16th May 2021:
We received the sad news of the passing of Colin Shamley this week. Although Colin’s wasn’t a well known name to many, he was a leading voice during the apartheid years of South African music and well known, particularly on the folk music scene of the 70s.
In those years, one of the best places in Port Elizabeth to hear original music was the Four Winds Folk Club. There was no such thing a Sunday movies or bars open, so there would always be a good turnout to listen to some of the best of our local entertainment. There was also a fair-shake of mediocre musicians (of which I was one) who would lead up to whatever main act had been decided on. It was here I first heard The Silver Creek Mountain Band, a name that some will remember with fondness.
This is where I first heard Colin Shamley who wowed us wide-eyed teens with his songs. So many of us had been kept in the dark as to the extent of what was happening in our country and Colin’s lyrics helped bring home the sad tragedy of the times we were living in.
Today I am featuring songs from Colin’s only full album, Born Guilty. It was the very first album I ever wrote a review about, not for any magazine or newspaper, but purely for myself. The album was released in 1980, the year I moved to Cape Town. Cape Town was the first city I had ever lived in where I could sit in a coffee bar with a person of colour. This might sound odd to some, but unless you lived in South Africa, particularly Port Elizabeth at the time, you have no idea how liberating this freedom was.
I’m starting today’s selection with one of his better-known songs, Colonial Man.
Colin Shamley was just one of the voices that were changing the viewpoint of the young white South Africa. Along with the likes of John Oakley-Smith (sadly murdered in Zimbabwe earlier this year), Paul Clingman, Mike Dickman, Jannie Hofmeyer, Brian Finch, Ken E Henson, and Roger Lucey, they risked their careers to tell their stories.
Just typing these names makes me think of our annual Four Winds Folk Festival. I wish I still had my copies of the limited LP’s that were pressed of the event. All of the above featured prominently.
It was thanks to Dave Marks and his 3rd Ear Music that much of their catalogue is available. I’ll do a feature on Dave Marks one day, his story and the history of South African music will make for fascinating reading. I have told the story of Roger Lucey previously. He was one of the most confrontational and outright political of the group and no radio station of major recording studio would touch him. His performances were once tear-gassed and he left the music industry for quite some time before returning.
I would like to share Roger’s obituary to Colin:
“Colin Shamley was one of the great musical commentators on life, love and politics in South Africa. I first met him at Dave and Franny’s house in High street, Berea, where I was squatting and selling zol to keep body and soul together. Colin was playing at Mangles and the first time I heard him it was a revelation. The skill, the words, the humour and the incisive view of our crazy world. One of my first gigs was opening for him at Mangles and I went down like a fart in a spacesuit to the mainly biker audience. But it didn’t take long to learn a few of the basic rules of the game from Colin, and I was up and running. I played at Mangles for a year before I recorded my first album. Colin recorded his master work ‘Born Guilty’ at about the same time and both albums received critical acclaim but few sales. “Born Guilty” is truly one of the greatest works ever to come out of this country. Colin died this morning after a long illness. Hamba Kahle Maestro.”
I hadn’t heard my second choice for today for some years, and I was transported back to a very different time, bopping around my first Cape Town flat harmonizing to this. Here’s ‘Dancer’.
I last saw Colin Shamley about 15 years ago. He was living on a beautiful farm called Nebo, just outside of Ficksburg in the Eastern Free State. It was the first time we had properly met and we spent a happy few hours reminiscing about the Four Winds Folk Club and the various talents that emerged from these Sunday night gatherings. I am glad that I had the chance to explain why Born Guilty had such an impact on my outlook and had come into my life at exactly the right moment. I am possibly just one of many who feel the same way.
The last part of Colin’s life was dogged with illness, and as sad a loss as his passing is, I am happy that he is out of pain. I’m closing with a very pointed and catchy song – ‘Stopping Time’
Thanks for honouring a local legend with me today. RIP Colin Shamley
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that does more than just share a song.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2021