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The Village Stompers

This story would not be complete without a chapter on the Village Stompers.
Sometime around the end of 1981 a slightly mad Swedish architect called Ove Andersson approached me and a few of his other musical friends. He wanted to assemble a jazz band to play at a forthcoming party for Swedish expatriates. A couple of weeks later we met for an evening at his house - close to ours, in an area known as the Village in the old part of Gaborone. Ove himself played a mean trombone; we had vibrant Mats Olofsson on trumpet, Lars (Lasse) Dahlberg squeezing and wheezing on clarinet, Bart van Haselen moaning on saxophone and Tommy Anderssen on guitar. Dave Prince (mentioned elsewhere in my cousin Yo's diary) beat out the drums and I played a battered old electric piano of Ove's. (Actually, we soon found that this sounded better with the keyboard divided to give a sound which in the right hand resembled a honky tonk harpsichord and in the left hand approximated to a double bass played through a sock!) Ove Andersson

Ove Andersson, founder of the Village Stompers
(Click to enlarge)

Early Village Stompers concert

One of the first concerts given by the Village Stompers
(Click to enlarge)

That first rehearsal was a great success, as was the Swedish party which followed. We needed a name, so in recognition of where we rehearsed and in homage to the well-known 30's band of the same name we adopted the title of the "Village Stompers." Somehow we seemed to click well together from the start even though a couple of us had never really played trad jazz before and we had to listen to tapes to hear how the real players did it. But we were so popular (and occasionally even quite good) that Ove was flooded with requests for us to play again. We agreed to practice once - sometimes (gosh!) twice - a week!
Quite early on, the local President Hotel gave us a regular Saturday lunchtime booking in their balcony bar. The first of these was such a success that the hotel bar ran out of beer. Passers-by came up from their shopping in the Mall to see what was going on and stayed for the rest of the afternoon. The President Hotel had its busiest afternoon ever. From that moment on, we were in demand over the whole of Botswana. We played up and down the country at parties, beerfests, weddings, dances and even Rotary Club functions. Village Stompers poster

Poster for New Year dance at the President Hotel
(Click to enlarge)

Probably our most memorable engagement took place towards the end of our time together. We were hired by the Danish volunteer organisation to play for the annual get-together to which all their volunteers were recalled from their remote postings around the country. For 51 weeks of the year they were doctors, engineers, aid workers, village development officers. But for one weekend they partied.
The Stompers fly to !Kang

OK, who sits on the wing?
Squeezing a jazz band into two tiny aeroplanes proved something of a challenge . . . (Click to enlarge)

We agreed to do the gig. Then we found out that their party was to take place under the stars at the tiny village of !Kang in the middle of the Kalahari Desert - about 400km from anywhere. They would FLY us in for the weekend and we would sleep in a local school. How could we refuse? We turned up at the airport to be squeezed into two five-seater planes, complete with the piano (and a generator to power it!), Dave Prince's drum kit and all the other instruments, music stands and our luggage.
After an hour's bumpy flight we landed on a sandy landing strip and were given VIP treatment as we prepared for the most unusual engagement of our jazz careers. For we ended up playing to 20 reckless Danish volunteers, about 30 more people from the village and at least 200 goats and cattle who watched bemused as we bashed out the old classics. And the most surreal moment of all - which I shall treasure for ever - was just before we started. I persuaded Lasse to play the old Acker Bilk classic "Stranger On The Shore" as the sun set over the "shore" of the seemingly limitless dried-up salt pan. It was a magical moment. Strangers on the Shore of a Kalahari salt-pan

In the fading light of a Kalahari dusk on the edge of a 5 km wide salt pan, the Stompers inspect the dance floor (Click to enlarge)

Later bookings led to recordings at Radio Botswana (a slightly daunting prospect for me as the Deputy Director!) and on one occasion we were honoured by the presence of the great Hugh Masekela who joined us in a jam session at a local club. We bowed out at the end of 1984 when it became clear that three of us would be leaving Botswana within a few months of each other. But we had generated such a phenomenon that we were even reported in the Swedish press (47k) - presumably to show the way in which Swedeplan was contributing to Botswana's cultural heritage. And when the Botswana Guardian covered our final series of concerts (83k) it was with genuine affection. Somewhere there's a tape of some old sessions. Perhaps I'll put a copy on the WWW one day!

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