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LETTER FROM BILLY SUTER (article first published : 2002-03-11)

I, too, would like to respond to the letter printed in ArtSmart from Messrs Wells and Jury regarding poor reviews dished out for their SInatra tribute Under My Skin at the Royal's Backstage. For the record, I (writing for The Mercury) gave the show a 6/10 rating and Mike Tarr The (Daily News)gave it 5/10.

I have to sigh and chuckle at the fact that it has taken these seasoned performers more than 10 years to finally decide I was not up to scratch as a critic. When I gave 9/10 to The Piano Men (featuring Wells and Jury) there was no letter to state: "Thanks, but, really, this hack knows nothin!'

Nor did we hear a peep when I raved (9/10) about Wells in A Dame, A Dog and a Dead Guy. Nor when I raved about his performance in Copenhagen (9/10). Nor did we hear a thing when I expressed dismay, in a commentary article last year, that he had won none of the FNB Vita awards for which he was nominated.

Do these "professionals" think they can never put a foot wrong? Can they really be astounded that someone out there might actually not always think they are brilliant. Come, now. Even the truly big talents trip up occasionally.

No matter how they may huff and puff to the contrary, this is simply sour grapes from a duo that should know better and by now be able to accept and benefit from criticism. Using their logic that an arts background is essential for reviewing, I suppose I would have to have been a member of a concentration camp to have written a word about Hitler?

As I stated in a personal reply to Jury's letter, which was published in the Mercury: I felt my crit of Under My Skin was fair.

There is no right and wrong with reviewing. Quoting raves by Smart as well as Grobler (whose arts background is purely academic, by the way) could just as easily be weighed up against the thumbs-downs (Suter and Tarr). My policy with reviewing is to always be fair and, above all, honest. And consistent. I do not compromise on this.

In my Under My Skin review, when I criticised something I gave clear reason for it and went as far as to suggest ways to improve the situation .I also gave credit where it was due. Wells says he and Jury would prefer to listen to the people who really matter - the public. Am I not a member of that group?

Yes, I was an aerobics instructor and, yes, I once ran an amateur mime group. But these references are immature. These qualifications did not land me the job I have. After 25 years in journalism, 22 of them devoted to covering the arts in some way or other, I do not feel I have to now justify why I am doing what I am doing.

What qualifies me as a critic besides this experience? Well, I am opinionated and I have seen a good 90 percent of the shows staged in Durban over the past 10 years, the time in which I have been Arts Editor at The Mercury. I would say that qualifies me as good enough to offer comment and be some kind of watchdog for the reader. What Jury and Wells must remember is that we are not writing for a lofty arts journal but for a newspaper, aimed at Joe Average - the very public he says he listens to.

In conclusion, I would just like to put on record that the very same Wells who now refuses to have me at his future independent shows (a journalist really doesn't need an invitation to write a review, Tim) once approached me at my home to review his debut album. And when I gave him a glowing review he physically bowed to me, hands in prayer, at the top of my driveway, in thanks.

My, how he has changed his tune. Billy Suter

PS: For the record Sjoerd Meijer, David Coleman, Lynne Kelly, Carl Coleman, Barry Ronge and Tim Aitchison all respected critics all without an arts background.




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