Before we spin through the album, let us first take a snapshot of the year 1970 in South Africa, the year Zorro Five release ‘Jump Uptight’ for the Brigadiers Recording label: Philips records highlighted that 1000 doctors in South Africa had already had cassette players in their cars, with a tremendous increase in the sale of eight-track cartridges, EMI stating that cassettes sales were also an encouraging sign of demand for local bands to record on cassette. Polydor were working with South African artist Steve Lonsdale and imported ‘budget priced’ records had started to enter the country from abroad through Teal Holdings, with expectations of tripling sales that year, with the Gallo label, Africa’s largest domestic record company, riding the wave soon after. There was much change and the industry was a healthy one to be in. At a time when ABC were trying to dip in to the market, CBS’s Ivan Rebroff was taking off as the biggest selling foreign artist in South Africa and Request Records had begun negotiating the distribution of “ethnic” recordings. 1970 was to see the first ever rock roadshow tour and it was also the year a proposed merger between Gallo and Teal (two of SA’s biggest record companies) was first called off and then agreed upon. Club-goers were strutting their stuff at Yellow Submarine discotheque and audiences were already familiar with bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago and Santana. Hugh Masekela formed The Union of South Africa this year, and awarded a scholarship grant to Johannesburg’s Gwigwi Mrwebi through CHISA – Mrwebi being the first to form a non-white band in SA and first to tour SA. EMI (SA) had acquired the rights to release records by Freda Payne and Chairmen of the Board and “Bad River” was to be the first SA record to be released in the States before South Africa. The South African government allowed Percy Sledge to perform before an all-white audience after the all-black opening night concert had caused so much frustration by white music lovers with The New York Times reporting “some whites even tried to masquerade as coloured in order to slip into his opening night show in Capetown”. A decision criticised by The American Committee on Africa for breaking “the cultural boycott of racist South Africa”, but the fact that Percy Sledge was at the time outgrossing every American artist in SA with orders of 28,000 units, you can see why Sledge and his label might have been persuaded.
Our Zorro Five story starts with Zimbabwe-born pop/cabaret/theatre singer Judy Page, who, having worked with Johnny Boshoff in 1969 had moved to Johannesburg and recorded a second album the same year for CBS. It’s is on this album, ‘Time And Love’, that we first see evidence of Zorro Five members working together. The following year introduces South Africa to the band’s collection of rocksteady, rhythm & blues and blue beat with, as mentioned, Johnny Boshoff (bass) – off the back of a 1969 CBS album ‘Hit Vibrations’, Archie van der Ploeg (guitar) – off the back of a 1969 South African Easy Listening album, Tony Moore (drums) off the back of a Philips’ Classical release, ‘Music From The 100 Years War’, Zane Cronje (composer, arranger, keyboards and organ) – who went on to score many soundtracks, South African engineer from Johannesburg, Peter Thwaites, who had worked on The Drakensberg Boys Choir ‘Get Me To The Fun On Time’, also 1970, perhaps more recognised for his notable release in 1998 on KPM Music (alongside Robin Hogarth and Teaspoon Ndelu) for ‘The Colours Of South Africa’. And finally, band member, and star name here, Johnny Fourie [Jan Carel Fourie], a guitarist from Postmasburg, Northern Cape, who had been part of four other albums prior to 1970, most notably a piece aptly called “Ragamuffin” in 1960 on SA label Renown. Fourie went on to work with UK’s MELT2000 in 2014 – at a time when guitar maestro, John McLaughlin, commented: “Johnny Fourie is one of the greatest guitar players of our époque”. The album was released on the day of Johnny Fourie’s memorial. Johnny Fourie goes back even further, performing beside Tubby Hayes at Ronnie Scott’s in 1964, amongst others, as resident guitarist at the club for many years. He would go on to work with Charles Earland, Hubert Laws, Billy Cobham and Lee Morgan in 1972. He also recorded with Richard “Groove” Holmes during the ‘80s on ‘African Encounter’ under the eye of South African music producer Rashid Vally (As Shams).
Although South Africa’s mainstream charts in 1970, compiled by Springbok Radio/EMI, were riddled with pop and rock songs by the likes of The Tremeloes, Tom Jones, Chris Andrews, Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin, there was also a somewhat significant rocksteady release in Harry J. All Stars’ ‘Liquidator’ floating around the top 10, Bobby Bloom’s “Montego Bay” hit the top 10 and so did Desmond Dekker with “You Can Get It If You Really Want”. It is clear then, on sales, that the public were embracing this “Jamaican” sound, one we can speculate an influence on local bands and those forming Zorro Five. Remember, 1970 was the year Delroy Wilson and Ken Boothe were with Coxone Records, Derrick Morgan and Slim Smith were with Pama Records while The Heptones were over at Studio One. Let’s hope South Africa managed to hear some of these on home soil at the time.
Present before us, is an album of some twelve tracks, with all but one under that 3min cap set by radio stations, with nods to soul, funk, ska, rhythm & blues and rocksteady. From this album, two songs were pressed to 45, ‘Reggae Shhh!’ and ‘Reggae Meadowlands’ licensed by Decca UK, Decca Italy and Deram for the growing popularity of the jukebox. ‘Reggae Shhh!’ has instant SKA appeal with post-psychedelic organ riff and non-singing skits – not too dissimilar to the founding ska releases and a piece one appreciates had underground status and an obvious choice for a single. ‘Reggae Meadowlands’ has the belly of rocksteady but with just a little more than simple guitar chords, we often heard on other tracks, which in turn gives much pleasure. Of the remaining ten numbers, the tongue in cheek ‘Red Turnip’ is a close cousin to ‘Green Onions’ and what must be a deep play at MOD events with it’s rolling organ and late ‘60s appeal. ‘Plastic Iron’ follows a similar path with long organ chords, with ‘Jump Up Turn Around’ having that all-important Blue Beat/Mod/ska sound in abundance – yes they are all instrumentals. Taking the notch up considerably, I found ‘Good Books’, with it’s funky Curtis Mayfield influences to be one of my favourites. It has a richer ’soulful’ sound to it, and for that does shine. ‘The Exit Song’ is a fun jam you would be hard-pushed to dismiss, while ‘Rebel Rouser’ fits snugly on the album with more musicianship going on by the Five. And then there’s ‘First There Is A Mountain’, the clear stand-out track for me, which reminds me of where Jackie Mittoo was at with his Studio One album, ‘Now’, of the same year. One hell of a monster, and yes, worth the purchase of the album for alone.
There is little we know of the collective, but there must have been incredibly popularity in South Africa as Zorro Five would go on to win “Best Beat Group” at the 1971 South African Recording Industry Award (SARIE) for this fine album ‘Jump Uptight’, that hopefully with Matsuli uncovering, will sit atop new turntables and entertain many a music lover the world over. A brave but rewarding release.