Home town: Salisbury
- Harry Hayden – Vocals
- Peter Dene – Lead guitar (Band leader)
- Tony Hulley – Rhythm guitar
- Hugh “Sandy” Miller – Bass & clarinet
- Maurice Fresco – Drums
- Mike Shannon (born Mike Stapleton) replaced Harry Hayden as lead vocalist
- Graham Spedding replaced Peter Dene on lead guitar
The Diamonds were formed in Salisbury in 1961 when a group of friends and acquaintances, with common music interests, decided to get a band together. The name they selected didn’t have any particularly special significance, other than the fact that it fitted in with the themes of names that bands were adopting at the time. At the outset they played at various Salisbury venues, including the Meikles Hotel and Coq d’Or, quickly establishing a reputation for themselves.
Their fame spread quickly and before long the band were doing forays into Northern Rhodesia, performing in various mining towns such as Kitwe and Ndola. Those were the days of simplicity where there was little – if any – advance marketing and things were very much “of the moment”. Sandy Miller recalls that the band would arrive in a town, find a suitable venue, put up a few posters and then, on the strength of word of mouth, draw an audience (at 10/- a head entrance fee!) and a great time would be had by all!! The band did reasonably well out of these excursions and at night, after the gigs, they would count their takings before dividing them equally amongst themselves.
From the start, the band took pride in their professionalism and organisation, building on their individual strengths to create a durable “sum” of the parts. An example of this was the way they allocated responsibilities within their ranks. Tony Hulley was an electrician by trade and, understandably, carried these responsibilities within the band. Hugh, having some artistic flair in terms of painting and creativity, would take care of the posters, artwork and bookings, Maurice was the “accountant” and Peter and Harry or Mike, would sort out the music aspect of the business, choosing the material and so on. This attention to detail and sound organisation would stand them in good stead, especially when they ventured overseas and needed some sort of “competitive edge” when vying with other bands for opportunities.
Whilst on the local circuit they were asked to play “live” on the night that television was launched in Rhodesia. They jumped at the opportunity and experienced an extremely long night as they played almost continuously for the duration of the launch. It was here that Hugh Miller became known, by a slip of the tongue, as “Sandy”, when the television presenter introduced him by the wrong name. The error, however, stuck and Hugh was to be known for evermore as Sandy!! It was whilst playing this gig that the well known South African band leader, Dan Hill, saw them at work and immediately offered them a five year recording contract with CBS. This was purely on the strength of the qualities he had seen in the group that night with their performance for television.
With very little ado, the band accepted the contract and agreed to take a female vocalist, Dana Valery, on board too. This was at the request of Dan Hill and his associates who felt the band would benefit from having a female vocalist fronting their act. The arrangement didn’t work particularly well and, after recording the album “Dan, Diana and the Diamonds”, the arrangement was ended. Shortly prior to this – and with the band planning to ultimately further their career on foreign shores – Harry Hayden indicated that he didn’t harbour the same enthusiasm and would not be relocating. It was decided that a new vocalist would be required, as the band did not want to use Harry’s voice on their forthcoming recordings if he had no intention of remaining with them. It was at this stage that a young member of the British South Africa Police, Constable 6066 Mike Stapleton, came to their notice after he had made the odd impromptu appearance with the band at their gigs to sing. Stapleton assumed the name of Mike Shannon, left the Police and joined the band permanently.
During their time in Salisbury the band played as the curtain raiser to some well known International acts, including the Shadows and Jim Reeves. Their relationship with the Shadows led to the release of their album entitled “The Diamonds Do The Shadows”. In most cases these acquaintances were to lead to friendships which lasted over many years.
Initially the band commuted to Johannesburg to make their recordings, however, after completing five albums in this fashion they moved to the “City of Gold” to make recordings easier, as well as to accept various offers of gigs. From a modest start at Pogo’s Place in Hillbrow they quickly rose through the levels, eventually securing a residency at the most prestigious club of the day, Ciro’s. The band did not hold particularly fond memories of Pogo’s as it was here, after returning to the club one night to collect an item he had forgotten, that Sandy witnessed a fight between patrons culminating in one of them being shot dead in his presence!
