The FlamesIn the history of South African Music, The Flames must rank in the top echelon of performers and recording artists.I don’t exactly remember how Marnie, or Steve, Fataar and I became friend.I know he was great mates of my cousin Derrick McDonald. He, like me, was a member of the Wilsons house at Bechet High School and we both played in the same cricket team of which he was the captain.But perhaps it was our mutual love of music which drew us together. I tried to keep up with all the new music, learning the lyrics of most songs. Steve would often speak to me about the new music that may have been playing on the radio. He had a wonderful ability to recall a song, and especially the guitar work, after only hearing it once or twice.He decided to enter a talent contest at the Admiral hotel and did very well – I think he finished third on his first attempt. He continued entering these contests which put his mother in bit of a bother as she had to drive him there. I recall that on one accasion, Steve had heard a song by Cliff Richard just once – I’m not sure whether it was “Gee Whiz It’s You” or “I’m looking Out The Window”. I knew the song and taught it to him. That night he sang it at the talent contest and won.Soon Steve was accompanied by Brother (Edries Fataar) at the talent contests. It seems that they always finished in the top 3.Then the band The Flames was formed consisting of Steve, lead guitarist and vocalist, Brother, bass guitarist, Eugene Champion, rhythm guitarist and George Fabre. I can’t recall them performing before live audiences. Before their first gig, George withdrew. The urgent need for a drummer was solved by adding 9 year old Ricky Fataar who had shown interest and natural ability.This became the line-up for the next year or so. The group concentrated on instrumentals doing covers of The Shadows’ and The Ventures’ material. Steve was the main vocalist doing most of the singing with Eugene and Brother providing harmonies. Eugene and Brother did the occasional song including “Baby My Heart”, a song recorded by The Crickets and The Shadows.During this time a group of teenagers including members of The Flames, Derrick McDonald, myself and others formed an organisation called The Ambassadors. As part of the group’s charity fund-raising activities, a number of concerts and dances were run at The St Theresa’s Community Centre Hall and then at other places including the Effingham Road Hall. The Flames were always part of these, often being the headlining act. (Other popular groups that also performed at some of these shows were Gene Rockwell and The Falcons and The Jets.)There was a lot of camaraderie among the groups of the day and members of The Flames and The Jets, in particular, were very close. Essop Ganie and The Rebels were another group with which The Flames shared a friendly rivalry.Because of work commitments, Eugene Champion decided to leave the group. He was replaced by Edries Fredericks.
Edries becomes a Flame
Edries became the new rhythm guitarist and also brought a little extra to the group in that he was a fine lead vocalist as well.The Flames’ repertoire now included more vocals.Edries had a very soulful sound and this began the transformation within the group. We began importing records from overseas and also gained access to some recordings by the early soul singers and groups including Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke and James Brown through friends.The Beatles were a strong influence on the group as were other British groups such as The Rolling Stones, The Searchers and The Fortunes, but American soul artists also provided material and inspiration.
The Early Recordings
In early 1963 the group signed a recording contract with Trutone Records and made their first recording at a studio in Durban run by John and Margaret Cahill. Two songs were recorded; “I Saw Her Standing There”, sometimes referred to as “Just Seventeen”, and “Misery”. Unfortunately, Trutone decided not to release these, but heavily promoted The Meteors’ version of “I Saw Her Standing There”, which became a huge hit in South Africa . I believe that if The Flames’ recording of “I Saw Her Standing There” had been released and given the promotion that The Meteors were given, The Flames would have become an even bigger success at a much earlier stage.In April the group travelled to Johannesburg to record four tracks.The first release from this recording session consisted of two instrumentals Mr Moto and Dixie on the Rave label. Mr Moto was premiered on Eric Egan’s morning programme during the new releases segment between 7:00 and 7:15.The second single was released soon after and featured two songs written by me. (We had thought that the record company would have released the four tracks on two singles with a vocal number on one side and an instrumental on the flip side.) The label showed the artists as Steve and The Flames as Steve sang lead on both songs.Modern Casanova was composed first. The original lyrics had “brown eyes”, but Steve changed that to blue, afraid, I think, that the audience might have thought that the song referred to him. At the recording he was a bit nervous and forget the correct words for the second verse which should have been“Watch him as he holds you while you’re dancing And whispers pretty little love words in your ear”Maniac has special significance for me. It was written for Brother Fataar and two of his friends who we called The Maniacs.Brother and I had gone to a Saturday matinée at the Shah Jehan cinema. As we left the cinema we saw a beautiful girl dressed in white across the street and Brother whistled at her. The lyric and tune for the first line rushed into my head and I sang out to him“Well, you’ve just got to see a pretty girl walking down the street”He liked what he heard. That evening I completed the song. By the time I visited the Fataars (and the Savahls) on the Sunday, I had completed the song. Brother was chuffed at the idea that a song had been written about it. Steve liked it too and it became part of The Flames repertoire.In December of that year The Flames toured Port Elizabeth. The Golden City Dixies were also in Port Elizabeth during that time. After our respective gigs, we would meet and spend a few hours together. Dave Bestman, Roy Pertersen and others kept us in stitches with his endless set of funnies.After the PE gigs we drove to Johannesburg to record the first album. I should say Steve did as he was the only licenced driver. He really had a lot of stamina.
