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.
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.
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…
Jeremy Taylor set South Africa alight in the sixties with his song “Ag Pleez Deddy” (also known as “The Ballad of the Southern Suburbs”) and was then banished from South Africa for ridiculing apartheid. After two years on the West End stage in Wait A Minim, a South African musical revue, he became a leading entertainer on the British folk circuit with songs like “Jobsworth”. A change of government in 1979 led to his re-admittance to South Africa and from 1980 to 1994 he chronicled his life in Broederstroom, a farming area of the Transvaal, in a series of tales which were gradually woven into his one-man stage shows. These included Back In Town, Go For The Gap, Jeremy Taylor Stuff, Jeremy Taylor Entertains, An Evening With Jeremy Taylor and Broederstroom Diaries. For six years he was the television face of South Africa’s highest-selling brand of tea. He published the book Ag Pleez Deddy- Songs and Reflexions in 1992 and in 1994 returned to the UK. Jeremy and his wife are currently settled in the Loire valley of France. Credit: http://jeremytaylormusic.com/bio.php
When my brother and I were little we would plague my dad to put “Ag Pleez Daddy” on the record player – we loved it and the “VOETSEK” at the end was one of the highlights to wait for!
This version is exactly as I remember it on that turntable:
Jeremy Taylor is a legend and it’s my great honour to bring you this interview.
I was interested in the diverse reaction to Ag Pleez Daddy from all sorts of angles and government things like that, and it also outsold every Elvis song, so I guess it was popular among the people but maybe government weren’t so kind. Would you say that was an accurate way to say it.
It’s quite strange in a way, because it came from my early interest in the way people speak. I always had an interest in accents and when I came to South Africa in 1969, I was a teacher at St Martin’s School in Rossettenville and there I came across what I called the southern suburbs accent of the youngsters I was teaching and at that time I hadn’t really written many songs of my own at all. Then I thought it was quite strange that here in SA we had this accent which was completely unrepresented in song. And in fact not only unrepresented but it wasn’t even considered to be existing. It was considered some kind of disease. Nobody wanted to admit that the okies from the southern suburbs spoke like that and this accent was not recognised as even existing. The record company turned it down and it was only a year later when I twas singing it on stage and the audience responded so positively, it was only then that the record came in to record the show. When it finally broke, the record came out and its popularity was like a bush fire. It was the first time that South Africa had ever seen itself in the mirror. The first time that this accent had been used and recognised as existing. Suddenly South Africans could say hey that’s us, there we are. There was no shame in having their own culture. Culture was always considered to be somebody that came from overseas. SA didn’t believe it had any culture.
That’s very interesting – possibly to laugh at ourselves, which probably hadn’t happened before.
The political climate it was in was one of separation which was endemic to apartheid which insisted on racial purity and not only that but cultural purity and they didn’t want English and Afrikaans to mix. The fascinating thing about the language of the southern suburbs was the way that Afrikaans was in the English and used as slang and became part of the language, which the government and the authorities at the time didn’t want. They wanted to keep the languages separate and pure. It was very perplexing and also hilarious, from a satirical eye.
That’s probably why people reacted so well, suddenly there was something to validate them. The government I guess tried to pretend none of that ever happened.
Right, absolutely right.
Did I read that you became a criticizer of apartheid after that? How was that at the time?
To be honest I never saw myself as physically involved. I was not, and I still don’t think I was what you could call a political activist. Just a song writer and a satirist, having fun and enjoying being in South Africa. The fact that there was a common enemy in the shape of the government was something which meant I and my friends could have a go against them. I was like a court jester. I found so much to celebrate in South Africa. The government was a passing thing, it might take years and decades to pass, but like all political movements it will pass. There was the beauty of the landscape and the exhilaration of being there and being alive there. Those things and the music were more important to me than the other things.
I hadn’t realised until I read recently that you’d actually been banned from South Africa. How did that come about?
We had put a show on stage in South African and in 1964 and we eventually brought the show to London. And then I dropped anchor in London and stayed there with my family and then in 1970 I had appeared on TV in London and I had done a satirical speech posing really as a representative of the South African government explaining why apartheid was necessary in SA in a satirical way. I think someone then contacted the ministry of the interior and at that time it was Connie Mulder and then when I came to the airport in Johannesburg in 1970 I was kept waiting for six hours and then told to go home and I got on the first plane back to London and I wasn’t allowed back in then for the next 10 years. It was a very upsetting time for me because I was passionately fond of SA and it was harsh. I went along sometimes to the SA embassy in Trafalgar Square to try to question what had happened. It gave me an insight into how people were exiled from SA must have felt.
