Heather Mac rose to prominence in the South African rock music firmament in the early 1980s, as the lead singer of Ella Mental, an outfit hailed by music promoter, Roddy Quin, then scrounging for talent for EMI (SA), as “the most innovative and progressive group of people this country had ever seen”
Heather was first “discovered” in 1981 belting out a version of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry at Mangles, a Braamfontein folk club, by the guitarist Tim Parr, late of the blues-rock outfit, Baxtop, and he approached the tall, striking vocalist, saying he was looking for someone to sing some new songs he’d been writing.
At first, Heather worked with Tim as a backing vocalist but, by the time Ella Mental started gigging, Heather had moved centre stage as the group’s focal point. As the Afrikaans writer Deon Maas noted, “Watching Heather Mac was unlike watching any other lead vocalist of the time. Poised dramatically under strong lights that isolated her from the rest of the band, strong arm movements reminiscent of pre-war Berlin performance art, it was only her voice that kept on reminding you that you were actually listening to a rock band.”
The group’s first single, Pressure, was released in 1984, and the following year, their first album, Uncomplicated Dreams. The group criss-crossed the country, building up a dedicated fan base through dynamic live appearances. Despite their popularity, it soon became clear that they had reached a ceiling of sorts in South Africa. One of their subsequent singles, Madmen, was even ludicrously banned by the apartheid authorities as it appeared to be a criticism of then-president PW Botha’s government.
With the rest of the group in tow, Heather and Tim decamped to Ireland, where they worked on breaking into the international market. The breaks never came, and after a while, bassist Adrian Levi returned to South Africa and drummer Herman Eugster left for Switzerland. But Heather and Tim plugged on with a new version of the group and they were signed by Warner Bros following a gig at the Marquee Club in London. Heather and Tim moved to Los Angeles in 1989 to record the Ella Mental album. It was released in the US, the UK, Australia and Europe – but sadly, not in South Africa. The group finally disbanded in 1992.
It was also the end of Heather and Tim’s marriage. Heather returned to South Africa with her children, Amber and Luke, in December 1991. It took her a full two years, before she was to perform and write songs again. In 1994, the short-lived Heather Mac Band was formed, with singersongwriter-guitarist Edi Niederlander, the late Ilne Hofmeyr on bass, and drummer Steve Howells.
In 1997, Heather wrote and co-created In The Mix, a seven part SABCT TV series funded by the Department of Education. Shortly thereafter, until about 2004, Heather became a citizen of what she refers to as “the corporate world”, working for a national retail chain.
But the world of music and performance was always close at hand. Heather appeared in a number of Jazzart productions and, more
importantly, she also met her current partner, the guitarist Mark Harris, who has been performing with her since 1997. Together with Mark, Heather has also been appearing with The Brills, a group that also includes former Bright Blue bassist Ian Cohen and singer Tonia Selley.
Apart from singing, Heather has also carved a significant career for herself in theatre. She is the founding director, principal coach and creator of MORE, a co-operative, non-profit communications company that focuses on personal and leadership development in the corporate, NGO and artistic performance fields.
More recently, amongst other things, she served as an Employee Wellness consultant to The Clicks Group, providing staff training and leadership development spanning all aspects of Employee Wellness and HIV Disease
Management. She was part of the team that researched, designed, launched and implemented the groundbreaking, award winning EWP on the group’s behalf in 2005.
Heather is currently designing processes to enable young people and members of vulnerable and marginalised areas in the Western Cape to realise their creative potential and take a leading role in their own communities.
Her theatre company, MORE Theatre has produced three children’s musical productions based on African folk tales. Her most recent production, Snake Magic, represented South Africa at the 10th Annual African Theatre Festival for Children and Young People in Yaoundé, Cameroon in November 2008.
Now, in 2011, she returns as a recording artist with her new album, Within, a collection of personal songs gathered from the last 25 years of her life.