19th November 2020:
While travelling from the South African dancefloors with Sun El to the ambient beauty of Norwegian born Oysten Sevag, we sidetracked through the Jazz genius of Spyra Gyra, went to the moon for a few tracks and said hello to old friends from the distant past. Yep, the second week in July was a mixed bag of brilliance.
This series of blog articles cover a week of the feature posts from the Loving the Music Facebook page and group. This makes it easier for our music-loving community to search through our ever-growing archive of songs, backstories and trivia.
July 8th – 14th 2020 – Featured Musicians
Sun El – Adrenaline Rush – HSCC – Christopher Dallman – Spyro Gyra – David Bowie – The Byrds – Elton John – Paul John Weller – Oysten Sevag – Erasure
8th July: A little while back I promised to bring you a bit of insight behind some of South Africa’s top DJ’s and producers. I’m keeping my word and bringing you a few tracks from one of our stars of local EDM, Sun-El. If there is a man who epitomises the word determination, it is Sanele Sithole, aka Sun-El.
Like all of us, he had always loved music but it was when another big name, DJ Tira, recommended to the young man who had just danced the night away, that he learn the computer music generation program Fruity Loops. This set him in the right direction. At the time he was a young man who has lost his parents, living with his Grandmother, and with a love of computers. The concept of combining his love of music and technology played to his strengths.
In 2010/11 he was recognised by the artist and producer Demor, the artist/producer known for his work with international star Black Coffee. He signed Sun-El to Demor Music as a producer where he stayed until 2016 when he teamed up with singer Samthing Soweto and started working on the song Akanamali using donated and borrowed equipment from friends. The song was shelved for a while but while bored one day, Sun-El put in some extended hours and polished the song that catapulted him into the spotlight, winning him a sweep of awards including a SAMA, SAMRO and SAMPRA.
Here’s the monster hit that dominated the trends, the charts, airwaves and social conversations at the time of its release. This is African House music of the highest order, the 2017 hit ‘Akanamali’.
We pick up the Sun-El story with a song from his debut album, Africa To The World, released in April 2018. The song Akanamali had opened a lot of opportunities, including a chance to work with Alicia Keys and her husband, Swizz Beatz, after they heard the song while on a visit to SA. The couple paid for flights and accommodation to the US where Sun-El stayed for a week.
The debut album was one of the countries most eagerly awaited and when it finally hit it cause dancefloor waves. The thirteen tracks of mid-tempo electronic grooves and carefully chosen vocalists was released on his own El World Music label and is a tribute to the young man who never gave up the dream and has crafted his own distinctive style. The song I’ve chosen from the ‘Africa to the World’ album features the beautiful voice of Canadian singer/songwriter, Desiree Dawson. Here’s ‘With You’
In closing today’s feature spot on South African DJ/Producer, Sun-El, I’ve chosen a song that features one of my favourite local ladies of song, Msaki. This track, Ubomi Abumanga, was released in May this year and within one listening it made its way onto my household playlist. This song ticks all the boxes with a smooth and sophisticated gentle drive that is purely homegrown. This is music that makes me proud to be South African.
With his strict work ethic and undeniable talent, El-Sun’s career can only go in one direction and I can see him being as big a name as Black Coffee and DJ Fresh internationally. Tonight’s track shows that he hasn’t been resting during the lockdown and when the restrictions are over I am sure he will be wowing dancefloors across the globe. As I mentioned in a previous feature I am just starting to get to know the new wave of Black South African music and the divergent styles of the local House beats, but what I am hearing has me delving deeper and deeper.
Sometime soon I’ll be explaining the joys of Gqom, Bacardi (no, not the rum), and Amapiano for your pleasure. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I until recently but I’m glad to be finding out. I may be a bit late to the party but, as a 60+ white guy, I can be a bit slow sometimes. However, I am firmly of the philosophy that not fixing yourself in one era or genre of music keeps one eternally young. Look at me.😂 Thanks for joining me for a slice of local today. Wishing you all a happy Wednesday. 😎
9th July:The cover version has become a norm in music and where some re-workings and tributes are acts of genius others just should never have been considered. Fortunately, today I have three excellent examples of the first sort. I’m starting with the well-loved Billy Idol classic Rebel Yell.
