Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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Five Lessons from a Rock Band

My favourite South African rock band, The Parlotones, are on tour again and, happily for me, will be playing in Karlsruhe in the spring. I went to their Stuttgart show and it was fabulous. In South Africa, The Parlotones usually play in football stadiums to crowds of 40,000, but because they are a little less well-known in Europe and the USA they tend to play in clubs where the audiences seldom veer over 300. This means fans like me can get up close and personal with the band.

It dawned on me from observing them closely that there are five  things The Parlotones do incredibly well that writers can learn from. 

1. They have great sound. They write and play big anthemic sing-along tunes. It’s bounce on the balls of your feet and punch the air music, rather than flick on your cigarette lighter and sway music. Best of all, their live sound is identical to their recorded sound. If you’ve learnt to love certain songs by listening to a CD over and over again, it’s gratifying when you splash out the money to hear that band live, that they sound good.

Lesson for writers: Know your craft and use it to the very, very best of your ability.

2. They write great lyrics. You wouldn’t identify the Parlotones as South African on first listen as they have a big rocky sound similar to Radiohead and Coldplay. They don’t use any South African slang or any other South African languages (of which we have many) in their lyrics. However, when you have time to listen, you find that their preoccupations are deeply South African: a bleeding city, people escaping from reality through ‘happy pills’ and partying, a  ‘messiah from the Transkei, born to inspire’, living on ‘the brighter side of hell’. It’s not obvious, but it’s there.

Lesson for writers: be authentic. Write about your preoccupations and your passions.

3. They give a great show. The Parlotones crossed my radar for the first time when they played the concert at Soccer City that opened the 2010 World Cup. They only played one song – the utterly fabulous Push Me to the Floor – but they were gripping. Lead singer Kahn Morbee’s glam-rock styling, combined with his powerful, melancholy voice, and the band’s big, stadium-filling sound makes for an entrancing show. Live, they are ten times better.

Lesson for writers: Don’t be mediocre. Be fabulous. Be extreme. Push your creativity to its limits.

4. They turn up later, wearing smiles. After the show, the band members clustered around their merchandise stand, posing for photographs with fans, signing autographs and chatting. They were relaxed and friendly, if a bit sweaty. This wasn’t just a once-off for Stuttgart: Germany’s Top Husband had seen them in Seattle a few weeks before where they did just the same.

Lesson for writers: Be professional. Reward your audience by turning up in person and not being a creep.

5. Doing the other stuff. The Parlotones are on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube. They have  released a red wine called ‘Giant Mistake’ and a white wine called ‘Push Me to the Floor’. They have embraced the work of publicity. Their Wikipedia page quotes Kahn as saying, ‘We’ve always had the attitude to just do anything, because everything counts. We’ve done it all; from having kids throwing water bombs at us, to waxing each other’s legs on national television and eating tripe in Soweto. And it really does all count; soon the whole country knows who you are. (Well not ‘soon’, rather ‘eventually.’)’.

Lesson for writers: Maximise your brand. Do the social networking. Embrace your tribe. Be open to opportunities.

Here are our heroes giving Johannesburg a dose of  ‘Should We Fight Back?’, a song inspired by the struggle against apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom:

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Anatomy of a Date

Put on your New York t-shirt, the one you bought after having too much wine at lunch in Soho, the price of which still causes you to gasp inside but which makes you feel fabulous.

Leave with your babysitter one sleeping child and two others reading in bed. (The fact that you now have two reading children adds exponentially to the success of the evening.)

Receive last-minute Facebook messages and calls from friends who won’t be joining you. You are on your own. This is no longer an evening out with friends; it is a date.

Proceed to Weinheim.

Find the nearest döner shop and scarf some fast food. This is not about fine dining.

Walk in a fog of garlic to the gig, where, on entry you meet some members of the band and kiss them hello. You’re kissing band members. Fangirl.

Enjoy a spectacularly vinegary €2 glass of wine.

Watch the warm-up band Skaya, who are very young and very good. Predict that the lead singer will be a superstar.

Wait.

Drink water.

Waft garlic.

Swarm onto the dance-floor as the band, Ngobo Ngobo, start to play. Wonder why tall people always stand in front of you. (To the tall blonde guy whipping you in the face with his dreads, next time please wear a topknot.)

Find a space with a view.

Dance with your love.

Drink water.

Reflect that ska is happy music, and how much you prefer it and reggae to rap (it’s all in the melody).

Dance more.

Enjoy how your garlic fog is protecting you from the fog of cigarette smoke in the club.

Dance to every single song, including the band’s new songs, old favourites and a brilliant cover version of this:

Spend some time remembering 1984. (It was a good year.)

Keep dancing until the very last encore.

Leave smelling of sweat, garlic and other people’s cigarettes.

Release very tired babysitter and go to bed at 2am.

Wake at 6.45am thanks to the non-reading child.

Smell the smoke in your hair, and remember.

It was good.


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Where Was I?

Last night I was lucky enough to see these artists live on stage:

  • Tears for Fears
  • Kim Wilde (Cambodia, Kids in America)
  • Robin Gibb (Juliet, Saturday Night Fever)
  • 10cc (Dreadlock Holiday)
  • Denis DeYoung (Mr Roboto)
  • Angels in Harlem Gospel Choir
  • Musical comedians Igudesmann & Joo

Where was I?

