We are staying in JACK BAUER'S hotel…
TUESDAY 3 MARCH, 3pm (Brass Bell Restaurant, False Bay, South Africa):
I am dressed in shades, boardies and flip-flops. I am starting to look quite tanned, having spent a decent amount of time on the beach over the past few days. I am exhuding an easy, care-free demeanour on account of the sunny weather and the leisurely pace of the Cape Town lifestyle. I am drinking a crisp gin and bitter lemon. The afternoon waves of the Indian Ocean lap hungrily at the walls of the famous Brass Bell restaurant in False Bay, where we’re enjoying a few cocktails and a plate of delicious fried calimari.
Bearing all this in mind, I find it very hard to reconcile the fact that, glancing across the road to a world news poster nailed to a lamp-post, I can read the words “SNOW SHUTS LONDON”.
That’s right – were we at home right now, we’d be building snowmen and perhaps even doing some sly a-wassailing. Yesterday London experienced its most severe snow storms in 18 years. The whole of the capital ground to a halt, which in theory ought not to have affected us all the way out here in South Africa, but as it happened we were waiting for Tony to leave Heathrow and come out to join us in Cape Town. The airport cancelled a staggering 800 flights. Only six actually left the runway and Tony, the jammy rascal, was on the sixth. Which was just as well, as tomorrow night we’re headlining at the Speedway 105 Cafe and we’d been rather relying on Tony’s presence to complete the line-up!
It’s been a wonderful few days. Aside from a few casual, sun-kissed meetings and the odd telephone interview, the business end of the tour hasn’t really started yet. We’ve made the most of our long weekend of freedom with afternoons on the beach and evenings on the town. Yesterday we took a day trip out to Hermanus, a beautiful coastal resort about an hour outside Cape Town, where we walked along the cliffside and Andy cooked us a traditional South African braai, complete with fresh steak, calimari and a dollop of local hospitality.
Yesterday evening I was interviewed by a journalist from The Argus, one of Cape Town’s foremost daily papers (click here to read the article). I conducted the interview strolling along the sand, listening to the ocean and watching the sunset. If only, I thought, I could conduct all my interviews from the beach. What a life that would be…
WEDNESDAY 4 MARCH, 9pm (Speedway 105 Cafe, Cape Town)
Tonight we are playing our first fully-fledged show in South Africa – a headline slot at the Speedway bikers’ bar – and I’m delighted to report that there’s a full house in. What a genuine pleasure it is to visit a new territory, set up camp in a new venue, and watch as the place fills with an audience of complete strangers. I’m excited about performing again and it’s great to have Tony back on the team.
The Scandinavian motorbike club from Saturday night have returned, which I find extremely flattering, since by their own admission they don’t normally listen to anything except Motorhead and AC/DC. Could be an interesting audience. Will we win them over?
Well, yes, as it turns out. Although for a while it’s looking dicey. We decide to split the evening into two sets, starting with 45 minutes of Lightyears originals and ending with a set of dance numbers. We chuck in “Beat Alive”, “She’s The One”, “Fine”, “Sleepless” and “Emily” too. The crowd respond really well to our songs and the first official airing of “Johannesburg” proves a hit as well. During the break I’m standing at the bar waiting for a beer when the bikers’ ringleader taps me on the shoulder.
“Do you play heavy metal?”
Jings. Should I lie? Mainly we’d been planning Jerry Lee Lewis, Van Morrison and The Monkees for set two. Is there any way in which “I’m A Believer” could be considered metal? Probably not.
“Erm, d’ya know, I’m afraid to say we don’t. It’s not really our ‘thing’.”
“Come on,” he replies, throwing back his big scary Norwegian biker’s head. “Led Zeppelin! You must do some Led Zeppelin! It is the classic of all times.”
I heartily agree with him that, yes, it is the classic of all times – but sadly it’s just not in our repertoire. He’s pretty persistent though and so, by the end of our conversation, I’ve agreed to ‘see what I can do’. I have no idea what I mean by this.
Racking my brains, I remember that last year, when we were on the bill at the launch of State music magazine in Dublin, I played a set of ‘Easy Listening Heavy Metal’ on the grand piano, comprising a whole host of rock classics performed in a lounge style. And one of them was “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin. Was this a good idea? Would the bikers appreciate the irony?
Dash it all, I thought. I have no choice. This is the only thing we do that even vaguely resembles Led Zeppelin. It will have to suffice.
And so it is that, twenty minutes later, to break up the set, I make an announcement.
“The extremely fine ladies and gentlemen in the corner there have requested some Led Zeppelin, and we’ve never been a band to let people down. So here’s ‘Black Dog’ – Track One, Side One from the classic album Led Zeppelin IV……”
I’m glad to say that the ensuing performance – although perhaps not quite what they were expecting – prompts enthusiastic applause from the petrolheads and I come to the conclusion that we’ve got away with it. This is later confirmed when we encore with “New York, New York” and it brings the house down. Andy’s brother, Dan, confesses to me after the gig that the sight of twenty leather-clad bikers singing their hearts out to Frank Sinatra brought a tear of joy to his eye and was something he would never, ever forget.
THURSDAY 5 MARCH, 1.30pm (The Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town):
Today we check into the hotel where we’ll be staying for the remainder of the tour. I’ve been looking forward to this moment. By reputation, the Table Bay is the finest hotel in Cape Town and, in fact, one of the top hotels in the country. It’s a glorious day and the sun is beating down as we arrive outside the front entrance and unload our luggage and instruments. Spotting our guitars, the concierge immediately saunters over.
