The tour has begun…
FRIDAY 30 JANUARY, 2.30am (International Airspace, somewhere over Africa):
This is one of my favourite parts of any tour. I am on the plane, 40,000 feet above the ground, cruising at speeds of 600 mph. I am approximately four gin and tonics into an evening of steady boozing, courtesy of British Airways. Our hot-off-the-press recording of “Johannesburg“, finished only yesterday in Tony’s home studio, is playing in my ears. In a few hours we will land in Cape Town, South Africa, where anything can and will happen on this, the latest instalment in our ongoing International Rock & Roll Juggernaut Tour. Right now, the distinct aroma of possibility hangs expectant in the air. Although come to think of it, that might just be Danny.
The Lightyears are about to land.
FRIDAY 30 JANUARY, 7.30am (Hertz Car Rental, Cape Town, South Africa):
Cape Town is gloriously warm. Emily and Skinny meet us at the airport with glowing tans (they’ve been in South Africa for a month already), a shining example of how we hope to look by the end of our ten days here. Job number one is to sort out the hire car, so George and I saunter over to the Hertz outlet to pick up the keys.
Now, until we’re at the stage where we get to travel around in a double-decker blacked-out nightliner replete with arcade games, plasma TVs, strippers and a ready supply of mind-enhancing hallucinogenics, we are somewhat restrained by having to work to a budget. Luckily, Tony’s dad is in the motor trade and was able to find us a great deal on a nifty little vehicle known as the Volkswagen Chico. For only £11.50 a day we would be licensed to career around Cape Town looking like refugees from Staines in an automobile that can really only be described as a “chavwagon”. In other words, if you’re driving this car and you don’t have So Solid Crew pumping out of the sound system, you’re doing something wrong.
Standing at the service desk and waiting for the clerk to finish scanning our credit card and checking our details, we begin to share a collective concern that maybe everything isn’t going to go as planned. He keeps giving us funny looks out of the corner of his eye and it suddenly occurs to me that, dressed up in shades and shaggy haircuts and surrounded by guitars, we are very obviously in a band. And would you hire a vehicle to a bunch of foreign reprobates in a rock band? Exactly.
“So…..” the clerk muses, “four guys, eh? Musicians?”
“Erm….” (no sense in lying – I mean, I could say we were ballerinas but unfortunately the evidence to the contrary is damning), “yep. Just in from London”.
“London, eh? Well, thing is, we don’t have any Chicos left”.
Bugger. We’ve been rumbled. Push-bikes it is then.
“Can I interest you in one of these?” he offers with a nod, pointing at an A4 laminate featuring a whole range of cars we couldn’t possibly hope to afford. Before we can utter an objection though, he cuts us short. “Same price,” he says, a twinkle in his eye.
Surely not. The man is indicating an 8-seater VW Transporter – our ideal car.
Throwing each other furtive glances like 12 year-old boys who have just been told it’s OK to shoot at cats with their dad’s rifle, we garble some “thank you”s, grab the keys off the clerk and leave hastily before Ashton Kutcher’s able to turn up and tell us it’s all a big joke.
I don’t know exactly who that guy was but I can only think he must have been Santa, gripped by an out-of-season rush of altruism. For the car that he has gifted unto us is a shining stallion of wonder. A glorious, pimped-out, brand new, 2.5 litre, 4-motion hunk of beautiful steel. And it’s all ours. Out of respect, we name it “Chico”.
(n.b. Tony, who is hiring an alternative car as he’s not flying out for another few days, will almost certainly turn up in Cape Town to pick up his Chico and receive, well, an actual Chico. Which will look puny alongside our behemoth. This thought alone keeps me roundly amused for several days. At times I would even wake up at night, remember it, and chuckle surreptitiously to myself).
SATURDAY 31 JANUARY, 9pm (Speedway 105 Cafe, Cape Town):
Our main reason for being here in South Africa is to headline at the after-parties for the first-ever Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament next weekend. However, never a band to rest on our laurels, we have already booked another couple of gigs for the coming week at Speedway 105, a bikers’ bar in the centre of town. Tonight we are performing unplugged on the balcony and on Wednesday (when Tony has arrived) we’ll be playing a full band show inside.
Speedway is run by identical twins Dave and Paul Van Der Spuy, veritable movers ‘n’ shakers on the Cape Town scene. They’re also absolute chaps. They have the banter of Morecambe & Wise and the hospitality of saints. Dave’s wife, Janie, works in PR and is on the case with promoting “Johannesburg” to the local press, and between the three of them they have pretty much made Speedway our home from home in South Africa. The vibe this evening is pretty laid-back, and George and I are sitting on stools on the balcony, knocking out a string of acoustic tunes for a mixed audience of bikers, drinkers, regulars, friends and the rest of The Lightyears’ entourage.
It’s a great opportunity to try out “Johannesburg” on a native audience – and its maiden voyage proves successful. The song is simple and uplifting, I guess, which makes it very accessible, especially here in SA where the significance of the story behind it becomes even clearer (check out my blog “The Story Behind Johannesburg“ for the full tale). Later in the evening, Janie tells me she found it very moving and is confident we can get some good South African press on the band, using the song as our angle.
