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Cookie Look &the Rock 'n Roll scene in Durban

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By Brian Milner-Smyth- 27 May 2009


What great memories Allan, Rose, Gwen and Gerald stirred up in the pages about Cookie Look and the Rock 'n Roll scene in Durban.

In response to what Gerald said about "Dunny and the Showmen", I only have a very slight memory of this band. I do not think I ever saw them perform live but Peter Duffield played guitar for another singer at a concert at Northlands Boys High School when I was a student there. Yes, Peter was the son of "Aussie" Ernie Duffield and I remember Peter well because he was the first guy I ever met who owned a real Fender guitar. LUXURY!

My own recollections cover the period from about 1959 to 1967 when I lived in good old Durban. And what great times they were! It is so long ago that I cannot remember enough to put these happenings in chronological order - so I will list the venues in alphabetical order with comments about which artists or bands I saw playing live at each one. Any additions or corrections will be appreciated. Seeing all these bands performing live in Durban inspired me to become a musician and I am still doing gigs (sessions) as a bass player in London.

Al Fresco Terrace
As well as evening gigs the Alfresco had lunchtime sessions on Saturdays. Dickie Loader and the Blue Jeans was the first band I went to see in the evening. Which songs do I remember most? "Jezebel" "Sea of Heartbreak" and "You belong to me"
I also remember other bands like The 004, The Diamonds and Alain & the Stereos playing at the Al Fresco in the evening. Didn't Hank Squires appear there too?

Athlone Hotel in the lounge
Ken Faulds, one of the best jazz guitarists in SA in my view, played there at least a few times. He had such a tasteful, restrained style. Which instrumental do I remember most of all? "Blue Moon"

Athlone Hotel's "The Barn"
The Barn at the Athlone Hotel was a great venue in summer as it was a semi-open air structure. I played there a couple of times with a band called The Condors. And, surprise, surprise, quite a few arguments among young boozed up "patrons" would lead to fights just outside the Barn.

Claridges Hotel - Cookie Look
I remember going regularly to Claridges Hotel on Friday nights at 5pm to see June Dyer backed by Harold Roy's band. I am sure they played in the sort of ballroom/lounge on the mezzanine floor or first floor. Which song do I remember most? "Stagger Lee." Which beer did we drink most? Lion Export, of course! Does anyone remember the song about "The Fisherman's Son"?

Durban City Hall
Dennis Hale. Which song do I remember most? "The Green Door".
Mickie Most and the Playboys. Which song do I remember most? "Rave on"
Indian Rock band contests (great fun!)

Durban Surf Life Savers Club
There always seemed to be fights breaking out at these sessions. Howard Carpendale and his band played there quite often I think. I only saw them play there once but cannot remember any songs they performed. A few years later I had the pleasure of doing a few gigs with their former drummer, Denis Brunton. Apart from being a really good drummer, Denis used to entertain us with stories about how he would wind up Howard Carpendale during a session and make him collapse with laughter while trying to sing a song.

Intermezzo, Blue Lagoon
Gene Rockwell and the Falcons also played at the Intermezzo for a year or two. By this time Gene was doing songs like "Detroit City and "Town without Pity" Also "Bully of the Beach" (highly appropriate for Durban) and "Calling Dr. Casey" - both written by John D. Loudermilk.

Little Top
Saw Dickie Loader at the Little Top once. It was a daytime gig (session) but not with his full band so I was disappointed that he had no bass player on that occasion. Which song do I remember most from that Little Top gig? "The road is Rocky (but it won't be rocky long)"
And who else did I see playing at the Little Top? None other than Basil Metaxas!
Apparently Gene Rockwell won his first talent competition at the age of 15, at the Little Top. That must have been in about 1959/60 but I missed that performance. Basil Metaxas could well have provided the musical backing on that occasion.

Le Macabre) at the Butterworth Hotel
The Bats, as others have mentioned, played there. They were as mad as hatters. Which song do I remember most? "Shabby little hut" rings a bell but not sure that is the proper title.
The Square Set - featuring Neville Whitmill - played there. A great band and they were really nice guys. Which songs do I remember most? "Reach Out" and "That's what I want".
Leemen Limited played there - they used to have a "spontaneous psychedelic happening" - every night at 10pm! Which song do I remember most? "You can't judge a book (by looking at its cover)"

Los Angeles Hotel (I think it was called that) on the Berea
I remember going to some Saturday lunchtime jazz sessions and seeing the excellent Mercia Love. Which song do I remember? "Little by little". I have a vague recollection that Hennie Becker might have led the band that backed her. Can anyone confirm this?
I think it was at this hotel that I also saw Peter Rice and the Delfins playing in the evening - at least once. Which song do I remember most of all? "Ramona" They used to do quite a few songs that had been made popular by The Bachelors.

