Last Night At The Mikado –Q&A with singer Viviana…Part OneSeptember 3, 2014
My collection of records from South Africa consists of many colours, mainly black music but my heart is also weak for the sound of pop music that was popular in the 1960’s in the swanky restaurants, hotels and nightclubs of Johannesburg, Cape Town and East London. The circuit reached as far as the holiday resorts in Mocambique, Portuguese Angola, even the Belgian Congo.
Around 1965 Mediterranean music became hugely popular in South Africa. Dance styles like the Twist, the Mambo and the Cha Cha, originally born and bred in the United States first swept Italy and the Mediterranean region before being exported to South Africa where performers catered for the refined taste of the well heeled visitors and sophisticated dancers that frequented the big hotels and nightclubs of the capital. More and more European musicians, singers and bands landed in eGoli, the city of gold & diamonds where riches and fame was to be found aplenty. There existed a circuit of hip places and palaces of nocturnal pleasures; nightclubs, bars and restaurants where live music was an extra attraction to the fine dining and luxurious surroundings. Valet parking included.
This exclusive Q&A tells the story of nightlife in Johannesburg in 1965 through the memories of Italian born singer Viviana. Part One.
In 1965 singer Viviana came to the city of Pretoria with a head full of dreams and a voice that could charm birds out of trees. She followed her father Prof. Carlo Pacchiori who was head-hunted in Trieste, Italy by Maestro Leo Quayle and Mr Bosman de Kock, who came to hear her dad and offered him the position of First Lead Violin in the PACT, South Africa’s first symphonic orchestra with musicians from all over the world.
While growing up in Italy, Viviana made her first pop broadcast over Radio Trieste when she was nine. She was an established nightclub singer in Europe when she came to South Africa. She sang in seven languages and made her first South African LP “Réne Moya featuring Viviana”
Q-please tell me when you arrived in South Africa and what drove you there. Were you already a professional singer?
A-I arrived in Pretoria in 1965, from Trieste Italy. My father had been head-hunted to be to first lead violin of the PACT orchestra. He came to South Africa in 1964 when the PACT Orchestra was created, my mother and I followed a few months later. I had already been singing professionally on weekends and some gigs at night as I was finishing school too. My first public appearance was when I was nine and I sang in concert and Italian Radio. I was well liked. When I arrived in Pretoria I was introduced to a pianist whose name I cannot remember. I did a few gigs and concerts with him, but, pushed by my parents I was also working as a secretary at Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria. This pianist thought it was a disgrace for me to work in an office and he organized for me to have an audition with Dan Hill, so we drove to Johannesburg.
Q-Dan Hill was one of the leading artists/arrangers/band leaders at the time.Can you tell me more about your collaboration with him?
A-Dan liked me, but at that time he already had a singer and he immediately phoned Réne Moya to tell him he had a vocalist for his combo. I started working with Réne, then Réne left for a few months and I joined Dan at the Grove. –The Grove was a nightclub at the Orange Grove Hotel, situated at 192, Louis Botha Avenue in Johannesburg –note of the editor
We did many gigs together too, weddings, functions. Dan Hill was one of the best musicians in S.A. and very well respected. Unfortunately I was not with him for a very long time. He was a very kind man and nice to the musos. Then Réne returned and I went back to work with him, Dan asked us to do an LP together, he previously had done an previous album only with Réne when I wasn’t on the scene yet. I only did one LP with Dan Hill that was released as “Réne Moya featuring Viviana”. After that I did a few radio transcriptions with Rollo Scott. He was a big personality/producer at SABC. The song “Lost in Love” I co-wrote with Rollo Scott, the musical arrangement is by Bez Martin, a brilliant saxophone player. I worked a lot on gigs with him.
Q-describe the nightlife scene in Johannesburg at the time. What sort of people did visit the restaurants/nightclubs. Were there any foreigners? Were people of different race & colour allowed in as guests?
A-I must say I was a bit unaware about any laws at that time, I did not see any blacks as patrons. Yes there were people of other races in the restaurants, Chinese, Japanese, Indians too, all countries. People were extremely elegant in those days. The men wearing suits and ladies always in evening dresses. Lots of jewels and fur coats. Very high standard, opulent clients. There was a lot of happiness at that time and fun everywhere. Those times where swinging.
The Mikado Restaurant was a top spot opposite Joubert Park, very luxurious and it belonged to Francesco and Janice Miller. A fantastic restaurant with bands and shows at every corner.
Réne Moya was considered one of the top pianists of that era and I was a very young girl with a passion for singing. Everyone was much older than I was, and I learnt a lot. We used to play until very late, starting at 8pm and finishing at 2am, the places were always full. All the rich and famous came to the Mikado.
Much later the Mikado became the Garden of Allah ( a curry place), I don’t know what it is called now, but years ago it looked totally deteriorated, so sad. It used to be an amazing place. We all knew each other (I mean all the bands), musos from one place would visit other spots if they finished earlier. Many times I found myself at Fontana’s in Hillbrow at 3 am getting food, and there I would see other musos from other spots coming for a bite to eat. We had theme nights too at the Mikado, mainly continental inspired.
We were there when the big train robbery happened and were very puzzled by some English men, very showy, gangster types who looked extremely rich and came to the Mikado every night. They only came for a short while and then we never saw them again.
Of course being in the band has a lot of perks as everyone invites you to their table for drinks and you get close to everybody. I never drank, but there was a lot of happy drinking going on. It wasn’t just the restaurants and the clubs, the movie houses were popular too, beautiful places decorated with balconies and statues inside them. They looked incredible. People dressed up to go to movies just as much as going to clubs.
I remember that here was one striptease artist only, Glenda Kemp, that scandalized the scene a bit. I personally thought she was very good. I met her again 30 years ago and she was selling clothes in a boutique in Jo’burg, subsequently she moved to Durban, she had become a Christian, keeping to herself, and was very ashamed about her past. I tried to tell her she had nothing to be ashamed of, but she felt very guilty. Very sweet girl that had been exploited by her partner.
Q-did International artists perform in the circuit?
A-I remember when Marlene Dietrich came, in fact she was on the plane I was on coming to South Africa, Liberace I remember. But mainly they were not working on the circuit since they gave performances in theaters and came to the clubs after that as patrons. Otherwise some restaurants imported Continental bands. Even a friend of my dad, from Trieste Italy, came with his band and played at Ciro’s for 6 months. His name was Giorgio Paoletti. Of course we had Renatino di Napoli. When I was working in Port Elizabeth at the Mark, the daughter of Winston Churchill, there on holiday, was always wanting to spend time with us, even during the day, she was a lonely lady and loved music.
next post will feature Part 2 of Last Night At The Mikado