Bio details: Born in Dundee, Scotland, in 1964.
David was raised on traditional Scottish music which influenced his musical interest. In 1973 he emigrated with his parents to Rhodesia and, by 1975, was appearing regularly at the Beverly Rocks Motel Folk Club in Salisbury. During this time he was further influenced by Zimbabwean folk singer, Iris Jones, as well as Neil Diamond. As a result he started to write his own songs and approached Martin Norris at Shed Studios in Salisbury who facilitated a recording deal for him. Martin penned David’s debut single – “Gypsy Girl” -and it went straight to No 1 in Zimbabwe and No 4 in South Africa.
26 ANSWERS FROM DAVID SCOBIE (14 December 2005)
On the eve of his departure from Zimbabwe for the fairer and greener climes of the United Kingdom, we were lucky enough to spend some quality time with David, picking away at his memories, experiences and views. Thanks, David, for accommodating our request – there is no doubt many people will enjoy what you have to say.
Q1 Where were you born and when?
Dundee Scotland 17 Sept 1964
Q2 What schools did you attend – and for what periods?
Ardler Primary Dundee until 1972
Nettleton Junior Harare 73 – 77
Cranborne Boys High Harare 78 – 79
Prince Edward High Harare 80 – 83
( Approximate dates! )
Q3 When, how, where did your interest in music start to surface?
In Scotland when I was five or six years old. I was climbing Glen Clova , one of my favourite places in Scotland with my parents. They started singing some songs casually as we were climbing and I joined in. They were surprised with what they heard, and so was I! At the Clova Hotel that evening they stood me on the bar top and I sang a song or two. I’m pretty sure that that was the start of a musical interest. Around ‘71 or ’72 my parents took me to see a Scottish Trad duo live at the Caird Hall in Dundee, called the Corries, I was so blown away. I was also taking in their music via the records that my parents were playing. This started my life long affection for Celtic music.
Q4 Were either of your parents musical? If so, to what extent?
My father (also David) has a good voice and would sing at parties etc. My parents loved music and influenced me with music from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Neil Diamond. For that I am very grateful.
Q5 Did you have any music lessons and, if so, on what instrument? Can you read music?
I had a few guitar lessons with a classical teacher but it was over my head at the time. I just wanted to learn chords to be able to accompany myself or anyone else. My parents were friendly with Iris Jones who was a guitar teacher. She explained keys and chords to me and was very encouraging in all aspects of music. I still cannot read music.
Q6 Singing? How did that begin and where?
Iris Jones sang at the Beverley rocks folk club with Clem Tholet. I was lucky enough to be asked to sing there a few times. I used to perform Scottish folk music, as well as music from Neil Diamond and The Beatles. My father also sang Scottish folk there a couple of times. Clem had just released ‘Songs of Love and War’. I was very proud to be sharing the stage with someone who had released a record and was famous within our community.
Q7 How did your music “career” begin and how did it take shape before you recorded “Cleaning Up!”
I played at local amateur variety and charity shows, a couple of night clubs and folk-pop evenings with Nic Pickard. I was around 12 or 13 at the time. It was great fun at the time. I played with my acoustic guitar only, doing pop cover songs.
Q8 Who really assisted you during these early years – parents, teachers…friends?
My parents encouraged me so much to play, there was no question there. Iris, Clem and Nic had also given me a chance to play to a live audience a couple of times a month. Martin Norris and Steve Roskilly turned out to be a great influence some years later.
Q9 Who were your early influences?
The Corries, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond and later, I discovered the Police, whom I loved. I still listen to them today. Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers had injected a whole new rhythmic approach into my music. I was hooked on them as a teenager.
Q10 How did getting to record “Cleaning Up!” come about? How did you become involved with Steve Roskilly & Martin Norris?
Clem Tholet suggested to Steve and Martin that he needed my sort of voice for an advertising jingle for Musgrove and Watson called ‘Travelling Man’. When I was in form 3 I was called away from my classroom to speak to Steve about it. Within a couple of days I was nervously singing the jingle at Shed Studios. Luckily the jingle went on to win Clem’s Advertising Agency an award, thanks to all involved. I loved being at Shed, I sang a few more jingles for them, and then Martin approached me one day with ‘Gypsey Girl’, which he had written for me. I had just begun writing at that stage and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ was recorded for the B side. I could not believe what was happening at the time. It was very exciting stuff for a fifteen year old.
