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Nostalgia: How Charles influenced the great African riffs.

Byline: PETE CHAMBERS

COVENTRY has produced some wonderfully gifted musicians and record producers, some are well known, others are unsung heroes.

Then there are Coventry kids who have left the city, or country, and have made their success in another continent altogether.

One of these people is Charles Worrod. Maybe a name that is not recognisable in his home city, but Charles was not only one of Africa's top music producers, but a pioneer on the East African music scene.

He was born on June 23, 1912, in Milton Street, Coventry. He grew up in 67 Dean Street.

"One of my earliest memories," reveals Charles, "is of a very large pock-faced man, wearing a once-white rubber apron which was streaming with blood, who removed my tonsils without an anaesthetic-on my fourth birthday. I remember Binley Road when ladies and gentlemen still went to market in dogcarts and traps."

He left post-war Britain and relocated to South Africa. By his own admission, Charles was a jack-of-all-trades, dipping his toes into the world of journalism, television repairs and bomber construction. He moved into theatre where he became a fleapit manager, rising to senior executive of African Consolidated Theatres in South Africa.

"It was here," admits Charles, "that I produced revues and pantomimes and handled the visits of international stars including Danny Kaye, Maurice Chevalier and Alfred Hitchcock.

"On becoming a 20th Century Fox executive I launched Elvis Presley's films. I left to become Trutone Johannesburg's production and publicity manager. It was here that I became fascinated by kwela and Afrikaans offbeat music."

He left South Africa, and settled in Nairobi, Kenya, setting up the Equator Sound Studios Limited.

"When I founded Equator Sound Studios Limited, the Kenya recording industry was in a shocking state.

"I became the first employer to employ full-time musicians, enrolling them with the Nairobi Cultural Centre for music lessons. I instituted local royalties and sat with the broadcasting authority to work out the details."

Charles was responsible for the career of East African musician Daudi Kabaka, famous for his African Twist.

He recorded the songs Harambee Harambee African Twist and Helule Helule, which was covered by the Tremoloes and became a top 20 hit for them in 1968.

Another of Charles's finds was a young guy called Hank.

"When I purchased East African Records I discovered that we had under contract a young artist known as Hank," said Charles. "He was a talented youngster who had recorded an advertising jingle which was doing an excellent promotion job for Shell.

"He had a most tuneful whistle, which he used to good advantage in the jingle. Then I discovered that he had recorded four tunes for East African Records. These were rock numbers and were representative of the times. Hank was obviously worth recording and I was anxious for him to return from an overseas trip and fulfil his contract. It was some months later that he turned up with an urgent request. He asked me to release him from his contract as he had received a promise from EMI that, provided he was free, they would be very interested in him.

"If I 'boxed cleverly' I would be able to negotiate a favourable arrangement with him, which was the normal procedure in such circumstances. But, I knew I could never cash-in in such a way. I was certain that I would only be an encumbrance for a boy with a more than promising future.

"I took out my copies of our contract and tore them to bits in front of him. I have never seen or heard from Hank, or as he is now known, Roger Whittaker since. Although I could have made a lot of money by re-releasing his rock recordings, I could never bring myself to do so as I felt it could have harmed his reputation."

Unfortunately, Charles was forced to leave Kenya due to being legislated out of business, as he was not a Kenya citizen. He now lives in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. He is a true pioneer, and yet another example of Coventry musical fusion.

CAPTION(S):

Pete Chambers, will be at Waterstones Cathedral lanes this Saturday, from noon to 2.30pm, signing copies of his book, Godiva Rocked to a Backbeat. Come along and say hello!; RISING STAR... a young Roger Whittaker (right) and the Congo River Boys (left)
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Feb 26, 2008
Words:726
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