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Pirate Music

by Roger Young, images by Kevin Goss-Ross / 30.04.2010

I suppose being a music “journalist” I should have known who Mr. Cat & The Jackal are, but you know, people keep using pirate similes when talking about them so I presumed they were just another Avontoer “Searover” band. In fact, ever since Facebook has made Pirate a language I’ve been against the concept of pirates in general, I mean, the concept of pirates has totally sold out, man.

Travel weary and new in town, Mr. Cat and the Jackal have the task of facing off a small, punkesque crowd at The Winston as their welcome to Durban. The sound is muddy, we can hardly hear the vocals, and the few kids not outside stand around intrigued, but not entirely taken, by their jaunty accordion and acoustic guitars kinda swaying, but that’s usual for the provinces, the whole, “I gotta assess if it’s okay to like this before I decide if I like this before I decide if I feel like dancing” bullshit.

Mr. Cat and the Jackal, true to their PR, are a bit like a band of chroniclers in song located in a late Victorian dockside tavern. They swap instruments between members as if they are one beast, from accordion, to guitar, to lap steel, to a thing that looks like a medieval lap steel and there is a flowing movement in the simple but wide-ranging percussion. Their songs are bawdy and open; tight and skillful and they sing of death and the open sea in a rolling and hard rocking way that totally legitimizes idea of Pirate music, moving it very far away from my notion of it being mere novelty.

Near the end of the set, there is a moment where the band all fiddle with the aircon, sweating on stage, they’re trying to turn it up because obviously it’s Durban and it’s hot. The crowd has grown but not much, it’s a slow night at the pub, and Mr. Cat and the Jackal launch into their last round of songs. The few that are there bust out into some kind of crazy punk double time waltzing with pirouettes and flourishes, totally guided in their movements by the music, as strange and familiar as a sudden memory of a past life where violence and the romance of the sea lurked in every side street.

Mr Cat and the Jackal are at VMACS Pinetown tonight with 7th Son, THOTS and the Car Boot Vendors and at Blue Stockings in Kloof on Saturday night.

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