Mermaid Lido
I went to quite a few sessions at the Mermaid Lido to see Gene Rockwell and the Falcons. George Usher and Gene Rockwell were the guitarists and the bass player was Jannie Heynes. (Can anyone recall the name of their drummer?) We were totally knocked out by the fact that they all had genuine Fender amplifiers and guitars. Which song do I remember most? "Tower of Strength". This was a great rockin' band but, even then, Gene was starting to explore country music.
Payne Brothers Department Store (of all places!)
Johnny Kongos and his G-Men played there once (on the first floor as I recall.) Which song do I remember most? An instrumental called "Raunchy"
Pirates Life Savers Club
I saw The Flames play there a few times. A lot of their songs were surfing numbers but the song I remember most was "Knock on Wood". As many Durbanites will know, some of the band members of The Flames went on played with the legendary Beach Boys for a while.

Playhouse Theatre/Cinema/lounge
Johnny MacGregor, a very flamboyant showman of a guitarist, entertained drinkers in the lounge at the Playhouse with instrumental versions of jazz standards. Which song do I remember most? "Sweet Georgia Brown."
Gene Rockwell and the Falcons played on the stage of the actual Playhouse cinema at least once - just before the showing of the film at a Saturday afternoon. I think this was the first time I saw them perform live and they had not yet made any records.
Cliff Richard and the Shadows did a couple of concerts on the same stage around 1961. Which vocal do I remember most? "It'll be me". Which instrumental do I remember most? "Guitar Boogie Shuffle"

Tiles (This was a new purpose built venue for live music but it did not last long, as I recall.)
I am racking my brains to remember who played there. Someone help me out please! I think one of the bands was "A Group Called Blue." and maybe The Mods or The Rustlers. I played there once or twice but cannot remember which band it was with.

Other venues in and around Durban:

The amphitheatre-type arena near the snake park on Durban's beachfront
This was an open air venue with seating "in the round" but it had a sort of concrete structure over the stage. I remember playing there with The Condors at a "Rock Band Contest". There were three bands and we lost to a band that played covers of songs by an up and coming new UK band - The Beatles!

Another hotel near Al Fresco/Esplanade Hotel on the Victoria Embankment
I have forgotten the name of this hotel. It was on the same side of Victoria Embankment as the Alfresco - a few hundred yards towards the beachfront. They had more jazzy bands there on Saturday lunchtimes. I remember that the bassist in one of the regular bands used a stand-up, solid-body electric bass. We had never seen one of these before.

Journeys End Shellhole/MOTH club, Durban North
There were frequent sessions on Friday or Saturday nights. Bands that played there included The Condors and Third Eye. There were other bands too. Can anyone else remember who they were? There were often fights between drunk teenagers, including a memorable girl-versus-girl fight. (No names, no pack drill but I know who the culprits were!)

Parkhill Hall, Blackburn Road in Durban North
I am sure this was also a MOTH/Shellhole meeting hall. I think the first rock band I saw at Parkhill Hall featured a guy called "Bucksy" Sherrard on guitar. Later, when I was with The Condors, we played there quite a few times. And yep, there were lots of fights there too!

Beachwood Golf Club
This golf club booked rock bands now and again - including Gene Rockwell and the Falcons. At the gig I saw them do there, they had a new guitarist in the line-up called Alan Love. I thought he was very good, very stylish and, after he left them, I tried to persuade him to play for The Condors.

Other singers/bands who performed in and around Durban

  • Alan Booker (or Brooker?), who was a very snazzy dresser and did a cover version of "What do you want to make those eyes at me for".
  • Bill Kimber and the Couriers (I cannot remember where or when)
  • ACADs with Dick Laws (I cannot remember where or when)
  • Ronnie Singer (I cannot remember where or when)
  • Charles Jacobi "The Singing Cowboy" who once did a daytime gig at Northlands High School
  • Howdy Byford, a speedway rider, who would sometimes go up into the commentator's box with a guitar and entertain the spectators with an impromptu country and western song during the speedway meetings at Allan Ford stadium in Hoy Park.

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