Rick Astley fans have been waiting a long time for this album. We’ve had other albums in between this and the first heady, brilliant pieces we got in the late 80s / early 90s, but THIS is the one we knew would come if we waited. We knew Rick had this in him, and that it was only gonna take some time for him to get it out. Back in the early days, most of us fans were just teenagers, although there’s a whole host of newer generation fans now too. With the release of 50, which is in conjunction with Rick’s 50th birthday, we fans are validated in the fact that we know Rick has grown up with us. He’s not that young guy any more, but neither are we and this marks our coming of age in the most spectacular way.
I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve been feeling a bit spiritually dry or cynical about the world in general, but I find the fact that Rick has made a spiritual album incredibly profound. When you think about it, it’s a no brainer, because his voice is perfectly suited to spiritualism. And while it’s not *quite* gospel, it throws me back to thoughts of Elvis gospel with choirs and soul. There is something in this album that speaks to everyone. At the same time, you find yourself tapping along and thinking “I can dance to this”. There is no song on this album that has simply been thrown in as an album filler.
There is something different and special about this. Whether it’s because Rick now has more artistic control over his work, there is something in this which is just a notch above everything else out there at the moment. If you haven’t got the album, you’ve probably already heard Keep Singing on the radio. Yes, that’s Rick. Angels on My Side too. But (unless they’re released as a single), you’re gonna have to buy the album to hear songs like ‘Somebody Loves Me’. I’m mentioning that one in particular because that’s the one that I can’t get out of my mind. Because quite often I DON’T hold on to the feeling that somebody loves me. Here’s Rick telling me to remember that somebody does. Rick’s singing about things that I feel, and things that mean something to me in my life right now.
Even in the many interviews he’s doing, Rick is going into places where he hasn’t been before and sharing more with us. The mention of a brother he’d had who passed away before Rick was born, and the fact that he went into music in order to cope with his parents’ divorce is incredibly profound and meaningful to me.
With #50 Rick is on a winner, and the public can tell – the fact that it’s currently at No 2 on the British album charts indicates that we’re ready and willing to welcome this album with open arms. If you buy it expecting Never Gonna Give You Up, you’ll probably be a bit surprised. But I’m willing to bet that it will be pleasantly so.
You can buy a signed copy of the album from his website, in retail outlets in the UK and / or from iTunes.
I don’t often get to indulge my love of 80s music chatting to the impersonators of one of the stars who made the 80s great! So it was an incredible amount of fun to sit with Robin Parsons who does just that and chat Michael Jackson, the 80s and so much more!
Forever Jackson is playing at Joburg Theatre until 19 June and I can think of no better way to celebrate Father’s Day than an indulgent show like this, so get your tickets and take your dad along. Start with the Man in the Mirror and book tickets here.
When I met with Robin, he WASN’T dressed as Michael, and I got to see just how committed and serious he is about bringing the Michael Jackson experience to life. For many of us, Michael Jackson is fun escapism from our own lives, to Robin it’s a serious, thoroughly professional business. I would say that he is the definitive source on all things Michael Jackson. Having said that, he has not lost touch with being himself, too: Robin Parsons.
How long have you been a fan of MJ?
I’d call myself a fan from my late teens, it’s been a good 20 plus year. It was hard not to be aware of Michael Jackson when I was younger because every few years another album or big video would come out. I remember when they aired the video for Black or White and it was an international event. They played it live on TVs all over the world at the exact same time for the first time. You just don’t get anything like that these days.
How did you get into the singing and dancing?
The dancing thing came first and that’s when I really became a fan. I wanted to learn how to dance and I couldn’t afford to go to a dance course or anything so I sort of said to myself MJ is a fantastic dancer so I picked up some videos and I just sort of started watching them and I’d pick up some moves and when everybody went to bed at night I would open up the patio curtains and you almost had a mirror effect and my VCR had a slowmo function so I could watch them in detail. And once I got the Moonwalk and the popping and stuff like that I wanted to learn more of the more minimal moves and I guess the mannerisms and things. I started doing a few talent contests and at one of those the judges asked if I sang and at the time I was miming but they said I should learn to sing and so I did. I started having singing lessons. That’s where it evolved from. It’s a very unique sound. It’s a very demanding vocal. I totally understand where a lot of MJ shows do mime. To take the base out of your voice and, you’ve also got that rocky rasp type of sound that he does at the top end and it’s taken a long time to evolve.
IT’s a responsibility to give people a great show so that they want to come back and when they do come back it doesn’t have to be completely different but there’s a few new tweaks, there’s that responsibility.
It must be a hard shadow to step in.
No matter who you’re a fan of, if they are your number one, they are there and as good as it gets. They’re perfection. For me Michael Jackson was perfection as a performer. How do I emulate. So there’ll always be something I’m striving for. He’s one of those artists who will be forever cherished and you’ll always see his touch in new artists like Jason de Rullo, Usher, Timberlake, Beyonce, you can see Michael Jackson’s influence in their work. You would not have music videos if it wasn’t for Michael Jackson. They’ve changed quite a lot since back then. But he made them into movies back in the day. His work can be played next to anything today and it holds its own. MJ is like this is a story – like Smooth Criminal the gangster thing in the 1920s and so on. Most videos were just live performances and Beat It was the first one that came out. It was also the first time that a black artist came out and did something that made the so called white part of the music industry take notice. It’s a responsibility to do him justice. We’ve got a kid back home who is only 12, he does full makeup, he’s got more costumes than I have, he comes to shows all over the UK and there’s that responsibility to make sure for these kids as well as the fans but the kids who never really got to know him through people like us, to give these people the experience that they deserve.
Is there a point where you switch off being MJ and switch back to being you?
Absolutely. I’ve always found it very important to leave it behind sometimes. This does consume me. There’s times where I haven’t had a single day off and they’ve been long days, 12 – 24 hour days. But I owe it to my family to be myself and for my own peace of mind. Even when I do the meet and greets, I do it in my voice, so that people know there’s a person behind the persona. I’m still Robin Parsons, I can sit down at a table and be normal to anybody. I’ve done this from scratch with the help of a wonderful team.
It broke down any sort of image black or white. You didn’t even think about whether he was black or white.
You just go this guy’s got so much talent, it paved the way. I think it’s another reason why so many artists have so much love and respect. Not just today’s artists, but from back in the day. I think from my generation he was the King – he was the start of the stars. The teacher to today’s performers. Before he died I’d say the biggest death would have been Freddie Mercury or Elvis Presley. When MJ died, because of the circumstances, he was literally about to embark on a comeback I think it was even more shocking.
Which are your favourite songs?
There’s a few songs that I really love. AT the moment one of my favourites to perform and we only do a tiny bit of it is They Don’t Care About Us. I really love Earth Song too and it’s quite new to our show. We only put it in a few months ago. I quite like a lot of the stuff that you don’t hear very often because I’m performing so many of the mainstream stuff. There’s an unreleased song called Cheater which I really like. I really like Streetwalker which is a bit like The Way You Make Me Feel. And there’s one actually on the last album called Place With No Name which was a great song. When we make decisions about what’s going to be in the show I always have a specific criteria and a specific mind-set that it has to be visual. There’s some amazing ballads but if you put too many in it slows it down a bit. The max we can do is 2 hours and even that is long for a family based show with children. At what point do you go The Way You Make Me Feel or we won’t do Thriller. We always get someone coming and going you didn’t do Ben or this one – the good thing is there’s room to change and move things around. But when we do that and then people come back and go you didn’t do this one this time. We can’t please everyone. He had so many hits and it wasn’t like he had so many albums just every song was a hit.
We’ve been working to make sure this show is right, making sure that we’re ready for technical issues and we’ve learned over the last two years what to do with them. We’re very well known in the UK in general and from a theatre point of view we’ve started to make some waves back home. But we see this as an international show and that’s what we’re aiming for. His homeland, the States was where he was the least unpopular. Not unknown, obviously. But he was more popular around Africa, China, Japan and Europe.
How long does it take you to do the makeup?
It takes be between 2.5 – 3 hours to apply the makeup. Every single time I do something as Michael Jackson, whether it’s just a quick interview, or a photoshoot. There’s no surgery or prosthetics. And I do it all myself. It’s all self-taught. Me practising and doing it.
Do you have family?
I always feel like I’m doing her an injustice to call her my girlfriend but we’ve been together over 10 years, and we have 2 kids, my daughter will be 5 in a few months and my youngest, Stanley who’s one and a half. They don’t know me doing anything different. This is the longest I’ve been away from them. My oldest is getting to the age where I know she misses me. But I feel a responsibility not only to myself but to everybody around me. If I’m ill it doesn’t happen. We do as much as we can to put things in place, in a certain scenario the show can go ahead but if I don’t perform that means that none of the other guys perform. That means that the theatre doesn’t get to work. So there’s a huge amount of responsibility which I take very seriously.
