Last night at the Carlton, Johannesburg with Renatino di Napoli

Carlton Hotel Johannesburg luggage label

updated January 3rd 2013

my search for the history of the  sophisticated nightlife  in South Africa and in the 50’s and 60’s continues with this post about the Carlton hotel, Johannesburg SA.

 The social and cultural history of a city is reflected in its nocturnal entertainment. More than that, nightlife represents the beating heart of a society in progress.

Today, many of the places and buildings mentioned here on these pages are lost or were demolished for new buildings. So only distant memories remain and then this collection of obscure records. Music by local bands that played the lounges and restaurants of grand hotels in South Africa, Mozambique and its neighboring countries Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

See also Celebration at Ciro’s and more posts in the category ‘music for restaurants, nightclubs and lounges’

view from the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre -2012

The Carlton hotel, part of the Carlton Centre in downtown Johannesburg -now a 50 stories high skyscraper – was once the hub of entertainment in Johannesburg , a place where the rich and famous stayed and the locals came to dine and dance.

The history of the Carlton, which opened its doors in 1906, is the history of Johannesburg.

Towards the end of the last century the lure of gold drew thousands of people to the Witwatersrand; people who were content to live in tents and shacks whilst they sought the precious metal. Soon the great mining houses began to rise and the mining camp began to shape into a town and the inhabitants craved for comfort.

Among the many brilliant and enterprising men who came to win wealth from the Reef were three men from the Kimberley Diamond Fields. They were Barney Barnato and his two nephews, Solly and Woolf Joel. Barney, already a diamond millionaire conceived the idea of building a luxury hotel in Johannesburg. The Hotel was to be called the Carlton and the site on which it was to rise was in the center of the minining town where it stands still today. At the time of Barney’s decision there was a boom, but before the plans for the hotel were completed there came the Great Crash. Owing to Barney’s untimely death the building of the Carlton was temporarily delayed.

Hotel Carlton Johannesburg in 1906

Following the end of the war at the turn of the century, a revived spirit of optimism led people’s thoughts once more to the Carlton, which the Barnadot-Joel Mining Company was determined to build. Excavation of the site was begun and the public became aware of the luxurious and ambitious plans for the hotel. This was not going to be a Victorian affair with red velvet, lace, antimaccasars and oil lamps. It was to have air conditioning, elevators and electric lights from the hotel’s own power plant -all these luxuries being advanced features in those days. Elegant furnishings and furniture from one of
London’s most famous establishments, and napery, crockery and cutlery were ordered from world-renowned houses.

At this period there was virtually no manufacturing industry in South Africa. Every item for the hotel had to be imported. To co-ordinate and expedite the delivery in South Africa of the valuable and varied articles, the hotel company chartered a recently launched Union Castle Liner, the Cluney Castle. With the furnishings came the chefs, the waiters and service staff.

On February 20 1906, the Carlton, South Africa’s first luxury hotel was opened. The people were ready for it. Beautifully gowned women and well-tailored men filled the restaurants and lounges. From the moment of its opening, the Carlton became the rendezvous of people of good taste and discrimination. It became not only the social center of Johannesburg, but the meeting place of financiers, diplomats and business executives visiting Johannesburg. Built, as it was, in the heart of the town which was just shedding the mining camp atmosphere, where roads were still dusty tracks in winter and muddy paths in summer, the Carlton, with its new look, glittered like a palace. Within it was the magic of luxurious comfort, superb cuisine and unrivaled service such as Johannesburg and South Africa had never experienced before.

The most memorable day in the history of the Carlton came in 1947 with the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The Carlton served as headquarters for the Royal Family during their sojourn as guests of the city.

This BBC television film on the royal tour of South Africa in 1947 shows King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on their journey across the South African Union and the first state visit since 1939.

The Carlton closed down at the end of 1963 only to re-open in 1972 as a 600-room hotel, but sadly closed in 1997 due to the high crime rate in the downtown area of Johannesburg. Today it stands empty, the outside entrance barricaded off to try and stop squatters from occupying the building.

outside entrance Hotel Carlton, Johannesburg 1997

An outstanding feature of the Carlton has been the exotic ‘Mediterranean Room’. This mecca of pleasure seeking diners and dancers has for several years been the highlight of Johannesburg night life. Since its inception the ‘Mediterranean Room’ has featured top Continental bands who have, to a large extent, set the fashions for Johannesburg’s musical taste. The present group ‘Renatino di Napoli’ are a fitting climax to sad departure from the Johannesburg scene of a superb night spot.


