... Over 50 shows across South Africa with Doc MacLean...

Oct 22, 2017

Cape and Karoo: Round One

South Africa journal: note to myself. You never know what the gig will be out in the Karoo. Miles and miles of spectacular nothing, and then: this juke joint. Ronnies. Sex Shop, that is. Not Beverley Hills, not some snooty cafe on the Cape waterfront. Ronnies Sex Shop, Hwy 62, Karoo Desert. You could probably send a postcard to that address. It's dry here. Very dry, so Tim Parr and I drink Castle beer in the heat. Is it good? It's cold- and that's what they serve.

The piano is a bit jaked. Motorcycles roar up in a cloud of dust. Some German girl takes her bra off and gives it to the barman. Hey, the Blues is here. Nobody ever knows what they'll find in the Karoo. Or lose. Or leave behind. You never know what the gig will be, or what will happen next. She wants to take all of her clothes off for a photo. The barman is shaking his head, "you can't do that in here," and I'm wondering why not, or why not now? Like now now. She's got her top off and he's waving his hands. I'm wondering why not with me? The picture, that is. I'm thinking that some of my fans might drop me, but I'm not thinking all that clearly as I'm looking at her celtic tattoos and Tim grabs my arm. We've got a sound check to get to somewhere else down this blast furnace of a highway, and we've probably had too many Castle beers already. Well, more than likely too many Castle beers. Was anybody counting? It doesn't matter. Nothing matters quite enough. Nothing. Apparently not. No. But we roll ourselves out into the blinding light, and within moments the whole deal has vanished in the rear view mirror. Today, the blues is all about self-sacrifice and professionalism.


And After...

Soon enough the dust gives way to patches of green, to small farms and dorps. People walking on the roadsides, bundles high on their heads. At Ladismith, our hosts have decked out the stage in skulls, crossbones, and plastic garlands for the show. The side stage view is like a studio postcard by day, an observatory by night. A wicked, bright sky, with all the stars in the wrong places. And here, on the edge of the universe, it's a great little crowd and they hang on every word.

Post show, we sit up late and play some more. People are excited that I've got Tim Parr with me. He's pretty humble and low key, so it's easy to forget that he was a full-fledged rock star as a young man. As songwriter-guitarist for the band Elemental he once had major recording and publishing deals, lived in Hollywood, and played on major stages around the world. We met up last year at one of my Johannesburg shows and now, somehow, he's managed to sign on to a bunch of my tour dates! Ok, he had some down time, and we thought it might be nice to do a few shows together...

Tim's fans in South Africa have never forgotten him... That's Tim Parr? Would he play a few songs? What a wonderful way to finish our night. With a vocal delivery that suggests the vulnerability of a Neil Young, combined with the melodic wisdom of a Cat Stevens, his early success and continued fame are easily understood. I must admit that I feel kind of awkward having an artist of this stature along as guitarist companion- but we've become good friends and are having big fun on this little road trip. And he's a really good guitar player- I've had a more than a few of these! Sometimes the right people meet up in this world. 

Soon enough, we're moving on to another desert location: this one, near Barrydale. That's a town with probably the coolest hotel in the Karoo, the best used bookstore, and the most exotic milkshakes. But we're not staying- or playing- there. Instead, we are well beyond town in a stone and adobe structure perched half up a parched hill. Cacti crowd the parking lot. Mental note: wear shoes. I've hurt my calf in a running accident, so I'm limping badly as we arrive to set up for a two night engagement. Gimp man. I feel like an old blues singer today. Or at least I resemble some of the one's I used to know so well. A little bit. I limp. How cool is that? It's dead quiet. There's not a car in sight out on the highway. When the wind quits for a moment, I can hear the buzzing of winged insects.

Legend has it that the former owners of this property intended to open a Harley-Davidson dealership out here in the desert. Why? What were they thinking? In any event, they built this interesting structure out of stone. Slabs of shale were painstakingly combined to produce this image of an eagle. Today, small birds nest in the cracks- very much a living wall.