I’m just thinking about an understudy but I guess that wouldn’t really work.
Funnily enough we just started talking yesterday about bringing in a second MJ, not so much as an understudy but because over the years we perform smaller versions of the show in casinos and holiday parks. We look at it as a show, and we’ve set up an audition with a guy for the end of September. I don’t want the guys who have helped get this show going to not have a show, ever. I wanted to put in as many special effects as we could.
I can’t decide if MJ was complex or not complex
I think he was. I think he was misunderstood. He was so adamant on his beliefs and what he though was right even if the rest of the world thought it was wrong. I believe he was never criminal and never had any ill thoughts towards anybody or did anything wrong. He burdened an adult life pretty much and a huge amount of responsibility. He was doing that on a huge scale from the age of 7 or 8 and for the entirety of his life. I think he just wanted some escapism and be with people who weren’t going to judge me. He put himself in a position where he was open to threat from the outside world and from people who wanted to get money from him.
How are you enjoying SA?
This is my first time here, we’ve been so well received and accepted and welcomed. We were told by the agents that we were going to be well looked after and there was going to be a lot of media interest but you still don’t know. Because of the team around us including Collett’s hard work and all of the media in general have been so supportive.
Is there anything you’d like to get across in the interview?
If there’s anything anyone would like to find out about us, please go to www.foreverjackson.co.uk. Any posts or anything they want to put please put #ForeverJackson, we’d love to keep trending. Come and see us, Sunday is Father’s Day and it’s a great thing for Father’s Day.
Stand up comedy meets cabaret in this hilarious show as Morty takes us through stories and songs that demonstrate just what it is that makes the SA male tick… with a few surprises along the way!
Morty is the perfect combination of talent, charisma and devilish naughtiness to provide the perfect evening of entertainment for guys and girls of all ages.
The Full Morty runs until 5 June with performances from Tuesday – Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm.
Tickets are R120 and are available from www.joburgtheatre.com or by calling 0861 670 670 or through Webtickets.
I have already seen the show. If you’re wondering what to do this weekend and want to do something fun, not too expensive, different and AWESOME, do this. Don’t even entertain any other ideas.
We chatted to Morty recently (with pics by my friend Alison)
You are described as theatre and television actor, madly talented vocalist and professional k*k talker…
I did musical theatre for like 17 years – so I’m basically 25 years in the industry. I do sing and I like to talk a lot of kak specially because I get a lot of work as an MC for corporate events and even weddings.Where they don’t want the normal formal kind which I can still do.
So The Full Morty goes into pretty scary territory – the mind of the South African male ?
How clever is that name? One of the things that I say we’re about to venture down the dark and stormy corridor, a scary place, complicated and yet so diverse.
What inspired the idea of The Full Morty?
Basically the show was in my mind for the past five years. It’s something that I always wanted to do and when you want to write a show you’ve got to think to yourself what is uniquely South African. A lot of people tend to go the more political route which is fine but my whole thing is I like to stay away from the past. You don’t forget where you come from. South African men are a species unto themselves. There’s cars, there’s women, they like to impress women with pickup lines, there’s a whole lot of things that make South African men unique and I wanted to delve into that without obliterating the male species. We can sit back and laugh at ourselves. It’s a little bit more enlightening for the ladies as well because you understand where we’re coming from. There’s one part in the show, I’m not one for toilet humour but sometimes it’s a fact where you go like there’s a time in the day when these hardworking male minds needed time to just sit and reflect on how far they’ve come as husbands, fathers, men, where it’s just me and the toilet. But what I tend to do in the show is a lot of skits as well.
You did Full Morty last year already
Yes, that was the first run. I did a short stint in Cape Town as just like a trial run, which was received quite well and then we did the National Arts Festival where most of my shows were sold out almost every dayand then we did the Joburg Theatre, very good attendance. And it’s been revamped a little bit. It’s slicker, more skits and more songs.
What made you think the stage is right for this kind of show now?
There’s so much standup comedy going round. I love standup comedy. I thought I can bring something to the party as well, the standup thing.
You got your start with David Kramer and Taliep Peterson. What a start.
Well, I wasn’t going to go to the audition. I was still in high school and I thought Saturday’s my day off, I’m just going to go chill and then for some reason I woke up at like six in the morning on a Saturday and thought what am I going to do for the rest of the day and I thought okay fine, take a shower, get dressed and I ran to the school because the taxi was leaving and I just went there and was sitting there, I’m a high school kid and I’m interested in the girls and then Taliep Peterson walked past me and said are you not going to come and audition? I said no it’s okay, he says come. And I went in there and I sang a song and he said okay fine. We’ll be in touch. A few days later at the school the principal came to call me to the office and when the principal comes to you, you are like did something happen to my parents and I was panicking and he was like I just got a call from Taliep and he’ll see you next weekend. Okay fine so I went there again, did another audition and he says we’ll be in touch. Few days later, the principal calls me again, they want to see you again and I went again and they said okay the role of so and so will be played by Mortimer Williams. I was like wow.
Is the rest history?
It’s a long history. Literally I’ve travelled around the world. Not with the show, but different productions, I did African Footprint for like five years, with Richard Loring so I travelled the world with that. I’ve done the Seychelles and Australia for six months, but there’s no place like home.
You’ve done stage, tv, acting and singing – do you have a particular preference?
Singing – which you can do with all of those. It’s hard to say, I’m passionate about all of them but there’s nothing like a live performance, if you make a balls up you’ve got to cover it up. It’s not like TV or anything where you can cut and do it again. There’s second chances in TV but not on stage and there’s something about that that’s like an adrenalin rush. You get the energy from your audience.
This is a one man show whereas you’ve often been involved in big productions like Grease. I’ve heard that the two experiences are quite different for a performer on stage.
One man shows are fun, just me. It’s actually very stimulating. It’s mine. It’s my baby. It’s four years old already. For Thoroughly Modern Millie I had to learn to speak Chinese. I just learned the line in Chinese but we had a Chinese coach because there is a certain way of saying a certain word. If you say it differently it means the opposite. Even though I enjoy the big productions, I can do my rehearsals at my own pace.There’s no pressure. And 90% of the time I can say listen I’m not feeling comfortable with that. With the big productions it is what it is, it’s written like that, that’s the way you do it.
My site is to celebrate people who tweak the golden thread. It was inspired by John Ritter. I haven’t done too many interviews with other comedians. I would like to get into the comedy theme with you.
Oh I know John Ritter. Three’s Company!
Comedy is an art form on its own within the entertainment field. Do you agree with that statement?
It is an art form even though people say laughter is the best medicine. How many times do you feel all miserable, do yourself a favour, just go sit and watch a comedy show. You will laugh at the first joke and it’s like I feel much better.
I’ve heard it said that comedy is the only honest art form as it can’t be faked.
It can be faked, you know what the thing is sometimes I’ve seen some people laughing at their own jokes. So if they’re laughing at their own jokes, it’s almost like forcing the audience to laugh. They’re not laughing at the jokes, they’re laughing because they’re supposed to. It’s very touch and go. You’ve got to feel your audience and sense their energy.The minute somebody feels comfortable and relaxed they’re going to relax. I enjoy making people laugh.
I have heard that comedians turn it on and turn it off again, I don’t know but do you find that?
For me personally I like to keep it going nonstop because it’s me. Time is so short, why do I have to be miserable? For the other comedians it’s more like they choose their moments, some of them like to sit and focus and do things. Just think, be on their own. Others like to just keep it going but not intentionally, just their personalities, just how they are.
Do you do comedy for comedy’s sake alone or is it important for audiences to go away thinking or feeling something after the laughter has subsided?
That’s the important thing for me. I don’t do comedy just for the sake of doing comedy, what I touch on is daily situations that us men go through. I touch on man flu. It’s a dreadful disease. I touch on becoming a father. That changes your life specially going shopping. Tiny little terrorist in your trolley. I do that. Me time. There’s one section where I go to the nightclub.
Do you have anyone you would consider a mentor in the field?
I look up to all the guys like Barry Hilton, Trevor Noah. But there’s so many other comedians out there as well. The guys inspired me way back were like Richard Prior and Eddie Murphy. Basically people in general inspire me. I can see things in most guys. But you need to be very selective of the things you do. Everybody tends to do the political route.
Youngsters in SA today who are actually trying to study for a profession are facing quite a tough time with all the student unrest. What would you say to any youngster trying to get into the entertainment field today?
