Ah, Live Music Society, two years on and you’re still the love affair I cannot forget. I recall an e-mail I received from its founder, Jillian Duly, who, along with a guy called Ashley Denton, created the entity called Live Music Society in 2001. It was created as a society with the intention, I suspect, of becoming a platform from which the tentacles of music could wrap themselves around unsuspecting Rhodes kids. Many years on and much had changed. I can picture those early days; when Mordor, Die Taphuis and Champs still existed and Goth Soc was a legitimate social society on campus. The venues were scarce, the university support was non-existent but the musical force was strong.
When I walked onto campus in 2003 I had never seen a live band before. I walked into a scene that was merely a handful of fledgling bands; nonetheless, there was raw energy, talent and passion. There were strange bands, rock bands, punk bands, ska bands and bands that couldn’t tell a bass from a guitar. I don’t really recall the first band that I happened to stumble upon, although I suspect it was Cypher. Now, that was a great balls-to-the-wall band, a stalwart of the time! The band was fronted by the legend, Daniel Buckland, if I recall properly, and he was certainly one for the ladies. I recall seeing them at Monkey Puzzle at one of Rhodes University’s notorious cheese and wines. I couldn’t drag myself away.
Also on the scene at the time were punk-rockers, The Bubbahoonks. On occasion, when I found myself buffeted around in a crowd full of their punk rock friends, fearing the loss of teeth, shoes or worse, I remember thinking that I had never seen anything like this before. They were crazy guys and, if you like that kind of thing, pretty awesome. There has not been anything like that since; although the raucous Monstrous Regiment slapped us hard across the face a few years later.
My ears were somewhat unaccustomed to the ingeniousness of metal/rock at the time so I quite liked Fallen. I admit, I have listened to their album again since those days and, although not really attuned to the hard rock acts of the times, they had a great boy-band thing going on. Chris de Klerk fronted the band and was always the most courteous of people.
A typical Breach gig at Champs
There were two bands that got me hooked on the scene. I don’t really recall when they existed, but I am sure it all began in 2003/4. The first hook came when I went into Champs quite unexpectedly and emerged sweaty, wide-eyed and with the words “on the eighth day the Devil came…” like a stuck record in my head. Breach remained a huge part of the band scene for years to come; through thick and thin, haters and lovers. They were pure metal; black t-shirts, long-hair and soft as kittens. Fronted by Brett, that undercover romantic and driven by Bruce (a seriously underrated pianist), whose love for metal was a constant force to be reckoned with, this band certainly had bulk and stamina.
Their brother band, taking the hardcore route, was Hollowscene. Fronted by another legend, Scott Sparrow, I followed them around like I was an addict and they were my drug. Yes, I admit to being completely in love with Scott, but it was more than that. My tastes began to change and the freedom rock gave me was addictive. This is going to sound like one big cliché, but it was here, headbanging with Trevor Johnson, that I unleashed my rage at the world. It was at a Hollowscene gig that I gained the most satisfaction; I was able to unburden myself of all my frustrations. Scott cemented my dedication to music by personally thanking me on stage and handing me their album. I did an embarrassing impersonation of one of those Beatles-mania induced screaming fits experienced by many a groupie in the sixties. Poor, Trevor; all he could do was grin at my ridiculous behaviour.
I went quickly from groupie to manager – but purely by chance – although I am still proud of my “band loyalty”. My closest friend in my second year (2004) was Richard, an aspiring drummer. He got a band together and I offered my services as manager. I had no idea what that meant, I had no idea if music was even something I could claim to know much about but it worked out just fine in the end. Phil, the tragic frontman; Mark, the quiet bassist; Matt, the blues-loving guitarist and Rich, my friend, became my greatest allies on the scene and introduced me to a musical education which I would not have received elsewhere.
Matthew from Soma
From picking the name (Soma – a drug so named in Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World), to designs and posters, to band rooms, to gigs, to recordings, from girlfriend to girlfriend, I was their most ardent supporter. I learnt about relationships in bands, the trials of musical creation, the difficulty of song writing, the petty and perverse, the frustrations of recording and the reward at the end of the day.
I also took over management of another band, although they admittedly came second to my beloved Soma, and so my horizons expanded. AKS, whose real name was Acoustic Kill Session, was made up of Matt, Gareth and Gareth. At some point, they swopped Matt for another Gareth and then things just got plain weird. Gathering my boys under my wing was an awesome feeling. I loved every gig, every house party and every night out.
Guy, skanking to one of the numerous Ska bands
It was about this time that the scene took on a rapid expansion. Although Breach continued to expand and brutalise, in other areas rock, folk, ska and funk were leaving their boot imprints and baffling us with their crazy names. Captain Kidds Adventure Galley, Polar Bear John and the Grizzlies, Bourgeois Ninja club, The Super Agents, Monstrous Regiment, Armchair Antics and on and on… When they formed, and when they disbanded, is difficult to remember. Very few bands stuck around for longer than a year and there were a lot of incestuous undertakings going on. I can’t even remember who or what they were or what they represented. Members of bands, as did bands, names and musical style, changed so rapidly in those days.