A recollection they did have fonder memories of was the night Chet Atkins, the legendary guitarist, approached the band at a gig and asked if they would mind if he joined them for a couple of numbers! It didn’t take the band more than a nano-second to agree to his request and the huge respect they had for Chet was further enhanced as he impressed, not only as wonderful musician, but by being a really decent human being as well.
Their association with Chet extended beyond this particular night…
At that time he was in charge of Gretsch guitars, of which the Diamonds used no less than two! On one occasion, due to some misfortune, one of their guitars had to be replaced just before a gig. An urgent plea by telephone for a replacement was put through from Johannesburg to Atkins in Pretoria and, a short while later, a replacement Gretsch guitar was delivered to the band by taxi! They were allowed to retain this instrument and, thus, the connection with Chet Atkins was permanently cemented.
Another famed artist the band have a connection with is that of the late Jim Reeves, whom they’d also met and performed with in South Africa. Unbeknown to the band, Jim had taken a liking to some of their material he had seen them perform as a supporting act to his tour and later went on to record a couple of their songs. Amongst these was the Diamonds’ original composition, “Pink & Blue Cadillac”, written by the band after Sandy Miller’s girlfriend had dumped him and taken off his with car – a pink and blue cadillac!
During this period the band were highly productive, releasing a number of albums which included:
- Cool Rock
- Dig The Diamonds
- The Diamonds On Tour
- The Diamonds Do The Shadows
- Dan, Diana & The Diamonds
- Diamonds Instrumental
- Dancing For Diamonds
- The Diamonds At The Fresco Terrace
- Mike Shannon & The Diamonds
In 1963, having negotiated a deal in the United Kingdom, the band sailed for England where they came under the management of Eve Boswell, a well known South African artist. They had broken new ground for they were the first South African band to depart the shores of the continent in search of fame. Upon arriving in England they learnt that they would not be able to perform under the name of the Diamonds as this was already in use by a British band. They dabbled with a couple of alternative names, such as the Strangers, only to experience the same problem. In desperation they looked to the “old country” and realised that there was one possible name that was unlikely to be in use anywhere else in the World – The Rhodesians! At last they had a original name which wouldn’t infringe on any copyrights.
Their relationship with Eve Boswell lasted only a short time before they changed to the Foster’s Agency, at that time one of the leading agencies in the United Kingdom. Although anchored for much of the time at London’s Astra Club, they gigged widely about England, also carrying out short tours of Europe where they shared stages and bills with many bands who were subsequently destined to become famous household names. As Sandy Miller recalls, “This was before anybody had made it in the true sense of the word. We were all on the road chasing the same dreams. Everyone got on pretty well and there was almost a community spirit amongst the musicians. Little did we know at the time just how big some of our contemporaries were to become”. Those fellow bands and artists included the Rolling Stones, the Bachelors, Millie, Lulu and the Dave Clarke Five. In between gigs the band would take on film work, taking parts as extras on sets and, basically, doing anything to subsidise their income.
Two of the band’s most memorable gigs during their European sojourns occurred in Germany when they opened the Storie Ville club in Koln, as well as a second club in Frankfurt to which they were invited after the success of the Storie Ville opening. Both gigs were huge successes and attracted many new fans to the band’s legion of followers. It was after a gig in Frankfurt that the Rhodesians came across some fellow musicians stranded alongside the road with a vehicle breakdown. In keeping with the relationship that existed between them all at the time, they stopped to lend assistance and found themselves being introduced to Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas! After a bit of natter the Rhodesians hitched the Dakotas’ vehicle to their own and towed them all the way home.
After returning to England after one of their European jaunts, they were summonsed to a meeting by their agent who introduced them to the Beatles, together with their management. The Beatles were in the throes of completing the filming of “A Hard Day’s Night” and had some spare songs which hadn’t made it onto the movie soundtrack. Two of the songs were offered to the Rhodesians and Billy J Kramer – one was called “One and One is Two” and, the other, “Little Children”. The Rhodesians plumbed for the first, Kramer for the second and the rest, as they say, “is history”!
There were a few more defining moments in the band’s experiences during these times. One transpired from an acquaintance they had made with Rolf Harris when he had visited Johannesburg to perform there. When Harris found that they were now in the UK, he invited them onto his “live” television show, a spot they went on to fill for the entire first series. The programme became hugely popular, eventually enjoying global status, combining Harris’ wit, artistic talents and music skills into a slick and highly entertaining show.