Tim and I make our way inside- also in search of life- but agreeing to settle for a cold drink. Or a decent cup of coffee...

Surprisingly, there are a few souls in the place already. Some, part of a diplomatic mission representing a country I can't name, had attended a meeting with representatives of some other countries, about something. But tonight, it's all about the blues- and we manage to seriously deplete the bar on their platinum expense accounts. Later: It is agreed that the World is a Better Place, after which we were, I believe, called upon to play several encores. I don't know what it was all about, but I made sure that Canada had a seat at the table. God knows we're great diplomats.

Tim is unsure as to whether or not South Africa got a great deal last night. I assure him that it did! I feel like a million bucks. Well, like a few thousand rand, anyway. We spend the morning with Karoo Saloon owners Janet and Marius Brewer- discussing plans for next year's tour through Namibia.

And, soon. It's the road again. Hwy 62. Naked blacktop, slashing the landscape.

It rains, everywhere except Cape Town. That's a cruel tease. Here, we pause for a moment above the sprawl of the city. It's beautiful, even under an angry sky.

Nothing about touring musicians- thank goodness...

Back in Cape Town. In spite of the drought, I see this city as lush. It is gorgeous, but certainly not what it has been. My friends Gill and John continue to teach me about water conservation. I'm motivated: it's partially my first world, urban Canadian guilt. I come from a place where water is cheap, plentiful, and good. But that's no reason to be careless with this resource, no reason to needlessly waste it. My habits have already changed since my first trip to Africa, but now- as this place becomes my place, too- my concerns are sharpened. I've learned to "flush when necessary." I've learned to save the basin water and pour it into the toilet tank, to take the dishwater out to the garden. I can brush my teeth with a couple of mouthfuls of water. It's not just about the place that you are in, but about the world we occupy together. I do believe that individual actions make a difference. Here, in the grip of water shortage, the community is pulling together like never before.

This little river runs through parts of Cape Town. Local efforts to clean up the channel, introduce indigenous plants, and restore a more natural environment have been very successful.

My friend Gill said she would take me out for dinner. Soon, next to an old church, we sheltered from the cold, evening wind. It's always windy in the Cape. Around us: the homeless, the lost, the broken, and the insane. Lump me today into any of these groups. Dressed in rags and feathers, blankets and bags. The bundles: carried, dropped, re-carried, lost and found by these people of the street. Greeting them by name, Gill introduces me to the gathering numbers on the stoep. There is nothing in this place to fear. Nothing much. If only one's own fall from grace.

The doors of the St. John mission can't open fast enough for these hungry souls. And soon, the pouring of the tea, the offering of prayer: trading a moment of divine salvation for a rice and chicken meal. One of my table mates, Eugene, an older, coloured man from Port Elizabeth, gracefully explains the history of music to me: how Satan was the first blues singer. Read about it in the Book of Revelations. Read about it in your Bible! The Sign of the Beast. Apparently not a bad thing. Like this meal. Apparently like me, and all these other souls- marked in some way by the Beast, but welcomed at God's table. Tables cleared, Eugene returns to sleep in dry cold of the park in which he preaches, and Gill and I make our way back to our lucky beds in Rosebank.

Next morning Gill, her daughter Catherine and I, head out into a region known as the Cape Town Flats. It's a large and storied area: inhospitable terrain developed in the apartheid era to facilitate the physical separation of races. Now: no longer a forced domicile, but a patchwork of mostly poverty stricken communities- scar tissues from one of the world's darkest times. Still open wounds that hobble the nation. Not a place I might of driven through by myself- although later in my Tour I am destined to return here alone. We're delivering a donated computer to a disabled young man that Catherine is tutoring. I bring him a couple of posters. Gill and Catherine assure me that travelling together, in the daylight, we are fine. And they are right. Today. Although crap can happen anywhere, at anytime, you can't let fear rule your life. These open, flat streets are pretty in the sun: little houses with brightly painted walls. Heavily fenced schools, their colourful murals obscured by the wire. People walking. How many more years will it take before this is a "rainbow" neighbourhood, not a "coloured" place? What keeps people here? Or keeps them out? History is here. Painted, and welded onto the walls, written on banners, and kept in the memories of those who bore witness.