Today’s record is the LP “Last Night At The Carlton” with Renatino de Napoli from The Mediterranean Room, released in 1963.

Renatino di Napoli was born in Naples in 1938. Whilst still a boy his artistic feeling and musical qualities were very apparant. His group’s first dates were in the beautiful Neapolitan towns and environs of Capri, Ischia and Sorrento. The group then progressed rapidly to Rome, Turin, Milan and San Remo, always playing and interpreting the best that the Neapolitan songs have to offer the world.

“Last Night At The Carlton” with Renatino de Napoli

from The Mediterranean Room.

Side A

Renatino di Napoli -O Mandulin

Renatino di Napoli -Frida

Renatino di Napoli -Caterina

Renatino di Napoli -Come Te Non C’e Nessuno

Renatino di Napoli -Dicintencello Vuie

Renatino di Napoli -La Ragazza Col Maglione

Side B

Renatino di Napoli -Cuando Caliente, El Sol

Renatino di Napoli -Ca Tua Eta

 Renatino di Napoli -Paperon Di Paperoni

Renatino di Napoli -Et Maintenant

Renatino di Napoli -Il Toro Non Sbaglio

Renatino di Napoli -La Novia

Renatino di Napoli group comprises;

Antonio Favilli -piano
Nino Fenderico -drums
Mario Molitano -vibraphone
Givoanni Zangrandi -electric guitar, bass
Renatino de Napoli -electric guitar, vocals

excerpts from the original liner notes of “Last Night At The Carlton” with Renatino de Napoli from The Mediterranean Room.
RCA 31728 South Africa. Released in 1963

See also

‘An Evening at the Colony’ Sam Sklair And His Music

 The Colony was located in the luxurious Hyde Park Hotel, downtown Johannesburg. The nightclub was a famous hangout for the city’s well-heeled crowd who came to dine and dance. Musical entertainment consisted mainly of evergreens from around the world, sometimes local songs were included in the repertoire. A mixed bag really, something you can dance to or just listen to.

On this album ‘An Evening at the Colony’ from 1963, a live recording, Sam Sklair is being presented as a versatile musician, as he plays the clarinet, piano, saxophone, bass, flute and vibraphone. Furthermore, Sam is a proficient vocalist and almost as versatile in languages; he sings in Spanish, French, Italian, Greek and English.

Sam Sklair -An Evening at the Colony -Introduction

Sam Sklair -An Evening at the Colony -the Colony Cha Cha

Sam Sklair was born and educated in England and came to South Africa where his career took off as bandleader and composer for TV and the silver screen. See also POP goes the gumboot and Gumboot Dance vol 1 & 2 

Sam Sklair -An Evening at the Colony -Torrero

Musicians on ‘An Evening at the Colony’

Leon Cohen -piano

Vic Hanson -drums

Steve Zachary/Nat Berg -vocal

Les Kelly -bass

Chris Du Toit/Jannie Fourie -Guitar

 ‘An Evening at the Colony’  Sam Sklair And His Music- Renown NLP 115 South Africa 1963

Out of this world -Archie Silansky and his High Flyers with Vocalists; Bobby Angel, Vasco Cordoni, Maureen Rayson

“Out of this world” was the theme of the successful charity festival held in Johannesburg, where each night at the glittering ‘Bien Donne’ Restaurant at Milner Park honoured a different planet.

out of this world cover

Archie Silansky was a South African piano player in the “lounge/ light jazz” genre. He worked mainly in the late 1950s, early 1960s around Johannesburg and recorded several albums.

Having gone right around the globe with his popular Club International records, Archie Silansky now blasts off into outer space to continue his musical travels “Out of this world”.

Twisting into orbit with the High Flyers and vocally assisted by Bobby Angel, Vasco Cordoni and  Maureen Rayson, Archie presents rocket age arrangements of tunes dedicated to the various planets that have become his new ports of call, and to the gods who created them.

out of this world detail

Archie Silansky and his High Flyers

His travel schedule is as follows;

‘Twistin’ is out of this world’, a brand new tune, complete with countdown and actual blast-off sounds

Archie Silansky -Earth

MOON; ‘Shine on Harvest Moon’, ‘Lunar Baby’, sung by Bobby Angel

Archie Silansky -Moon

JUPITER; The King of the Gods: ‘Al di La’ which appropriately enough means ‘Out of this world’, sung by Vasco Cordoni

Archie Silanskyi -Jupiter

NEPTUNE; The God of the Sea: ‘Beyond the Sea’ sung by Bobby Angel

Archie Silansky -Neptune

VENUS; as Venus is the Goddess of Love, and love is the most popular theme of all time, we pay a return visit to hear Vasco Cordoni, an Itailian who looks very much like a Greek God himself, sings in Spanish, the song ‘Venus’

Archie Silansky -Return to Venus

HERMES; the Greek God of speed: ‘Speedy Gonzales’ –not really a Greek God but still very speedy, sung by Maureen Rayson

Archie Silansky -Hermes

MERCURY; the Roman God of speed: ‘Quicksilver’, sung by Maureen Rayson and ‘Alabama Bound’ with a real Southern Sound.

