Home town:  Lusaka, Zambia


  • Early life

I was born in Lusaka, Zambia in 1959, to Scottish parents. My father was in the Crown Service as a magistrate and my mother was a nursing sister. After three years on the Zambian copperbelt my family moved to Sesheke on the Zambezi River, near Livingstone.

The first music I can remember hearing was my mother in the kitchen of our Sesheke house,singing songs from the opera Carmen. It was towards the end of the great post war American boom; all the cars had fins. Britain was all pooped out and many Brits had left for the former colonies. Zambia was Northern Rhodesia, until 1964, so I got a British passport. There were no other white folks around and I spent my days running around with my mates in the bush with a bare arse, quite fantastic. Hippos used to trash the garden. My abiding memory of the people there was of generosity from folks who had nothing.

Musically, the big thing at the time was calypso, Harry Belafonte, and my folks would play him a lot. The sound of those songs, the emotional tone, was something that made a lot of sense and still does. It was warm-blooded music, made by people who were born under the sun, and even though it was in a major key there could be a sadness inside of it, as in Jamaican Farewell. Later on, this followed through for me with African music, and I subsequently can find no time for the logic that goes, “I am sad, therefore I shall play a long, slow song in a minor key…the white man’s blues…why does the having not help?” I shall come back to this topic and little later in this discourse.

After my parents’ divorced, I moved with my mother and brother to the United Kingdom for a time and it was here that I became exposed to Scottish and Celtic music. At the head of the pack was Kenneth Mckellar, however, I also enjoyed the tunes of artists such as Peter, Paul and Mary and Herman’s Hermits. I loved the songs from the musical, Oliver!, written by Lionel Bart. He had that English music hall tradition, lots of chromatic movements that tied right into some of the songs from Carmen, and that the Beatles used on songs like Your Mother Should Know. Then someone’s older brother (there was always an older brother who had records) played me Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind and the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night.

In 1970, my mother, brother and I relocated to Cape Town, South Africa, in 1970. We settled in the False Bay area and I attended both primary and high school in Fish Hoek. Whilst at high school I represented Western Province at surfing, had some early poetry published in “English Alive”, a national collection of poetry, and edited the school newspaper. It was the time of LM Radio. I remember hearing the Number 1 hit, Imagine, at a mate’s place where I would sleep over and listen to the Top Twenty. Coco, Mammy Blue, Cracklin’ Rosie…and then there was Good Hope requests during the week – lots of country songs, Wichita Linesman, Everybody’s Talkin’ when country music had a link with, and a say, in popular culture. Years later, I went to Nashville in the United States and had a song-writing session at Universal. It was one of those
deals where you wrote until lunch, had a break, went on ‘til five in the evening and knocked out what you had done on a tape for the bigwigs. But it was all gone, the country had gone out of country and they wanted lame rock songs. The bluegrass sounded better.

  • Career

I learnt to play the guitar by listening to Santana, Hendrix, Ry Cooder and Neil Young. My influences included early American stuff which resonated with me – the way they didn’t have to be sophisticated city slickers to nail something. I never really bought into much city sophistication. Journalists will always be writing something about how critical the New York Dolls were but no-one listens to that stuff. Bowie wore mascara too, but he could also surprise you with where a tune went. Steely Dan also caught my attention with their use of counterpoint, harmony, musical wit and verve. I had Countdown To Ecstasy on a tape for years before I knew who it was. Burt Bacharach was another who knew about the loneliness at the heart of the big city lights.

I started out playing as a sideman guitarist in several seminal South African bands, most notably the anti-establishment Lancaster Band between 1977 and 1979. I brought Brian Davidson into the band as lead vocalist after we had jammed on night in Muizenberg. Davidson had been the lead vocalist for Freedom’s Children, South Africa’s leading rock band of the 1970s. I wrote a few songs for the Lancaster Band but Brian Davidson and I left the band when they got into ska – and before they recorded their first album. I then moved to Sea Point to join the Steve Walsh Roots Rhythm band. Whilst Steve’s band played a lot of Neil Young, Dylan, Bob Marley and the like, they also played material that related to African grooves, Tim Buckley and Garland Jeffreys being examples. Throughout this period I continued with my songwriting activities. I had dabbled a little with African guitar styles, mbaqanga and maskandi, after seeing Philip Tabane and Malombo at my first concert experience. There elements of this on a song like There Is A Wind on Ocean Motion but using African elements in my songs only really happened after I left South Africa in 1986. It was really anyone’s fault. I had learnt to play by hanging around older guys who had guitars and they played stuff like Santana, Rolling Stones…African music was what came out of the maid’s radio “round the back”. It always sounded interesting to me and I was always surprised how little curiosity it sparked in other white South African musicians.

