Doc Maclean brings Narrow House to SA

“Blues Rock Review once said my songs are only about death and dismemberment. That’s not true at all. They’re also about addiction and heartbreak” – Doc Maclean

This is the first time I’m reviewing an album of a Delta blues legend. Not to mention that I had the opportunity to meet the bra and to hang out with him alongside a variety of old and new friends, at three live shows, in my home province, over a period just short of a week. We all enjoyed his vibes man! Doc Maclean is now resident in Canada but his roots lie where the blues was born. The Delta. Doc is from Hollandale, Mississippi to be precise. I was amazed at how humble and approachable he is. I’ve only seen and heard of southern hospitality on TV but I think I understand it much better now. And yeah, I know Canadians to be friendly people.  Maybe too friendly! No wonder Doc loves the place so much. Before I met him there was a part of me that thought he can’t be the real McCoy. “Why is he here man? A real blues man? In Pretoria? Maybe he’s some fake dude”. Canada? Do they even get the blues in Canada? It was difficult to picture a delta bluesman in Canada until I met Doc.  And yeah his first gig was at die Canadian Hiiiiiigh Commission, a block away from my alma mater, so I knew he had to be legit. But I was still sceptical. I can testify he’s the real deal people! It was only the effects of years of isolation from the rest of the world messing with my mind.  I can’t think of one delta blues legend that visited our shores. But I don’t blame them either, I also wouldn’t have come to South Africa if I were them back in the day. At the first show Doc and I clicked immediately and after less than a week I can truly call him a blues brother. His music, stories and conversation helped flare up my passion for the blues and the amazing talent we have in SA again. I bought Narrow House from the man himself. What an honour. Over the last year or so I reviewed the music of many SA blues legends on http://www.watkykjy.com and I know they have the chops so it was really great to hear Doc say he already checked out a great deal of SA blues musicians and connected with a few of them before his visit. Gotta love the internet! Not only is he a fan of SA blues music but he has a lot of hope for South Africa. With everything that’s going on globally and locally we’re going to need all the blues we can get man. I can tell you that! Good Lord, when he sat down and started playing that 1929 Steel National guitar all my suspicions disappeared like mist before the rising sun. And when he started plucking his 1951 Stella I was just smiling. You can’t fake those vibes. It’s like he smuggled a bit of delta juke joints into Pretoria. Or maybe he has the hoodoo to teleport people to another time and place. Maybe both, I don’t know.  It took me back to the old days in the South of America. The days when sharecroppers lived hard impoverished lives. Poor oppressed people doing hard labour for the rich folks on the cotton fields. Doc says he’d rather not talk politics. But I love to talk politics. He is the son of a civil rights lawyer and a fiddle player. I can just imagine that he plays in front of mostly black audiences in the States. When I came out of the delta blues haze in between one of his songs I thought about all the shit in our own country. Slavery might not be lawful here but poor people are still slaves of poverty.  Politicians, the whole system and big corporates are the new slave driving cotton farmers. And global economics tries it’s best to direct the whole cacophonic mess like a shitfaced conductor. I wonder if anyone knows what they’re doing anymore. But I’m pragmatic and I told Doc he will probably play before mostly white audiences. The remnants of Apartheid still holding many people back. It’s difficult to explain it to someone from a first world country. Most people here don’t even understand it. The different cultures in SA are vastly different and it still has us in shackles and keeps us far away from each other in many respects. Poor people in the rural areas don’t have enough money to travel far and go and see shows in the suburbs. And that goes for poor people in the city townships too. Poor people in SA sing the blues but not all know blues music so well. There is a different kind of musical history in SA. Marabi, Kwêla, Mbaqanga and Kwaito or the gospel church music which the older people love so much. But it doesn’t sound like the blues nor the gospel from the South of America. While I’m writing my domestic worker, Koekie, is busy in the kitchen and I ask her for some help with the review. I play her a few tunes from Narrow House and her face lights up. “Jazz and blues!,” she shouts.  She’s six years younger than Doc. She tells me that in die townships there are Jazz and Blues Stokvels where the “ou bras” (old bros) come together to listen to jazz and blues. Although its more jazz than blues, blues is also thrown into the mix sometimes. She also listens to Jazz and Blues on her community radio for two hours on a Sunday. When they get together the “ou bras” wear “Florsheim” shoes and “Dobbs” hats and then they boogy the night away. A Stokvel is like a community society or club. It is used for savings, investments, hobbies, buying groceries and for parties. I knew about it from an investment point of view but I never knew people used Stokvels to enjoy jazz and blues. Just another example of how we don’t understand each other’s cultures here in SA. But it’s only the older bras. In the big city townships most kids listen to kwaito. It’s like a form of viby African style R&B dance music. Koekie says the pantsulas (who listens to Kwaito) doesn’t really like jazz and blues. Sounds quite familiar. The situation is not very different from our middleclass suburbs. Blues is only a niche market here. I try to avoid the Afrikaans pop music at all costs. Doef doef doef. Shallow bokkie baby shit. So it’s true that most people who listen to mainstream music (black or white) won’t get into the blues.  They just think it’s grim and depressing. Or boring.  But they’re all missing the boat. Blues legends like Doc Maclean sing stories to us. Stories about life, interesting people and legends he met over the years. It’s a musical legacy that has to be kept alive and preserved for the whole world. It’s heartbreak and happiness wrapped up in a few hoodoo bones. Doc throws them to the fans at every show. Mostly it makes people feel good! What do you think? Graves, death, bad woman and good whiskey? Doc tells me on facebook yesterday:

”those two (bad woman and good whiskey) are always an interesting combination” And then he adds an LOL. I agree Doc! Man I love the dark, dark kind of music. I have never experienced a blues artist that takes me as far deep into the dark side of the blues as Doc.  He’s basically “metal” and delta original all in one. With his Mexican skulls & roses Day of the Dead black shirt on.

“The guys there from Texas wear em’ all year round,” he says.

On the album Doc’s voice reminds me of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull but with a helluvalot more soul. Go and listen to Bone Train, By Degree and Charley James’ Blues. I’ve never had gumbo but I can just imagine his music is like a big pot of gumbo. The old original delta blues is the main ingredient. Add some Texas blues, some American folk and country too. But most of all the spices that makes this pot is Doc’s own signature ingredients. It’s darker than Johnny Cash but as fun as John Lee Hooker’s boogies. Doc is only in his mid-sixties but he’s stories will make you think he’s lived more than 200 years. He sings about hoodoo witches and tells stories about those who put a spell on you only to sell you another spell to take the first one away.  Sounds like some of the sangomas we have in SA. Those quacks are just as good as Doc with business. Only Doc is an honest man. He says he doesn’t like the business side of the blues but he’s good at it. Something a lot of SA musos can learn from him.  He manages himself, negotiates his gigs, recordings, media appearances himself. He’s his own roadie too!  He loves to play but if you think he lives a glamourous life then you’re gravely mistaken. He travels light like JJ Cale used to sing. Oh, but the company he keeps…..and kept in the past. I’ll get there don’t worry. Keep your pants on. What do you mean? I AM reviewing the album! It’s called Narrow House. You’re not concentrating. The album was released in 2006 abroad but Doc brought us a special one with extra goodies on. It was reprinted on SA soil.

“Bunch of kids thought Narrow House was a pretty funny name for a blues album until I told ‘em it’s just another name for a grave” – Doc Maclean.

Fucking legend. You must picture a wily grin like laugh at the end of that quote. Does that give you a better idea?  Wait I forgot tell you Doc hung out with legends like Son House, Muddy Waters and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Back when you could lose your life in the blink of an eye if you pissed off the wrong people in the juke joints. It was dangerous. Just a shack and drum in the middle. A lot of boozed up people enjoying the blues.  If you looked at someone’s woman you might end up getting your head blown off. Doc’s partner in crime all these years is Colin Linden (The Band, Keb Mo) even though they didn’t play together all the time. Colin plays electric guitar, bass and mandolin on Narrow House. The man is now part of Bob Dylan’s band. No, for real, no jokes. My favourite tune on this album is Angola Prison Rodeo. It’s about an actual rodeo in Lousiana State Penitentiary – the longest running prison rodeo in the United States. It’s still going strong. One of the bras that gave Doc some guitar lessons from Louisiana got parole there in 1958 of 1959 for singing to the Governor. Wonder if Zuma can sing? Maybe if he sings in Parliament they’ll let him go free. Nah, he sings about just as good as he can count. Back to the song. Doc wrote this song and recorded it with members of the Tom Waits band, Mavis Staples Band, Canned Heat and the Fairfield Four. Narrow House was produced by Colin and features Larry Taylor (Canned Heat) en Stephen Hodges (Mavis Staples band) who at that stage were the core of the Tom Waits band. Man, the company Doc keeps and kept in the past. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Angola Prison Rodeo sounds like a chain gang singing it. Soulful and hypnotic. You can feel the spirit of the slaves – and their pain. The title track is another favourite of mine. “Digging the narrow, Digging the narrow houuuuse!” You can’t help but sing along. This SA print has a few extra tracks on that’s not on the original print. On one of the songs Doc sings about jelly rolls. It’s a cover of Charley Patton’s Shake it, break it but (don’t let if fall). Legend has it that Doc Maclean played Charley Patton songs in Son House’s living room. Mindfuck, huh? And if you think this song is only about a jelly roll then you don’t understand the blues. I still don’t know if it’s about sex or addiction. Maybe both!

 

It was a real blessing to see Doc live no less than three times the past week. I’m busy writing another piece about the live blues experiences I had the past week. I saved a few Doc Maclean quotes for that one and I also want to look at the Blues Scene in Gauteng! So watch out for it!

 

Gary Moore Blues Alive Rare Vinyl

Well helloooooooo there my fellow Rolling Rock Prophets! It’s been a while since I wrote a little something on my own music blog! Life happens all the time, and I’m busy with a few writing projects of my own that’s keeping me busy. I may or may not be trying to write a book. Who knows? But don’t tell anyone. You’ll be the first to know if it’s any good!