UMMM! UMMM! OH YEAH!!! THE FLAMES
The album was recorded over 3 days with Art Heatley as producer and Dave Erbstoesser as the sound engineer. I spent most of the time with Dave in the control room, and in reality, Dave and I made most of the decisions regarding the recordings.The title track as well as Gone and Love’s Made A Fool Of You were featured on the Buddy Holly album called Giant which I had imported from England. Steve did a wonderful job singing Ummm Oh Yeah, or to use it’s correct title Dearest.Gone was one of Brother’s favourite songs and was one of two songs that he sang solo on stage; the other being “A Taste of Honey”. He was supposed to sing it solo on the album, but he was not overly confident. So it was decided that Edries would duet with him. The song has special memories for all of us and Edries still refers to Brother whenever he sings the song. There were problems in recording the backing track and so I sat in the studio with them as they recorded it. I did the count in “1, 2, 3 Now you’re gone”. Naturally they sang over my singing, thank goodness, and they completed the vocals in one take.White Cliffs of Dover was the song that we thought would be the hit from the album. We found the track on another imported compilation album. This arrangement was done by Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans. Bas Mollenkramer has been able to track down this very rare recording. Art Heatlie plays the piano on this track.The only track from this album to get any air play on the radio was Pretty Woman. It was played a few times by Peter Lotus on the evening music show.My favourite track on the album is You Better Move On. To me this was the start of the “soul” feel that was to become the hallmark of The Flames. Although the rendition was based on The Hollies’ version, Steve and Edries sing it with more of the soul feel of the original Arthur Alexander song.Art Heatlie and I do the clapping on Eight Days a Week and Love’s Made A Fool Of You.I wrote the sleeve notes for the album, but they were edited and shortened.This album has been out of print but has been re-issued by Fresh Music as a part of a CD collection.
Moving On – 1964 and beyond
1964 was the year that the group really started to gel into that cohesive soulful group and to make great strides on the national scene. It was the year that they won The Battle of The Bands contest and Ricky was awarded the Best Drummer title. The group toured throughout the country and began to establish their popularity in the Cape, making two tours to Cape Town performing at The Luxarama, as well as touring the Eastern Cape with shows in Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and East London.The home scene was not forgotten with the group performing at places such as Stanger, Verulem, Tongaat, Pietermaritzburg and Richmond.While songs by The Beatles featured prominently in their repertoire, The Flames showed their versatility by including songs by The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys (fantastic rendition of Good Vibrations), Solomon Burke, Otis Redding and the British stars such as The Fortunes.More recordings followed including Nobody (Tells Me What To Do) writtenby Gene Rockwell, Is it You, The Glory of Love and Down In The Valley.Perhaps the most definitive songs of this period were One of These Days and Don’t Play That Song For Mewith Edries singing lead, The latter in particular was a huge success and really emphasized the “soulness” of the group. Their popularity increased and more regular gigs came up with regular performances at Upstairs at the Downstairs and later at the Alfresco.NOTE: In the recording session that produced Nobody and Is It You? two other tracks were recorded, Boys and Claudette. When I visited Rob Allingham from Gallos in 2002, he told me that he had found the tracks and was intending to release them. Unfortunately, almost all The Flames’ masters had been destroyed in a fire. It is only through the restoration done by Bas Mollenkramer from physical records that we have almost the complete Flames recordings available.
Edries Leaves and Baby Duval joins.