The song would be well suited to any Heavy Metal outfit; it’s just that kind of song. It is also the kind of song that could be totally ruined by overdoing the metal part of the equation. However, the Heavy Metal rockers Adrenaline Mob add just enough ‘extra oomph’ to give an old classic some new zing without distracting from what made it so popular in the first place, the melody.
Unfortunately, Adrenaline Mob had a short-lived career. Formed in 2011, they were touring their third studio album, We the People, when their bus was involved in a horrific accident which killed bassist David Zablidowsky and tour manager, Jane Train and seriously injured the rest of the band members. I think this track shows guitarist Mike Orlando’s skills perfectly, and Russell Allen’s vocals are spot on. Here’s Rebel Yell.
We are looking at the art of the cover version today and for the second choice, I’d like to introduce the Hindley Street Country Club or HSCC as they are known. They were established in 2017 and is a collection of Australian musicians who record and perform live online to a growing fanbase.
Founders, Constantine Delo and Darren Mullan explain “The core of our work is to support South Australian artists and spreading the love of real songs through the connections we all have online”. This approach has been used successfully by a few bands, particularly Pomplamoose, whose online audience is huge.
There were a couple of choice options for this second slot for today, but their version of Kim Carne’s hit Bette Davis Eye’s featuring the vocals and guitar skills of Dusty Stephenson really appealed to me. Enjoy.
I had never heard of Christopher Dallman before listening to his remarkable reimagining of the Britney Spears song, Toxic. This LA-based musician started his career playing a local coffee shop in Milwaukee and soon developed a devoted following. A stint in Boston as lead singer for the Rory Calhoun Project ended in him developing paralyzing stage fright which prevented him from live performance for several years.
He slowly overcame his fears and started to hone his career, always keeping it small, sometimes even playing in people’s living rooms. A series of fortunate events led to the recording of his only album to date, Race the Light, released in 2004.
After the hype he grew disillusioned with the lack of success and left the music industry, It was when a stranger approached him and raved on about how much she had enjoyed seeing him perform, that he decided to go back to music.
There was some critical acclaim for his first two EP’s, but it was when he released two multi-song EP’s, one of which was Sad Britney, reworkings of four Britany hits that was noticed. It was the first release of his to ever make it onto a public forum when it peaked at #6 on one of the many (and often confusing) categories of iTunes charts.
Christopher released another EP in 2011 and then seemed to disappear from the face of the earth until four tracks appeared on YouTube in 2019. Let’s hope this is an indication that we’ll be seeing even more of this very talented man in the future. Thanks for getting under the covers with me today. Wherever you are, have fun and stay safe.😎
10th July: I was thinking about the bands that have consistently ‘produced the goods’ throughout their career. There are very few musical groups that can match the consistency of the Jazz-Rock legends Spyro Gyra. Over the 40+ years together they have released 34 albums, numerous Best Of compilations and played over five thousand shows.
In 1974, saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and old friend Jeremy Wall were leading a group of revolving club musicians, all involved in the local Jazz or Rock fraternity. As the band gelled, so their popularity grew and in 1976, the band named Spyro Gyra released their first self-funded album on the independent Amherst label. It slowly gained success, but it was when Amherst sold the rights to the band to Infinity Records, that the band really took off with the release of Morning Dance.
The 1979 Morning Dance album was their first release for Infinity and it became a major success with the single, Morning Dance, going platinum, so cementing Spyro Gyra as one of the most popular bands in contemporary Jazz, a title they would keep throughout, and well beyond, the ‘80s. Here’s our opening track for today, the song hat started it all, Morning Dance.😎
Today we are celebrating the genius of Spyro Gyra, the outfit who defined the sound of contemporary Jazz-Rock when their 1979 Morning Dance album hit the world. Over the course of the ’80s, the membership of Spyro Gyra fluctuated, but saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist, Tom Schuman remained at its core, keeping the group’s signature sound intact. For the second choice today I am jumping forward quite a few years to their release of the 2013 album, The Rhinebeck Sessions. This album was conceived and raised when they entered a small recording studio in the town of Rhinebeck. Three days later they had composed, arranged and recorded this remarkable album.