The first to guess correctly and post their answer in the comments will receive a complementary package of Lindt chocolate from me, sent to anywhere in the world in time for Christmas.

While you ponder, please consider just how exciting it was for this child of the Eighties to see Tears for Fears perform this song live for me:


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The Police Reunion Tour, Mannheim

Despite cultivating the look of a hoary old sea-dog (perma-tan, salt and pepper beard, piercing blue eyes), Sting remains a very good advert for yoga and graceful aging. Not many 56-year-olds can wear a tight T-shirt and look that good. Oh, and he can still sing. 

Sting and his Police cohorts, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, gave a great concert last night. Their music (damningly described by one friend of mine as “all those slow dances”) doesn’t always rock everyone onto their feet, but they are all such superb musicians and the songs off their five albums are so strong, that the Mannheim audience were happy to sit, sway and let Sting’s voice wraith around them. 

Did I mention the piercing blue eyes?

A couple of songs did get me dancing: Message in a Bottle, Walking on the Moon, Roxanne and Lonely. But it was fabulous to hear other anthems of my teenage years like Wrapped Around your Finger, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, Don’t Stand So Close to Me and De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da. There is something about the purity of just three musicians – two guitarists and a drummer – on stage giving their all in their last-ever tour (The Police will play their final concert in New York in May) that gave the concert an added dimension. Compared to many contemporary bands that need backing singers, dancers, additional instruments and distracting videos on the screens in order give good concert, their show is simple, straightforward and dedicated to the music. Also, Sting is a great lyricist and is not scared of words with more than two syllables.

Someone in the crowd behind me described it as “minimalistich, aber supergeil” which pretty much sums it up. It’s minimalist in that they do nothing else but play great songs for one and a half hours, but supergeil (a word I struggle to translate into English – my inadequate offering is “mega-hot”) because (a) it’s the Police, (b) that’s Sting, right there on stage in front of you, (c) the music does remind you of a hundred teenage slow dances, (d) the songs are fabulous, and (e) my God, that really is Sting, isn’t it?

It was supergeil! And Sting really does have lovely blue eyes.

 

 


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No-One Here But Me-Oh

Watch this video, note the man’s bow-tie and understand why I wore one for two years and thought I was cool. Someone should have sent out an SOS for my fashion sense. This was the first pop song that crossed my consciousness, that I chose for myself over my parents’ music. I remember wandering down the corridors of my lovely school for young ladies, wearing my hideous brown winter uniform, dreaming of Sting and singing this:

Twenty-eight years later, and I’m off to see The Police tonight.

*Waaahhh! Runs off screaming. Waaahhh!*

(Will return tomorrow in adult mode to report …. *Waaahhhhhh!*)

 


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Electric Bruce

I had completely forgotten that my friend P had bought me a ticket to see Bruce Springsteen at the Mannheim Arena, and by the time Sunday night rolled around, I really didn’t feel like going. We’d had a busy weekend with visitors (lovely, charming and very special ones), I still wasn’t feeling well and it was cold, wet and stormy outside. I even tried to give my ticket to my husband. He wasn’t buying.

So I pulled myself together, and went with P and two of his friends. I’m happy to report that Bruce is still as cute as he was back in 1984 when he dragged Courtney Cox on stage to dance to “Dancing in the Dark”. He still looks as good in his jeans, the hair is still luxurious although tinged with grey and receding slightly, and he now has a web of crow’s feet around his eyes that suggests his default expression is a smile. And he gives good concert.

The show opens with his new hit “Radio Nowhere” and the crowd were on their feet and dancing – your intrepid correspondent included – from the first chord. (I’m listening to it on YouTube as I write, but unfortunately embedding has been disabled, presumably by request of the record company, so I can’t show it to you. Bah humbug.)

Anyway, Bruce and the E-Street band rock – their show lasted two and a half hours, and there was barely a second between one song finishing and the next starting. Although the show gives the impression of being relaxed and casual, there are nine people on stage many of whom require frequent guitar changes and that happens so smoothly you barely notice. It is carefully planned and, as German software developers love to say, executed. (“Let’s execute this show, immediately!”)

The Observer notes (aficionados can read Phil Hogan’s excellent review here), that it’s no greatest hits show, with at least a third of the songs from the new album. However they encored with “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark”, so the Eighties teenager buried not so deep inside me was happy. I may have to go and buy the album because I loved “Girls in their Summer Clothes” which Bruce dedicated – in German – “to all German girls”, as well as “Radio Nowhere” and “Livin’ in the Future”.

I’m sure serious Bruce fans have noticed how many of his songs are about being on the road, the highway, the street, the run. I suppose even a New Jersey boy has a bit of a pilgrim in him. I’m glad I made my own personal pilgrimage through the dark and wet German night to see him play. It was excellent entertainment. I recommend that Bob Dylan visits with Bruce Springsteen in New York sometime soon, so that Bruce can reach out to him and share how to work a crowd. If Bob was barely live when we saw him Mannheim earlier this year, then Bruce was electric. (But not executed.)