Wednesday 3 September 2014

The Magic Ember: Heart 'N Soul (1975)

I was never fully convinced when drummer Marama Philip Mkhize told us he had recorded an album in the 1970s. This was Pietermaritzburg in the 1980s and Philip was gigging with an otherwise white student afro-punk garage band going by the name of “The Four Horsemen and the Apocalypse”.

It was not that Philip was not ‘that good’, he was clearly a talented man. It is just that there was no evidence of the LP to back up his claim, and anyway, why would a ‘recording star’ want to be playing with a garage band whose lyrics advocated, amongst other sedition, effervescent enemas being shoved up Queen Victoria’s granite arse?

Practising at "Toad Hall" 1984: Matt Temple getting
a few pointers from Marama Philip Mkhize. (Pic Coral Carte). 
For a heady period during my student days I followed this band around, eventually marrying the saxophonist. The bass player was none other than long-time friend Matt Temple.  

Band members Matt and Peter Stewart did believe Philip's stories.

Matt:  “In 1984 I met Philip Mkhize who explained that he was a drummer and had been a circus performer under the name Kid Marama. Since 1982 Peter Stewart, Gillian Watkins and myself had created ‘The Four Horsemen and the Apocalypse’. A number of other people played with this nucleus but at the time I met Philip we were in desperate need of a drummer and so the timing was perfect.

Peter Stewart: Four Horsemen lyricist, guitar and frontman
“For a period of over a year between 1984-1985 Philip played and taught all of us how to play and to get a repertoire of songs together. The high-point was definitely supporting Sipho Hotstix Mabuse at the Students Union in 1984. Unfortunately the tensions between the multi-racial UDF and the increasingly militant and ethnically-aligned Inkatha Movement led to Philip having to flee Edendale in 1985. The band continued until March 1986 when we played our last concert supporting the Cherry Faced Lurchers. Some practices were recorded but none really do justice to what we were brewing, or our performance at the Sipho Hotstix concert. I last saw Philip in December 1990 after returning to South Africa from exile in London.”

Philip with the "Horsemen" in 1984
When I asked Peter about the recording story, he said: "We believed him. He also told us that he'd been a Johannesburg session man and also played in Yvonne Chaka Chaka's band. We had a fair bit of confirmation too - like when we played on the same bill as Hotstix Mabuse, Hotstix and the band knew Philip.  We also knew Philip's family; Matthew and I used to transport him fairly frequently until the IFP/ANC war started in 1985. 

"The last time I saw Philip he was in a terrible state with a large "healed" head injury.  Maybe early 1990s in Pietermaritzburg, uptown near Dhoda's, after I'd been away for a while.  

Peter's pic of Philip in 1989
 So, Philip - wherever you may be now, please accept my apologies for having had any doubts about your album - I found it!

The album being shared here today is an eclectic mix of soul, rock, with a hint of some bump-jive from that period. None of the composers are given credit - but I do believe that Philip had a hand in there too.

The LP’s liner notes record the following:

“I can remember the time I first heard the group MAGIC EMBER. My car had broken down and I was walking to the nearest garage, which was some distance away. On my way I passed a house where a group was rehearsing and the music was of such a high standard that I decided to enquire who they were. On entering the house I met Titus Masikane, the group’s manager. He introduced me to the members of the group who were present – Mr Sipho Yeni, the leader, founder and organist of the group; Mr Aubrey Thabete, the well known vocalist/pianist, and Mr Johnny Brown, lead guitar. The other members of the group are Mr Bheki Magubane (second vocal), Mr Madoda Mhlongo (bass guitar), Marama Philip Mkhize (drums).

“The group originate from Pietermaritzburg and used to play mainly in the Durban area. They are now in Johannesburg to seek fame and fortune. This is, however, their very first recording and I know that you will be just as excited by their unique blend of rock and soul as I was when I first heard them practising earlier this year.”
Thomas Mdakane – Producer
MF here

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