Made In South Africa
Compilation 1978 to 1995
- Goddess - Corporal Punishment
- D-Luxe - The Cherry Faced Lurchers
- The Branch - The Cherry Faced Lurchers
- Toasted Takeaways - The Cherry Faced Lurchers
- Fun's Not Over - James Phillips & The Lurchers
- Johnny Cool - Illegal Gathering
- Barbed Wire - The Cherry Faced Lurchers
- Welcome To My Car - Bernoldus Niemand
- Rock And Rolls Royce - Corporal Punishment
- Afrika Is Dying - James Phillips
- Willie Smit - Illegal Gathering
- Warsong - James Phillips & The Lurchers
- Detainees - The Cherry Faced Lurchers
- Shot Down - The Cherry Faced Lurchers
- Brain Damage - Corporal Punishment
- Do The Lurch - The Cherry Faced Lurchers
- Money - James Phillips & The Lurchers
- Darkie - Corporal Punishment
- Where Will You Be? - James Phillips
- Tabane - James Phillips & The Lurchers
- James Phillips: vocals, guitar, piano
- Lee Edwards: bass
- Paul Hanmer: piano
- Willem Möller: guitar
- Gavin Minter: sax
- Bruce Cassidy: Trumpet
- Wendy Oldfield, Gloria Bosman & Jenny de Lenta: vocals
- Lloyd Ross: bass, guitar
- Ian Herman: drums
- Rick van Heerden: sax
- Carl Raubenheimer: bass
- Steve Howells: drums
- Mark Bennett: keyboards
- Richard Frost: drums
- David Ledbetter: bass
- Wayne Raath: drums
- Herbie Parkin: bass
- Henry Jantzen: drums
- Lloyd Martin: drums
1995, Tic... Tic... Bang!, BANG CD 011
James Phillips is a bit of a maddening performer. Just when I think, "This song sounds like the one before it," is exactly when he goes off in a different direction. It's not as if reggae numbers are followed by a country tune, but more a matter of style or content changes. All of the songs rock, except for the dark and quiet 'Afrika Is Dying', but he does change direction a few times.
For example, the rockin' 'Rock and Rolls Royce' with the refrain, "I don't want that factory sound", is followed by the stark, ultra-serious piano and vocals of 'Afrika's Dying', which is followed by a satirical spoken bit on conscription that introduces 'Willie Smit'. I enjoy it, but the sequence is quirky.
Part of this maddening aspect is that the 21 tracks on this career retrospective are un-chronological. The sequencing does engage the interest and keep one involved, though.
The songs are culled from his many bands and phases: Corporal Punishment, The Cherry-Faced Lurchers, James Phillips and the Lurchers, Illegal Gathering, Bernoldus Niemand, and just James Phillips. Through all the bands, James Phillips is primarily a rocker.
Phillips adopted personae, too. That is, he put on various faces much as the Beatles sometimes pretended to be made-up rockers (John playing as Johnny Moondog, for instance, instead of as John Lennon). Phillips's Bernoldus Niemand personality sounds interesting, like a voice from no one, or from the people. Sometimes Phillips even sounds like Randy Newman, then he's back to solidly James Phillips.
Most of 'Made In South Africa' was written by James Phillips, a few songs are co-written with Carl Raubenheimer, who wrote a couple alone, and one song is written by that talented Rat Jonathan Handley. Whether playing a bar band sound, piano rock, or straight ahead rock, the musicians rock seamlessly together.
Among the many musicians on this CD are Bruce Cassidy, Paul Hanmer (yes, the jazz pianist), and Willem Moller. On one track, Wendy Oldfield takes a turn on some vocals, and Gloria Bosman does the same on another track.
Most often, Phillips sings what I sometimes call Real Songs -- a taste and term I acquired in the Sixties from listening to music addressing social issues. I used to figure that if I understood a song then it was probably a love song, and if I didn't understand a song it was probably about drugs. Phillips's songs aren't often about love, but if I don't understand them it's not because they're about drugs, it's because they are about a country and culture I'm learning about. This is, after all, 'Made In South Africa', not 'Ooh, Ooh, I Love You, Susie.'
Phillips's Real Songs on 'Made In South Africa' are full of South Africa references. He's not talking about the plastic disc, jewel case, and liner notes in the title. He loved South Africa and felt real pain about events and issues in his country.
The social issues Phillips deals with are Apartheid, civil liberties, conscription, and racism -- issues the US has also had dissension over. (For example, 'Darkie' speaks of white paranoia, a sensation not unknown in the States during our own period of Apartheid). As a result, some songs are perhaps too real, not easy to listen to comfortably.
Phillips felt passionately about these issues. In the liner notes, Andrew Donaldson quotes Shaun de Waal of the 'Mail & Guardian': "In the Emergency years of the mid-1980s, the Lurchers were the cornerstone of an alternative musical renaissance that provided a voice and a sense of community for many...."
Minstrels often provide a voice for people, or put feelings into words. Phillips comes across as a modern troubadour in this sense, perhaps as influential on other musicians as on his audiences.
Quite a bit of James Phillips's personality seems to come through in these songs. Right or wrong, I sense a talented, probably charismatic, intelligent, at times abrasive man, one quick and enthusiastic to follow his interests and ideas, one with a strong ego (and that's not a bad thing for an artist -- unless you're Brenda Fassie). There is a hyper, always-active feel to these songs, even if Phillips wasn't hyper in daily life.
I'm usually satisfied with a greatest hits package of mainstream bands, such as The Eagles. Not so with James. There's more to him than a representative CD can get across, and that's why I'm going to buy his 'Sunny Skies' CD with my next One World order. Oops, out of print. Then 'Wie is Bernoldus Niemand?' Nope, out of print, too. Maddening. Okay, then: 'Soul Ou' -- that one is available.
But Phillips was not what I'd call a mainstream, over-produced, homogenized performer. I don't claim to get all of the cultural references in his songs, but his audience was South Africa, not Texas.
For example, I feel there's more to 'Toasted Take Aways' than I'm getting, but there's always the beat and guitar to fall back on. In a satisfying number of songs James sings with his own honest South African accent, and uses other SA accents. He certainly wasn't singing about being mellow or takin' it easy.
The musician who suggested James Phillips to me suggested this CD first. But 'Made in South Africa' whets my appetite and piques my curiosity for more of this brash, outspoken, complicated, and prolific performer. I'll come back to this maddening, diverse work often because it has lyrical depth, is intrinsically, even fiercely, South African, and it rocks.
-- Kurt Shoemaker, Blanco, Texas, July 2001
South Africa's Rock Classics
South Africa's Rock Legends