12th November 2020
Today’s mini-feature tells the story of what I once thought of as a South African band, but on researching found that they had roots stretching back to the early 60s to Britain. I’m talking about Ballyhoo and their success in South Africa is only a part of their fascinating history.
Before I go any further I must acknowledge Nick Warburton’s detailed article he wrote for freshmusic.co.za in 2010. Had I not have stumbled across the article during what was proving to be a frustrating exercise, I would have probably chosen a different musician, but finding this piece was pure gold. I warn you that this is probably the lengthiest mini-feature I’ve compiled, but well worth the read.
To tell the story of Ballyhoo is to tell the tale of a ‘60s band named Hedgehoppers Anonymous, a name that South African music lovers of a certain age may remember. The link between them and Ballyhoo is thin but inseparable, as you’ll see.
Hedgehoppers Anonymous had so many line-up changes over the years that I am not going to mention them. A name to remember for the sake of this feature is Mick Tinsley (lead vocals) and Mick Matthews (not a founder member). In 1963 all of the founder members were serving as RAF ground crew and the Hedgehoppers name was a direct reference to the slang for low-flying planes.
The band’s only claim to fame was a tongue-in-cheek protest song that was used on the 1962/3 BBC TV satirical news review called ‘That Was The Week That Was’ (TW3). I remember both the TV Show and the song being performed live. I even remember my Dad singing it when the news came on the TV sometimes. In a way, this little bit of info made this research a bit personal for me. Although the single was only released in 1965 and became a Top 5 hit, none of their follow-up singles managed to make an impression and it seemed that by the end of the Summer of Love the band were destined to remain a one-hit-wonder.
RAF commitments and decreasing popularity saw the band members dwindle and they played a swansong tour of Sweden in 1967. Nobody expected Hedgehopper’s Anonymous to reappear in a new guise the next year, but we’ll pick that up in part 2. I’ve decided to start today with that first hit song from my far distant childhood, It’s Good News Week.
The drummer of Hedgehoppers Anonymous, Glen Martin joined Sandi Shaw’s backing band and invited Mick Tinsley to join them. He did and, as the person who founded the band, brought the name Hedgehopper’s Anonymous with him. They played behind Sandi Shaw as The Slipstreams and gigged privately under the Hedgehopper’s Anonymous name to supplement their income.
There was some confusion as to the legality of the use of the Hedgehoppers name and Roger Kaye (sax player and one of the many musos in the ever-changing line-up) revealed that it had never been his to take and there were some legal battles looming. We’ll never know if Kaye was correct as he passed away in the late 90s, but did leave three musical sons, one of which being Robbie Williams.
The inclusion of Mick Matthews to the ‘Slipstream / Hedgehoppers lineup proved a turning point in the band’s history. When Decca South Africa re-released ‘Don’t Push Me’ in 1969 it promoted a flurry of interest. The song had been a South African hit three years previously and the re-release called for the band to appear live to help promote it. The clinching deal for the band was a three-month residency at Durban’s famed nightspot, Tiles.
Prior commitments saw the band arrive in South Africa as a quartet of Phil Tunstall, Mick Matthews, Colin Turner and Bill Honeyman. The four were amazed to be treated like rock royalty and far away from legal battles and the Northern English club circuit they forged a new musical identity.
Over the next 15 months the quartet established a solid following among South African audiences, extending their stay at Tiles until August 1969 and then moving to Johannesburg to hold down a residency at the 19th Level nightclub and the Underground club below the Hotel Continental. By early 1970 the band had enough original material to record two singles and signed to the Highveld label as Hedgehoppers Anonymous.
They recorded a new Matthews’s composition – “Mary Mary” backed by a beat version of Eric Morris’s “Humpty Dumpty”, which blended a Kwela sound. At the same session, Hedgehoppers Anonymous cut the Matthews-Tunstall-Turner collaboration, “The Man Upstairs”. With the single readied for release and a full list of bookings set up, the future looked bright. Then tragedy struck.
On the eve of Hedgehoppers Anonymous’ appearance at South Africa’s “Woodstock”, a stadium rock extravaganza held at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium to mark Republic Day on Monday, 31 May 1970, Phil Tunstall was killed in a road accident. Devastated by the loss, the remaining members had no choice but to put their immediate plans on hold and return to the UK to reassess their futures.
The band’s single ‘Mary Mary’ and ‘The Man Upstairs’ was released in 1970 and peaked at #15 on the local charts. Again, there was a demand for a live band to promote the album which proved a problem with none of the remaining band members in the country.
They were convinced to return to South Africa in 1971 with Alan Dutton replacing Tinsley on vocals. They headed for the studios to record “A Song For Pete”, written in tribute to English ex-pat guitarist Pete Clifford of The Bats, and ‘Here’s to Morning’. Two months later, Hedgehoppers opened Samantha’s, a new nightclub in Johannesburg and while there Gibson negotiated an album deal with CBS Records, which enabled the band to record Hey!, with Avon on vocals.
Before continuing with the Ballyhoo/Hedgehoppers saga here’s that super-smooth hit ‘Hey’. 😎
Finally, it looked like Hedgehoppers would achieve the success they deserved. Unfortunately, Avon had only agreed to complete the band’s six-month contract (which had not anticipated the recording of an album), and after sessions were wrapped up for Hey! Avon participated in a nationwide tour before heading back to the UK where he had a newly born baby waiting for him.
This departure saw Andy Ioannides take the place as lead vocalist during a three month residency in (what was then) Salisbury in Rhodesia, but the fans weren’t convinced. Ioannides was a brilliant singer but he could never match Avon’s soulful voice and that was what listeners were expecting after listening to Hey!
The pressure was on to record new material that could sustain the recent chart successes. They included the exceptional talents of keyboard/vocalist Rupert Mellor into the lineup and while playing a return residency in Samantha’s (Jhb) the band recorded three singles with Mick Matthews on vocals. They failed to chart and the band started to unravel. Tragedy struck yet again when the last remaining founder member, Bill Honeyman, died in a car accident and signaled the official end of The Hedgehoppers.
You may be wondering where Ballyhoo comes into this saga. It was thanks to the man who had guided the group and seen it through most of its life, Mick Matthews, who returned to South Africa in 1974 and formed the rock band, Ballyhoo.
The original lineup consisted of Derrick Dryan on vocals, Attie Van Wyk (keyboards), Mick Matthews (guitar / vocals), Fergie Ferguson (bass / vocals) and Cedric Samson (drums). There are all names that will ring a lot of bells among lovers of local music from the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Ballyhoo released four studio albums between 1976 and 1982 and a live album in 1989 and toured extensively through Africa, Europe and Aisia at various festivals, functions and corporate events. They are still active as a three-piece with Derrick Dryan and Fergie Ferguson being joined by Ashley Brokensha.
I’m closing today’s rather lengthy mini-feature with an obvious choice, the song that spent 19 weeks on our charts in 1981, Man on the Moon. Thanks for joining me on a fascinating journey into the convoluted past of one of South Africa’s top pop bands. 😎
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