Jazz fans were ecstatic, Spyro Gyra fans were over the moon and the music press were wagging their collective tails. Travis Rogers of the Jazz Journalists Association picked it for Jazz Album of the Year, while Something Else claimed it was Spyro Gyra’s best album since their early ‘80s heyday and picked The Rhinebeck Sessions as their Top Twenty pick of the year. But enough talking, here’s the track Wishful Thinking. 😎
As the final song from Spyro Gyra for tonight, I have chosen a track from the last album. Vinyl Tap was released in 2019 and was the first album of new material in six years.
Vinyl Tap is a finely crafted collection of pop favourites from the vinyl era, all reworked with Spyro Gyra’s remarkable arrangement expertise. Many artists use a ‘covers album’ when they have run out of inspiration. Not so Spyro Gyra. This is a well-compiled collection and in no way rides on the band’s previous successes. Apart from appealing to the fans and critics, this album is sure to attract a whole new audience to the group and the genre.
I listened to the whole album and after much deliberation, this is the track that shone for me. Spyro Gyra’s remarkable version of Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home. Pure genius. I hope you enjoyed my Spyro Gyra selection today. Compiling it was like visiting an old friend that you haven’t seen for a while. There was a lot of happy catching up and I left feeling fantastic. Have a happy Friday folks. Catch you soon. 😎
11th July: I’m sharing a little earlier than normal today. With freezing temperatures, pending snow and power load-shedding looming I thought the earlier the better! Today in 1969, David Bowie released the song that would define the start of a legend. Space Oddity was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was released as a single in July 1969 before being used as the opening track of his second album, David Bowie.
The release date coincided perfectly with the build-up to Apollo 11, the first manned moon mission and widest watched event in the history of television. Whether this was clever marketing or fortunate coincidence is not certain, but the BBC played the song during their coverage of Apollo 11’s landing and the rest is history. Space Oddity and Major Tom played to the space frenzy sweeping the planet at the time and helped it become one of Bowie’s signature songs, and one of the four tracks of his that would be included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
I feel that one of the greatest tributes to Bowie and the song was when astronaut Chris Hadfield performed and filmed the Space Oddity on the International Space Station, making it the only music video to be shot in space. Today I have decided to feature three space-themed songs in honour of this important moment in musical history. They were all released within a couple of years of each other and are perfect examples of the appeal that anything space themed had on society. Here’s David Bowie, ready for take-off…
The second space-themed track from today was released a few years before Bowie’s masterpiece. The Byrds covers of Dylan songs had earned them the reputation of a soft Folk-Rock band, but this track, Mr Spaceman, gave a hint to the band’s future sound.
This was the swinging sixties where anything ‘out there’ was ‘groovy’. The Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn was pretty ‘out there and groovy’ and sincerely hoped that if the song was beamed into the skies on AM radio waves it would attract aliens to visit us! Whether this worked or not is unsure, as you all well know aliens could look like anyone at all, and with the emergence of Glam Rock a few years later, anything could have been behind the wigs and make-up!
Here’s number two space song for this mix, from The Byrds 1966 album ‘Fifth Dimension’, its Mr Spaceman.
To close today’s selection of space-themed songs I’ve chosen what is possibly the second most popular space-themed pop song of the era, Elton John’s classic composition Rocket Man. Bernie Taupin, Elton’s genius lyricist, states that the song wasn’t written on the back of Bowie’s Space Oddity, but was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s book of sci-fi short stories, The Illustrated Man’. “In that book, there was a story called The Rocket Man, which was about how astronauts in the future would become a sort of an everyday job. So I kind of took that idea and ran with that.”
I far prefer that explanation than the rumours that spread soon after release that the song was full of evil drug references. These came about because of the line “I’m gonna be high as a kite by then”. Whatever the true meaning, the fact is that this song has claimed its place in musical history.
Instead of a clip of Elton performing, I have chosen a video from refugee Iranian filmmaker, Majid Adin. This is his submission to The Cut’s and YouTube’s initiative to invite filmmakers to create the first ‘official videos’ for three of Elton John’s most famous songs. I think it captures the mood and story of the song perfectly. I hope you enjoyed today’s space-themed selection. Wherever your spaceship is headed today make sure to have fun and please fly responsibly. Catch you soon – Captain out! 😎
12th June: Some musicians know how to adapt their sound to the changing musical styles and one of those is Paul John Weller. Vaguely ring a bell? He’s the man behind the Punk-Mod group The Jam, and the slick sound of The Style Council before embarking on a very successful solo career. Today I thought I’d share a track and a bit of background from the different stages of Paul John Weller’s musical journey.
