24th October 2020
One of our members requested that I feature some of the local bands from the past, and today seems a very good day to head back to the psychedelic sixties and spend some time with a band that some claim are the best rock band the world never heard, Freedom’s Children.
Where many bands of the early 60s bands played it safe, Ramsay MacKay’s group pushed the boundaries into realms never experienced in South Africa, especially at the height of the apartheid era. I have based today’s mini-feature on the excellent in-depth article covering the history of Freedom’s Children that was published on the Freshmusic website which makes fascinating (if lengthy) reading.
It seems ironic that while many musicians left South Africa to escape apartheid and further their career, Freedom’s Children were in the right place, but at the wrong time when they hit London in 1969. Unlike Manfred Mann who had relocated a few years earlier, Freedom’s Children faced the full brunt of the British anti-apartheid policies of the time and wouldn’t grant the band work permits, possibly because of their skin colour. As I said, irony.
Before we take a brief look at the band’s history and some of its illustrious members over the years, here’s a song from their first album, ‘Battle Hymn of the Broken-Hearted Horde’ which was recorded in 1968 and released in 69. I was 13-year-old when the album came out and well remember the bland fodder that made up the local hit-parade and can attest to the fact that the next song wasn’t on it!
The initial members of Freedom’s Children were members with various bands before finding themselves playing together. They attracted the attention of another local legend Ken E Henson, who was intrigued by the musical ideas of the band and joined them around 1966.
Influenced by Zappa’s Mother’s of Invention, they started holding a series of ‘freak-outs’, live performances using strobe lights, projectors, dry ice, poetry, and all the things not normal for the time. South Africa had never seen anything like it and at the time nobody knew that strobe lights gave people epileptic fits, which proved a problem on occasions. These ‘happenings’ is how the band became notorious. Society, the press, the police and even the Mayor of Durban all tried to suppress what they thought was happening – brainwashing the youth!
Troubadour, the band’s record label, also went against the grain and when local record stations refused to play any of Freedom Children’s music, the label changed the band’s name to ‘Fleadom’s Children’ to get some airplay.
Another top name, Julian Laxton, joined the band as the second guitarist for a while. They relocated from Durban to Johannesburg in ’65 and for a while, Julian joined up with the folk duo Mel Miller, Mel Green as Mel, Mel & Julian before returning to Freedom’s Children.
They played a year-long residency at Johannesburg’s underground 505 Club, one of the biggest gigs around at the time. It was at this time that drugs started to enter the musical landscape and soon cannabis, black-bombs, Purple Hearts and LSD became essential ingredients in creating the band’s music. Ken E Henson left the band and spent some time with Eddie Ecksteen’s ‘The Bats’ before forming is ambitious band, Abstract Truth.
Our second number from Freedom’s Children comes from the ‘Astra’ album. As with most clips from the era, the sound quality is pretty shabby, but the fan-made video carries the message of the song pretty well. Here’s ‘Gentle Beasts’. 😎
Freedom’s Children had their share of problems and drama while trying to establish themselves but managed to pull through them all and release their last album in 1972, ‘Galactic Vibes’.
Critics have called it a many layered album, almost to the point of being cluttered, but this is what makes it interesting – on each listening you hear something more. The roughness of the album is due mainly to the inventive recording methods used. With layers of overdubs and no noise reduction, this method created what the sleeve notes describe as a ‘musical mystical mist of sound’.
Freedom’s Children could be regarded a s ‘Prog Rock’ band, and indeed, they were progressive. The band broke barriers, not only in South Africa’s rather narrow 1970’s rock world, but would have broken through numerous perceived limitations on the world stage, had the world bothered to listen. ‘Galactic Vibes’ is an album that South Africans can be proud of.
Unfortunately, Freedom’s Children split in 1971, but many of the members have gone on to become local legends in their own right. It will take another few mini-features to cover names like Ramsay MacKay, Julian Laxton, and the late Ken E Henson, and I promise to get around to it.
Again, I must acknowledge the Freshmusic website and the excellent article that I used to compile this mini-feature. They always provide superb content covering a wide range of music.
I’m finishing with another track from the third and last album, ‘Galactic Vibes’ and the song ‘Sea Horse’. Thanks for joining me for a trip into the acid-dipped days of the late ‘60s and a band that really should have been bigger.
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do do more than just share a song.
The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.
Words © Andrew Knapp 2020