Archie Silansky -Mercury

RETURN TO EARTH: Maureen Rayson sings ‘Won’t you please come home, Bill Bailey’, and she is answered by Bobby Angel who sings ‘You’d be so nice to come home to’

Archie Silansky -Return to Earth

original liner notes from “Out of this world” by Archie Silansky and his High Flyers with Vocalists; Bobby Angel, Vasco Cordoni, Maureen Rayson -Gallotone 1244 probably released in South Africa in the mid-60’s

Mediterranean Cocktail at Franco Restaurant with Vasco Cordoni

Now here’s a disc that features singer Vasco Cordoni at the cocktail bar of the famous ‘Franco Restaurant’ in Johannesburg,  specializing in Mediterranean food and spirits

singer Vasco Cordoni must be of Italian origin and born in South Africa. He worked mainly in the restaurant/lounge–circuit in Johannesburg in the 60’s,  singing a well groomed repertoire of Mediterranean origins while specializing in Italian songs.

Vasco Cordoni -La Notte

Vasco Cordoni -Tasseparo na fioume

The album ‘Mediterranean Cocktail’ was released in 1966 while Vasco worked at the ‘Franco Restaurant & Cocktail Bar’. He can be seen on the cover posing happily at the bar, probably with the band that accompanied him, or maybe the guys may have been working at the bar, shaking cocktails.  No credits nor any liner notes to verify that…But the repertoire on this album is pretty and comfortable to listen to, the usual cocktail bar/lounge fare but only more ‘poppy’ at times and with a few unexpected turns in mood and style, like ‘Sha-La-la’ and ‘O Barquinho’, that beautiful Brazilian Bossa Nova….

Vasco Cordoni -Sha-la-la

Vasco Cordoni -O barquinho

Vasco Cordoni -Se to vieni con mico

Vasco Cordoni -Volare


Have a go, order a Limoncello Martini and sip away those blues


  • 1/2 ounce limoncello
  • 1 ounce vodka
  • 1 lemon twist
  • Directions

Shake with ice and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Derek Gunning at The Caravelle Johannesburg

Derek Cunning at The Caravelle cover

Derek Gunning at The Caravelle Johannesburg

with accompaniment directed by George Hayden

Derek Gunning -autumn leaves

The Caravelle is one of the leading restaurants/night spots in Johannesburg, and its discreet intimate atmosphere provides an admirable setting for the polished entertainment of singer Derek Gunning and pianist George Hayden.

Presided over by charming hostess Olive Lawrence and genial host Freddie Pezold, The Caravelle has become synonymous of good cuisine and is famous for its special dish ‘Rock Lobster Ala Turque’, a tempting concoction that draws gourmets from far and wide.

Truly the ideal combination…a warm, friendly atmosphere…excellent cuisine…and discreet, intimate entertainment.

Derek Gunning -hello young lovers

Derek Cunning foto copy

Derek Gunning -it happened in Monterey

Derek Gunning; 30 years old Derek Gunning has been a leading vocalist in the main night spots of Johannesburg, Durban and Margate. In 1955 he migrated to England where he joined the famous Eric Winstone Orchestra at Butlins Holiday Camp and at the well known Millroy Club in London, and later toured the South of France sharing top of the bill honours with The Trio Los Paraguaro.

Derek Gunning -just in time

He also appeared in several leading TV shows in London, amongst them ‘The 6.5 Special’, ‘Follow the Stars’ (a radio show) and ‘The Late London Show’. On his return to Johannesburg, Derek featured as resident vocalist on a popular Radio Show and was featured with such prominent guest artists as Alma Cogan, Anne Shelton, Eve Boswell, Roy Castle and many others. Derek is now resident vocalist at The Caravelle (Johannesburg) where, with pianist George Hayden, he blends admirably into the intimate atmosphere of this leading restaurant/night spot.

