4th October 2020
It’s time to go local again today with a band from the ‘90s that you’re bound to remember, Urban Creep. When Durban boys Brendan Jury, Chris Letcher, Ross Campbell and Didier Nobila formed in 1993 I doubt if they realised the impact they would make on local music.
After touring around the country living in their Ford V6 bakkie they were ready to lay down their 1995 debut album, ‘Sea Level’ at Lloyd Ross’s ‘Shifty Records’ studios. The fifteen tracks were a journey from their beloved Durban through the Karoo wilderness to the R&B of the Johannesburg scene, with a good dollop of Goema and township jive, compliments of the Cape Flats.
In the words of well-known musician and critic Dave Marks: “Chris Letcher’s finger-picking acoustic & electric guitar style, unique vocals & songwriting abilities combined with the classical & maskanda strains of Brendan Jury’s violin, keyboards & rock vocals, made the Creeps the urban legend & sensation they were”.
The ‘Sea Level’ album was SAMA nominated as Rock Album of the year in 1995 with the title single reaching #1 on the 5FM top 40 in 1995, and I can’t think of a better song to start with. 😎
Urban Creep became stalwarts of the local festival circuit with Brendan Jury and Chris Letcher being awesome frontmen. Letcher’s almost awkward stage presence was the perfect counterpoint for Jury’s huge theatrical flourishes and antics with his viola. Ross Campbell and Didier Nobila were old hands at live festival performances having both played the circuit with another seminal local band, Landscape Prayers.
In their few years on the music scene Urban Creep had grown from playing dusty Karoo towns and local haunts across the country to touring with Midnight Oil and undertaking a European tour. They are also noted for inaugurating the Tic Tac Bang independent music distribution and had the honour of opening Durban’s famous BAT Centre.
Their second album, ‘Tightroper’ was released in 1997 and the single release ‘Slow Thighs’ repeated history for them and reached #1 on the 5FM top 40 as their first single ‘Sea Level’ had done. Even with these successes, the life of a touring band with minimal radio support and playing to a limited pool of supporters is inevitably fraught with financial difficulties, which is a part of why the band chose to end their run.
Before exploring further let’s listen to a powerful favourite that shows the band at their serious (and anthem-writing) best, ‘Slow Thighs’.
Urban Creep reunited in 2014 to play at the OppiKoppi 20th Anniversary Festival. Chris Letcher had this to say shortly before the first reunion rehearsal: “Thinking about the material, some of the songs are quite a struggle to take seriously now – age is a big part of that, and I majorly lacked self-awareness in that period. Some of the songs seem like the work of a completely different person, which makes it easier to do them again, and some I feel quite proud of and happy with. It’s about looking that stuff in the eye and taking it for what it is. It will be an interesting experience…”
All but one of the members stayed within the entertainment industry when Urban Creep disbanded. Chris Letcher went on to co-found van der Want and Letcher, complete a PhD in composition at London’s Royal College of Music, write film scores for, amongst others, BBC’s adaptation of DH Lawrence‘s “Women in Love” and the film “Bang Bang Club“. Brendan Jury went on to play with Trans.Sky, Ohm and Arno Carsten‘s “New Porn“, while also creating film and television soundtracks, doing theatre shows and musical direction. Ross Campbell went on to play with Fetish, co-found Benguela, create the Open Record label and play with the likes of Farryl Purkiss and Simon van Gend. Didier Noblia is the only member to have left the industry to become a healing therapist.
Urban Creep helped to show South Africans that our local music was far more potent and pertinent and just as vibrant as anything imported. In the words of Shifty Record’s Lloyd Ross “They made great music – original and with amazing energy. Urban Creep was important for their time and place – and it’s still good music now.”
Thanks for going local with me today. I really wish that Chris, Brendan and the boys had given us more than two albums. I always thought of them as South Africa’s answer to The Waterboys and I miss their great balance of fun with pointed social documentary, all set to a unique sound that could only be South African-born. Here’s ‘Seven Depths of Skin’.
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.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2020