Steve’s flame still on fire

Steve Fataar, left, is joined by local guitar hero Errol Dyers for his performances in Cape Town this month.
Steve Fataar, left, is joined by local guitar hero Errol Dyers for his performances in Cape Town this month.
Gary van Dyk
In the history of South African music there’s always an aura of awe at the mention of the Flames. That legacy is evident when Steve Fataar is in town.

The band had its humble beginnings in Durban in the 1960s. Steve loved playing the guitar, learning to play tunes from the radio.

“I always loved music and when I was in high school somebody taught me a few chords and I just loved it so much,” he says.

“Then an amazing thing happened: our opposite neighbours emigrated and gave us a drum kit and an electric guitar. By that time I had already taught my brother Edries some chords and we roped in Ricky, our youngest brother, only eight at the time, to play drums.

“After that is was just practise and play, doing gigs at local clubs, even pubs, and I think the novelty was that we were just so young.”

Steve adds that while the youth aspect impressed people they also had a talent to make each song their own.

“The hits on the radio gave us our play list,” he says. “But we had the knack of taking a song and just twisting it into something that made it ours, with the way we used the vocal harmonies or adding more lines on guitar, but somehow music lovers took to it.”

Eventually the band, with Blondie Chaplin as part of the group, started recording. The rest of South Africa took to the sound that they were creating with many of their songs being hits going to the top of the charts, one of them being the ever popular “For your Precious Love”.

The evidence of the power of those tunes are still there today when Steve tackles them at his gigs around town.

“The people who grew up in that era are still around. We’re a bit older but they come up to me and tell me that the music of their youth keeps them young and they’re right. Look at me; I’m 73 years young and still love making music,” he laughs.

“So many couples have stories about meeting after dancing to “For your Precious Love”, and thank me for writing it, and I haven’t the heart to tell them that it was one of our many covers that we did. It was important to them and they’re still in love!”

When starting the band they made a decision to try their luck on the international stage. In retrospect this move placed them on the verge of superstardom but also led to the break-up of the band.

“Oh man, going to England, those wild times,” Steve reflects. “We had gone as far as we could in the South Africa of those times, so we just packed our stuff on a boat and headed for England.

“With youth as our excuse we thought it would be easy but some surprises awaited us when we docked in Southampton. We sat on that boat for four days as authorities decided what to do with us because it was obvious that we wanted to work and were not there on a holiday.

“Luckily the musicians’ union there came to our aid and eventually we were allowed to perform.”
Once the Flames started playing the word spread about their music and some of the top groups started coming to their gigs.

“We impressed everybody that came to hear us,” continues Steve.

“Eventually Mike Love of the Beach Boys came to hear us and he signed us to their record label after he took us to America and we played a number of gigs opening for them.

“It seemed as if we were going to make it big but the fates had other plans for us. The Beach Boys were still signed to Capitol Records when they started their own label, Brother Records, and we’re still the only group other than the Beach Boys who recorded on that label, but the album could not be released until all those legalities were sorted out.

“It just broke our spirit a bit and Brother [Edries] wanted to go back to England where he had struck up some friendships and I wanted to come back home.

“I never regret what I did because my heart was here but Ricky and Blondie ended up touring with the Beach Boys for many years and becoming firmly established on the international scene.

“Ricky constantly tours with Bonnie Raitt, and produces for her as well. Blondie, well, he has made his mark with so many groups, most notably with the Rolling Stones where he steals the show with his guitar solos at most concerts.”

Meanwhile, back in South Africa Steve still plies his trade in Durban, takes a trip down to Cape Town from time to time and when that guitar starts talking and the voice shares his stories, a generation is transported back to their youth when the Flames set South Africa alive with song.

Steve was in action at a sold-out affair at the Alma Cafe in Rosebank last week but there’s still opportunities to catch him in action during this visit to the Mother City. A these concerts he will be joined by local guitar hero Errol Dyers.
Tonight (8 November) they are at the Afda Theatre, 228 Lower Main Road, Observatory as part of the Afda/Odd Sock series of concerts called Small Faces Going Places. This series sees some younger talents getting the chance to perform with some seasoned performers. At this concert the other featured artists are Matthew Gold, George Kalukusha and Siana Altiise Ponds.
Starting at 19:30 tickets are R99, available at the door or from Earl Holmes on 071 136 1933 or Joey Fourie on 084 880 7012 or email info@­homes­of­africa.­

On Sunday he is at the District Six Homecoming Centre in Buitengracht Street where they are hosting the Arts and Social Justice Festival from 11:00 to 19:00. This festival will include a screening of Action Kommandant, Mike van Graan’s Pay Back the Curry, music, poetry and a panel discussion.

Tickets are R99. For more information contact Joey Fourie on 084 880 7012.

On Sunday 20 November he performs at Jazz in the Yard, 33 Leadwood Street, Bonteheuwel from 16:00 for an intimate set of his classics. Tickets for this one cost R60. Call Gino Oliver on 073 441 6863 for more information.

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