The rise of the Invaders can be traced directly to the South African tour in March 1961 of Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Richard and The Shadows were appearing at the Feather Market Hall in Port Elizabeth, a concert for which twenty-one year old John Henry Burke (born 23 March 1940) of Uitenhage had purchased a ticket. Johnny Burke rushed home after the show, tried a few chords on an old, battered guitar in front of a mirror and declared aloud, “I was born for show business and someday I’ll be famous like The Shadows!” Prophetic words indeed.
He wasted no time and collected some friends together including Desmond Solomon (guitar), Ike Dolley (vocals), Fozy Lukie (drums), and a white lead guitarist, Richard (Toss) Smith. And so Uitenhage’s first pop group, The Astronauts, came into being. They played several sessions around town before disbanding. ‘We just couldn’t stick together,’ declared Burke in an interview with ‘Drum’ Magazine in 1968.
In 1962, after the Astronauts broke up, Burke then formed another band comprised of himself (on bass), Errol Gobey (rhythm guitar, vocals), Desmond Solomon (lead guitar), Vernal Solomon (drums) and Ike Dolley (vocals). The group called themselves The Invaders, a name first suggested by Gobey. “The original line-up of The Invaders stayed together for about a year,” he recalls. “We then split up with the Solomon brothers going off to form the Telstars.”
“Our beginnings were very humble,” remembers Gobey (born Errol James Gobey on 27 September 1943). “As kids we would sing and play together using home-made tin guitars and drums. We decided to collect money by selling framed prints to save for decent instruments. Johnny used to work at a glass place and would bring home glass. I would make picture frames and we would buy prints of Jesus and his Apostles, and other pretty pictures, and frame them. We used to go door to door, selling in the White areas - that’s how we bought our first instruments. We held ‘hops’ at friends’ houses, gaining experience as we went along.”
When Cliff Richard and The Shadows toured South Africa for a second time in January 1963 (again appearing at the Feather Market Hall), Gobey and Burke both attended. “They inspired us even more, to make bigger and better plans at being successful, and how to go about it,” relates Gobey. In his 1968 ‘Drum’ magazine interview, John Burke recounts: “At the time I had left school and had to choose between being a teacher or a musician. Cliff Richard made up my mind for me. He told me just what a thrill pop could be, and how I could achieve a lot of happiness and make other people happy at the same time. I immediately decided to take Joe Moses (Joseph Henry Moses, born 9 September 1947) out of school, and my brother Dave (David Raymond Burke, born 20 June 1942) left his printing job to join Errol and me” [to form the ‘new’ Invaders]. Dave’s irate boss sneered at him, “You’ll never make it.”
The new line up of the Invaders was John Burke (bass), Errol Gobey (rhythm guitar, vocals), Joe Moses (lead guitar) and Dave Burke (drums). “We had to teach Joey, but he learnt so quickly, it was amazing. In fact, Dickie Loader once said that Joe was the most fantastic lead guitarist he had ever seen,” relates Gobey.
The ‘early days’ were a struggle for The Invaders. Burke, Moses and Gobey had to share one amplifier and used the crudest of guitars. Drummer Dave Burke learnt to play on his knees and, at times, the cheap set of drums he used would collapse on stage. The Invaders competed in a beat band competition at the Orient Hall in Uitenhage for a first prize of R15. Their main competition was ‘The Arrows’ – the number one group in the area “that used to get all the top engagements.” In his April 1968 ‘Drum’ interview, Burke recalled: “R15 was money in those days. We thrashed The Arrows by 15 points and after that our popularity just zoomed up. Now suddenly the tide started turning our way. We never looked back.”
The Invaders held ‘Matinee Sessions’ for “the young ones” at the Jubilee and Orient Halls in Uitenhage. Their popularity increased and soon they were performing at various venues in nearby Port Elizabeth. Things improved to the extent that the band was able to procure a second hand panel van (from the post office!). As word of the band spread, they found themselves more frequently hired by churches and schools for dances. “It was tough going but our popularity was growing, and that was the most important of all. We started playing in towns such as Graaff-Reinet, Willowmore, Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay. We played there a lot and the people loved our music,” recalls Gobey.
