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Current page: Concert Diary 2007

Current page: Concert Diary 2007

Concert Diary 2007

Tapas al Sol, Port Elizabeth - 2nd September 2007

Chris Simpson writes - For thirty years I had from time to time tried all ways to get us back to South Africa, one of the most beautiful countries in the world with some of the most hospitable people you could ever hope to meet. For some reason out there in the scheme of things we could not get back after all the political upheavals until we met Arlyn at a concert in Bedford and talked loosely about doing some dates. It all went quiet and I assumed the worst. I was wrong. He set about putting a tour together and one way and another we took our chances and arrived at last on African soil.

The magic was more powerful than I could remember and I watched it working first hand upon the three of us. ... so ... spool forward to the Port Elizabeth concert on Sunday 2nd September.

We had been in East London the night before and once again found ourselves on the coast road south, with a hot wind blowing; the hills to the right and the Indian ocean to our left. Here and there you come upon a tidal river flowing out to lagoons and sandbars and exquisite bays with the ocean surf pounding beyond and an almost hypnotic temptation to park up and explore.

One of the problems with that is you cannot really leave the guitars and fiddle etc in the car. They would probably be fine but you cannot take the risk of them being stolen.

We were however determined to stop again at M&J's.

M&J's

It is a collection of green painted buildings with smiling African women in brightly coloured clothes, chatting in the shade by the general store; the odd pig wandering about, and rooms full of Zulu baskets, pottery, wooden tribal masks and bric-a-brac. You then follow some tantalising smells past the biltong and jars of jam and pickles and rows of Shaka's Revenge, a suspiciously evil looking sweet and sour sauce, to the café.

It is a piece of basic gastronomic heaven where simplicity is the rule. Two smiling Xhosa waitresses, egg n; chips; steak pies and 'brunch.' We were asked to sign the wall on the way out and noticed ancient copies of Home and Garden from previous decades well thumbed on the piano lid.

Replete, we headed down the road again, the kilometres stealing past, and an occasional group of wildebeest regarding us thoughtfully. Then we noted a slowly ascending rampart of cloud looming up in the direction we were heading for. Cloud? Sweet Lord that means rain, something we can well do without after the English non-Summer. The terrain grew less rocky and as the first drops hit the windscreen, we entered Port Elizabeth with some works on our right belching sulphur fumes into a lowering sky.

Looming storm clouds

Apparently, the town is known as the Friendly City. We found the venue, Tapas al Sol up two flights of stairs in a kind of shopping Mall and I noticed two or three very heavy looking dudes, with biceps like pillows and definitely not the kind you'd wink at and call 'sweetcheeks.' They were in venue stamped T-shirts (they even stamped us to allow us to enter) and my first thoughts were, 'this is the Blues Brothers all over again. All we need is the chicken wire.' Thevenue was clearly a rock joint in un-Magna circumstances and had the ambience of a Route 66 log-house road-stop.

Once again, I had it well wrong. The staff were polite and helpful from Donovan, the manager to the little Xhosa guy who found my cigars under the table at the end of the gig. They had even read our rider clauses in the contract (which is more than can be said for some venues) and provided fine wines; beers; softies and water.

The sound system was excellent and Neil had us and Arlyn sorted out in double quick time.

I looked up at one point and the place was full,- and the comments were devastating. We were told it was a 'privilege' to have us there and how much the music meant down the years. We promptly sold every last CD before we even played a note.

One happy group got very enthusiastic and we were photographed from every possible angle and with whom and whoever. Another guy hit a more discordant note complaining that he could not stay all night and understood we were to start at 7.0pm. Wrong.

We changed in our hotel rooms provided by the venue and back into the fray. Arlyn has a thing about hats and he performed his support set wearing what to all intents and purposes could have doubled as a plant pot and even though the noise level rose substantially, delivered a fine set of songs.

Linda opened up for MC with her song 'Moving On' then she and Matt performed 'Blues for a long Road', then I was on. 'Gypsy' of course and one of those songs that for me has never tired and a roar from the crowd at the end for they recognise the twin acoustic guitar sound and harmonies as not having changed much. On to the end of the first set. Linda at one point said she had 'seen the face of God' in this land and we played out on 'Time for the Leaving'.

The sign at M&J's

So many accolades and the second set climbed through 'This time around', 'Shine' and so on through the belting 'Ordinary Man' to deliver our musical coup-de-grace with 'Paradise Row.' They were up on their feet at the end and we were totally overwhelmed.

Dinner at midnight and through the rain back to the hotel to a few glasses of wine and Arlyn playing Paul Simon songs on his Takomine guitar.

Outside the windows the rain sifted gently over the car park and the mist rolled in from the ocean. For us and the now vanished audience, it was all just a memory; for that is our business - selling memories.

For Port Elizabeth it was the end of just another day.

The following morning we set off to go back up the coast road, this time with the ocean on our right. It is some 350 kilometres up to the little airport at East London; on over the Fish River and past the horseshoe bays. Guess what; even though we were running low on time, we saw in the distance the now familiar green painted buildings, and the inquisitive pig. It was M&J's and we were not about to pass it by. Another fine repast of the egg and chip variety, friendly people and fond farewells and promises of maybe next year...?

Who knows, but for sure Africa has skilfully woven its texture into our souls and we have to come back.

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