Another band which is fondly remembered by all who were teenagers in Durban in the late 1960s and early 1970s was The Gonks. The band was formed in July of 1965, and stayed together in various combinations for a period of ten years. The band was named after an ornamental doll, known as a ‘gonk’ which was popular in Britain. This again demonstrates the conscious attempt on the part of Durban youngsters to identify with the British youth culture, rather than forge their own.
The Gonks were probably one of the most popular bands, and within two months of forming, landed a three year contract with Gallo Records. The following quote from lead singer Craig Ross demonstrate the popularity of the band, albeit from a biased perspective, as well as the infectious enthusiasm which pervaded the early Durban rock scene:
“ I can remember playing in the city hall. We played four numbers. It was frightening … there were two thousand people stamping like that in the city hall shouting ‘Gonks! Gonks!’ They didn’t want any other bands. But it was a different vibe man, not like today … the whole thing was like it was busy with bands, it was exciting… Every weekend there was a session, sometimes a Friday and a Saturday, and Tiles was open on a Sunday. Even as an amateur I can remember that at Tiles we used to rush down to the car and turn on to the airplay to see if we had got onto the hit parade. And the night we got on at [L.M Radio] number 20 we rushed upstairs and announced it. “
The line-up of The Gonks which recorded their first single (‘You Can’t stop Me Loving You’ and on the flipside, ‘Crying My Heart Out’) in early 1967 was as follows: Craig Ross (lead vocals); Barry Cline (bass guitar); Peter Gilder (drums); Howard Schachat (rhythm guitar); and Mervyn Gershanov (lead guitar) . This single reached Number 1 on the local record charts (L.M. Radio) and Number one on the then Rhodesian charts. It also reached number three on the South African national charts. ‘You Can’t stop Me Loving You’ was followed by the recording of another single in May of 1967, (‘Nobody But Me’ and on the flipside ‘Woman Yeah’) recorded with the same line-up.
Still later in 1967, The Gonks released another single (‘Aint I Met You’), and in 1968, Graeme Beggs produced their last single ‘Hard Lovin” . The Gonks, like most of the popular local bands, played mainly cover versions of chart material. In fact, as far as their singles are concerned, only the flip side numbers were original songs, the A-Sides being reworked covers of songs by other bands. Craig Ross (lead vocalist) was responsible for the writing of their original material during the height of the band’s popularity from 1965-1967. In August of 1967, The Gonks were featured in Teenage Personality with a glowing article:
So far, helped by a legion of loyal supporters, the Gonks have been placed high on the South African Group Hit Parade on L.M. Radio and have now reached the L.M. Top 20 Hit Parade … To hear the Gonks in action is to be hit by a youthquake. Lights play on the boys, glittering on the solid row of four mikes and the tall, serious line-up of Gonks. They don’t seem to kid around much and they don’t go for freak-outs or distortion stuff. For them it’s music that counts, beat that matters, and the presentation must be right if the kids are to have fun. They have big ideas. They won’t remain stock-still letting the world swirl by them. They want to swim upstream to the big fish in the pool of pop and we think they’re going to make quite a splash.
Source; Teenage – Personality, – 31st of August, 1967. Teenage Personality was a weekly supplement produced by Personality Magazine.
Teenage Personality also released vinyl 45 singles to promote the magazine while launching new South African artists.
The Gonks’ Fan Club
Unique to The Gonks was the formation of a fan club which was run by Helen Trombas and June Elgin, two girls who were fans of the band.
The annual fee for joining the fan club was a mere 20 cents and members of the fan club were issued with GONKY membership cards; a photograph of the band, and a special autograph card. They were sent monthly newsletters and were allocated cheaper rates for concerts and band get-togethers. Lourenco Marques Radio personality, Gerry Wilmot was the honorary president of The Gonks’ Fan Club, which boasted over a thousand members – a remarkable number of fans for a local band. Lead singer, Craig Ross left The Gonks in 1967 to join another well-known Durban band, Freedom’s Children, which was playing at the 505 Club in Johannesburg at the time. Freedom’s Children was a professional band, and the prospect of earning a living by singing in a band was the main draw card for Craig.
His stay with Freedom’s Children, however, was short lived, and within eight months, Craig was back in Durban as a member of The Gonks, which, during his time away had made some changes in personnel. The Gonks now consisted of Rob Clancy (drums), Roger Johnson (bass guitar), Rodney Aichetson (bass guitar), Howard Schachat (rhythm guitar and band leader), and Craig Ross (lead vocals).
The Gonks -released few singles between 1966-1967, and in collaboration “Lazy Life” with Quentin E. Klopjager aka Billy Forrest in 1968 after which the band disbanded.
All music files come from my own collection of the original released vinyl.
For this series I based my information mainly on the thesis of South African born and Durbanite Lindy van der Meulen, in fulfillment of the degree of Master of Music at the University of Natal. Lindy van der Meulen was also the only woman in a Durban rock band (The Remnant) for a four year period (1989-1992). She currently lives in Durban.
A lot of information came from the liner notes of records and collected magazines and news papers as well. See the sources and notes
In part 4 of this series I will focus on the origins of ROCK MUSIC IN DURBAN 1963-1985.