A chat with Tracey-Lee Oliver of Supreme Divas

I love going along to the Bluberry Entertainment Studios (where Kurt Herman and Tima Reece have their base). It’s a place of calm and of discipline, and you just know magic is happening there, including the wonderful Lions anthem which Kurt wrote and performs in.  Magic was happening there on the day I went through too, as it was the first day of rehearsal for SUPREME DIVAS! If anyone can produce an event with big songs, these guys can.

Taking centre stage will be the insanely talented vocalists Tia Herman, Lelo Ramasimong, Tracey-Lee Oliver and Elizca Coetzer, with Marianthe Panas.

It’s another incredible collaboration between Joburg Theatre and The Colab Network and there are just four performances from 11 Aug 2016 to Sun 14 Aug 2016, so make your booking now by visiting Joburg Theatre or calling 0861 670 670.

Tracey-Lee Oliver, born and bred in Grabouw, has been on stage for many years as a session singer, the lead in musicals and as a casino singer. Recently, she ventured into musical comedy with the assistance of well-known stand-up comedian Jason Goliath. She’s also recently performed in The Voice in which she auditioned with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, one of her father’s (who passed away four years ago)  favourite songs. It was also played at her parents’ wedding.

Please give me a background – you’re in singing and comedy and TV. What would you say is your background?

Definitely the singing. I started with singing in church and in school. When I was 25 I came up to Joburg. I’ve been here for like 10 years. I think I had a real hunger to kind of just explore what was outside of Grabouw (where I was born and raised) because I knew that wasn’t just it. I wanted to see the rest of the world. Cape Town have more independent plays and things than what we do up here. I feel like it’s a bit more commercial up here.

Would you say Afrikaans Idol was your introduction into the industry?

No, I did a reality show before that – in 2004 I did a reality show called Project Fame and it was on M-Net. There was only one season of it and it was a cross between Idol and Big Brother, because they had this concept of putting contestants in a house and putting 24 hour cameras on them. I actually made the top 5 in that one and did Afrikaans Idol in 2006. I think at the time I wasn’t actually as sure as I am now what it is that I want to contribute to the industry and to music, so I think it was just another opportunity to have exposure and reintroduce the people to who I was at the time. 


Do you prefer TV or live?

I’ve been very blessed to be able to get into the television scene. I’ve always been curious about TV, but definitely live performance, because it’s a bit more dangerous and risky but the payoff is immediate so you get an immediate response from the audience. And since doing my comedy, I think that has just taken me to another level based on my observation of how to read a crowd. It’s gotten me a bit better, because with comedy if they don’t laugh then that’s it. It’s over and then you have to deal with embarrassment.  Comedy is way more terrifying than singing.  Jason Goliath was the one that got me into comedy. We met and basically got along very well and he told me you’re actually a funny girl and you sing really well. I think you should do musical comedy and it worked for me because. I’d always done impressions and been the kind of kid who had entertained herself in her room. I didn’t really have any friends growing up. I think that was a choice that I made. Playing with kids wasn’t as stimulating as me sitting in the room and entertaining myself. I had one brother and a sister who are way older than me and I’m the baby of the family. Comedy is brutal but it’s the best pay off. When you hear that laughter from a joke that you came up with that’s the best.

Do you have a favourite out of the three things you’re doing?

Singing is the easiest, but I don’t know if I want to go with the easiest. I think I’m really finding my niche with the comedy. I get to do both – make people laugh and sing. It’s comedy and singing. I get the best of both.  My favourite comedian is from Durban – Celeste Ntuli. She is A-MAZING. She has this very heavy Zulu English accent which you really have to concentrate but she is my favourite female comedian.

It must be quite a demanding lifestyle. How do you stay disciplined and balanced, and fit?

