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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND (article first published : 2005-10-17)

I have no idea how many radio listeners still tune in to SAfm but this is what I have to say … Whatever you do, DON’T miss Bruce Millar’s It’s Friday Night from 20h00 to midnight once a week. Apart from his immensely charming interview style, he comes up with (during the first hour) the most amazing guests, very often music legends who have fascinating stories to tell and who have put in immense effort “for the cause” during former difficult political times.

I myself was “a child of the Sixties” (well, actually, late sixties when in my late teens) and whilst living in “a club for young working ladies” in Johannesburg (a vast change from life in a small mining community) was introduced to the (in)famous Troubadour in Noord Street, just around the corner from the fairly new Cinerama in Claim Street. And it was there, in one night, that I experienced an “instantaneous conversion” to what they called in those times “folk music”.

In that dimly-lit coffee house, there were nightly performances by rotating artists the likes of Des & Dawn Lindberg, Edi Niederlander, Rocky Raath, Clem Tholet (who was related to the then Prime Minister of “Rhodesia”, namely Ian Smith), Colin Shamley, Ian & Ritchie (Ian Lawrence & Ritchie Morris) and many others too numerous to mention.

The performance ritual included singing accompanied by acoustic guitar, occasionally tambourine accompaniment (and a lot of rather naughty joke-telling) but not much else … but it was sheer magic! Aubrey Ellis would thrill the patrons with his high notes (I shall never forget his Birds Don’t Sing Here Anymore) and his wife Beryl had the voice of an angel. Cornelia would perform some of Dave Marks’ compositions (Picking Up Pebbles being one of them) and other artists would sing his Mountains of Men which was a tribute to the sweat and toil, for very little remuneration, of the miners who left behind them those mine dumps which represented the international reputation this country obtained for its mineral wealth. Then Four Jacks & a Jill popularised his Master Jack which, many years later, I heard Dave perform himself.

Speaking of David Marks, what an unsung hero! Over the years Bruce Millar has often interviewed him on South African Music Day and there I’ve got to learn of his extensive archive of South African musical artists and his untiring efforts to continue this passion with very little backing. He’s based in Durban with 3rd Ear Music which started out as a publishing company and went on to become a production company, his mission being to uplift and promote South African singer-songwriters and present shows highlighting these outstanding performers and bring them to the attention of the public. From what I gather, he’s been a one-man-show for most of the past several decades with support from his loving wife, Fran. He’s a brilliant sound engineer and is currently engaged in what seems to be a most exciting upcoming project which I was delighted to hear will include my own personal hero from those early “folk” years, namely Ian Lawrence.

More musings … and that’s M for Mario. He’s my latest singing hero – Mario Frangoulis – a not very well-known Greek tenor whose talents are diverse enough to have appeared in Greek Tragedy, play the lead role of Danny Zuko in Grease, and even had a cameo spot in the film De-Lovely which told the story and featured the life of the legendary Cole Porter. The soundtrack to that movie is great, by the way, and it was an inspired idea to use contemporary singers such as Alanis Morriset, Sheryl Crow, Robbie Williams, the lead singer from Simply Red and others to give a contemporary sound to those delightful songs from the past.

By the way, please forgive the alliteration I seem to revert to constantly but it became a habit from the time I stepped into the very large (but in actual fact, rather diminutive) shoes of Midge Doherty, known to her generations of young listeners to The Wishing Well as their beloved “Aunty Midge”. When she decided it was time for her to retire, she very kindly asked me to step in and take over her programme, and the Powers-That-Be at Auckland Park kindly agreed that I could continue the children’s greetings show and call it Bev’s Birthday Book. But I digress…

Thanks to Josh Groban, younger listeners are now becoming interested in what I call the more contemporary classical music. I’m a huge fan of Josh’s myself. I have both his CDs and both live performances on videotape, and listen/watch them often. However, when you’ve discovered Mario Frangoulis you are certain to be just as bowled over as I was. Remember the classic Moody Blues number circa 1970/71, namely Nights in White Satin? Well, get yourself a copy of Mario’s first CD (Sometimes I Dream, that particular track taken from the Third Act of Tosca) and there on Track 6 you’ll hear him performing a duet with Justin Hayward in Italian and English (Justin still in fine voice, incidentally) and it will blow your mind just as it did mine.

I caught his live performance (a concert featured on SABC3 some years back) at The Theatre of the Earth in Thessalonica in Greece. Fortunately I thought to tape it so have been able to watch it countless times and play it for many, many friends and acquaintances and it never fails to thrill me to the core. Then there’s the CD of his Live Concert at The Acropolis (which features a number of duets with some wonderful female artists and includes a very moving rendition of the John Lennon classic Imagine – just his magnificent voice, a piano and cello), and his latest CD available in SA is Follow Your Heart, the last track being a stirring rendition of Come What May sung by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor in the film Moulin Rouge.

I am so enamoured of his voice that I made an eight-hour journey to see him perform at The Superbowl at Sun City in April of this year where he appeared for one night only. By some miracle, I actually bumped into him on the terrace of The Palace where he most kindly agreed (with just two minutes to rehearsal time) to pose for a picture – and, best of all, kissed me on both cheeks. This photograph, framed by my loving daughter, is at my bedside and has brought me much cheer through a very bad period of ill health earlier this year. Best of all, at that concert, he announced he was working on a new CD to be released to coincide with the Greek Easter which fell on May 1 this year, and research on the ‘Net tells me it’s called Garden of Hopes. I can’t wait for it to hit our shores. If you’ve never heard of him, do yourself a favour and rush to your nearest music outlet and pick up one of his available CDs. I don’t think ANY music lover would be disappointed.

Actually, it’s been quite a journey. This genre of music has opened up a new world for me and by sheer chance I happened to catch a Parkinson chat-show on M-Net about a year ago which featured four amazingly talented male singers in the musical interlude, when I thought, “Aha, again JUST my kind of thing!” Couldn’t wait for the credits to roll as I hadn’t caught their name when he introduced them. Didn’t have my specs on and thought they were named Illovo. Several weeks and many phone calls later I got on to someone known as “Classic Dave” or some such at one of the music stores who asked, “You don’t perhaps mean Il Divo, do you?” And there I had my answer. As Simon Cowell (he of American Idols fame – you know, the sarcastic judge on the panel but whose ego is one of those you can’t help but like?) told Oprah recently, he’d spent two years scouting the world for a younger version of The Three Tenors. Well, here they are, and they’re just SUPERB. One’s an American, one from Spain, one from Italy, the other from Switzerland. The blend of their voices is “magnifico”!!

Then I chanced to discover another fabulous group named Amici Forever, and was fascinated to read that one of the two sopranos is a black girl who grew up in Soweto and was raised in Durban, namely Tsakane. The three males in the group are two tenors and a bass baritone. If you think the number titled The Prayer by Josh Groban and Charlotte Church is a winner, wait till you hear THIS group perform it. I also adore Celine Dion’s version where she’s changed the words ever so slightly to sing it as a prayer to a daughter … This one HAS to be played at my funeral, when I fall off my perch (as dear Aunty Midge would put it), for my own beloved Candace.

Well, I could go on and on. Alessandro Safina’s a goodie. So is Filippa Giordano. (Give her version of O Mio Babbino Caro a listen – the best I’ve heard – but on her self-titled album she also does two more contemporary and very moving numbers on Tracks 7 and 8.)

Okay, more Musings as further delightful discoveries come my way. But that’s about it for now. Happy Listening! - Bev Pulé




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