Like a raging fire

2020-01-29 06:01
Steve Fataar and the Flames.PHOTO:new frame

Steve Fataar and the Flames.PHOTO:new frame

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IN the sixties, discotheques and disc jockeys were unheard of. For us, growing up in an era of popular culture and optimism, live bands were the major sources of entertainment.

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among others, were revolutionising music and influencing the minds of teenagers the world over. Durban youngsters were no different. The period saw the emergence of bands like the Naked Truth, Ginger Crush, the Insects, the Jets, the Vampires, Electric Lighthouse, the Puppets, and many more. But the best, and tightest, of these pop-rock groups were The Flames, so called because their leader, Abdur Rahman “Steve” Fataar, used to like drawing flames on his school books.

Steve and his brothers Edris (known as Brother) and Ricky were also bitten by the music bug and started entering and winning local talent shows.

My family had a longstanding connection with the Fataars, from the early days in Greyville to the family home in Sydenham. Our mums were besties, and as such there was much interaction between our families.

The first encounter that I remember was at a fundraiser party for Rosslyns Cricket Club, held at my aunt’s home in Greyville. Along came the three Fataar boys, they set up their equipment and entertained us for hours. Like most kids (I was all of seven), I was fascinated by the drummer — Ricky Fataar was only nine but there he was delivering those metronomic beats that would later take him around the world.

The eldest brother Steve (a moniker given to him by a teacher at Epsom Road School who couldn’t pronounce Abdur Rahman) was the leader. We all knew him as “Marns”. Another cousin, Edries Fredericks, joined the Flames around 1964, after winning a guitar off my dad, Ike Mayet. Edries stayed with the Flames for about three years, touring the country and winning competitions like the Battle of the Bands. They had a Thames van, with flames painted on the sides and back. After one album and several singles, Edries left and was replaced by Mitchell “Baby” Duval for a short while, until he too was replaced by a teenager from the Melbourne Road Flats, Terrence “Blondie” Chaplin. This was the final line-up that criss-crossed the country and recorded the seminal albums Burning Soul and Soulfire and several singles: Steve, Blondie, Brother, and Ricky.

The Flames were South Africa’s first supergroup, setting trends and records wherever they appeared. They filled venues and had hordes of screaming fans in a froth. The puritanical apartheid state worried increasingly over the effect four “coloured” boys were having on the young white female population. The band’s popularity was indirectly responsible for the National Party legislating against mixed audiences at public music events and pernicious new laws which meant the band could not eat or drink at the venue in which they were playing. They were often harassed by the police late at night and were even arrested once.

The Flames went from being a very good covers band to creating their own material. Although it was mostly soul and R ’n B sounds on their two major albums made in SA, there was also an indication of a rockier future sound with the inclusion of their own version of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. This new direction towards the progressive rock and underground genres was typical of the time.

Having played all the major venues in SA, the Flames decided to hit London in May 1968. Steve, then 25, was given power of attorney by their parents and was responsible for Ricky (15) and Blondie (16) when they left our shores. The Flames gigged around and did a short residency at Blaises, the happening club at the time. At Blaises they were seen by Al Jardine and Carl Wilson from the Beach Boys, who offered them a recording deal. They went to California to record for the new Beach Boys record label, Brother Records. Opening for the Beach Boys, they toured the U.S., and gave performances at the Royal Albert Hall and other big venues in Europe.

They changed their name to The Flame to avoid being confused with James Brown’s backing band, called the Blue Flames, and went on to record rock’s first quadrophonic album, which included the hit single See the Light (that album is worth a pretty penny these days).

Sadly, the distribution company went belly up. And though people could hear See the Light on radio, as it did fairly well on the Billboard charts, there was no product for sale in the record shops.

In 1970, they came home for a short tour. On their return to the U.S., the Flames recorded a second album for Brother Records but it was not released and is still being disputed.

Despite a major recording and distribution deal offer in New York, the band broke up in 1972. Brother went to England and later settled in the Netherlands, where he died in 1978. Steve came home for a while, then lived in Amsterdam and Swaziland, following harassment in SA for loving across the colour line with Marianne Knudsen, with whom he had four kids.

Steve was the itinerant entertainer until the end, playing his last gig at Zack’s on January 17, the night before he died in his sleep.

The Flames’ most popular song, a recording of For Your Precious Love, which they recorded twice: first with Baby Duval on vocals and then the definitive version of the Oscar Toney Junior hit, with Blondie (15) nailing it in two takes. Blondie’s rich, soulful voice soars to immortality in a love song that’s been popular in SA for more than 50 years. Half an hour in the studios and a lifetime on the airwaves.

Despite their successes, there was little material reward for the band. There are still disputes with Brother Records over the release of the second Flame album and Ricky and Blondie are fighting about royalties for songs they composed and recorded while with the Beach Boys. Steve performed in huge venues across the world but he remained the same easy-going, accommodating, friendly person I’d grown up in front of.

Blondie called Steve “the servant and keeper of the Flame”. “Once a raging fire, now reduced to a flickering glow” — the immortal words of the great Robbie Jansen — for me aptly sum up The Flames and Steve Fataar. Travel well, Steve. Thanks for the tunes and choons. — New Frame.


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