My main thing is you know what, ignore that shit, because those kids who destroyed the theatre and stuff like that, they’re not going to get very far. Come out and watch shows and stuff like that. My advice to kids is focus on one thing. One thing only. Water one seed. Don’t water fifty seeds because you’re not going to be able keep up. Water one seed, when that seed germinates, move onto the next. For four years I was focused on just this. I watered that seed.
Is there anything you would like to get across in this interview?
Just come and watch the show. You can always get a PVR and record, so come and watch the show and you can watch Game of Thrones later.
Acclaimed stand-up comedian-turned-big-screen actor and Bollywood Star, Vir Das, brings the international smash-hit comedy, Battle of DaSexes, to South Africa for a two weekend run: in Johannesburg’s Montecasino on 27, 28 & 29 May and then Durban’s Playhouse on 4 & 5 June.
Vir Das, who is equally comfortable working on TV, film, theatre and live-comedy, says “Battle of DaSexes is an insightful, fun and laugh-out-loud comedy-drama all about the eternal battle between Men and Women. It is a battle not with arms and gun powder but with bellies and eyeliner!”
Battle of DaSexes is written, directed and performed by Vir Das and produced by global theatre production house: AGP World.
Welcome to South Africa! Is this your first time here? How are you enjoying it?
Thank you. This is my 7th trip to South Africa. I enjoy working here and love the cultural diversity. There is so much to learn from the discipline of theatre here which has been an experience and putting that in synch with our way of working and it helps develop a stronger and more vibrant existence.
The show has already run in Johannesburg. How was the reception and feedback?
It’s a tough market but we are used to the crests and troughs of theatre. We believe in surfing it with our passion and skill. We learn from marketing and business sensitivities but the audiences are really super. Our first show was one of the best responses ever in audience reaction which leads us to believe that the market is evolved and ready for our work. Our learnings are based on a long term investment where we can eventually create work from here from SA to tour the rest of Africa.
What has been the highlights of your experience in South Africa so far?
The talent in SA is incredible and structured for an inspiration to all.There is a professional approach to theatre and I see great potential in collaborating with existing producers where we can add value in original content, investment and open the touring to our regions of Middle East, India, Far East.
Is there much difference in South African and Indian audiences in their reaction to the show?
They all laughed by the minute. This show has been skewed to international audiences. All that love comedy enjoyed the roller coaster ride. We have received tremendous responses from the Johannesburg audiences and we’re now looking forward to see how the show goes down in Durban this weekend.
You mention in your press release “The vision is to blur geographical boundaries and unite cultures across the globe.” I think that South Africa’s diverse audiences are perfect for this kind of vision. Is this one of the reasons you decided to bring the show here?
This is the third tour after History of India & Blame it on Bollywood being our first two visits. We are two nations who fought for our freedom through Mahatma Gandhi & Nelson Mandela with similar ideologies and a rich heritage of diversity and culture.In these scenarios creativity is borne and we struggled to put our talent out there. My journey is one of creating legacies and with the right people by my side and the passion I’m sure the lines will cross and merge as one where I can tour SA talent into my part of the world.
My site (www.popspeaking.com) is inspired by the comedic actor John Ritter who mentioned in a late 1970s interview that he would like to be remembered as someone who tweaks the golden thread of humanity. In other words make people across races, nations, and generations feel and think by their art. It sounds to me like this is something you think about as well. Would this be true? Is comedy a very effective way to do this as opposed to for example a more serious form of acting?
Comedy is the most engaging of the genres in theatrical stand up. It draws more audiences by default and the messaging can carry across more audience through footfall and deliver the objectives.
I think the differences between men and women is something all cultures can relate to. Is the whole ‘Men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ something close to your heart?
As time goes by I understand women less. They are evolving faster than us men and its better to let them lead the way as there is a more stable scenario in their working style along with discipline. The day they get emotional is a dangerous moment for all of us men.
What moved you to produce and get involved with this show?
It was the concept, investment, touring possibilities, passion for what I do and the sheer skill and talent of Vir Das.
What would you like audiences to take from the show?
Grow better relationships, couples can understand each other better, have some fun, enjoy a great night out enjoying good comedy.
Is there anything else you’d like to get across in the interview?
I have a vision for one Africa culturally bound together and progress together. My work can contribute to that which will be one of the most potent touring formulas in our time.
I always enjoy it so much when I meet entertainers with the passion and energy of Tima Reece (also known as Tia Herman) and Kurt Herman who will be performing with Timothy Moloi on 31 March to 3 April at Joburg Theatre in Always and Forever – a Tribute to Luther Vandross. Immediately as I walked into their studio in Bryanston I was struck by their dedication and professionalism in their approach to their work, which makes them perfect to perform alongside Timothy. They have both had long careers in the industry in their own right and together as an ensemble and it was fascinating to travel the road of their careers in South African music and entertainment with them.
How did you guys get into music as a career?
Tima:From a very young age my mom recognized that I had a talent for singing. When I was 9 she took me to the Market Theatre to participate in the Shell Road to Fame singing competition. And I made it through to the regional finals and they invited me back to the gala final in Sun City for being the youngest competitor that year. And that was in 1989 and since then I’ve just been singing and writing, that’s where it started for me at the age of 9. At the age of 16 I again entered the Shell Road to Fame.
Kurt: I was working at the production company that filmed that. I was the runner.
Tima: Chris Ghelakis the CEO of Electromode Music happened to be watching TV that night and saw me and got us to sign a recording contract. Then from there we started working on my debut album and I secured a recording contract with a company called Strictly Rhythm Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros Music in New York in 2001. I flew over to New York and recorded my album there. Then Warner Bros liquidated them and that’s how the deal fell apart. I came back to SA and continued finishing the album here and we released in 2004. Since the release of my album I’ve been participating in many different aspects of music. I’ve been a backing vocalist on Idols, a vocal arranger for the SAMAs and I am a vocal producer for The Voice. I’ve been nominated for two SAMAs as well.
Kurt: I did work for the post production company that was working on The Shell Road to Fame. I saw her on TV.
Tima: It was the biggest national singing competition of its time.
Kurt: It was a bit dodgy because I was like who’s that girl? She’s only 16, and I was like 27. But it worked out when we get older. I did see her on the TV and I always had that innate longing to do music and singing and it was in that job that I was a runner, when I was cleaning my boss’ car,I was singing to a song on the radio and David Kramer and Taliep Peterson were on their way to an edit and they overheard me and asked the sound engineer who I was and it was amazing because I’d just recorded my very first demo, and he played it to them and then they invited me to audition for their brand new show Kat and the Kings. Six weeks later we were opening in Frankfurt and I did a three-year stint in Europe for Kat and the Kings. That was an amazing start to the industry. It was the right place and right time.
Did either of you do any studies? I think you were at UCT Kurt?
Kurt: I was at UCT. I unfortunately couldn’t finish the course because I couldn’t afford to which is why I went to work for the post production facility in Cape Town.
You should have burned stuff.
Kurt: No, I respect that place too much. There’s too much greatness that’s come from that place.
And then you’ve both been quite involved with Idols.
Kurt: Yes. What happened was before the Idols thing, when I came back from Germany I was supposed to do a movie called Gangs and Dances with a guy called James Ryan. But it fell through and I was literally trying to learn a new skill while I was looking for opportunities. So I went to learn how to do sound production for a year and I entered a show called Coca Cola Popstars. It was my last attempt and we ended up winning. I went on to be in the group 101 and that’s when I got to meet Tima at her recording studio while I was recording for that album.
Were you given any support or guidance as to how to work together as a band?
I think that’s where it failed. That’s a large part of these kind of shows in general. Is that there was no psychologist which I would have assigned to them. It’s like when you win the lottery, family members from all over the place, and it’s amazing because our neighbor in Northcliff actually won the lottery and then five years later he was broke.
Tima: No financial planning, no advisory, nothing.
Kurt: And it can cost you, both Tima and myself coming back from the States had to literally pick ourselves up and start again. And try and build our own brand. We know how long that takes. It took along time to build respect in the real industry.
Tima: But we did it together and it seems to be paying off.
Kurt: And that’s how we started working together and we’ve been singing in shows together and somehow people have affiliated our brand. Tima does her own thing as well but that’s how we got onto shows like Idols. And it’s hard work as well. These contestants complain about one song a week and we’re like guys sometimes we have to learn 30 songs in 3 days. So it’s like an average of 10 songs a day and you have to know it.
On to Always and Forever. I’ve chatted with Timothy before, he’s pretty awesome.
Both: Yes he is.
What’s the experience like to be doing this – how did it come about for you guys?
