About one and a half centuries after blues music developed from early call-and-response shouts used by African-American slave workers, the spirit is still alive at Mercury Live. The initial idea being to increase efficacy through melodic unity, thirteen acts responded when Luna Paige called for help to get blues-sensation Gerald Clark back on his feet. Clark recently had to have a growth removed that was obstructing his vocal chords, an operation that not only involved huge medical bills, but resulted in loss of income through his doctor’s orders not to perform for three months.
Even though it wasn’t everyone’s comfort zone, nearly all the acts gave the blues a shot in honour of Clark. Folk/rock duo Janie & the Beard announced “This is the closest we can get to blues” before striking up Dirty Dancing cover ‘Cry to Me’. “Cra-cro-cra-co-cra-cra crying?” Janie howled with her sweet and soft voice, which fitted the song perfectly while reviving its desperate passion. Being decidedly nostalgic, their acoustic guitars and folky vocals were reminiscent of romantic around-the-fire evenings.
South Africa’s blues queen Natasha Meister’s genuine back-to-the-roots voice was more soulful. It cut across the room like a bolt creating a whole new energy and vibe. Yet it didn’t quite reach the status of Basson Laubscher & The Violent Free Peace on the action radar. Their originals, a lot of them performed for the first time, were bluesy rock-outs that screamed for more boogie woogie space. Sadly, this was only granted hours later when the rows of chairs set up for the calmer acts were removed before Karen Zoid’s performance.
Sitting down was satisfactory enough for two-man band the Parlor Vinyls’ rough and raw blues that underscored vocalist Niel Smit’s fierce, almost speech-sung, high pitch. It seemed that band-members decreased with each act when Jon Savage took to the stage next, and started rocking the stage like there was a loud band behind him. Knowing his guitar better than some of the lyrics, he played Cassette songs but also gave those who didn’t know an idea of what his new band Kite Runner sounds like by performing their first single ‘Split an Atom’. Although it was nice of him to support Gerald Clark, it felt that there was a crucial component missing to his rock set: a band.
Luckily Ann Jangle broke this pattern. A full band and friends took to the stage. Li-Ann Cummins’ power vocals created a rockabilly-infused folk feast that got the audience on their tapping toes again. Just in time for tequila swigging progressive rockers Lua Union. After being introduced as the “nicest looking band tonight” Orlando Bloom-look-alike frontman Dean Anthony Blignaut handed us occasional head-banging seizures to their pale and understated yet dynamic rock ‘n’ roll.
The dominant vocal intonations of Karen Zoid then echoed through the room with a might that called for rebellion. “We tried to work in a little bit of blues just for you Gerald,” she announced before the bassy blues sound filled the room. His cause being very close to her heart she asked for “a hat, or a cup or something” to be placed in front of the stage. A glass was found and quickly filled to the brim with charitable notes and coins, well before Zoid came to the end of her set with a husky-voiced version of Queen’s ‘The Show Must Go On’.
And so it did but with Afrikaans rockers Van Coke Kartel. After Francois Van Coke put his electric guitar aside for some mellow tunes he asked “Is julle ok as ons terug gaan heavy shit to?” Roars of approval induced drummer Jason Oosthuizen to bang on his set at top speed while Van Coke strummed and sang like there was no tomorrow (for the guitar strings or his voice). Sweat running down his face, he visibly put life and soul into a punk attitude the anticipation of which was clearly one of the biggest drawcards of the evening. Once Van Coke Kartel left the stage it seemed like a lot of people also left Mercury.
The rest of us leaned back and tuned into dark-sunglassed blues icon Dr. John Mostert of Boulevard Blues singing ‘Do You Wanna Feel High?’ around which time the room appropriately filled with the sweet smell of marijuana. Later joined by Charlene King, who did a successful version of ‘Hoochie Coochie (Wo)man’, they performed a set of mature classic blues that must have made Gerald Clark proud. He joined following act Luna Paige (one of the instigators of the event) on guitar. The innocently soft-spoken Paige announced, “This song is for everyone who’s afraid of living a normal life” before launching into ‘Restless Soul’ with a vocal power and confidence that made it hard to believe that the spoken words and the song came from the same person. In contrast, blues grandpa Piet Botha’s appearance was as wise as his sound. Backed by Akkedis he exuded steady melodies that made Zoid stomp her feet on the dance floor and eventually jump up to sing with them on stage.
This together-spirit was what made this concert so special. Not only did performers rub shoulders on stage, but they mingled with the crowd and showed their support and respect for other performers, to the degree that, after the official line-up had run its course, a general jamming session broke out. Sure enough, the blues lives on as the soulful soldier it’s known to be – always rebelling against the oppressor, be it a growth obstructing vocal chords or fellow humans on unjustified power trips.
Karen Zoid, Van Coke Cartel, Piet Botha and Luna Paige were amongst thirteen acts performing at a benefit concert for Gerald Clark on 19 August 2012 at Mercury Live to raise funds after Clark had to undergo surgery.