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Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Alone in the Dark

by Andy Davis, images JR Onyangunga / 12.04.2011

Jay Bones blows into town like a sweaty tornado of white manflesh. It’s late at night by the time the dude arrives at &Union and we’re already a few beers down. His Ben Sherman shirt is throwing some beautiful armpit Rorschachs as he humps the bass amp he’s just collected from the Mercury. It’s fast and loose, he’s working to a deadline, the gig is late, but there’s an obvious journeyman comfort to the hustle. Just another gig in another city. Jay Bones confident in the fact that when he plugs in that guitar, and his Bloody Agents start to play, the wait will have been worth it.

Things have changed for Rambling Bones. What started as a little Fuzigish side project has become the main event with the release of their critically acclaimed debut album Watching and Waiting. Just as the big time beckoned, co-conspirator and chief beatman, Jay’s rusty sidecrack Kevin S. Flee flew North. Now Kevin’s a big tattooed hick of a man, with a wry sense of humour and the rhythm centre of an ageing pantsula. On bongos and occasionally the triangle, he was always the soothing balm to Bones’ rash, and he bought a sophisticated je ne sais quoi to the act, like on that song about being a serial killer. At times Jay and Kevin’s incarnation of Rambling Bones was more a comedy act that played some catchy songs in between the hilarious diatribes. Very good songs mind. A gifted musician in his own right, as the front-man for Southern Blues fornicators the Death Valley Blues Band, and one of the central noise merchants in Submachine, Kevin eventually succumbed to the South African musician’s HIV – money trouble – some call it the “cultural slow puncture”, and packed it in to rock a computer keyboard in pursuit of love and marriage in London, invariably leaving Bones to Ramble.

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

But Jay’s tenacious. He pulled together a new line up, drafting in Eric Charles Wright on the bass and backing vocals and a tall dark stranger in the form of Captain Danger on drums and called them his “Bloody Agents” and so Rambling Bones was reinvented as a three piece. They released a demo called Live with Rusty from the Wendy House building up towards the release of the self-titled album Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents.

They call themselves South African folk misfit country dabblers, and that’s not far off, the music invokes influences from Tom Waits to the Violent Femmes to Steve Earle with liberal swabs of the Clash and Bad Religion and maybe even a little bit of Willy Mason, while we’re throwing names. They used to call it acoustic-core, but really that description belies a strong melodic undertone to all their songs. In fact, Jay Bones has to be the most underrated South African songwriter. His sense of timing and melody are exceptional. It’s just that his delivery is freakish. He’s an old skool punk. He wears torn jeans cut off above the ankles and rocks more hair on his lambchops than’ll grow on top of his head. He’s not a pop star, and bless him, will never be one. But these songs in the hands of effete South African poser pop bands like the Parlotones, Prime Circle and Crash Car Burn would revolutionise their sound, lend them some credibility and impart a fair dose of “originality” (I know, from covers) on their production. Seriously, Jay Bones could be the South African Stock Aitken Waterman… Danny K should be paying him royalties… but I digress.

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Finally Jay steps to mic and unleashes their first song, a two-step tirade called “It All Comes Down To This”. It’s the obvious place to start, a fast rangy number that brings everyone into the room.
“There’s a lot that you can / there’s a lot that can be done / you spit and you curse / you moan and you hiss / it all comes down to this.”
Then Captain Danger comes in smashing that kettle drum like a marching band. All war and drum majorettes. Eric Charles locks it in with the big warm basslines, while Jay steps in and out with the lyrics, slowing it down, building it up, until the whole thing crescendos and causes much sloshing of that expensive beer on the tiled floor as people scramble to applaud.

“When I’m With You” is a fun upbeat, trademark Jay Bones, in a different incarnation this could be a classic Fuzigish punk love song, but it’s dressed up all acoustic and minimal here. “When I’m with you I’m feeling better / when I’m with you I quote Mandela.”

“Sail Away” is the album’s obvious first single. A folky ode of positive thought inspired by ocean metaphors, invoking images of pirates and crusty beards all swelling anthemically on the chorus. It’s like a melodic folk punk mash up in the galley of the Dromedaris. “Heave ho, heave ho”.

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

“Soon” is the album’s highlight. A soft, understated track. Jay’s fingers teasing out a melancholic, folky melody on the guitar, Captain Danger just brushing that kettle drum to keep time while Eric Charles fills in some of the spaces on the bass. It’s a sound reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions album of old American folk songs, only sung by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.
“Spiders creeping in the corners of your eyes / Cobwebs linger in your breath / Every shadow is a suspect / Every creak is a secret about you / You should know better than this / You should know better than this / You should know better / Hold on / Hold on / Hold on / The morning’s coming soon.”
And when Captain Danger and Eric Charles come in with the a capella backing bass harmony, bom-be-bom bom-be-bom it just kills me. This song is a masterpiece.