Fit wise, I got it from my mom. My mom was very slim when she was my age. But not talking is one thing that I’ve been doing that I didn’t even realise was a discipline but whenever I’m not doing shows I stay at home and don’t talk the whole day. I’ll pick when I go out and hang out with friends.  Not singing or talking on the phone. Nothing. I’ll tell people to Whatsapp me. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years and I just thought I was being grumpy to be honest. But I realised it was my body saying to me shut up for two days so that you can preserve your voice. Our industry is very demanding in the sense of socialising. It’s also networking in a sense, and I know how taxing that can be on artists. Sometimes you can say no – sorry I have to chill or I won’t be able to make it. You don’t have to tell them more.  Rest is so important.  I call it spiritual management and intellectual management. It’s like you need to give your psyche a rest sometimes. As good as it is to be together and hang out together it’s also important to get your privacy and just recharge. People don’t do that any more.

What can we expect from Supreme Divas?

You can expect five very talented South African ladies who are going to blow your socks off and show you that we are absolutely and utterly on par with international acts. (or better than – PS) People are going to come out and hear and jam to their favourite tunes. And get up and dance. It’s going to be an awesome show and it’s great working with a very old friend of mine Llewellyn George who is the musical director. I’ve known him for ten years and now is the first time we get a chance to work together.

How did you become involved in the Supreme Divas show?

This is when you have great friends in the industry. I’ve known Collett Dawson for five years now since we did Knights of Music. She’s just the greatest warmest person and always the same. We just hit it off when we met and always liked each other. She sent me a message saying I need to meet with you urgently, and I was like ‘what’s going on?’ So I met with her and she asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t even think twice about it. I know the quality shows that she puts on.

Is there anything else you’d like to get across in the interview?

You get four chances to come and watch the show and it’s going to be great value for money.

Catch Tracey-Lee in Supreme Divas 11 Aug 2016 to Sun 14 Aug 2016.  Make your booking now by visiting Joburg Theatre or calling 0861 670 670. For group bookings of 10 or more, please contact the theatre directly on (011) 877 6853/6815.



Jarrod Aston on Cinema, the 80s, today and so much more!

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.

Cinema From a Whisper to a Scream1987 – 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 Scanwasn’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.

Watershed and Roxette
Watershed recently played with Roxette. Source – Watershed FB page

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.

Jarrod Aston at Rewind
Source: RewindSA Facebook Page

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 my_kind_cinemanot 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.

JarrodDo 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.

Jarrod Aston Fluid Media EntertainmentTell 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.

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Some of Cinema’s music is available on iTunes

Related article: Interview with David Gresham – the Gruesome Gresh

Jeremy Taylor: South Africa mustn’t despair

Source: www.jeremytaylormusic.com
Source: www.jeremytaylormusic.com

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.

Jeremy Taylor 2That’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?

Jeremy Taylor 3We 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.

jeremy taylor joko teaDo 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 that South 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.

The Buzz – pop sensation!

IMG_5646When I went along to the studio to chat to the entertainers from The Buzz, I felt just like I imagine the journos from Smash Hits magazine must have felt back in the 80s when they interviewed guys like Rick Astley and Bros.

That’s just how exciting this group is – and that was exactly the vibe I felt in the room with them. The Buzz is a group of 11 musicians, and I also drew mental comparisons with another big group – Mango Groove. The Buzz has only been around since January this year, and they are going to be as popular as those performers!

It was just a fun experience to be there while the team arrived from their various activities to rehearse, and I immediately sensed that they are all committed to hard work and success and are ready and willing to put in as much effort as it needs to succeed in achieving their dream.  Far from the usual notion that young people aren’t willing to work hard, I went home inspired to work even harder myself.

The band is made up of 11 entertainers, and I chatted to 6 of them.


How old are you guys and are you still at school? 

Jason: I’m 19 and I finished school last year. I’m a full time student here at Stageworx. I used to be very interested in music, not from a young age, I used to model and after that I found a passion for entertaining. That’s what made me really want to start music.