Although the group was very popular and had many bookings, the earnings were not very great and there were expenses to be met to keep the group’s instrumentation modern and up-to-date. Edries was in a serious relationship and became concerned that he would not be able to afford to provide for a family. So he began to look for something that would provide a regular decent income. And so he decided to leave the group.Mitchell (Baby) Duval, a fine versatile musician was brought in to replace Edries. As fine a musician as he was, Baby lacked that soulfulness that Edries had brought to the group.Durng his time with the group they reorded the That’s Enough album.
Baby Leaves and Blondie joins.
There was a young singer making a name for himself as a member of the group The Kittens. His name was Blondie Chaplin.I was on the verge of getting him to record the James Brown number It’s A Man’s World, when Steve told me that he was joining The Flames. I really regret not proceeding with recording, but at that time I believed that he was no longer a free artist as The Flames were signed to Trutone Ltd. Blondie brought another dimension to the group with his brand of soulful singing. He also developed into a great guitarist who would share the lead guitar work with Steve.It was this new line-up that recorded the Soul albums which were to produce the iconic Flames’ song For Your Precious Love featuring the famous introduction by Steve and the fabulous singing of the young Blondie. The song had been part of the group’s repertoire since they heard the Oscar Tony Jnr in 1967.Material for a live album was recorded at the Al Fresco in Durban by Graham Beggs. Unfortunately we have been unable to trace him to try to get these recordings which were never released.
In 1965 The Flames entertained the idea of trying their luck overseas. It didn’t work out then, but he idea never left them. It seemed as if there was no real future for the group because they couldn’t get the exposure that less talented groups seemed to be getting and so they decided to make the move.The group performed in a number of venues in London and also recorded a song called Streamliner.Their performances came to the attention of The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees.
Off To The USA
The Beach Boys made them an offer to join their Brother stable and move to America; which they did. A decision was made to change the name of the group to The Flame. An album was released called See The Light and the title track reached the Billboard 100. The group developed quite a following as they performed at different venues mainly in the West Coast. In 1970 the group paid a visit to South Africa and performed in Durban and Pietermaritzburg.A second album was recorded but was never released. Attempts have been made, and are still being made, to finally release this album.Here is a listing of the tracks that were recorded for this album:Mother Of The CenturySigh Baby SighHigh OverheadSunny SkiesThank SomeoneSeven SistersHave You Ever Been HappyHenry's SonSweet JaneOuttakes:I'm A ManHello!Everybody(Bas Mollenkramer heard a bootleg tape recording of one of their performances in the US. Among the songs performed were See The Light and I’m So Happy from the album as well as Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones), I’ve Got A Feeling (The Beatles) and John Barleycorn Must Die (Traffic). I recall seeing a a very poor quality film of the group performing in a London club. I think they were performing Restless. Wish we could get hold of these gems).
Both Steve and Brother were not very happy with the situation in the US and made the decision to leave with Brother returning to England and Steve to South Africa. Ricky and Blondie then joined The Beach Boys and toured with them for about 2 or 3 years..Blondie’s role in The Beach boys was as a guitarist and vocalist. He sang lead on a number of tracks on two Beach Boys studio albums and the live Beach Boys in Concert album. The track Holland is most associated with him. Blondie left the group in 1973 and formed associations with a number of other musicians performing live as well as on record, including members of The Band and The Byrds. He also recorded two solo albums.Blondie’s talents came to the attention of The Rolling Stones and has toured with the group for over 10 years, as well as appearing on some of their studio recordings. He is also a member of Skollie, a band formed with fellow South Africans Keith Lentin on bass and Anton Fig.Ricky remained with the Beach Boys for 3 years before branching out into other fields. In 1978 he starred in the film All You Need Is Cash, a spoof on the Beatles. He played the role Stigs O’Hara, a character based on George Harrison. He also started producing and his production of Rene Geyer’s Say You Love Me, which also featured Blondie on guitar, was his first suucess as a producerHe later emigrated to Australia where he produced or co-produced a number of successful artists including Tim Finn, Kate Cebrano, Dragon and Wendy Mathews. Ricky also wrote the scores for a few Australian films.Ricky met Bonnie Raitt in 1978 and has since accompanied her on many tours as well as appearing on most of her later recordings.Steve Fataar and Edries Fredericks later teamed up with some other artists to form In FormationTo see photos of, listen to music by and view videos of The Flames