Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Mountain Records - The Artists

The Artists

Cape Town July 2012 (since updated) - 

The music of the artists released on the label over the 32 year history spans a wide repertoire base, but most the music released on this label came from artists based in the Cape.  

The first signing by the label was a singer-songwriter, Dave Nissen. David Nissen was a David Bowie-esque figure with a folk/pop repertoire and an image to go with it. The first single, Falling in Love was a catchy and musically well performed song, sung in his dramatic style. The idea was that Dave would be doing an album and as money became available the artist went into the studio with Patrick Lee-Thorp and worked on the songs.

The signing of the label's second artist distracted our attention and things got delayed on Nissen's recordings. The studio had the habit of re-using the 2-inch recording tape and without asking the label studio engineer Gerry Barnard erased the work on Nissen's album before we managed to get to completing it.

This was not a very auspicious start.
The second signing was, David Kramer - Legal name, David Julian Kramer. His first 6 albums and accompanying seven singles were issued on the label, and produced jointly by Lee-Thorp and Kramer. All of the albums and several of the singles reached Gold or Platinum status.

Label owner Lee-Thorp had heard about singer-songwriter, David Kramer but only decided to sign him to the label after a show at a folk festival in Mynardville, Cape Town. Kramer was not a professional musician at the time and had no recordings to his credit.

Kramer and Mountain 's first platinum album. The Story of Blokkies Joubert.
Pic (c) Songwrights Publishers

Kramer is best remembered for the songs Hak Hom Blokkies and Royal Hotel, both of which appeared on the EP pictured above. The Mountain team together with musicians, concertina player, Eddie Wilkinson, bass player, Phil Smiedt, and others and the promo people at EMI turned these releases into the biggest SA crossover (English/Afrikaans) hits of all time.

When the artist and the label parted ways, Kramer was a household name in the entertainment scene in South Africa and Mountain Records was well and truly on the map in the record business. Only at this point did Lee-Thorp license the Kramer productions to EMI, who then re-issued them on their label.

To be continued ......
Jonathan Butler - Born, Jonathan Kenneth Butler was a child star signed to the hit making machine of Clive Calder Productions. Jonathan's big hit, Please Stay, was perhaps remembered more than the boy who sang it. When Patrick Lee-Thorp signed him, securing a release from CCPs, Peter Snyman, also his de facto manager, Jonathan was considered a bit of a problem for his original label. This was all prior to Patrick starting Mountain Records as the label.

His new manager had arranged for him to join the group, Pacific Express, also managed and produced by Lee-Thorp and arranged for Jonathan to record with the band on their third and somewhat jazzy, album entitled Expressions. The band had lost their main composer with the departure of Chris Schilder and lead guitarist, Issy Ariefdien, so Butler slotted in pretty easily filling both rolls and doing a lot of the lead vocals for the group. The album was co-produced with Tully McCully, the successful artist/engineer/producer at his Spaced Out Sound Studios in Cape Town.

In an attempt to get a wider market for Pacific Express, Lee-Thorp and some of the group, met up with Calder in his new location in London to try and interest him in releasing the album. He recalls Calder being interested and surprised at Butler's contribution to the record but turned down an involvement with the band and Butler.

Left to right - Jack Momple, Paul Abrahams and Jonathan Butler in London circa 1979. 
(c) Songwrights Publishers .

Back in SA Lee-Thorp saw that Butler was brimming over with talent that was making its presence felt in both negative and positive ways. We put Jonathan in the studio and produced a seven single, Put my Love Away and were surprised when Jonathan wanted to play all the instruments except the saxophone, played by Robbie Jansen, on the sessions. The record was Jonathan's first released on Mountain Records.

Lee-Thorp sent Pacific Express to Johannesburg for a club residency. The milieu had good and bad sides. On the positive side it aroused the interest of respected producer, Hendrik Koloi Lebona, in working with the group but with Butler as the act. They went into the studio with Jack Momple on drums, Tony Cedras on keyboards, Paul Abrahams on bass plus several supporting players and singers, and Jonathan on guitar - mostly acoustic guitar. The ensuing album with title track 7th Avenue, later became an album release on Mountain Records and in a way part of Jonathan's ticket to international recognition.

