Nick Turner feels like an old friend, even though I first met him a mere two years ago, just after opening the Blah Blah Bar. I like to think we had an immediate rapport, but I could be wrong. Maybe that feeling was just from my side, because he reminded me of the Eighties generation of musicians, who had to make something from nothing, pull rabbits from hats, constantly, smiling while they pulled off feats that’s hard to remember now because we were all so out of it.
Nick was one of the front-men of Sons of Trout, who had their heyday in the late nineties, sharing thr front of the stage with violin player Mike Rennie. I’m told that they were legendary, but I must admit that the Trouts completely passed me by. I never saw a live concert of theirs, never listened to a song even, fuck knows how or why. I think I hit the straight and narrow hard, whiplashed by fatherhood and a newfound sense of responsibility. After just surviving the drug-addled eighties, I became a stay-at-home dad, and loved it.
So I missed out, but I caught up. Fast. The good thing is, like someone suffering from dementia, I am hearing these songs for the first time, again and again.
Now Nick Turner has released his latest CD, Home & Secure, and the Blah Blah is one of his launch venues. I’m at the venue early tonight, because my manager fucked up, and since I am the only one “not doing anything”, I have to do the door. It’s already a party when I arrive at 7:00. Golden balloons drifting above a crowd of an indeterminate age mingling and mangling the bar. I have this feeling its going to be a good night.
When the band hits the stage, it’s like a bubble waiting to be popped. The show ends up being about 80 minutes, and it builds and builds until there’s nowhere else to go, then bursts almost violently, releasing the pent up energy that the audience had somehow managed to contain until now. Led by a certain Mr Wrightman (an unlikely pied piper, but an energetic one, me thinking I should rent him from time to time), the crowd hits the floor hard, joined by some moneyed folk wandering down from The Black Sheep for a nightcap and unexpectedly getting the opportunity to wriggle a hip and get the digestion going. Drummer Ash Reid and bassist Schalk Joubert are egging each other on, Nick is cavorting, Jonny Blundell is cracking a rare smile and Ramon Alexander is patiently waiting for a gap to tickle his keys in the way that only he can. And so the evening ends as it started, with a twinkle in its eye.
On Sunday, listening to the CD at home – yep, I am one of that age that still has a CD player – I am affected in a completely different way, the hard-to-control energy and distractions of a performance replaced by the pleasure of simply listening. Don’t get me wrong – I love a live performance, probably as much as Turner does. There is nothing more invigorating than seeing a clutch of musicians plying the mastery of their instruments individually, yet together, audience and performers feeding of each other, crafting unique experiences. But there is no arguing that it is indeed a different beast.
The album is like a house with many rooms, and Nick Turner the deferential Master of Ceremony, opening the doors, and introducing you to the pleasures contained in each one. The songs are diverse – ballads, pop, reggae, goema, even boere-musiek following each other seamlessly, the lyrics and masterful arrangements tying them all together to produce one of the most interesting albums I have heard in a while. I have no doubt that Turner is, despite him winning several awards, one of our most underrated musicians. Not only can he turn out a great lyric, and play the acoustic guitar better than most, he has also learnt to master his voice. Almost Costello-ish on Anomaly and Getting Hotter, he manages a silky throaty whisper on Gousblom and Don’t Push, and a gives a accented theatrical edge to Everywhere. To top it all, the man has a sense of humour too. Listening to Beurtkrag, and the story of Zuma’s Escom, depressing as it is, makes me crack a wry smile. One after the other the songs are strung together, each one packing a power of it’s own, and in the end I’m reeling like a punch-drunk boxer in someone else’s ring.
Having assembled a menagerie of the best musicians this town can offer, and exploiting those talents to the hilt, the team of Turner and producer Jonny Blundell have crafted a rare album; intense, yet light; contemporary, but with nods to an illustrious past; dynamic, yet not over-produced.
And sitting at my kitchen table, digesting my late breakfast at the same time as Nick’s album, I can’t help thinking that the next time I see Nick Turner, I want to feel the mad intensity of Adriaan Brand’s trumpet and Hanepoot van Tonder’s burping and blaring trombone, the sublime melodies of Piet de Beer’s violin, backed up with that crazy unlikely rhythm section of Reid & Joubert, a line of swaying doo-wap gals, and with Nick Turner humble and assured, fronting the entire shebang, on a bigger stage. Much, much bigger….