A Bloemfon-Tuin Experience
The Vryfees Festival:
The Vryfees used to be the festival that gave us an excuse to be naughty during our school days. Since I found myself in Bloemfontein last week, I took a break from writing and, being nostalgic in the city of my youth, spent my time listening to poetry and literature debates by day, checking out bands by night and resolving the internal conflict between craft beer, craft gin, craft rum and Zamalek. It was my time off and I had no intention of writing anything but then, on Saturday night…Tuin
Festivals work as follows; The lineup always starts with the worst band you’ve never heard of. After that, it’s the worst band you’ve ever heard of. Thereafter, it gets progressively better. I was just drinking beer in the tent not giving much attention to the people they put on stage to fill backtracks with vocals. It piqued my interest though when, as early as 19h00, 2 guitars, a bass and a drum kit made an appearance. At 19h01 my interest went from piqued to intrigued and at 19h02, I wanted to start a label just to record them.
Who was this band? Why had I never heard of them before?
Realising that I hadn’t been so surprised to be blown away by a local rock group since Cutting Jade was about to suffer a nervous breakdown, I felt embarrassed that this was my first exposure to them. It made me wonder what else I may have missed but we’re all entitled to one mulligan, right? RIGHT?
Listening to their bilingual music brought back memories to times when MK89 still used to put on gigs and I used to trek to Pretoria just to hear bands in the Square.
The band is fronted by Tanya Schoeman and her singing was a treat. What sets good rock bands apart from the rest is not only the front’s vocal range but also their control. You notice this when poor fronts use “Alicia Keys Licence” to scoop around 3 or 4 different notes before reaching the one they intended. This is not the case with Tanya.
While we’re talking vocals, drummer Annie Curtin brought the house down with a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It was like something glorious out of Westminster Abbey.
Being spectacular to the ears, however, does not a great rock band make. If I wanted to hear good music, I could just buy the albums. Dave Matthews once told me that…well and to another couple of thousand people in the crowd. It’s true though. Nobody goes to a rock gig just to hear the music they could hear at home. So what of Tuin’s stage presence?
From a badass bassist to a rocking lead guitar whose face made the occasional appearance through his mane, for a moment, I thought I was in the 70s. In fact, it was only the absence of leather pants that made me realise we were still in 2017…more importantly, that SA rock is still alive and well in 2017.
Great public speakers, I’ve heard, from Constitutional Court judges to leaders of political parties to CEOs, all share one thing in common; they command control of the room. Similarly, great rock bands command the stage. Tuin does this remarkably well. I deliberately use the adjective remarkable because, at the time, I remarked to my girlfriend that “they could turn the sound off and this band would still be in charge of this venue if they just keep moving the way they do”.
Their presence is the sort of comforting vibe that informs you that they’re more than good enough to be on that stage without the (unfortunately all too typical of our generation) “we only liked you because we thought we should due to your confidence but you actually sucked” aftertaste.
Musically, they seemed pretty seasoned, offering a combination of originals and covers. Even a little Tina Turner was thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, most band reviews simply rave about a couple of songs and speak to how big the crowd was. Enjoying music has lost the subtle arts of nuance in its appreciation. This quartet was versatile, excited, exciting and in tune with the crowd. They even drew the crowd. I haven’t thought a follow-up band was so lucky for the hard work done by the opening band since I watched Hot Water open for Rudimentals back when Assembly was still open.
Man, if I had a set like that, I’d order a beer over the mic, drop the mic, wait for the beer to be brought to me, drop that too, order another and drink it backstage away from the plebs who would never be able to put on such a great show. Not these dudes, they stuck around and took photos with fans and were totally humble.
I’m happy to break my leave and write about this experience in case there are more people who, like me, have somehow just missed them over the last 2 years. If you have, find them and watch them so you too can witness the genesis of something big coming onto our scene.
Artists do what they do so I rarely thank them after a set. It’s their job and they’re expected to entertain. If however, they go above and beyond that, best believe they deserve the praise, and these folks do! I had to find them after their set and thank them because they didn’t just do their job, they nailed it to the extent that I would comfortably have them lead the renaissance of South African rock.
Thanks to Mudboots Photography for the photos