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Click on a photograph to see a full size version.    All photos are copyright, but permission to use on your website will usually be given in return for an appropriate credit and link to this site - just email me at nick@nickshears.com.  This page last updated 20 May 2002.

Ellis Park Pop Festival, 1 June 1970

Hawk at Ellis Park June 1970 This is Hawk, in their very first concert appearance.  There were two simultaneous "pop festivals" on that first day of winter in 1970.  This one was at Ellis Park, and the other at the Out Of Town Club (can someone confirm that's the correct name?).  I went to the "wrong" one - Ellis Park was poppier and more commercial.  But at least I saw the debut of one of South Africa's finest ever rock bands.  I remember singer Dave Ornellas responding to an audience member's heckle of "Where's Bob Dylan then?" with "Sorry, he couldn't make it today."  (Obscure cultural reference:  Hawk were named after The Hawks, the original name of The Band when they were Bob Dylan's original backing band.)

For real info about Hawk, have a look at the Brian Currin's Hawk page on his South African Rock Legends website.

Free People's Festival, February 1975

The Free Peoples Festivals were legendary all day concerts held at Wits University in Johannesburg during the 1970's.  We have Dave Marks to thank for them, and for so much else that was great about the music scene in those days.  (Have a look at the Third Ear Music website for loads of great memories, in particular more Free People's Festival shots.)

I went to every one of these festivals apart from the first, from about 1971 to 1976, but this was the only time I had a camera.  So I missed recording some legendary performances from people like Johnny & Sipho (i.e. Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu, who later formed Juluka), Colin Shamley, Edi Niederlander, Paul Clingman, Brian Bebbington and many others.

Free People's Festival collage from Wits Student newspaper

Here's a collage of shots from the 6th Free People's festival of February 1975, as published in the student newspaper, imaginatively entitled Wits Student if I remember correctly, a week later.

My apologies for the low quality of the following colour shots from the same gig, which were taken on a pocket Kodak Instamatic, but at least provide a record of a handful of performances.  

Jeremy Taylor Jeremy Taylor, of Ag Pleez Deddy fame, arrived clandestinely from what was then still Rhodesia to play a few numbers, before making himself scarce before the security police discovered he was in the country.  The Third Ear Music site has an article Jeremy wrote about his political songs of the sixties.
Richard Jon Smith

Richard Jon Smith

Richard Jon Smith, the Cape Town based soul singer who was near the start of his career.  As you can see, the stage was erected in front of the Wits. Great Hall.    The sign strung across the stage read "Free People's Concert".
Tabla player and other Indian musicians An Indian group whose name I'm afraid I don't recall.
Irish musicians including fiddle and bodhran And an Irish group whose name also escapes me, but which is described on the Third Ear website, where there's a shot of them from three years earlier, as "Ian's Irish group".
The Steel Band The Steel Band, put together by the son of famous ethno-musicologist Andrew Tracey, if my memory is correct.

Soweto Jazz Festival, October 1974

Dancing at Soweto Jazz Festival 1974

Dancing at Soweto Jazz Festival 1974

These two shots are actually photocopies since I don't have the originals.  They were taken by a photographer from the Sowetan newspaper, although they weren't published.

I'm the white guy with long hair and his back to the camera in the first shot, and facing forwards but semi-obscured in the second.  My friend Duncan Todd is the other whitey.  The hatless guy with whom we're dancing is Long John "Snowy" Mongangane whom we met there, and who became a great friend.  He was a member of the audience that day, and we were working as honorary roadies, but as you can see that involved quite a lot of fun as well.

This was a four day festival, with music running 12 or 18 hours a day.  The first night we slept in a car in the stadium, and I recall waking and thinking that Duncan was playing a Santana tape on the cassette player.  But he wasn't - Malombo were playing their hearts out on stage, a trio makiung enough sound for six, with the inimitable Philip Tabane's guitar really talking.

Another vivid memory is when there was a problem with communication between the stage and the sound tower, and Duncan and I were threading our way through the crowd between the two.  Ours were the only white faces amongst the audience of a few thousand.  Richard Jon Smith was on stage singing Young Gifted and Black and Power to the People.  I have never felt less threatened or insecure in my life - every other person seemed to be shaking our hands and greeting us as long lost brothers.  (This was less than two years before riots in Soweto started the gradual failure of apartheid.)

Informal Jam at Free People's Festival, February 1975

Dancing to informal jam The Free People's Festivals were very relaxed affairs.  My friends and I would always take bongos and guitars with us, and at some stage would drift off to the sidelines somewhere to jam.  As you can see from these 1975 photo's, this sometimes attracted quite a few people!

With hindsight, this was remarkably discourteous to the performers and organisers, but at the time it seemed completely in keeping with the spirit of the occasion.

I'm the one with the long hair playing bongos and wearing a University of Cape Town t-shirt.  Sandy and Mangosta (Norman Forth) are the ones wearing white hats and playing guitars.  Dianne Merrington is playing guitar in the last shot.  (I mention these names in the hope of one day getting back in touch with these long lost friends.)

The first shot is a favourite of mine, being an accidental collage of two shots (the camera failed to wind on).  The dancer in the yellow t-shirt is Snowy, whom Duncan and I had met in Soweto the previous year.

These photos were taken by old friend Fabrizzio Grosso.  He was at school and university with me, but we lost touch after we left SA at the end of 1976.  I believe he became a sound engineer in Johannesburg, but have failed to track him down.  I'd be grateful if anyone could put us in touch again.

-- Nick Shears, May 2002.

Informal jam
Informal jam, Mangosta on left, Nick Shears on right
Dancing to the informal jam
Informal jam, Sandy on left, Dianne, Mangosta on right
Informal jam