Tag Archives: Music

Sicily On My Mind

Sicily has never been on my list of ‘Places I Want To Go’. Not that it’s been on my list of ‘Places I Don’t Want To Go’, either (I don’t really have one of those), it’s just not been on my radar at all, really. I come from a travel-lovin’ family. My childhood was filled with back roads, exploring old graveyards and farmhouses, stopping to swim in rivers, look at rocks (my Dad’s a geologist) and follow paths to see where they went.

As a 16-year old, my parents took me on a Whistle Stop Tour of Europe, to open my eyes to the world outside of my Small Town, South Africa. Open my eyes it did, to the splendour of the world and the tinyness of each of us in the greater scheme of things, and the tinyness of the block of time in which we live, and the joy of seeing new places and meeting new people, trying food whose name you don’t understand and whose taste you’ve never experienced, seeing cultures that are so removed from your own, yet, in some ways, comfortingly familiar.

I loved Italy on that Whistle Stop Tour and swore that when I finished school I’d become a plumber and go and live in Venice, because Venice, surely, needs plumbers. I didn’t though, and got swept up by life and all that goes with it and went to university and, and … I didn’t stop travelling and exploring throughout, but  didn’t go to live in Venice. Italy has remained up there on my list, but not Sicily. Sicily never crossed my mind. But now, it’s very much on my mind.

Here I sit, reading my umpteenth article on Sicily, tickets on my desk from Cape Town to London, London into Comiso and two weeks later out of Catania to Paris, then to London, then back home to Cape Town. I now know all about the Mafia, towns with names like Modica, Noto and Ortigia, ancient buildings, beautiful ruins, shining beaches lapped by the Med, and I haven’t, yet, been there. But I’m going. Next month. Next. Month. To Sicily. The place that I’d never really thought about going to.

And here I get to my point: the most marvellous way that the world manages to throw ideas at you, randomly and beautifully. You see, I’d never have thought of going to Sicily, but Eddie Vedder’s going, and I’ve loved his music since my teens. And he chose to play in an ancient Greek amphitheatre that overlooks the even-more ancient Mount Etna, with her rumbling tummy, and the Med. Who could resist? Certainly not me.

So, though the culture and the history and the food and the scenery are only some of the reasons to visit Sicily (I know now, having armchair-travelled a lot in the past six weeks because, really, the planning is half the fun, isn’t it?), seeing your favourite musician play, is the cherry on the top of those reasons.  The fact that I’ll be seeing Eddie Vedder, live, TWICE, in the midst of such scenery makes me grin like a loon and squeal like a teen. Music really does broaden your horizons.

The fact that Sicily sounds particularly, let’s say … challenging, in a wheelchair doesn’t put me off one iota – I’m travelling with two of my favourite allies (credit to RHCP, and now we all have an Ear Worm), and I can’t wait.

I do love an adventure.



Magical Music In A Church


The Central Methodist Mission Church has watched over Greenmarket Square since 1878. It’s seen much and housed many, many congregations as well as a good few political meetings and social gatherings in its time. On Tuesday night it was filled with a different congregation, mainly consisting of hipsters, for Best of the Buskers, a performance by three singer-songwriters.

Fresh from Rocking The Daisies, three enchanting singers and various surprise collaborators filled the beautiful church with even more beautiful music. There’s something magical about the stillness of the air in a church. The acoustics are breathtaking, the pews worn, and the setting gorgeous, made even more so by Studio 7’s arrangement of standing lamps amidst the band set-up, dwarfed by the vast organ pipes above the altar.

Dressed in white, Paige Mac opens her mouth and makes it easy to believe in angels. She sings a song that “reminds you to believe in yourself”, filling the church with a sound that really does inspire you.

Majozi joins her and the air again changes shape as they strum their guitars. The ghosts in the eaves shuffle and then fall silent, transfixed, as he sings. When she joins him, even the gargoyles decorating the walls of the church draw in their breath.

