A REUNION? COMING SOON!


Occasionally we hear from old fans, who invariably ask:  Wouldn't a re-union of Mel, Mel & Julian be wonderful?

A REUNION IS "IN THE WORKS"!
The band is planning to re-unite in South Africa in 2018 for a few dates in the Johannesburg area... Where? When? To be arranged soon, so please watch this space for details!

We are pleased to announce our booking agent: Please contact Rael Birns at Rael@raelbirns.co.za or 082 452-1100

 

Mel, Mel & Julian from an interview in a Durban newspaper, drawn by Jock Leyden, who got it right!

 

   Mel Miller continues his stellar career as Grandfather of South African comedy at shows around South Africa.
   Julian Laxton continues to make his own great music, plus sessions, sound-tracks, commercials around South Africa.  
   Mel Green is a professional Graphic Designer and Illustrator by day, is a songwriter and sings solo around Boston, USA...
   So, please watch this space and your local media for news of future shows!

Once upon a time in the 60s...

How Mel & Mel met: where they performed; when Julian joined the band; who they met along the way; their influences and the key people in their brief, but sweet career ... and what they're up to today. Enjoy!

Links in the M,M&J Chain...

Influences & Earworms...

Two young guys singing in an art school classroom at lunch hour to appreciative listeners, and the realization that they had something special.

Key people and places in their career:

The Troubadour Coffee/Steakhouse in Johannesburg, THE folk club where it was happening!

Gary Bryden, Brit folkie, who got Little Mel up on stage at the Troub in the first place.

Keith Blundell, who auditioned Mel & Mel and who without hesitation offered them a weekly gig at the Johannesburg Troubadour..

Des Lindberg who kept them on at the Troubadour as headliners, when they weren't playing full-time at their long hotel residencies.

Ben Segal, quiet folk fanatic and founder of SAFMA, the South African Folk Music Association, and 3rd Ear Music, who opened his vast collection of music and his hospitality to the guys. 

Johnny Kongos, friend and a hit-making rock & roller, who encouraged them & introduced them to...

John E. Sharpe, a wonderful bluesman, who was managed by...

Billy Forrest, South Africa's greatest C&W singer and mentor to many young musicians, who became their manager, friend and guiding light.

Brenda Newfield, a wonderful folksinger, who gave Mel  & Mel some of their first gigs, and who opened up her home & her record collection to them, thus helping them expand their repertoire. 

David Sapire, a photographer and a fan who also helped with their repertoire, and who most significantly... introduced Mel and Mel  to his brother Julian!

Mike Dorsey, entrepreneur & club owner on the Durban music scene, became a fan, a mentor and helped the band in many ways.

Their influences. They  listened to everything possible, at parties, record shops, friend's living rooms, records and reel-to-reel tapes... absorbing everything that appealed to their evolving musical tastes and their developing musical skills. 

See the BLOG PAGE which has a list of recording artists and songs which first caught their ear(s) and whose styles and genres were adapted to suit their style, carrying on the "the folk-process" down in South Africa.

 

Historic Reference

In 1994 Mel, Mel & Julian were acknowledged and included in the book, "History of Contemporary Music in South Africa"...taking their place as one of few notable folk groups to make an impression on the evolving contemporary music scene.

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The recent ‘inductee’ into the American Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” and ‘Monster Musical Talent’, Trevor Rabin, writes a foreword for Volume One of Julian Laxton’s, as yet unreleased Biography. 

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Many years ago I went with my friend and band mate (Ronnie Friedman) to a band he was into. Freedoms Children.

Being a guitar player, I was quite a harsh critic and very seldom would "glow" at other guitarists. Call it competitiveness.

Consequently I was rarely impressed with my competition, least of all from local players. However that night at the City Hall in Johannesburg, I witnessed someone who left me speechless. He was Julian Laxton.

He was so far ahead of anyone in South Africa and I would argue a match for those in and outside of South Africa.

Freedoms Children had done an album called "Astra". I would also argue, to my ears, the finest South African album to date.

There were 4 band members.

However, without Julian's unique ability as an engineer and producer, the vocals would have sounded "ok" as apposed to electric and unique, the same with the drum sound.

The songs would probably have been "ok" folk songs.