Kurt: To be quite honest Llewellyn was a bit naughty. He divulged some information to us before we got the phone call, he was just too excited and couldn’t contain it. He was like guys expect a phone call from Timothy Moloi. I went to a party and they were talking about this Luther Vandross tribute for his 40th and he wants you guys to be a part of the show.
Tima: He was like – when he calls act surprised.
Kurt: So of course when Tim called we were like – oooh! But the process has been unbelievable. There are a lot of tribute shows out there, that we’ve heard a lot of like ABBA but to be a part of a Luther Vandross tribute show is something that’s so rare and special. It’s a labour of love from all of us just to collaborate with the Colab Network and also just to help Tim fulfill his 40th birthday and work with the fabulous band. It’s a very difficult genre to try and emulate. The music is so big. It’s very specific. But we loved the process. It’s really awesome.
Tima: And now we know what to expect, having done that one show already.
You’ve got your own production company as well. Tell me more about that.
Kurt: Yes. Myself and Tima started an entertainment company in 2007 called Bluberry Entertainment. It started off purely from us wanting to create an artist profile and website, just so that clients have reference to send to their clients. But then we started seeing people wanting to pay more and more attention to our production skill.So we started producing our own shows for Sun International, quite a large extent of that has run over a period of four years in SA and it travelled abroad in 2013 and in that time we brought Llewellyn on board as our partner. Our specialized skills combined ended up creating a product that was appealing to our market, not only album work but also production and TV. I was invited to produce the Vodacom CEO awards which was one of the biggest corporate events in SA. We’ve produced quite a few albums for quite a few artists. We’ve worked with the likes of Danny K. On the TV show side, we’ve produced everything from Miss South Africa, Castle Lite, Flying Fish, Revlon commercials. Even The Voice have asked us to be the vocal producers for the show. On the writing and lyrical and arrangement side and myself on the production side, the team just works really well.
Kurt: And the Highway Heroes campaign for Regent Insurance. We created safety awareness for truck drivers on the roads to award drivers who have complied with safety with monetary values. Just to give an incentive to stay alert, stay sober. And there was an event we did for UNISA that was broadcast to 63 countries around the world. It was myself and Tima and Vicky Sampson. It was choirs and quite intense. We had to produce all this original African music and then appear in the show as well.
Is there anything else you guys would like to get across?
We’re working on the new Tima Reece album. The DJ Eddie Zondi, just a few days before he died he played a Tima Reece song and said Tima Reece if you’re out there, please make some more music. So we’ve got this one song that we want to dedicate to him and his family. And the original album has finally been placed on iTunes for the first time and the follow up album will be on there too. The first single release will come with the Luther launch at the end of this month.
To interview Jarrod Aston was a bucket list item for me. I’ve been a fan of Cinema (the band of which he was the lead singer from 1987 into the mid 90s) since 1987. I can recall (surreptitiously, probably) listening to David Gresham’s hit parade on a Thursday night on Radio Orion and the competition was between Cinema, Jason Donovan, Rick Astley and Belinda Carlisle. I idolized them, and their music is what helped make childhood great, and is still what helps make a stressful life easier to deal with today. For that I’m always grateful, and it’s my honour to give something back.
I recently discovered that you met the other members of Cinema at the iconic 702 Concert in the Park .
That was 1985 and I was with the band Face To Face playing drums, and Chris Frank and Ian Vine who were the original members of Cinema were playing with Pierre de Charmoy who I knew because we were with the same record label. We spoke backstage. The concert was amazing. I still remember it so vividly. There were 100,000 people there and it was black and white and coloured and Indian and young and old. It was absolutely amazing. The cops were dancing with people who were smoking joints. I was only 17 and I was oblivious to the whole political situation in a lot of ways. Looking back on that concert I realize what a ground breaking event it was, but now I do.
How did the name Cinema come about?
Singer and musician Trevor Rabin was part of a band called Rabbitt. When he left them he went to the States and became the guitarist for a band called Yes that had broken up previously and were reforming. They decided they couldn’t call themselves Yes, so they called themselves Cinema, and then at the last minute the lead vocalist decided to rejoin and they went back to calling themselves Yes, so we stole the name. I think they called one of their albums Cinema. It wasn’t named after us though.
You guys had a gig at Gold Reef City doing cover songs and then also wrote some originals.
I met up with Chris and Ian again about 8 months after Concert in the Park. They were having problems with their drummer, and asked would I be keen on drumming with them, so I said ‘cool, let me know, whenever you’re ready,’ and they phoned me to ask if I would like to come and play at their regular weekend gig at Gold Reef City, and I agreed. We were doing covers, the Eagles and Beatles, really nice stuff. We started writing songs and Chris had already written the basis of My Kind of Girl. It had a completely different vibe and I brought in a couple of rhythmic and other changes.
I started singing quite by default. It was one Sunday at the beer garden at Gold Reef City. I’d had a couple too many beers and Ian asked if I wanted to sing a song, so I sang John Lennon’s Imagine. Then Ian left the band soon after, and I became the lead vocalist with Cinema.
1987 – 1996 must have been a hectic time of life.
I don’t think we realized it. I look back at that part of my life and it seems like a different lifetime and think the clothes are funny. I think at the time it was cool – we all looked cool. And we look at our parents and wonder what they were wearing. So I guess that’s right. We were very lucky to have the success that we did. I always believe that success is not because of writing good songs or being a good band. It’s by virtue of the fact that people like what you do. We owe all of that to them. We wrote good songs and were good live and toured, but if it wasn’t for the fans coming out to the concerts or to buy our albums it wouldn’t have worked so well although I think Cinema did write good songs. My Kind of Girl still gets played on radio today.
Describe international success
Strangers Again was very successful for us overseas. We got to number one in South East Asia. We still get royalties for that song even now. It’s still getting played in the Philippines and Malaysia. It was a good time. And it only happened in about 1996.
How did that happen?
I think somebody must have picked it up and started playing it on the radio. I found out when I got a couple of fan letters from the Philippines saying they loved it. So the record label investigated it and found out we were being played. We toured there for 6 months in 1997. We worked with the band Boyzone who were also touring there. And we came back and I left the band. Chris had left the band in 1991 or 92, and I’d got tired. I’d had enough of politics and travelling, and I had a family. When we were living in Malaysia, it was a completely new culture – we were staying in apartments there and were travelling and in those days email wasn’t as available. It was very expensive to make a call on a cellphone back to SA, R50 or R60 a minute and the networks weren’t that great. But leaving was my choice. I’d had 12 years with Cinema and 2 years with Face to Face, so 16 years of my life was dedicated to playing in a band, but now I’ve moved on from there.
How has social media changed the way bands work now?
I manage Watershed, and we were recently saying how we wished bands embraced social media more. I don’t think they utilize it as much as they could. A lot of them have paid for likes so then it becomes saturated and content doesn’t filter to the actual fans. With Watershed we’ve tried to get rid of all the older likes which are not relevant. It’s a nice way to keep in touch with actual fans and share content and communicate. I was watching the Steve Jobs movie which was interesting as it starts in 1984 off launching the Macintosh 2. It changed the world and now we sit with these things that we can message America with. We don’t need people’s telephone numbers anymore. I love technology. I’m an absolute technonut. I embrace technology and know all the apps.
Back in the 80s when you were doing videos for songs like Inside and Out, that years later people would be looking on the Internet and scrutinizing things.
The intention was to get it out there and have it played on a Friday night on Pop Shop and maybe as a filler between TV shows. Inside and Out was a lot of fun, because we made up the video as we went along. We were on a beach and we just did what we felt like. Things like burying me in the sand and walking backwards into the sea, and falling down, and they reversed it so you saw us coming out of the water and walking up.
What sort of genre would you say you were?
I think Cinema was also kind of stuck between who we wanted to be. We didn’t really know if we wanted to be a pop band or a rock band, and so live our concerts were very energetic but the albums were more pop. We were more synth orientated on the albums and Mike, being a rock guitarist, would just absolutely blow it away live.
Have you played recently?
We played recently at the Rewind Concert in Johannesburg. It was great fun and I’m still in contact with some of the guys we worked with. But some of the stars are still living off their name in the 80s and unfortunately they’re not playing to 20,000 people any more, they’re playing to 800 or 1,000 and their egos get dented. Fans grow up and tend to mature. Even with Watershed and Parlotones -when they were at their height their fans were 15 or 16 and now they’re 25 or 26. They’ve moved on to liking bands like Mumford and Sons and not so much into Parlotones anymore.
We need a book to say how Cinema started. Did you ever think of that?
