Beautifully edited, filmed and compiled by Michael Cross in lovely grainy monochrome the film immediately hooks one in from the opening scene and doesn’t let go until the final credits ninety nine minutes later. It is visual audio delight with a superb soundtrack presented in hi fidelity quality pumping loud from the cinema speakers.
For me the story is about guitarist songwriter Jonathan Handley and vocalist Dave Davies with a diverse cast of characters along the way. Two very different personalities they share a dynamic when they work together. I knew Jonathan back in the day and I remember him as a lovely man genuinely into artists like Bowie, Iggy and Lou Reed prescribing but not injecting another girl another planet.
Dave Davies is a great singer in the vein of Jagger or the other Davies Ray. My wife says that he reminds her of David Johansen and she got it. He has an animal magnetism charming in interview and nobody seems to know how he earns a living.
It was great to see the early proto glam punk rock pics but the story really kicks in with ZX Dan one of the greatest South African songs ever, Starman with a country twang and Safrican accent. It was a massive hit in South Africa and it could have done the same worldwide. The song was written with the aim of having a hit single and it became their defining moment.
It interests me that they describe their music as pop but that song was their only pop hit. I guess they scupper their chances by singing about strange quirky subjects like Cyanide Lake. The other Jonathan, Richman springs (sic) to mind as the closest reference.
And so they became a cottage industry writing and recording many songs with continually changing line ups and name changes and slowly refining and defining their sound and art, the comic art of the bands album covers and posters is very much part of the whole thing.
It is great to see the scenes of the old South Africa towns, and venues and country side, it is a lost time strange and quaint and it is interesting how anything alternative or artistic came out of such an environment yet somehow it seems to happen.
The film is probably the most comprehensive documentary of any single South African music artist or act and probably the best. It is entertaining but it is also art. A lot of attention has been paid on the editing and the detail. Some of the interviews are presented in seemingly uncut form of realism reminiscent of Warhol or Jonas Mekas.
In the middle of the film some songs display a sixties garage psyche feel of English freakbeat particularly the Creation. That part blew me away as it is quite an obscure reference and they do it very well.
And whilst not the final song in the film but the song that seems like the end song Perlemoen is a strange one. It is the song where Jonathan seems to finally fully give in to his South African-ness.
The film is available on DVD as a double pack with a great compilation CD and superb cover art and sleeve notes. It is a quality package.
Wild Youth was born out of boredom, my friend Mark Dyson and I sitting in his lounge listening to Rolling Stones records. Sometimes our friend Peter Kunst would join us. Boredom is good for rock and roll. Occasionally when very bored we would sniff petrol with Mark’s brother Gary. We used to siphon the petrol out of the car tank using a cut off piece of hosepipe and drench a rag in it and then inhale deeply. It smelt vile and gave you a headache but it kind of made you high.
Mark was the sensible brother but Gary was quite crazy. One day he decided to bunk school so he sniffed petrol and broke his hand with a hammer. I remember him smiling dementedly as he did it. He didn’t flinch or show any sign of pain. He was strong and a good fighter and later on he got me out of a few scrapes. Some people hated the way I looked but all it took was one look from him and it was enough to make them change their mind. He was charming good looking the apple of his parent’s eye but Mark had the brains. Like a lot of brothers they didn’t like each other. Mark limited himself to a petty juvenile delinquency and vandalism but nothing serious. He had a collection of speakers on his wall that he had nicked from the Cuban Hat drive-in restaurant opposite from North Beach where we used to go for chips and coffee after a night of drinking. Sometimes we used to cover the number plates of the car with mud so the number plate was illegible and drive away without paying. The mud on the number plates was Gary’s idea of course. On Friday and Saturday night we would meet at the Dyson’s house then drive to the Edenroc hotel where we would drink on the veranda before going to a party or go to watch a covers band like Circus or Prelude. Sometimes we’d break in to the back entrance of venues to get in for free. When we couldn’t hitch a ride home we would sleep rough in the shop entrances in the city centre. Other times we would drive to a shabeen near Mount Edgecombe and drink with the local black people in the early hours of the morning.
My first exposure to Punk came in 1971 when I picked up The Stooges Fun House LP on local South African pressing from Record King in Ajmeri Arcade running off Grey Street. Grey Street was in the Asian quarter of Durban and was an exotic place for a 14 year old with its oriental fabric, scent shops, cheap clothing and meat hanging on hooks outside the butcher complete with buzzing flies. Ajmeri Arcade is similar to a Middle Eastern souk except it has an African flavour with its muti shops selling ingredients for African witch doctors. “Funhouse” was mind blowing, so hard and powerful and sleazy and funky and jazzy as well. Needless to say it got a scratch the first time it got played on a portable record player but that that didn’t matter as it sounded so dirty and fuzzy anyway. People hated it as “all the songs sound the same”, but that is the point.
