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 even, and have made their success in another continent altogether.
One of these people is Charles Worrod, maybe a name that is not recognizable 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, who helped to create the infrastructure of what it is now. He was born on 23rd of June 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 anesthetic-on my fourth birthday. I remember Binley Road when ladies and gentlemen still went spanking to market in dogcarts and traps among the ever-increasing numbers of Coventry car marques. As a boy of my time I roamed the countryside and ran in the city streets in perfect safety, playing cricket and football on ‘Gentlemen’s Green’ (now Stoke Green)”.
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, bomber construction and repairs. He moved into theater where he became a fleapit manager, rising to senior executive of the African Consolidated Theatres in South Africa. “It was here, admits Charles,” There I produced reviews and pantomimes and handled the visits of international stars including Danny Kaye, Johnny Raye, Claudio Arrau, Ricardo Ricci, Bud Shank, Maurice Chevalier and Alfred Hitchcock. On becoming a 20th Century-Fox executive I launched Elvis Presley’s films and left that company 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” said Charles, “ African artists were being paid as little as thirty shillings a record. I suppose it was a case of being the right person at the right place at the right time that I was able to help put things in order. 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 legendary East African musician Daudi Kabaka. Famous for his African Twist (an off-beat number to which one could ‘twist’ American style). He recorded the songs Harambee Harambee African Twist and Helule Helule. Harambee Harambee was intended to be a nation-wide call for Kenyans to ‘pull together’after Independence but President Kenyatta nationalised it and claimed it for his own party. While Helule Helule, was covered by the Tremolos and became a number a top twenty 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 an obviously talented youngster who had recorded an advertising jingle for the company and 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. (I sometimes play them, these days, for the amusement of my family and friends.) 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 at the studio with an urgent request. He asked me to release him from his contract immediately as he had received a promise from EMI that, provided he was free, they would be very interested in him. I looked at this eager, talented youngster who was trying to carry things off as though this were an everyday occurrence. 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 self 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 currently lives in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. He is a true pioneer, and yet another example of Coventry musical fusion.Charles is an incredibly articulate and interesting man. He still has many stories to tell, Charles was good enough to send me extracts of his memoirs, they Paint a vivid picture of Coventry in the late 1900’s.
Charles Worrod Trivia
- Charles found the song Malaika and recorded it in a South African rythmn, making it a huge hit for Kenyan superstar Fadhili William. It has been selling worldwide for fifty years and is now beginning to appear in classical concerts.
- Roger Whittaker of course went on to be a huge easy listening star, with hits like Durham Town, I Don’t Belive In If Anymore and the Last Farwell.
- The Congo River Boys, were another act to record at Charles’s studios, the five piece a captured on a very rare photo os the actual inside of the Equator Sound Studios.
Pete Chambers, will be at Waterstones Cathedral lanes this Saturday 1st March 12.00pm to 2.30pm. Signing copies of his book, Godiva Rocked To A Backbeat. Come along and say hello!