You did have great success in the UK as well. I’m impressed with you being able to satirize two countries. It’s hard enough to get a grasp on one situation. Were there similarities and differences between the two experiences?
The thing is that you actually satirize – the major difference between the two countries, SA was so isolated it brought that to the fore, because if you weren’t SA you were overseas. The SA society was extremely self conscious in a way the British society was not. It’s an old country, an old culture. But similarities are really human failings – all these things are common to every society and those were the sort of things that would make me sharpen my pencil.
I listened to your song Jobsworth again and I thought I know that’s meant for the British but anyone can fit into that. It was really funny.
And then you did come back to SA in 1980. What was the change?
It was when Vorster resigned because of the Muldergate crisis. The government was caught having finances in the newspaper the Citizen. And it was illegal so Vorster was forced to resign and PW Botha came in with a new group. So the new ones were a bit more enlightened, more progressive and there was a change in the embassy in London and the new ambassador was Dawie de Villiers, an ex Springbok scrumhalf. I went to see him at the embassy to ask why I was banned. I’d never had an explanation and he said man I never knew you were banned even. The ban was lifted, he said as far as they were concerned there is no ban, you can just come back to SA when you like. There was a change in attitude.
I think the 80s was quite a big decade for you in SA.
Yes professionally and in my personal life. I did lots of one man shows and I was very active and very involved. Extending my range on stage quite a lot. It was a good time.
The songs are pretty timeless. Go for the Gap. I listened to that again, I remember that from that time, and it’s still applicable.
How did you experience the 80s in SA as opposed to when you had been here previously?
There had been an enormous change and loosening up in SA. The 70s in SA was a time of intense oppression and a very fierce style of government. The 80s were a period of loosening up. Towards the end of the 80s all the apartheid laws were being repealed one by one and the only law they could not see a way to repeal was the one man one vote situation. They could not bring themselves to give non white people the vote, because for obvious reasons they realised they’d be signing their own death warrant. In all other respects, group areas and job reservations, and the immorality act was scrapped eventually. All those strange draconian laws were got rid of one by one. It was a period of hope.
Is there any performance or event or song that stands out for you during your career?
I don’t think so. There was that much I enjoyed doing. I enjoyed doing most of them. You mentioned Go for the Gap, that was a fun song. I enjoyed that. I even did a song called I am PW I am, a song about PW Botha.
I read that you performed a few years ago here. Is that correct?
Yes, I performed there three years ago and did a concert in Johannesburg. The last show of all there was an electrical power failure and it was done by candlelight. I don’t sing any more. I haven’t performed now for about two years. If you can use the word retirement in terms of – actors and performers, I don’t think you really can.
I think that we’ve got a nice young crop of new people coming up now and they wouldn’t have had the chance if hadn’t been for you guys who built the platform before. They can stand on your shoulders.
I don’t know that much as I haven’t been much in SA but I’ve seen Trevor Noah and I know of his routines. He has more credibility than I had, and a lot more connection to SA perhaps from his early life than I had. He seems so very very funny. I am very much aware of the fact that my time in SA was spent at a particularly poignant period in SA’s history and this period will never come again. A sad period in South Africa’s life and a small chapter really, the years of apartheid. They were really intense and they were intensely moving. The apartheid years are not just bad years by any means. In all sorts of ways it brought out the best in people as well as the worst. That time is gone. We don’t know what’s going to happen in South Africa. If they go on like they are then the country is going to end up bankrupt and in a sorry state but the thing about SA is one must never discount the unpredictable.
I chatted to Yvonne Chaka Chaka and she had a very similar response to that same question of what can we do now and that’s very interesting to me.
There are a lot of good people and good intentions. And I think the great hope for SA has always been the fact that power has never been invested in one particular group. Usually power is for all the wrong reasons. The biggest enemy in SA right now is corruption. What do you do about that, the answer is you can’t do very much, you just have to carry on doing what South Africans have always done is live as good a life as you can and try and uphold standards as much as you can.
Do people still come up to you and talk about Joko Tea?
Not where I live in France now, but if I meet South Africans, yes. It’s strange how that ad should be in people’s memories and imaginations. I didn’t really understand it so well at the time it was happening to me. But I understand it better now.
Is there anything that you would like to get across in this interview?
