Sunday, March 29, 2009

Maybe this is growing up?

Ostrich chicks doing around 30km/ph

To continue the theme of my last post:

I was raised in a household where music was played all day.

My mom listened to great jazz & classical music – from Django Reinhardt & Chick Corea to Beethoven & Stravinsky……….

My older brother listened to pop & classic rock.

As a kid I loved it all. Then I became a teenager & rebelled – punk was the thing. The Stranglers, The Clash, Dead Kennedys, Bauhaus….the list is endless & gloomy! (Anyone here remember “The Dirtbox” & “DV8”?)

After school I studied music and slowly became a jazz snob. I’d outgrown all the rubbish from my teenage years & realised jazz was the only real music: It has soul and great musicianship.

And so for many years I frowned upon anything that wasn’t jazz, but played many rock & pop gigs to earn a living (jazz doesn’t pay the rent). I moaned and groaned about those horrible gigs.

But as I got older, I found myself secretly enjoying playing pop & rock gigs. Finally I decided to come out of the closet (the musical one, not the one you’re thinking of!). I now derive great pleasure from listening to most kinds of music. I’ve recently even discovered country music – the Dixie Chicks, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Brad Paisley – it rocks!

This is one of the fantastic things about growing up: You don’t feel the need to belong to a subculture any longer. I’m not a punk or a jazz-purist, but I do like Madonna, Siouxie & the Banshees, John Scofield & Ella Fitzgerald.

A quote that I think comes from Duke Ellington: “There are only two types of music – good & bad”

It either moves me, or it doesn’t.

If this is what it means to be “grown up” then perhaps I’m grown up?

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When do you become a ‘Grown-Up’?


When do you become a Grown-Up?

This is something I contemplate every few years (usually around the time of a milestone birthday): I’m 40 years old & I still don’t feel grown up.

Perhaps it has something to do with me being a musician & not having a steady job. Or maybe it’s the fact that I don’t have too many responsibilities – my flat, car, TV etc don’t belong to the bank they’re all mine.

And the fact that I’m still single (although I had a 7 year relationship & that never made me feel like an adult).

One scary moment for me was buying my first appliance. You see before that I had either lived in communes or survived on hand-me-downs. It was a fridge. My little bar fridge packed up & I decided it was time to buy a real one. I found an enormous (it didn’t look that big in the shop) monstrosity which scared that hell out of me every time I went into the kitchen. I actually still own the damn thing & it always looks empty, no matter how much food I buy!

Anyway buying that fridge almost made me feel grownup.

I’ve subsequently managed to buy loads of appliances without feeling at all like an adult.

You see I measure the value of appliances in CDs, guitars, books, gadgets & other nice things, & it’s always tough for me to decide between the grownup choice, and the fun one.

Like this:

My fridge is worth about 35CDs.

My washing machine & tumble drier together are worth quite a nice acoustic guitar I saw in the music shop.

Renovations I did on my flat: Worth1 top-of-the-range custom-made Paul Reed Smith Guitar! Damn it was difficult making the choice between the two. I guess if I had the money 15 years ago I would have gone for the guitar.

My mom died a few years ago after a short battle with cancer. I had 2 months of real quality time with her, & brought my concern up. She told me that she thought people arrive at their own personal age, & stop there. My mom claimed she always felt 30.

I think I’m 24.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Pros and cons of being a freelance musician

Band members in Lagos, Nigeria 


  1. I can go to gym during "geriatric hour" (mid-morning or afternoon) when the only people there are a few old-timers. Makes me feel like superman.
  2. I can take a vacation anytime I want to.
  3. I have no boss.
  4. I get to play different kinds of music and work with amazing musicians.
  5. I get to travel to interesting places
  6. I can turn down work if I want to (this is an important one, believe me)
  7. I get to write music, record music, market music and perform music.
  8. I seldom have to negotiate Johannesburg traffic
  9. I can sleep in or take a day off if I feel like it.
  10. I get paid to play music


  1. When taking vacations I don’t earn any money.
  2. It is sometimes difficult to find the motivation to be proactive.
  3. I get to travel to interesting places: Lagos
  4. I have to save money for the quiet periods.
  5. I have to be a jack-of-all trades: I get to write music, record music, market music and perform music.
  6. I have to sometimes chase after people to get paid.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

The music is the easy part

Been thinking about this lately.

Self portraitMusicians spend hours practicing and learning. If they are serious, this caries on until the day they die. If Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed, it takes 10 000 hours to be good at what you do. We have our work cut out for us just trying to be competent never mind virtuosos!

So why then do we have to spend so much time dealing with all kinds of other non-musical stuff? Because we have to eat. And some of us want to do more than just eat. We’d like a car and a house, and possibly a family to fill the car and house. A vacation once in a while could be nice too.