The new album was sent to Clive Calder in London again, followed by meeting with Lee-Thorp and after chasing Calder to New York for a breakfast meeting at the local diner on the east side, Calder indicated that he would take on the artist, for the second time in Butler's career. But nothing was signed.

On his return to SA Patrick Lee-Thorp met with Jonathan Butler where Jonathan promptly informed him that he was going to be a gospel artist and was not leaving South Africa. But Lee-Thorp had other plans and offered Jonathan the chance to do a gospel album for Mountain while he worked on the deal. The result was a collection called Crossroads where Jonathan played more than half of the instruments on the album. This was a title that reflected the gospel content as much as the state of his career, but it also gave birth to a track called Jesus is alive in Africa, a mix of which without vocals, was stylistically similar to 7th Avenue was named Crossroads. Although he did not know it Lee-Thorp had the first two Cape Jazz tracks to appear on Mountain, in his hands.

We also put Jonathan into the studio to do his first production job, namely producing the Tony Schilder album, Introducing Tony Schilder, with engineer Manlio Celotti. A second project where Jonathan worked with another of Lee-Thorp's artists by the name of Lesley Rae Dowling was also put together to get him familiar with the production side of things before his pending launch into the big league. Butler and Dowling co-wrote several songs and Jonathan worked with engineer Kevin Shirley on an album called, When the Night Comes. This killed a bit of time while we worked on Jonathan's deal with Zomba.

Armed with Crossroads and 7th Avenue albums Lee-Thorp again flew to the UK to "put the deal in the bag". Jonathan meanwhile went on a gospel tour of the Cape. Clive put his partner, Ralph Simon on the case and together with legal affairs man at Jive/Zomba, Paul Katz, a publishing and recording deal was hammered out with Lee-Thorp. The deal involved Mountain giving up certain publishing rights and re-recording restrictions but he returned to Cape Town with a signed contract which Jonathan duly inked. A few months later Jonathan was in a New York studio with the cream of the US east coast jazz session players, under the production of Barry Eastmond.

...... to be continued.

Robin Auld - Robin Morton Auld - Robin is a singer-songwriter who started out in the late 1970s, doing the Cape Town pub circuit solo and with other musicians including Steve Walsh. Patrick Lee-Thorp heard the duo when they did an impromptu audition at his offices. He remembers being very impressed with the duo, who did a rendition of Marley's, No woman no cry in a Taj Mahal style. However he did not sign the act (though we released a couple of tracks by Steve Walsh on the label). Auld later had his debut release with WEA record company in Johannesburg.

Robin Auld circa 1993, London dockyards, Photoshoot for the Love Kills album sleeve. (c) Songwrights Publishers

Producer, Kevin Shirley brought the masters of a follow-up EP now under the name Robin Auld and Z-Astair, to the Mountain label offices. We were impressed with song writing, performance and production and put the  record out. It was however the follow-up single, Baby you been good, that was made into a hit. Shirley heard the strong melody of the song - which started life a Smoking Ganja - and asked Robin to do a re-write.  The All of woman single was to follow this and became Robin's big hit. Two albums, Ocean Motion which included the hit singles, and Live in Cape Town, were to follow on the label.

Robin moved to London shortly after the release of the live album and went back to his solo career. In 1993 he agreed a deal with Patrick, now based in Germany, to release a new album. The record, entitled Love Kills was a mixture of re-recordings of songs done for other labels and new songs. It was produced by Murray Anderson (the former keyboard player of Z-Astaire) and Robin but was not issued on the Mountain label, choosing rather Tin Can Discs, a rock label owned by Lee-Thorp's new German firm.

Amampondo - Mzikanthu Plaatjie (leader) - Known as Dizu Plaatjies.

As a group of street buskers, Amampondo performed in the street in Greenmarket Square, in front of our offices. They were not to be released on the Mountain label until a few years later when Mountian and GSE Claremont Records collaborated under the name Mountclare. The group's first manager, Bruce Gordon, did consult Lee-Thorp on management and record release matters though.