Dom:     I’m 23, and I work in the industry.   I work for two different management companies, managing mainly mainstream artists. So HHP, the Graeme Watkins Project.  I work for Retrospect Media and Think Theatre. The Buzz is run by Think Theatre. I was in the Top 7 of Idols in 2012.. That started me in the industry and I formed a band called The Illustrators and then through Think Theatre, I then became part of The Buzz.

Jessica: I’m 17 and still in school. I come to study here, I do my academics here as well.

Deon:    I’m in Grade 11 right now. How I got involved was I actually know Kim (Watkins of Think Theatre) from about two or three years ago. I did a project with her husband from the Graeme Watkins band. After that I was invited back to do a presenters course and so ever since then I stayed in contact on Facebook with Kim and Graeme and in the beginning of the year I saw they were having these auditions.

Lisa:       I’m still in school and I come to Stageworx. I just started last year and I heard about it the beginning of this year via email and auditioned, and got in.


Siebs:    I’m 19. I home school now. Cambridge is very hard and it needs a lot of time. I did go to school and this year I just decided to do it from home because it’s just easier that way. It has its days.   I do come to Stageworks for Trinity exams, I take lessons with Gemma (Donnelly – Director and Principal of Stageworx).

What is The Buzz actually? What are you guys actually doing?

Siebs:    We like to call ourselves a pop group and we basically sing cover songs of up and coming music and all that kind of stuff. We enjoy having fun and performing with people, that’s basically what it’s all about.  We had auditions. Gemma sent out an email saying what the concept was and asked for auditions.

Sifiso:    The Buzz is run by Kim, and Gemma, under Stageworx.

Dom:     One of Think Theatre’s mandates every year is to conceptualise a band to really fill the gap in the market. A couple of years ago they started Swing City. They felt that there as a need for a Swing Group and then they started that in conjunction with some other management companies and then last year they started a concept group Shoowop Shop with Melissa Alison, Tamara Day and Mariechan.  So this is the latest project by Think Theatre and because of the massive resources of talent that Stageworx attracts in terms of young people, after they saw the gap in the market, they saw this would be a great place to source the individuals they would like in the group. So the two companies working together sort of spawned what is now The Buzz.

And the auditions were completely open auditions as well. I think we must stress that. It wasn’t something that was exclusive to Stageworx students. It was something that they felt the platform of Stageworx as a theatre school and as a performing arts school was good in order to really find the resources in terms of people that could form it.

Sifiso:    It’s not also just a school project or something. It’s young professionals. If you look at your Glee, your Pitch Perfect, and it is growing because the group only started this year but they’ve been performing many gigs already like Nickfest. They’re going to be dong a big corporate next week as well.  Which we are all looking forward to. And right now we’re also just trying to get schools to book for spring, assemblies and stuff, and trying to also get the around South Africa. So they’ve been performing quite a lot. And they were communicating with some of the guys in Stageworx for Born To Perform as well. They’ve been on TV, so it’s getting out there. We want also to go to the target market the youth.

Dom:     Something that’s been stressed is that they want to create young professionals. One of Gemma’s driving goals with everything is to realise that you can work with young professionals. You can work with teenagers and people on a professional point of view. I think that’s something that Stageworx wants to gain with The Buzz. Show the industry that young people aren’t always a hassle. They should be able to be hired to do these sort of things.

Siebs:    And young people are talented enough to be given work and be on time for things and you know –

Sifiso:    They’re lucky because they’re working with Graeme Watkins, Nathan Ro, Cito – everyone who is there, Gemma, in the theatre industry –

What would you say has been your best experience so far?

Jessica: I think it was Nickfest. Nickolodeon Festival at the Silverstar Casino. Mi Casa was there – and basically we performed for the little children and stuff like that. It was an amazing experience.

Dom:     It was like a South African version of the Kids Choice Award, to a certain extent. It was kind of run by Nickolodeon.  And it was really the first big platform for us and we fell right into a market that was exactly where we want to be. That’s why it was such a special experience for all of us as well.

Siebs:    Dora was there, Sponge Bob was there, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To transport kids to be on the scene of Nickolodeon.

