Godfrey Johnson The Shadow of Brel

UPDATE: A dream came true when I saw Godfrey Johnson with Pieter Dirk Uys in 50 Shades of Bambi.  I got to meet Godfrey who signed a CD for me! The CD’s been on permanent rotation in my computer ever since. 

 
For all you lucky folks in Durban, Godfrey will be at the Rhumbelow Theatre from 11 – 13 April. You’d be stupid to miss it. Godfrey’s a great entertainer, a great singer AND a great pianist.  It’s not often you get all three together in one person! 
Godfrey 2
 

I never cease to be amazed by the amount of talent we have in the world and when someone is doing the thing they are talented at, it’s just a joy to be a witness to. 

Some people are born to write, others are born to teach, still others are born to paint. 

Godfrey Johnson was born to be a musician. I saw him at The Old Mutual Theatre on the Square and sat enraptured and ENTERTAINED by a musician who is in a class above the run of the mill. It’s an honour to feature him on my blog. 
Godfrey 4Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer-songwriter who composed and performed literate, thoughtful, and theatrical songs that generated a large, devoted following in Belgium and France initially, and later throughout the world. How did you come to take an interest in Brel and interpret him? Tell us about the preparation and performing of “The Shadow of Brel”. 
I first heard the song “Seasons in The Sun” when I was a little boy and it definitely struck a chord. I remember feeling the sadness in the song. I didn’t understand the layers but it still managed to resonate. I rediscovere Brel in high school and was hooked, the stories, the amazing music and emotional rawness stays continues to inspire me. The director of “The Shadow of Brel”, Sanjin Muftic helped me structure the show. After one meeting it became clear to us that the power and depth of Brel’s work was enough and therefore decided against dialogue, props and anything else that could detract from the writing. I will be performing “The Shadow of Brel” in 2014 at various venues to be confirmed.The Minnie and Johnson show.

Emile Minnie is an ATKV Crescendo top 10 finalist as well as having released a number of albums including Dagbreek and Nagmusiek. Please tell us more about this collaboration. 

Godfrey 5I first saw Emile at a little venue in Greenpoint called “The Venue”. I was captivated by his originality and skill. The collaboration came easily, we both hate fuss and that makes for an ideal partnership. We laugh a great deal and avoid taking ourselves too seriously. Not only is Emile a superb pianist and singer but he is also an amazing and accomplished clarinetist. 


Please tell us something about your musical and theatrical training. How did you get into it and what suggestions would you have for youngsters wanting to get into the field? 

 I began piano lessons at the age of nine and ended up studying classical piano at UCT. I started performing when I was very little, playing in concerts, acting in school plays and I always loved being part of an artistic process in whatever capacity. I also used to host little puppet shows when I was little: I would write the script, play all the characters and direct myself. I forced the neighbours children to watch. I was an incredibly shy child but as soon as there was an audience, things changed. My first engagement was composing the score for Julie Barker’s “Die Koup Jy Mizz Allaiens Kompetisie” (1992) directed by James Blanckenberg, this was my introduction to musical theatre, literally thrown into the deep end. Being a stage manager at one point was also valuable training. My advice would be: know all the rules and then break them with originality and style and most importantly, you never stop learning. 

 Find your own voice. Don’t take your gifts for granted. Swanky outfits and a controversial life do not make a career – they are just cream on an unpredictable tart. 

Always respect management and technical staff as they are as much part of the product as you are. There is no space for dull diva behaviour, a bad reputation is very easy to develop and there is nothing less attractive than an ego with a mouth on a stage. A sense of humour is 
essential. 

Mimicking the appalling behaviour on most reality shows will not get you very far.


Love your audience, they pay your rent! 

As an artist, you have the ability to tweak the golden thread of humanity which runs through generations, continents, hearts and souls. This was a concept that actor John Ritter believed in – that intrinsically we are all connected and that as a performer he could make an impression on souls. I believe that somewhere herein lies the solution to many of the world’s problems and ask most people I interview about this. What are your thoughts on this golden thread? Do you want to shape the present and leave something for the future?

I believe that art has the power to educate, enlighten, entertain and transcend the boundaries of man made laws and prejudices. “The golden thread” is profound and it continues to connect artists and humanity from the past, present and future. If I take someone away from their sadness for even a brief moment then I am satisfied.  “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

Do you have any favourite or particular performances that stand out as favourites or favourite venues you like to perform in? 

godfrey 3I love unusual venues, I have performed in a laundromat, a toilet, a casino, a train, churches and many other strange places. At the moment my favourite venues are The Kalk Bay Theatre, “The Alexander Bar, The Alma Cafe and Evita se Perron, all in The Cape. The Hexagon in Pietermaritzburg. The Rhumbelow” in Durban and “The Auto and General Theatre On The Square” in Sandton. The Jermyn Street Theatre in London is also a favourite. All these venues are extremely well managed and special care is taken to make the artist feel as comfortable and as welcome as possible. My favourite shows are “Blonde Juan” (1995) which was directed by Megan Furniss and co starred Trevor du Buisson. Geoffrey Hyland’s “Kissed by Brel” with Claire Watling, “Flirting with Coward” and “Behind Every Man” both directed by Sanjin, “Stories of Crime and Passion” directed by Jon Keevy, “Noel and Marlene” and “Bambi Sings The FAK Songs” with Pieter-Dirk Uys, my shows with Emile and my most recent one man show, “Mr Johnson Presents” in which I included a lot more of my own writing. I love all my collaborations with Pieter-Dirk Uys. 


I have had the pleasure of seeing you play live, and your music is expressed with emotion, passion and movement. Sometimes when I write, it’s because there’s something inside me, or something that’s happened that I feel I need to express, or write about – a story which needs to be interpreted. Other times it’s more base. What drives you to get up and make beautiful music in such an expressive, moving way?

I remember “the need” to create and perform from the age of 5. I avoid analysing and I generally try and perform work that I really love. The stage is a sacred place and if you trust your director, the muses and the audience, things fall miraculously into space. Rehearsal is generally a good idea. 


Is there anything else in particular you’d like to mention or draw our attention to?

I am currently writing a musical, it is a daunting and exciting reality. I have also started on some short stories for children and I will be directing a few productions in the new year. 

Are there any upcoming shows or recordings that we can look forward to? 

Shows for 2014 include “50 Shades of Bambi” with Pieter-Dirk Uys at the Auto and General Theatre On The Square in Sandton, The Rhumbelow Theatre in Durban and a run in Namibia. Karen Jeynes has written a one man play based on the dancer Nijinsky called “Vaslav” and that will premier in 2014. It will be a wonderful challenge as I have no piano with me. 

 I have a CD, “The Shadow of Brel” which can be ordered from me. I am also working on my original CD.

If you love music and love to be entertained, then go and see Godfrey Johnson. He’ll carry you from your living room into a world of glamour and peace. 

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