I think the main thing that I’d like to get across is thatSouth Africa mustn’t despair.The inclination at the moment must be very strong but you have to just get on with the things that you can do and do them as best you can. The advantage SA’s always had is that power itself has always been a good judiciary. The press has been very free, even through the apartheid years there was free press and it’s very important that justice has to be seen to be done as well. One has to have the channels of communication staying wide open. The great hero in SA’s history was Steve Biko.He didn’t bother with politics, he didn’t pay attention – he set up medical centres and educational centres and set up practical things. He didn’t try and change the whole country by advocating violent turns or anything like that.
I was thinking the other day how different things might have been if he was the president now.
Absolutely. I don’t know if he was cut out to be president, he was more hands on that but he to me was the main man. Many of the others are interested in power and not so interested in doing good. You need somebody at the top who is inspiring and who can lead the right way. That person may come, you see. He may come at any time.
Some of you may have noticed that we had a big site issue and the site was down for a good few days. But the good news is we are back (though some posts and pictures are still missing and will be added soon) and can now publish this review on Burn The Floor! You only have one day left to see it in Joburg – so get to it!
Crafted over the past two years by groundbreaking choreographers Jason Gilkison and Peta Roby, the hit dance sensation is currently performing to rapturous European and American audiences.
Burn the Floor’s Executive Producer Nic Notley says, “The new show is totally different than our last production that came to Joburg, and will blow the roof off the theatre! It has the same rebellious spirit, though more daring with a more theatrical rock angle – we have also designed a new set, new costumes and new music including Santana, Janis Joplin, Christina Aguilera and Led Zeppelin. Don’t think twice about returning to see the show – it will be a great night out, I promise!”
Burn the Floor has the reputation of being the “worlds toughest dance show” and the dancers are handpicked to embrace a new Latin American feel. The producers are delighted to have a South African performing on the world tour.
Johannes Radebe, along with his Strictly Come Dancing celebrity partner Leigh-Anne Williams, have had the South African television viewing public on the edge of their seats each week with their deft dance moves and crept into everyone’s hearts as a firm favourite, right up until their were declared runners-up in the recent final held on Friday August 7th.
Peta Roby, Burn the Floor’s Director says, “Johannes is a choreographer’s dream and with his spellbinding charisma and dance skills to match, it does not get a lot better! The audiences are in for a visual treat – South Africa has some extraordinary dance talent that I want the world to see.”
Burn The Floor – “Fire in the Ballroom” will run on The Mandela stage at Joburg Theatre from September 16th to October 3rd.
My friend Lornette Joseph attended the show and wrote this poignant piece about it.
WOW to the infinite degree! When given the opportunity to see ‘Burn the Floor’ on opening night, I jumped at the opportunity. Friends had said how wonderful it would be, other had booked their tickets weeks before. I had no idea what to expect, I did no research into the event, and I’m so-so when it comes to watching dancing.
The first half was simply amazing, the show started off slow and steady, and by intermission my pulse was racing, my heart in my throat, and I was exhausted from just watching this amazing performance. When Johannes Radebe appeared on stage for the first time, I thought the crowds would leap up on stage, they were so excited to see him. What we had expected as the ‘norm’ from him on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ was nothing compared to the performance that he gave. I have yet to see someone so happy and completely at home and comfortable on stage as Johannes was – dancing his heart out. The first half moved along quickly, almost too quickly, I didn’t want it to end.
The second half of the performance was a lot shorter, also much slower from the pace of the first half. The singers rendition of ‘Carmen’ was very unusual, almost like heavy metal, and a bit wicked and wild, which threw me off for a bit as I am a fan of the Opera, but I found I actually like it towards the end of the piece. The second half of the show was, in my opinion, less energetic, almost as if the dancers were tired but it did pick up towards the end.
The music matched the dance routines very well, and both singers did a wonderful job. All the dancers were out of this world, but it was definitely Johannes’ big night.
The fluidity of the moves, the complete trust the dancers had in each other, the energy, style, rhythm; all these elements made for a most enjoyable evening, a definite see for young and old and the only thing going through my mind “When can I go back and see it again?!”
When I had the chance to interview Branden James in 2014 for The Colab Network, I listened to a few of his songs and went armed with a few questions. I liked his style but didn’t know all that much about him. I left as a fan for life. That’s the impression he as a person and a musician had on me. It didn’t matter that he was one of the Twelve Tenors or had been a finalist on America’s Got Talent. All that was testament to his talent (and in my opinion he should have won America’s Got Talent) but even if he’d been singing on the street and I’d heard him there, I’d have known he was one of the best.
So I was thrilled when the opportunity came along to review his EP! It’s an absolute honour to be asked to write about someone as talented as this.
Branden says “I really thought about the word crossover and what that means to me. I wanted to take the musical styles I’ve been influenced by and fuse them together without neglecting the fact that I’m a classically trained singer. What came out of my pen were elements of pop, folk, Americana and even a hint of country.”