Liberated by the easy atmosphere and unplugged setting, George and I bust out some old tunes which don’t normally get an airing at LYs gigs – “Snog Song”, for instance, which we wrote years ago with our good friend Ben Scriven. It’s a song about inventing a love potion and getting jiggy with the Queen. Obviously. Try requesting it at a Lightyears gig one day – we’d be duty-bound to play it…
Afterwards things a get bit hectic when a group of Norwegian petrolheads start tearing up the tarmac with their enormous bikes. Danny, who knows a lot more about bikes than I do (not hard), explains that they are “doing burnouts”. When I ask him what a “burnout” is, he says “Wait and see – but there’ll be tons of smoke and a lot of noise”.
FYI, a burnout is essentially the biker’s equivalent of a crop circle – revving one’s engine and spinning the back tyre round in a perfect circle, on the axis of the front wheel, to leave a dark circular imprint on the tarmac. I think this a bit like when cats wee on stuff. It’s an imperial venture, in other words. It says “Me and massive bike have been here and there’s nothing you can do about it”.
Unless you’re the local law enforcement agency, that is. Sure enough the cops have made an appearance within about twenty minutes, attracted by the noise. Driving in through Speedway’s main gates, they slowly circle the parking lot like a predatory steel shark and, once satisfied that they’ve made their point, disappear back into town.
The bikers, who personally I wouldn’t mess with, wait a cursory eight minutes and then return to the business of decorating the car park. This is brilliant! Will there be a ruckus though, I wonder? Who would you back? Probably the petrolheads. They’re Scandinavian and there are about twenty of them. The cops looked like they were all talk and no trousers. Having said that, when they return shortly afterwards and repeat their shark routine, it proves sufficient to put an end to the burnout competition and everybody retires inside to watch the arm-wrestling.
There’s always something going on at Speedway. Gotta love the place…
SUNDAY 1 FEBRUARY, 11.30pm (Cafe Caprice, Cape Town):
We are out clubbing in Cafe Caprice – a place justifiably known as “the jewel in Cape Town’s crown” that represents the centre of the city’s Sunday night social scene. The people in here are ALL beautiful. Big, bronzed Adonises of men and gorgeous, glowing women, pictures of youth and vitality. It’s like actually being in an episode of “The O.C.”.
Whereas in England we while away God’s day with a back-to-back marathon of Songs Of Praise, The Antiques Roadshow, Last Of The Summer Wine and a toasted crumpet, Sunday is big business in Cape Town. Everybody parties here on a Sunday. We spent the early half of the evening at coastal hangout La Med, where local band Goldfish play a residency to an ample and enthusiastic crowd, week in week out. I mean, I say “local” – actually they are fast becoming one of the country’s hottest acts. Definitely worth a look – imagine Lemon Jelly meets Fatboy Slim. Click here to visit the Goldfish website.
At La Med we meet Cape Town Tens organiser Ron Rutland, an absolute chap and the man responsible for flying us out to SA. He seems relatively calm on the surface; however, being only five days away from the first ever CT 10s tournament is evidently starting to take its toll on his sanity. There’s a lot riding on this and Ron is the man at the helm…
After a few beers at La Med we hit Caprice, on the advice of the legendary Dan Skinstad (A.K.A. “The Commander”), who seems to be something of a celebrity round these parts. Dan has a natural entourage at Caprice and we join them for a few bevvies to see the week out. Later I learn that, during our time in the club, George ended up in a fairly extended conversation with star cricketer Herschelle Gibbs, a member of the national team. At no point throughout their chat did George have any idea who the guy was. In fact, I believe his closing gambit was “So, tell me – what exactly is it that you do?”. I can’t imagine Herschelle is a man accustomed to being asked that question, what with him being generally considered one of the finest athletes in his country’s history.
It dawns on me that, for a band who (Tony aside) know very little about sport, we’ve met some top flight sports personalities. Bob Skinstad and Robbie Fleck organise the Cape Town Tens with Ron and both happen to be global sporting legends from their days playing for – and in Bob’s case, captaining – the South African rugby team. Later in the week we will meet more rugby superstars in the guise of former Canadian international Eddie Evans and Italian Number 8 Matt Phillips. A couple of years ago we stayed in the same hotel as the Dutch national football team (in one particularly memorable incident, Tony stood next to Marco Van Basten in a lift and actually used the phrase “Do I know you?”). We have performed for Manchester United and Alex Ferguson, hob-nobbed with Peterborough FC director and all-round sporting hero Barry Fry and now George has failed to recognise one of the world’s most famous cricketers in a club. So all in all we could make a lot of fanatics very jealous, even though as a general rule we don’t know our silly mid-ons from our bogeys.
Stay tuned for South Africa Part Two – and find out what happened when we tried playing Frank Sinatra to 30 pissed-up Scandinavian bikers…