, passports and the future generally made them all edgy. Their faith in the music held them together and the appreciation of the fans buoyed them and kept them going.

June 1964

Chris McGregor - piano, leader; Dudu Pukwana - alto saxophone; Nick Moyake - tenor saxophone; Mongezi Feza - trumpet; Louis Moholo - drums; Johnny Dyani – bass

The times in (brackets) are the actual times of the songs from Ian's tapes, shared here. The other timing comes from the list on Mike Fowler's Blue Notes blog.

1. With Every Breath I Take 9.19 (15:44)
Rapidshare here     Mediafire here
2. Schoolboy 22.24 (21:50)
Rapidshare here Mediafire here
3. Paper Moon 17.07 (22:18)
Rapidshare here Mediafire here
4. Never Let Me Go 5.48 (5:38)
Rapidshare here Mediafire here
5. I’ll Remember April 21.00 (19:29)
Rapidshare here Mediafire here


  1. Thank you Chris! What a feast! MB

  2. Wonderful. It is great to hear the band in an early incarnation.

  3. Beyond gobsmacking. Almost incomprehensible. Messrs. Huntley, McGregor and Albertyn, I am so grateful to you all. I find it a special blessing to be graced with any additional unheard music from Mongs who left us so young (and so cruelly) with so much more music yet in him. Had he even turned 19 yet?

    Thank you.

  4. I second gilhodges - Feza's solo at the beginning of Schoolboy is a treat. And the sound quality for such an old recording is excellent. Thank you and bravo to all involved. MB

  5. This is really appreciated. Tremendous thanks to ALL involved.

  6. yeah! thank you!! another magic post
    bra robs

  7. Exceptional post - thanks very much for both the wonderful music and all the fascinating info - thanks to all involved - Fred

  8. Just saw Bill Smith last night (former editor of Coda and a Brit who knew McGregor and the Blue Notes back in the day); told him about this recording and just burning him a copy now; thanks so much for sharing this treasure trove. I'm a long-time fan of South African jazz and even gave a lecture on it when we brought the Dedication Orchestra to Vancouver for their only North American concert ever a number of years ago. Planning to play some of this on my radio show ... Nou Dadoun CFRO

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Beautiful! This looks great. Many thanks!!

  11. Thanks all for your comments and appreciation .. it really does keep us going. @ Nou - thanks for spreading the word. Sad to see that Lol Coxhill of the Dedication Orchestra has just moved on to the big gig in the sky.

  12. Thanks a lot. Your blog is superb.
    I discovered Mc gregor and all thru' the Brotherhood of Breath UK recordings in the early 70s. It's fantatic to be able to hear these guys just before their move to Europe.

  13. I am Thando Ngodwane of Jazz Elokshin from Queenstown and currently the youngest jazz promoter in South Africa. I just want to say thank you guys for the great job. I'm currently spearheading the reburial of one of The Blue Notes members, Mongezi Feza. For more info contact us on or +27 78 6652 167 or Facebook: Jazz Elokshin or twitter: jazzelokshin

  14. Many thanks for this and all you do to share this music! Wish i had checked in a little sooner but glad it's still up--looking forward to hearing it.

  15. thank you, am new to blue notes etc, and look forward to hearing this special recording

  16. Thanks Chris_C and David for dropping by and for leaving a comment

  17. How on earth could I have missed this till now...?
    The notorious "sound-desk recording of the last Chris McGregor/Blue Notes concert... before they left the country" [C Albertyne to me - passim]

    Be in no doubt Chris & Colleagues, your labours of love are hugely appreciated in my wee part of UKville... in fact, the more I see of this EJ blog, you all deserve some kinda honourary musicology degree/s...!

  18. Thanks Escomambo - getting feedback like yours is enough affirmation for us ... the one who deserves greater recognition is Ian Bruce Huntley.

  19. There is an update: poster advertising this concert is uncovered

    1. I played in the Brotherhood in 1970s London. I thank you for posting these precious tracks from the early Blue Notes. It is an absolute joy to hear the guys again.

  20. I used to see this band (with Ronnie Beer in place of the recently deceased Nick Moyake) at Ronnie Scott's Old Place, Gerrard Street, London back around 1967/68.It was some of the most exciting music I've ever heard. Live, they were phenomenal. Thanks so much for this.


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