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So let’s get back into the groove with an extremely rare piece of wax I managed to get my hands on. It’s a collector’s item of note. Gary Moore’s 1993 Blues Alive released on the Virgin Records label. Yes, on vinyl. Back in the nineties? Apparently, many vinyl were pressed in those days. It’s news to me though. It was much, much rarer than now of course. Less people thought it was cool too. Blues Alive is a collection of live recordings taken from Gary Moore and the Midnight Blues Band’s 1992 tour (Europe, UK and USA) promoting his blues offerings Still got the Blues (1990) and After Hours (1992). The original 1993 pressing was a limited edition to begin with. Each vinyl was individually numbered. But what makes this one so rare? Well, the first batch of 10 000 vinyl were pressed incorrectly. To be more precise, the C side on Record 2 was double pressed. Yes that’s correct, the D side is totally missing in action. They also switched the A and B side on Record 1. Sounds like a bum deal, right? Well it is and it isn’t. Maybe in the days I had Obsessive Compulsive Vinyl Buying Disorder (OCVBD) it would have drove me nuts not be able to listen to the missing D side. I have vowed to look out for one that’s not a misprint though. So I’m not sure if I really managed to get my OCVBD under control? Hahaha! I’m not one to buy vinyl for “investment purposes” but the little mishap makes this little gem slightly more expensive than your average piece of wax. Go check out discogs for information on prices. Or go ask the two dealers responsible for the hole in my pocket. Simon Coetzee and Roger Jones.  https://www.facebook.com/simon.coetzee.5?fref=ts and https://www.facebook.com/roger.jones.944023?fref=ts20151011_142519

The music of Gary Moore has been part of my music listening experience for decades. I was thirteen years old when I discovered Wild Frontier (1987). I became friends with Gary Moore even before Led Zeppelin became my religion. I was introduced to the rock side of his music and loved the heavy stuff back in the eighties. Ok, ok I still do! I played Run for Cover (1985) and After the War (1989) on tape until both snapped and I had to fix them with sticky tape. I remember the music video for the song Out in the Fields alongside his friend Phil Lynott vividly. Strange that the video wasn’t banned back then? Two Irish fellows, one black and one white, dressed in military uniforms singing side by side about war. Someone at the SABC was not doing his job properly. Gary Moore moved on to the blues in the early nineties with his immaculate albums Still got the Blues (1990) and After Hours (1992). 

Gary Moore’s blues is the rough kind of blues. The kind you listen to when you need to take the edge off. Like the last big gulp of whiskey, when you just drank the whole bottle. Elaborate guitar riffs will kick your ass while you listen to his bluesy jams, complete with brass sections. What do you expect from an Irishmen, eh? His vocals was born and bred in rock arenas, but he could slow it down and feel the blues too. And man, he can still make you feel it. Just listen to Still got the Blues again. I was too much of a metal head to really get into the blues in the early nineties. I only started to appreciate his blues efforts somewhere in the mid to late-nineties. For the collector’s out there, it’s not easy getting his blues offerings on vinyl, not to mention cheap – but when you do, it’s like heaven on wax, through your speakers, into your the ears and slap bang into your heart! Rest in Peace Gary Moore!

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The Dan Patlansky and Dave Ferguson alien duel!

Fucking hell, I love blues collaborations. You mostly see this kind of thing at blues festivals, but on a random Monday night at Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria? Well, let’s just say that what happened on 27 July 2015 was extremely rare. Dan Patlansky kicked off the show with a riveting acoustic solo and the audience was (as always) dumbfounded from the word go. Then, without any warning we found ourselves in the soulful clutches of one helluva mesmerizing set. Acoustic heaven and food for the soul. First up, with old school blues lyrics in tact – Patlansky’s own Miss Owee from his acoustic album ‘Wooden Thoughts’. Just after the usual suspects Andy Maritz and Clint Falconer joined the fray, Dave Ferguson was invited to join them all. Accompanying him was his impressive collection of harmonicas. All hell broke loose with a slightly less stripped down version of Son House’s Preaching Blues. The combination of Patlansky’s acoustic guitar prowess and Ferguson’s impressive intuitive mastering of the harmonica damn near blew us all away. Jeezy, Patlansky has fast fingers – and yet he doesn’t sacrifice any clarity of notes because of it. Dave with those high notes and good old fashioned feedback manipulation. Man, it was something to bear witness to. Praise the blues!

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I really loved the blues lore being shared on stage by the two blues men. In particular, on the life and times of Jimmy Reed, just before they conjured up a slow version of Bright Lights Big City. All the while, still dueling, as the blues swept us away. The last song of the acoustic set was a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir that also appears on the acoustic album. Now those of you who know me can testify that I’m more of a religious follower of Led Zep than a fan. So I approach any covers of their material with much trepidation. Yes, of course I have some criticism. Ha! There may have been a tad too much harmonica added to the song. But I loved the sound Dan and Dave managed to create anyway. Something close to oriental snake chalmer blues. But less harmonica would have been much more for me on this tune. Nevertheless, they did the song justice in the end. Many artists who try to recreate Robert Plant’s vocals fail dismally and I’m sure Dan knows this all too well. He never adds any vocals to it.

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Dan and the lads kicked some electric blues ass during the first part of the electric set with songs from ‘Dear Silence Thieves’ like Backbite, Pop Collar Jockey and then toned it down a bit for Your War. Dave joined again on the song Hold on from the very same album. And this was the highlight of the collaboration for me. A slow duel bending time and space causing the audience to fucking loose it. In a good a way though. Isn’t that what the blues is about? This continued with BB King’s You upset me , a very apt and heartfelt tribute to the King. During Daddy’s Old Gun from the album ’20 Stones’ the two blues men were so in tuned to each other’s musical vibrations that it sounded like they’re communicating in an alien language. One that I could feel but not understand at all. The second last song was the amazing and beautiful Madison Lane. Yes indeed from the latest album. And customary to any Dan Patlansky experience he left all of us in awe (once more) with his signature tribute to Jimi Hendrix in the form of his own interpretation of Voodoo Chile. 

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What an experience……

All photos taken by Kurt Sassenburg from Urban Playground SA. Check out his website: http://www.urbanplaygroundsa.com/

Nina Simone – Live at the Village Gate 2014 repress

Silence is not always golden but in my case it was. I’ve been using most of my writing time for my weekly review column on www.watkykjy.co.za. I haven’t posted anything music related in a while on this blog. I’m not apologizing. Life happens and on this blog I don’t have timelines or deadlines. I just write whenever I’m inspired by an album or artist or whatever else comes my way. I’ve been listening to quite a lot of Nina Simone lately – on my own and with friends. I also bought two of her vinyl a while ago from Mr Vinyl. I’m not an aficionado on jazz at all and neither do I know her music extremely well. I am just curious as to why I love it so much. So this is probably more of an attempt to get answers for myself than an actual review. It may end up as one though. Who makes the rules, right?

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So who was she? She wasn’t just a singer, pianist and songwriter but also a civil rights activist. Many of her songs are unapologetic political and when they’re not you can hear a kind of strength projected that can only come from someone who’s experienced some form of hardship in their lives. The rest of her songs are mostly about love – which is probably a hardship in itself. Lol! She was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tyron, North Carolina. Her mother was a Methodist minister and a housemaid. Her father was a handyman. The sixth child of eight children and as one can expect they were very poor. Like most black children in those days she performed at her local church. Her concert debut was at the tender age of twelve years old. A classical recital. During her performance her parents were forced to move to the back of the hall to make way for white people. She refused to continue the recital until her parents were moved back to the front. And so the seeds of injustice were planted in her young mind. Later in life she would use her fame to try and eradicate these wrongs by writing and performing several anti-racist and pro civil rights songs. She performed at many civil rights meetings as well.

Nina Simone’s musical style is quite complex. I find myself a bit overwhelmed as I try to classify it. You can hear the gospel influences first and foremost, but then you find an overpowering classical influence. After all, she was classically trained. The most obvious elements of her music are jazz and blues influences and she also explores folk and African music. But her soulful contralto voice is the most distinctive part. It’s haunting and melancholy and it can’t be copied. It’s one of a kind. Her very presence on stage, and her ability to connect with the audience was always second to none.

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So the vinyl I’m listening to right now is Live at the Village Gate. The album was recorded in 1962. It was her third live album on Colpix records. It was recorded live at a nightclub in Greenwhich Village, New York. She was still young and the way in which her vocals blend in and flow with the piano is especially noticeable on this album. It is simply an amazing recording that reflects the era in which it was recorded and the atmosphere of the nightclub. No recording gimmicks. If you close your eyes you’ll find yourself magically transported back in time. Sitting in the audience all suited up with a cigar and some champagne. Next to you, a stylish dressed woman – smiling at you as the grooves slowly seduces both of you.

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Listening to this album on vinyl is just pure magic. Just in time is not only one of her well known songs but it has been immortalised in popular cinema culture. It features in the movie Before Sunset (2004), the sequel to Before Sunrise (1995). The film picks up the story in Before Sunrise of the young American man (Ethan Hawke) and French woman (Julie Delpy) who spent a passionate night together in Vienna. Their paths intersect nine years later in Paris, and the film takes place in real time as they spend an afternoon together talking. Hawke’s character is supposed to catch a flight back to the United States but gets drawn into the conversation with Delpy, at first very civil and superficial but then they get more and more honest about their feelings for each other until they end up in her apartment listening to this very album, and of course he misses his flight. Nina Simone will do that to you:) They couldn’t have chosen a better song. It’s extremely sexy but at the same time it has a certain quality that leaves you vulnerable. It’s absolutely timeless.

He was too good to me is one of the most beautiful love songs Ive ever heard. If songs lasted an eternity you would get lost in this song and never find your way back home. Luckily songs only last a few minutes.

On Bye Bye Blackbird the jazz takes over entirely with an extended jamming session – taking you by the hand and pulling you into a Nina Simone standing-in-one-place kind of dance.

On songs like Brown Baby and If he changed my name it’s just her and the piano. The melancholy is at times almost tangible.  Not many artists will have the gall to do it in the first place, never mind the ability to sound that good with just the nakedness of one voice and the minor assistance of the piano. It would be too daunting. Nina Simone pulls it off as if she invented it. Well, she did!

On Children go where I send you her gospel revival roots are exquisitely revealed. You can picture her standing right in front of the church raising the spirit of the churchgoers as the music snowballs into tribal and spiritual reverence and eventually hallelujah ecstasy.

But there is also a lot of folk music on this album. Like Zungo for instance. It’s a Nigerian chant written by Michael Babatunde “Baba” Olatunji which she effortlessly weaves into her jazz repertoire. Africans are used to it but it must have sounded outlandish to the New Yorkers back then. Her rendition of the folk song The House of the Rising Sun (made popular by the Animals) is done in true Nina Simone style. Jazzy and probably the most passionate version of the song ever recorded.

It’s pretty obvious why I love her music. Rest in Peace Nina Simone.

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Check out this vinyl, it’s a European reissue (VP80041) pressed in 2014. It has three bonus tracks on that’s not part of the original pressing namely Black is the colour of my true loves hair, the Other Woman and Summertime.

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Check out Mr Vinyl’s stash at http://www.mrvinyl.co.za/

STRAB for cripples 101

11270319_10153447126597009_8479635876301321798_oSo you’re in a wheelchair and you love good ol’ folkin’ rock and blues tunes. You want to check out a blues festival but you don’t know if it will be accessible or not. Hey, why not try STRAB music festival in Ponta Malongane in Mozambique? But before you start packing just hear this cripple out first.

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My disability is different from most wheelchair bound paraplegics or quadriplegics. I’m not unique but like many other cripples I have very specific requirements. Oh, you’re offended because I use the word ‘cripple’ are you? Good. I don’t like all these politically correct words carefully crafted for us. ‘Disabled’ is a useful word I guess. ‘Handicapped’ is more honest, but I detest ‘differently abled’. Soft words and euphemisms will not change the fact that we’re cripple, man. It may make some people feel better. But me? I prefer ‘cripple’ thank you. LOL!!Hope you have a wicked sense of humor otherwise stop reading now.