In October of 1985 I played clubs up and down Toronto's Spadina Ave., Queen St., and in the late night wilds of Kensington Market. With my horn band, I did ten consecutive days in some of Montreal's best venues, and also found time to do a couple of shows in upstate New York. I think my first single, "Memphis Town," had just come out. While we were dancing and singing about getting laid, or not getting laid, and going to Memphis- unknown to us, others were dancing a much more serious dance.

On October 15, 1985, in Athlone, the area still bordered by Klipfontein Rd., Belgravia Rd, Thornton, and the Alex Sinton High School,  heavily armed security forces concealed themselves in a delivery truck. Driving into the centre of a student, anti-apartheid protest, they ambushed the gathering, shooting three young people dead and injuring scores of others. This became known as the Trojan Horse Massacre. As one who "comes from away," I wanted to stop at the site of this event. Why? I'm not exactly sure, but visiting historical sites does seem to provide a broader, more tactile understanding of what happened then- and what is happening now. There is a good sized memorial on this humble street. A group of not-in-school aged toughs, sit in front of it sharing a mid-day drink, a smoke. One hails me, "who are you? where you from?" I slide my camera deep into my pocket and reply that I'm from Canada, and that I wanted to see this place for myself. Ironically, I hear Drake blasting from the window of a passing car. "Nobody comes here," he said, standing up and checking me out. "Nobody." Gill and Catherine indicated that I should get back in the van, and ten minutes later I was making coffee in their kitchen.

I'm re-visiting Nelson Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," and I'm thinking how freedom means different things to different people in different places and times. Can it ever be unfettered, pure? By what standard do we measure it? By what means do we pursue it? Like Africa, it's complicated.

And, oh, yeah- I almost forget to mention that I've also been working! I've had a steady stream of media engagements to help advance my shows in the region- and people are curious about me. It's a big tour, and there is quite a bit of interest in my activities. Cape Town 24 News, the biggest news television/radio/media conglomerate in the Western Cape, have me in for an interview and a live session. They've got a splendid red sofa and the best studio view of the city!

Zone-FM was also cool. I've done this one before. With The Unicorn. Not only does it play locally, but it streams to a large audience of South African ex-pats around the world. Nice to have questions and comments coming in real time from both Europe and Plumbstead! I also do a lengthy session for EYE Radio, a fairly rad, downtown, Cape Town podcaster/broadcaster. This is an interesting, well packaged show, of about forty minutes. Media is changing, and so are the ways in which we interact with it. The Show, a Cape Town printcaster also do an interview. According to Facebook, I've now got more fans and followers in Cape Town than in Toronto. Go figure, eh? Cape Town has, for the most part, treated me really, really well. Nearly every performance is sold to capacity numbers. I'll be back in a couple of months time to try my luck again. It's an interesting scene, and I am impressed almost beyond words with the artists who call this place home, and who have welcomed me into this community.

The Barleycorn is Africa's oldest folk club. I play here because they treat me so well, and because of the storied history of this folk club. I'm in really, really good company on their long list of artists, so it's an honour to play here twice in as many years. I miss the many folk clubs and folk festivals I used to play in North America. My first gigs were in coffeehouses and folk clubs, so there's always a certain comfort and nostalgia that comes with such engagements. Different than the heady, trendy buzz of a massive OppiKoppi or a Glastonbury, but no less satisfying.

The rose lined streets of Rosebank. These roses often carry additional barbs, and are mounted upon truly shocking arbours. Just down this street is one of my favourite, Cape Town venues...