What Julian did with Astra, is produce the greatest prog rock record in South African history. Nothing in South African music history comes close.

When I (as I still do) listen to Astra, I am amazed by the taste, the sound of the guitar, the atmosphere of the vocals, the strength of the drum sound, the arrangement "between " the keyboards and guitar and just the sheer brilliance of the production.

I consider myself a good producer, I have worked with successful producers including Bob Ezrin, Trevor Horn,..... but they don't began to compare to the production prowess of Julian Laxton. 

Coincidentally, the other producer I consider on an equal footing to Jules, is my good friend Mutt Lange.

But for Julian Laxton, I don't believe anyone would have given a shit about Ramsey Mackays songs.

In conclusion, Astra would not be alive without Julian.

Julian and I would often play on the same bill at shows..........we became friends and are to this day.

He is one of the most important guitarists, producers ever to come out of South Africa.

The "South African musician" has long suffered from an inferiority complex when comparing themselves to "music from overseas"

This was never the case with Julian Laxton.

South Africa doesn't make artists like him anymore.

He broke the mold.

I love you Jules….

50 Years Ago... Every famous band seems to be having a resurgence, based on how long they've been around, and even those that have broken up in the dim past, but even so, still celebrate their Extieth year "together". Some re-form and tour, celebrating that fact. Some make money. many don't.  

It is true though that Mel Miller and I met a little over 5o years ago at the Johannesburg School of Art, where we started singing together. Miller was a rock singer at the time, and I was just a kid wanting to play guitar and sing, because I'd been doing that around my home all my life.

You can read all about that in our bio section, so I won't repeat it here. Suffice to say that, we are still in touch through the high and low points of our lives, and goodness knows, neither of us has been exempted from life's hard knocks, which have been tempered by good times, something which I truly appreciate at this point in my life. (I am sure that Mel Miller feels the same way as I do.)

If you're a FaceBook afficionado, you might troll amongst the leavings on that site and you would find a bunch of recent postings I made to herald our 50th year of whatever. 

That would be a good thing if only to remind you to track Mel Miller's current doings in the comedy world, as well as Julian Laxton's occasional forays into live shows around Johannesburg... my associated FaceBook page, Mel Green Sings also has posts about various things I've been up to... so, please take a peek.

I don't imagine we would get together again to perform, only because of the cost of financing something like that... (I guess we need a Sugar Daddy or better yet, a Sugar Mama!)

Get  together again?

 At the time of this writing, we three and most of our generation have lived beyond our 60s and become part of that curmudgeonly group of folks in their 70s... and, as many of us would say, (if you'd only ask)... the  seventies are the new fifties or something! Perhaps, but then, some of us have been blessed with good health, all of our faculties (albeit with the addition of newly detected aches and pains, the addition of a few screws and plates, and new knees and hips, while sadly, many of our generation are dropping like flies. Such is life.

Via popular social media sites as Facebook, more and more old fans of our short-lived group, Mel, Mel & Julian, have expressed interest and given us some encouragement regarding how much they'd like us to put on shows in their various new home countries. For that I thank them from the heart of my bottom as Mel Miller used to say... seriously, I am grateful.

I think that would be a wonderful idea.

In fact, I attempted and almost succeeded in putting together a reunion tour of South Africa back in 2006 or thereabouts. Her's what happened, just so you get it from the horse's mouth...

After some persuasion, I managed to wrangle interest and equipment from various sponsors. And after they'd heard about the possibility of a tour, Des and Dawn had given us their wonderful support by arranging showcase gigs at the Grahamstown Festival, as well as a few Siorree gigs at their home and at other venues around Johannesburg. All told we might have made a good impression, and perhaps sold a bunch of CDs and who knows what else... maybe even broken even financially.

Perhaps other concert appearances in various countries might have resulted, in Europe, the UK, Australia and even in the USA, where I'd made inquiries about South African ex-Pat concentrations, so, who knows what might, or might not have happened. One way or another it would have been a gas to get together, to perform together again and to regard each other as mature adults... back in the day when we were much younger, we  were somewhat naive, and while we did make a splash, we certainly didn't make much of a living... which is probably one reason why we broke up. 

I am an eternal optimist, a good trait to get one through the pitfalls of life, methinks.