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Anyways…lost my chain of thought…uh requirements..yes ..camping, for instance, is not an option for me. I’m stealing this from Andrew Dice Clay (Ford Fairlane) but only because it’s the best description of what camping would be like for me. It would be like masturbating with a cheese grater. Slightly amusing for everyone else but mostly painful for me. Graphic, I know. Many concertgoers at STRAB camp as near as possible to the stage area and like most camping sites there’s no accessible toilets or showers. Contrary to popular belief I don’t have strong arms and upper body strength either – so that makes things slightly more difficult. Once I’m on the floor then I’m there permanently china. This mafuta is like a magnet….dead weight….but even if you’re cripple and buff you’re still going to have to take your chances with the normal toilets and showers. So my guess is renting a chalet or house somewhere in Ponta Malongane would probably be a better option. Or would it? Just be very careful when you browse around……

Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy is a son of a bitch. This shit forced me to “retire” at age thirty-eight because I couldn’t hack it in the really real day job world anymore. Long hours and severe stress caused my body to basically crash and burn. ‘Burn out’ with LGMD was not fun at all. My LMGD has degenerated over twenty years to a stage where I have to take things extremely easy and not push myself constantly the way I used to. I don’t have to tell most of you that modern life is a killer anyway – so add a disease like LGMD and you have a recipe for disaster.

10494344_10153447120877009_7864441271561381741_oBut before you start feeling sorry for me, looking to send donations or prepare my eulogy…….I still have the will and energy left to do a few crazy things with some pretty awesome friends – hopefully for years to come. I had the best kind of disability insurance and I don’t have to sit and wonder all day where my next meal may be coming from. Most disabled people are not so lucky. Just think about what would happen if you lost the ability to work. I knew it was coming though. It may sound strange to able bodied people but I now have a way better quality of life. My pace may be slower and my mobility extremely limited but I’m able to enjoy the things that I never had the energy or time for when I was in the corporate prison. I can spend more time with family, friends and explore my passion for music, get involved with disability charities, travel (with assistance) and try to improve my writing ability. I created the Rollingrock Prophecies blog to keep me busy and it’s been really fun so far. The name is tongue in cheek by the way. My only religion is music but I doubt whether my “prophecies” would start any kind of spiritual “anything” other than to make people think a bit and to have serious fun with music of course.

10629806_10152779434791876_4517309908481119728_nI knew from the start that finding disabled friendly accommodation in Ponta Malongane was going to be difficult. After months of negotation with the estate agents we found a place for rent that not only fit all my requirements inside the house but all my friends’ requirements. Seven people in the house all in all. My disability blabber can get boring so “bare” with me. For starters I need a bathroom with enough space so I can put a commode over the toilet. When I transfer from my wheelchair to anything resembling a toilet I have to move over horizontally and levelly – if they’re not both on the same height then it’s the ‘I got stuck on the crapper blues’ for me. I can get on it if the toilet is lower and take a golden crap, but then what??? No can stand up, that’s what! There was no chance of an adapted shower so I took my portable electric bath chair along. Yup you guessed it…the wheelchair and the bath must also be the same height or it’s no bath – stinky cripple time. The bath chair also helps me to transfer levelly. And the same goes for the bed of course – or I’ll be writing the next bestseller ‘Rusty Bed Springs’ under my new alias “I.P. Knightley”. I know, I know….crickets in the middle of the night. I’m new at this…give me a break! But even when all of this is perfectly worked out I still struggle a fair amount. For example, it can take up to two hours for me to get ready in the mornings… I think you’re starting to get the fucking picture.

11401043_10152779434851876_4333981184504234117_nBecause Ponta Malongane has mostly sand roads we drove down with a 4×4. But it’s way too high for a cripple like me so I asked one of my super cripple friends – more like Mcgyver in a wheelchair – to help me build a box to get some height when transferring into the 4×4. To get onto the box we used my old telescopic ramps that I bought a few years ago to get into an old girlfriend’s inaccessible house. I also rented a beach wheelchair in Pretoria for in case I get stuck in the sand but it turned out to be impractical for the shows. Veni Vidi Vici! But you’re probably wondering how we got all that shit there? As you do in South Africa – we got the help of Mr Venter for the extra space. A trailer may be a lot of schlep but it saved my friends some serious lifting. Without the box and the trailer the entire trip would be a huge cock up. I had more luggage than every one else combined. Being cripple is an expensive hobby let me tell you!

11167993_10153447120147009_3752212543404242466_oAhhh but the access to the house was really special…Hahahaha..we knew that the house had stairs but when we got there the entrance to the house had seventeen MAKHULU stairs and not seven stairs as the estate agent told us. Stairway to heaven! Three of my friends had to carry me up and down the stairs. Come rain or shine, drunk or sober, we had to get in there, man……and I have a bad case of vertigo. I’m not religious but I prayed to all the gods collectively many times. Maybe one of them listened because no one got hurt. Thank (that one) god. Look, let me make this clear, you’re going to have to be more than a super cripple to do this kind of thing on your own – even if you don’t make the ‘stairway to heaven’ mistake. Ponta Malongane is a nightmare in terms of accessibility. Sand everywhere, no tar roads, no sidewalks, not even level dirt roads. So the two most important necessities to take on a trip of this nature is a die hard attitude and some awesome friends with the very same mindset. Without that you’ll be pretty fucked. Guaranteed. But you know you can’t be angry or upset at such a beautiful place for not accommodating YOU just because you happen to be cripple – so you have no choice but to ADAPT to the landscape and be ZEN my friends! The irony is that two of my friends found disabled friendly accommodation while cruising around there – so it exists!Imagine that!

11218095_10153447118427009_1377661807572375849_oSo the house was sorted and after a few trials and tribulations everyone was as oiled as a Formula 1 pit crew to get me in and out the 4×4. F1 Pit Crews should try Rn’R’s and Moz beer when changing tyres and checking the cars. It works miracles! If you don’t know what an Rn’R is then you have to visit Ponta Malongane to find out. Or just google it. Actually it’s a miracle we are all still alive…hahahaha! Thank (that one) god.

A major concern for me was an upset stomach during any of the shows. The main stage area is on sand and the toilets are quite a distance away or just not accessible for me – one of my friends had to pull me backwards on the sand and it may be fun for me but probably not so much for him. The ‘magical deck’ unfortunately has no toilet – it’s somewhere downstairs I heard. I just took a leak on the sand when I came down after the entire set – what the fuck. I think I was carried down….no other way down…But neither the sand nor the toilets are cripple proof. I tried to watch what I eat and drink the first two nights at least. My body needed to adapt to the new environment and the eating and drinking habits of a holiday – never mind a music festival. On Thursday (and night) I was suffering from a terrible hangover caused by Rn’R sampling in Pretoria the night before we travelled to Moz. Genius move! Yup, I know it could have gone wrong for me but it didn’t. So there! Part of the adventure I guess.

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Everyone asks me if STRAB 2015 was worth all the hassle. Being way out of my comfort zone like that? For me the answer is easy. Fuck yeaaaahhh! Just being able to get away with great friends and really chilling out in that small little town by the sea – listening to great blues music all the time…in the car…at the house…..and live on stage….I’l do it again in a heartbeat. But more than that, Ponta Malongane is like something out of a movie. Small little shack bars where locals chill with the smell of pregos, peri-peri chicken and prawns in the air. Golden sunsets, chilled out tourists and beautiful women – a true party vibe everywhere.

11390228_1113427292006575_1903418401053611643_nI’ve written a review about the superb artists I saw live at STRAB 2015 for http://www.watkykjy.co.za in Afrikaans. Lets hope they publish it next week! But for my English readers I’ll give a quick summary and lots of cool pics! There were many highlights but I think for starters – Saturday afternoon on the ‘magical deck’ was really special. My body was recovering from a hangover, the trip from Pretoria to Moz and the shock of all the transferring and I felt like a gazillion spacebucks. By then my friends were used to carrying me up and down stairs as well…LOL! Maybe they just hid the pain well. But once I got on the ‘magical deck’ everything fell into place. My first reaction was ‘this spot is magic’ and I’m not fucking leaving ever – even if the toilets were downstairs……somewhere.11090942_1113436995338938_5004027356789549386_oMarcia Moon, Jaco Mans, Basson Laubsher and the Black Cat Bones blew me away that afternoon. Man did I get a shot of the good stuff! Just that afternoon would have been worth all the trouble right there! But Saturday night was even more off the charts. Luna Paige, Crimson House with Basson Laubsher, Guy Collins, Jack Hammer, die Blues Broers, Gerald Clarke and Albert Frost. Jeeeeeezy, all these artists are phenomenal. There were many others that I missed but I’ll catch them later for sure. Hopefully I’ll see more of my cripple brothers and sisters there next time!

885669_10152750346761793_4802568600084528149_oI have to give a big thanks to all of my friends who made it happen and those who helped me along the way. You know who you are! Crazy people! I’ve known most of them for decades, some longer than others, and they probably had no idea what was actually required to make the whole thing work. Thanks for all the love and understanding! And to the STRAB team and each and every artist that performed there!Your talent and inspiration is what made my friends and I do this slightly stupid but mostly awesome shit! Thanks a million!

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11202945_10153447119777009_6369241034641363614_oCheck out some of the pics we took. The bulk of the pics were taken by Wim Coetzee or me. The two pics on the ‘magical deck’ during the Black Cat Bones set were taken by Justin Lee (http://www.justinlee.co.za). Check out the STRAB facebook page for more of his gems.

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The King lives on!

Blues fans all across the world are still mourning the passing of B.B. King. Such a strange feeling, when someone larger than life passes on. Most of us never knew or met the man. But he spoke to us – through his music.

I bet you can find the King’s influence in the music of many artists across the different genres: pop, R&B, hip hop and rock music – and without a doubt in the offerings of a wide variety of blues artists who grew up on his music. Though his guitar playing was never technically brilliant, B.B. King’s songs are all heart. Feeling. Soulful substance over form. Impossible to copy. The stuff myths are made of. Why else would guitar players, with more technical finesse, try to copy his simple style over the years? Stop reading – go put on some B.B. King right now – close your eyes and just feel the music.

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Goose pimples, right? Such a typical human trait though. We don’t know what we have until it’s gone. Eric Clapton’s short but heartfelt video clip on his facebook page – the morning after the King died – made me realise that the spirit of the blues feigned immeasurably when he left the planet. God, I wish I could’ve put the brakes on death. For the King’s family and friends mostly. That’s why we get the blues, man. When inevitability brings you to your knees. All you can do is turn up the music and throw yourself at the loss, the pain, the heartache or whatever makes you blue. Not because you love being blue. Hell no. But you realise you’re human. You feel it in your soul, find yourself in the moment and the only way through it is to enjoy the good things in life even more. Joy, love, friendship, music, good times…it’s a strange balance…like in the blues songs of old – the worldly things cause us trouble – but the simple things bring us salvation, brothers and sisters. That’s the blues for me, man. Finding balance in this hard old world.

The King’s death gave all of us the blues. The worst kind. But his spirit lives on in his vast discography of music, filmed live footage and anything you can lay your hands on or download. Fans can still enjoy every minor pentatonic scale, the notes he immortalised in an “out of key” fashion, his simple but profound lyrics, his regal vocals, and his mere presence and aura on stage. So choose your method of resurrection. Me? You should know my poison by now.

