It was with great fervour for a fiery rock ‘n’ roll show that our team left the rehearsal room of recently re-united ’80s rockers Falling Mirror, who many might remember from the radio hit ‘Johnny Calls the Chemist’. Having been a so-called ‘recording’ band whose musical knack has been swept to the gutter by South Africa’s historical powers that be — the confines of political preposterousness and the fatality of failing logistics combined with the artist’s doom of poetic lunacy — they never had their The-Beatles-at-Shea-Stadium-like breakthrough-performance moment. Yet since post-apartheid South Africa is able to rock in a free world, the sores of the past may be about to be atoned…

30-odd years after what should have been their heyday, Sam Hendrikse has made it his challenge to tame the high-spirited beast and get Nielen Mirror (vocals), Allan Faull (lead guitar), Patrick Humphries (drums), George den Das (Keyboards), Harvey Cohen (bass guitar) and recent line-up addition Sharon Clifton (guitar & vocals) to translate their frenzied energy onto a deserved stage — and shoot a documentary about the band’s new undertakings. After many failed attempts and the mad nature of Allan and his cousin Nielen — who until very recently was living under a tree — this has proven to be a rather ambitious task. Nonetheless, their mesmerizing mentality and musical ability was firmly felt after our hour-long conversation that inspired hysteric anticipation for their pivotal come back show on 28 April 2013 at the Barnyard Theatre, Willowbridge. Until then, you can get to know them and their new manager a bit better in the following excerpt of the interview, and, if you’re intrigued, watch out for an in-depth look at the band’s gripping history to be published soon.

Allan Faull - Image: Loucas Polydorou

Allan Faull – Image: Loucas Polydorou

Falling Mirror

Falling Mirror

How did the re-union come about?

Sam: The idea of a re-union of the band came about in 2012. There was a re-release of the Johnny Calls the Chemist album, which of course was one of the bigger albums for the band. And in July last year Rolling Stone Magazine gave the re-release four and half stars because it was a quintessential milestone in South African rock — and rock in general. And with that came a re-look at the band. Everyone had gone their own ways — many of those ways were down, some were sideways and some were up. So the concept was really just to come together again and see how it felt. That developed into gigging on the weekends. I didn’t know the band at the time at all, but then there was the concert at The River Club just to see how it felt.

It was there where I met the band and I just saw something very unusual in South African music — the musical content was just so amazing. And the whole thing is really just about the content. We come from very different parts of the business — I come from a hardcore international promoter-type of company and the band comes from being this salt-of-the-earth South African rock band that never left the country.

And we just found a marriage of minds, what if the content was given an international spin, polish and chance?

That brought us into the same room and we meet here four times a week because it’s fun and we’re enjoying it.

28 April is the first time we’re taking it out of the room and the world’s going to see it again — since the ‘80s basically. They’ve performed odd gigs but never in a way that has been organised to honour the material so that the content is globally acceptable. The goal is to record a new album and to play international festivals. We’ve got representation in Los Angeles, and we’ve got top people in the world listening to the content and loving it — but what we’re doing is we’re pacing it in a way that has never happened before. So 28 April has got to be perfect — down to the t-shirt design and the merchandise stand…because we’re all grown-ups you know? We’re not 23 and dreaming.

So new songs are being written?

Sam: There’ll be one new song at the show, which the guys might perform later and which might be the best song of the show. It’s certainly the best new song I’ve heard in years.



Allan Faull

Allan Faull

How does it feel performing songs like ‘Storming of the Loft’ that were recorded in the ‘80s — a completely different time filled with completely different emotions — after so many years?

Nielen: The song came from a romantic episode that occurred when I took an interest in a young lady who lived in a loft. I just thought at first that — and I don’t want to appear like a sexist at all — but she was a little bit resistant like a lot of females, but eventually she gave in (everyone laughs).
Anyway, I saw this whole thing as ‘The Storming of the Loft’. Also, I like this whole concept about stormtroopers and the Second World War occupation of Paris.

I get a lot of crazy images that are in my mind all the time by the way. And I’m not ashamed to say this, I’m just letting you know.

So I thought of myself in a German uniform knocking on her door (everyone laughs).

Sam: It’s great. This is going public.

Nielen: Well, I don’t mind admitting to things. I’m quite an open person in many ways. In other ways I can be quite closed. I have many complicated sides to me. Anyway to get back to your question…So ‘I stormed the loft’ and I thought that ‘Storming of the Loft’ would be a wonderful title. So we wrote this song called ‘Storming of the Loft’ and we wrote other songs too. This was our second album and Tully said it’s great, I love that whole idea! Tully loves ideas like that. So we did the ‘Storming of the Loft’ and we chose other material that also related to that and the general vibe of the whole thing. And performing it now is like I almost lost the memory of that. AND yet, this almost added to my ability to perform it.

Sam: When I saw the show for the first time Nielen read all the lyrics because he had forgotten pretty much all of them.