Deon:    I think that was definitely one of the biggest experiences. I think though in general when we’re all together as a family there’s nothing better. We just all click so much.

Lisa:       Well said. I think we all have something different about ourselves, we’re not all the same. That’s what makes us amazingly different.  It’s cool getting the experience and being professional and knowing what you’re doing and everything.

Jason:   And having fun.

Jessica: Performing in front of people and engaging in what you’re doing. You don’t often get to perform on stage and have people have to look at you.  We all started in school plays and stuff. I’ve been with Gemma now since I was 11 and she does stage productions every year. That’s how I started off.

Siebs:    We spend more time with each other outside of school than our other friends.

Dom:     Nickfest was an hour and a half show and then there’d be two cycles, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. And you would buy tickets and you could take pictures, and there were performance by characters on Nickolodeon.  Across the board the response was great. And also there were a lot of celebrities getting slimed in aid of Nelson Mandela Children’s fund as well. The response from the celebs was also great. Industry professionals that took notice.

Have you started recording your new album yet?

Sifiso:    It’s in process and will be before the end of the year. We’ve got Graeme writing some of the stuff, and the guys also are being mentored to write their own music. We will be going to studio.

Dom:     Our whole show is completely live vocals and choreographed by industry professionals too. It’s a balance of both. IT’s a 45 minute spectacle I would say.

Siebs:    We’re all lead singers and we all get a chance to shine. It’s like One Direction meets Glee meets Pitch Perfect. It’s really nice to kind of have all the aspects of the different musicians that are out there.

Jason:   It also depends on the song, who sings what.

Do you have favourite songs that you prefer to do?

Jessica: We do have a set –

Dom:     In terms of response, One Direction, Steal My Girl. At the Nickfest, not just from our point of view as performance, but from a response point of view, One Direction was huge. The biggest response we got.

steal my girl
Crowd going wild as The Buzz sing Steal My Girl at Nickfest

How do you fit it in with all your school work and that stuff?

Siebs:    I guess we’ll have a meeting with Gemma and Kim and they’ll say this is coming up and we need rehearsals for this and this – who is free on this day, usually we have rehearsals on a Tuesday and before we were doing the gigs, we did on Saturdays and Sundays as well. It’s a process because there’s 11 people and 11 timetables to juggle.

Jason:   But the group’s also been put together as to say where if three people can’t make it it doesn’t mean that’s it. We have a set that’s very flexible and we’re prepared to put the work in to kind of make something work.  As you would as an industry professional who would be prepared to put the time in and take it in their stride. That’s the emphasis we’re trying to get with that. I hope it will become a trend where kids will sit in the crowd and look up to us and go ‘wow, look at that,’ but I think that’s something that we want to achieve purely from a performance, work ethic professionalism point of view. If you do something that can be admired, it will be admired. If a 10 year old boy looks up at Jason or Phillip, and until then he didn’t think it was possible then what an unbelievable bonus.

Beach party

Siebs:    I guess also the thing we’re trying to put out is that you can do anything, if you put your mind to it and you work hard for it.

Jessica: It also gives a chance for them to find their way into the industry.

Sifiso:    Also nice to be earning at a very young age! There’s a stigma if you’re in the arts you’re going to face a bleak future and it’s not. You can follow your dreams.

Dom:     I was very fortunate to have parents that kind of said if that’s what you want to do go for it and every one of the people in the group has parents completely behind them, whereas I think 15 years ago it probably wouldn’t have been the case. That for me is really refreshing. They’re very much a cog in the wheel of what is The Buzz.

Sifiso:    The Buzz parents have been very supportive and they are very involved.

Siebs:    Parents are also learning. I’m the oldest in my family and nobody else wants to be in entertainment. They are learning that not everybody wants to be a doctor or an accountant, not everybody is the same.

Jason:   I’ve been bowled over by parents not even blinking an eye to travel over an hour, for example Deon lives in Vereeniging. Every performance he’s here without fail, every rehearsal.