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In the eighties four Irish lads from Dublin introduced me to the King. Of course ‘When Love Comes to Town’ didn’t teach me the blues. I was too young. But I knew they wrote the song for someone iconic. I guess it was only in the early nineties that I began to slowly discover the genre. A friend of mine’s father had a pretty decent vinyl blues collection back then and we home taped some serious vintage blues on cassette. John Mayall, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry and the King. Add a little curiosity – cheap cigarettes, reefer and even cheaper ‘liver hating’ whiskey. The end result: the kind of legendary good times you can’t help but reminisce about when you listen to them good ole tunes. Jesus, and those were epic times.

We collected the Blues Collection magazines and CD’s sold by the local stationary franchise at the time. Some blues education before the days of google. Just a year before all this, Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album introduced the blues to Generation X, so mainstream media played it’s part too I guess. In those days, they played some pretty great music. Not just shite like today. But did we really understand the blues then? Probably not.

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When the millennium turned, one of the blues albums that shone its light for me, when hard times came knocking, was B.B. King and Eric Clapton’s timeless collaboration: Riding with the King. By the time this album was released I was qualified to sing the blues…my right of passage fatefully handed to me – and without question I obliged.

So enough of the deep shit…..way too deep man…even for me. But I think it’s justified for the King, not so? Let’s move on to specifics though. So guess what? I found this classic on Mr Vinyl’s website. (http://www.mrvinyl.co.za). There’s been several pressings since the first pressing in 2000 but this one is a WEA International 2011 180g re-issue – pressed in the Netherlands. Kinda strange because this double LP is supposed to be part of a Box Set styled “Clapton Blues” which includes no less than 3 albums (5 LPs). Go check it out if you’re a vinyl junkie. And yes I checked all the different identification numbers! The deciding number was scratched on the vinyl itself….

Don’t think that because it’s a newer pressing that it’s easy to come by. Save yourself the wait, the trouble and the cost and buy it if you want it. Blues vinyl (in general) is not easy to find. In particular the King’s vinyl. Vinyl dealers don’t stash thousands of copies of  a specific newer pressing and definitely don’t have thousands of copies of a specific older pressing lying around. The market is way too small for mass sales. You can, however,try to negotiate with Mr Vinyl to see if they can get this pressing for you from the suppliers.

In terms of sound, most audiophiles agree that older pressings sound better, however there’s no hard and fast rule (and too many variables) to compare the two “mano e mano”. I just had to use a Ford Fairlane reference somewhere. However, my experience is that more often than not the older pressings sound better. In this case, most of the information available point to the 2011 reissue being the better one. The reason? Mastering was done at Bernie Grundman Mastering studios in Los Angeles by Chris Bellman and pressed on the finest grade European vinyl.  So all in all at R310 the price is quite reasonable – considering it’s a double album. That’s the only thing that got to me is the fact that there’s three songs on each side. So I wouldn’t recommend playing it while you’re having a braai outside. Treat your friends to an in depth listening experience in front of your sound system. You’ll be turning these babies over quite often.

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Ok I need to say a little something about the album. The two blues legends performed together for the first time in New York City in 1967. Thirty years later they recorded the song “Rock Me Baby” for Clapton’s duets album, Deuces Wild. But Riding with the King was the first collaborative album by Eric Clapton and B.B. King. It’s a very polished blues album – the only real critique blues aficionados expressed in respect of the album. But who gives a howling Lucille about them? The offering won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. The album reached number one on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums and went double multi-platinum in the USA.

The album contains five “vintage” King songs “Ten Long Years”, “Three O’Clock Blues”, “Help the Poor”, “Days of Old” and “When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer”. It also includes several covers: Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” which Clapton recorded with Derek and the Dominos in the early seventies, Maceo Merriweather’s “Worried Life Blues”, Isaac Hayes’s composition “Hold On, I’m Coming” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” from the 1946 musical, St. Louis Woman. The album’s title track, “Riding with the King”, is a John Hiatt composition inspired by Elvis Presley. The rest of the songs were written especially for the album. Go check it out again or if you haven’t heard it go experience it for the fist time. Choose your own method of resurrection!

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It’s no small wonder that my favourite songs on this album have always been and always will be the B.B King originals. The King is alive and well when I put the needle to this record, man. And I intend to keep him alive for all of my days.

Goodbye everybody,
I believe this is the end.
Oh, goodbye everybody,
I believe this is the end.
I want you to tell my baby,
Tell her please, please forgive me,
Forgive me for my sins.

(Three O’ Clock Blues)

Rest in Peace, King of the Blues

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Check out Mr Vinyl’s stash at : http://www.mrvinyl.co.za

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Die Mystic Boer saal weer op…..vir die vinyl junkies!

 

I normally write in English because I’m more comfortable with the language. No other reason. But today – on Freedom Day – I’m writing in both English and Afrikaans. A peaceful protest against those who think they own Afrikaans rock artists and have the right to threaten them just because they don’t support their way of thinking. Not in my name. Not in our name. Most of these artists just want to do what they do best. Entertain us!                

Valiant_1Lank, lank gelede “in ‘n ander, ander tyd” en in ‘n ander wêreld het my paaie gekruis met iets so magies dat dit my lewe onmiskenbaar verander het. Dit was ‘n koue reënerige dag iewers in Desember 1993 in Nature’s Valley. Ek was skaars sewentien. Van my boesemvriende het my voorgestel aan ‘n paar van hulle studentevriende. Grootmenskinders met volksvreemde idees en musieksmake. Dit was so reg in my kraal…..

My eerste besoek aan die weggesteekte klein vakansie dorpie naby Plettenbergbaai in die Wes-Kaap was uiteraard iets so reg uit ‘n jeugverhaal, maar met ‘n nineties twist. En die nineties was twisted….Die een bra se ouers het hulle garage omskep in ‘n ekstra buitekamer. Dit was perfek vir al sy gabbas wat eksotiese rookgewoontes gehad het. Die pad na die garage was mistig en eteries. Almal wat daar gechill het was baie “rustig” en “filosofies”…Ha! Na almal mekaar ontmoet het, steek ek ‘n Camel Filter aan. So half onhandig maar met ‘n cool wannabe houding. Iemand het intussen, so deur al die slim praatjies, ‘n kasset in die kassetspeler ingesit. Die garage was donker en die rook en reën het die hele ervaring ‘n mistieke Tolkien charm gegee.

Eldorado het begin speel en my aandag was heeltemaal afgetrek van die gesprekke – wat al hoe meer filosofies begin raak het. “Is dit Dire Straits?” vra ek asof ek Chris Prior is. “Dis Valiant Swart” word ek kalm reggehelp. As ek nou terugdink het alles net te veel sin gemaak. Die planete het op ‘n ongewone wyse inlyn beweeg. Ek het daai dag iets gehoor wat ek nooit sal vergeet nie. Die Mystic Boer demo. Dit was net te cool om Afrikaans te wees. Net daar en dan het ek ‘n “bluesboer” geword. En Jirre tot vandag “is die blues my bloedbroer”.

To explain the effect of Valiant Swart’s music on my generation, during those early years, to someone who never listened to the music with their friends, never debated the deeper meaning of the lyrics with Mary Jane and never saw him live….may be slightly difficult. But I’ll try my level best. The local Afrikaans ‘Nirvana’ generation were also beneficiaries of the Voëlvry movement. Because of these pioneers we could – for the first time and very comfortably – call ourselves alternative Afrikaners. It gave us our own identity. A breakaway from our dark past and made it easier to connect with different races and to make black friends. But we certainly weren’t spoiled for choice in that genre. We played poor sounding cassettes recorded on a shoestring budget by artists such as Koos Kombuis and Valiant Swart. Johannes Kerkorrel released CD’s already in the early nineties, and some of us may have ventured into the past and had a taste for well known Afrikaans recording artists such as Anton Goosen and David Kramer. Valiant Swart appeared on the scene out of nowhere and we embraced his music as mystical rock and roll poetry. Unlike many other alternative Afrikaans artists his music wasn’t political at all. Musically his early stuff made me think of a cross between Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones and Dire Straits. A blend of blues, folk and country rock. But it was in Afrikaans and it was distinctively South African. His harmonica and some of the riffs sound like Africanised boeremusiek on those early recordings. This kind of music was a strange thing to hear in 1993, let me tell you. Those of us who “got it” back in the day became lifelong fans and we never stopped listening.

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Die Mystic Boer demo was ‘n opname wat Valiant by sy gigs verkoop het in die vroeë negentigs. Slegs vier van die songs op die demo kasset was ingesluit in die 1996 Die Mystic Boer album(of CD): Eldorado, Die Mystic Boer,Ware Liefde en Slangdans. Die res was later opgeneem op Kopskoot en Boland Punk. Behalwe een song. En hier is vir julle bietjie blues lore. Een van my gunsteling Valiant songs is Bloed (Die wind waai waarskynlik in Worcester) wat nooit offisieël opgeneem is op ‘n album nie. Ek het Valiant dit laas in 1999 live hoor speel.

Jis, ons het daai kasset faktap geluister vir meer as drie jaar en dit was op die speellys by elke party. Toe Die Mystic Boer op CD uitgereik is was ons hardcore fans redelik skepties. Audiophiles kla vandag oor die klank van die CD maar vir ons was daai album se klank TE goed. Ons was so gewoond aan die swak klank kwaliteit van die demo, Valiant se Boland aksent en Anton L’ Amour se distinct riffs dat dit ‘n ruk gevat het om gewoond te raak aan die Mystic Boer CD. En ek bedoel nie die CD was musikaal minder awesome nie. Dit was next level. Ons was net te gewoond aan die demo. Dit was helemaal anders. Maar dit was nie lank nie of die CD was deel van ons studentelewens en is kliphard gespeel in al wie ‘n fan was se motor. Net op CD spelers in plaas van kassetspelers natuurlik. Dit was steeds agtergrond musiek vir filosofiese gesprekke in mistieke rookgevulde kamers….

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So fast forward to 2014. Great Afrikaans rock music is still hard to find if you’re a music collector. You certainly won’t find it on the radio or television that’s for damn sure. Very few CD shops stock these gems and it’s even difficult (sometimes impossible) to find CD’s of new local bands on the internet. You can find the CD’s at gigs and download the artists’ music on the internet (iTunes etc). But try to find the old stuff and you’ll have to approach the online second hand market. Unfortunately, you may or may not find what you’re looking for.

And then there are those who exist almost exclusively for the black circle heroin. They are a breed of their own. I like to call them vinyl junkies (I’m not one of them, I assure you). Benjy Mudie – in all probability – coined the phrase but I can’t think of any better way to describe them. They all have fucking “dragon sickness”. By now you can tell I love Tolkien…but I digress. Who would have thought that vinyl would make so many people happy (again) in this day and age? The creators of Beyond 2000 must be scratching their heads in amazement. ‘Die Mystic Boer’ on vinyl for the first time? Almost two decades after its original release? Who’s crazy idea was that? Vinyl junkies (I’m not one, I swear) can thank the dudes at Cow Africa Advertising Agency. They were joking around with the idea one day and before they knew it, it became a reality. Donald Swanepoel (Deluxe 3000) and Charles Miller (Chopper Charlie) created the record label ‘Verspeelde Lente’ under which name The Mystic Boer vinyl was pressed. I remember Charles from Varsity and a legendary place called Shaft where creatures of the night drank their beer and got their kicks. But these dudes are more wellknown these days for being part of creating the website WAT KYK JY? If you haven’t heard of it you need to get a life.