Peter Bibby and his guitar are up next. He’s an ambler, a rambler, and an Australian, Dylan-esque storyteller. Announcing that he wanted to tell a crass story but won’t because it’s a church, he launches into his repertoire of straightforward, funny, lyrical, naughty, booze-lovin’, medication-gnawin’ ditties. He oozes honesty and realism and, in his orange socks, he wraps the audience around his grubby fingers. His voice is mesmerising.

After a short break, Alice Phoebe Lou comes on: she’s just as petite and ethereal as expected, and her feet are grey-stockinged and shoe-less. She looks like a tiny 17-year-old (she’s not), but her voice sounds like it’s lived a thousand years, and tells the tales of an old soul. At times, she reminds me of Feist.

She brings friends on stage to sing, dance and mix music, while she tells the stories behind her songs – her father selling their childhood home and the impending feeling of loss; that she “never writes love songs, but sometimes you run out of subject matter, and you have to”. It’d break your heart, that love song. Her songs are raw and real.

And that’s where this concert brought down the house – three incredibly real, raw, honest and achingly beautiful acts in a venue filled with the secrets and whispers of the thousands of people who have crossed its threshold over the past hundred years. Pure magic.

This review was done for What’s On In Cape Town 

That Song

There’s that song. Everyone has one. When you’re forty, there are those songs, no longer just that song. The ones that, when you hear them, they throw you back to a single moment in time. To that place, the smell of the freshly-mown lawn scratching your bare back, the gentle kiss, the hug that squeezes the air out of you, the old friends, the chlorine in your eyes as you skinny-dipped in that pool, the orange glow of the flames on the old wooden beams of that house, the stranger who was in your life for ten minutes but changed it with his tender words, salt drying on your skin, sandy feet.

Those songs. It’s hard to pick just a few, but I’m going to try.

Blister In The Sun. Violent Femmes, as my sister and I whirled and twirled, sun-kissed and carefree, the Kowie River flowing toward the sea outside the open doors, the air salty and moist.

R.E.M. Nightswimming, as I walked from the library in the moonlight, heartbroken for the first time. Days later, I’d be buoyed by a poem on the poetry wall. Months later, skinny-dipping in that pool, illicitly, no longer heartbroken, with the boy who would turn to the gods.

Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park – the whole album, on vinyl – with Small University Town’s lights spread out below us. Followed by R.E.M. What’s The Frequency Kenneth, as first love coursed through us, a delicious new delight. The beautifully broken innocence. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Cowboy Junkies’ Sweet Jane in a house across the road from a graveyard. More love. Years later, even more, a beautiful lesson, in a different house lit with stars and crawling with ghosts, echoing with that same song.

They Might Be Giants. Birdhouse In My Soul. Because he was. And later he helped me pull through.

Pearl Jam. There He Goes. My tears wetting that rough, brown carpet beneath my cheek, the smell of damp as the trees outside my second-story window whispered to each other: ‘If only she knew what’s coming.’

Underworld’s Born Slippy. Under a hot, blue Karoo sky as I broke. It was the perfect soundtrack. Just then, just there. That single second moment.

We lay in my bed, the sheet crumpled, too hot to move. Him who has known me for forever, the others’ voices carrying in through the wide open windows on the hot night air. Massive Attack’s Teardrop. The joy of family that don’t share blood. Him, me, always.

Tori Amos’ 1000 Oceans, at the ocean, waves crashing and wind whipping. Salt air in our hair.

New Slang, The Shins. Just you and me driving too fast on a quiet highway in the early hours of the morning, windows open to the hot summer night, our hair whipping about our faces. We were momentarily invincible.

Hero, Family of the Year. Home, entwined, silvery strands of the moon shining on our skin. It was perfect, then. And then Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball. Hard to admit, but it fit.

AKing, Safe As Houses, the mountains turning pink at dawn. The realisation that everything was going to be okay.

Racing Like A Pro, The National, up on the hill, looking across the world toward the mountains, wind howling, rain beating, heart squelching, my whole being smiles.

Sia’s Titanium in my garage, all hung with sparkly lights, the silhouettes of the star-filled trees inky blank against the warm summer night sky. The comfort of friends from forever ago and friends from just now. The warm embrace of being loved and loving, of growing older, and all the loveliness that comes with that.