His recognition has been mainly UK based and his sharp lyrics coupled with his guitar and vocal skills earned him the nickname The Modfather during the mod revival of the 1970s and 80s. The bones of The Jam fell into place in 1972 and they built up a local following playing a mixture of originals interspersed with Beatles covers.
The Jam impressed the already establish The Clash, who invited the young band to join their 1977 White Riot tour. The Jam carved their own place in musical history with eight studio albums between 1977 and 1982. With the band’s increasing popularity, Weller was restless to explore a more soulful sound and The Jam disbanded at the end of 82.
To start today here’s a song from Paul John Weller as The Jam with a song from their fifth album, Sound Affects. It’s a strange accolade, but this song was listed by BBC Radio 2 as the 43rd best song ever released by any artist. I’m not sure what the criterion of judging was, but it is a great song. Here’s That’s Entertainment.
We are looking at a song from each stage of Paul John Weller’s career this Sunday. We’ve covered The Jam and now we look at 1983 when he teamed up with keyboard player Mick Talbot to form The Style Council. They were joined by Steve White on drums and Weller’s long-time girlfriend, the Wham backing singer, Dee C Lee.
The Style Council was at the head of the Jazz-Pop revival of the ‘80s which would see bands like Matt Bianco and Everything but the Girl rise to prominence. With The Style Council, Weller managed to break into the international market for the first time and has successes in America and Australia.
Performances in Band Aid and Live Aid further cemented their popularity. Their inclusion in these international events was possibly due to the band having released the 1984 album Soul Deep under the name The Council Collective to raise money for Striking miners.
As the ‘80s progressed and the sound of music started to change, so the band’s popularity wained and they disbanded in 1989 when the record company decided not to release their fifth studio album. But Paul John Weller had plans, as we will see in the next post. The second slot for today remembers The Style Council with one of their big hits, The Walls Come Tumbling Down.
To close today’s feature on the career of Paul John Weller we look at the third stage. After the success and subsequent disbanding of both The Jam and The Style Council, Weller didn’t take long to re-establish himself as one of Britains leading singer-songwriters.
We pick up his story in 1992 with the release of his self-titled first solo album with tracks that fitted perfectly in the emerging Acid Jazz sound. 1995 saw him top the charts again with his album Stanley Road. Again, his new band led the surge of Britpop that saw the rise of bands like Oasis, Blur and Pulp. Now, with fifteen solo albums and numerous nominations and awards, including the, strangely name Godlike Genius Award at the 2010 NME Awards, Paul John Weller is a legend.
In May 2010, Weller was presented with the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement award, saying “I’ve enjoyed the last 33 years I’ve been writing songs and hopefully, with God’s good grace, I’ll do some more” We hope so as well, John Paul Weller. I’m closing with a track from his latest album, On Sunset, which was released on the third of July. Here’s the title track, On Sunset.
Thanks for exploring a little of Paul John Weller’s undeniable talent and life with me today. I hope you have all had a wonderful weekend, and for local South Africans, I hope you are staying warm. I’ll catch you next week with some more of the best from across the years. Stay safe.😎
13th July: I’ve decided on a gentle start to the week with a few tracks from the Norwegian composer and musician Øystein Sevåg. I was introduced to his Global House album in the early 90s and was immediately taken with his unique approach to, what was then termed New Age music. I prefer to call it an ambient fusion of classical, jazz, world and electronic music, but whatever you want to term it, it is beautiful.
Øystein Sevåg started playing the piano at age five and after a short stint as a bass player in a local rock band as a teen, kept to his classical roots, studying piano, flute and composition at a music conservatory in Oslo. During the ‘80s he started experimenting with the possibilities that the (then still new) synthesizer offered. His first album was a process of 5-years hard work and culminated with the LP “Close Your Eyes and See’ which brought him to the attention of the highly regarded Windham Hill label.