Rouleaux Van der Merwe (vinyl junkies will know him from Permanent Record) worked with Valiant to redesign the artwork and included some real vintage photos on the inner sleeve. Jeez, I love the fact that there’s lyrics on it. You can slide it out and get nostalgic and totally lose yourself in the words while the black heroin spins. Is dit net ek of was hulle idee glad nie tos nie? Drum roll…crickets in the night. Anyway, Valiant Swart got on board and the rest is history.

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Man, passion projects are the shit! It makes you forget about the cold hard reality of the music industry for a while. Something I don’t even want to be part of. I discussed the whole vinyl resurgence with Valiant at a recent gig at the Cockpit Brewhouse in Cullinan and it’s clear to me that he loves the format. I mean the man loves music first and foremost. But he gets the difference in sound, the sentiment and the ritual. Thank the rock and roll gods he’s not a vinyl junkie. We all know he would never get to writing a single song if that was the case. But what is his favourite music on vinyl? Rolling Stones of course. Sitting down with his son Robert and taking in the good stuff!

Here’s some more blues lore. There’s no pressing plant in SA anymore so the vinyl was pressed and the cover and inner sleeve printed in the UK. But there was a misprint on the inner sleeve in respect of the lyrics. Maybe because it’s in Afrikaans? Who knows? But only one or two people have a copy of the misprinted vinyl. And the serious collectors are going insane right about now…

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I’ve been listening to the demo for almost 22 years. I’ve been listening to 1996 CD for 19 years (give or take), so my opinion on the sound may be seriously prejudiced. I’m not an audiophile but according to Valiant Swart the album was recorded with analog equipment by Willem Möller (Gereformeerde Blues Band,Big Sky and Searching for Sugarman) in 1995. ‘Verspeelde Lente’ did not remaster the tapes but certain sound levels were adjusted to improve the sound. Just so the audiophiles wouldn’t loose their shit. But it sounds great to me. What do I know anyway? I do know that if you want a copy you better move fast. Only five hundred were pressed. And if the vinyl sells well,Valiant may consider pressing ‘Dorpstraat Revisited’ next. Now there’s an album that is just begging to be pressed on vinyl……

In 1993 in daai donker mistieke garage het een van die wyse studente iets kwytgeraak wat my altyd sal bybly. Op die demo was Die Mystic Boer die tweede song op die kasset- net na Eldorado. Terwyl die song gespeel het en na diep bepeinsing het iemand uit die bloute gevra: “Ek wonder hoe Valiant geweet het dat die grond na sout gesmaak het?”. Dit was iets wat my gepla het vir bykans twee dekades. Ek het Valiant onlangs daaroor uitgevra by Cockpit Brewhouse en ons het lekker gelag. Hy kon my nie antwoord nie. Dit is obvious dat baie van sy lirieke beslis nie letterlik opgeneem moet word nie. Die mistiek van songs soos Die Mystic Boer sal altyd behoue bly want nie eens Valiant weet waar die lirieke vandaan kom nie. Hy sê dit baie, maar ek kon dit nog nooit helemaal verstaan nie. Die musiek en woorde bestaan voor hy dit skryf en “float rond in die lug”. Ek reken Die Mystic Boer het net die gawe om die songs te vang en vir ons op te tower sodat ons dit kan verstaan. So elkeen op ons eie manier.

Dankie Valiant en almal wat deel was van die projek!

 

Vir verdere navrae kontak Rouleaux van der Merwe by info@permanentrecord.co.za.

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The REAL B-World interview

In the early nineties “grunge” took off worldwide and a wave of Seattle grunge culture swept across the world. South Africa was no exception. Sanctions were lifted and South African youngsters (who had the means) had unfettered access to international alternative and grunge music – mostly through imports. In the suburbs, garages were full of wannabe Kurt Cobain teens screaming angst-ridden lyrics accompanied by raw grunge riffs and apocalyptic drum solos. Yup, I was one of them. Alternative rock bands such as Red Hot Chili PeppersRage Against the MachineR.E.M. and Violent Femmes were just as popular. Although grunge was right in front leading the charge, you had a myriad of bands blending genres and somehow “alternative” music , as we referred to it, became cool and mainstream. But South Africans had limited choices when it came to South African alternative and grunge bands.

In 1993 to 1994 – Springbok Nude Girls was still pretty much a garage band and Sugardrive had not yet even reached the pinnacle of their success. These were the days when bands like Squeal, Urban Creep,Valiant Swart, Koos KombuisNine, Saron Gas (now Seether) and a bunch of crazy funk-rockers named B-World were rocking free South Africa. Rock music became less political after the first free and fair elections and of course Madiba’s inauguration. You could literally count on one hand the South African bands who made the kind of music that Generation X kids could identify with. The kind of music we would go and listen to on a Friday night with our a-political, nihilistic, long-haired, Nirvana t-shirt wearing,flannel shirt around the waist, Zamalek inebriated,cheap cigarette smoking, Doc Martens on sweaty stinky feet, daggakop friends. Man, when we had the money for it, we had a great time at live gigs. But it was also a time when we had limited options in getting our hands on great music to listen to at home. Most bands sold poor quality cassette tapes at live gigs, vinyl was something you sold for next to nothing in order to buy more CD’s, the Internet was something computer nerds talked about in secret and if you asked someone for an MP3 they would probably have thought it’s some new drug.

Fast forward (through two decades) to last year and I volunteered to create a playlist for our twenty year high school reunion. One of the songs I wanted on the playlist was B-World’s ‘Rain’.

In 1993 to 1994 everyone was talking about B-World and the song was extremely popular. They opened for Jethro Tull during the band’s 25th Anniversary Tour at the Standard Bank Arena in Joburg (I was lucky enough to be there) and they were on the same bill as Midnight Oil and Sting during 5FM’s 19th Birthday Bash at Ellis Park – also in 1994. But the most memorable gig for me was during our Matric holiday in Hermanus in December 1994 at a wooden beach bar – right on the beach. The only way I can describe them 20 years on is : energetic funk-an-angst ridden rock. They played music that up to that point we’ve only heard overseas bands playing. It was a hybrid kind of sound mixing grunge with funk rock. B-World received lots of airplay and then for some reason they just disappeared, leaving fans in the dark. There was no media release that I could remember giving us a heads up. I guess the youth moves on quickly…….but I always had their music at the back of my mind.

After scouring the internet I found the song Rain on some MP3 cellphone app, would you believe? And a week or so before the reunion I played it to a muso friend of mine, PH Steyn (also a B-World fan), who knows Sean Kenselaar. PH hooked us up on Facebook and Sean shared B-World’s demos with me. After a discussion with Sean over lunch I had no doubt that I had to publish something about this band! And what’s more is you can’t find anything substantial on the internet about their history. So for me, this is more than an interview – it fills a void and it’s really a peek into a long forgotten part of South African rock history. Sean gave me all the guys’ contact details – they’re scattered all over the country – and all still successful artists in their own right. Their difference in perspective is extremely interesting and younger artists can most certainly learn from their wisdom. Benjy Mudie, the record producer who signed them to Tusk Music, also provided some insights from his own perspective. But without further a due I present to you – a blast from the rock and roll fucking past – for the first time in over 20 years – ladies and gentlemen……B-WORLD!!!:

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RR: Thanks guys for agreeing to do this interview. Everyone’s probably thinking….WTF? But in my view, B-World was a huge part of the evolution of South African rock music during the nineties and, however brief the history, your story should be told. So let’s kick off at the beginning. How did it all start back then? How did you guys meet?

Sean: Sherid and Rob were on tour with Anton Goosen, whose regular drummer couldn’t make the Cape Town to Pretoria leg. I bumped into them at a club called Cherries Two in Pretoria and became the drummer for that leg of the tour. When the tour was finished Rob, Sherid and myself, through various twists, decided to continue as our own band. One of them, I’m not sure who (maybe Rob) knew Marc and B-World was born. I moved to Johannesburg and we started rehearsing and writing.

Sherid: It’s going to take a lot of brain power to try and remember all this again:) Rob, Sean & myself met whilst on tour with Anton Goosen. We decided to put something together once we were done touring. Rob had seen Marc playing around Joburg with another band, so we approached him to see if he would be interested.

Marc: There was a small scene in JHB all around the Yeoville area. Rob and Sherid approached me when I was in a band called Gringolean. I had joined them as a new vocalist. It was very much part time but we were writing original material and that’s basically all we wanted to do. Sherid and Rob were in much the same head space of going for it, writing material and working solely as musicians.

Rob: Sherid, Sean and I had worked together previously and Marc was on our radar. I knew of him, from the scene. He had, in my view, the sensibilities of a great lyricist/frontman. That turned out to be true.

RR:What does the B stand for?

Sean: I think Marc came up with the name. As far as I could understand in that vague, distant time, it meant not A 🙂 ….
As in B – movies, B- grade : B – World…

Sherid:  Initially we were all doing music full-time so, needless to say, we had a few hours of downtime to kill. We all seem to gravitate toward the offbeat or ‘B’ movies and came up with the idea whilst sitting around the kitchen table. The kitchen table where most of our brainstorming happened. We also considered ourselves not to be living in the A-world, like Hollywood, so I guess it came from a combination of those ideas.

Marc: It is the concept of the second class world as in B-movie, B team kind of thing. My thought was that the A-World doesn’t really exist and we all actually live in the real world. The A-World is bullshit.

Rob: Not A.

RR: The only information I could find on the net about the band members are your names basically: Marc Rowlston,Rob Nel, Sean Kenselaar and Sherid van Rooyen. Please give the readers a more accurate description who B-World was and their roles in the band.

Sean:
Marc – vocals, Rob – bass, Sherid – Guitar, Me on Drums

Sherid: 

Marc on vocals, Rob on bass, Me on guitar, Sean on drums. Marc wrote most of the lyrics. We all chipped in for the music. I remember phoning around for gigs all the time, but I guess we all chipped in there too. There wasn’t much of a process at the time, so we just went from month to month trying to grind out as many gigs as we could.

Marc: I was the vocalist and carried speakers (roadie).

Rob:  A less obvious role was our collective drive to change the way the local gigging scene worked. When we first started booking gigs, there were only two venues in the country that we were able to play all original music, Wings Beat Bar in Braamfontein and Ruby
In The Dust in Observatory, Cape Town. Everywhere else wanted three or four sets of covers with one or two originals if we insisted. We said we do two sets and we have two covers. Take it or leave it.

RR: I listened to the B-World demos over and over again. Apart from the sound quality of some of the demos, there is no doubt in my mind that B-World was onto something and there is some real gems there. The songs ‘Something Real’ and ‘Swell’ are two of my favourites. Considering what was happening in the music industry at the time, locally, it was distinctly different from other bands on the scene. Did all of you feel the same way about B-world’s music back then?