I then got into The New York Dolls début. There were hundreds of copies filling the sale bins. The New York Dolls with its photo of the group in drag on the cover was one of those albums along with Bowie’s Aladin Sane and Lou Reed’s “Transformer” that would get you branded a “moffie” (gay) amongst the “ous” (guys) so you had to tread carefully in the macho world of Durban. The Dolls dressed in women’s clothes but they were tough. The music was fantastic with its “don’t give a shit attitude”, cool riffs and street poetry lyrics.
The next step was Iggy and the Stooges “Raw Power” LP. David Bowie had done such a wacked out production. The lead guitar was so loud in proportion to the rest of the music. It was critically panned for its production but to me it sounded out of control and amazing. The opening track “Search and Destroy” must be one of the most incendiary tracks ever released and was a big influence to me. The lyrics were dead cool dangerous and sexy. During the Wild Youth years I regularly passed out after drunken stoned nights on the town with “Raw Power” still spinning on the turntable.
Then in 1975, the first Sex Pistols article appeared in a South African newspaper, I think it was in The Daily News, no pics just a short piece about a fight at Nashville Rooms in London. I still remember it today “We’re not into music. Wot then. We’re into chaos” (Steve Jones). I was impressed.
Mark and I decided to start a punk band with Peter. Peter would play bass and sing. I would play guitar and sing and Mark would play the drums.
I think that now is an opportune moment to mention the environment that we came out of. A lot of the core musicians in the Durban scene grew up in the fine green open suburbs on Natal’s north coast. Mark came from Glenashley, future Wild Youth bassist Andrew from Durban North and Budgie and I came from La Lucia, all boringly normal Middle class.
I grew up in a house in La Lucia surrounded by sugar cane fields and as a child would wander around unsupervised with little risk of being abducted or molested, although there was always the risk of being bitten by a Mamba, scorpion or poisonous spider. We often saw dead snakes in the road on the way to school and or poisonous spiders in the back yard.
We grew up in the time when the country was paranoid about “Die Swaart Gevaar” and “the Communist Threat”. Anyone unusual was branded a Communist. I did not go to the army. In those days most young men did two years military service including several months on the border which usually meant months of inactivity with short spells of active conflict. Some of my friends have been hundreds of miles into enemy territory in helicopters in a war that was supposed to not exist. Several got into heavy drugs as a means to killing time.
As a child we knew little about apartheid. To me black people were those friendly easy going people who cleaned, cooked and tended the neighbour’s garden. We didn’t have servants.
It was an offence for Nelson Mandela’s name or picture to be shown in public and newspapers were heavily censored, so it was no surprise that we knew very little. Even the history that we were taught at school was altered to fit what the government wanted us to know.
For anyone not into sport or the outdoor life, Durban was nowheresville. Television had only just been introduced in the mid Seventies, cinema consisted of only the most banal blockbuster crap, overseas musicians and sportsmen boycotted the country due to the politics and the local bands played mainly cover versions of top twenty hits in night clubs. Very few groups composed their own material.
The main entertainment for teenagers was jorls (house parties) in the neighbourhood at which there were often rorts (fights). I got beat up once or twice for “checking ous out skeef” (looking at them the wrong way). It wasn’t surprising therefore that our early songs were about violence.
My first composition “Hate the World” was dire. “Maybe I’m wrong” (co-written with Mark) and Peter’s first effort “Sewer Rat” only marginally better. My first good song was called “Anti You”.
One day I was in Durban hanging around the Revolver Records shop in 320 Arcade, next to 320 West Street. I was wearing a Sex Pistols Anarchy shirt got copied from an ad in the NME. The sales assistant Denis Shaw asked me if I had seen the Pistols. I hadn’t but we started talking. He had the Anarchy single. I had the Raw Power album. We decided to swap tapes. He then joined our band on guitar and called himself Johnny Wednesday. He also introduced me to The Velvet Underground. We added the song “Heroin” to our set even though I didn’t really understand the true meaning of the song. Apart from drinking a bit too much, we weren’t into drugs.
We called the band “Fourth Reich”.
Our first proper show was on 26th August at the University Of Natal Student Union supporting Richard Lucey’s Rancid Dwarf. Both Denis and I were students at the University.
Before the show Mark and I visited the local hardware store and purchased dog collars, chains etc. Denis always looked cool in his Ramones haircut, leather jacket, white T shirt, jeans with holes in the knees and tennis shoes. We spray painted our school blazers and other clothing with slogans Clash style. I stencilled “Hate the World” on an old blue windcheater and called myself Mick Sick.
On route to the show I noticed that the news headlines of the day where about Johnny Rotten’s comments about Elvis’s death, stating that “Elvis’s gut cast a shadow on rock and roll”.
