Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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:


Hot Music

In two weeks I’ll be swinging down to Stuttgart with Germany’s Top Husband and our very good friends M and P to see South Africa’s hottest band, The Parlotones, in concert.

Here’s their very sexy song, Push Me to the Floor, courtesy of YouTube:

Now that I feel inspired, I’m off to chisel a sex scene.


Miss Kiss Kiss Bomb

So last night my husband and I armed ourselves with wine and settled happily on the sofa for our annual take-the-piss fest, the Eurovision Song Contest. The ESC, in which 42 countries that loosely call themselves European compete for best song and everyone in those 42 countries gets to vote, has been held annually since 1956 and famously launched the career of Abba. It is always an ode to kitsch, a celebration of tacky, a monument to bad singing, execrable taste and appalling clothes. So we, as you can imagine, were looking forward.

Last year’s winner, Russia, hosted the event at the Olimpiyski Stadium and it was, from beginning to end, slick, professional and very very smooth. None of the usual continuity bloopers, no technology failures and no faux pas from the comperes. With two semi-finals cutting out most of the dross, last night’s show was an exhibition of 25 relatively passable songs, and with the addition of juries to the voting process, every country managed to get a couple of votes – even the UK and Germany who are usually embarrassingly side-lined.

I had high hopes for Germany’s song, “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang”, which I saw at the Echoes in January. Despite the questionable lyrics, it is a boppy bit of swing, slickly performed by the duo Alex Swings Oscar Sings. Last night they employed the services of burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese, and I guess they read Europe wrong. Not in the mood for ersatz stripping, sexyboys and suggestiveness, Europe voted Germany into 20th place and punished them with 35 points (up from nul points last year, but still, not great). Kiss Kiss bombed.

With a recession firmly in place, Europe was in the mood for innocence and romance and the winner was clear almost from the beginning – the deeply cute and smily Alexander Rybak of Norway with his violin, acrobatic dancers and self-composed “Fairytale”. He was the runaway winner with 387 points, and even moved my husband to pick up the phone and vote (our first time ever, I might add. We also voted for France and Finland – who came last.) Anyway, here is Alexander with his Fairytale, and don’t feel shy showing it to your grannies and small children, this is family viewing:

Get used to it – the Otter Family Sofa predict it’s going to be all over your radio this summer. And here, for your entertainment, are some additional awards direct from that very sofa:

Sharpest suit and sideburns: Sasha Son of Lithuania

Best approximation of a waterfall: Yohanna of Iceland

Best political song: Noa and Mira Awad, an Arab-Israeli duo, for “There Must be a Better Way”. Amen to that.

Best backing visuals: Russia’s Anastasia Prikhodko for the visuals of her aging in her great song, “Mamo”.

Best audition for sappy hair: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Best attempt to be Ronan Keating: Norway’s Brinck, singing the song “Believe Again”, written by Ronan Keating

Best chest wax: Sakis, of Greece

Best separation at birth: Several identical blonde women, including Lijepa Tena of Croatia, Elena of Romania, Hadise of Turkey, Svetlana Loboda of Ukraine and Kejsi Tola of Albania.

Best disdain for fashion trend: Portugal. Rocking the folk look!

Best voice/worst song: Jade of the UK

Best mystery backing dancer: Albania’s green Spiderman.

See you next year in Oslo!


Liveblogging the ECHO Awards

11.04pm: Wladimir Klitschko here to give a lifetime achievement award to the Scorpions for selling 75 million records, 60 albums, 300 songs, and being the most successful German rock band ever. The Scorpion medley is brilliant! Some real rock at last, and a great way to end the evening.

10.53pm: At last, here’s Depeche Mode, with their new single “Wrong”. Nice twangy keyboards, and clashing chords. Great song, great performance, worth staying up for.

10.48pm: Best Female Artist Rock/Pop National … oh, sorry I must have dropped off. Stephanie Heinzmann.

10.44pm: Razorlight sings and your correspondent is still not moved. (Did I mention that Barbara Schoenemeyer is now wearing her sixth outfit? Go Barbara! Rock those wardrobe changes.)

10.36pm: Best Artist Rock/Pop National … Would the rocker in the house please stand up? And it’s Udo Lindenberg, this time without the astronaut suit, but wearing some fab tracky bots.

10.27pm: 2008 was the year of female pop stars, apparently. Amy, Amy, Duffy, Leona, Katy. Here’s lovely little Katy now with ANOTHER FREAKIN’ BALLAD. Would someone rock for me please?! Is it so much to ask?