Derek Gunning -the lady is a tramp

from the original liner notes of the album Derek Gunning at The Caravelle (Johannesburg) Rave Records RMG 1161

The Don Albert Combo -Dinner (not breakfast) at Tiffany’s

The Don Albert Combo -Dinner (not breakfast) at Tiffany’s

Restaurant Tiffany’s is represented on the album ‘Johannesburg Night Club Festival’  by a few musical selections,  although not credited, by The Don Albert Combo. Here is a rare album by that group recorded on their turf.  One can hear the usual standards done Don Albert’s style with some unexpected choices like ‘ Soul Bossa Nova’,  ‘The House of Bamboo’ and a twistin’ version of  ‘All my lovin’

The Don Albert Combo -Soul Bossa Nova

In Commissioner Street, known as the ‘Gay, White Way’ of Johannesburg, Tiffany’s -a hop, skip and a jump away from the heart of Theatreland- stands out like a diadem in a crown of jewels. Lush in its comfort, exciting in its atmosphere, under the genial direction of Rene Wildi, that man of international cuisine fame, the most delectable of foods are served and the wine list has available at your command the most selective vintages.

Fully air-conditioned so that diners are comfortably at ease regardless of summer heat or wintry blasts outside, Tiffany’s has the ideal climate at all times. Because of its convivial air, pleasing lightning, carpeted flooring and personal attention service, it has become the favourite nightspot for celebrities and others who have fastidious taste in wining and dining. Music provided by Don Albert and his Combo is a soothing background while you dine, and as the evening draws on becomes exhilarating for those who want to dance or an adventurous, musical experience for those who prefer to listen.

The Don Albert Combo -The House of Bamboo

The Don Albert Combo -Hello Dolly

The Don Albert Combo -All my lovin’

The Don Albert Combo -dancing in the dark

South African-born Don Albert is a musician filled with the spirit of adventure. An accomplished master of the reed instruments, it was not enough to follow the arrangements and style of other leaders in the field of modern, popular music. For Don Albert wanted to create a new sound, a new style and at the same time include much of the traditional of old and new Jazz. By trial and error, after spending hundreds of hours in searching for the right combination, he at last succeeded. Veteran, knowledgeable musicians and critics have described his Combo as the ‘mightiest little band’ ever to come to town. Not only is Don Albert adept at all the reed instruments, but much of the vocals on this LP are provided by him. It was only fitting that Don Albert and his new creative style, his outstanding accomplishments in modern musical performance should be part of Tiffany’s -South Africa’s unusually outstanding restaurant for dining, wining and dancing.

from the original liner notes from the LP

The Don Albert Combo -dinner (not breakfast) at Tiffany’s

Johannesburg Night Club Festival 1964

Johannesburg nightclub festival

mp3 introduction to Johannesburg Nightclub Festival

music for restaurants, nightclubs and lounges in Johannesburg 1964, South Africa

this particular collection of records started mainly for the fabulous covers.  Little by little I started to collect  a musical map of Johannesburg and discovered the music on these albums that were originally released in  the early and mid 60’s in very limited quantities. Of course this selection gives only a restricted view of  the popular music of the 60’s in South Africa. Remember this was pre-1994, long before Apartheid ended. In those days black musicians and artists were simply banned from performing in restaurants, nightclubs and theatres frequented by the white ruling class. Popular black music like Mbaqanga, Zulu Jive, Marabi, Kwela or African Jazz was reserved for the townships or could be heard via local black radio-stations.

All featured artists on the album  ‘Johannesburg Nightclub Festival 1964’ were regulars on the circuit of restaurants, nightclubs and lounges of the big hotels in Johannesburg or working in other big cities like Durban or Cape Town,  or they were residing in  holiday resorts in Lourenco Marques, now Maputo in Mozambique.


mp3  ‘it better be tonight

Little by little I became fascinated with the nightlife of Johannesburg in the 1960’s. It must have been quite a jolly good time for the people who could live and party there at the time.

mp3  one exciting weekend -The Balalaika, The Cockatoo Room


Imagine all the wealth and privileges of the era. The start of  a swinging nightlife based on the customs and culture of  Europe, USA and the rest of the world rolled into one.

the LP  ‘Johannesburg Night Club Festival’ kicks off with an introduction to the music by the bands and vocalists of those restaurants who have contributed to this album.  Due to contractual reasons their names are not credited but the restaurants participating are ‘Tiffany’s’, ‘His Majesty’s Cellar’, ‘The Balalaika’, ‘The Grove’, ‘Dawson’s’ and ‘The Colony’

the colonyNone of these places exist any longer. The original sites have been demolished or renovated and the map of  the nightlife in Johannesburg has dramatically changed since the day of recording these tunes

mp3  ‘my baby don’t care for me’  from The Grove at The Orange Grove Hotel

the grove