MEL, MEL & JULIAN ~ South Africa's Top 60s Folk/Comedy Band

The talented trio began their career in 1965. Their first LP "Songs about mines, people, places & one train" was just recorded as a Mel & Mel project, and when it had been judged "bloody good", a second contract at the Edward Hotel was offered to the duo, who then asked Julian to join the band! As a trio, they performed around South Africa, putting on very entertaining marathon musical and comedy performances. Their frequent gigs at Johannesburg's Troubadour and their long-running club residencies in Durban, East London and Cape Town were known for drawing full houses. How they began is another story... part  luck, very good timing and a perfect example of "being in the right place at the right time!" 

  So, here's the"short" version of how it all happened!   The 60s difference: Mel, Mel & Julian grew up in an era, when Beatle- and Rolling Stones- influenced bands were common. When they first got together, the "folk boom" had also begun, so instead of becoming another Mersey-beat wannabe band, they stood out with their simple vocal/acoustic guitar set up, singing and playing for attentive, hushed audiences, who were also rolling helplessly in their seats, convulsed with helpless laughter at the high jinks of Mel Miller's jokes and stories. They were different, and good! 

  Mel, Mel & Julian mostly worked at large hotels all over the country, and occasionally headlined shows at University concerts in Cape Town, Grahamstown, Durban and Johannesburg... when they were in-between these long-term gigs, they would be doing shows at local coffeehouses like The Troubadour, or performing at the occasional folk festival (where Julian would conduct guitar workshops). 

  They kept busy all the time adding to repertoire and playing out when the new material was ready for a live audience. They returned to Johannesburg during "breaks" between long gigs, when their recording company would schedule the band to record at the Gallo recording studios, where their three distinctive LPs were produced. 

  Their reputation grew and over time critics and audiences would describe their combination of well-played folk music, mixed with comedy and social commentary as a cross between The Kingston Trio and the Smothers Brothers ... [but then South Africans were always compared to overseas acts.] In fact they were actually unique on the folk scene in South Africa, and proved to be something of a phenomenon, spurring other folk groups to follow suit. Yet their sound was unique, combining the tight harmony vocals of Big Mel and Little Mel with the brilliant, innovative guitar picking of Julian Laxton, who stood head and shoulders above most guitarists in South Africa. 

  Their repertoire included music from all over the Globe, and earned them face-to-face compliments from the Everly Brothers, the Seekers, The Ivy League and other internationally known stars. One of their biggest fans was the famous South African country & western singer, Billy Forrest, who became their ad-hoc manager, who promoted them into the top layer of South African show biz. 


Lead Vocals, Upright Bass & Very-very Funny Comedian 
Harmony Vocals, Rhythm & Fingerpicked Guitar, Harmonica & Straight-Man 


  They recorded ground-breaking LPs that turned the local folk music scene on its head, and which were standard setters for musical entertainment. All within a short span of a little less than five years! Read on about how these three different characters met, and coalesced into a tight musical unit and became a wonderfully consistent band.

      How the band started... the short version:  Mel Green transferred from the University of Cape Town to do his final year at the Johannesburg School of Art, where he met Mel Miller, the school comedian... they snagged a Wednesday night gig at the Troubadour Coffeehouse, which became quite a draw, attracting audiences rapidly. Mel & Mel were among the few who performed at the first Johannesburg Folk Festival concert with their pal Louis Meyer backing them on banjo. An LP of the festival concert was recorded, after which the record companies were quick to sign up every folksinger in sight, Mel and Mel among them. 

      After a year the duo was establishing a nice reputation, but also working day jobs after they both graduated from art school... Columbia, their record company asked them to make their first "real" recording, a 45, which was backed up by blues band, John E. Sharp & the Squires... and when the second folk festival rolled around,  their manager, Billy Forrest invited Don Hughes, a booking agent, to  see the duo perform. Don offered them a contract shortly afterwards at The Edward Hotel, Durban's only 5-star establishment. So, the duo gave up their day jobs and plunged into a 6-night a week gig. After 4 months they returned to Johannesburg to fulfill their record company's demand for their first album of songs. 

    Enter Julian... 
Mel and Mel were discussing what to do next in their plans to record their first LP for CBS, when they struck up a conversation with a friend, David Sapire, a young doctor who was a fan, and who happened to like their sound. He suggested that they might consider recruiting a lead guitarist, [and by the way, he had just the right one in mind.]

He was referring to his half-brother, Julian Laxton, the lead guitarist of a band called "Them" which had just broken up.  David arranged for the Mels to audition Julian… [they were  impressed!] Thanks to David Sapire, Julian was recruited to add lead guitar to their first LP ("Songs about mines, people, places and one train"). His musical talents exceeded all expectations! 


    Shortly afterwards, Mel & Mel were offered a 6-month contract at The Edward Hotel in Durban, and so they negotiated with their agent to have Julian join them permanently... and that is how Mel, Mel & Julian came to be...  His contribution as lead guitarist to the band turned the South African folk scene scene on it's head, because no other folk group was making "folk" music like they were.

   Other hotel residency contracts soon followed, and Mel, Mel & Julian were on their way.... making a huge contribution to the local entertainment scene. A night out at a Mel, Mel & Julian show included musical interludes, broken up by hilarious storytelling by "Big" Mel Miller, who had audiences rolling in the aisles. He used "Little" Mel Green and Julian as his "straight" men to good effect.

During the time they were together, they recorded three LPs for Columbia Records (South Africa)... and, their last LP "Miscellanea" was voted one of the Top 10 South African Folk Albums.

The group disbanded at the end of 1967, after making a considerable contribution to a contemporary folk music sound and even early folk-rock in South Africa!

CDs… Their original vinyl was converted to digital back in 2001, when Mel Green took it upon himself to continue letting old fans know about his wonderful old group. Their recordings evidently made waves back on the South African folk- and entertainment scene.  Their first album could not be salvaged in it's entirety due to the condition of the vinyl LPs available, and so Mel Green added a track from their last recording "Miscellanea" to the list of tracks, which he released as "Ethnic/Shmethnic" on his own label, MLG Limited Editions.  [M = Miller, L = Laxton, and G = Green] named in honour of the old band.

    The CD is still available.   It is available at $10 (US) + the current mailing rates, so please send inquiries on the Contact page.

FYI: Their other 2 recordings "One More Town" and "Miscellanea" were also digitized although funds were inadequate to manufacture digital facsimiles of those marvellous LPs, which had the 3 musicians delving into covers by other famous singer-songwriters, as well as into other folk-music genres, such as blues, jug band and world music. [Both CDs are available to stream on the Gallo website]…

 There have been attempts at a reunion over the last 2 decades, but unfortunately prospects for a get-together were thwarted. 

 Mel Miller continued his Stand Up Comedy appearances in South Africa.  In 2011 he was honoured as the very first recipient of the Comics Choice Lifetime Achievement Award. He has retired from the Spotlight.

 Mel Green lives in Boston in the USA. He continues to grow as a fine guitarist and singer-songwriter, and plays regularly on the busy Boston folk/acoustic scene.

Julian Laxton continued to play his wonderful guitar music in and around Johannesburg from time to time. Sadly, after a period of some decline, Julian passed away in September, 2023.