Jessica: We’ve also been very fortunate to have Gemma and Kim to help us. We have everything we need to rehearse and practice, if you’re struggling or something like that.

What happens if you get people who say you can’t do this?

Siebs:    We’ve been very lucky because we haven’t got something like that before. I’ve had like family members say – they told me no it’s very hard but I stuck to my guns and work hard towards it. We all work hard.  We’ve got a lot of support, anything that we put our minds together if we do it we get it done.

Deon:    We’re still starting out, once we get bigger we will kind of get that doubt from other people but now we’re still very fresh in our ideas and very much in the group.

If you are a corporate and you want to book The Buzz you can contact Kim here.

You can follow The Buzz across all social media outlets: Instagram / Twitter / Facebook

N is for Never Gonna Give You Up

N is for Never Gonna Give You Up (and no, this is not a Rickroll).

For the uninitiated, Never Gonna Give You Up was a 1987 song by British singer Rick Astley. It’s the song that catapulted me into listening to pop music. We all have that song, yes? Think back, and tell me which song it was for you.

Those were heady days back then, as I think I’ve mentioned in another post. The mid to late 80s were an awesome time to be young. There was a lot of good movies, a lot of good music, and a lot of great TV. I was breaking the mould of my childhood then. I was the child of an Hons Degree music teacher mother and a father who was just becoming more eclectic in his taste by discovering (and trying to foist on me) classical composers like Glazunov, I found the bubblegum, upbeat pop music of the day much more to my taste! And Never Gonna Give You Up came out at just about the right time to be the vehicle of my ride out of my parents opinion into my own.

Never Gonna Give You Up” was written and produced by Stock, Aitken & Waterman. The song was released as the first single from Astley’s multi-million selling debut album, Whenever You Need Somebody. The song was a worldwide number-one hit, initially in the singer’s native United Kingdom in 1987, where it stayed at number 1 for 5 weeks and was the best-selling single of that year. It eventually topped the charts in 25 countries, including the US and West Germany. [Wikipedia]  The song rode the airwaves like a bucking broncho back in those days. And then, like most of its counterparts, it slid into the annals of pop history. 

Until the internet picked it to be the song to be used whenever you wanted to Rickroll somebody. This is an internet based prank whereby you point somebody to a link and tell them that the link is about something they may be interested in. For example, you may know your friend is keen on Brad Pitt, so you send them a link and say it’s the latest about Brangelina. But when they click on it, it takes them to a youtube video of Never Gonna Give You Up.   Due to this phenomenon, in 2008, Rick Astley won the MTV EMA awards for “Best Act Ever” with the song “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Click here to read more about Rickrolling

There is another pop culture related phenomenon about “Never Gonna Give You Up” though. It’s become synonymous with an era where things were perceived to be good, honest, and innocent (I lived it, so I know it wasn’t always like that!) But the song itself tweaks the golden thread of humanity which is partly what this blog is about – the ability of musicians, artists, etc to be able to touch on the emotions of humans across all generations with their work. I don’t think this was Rick Astley’s intention when he made the song. I think he has unknowingly done it – and today the song signifies the good that people feel is lacking in today’s society. As long term fans of his, Rick never did give us up. He was always there, his music was there to see us through thick and thin where other people certainly did give us up, run around and desert us. That is the magic of music. That’s why it means so much to me. That song has strongly drawn the golden thread through generations, and if there’s one thing I’d like people to take from this post, is that if you find one day that there is nobody around, music is around. Music will never give you up. 

There is a well known internet meme about it: 

Interestingly, while Never Gonna Give You Up was initially my favourite Rick song, today I still think he has a fantastic voice but I prefer some of his slower tracks. I guess I’m getting older! Rick Astley would lend you any of his Pixar movies, but he’s never gonna give you Up. I will never give Rick up. 

Now That’s What I Call Music! Turns 30. A look through time.

Now That’s What I Call A Long Time.