So over the years I’ve had to learn about:

  • Tax (OK that's still a bit of a mystery to me)
  • Dealing with drunk, slobbering people at gigs.
  • Getting money out of unscrupulous club owners/promoters
  • Marketing, selling & distributing CDs (one of my most time-consuming and difficult pursuits!)
  • Dealing with ridiculous requests: Guitar and vocal duo playing jazz at a cocktail party being asked to play “dance music”. I still get offered work and am told “it doesn’t pay, but it will be great exposure” or “I can’t pay you, but it will be lots of fun!” (try telling that to your doctor or lawyer).
  • Dealing with insults: “You’re not bad, but have you heard (insert name here)?” “You guys sound great, but if you really want to make it you should play some John Denver”. “I love your music, you sound just like (insert any crap artist here)”. Being mistaken for a waiter by someone who has spent the whole night dancing 1 meter from the stage….
  • Managing money (I’m still working on this one). My life gravitates from being paid badly for a nice gig, to being paid obscenely well for an awful gig. Then there are the quiet periods where I think how I should have saved some money from the obscenely well-paid gig.
  • Spending many long, painful days working on ideas for a jingle, only to be told on submission that the brief has changed.
  • Wearing ridiculous costumes on stage.
  • Doing gigs under bad working conditions or in strange places (see last post) – I’ve played on heaving ships, behind salad bars, outside in freezing cold conditions (whilst everyone is indoors), next to a parrot who squawked louder than my guitar amp, in the lingerie department of a large store….

Practice? What? When?

But then again I wouldn’t change my career for anything. As a result of music I have travelled, met amazing people and worked with some fantastic musicians. So I’ll carry on trying to learn how to deal with unmusical things things and try and find the time to practice!

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Two Weeks in Lagos, Nigeria 02

Part II

(part 1 can be found here)

Things in Lagos appear to take time: Drivers often fetched us over 2 hours late and…..

The schedule was to spend 3 or 4 days rehearsing with backing vocalists and then move into the TV studio to start shooting the series. By the end of the week we were told that the set was still at customs and the studio a construction site.  Melvin @ studio

In the meantime we wereMe in rehearsal supposed to have been given 3 cut-off points for each of the songs to be performed. Each cut represents a different level of difficulty in the game show. As with everything else, we were given these stops late (some only on the day of shooting).

OK at this point I’ll just list a bunch of things that were wrong about the time spent in Lagos (aside from those mentioned previously): Offices where we rehearsed sometimes had no running water (ie toilets didn’t work); our Per Diems ran out quickly as food turned out to be expensive; we were locked out of our hotel rooms one night for a few hours as the bill hadn’t been paid; we weren’t given a day off in two weeks (we eventually mutinied & refused to work); things often went wrong on set & the band had to entertain a restless audience while tech issues were being sorted out. I could carry on, but I’ll stop here.Food 

Apologies to all the wonderful people/friends that I made in Lagos: Ada, Roro, Noel, Nkem, Iyke and others for saying such negative things about your home city! Hopefully the next trip I’ll see a better side :-)Band members

I’m supposed to return in April to shoot the rest of the series. The SA band members have requested certain changes (such as a clean hotel) for the second leg. Watch this space….

See all my photos of Lagos here: Lagos Photos

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Two Weeks in Lagos, Nigeria

Part 01

After a month of rehearsing in Johannesburg (see last post) the time came to board a flight to Lagos. The trouble started at ORT International airport: We were supposed to check in all the music equipment including a full drum kit, congas, 2 guitar amps, a bass amp and many other odds and ends (in every other touring gig I’ve done, a sound company handles the gear). Production company paid R22 000 ($2200) in overweight charges. We were then each handed a rather large & bulky TV camera and told that this is part of our ‘hand luggage’. Thereafter followed an uncomfortable 5 1/2 hour flight in economy class with a TV camera wedged between my legs.

On arrival in Lagos we had to offload all gear from the conveyor belt, and then were called aside by big friendly customs officials, shiny with sweat, in light blue safari suits. 3 un-air-conditioned hours later, bribes were paid to release our equipment and we were outside in the hot, humid air, packing our gear into a van. The van being too full to carry us, a 30 minute scuffle broke out between taxi drivers vying for our business. We were ushered into a shiny Merc only to be unceremoniously kicked out upon arrival of a company car.

Arrived at our hotel “Le Parisian Suites” at just after 12am. As I put my suitcase down, the lights went out. Lay down on the bed (which was so hard I thought they’d forgotten to put a mattress on it) and fell asleep with all my clothes on.

Woke up in a sticky, sweaty mess in the morning (due to the power outage the aircon was off). Bathroom had no basin, only a shower with a plastic bucket. I’m not particularly tall, but I had to wedge my knees tightly against the wall when sitting on the toilet.The whole bathroom I was moved to another room that evening. This room contained a basin (with a cold water tap only) and a marginally bigger bathroom (there was also a blue plastic bucket in the shower). The room also contained an air conditioner strategically placed above the bed. I was woken up around 3am by the Nigerian version of Chinese water torture: The AC was dripping ‘water’ on my head. On closer inspection (something that is not always the best thing in these situations) I discovered that the AC was covered in a thick black layer of grimy dirt. It  was ‘repaired’ the next day (I think they just cleaned off the dirt).

Melvin at the hotelBheki & Melvin at the gate to our hotel 

We were given the morning off to settle in. Around lunch time a mini-bus arrived to take us to the head office where we would be setting up our gear for rehearsals.

It was taken for granted that we would carry all our gear upstairs and clean up the rehearsal room. The rest of the day was spent setting up and waiting for generators to be fixed so that we could have air-conditioning. Every house and business in Lagos appears to have its own petrol or diesel generator as the electricity system is unreliable. I was struck by the noise that they make – the city is constantly humming with engine sounds.

Street in front of head office/rehearsal roomOpen sewer in front of office Building in background is head office I noticed very few traffic lights in the city, badly potholed dirt roads and what appeared to be total chaos on the roads. Driving just a few Km can take hours in traffic.

17022009020 20022009024  16022009016  17022009018 Part II coming soon. In the meantime all my photos of Lagos can be viewed here: Lagos Photos