Sean: Those are two of my favorites too. I can’t speak for anyone else really, but my view on what B-World was producing at that time was exactly that – something different. To paraphrase Marc: “something real”. And at the same time appealing and really fucking awesome. We were doing and writing shit that no-one else in South Africa was doing at that time and we were taking it on the road and burning up stage after stage. I totally believed, and still do, that B-World was on the brink of great things, we had an energy that flowed between us and came out as this amazing, electric and intense music that people wanted more of and were totally attracted to. I’m pretty sure it would’ve translated well internationally too, as was Tusk Music.

Sherid live

Sherid: I think we were trying to write things that were unusual and original and kind of live up to the ethos of not being mainstream, and because we had a great connection to this idea there never seemed to be any limits to what we tried. I don’t think any of us were particularly good songwriters, but once any of us had an idea we would bounce it around the jam room in all sorts of directions to see where it stuck. I guess great taste in music helped guide that process.

Marc: We were still finding our way in many respects. If I listen to the demos now it feels like we didn’t really know how to edit ourselves. Most of the songs are too long. More of a live to tape sound. Back then nobody was really capable of taking our live energy into the studio and polishing the songs into proper album material. We simply didn’t know how. We were very green and just wanted to play our music. I think the first demo sounds more polished. The songs are more solid. We played that stuff hundreds of times at gigs and whittled them into good material. The second demo was more experimental.

Rob:  Yes. We worked hard. We did about two months of Monday to Friday rehearsals refining our material before we set foot on a stage. Musically, I think our process only left room for honesty. When music is honest it translates. Honest music doesn’t care if it’s ‘local’.

Benjy: We basically cut the band`s entire output at Chris Manolitsis’ studio and released the three track E.P. and the full track list on cassette (both collectors items these days) . I loved Rain and thought it was a potential hit but I needed an edit so much, to Sherid`s horror, I edited the guitar solo out. I convinced him that it would be a hit…and it was. Number one across the land! Still sounds good today.

RR: When listening to the demos one can hear you experimented with lighter funky rock sounds in the beginning (songs like Rain for instance) to more heavier grunge during the later demos (for instance ‘Weird’). Kind of Red Hot Chili Peppers meets grunge but with a local twist. Who wrote the music and lyrics and how did you get to that specific sound?

Sean: We were growing at a phenomenal rate. What you hear on the first demo are some songs that were brought in by people as an almost finished product and some that were put together in the rehearsal room from kind of pre-existing ideas and riffs as well as some that originated in rehearsal. We had only been together about three months, I think, when we went into studio for that demo. When the second demo (not even a year later) rolled around we were much more comfortable with each other, we had gelled as a band and we were listening to more music together. We played each other stuff that we were interested in and we were experimenting in the rehearsal room with different rhythms and sounds. Usually Marc was the lyricist but he was not averse to a suggestion or two. I think Sherid wrote most of Rain’s lyrics and music. Otherwise the later ideas started in the rehearsal room, someone would come up with something or come to rehearsal with an idea and we would all start getting involved in fleshing it out and turning it into a B-World song.

Sherid: Rain came from a song I wrote with a blues band I was with a few years before, called Shrinking Railroad. Other than that one all the songs came out of ideas each of us had, which we then brought to the practice room and hashed out. Some ideas were more formed before they arrived at practice and others were born right there in practice. Other than Rain, Marc wrote all the lyrics and the music came from all of us.

Marc:  I wrote a lot of the lyrics and Sherid also wrote some of the tracks. We also wrote a lot of the music and compositions together with all the members. I guess we found the sound through just playing together.

Rob: Sherid had written and performed ‘Rain’ with a previous band (Shrinking Railroad) in Cape Town. He also co-wrote the lyrics to ‘Swell’ with Marc. There were probably other co-written lyrics but it’s all a little hazy. It was the 90’s, goddamn! Marc was responsible for most of the lyrics though. He had that wonderful ability to write ambiguous yet familiar lyrics that meant three different things to three different people, let alone what the song was really about. We all collaborated with the writing and arranging of the songs. Our sound was what is referred to as chemistry. Our specific influences and tonal preferences all mixed up into B-World.

RR: A friend of mine asked one of the members in 1994 right after the Hermanus gig who your influences were. Can’ t remember who answered though. I’m going to ask the question in 2015. Please don’t say Jesus Christ again. LOL!

Sean: That’s a difficult question to answer. None of us intentionally thought of our musical or any other influences when putting B-World songs together, we just experimented and tried things and what we liked stayed. I do know we were listening to a wide variety of music that ranged from acid jazz to funk to grunge to just about anything: from Mother Earth to Ozric Tentacles to Cypress Hill (Rob was very keen on them as I recall), to Soundgarden, to Rage Against the Machine, to Primus to the Peppers. And all sorts of other shit in-between! Rob was always playing us interesting music, he always seemed to be able to find some very different and off the beaten path kind of stuff. Marc was a movie buff and I’m sure that had some influence on what he wrote as well as some social commentary. I’m sure also that our lives influenced what we wrote, what we were going through and had been through as human beings.

Sherid: Mine are Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine, Jeff Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers…to name a few.

Marc: We had a variety influences. From Hendrix to Rage Against The Machine.

Rob: I still need to respond as of 1994 for the answer to be relevant. Back then it was all Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Rage Against The Machine, Fishbone, Pixies, Jane’s Addiction, Living Colour, Public Enemy, Snoop Dogg, Alice In Chains, Nine Inch Nails, The Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, etc….the list is long.

RR: How did B-World get the breakthrough to be signed to Tusk Music?

Sean: At our very first gig as B-World Benjy Mudie from Tusk was in the audience. Sherid (I think) had managed to get us a gig at the relatively new Joburg Arts Alive festival and when we finished our set, Benjy came up to us and raved about the band. I think he even made us the offer of the development deal after that gig. He was really crazy about the band.

Sherid: Benjy Mudie was at our very first gig and liked what he saw. We signed a development deal with them.

Marc: At our first gig Benjy Mudie was one of about 10 people in the audience. He offered us sweeties.

Rob: Benjy Mudie handed us a card after our very first gig.

Benjy: In the mid-nineties I was bored shitless with the demos and bands that came across my desk day in and day out. I wanted to sign a dirty rock & roll band with attitude and cool tunes, at that time ‘Bloodsugarsexmagic’ was rarely off my player. I went to a ‘Battle of the Bands’ event, I think down in Newtown, and sat through band after band, all of whom were boring as hell. Then B-World came on and in their short but explosive set really set the place alight. I was so blown away that I made the decision to sign them (I also signed Blue Chameleon at the same gig). B-World hadn’t been together for too long so I made a decision to do a development deal first leading to a bigger agreement later.

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RR: B-World released a 10 track cassette album and then a 3-track CD Single? I know it got airplay on some of the songs because we listened to it back in the day hanging out and partying. What was the overall response to the music you released? Was there any international interest in your music?

Sean: People loved the band! It was new, fresh and exciting.
And yes, there was international interest, Tusk was in the middle of organising an overseas tour when we broke up.

Sherid: I guess it was pretty good locally, but we were just getting started to be fair. There was some interest abroad, but I don’t remember anything coming of it before the break up.

Marc: People seemed to like our vibe. We were committed and I think people responded to that.

Benjy: The band hit the road doing the clubs and basically anything they could find. The idea was to road test the new songs they were writing and then record them as demos in prep for a full album. I went to the UK bearing the E.P. and cassette and got a lot of interest from the labels there. When I got back B-World basically split up and that was that! I kinda remember it this way but time has eroded my memory a little bit so there may be different perspectives on the time line and sequence of events. Like I said, so much potential.

RR: Every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane is releasing some kind of terrible locally produced CD these days. So let’s forget about fly by night musos whose claim to fame is hilarious Youtube videos. Twenty years later and being a professional muso in South Africa is no longer such an impossible feat. Was that part of the B-World plan? To become professional musos and “B-World” full time? Or did any of you have a day job back then with other prospects? Was it difficult to become a professional muso twenty years ago?

Sean: None of us had day jobs as far as I can recall. I had studied music at Pretoria Technikon (now TUT), but I know I wasn’t thinking : ‘I’m gonna make this my career’. All I knew was that I wanted to play music and I was having a helluva good time in an amazing band doing exactly that, full time. And we were getting somewhere, things were happening. Tusk Music gave us our own rehearsal space in downtown JHB, we were there pretty much everyday jamming and rehearsing and composing… Having Paprika Slap Chips for lunch 🙂 Good memories.

Sherid: I think we were already professionals at the time, but what that meant back then was very different to today. We pretty much scraped through from month to month as far as livelihood goes. We were stubborn enough to think we could do original music for a living back then. We did have the likes of Barney Simon who gave us a platform to go out and do our thing, but it was small pickings for us most of the time. Having said that we did have a few good months toward the end:)

Marc: As I said we were committed. I really wanted it bad. The music life. It did seem possible. We didn’t make any kind of living though. It was like being a student, hand to mouth. We slept on concrete floors a few times. A lot of people were very kind to us on the road. It was fine in our twenties but I am glad that there is scope now for artists to really do well. Here and internationally.

Rob: It was extremely difficult. As it still is. I had already been working as a full time musician for five years before B-World. I worked with bands like The Backwater Blues Band, Jack Hammer and Anton Goosen. After a particularly poor earning tour with another artist, Sherid and I decided we would rather do poor earning tours playing music we created ourselves and believed in. So we started B-World. Of course, if all went according to our dreams we’d have got terribly successful and I’d be answering this question from my chateau in the South of France or something. With gig fees the way they were back then and the amount of driving around the country we did and the state we did it in, I’m surprised we
survived. The infrastructure has evolved in the last two decades but so has the amount of quality musicians. It’s always going to be tough.

RR: How many of you are still in the music industry? For those of you still in the music industry – how would you say the music industry has changed over the past twenty years? Is it easier or more difficult now to make it as a rock band in SA?

Sean: I’m still in the industry. It’s changed in that it’s opened up, become more international and more professional. Wouldn’t say its easier or harder to make it as a rock band, just different. More opportunity but many more good bands.

Sherid: Just by the fact that we were pre-internet. Downloads makes this whole business a very different ball game these days. Also by the fact that we still had to go into a studio to record, which isn’t a must anymore. You can have the Abbey Roads Studio on your laptop, which has made people think they can produce like George Martin & Quincy Jones. So I guess that’s why we have so many fly by nights:) I’m still playing in and around the Eastern Cape. Not as much as I’d like though. I have a three piece I bring out every couple of months. I’ve been threatening to release some new material for a while now, but it takes a back seat to all the other stuff going on.

Marc: Everything has changed in the last twenty years! The world is much smaller. We can access anything at any time. I am not sure if it’s easier for a rock band here. The local stuff I hear now is great. The scene has matured. Your music HAS to be played on the radio. We don’t have the same inferiority complex about what we can create these days. The most satisfying thing for me about B-World is that we made a real contribution towards what exists today in the music scene. I feel happy that we did our little bit.