Cheerleader. OMI’s catchy little tune. Delicious Nephews and I singing along in the car. Pure joy. Discussions of Tooth Fairies, dreams and silliness. The eternal continuum. My reflection.

The realisation that this soundtrack still has many tracks that’ll be added. I’m far from done.

Joan Armatrading

It was one of those days, the ones that leave me breathless and anxious, emotions burning my skin. An old man fell to the floor in a faint behind us as we queued for a drink, making me want to cry as I watched people huddle and help, his wife’s crinkled, worried hand on his back. It was one of those days when you feel the loneliest you can feel. The kind of lonely that is only possible in a crowd.

I couldn’t complain, it was both the last place on earth that I wanted to be at that moment, and the only place. Thankfully, the darkness of the auditorium closed around me like a magic cloak. No more need to smile or nod or acknowledge the other people, all here because they really wanted to be. All really lovely, but I just wanted to be far from them.

The moment she opened her mouth, her voice swallowed my up-my-own-arseness. Anthem after anthem of my youth, winding its way through the air, bringing with it marching goose bumps, falling tears. The roar from the crowd as an image of our beloved Madiba flashed behind her as she sang In These Times, finished me, a glorious moment of humanity.

Thank you, Joan Armatrading, thank you.

Alma Cafe: Julian Redpath and Howie Combrink

Down a side street off Liesbeek Parkway in Rosebank lurks a gem. The Alma Café, latter day corner café, and now live music/dinner venue, is a throbbing little heart of a place in an otherwise suburban area. It’s a small, cosy, venue, seating about 40 at long communal tables with a tiny stage to one side and an incredible sound set-up. It’s obvious that this place was made by a musician for musicians and we, as the audience, score!

The musician in question is owner, Richard Tait, who runs the place together with his wife and son.  And I mean literally run it. They do everything from the cooking to the cleaning to working the sound desk. And they do it well. A home-cooked meal is served with each show.  Last Thursday it was delicious burgers, with homemade patties and round potato chips with their skins still on, like my mother always made.

We were treated to a double bill of musicians hailing from Jozi. First up, Howie Combrink, the drummer of Watershed (or Woodshed, as Richard Tait mistakenly called them, resulting in much hilarity). Combrink has added a solo repertoire to his achievements and is a damn fine guitar player, too. A friendly chap, he has an easy stage presence and a voice that’s just as easy to listen to.

As a crack of light shone through the signature-covered kitchen door, Combrink played his song, ‘Change’, off his fabulously-named album Eat It While It’s Hot. It’s quirky, upbeat, toe-tapping and makes everything seem do-able.

Dessert was served during the break – chocolatey, nutty deliciousness in a tart.  At the next table, a small man in a yellow cap sat with some friends. They looked like students – watching some music on a week night, a break from exam swotting, perhaps.

Turns out the guy in the yellow cap was Julian Redpath, and there is nothing small about him. Okay, except maybe his size (I’m almost six foot, it’s not a fair judgement). His talent is huge. He is a little awkward on stage (“Playing in front of people is kind of cool, but drinking water in front of them is kind of weird.“) But absolutely incredible.

He’s joined by cellist, Clare Vandeleur, and I am struck once again by the fact that musicians always have beautiful hands. Together Redpath’s guitar and Vandeleur’s cello make a sound that perfectly breaks my heart. This is music that burrows deep into your soul.

Julian Redpath is exquisitely uncomfortable on the tiny stage of the Alma Cafe, but his audience is entirely entranced as he plays his repertoire of melodic, beautiful, self-written songs, including a breathtaking improvisation of Johnny Clegg’s ‘Spirit of the Great Heart’. He is an artist, in its truest and most pure form.

“May the weekend slither like a snail.” Richard Tait’s farewell greeting. Just, perfect.

This review appears on the Whats On In Cape Town site.

Jack Parow

Head south down through the Lentil Curtain, past the solemn camels at Imhoff with their legs folded beneath them, along Misty Cliffs where the turquoise sea is dotted with surfers, on through the fynbos towards Cape Point, and eventually you get to the 250-year old Cape Farmhouse, situated at the foot of Redhill.