We played the show to 500 people. It was chaos. Our friends gave us whisky before we went on. During “Heroin” I kicked over the mike stand. The sound crew jumped on stage to deal with us. This prompted a stage invasion and riot. Mark was so drunk he fell backwards off the drum stool destroying the Rancid Dwarf banner in the process. We had made an impact.
We played a further two shows, 3rd September at the Music Room at the University which was our rehearsal space and 17th September at the Sherwood Hall at which we played two new songs “Speed Baby” and “All Units Destroy”.
On 19th September an interview done by Gary Scott was published in the Campus Independent Wits University magazine.
Pretty soon afterwards Denis left the group. I never found out why. I think he probably disliked our behaviour and drinking. He was certainly more cultured and artistic than we were but we were younger.
In December 1977 Peter and I went to England. I was 21 years of age, Peter a year younger almost to the day. Whilst we were there we went to 4 punk gigs including The Clash at The Rainbow supported by Sham 69 where fans rioted and demolished the seats. Fans spray painted the trains on the way home. It was dangerous and exciting.
We also visited the Seditionairies shop in The Kings Road. It took ages to find as it had no sign and the only clue was a boarded up shop-front with some graffiti. Inside it was pitch black with UV lighting. The clothing range was dayglo designs on white muslin. The “Never Mind The Bollocks” album sleeve was one print.
I also picked up some great punk vinyl.
We got back to South Africa the day that the Sex Pistols split up. After England, South Africa felt like going back a hundred years in time. Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet was the slogan in those days.
And so on our return the band evolved into Wild Youth.
Mark was a terrible drummer so he quit the drums and switched to vocals. Peter opted out as he didn’t want to cut his hair, having had short back and sides all those years at school. He had a point but we wanted to present a united front and hippies had long hair. In fact almost everybody had long hair, usually smoothly styled in a mullet often with a Magnum moustache. So we decided to have short hair.
Shortly afterwards I was approached by an old school friend Andrew Peinke asking to join the band. Andrew used to sit next to me in class and was a Joey from Friends lookalike. He was probably the most popular guy in class and I was probably the least being too sensitive and shy whilst Andrew was outgoing, confident and charming.
I began to teach Andrew bass on the Beatle bass that he had bought. He was a good pupil and learnt quickly. He built his own amplifier using skills he picked up studying Engineering at University. Of the punk musicians, he liked J J Burnell from The Stranglers who had a very powerful bass style. I used to go around to his house in Durban North and teach him the songs in his small bedroom amongst all the motor racing posters. I enjoyed teaching him. He had an animal strength to his playing much in line with his nature. His nickname had even been “Ape” at school which was probably an abbreviation of his initials. He was obviously talented as I tried to teach other people bass later on in my life but seldom had the same results. It was around this time that I wrote a lot of songs free from other people’s influences and opinions. “Record Companies” was about the mediocrity of the South African music scene.
Like all the early Wild Youth songs it had a real powerful driving sound. I was using a white Ibanez ’59 er guitar with a Jim Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Big Muff distortion pedal through a Yamaha transistor stack. I used to play 5th chords which are abbreviated forms of bar chords and have a real powerful sound. When using a fuzz box the distortion creates all these overtones and harmonics which give extra implied melody to the sound. When I hit a solo I would press a volume pedal which would double the volume.
“So Messed Up”.
“Suicide City in the light of day
I’ve got a television screen to show me the way
I don’t really know what’s going on
It seems like the words of a new rock song
So messed up.”
“Billy Idol” was a slice of T Rex pop punk that soon became an early favourite with the fans.
We called the new band “Wild Youth” after a song by Generation X, the British punk band fronted by Billy Idol. We even wrote to Generation X, and where surprised when the bassist Tony James wrote back. Tony was impressed by the fact we had named our band after one of his songs and also explained how they made their pop art t-shirts. By this point Mark now called Pogo was manufacturing his own t-shirts. This was a painstaking and laborious task and involved drawing the design and then cutting it out on the silkscreen paper which was then put on a frame. You then had to carefully push the dye across the print. The shirts came out real cool and were real individualistic.
“So Trendy” had a real driving Ramones style riff which until the ending never changed. The variations came from the vocal melodies and drum patterns. I really like this song.
“Wot ‘bout Me” was another song that became a concert favourite. This one had only one chord sequence and a fuzz garage band guitar solo.
This song made an immediate impact from the first time that we played it at Caxton Hall. When I heard people singing it after the show I knew that it would be the single.
“Make Up” had a real powerful punk riff.
Andrew was like a human rhythm machine very professional and focussed. Rubin Rose. I can’t remember who introduced him to us but soon he joined on drums. Rubin was a softly spoken gentle guy with a black belt in karate. I think he did karate to keep his inner demons in check.