The bands first studio album, An Image of Africa - also later becoming a DVD, was the groups biggest hit. Produced by Lee-Thorp and Donald Graham of GSE, Image started a long association between the labels, resulting in re-issuing of live recordings of Amampondo made by Donald, Feel the Pulse of Africa and Uyandibiza on CD, and the bands second studio album Inyama, under the joint marquee.

What we later identified as money troubles and squabbling between two factions in the group resulted in the players splitting off into two bands.

Dizu Plaatjies, circa 2004. (c) Songwrights Publishers

As a solo act Plaatjie - going under the name, Dizu Plaatjies and The Dizu Plaatjies Ibuyambo Ensemble, Dizu made two albums for Mountain. The first entitled Ibuyambo - A musical Journey through Sub-Saharan Africa and the second, African Kings, which was awarded a SAMA Award for best alternative African album released in 2005.

Actually Plaatjies has had a long and fruitful relationship with label boss Patrick Lee-Thorp. Patrick acted (and continues to) as manager for Dizu and his Ibuyambo Ensemble, for many years. It is one of the principles of the label to get involved in the management of the artist particularly with specialist artist such as Dizu whose record releases are as much a part of his career development and marketing as a performer as they are financial investments in the business of record sales.

Today Dizu is possibly the most respected and certainly, internationally, the most widely know South African world music act. He has performed in Japan, SE Asia, Middel East, Eastern and Western Europe, USA and Canada and in many different African countries in his 30 year career.

Dizu Plaatjies (Second from left)  and band, live in Paris in 2009. (c) Songwrights Publishers

Dizu has also collaborated with numerous recording artists not on the Mountain label. These include folk musicians to electro dance acts, though his own solo recordings remain traditional or neo-traditional works.

to be continued ....

Coenie de Villiers - Coenraad Gruber de Villiers. Known as Coenie was introduced to Mountain by David Kramer who had toured in a show that Coenie also appeared in. Coenie drove down to Cape Town from Bloemfontein, where he was based, and after a short audition in the studio Patrick Lee-Thorp decided to sign him. What caught his ear were Coenie's special command of Afrikaans lyrics and his strong linked piano and vocal style. He was also impressed with the artistic vision the artist had for his career. Coenie, who had a classical music background, was given a great deal of freedom in co-producing and even designing the sleeves for his records.

Coenie de Villiers, circa 2005 (c) Songwrights Publishers

Coenie would go on to record 6 albums for Mountain and to win many awards for these. His signature song, Karoonag formed the theme for a compilation of his work on Mountain under the title, Karoonagte and this was his most successful release, still selling 25 years after first issue.

His debut release Skoppensboer, set the tone for all of the de Villiers productions to follow for Mountain. Lee-Thorp was looking for a "hand made" feeling. Coenie rehearsed a rhythm section back in Bloemfontein and brought them to the mother city. Star sound engineer, Kevin Shirley, was paying his dues as a rookie but nevertheless showed his talent behind the desk on the album. There was very little programming and many label mates were called in to contribute with "real playing". These included, Jonathan Butler, David Kramer and Steve Newman.

The follow-up releases were, Die Reisiger, Crossroads,  Amper Alleen and Hartland.

One of the most interesting productions was done while Coenie was living in Cyprus in 1989 / 90. He pulled together a folky Greek ensemble from players doing the nightclub circuit. Rhythm tracks were recorded in Nicosia in a small studio, fuelled by Turkish coffees ordered from the local cafe. It was the first production for Lee-Thorp which was completely digitally recorded and for this a portable recorder was brought to the island. This however enabled Coenie and him to move on to Athens to finish the album where the vocal tracks and mix was done. The result was Amper Alleen (translated Almost Alone) , which reflected Coenie's isolation from his homeland and the nature of the recording, with Coenie doing most of the overdubs in the Athens studio himself.

.. to be continued

Robbie Jansen - Robert Edward Jansen - Robbie was a singer and brass player for the group Pacific Express when Lee-Thorp met him and they worked together on the album Black Fire by the group. This was not release on Mountain but rather licensed as part of the EMI label group. Lee-Thorp was also present at the session for Dollar Brand's Manenberg where Robbie and others later linked to the label played, and made a mental note to try and work with Robbie, which he did on a Jonathan Butler recording a short while later.