In 1965, the band decided to finance its own seven single, June, coupled with I’ll Try Again. Gobey recounts: “We got some White guy to record us at the Feather Market Hall. We recorded June and I’ll Try Again ‘live’. I don’t remember what the recording cost us, but we had 100 singles pressed and sold them for 60 cents each at our concerts.” (The single is today one of the most sought after items amongst vinyl collectors, and is considered priceless.)
The Invaders toured through the Western and Eastern Cape without much incident during 1964, ’65 and ’66, performing whatever gigs they could get bookings for – stage shows, dances, parties and church functions. Gobey recalls those early years: “It was a lot of hard work and we had very little sleep. During the day we had to practice for hours, especially to keep our programme and repertoire up-to-date. We played a lot of Beatles and Rolling Stones songs in those days. In October 1966 we decided to visit Cape Town. We did our first stage-show in Somerset West. The audience loved us, they went crazy, they wouldn’t let us off the stage! Our name spread quickly throughout the Cape and we were in the newspapers quite a lot. Somehow Trutone, which had a branch in the Cape, got to hear about us. One day we were travelling to Cape Town on the N2 in our panel van. We had ‘The Invaders’ painted in huge letters on the side. A white car pulled alongside us and asked us to pull over. We thought we were in trouble and were going to get a fine of some sort. A white guy approached us and asked us if we were interested in a recording contract. Of course we immediately answered Yes!”
The band followed Trutone A&R manager, Ivan Wehr, to A.K.A. Studios in Cape Town where they signed a five year recording contract with Trutone Records. The band was commissioned to record some singles the following week plus a debut album. Naturally, the first title they elected to record for their debut single on the Phillips label was June! Their faith in the tune was not misplaced as, several months later, they were presented with their first Gold Disc for sales of June.
1967 witnessed the release of The Invaders first album, Two Sides Of The Invaders. Interestingly, Trutone printed a discography of Invaders singles on the back cover of the album. Listed is SSP 898 Theme from Dr. No/Cats Eyes (1964) which, for many years, confused fans and collectors until Errol Gobey corrected it during one of the interview sessions for this CD’s release. “It was actually the New Zealand Invaders (with Ray Columbus) who recorded the tracks in 1964, and not us,” explains Gobey. “In New Zealand they were issued on separate singles, but Trutone coupled them for the local release.”
On 1 December 1967, the Invaders seventh single (and the title of their second album), Shock Wave, entered Springbok Radio’s Top 20 Hit Parade at No.18. It peaked at No.10 two weeks later, with five weeks in the Top 20, and garnered them their second Gold Disc award. On 1 March 1968 they were presented with a third Gold Disc for sales of the single Ice Cream and Suckers. At the time they were the only artists in South Africa to have received three Gold Discs, for three individual titles, within in a single year period.
“Shock Wave - the single and the album - was a huge success,” recounts Gobey. “We were blown away, it was not something we expected. We toured the whole country after that, all the big cities, even South West [Namibia] and Swaziland! We recorded in Johannesburg with Trutone’s musical director, Art Heatlie. He used to be responsible for the brass sections on our records. Grahame Beggs produced a lot of our stuff. According to radio stations and the newspapers, we were South Africa’s top band!”
The Invaders fan club boasted 27 000 members in March 1968 and, by the end of the year, had increased its membership base to almost 50 000 fans. The Invaders had a permanent staff of five handling their fan club, finances and promotions, and a further five assistants had to be appointed to handle all the fan mail!
In March 1969 the Invaders’ Chapel Of Dreams entered Springbok’s Top 20, peaking at No.16 on April 11. “I was doing lead vocals at the time. It started getting heavy for me and we decided to look for another vocalist,” says Gobey. In October 1969, the Invaders attended a show of another Coloured group, The Miracles, at The Purple Marmalade in Hillbrow. Their lead singer was the talented - but then unknown - Lionel Petersen (born 13 October 1947). Impressed with his singing, Gobey and John Burke approached Petersen, offering him the position of lead vocalist with The Invaders. Gobey elucidates: “Lionel came down to Port Elizabeth, auditioned, and agreed to join us, which was a relief to me, since it took the pressure off my voice. He was fantastic and the crowds loved him. We decided to see if we could break into the overseas market and left for Germany. We stayed and toured in Europe for two months, Germany, Holland, England, but in the end just couldn’t cut it – we had endless hassles and red tape trying to get work permits. The constant hurdles made us decide to come home. I quit the band in 1970 and went back to my trade [carpentry].”