Most of us have grown up with the Now That’s What I Call Music! (Now! for short) compilations. Can’t actually remember a time when we didn’t have them, and it’s not surprising, since the first one came out in 1983. (I’m talking the UK here guys, and other parts of the world – Europe, and South Africa). The Now! series didn’t come out in the United States until 1998. In South Africa the series started in 1984. It should be noted that the numbers I’m referring to relate to the UK series in this article. 

It got me to thinking about what’s changed. The world has changed, and music has changed, although sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same. Music formats have definitely changed! Back in 1983, you probably bought the first album on vinyl or cassette. Today you’re probably buying it on CD or downloading it. 

The first album featured songs like Phil Collins’ You Can’t Hurry Love, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, and Mike Oldfield’s Moonlight Shadow There’s a lot on the internet already about the history of the Now! series, the changing record labels, the countries its been produced in, etc. (it was conceptualised by Virgin Records and the name based on an idea by Richard Branson – does that guy have a finger in EVERY pie?) 

I want to have a look at the changing times we’ve been through, all punctuated by the soundtrack of the Now! series. 

Back in 1983, I was 8 years old. I was in what was then Std 1, in apartheid South Africa. I had no idea at all about music and what I listened to was what was prescribed by my parents – Glazunov! and if I was lucky, Elvis, and the Beatles. However, my brother was a year older and had somehow escaped enough to be listening to the soundtrack of Rocky, and “Eye of the Tiger” featured in our lives. The first U.S. woman astronaut went into space as a crew member aboard space shuttle Challenger. Cagney and Lacey and Cheers were top of the TV charts. 

In 1985, we discovered there was a hole in the Ozone layer. Handsome leading man Rock Hudson became the first celebrity to die of AIDS. It was the year featured in the iconic Movie Back to the Future starring Michael J Fox which has become a cult classic. The movie featured Huey Lewis and the News, both in music and in a cameo role, and they in turn appeared on the 8th release of Now! in 1986. 

And Simple Minds “Don’t You Forget About Me” was on the Now Compilation – a song which has become synonymous with the campaign to find the missing British girl Madeleine McCann.  

In 1987, Now That’s What I Call Music 10 was released. This was my coming of age year when it comes to music. I was just becoming a teenager. It was a good year to come of age music wise. It was the year that the movie Dirty Dancing was released. Patrick Swayze was every girl’s crush. Features on the Now release of that year included Barcelona by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe, The Communards with Never Can Say Goodbye and T’Pau’s China In Your Hand among many other timeless songs. 

In 1989, in the world’s history, things were beginning to happen. The Berlin wall fell. The end of apartheid was in sight. George HW Bush was the 41st President of the United States and it was not long before the Gulf War – which was to many the start of the oil struggle in the Middle East which continues to this day. Did the music of the day reflect the good and the bad of the time? Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy, The Christians Harvest for the World and Yazz – The Only Way is Up, seem to reflect this. 

The mid 90s were an interesting time – in 1994, the first democratic elections in South Africa, and the ensuing few years were a great time. Perhaps not so much in America, where the Gulf War of 1991 and its aftermath were felt for a long time. Musically, we had a bit of bubble gum – perhaps it helped take our minds off the politics? Track listings on Now That’s What I Call Music 23 included Charles and Eddie – Would I Lie To You? and Billy Ray Cyrus – Achy Breaky Heart.

In 2001, 9/11 occurred and it had ramifications all over the world. Music of the day was definitely reflective of the fears and the coming together  of people.  For example, Five For Fighting’s Superman became an unofficial anthem about the disaster respondents. 

Today, politically we live in a more accepting world. Gay marriage is being recognised in most places of the world. Acceptance rather than rejection is perpetrated. A greener living is encouraged. But some countries still tend towards a dictatorial regime. And now That’s What I Call Music has just released its 86th compilation, having come full circle, with Miley Cyrus being featured – the daughter of Billy Ray who was featured years before. 