The Alma Cafe has a warm heart inside of it's tough exterior. Actually, one of my favourite rooms anywhere. This is how certain kinds of music and certain kinds of artists should be presented. I won't move on to a larger venue, I'll just book in for more nights. After the Alma, I'm up to Durbanville for a theatre show with Albert Frost. Crazy good. We looked at it as a little warm up for our later shows together, but it was pretty over the top. I wish we'd been able to record some of it. 

Up, over the mountain, for a show on the south side of the peninsula. It's a gorgeous drive up and over this thing, although the road has few places to stop and gawk. Those who live here are used to it, I suppose. Spoiled! Cape Town is certainly one of the prettiest cities in the world.

Tim Parr joins me for the last Cape Town region show on this leg of the Tour. I've missed him! The Gumstone is a beautiful new venue down in surfer territory. As a matter of fact, one of South Africa's best known rock 'n roll surfers also comes out to sit in: Robin Auld. South Africa did not have Jim Morrison, but it did have- and still does have- Robin Auld. I'm decorated with rock and pop royalty here tonight- and we sound great!! I've been looking forward to meeting up with Robin. He's been very helpful in advising me as to certain aspects of my African touring, but as he's on the road constantly, too, it's been hard for us to get into the same room at the same time! A great pleasure. As we did in the Karoo, we end the night with Tim entertaining the after-party by the bonfire. After a lifetime spent as a band leader, he's discovering his freedom as a solo artist, and loving it, and maybe finding his place in this brave new world.

And if you've read this far you may not need the Summary: Last week: several shows in the Cape Town region. Solo, and also with some great South African musicians. Variously, I was joined by Tim Parr, Robin Auld, and Albert Frost. Tim rode shotgun on my run across Hwy 62 to Ladismith, Barrydale, and Ronnies Sex Shop. Albert Frost and I did a little warmup for our upcoming North American tour at Die Boer Theatre in Durbanville. That was one of those blues moments. It wasn't just the quality red wine seeping out of the owner's special collection- although that might of helped. You never know what might wind up on the table in this game. Tim Parr and Robin Auld brought plenty of rock mojo to my Gumstone gig on the south peninsula...

On deck: back across the Karoo to pick up shows in Kimberly, Richmond, Bloemfontein... Into Limpopo and Pretoria by the weekend. I'm self driving another 40 dates across South Africa. Grand and humble: there are some amazing places looming on the schedule. Tin roofs. Dust and diesel. Spook en diesel. Bunnychow. I'll try to talk less and sing more!

Bet you North Americans didn't know that Dan Hill had this African release...

Oct 10, 2017

Purple Rain: Cross Bones in Africa

Africa is smiling at me. It's been raining hard on the tin roofs, and the dust has settled for a while. It's springtime, and the jacaronda trees are weeping purple tears. At night: twenty rounds in the distance. And someone else might be weeping. The steady crackle of the electric fencing. Morning brings the roosters, and then the rude cry of the ha-de-dah. Sunrise: impossibly early: the beggars already haunting the robots, a hungry world already on the move. But Africa is smiling at me. After a warm welcome at the Canadian High Commission of South Africa, I'm out to the bushvelt to play OppiKoppi- one of the world's great festivals.

OppiKoppi is set on a massive, and sprawling site. A tent city with street names and districts. I've got a wristband that seems to let me go anywhere. And I do. My friends, Black Cat Bone, turn in one of the most exciting rock performances I've witnessed in years. Next year's tour partner, guitar god Albert Frost, defends and proves his title as the King of OppiKoppi with a blistering performance. And my own turn: solo, in a sea of bands. What will happen here, I wondered? Well, Africa is smiling. And so am I. Later I learn that I've been voted one of the "Top Twenty" sets of OppiKoppi. I'll join this great festival again next year, perhaps with a band. Now: on to Cape Town and into the Great Karoo.