I had played with, and heard, crossover songs with Z-Astaire. We did concerts with bands who had some big crossover hits, but those songs seemed clumsy and hamfisted, like all you had to do was just use less chords. People think country is like that, that you just have to be dumber and se less chords, but it’s way harder. I needed to learn to play it properly on the guitar, the same way I learnt blues, folk and the other Western forms, so that I could put it on the wall of the toolshed with other songwriting tools. Lucien Windrich of eVoid, who I was recording with in London, gave me a bunch of stuff – an imprint called Earthworks, some Revolver recordings from Durban, all mbqanga and maskandi stuff from bands like The Sue Tens, The Soul Brothers and Amazi Emvelo. I dived into it and learnt how to feel it through on the guitar.
My initial hits in South Africa were not he best material I had at the time, but they were how I was defined and I learnt a valuable lesson then – which is, what’s best for the folks around you might not be what’s best for you in the long term. My first recordings were made with Kevin “Caveman” Shirley who went on to become a major hit record producer for bands like Aerosmith and Journey. Those recordings made sense for where Kevin was going, but they were pretty alien to me. They had to be – he was listening to Queen whilst I was listening to Little Feat, Ry Cooder and Frank Zappa!!

Be that as it may, in 1982 Warner Brothers South Africa released my first solo album, At The Corner, a reference to my surfing spot at Muizenberg in the Cape. The first song to receive airplay (by maverick broadcaster Chris Prior) was Leon, an anti-apartheid address to a white Nationalist. Kevin Shirley produced another three albums for myself and my band, Z-Astaire, on the independent label, Mountain Records. This partnership yielded five radio hits including Baby You’ve Been Good To Me and All Of Woman (a No 1) which remain South African radio staples.

Baby You’ve Been Good To Me was something of a throw-away tune which peaked at No 8 in the Springbok charts. I wrote it with a friend of mine in Jeffreys Bay for a dumb-ass musical which never saw the light of day. It was actually about smoking dagga and went, “Come along and fly with me”. Many years and many albums later, a woman came up to me complaining bitterly that I hadn’t played it and that it as “my best song”, the stupid arse. Anyhow, every artist has their own “Baby”. I do it now as a reggae skank.

Gigging at the Half Moon in Putney, London, UK.

My string of singles successes made me into a poster boy for the Cape beach lifestyle and ensured that I maintained a high profile along with the bands of that era like Tribe after Tribe, Hotline, Ella Mental, Bright Blue and Petit Cheval. While my simpler melodies found favour with radio, I was writing other songs, influenced by writers like Steely Dan and Elvis Costello, that had more complex lyrical and musical themes. With the teeny bopper image continually at odds with my musical direction, I moved to the UK in 1986.

The following years saw my music evolve into a roots based sound which further combined my western guitar influences with the guitarists of Southern Africa such as Tony Cox, Louis Mhlanga, Steve Newman and Madala Kunene. The result was a style described by UK Unpeeled magazine as a “genuine and unaffected flowing together of cultural strands.”

On my return to South Africa I won a SAMA (South African Music Award) in 1992, the South African Grammy equivalent, for the album Love Kills. I followed this by recording two more albums, Heavy Water and Zen Surfing in the 3rd World, with Lloyd Ross of Shifty Records. Shifty Records who were responsible for a massive catalogue of alternative South African recordings throughout the apartheid years. Zen Surfing, a power trio album featuring ex Z-Astaire bass player Rob Hack and virtuoso fusion drummer Kevin Gibson, was the South African answer to the alternative rock of bands like The Chilli Peppers coming out of America.  Written in New York, the album was prescient in its prediction of 9/11 in Babylon Calling, and of
economic collapse in “Hole In The Wall/When The Money Fails”. The album, however, was released through BMG who could not reconcile the album with their pop image they were intent on promoting of me. After the relentless pattern of handing over albums to be mishandled by South African record companies, I started Free Lunch Productions in order to handle my own creative output both musical and literary.