With that in mind, I think Branden achieved that and more with this collection of beautiful, sensitively written and sung tracks. The EP as a whole is a lovely mix of contemporary and classical songs written or co-written by Branden James (except “The Night” which was written by Katy Stephan and “Why You Had to Change My World” which was written by, and a big hit of, Branden’s grandfather – country star Jimmy Smith.)
“You Belong” is a very comforting song especially to those who sometimes wonder where their place in the world is– and indeed, what they are doing here. Loneliness is a sad place to be and the song makes the listener feel that he or she is not misplaced in the world.
“The Night” has a folksy, upbeat feel to it and is a nice fit after the slower “You Belong”
“Where Are You Now” is a no brainer for me. We’ve had a couple of losses in our family this year. Very recently we had to put our beloved dog down which has been completely shattering. I found myself listening to this and smiling and thinking of her. Anybody who has experienced any form of loss or is missing anybody in any way will find this very relatable, soothing and healing.
“Another Chance” describes a situation to which we can all relate, probably particularly in our teenage and young adult years – how many chances do we give someone or something? The song sums up that range of emotion in a moving, meaningful way which will stick with people.
“It’s Beautiful Tonight” contains some artistic imagery that takes the mind to another place. I loved the line “I’m staring at a frozen sky” which really made me think ‘yes. It IS beautiful tonight.’
“Why You Had to Change My World” is a beautiful cover of the Jimmy Smith original with a traditional moving country feel. This is a lovely tribute to a grandfather who had a large impact on Branden’s life and clearly passed on talent!!
There is something for everyone in this peaceful, moving EP by a highly talented musician.
Reviews are supposed to have some sort of criticism included to make them balanced, but the only thing I could find wrong is that the EP doesn’t go on longer. I am ‘just a fan’ without any musical knowledge but I do know that Branden James as a musician is a cut above the rest. So I enlisted the help of a professional musician, Jean Collen, to do this piece justice.
Here is what she has to say.
Branden James has a beautiful voice with clear diction and he sings each of the six songs in Crossover with sincere emotion. It is obvious that his classical vocal training has stood him in good stead performing songs in widely differing styles with equal flair. Not only does he perform the songs but he has co-written most of them. The last song in the collection, Why You Had to Change My World was written by his grandfather, Country and Western singer, Jimmy Smith is performed with a very apt accompaniment. For me, the revival of Branden’s grandfather’s hit song was the cherry on the top of a wonderful collection.
The accompaniments are innovative. Branden has gathered a group of fine musicians and backing singers to support him in this unique collection. I particularly liked the use of the ‘cello in various songs. The guitar accompaniment in Another Chance is particularly pleasing. Branden is a gifted and musical performer and I feel sure that Crossover will have wide appeal.
Jean Collen is a musician and retired teacher of classical singing and piano. She has written several books about her friends and singing teachers, the great British duettists, Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, and a series of novels and short stories – all with a musical theme. The latter books are written under the pen name of Fiona Compton.
Branden James’ EP Crossover will be available for pre-order starting August 6th on iTunes. Sales will begin August 18th. It will also be available at the following outlets: YouTube Music Key, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play, Rdio, Deezer, Xbox Music, Rhapsody, eMusic, Simfy Africa, iHeartRadio, MixRadio, MediaNet, VerveLife, Tidal, Gracenote, Shazam, 7Digital, Juke, JB Hi-Fi, Slacker, Guvera, KKBox, Akazoo, Anghami, Spinlet, Neurotic Media, Yandex, Target Music, ClaroMusica, Play.me, Zvooq, Saavn, 8tracks, NMusic, Amazon On Demand
Excitingly, Nub Records have given permission to share one of the songs, Better By Now, here. Larry Weiss’ music is always so relatable to our every day lives, which is always something that never ceases to surprise me as just an ordinary fangirl – that celebs face just the same challenges as we do. Very many of us will be able to relate to Better By Now:
Living in Nashville was a challenge to an outsider like myself. It’s very political here, although a wonderful place to be creative. After a few years had gone by with little attention paid to my songwriting, I was feeling sorry for myself, and wrote this elaborate piece. I enlisted the talents of Tom Hensley who played keyboards on my first album, ‘Black & Blue Suite’, as well as Hugh McCracken. The guitar solo was by Phil Brown. It is one of my favorite cuts as well as a part of the song score for my musical. These days, with the economy crunch and so many people out of work and disillusioned, I believe it strikes a common chord in many of us.