We rehearsed at the Arts Centre in Albany Grove, an office block converted into rehearsal rooms. Rubin used to do his karate classes just around the corner. He came in to audition and we clicked.
After a short period of rehearsing we were ready to do our first show. In March 1978 we hired the Caxton Hall in Beach Grove and charged 50 cents admission. Caxton Hall was a dilapidated place well in need of a paint job and was one of those places no one had ever heard of. Early supports were often provided by new wave band the Impact and Dave Wright’s punk rock disco.
To advertise the gigs we made our own posters 24 inches by 16 inches in size. We would cut out a stencil of a basic design consisting of the Wild Youth logo and a crude picture of some punks and spray paint the posters using car aerosol spray cans. We would then add further detail using marker pens. The posters were pasted all over town using flour and water. The number of posters increased each gig until we were pasting 400 posters a show. It was cool to walk around town and see our name up everywhere often in bright fluorescent blue or orange colours. We soon started getting noticed, by fans, the press and the police.
On stage we had a crudely spray painted backdrop with the group logo covered in bloodstains.
When we arrived at the hall we would put our own coloured light bulbs into the light fittings shining onto the stage.
The shows were wild. Mark was a superb sardonic front man with a confident tough persona and humour. Andrew and I leapt around like lunatics whilst Rubin kept that demon beat going. That guy’s beat was powerful. There was so much energy on that stage those nights.
The music was primeval taken to an even more basic level than overseas punk. We had attitude and catchy songs. We had our sound.
Rubin didn’t play in the style of the UK punk drummers and even made his own sticks, super thick to achieve an even more powerful sound. Franco Rogantin of the Gay Marines describes Rubin’s drumming as “the sound of rolling thunder”.
The audience was getting younger and several went on to form their own bands: The Gents, Powerage, Anti Heroes, Divine Monopoly, The Contaminators, Streetrockers, future techno producer Damon Vallero.
The sound quality was rough due to the inadequate PA systems. After the show the audience would all spill out onto the streets and hang out drinking and talking in the hot humid night air under the brilliant white street lights amid the desolate concrete wasteland. We were having a great time.
The fans deserve a mention too. Philip Swarbrick a bulky guy in a German helmet swan diving cross the floor. Peter’s sisters Marion and Sharon who took the money at the door and later formed Leopard the first South African all female punk band. They had some great pop punk songs.
Paddy Vacant the schoolboy who later formed Powerage with the Ratrae brothers Brett and Lance, Sticks Verbarn who later become a journalist and writer, The Lange’s Keith and Karen. Karen later played bass in several local bands.
We played Sherwood Hall on June 7th with the Impact and Dave Wrights Punk Disco. On September 29th 1978 we played the same venue again with the Impact. The entrance fee was R1. At the Westville Community Centre some locals arrived at the sound check to fuck us up and left the show as fans.
Mark was also started to develop as a song writer, bringing in “Sun City Rebels”, a powerful number, with very much of an anthem quality.
It was around this time that Mark fell sick and couldn’t do one of the shows. It was at the Girl Guide Hall in Morningside. We went ahead and did it without him and I sang. I was so used to playing the songs on guitar that adding the vocals was easy. I had written the words so had no problem remembering them. The performance was just burning with energy. I had so much frustration in me just burning to get out.
Soon after the show Peter joined on second guitar. The band sounded great with two guitars. The two guitars really upped the groove and made us more dynamic and powerful.
In the course of my research I found an article from the Insight Magazine of The Sunday Tribune written by Doug MacDonald reviewing probably the last of the Caxton Hall shows.
“They saunter on to the stage without much ceremony. They’re clad in dog collars and slogan daubed T-shirts. They pick up their instruments, and ZAM! They blast off.”
“They play like they are possessed. Relentless drumming, pumping bass, guitar sandpapering your spinal cord, defiant vocals ripping at your brain. My eardrums felt like they were being attacked by a crazy nest of hornets.”
At the end of 1978 Doug and a fellow journalist Martin Hendy approached us with a view to management. Martin didn’t last long as he didn’t have the time to give us full commitment. He remained loyal to the group and still carried on writing about us and hanging out. Once we had management things started happening very quickly. Doug was a rare breed of manager, being one hundred percent honest and decent guy. He also had the unenviable job of being mediator and pacifier in the numerous arguments and jealousies that later raged as the band became more successful. The first thing he did was to start an intensive media blitz and ensured that everything was photographed. In the course of our short life, the Wild Youth was heavily documented by numerous professional photographers. Doug must have boxes of slides, negatives and contact sheets somewhere. He also set about booking shows all over the country. He was an important part of the group taking on the responsibility allowing us to concentrate on the music.
