Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Suck played what was known as "underground" in South African in 1970 when their debut album Time To Suck was released on Parlophone Records, not so long before the home of the Beatles. Nowadays it is available on a CD from RetroFresh Records who have made it a mission to introduce us classic South African rock albums that have languished in total obscurity since their vinyl release.

I was 11 years old when Time To Suck was unleashed on the South African rock public but was totally and blissfully unaware of Suck's existence as I was not much into underground at the time, preferring the likes of Neil Diamond and the bubblegum pop of the time.

As I understand it, "underground" was a mixture of heavy and progressive rock, more or less anything that was not pop. The exponents ranged from Freedoms Children, to Hawk, to Abstract Truth, to Otis Waygood Blues Band, to Suck, and probably more.

Suck was apparently quite outrageous and shocking for its time and that someone was prepared to release even one album by them is pretty amazing considering the political and social restrictions applicable in South Africa at the time. The other interesting aspect to this, judging by an album full of cover versions, is that Suck seems to have been just a typical bar band of the time, playing a selection of songs from some of the heavy hitters of the time in the UK and the USA, such as Grand Funk, Black Sabbath, King Crimson, Free and Deep Purple, rather than their own songs. In fact there is only one original tune in the set.

I guess, if you could not listen to Black Sabbath at your local club, Suck doing a version of War Pigs was the next best thing. They are nice and heavy, with a powerful vocalist, a guitarist who knows his power chords and a rhythm section with as little subtlety as would be required to stomp the audience into submission. There are also a few touches of flute just to add the progressive edge.

Almost all of the songs on the album were previously unknown to me, but Deep Purple's Into The Fire (utterly without organ flourishes by a Jon Lord impressionist) and Donovan's Season of the Witch are, so to say, old friends. I know the latter song best in the Stephen Stills / Al Kooper version off the Supersession album, though I have also had the pleasure of hearing Donovan doing his song. Suck do a very heavy version that removes all of the psychedelia from it and adds a drum solo; those were the days.

For the rest, I do not know whether Suck improves on Grand Funk Railroad, King Crimson or Free thought I would be so bold as to say that Andy Iannides is a far superior vocalist to Mark Farner of Grand Funk. In any event, never knows whether the songs sound different to the original version because the cover band is inventive and want to bring something new, or if they simply are not capable of an exact reproduction even if they try.

So, as a record of a band Time To Suck is probably important and it was necessary to release it on CD. My impression is that local rock albums were a relative rarity in the Seventies (and remained so until the mid-Nineties) and for that reason each and every local rock LP should be brought back in the public eye by CD release. Having said that, I cannot think that Suck or its one and only album were extremely vital parts of the South African rock tapestry, except maybe for the band members and those living fans who were around at the time. Say what you will, but the album is still a pub band's jukebox repertoire, and there were many such bands at the time and if most of them were less outrageous on stage than Suck, it does make then any less meritorious.



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