Finally they bring it to a climax with the plaintiff riffs of “No Fun At All”, which is really a song about Jay growing up, having kids and becoming a drag on the hard living punk rockers he makes music with. “We used to hang out / We used to have laughs / Fooling around / But now you’re no fun at all / We were a team / you were my partner in crime / But now you’re no fun at all.” it’s a timeous reminder of what this whole journeyman music scene is all about. It’s plaintiff and contemplative, with a melancholic riff that makes you smile with downturned lips. Happy with a sad face. To make ends meet, Jay, the stand-out South African songwriter of his generation supplements that meagre musician’s income working days as a web developer… and that, my friends, is no fun at all.

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

Rambling Bones and his Bloody Agents

And just for kicks check the Rambling Bones Mahala Surf Co. colab below:

 

*All images © JR Onyangunga.

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RESPONSES (11)
  1. YsterHart says:

    Hells yeah! Cant hit that kiff button hard enough.

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  2. Chinless Fake Titted Ho says:

    Love the Bones! The new album makes me moist!

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  3. Mugabe says:

    “Jay Bones blows into town like a sweaty tornado of white manflesh.” hahahaha. What an intro! Win.

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  4. The Music Biz Wiz says:

    Great article but factually a little off, Bones is Bones, the others you refer to are merely hired hands to fill out the live sound but anyone who has seen Bones solo will know he’s just as entertaining and engaging all by his lonesome and the bleeding heart statement ‘make ends meet’ just makes me laugh. I know Bones to be smarter than that and I hope you’re not telling us that someone from 2 successful acts who even as a solo artist commands oh let’s see around R100+ per head (in live, cd and merch revenue from fans) of let’s say easily 3000 people per annum … As well as all the other perks like that song on TV, sales in stores etc … That’s a living … And a good one … There’s still time for rockstar riches but don’t be fooled as it sounds like he may be supplementing his music biz income with a little bit on the side … Go Bones! A true songwriting genius.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    The Music Biz Whiz over there doesn’t know shit, no one listen to them please.

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  6. The Music Biz Wiz says:

    Hey we’re talking about Bones here, a real talented and pretty popular muso and he should be playing to a minimum of 300 peeps per month willing to part with dosh so do the math its a big country and anyway Anonymous I’m not refering to your shitty part time hobby outfit from Durbs!

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  7. The Music Biz Wiz says:

    Ps its Wiz .. As in Wizard .. Not Whiz as in speed or whatever you’re calling it in point road these days!

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  8. Andy says:

    yeah but you don’t actually make R100 for every person who comes to your gigs. You got door splits, merch splits, CD costs etc.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    he’s lucky to see even R8 from every person through the door at his gigs.
    Not taking into account the production costs of releasing and touring albums, the costs of having an event (sound / engineers / door people / promo / advertising / support bands), additional promo costs of being in an active and relevant band, equipment costs, travel costs and much more.
    I dont live in Durban. The SA music industry is a full time job for me and not a hobby. You are an idiot.

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  10. Zam says:

    Ya Music Biz Wiz guy, Jay ain’t rolling in Dollars. He’s not the parlotones or prime circle. Radio hardly plays his tunes (no royalties), he has no Record Label backing as far as i know ( therefore no huge marketing or wide releases), two videos they barely played on MK and no where else and at the same time has to personally fund recording, producing, travel, album printing, advertising and the rest not mentioning supporting a family these days.

    To top it off, i KNOW what they charge to play a show (when not on door deal), and it’s probably less than what you make in a week or two of work. And the guy doesn’t play four shows a week, let alone even in a month.

    He is seriously one of SA’s best song writers, lyrically and musically, an exceptional guitarist and a really REALLY nice guy. He plays music cause he loves it and should get much more respect, or at least a SAMA nod or something.

    And finally; Kevin, Eric and Danger are some of the best players (and raddest people) in the music scene. They all know what they’re doing, not just “merely hired hands to fill out the live sound”. Give them some respect, they add a lot. If they didn’t, Jay wouldn’t have added them to the lineup, or he could have saved more of that “money” you believe he does.

    Self funded and resolute, i rate Ramblin’ Bones is one of SA’s best uncovered local “pop” acts while staying original, creative and true to their ideas. And you’re half right, he SHOULD be making tonnes of money. The material is well worth it.

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  11. Andy says:

    Thanks for laying it down Zam! Here here!!

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