I’ve thought about writing a book about my experiences in the industry from the business side and also from the band side. I’m not sure that this side of my life would make for a great book but I do think at some stage to write the stuff down would be good. A lot of the stuff I’ve kind of forgotten as well. I still see Chris and Mike and Larry Rose often, and they’ll bring up things which I don’t remember, so I wish at the time I documented a lot more. Maybe to put something for kids to learn from would be good.
What would you say to people now going into the industry?
I think the big issue is that albums are not selling. It’s all gone digital. You’re now competing with millions of artists and you can get lost in that. I get asked for advice by new and current artists and I tell them you need good, well produced songs. If you don’t have good songs forget about it. Then it’s distribution, getting it out there, marketing it, get it on radio and TV, social media pages. The whole industry has changed, but it’s changed for the better. A lot of artists are saying it’s so difficult, but it’s not. If you look at Adele, her new album is good and it sold. She’s got great marketing, but it’s a great song. If you break that song down, it’s the perfect pop song. Lyrically it’s brilliant, melodically it’s brilliant, it starts off just with piano, and it builds to drums and it’s just such a great song. Well constructed with everything in it that takes it to the next level. Same thing about Justin Bieber’s songs, getting played because they’re good songs. Unfortunately, SA artists are competing with international artists. So it’s very difficult for South African artists to get the airtime that international artists get.
Do South African artists get the support they deserve from South African radio?
Generally SA stations play what’s happening in Europe and America. We released Watershed’s single in September 2015 and it was still charting on Algoa FM the last couple of weeks. Adele’s song was released in late November, early December, it charted, got to No 1 and came down the charts in 6 – 7 weeks. They’re fast tracking the international stuff to get it on the high rotation list. And Watershed were at no 20 and the next week no 19, then no 16. Their research is telling them the international stuff is getting more listeners than local stuff and I disagree because I think there’s a lot of local stuff that’s fantastic. I’m loving Jeremy Loops, Gangs of Ballet, Monarch, and Watershed’s new album is great. I wouldn’t have worked with them if I thought their album was rubbish. We struggle, like with 94.7, they say we’ll support it but they don’t – they didn’t even play the new single. It got to top ten on Algoa, Jacaranda’s playing it a lot, Highveld – not interested, Hot 91 are very supportive of the local stuff and even play some of the newer stuff. There’s lots of South African music that’s world class.
The solution is to get out of this mindset that local is lekker. That stigma will always be there until a South African band becomes hugely successful anywhere else in the world.No SA band has had massive success overseas. Seether’s had a bit of success and Ladysmith Black Mambazo have won Grammies but it hasn’t turned into huge success in SA in terms of radio play. When a band has a hit internationally it might change. It happened in Australia. INXS, John Farnham, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan and actors as well. We started to get there with Charlize and Sharlto Copley but it hasn’t happened with music and only when it does it will validate SA music.
It should have – you guys and Mango Groove and Little Sister should have all been up there with all of those guys.
I suppose we could have been if the political situation was different and if we had the opportunity to get out there, but we didn’t. There’s a lot of reasons for it, and I don’t know what the answer was really – there’s a lot of stuff. And also the only way to have success over there is to go there and live there.
Would the golden thread of humanity be something that is important to you? You made music in the 80s, but if someone hears My Kind of Girl now, they’re still going to feel something.
I like the analogy of the golden thread, because I think that is very important. My Kind of Girl was a simple song with a simple message. That’s why it resonated. When people can’t express themselves they let music do it. Songwriters tend to write from their heart and when they can touch on a struggle, that’s when that golden thread starts finding its way through. The human race has come to a point where we think things need to be intricate and complicated for things to fix themselves, and it’s not that. Everything’s become too complicated. Go back to a simple message of I sit in front of you and I hear you and want to understand you and I’m going to listen to what you say. Many times in my life I’ve realised that most of my conflict has come from the fact that I don’t listen to whoever I’m in conflict with. I don’t hear what they’re having to say. Wars are all around that. Rather than saying I want what you have, let’s find a way to come to some kind of common ground.
Tell me about Fluid Media
We do promotion and have brought out many acts like Foreigner, and there are quite a few big shows that we’re going to be working on this year. We have a corporate division; we’re booking all the top acts from Mi Casa to Parlotones to Prime Circle. We’ve got a hospitality division so we do catering, we do décor, we’ve got a technical division with sound lighting and staging. Corporates can contact us with a brief and can tell us if they need lighting, sound, etc. And we’ll put together a concept for them. Fluid Media website is the best place to go for information.
On a warm summer’s day I headed out to Joburg’s northern suburbs to catch up with a versatile, exciting South African talent who is well on his way to becoming a household name – Zak Hendrikz. I last chatted to him in September 2014 and since then he has been in Ballade vir ‘n Enkeling, Little Shop of Horrors, the Alison Botha film (forthcoming), Leon van Nierop’s “Hartebreker,” “Eintlik Nogal Baie”, has received numerous awards and nominations, and is running his own company – Pit Productions.
He is down to earth, friendly and an EXCELLENT entertainer, but I think it’s his work ethic and positive attitude that will see him achieve even more, and which makes Zak Hendrikz one of my favourite people in the world to interview.
Ja. Now I’ve done the film version as well. It’s being released this year in August. They’re calling it a hybrid documentary – it blurs the line between traditional documentary and crosses over into fiction. And it’s got a big screen release, which is brilliant because it’s not specifically a feature film.
I think it should be released at the time the rapists are coming up for parole again. They never seem to go away, do they?
No, they can stand for parole every single year. But the movie is happening and I’m really excited about it. It was done by Towerkop Productions and the director is Uga Carlini who was brilliant with all of us during the process specially during the disembowelment and raping scenes. I’m also excited about what Uga is doing with it – in post production she’s giving a whole fairy tale approach to it. I think people will find it fascinating, interesting and different.
The Alison journey has been with me for a very long time now and when I was doing it in theatre I always imagined the situation taking place. You have to create the picture, because you’re on stage in a black box. Then when I physically did the shoot and we got the right car, a Renault, we were in front of a church in the middle of the street and when I was standing there with the knife in my hand and interpreting the scenario I had this euphoric experience. It was the weirdest thing because for weeks I was playing this role, imagining the situation and then I was doing it in real life in a real environment and it was a very surreal experience for me. It felt wrong but it felt right.
Was it more intense than doing it in the theatre?
No, the theatre is more intense. You’re in one rhythm so you keep on doing it and there’s no ending, whereas with film you stop and cut and have to change angles, so you keep on repeating the same scene. In theatre you can’t do that. It was less intense although we were in the surroundings. In film there are so many sections that come into play. When you’re dong a movie like that with a hectic subject matter the message is the important thing but when you are physically doing it, to make it a little bit more relaxed for the actors is also quite important.
Yes. Pit Productions is a production company focussing on educational theatre. It has existed for the past 16 years, and last year the former owner said she’s moving to London and would I think about buying the company. So the company’s mine now. and what we do is the prescribed works for 2nd language Afrikaans learners in Grade 12 in IEB schools. This year we’re doing Hoopvol by Derick van der Walt and we’re also doing 8 of the 10 poems. We travel to schools and we do a 1.5 hour show doing the whole book or a section of the book. The teachers have seen the improvement it makes on the marks of the learners. If a teacher tells you something but you don’t understand the language, how can you get it? But as soon as you visualise something you can put the pictures in your head.
I need to prove to all the teachers that I’m also capable of running the company. You need to think of creative ways of interpreting the text, but also staying true to it. So it’s quite an awesome challenge as a director to approach something like this, and also it’s great material for the actors because it’s not children’s theatre or motivational theatre – it’s actually characters with bodies. We’ve got good bookings and it’s looking really good. And we are getting ready to go on a national tour in May and June.
How does that impact on all your other work?
It’s tricky. At this moment in time I’m doing everything including the administration which I can always do over weekends and evenings. I gave the script writing to another actor who has been with Pit Productions for two years and he knows my style of directing. I was going to be in the production itself but other stuff came up and I put a good team together for it. I’m surrounding myself with people I trust and who believe in the project in order to make the product be the best it possibly can if I’m not there. They love the company for what it is and what it’s done for them so I know they’ve got my back.
I also like the sound of your radio play, Leon van Nierop’s (who wrote Ballade vir ‘n Enkeling) “Hartebreker”.
