Freedom´s Children - Galactic Vibes (1972)
Biography:Extracts from The Story of Freedom's Children by Tom Jasiukowicz (sleeve notes from Astra re-issue in 1997)
If ever there was a rock band around which a legend was created, then Freedom's Children were that band. Were they simply a broken-hearted horde writing psychedelic love songs? Were they galactic flyers in tune with astral days? Or were Freedom's Children just one of the best rock bands the world ever heard, or is it appropriate to say categorically that Freedom's Children were the best band the world never heard.
An ironic suggestion, perhaps, but one with a lot of truth in it. That the circumstances surrounding their existence played against them does not detract from the fact that the original group formed in the year and in the world of music, the ground was breaking.
In contrast to the hit parade sounds of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Monkees, groups like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd were producing albums marked by their experimental creativity and music styles termed acid rock or astral music.
In 1966, Ramsay Mackay and Colin Pratley had teamed up in Durban to experiment with their music ideas. In Cape Town they met Kenny Henson, who had been playing blues with Leeman Ltd., and together with Jimmy Thompson, of the same band, they began to perform as Freedom's Children. Their sound was acid-astral rock.
South Africans had not been prepared for this group. The group created controversy and newspaper headlines, in every small South African town they performed at. Some towns banned them. But to those who understood quality rock, Freedom's Children provided their break with conventional thinking and music ideas.
Julian Laxton replaced Kenny Henson on guitar in 1968 and Harry Poulus joined on keyboards. The group travelled to England but, perhaps for the reason that the group was from South Africa, and the politics of apartheid swayed opinion, the musicians were refused work permits and so their dream of attracting world acclaim faded. While the group returned to South Africa disillusioned, began work on the recording of the 'Astra' album.
The album provided the magic of a classic rock album. There were dramatic climaxes, socio-philosophical lyrics, hard, pulsating rhythms, blistering lead guitar solos, sense-riveting sound-effects and soaring vocals.
Ramsay Mackay left the group after the recording of 'Astra' and it was Julian Laxton who drove the band on their last album, 'Galactic Vibes', and where the music on it was still devastatingly good, the aura of 'Astra' had dissipated.
Ramsay Mackay, Colin Pratley, Kenny Henson, Julian Laxton and Brian Davidson all carried on producing music in their respective forms and styles, through the Seventies and Eighties. But if the world of South Africa had been perfect, and had Freedom's Children achieved their breakthrough in England, one can only speculate how difficult the success of this group would have been. The world would have heard some good creative music.
Long live Freedom's Children!
Freedoms Children(taken for the Afterglow website with kind permission of Matthias Bock, 2001)
Picture the late 1960s, South Africa. A country isolated from the rest of the world because of their racist government, shunned by almost everybody. The last place you would expect to be hit by the late 60s teenage rebellion, drugs & music scene. And a trade ban that makes it difficult for anything to leave this country except for gold and diamonds so much "needed" by the West (OK, no treatise on business and ethics today).
...difficult for anything to leave... and be heard of about in the world...
This was the sad fate of a rock band who evidently were musical genuises of their time, but had the misfortune to live and perform in a place shunned and ignored by the world, which explains why their recordings are so rare and expensive while still being known only to a handful of record collectors.
However, they were no neighbourhood rock band somewhere in Durban, South Africa. They were a band approaching superstar status after their second LP "Astra", playing live on New Year's Day (probably 1971) to an attendance of 10,000 people, as the sleeve notes to their last album "Galactic Vibes" tell us.
They left behind a legacy of three full-length albums. Remember, this was thirty years ago, when most promising bands did not record more than two or three 45s before vanishing into oblivion! I know little of the details like exactly when their LPs were released and under which catalogue numbers - until about two years ago, I did not even know that they made an album before "Astra". So, although it is a little wanting, here is their discography:
Battle Hymn for the Broken Hearted Horde (1968) Astra (1970) Galactic Vibes (1972) They also released a number 45s, but I know nothing about them.