Rob: Still in it. Still hustling. Still difficult. So much has developed and so much is still painfully the same. The challenge is to remain relevant. Some things only a twenty-something-year-old
should be doing. In other matters those twenty-something-year-olds need to learn from us.

RR: During the B-World days, were you all good friends and did you get along?

Sean: We got along. Not all of us were great friends, but I think there was a mutual respect for each other. We all had a similar goal at that time and that I think was the glue that held B-World together… There was some tension, not a serious kind, but enough that I think it may have helped contribute to the bands energy and vibe in that we let that energy out when we played.

Sherid: I think we all got on pretty well considering the pressures we put ourselves under. We were all a bit mad for it back then, so to say that we overindulged would be an understatement…LOL!

Marc: Friends……it was a marriage really.

Rob: Yes, we were great friends. We obviously had our moments but friendship was key.

RR: If any of you can remember at all….LOL! Do you have any crazy and fond memories of the days when you were in the band and touring the country?

Sean : Not all of my good memories are about crazy things! I remember often leaving a gig at Wings Beat Bar (our JHB regular) in Braamfontein and hitting the road for Cape Town and gigging there that night. I remember a great gig on the beach at Hermanus, loved the tours down the coast, getting on stage was the most awesome thing for me. We did ‘Live on 5’ which was great.. We also had some really good times and met great people in Bloem and the Grahamstown Art Festival – I remember warming up in Grahamstown with the chakras – Marc assigned a note to each chakra and we sang those notes and really pumped that energy. Some awesome memories of Rustler’s Valley – I remember two really stand out gigs there, there was a great energy in that place. I remember a sun rise there sitting with the guys putting together a song acoustically. Great memories of Durban and meeting good people there. Another highlight was a New Year’s Bash at the River Club in Observatory in Cape Town. And of course our Cape Town regular at Ruby in the Dust, also in Obs. Lots of really good memories and good people…

Sherid: Jeezy did we have a great time! If you take out the fact that we were always on the bones of our arses, I would have to say that it was the most fun I’ve had in a band. I don’t think my body could take it now though 🙂 The Rustler’s Valley gigs were particularly fun and New Years ’93/94 in Cape Town, musically, were the best. Oh and what about Rocky Street, Yeoville…crazy days 🙂

Marc: That’s another conversation. A lot of good memories. There is a freedom you allow yourself when you take on the roll of a musician. You need to live in the moment for the music to be any good, hence the fun times.

Rob: Too many to mention.

RR: A couple of the demo songs I got from Sean was recorded with a view to releasing a full album as I understand it. I’m building up to the ultimate question : Why was the album never released and why did B-World break up?

Sean: B-World broke up before it was even decided where or when the album would be recorded! We broke up while on a tour in SA, with an international tour in the pipeline. We were in the Knysna area when the chat happened. I can’t pretend to know the exact reasons, but Marc and Rob had reached a point where they no longer wanted to continue with B-World. Sherid and I tried to talk to them but it was obvious they had discussed it and were no longer keen. Perhaps their focus had shifted, perhaps they didn’t enjoy playing in B-World for some reason anymore. Whatever it was, they obviously had very strong reasons for leaving since they left at a time when B-World was on the verge of major success. Or perhaps they view that time differently. I just remember feeling like a spectator, watching it all crumble around me in dazed disbelief.

Sherid: We broke up before we got to record any of the songs on the demo, so I guess that’s why the album never happened. I think we all got to a boiling point in ’94 and decided to call it as no-one seemed to be able to control all the characters involved. We did try and take on some management, but unfortunately that didn’t work. I think we were all a bit jaded from constantly having to tour for sixteen months.

Marc: Bands break up. Shit happens.

Rob: We split before the album got released. Let’s just say irrefutable differences. I think the root problem was earnings. For over a year we gigged and toured and made barely made enough to survive. That alone strains any relationship. I think if B-World formed now, we’d stand a much better chance of survival. Mainly due to the infrastructure the industry has now.

BB: Do any of you love to listen to South African artists these days? And who do you listen to? Please don’t say Steve Hofmeyr..

Sean: I listen to some… Civil Twilight has a really cool song called ‘Letters from the Sky’. aKING has some good songs. Lira is great. Auriol Hays. Wonderboom has great live shows, I remember doing a few gigs with them when they were still 8 legged groove machine. Still like the old Tree63. Marcus Wyatt. Couple of others, there are some great new SA bands that I catch on Tuks FM.

Sherid: I’ve been listening to a bit of Jeremy Loops lately and really enjoyed Gangs of Ballet live.

Marc: BLK JKS have a great sound. Committed musos. Zebra and Giraffe write great songs. A lot of new talent on the scene now I think.

Rob: One of my favourite bands is Beatenberg. I’m also their live engineer. But they were on top of my list way before I worked with them. Others include Lucy Kruger, Melanie Scholtz, Shane Cooper, Bokani Dyer, Gerald Clark, Sannie Fox, Kyle Sheppard, Isochronous, The Little Kings, The Rudimentals, Marcus Wyatt, Siya Makuzeni and so many more. I’ll probably have a different list every week. BTW anyone who listens to Steve Hofmeyr (and including Steve Hofmeyr) needs some serious introspection.

RR: Do you still have contact with each other? Here comes the cliched question.Would you ever consider a B-World reunion?

Sean: No, I don’t really have much contact with the rest of the guys. I bump into them on Facebook every now and then. Not sure what the point of a reunion would be… perhaps just to have a fun gig…. maybe, I would consider it. But its highly doubtful that it would ever happen, we’re all on opposite ends of the country.

Sherid: I always try to see Rob when I’m in Cape Town, but don’t have too much contact with Marc & Sean as I don’t travel that way much. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that reunion jam with my funky brothers.

Marc: Haven’t seen the guys in the flesh for years. We were actually approached to tour with the Nude girls (or Arno Carstens) a couple of years back but I couldn’t see myself trying on a stage with twenty year old material. Maybe……

Rob: Well, there’s Facebook. If not real contact with one another, we at least know what everyone would like everyone else to see. I do see Sherid from time to time. B-World reunion? That’s a bit like asking someone if they would like to get back together with their
first girlfriend or partner.

RRP: Thanks for taking the time guys, for me this was much more than an interview. There was a massive void in terms of the history of B-World. I couldn’t find anything substantial about B-World on the Internet before. I think we changed that! Keep on rollin’!!

 

 

 

Raoul and the Black Friday blues

 

It’s a Friday night in Pretoria and things are happening somewhere. But for blues fans the only way to get an injection of the good stuff is probably to pour yourself a slow whiskey and crank up some old vintage blues tunes at home. This is not Cape Town you know. Here be no wine farms and jazz & blues festivals are smaller and few and far between…but I decide to take a break from my vinyl addiction and pop in at Cafe Barcelona, one of the few Pretoria music joints where you’ll find decent music. Tonight the SA Blues Society is showcasing local blues talent. Mostly amateur guys cooking up some great blues – purely for fun. But one band stands out from the rest. Straight outta Joburg. Raoul and Black Friday!

Raoul 1

I’ve been following this project for the past three years. It’s essentially a solo project launched in 2009 by Joburg Axeman, Raoul Roux. I saw Raoul and Black Friday live for the first time in 2012. Raoul doesn’t have a fixed band but plays with different members from time to time. So I saw different versions of the band live a couple of times with Raoul being the creative mind behind it all. I got hold of the debut album ‘Say it Ain’t So’ sometime in the middle of last year and I’ve been listening to it ever since.

With only 20 or so people in the audience and limited quality of sound (it is a small venue after all) they kick off with some hardcore blues…and it’s just the sound check, man….the rest is yet to come…

Look, I love it when there’s only a few people in the audience – when the blues is great, it’s a kind of musical telepathy. It’s contagious and very visible. Everyone feels the energy. Everyone. But nevertheless I want to rant a bit. I admit the blues, blues rock, bluegrass and folk music has a niche following in South Africa – and yes the demand is not as high as with local commercial music. But I think we can do better in terms of support. We also live in a complex, still very much divided society. I can only speak from my experience but the black middle class (who can afford it) generally don’t rush to go and see live blues acts here in Pretoria. It may be different in some parts of Joburg or Cape Town but I doubt it. When it comes to niche music most prefer jazz. I know this because I try to connect with people through music and my jazz knowledge is very limited. It’s also a fantastic genre and I try to keep up…but it’s strange if you consider the roots of the blues. Think about it, there is a potential fan base that is extremely limited for blues artists in our country at the moment. I’ve seen theaters and music bars in Gauteng packed with white folks before – though we know there is interest from that quarter, it’s also not as consistent as it should be. No doubt our country’s past caused some preconditioned artificial barriers when it comes to music. I went to both the Carlos Santana and Bruce Springsteen concerts at FNB stadium and the racial demographics were totally different. It was very interesting for me to see: one was lily white and the other was so diverse, man. So I’m a bit confused about this. I don’t want to sound like a politician, but we really need to break down these barriers. And what better way to do it with then a shot of the blues, man….

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The band is really cooking and the crowd is under their spell. Raoul Roux’s style is influenced heavily by Stevie Ray Vaughn and (of course) Hendrix, now and then you’ll hear a touch of the eighties – Gary Moore riffs and Van Halen finger tapping – but what I love the most is when Raoul gets into the groove with Tom Morello sounding chords. It’s hard rocking blues and it’s fucking delicious. No bullshit – served straight up – in your face. It’s totally different from most of the Cape Town blues acts. Like an old friend of mine used to say to fellow passengers when the airplane landed at OR Tambo. Welcome to Joburg – the safe part of your journey is now over. Dis rof boet en ek love dit. But the lyrics are also poetic and self reflective at times. I love this too. He’s not overly exhibitionist but – make no mistake – he’s got the chops. And there’s great chemistry between Raoul and his band members and it flows over to the crowd.

So not only is there a limited fan base but South Africans have this tendency to listen to all kinds of mindless shite. I don’t have to name and shame. You know them all. How do we promote the blues to potential fans? I’ve also met true blues fans who don’t know half of the local talent out there. I hear you. Marketing = money. SA blues musos simply can’t throw money at the problem and get an advertising campaign behind them to try and sway public opinion now can they? It’s a miracle that despite these almost insurmountable odds you have musos like Raoul and Black Friday going out there, doing their thing with talent and passion. Working their asses off while you wind down with a drink. It’s inevitable that this rare breed has to find a way to eventually tour overseas – not unlike most SA musicians. I really don’t have solutions locally, but word of mouth is a good place to start! So end of rant and back to business.

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Let’s do things a bit differently this time around and bring Raoul Roux into the conversation. After all, he’s living the dream everyday!

RRP: Thanks for agreeing to do this Raoul. My first question is simple: You guys go out there night after night – sticking it to the man – getting fans all blues’d up. Sometimes large crowds, sometimes smaller ones.What makes you get up on stage every night and play with such passion and drive?

Raoul: Over the last ten years I have played a lot of different styles of music, blues and blues rock music really comes naturally to me, it speaks to me and I think that would translate into soul, passion and drive. I love it!