Back to the original premise that the more things change the more they stay the same, how much has pop music changed, really? Certainly I think things were more innocent back in the 80s, but let’s face it, Gaga is a reinvention of Madonna. Miley even rhymes with Kylie? And does the Biebs think he’s an original? Think again:

Now that’s what I call a lifetime, punctuated by some of the best sound in the world. 

The future is in our hands and one way we can make it better is by donating to worthy causes like the John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health. John Ritter’s the reason I started this blog and part of the reason is because the internet is an amazing platform to make a difference, so donate and support. Pay It Forward’s also great place to support.

Related article: Catching up with Ingi from Clout

Catching Up With Ingi from Clout!

Any South African who listened to music in the late 70s or early 80s, or who had parents who did, knows of the South African all girl band Clout.  Their biggest hit Substitute reached number one in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Belgium. Substitute was held to the #2 slot by the #1 “You’re The One That I Want”, from the hit musical film Grease on the UK Singles Chart and this success was followed by other major hits including Save Me, You’ve Got All of Me, Under Fire and Portable Radio. 

The original five members were Cindy AlterLee Tomlinson, Ingrid “Ingi” Herbst (now Brough)Glenda Hyam and Jenni Garson. I met with Ingi to chat about the band days and catch up! 

How did it all get started?

Well I’ve been playing drums from the age of 9. I actually met Cedric Samson, a drummer who has been at the forefront of South African music since the 1960s. He was in the band the Fireflies, and I started playing drums because my dad used to have a big party every year and a lot of his clients were musicians. They would come and set up their gear and play there, and then one night they came, we had a hell of a party and they all left all their equipment there. And when I woke up the drum kit was there, and I went and sat down and started fiddling around. And that’s where it all began. It was a natural thing for me, and I don’t know how my dad knew Cedric Samson’s father, but he told him to get his son to come and teach me and that was how it began. 

And how did Clout come about? 

Clout came about one night when I was sitting in Jody Wayne’s (who contributed huge hits to the South African market such as Patches, The Wedding Song and Tell Laura I Love Her) kitchen. He’d invited me and Glenda Miller at that time, the keyboard player. We were friends, and somehow the conversation got to bands, and the fact that there were no female bands, and Glenda and I sat there saying if men can do it, so can we. And we then started looking around and we heard about Lee, who at the time was playing with Metal Box House Holiday Inn. 

So one night Glenda and I went out to meet Lee, and then we had a possible bass player. Then we actually put out ads. Jenni and Cindy arrived, and we only needed one more person, but Cindy was the perfect front line person, and we didn’t say no. That’s how the band came about. The name itself refers to power, or to girl power. And within 3 – 4 months we had a big hit with Substitute. 

Clout was big from 1977 – 1981. Let’s face it, that was a crazy time in South African politics, being just about at the height of apartheid. Were you affected by the politics of the day?

Oh yes, we were. We weren’t allowed to play on British TV shows, like Top of the Pops. We were questioned quite often about what was happening and occasionally people would get quite tough about the politics. We were affected by the sanctions on South Africa. Top of the Pops in Britain acquired a video clip from Holland to present the hit song for their top ten countdown.

What was the most fun thing about touring?

It’s not really a fun thing about touring, touring is touring and its hectic. You’re on the road all the time. You’re supposed to look good all the time, no matter how many hours you haven’t slept, or how many gigs you’ve done. You can finish a gig at 11 and then the record company will then take you out to dinner and bowling at 12 at night. And then you get home and you’ve got to be at the airport at six to get to the next place to do a TV show and people waiting. I think the worst thing is always travelling on planes, it makes your hair flat. You get dehydrated if you fly or travel so much. We did Germany like that, we had to have a big bus, a Putco type bus. That was brilliant.  And we did gigs with a lot of other big bands at the time – ABBA, Boney M and Phil Linnit. They were good days! 

Ingi currently has her own business in the perfume industry. Contact her here. 

Clout music is available on Itunes

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