There was a general undercurrent of Ska proliferating in various practice venues (i.e. digs) across Grahamstown. Undone was the pinnacle of this and I remember clearly how bad they were when they began and how awesome they were by the time they left. This was one band that taught me a valuable lesson – you have to start somewhere. Grant was a terrible drummer; now he teaches drums; Mark was an okay bassist (later replaced with Trevor), but held his own during his years with Soma; Greg and Gush were proficient on horns, but damn awful singers. But they grew to overwhelming proportions. On every bill, in every venue, with 100s of fans who knew every lyric, they got in a lot of practise and received a lot of good words in their time. Skank pits lost their lustre after Undone finally left to become a UK band, A Tower of Sheep (with a few member changes).
Omo at the Battle of the Bands 2006
It always amused me to see how many bands erupted from the outer legions of campus whenever it came to Battle of the Bands. I was, by then, on the committee for LMS, and was on hand to coordinate the “greatest event on the live music calendar”. Traditionally held at Die Taphuis, on a random night of the week, 20 or so bands would be doing their best to win the not-too-coveted title of winner of battle of the bands. The prizes were generally quite lame, the competition poor and people had forgotten your band name long before the good feeling wore off. Nevertheless, those nights were epic. You never played as well, to as big a crowd, under the influence of so much alcohol, as what you did on a BoTB night. To top it all off, every now and then, a never before seen band would arrive on stage and blow you away. Whether this was through shear weirdness on their part (who can forget The Tygers or The Omophobes) or just because they were pretty damn good (remember Marbo and the Vibes), it didn’t really matter. And so what if they never played again – it is deeply satisfying to be part of it.
Another annual event was the Old Gaol Music Festival. This was always the most difficult event to plan; it was always a gamble to get the amount of days, times, costs and bands right. Port Elizabeth bands seemed to rock up in droves: metal, hardcore, screamo or emo kids in black t-shirts and dyed black hair. It was like a whole new world of music – if a little daunting. Regulars on the scene, Chromium, were a superbly good hardcore act from Port Elizabeth, who continue playing today, only from the crime-ridden streets of Johannesburg.
On the outer fringes of the band scene were a few individual acts that kept our fire side jams burning. Some were part of bands, Pete O’Donoghue for example, some were music students and some just did it for the love. They came and went but who can forget Paul on Penny Whistle, Neo on bass, Polar Bear Jon, ever-smiling Brett, Stones or Dave? Before I left Rhodes I was blown away by the sweet vocals of Lucy and the classical finesse of Mike.
There are a few defining moments of my LMS career that make me realise what it meant to be part of it all. One such moment was when Dave Knowles told me he had made it to the final of a national Battle of the Bands competition. The reason why it mattered was because he was the lone solo guitarist among a number of campus bands, from all over South Africa. For him to have been selected to play in front of a few thousand people says so much about his creativity and virtuosity. The other incredible part of the story was that I was given a day to find bands, had no one to ask, secured a few solo acts before the day was out, had about ten people come to watch, suffered through the humiliation and then had him selected!
Another defining moment was a day when, tired and annoyed, a bunch of the committee were sitting on the field outside the Union, bitching about how the O-week activities were so badly advertised because we had barely had any sign-ups that day. Then, looking like kids who had just spotted the candy, Rowan and Kathleen showed up at our stand. Those poor, lost souls had suddenly found a place in which to breathe. Muso kids at heart, they were so happy to find LMS kids in amongst the mundane campus stereotypes. Here, they had found a place a play – and, boy, did they play. From being sound techies, to groupies, to committee members, I loved their enthusiasm. They showed me that LMS was, for some people, a place to find themselves: it could shelter them from the ravages of jocks and their betties, it was a change from the normality of union-rat-friar tucks Friday nights and it was a place to unleash their indefinable emotions; as I had done at the feet of Hollowscene.
What has always been the defining feature of Grahamstown, and what has always made me proud, is the vibe. One night, after finishing late at work, I went to a Fokofpolisiekar gig. I was disgusted to have to pay R40 just to watch their final few songs, but when I entered the hall, that R40 was the best money ever spent. There was sweat and tears and blood and bodies flying everywhere. It was the craziest gig I have ever encountered; then and since. Those Rhodes kids sure know how to have a good time. Yeah, so half the time they are slaughtered on cheap alcohol, but they are also just up for the party. There was always a pit going on in the front, invariably blood would flow, but it was always done in the spirit of love.
I had an awesome opportunity to go on tour with Motara and Breach. Motara was the younger brother of Breach, with the added brutality of Rudi and Thorsten (two of the most respected metal guitarists I have ever encountered). Richard on vocals, Bruce on Bass, Omo on drums: those guys were Grahamstown’s answer to battle metal. They were named after the Dean of Students, Dr Motara, which just made them all the more metal. So, they touched each other too much, but they sure knew how to break down walls.