Robbie, Jack Momple and Kader Khan approached Mountain with the idea of recording an album and this was completed after a long recording process with production contributions from Tully McCully and released on the sister label, Sea Records. Lee-Thorp and Jansen hit it off well and he could see in Jansen a cultural activist as well as a jazz man. The debut album, Vastrap Island was actually a ground breaking release and was one of the early defining Cape Jazz records.

Robbie Jansen (far right) , with the Sons of Table Mountain at his record launch circa 2006. Pic Kurt Ackerman, 
(c) Songwrights Publishers

Jansen was to make two other albums for the Mountain, The Cape Doctor and Nomad Jez. He died of a respiratory complication in 2010 before realising his dream of international recognition as a live performer.

Patrick Lee-Thorp said of Robbie, " He was a truly amazing artiste. His excellence was in his ability to read the situation musically in a second. He was a wonderful saxophone player, and vocal stylist and arranger of extraordinary ability. Add to this his feeling for his cultural roots in the peoples of the shores of Cape Town, before the settlers arrived, and the way he spiritually incorporated this into his life and playing, the result is for me overwhelming. He simply lived too fast for those of us around him. " be continued
Zayn Adams and Pacific Express - Moeghamad Zayn AdamZayn was the lead singer and percussionist of Pacific Express. A solo star on the stage in this own right, he joined Pacific Express in about 1975 shortly before they began recording under the bands name.

Pacific Express were a jazz-rock band in the mould of Blood Sweat and Tears and later Earth Wind and Fire. Their live repertoire was mostly covers of American songs and Zayn was perfect for the job, particularly the ballads.

Pacific Express circa 1978,  LtoR, Issy Ariefdien, Chris Schilder, Jack Momple, Paul Abrahams, Vic Higgins, Paddy Lee-Thorp (manager), Zayn Adams. (c) Songwrights Publishers

However their original material was more jazzy and funky than the commercial material required for the clubs. Odly enough their first hit single, Give a Little Love, was a R'nB Ballad penned by keyboard player, Chris Schilder. Although many of their recordings were co-produced by Lee-Thorp, the actual band material did not appear on the Mountain label. Zayn's solo recordings did.

Zayn's biggest success on Mountain was the track, You Gotta Live, penned and produced by Tully McCully. Tully went on to produce more tracks for Zayn making the albums, Love is a Poison and  The Voice. Tully, together with producer/arranger, Murray Anderson (formally of Z-Astaire) also completed a soul tribute album for Zayn, entitled, Soul Spirit.


Basil Coetzee - Basil Mervyn Coetzee . Basil was one of the brass players in Pacific Express. His main instrument was tenor sax and he played flute as well. He was also part of Dollar Brand's (1) band that toured the university circuit in 1975 at the end of which Dollar's seminal Cape Jazz song, Manenberg was recorded. He got the nickname Basil "Mannenberg" from Dollar because of his contribution to that recording.

A number of years later Basil, Robbie Jansen, Paul Abrahams and Jack Momple approached the label with a project they called Sabenza. An album of the same name was completed, recorded by Kevin Shirley. The album, marketed as Basil, "Mannenberg" Coetzee's Sabenza, was a regional hit in Cape Town particularly because of the danceable jazz content. It was also an early indicator for a new repertoire direction for Mountain Records.

The songs on the 6 track album were contributed by different band members. Pianist Michael Martin brought the melody of CT Blues and Basil turned it into what has become a Cape Jazz standard. Basil's own Song for Winnie (which evenyone at the time thought was written for Winnie Mandela, was in fact a dedication to township saxman, Winston Mankunku, a fact only disclosed by Basil several years later,) gave Robbie space to work his magic on the sax section playing. Basil added a Dollar Brand composition, Mama, which almost did not make it onto an already short album due to rights clearances delays.

(c) Songwrights Publishers

The sleeve was a classic photo design favoured by the label, featuring Basil and bass player, Paul Abrahams and the car of the young graphic designer, Bruce MacMillan, a neighbour of Patrick's in Observatory, Cape Town, who would go on to design other sleeves for the label.