Soon after Andrew pulled me to one side and gave me an ultimatum. Either Mark goes or he does. It was a hard decision for me. On one hand Mark was one of my best friends and main collaborator and on the other I had quite enjoyed the buzz of singing. It is unfortunate that the singer always gets the attention and the chance to sing my songs was too great a temptation. I chose Andrew. I was sad to lose Mark. He had passion and attitude and was the best spokesman of the group, a factor that weighed greatly in his later success in the legal profession. After he left we also lost the gang mentality. All the essential ingredients of the Wild Youth sound were already in place.
Peter decided to leave with Mark. We had underestimated his admiration of and loyalty to Mark. They formed an excellent (for a while at least) band called The Dead Babies. They got a great rhythm section Paulie (James Bondage) on bass and Fly on drums, and had some superb songs, influenced by Peter’s love of Alice Cooper and Aerosmith and Marks humour and aggressive cynical lyrics. The early Dead Babies were a great band but it didn’t last. Unfortunately Paulie and Fly had a lot of people whispering in their ear and soon they left the group and were never satisfactorily replaced.
So Wild Youth started 1979 as a new stripped down unit. One of the first things I did was change my name to Johnny Teen. The name was an amalgamation of two guys I thought were cool, Jimmy Dean and Johnny Thunders with a nod to Billy Idol as well. Andrew bought a second hand Fender Precision bass and spray painted it pink….it looked and sounded fantastic.
I think it is time to point out that when we started Mark and I never ever thought that we would ever get anywhere. It was just something that we wanted to do. I never ever had ambitions to be a vocalist. I only ever became the vocalist because I could sing in tune marginally better than the others. Of course when I took on the job I enjoyed it. I prefer bands with a separate vocalist, believing that both vocals and guitar could be handled better separately.
I had never had any lessons and had learnt all my tricks from working out songs from records I had zero technique and knew only one basic scale, the blues minor pentatonic. Andrew and Mark had never picked up an instrument prior to joining the group and Peter had about as much knowledge as me. Only Rubin was more experienced.
We got a lot of press, mostly good, some bad, but this also influences things. I think that for art to remain pure it needs to be created in a void with no input from outside influences.
Andrew was concerned that we would be perceived as UK copyists and came up with a brilliant idea. He likened our bringing the punk sound to SA, being like The Rolling Stones bringing the sound of US Black R&B to the United Kingdom in the early Sixties. And the cool thing about this was that it was true.
It was around this time that Andrew made his remark “we’re into spontaneous violence – if you want us to break stuff, we’ll break it – that includes your nose”. This was on the front page of the Insight Magazine of The Sunday Tribune newspaper. For all our projected bravado we were all quite peaceful reality. Whilst Andrew liked to fancy himself as a rucker and could handle himself well, he was sensible and rarely got into fights. This flippant and in hindsight quite quaint remark, really pissed a lot of people off, and we lost some of the artier members of our audience.
Shortly after this article, I started work in my first full time job. This gave inspiration to one of my more heartfelt songs “Friday Comes”.
“Five days a week it’s a private hell
Working for a living in a office cell
Boss comes in his pinstripe suit
Its only worth living when weekend comes
Friday comes I’ll blow my mind
I don’t wanna work 9 to 5
Don’t wanna live my life a lie
Wanna get wrecked and have some fun
Its only worth living when weekend comes
Friday comes I’ll blow my mind”
During Easter 1979 Wild Youth played a free open air show at Durban’s amphitheatre just behind Durban’s beachfront near Durban’s north beach. The show was organized by the new pop newspaper Music Maker, South Africa’s equivalent to NME or Melody Maker. Music Maker put a photo of us from this show on the front cover of issue number 8 released on April 27th. They gave us a great review mentioning that we also played some slower songs like “Living Dead”.
We were constantly changing the set and never played the same set twice. I did this to keep things interesting. So songs were constantly added and taken out of the set. Some songs would only get played once before being consigned to the scrap heap. “Last Of the Punks” is an example. I remember that the song used the tremolo or vibrato effect.
The same evening we played at Travolta’s Disco at the Killarney Hotel in Durban supporting The Radio Rats a new wave group from Springs led by singer guitarist songwriter Jonathan Handley. They had already released an album and an excellent single ZX Dan, a country and western David Bowie meets the Kinks with great singalong chorus like you heard on an English pub jukebox in the seventies but very South African at the same time. I think Jonathan was surprised by the ferocity of the Durban audience reaction and the power and energy of our music. We had something to prove. Opening with “So Messed Up” and followed by “So Trendy”, we rocked like motherfuckers. During “All Messed Up”, I broke a string which J Rat changed for me. Jonathan often championed our cause in his fanzine Palladium. Music Maker gave the gig a great review.
In early 1979 we went in C&G studios to record a 4 song demo. We had been playing the songs for a year now and were real tight.