Taking time out on tour: Rudi from Motara
I went along on tour as breakfast maker, general cheerleader and video recorder. The tour was a very surreal experience for me. There were days of normalcy; cricket, riding the Anaconda at Gold Reef City, hanging out, making supper, shooting the shit. But there were also days where I almost peed myself from laughter; like the radio interview where the boys decided that making galloping and neighing sounds in the background would be hilarious. There was also the 3am dance-up at Doors. Rudi kept me in stitches with his impersonation of a beast, stalking around like a T-rex to Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark. I think the DJ liked us. Then there were the creepy bits, like playing a gig with Neo-Nazis, when all I could think about was “thank g-d none of these guys are gay or black”. Vanderbijlpark will never seem like an average dorpie again.
I must admit though, for a bunch of savages, these guys were the softest, kindest, most normal people. The scariest part of the whole tour was falling asleep at the wheel while driving back to Durban, not having slept the night before. Rudi had driven into the back of Richard’s car one night and I was terrified the bumper was going to fly open. I drove the whole way at 100kms/hour. After that we discovered that we had just spent the last of our money on energy drinks and couldn’t remember if there was another toll booth up ahead. However, we made it back, a few gigs under the belt, and awesome DVD of the trip and a bolstered respect for the steeeeel; also known as Motara and Breach.
LMS continued a path of growth while I was around; not all attributed to me, I must add. Things started to go right for the society, the University gave into our whims and respect was gained. Venues continued to be hard to come by, practicing involved taking on the neighbours and police, gigs were few and far between, but the talent and passion was there. The band practice room seemed to materialise out of nowhere; Luke, the sound engineer, had a great time spending our member’s money on a kick-ass sound rig (thanks to large discounts from a rad little sound shop in PE); national bands suddenly discovered that Grahamstown was a cool place to play and a few choice managers from various venues continued their long-standing support (Thanks to Die Taphuis, Champs and Old Gaol). Brian and Corrine, awesome bassist and sound lady respectively, who had done the gtown rounds for decades, were always there to offer a few kind words, a place to record or a replacement mic, and made themselves available as judge, as mentor, as friend.
During my time I saw support for LMS come and go. Countless meetings became bitch sessions about the lack of support from Grahamstown locals, venue managers and the University. We did what we could to compromise; our attempts at sound proofing were amateur for sure, but it was cheap and it worked. Our creative thinking around venues would have made any teacher proud. I did a bit of my own butt-licking: a bit of pleading, a bit of appealing to reason, making promises I knew I couldn’t keep (like keeping the pigs from our doorstep). Nonetheless, when Die Taphuis disappeared under a multi-story housing complex, Champs closed down and The Old Gaol, due to pressure from the police, had to ban gigging, we despaired. But now it seems, bands continue to make do with what they can; and it’s good to see that bands continue to play, fans continue to drink and LMS continues to rope in a whole bunch of unsuspecting first years, as well as the old[er] student crowd. Oh, and 10 Points for the Dismount continued to terrorise the town’s people.
Always the groupie
During my 3 years on LMS committee I worked my butt off behind the scenes to promote, hug, encourage, market, manage, coordinate and, yes, love all the musos that made the scene that special playground to play in. I am not sure how I managed to actually pass my subjects; but I got a better education than most. Yeah, so I loved the praise, I loved the music, but it was also occasionally overwhelming. I had to humble myself to the musical genius of a lot of the people I met, like Stu from RMR, bluff everyone into believing that I knew what I was talking about and lead a bunch of passionate, yet ultimately laid-back and docile, creatures called the LMS committee.
By my side were various people who hardly ever received the praise; people like the designers (Lolly, yours were slick and powerful posters), the noobs who roamed campus putting up posters (what a ball-ache) and the sound guys (Luke, Pete, Gush, Cath etc etc). There were also occasional band groupies, keeping the bands happy, the girlfriends, bribing their friends to come to gigs and crowd out the front row, and the roadies (usually the bands themselves – and a rather muscular me). You know who you are – so here is a long-overdue, but much deserved, thank you.
I want to dedicate this to a wonderful, sexy and alluring person, who was tragically killed in a car crash last year, 2009. I first encountered Natasha, or Tash, at a Marbo and the Vibes practice in Matt’s room. She was beautiful, likeable and talented. When she got up on stage, she was one of the most mesmerising vocalists that I have ever encountered. My last memory of her was at a “cynical dinner” at Jateen’s digs. She was trying to teach me how to shake my ass, literally. She had this beautiful big bum and she could make it shake like jelly. Alas, my tame, white ass had nothing on her.
Rest in peace, my friend. I still think of you and remember those clear, sweet blues.
Other bands not mentioned in text, but who will not be easily forgotten: Captain Smug and the Propagandists, Iskra, Monkeyphonics, Nia, Orangutan Bitch, Peyote, Railway Sleepers, Razzmatazz, The Pheremones and Thus Far