Alas, the reunion tour was not to be... at almost the 11th hour, Mel Miller backed out, the influence of his then manager stating that doing so would have effected his comedy career detrementally... and I reluctantly had to agree, and respect his and his management's decision. Julian was quite enthusiastic about a reunion, and I am sorry that he was disappointed and inconvenienced, because he seemed not to be doing much at the time, and this opportunity would have been a boost for him. Although I am still active in music around Boston, (but not ever to the professional degree that I was in South Africa), this reunion would have been a great shot in the arm for me as well, if only because my days with Mel and Julian were amongst my most memorable and enjoyable.

And so, wishful thinking raised it's head, and might do so again, although not as frequently as it had done in the past! 

So, life has gone on: 

In 2011, Mel Miller was awarded the Comics Choice Lifetime Achievement Award, a worthy capstone to his career as a wonderfully funny man. That year he also sold out the smaller theater at the Sydney Opera House, performing ‘Mel Miller’s Big Fat Comedy Show’. He continues to perform to this day, bringing his forthright opinions to any of those who will listen to his opinions of the world at large. 

Julian quietly continues to produce, record and perform, and his name is still revered in South African music circles... I only wish that the greater world could only hear and see how great a musician he was and still is.

So, as I've stated to anyone who might ask... if we did somehow make the huge effort to get together (huge, because it entails getting together in one place for at least a month to review music, material and rehearse)... we would have to expect to incur advance expense to cover the revenue we might otherwise be earning from our individual business endeavours... of course if some wealthy fan were to bankroll us, then that problem would go away. 

As I stated in the first paragraph, we are all now 70-years old and more... Mel's was in October, 2013, Julian's was in mid-2014, and mine was in January, 2014. (Hey, if we did arrange as tour, we could call it "The Old Farts Reunion" which would go down very well with some of our old audience, I am sure!) 

Can you just imagine what our individual contributions and maturity might bring to a future stage show? We are all so much better as musicians and showmen, and apart from the lack of hair, the addition of body weight, we would really show you all what good time could be as an audience for a show by Mel, Mel & Julian! Really!

We listened to everything, at parties, record shops, friend's living rooms, records and the current cutting-edge technology of that time,  reel-to-reel tapes... absorbing everything that appealed to our evolving musical tastes and our developing musical skills. 

 

Here is a list of recording artists and songs which first caught our ear(s) and whose music we adapted to suit our ever-evolving style.

 

During our Johannesburg Art School days, Joan Baez's first two LPs on Vanguard caught almost everyone's ear.... In our case Joan with The New Lost City Ramblers singing "Banks of the Ohio" and "Long Black Veil" were personally influential... and she was one of our earliest influences in the 60s.

 

Peter, Paul & Mary's early LPs "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" and many others of their 3-part harmonized songs influenced us, and their live album featuring comedy by Paul Stookey, also influenced Mel Miller.

 

Hoyt Axton "Greenback Dollar"... his delivery and forceful style!

The Kingston Trio (their version of Greenback Dollar), "One More Town" by Jon Stewart,  "Lemon Tree", and many other tunes.

Ewan McColl & Peggy Seeger "Ballad of Springhill" about a mining disaster in Nova Scotia. Chilling!

Ewan McColl "Dirty Old Town" A blue-collar pean to life in a grimy city.

Billy Edd Wheeler "Coal Tattoo", first heard sung by our friends Leon & Mike, and also his "coming of the Roads" as performed by Judy Collins, who was an important link to many other wonderful songwriters,making their names at the time, such as:

 

Gordon Lightfoot "Early Morning Rain" and "For Lovin' Me", (Both of which were also covered by Peter, Paul & Mary.  Many other Lightfoot compositions made a profound impact.

 

Leonard Cohen "Suzanne", "Sisters of Mercy", "That's No Way to Say Goodbye". Amazing!

 

Brown & Dana who were a fairly obscure duo, whose amazing recorded productions caught our ear. "Sinner Man" was amazing!

 

Listening to the Vanguard catalogue of LPs in friend's collections and record stores, was the way we discovered players who knocked our socks off...

