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

GUITAR (article first published : 2002-05-2)

In terms of his musical ability, performance ethos and wry humour, I’d walk over hot coals for Tony Cox - although I sure hope he never asks me to, considering it was a broken foot that had me carried into this venue in a wheelchair on several occasions! And I don’t think the members of staff involved have ever got over the experience!

Jokes aside, mix Tony Cox’s incredible talent with the matching genius of Steve Newman and you’ll appreciate how the Royal Backstage currently sparks with their combined guitar virtuosity. No hyped flamboyance or artifice here. Just sheer honest artistry.

In Durban to promote their new CD About Time recorded live in the Cape Town Planetarium by record label Instinct Africaine, the two guitarists offer a highly entertaining show that will also appeal to those not overly familiar with guitar music. Brimming with wry humour and casual patter, they produce numbers awe-inspiring in their technical brilliance while including pieces that mix different styles and moods. For instance, we have Mozart heading for South America with Rondale Tico or Roger Moore and Peter Sellers forming a relationship with a tango number that encompasses the themes for the James Bond and Pink Panther movies.

Taking a new slant on Workers Day (the date they opened), these musicians are an example of what working at one’s craft can achieve. Not so you’d notice, they’re so laid back. This level of accomplishment, however, doesn’t come with fooling around with musicianship.

Both bespectacled and endowed with luxuriant hair, they are wizards in understanding the many facets of their instruments and skilled at utilising these facets to the full. Highlights for me were a piece by Fernando Sor, Tony Cox’s soulful and compelling In the Distance and a number where Steve Newman extracted as much exciting percussion from the wood of the instrument as he did melody from the strings.

The show also gives audiences a tantalising and all-too brief view of a unique instrument made specifically for Steve Newman. This is an acoustic bass guitar created by maestro Mervyn Davis which uses nylon instead of steel strings and the player approaches the instrument more as a classical than an acoustic guitar.

Between them, Tony and Steve have notched up an impressive number of CD’s but up until now they haven’t produced a joint CD since 101 Ways To Use The Acoustic Guitar made by Mountain Records in 1983. The four week season of Guitar at Backstage includes some of the earlier numbers that made them names to be reckoned in the early 80’s.

Their musical relationship – borne of 21 years of working together and independently - is concrete solid. They barely look at each other while they’re playing, each seemingly spiritually in tune with the other. They anticipate each other’s phrasing and appreciate the finer moments.

If you can’t get to see the show, then you have my sympathies. Alternatively: buy the CD, find a picture of the pair of them, place it under a spotlight in front of you as you play it, turn the rest of the lights down low and you’ll get as near as you can to what audiences experience in this exciting and stimulating programme.

Tickets include a three-course meal. This time round it’s a nicely-flavoured Seafood Bisque or Chef’s Continental Salad for starters. I chose the Creamed Chicken main course which was succulent and the accompanying fruit pieces made for an interesting combination. My husband pronounced the Grilled Entrecote well prepared and enjoyable. Unfortunately, the Apple Strudel wasn’t a success, being too stodgy for my liking.

The show runs until May 25. Bookings through Royal Reservations on 031 333-6000 – Caroline Smart




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