Exposing the Secrets… after all these years.
( A brief history of the greatest band from Linden… ever! ) …well my version anyway – Andrew Rees
There we were, stuck in school, caught up in a verkrampte education system that only ever taught us how not to behave, and that was with a cane, well I speak for myself anyway. It was the early 80’s, a time of the Jeppe Street flea market @ the Market Theatre Precinct (I can’t believe I ever bought anything there !), going into Hillbrow to get our LP’s (by bus nogal) from the Hillbrow Record Centre, having our tattoos done by Alain at the underground flea market across the road, watching ‘highly subversive’ movies like the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Mini-Cine upstairs in Pretoria Street, walking from Vanderbijl bus terminus through town to the Ster City movie complex in Claim Street ( Shit, did we REALLY do that?), trying to ‘score’ the best looking “bird” from the queue that wound around the block outside of Bella Napoli and rescue them from the ‘straight ‘okes (and that’s the polite terminology) inside and show them what a real club was about, ie The Chelsea, DV8, Dirt Box, Jameson’s, etc.
It was also a time of some of the greatest bands/musicians this country has ever seen, Tribe After Tribe, Radio Rats, The Dynamics, e’Void, The Helicopters, Petit Cheval, Psycho Reptiles, No Friends of Harry, Peach, October, Ella Mental, The Kalahari Surfers (not that we ever got to see them, no thanks to PW & the boys) Bernoldus Niemand and The Cherry Faced Lurchers…but for me the band that stood out, far & away, was Dog Detachment.
For me music is all about passion, total dedication, feelings from within, gut-wrenching tunes & lyrics, total balls against the wall, and for me, Dog Detachment had all of these attributes.
Anyway one Friday my good pal Ian says to me, C’mon let’s go out tonight, and I say: What for, I’d rather stay at home at listen to my record collection, it’s more interesting (dedicated little bugger was I)..still Ian prevailed, then he came up with his final arm-twister…there’s a great band called Dog Detachment playing…
So anyhow, we ended up @ a great but dingy club called The Dirtbox in Commissioner Street, and so excited was Ian about this band that he helped carry their equipment up three flights of stairs, never seen him do much work since though…oh …Ian, the guys say thanks very much for the help on that night back in 1984.
Can’t remember that much about the gig except that it must’ve been a blinder & made such an impression on me that the next day I went out & purchased ‘The Last Laugh’ from Street Records in Braamfontein….been a convert ever since.
So who were these guys that had such an impression on me?
Well by the time I saw them they had morphed from the original line up, known simply as ‘DOG’, which consisted of brothers Brian (known then as Brian Wylde) on guitars & Terry Armstrong on bass (otherwise known as Terry Tornado, Terry Blitzkrieg, Terry Apocalypse, Terry Gremlin & he of bad laughs, etc, etc ) and a school friend known simply as Blister, who played drums and contributed vocals. They grew up in the fairly conservative suburb of Linden in the north of Jo’Burg which the press at the time latched onto and started referring to them as well off Northern Suburb fascists, which as you can imagine, pissed the band off big time as they thought of themselves as nothing more than middle-class boykies from the suburbs. Their dedication is such that when they moved house to Quellerina later on they insisted to their folks that the house should have a practice room, and so the wine cellar become home to the sounds of early 80’s South African ‘Stormtrooper Pop’.
The original band formed in early 1980 and their first gig was in March of that year at the GR Bozolli club on the Wits University campus opening for Wild Youth, as this is where the brothers were studying at the time.
The band’s sound then was unashamedly punk having been influenced by what the lads were listening to at the time, The Sex Pistols, Wild Youth (remember them?), The Clash, The Ramones, Cockney Rejects, The Dead Boys & later on Echo & the Bunnymen. At the time ‘DOG’ played energetic, high-pressure music which they preferred to call ‘Stormtrooper Pop’. They were single-minded from the outset and wanted to move in their own direction.
‘DOG’ released a double ‘A’ side single in September of 1980 called Why/ In the City with a third bonus song, their version of Matt Monroe’s ‘Born Free’ of all songs!! This was recorded at Emcee Studios in Jo’Burg, produced by DOG themselves and engineered by Peter Hubner
To set the scene at the time, I refer to the original press release which opened with the line: “The South African music scene is tired….” (by the time these boys had finished around 9 years later it had certainly had a wee bit of an overhaul !!) “…. The media is largely to blame. It dictates to the public and therefore the bands are caught in a vicious web, whereby they are forced to choose between individual direction and what is expected of them in order to survive. Record companies are extremely conservative & purely profit-orientated.”
DOG, therefore, decided to go it alone and recorded their debut single at their own expense.
The decision to do this was taken largely because the record companies that had shown interest in the band would not put their money where their mouths were. Those that were prepared to record, laid down conditions totally unacceptable to DOG. A deal was signed for the release & distribution of the single with B & S Records.
After the release of the single, however, Blister departed as the band was taking up too much of his private time. The band was then complemented by the third Armstrong brother, Alan, on drums & percussion. Alan up until then had been the band’s manager and handled the sound & lights. Also joining the band was fellow Wits student and friend, Mike ‘Animal’ Adams on keyboards, rhythm, and a 2nd bass. At this stage, the band became Dog Detachment.