 

The Weavers: "Goodnight Irene", a song that sank in when I was a mere child... later learning about Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gibert, Hayes who made musical magic and social commentary which made this South African ponder about the wider world.

 

Rambling Jack Elliot "Diamond Joe" and "Black Snake Moan". The first, his take on a southern tune about a gambler, the second his version of an obscure Blues song with plenty of double entendres! His guitar style, and persona made a huge impression. Plus his link to Woody Guthrie and all those early folkies from the 40s and 50s. 

 

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee: Guitar, harmonica and that original authentic sound first heard on a tape which came as a bonus with a reel-to-reel recorder purchased from a friend.

 

Ian & Sylvia "Little Beggarman", "Four Strong Winds" and many, many more of their songs... this duo and their superlative backing musicians set the standard for us!

 

John Hammond Jr. whose covers of Chuck Berry's "No Money Down" and other blues such as "If your man gets busted/Traveling Riverside Blues"... also opened our ears to other country blues.

30s era Ragtime discovered on favourite LPs by...

 

Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band: Washington at Valley Forge", "Sweet Sue", Coney Island Washboard" and many other fantastic tunes written by famous song-smiths of that early era.

 

The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem:  "Irish Rover", Paddy McGinty's Goat and many more.

 

Mimi & DIck Farina" "Pack Up Your Sorrows". An amazing duo, worth reading about  and following their fascinating story.

 

Steve Gillette: "Darcy Farrow" was covered by many people... a beautiful song which sounds as if might have been written 100 years ago.

 

Eric Andersen: An amazing songwriter... "Thirsty Boots", "Dusty Boxcar Wall" and many others. Songs that pull you in.

 

And many more... watch this space as my synapses kick in and I remember more!

 

Growing up in South Africa during the 50s and 60s, the individual members of Mel, Mel & Julian were all exposed to similar musical influences, provided to them via local radio, recordings and close friends who were either collectors of eclectic popular music, or who had ears that were open to new sounds.

 

The one person who was able to realize these influences into the group's music was obviously Julian, who had the ability and the great talent to imitate and make the music of that time his own.

 

Mel and Mel met at art school and when they first started singing out, their repertoire was limited to a few songs they learned from a Peter, Paul & Mary LP, and once they had snagged their first gig, an entire Wednesday evening at the Troubadour(!) they had to quickly increase their songbag.  

 

A friend and singing colleague, Brenda Newfield generously exposed them to her record library, songbooks and within a short time the two namesakes had almost enough to make it through an entire night, which was augmented by Mel Miller's jokes and humorous stories.

 

After the two graduated from art school and soon found jobs in their respective fields of design, a part of their earnings were spent on increasing their own record collections, and learning new songs they found on albums.  

  

After their first LP was completed, Julian was invited to join the duo, after proving that he could play anything on his guitar and they drove back to Durban to their first gig at the Edward Hotel as a trio, with Julian in tow as a new member of the band. 

 

Their combined musical influences included pop, top 10 radio, folk, blues, Rock 'n Roll as well as Classical, World  music, Liturgical music (both Christian and Jewish), in short music they'd been exposed to in their homes, but individually their influences were what one expect from young people of their generation. 

 

Mel Miller was busy imitating Tom Jones, and even Mick Jagger singing with a Rock band around Jo'burg, his "ears" were the kind that took in anything from Gregorian Chants to the Beatles and the Stones, to the "new" folk music.  

 

Julian had been playing in Rock Bands for a few years, and he was obviously influenced by the great rock and country guitarists of that time, everyone from Jeff Beck, the early Clapton, Duane Eddy, Merle Travis and Chet Atkins.  

 

Mel Green was always digging the latest songs on the local hit parade and while at art school as a neophyte guitarist in Cape Town was playing all those three chord tunes, and had loved the music of Lloyd Price, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Elvis Presley and that entire pantheon of 50s and 60s artists... his home listening experience was also filled with the sounds of the world, the music all around him as well as Classical music. 

 

This led to a very open-minded forum and meeting of the minds. Their music quickly improved.