There are no legit reissues of these recordings that I have heard of. "Battle Hymn" so far has only made it to a vinyl repro in 1995 (with a print run of 300), "Astra" was reissued on CD twice (In England in 1993, and on the German label TRC in the same year),whereas "Galactic Vibes" has been reissued both on vinyl (300 copies only) and on CD in recent years. If you entertain thoughts of trying to locate one of the "Astra" CDs, get the TRC reissue. The other release has been carelessly remastered from a very deteriorated LP, resulting in a rather distorted sound throughout the whole album.
Both "Battle Hymn" and "Astra" are concept albums, telling a story, or sharing a common theme between all of the songs. As I still have to lend a careful ear to "Battle Hymn", I will not elaborate on it. "Astra" revolves around the life of Jesus, although I have heard of a few people misinterpreting it as a very bad experience of the Vietnam war... "Galactic Vibes" looks and sounds like a kind of good-bye album for the stalwart fans, containing a 16-minute live version of their song "The Homecoming" which also is on the "Astra" LP, and a number of odds and ends that do not sound as if they were intended to be on the same album.
Haslop's Hitstory (as heard on The Bruce Millar Show on SAfm, 28 August 2002) FREEDOM'S CHILDREN by Richard Haslop
A few years ago I was at the Austin Record Convention in Texas. While drifting around the vast Palmer Auditorium, listening to thousands of people speaking American, I suddenly heard a South African accent. It came from a guy - who told me he had moved some years before from Johannesburg to Houston - who ran a stall that specialized in psychedelic and prog-rock albums on vinyl. But occupying pride of place, propped up right at the front of his table, was a CD copy of Astra by Freedom's Children. I thought it must be a bootleg, as the album had not yet been released on CD in South Africa.
I have subsequently learned - courtesy of the excellent SA Rock Digest website, which was extraordinarily useful in the compilation of this Hitstory - that there were 1993 CD reissues in Germany and the UK, so I guess he might have had some of those. Anyway, he was asking a fairly fearsome price, and seemed satisfied that he'd sell all of his copies quite soon.
Now, I imagine that the majority of listeners, even in South Africa, don't know who Freedom's Children were, so I can do no better than quote, as their web page does, a couple of lines from ex-Radio Rat Jonathan Handley's Yeoville Canticle, which is featured (twice) on the Glee Club album, Lexicon For A Lunatic: "What say you Ramsay Mackay? What ever happened to Freedom's Children? In your time you had the best band in the land."
There are still those, in fact, who believe that Freedom's Children was South Africa's greatest ever rock group.
Freedom's Children was formed in Durban in 1966 by Scottish-born bass player Ramsay Mackay, guitarist Kenny Henson, who had been playing in Leemen Limited, and drummer Colin Pratley, who had come down from Springs. Mackay, from Eshowe, had been playing in a group called Seven Faces.
Oddly, according to Nic Martens, who would go on to play keyboards in Freedom's Children, another group, also calling itself Lehman Limited (spelling its name differently), and including himself, Mackay and Pratley, had existed in Pretoria the previous year. Martens says that he was unaware of Henson's band of almost the same name, and Kenny Henson has told me that he was unaware of the other band.
Anyway, Freedom's Children - Martens says the name was his idea - was formed, but without Martens. The original keyboard player was Jimmy Thompson. Martens joined the Noel McDermott Band, and then John E. Sharpe's Blues Band, where he played with Julian Laxton, who had been one third of folk trio Mel, Mel & Julian.
The original version of Freedom's Children recorded two singles, The Coffee Song backed with a cover of the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction, and a cover of the Yardbirds' You're A Better Man Than I, backed with Mud In Your Eye. The next Freedom's Children line-up would also feature a Yardbirds song, Little Games, on a single.
Henson left the band in 1968, going on to form the semi-legendary Abstract Truth with Mike Dickman and Pete Measroch, and was replaced on guitar by Julian Laxton. Among others who spent a short time with - if perhaps not in - the band at this stage were keyboard players Craig Ross and Harry Poulus, who had been with Four Jacks & A Jill, and saxman Mike Faure.