A 2nd single was released in November 1981. Again it was a double ‘A’ side EP, Machines/ Third World War. This was recorded at Universal Studios in downtown Jo’Burg, which was also where they were to record all 3 of their subsequent albums. The single was produced by Dog Detachment & Keith Berel of Flash Harry fame with Jannie Smit engineering, and was put out on AD Records.
The band was gigging quite extensively around the very limited Jo’Burg & Durban circuit at this time (Selbourne Hall, Durban University, Blue Beat, King of Clubs, Plumb Crazy to name a few ). The first gig with the new lineup was the ‘Shape of things to come’ gig, arranged by the band themselves, again at the GR Bozolli venue on the Wits campus. On the bill, that day was The Nubiles out of Durban and the Tim Parr Band.
The band’s live act met with very enthusiastic response as the audience’s reaction told them there was a huge demand for a highly energetic and visually entertaining act. The band felt that live acts should be visually exciting, with audience participation, as concerts are for watching/participating in, and records are for listening to. Many bands at the time were totally sterile on stage, attempting to reproduce recorded sound perfectly, to the extent of being boring. Not our lads, balls to the wall they were, and quite rightly so.
An amusing anecdote from their time on the road goes as follows: The manager of one of their fellow bands on the bill at one of their gigs asked one of them if they would like a ‘roll’, to which the reply in all naivety was: No thanks, I’ve already eaten!! Well, that’s Dog Detachments’ stance on drugs for you then!!!
Mile & miles & miles of desolation…
The debut album, ‘The Last Laugh’ was recorded between October 1982 and March 1983, to be ready for release in November of that year with the title single becoming one of this country’s all-time classic songs with its swirling, desolate guitar echoes. The album was released & marketed by David Gresham Productions & engineered by Jannie Smit.
The Last Laugh received very enthusiastic critical acclaim by the SA music press & the public alike sold fairly well and compared very favorably to European counterparts. Abound with pulsating rhythms and dark harmonies, it was steeped in menace & melancholy and tempered with harsh realism. There was intense despair of the way things are, from the naiveté of glitter disco to the urban scream in a pastiche of low-slung power chords and a misty aural scape. This was reflected in their choice of cover which had alone lighthouse shining out of the desolate mist over the dark mysterious rocks, with the deep unknown sea crashing over them. The cover alone was tempting enough for me to see what lay between.
From the swirling, desolate sounds of ‘The last laugh’ to the echoes of the dark age in ‘Envoy from Planet III’ we see visions of a world out of control in ‘Memories of the Future’ with the doleful wail of sirens and a floating ballad ‘Black Hole’ complete with an ethereal fade out …all featured here on CD for the first time. Oh, & be careful, those men in white jackets are still hanging around on ‘Straightjacket’. Phew!!
The album had an overall feel of solemness, delivered by angry young men, but it certainly left Dog Detachment as a force to be reckoned with for the future.
Also with DGP the band recorded and released the single “Young Days” in 1994.
Out of the mists and into the dawn…
The second album, Fathoms of Fire, written, arranged, recorded, engineered & produced by the band, appeared on their own Rampant Records label, & distributed through Gallo, during April 1985 after what had been a difficult period for the band. As with The Last Laugh, this was done at their own expense. “Comparative reclusivity,” “Welcome back” & “Uncanny survivors” were the terminology being banded about upon their return. Being as dedicated & committed as they were to the band, the gigging and the making of a new album, things weren’t helped along much by the generals at National Service HQ: Brian & Mike were conscripted to do their 2 year stint in the army whilst Alan was drafted into the airforce. The album turned out to be a lot mellower and with a hint more romanticism than The Last Laugh. Strange when you think that 3 of them were doing National Service! Must’ve been the blue stone they put in the food at the time!! “Fathoms” did not get much promotion or much gig support either, due to the enforced lay off. Although Brian’s favorite gig, the free gig at the packed out Devonshire Hotel in Braamfontein took place around this time.
What this release did do though was to showcase the natural progression of Dog Detachment as a musical force.
Again the album was accompanied by another great mood-setting cover. A mountain landscape that is dark & desolate but warm and enticing to the soul, as opposed to the coldness (although inviting in a strange way) of The Last Laugh cover. Both these covers were sourced from the Image Bank.
Being based mainly on human emotions, the album will always remain relevant, it is a kaleidoscope of different moods, sounds & textures. Generally more contented, warmer, and more diverse than its predecessor.
What is exciting about the songs from this album is the extent to which the strong romanticism of their music has increased in impact, a fact borne out by the beautiful ‘Touch the Sky’ & and ‘Waiting for a miracle’
An interesting promotional item for the sweet but rough-riding Parisian brothel ballad, complete with garlic accordion, Froggy whistling chorus, and authentic deep throat gurgle- ‘Cheri Amour ( A Thousand beds)’ was to send out a single rubber rough rider stapled to the press release with the single. This prompted one horny scribe to pose the question: Where are the other 999? Terry recalls the time he had to go into a chemist to self-consciously buy a couple hundred of the things, getting some strange looks indeed!