 Such as Little Mel's harmonica playing, which he picked up from his friend Squeege Lewis who was playing in an R&B band in Durban, and Mel was a fan of Sonny Boy Williamson and Sonny Terry. His earliest folk-guitar teachers were Des Lindberg and Keith Blundell, who he observed very closely at the Troubadour in Johannesburg and later Alex Malcolm (of Rod and Alex, a Brit duo living in Johannesburg at the time). Peter Clifford of the 004 and later the Bats was a very patient teacher and of course Julian soon made Mel more proficient by insisting that he practice by himself every afternoon. Later in Durban he avidly listened to Paul Simon's playing and learned all of the songs from "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme" when he moved from the Edward Hotel to live in his friend Brian Finch's backyard guest room. His vocal harmony influences date back to 50s and 60s pop music, and while with Mel, Mel & Julian he most often listened to Bluegrass harmonies (The Green Briar Boys) and especially to the way Ian & Sylvia harmonized.

 Big Mel learned double-bass and listened to Jazz and also taught himself slide-guitar (influenced by the records of the great blues slide players and John Hammond Jr. His vocal talent at the time was immense, and his lead singing was most admired by many, foremost being Mel Green.

Julian expanding his repertoire of guitar-playing styles, (notably listening to the recordings of Merle Travis, Chet Atkins and Doc Watson, and the lead guitarists who backed up Ian & Sylvia, (David Rae), and John Herald, all of which was soon reflected in the band's music. Not one to just listen to one genre, Julian was watching and listening to all the up and coming bands in the Rock world as well, as is evidenced by his almost effortless jump from Folk to Rock after Mel, Mel & Juian broke up in 1967.

 While playing in Durban exposure to their friends in other bands also expanded their musical influences, and they learned different styles of playing, mainly Ragtime and Blues in an open-minded forum with their close friends and musician colleagues. Their vocal harmonies were informed by pop, old-timey, folk, bluegrass and C&W. In short their influences were from many sources.  They were truly fortunate to be of a certain age at a certain time, when so much new music was happening around the world and which became the "sound track" of their lives.

 

What kind of a title is "Ethnic/Shmethnic" you might ask yourself? Well, perhaps it is an irreverent one, but in this case perhaps an explanation is in order... you see, there was a time when folk music purists (even those in South Africa) during the great folk scare of the 60s, who insisted that folk songs should be performed faithfully, exactly the way they were "found", or as published in the folk music bibles such as "Child's Ballads". Or as originally heard, or recorded in the field by puckah ethno -folk-musicologists, on their field trips into the rural areas and backwoods of the United States, Great Britain, or other locales.
 

Deviations from the true-to-the-source presentations of these songs were never tolerated by folk fanatics. Even to this day you will find various folkie types standing up on a stage with beer glass in one hand and the other cupped around one ear so as to better intonate, or perhaps give the impression that the singer is being true to the ethnic source of the song he or she is presenting.
 

Thus the term "ethnic" was often used to refer to a truly rendered form of music. And then the question is sometimes posed – "if a song is copied by someone other than the "true" originator or follower, or by someone other than from that particular culture, then how can that presentation be traditional?

 

Seeking to ignore that and disprove that rather precious rationale, the members of the group Mel, Mel and Julian felt free to interpret their material in their own special way, and that is how the title "Ethnic/Shmethnic" came about ! They chose from the songs they performed during their "show" and which they recorded at the Gallo recording studios on their first outing for Columbia, South Africa in 1965...  
 

They drew from songs dating back to the 17th Century up until the 20th Century.

The melodies and words are essentially identical to the traditional versions, but the vocal and instrumental presentations have been arranged so that they are presented in the fresh and special style that was peculiar and special to Mel, Mel & Julian... and which set them apart from their colleagues in the very vibrant folk scene which began at the Cul De Sac Coffeehouse in Hillbrow as early as the late 50s, and which sprang to life in 1963 at The Troubadour Steak- and Coffeehouse and at other clubs which sprang up all over South Africa continuing into the 70s, when the scene morphed in Folk-Rock, and other variations of Rock.
 

  The LP "Ethnic/Shmethnic" by Mel, Mel & Julian set the bar for folk music that came after it's appearance, and folk groups and recordings soon  featured lead guitar, and other instruments as well... there was the common accusation that the resulting music was "commercial", and many were hard put to explain themselves and their choices, but eventually the truly good music stood out on it's own merits, as did their performers. 

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