Two significant developments then occurred whilst the band were based at their residence at Salisbury House in Earl’s Court. The first was initiated by contact with the legendary music impressario, Mickey Most, who had just signed a new band called The Animals. Although a well known personality at the time, Most had also not yet attained the status, fame and fortune he was to do in latter years. Having taken the Animals into a studio to record them he had been staggered by their shoddy equipment, immediately condemning it as being unworthy of recording. When he considered alternative sources of equipment within the vicinity, the Rhodesians came to mind. As obliging as ever, the band loaned their very carefully cared for gear and shortly thereafter the watershed recording of “The House Of The Rising Sun” was captured. Now how’s that for a really unique piece of pop trivia!!
As thrilling as it was to be associated with such a momentous moment in rock history, the Rhodesians were not quite as thrilled when they saw the state that their equipment was returned to them in. The Animals had lived up to their name and stains and cigarette burn marks were very much in evidence, pretty much demolishing what had been equipment in immaculate condition. Members of the Rhodesians recall that the final indignity was the fact that they never even received a “Thank You”, in letter or word, from Most himself.
The second of these developments came about when the band were invited to audition for work in Australia. This was yet another occasion where the band’s discipline and professionalism won through. They duly saw off their competitors and, before long, found themselves in Australia where they took to the performing circuit in and around Brisbane. They also made regular television appearances during this time. Whilst in Australia they completed negotiations to travel to Vietnam to perform for the American troops deployed there, however, with the war situation worsening dramatically, this was never fulfilled.
It was at this stage that cracks started to develop within the band itself. Peter Dene had lost focus and was duly replaced by an Australian guitarist, Graham Spedding. Mike Shannon had also become embroiled in personal issues outside the band, these matters causing tension within the band’s ranks. As irony would have it, all this accumulated to deny the band ever achieving their ultimate goal of experiencing true success on the international stage – just as they were on the brink of another breakthrough in their career..
This massive opportunity had evolved from the activities of Joe Kentridge who had owned Ciro’s in Johannesburg when the band had originally played there. Joe had suffered a heart attack whilst visiting America and had subsequently decided to make his home there. Unbeknown to the band, he had passed some of their work around the music and film industry in the States and a song they had recorded, “When Strangers Meet”, has been selected as the title of a film starring Frank Sinatra. The film industry had expressed interest in the band travelling to the State to re-record the soundtrack of the title song. Sadly, conflict within the band effectively ended its existence, denying them this opportunity. The year was 1968.
Sandy Miller returned to the United Kingdom where he resurrected The Rhodesians with a new collection of musicians and, although they had their successes, the previous heights achieved were never attained again. Nevertheless, they continued to gig widely travelling to countries such as Israel, Yugoslavia and Czecheslovakia.
In the years since then then, Pete Dene and Tony Hulley, are known to have passed on. Mike Shannon’s present whereabouts are unknown although he is thought to be somewhere in South Africa. Sandy Miller has continued to perform to the present day as a part-timer, doing solo spots. He has had a successful career after music in commerce and industry and also indulges his other passion, fine art.
The band were prolific recording artists and had the following releases:
Cool Rock (1962) on CBS
Dig The Diamonds
Diamonds On Tour (1963)
The Diamonds Do The Shadows
Dan, Dana & the Diamonds (1962) (with Dan Hillon keyboards and Dana Valery on vocals)
Mike Shannon & The Diamonds
The group went to Australia, firstly under the name of THE STRANGERS, then they re-named themselves THE RHODESIANS. They performed in Australian clubs and recorded the album: THE RHODESIANS AT CHEVRON SKYLINE (1967). The group returned to South Africa in 1968, minus Peter Dean.
On this particular recording the DIAMONDS comprised Pete Dene (lead guitar), Tony Hulley (rhythm guitar), Sandy Miller (bass) and Mike Shannon (vocals).
The track listing is:
2. Blue Velvet
4. I Walk The Line
5. Rhythm Of The Rain
6. Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport
1. You’ll Be An Angel
2. Pink and Black Cadillac
3. When Strangers Meet
5. I’m Disappointed In You
6. Town Without Pity