I remember the day as if it were yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky and we travelled down to Westville in convoy. We recorded 4 songs “Record Companies “So Messed Up”, “So Trendy” and “Make Up”. When I heard the vocals of “So Messed Up” I was disappointed but I decided to go with the flow and re-record the vocals even more feminine and it worked. I love these demos, they are raw and real and the guitar solos wilder than the Six of The Best versions.
In the studio, we worked, no drinking or drugs and no hangers on. Afterwards we listened to the songs on the car cassette player and I liked what I heard. I told the engineer and he looked at me as if I was mad.
On 22 June 1979, Music Maker reviewed a show at the Majestic Cinema in Chatsworth with Naked Truth and Fame. Chatsworth is an Asian township 20 kms south west of Durban with about 300 000 residents a “city within a city”. We were bombarded with tomatoes and insults. Well at least it wasn’t wine bottles being thrown at us. The red tomato stains only looked like blood. We did a blistering set including covers of the Monkees “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” and Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” and people dug us. It was very exciting.
Sadly the Majestic Cinema is no more, closed ‘long ago’. The building now houses a church upstairs, and a club downstairs.
On June 29th 1979 a four page photo spread appeared in Scope magazine complete with an article written by Martin Hendy. Scope had a wide readership mainly due to its pin-up’s and sensationalist articles. In those days of strict censorship, any photographs of female’s nipples had to be airbrushed or covered up with a drawn in box circle or star as any sexual organs were strictly banned.
We were photographed in the University Of Natal music room playing a short set surrounded by dancing girls. It was a lot of fun and exposed us to a lot of people.
The next day we were booked to play at the Girl Guide Hall in North Ridge Road, Morningside. Rubin was beaten up by a gang of youth’s that had gate-crashed the venue and we never got to play. Bullets were fired and Rubin was taken to Addington Hospital with concussion. Things were getting more dangerous and we similar bad reactions at several other shows.
Soon afterwards we drove up to Pietermaritzburg in convoy to play an afternoon gig at the Electric Ballroom Disco Laager centre. The entrance fee was R1.50 with no age restriction. I remember the venue being in a barren looking shopping centre. Pietermaritzburg is a sleepy dusty little town about 50 miles inland from Durban, very old fashioned and charming in its own way. We played well and the audience liked us. It was at this gig that we met the Pietermaritzburg Ashburton crowd who became our good friends for the next few years. One of them was Genevieve Hadlow a talented photographer who took some great black and white photos of the show. Gen continued to document the Durban Pietermaritzburg scene for the next few years and we became good friends.
The Pietermaritzburg crowd soon moved down to a commune in Montpelier Road in Morningside Durban. The house had a real bohemian vibe and became a place to party, talk, drink, smoke and hang out. People who used to hang there were the AK47’s the Gents and Issy Fataar brother of ex Flame and Beach Boy Steve Fataar. Steve was an integral part of the scene and opened his own club 567 at the top end of Durban. Wild Youth played there several times and I remember there being cushions on the floor where people could sit as they watched the bands.
I had first met Steve when I was a schoolboy. I had been the only outsider present when he recorded an as yet unreleased solo album with his brother Issy. During breaks in the session he had kindly taught me some Led Zeppelin licks on his Les Paul.
On 15 July 1979, we played the Durban Jewish club with Steve Fataar and Further and Leopard.
On 25 July 1979, we went to Johannesburg to play a string of dates at His Majesties Theatre Johannesburg Music Festival with Renee Arnell (later of Via Afrika) Band, Radio Rats and Stingray. The Music Maker said “particularly impressive was Johnny Teen’s use of feedback – irregular, irreverent and explosive as Pharoah Sanders screaming down his horn.”
Johannesburg was fantastic. On the first night we played a spot at a local disco the Bella Napoli complete with cocktail tables and flashing lights etc…real Saturday Night Feversville. We rocked.
On 11th August at 11am we did a promotional gig in Sanlam Arcade 331 West Street outside Nash Music (formerly Record King) and signed autographs. The owner let us each have an album of our own choice as appreciation. I chose the MC5 “Kick out The Jams”. I had been going to Record King since I was thirteen years old and the owner was always good to me. .
On 17 August 2009, Music Maker mentions Durban Battle of Bands concert. We played on the second night and we played well.
Soon after we were approached by Benjy Mudie of WEA Records to contribute 2 songs to a compilation of local new wave music. The album was called “Six of The Best” and also featured Bill Flynn, The Safari Suits, Roger Lucey, Corporal Punishment and Leopard. We re-recorded “Record Companies” and “So Messed Up” at C &amp; G. This time with more production.
