Rob’s entry into the world of music performance was launched when his aunt presented him a guitar purchased from ERMI “for about a fiver”. He was 12 at the time – and the die was well and truly cast! He carted the guitar with him wherever he went, sitting for hours on end learning chords and practicing. The bond between the two was broken (literally!) when the instrument fell over one day shattering the headstock and reducing it to a three-stringed implement. Such was the extent of Rob’s grief that his father quickly produced a replacement Bellini guitar, purchased from Barry Dodds also “for a fiver”! Ron had it stripped down and varnished to make it look like a “real guitar” and continued his enthusiastic exploration of music.
It was whilst at CBC as a scholar that Rob came into contact with a Spanish priest, Father Xavier, who had come to the school to learn English. Father Xavier played a semi acoustic guitar which he amplified through the head of his portable gramophone. Rob was mesmerised! Under the priest’s guiding hand Rob learnt had to “caress the strings” with his right hand instead of using a plectrum. Despite breaking his left arm during this period he still managed to play enough to practice with his right hand!
Attracted by rock ‘n roll, Rob formed his first band with his brother, Jonah on rhythm, himself on lead, Giles Porter on bass and Willie Birch on drums. They called themselves the Finks and played regularly at the Women’s Institute in Lobengula Street. House parties regularly featured their musical talents and their finest hour arrived when they came second in a Texan Rock Band Contest to the “FRUITS OF LOOM”. Andy McGibbon, who today owns McGibbon’s Guitar World in Johannesburg, was the Loom’s bass player at the time.
Rob’s interest in folk music was nurtured through his regular attendance at local folk music clubs and venues where he was exposed to the finger picking style of guitar playing. He also saw a number of artists and performers he admired for their playing and singing talents. It was duly this period that he learnt to play “Cocaine All Around My Brain” which he continues to perform to this day, including a version on his album release, “Bunch ‘o Keys”.
He then joined the “3 G’s” who subsequently changed their name to the “MOTETS”. The other members were Sandra Langberg, Camilla Richardson and George Lambert-Porter. Appearances on television and radio followed. Programmes such as the Sonia Hatton Show, as well as John Aldridge’s “Hoedown” regularly featured Rob in his own right, as well as the Motets. He also accompanied a number of other performers whose own careers were unfolding at the time. Garth Styles and Johnny Booysie were two of the noteworthy names amongst this group of aspirants.
Mike Westcott then approached him to form a band and, as a result, TRIAD, came into being. Triad was a very short-lived venture which wasn’t around long enough to make a real impact. This was due to the fact that Colin Payne and Adrian King had left one of the biggest Bulawayo bands of the day, the COLLECTION. Rob and Mike replaced Payne and King in the Collection’s line-up for a time.
In 1969 he departed for South Africa where he joined a 12 piece folk group in Durban. After performing in a few shows Rob was head-hunted to join a band called RUBY BOOT. At the time Ruby Boot were playing at the well known Durban venue, Smuggler’s Inn, with the promise of a contract at Spurs in Cape Town. The band duly relocated to Cape Town where, after three months of gigging from 10:00 pm – 03:00 am every night the group disbanded. Rob then returned to Rhodesia and joined the Army to complete his National Service. As could be expected he did a fair bit of entertaining the troops with his talents during the months that followed.
Upon leaving the Army he teamed up with Ivana Krupicka and Ray Robshaw in a vocal trio which they called IVANA, RAY and ROB.
In 1974 Rob returned to South Africa where he was active on the music scene and met many of South Africa’s icons including Jannie Hofmeyr, John Oakley-Smith, Brian Finch, Mike Dickman, the Kitchen Brothers and Paul Clingman. With Dave Marks being very instrumental on the Johannesburg music scene Rob played gigs at places such as Zoo Lake, Wits University and Mangles. In 1975 he relocated again, this time to the United Kingdom.
Tackling the London music scene Rob naively – in his own words – thought that he’d “made it” when he played a gig at the famous Troubadour at Earl’s Court. He soon realised that there was more to it than that and he was hugely disappointed when the audience did not react to his playing in the same way that audiences in Rhodesia and South Africa had. Disillusioned and dispirited he played a few more restaurant gigs before putting his guitar aside for five or six years.
Surfacing from his period of musical isolation Rob regained the urge to perform but found that his come-back had been staged in the middle of a recession in the United Kingdom! Nevertheless, keen to supplement his meagre wages he set forth and landed a residency in a restaurant doing covers. He found that this period benefited his finger style technique as he had to play bass, rhythm and lead in order to fill out his sound. After about eight years his music had become more a job than a pastime and he then joined a church band where he remained for about four or five years.
Today, Rob has built up a solid circle of friends with musical dispositions and he had developed a modest but loyal following in south east England, often performing due and trio gigs with various members of this social network. His performances have included a few festivals in the area. He has released a CD of 16 tracks, 9 of which are originals from his pen. As mentioned earlier, the CD is called “Bunch ‘o Keys”. His weakness, he says, is that he doesn’t churn out lyrics very easily although tunes are plentiful! These days he spends a fair bit of time writing instrumentals and rearranging songs. One of the many people who is eternally indebted to is Barry Joubert who introduced him to James Taylor, Taylor being a major influence on him.
In between all of the above, Rob manages to find time to listen to the works of his favourite guitarists, especially Laurence Juber, Doyle Dykes, Tommy Emmanuel and Leo Kottke.