Review: Table Mountain Blues Summit

Review blues summit
Photo: Fritz Brand

The Table Mountain Blues Summit couldn’t have started better. As we stepped down the stairs  – the sun on our backs and the eye-catching Hillcrest Quarry ahead – Charlie King’s version of Janis Joplin’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ was belting through the 30 000 watt speakers. It was the last song of King’s set before The Parlor Vinyls took to the stage. Their feisty, high-pitched garage blues was instantly reminiscent of Jack White – so much so that my American friend said that, if someone had given him headphones, he would have believed this to be the new album from the former White Stripes front man. A CD was bought as a souvenir, proving that South African music rocks.

Basson Laubscher’s performance returned to the more laid-back, classic blues sound, maybe best epitomised through his calming ballad, ‘Cage Blues’.  Its ‘cuddle rock’ melody suggested an easy state of mind, while the lyrics pleaded with sad and romantic melancholy. With welcome zing, Crimson House were up next. The area in front of the stage quickly filled with eager rock’n’rollers, inspired by the band’s buoyant gypsy-charisma.  It was certainly worth it, because their upbeat tunes expelled any notion of worry and their usual crowd-pleaser cover of Cab Calloway’s ‘Minnie the Moocher’ had us all singing along in unison: Hidee hidee hidee hi, Hode hode hode ho…

After Natasha Meister toned things down a notch – not just in sound but also in light, as the sun was on its way to setting – the next highlight was Ann Jangle’s mesmerising voice. As she hit the first few notes of Vera Hall’s ‘Trouble So Hard’, it seemed like the world stood still. The sheer power coming from this petite girl’s lungs made it impossible to concentrate on anything else. John Avery Lomax, who documented Hall’s music for The Library of Congress, wrote that Hall had the loveliest voice he had ever recorded.  If he had met Ann Jangle, this might have been a tougher conclusion.  Her musical intuition, harmony with the band and absorbing charm were the right build-up for a matching collaboration: ‘50s revivalist Dave Ferguson and dirty blues rockers Mean Black Mamba.

Ferguson’s deep-south-tinged covers of contemporary pop songs have become a regular festival hit, so the new constellation was refreshing to say the least.  Playing an all original set, his country jive was perfectly matched with Mamba singer Guy Collins’ nonchalant demeanour and raspy vocals.  Although contrasting, their natural rhythms harmonised, creating the soundtrack for the evening’s last dance. We decided to call it a day, because the next one would be filled with lots of sun, beer and music too.

On Sunday, Piet Botha and Akkedis’s set was drawing to a close as we arrived, their dreamy Afrikaans groove being the perfect introduction to a very heat-addled day in South Africa. Gerald Clark took over with a song by Ray Charles, sending twirling guitars, catchy drumbeats and a voice that feels like it could colour in a black-and-white picture through the sound system. Right after, we were further spoiled by yet another mood-enhancing achievement, this time by  The Blues Broers. A light-hearted ‘Jungle Bells’ sung by the band’s keyboardist got everyone into giddy spirits, yet what made this festival memorable was what came next. Mid-way through Boulevard Blues’ show, the ‘doctor’ of the genre, Doc John Mostert, cleared the stage for Nhoza Sitsholwana to blow the crowd away. Her mighty voice brought tears to the eyes of an audience withering of emotion, and earned her an applause that was more than a jubilant cheer – it was filled with utmost respect.

The 2014 Table Mountain Blues Summit was not lacking musical talent.  It was an event marked by excellent sound engineering, and musicians that would spoil Christmas over and over again – each time you thought, “This is incredible” the next performance was at least as rad.  What’s more, the festival brought together all ages, because it mastered what’s at the essence of pleasure that transcends generations: good music, good sustenance and good fun.

Christine Hogg

The Table Mountain Blues Summit took place on 6 and 7 December 2014.


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