On 31 August we were on the front page of the Music Maker which contained an interview conducted by Duncan Gibbon at our tiny rehearsal space in Point Road. Rubin had got the room for us above a small old dusty pub. Point Road was a real funky area and the bad part of town with brothels and seedy night clubs and bars that the foreign sailors used to frequent. The buildings were old, full of character and the place had a good vibe. In the same issue Rixon Stewart reviewed “Six of the Best” and commented “Beneath the brash exterior lie sophisticated song structures powered by lots of primitive energy”
The record came out in August and we got good reviews. We stood out as having the most genuine punk sound.
To promote the record we more free gigs, but then again most of our gigs were free as we rarely got paid. We did it for the love of music.
One of these was the open air show in the open lot outside Nicol Square garage in Grey Street.
On 3rd November we played the Swingles night club at the Los Angeles Hotel. It was a Saturday afternoon gig, entrance fee R1 and support by Peach and the Natz. We did several afternoon gigs, including one at desolate ice skating rink at the top end of Durban, and a teenage disco near the seafront.
On 7 December, the Music Maker carried a review of the Wagon Wheels show that we did with the Gents, Dead Babies, Leopard and the Natz, Jeremy Dawson’s new band. Jeremy was ex of the Impact. We had played several new songs including “I Fell in Love with The Aliens” and “Space Invaders” which were a nod to the electronic music which was becoming popular.
On 13 December the “Wot ‘bout me tour” started at the Rainbow club, Wagonwheels Hotel in Florida Road. The next day we drove down the South Coast to Margate play a gig at the South Natal Surf Rider Association at the Margate Town Hall. The show commenced at 8pm and we were on after a surfing film called “Fantasy”. After the film all the surfers left and we played to an audience of two bikers who had ridden up from Durban. Then we drove down to the Cape stopping off at Capitol Radio en route to do a radio interview. The radio station was in an amazing location on the cliffs overlooking the sea surrounded by trees far away from civilization.
On 15th and 16th we played Port St John. The next day we played East London Holiday Inn and on 18th December we did the Formosa Inn at Plettenberg Bay. Our equipment was starting to bear the strain of constant trashing. We had our own tiny PA barely adequate.
We were accompanied by our manager Doug, photographer Martin Hendy and Gary Scott (friend, Johannesburg gig promoter and tour roadie).
The tour went well and people dug us. This was the best period of the band and a highlight of my life. It was the honeymoon period, our coming of age and voyage of self-discovery, a road trip with many great gigs and memories! I remember sleeping on the beach at Jeffrey’s Bay. Also a blind drunk Andrew driving the van down precariously steep winding, mountain passes…. the charming old world towns of George and Kysna. The wild seas and shoreline of Jeffrey’s Bay at night.
On 20 December we arrived in Capetown to join the Riot Rock tour with the Safari Suits, Housewives Choice and National Wake. The first show was at Mowbray Town Hall. The Cape Town scene was well organized with proper PA and good venues. We played well and went down well.
On 21st the tour played the Strand, 22nd Seapoint Civic Centre and 24th Fish Hoek Civic Centre. During the same week we also played Club 1988 in Long Street.
One night Rubin was sick and the Safari Suits drummer covered for him. Steve Moni, the guitarist of The Safari Suits joined us for the encore of Iggy and the Stooges “Search and Destroy”.
We then started the journey back and played East London once again on 28 December.
And so we commence 1980.
On 9th February we played the Moth Club Empangeni with The Gents. “Action Man” was in the set plus an Andrew Peinke composition called “Attack”.
On February 18th 1980, we played the Wits Free Peoples Concert in Johannesburg. The concert was open air and the audience was particularly large and exuberant.
We went to Johannesburg several times, playing to rapidly expanding audiences, mainly at the University but also at various halls, theatres and nightclubs.
I loved going to the new wave clubs, Metal Beat, Blue Beat and DV8. We met some real great people too, Neil Bolitho who later was paralysed in a motor cycle accident, Gilbert Calvert son of the famous jazz musician Eddie Calvert and so on and so on. Sadly Gilbert and Neil both died soon after.
We really developed in Johannesburg playing large venues with good equipment lighting and big stages with room to move. We sometimes took the music right down the bass and drums.
On 22 February the Rand Daily Mail reviewed a show at the Boogie Barn show and published 3 great pictures of Andrew smashing up his guitar.
On 28th February Willy Reitz gave “Wot ‘bout Me” the thumbs down saying “Hell is full of musical amateurs”. T
On March 3rd we played the Majestic Cinema again, this time with Suede and Fame. The response this time couldn’t have been more different. The audience loved it. I remember meeting some beautiful Asian girls at the show.
On 2nd April we played UCT, University of Cape Town. We were not prepared for the intensity of the response and we had no security or road crew and I think we blew a great opportunity. The gig was total mayhem, packed to the rafters. I have never seen so much spitting, more so than I had seen even in England. It was near impossible to play with fingers stuck to the fret board like glue, and the floor so slippery that we were falling all over the place. We played terribly.
