Before leaving Johannesburg in 1979 I had been preparing a repertoire for an album, and together with Johnny Fourie (guitar), George Wolfaardt (bass) and Gerald Stockton (drums) we rehearsed and played several gigs. At the time Johnny was approached by Gibson to promote their new range of guitars via a national road show and we agreed to lay down some of my compositions to be used as backing tracks. So we recorded Sunset, Beep Beep and Moonrise at Adrian Steed's studio in Auckland Park. I subsequently returned an overdubbed some piano solos for inclusion in my own portfolio.
Soon after this George and I took the rest of the repertoire and got down to some serious work in preparation for a lunchtime (duo) concert at the Wits University Great Hall which ultimately turned out to be a great success. We had been recording our daily practice sessions at home and I had hoped to be able to afford to hire a studio so that we could make a decent recording. This was not to be; I ended up going it alone and produced two very unsatisfactory recordings (High Flight and Midnite) at some considerable expense just before leaving Jo'burg. This was my first taste of solo production and I was horrified at the results.
With the memory of this misadventure still fresh in my mind, soon after arriving in London I got my hands on a Fostex 250 cassette-based four track machine and for the first time I was able to be in control of my own productions without having to worry about the clock ticking. My first task was to record some backing tracks for Salena Jones' next album which was to be recorded in Japan with Richie Cole and others. Despite some traffic noise leaking into her mike we were able to produce a reasonable demo which captured the essence of Salena's concept for the album. We were using her Roland TR808 drum machine (acquired for this purpose) and my trusty ARP Odyssey served as the bass.
After moving from rented accommodation in East Acton to a new home in Ealing I was able to improve my studio setup by getting my own Roland Drumatix drum machine, a simple stereo reverb unit and a Teac four track reel-to-reel tape machine to do the mastering. By this time my keyboard arsenal included Steinway and Rhodes pianos, and Yamaha DX7, Roland Juno and ARP synthesizers complemented by sundry percussion instruments including congas, various shakers, and as a solo instrument, my faithful Hohner melodica. Some interesting tracks were recorded here, including the demos for George Lee's Anansi album, and various other tracks featuring vocals and saxophones.
Once again I started out to write new repertoire for a new album, the 1986 demo of which was entitled Year of the Tiger, my birth year, and the year that the demo was finalised. One of the tracks was composed specifically as an entry in the Roland Synthesizer Music Contest. It had to be no longer than five minutes, and be produced using synthesizers only. I used the Odyssey to set up a randomized sample-and-hold pattern coloured with a ring modulator, and then built some manually played loops on top of this rhythmic pattern using african-sounding mallet-struck percussion instruments. I then improvised some melodies which I afterwards transcribed and laid down a repeating thematic element, each time orchestrated using different instrumentation. Finally, I played lightening-fast Hammond organ-like fills between the themes. The finale featured strings layered in wide open harmonized swirling and phasing structures, finally to be led out by open sitar-like chords. I named the track Dawn, and you can hear it along with the other Year of the Tiger tracks, namely The Voyage, Francistown and Samora here)
Imagine my delight when I got a call to say that I had won first prize in my section! A ceremony was held at the Roland offices in Brentwood and none other than Paul Hardcastle (of Nineteen fame) was there to hand me my prize - a new Roland TR606 drum machine that produced sampled sounds and not the synthesized drum and cymbal tones that I had been suffering with for so long.