Before we go any further, let’s listen to a track from his 1993, and his 3rd release, Global House, and the song of the same name. This track comes with a warning, the didgeridoo intro will worm its way into your brain. It did mine. Here’s the song Global House from the album of the same name.
I am sharing the music of Norwegian composer Øystein Sevåg to start the week. We pick up after his third album, 1993’s Global House.
During this career he has collaborated with some fine musicians and authors. The first of the five collaborative albums that Øystein Sevåg produced was with the guitarist Latik Patti in 1996. The album, Visual, is an ambient masterpiece of simplicity, and the track I have chosen for the second song tonight shows this perfectly. The simple play of piano and guitar on the track ‘Painful Love’ is crafted to produce a profoundly touching piece.
This album was given to me as a present by someone who I would never have suspected to like this kind of music. In a way, this makes it a very special album for me and I’m glad to be sharing one of my favourite tracks
To finish this brief peek at the Norwegian composer/musician Øystein Sevåg for this Monday I have chosen a track from the 2019 album Space for a Crowded World. Øystein Sevåg has produced eight solo albums and six superb collaborations, each a masterpiece.
Apart from his recording he has worked extensively with his wife, Maria Sevag, and psychologist Katharina Martin in the field of music therapy. Of his solo albums, of particular note is his recording in 1997 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the album, Bridge, which won him the Best New Age Recording Award of 1997.
If you are a lover of gentle and beautifully crafted music I can’t recommend Øystein Sevåg highly enough. Here’s the composition A Sparkling Point of View from 2019’s Space for a Crowded World. Enjoy. I do hope the new week brings wonderful things for all of us. Have a great week music lovers. Catch you soon. 😎
14th July: One of the names that leap out when looking at the meteoric rise of electronic pop in the 80s, is Vince Clarke. As a founding member of Depeche Mode, half of Yazoo with Alison Moyet and of course, creator of the super-duo, Erasure, he has become a touchstone the genre.
I haven’t been following the fortunes of Vince Clarke over the years so was quite surprised to get a notification about a new album from Erasure scheduled for release in August this year. With his history of working on ‘projects’, which is how he regarded both Yazoo and, to an extent, Depeche mode, I didn’t think Erasure would stick around too long before Vince found something else to do to wow us with.
When I took a look at Erasure’s discography I found a surprising 19 studio albums since the Wonderland album in 1986. Today I‘m sharing two tracks from Erasure’s new, The Neon, album, but starting the selection with their first huge hit, Sometimes.
Today I am looking at the electro-pop sensation Erasure, brainchild of Vince Clarke who has influenced pretty much everyone who has worked in the electronic-pop genre over the decades since the ’80s. I started the selection with one of their first hits, but my next two tracks are from the new The Neon album being released in August.
Although it may seem surprising for someone with his early track-record of hits, Vince Clarke wasn’t convinced that Erasure would work. In an interview with NME, he was quoted as saying: “When Erasure didn’t really happen straight away—the first album didn’t really sell—I was thinking, well, that’s it, I’ll get have to get a job at an advertising company,” he confided. “I still worry about how things are going to go, about what I’d do if this all ends.”
I don’t think he needs worry too much. Approaching 35 years as Erasure and with 19 studio albums under their belt, I don’t think a job in an advertising agency is on the cards. 🙂 The first pre-release single from the new album was unleashed earlier this month. Here’s You Shot a Satellite from The Neon album.
For today’s final Erasure song from their upcoming album, The Neon, here’s the second pre-release single, Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling, a feel-good love song that’s bound to hit the charts. I think Vince Clarke has proved that everything he touches seems to turn to gold, or platinum if you are referring to their numerous awards, record sales, chart-toppers and placings in the various pop music charts over the years.
With frontman Andy Bell’s openly gay status, Erasure’s status among the LGBTQ community is iconic. I am sure that the new album will be embraced by the generations that grew up on the dancefloors of the electronic pop era.
Thanks for joining me for some club-style music today. Tomorrow we’ll be looking at dance music of a different kind with a sound that is dominating local South African music, Amapiano. I warn you now, it’s very catchy!. 😎
This article was first published on the Design Train website for Loving the Music
Words © Andrew Knapp
The author does not own the copyright of any of the videos or images used in the article