Basil Coetzee at his last photo shoot. (c) Songwrights Publishers.

Basil was a performer with a committed socio-political agenda. He was also realistic about the SA music business and his expectations were measured. He again approached the label to record a second album. Basil would record ultimately three albums for Mountain, Sabenza,  Monwabisi (with Paul Abrahams) and B (with Errol Dyers).

The Monwabisi project started well but was left somewhat in the air by Basil and Patrick had to pull in some session players to try and complete the tracks. Some tracks were just not far enough developed to use. Notable was the wonderful Basil Coetzee composition, Umlazi, which Patrick wanted Robbie Jansen to play on but Basil did not like the idea. As a result the track did not make the album and was only finished later when Robbie put on the alto sax harmonies that it so badly needed, becoming one of the gems on the Cape Jazz compilation.

Basil and Robbie had an uncanny ability to read each other's playing literally as things were being created. They knew each other's style so well that they could play a piece in perfect sync after only one listening.

Patrick commented, "The making of Monwabisi (2) was somewhat stressful because of the artist's temperament and him having distanced himself from the most of the Sabenza line-up for personal rather than professional reasons, though this was never clearly stated. And I was also left without an engineer part of the time, because of personnel changes at the studio, during the recordings and had to take care of that side of it myself for some of the sessions. Basil would come to the studio and then disappear onto the roof for a smoke while the studio clock ticked. Those were strange times".

Despite this Monwabisi had some real high points. His call to exiled musicians who were overseas to Come on home, and his Song of David had references to Basil's strong Christian roots. At one point in the process of the production he asked Patrick to pay his royalties to his church, later changing this request.

During the sessions Patrick had brought a penny whistle to the studio and asked Basil to play it, having told Patrick that it was his first instrument, learned in his days growing up in District Six. The result was a short piece improvised by Basil and guitarist James Kibby that was put on the disc. Pianist Paula Goldstone made a substantial contribution to the songs she played on though it was never clear how much joint arrangement and composition there was with Basil. Bass player Paul Abrahams' contribution to the project was central, being the only player other than Basil, to feature on all ensemble tracks. Many of the songs were part of their duo repertoire that Basil and Paul presented live, simply the two of them.

The third album, B was an altogether different scenario, which in the view of the label, was his best work. Though retrospective in subject matter, it was at the same time contemporary. B was released in Germany and only imported back to South Africa sadly only after the artist's death. The mixing process being delayed by Patrick now being based outside South Africa. Basil could only work in short spells on the recordings. Unknown to the label, he was suffering from lung cancer. The compositions were well prepared and some arranged with a modern funky approach. This time Basil was prepared to use different session players suggested by us.

Essentially B was a project between Basil and Errol Dyers, though Errol only got to contribute 2 songs. Like his duo with Paul Abrahams, Errol and Basil toured together. There were no low points in the album. Basil's tribute to the cult band, Spirits Rejoice, was a fine 10 minutes of 1970's style jazz. The funky, Liberation, featuring Paul Abrahams was an update on their Pacific Express days together.

The pattern of first releasing in Europe, where the CDs were manufactured, became a trend for the label which had started with Amampondo's Inyama album. Basil's albums were also licensed for release in the UK and USA.

Basil was one of the acts that we as a label had little to do with when it came to live shows. We promoted the releases and the artists in the media. He would be very spontaneous in his planning simply telephoning Errol a day or so before they left for a tour and he never made difficult demands of the promoters so often characteristic of touring artists. We supported where requested, specially on the upsetting dealings with the political committees vetting the bona fides of South African players wishing to tour internationally.


Jean Bosco circa 1988

Jean Bosco Mwenda - Mwenda wa Bayeke. Lubumbashi based, Bosco, as he was known was a star in East Africa, when he came to perform in Cape Town. Lee-Thorp had the good fortune to meet up with him and get him to the studio to record several of his best songs, with just guitar and vocals.

The idea was to flesh out the production with local session players but the tracks in their sparse form had a great deal of charm so the record, entitled Mwenda wa Bayeke - African guitar Legend, was released as it was recorded. It was first issued by Mountain in Germany and licensed to Rounder Records in the USA.