“Hello sir, how are you today?”
“I’m extremely well thank you,” I reply, absolutely meaning it.
“You’re musicans, right?” he points out, astutely.
I nod in agreement and this prompts a barrage of stories about previous musical residents of the Table Bay. “We’ve had all kinds of bands checking into the hotel over the years,” he explains.
“Who was the last musician to stay here then?” I ask, testing the water.
“Snoop Dogg,” he begins, casually. “We’ve had Kanye West too. And Maroon 5 were here last month. Plus we’ve also had Counting Crows, Robbie Williams and Michael Jackson. The Table Bay is the only place Michael will stay when he’s in Cape Town. I’ve met him personally.”
He can see I’m impressed. But he’s not done yet.
“Oh, and Keifer Sutherland. Keifer Sutherland often stays here. Nice fella.”
We are staying in JACK BAUER’S hotel.
Rock and roll.
THURSDAY 5 MARCH, 7.30pm (The Toad In The Village, Noordhoek, Cape Town):
We are at The Toad In The Village, a bar/restaurant in the rather quaint Noordhoek, owned by legendary former Springbok captain, Bob Skinstad. We’ve been invited along to the launch party for the ‘Noordhoek Vikings’, one of the teams taking part in the Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament this weekend. This will be our first proper experience of hanging out with large gangs of rugby players.
We turn up early and take our designated seats at a long, wooden dining table by at the far end of the room. The other half of the table is empty. It transpires that we are to be joined shortly by six or seven professional rugby players from the ‘Sports Illustrated Legends’ team, a side headed up by Bob himself, along with Robbie Fleck, another former South African international who is also involved in organising the tournament. The guys are coming along tonight to meet the rest of their team-mates and sink a few* lagers.
We’ve been there for about 15 minutes when a group of enormous blokes appear through the main entrance and head towards our table. As they arrive, I stand up to introduce myself to the guy at the front. The blood drains from his face.
“Who are….. what is…. erm…?”. He seems shaken. “What position do you play?”
Odd greeting, I think. My next thought concerns how powerful, almost debilitating, his handshake is. He still looks a bit freaked out. Then the penny drops. Blimey. They think we’re on their team.
“Oh gosh, gosh no. Hah! No. I’m not a rugby player. Golly. No. Imagine that! You’d probably snap me in half. I mean, look at you, you have arms like anacondas.”
Actually, I didn’t say that last bit. But I did think it. Danny later tells me that he was transfixed for the entire evening by the sight of me sitting next to a bloke whose biceps were WIDER THAN MY HEAD. I could have climbed inside his arms and made them my home. “You look so tiny,” Danny kept saying. Yeah, whatever mate. I could play rugby. I just choose not to.
By the time I have finished shaking hands with all seven of them, the bones in my right hand have been ground to a fine powder. I may never play piano again.
FRIDAY 6 MARCH (Hamilton Rugby Club, Cape Town):
Earlier this evening we sat down to a truly delicious dinner on the harbourside near the hotel. Tanned, rested and fully settled into laid-back Cape Town life, we sat round the table beaming at each other, soaking up the warm night air. John summed up the feeling most succinctly when he said: “I can’t ever remember being this happy”.
Despite being so chilled out we could almost have sat there until sunrise, we decide to head over to Hamilton Rugby Club (where the Cape Town Tens are kicking off with an evening of hardcore boozing) to show our faces and generally get a feel for the vibe of the tournament. The matches themselves don’t start until Saturday but, as the recreational side of the event is generally considered equally as important as the sport, we figure it would do us good to get a taster before things kick off for real tomorrow morning.
When we turn up we are greeted by a sobering sight – 600 huge rugby players, standing around, necking pints and challenging each other to violent drinking games. Once again we are suddenly made very aware of how much we stand out. Feeling like Year 7s who have just accidentally wandered into the Year 11 common room and are met for the first time by that bewilderingly unfamiliar cocktail of sweat, Lynx deodorant and Tizer, we head cautiously for the bar, trying our hardest not to make eye contact with anyone.
We are mere seconds from our destination when the mission fails. We’ve been spotted. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those wildlife programmes where leopards are filmed hunting gazelles, but this is pretty much a human equivalent. Looking back over my shoulder I see young Danny Morriss being picked off from the herd by a man off such terrifying visage that I can actually feel my sphincter tightening. He seems to be trying to engage Danny in conversation, although the sounds coming from his mouth are definitely not words and his only other method of communication is to squish Dan’s immaculately-engineered mohican with his enormous hand until it’s entirely flat on his head. I am genuinely torn between the two conflicting instincts in my gut – one is telling me to stick by my friend and wade in for rescue, the other is telling me to sod Danny and run away screaming like a tiny little girl.
For the first time, I am beginning to feel quite nervous about this weekend’s gigs. These people will be our audience. Will they accept us as their own or will they weed us out as the namby-pamby pretenders we are? And if they do accept us, will we have to drink our own urine through a plastic funnel as part of some kind of dreadful initiation ceremony? At the moment, they’re curious about us because we’re quite demonstrably outsiders – but maybe once we’ve been up onstage, we’ll have more authority.
“Do you think it’ll be better once they know who we are?” I ask George, praying for the answer ‘yes’.
“No mate,” replied George, “it’ll be worse. Because they’ll know who we are.”
Will we survive a weekend boozing with rugby players? Will Cape Town rock to the sweet sound of The Lightyears? Stay tuned for Part 3 of my South African tour diary, coming soon to www.TheLightyears.com.
* a “few” to me is approximately three. To a rugby man, it is somewhere in the region of twelve.