10.17pm: German star Helene Fischer sings while wearing a very large mermaid. I am hating the song. Can I go to bed now? Oh no, I can’t she’s getting an award, for … Best Deutsche Schlager and Best German Newcomer. Very sincere and fluent speech.

10.12pm: 2009 Critic’s Prize goes to Peter Fox. Bless, he’s brought his beer with him.

10.03pm: Best International Newcomer is … Amy MacDonald! And she’s wearing wet-look leggings, and trying to speak German which is too cute with her Scottish accent. And now she’s singing “This is the Life”, which is, frankly, the best song of the evening so far. Worth staying awake for.

9.55pm: 2008 was the year of the comeback: Grace Jones, Britney Spears, AC/DC, Metallica and German pop icon Udo Lindenberg. Here’s the lovely Udo now wearing an astronaut suit that my son would give his Weetabix for. Full marks to the costume designer. I especially like the way the helmet keeps tipping forward so that poor old Udo can’t look out. Ooh! Space chicks! Got to have a bit of tin foil. This song is called Woddy Woddy Wodka. I’m not joking. It’s so awful, it’s good, and the audience LOVE it.

9.52pm: Video clip to Kid Rock wearing fun fur and receiving an award for … Best Song of the Year.

9.44pm: Silbermond! Some real rocking, at last. This should keep me awake. Err, no, somewhat underwhelming song.

9.38pm: Some girls in dirndls give awards for the best folk music. Big, big category here in Germany, of little interest to the rest of the world. And the winner is … the Kastelruther Spatzen!!! Nearly fell off my seat there. Did you notice?

9.31pm: Surprisingly cool song from Alex Swings Oscar Sings – Germany’s entrant in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

9.25pm: Mourning my lost copy. It was witty, I tell you. Now the award for Hip Hop Urban. It’s gone to Peter Fox, newcomer from Berlin whose album Stadtaffe has gone platinum in Germany.

9.15pm: Some slick boys in suits up to present an award for the Most Successful Jazz something something something National. And the winner is … Til Brönner, who is apparently Germany’s most well-known jazz export. Hmm. Who’da thunk it? Very smooth acceptance speech. Nice-looking fella.

ACHTUNG! WordPress just swallowed an hour’s worth of insightful commentary. I may have lost the will to live. Or I’ll just crack the tequila I was saving for Depeche Mode.

8.15pm: Barbara Schoeneberger wearing an interestingly ruched purple dress that recalls the Eighties. Oliver Pocher has my heart, and not just because of his name. So cute, and funny too. U2 performing a song from their new album “Line on the Horizon”. Their first performance in Germany for ten years. The usual big visuals and Bono, sorry to say it, gurning.

8.10pm: News very boring. Salami sticks finished.

7.55pm: Lionel Richie wearing a glittery coat on the red carpet. Paul Potts and Mrs Potts looking puzzled. Depeche Mode looking cold. It’s chilly in Berlin tonight.

7pm: Tonight I’m covering the ECHO Awards – Germany’s answer to the Grammys and the Brits – for Buzzine from the comfort of my own sofa. I thought I’d live blog it for my entertainment and for the three of you who might just be with me. If you are in Germany, feel free to watch it on Die Erste and chime in. First off, some background reading. See the big names performing tonight: U2, Depeche Mode, Razorlight, Amy MacDonald, Katy Perry, Die Toten Hosen, Silbermond. Up for awards are the likes of Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, Duffy, REM, Rosenstolz and Jack Johnson (quiver!). Then, to set the scene: Your correspondent eats last night’s leftovers and some salad at a wonderful local establishment called The Dining-Room (original, non?). She then proceeds, paparazzi snapping, to the sofa. Tonight she is wearing pants in a delicate grey melange, paired with a black sweater and accessorized with a giant pink blanket and Falke hiking socks, cleverly marked “R” and “L” just in case she drinks too much mineral water and forgets. Now that she is following a hardcore low-carb regime in order to preserve her figure, your correspondent will be snacking on salami sticks, macadamia nuts and olives. Later on, she may break loose and have a chai. You never know. Hold onto your seats, readers! This could get very exciting.


RIP Miriam Makeba

South African singer Miriam Makeba – the nightingale of Africa – died yesterday at a clinic in Italy, only hours after performing in her last concert. She was 76.

According to The Independent, she suffered a heart attack after a 30-minute performance against organised crime. Makeba was an outspoken critic against apartheid, and was involuntarily exiled for 30 years when the Nationalist government revoked her passport.

“One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing,” Foreign Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said in a statement.

“Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song.”

Here is Mama Makeba singing Soweto Blues, written by her former husband Hugh Masekela:


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.