Bosco who was the father of the Shaba finger picking guitar sound, died in a car crash in 1990.


Morris Goldberg  - Morris worked with Lee-Thorp in 1975 when the New York based artist toured SA with the Urban Jazz  Band project. The band Morris toured with included, Cecil Ricca on drums, David Bravo on keyboards and Marc Duby on bass. The group recorded some of their repertoire following the tour but sadly not for Mountain Records, a fact noted by Patrick Lee-Thorp at the time. He said he began to see the need for a Cape based record label following the UJB tour.

Morris was born in Cape Town growing up in Observatory. This alto sax player had worked with many of the jazz local jazz musicians in the 1960s before heading to the USA to study. He had recorded a number of his own records released by different labels and was notably one of the 3 sax players on the Dollar Brand Manenberg recording. He understood Cape music.

Morris Goldberg and Patrick Lee-Thorp, 2012. Pic Glen Robertson

On one of his visits home he performed at the Baxter Theatre with Tony Schilder, Cecil Ricca, Gary Kriel, Merton Barrow and others. The young engineer, Kevin Shirley recorded the show live and this time for Mountain, who issued a double LP entitled Jazz in Transit,  later re-issued under the same name, becoming a CD of most of the tracks taken from the original release.

Morris went on to work with many exiled South African performers live and on record, in New York. He also recorded with Paul Simon on the Graceland album.


Tony Schilder - Anthony Schilder, comes from the talented Schilder musical family.  As band leader performing in the nightclubs of the city he hosted hundreds of local soloists. Tony was a piano player in the old jazz school style of the 1940s and 50s, but he was also acutely aware of the rhythms and melodies of the Cape.

Tony Schilder (c) Songwrights Publishers

For his debut album we put Tony onto the studio with engineer Manlio Celotti and young guitarist, Jonathan Butler (acting as musical producer) and he came up with the album, Introducing Tony Schilder. Actually Tony had been performing for 15 years professionally but he got on with Lee-Thorp who managed to twist his arm to record for Mountain. The album was a regional hit, displaying Tony's compositional and arrangement talents. Initially issued on vinyl only, the album was re-issued as Trio with most of the repertoire from the vinyl release (but not all due to a deterioration of the master) plus a couple of new tracks.

Tony was always well dressed and polite. For many years he played solo piano in the smartest hotels in the country, and this earned him the nickname around South Africa - the Gentleman of Jazz.

In about 2004 Tony went into the studio to make his second album for Mountain entitled, B Positive (B+), also his blood group. This time produced by Lee-Thorp and featuring Tony's son Hilton, Ivan Bell , Robbie Jansen, Gary Kriel, Ian Smith, Sammy Weber, and others.


Hilton Schilder - The son of bandleader Tony, began banging drums on the kit of his Dad's drummer, Monty Weber, at an early age and became pretty good at it. But like his father Hilton was destined to be a keyboard player. Having survived a shipwreck off the Cape coast, where he was resident drummer for the cruise, her turned to the keyboards - synths and handheld  - as well as the piano.

Hilton record a lot for Mountain but mostly in other peoples bands. He also wrote a fair amount of material for other artists. Perhaps the most influential collaboration was with Robbie Jansen. After contributing to two Jansen albums it was Hilton's turn to do a solo album for Mountain. Entitled No Turing Back, it feature Robbie on a number of tracks. Hilton was at this stage not precious about the production and agreed to a lot of suggestions and edits made by producer Patrick Lee-Thorp.

Here the original sleeve artwork depicting him as a "bad boy". The front was changed for the European release.

The album which was also is solo recording debut was well received by the critics and garnered an SAMA Award nomination in the best Jazz Album category.

Hilton was to record more for Mountain including another Robbie Jansen album and tracks for the Cape Jazz 3 compilation.


(1) Dollar Brand = Abdullah Ebrahim. At the time he was known as Dollar.
(2) The name of a beach spot near Basil's home in Mitchell's Plain, designated by the racist government at the time as being for Coloured people only 

Not final text - To be continued.

(c) Songwrights Publishers 2012

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