The group's first album came out that year, though it seems that the release of Battle Hymn Of The Broken Hearted Horde caused concern among the band members, at least one of whom was upset that it had been released at all. Bizarrely, it included a Pepsi Cola advert among the late psychedelia/early prog-rock of the rest of the record.
Martens plays on the album, along with Mackay, Pratley, Laxton and a few guests, among whom, though not yet a member of the band, was vocalist Brian Davidson.
South Africa has always been a small and relatively insignificant rock 'n' roll country, so Freedom's Children, like so many others, went to the UK. But the group could not get work permits to play over there, so they came back and went into the studio to prepare for the recording of their next - and best known - album, Astra.
Martens had gone to the UK himself in early 1970 in search of studio engineering work. He had encountered similar work permit problems, but had spent a few months hanging out at EMI's Abbey Road studios soaking in the atmosphere and learning a huge amount about recording. On his return he went looking for work at EMI studios in South Africa, and encountered Mackay and Pratley, who persuaded him to play keyboards on and engineer the new Freedom's Children album.
He had exactly one week to learn the songs, which were then recorded, on fairly rudimentary equipment, between a Friday night and the following Monday morning. Since Martens had two jobs to do, he got no sleep at all.
Astra was released in 1970 and has become one of SA rock's best-loved albums. By this time Brian Davidson was doing all the singing - though Mackay performs the recitation at the end - and Gerard Nel also played keyboards. It is apparently the only South African album to have been released in all possible formats, including 8-track tape and CD.
It featured a song called The Kid He Came From Hazareth. This was originally The Kid He Came From Nazareth, but the old SABC called it blasphemous, and refused to playlist it. However, they would do so, they said, if the necessary changes were made, both to the song's title and lyrics. So they were, with the band actually re-recording the song to include the word "Hazareth". The song was later recorded by the group Wildebeest as Russian And Chips. Mackay once said about their gigs, that, "Some guys from the Dutch Reformed Church, the mayor & police came to see us, they said we were deranging the minds of our audiences."
During 1970 Freedom's Children also played on three tracks of a Dickie Loader album in one of South African music's most unlikely collaborations.
Ramsay Mackay then left the band, to be replaced on bass by Barry Irwin, which caused a new set of problems. According to Pratley, "What I can remember about those days vividly was being sent on a nation wide tour in a VW Kombi. EMI paid us R1 a day each ... Barry Irwin was never allowed into hotels and had to sleep in the Kombi and, at some concerts in really politically sensitive towns, had to wear a T-shirt over his head. Barry wasn't white like us."
This line-up recorded the third and last Freedom's Children album, Galactic Vibes, which included strings and a long Colin Pratley drum solo, recorded live from a time when Mackay was still with the band. The last two albums were produced by Clive Calder, who has just caused an enormous stir in the music industry worldwide by selling the remainder of his Zomba record company to BMG for an astonishing three billion dollars. He has said that, "In my opinion Freedom's Children was then and probably still is today the only SA rock group that, given the right circumstances in the right geographical location, could have become an internationally successful rock band just by being themselves and doing what they did."
There have been some attempts at resurrecting the band over the years, one of which, in 1973, featured Trevor Rabin and Ronnie Robot; and a Kenny Henson/Colin Pratley Christian album entitled A New Day was released in 1990 under the Freedom's Children name. In 1996 Henson, Davidson, Mackay and three others recorded Mummies (Back From The Dead), but it remains unreleased.
Let's give Julian Laxton the last word. "I felt that we were doing something different," he said recently. "I still do."
(info by CGR)
01. Sea Horses
03. That Did It
04. Fields & Me
05. Crazy World Of Pod
07. About The Dove & His King
08. Season (Bonus)
09. Judas Queen (Bonus)
10. Mrs Browning (Bonus)
11. Country Boy (Bonus)
12. Your Father's Eye (Bonus)
13. Ten Years Ago (Bonus)
14. Kafkasque (Bonus)
15. Boundsgreen Fair(Bonus)
16. Miss Wendy's Dancing Eyes (Bonus)
Size: 131 Mb
Bitrate: 256 mp3