Home town: Bulawayo
- Ian McElroy – Vocals
- Dave Gommersall – Lead guitar
- Rory McKenzie – Bass (Band leader)
- Sheila Botha – Keyboards
- Bobby Price – Drums
- Geoff Sedgwick– Sax & flute
SHALIMA evolved from HARM’S WAY and became an entity in 1972. The name came about at the suggestion of Sheila Botha and is derived from India’s Shalimar river.
SHALIMA had a regular lunchtime gig from October 1972 to January 1973 at La Boheme in Bulawayo. It was during this period that the club’s resident band suddenly terminated their services and club manager, Rob Elkington, asked SHALIMA to fill the void. This they did, taking on a heavy load as they had regular jobs by day and were then gigging late every night. They gained immense
experience during this period and were required to back cabaret artists, many from overseas, for the first time. Through Rob Elkington’s efforts, an agent was found for the band in South Africa landing them their first professional gig in that country. This resulted in the band turning fully professional and, at this stage, Geoff Sedgwick departed as he was not in a position to become a full-time professional musician.
The band then performed on the professional circuit in South Africa for some three years. During this period their schedule took this shape:
February 1973: Oklahoma Motel, Pretoria
May – July 1973: Palm Grove, Margate. It was during this period that Ian McIlroy left the band.
August 1973: Milton Hotel, Port Shepstone
September – October 1973: Palm Grove, Margate. At this time Ian Hearfield joined the band as vocalist.
December 1973 – March 1974: Highland View Hotel, Swaziland
April – October 1974: Palm Beach Hotel (Godfather).
A number of changes then occurred in the band’s personnel. Dave Gommersall (lead) and Bobby Price (drums) left the band and were replaced with Jeff Dix coming in on lead guitar and Pete Price on drums. Rory McKenzie moved to keyboards and Richard Bridgeford came in on bass. Within a short while Ian Hearfield left and was replaced on vocals by Tommy Goddard.
During this period Sheila Botha started to develop a career in cabaret as Sheila Larkin and divided her interests between cabaret and SHALIMA.
November 1974 – January 1975: Palm Grove, Margate. Sheila Botha took leave of absence for some of this time to return to Bulawayo to have her first child, having married Rory McKenzie.
February – April 1975: Kennaway Hotel, East London
November 1975 – January 1976: Club Tomorrow, Salisbury
Richard Bridgeford then left the band as he had been conscripted to the Army. The final line-up was:
- Tommy Goddard – Lead vocals
- Jeff Dix – Lead guitar
- Rory McKenzie – Keyboards
- Richard Bridgeford – Bass
- Pete Price – Drums
Whilst there were plans to release a recording at one stage to the extent of even having done a demo, this never advanced due to lack of consensus between the band’s members on the type of material to be played.
You can also check out the prospering musical career of Riki Armstrong (Sheila and Rory’s daughter) with her band, TIMI, at: http://timi.co.za under the IN THE TRADITION pages.
My experience as a female professional musician in a male dominated industry
(back in the 70’s) meant living in two or three different worlds.
Firstly, there was the musical career with music that I loved and where I was quite
an attraction as one of the few female artists in a rock band. I was in my element on
stage entertaining people who were mostly in a good mood having fun. The fans
were great at giving us support, boosting our egos and it was fun being recognised
around town. We got to wear interesting clothes, met amazing cabaret artists that
we backed, including some from overseas, as well as entering band contests now
That all made for incredibly positive vibes. We had to play the hit parade ‘bubble
gum’ stuff as the guys liked to call it but also our favourite style of heavy metal,
Uriah heap, Wishbone Ash, Pink Floyd as well as Credence Clearwater Revival,
Santana and other songs with harmony like Doobie Brothers material. The Bee Gees had to
feature because Ian could sing like Barry Gibb. With me on vocals as well, we could
add in the Carpenters, Dianna Ross, Janis Joplin as well as many others.
Then there was the other world of all the tough grind behind the scenes, not enough
sleep, constant rehearsals needing to keep up with the latest covers and living in
hotel rooms out of a suitcase. The three-month gigs that ended in one city at
midnight on the last day of the month and the next gig starting in another city on the
first of the month to report there at 6pm. That meant packing up gear, loading the
Kombi and heading off into the night, sometimes getting lost (no GPS) but
eventually finding the next hotel. Quick check in with the management, shower and
some food, unpacking, setting up and looking fresh and excited to start playing after
about 2 hours of sleep.
The third world was being engaged to another member of the band, Rory McKenzie. This made for interesting dynamics within the band, as well as between ourselves.
Another challenge was that I was the oldest in the group by 18 months, then it was
Rory and the others were young and quite the rebels. That put me in a sort of
maternal role making me the boring, sensible one with Rory also trying to keep the
younger members out of trouble. Running a business, which is what we were doing, also meant meetings with agents and hotel managers, buying, and paying off gear and keeping cash flow
My grounding for this life started at Westgate junior school in Bulawayo where I began
classical piano lessons. An abiding memory I have of Westgate is the amount of time we spent picking up pebbles on the cricket pitch instead of being taught in the classrooms! My class teacher noticed that I had some musical ability and arranged for an outside teacher to myself, and a few other interested pupils, piano lessons. I remember the Smallwoods piano tutor book very well with its many finger exercises and scales.
These lessons led me to the Academy of Music in Famona in Bulawayo. Advancing to Eveline High School, I continued my lesson until Standard 9. The 2 to 3 hours of piano practise daily sometimes meant spending late hours finishing school homework. On Saturdays all the students got together at the Academy for music appreciation for a few hours and there were the occasional Eisteddfods we entered. Having said this, my first love was singing and that is what I wanted to pursue.
