Betrayal in the Gardenby Diane Coetzer / 26.10.2009
Call me naïve, but I tend to believe the best in people, no matter how much the evidence may point to something different. I blame it on my mother who always puts a (sometimes maddeningly) positive spin on things. It’s because of this that I’m often at the front of the queue when it comes to defending the music business from those who have it pegged as populated by people who care not a smidgen about the music they are selling but only have an eye on the ka-ching of money or the salary they get at the end of a month. “It’s not true,” I say, rattling off the people I know who work in the biz and are still fired up about what they do.
But, over the past few years, I’ve realised that this is an increasingly indefensible response. The sad truth is it’s the same faces I see climbing the hill in the hot Oppikoppi sun or hustling for a spot at the Bohemian bar at a Jim Neversink gig or taking up issues that can benefit the industry as a whole. And I can probably count them on just two hands. Nowhere was the absence of passion for the cornerstone of the music biz somehow more starkly revealed than at last week’s media day for Joburg-based singer-songwriter Laurie Levine.
Hosted by Sheer Sound pressman Brett Schewitz (who is, it must be noted, so music-mad he actually hosts a yearly concert in his garden known as Jawfest), Levine’s six or so song set easily underscored how well she fits into the indie label’s roster that includes Farryl Purkiss and Nibs van der Spuy.
Accompanied by Brendan Ou Tim on bass and Glockenspiel and Lize Wild on accordion and keyboards, it was easy to see Levine’s transition from a talented songwriter and slightly-uneasy performer to an artist whose live shows are now deeply pleasurable to watch, even if tucked under a tree outside a bland Randburg office building.
Sheer is releasing Levine’s second album ‘Living Room’ through an exclusive license with its Seed division – giving the lovingly recorded set of songs on the album the chance to reach more than the devoted fanbase who’ve always known Levine is the real deal.
But, looking around the outside area at Sheer, it was hard not to wonder just how far one-man’s passion for a project can take an album if those who surround him can’t rouse themselves to leave their desk for 20 minutes to experience, intimately, the lifeblood of their daily work.
Truly, no more effort was required of people in distribution or royalties to hear the charged beauty of songs like ‘Scrambling’ or ‘Kites’ than walking a few steps. Hell, there were even snacks on offer. As a friend said, missing a short live set put on by their company in their offices should be a firing offence.
Sheer happened to be the setting but the company is not the only culprit – and, in fact, can be credited for assisting the growth of artists, including Van der Spuy and Purkiss, both of whom now have solid, ongoing overseas careers alongside their domestic ones. Hopefully Sheer will be able to do the same for Levine because her modern folk songs easily put her alongside the likes of The Be Good Tanyas or an early Beth Orton and could snag a fair size of the New Folk worldwide audience.
The terrible truth for an optimist like me is that South Africa’s labels, music publishers, societies, and (probably most criminally) radio stations are stocked with just too many people who might as well be working at the Post Office or a bank. But hang on – even then, they would probably be taken to task for not bothering to come to the presentation of a new product that’s key to their business.
I’m not suggesting an every night out on the A&R beat commitment. God knows I skip gigs on the back of exhausting days, kiddie commitments and the call of season five of Entourage. But how hard is it to step outside on a blue-skied spring Joburg day and listen, just listen, to the music?
* If you’re in KZN and are keen to see Levine in combination with Wild (and, at times, sexy and always compelling coupling)
Oct 27 2009 8:00 PM
Kwa-Zulu Natal tour: Red Door, Pietermaritzburg Pietermaritzburg