90 MINUTES WITH MIKE WESTCOTT (2009)
There can be no doubt that the broadcasting services of Rhodesia, both television and radio, were blessed with an array of vocal talent. They were hosts and broadcasters whose voices were synonymous with the programmes they presented. Who can imagine, for instance, Forces Requests’ without the voice of the late Sally Donaldson? And what of the fine delivery of folk like Sonia Hatten, Tony Adams, Peter Rollason (still untiringly active on the Bulawayo scene), Geoffrey Atkins, Joy Cameron-Dow, Martin Locke, Malcolm Russell, John Bishop, Eric Edwoods, Ken Jackson and Keith Kennedy amongst a host of equally skilled and articulate peers. And then we have the man who possessed, not only a wonderful voice, but a level of vocal artistry that left us mere mortals mind-boggled! Such was his talent that he could assume any part or role, often in the same reading, skillfully disguising his voice to the extent that listeners imagined that they were hearing a cast of one, two, three or four actors when, in fact, there was only one! There doesn’t seem to be any vocal challenge beyond his capabilities. That man is, of course, Mike Westcott.
Finding time in his extremely demanding schedule, Mike recently – and very graciously – agreed to share many of his memories and experiences with our readers. He is, of course, a multi-talented individual whose musical talent has manifested itself on many occasions through the years. He commenced his high schooling at Churchill High in Salisbury where he soon teamed up with his first band, the FURIES, with household names such as David “Squeege” Lewis, Nick Gonifas and Sandy Baxter. Mike was cast in the lead vocalist role.
Subsequent to the FURIES he joined Lee and Johnny Heather in the forerunner of the CHEQUERS where he was replaced, upon his departure, by Jack McGroaty.
Upon leaving high school in 1960, Mike entered the Teachers’ Training College in Bulawayo and it was here that he was to join the band, the PHANTOMS, alongside Grahame Ross, Chris Stone, Alan Wolhuter (Escombe) and Mike London. They were highly encouraged in their endeavours when they entered a rock band contest and ran second to the highly acclaimed Salisbury band, the DRIFTERS.
Whilst still at TTC, Mike later formed the CHANTELLES in a shared lead vocal role with his close friend of many years, Rick Rickards. Their twin vocals were perfect for the Beatles’ material they were performing at the time. The band’s line-up included Pat Ravenor on lead guitar. Pat hailed from Blantyre in Malawi and, as a result of their friendship, Mike visited Malawi to perform with Pat family’s band, the Ravens. The band’s residency was at a local club called Flamingo (known colloquially as the Flaming “O”!). During this time Mike won a talent contest and returned to Rhodesia with his 100-pound prize to buy a Simca van! This vehicle was to prove to be indispensable to the CHANTELLES as it saw the band and its gear transported to many a gig safely, securely and reliably! The group achieved further accolades when they went on to win a Texan Rock Band Contest at Trade Fair Rhodesia in 1963.
As a student, Mike also pursued the abiding interest he has always had in theatre and drama, working with Mary Morgan-Davis who was a very instructive influence during this time. It was here that he started to dabble in voice-over work, a direction in which he would make a major name for himself in the years to follow.
Qualifying as a teacher, Mike was posted to Northlea for two years as a result of his close contact with headmaster, Lex Bijl, who had taught him French at Churchill. This was at the time that Northlea boasted an all conquering First XV, many of whose players went on to become stalwarts of the national Rhodesian Rugby XV
In 1969 Mike relocated to Johannesburg when he first worked with Terry Dempsey at Storm Records as Artists’ Manager assisting stars like Dave Mills, John Edmond and Tidal Wave before signing Bulawayo band, the SILHOUETTES, who became LINCOLN on their relocation to South Africa and had a number of hits. He was then appointed Sales Manager at RPM Records, the company later winning the A&M Records contract. In addition to his activities at RPM, Mike was also hosting a couple of shows on Springbok Radio.
He returned to Rhodesia in 1972, prompted by a call from Malcolm Russell who was looking for a production manager for Advertising Promotions Limited (APL). APL were the main provider of commercials and many programmes to the broadcasting services in Rhodesia, specifically the RBC. Upon his return Mike was presented with a tough assignment – he had two weeks “to prove himself”. Failure to achieve this would see him return to the dole queue! In response he immediately tackled his first task, writing a jingle for Merton’s Motor Spares for radio and television. This was a resounding success and Mike’s tenure with APL was assured!
As a singer and composer, Mike’s most famous recordings were his collaborations with Ian Warren and Leprechaun on “I’m Just a Shumba Drinker” and “It’s A Long Way To Mukumbura” engineered by guitarist Barney Heldsinger. A third release, “The Biltong Song”, fell short by some way of replicating the success of its forerunners. In each case Mike used his creative writing talents to compose alternate lyrics to the original tunes, producing a pair of songs that will forever be associated with those turbulent years in the country’s history. “Shumba Drinkers” and “Mukumbura” enjoyed phenomenal success selling 25 000 copies of each and topping Lyons Maid Hits of the Week the national hit parade which Mike, incidentally, also presented Saturday morning.
It wasn’t long before he found himself before the cameras when he and Ian Warren teamed up to host the The Music Machine on Rhodesia Television.
Meanwhile, APL merged with Blackberry and Mike’s interaction with Tony de Villiers and Tony Locke was initiated. As a result of this relationship, Mike accepted an offer to move to Durban to set up a recording studio for Revill Productions, a company established by Bill Revolta and Tony de Villiers. The company had already established a studio in Johannesburg and were looking to extend their activities to Durban. Mike was appointed as Managing Director at Revill. Having successfully established the studio in Durban, the main company decided, in time, to dispose of that part of the business and, as a result, Mike set up his own studio in Durban. The business then became Mike Westcott Productions, continuing its emphasis on work for the advertising industry throughout the 80’s.
In 1990 Mike accepted an offer from Jerry Barnard and Eric Smith of B&S Studios in Cape Town to fill the General Manager’s role within their business. He duly worked for B&S until 1992 when he decided to freelance. Subsequently he formed Channel 5 Productions with well known Cape Town producer and recording engineer Gerry Karg. That business ceased trading in 2007.
Mike continues to be active within the advertising world and runs his own business out of Cape Town, Mike Westcott Productions, as well as Future Dimensions, with two young partners and Bamic Enterprises with his wife of 37 years, Barbara. Mike’s children have both followed dad into education. Andy is the Art master at Pinelands High School in Cape Town and Natalie teaches English to Primary school pupils in Avignon, France. Andy’s son, Matthew, and Natalie’s daughter, Eva, are now Top of The Pops with grandpa Mike!
(Posted 17 June 2009)