It’s every day from a Monday to a Friday at 09:50 on RSG. You can download all the episodes on the website. I play the role of Zirk Vermeulen. It was supposed to be six months but the response from the public was so great, they’ve now extended it indefinitely. We have so much fun and I think it comes across how we enjoy working with each other. I’d never done radio before. If you do radio and TV and theatre and all different genres – everyone thinks it all falls into the same category, but it’s not. So the first time we came into the studio and there was a big glass window and Leon van Nierop was sitting on the other side with the two sound engineers. I was in the other room and looking around and thinking this room is really messy. What’s all this junk doing here? Not knowing that all of that stuff that was there was actually props that they use to make every day sounds. When you want to scribble on something, you can’t just scribble so you’ve got to revert to other things. What I didn’t realise was that as we two actors were recording, the third actor would be doing the sound effects using those props, like if my character was turning a page the third person would be making the sound effect. And one of my favourite bits is the end of a radio drama episode because you have a little bit more leeway to interpret stuff with your voice. You need to deliver that last line almost as a drum roll, in a way to keep the audience hanging.
I loved you as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors.
It was a bucket list role. When you go for the audition you can see who your competition is, and you respect those performers. And you don’t always get the role because you were necessarily the best out of the lot. There could have been three people that could have been equally as good as you but everybody brings something else to the table. The last time I think I freaked out about getting a role was with Ballade, because I knew that from a career perspective a role like that was going to be important. But with Little Shop of Horrors it was a personal victory. It was really fun playing that role, but I must admit it was also hard. It’s so over the top but you need to deal with it with real emotions, where do you strike the balance?
You have got quite a lot of awards.
I got a Naledi award nomination last year for best supporting actor in a play or a musical for my role as Frans du Toit in I Have Life. And recently I got the BroadwayWorld.com award for best supporting actor in a musical for my role as the dentist in LSOH and I was also awarded one of the Best Actors of 2015 by DieReviewer.com for the same role. Then I was nominated for a Twitter Toekenning Hashtag award for Gavin Greeff in Ballade vir ‘n Enkeling. And I’m hoping for a Fleur du Cap nomination (which he got the day after we did the interview!)
What advice have you got for others?
I believe firmly if you put it out there and say, “I’m not going to be a desperate actor, I will put the right energies into the universe,” it will be given to you. Be focussed and know what you want and put it out there, it will come to you tenfold.
Zak as Dewald van der Walt in Eintlik Nogal Baie
What’s up next for you?
We shot a movie now with Andre Lotter and Marissa Drummond called Eintlik Nogal Baie and that’s being released at the end of October. It’s a romantic drama – not your normal romantic comedy and that’s also something people can look forward to.
I can’t say which one because it still needs to be aired, but I’m starting to shoot an Afrikaans soapie in a week’s time which is really cool because if you tell people an actor they always ask you which soapie you’ve been in.
I’m also doing Droomkind again at the Teatro in September. The musical was done at the State Theatre two years ago but they’ve now changed a bit of the script and we’re going to have a live band and they’re lifting the production up a level. It’s such a beautiful story. It’s the story of Joseph but it’s playing off in the Karoo and it’s going to be absolutely brilliant.
In a bio by Steve Leggett, Carly Ritter is described like this, in part: The daughter of actor John Ritter and the granddaughter of Tex Ritter, her childhood was one where creativity was encouraged. She was raised in Los Angeles and attended high school in Santa Monica, then left for New York following graduation, attending Vassar and spending her junior year abroad in Scotland. Her debut album, the self-titled Carly Ritter, which included guest contributions not only from Juliette and Joachim, but also father Ry, as well as Robert Francis, was released by Vanguard Records in 2013 and is available for purchase on Amazon.com (http://smarturl.it/CarlyRitter.AMZ) and iTunes (http://smarturl.it/CarlyRitter.iTunes ).
I describe her as kind, loving and sincere – and one of the people I would dearly love to meet in person. Through this John Ritter tribute site, I have made many, many wonderful and sweet connections which add a lot of colour to life. Being able to connect with, and feature, his daughter Carly is possibly one of the most wonderful moments of my life. I contacted Carly because of John and discovered that she is a person who I admire and respect greatly in her own right.
Your entire family is creative and this site is inspired by your dad John Ritter. Your grandfather was Tex Ritter (Singing Cowboy) and your mom Nancy Morgan is also an actress. Did your parents actively encourage creativity and how would you say this influenced your decision to become a singer?
My parents encouraged creativity, yes, and also encouraged us to pursue whatever we were excited about, whatever brought us joy. I feel very fortunate that I grew up knowing whatever path I chose, I had my family’s support. Honestly, I think my parents put more emphasis on what kind of people my brothers and I were in the world over what careers we chose. Whether I became a singer or a nurse or a UN Ambassador (other dreams of mine!), it was more important to my parents how we treated other people. In any job you can be kind, loving, and generous. That’s what is important; that’s what really matters. Not what you do, but the heart you put into it. That being said, after years of doing mostly non-profit work, I did feel a desire for creative expression, and music has been such a joy for me. A way for me to be creative and also, hopefully, touch other people and make a small, positive impact.
Your brothers Tyler and Jason are both actors (and Tex was as well) – when and where did you realise that you wanted to go into music – and by so doing honour your granddad? Would acting be something you’d consider in the future?
I loved acting growing up, but as I became more and more self-conscious and insecure in my teenage years I gave it up. That’s when music became a respite for me. I would come home from a day of high school and play piano for hours to process all that teenage angst! I loved (and still love) music partly because it’s something I can make, and keep, in private. But I guess in my very late twenties, once I started writing my own songs, I was at a point where I figured I had nothing to lose by sharing them! And could only grow and improve by putting myself out there. The last few years have been a wild, intense, and wonderful learning curve for me. It’s been so special feeling connected to my grandfather, who I never met but have learned so much more about in the years since I started making music. As far as acting goes, and as I’m learning with music, to get great at any art takes years of dedication. Right now I’m working hard to improve my writing, singing, and playing – with still so far to go! I’ve watched my brothers grow profoundly as actors as they’ve studied and worked at that craft, so I really appreciate the serious commitment it takes to ‘act naturally,’ as Buck Owens (and, of course, Ringo) sang. So I’m happy giving my time and attention to music for now, and will leave acting to the pros!
Did you follow a creative line during your education?
During college, I took a lot of visual art classes and classes in music and art history, but I actually majored in Religion. I certainly didn’t plan on that, but my Freshman year the Religion Department had a class called “Love: The Concept and Practice” and another called “Religious Responses to Suffering and Death” and I couldn’t believe I could get college credit for studying the subjects I spend most of my time thinking about anyway!
How would you describe finding your own way in the world from young teenager to successful adult, growing up with a very famous dad who had a famous dad of his own? I think that there must be a number of pitfalls in being the child of a wellknown person, but you and your brothers seem to have navigated these very well, and not only that, you honour the previous generations too just by the very work that you do. Do you have any comments or insights about that?
I think I’m still finding my way in the world, but I’m getting more comfortable with the idea that perhaps I’ll always be stumbling along, doing my best and trying to learn from my mistakes while clumsily moving forward. It certainly helps the navigation process having grown up with parents who loved us unconditionally and told us so all the live-long day. They protected us as best they could from some of the dark and shallow sides of fame, and they raised us with the idea that success is not how rich or famous you are, but how much love you put out into the world. There are definitely times I’ve felt like a failure, countless times I’ve embarrassed myself and let myself – and others – down. But then you just go on, and realize most people are much more forgiving and understanding than you’re giving them credit for. For the most part, people have forgiven how far off-key I’ve sung (perhaps never forgotten, but oh well!), so long as I’ve been kind. So I’d say, as you grow up, focus on love and you will always be a success! When I think of how many people I love in my life, and who (at least seem to) love me back, what else really do I need? I may always sing out of pitch, but by the end of my life, I’ll be happiest if I’ve gotten close to mastering the art of loving other people well.
Country / folk music is specifically quite emotive and stories get told – and people FEEL. Your song “Princess of the Prairie” is one of my very favourite songs of all time, as it really moves me to feel that any little girl or woman can feel like a princess wherever she is in the world – she doesn’t need riches or glory. You strike me as someone with a lot of soul and a huge heart – is this another reason that you chose country music? (I guess what I’m trying to ask why you do what you do)
First of all, I can’t tell you how much your support and encouragement have meant to me over the past few years. I’m so touched that “Princess of the Prairie” is one of your favorite songs – and thank you for sharing it in South Africa! I am proud of the message of that song, and so happy that others have responded to it. And you’re right! I fell in love with folk and country music because of the masterful storytelling. More than singing and performing, I want to become a better songwriter. I want to tell great stories! We understand ourselves and each other better through story: we can see ourselves in the great heroic quests (from Odysseus to Luke Skywalker) and recognize our own pain in the tragic ballads from hundreds of years ago – where, even before Facebook, people felt the very same heartbreak! We learn from these stories, and are even transformed by them. That’s what this music has done for me and what I hope I can do with my music, as long as I keep working at it.