A small stage in one corner overlooks a vast, shaded veranda with tables scattered about it. Mother Nature has kindly built a sloped grass ‘amphitheatre’ to one side, on which – when we arrived – people had languidly thrown blankets and were relaxing in the dappled shade. On swings under the oak trees little girls in summer dresses overlooked the proceedings.

The average crowd at the Cape Farmhouse ranges from babes-in-arms to grandparents, but with a distinct contingent of hipsters and hippies – this is Scarborough after all. There’s a bar, there’s good, tasty food (hot dogs, burgers, pizzas, salads with the most tasty hummus). Basically it’s the perfect late summer Saturday afternoon concert venue.

Jack Parow is infamous for his expletive-rich prose and for being proud of his roots on the other side of the Boerewors Belt. The merchandise stand was doing a roaring trade in sales of his iconic long-peaked cap.

When Parow appeared on stage there was no fanfare, no fluff, just him. My excitement was not misplaced; the man is a musical genius. His lyrics are clever, thoughtful, and socially and politically charged. He engages with his audience completely, while downing shots of Jägermeister, which he refers to as “tiny glasses of Coke”. Despite all the wild-living ways we expect of a real rock star, Jack Parow just comes across as a seriously nice guy.

The man brings Afrikaans alive, in its most raw, scullery reality. There is an alchemy to the way he breaks down class, social and political constructs in a noisy, energetic flurry of hard-core words and beats. And he and his audience have a ‘fokken’ good ‘hard partyjtie’ while he does it.

My three favourite bits: his searingly honest, love-laid-bare song to his daughter, Ruby, called Befok; the energy coursing through the crowd as he played his more hard-core stuff, which had heads bopping, and bodies jumping; and his guitarist, Louwtjie Rothman, another musical genius. You must hear the man play. Swoon.

Boerwors Belt meet Lentil Curtain: it seems you’ll get along just fine.

This piece was written for What’s On In Cape Town.

Orchestrating at the City Hall

Sitting in the city hall feels a little like one is sitting under the petticoat of a Victorian lady. With its beautiful frilly plaster-work and rounded balconies, sparkling chandeliers and a full to almost-capacity audience, it was the perfect place to enjoy the opening concert of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra’s Spring Season.

The Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra opened the concert, a fabulous mix of youngsters obviously loving their instruments and Verdi’s Overture La Forza Del Destino. I thought it a very suitable choice for the Spring Season – quick-paced, like bees and butterflies flitting from blossom to blossom in the spring sunshine.

Sitting beneath the huge organ pipes of the City Hall, the Youth Orchestra certainly made an impression. There’s something so very hopeful in this world where classical music is pushed to the side and thought of as the land of fuddy-duddies, to see a young double bass player with a funky Mohawk!

The crowd tittered as the youth left the stage, and the CPO settled in, starting with Stefans Grove’s Gestaltes In Die Newel (Figures In The Mist). Being a classical music concert newbie, I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of him before. According to the programme, it is a ‘”symphonic poem”, paying homage to the lost world of the Khoisan.’

It’s a foreboding piece that made me feel like I was in a dark city street on a night filled with thunderstorms. Very emotive, very dark, very on edge.

From there the orchestra, thankfully, moved onto Schumann’s more soothing Cello Concerto in A Minor, with the fabulous Georgi Anichenko as soloist cellist. The violins moved from sad, to plucky, to frenetic, accompanying the beautiful cello. There is something so heartachingly, beautifully, sorrowful about a cello. Anichenko kept the audience mesmerised and had them on their feet for a standing ovation.

After a break for a glass of wine and more wonderment at the beauty of the City Hall, with its mosaicked floors and intricate woodwork, we filed back, as did the orchestra, for the final, climatic piece – Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44.

The piece made me feel like a 10-year old boy had been given the orchestra and free reign. It’s fun, it’s busy, it’s lively and it was beautifully handled by the CPO. Guest conductor, Conrad van Alphen, led them seamlessly through the three movements.

What a perfect finale for the Spring Season opening. Here’s to a great season.

*An edited version of this piece was published at What’s On In Cape Town.