I was chosen for the senior choir at school which was quite an honour. It also meant an afternoon a week for an extra rehearsal because I was the soloist in the choir and had voice coaching lessons. Due to medical a condition that I was suffering from, my father decided that I should finish my high school career through home schooling. It was during this period that joined an adult choir called THE BARBARA THOMAS SINGERS, taking part in various shows arranged by Barbara. Many of the retirement villages would welcome us at their Christmas events which was a highlight for me.
The only TV appearance I had was as a member of BARBARA THOMAS SINGERS when we performed on a TV variety show in Bulawayo. I was also passionate about art taking extra art lessons as well. Thinking back to that time I do not know how I managed to fit everything in, but I did.
When I met Rory, he was 17 and at school and I was 18 completing GCSE at home. Later, he got a job as a clerk on the Railways and I started working as a computer operator at the Computer Bureau in Bulawayo. He was encouraged to start at Teachers Training college which he did and, at about the same time, he and his friend, Kenny Van Staden, started a band. As with all young bands, there were many name changes and people came and went, the first band ‘GRANNY’S REACTION’, not lasting long.
During this time, I dutifully attended the band practices but was beginning to get tired of being a spectator. Imagine my excitement when Rory mentioned they could use a keyboard player and singer. With that I was asked if I’d like to join the band. I bought a Yamaha electronic Keyboard, VW Kombi and became part of the group. We changed the name and, on 6 April 1971, the local newspaper published an article on ‘Harm’s Way’ with Kenny, Ian, Sheila, Bobby, and Rory in the line-up.
Our gigs were at parties, weddings, school leavers and a few at Harker Hall. The most memorable was when ‘Harm’s Way’ entered the Texan Rock Band Contest at the Trade Fair when we came in third and Bobby won best drummer. When we landed a full-time gig at the Talk of the Town nightclub we felt we were finally getting somewhere. The Bulawayo ‘Battle of the Bands Contest’ attracted some
professional artists and bands and we had the privilege of providing backing music for John Edmond on that occasion.
I was able to put a deposit down on a Hammond L100 organ with Leslie speakers while the guys added Marshal amplifiers and a Fender 6 string guitar. Finally, things were coming together until the big let-down when Kenny left the band to pursue other priorities. Although this was at reasonably short notice, Dave Gommersall replaced Kenny on lead guitar proving to have an incredible natural talent, able to twist his body and jump to the amazement of onlookers. The foundation for the group ‘Shalima’ was formed.
The big break for ‘Shalima’ came unexpectedly when playing at lunchtime sessions at the ‘La Boheme’ club in Bulawayo. The resident band for evening shows had an argument with management and left and we were asked to fill in. Management were so pleased with our sound that we were signed up for 3 months in Bulawayo and 3 in Salisbury. Ian and I were working our day jobs for 8 hours a day and Rory was
second year at Teachers Training College at the time. He gave up TTC while Ian and I had to work out our month’s notice, as well as the evening gig. That was a particularly testing time but so worth it. We were becoming professional musicians.
The first South African gig was at the Oklahoman Motel. On our way there we completed the formalities at the Beit Bridge border post without any problems. It was totally dark when the streetlights ended, and I was being tailed by an impatient driver in a van. Suddenly the van overtook me and crashed into an oncoming car. I pulled to the verge in the dust expecting the other car that had started twisting, to hit into me.
Silence followed and we all got out of the Kombi to see what had happened. I was too shaken to drive so Ian positioned the Kombi to shine the lights and the other guys could see the van had gone off a steep bank and was leaning against a tree. We heard the moaning of a woman in pain and she unfortunately died not too long afterwards with her hysterical husband inconsolable. We waited until the ambulance had been and gone before we carried on with our journey.
This was NOT the best start for our new lives and we almost turned around to head back home. But our three years as professional musicians in ‘Shalima’ was going to start in Pretoria and there was no looking back. On the Rhodie music web site there is a summary of the places we played at and the dates plus names of the members who stayed and left so I am not going to elaborate on that here.
For me, the most memorable venues were in Swaziland at the Highlands View Hotel and at the Palm Grove, Margate. Musically they were the most challenging and rewarding. In Margate we had to be a ‘three in one’ band. Friday night we could play our heavy metal for the teens, Saturday lunch time and evening a mixed bag and Sunday I got to croon the golden oldies for the over 60’s and play ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ on my Hammond – joy. It was also the venue that attracted the young girls and guys from Margate and many holiday makers from Transvaal creating a fabulous atmosphere. We got to catch up on our second 3-month stint there with all the friends we made the first time and had such a warm welcome.
Highlands View in Swaziland had cabaret artists who gave us some interesting moments. Shalina the stripper comes to mind when she decided to include a 5-metre-long python in her act. On stage the thing came out of the basket as intended but then slithered off into the audience with people and chairs scattering everywhere. Dave Michelle had a fire act going on which inspired Shalina to try that out too. Even though we heard the same jokes from the comedian cabaret artists, they had us in hysterics every night. On occasion after the gig we would make our way down to the capital to the famous cuddle puddle, a natural hot spring, getting home at dawn. The mountainous scenery and the hidden waterfall we found made
our time off especially rejuvenating.
In due course Rory and I married and, shortly after the arrival of our daughter, Riki, it was agreed that, in order to provide the family with some stability, I would leave the band and returned to Bulawayo. And so ended this exciting and challenging period of my life.