Carly Ritter – Princess of the Prairie
Is there anyone outside of your granddad who you would say had an influence on your music?
I could list 100 people who have influenced me, and it would only be the first ice cube off the tip of the iceberg. Juliette Commagere and Joachim Cooder, though, opened up so much for me. They are both such brilliant musicians, on a level I don’t think I even understood existed. They have really inspired me to learn more, listen to more, write more, sing more, play more… There was so much I didn’t even know that I didn’t know about music! So the doors they opened for me I will continue exploring the rest of my life, I’m sure.
Carly Ritter – Storms on the Ocean
In one of his interviews your dad spoke of the golden thread of humanity, which is really what my site’s all about – helping the people who tweak the golden thread of humanity get their message out. This is something he did fantastically well and which you do today in your music and your work. Is it something you actively try to do, and something he tried to instill in you (and your brothers) when you were kids?
It certainly means a lot that you think I tweak the golden thread! I hope I do. My dad definitely instilled in us how connected we all are and how great our capacity is for making a difference. In your art, if you move someone to tears, it can be a great catharsis. Of course, making people laugh might be the greatest gift of all. I know he hoped that even his silliest comedy brought some joy where joy was needed. And it did. I’ve heard from so many people about how much laughter my dad brought into their homes, how much they felt his sweetness of heart and loved him for it. I know in the depths of my grief over losing him, there were times I watched some video of him that made me laugh – when the idea of laughter seemed impossible – and that moment of lightness and joy helped me not only see that I could continue to live but even enjoy living. So my dad continues to pluck the golden thread even now. How powerful is that! With words and by example, our dad encouraged us to live a life that touches the thread of humanity and also makes it that much more golden.
The internet is something that was not available during the 80s and 90s but I think it’s something that we can use immensely today to tweak the golden thread. It has pitfalls and advantages though. How important is the internet to today’s artist?
The internet is so important – for all of us! At its best, it enables us to reach people around the world and share ideas, share what we’re creating, support one another, learn about each other. Just look at you and me! If all I got from the internet was a chance to know you, I’d feel lucky. I have to figure out, though, how to best utilize the internet and social media, so that it’s both something positive in my own life and that I’m not just cramming up other people’s feeds with my stream-of-consciousness blather. I know I’ve wasted a good amount of time on the internet, when I could have been more engaged in the world around me. You just gotta hope that being connected to the whole world online doesn’t disconnect you from the physical human beings standing around you waiting for you to look up from your phone. So I’m trying to figure out how to use social media more effectively and positively, because the potential for reaching people is huge – and I also want to be sure I step away from the computer and hug my mom and lots of trees on a regular basis.
Did I hear a rumour that you’re releasing some new music soon, and if so, when will it be available? Is there anything else in the pipeline we should be aware of?
Just last week we finished recording and mixing my second album, so hopefully I’ll be able to turn it around and release it relatively soon. I decided to make an album of all cover songs – old country and western and bluegrass music. It’s definitely a tip of the cowboy hat to my grandfather and his peers, and it was so much fun to make. It’s produced by Ry Cooder, Joachim Cooder, and Juliette Commagere, and we recorded it in Nashville with some of the finest musicians I’ll ever hear in my lifetime. I’ll keep you posted on its release once I figure out what I’m doing with it!
You’re involved in a lot of philanthropic and community activities all over the world – from fundraising for the Huntington’s Disease Society,Meals on Wheels, planting an olive tree in Beirut with family members of 9/11 and the Lebanese Civil War victims, working with children in Haiti – which I LOVE and these are just ones that I’ve seen on your FB page. Are there any others you’d like to mention – and how can members of the public get involved with supporting?
Wow, you did your research! Yes, I will always love participating in this kind of work and have been so fortunate to connect with such remarkable projects and organizations. My mom has been involved with Conservation International for over 20 years, and they do brilliant work with governments and people around the world to protect vital ecosystems so that nature can continue providing us with all that we depend on to survive. I became involved with the Vassar Haiti Project my senior year of college, and what they’ve done in a mountain village in Haiti is so inspiring. I volunteer periodically at Comfort Zone Camp, a camp for kids who have lost a parent or sibling, and the importance of their work can’t be overstated. I’m always happy to talk about these causes: firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you actively follow any “words to live by” and if so, what influenced your choice? (mine are ‘live with love and laughter’ – which I strive for, but often don’t get right!)
I might have to steal your “words to live by,” I really love that one… And the best we can do is strive – no one gets it right all the time! I guess my main one is simply “LOVE!” and I blame/thank my family for that. J
I’m also sending you a piece of a letter my dad wrote me while I was at summer camp in Estes Park, Colorado. He was responding to some world tragedy (not sure which one, sadly) – you can see where so much of what we’ve talked about in this interview came from. How very, very lucky I’ve been…
We had the pleasure of speaking to Giles Taylor who portrays Freddie Mercury and the show’s tour manager Ben Hopper who sat with us to discuss how they manage to keep the Queen magic alive.
Welcome to South Africa. The show has toured NZ, Australia, Singapore, Canada. How long has the show been going?
With this particular cast it has been going give or take two years. We’ve only had a couple of weeks off here or there to reorganize songs in the show. If we go to a different country what would have been a hit in SA might not have been a hit in Australia so we juggle it up to keep it fresh for ourselves and also for the audience. There’s always those staple five or six songs that were famous all over the world, Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You, everyone knows those. But then other songs were big in Europe but in the States no one knows them.
How do you prepare for this kind of show and for the role of Freddie in particular??
Ben: It’s not so bad when we’re doing residencies, although the production side does take a lot longer when we’re touring, it’s go go all the time. We’re doing four or five shows a week in different places, it’s difficult for the guys and we’ve got to make sure that they’re all ready for the show. In some respects, having a run like here is easier, but it’s a different kind of pressure. This is our last city in SA before we leave on February 8 and then we’re off to Europe. We were in PE and we opened the Opera House.
Giles: In terms of preparing before you go on stage there’s a certain point that every performer has where they flip from being themselves into being whatever character they’re playing. For me it’s as soon as I dye my moustache black. It’s the last thing I do of my makeup really. So all I after to do after that is basically put my costumes on and I’m good to go.
It’s probably hard not to get too sunk into being Freddie Mercury. Do you find that you lose some of yourself or do you have like a guideline to sort of say okay stop now, that you can keep your own personality?
I think if you’re going to emulate someone as big as that then you literally have to be as much like them as you possibly can for those two hours of the show.There’s certainly elements – it’s not a very stringent script we have, the producer has given me a lot of leeway to have some banter. So from that side of things, although I say things that Freddie would have said and do them in the mannerisms he would have used, there’s definitely a bit of me that comes across. The aim is to try and keep it as close to 100% as possible though.
Do you have a favourite Queen song and why?
My favourite one is Fat Bottomed Girls, simply because it’s always a hit wherever we go in the world. We don’t have to change it or take it out. And it’s the first Queen song I remember hearing.
Have you always been a Queen fan?–
Yeah, my father had a copy of Queen’s greatest hits, so I was subjected to that on my drive to school for God knows how many years. Your first exposure to music is generally what your parents have, what you scratch around and find in their cupboards.
Freddie Mercury started from this small beginning in Zanzibar to become this massive person. Would you say he would influence people to think I can start from a place like South Africa and be whoever I want to be?
He was certainly very positive in his attitude and knew what he wanted to be and would tell people what he wanted to be even before he was anywhere near being that. So I think if you know what you want, and you’re prepared to work, you can achieve anything no matter where you’re from. I would not really say it was a rags to riches story though as his father had a good paying job at the post office and they shipped back to the UK and everything was there for them.
I think having encouraging parents helps any child to develop. You have to guide them when they’re still learning regarding what’s right and what’s wrong. And every birthday he would send his mother flowers, religiously. I think he rebelled a bit against the rigidity of the relationship but he would never forget her birthday. And I think his relationship with his father was a lot more fluid, there was no stress there. It was an easier relationship. I know my parents were very encouraging of my music but at the same time were like please just have something to fall back on at the very least. Music may or may not bear fruit, so at least have a plan B. My law degree is a fall back.
Was he quite an enigmatic sort of character?
There was effectively two Freddie Mercurys and this comes from Peter Freestone who was his personal assistant for 12 years. He’s on our production team. The introverted shy Freddie Mercury who was quietly sitting at home playing with his cat and didn’t want to talk to anyone, and then there was his flip side, the extrovert Freddie Mercurywho was the flamboyant, theatrical Freddie Mercury who brought us the Queen Magic that we know and love.
Just a question about taking on his persona. Do you find that you adopt some of that yourself or do you leave that on the stage?