Patrick Humphreys - Image: Loucas Polydorou

Patrick Humphreys – Image: Loucas Polydorou

Allan & Nielen

Allan & Nielen

Can you tell me a bit about the documentary you’re planning on making about the band?

Sam: When we got together after the show at The River Club on 19 December — which was the big fork-in-the-road show — we just said, ‘what if?’ I mean the question I asked was like, ‘are you a band?’ They had never really been a band in the true sense of the word. So one of our thoughts was, what could make this different from just booking a Sunday gig at some venue in Cape Town where everyone just sings along to ‘Johnny Calls the Chemist’? What’s the point of doing that? And then the idea came, well this is a great story with great musical content and ultimately it needs a hook to take it outside of where it has been.

So the documentary is going to be about a band who earned the title ‘Album of the Year’ two years in a row for Zen Boulders (1979) and Storming of the Loft (1980) and have been invited to the United States but couldn’t go. What would have happened if they went? And what could happen if they toured internationally?

But at the time we mentioned that Allan was like, ‘there’s no way I can do that’. If he left the house to come to rehearsals we were very lucky. Anything beyond that we could forget about. He actually pretty much resigned from the band twice in the first month of rehearsals. But within that is the story. Nielen had hit bottom end on one level but his spirit and imagination weren’t even close to the bottom. Patrick has basically been with them from the very beginning, he was there at The River Club and pretty much put the show together with George and Harvey because these guys (Allan and Nielen) can’t even organise a CD in a CD player.

Allan: Patrick, Harvey, George and I were basically just jamming to have something to do once a week. And then we tried to find a vocalist because Nielen was sort of living on the street. And we were looking for someone we could go on tour with, so I said to them, ‘Why don’t we try Nielen?’ Because everyone had thought about him at that point. But the worry was that he was too far gone for us to even contemplate him. So one day I just brought him in. And I think Harvey was quite surprised, weren’t you Harvey?

Harvey: Yeah. Well, I had a bad experience when we tried to get together again about ten years ago.

Sam: The River Club show on 19 December has been tried a number of times and it has always ended as a big catastrophe. People have ended up screaming, wrecking something and walking away. And that for me was a challenge because nobody else has managed to get the beast to run in a straight line.

Allan: If I was Sam I wouldn’t even consider this.

I don’t want problems with logistics in my life, I just want to play the guitar till I die.

I just want to keep playing because that’s what I spent most of my life doing and that’s about all I can do with any ability. But then George and Harvey organised a gig after I had brought Nielen in and they were quite pleasantly surprised because bringing Nielen in opens up the whole Falling Mirror repertoire.

Sam: And it was basically a Nielen benefit. It was to try and give Nielen some cash — that was kind of what it was all about. And then it was about the story, is the story a film, is it a reality show? What is it? So the idea that we came up with was — we have the 30-year history, we have the current story, we have ten days of videography already and what if there’s an opportunity to open at Glastonbury for The Rolling Stones or whoever it might be? What happens to this band and the content when it’s finally placed in the space that I believe it deserves to be placed in?

Nielen Mirror - Image: LOUCAS POLYDOROU

Nielen Mirror – Image: LOUCAS POLYDOROU

Harvey Cohen - Image: Loucas Polydorou

Harvey Cohen – Image: Loucas Polydorou

And receives the reward it deserves.

Sam: Yes and the reward might not be monetary it might just be the matter of a dream coming true. Or it might be some other things as well. We’ll shoot the next 18 months maybe, depending on where this actually ends up going. And that’ll include a new album being recorded and a few other bits and pieces have happened around it.

Who’s involved in the documentary?

Sam: I’ve got two camera men at the moment, I’ve got a director who’s working with me but there are discussions in Los Angeles about getting this international company, who make reality TV programmes in the US and love the project, involved. But we’re trying to do this while having in mind that it should come to the table authentic, so we’re trying not to overshoot anything. What we’re doing now is to create one show, one show on 28 April and it’ll be a flag in the ground. And if we get that right that’ll create a whole lot of different conversations that’ll then take us to further steps instead of going, this is our plan for the next two years like most people do in life and getting confused by point five when point one hasn’t even happened yet.

So on 28 April there’ll be 15 songs, 12 original songs, two covers and one new song that nobody has ever heard. I heard it for the first time a week ago. Nielen wrote it when he was basically at street level. It’s a fucking incredible piece of music. I’m not sure if we’re going to play it for you today, maybe we should? The thing is also that you (20 – 30 year-olds) are the target market for Falling Mirror as well. So 28 April is going to be a merge of a market that wasn’t born when they recorded Zen Boulders and Storming of the Loft. There are two markets, there’ll be the 58-year-old person coming for a trip down nostalgia lane, and they’re actually going to rock out and drink more than anybody else, and then there are going to be guys like you who we believe are the new market for this band. They’ll be occupying the same space for the first time in South Africa. It’s going to be very unusual.

Interview: Christine Hogg
Images: Loucas Polydorou