Took the weekend off with the idea of resting this stressed ol’ frame of mine, listen to some music, work the vegie patch, talk to my wife, drink less (hopefully much less), and generally just shoot the breeze. So I head off to our hidey-hole in Stanford, well stocked with the cd’s I’ve been collecting from the bands that have played at the Bar the last couple of months – quite an ensemble actually, because our Blah Blah policy allows for more than the normal Rock fare.
I’m feeling like I deserve a break to tell you the truth, having dealt with 1.) C, who has gone a step too far, even for the Blah Blah; 2.) craft beer distributors who don’t answer their phones at 3pm on a Friday; 3.) the owner of a well-known bar in Stellenbosch whose bouncer assaulted my son, then accused him of snorting cocaine in one his extremely filthy cubicles, a place where I would hesitate to urinate and, finally, 4.) The music world in general.
But all of that is left behind. I am in Stanford, it has started raining, which suits me well, because now there’s a very good excuse to stay at home. I’m still “working” though. Yup, listening to music is my job. Correction, one of my jobs. All tension leaves me as I listen to one CD after the other.
A CD catches my ear – Simon van Gends’ “Suffer Well”. It hooks me, reels me in. It has a melancholic twist, but strangely, it lifts my mood even higher. You may have thought that I’m in a dark mood, reading this, but nothing can be further from the truth. I’m happier than an ANC minister in a Rio red-light district. No-one’s talking to me, not even my wife – having negotiated some “quiet time” – and I am really loving listening to the music I’ve brought along. I love the way Van Gend manipulates his voice, in his sing-along way, opening up and distorting slightly as he hits the upper notes, like a naughty child wanting KFC right now. It’s a masterful album, well produced, with well-written songs, a great collaboration between Van Gend and his partner in tune Ross Campbell, They have played the bar several times, and I can vouch that his live show is as good as his recordings.
A singer-songwriter is probably one of the world’s most under-valued occupations. Not only must you play your instrument well enough to stand on it’s own, you have to be able to compose, have a distinct voice – and write lyrics. Then you have to manage your “career”. I’m putting it like this, because who in their right mind will make music a career? Essentially, South African muso’s are talented amateurs, because there is really very little return to become a pro. Anyway, with all these skills, were you in the corporate world, you would be pulling in a high-end double-digit salary. But of course you don’t. You are just, JUST, making ends meet, maybe….
The amazing thing is that almost everybody that plays at the Blah Blah has at least one professionally recorded CD available to sell (and to give me one, of course). By conservative calculations, based on performances at the bar only, this works out to around 100 cd’s over the last 12 months. Here’s the thing: With recording, mastering and CD reproduction & printing costs coming to say R25k per CD (once again conservatively calculated), this adds up to a sweet little number of R2.5m. And this is just a fraction of the Indie figures! In other words, the mass of unsigned music that proliferate the City soundscapes is a multi-million Rand business. Who would have guessed? Because this industry is by and large invisible. It hides in the dark corners of the underbelly of the City, only to emerge now and again at wine estates and corporate functions before it plumbs the depths again. A ghostly hitchhiker on the rocky road of musical success. Now you see me, now you don’t. Catch me while you can, it pleads. But there’s so much going on, and so little time….
There are literally hundreds of musicians plying their trade in this City of ours, apparently a world-class tourist destination. But the live music scene belies this. Venues are closing down one after the other. Mercury is a shadow of its former glory. Straight No Chaser has faded away, lurking below a bridge in Obs. Assembly has just closed its doors. Who’s next, we who remain wonder….
That’s my mind wandering, maybe to places where it shouldn’t be wandering, because there’s no real value in it, pondering, doubting the future like that. The thing is to take action, innit? So I hop up from my easy chair and riffle through the CD’s in my bookshelf, and find this thin little number hidden between the cases. It’s Wrongman’s latest release, already a year old. I pop it in the player, and spend the next 45 minutes in a swoon. This is just so fucking good, man!
Wrongman is band started as a side project by Guy Tillim, an award-winning photographer, about 3 years ago. I followed them from one of their first performances at Erdmann Contemporary Gallery, followed them though line-up changes, their first CD, subsequent performances at the bar, and their beautiful little music video of The Duration before they vanished from the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard again.
Now I’m sitting here listening to this astonishing record called Look See, and I wonder where the fuck they are, how they could put in all this work to create these beautiful songs, only to disappear. Is this the South African reality?
Wrongman features a stellar cast: Roger Bashew (bass), Paul Tizzard (drums) and Mark Buchanan (guitar), some sublime backing vocals by the charming Lani Pieters, and the head honcho, the reluctant rock star, Guy Tillim. I decide I’m not going to let this rest. These guys cannot disappear into thin air like so many local bands. So I’m going to get on my horse, ride into yonder sunset, and find Wrongman. Because sometimes the wrong man is the right man….