We were then flown down to the Hermanus Festival for the following day to play with Private File, Rude Dementals and many other bands. On 4th and 5th we played at Little Freedom Farm.
The Hermanus Festival was the biggest audience we ever played to, about 30 thousand from what I recall. We were collected from the airport and driven down in a big car like real pop stars and were given our own house to stay in. People who visited the house were surprised to see how little we spoke to each other.
We played very late, in the early hours of the morning, didn’t play well. Afterwards people where selling bits of my guitar outside the venue.
On May 10th we played the GR Bozzoli Pavilion on Wits University campus. Support acts were The Party and Dog and we had an audience of one thousand people. “New wave dress is preferable” said the organizers.
We were developing new more diverse with a more post punk edge. “Avalanche” was atmospheric with lyrics inspired by cold war thrillers, the bass heavy “Take Off” like a camp PIL, the Lou Reed influenced “Berlin (Candy)” and “Hiroshima” during which I read from a book during performances. Another cool song was “City Girls” which used a cleaner guitar sound and seventh chords. These were all good songs.
And then “Music Maker” ceased to be. What made it even worse was that the Music Poll results were soon to be published and we had won the “Best Band” category which never got published.
On 17th May, Adrian Jackson of The Star gave us a rave review for the Bozzoli Pavilion concert. And then Andrew dropped a bombshell. It was at Doug’s house. He was leaving the group to concentrate on his job at the railways. Of course he formed his own group soon after, with himself on vocals. I was devastated. To have it go this far and have it all fall apart.
We still had one date booked at the Wits Great Hall, a Neil Bolitho benefit concert. We had little enthusiasm as we knew that we were breaking up. I didn’t want to do the show and got drunk before to drown my sorrows. The gig was awful.
So that’s that then. What an anti-climax. Goodbye rose tinted world and welcome to the harsh comedown of reality. In retrospect we let ourselves down by not being strong enough as a unit and by letting ego’s get in the way. Andrew was probably right to break up the band as if we would have carried on we would probably become parodies of our former selves or else got sucked into the mindless violence that is the public’s perception of punk. I got attacked several times towards the end, including an incident at a Dead Babies gig at the Rex, a local bughouse cinema in Durban North. I was both surprised and shocked at the severity of my response and I knew the end was near. Once one gets pulled into the media world of violence or drugs you are destined for a bad ending. One only has to look at Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious or Ritchie Manic as prime examples. Having to live up to a public image is a real tough call. Everyone wants to either show they can party harder or fight harder than you and to that extent I am glad we opted out.
We played simplistic music but we wrote catchy songs at a time when very few groups in South Africa even wrote their own material. We also believed in rock and roll and played it with a passion. We also saw the future when most bands were still sticking to the past. One only has to look at today to see bands like Wild Youth everywhere.
It was a strangely naïve time, the beginnings of a movement filled with great spirit between most of the bands audience and like minded souls. We were young and nobody thought about money. We didn’t know how long it would last and at the same time we thought it would last forever.
I regret that we never recorded an album as without documentation it becomes lost in time or just hearsay. I feel sad at the way Rubin and Doug were treated. They were fine people and were always a great levelling influence.
I realize now that despite the fact that I played with Andrew for two years, I don’t know what music he really liked. I think he liked Hendrix but we all loved Hendrix. He admired the Stranglers because the bassist was macho, did karate and looked a bit like him. He laughed that little laugh that he always did and was amused by the Vapors “Turning Japanese” a song about masturbation. He also liked Echo and the Bunnymen and later on became a big fan of U2. Apart from that I don’t know.
Well what did we achieve! Well I wanted the band to be edgy glamorous arty rocky sexy and entertaining to take people out of the dull doldrums of their everyday lives and for a year or so we succeeded. We drew our influences from everywhere and the palette was endless. To their credit the boys gave me carte blanche to write what I wanted and for that I thank them. We had created our only little parallel universe where dreams and plans and glamour and fun ruled. I think some people got it but too many people just saw punk as Anarchy signs, Union Jack T-shirts, and an excuse for boorish behaviour, drabness and violence.
I see the same dreams in the East End Art scene or the Fashion industry or the pub nearby where I live. Young people hanging out living out their artistic fantasies and plotting their next plans over a pint of lager or a bottle of wine. There are groups of youngsters all over the world doing just that and it is part of the fun of being in a band.
Wild Youth were not political. The shows we did in Chatsworth or Grey Street or with National Wake or Steve Fataar were highlights culturally and musically and I enjoyed the time I spent with the people of all races that I met and talked to. Music breaks down barriers. Wild Youth allowed us to experience life that few other white kids from the suburbs ever knew. It was fucking amazing.