Freedom’s Children “Astra”

Freedom’s Children were a South African band who began their journey in the mid 60s. Ramsay McKay (bass guitarist and songwriter) and Colin Pratley (drums) were the core members of this group. Julian Laxton would later be brought in as the group’s lead guitarist. They released a handful of singles throughout 1967 and 1968, the best of these being blistering hard rock covers of Satisifaction and Mr. You’re a Better Man Than I. Little Games, another 45 effort was comparatively weak when compared to the singles that had come before it and the Yardbirds’ original. Freedom’s Children were one of South Africa’s first psychedelic groups in the apartheid era. Their anti-apartheid stance was dangerous at the time, often preventing the band from obtaining work permits and could only play gigs illegally.

In 1968 the group would release a promising debut album titled Battle Hymn Of The Broken Hearted Horde. The album was produced and released without the group’s knowledge and in some ways similar to the Small Faces’ Odgen’s Nut Gone Flake. Each track was linked by a narration and at the end of each side were Pepsi advertisements. Definitely dated and of its time, the lp still has some great psych pop tracks like Season and Kafkasque. Disappointed with the results McKay added new vocalist Brian Davidson and began working on a second lp.

What they would emerge with in 1970 was one of the great, dark masterpieces of space rock. Astra was unlike anything from South Africa or anywhere else in the world. It feels like a concept album about Jesus Christ but Ramsey McKay goes out of his way to dispell such myths. McKay explained, “You see where Astra really comes from, is we had this flat in West Kensington. When the Americans landed on the moon…we took all our beds and put them in a semicircle around this little black and white TV. Anyway, we took this acid and when they landed on the moon we were tripping. It was such an experience, I shall never forget it and that’s what Astra appeared out of.” Astra took on challenging themes of religion (The Kid He Came From Hazareth), war (Medals of Bravery – the Vietnam War), and political statements about life in South Africa under apartheid (Tribal Fence and Gentle Beast). The Kid He Came From Hazareth was originally titled Nazareth. In this track McKay wanted to potray Jesus as an outlaw and he explained that the lyrics went something like this: “When he came down from Nazareth he was a hellhound on the run.” It’s a perfectly realized piece of progressive psychedelia with soaring vocals and intelligent guitar solos via Julian Laxton. For the recording sessions Julian Laxton used/created a special “black box” for a greater variety of guitar echoes. The Homecoming balanced out Laxton’s wonderful black box soaked guitar solos with heavily distorted vocals by Davidson and a beautiful, unforgettable acoustic chorus. Another great track, Medals of Bravery has a gentle British pop psych vibe with lots of Hammond organ and a marching band beat. Engineer Nic Marten was responsible for the excellent organ playing throughout Astra and really is one of its underrated contributors. Slowly Towards The North Part 1 & 2 was one of the album’s last tracks and one of its very finest. Part 1 was a dark, foreboding progressive piece which evolved into an uplifting organ dominated second half which beared a strong similarity to late 60s Procol Harum. The album as a whole is marvelous and full of studio effects, dive bomb guitar runs, complex arrangements and distorted, mutant vocals.

Anyone searching for a great, lost space rock psychedelic record should really seek out Astra. It’s one of the best lps of its kind and has been reissued a few times, most notably by Shadoks Music and Lucky Pig Records. The Lucky Pigs reissue is preferred because it includes some of the early singles. After Astra, Ramsey McKay would quit Freedom’s Children and take part in other seminal South African groups the Abstract Truth and Hawk. Freedom’s Children went on to release another respectable hard rock effort in 1971 titled Galactic Vibes.

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“The Homecoming”

Anything in quotes came from the excellent South African rock site:

:D CD Reissue | 2008 | Shadoks | search amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1970 | Parlophone | search ebay ]

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  • great choice indeed!!!

    if you like like this Lp as much as i do, you will love this great compilation of 60’s South African psych-rock music :

    Astral Sounds : Psychedelic South African Rock (1968-1972) (Fresh Music CD)

    and in a more pop-rock vein, try to find the great eponymous album by The FLAME (before some of them joined the Beach Boys)…. maybe the next entry on this wonderful blog ???

  • Jason

    I have the Flame album and it’s a good one indeed. I am sure it will make an appearance on the Rising Storm very soon. There are some other cool underground groups from Africa too like BLO and the Witch (Lazy Bones). I have never heard that comp but will definitely look into getting it. Thanks once again.

  • philspector

    thanks for those bands that i never heard of.

    by the way i have to make a slight correction, the exact name of the comp i’ve talked about is

    Astral Daze : Psychedelic South African Rock

    it seems that the label Fresh music has a website

  • Frasse


    It’s always interesting to hear something new, especially when it’s this good.

    South Africa may seem like an unlikely place for Rock music but when I think about it quite a few bands/artists comes in mind, most notable would be Manfred Mann.

    Have to take a look at that link you posted…

  • Ronald Cooper

    Grew up with it and the other bands, Otis Waygood, Abstract Truth, Suck, Hawk. Met them in PMB, Mate of mine Gus , joined up for awhile in 1971. Great stuff have a few numbers on SA Phs… Roc CDk, German edition. Now live in New Zealand.
    Last I saw here, was John Mayall, what can I say.
    Keep cool,

  • I am looking for the lyrics of the homecoming by freedoms childrem.

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