Blow ’em away with a birdshot shotgun
>1988. The band’s ‘comeback’ gig after a two-year interlude, I went along with another good mate, Guiseppe, also a great fan (there must be hundreds of us!) who to this day still treasures the program from the Portuguese Hall gig in Turffontein, south of Joburg. It was part of Barney Simon’s Alternative Invasion on May 31.
The relentless gigging continued at places like The Thunderdome in JoBurg’s Claim Street, with great new live numbers like ‘White Flag’ & ‘Monochrome Man’ which were to appear on said forthcoming album.
‘Animal’ had amicably left the band by this time. He later returned to music and went on to feature in various gothic bands including “The Walk”.
The album was to come out during the latter half of 1989, titled ‘Barriers’ and again with fantastic artwork on the cover, albeit, this time slightly different. They commissioned friend & graphic artist, Sean Seargent, to come up with the ‘Verwoerdesque’ three horsemen cover. The band by this time were becalmed and had done a lot of soul searching over the interlude, the cover being dark and portraying this newfound image, although the music was a lot more accessible, the lyrics were more cerebral & less naive.
The lyrics to ‘Secrets’, when listened to now, have a feeling of deja vu about them, specifically with regard to the Truth Commission of the ’90s.
” You have secrets, I know you do, have secrets…and what about you.”
“Blow ’em away, in a smoking township, but it’s all ok”
“What you gonna do? Time will come & tell the tale. What are you gonna say?”
“Turn around, look at what you’ve done!”
In fact, most of the lyrics on Barriers carried an element of the prophecy of the future with them. It all made for another great album though. Sadly the last from the kennels of Dog Detachment.
The album was released through Teal Trutone and was again composed, arranged, and produced by the band themselves. It also featured backing vocals from another two Armstrongs: Sharon: Brian’s wife & formerly of Durban band The Nubiles and Anne: Terry’s wife. A true family affair were Dog Detachment!
The album was a lot more innovative than its predecessors and had an all-around feel of stronger quality. The content also mirrored some of the mood of progressive white South Africa during the apartheid era, again the prophecy factor kicking in, as this was 1989, a full year prior to President De Klerk’s speech heralding the start of the South African reform process. “Heartwheels and Mindmills” was haunting yet still very melodic and had shades of Echo and the Bunnymen in the vocals as well as the guitarwork, whilst still retaining the original Dog Detachment sound. This again showed how the band had progressed over the years. “Subhuman” was slower and more poignant. “Love will come come” is slightly anthemic and ominously the last track on side two of the last album Dog Detachment put out.
Listening to Dog Detachment songs today makes one realise how they really have stood the test of time. This is due in no small way to the intrinsic pop qualities & structures of the songs which were basically hard rock pop, and not 3 chord thrash or metal which tend not to age like the average man, gracefully!
The guys were always pushing boundaries with their music, always on the rebellious fringe, accepting absolutely no compromise. They believed strongly in what they were doing. Also, whilst not being as politically overt as The Dynamics perhaps were, they still prided themselves immensely on their lyrics. DDT, for those who can remember the days of South African release LP’s, was one of the few bands who insisted on lyric sheets accompanying the album. They hung on to their artistic integrity throughout.
As Alan says, they basically ate, drank & slept Dog Detachment for nigh on 10 years, and had some of the best times of their lives doing it.
Dog Detachment always had a laugh while they were on the road, being intelligent, educated lads, they would often poke fun in the form of satire at very relevant issues, I am sure including themselves. Singing about heavy life, as it was in SA in the ’80s, wearing the orange, white and blue jumpsuits, with the old SA flag on the sleeve, it was all satire, a joke, a rip off of the State. Some of their fans did give them a bad name though. At some gigs, the satire on the dance floor was sadly absent, with swastika adorned heavies wrestling to the riffs of the band. Mustachioed security officers wrestling with the dancers. The irony was tragic. The intimidation that they so despised protected them from their over-enthusiastic fans. This neo-nazi-ism & fascism trend being the one aspect which did not go down too well with them at all throughout their career, ‘specially when respected, supposedly educated music journalists took up the same cudgel!
The majority of their fans were great though and a lot of fun was had with them. I could see the memories coming back excitedly whilst chatting with them. The guys never saw themselves as stars, I wonder if they realise the legend they created that has now become an intrinsic part of SA music folklore.
Mike is now living in Australia, with Terry, Alan, and Brian all holding down professional 9 – 5 lives.
The band never officially disbanded, work commitments just became the priority as they knew they were never going to earn a decent living from their art in SA. Brian moved over to the UK to study (he has since returned) and Alan spends a lot of his time out of the country on business.
Terry, Alan, and Brian are extremely proud of this fantastic project you have in your sweaty hands now and immensely grateful to Benji at Fresh Music for coming up with the concept.
They’d love to do it all again, be the South African Stones, but realistically know they don’t have the time to dedicate to gigging. You’ll have to make do with the memories of the ’80s that listening to these songs brings you. Maybe a new album one day guys?
Big time thanx for the wonderful memories!!!