The Invaders were joined by Rodger (Spewy) Pillay (organ, keyboards) in 1970. In January 1971 the group’s final chart entry, There’s A Light, There’s A Way (produced by Grahame Beggs), on which Petersen’s vocals can be heard, entered the Top 20. It spent three weeks on the chart, peaking at No.18 for two weeks. In April 1971, The Invaders disbanded “for religious reasons,” according to Gobey. John’s brothers, Gregory (rhythm, lead guitar), Colin (bass) and Clement Burke (keyboards), then teamed up with Joe Moses and David Burke to form the ‘new’ Invaders. Though the band never made any recordings, they toured and performed for roughly two years before they, too, finally disbanded. In 1976, the band was invited by Richard Jon Smith to record a new album, The Return Of The Invaders, for EMI. “Joe, Dave and myself got together with Dave’s brothers, Clement (vocals) and Colin Burke (bass). We travelled to Jo’burg to do the album, but it sank without trace. Sales went nowhere and we all went home,” recalls Gobey wryly. The magic seemed to have gone – for the moment anyway.
Errol Gobey married Veronica Zealand on 8 June 1971. The couple have two children, Nathan (born 28 November 1987) and Cordelia (born 28 April 1989). Errol retired in 2001 and currently lives in Uitenhage, “not far from Joey,” he says. Joe Moses married Elizabeth Geswindt on 27 July 1969. The couple have six children: Marvin (born 7 February 1970), Brent (born 27 January 1972), twins Roshin & Raquel (born 1 July 1974), Eloise (born 10 June 1978) and José (born 16 May 1981). After The Invaders disbanded, Joe went to work for General Motors, and later Volkswagen, as a spares distributor. He is currently retired and lives in Uitenhage. David Burke married Mary Vissie 9 December 1967. They have one son, Clint Stanistin (born 15 February 1977). David worked in the printing industry until his death on 21 Sept 2006.
At the time of this writing Rodger Pillay could not be traced. Lionel Petersen went on to enjoy a very successful career as a solo artist. In 1983 he became active in the church on a part-time basis and in 1993, joined the Rhema ministry full-time. As such, he is reluctant to relate or recall anything about his secular career and is sketchy at best on details about the past.
John Burke married Cathleen Fisher on 6 January 1968. The couple have four children: Melanie (born 9 October 1968), Sean (born 27 March 1970), Mark (born 19 April 1973) and Viola (born 27 October 1974). Like Joe, John also worked as a parts distributor for General Motors after The Invaders disbanded. He passed away from colon cancer on 19 May 1978. John’s son, Sean, has followed in his father’s footsteps to some degree. After studying law at UPE, he played in a TV series and is currently producing jingles and music for TV productions. Sean fronted the band Afro-d-ziac as their lead vocalist and has also recorded four solo albums and produced no fewer than eleven of his own music videos.
Joe’s son, Marvin, has an impressive array of achievements in the music industry. Besides being a consummate vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist himself, he has worked as a recording engineer and producer with many of South Africa’s top artists, including Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, Deborah Frazier, Chicco, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Dr Victor, Danny K, William and the Young Five, Wendy Oldfield and Zia, to name but a few. He has produced commercials for Coca Cola, Pedigree and Mazda and wrote the theme song for the 2002 World Summit, We Can Make It Better. Marvin is soon to release his debut album.
The essence of The Invaders’ music was perhaps best formulated by Johnny Burke in an interview 40 years ago: “We are really bringing happiness to our friends. We make people forget their cares and worries. To most of our people life is a burden. When they come into the hall they are wrapped up in our music and forget all about debts and where tomorrow’s food is coming from. They can let out all their pent-up feelings and, for an hour or two, just forget about life. It’s a release for them. There can be nothing more thrilling than to have people screaming at your feet. This is a form of appreciation of our music. This, in fact, is our reward and payment.”
© Malcolm Lombard, February 2008
Special thanks to: Errol Gobey, Sean Burke, Joe Moses, Tertius Louw, Rob Allingham, Richard Burke, Marvin Moses, Rob Witchell and Cathleen Bakker.
[Sleeve notes from 'The Heart & Soul Of The Invaders' CD, released March 2008]