Valiant Swart is a South African legend, I saw him so many times between 1996 and 2006 that I can’t count them. We used to watch him at the big festivals like Wingerstok or Oppikoppie and he was always the highlight of the show. Some of my best memories of him were the small intimate acoustic gigs where he would sit with an acoustic guitar, play his songs and tell the audience stories of dope smoking small town sheriffs in the Mississippi Delta, or playing with Mel Botha’s to Tannies with purple hair at the old age home. He is brilliantly entertaining and simply just one of the nicest guys around.
Springbok Nude Girls
The Nudies were the best band in the country by a mile for a few years. We used to watch them at places like Mercury Live or the River Club and they were fantastic….. or they weren’t. It just depended on what happened on the night. Sometimes they would play the most obscure stuff that they had written but no-one knew, other times you would know the words to every song. It was a strange mix of music because of the combinations of metal guitar with keyboards and trumpet. Without doubt Adriaan Brand’s contribution to the band was massive. Like all really unique and brilliant bands it was an incredible mix of talents and personalities. When they were on form they were untouchable.
Saron Gas came blasting out of Jo’burg in about May 1999 and it was quite obvious very quickly that they were way to big for South Africa. They played probably their last gig under the name Saron Gas at the Whammy Bar and as documented in The Story of Rock and Roll I had a massive role in telling Shaun Morgan not to change their name from Saron Gas to Seether 🙂 Seether went on to be probably one of the most commercially successful bands the country has produced.
When I met 12th Avenue they were just a bunch of lighties playing at the Whammy bar and local bars in Tableview like Breakers and that pool bar that the Uninvited got shut down for being too loud in. Without doubt 12th Avenue were all about Mark Haze and he is one of those supremely talented guys who is just born in the wrong country. I used to watch them blast through classic rock covers better than the originals but it was their own stuff that really caught me. In another place and another time Mark could have fronted any major rock band from Purple to Zeppelin to Priest he just has that golden rock voice.
I first saw Koos at Wingerstok in about 1997, he played a blistering show with a full band and it was as energetic as it gets. He ran around with an SA flag as a cape and drank his bottle of Tassies. He took us through a set of his own brand of South African protest music. It was when he got close to the end of the show and had the whole field full of rabid, drunken students, drop-outs and miscellaneous hippies singing along to ‘Johnny is nie Dood Nie’ that I realised what genius we had up there on stage.
Piet Botha and Jackhammer
Another SA legend, Piet Botha had been around in SA music for a long time, I remember being with Metalmorphosis at an album launch party at Gates when Jackhammer played in about 1995 but they had already been going since 1984. They were great at Gates but to be honest at the time with my head in some pretty brutal metal like Pantera, Carcass, Metallica, Slayer etc. his brand of US blues rock didn’t really stand out. It was only about 5 years later after hearing him and talking to him in the Whammy Bar that I really got into what he was all about. Piet is the real deal, a man who has a passion for the music he loves and chose the difficult path of a professional musician singing original music in South Africa. To me he is our own version of Lemmy, a rock ‘n’ roll lifer who is respected by everyone and who tells it like it is. Respect \m/
The most influential band in South Africa is how I would describe Fokofpolisiekar. The impact they had on teenagers and specifically white Afrikaans teenagers is massive, as could be seen by the proliferation of copycat bands in the mid 2000’s . This is well documented in the Story of Rock and Roll so I won’t go into it here but just know that you are listening to one of the finest bands the country has ever produced in terms of originality, perseverance and a fuck you we’ll do it our way attitude.
This came a bit later chronologically, as explained in The Story of Rock and Roll once we got into SA music in a big way we never stopped listening to it after that so anything coming out from Valiant onwards we would just snap up. Aking arose from the remnants of Fokofpolisiekar when they decided to go in different directions. We had Francois and Wynand in Van Coke Kartel, Hunter and Snake going to Aking and Johnny in ‘retirement’. What Aking had which really made them stand out was the multi talented Laudo Liebenberg. I watched him one night at Stones in Tableview when Francois VC was struggling a bit ( 🙂 Ja bru that Jägermeister is a bitch). Laudo just took the whole thing on and finished the set almost singlehandedly. He is very special one would have though that with Hunter in the band lyrics were sorted but it looked like he just took a backseat because Laudo’s own lyrics were just so incredibly good.
Van Coke Kartel
The other half of FPK started Van Coke Kartel and obviously I loved them from day one but I have to say that at the outset Aking were a more polished outfit with better songs. In typical Francois fashion he just grafted and grafted and through sheer hard work and perseverance pulled VCK up to being one of the finest rock bands in the country. Initially he was playing guitar which put him at a distinct disadvantage because he is one of the best front men I have ever seen and clearly he wasn’t the worlds best guitarist. As a three piece it was even harder and I watched a very rough gig at The Doors in Edenvale where they really struggled to win the crowd over. Once they got the world class Jedd Kossew on guitar the line-up clicked, the pressure on Francois to do all the guitaring dissipated and the songs got better and better.
In Flames are known to me and my friends as ”Johnny’s Gift”, you’ll have to read The Story of Rock and Roll to find out why but when I heard these guys I went seriously nuts. The earlier albums Whoracle and The Jester’s Race were so musically good and so interesting compared to all the Nu Metal coming out at the time that they became my new favourite band for a couple of years. They were the first band doing Death metal vocal style that I really liked and it made me appreciate it a lot more.
Joe Bonamassa is a phenomenal guitarist, he has almost single handily put the blues back on the map. He has to one of the most prolific artists around today in terms of album releases. You can pretty much guarantee that Joe will give you a new album every 12 to 18 months and he isn’t just rehashing the same old shit, they are remarkably different given the genre that he is playing in. Some will argue that there is a bit too much Bonamassa around these days he is everywhere, there is so much product out there, live shows, guest appearances etc., etc. that you could almost drown in it. I won’t count myself amongst those who think that.