The Canadian High Commission of South Africa, at Pretoria. I'd like to say it's my home away from home. That's not quite true, but they do make me very welcome every year- and have played a much welcomed sponsorship role in this year's tour. Under purple trees: a fantastic staff, headed up by Madam High Commissioner Sandra McCardell, are doing valuable work here for Canada and the world. I believe that South Africa is destined to be one of the great nations of the next century- and that it may well lead the African continent into a much brighter, more productive future. Canada's social, political, cultural and economic ties to South Africa are important- and the benefits of this relationship serve both nations well. My South African friends and associates were in awe of Madam High Commissioner "call me Sandra" McCardell. I am blessed to be part of an arts and culture friendly nation... Especially one that runs a cool little joint- the Maple Bar- in the heart of diplomatic Pretoria!

Building bridges. This year I featured a very special, South African guest artist at my Reception/Tour Launch event. Albert Frost performed a solo set, as well as accompanying me in our CanAfrika Blues duo. Having been exposed to so many fine South African artists- and having had so many of them help me on my tours- I've become determined to help them export what they do. To this end I will be developing a little manual for South African artists to help explain the visa process, and to encourage them to tour Canada. Albert's appearance was intended to showcase and formally introduce South African performing artists to the Canadian High Commission- something he did superbly. The diplomatic community were captured by his professionalism, charm, and over the top performance.

Music critic Marinus Mans has become a good friend, and he constantly reminds me of the power of sheer determination. Like the majority of my media interviewers in South Africa, he has challenged me with deep, insightful questions about the blues, the first world, the third world, and my role as an artist and storyteller. Marinus was part of the media contingent that covered my Reception at the Canadian High Commission.

A nice, Canadian couple in Cape Town run Jack Black Brewing- one of the larger, and best, craft breweries in South Africa. By chance I hooked them up to the High Commission, and they now supply the Maple Bar inside the Canadian compound. Their support for me is also much appreciated! I only wish I could buy their beer in Canada... Now here's an export opportunity...

Jack Black does not make this beer. The iconic, punk-rock-pop band, Fokofpolisikar, has nurtured their own label across the land... Free cd with every 6 pack! Who was it that said "happy songs sell records, sad songs sell beer?"

Purple trees in Pretoria. A sure sign of spring. I'm not on the wrong side of the road- this is a one way street!

Nice to spend some time with Charles Bothner, of Paul Bothner Music. This is a nation wide, family run business which has sponsored my production gear for two years in a row. I very much like their stores and staff. Paul Bothner Music reminds me very much of the Canadian company, Long & McQuade- right down to their stock and their involvement in the local communities. Good people, and I'm very pleased to be associated with them. You'll see their banners behind me in many photos, I'm sure!

My publicist, Warren Gibson, of Plug Music, is doing an exceptional job of keeping me busy. I'm often up before the sun in order to do one of the big city drive shows, or I'm doing it on the way to sound check. Television, radio, print, web media- he's got me out there, somewhere, nearly every day. There's quite a bit of interest in this second, African tour.

Musician, writer, broadcaster, producer, promoter, blues woman, Charlie King (left) has been my guiding light in Johannesburg for a couple of years now. One of a handful of people who initially made it possible for me to make this leap into Africa. It's always about community, and I'm always thankful. Tours like mine involve a lot of people, and I could not do what I do on my own. Behind every successful touring artist there is a network of unsung heros. Charlie is one of those people. One of my first stops was her MIX-FM radio show!

KAYA-FM was probably the heavy hitter in the Johannesburg media appearances this year. Definitely the big one. The World Music show I appeared on had a fabulous playlist, too. I may see if I can stream this one... And now, really, I must get the rental car back to Tambo Airport, and board a cheap flight for Cape Town. Hopefully there will be enough juice on my credit card to pick up my main tour vehicle when I get there...