By BRUCE DENNILL
TJ’s Acoustic Music Club / Mark’s Park, Emmarentia, Johannesburg 7
A collective that’s been around for the best part of three decades, TJ’s Acoustic Music Club is one of the few sit, listen and appreciate platforms for musicians who prefer the unplugged approach. The focus is on original songs, though the occasional cover version is allowed.
The line-up for the evening of 20 September was a strong and varied one. First up was country pop singer-songwriter Alexandra May and a stripped-down version of her band. May was a little short of her usual level of infectious enthusiasm, though the warm applause she received at the end of each song certainly helped to raise the energy of the set. Her original material is uniformly good, but there is a particularly strong potential single called Swipe Right (lyrical hook: “I’d swipe right … for Nashville) that is well-constructed in every way, and could potentially find a chart home both here and abroad once it’s been recorded.
Bill James, long hair in a ponytail and playing a homemade guitar covered in flowery wallpaper, invited event host Adrian Ziller (also part of May’s band) to join him for a couple of songs, including an improvised run-through of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. James’ style recalls Bob Dylan’s, with his long, rambling, poetic original work including a song about people getting stabbed in the Free State…
The informal nature of the event saw artists wandering in and out over the course of the evening, rather than all being assembled for an early soundcheck, but the level of competency of all involved meant that it all ran smoothly enough.
I The Delicate, featuring Sean Redford on smooth, jazzy arch-top guitar lines and Meagan King on clear, controlled vocals, were the highlight of the evening, a sort of ephemeral Norah Jones meets Damien Rice affair. Their beautiful songs feature lyrics both poetic and earthy, and the feel and tone of both Redford’s playing and King’s vocals are exemplary.
Bruce Mann is a tall, rangy character, accompanied on the night by a busy bassist wearing a Superman. The pair produced more of a garage band sound than their predecessors, with Mann particularly enjoying himself, throwing classic rock shapes during instrumental interludes.
Megan Victor-Carelse, accompanied by superb pianist Silas James, circled back somewhat to the country-tinged feel the evening had started with, her huge, soaring voice adding plenty of light and shade to a good mix of pace and feel in terms of the songwriting on show. All of the songs were, arguably, love songs, but not in the predictable sense, as Victor-Carelse placed funny pub tunes alongside heartfelt torch songs.
Closing out the evening, The Vast Oddity included some simple loops in their sound, adding rhythm and some extra bass to their two-guitar sound. Lyrically, they had something of a surfer aesthetic, with a touch of the Violent Femmes to their relatively ragged (by design) alternative sound.
The evening was a fine example of both the eclectic nature of Johannesburg’s independent music scene and of its considerable quality.