Syd Kitchen is dead. To remember him we have gathered together to play his songs, savour his lyricism and recount his wit.
One of his last Facebook statuses was “Cancer is not for sissies.”
Losing a great musician changes things. The Aquarian Quartet is now a trio. Germaine has lost her playmate and Durban no longer has anyone left to tell us to wash our socks anthem style. We miss sweet Syd terribly. Knowing him, though, he’s probably way too busy moving through space to miss us. We gather together as much for ourselves, our own pain, our own loss, as we have to honour Syd. We need to be together now.
The journey from Durban to Howick’s Forgotten Falls – for Sunday’s Celebration Of Syd – takes 2 hours unless you drive with John Ellis, of Tree63, who rolls almost as fast as he thinks. It took us 45 minutes. And it was special and fitting and unforgettable. The memorial gig was Splashy Fen 21 years ago – before big screen rugby and Hooters. When the festival was a music festival. Splashy Number 1 was sound engineered by Dave Marks and Syd Kitchen had long hair and The Hairy Legged Lentil Eaters played. The festival headliner was a band called Plagal Cadence. Plagal Cadence was Nibs Van Der Spuy, Abbo Hall and Fuzzy Roadstone. They were perfect. Splashy Number 1 was folk, children, fire and dogs.
Forgotten Falls on Sunday was all of these things, all but one. Syd. Dave Marks was on the sound desk applying old school reverb to the vocals. The Hairy Legged Lentil Eaters played affectionately trippy folk while Plagal Cadence’s Abbo Hall took to the barn-style stage backed by a trio not much older than Splashy itself. Abbo still sounds good. His songs connect with an audience immediately and the music is all about slow sunny days at home. Gentle galloping songs.
John Ellis got big in America with Tree 63 but returned home after finding the recording industry there 1 part music to 9 parts business. John was solo for Syd and played guitar beautifully. His songs are anthemic, calling for a big stage, light rigs and mega sound systems – but they worked wonderfully on this intimate scale.
Inevitably Steve Newman wowed, Greg Georgiades buzzed, and my pop, Steve Fataar rocked along with the Hinds Brothers. Syd should have played. His glaring absence was terrible. His funeral marks the end of Syd Kitchen live. He is an impossible act to follow.
Syd didn’t waste any time leaving us. It was little more than a month between being told he had cancer and the end. But he didn’t stop being Syd – even through the shock and the pain. He and Steve smoked some potent Durban zol together one night.
“What’s on your mind man?” Steve had asked.
“Some days I feel like crying bra,” Syd said. “Other days I’ve got to get my shit together; get the lawyers to sort out my music paperwork so it will carry on reaching people and the royalties for my family. And you know Steve – we should all be doing this, as musicians.” There is now a Syd Kitchen Trust Fund where the money from Sunday’s Forgotten Falls gig has gone.
There is this great Syd story. There are so many. He was never much of a churchgoer, but he and Germaine tried it out. She reckons the church folk probably didn’t want them there, giggling like school kids in the pews. And a soft-spoken lady of the church came around offering everyone a “taste of Christ’s blood”. Syd thought it was wine and tried to explain he was a recovering alcoholic, but the lady was hard of hearing and didn’t understand. Germaine told him to just say no but the lady kept asking him to repeat himself. Soon the whole congregation was focused on Syd and finally the lady got it. “Oh no dear,” she cried. “It’s only grape juice!”
This was the first year in its history that Syd failed to appear at Splashy. The Aquarian Quartet put 4 chairs on stage regardless. The empty one, where sweet Syd should have been, had a leopard print hat hanging on the back of it. They played their hearts out for him.