Q12 How old were you when you recorded “Cleaning Up!”?
The album was recorded early 1981 and released later that year. I was sixteen. ‘Gypsey Girl’ was recorded in 1980 when I was fifteen and released later that year in time for Xmas.
Q13 Did you have any say in the material chosen for the record & how was this decided?
The three of us decided. Steve and Martin were musical gurus to me then and I trusted their opinions. I would not have sung any songs which I didn’t like though. I was very open to suggestions and so were they.
Q14 What were your ambitions, musically?
At that time having a single out (Gypsey Girl) and staying at number one for so long, and then having a successful album too, my ambitions were fulfilled completely. It was all happening too fast to take in.
Q12 You wrote some great songs on that album – “Maybe Life Don’t Care”, “Help Me”, “On The Phone”, “Don’t Pass Me By” and “The Girl Was You”. Did you compose the lyrics and tunes? What was the story behind each song (if you can talk about it!!!)?
Yes, the lyrics and the tunes are all mine. Thank you very much for the compliment. I am very proud of ‘On the Phone’. I was trying to do a Lennon at the time, hence the change in my voice. Steve and Martin had produced, in my mind, the most beautiful arrangement for that song, as well as many others. Thanks again guys. I can’t really remember now what the original influences were. ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ was the first song I had written. The lyrics for these songs seem to me to have been some kind of plea to be taken seriously as a writer. There were some strange lyrics then like ‘reigning king of the statues’ from ‘The Girl Was You’; I remember Steve Hughes, who was also involved with Shed, ragging me about that line. ‘Maybe Life Don’t Care’ seems a bit Diamond influenced.
Q13 I know this album did phenomenally well in Rhodesia – what did it do elsewhere?
It did well in South Africa too.
Q14 Tell me about the huge success that was “Gypsey Girl”. Has it been your most successful commercial song?
Yes, without a doubt. I have sung it a thousand times at various functions over the years. It brings out a sense of proud nostalgia to audiences. It takes them back to old good times. I have a sample of ‘Gypsey Girl’ from Canada where it was released for airplay as a DJ sample but unfortunately it did not break through to that market. It seems to be a favourite for compilation CD’s in South Africa to this day.
Q15 What happened after “Cleaning Up!”? Those of us who were mad fans of yours were desperately waiting for a follow-up album(s) to “Cleaning Up!” which just never came!
The second album Reborn (nothing to do with religion) was released in South Africa. The 3rd and 4th albums, ‘Photograph’ and ‘Special Edition’ were released in Zim. They didn’t have the same impact as ‘Cleaning Up’. My feeling now is that I had probably been taken as a bit of a novelty act – “the young guy with the big voice”; once people had seen and heard me, then it seemed a case of “been there, done that! Now let’s go and buy some real ‘imported’ music”. Local white artists in Southern Africa have never been taken seriously for very long. It’s a shame.
Q16 Your composition of original songs also seemed to have dried up – why was this? Are there any incredibly valuable and highly sought after “basement tapes” stashed anywhere?
I did keep on writing and recording for a few years and I do have copies of some material from that period as well as unreleased demos etc.
Q17 Have you only worked in the music field all these years or did music become a “night time job” whilst you did something else to earn a living?
I eventually became employed at Shed studios and produced or engineered various artists. Sometimes writing for them. I also became involved in producing/arranging/writing advertising jingles for a living which became my bread and butter for fifteen years during which time I built my own music recording studio.
Q18 What were you favourite performance venues in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe?
In 1998 a great local team and I put together a Neil Diamond tribute show at Reps Theatre. It was great fun and very successful too. It then toured the country and we performed for the farming community who were going through rough times. I loved playing at all the little venues throughout the country. (Nobody seemed to cater for these communities.) I then wrote a comedy in 1999 with Steve Hanly and Fraser Mackay called ‘My Private Parts’ which also toured to full houses.
