Singer – Now known by her married name Laurel Zurnamer.
It was at the tender age of six that Laurel told her mother that she wanted to enter a talent contest on Rhodesia Television’s “Tele 5” programme. Somewhat taken aback her mother asked what she envisaged doing in the competition and Laurel promptly declared that she intended singing “Henry Higgins” from My Fair Lady! Recognising the determination in her daughter’s voice, her mother telephoned the show’s producer, Mike Yeates who immediately asked whether the potential entrant could sing. Despite never heard her daughter sing, her mother had not hesitation in assuring Mike that she could. Laurel duly sailed through the audition and won the competition, thereby ensuring that she had won Mike Yeates’ support and mentorship for evermore!
She attended Henry Low Junior School where, ironically enough, she was chucked out of the choir. Upon completion of junior schooling, Laurel went on to Townsend High School where, once again, she was ejected from the choir’s ranks because she was “too loud” and insisted on doing her own harmonies! It was at this point that she realised that, if she were to perform, it would have to be a solo artist. Despite her lack of cohesion with the school choir, her talents were obviously recognised as sang regularly at Friday school assemblies, delivering her interpretation of songs from Godspell and JC Superstar. On these occasions she was accompanied by an acoustic guitarist.
By the age of twelve, Laurel has been offered several recording contracts, however, her age was an issue in both South Africa and the United Kingdom. Matters were also complicated by the fact that she hailed from Rhodesia, viewed as a pariah state at that time.
Undaunted, she continued to pursue her singing interests locally and performed at a number of high profile gigs including one in Umtali with Don Stanton. Laurel was alsmost traumatised when it was decided that she should come on to the stage on a horse – she recalls that they both nearly died of fright! That’s the horse and her, by the way!
Before she had turned sixteen she was performing cabaret at Salisbury’s La Boheme night club. Again, her age presented complications in terms of legislation such as the liquor laws, as well as the content of some of the other artists’ acts. These included strippers and risqué comedians. As a result she had to be chaperoned to every performance. Back at school she was preparing for her “O” levels. Her nocturnal activities drew the school’s displeasure, matters eventually coming to a head with an altercation between her parents and school management. Happily, it was all amicably resolved and she was allowed to continue with her outside school entertainment activities in parallel with her studies.
One of the of the most exciting events in Laurel’s life occurred as the result of letter and demo tape which was sent to Jack Oliver of the Beatles’ Apple label by Mike Yeates and her father. Not particularly hopeful of a response from such a large organisation, they were amazed when a reply was received agreeing that Laurel was talented but that she sounded too similar to Mary Hopkins for Apple to show any interest in her. This was followed by a personal telephone from Paul McCartney to her father, McCartney suggesting that they visit London where he would personally audition her! The family immediately sent about applying for a passport for her, a time-consuming exercise which delayed their eventual arrival in London. When they did get there the Beatles were away on tour with the result that they never met Paul McCartney and the promised audition failed to materialise. The family accepted the outcome of their venture philosophically and returned to Rhodesia.
Laurel continued to appear throughout the country in various shows and performances. She was backed by many of the leading bands of the day, including SHALIMA at La Boheme and the COLLECTION on other occasions. Paul Amato and Geoff Sedgwick also regularly provided backing guitar. Her preferences were for material by artists such as Joan Baez, Mary Hopkins and Carole King although, in her cabaret performances she sang songs as diverse as “House Of The Rising Sun” to the “Click Song”.
Some of her most treasured memories are of performing at the annual Trade Fair in Bulawayo. The Mike Stewart Show in 1980 stands out particularly for it was during this time that she arrived one night suffering from a sore throat ahead of her performance. A close associate suggested that she soothe it with a mix of brandy and port. Laurel followed this advice but didn’t realise that she was only supposed to gargle with the liquid and duly swallowed each mouthful. Unaccustomed to alcohol, it had a wider effect on her disposition than merely addressing the woes of her throat! She candidly admits she has no recollection of her performance that day but has been assured that it was an outstanding one! Her advice to other artists suffering from sore throats? Well, the mix works very well but PLEASE DON’T INGEST IT!
Laurel is no longer singing as a legacy of numerous throat infections have damaged her vocal chords. Her closest involvement in performing these days is watching Idols and wishing she were 16 again!