No, there’s traces. You take it with you sometimes yeah. I probably don’t realize.
The music was in a way ahead of their time.
It’s timeless. It was and we’ve certainly helped them, and the real Queen is still out there touring so the resurgence doesn’t do us any harm. At the same time there’s a very different market, they’re doing two completely different things which is great.
What would have been the reason for him to change his name from Farokh Bulsara to Freddie Mercury?
When the family moved back to the UK, I think it was a lot easier, plus he wasn’t a particularly religious man, his mother was, his father wasn’t so I think he was going for this neutral new British image. It helped with the enigma and he definitely would have had a stage name, as well the same as Elton John and Cliff Richard.
He was an excellent artist and studied graphic and fashion design. He could have gone in any direction. Do you think he had to make a choice?
He used to have a market stall where he basically sold all of his own designs. He basically designed the majority of his own costumes.
It’s that drive.
Some people are just annoyingly good at everything they do. No, I think it comes down to one’s personality, do you have drive or not, or somewhere in-between. He was clearly very driven and knew what he wanted to do.
Ben: And if you’re creative as well, artists want to express their creativity, don’t they, so if you express it on the stage or through designing clothes – people like that just want to get their stuff out there, don’t they.
Not this time as we don’t have an orchestra. We’re coming back in 2017 with an orchestra so we’ll do it then. It’s one of those things you can’t do half arsed, and we don’t want to use tracks or anything. We like to do everything right. It was mind-blowing and so far from what they were known to do and yet they pulled it off. Much to the disgust of some opera singers, who criticize his technique but he’s probably got a bigger range than the lot of them. And the fluidity with which he does it is amazing.
Who will be the operatic singer? Do you have someone in mind?
Depends who’s available at the time, obviously we’ll be trying to use the best person who’s available.
How did you discover you could be Freddie Mercury?
I do all the songs in the style of Yoda. No, sorry. I had too much coffee this morning. I started singing when I was about 11 – 12. I started piano playing when I was five, so I’m predominantly a piano player. My singing style was predominantly pop and then I moved into West End theatre style which was very different to the way that Freddie sings. He’s got this amalgamation of pop, rock and operatic. So when we started doing the show we had a lot of vocal coaches to try and combine what I was doing into something that sounded like him because there is no one style that he does. The hardest thing is when you learn to do something, you have to unlearn other things to throw other bits in. That’s – unlearning is harder than learning, in my opinion. When you do something that’s now second nature, you now have to learn to do it a different way, that’s tricky. To start phrasing things in an operatic style but singing them in a pop voice is hard.
What have been the favourite songs in SA that you’ve performed? What have they really gone wild for?
The thing about SA is that as you know, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg are three completely different cities with three different cultures, so it’s amazing, like three different countries. So again what’s going to be a hit here is not going to be a hit in Cape Town, which is bizarre because it’s the same country. They all go for Fat Bottomed Girls, and Bohemian Rhapsody’s always a win.
Is there anything you would like to get across with the show that you yourself would like to put over?
I think ultimately what the show is is two hours of Queen’s best live performances.So it’s going to be all the hits and also some not hits, some B sides for all the Queen fans. If you are a Queen fan then you’re going to love it because it’s the closest thing you’ll get to seeing Queen live and if you’re not a Queen fan then I guarantee you’re going to recognize most of the songs, you just didn’t realize that they were Queen songs.
Ben: The way most Queen songs are written, the live version takes it to another level doesn’t it. You can feel that from the audience. It takes very little to get them out of their seats. They come to see a theatre show and then realize it’s a rock concert and then they just go wild.
Do you think without meaning to Freddie Mercury’s death brought some visibility to the AIDS cause?
Ben: It highlights the issues of it and people’s understanding would increase. It’s education. It’s all very well handing out condoms and stuff but you have to educate people about using them. Until that sinks in.
You’re going to find Joburg Theatre is a very good venue.
Ben: Showtime has done shows here before and that’s why we’ve come back over so many years. We’re well aware of the audience and the venue as a really good venue for our productions, because the amount of stuff we can do production wise on the stage is just mind-blowing. A great place to bring Queen Magic alive. Personally from a crew perspective this is one of the best theatres in the world to perform in because the in-house crew guys are excellent and from the management down it’s really a pleasure to play here, and the city and the audience as well. Their knowledge and the equipment they have here is really good. The things you can do on that stage is just incredible. Everybody comes for a good time and they get one.
How did the auditioning process work?
For all of the characters in the show, because it is literally the four members of the band, rather than having like Whitney Houston and a band, they held worldwide auditions. If you want the best that is available or the closest that there is to that character that they can get at the time, you must put in the work so to cut a long story short, it started off with a Skype audition, CVs and show reels and stuff like that, back and forth. For me the process lasted about eight months, a ridiculous amount of time, but if you’re going to search the whole world – if you’re going to do it right that’s how long it’s going to take.
Ben: We want to do the best show in the world. We want to be the best Queen tribute show in the world. And I think if you come and see our shows, you’ll agree that we are. Showtime’s got a reputation for all the shows and if we don’t have the right person, we’re not going to do the show.
Is there anything else you guys would like to get across?
Ben: We are paying tribute to Queen but we’re not just the run of a mill tribute show. We’re wowing audiences around the world, and have played shows on every continent bringing that Queen Magic. A lot of people come to tribute shows and don’t know how it’s going to go. Other tribute shows can lower expectations, but when they come to one of our shows, we take a lot of pride in our production and in the fulfilling of the roles. That’s why we scoured the world to get Giles. And we’re a world class production.
Catch the show on at The Joburg Theatre until 6 February.
This is such a hard post to write, but I’m sitting here on 11 January 2016, a date which will forever be known as the day that David Bowie died. The news on the radio this morning was a shocker. I wasn’t a huge fan, didn’t even like all his music. I’m not fanatical about him like I am about Rick Astley but am I suppose what you could call a mainstream fan. I liked Space Oddity, Labyrinth (the movie) and Peace on Earth which he did with Bing Crosby. He’s been around my whole life, a legend, dead at 69. Space Oddity always made me tearful, right from when I was little. I feel an empathy with his die hard fans because I know what it’s like to be a die hard fan. David Bowie’s die hard fans are going to grieve this as they would a family member. Because in a lot of cases, he would have been exactly that – he would have filled loneliness, given ‘advice’ by his music, guidance – in the absence of other such role models.
The songs going through my mind are, strangely, other people’s songs. Frank Sinatra’s My Way. David did it his way. Don McLean’s American Pie. It feels like the music died again today. Elton John’s music is spinning around my mind as I will forever associate the two of them together.
Let me start with the first thing. At least it can’t be said that I didn’t think of David since 198-whatever when I saw him in Labyrinth as so often seems to happen when celebrities die. Often they become obscure and when they pass, suddenly everyone’s their biggest fan. I did think of David – often at Christmas, and last Christmas I did a bit of research on him and shared his duet with Bing Crosby, which I’m placing here again.
This was something special – never to be repeated.
My interest in him was piqued and I went to find the answer to various things which I thought about in my youth, before Google, which now recurred to me. In doing so I was impressed at how good he looked and certainly didn’t find any reference to him being ill, which is one of the things that’s on my mind tonight – how bravely he must have borne his illness, without burdening the world with his problem. It speaks volumes of his character, and indeed, neither did my research yield any controversy about him – quite the opposite, it indicated to me that David Bowie had been of great help to the son of Marc Bolan (his contemporary) who he – quietly – supported financially after Marc Bolan passed away.
When I was a child, my parents would comment on the passing away of a celebrity, an actress they had known of, a singer. As children we’d say ‘oh shame’, and turn on the radio, and there’d be an interview with David Bowie, or turn on the TV and watch Mork and Mindy, with Robin Williams. The passing of these legends is synonymous with the passing of our childhoods and now it’s me who is mentioning names of legends passing away to my children.
David was the embodiment of an era, the 70s and the 80s, and his death means that again, there is one less icon left and that the time itself is passing away into the annals of history. More than that, to all intents and purposes he was a gentleman. The world needs those and it seems so unfair when one is taken.
He is a person who tweaked the golden thread of humanity . This much is evident by the huge outpouring of grief the world over. And he left us today and the world is sadder, less vibrant. Emptier.
David Bowie performed at Freddie Mercury’s tribute concert after his death from AIDS in 1992. And I’m hoping – suggesting? that we now hold a tribute concert for David, for cancer, the condition that killed him.
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.
Thankyou David Bowie, for all that you have given us. Thank you for living.
Thoughts are with his son Duncan Jones, wife Iman, daughter Alexandria, all of his family and friends – and fans. I’m sorry for your loss. David will always be remembered with love and fondness.