Q19 Who are the biggest names you have shared the stage with at performances – names, dates & venues, if possible, please?
I can’t remember the exact dates, it was either ‘81 or ’82, I was interviewed on a South African TV show called ‘Open End’; The other guests were Olivia Newton-John and Sol Kerzner. That was amazing. I met Rita Coolidge after one of her shows in Johannesburg; Paul Simon on the Harare leg of his Graceland tour, I was doing sound for the supporting local artists; Randy Crawford, when I was doing supporting act sound for The Rusike Brothers.
I have played at various festivals over the years and shared the stage with S.A. acts; Lesley-Rae Dowling, P.J. Powers, Ballyhoo, Jeremy Taylor and Watershed. I’ve met The Corries in 1988 during their last tour in Scotland. Chris Martin from Coldplay once worked at Shed studios for a brief period, before he became world famous, so I’ve met him too.
Q20 How did the “Diamond Files” project come about? Full history, please!
Many people over the years have said that I sound a little like Neil Diamond, which lead me to the idea of doing The Neil Diamond Masterworks show at Reps in Harare. I recorded and played the music in my studios over three months, January to March 1998, and the show was directed by Steve Hanly. I painstakingly finished the tracks; trying to copy every nuance of Neil Diamond’s arrangements so that we could convincingly sell the show soundtrack to theatre audiences and for radio promotion etc. A few years down the line I received a phone call from Grant Edmond (John Edmond’s son) who wanted a release for South Africa. He persuaded me to re-record the vocals, so they were dubbed onto my backing tracks over a rushed two day period in Jo’burg and The Diamond Files were released. Unfortunately, I had severe flu during the sessions and it is audible on the recording, so I prefer the original vocals and mix which I had recorded in 1998 in Zim.
Q21 Do you see yourself as mainly – a singer, an instrumentalist or a songwriter?
I’d like to think that I can try my hand at all three. I have spent most of my time in a studio and would love to get a great band together and play live.
Q22 You are on the brink of leaving Zimbabwe – what are you future intentions in the music field?
I have been singing with my girlfriend Brigitte, who is also a musician, for five years now, gigging at numerous functions, festivals and venues in the Southern African region. This year, however, has been an even busier time for us in the studio, as we have recorded sixty-four Scottish traditional tracks (four albums worth). We plan to release them in Scotland at some stage; get together a live band and hopefully score some success in the Celtic arena.
Q23 Besides the “Diamond Files” and “Gypsey Girl”, are any of your other songs available on CD? Any plans to have “Cleaning Up!” released on CD?
Not that I know of at the moment. I am looking at having a website built and hopefully everything will become available again one day.
Q24 People love anecdotes, amusing stories and experiences from a musician’s career – can you share any of these with me? I’m sure there must be loads to tell!
I was lucky enough to have had a one hour television special in SA in the early eighties; They were shooting the ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ video for insertion into the show and one of the shots needed was for me and a sexy model to romp around together in the sea. This was a brilliant task for a young Scobie, and what made it even better was that every time a wave came ashore, her almost see-through dress rose with the waves to reveal that she wasn’t wearing any underwear! What a great way for a seventeen year old to start his short TV career!!
Q25 Family details – wife, children?
I am currently enjoying a happy relationship with Brigitte.
Q26 Any advice for any youngsters who might wish to follow in your footsteps
If you plan to get into the music world, make sure that you’re truly enjoying your self and that the style of music is close to your heart, as this will be reflected in your live shows, videos and audio recordings. (If you’re doing something that you’re not really in for and it becomes popular, it’ll only come back to haunt you later!) There will always be people who try to tell you what to do, and how to do it – take the advice, absorb it and see if it suits your vision in the long run. At the end of the day if you are doing something musical the best thing is to be honest and true to yourself. Most of all good luck – IT’S NEEDED!
Gypsy Girl (1981). Stanyan
Taking The Easy Way Home (1981). Stanyan
Cleaning Up (1981). Stanyan
The Diamond Files – Volumes 1 & 2