Things got even better once I started Free Lunch Productions and paid for everything myself. It’s not rocket science. You want the drum kit to sound like a drum kit, and, mostly, have everybody knowing what they’re doing before you press record. You don’t need to factor major label expenses, the secretary’s medical aid, the CEO’s lunch account, to make a good record.  And then there’re the things industry people say, where you have to smile along with them while you wonder what planet they’re on. I’m not anti major labels, they release good stuff occasionally in spite of themselves and I’m sure there must be one out there somewhere that will get what I do, but ‘til then I apply the management rule which goes: “No management is better than bad management.”

It’s kind of peaceful once you’ve given up all expectation of being signed. Being in the right place at the right time is easy, it’s after that where the sheep and the goats get sorted. I pay my taxes, my kids school fees and have a good life from my songs. It’s not like working down a mine. The truth is I don’t write the songs, I just make sure that conditions are conducive, that I stay like a prism, so that if the light hits me right it will make a rainbow. To date, Free Lunch Productions has released eight albums.

In terms of my approach to songwriting, and to return to the point I made earlier, about the “whiteman’s blues”. This approach has proven to be more of a hindrance than anything else, as the western world seems to have no limit to how much melancholy navel gazing it can absorb. I’ve tried with Radiohead, I really have, but we always end up going to that place. I have a lot of friends whose music I like in parts, but they also like to go to that place, and stay there. I’ve been there, it’s not a great place to take other people with a one-way ticket. I say “Viva the Beatles”, where emotional diversity doesn’t frighten the horses. Any genre is good currency for a songwriter that’s worth his salt, although these days it really messes with the music biz

Aside from music, I published my first novel, Tight Lines, in 2001 by independent Compress and received excellent reviews. Telling the tale of a fishing trip through the eyes of a disaffected teenager and using a South African version of beat writing, it has become a cult classic. I re-acquired the rights in order to release it through Free Lunch Productions, along with my first collection of poetry, Kelp. Published in 2006, it contains themes concerning the sea, South African culture in general and man’s dislocation from nature. It is my intention to produce more albums, poetry and novels underway.

  • Collaborations

Over the years many of Southern Africa’s top musicians have featured in an Auld line-up or album. These include drummers Barry Van Zyl, (Johnny Clegg, Peter Gabriel} Peter Cohen (Bright Blue, Freshly Ground), Lloyd Martin (Lancaster Band, James Phillips). Anton Fig (Joan Armatrading, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, David Letterman Show) Other musicians who havefeatured on his recordings include Zimbabwean guitar giant Louis Mhlanga, bass player and producer Keith Lentin {Link Wray, The Band), Johnny Clegg, Schalk Joubert, Simon Orange, Jannie Hanepoot van Tonder, Nelson Barbosa and Robbie Jansen. Songwriters Auld has
collaborated and performed with include Koos Kombuis, Valiant Swart, Lesley Rae Dowling and James Philips.

  • Discography


Baby You’ve Been Good (1985)
All Of Woman (1985) #1 on Radio 5 in August 1985
All Of Woman 12″ single (1985)
Baby You’ve Been Good To Me dance mix
Hardheaded Man (live at the 3 Arts) – Z-Astaire
After the fire
Sesheke Town
Love Kills
Perfect Day
Zen surfing in the 3rd World
All the girls cried


At the Corner (1984)
Z-Astaire (1985)
Ocean Motion (1986)
Live At The 3 Arts (1986)
Love Kills (1991) South African release
Zen Surfing In The Third World (1993)
Love Kills (1995) German release
Heavy Water (1996)
Best of Robin Auld Vol 1
Dream Of Birds (1998) UK-only
The Best Of Robin Auld Volume 1 (1999)
Iron In The Sky (November 2000)
Dream Of Birds (March 2002)
Luxury (March 2003)
Diamond of a Day (May 2005)
Jungle of One (January 2006)
Over the Mountain (October 2008)
Love Kills (March 2010) International release
Africana (May 2010)
Fingers in My Pocket (June 2011)