RRP: I’m going to use the term “the blues” broadly. But what I want to know is this: Why the blues, man? Why not commercial stuff that will sell like koeksisters at a Church Bazaar? 

Raoul: I have played in commercial bands before and have had success with some, the problem is that you have a shelf life when you play for the market. In South Africa you have around five years and then you have to move on. I would like a career with longevity and history has shown that artists who remain true to themselves stand the test of time.

I dedicated my life to playing guitar and for me that is what is important. I truly believe in my music unlike other projects I have done.

RRP: Raoul and Black Friday is the quintessential Joburg blues band, paying your dues in the big hard city. The song ‘Black Friday’ brilliantly tells the story. Why do you think even seasoned musicians have to work much harder to get proper exposure in South Africa? What in your experience limit blues artists here? And what can be done to change this?

Raoul: It’s quite simple, the Media and Press are generally not involved enough in South African music and even less invested in the blues. Unfortunately, the South African public are fed “safe” options and without genre specific radio stations there is no space for the blues.

RRP: We had a conversation last year about why there’s no big blues festivals in Gauteng. The Cape Town guys seem to get it right. Do you think there’s a market for it here? 

Raoul: Oh yes there is a market, but not always a budget, but we have something in the planning. Watch this space…..

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RRP: ‘Say it ain’t so’ is a great blues rock album. Compared to other blues artists, you have a much more rugged hard rock blues sound – even the slow blues songs have an edge to them. Is it geography (the spirit of Joburg), childhood muso heroes or the chemistry of the band that influenced your sound?

Raoul: I think it has a lot to do with the environment we live in. I see my music as the perfect outlet for this Joburg city life, and it’s like the Wild West out here sometimes.

RRP: Where can the readers go to get more info about Raoul and Black Friday with regards to history, gigs and where can they buy your CD ‘Say it Ain’t So’?

Raoul:  My website at  http://www.raoulandblackfriday.com where you can find all the links.

Music is available on:

iTunes – http:////itunes.apple.com/sg/ album/say-it-aint-so/ id808635504,

Amazon – :http:////www.amazon.com/s/ref= ntt_srch_drd_B00IDUZ9NW/186- 3760822-5938629?ie=UTF8&field- keywords=Raoul%20and%20Black% 20Friday&index=digital-music& search-type=ss

CD Baby –  http:////www.cdbaby.com/Artist/ RaoulandBlackFriday

RRP: Maybe just give a few highlights where you’ll be playing in the next few weeks. Spread the word!!

Raoul: I’m playing at the Cockpit Brewhouse in Cullinan on Saturday 21 March, Die Stoep in Nelspruit on 17 April, also we will be performing at Marks Park on 27th April (Freedom Day). It’s going to be a big one! Or go to http:// www.raoulandblackfriday/tour.

RRP: I heard you’re cooking up something new. Can you give us info on when it will be completed? What can we expect? Give us some detail bro!

Raoul: He he, I am currently writing some acoustic stuff which will be just me and my guitar, very intimate stuff! And that should be the next album going out. I’m pretty excited about it!

I am also busy with the second full band album and there are going to be some great tunes on this one, as we grow so does our music.

Also a tour abroad planned for the end of June! We’ll announce details once it’s all set up.

RRP: One of the things I’d like to achieve with this blog is to get more people to support local blues bands (amongst other genres). What message do you have for curious people and existing blues fans who rarely or never go and watch local talent?

Raoul: Get out there, there is some amazing talent in South Africa and people need to go and explore, share and experience great music, you will not find any of these jewels on commercial radio.

RRP: And last but not least I have many readers who are vinyl junkies and, on their behalf, I always promote analogue recording of albums. Most vinyl junkies love it when local artists record in analogue and press vinyl. Is it something you may consider doing in future?

Raoul: I would love to put my music on vinyl and record analogue and once we hit the jackpot we’ll go straight into studio.

RRP: Thanks again man! May the blues be with you!

Raoul: Thank you for supporting the blues! Keep up the good work!

Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti 40th Anniversary Edition on 180g Vinyl

 

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My first blog post with two of my favourite things in this world as subject matter. Led Zeppelin and vinyl. How on earth am I going to keep this short and to the point? Not to worry. To limit my obsessive old school rants and to embrace today’s modern commercial music I have arranged with Mr Vinyl, without a doubt the most professional online vinyl store in the business, to sponsor a few black circles now and then. The only problem is that I have free reign to choose the artists (*drum roll and the sound of crickets at night* ). Who am I kidding? It may only help to invoke my inner analogue muse. My first choice had to be Led Zep. Not just any album but the iconic Physical Graffiti, their sixth studio album, released on 24 February 1975. In 2014 the band launched an extensive reissue program of all nine its studio albums, each remastered by Jimmy Page. They also decided to open their vaults and share dozens of unheard studio live recordings. The remastered version of Physical Graffiti was released last month on the 40th anniversary of its release.

Before I drill down into specifics, its only fitting that I explain my love for the band first. Led Zep was a constant throughout my life and now I guess it’s my fountain of youth. Of course this is true of music in general, but Led Zep is different somehow. It embodies the memory of magical days, the past and present friends I hold dear, the women I fell in and out of love with, the good times, the heartache and the disappointments. The magic endures, especially when I visit the familiar places of yesteryear. Urban jungle or seaside drive, West Coast holiday town or desolate road – with Led Zep in the background, a trip becomes a journey. I don’t hear old seventies music. I hear a force majeure – the celebration of opposites and synergies. Mysticism, love, chaos, freedom, sexual bravado and brotherhood. It’s a kind of explosive transcendence guided by thundering drums, groovin’ bass lines, howling vocals and raunchy geeetar. I know its a great day when I listen to Led Zep and it sounds new and fresh to me. Even more so when I take one of their records out of its cover, slide it slowly out of the inner sleeve, place it on the platter,watch it spin for a while before the needle gently hits the record….and instantly I’m immersed in music…space and time…just… disappear.

20150303_193321In the nineties Gen X’s portal to the world of Led Zep was mainly through the Remasters Double CD released in 1990 (the mastering was also supervised by Jimmy Page). At every party in high school this CD was in the stack next to the CD player. I also remember watching the film The Song Remains The Same on video in the wee drunken hours while discussing politics,religion and other weird topics with friends. But very few Gen X kids collected entire discographies of bands. I remember Led Zep I-IV being on sale for R40 a CD at local music stores. For most of us this limited exposure was sufficient to call ourselves fans. Of course when MP3’s invaded the scene in the previous decade I downloaded more albums – but still not to the point of consciously wanting to absorb everything they’ve ever recorded. No, this was a fate bestowed upon me just over a year and a half ago when I became a vinyl addict. I have most of the studio albums in older press format – but sadly not this one yet. With the increase in vinyl collectors the past few years they’ve become hard to find.

20150303_202258 In 1973, after a year of touring around the world in their private jet, living it up in excess with groupies and copious amounts of drugs, Led Zep began recording ‘Physical Graffiti’ at Headly Grange in East Hampshire. However, it was brought to an abrupt halt. John Paul Jones needed some downtime. The constant touring and ‘living on the edge’ lifestyle took its toll on Jones and his family. So the band went their separate ways for a while. The renewed creative ideas that led to the recording of the album were born out of three months of downtime and soul searching.

Led Zep wrote eight new songs for the album but it was too long for the typical length of a single LP. ‘In My Time of Dying’ and ‘Kashmir’ may have been the culprits. The former was first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927 but “reinterpreted” by Led Zep. It’s an extremely haunting blues version and just over eleven minutes long. The arabesque and mystical anthem ‘Kashmir’, in turn, is just over eight minutes long and took almost three years to complete. It’s one of their most successful musical statements ever. From a modern perspective, the freedom they enjoyed to record albums sound almost made up – but it’s how they did things back then. The band decided to make ‘Physical Graffiti’ a double album by including unreleased outtakes from earlier recording sessions. No doubt this album is the last of the epic Led Zep studio albums. Before the entire empire began to unravel. If you don’t know the history you can start by reading ‘Trampled under Foot’ written by Barney Hoskyns. I promised to keep it short so I’m moving on.

20150303_193120The rest of the “new songs” like ‘Custard Pie’, ‘In the Light’ and ‘Trampled under Foot’, for instance, are all great songs but in my view the inclusion of the outtakes of previous albums in ‘Physical Graffiti’ led to its ultimate success. Jimmy Page admitted this in several interviews. The album represents quite a few years of creative development – a mix of blues,bluegrass, country, rock, reggae and middle eastern influences. It almost sounds like a greatest hits album. And this is how Gen X got to know Led Zep – diverse and already fully developed. My favourites are the outtakes from their 1973 album, ‘Houses of the Holy’. The title track intentionally left out to be used on the ‘Physical Graffiti’ album is pure classic Led Zep. The acoustic blues song ‘Black Country Woman’ was recorded outdoors in Mick Jagger’s garden – the recording engineer accidentally recorded an airplane flying overhead and you can hear Robert Plant laughing and saying “nah leave it”.Sigh…Artistic Freedom. And then ‘the Rover’, one of those typical wandering free spirit Led Zep tunes, with insane drumming and a killer riff.

The first thing people ask you when they hear you collect and listen to vinyl is“do they still make them?”. Oh yes, and boy do they still make them. I am a fan of the older pressings but when you’re looking for new music or you absolutely love a band (or many of them) or you struggle to find the older pressings, the “new” 180g pressings can give you just as much listening pleasure. There is a whole debate around which of these sound better. In laymen’s terms the “new” 180g vinyl is thicker and heavier then the older 120-140g pressings and it’s less prone to become warped over time. One would think that the new pressings would always sound better but that’s not always the case. The sound quality really depends on the original recording, the mastering and how the record was pressed. Of course the manner in which you looked after an older pressing over the years makes the world of difference.

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The 40th Anniversary Edition of Physical Graffiti was released in three editions:

  • The 2 LP Normal Edition replicating the original album,
  • The 3 LP (Deluxe Edition) containing the original LPs plus one vinyl containing unreleased studio outtakes.
  • And then for the serious collector the Super Deluxe Edition Box Set complete with the three LPs mentioned above, three CDs and a hardcopy book.

I play tested the normal edition remaster – what a joy it was opening the album jacket. It looks exactly like the original, consisting of the outer cover, two inner sleeves and a middle insert cover. The inner sleeves has various objects and people on each window. The middle insert cover is white with details of the album track listings and recording info. The windows on the outer cover is cut out, so when the middle cover is wrapped around the two inner sleeves and inserted into the outer cover, the title of the album Physical Graffiti becomes visible. I absolutely love this kind of artwork. It makes me feel like a kid in a candy store while unwrapping Christmas presents.

I may not be the ultimate audiophile but this album sounds superb on my system. I also have Led Zep I and II of this remastered series and its really mastered and pressed with quality in mind. In good time I will include most of the 3LP Deluxe versions in my collection as well.

If you learn to pace yourself collecting vinyl is the best hobby in the world. If only I can figure out how…….

If you want more detail check out the Mr Vinyl website: http://http://www.mrvinyl.co.za/shop/preorder-led-zeppelin-physical-graffiti-2015-remaster/

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