Uitenhage is probably the last place you would expect to find some self-styled rock stars, but in 1962 this small Eastern Cape town birthed The Invaders.
Now thanks to some rabid Invaders’ fans who have been pestering Gallo archivist Rob Allingham to find out how they can get their hands on the band’s music, we have a new 58-track, double-disc compilation of their recordings, reissued by Gallo.
“I knew about The Invaders and I liked a lot of their music,” says Allingham. “But over the years I kept getting phone calls from people looking for stuff and The Invaders were just one of those bands that just kept popping up.
“You know, several times a year I would pick up the phone and people would say they are looking for Invaders records,” says Allingham. “I figured if somebody is interested enough to pick up the phone and track me down to ask about their music, for everyone of those guys, hopefully there are another 20 who would be sufficiently interested to invest in their music.”
So Allingham set to work, remastering the band’s recordings, collecting rare photographs and commissioning Malcolm Lombard to track down the three surviving members of the band to interview them and compile a detailed history of the band.
“With rare exceptions musicians neither have their old records nor pictures of themselves,” says Allingham. “I went down to the Bailey archive and we found a lot of really nice pictures that we used in the booklet, especially the pictures of the crowds at the gigs.”
“It is unusual to find pictures of crowds like that. It is really engaging and it gives such a wonderful flavour of what that scene was like,” he says.
“They actually came from Port Elizabeth and they had some peers on the PE scene, but I don’t think the other bands made any recordings,” says Allingham. “They also played in the Cape a lot and The Escapades were one of their contemporaries there.”
Allingham says The Escapades masters are also in the Gallo archives and he reckons it’s pretty good stuff, so maybe we will see another reissue; but back to The Invaders’ story.
Legend has it that their inspiration came directly from a Cliff Richard and the Shadows gig at Port Elizabeth’s Feather Market Hall in March 1961.
A 20-year-old John Burke was in the audience that night and his trajectory to stardom was set on course. Following Richard’s gig, Burke formed The Astronauts, but when the band fell apart he formed his second band, The Invaders.
In the early days things were a struggle, with Burke (bass), Joe Moses (lead guitar) and Errol Gobey (rhythm guitar) all playing through the same amp.
But there was no denying The Invaders and soon they were playing gigs in neighbouring towns such as Graaff-Reinet, Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay.
In 1965 they self-financed their debut single, recording June and the B-side I’ll Try Again.
The A-side June opens the double CD reissue and The Shadows’ influence is easily discernible, but the song also has a similar sound to Hawaiian lap-steel material.
But the B-side is not included, probably because there were only 100 copies of the single pressed.
By 1966 the band’s reputation had spread to Cape Town and during one of their tours they were approached by Trutone Records to record.
The first song they chose was June, which went gold and was followed by their debut album, Two Sides of The Invaders, in 1967.
This was followed by the singles Shockwave and Ice Cream and Suckers, which both went gold, netting them a little piece of history as the first South African artists to receive three gold records in one year.
Shockwave is a great little fuzz guitar stomper that takes a distinctly South African melody and amps it up to garage rock proportions, while Ice Cream and Suckers is a playful little Afro-rock tune, with great interlocking guitar work.
These songs are proto-South African rock’n’roll and a fascinating trip back into our musical history.
Soon The Invaders were being touted by the press as South Africa’s kings of pop and with Lionel Petersen, the new vocalist on board, they left for Germany to see if they could crack the overseas market.
Things didn’t pan out as expected and after two months of touring Europe they returned to South Africa. By 1972 the band had sadly broken up.
But now a whole new generation of South African music fans can discover The Invaders thanks to Gallo.
The two-CD compilation includes great tracks such as the psychedelic tinged Pictures of Matchstick Men with its fuzzed-out guitar, soul songs such as It’s a Groove, Come Back to Me and Chapel of Dreams, as well as a bunch of great covers.
The covers include John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s Oh Darling, Otis Redding’s I’ve Got a Dream to Remember, Credence Clearwater Revival’s Born on the Bayou and Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.
It’s not all essential: there are some instrumentals that are very derivative and the Christmas singles are hardly interesting, but with 58 tracks across two discs there is more than enough to justify the R70 price tag.