Since both of us were in bands in the 1980s and 1990s, we know what it's like to try making a go of it as a professional musician in South Africa. Today, thankfully, things seem a little easier as the local music industry has grown considerably in confidence and the Internet and social media have given musicians unprecedented access to new audiences and a means to build a fan base.
In the 'old days' bands had to tour constantly, fighting for places on small stages at a shrinking pool of venues offering live music. Many of those venues - the ones that hadn't succumbed to simply hiring a cheaper DJ or playing CDs - preferred cover bands playing replicas of international hits (as discussed in last week's post).
Coupled with this was the difficulty local bands had getting access to radio and television. This was a time before satellite and cable channels offered something for every taste, and the few, mostly state-run, stations catered only to conservative and established tastes.
An even greater challenge, however, was the ability to record and distribute. Today, people have more power on their laptops than an average 90s-era recording studio. Bands can record in bedrooms and garages without any need for a recording contract or even a producer. And CDs can be manufactured cheaply if they're even required at all in this age of digital downloads.
Suffice it to say that although it still requires a lot of hard work and dedication, a talented modern band has it easier than the generation before it. And a lot cheaper.
Without software like ProTools, Reason, and other 'Digital Audio Workstations' for production, Facebook and Twitter for promotion, and CDBaby and Bandcamp for distribution, old bands had to hit the road in a VW Kombi and a Venter trailer full of gear.
They'd hit town early to put out photo-stated posters and flyers and attempt to get some publicity from an indifferent local media before playing at the one venue in town doing original local music. If they were lucky and had a good crowd, they could afford petrol to get to the next town. If they were very lucky, they'd eat too.
Few bands could keep up this lifestyle indefinitely and many of our favourite bands called it a day long before they'd reached their creative peak, leaving fans to muse over the songs they never recorded and the albums that could have been.
Happily, on this episode of Tune Me What?, we are able to celebrate three of our favourite bands who came back together two decades or more after they called it a day.
After a string of hits in the early 80s, including 'Taximan' and 'Shadows', éVoid packed it in after the album Here Comes The Rot in 1986. The Windrich brothers, Erik and Lucien, who fronted the band moved to the UK. They revived the band name briefly in 2008 when they reunited with their original drummer Georg Voros to record an album. Now the band has scheduled a tour of South Africa in August 2014.
Squeal, a hard rock trio from Durban, were one of the hardest working bands in the mid-1990s. They released three albums before calling it quits. They had a huge local hit with their song 'Long Pig' which was reputed to have had the most expensive local video (at the time) made to promote it.
Fronted by guitarist Dave Birch, flanked by bassist Brett Barnes, Squeal seemed to have had more drummers than Spinal Tap, but even their legendary staying power was exhausted by the end of the decade. Reunited, they're finally talking about recording that fourth album.
Finally, the great Urban Creep featuring Chris Letcher and Brendan Jury is reuniting for a performance at Oppikoppi, South Africa's equivalent of the Glastonbury or Coachella festivals. The Creeps released only two albums - Sea Level in 1995 and Tightroper in 1997 - before going their separate ways.
Letcher went on to a partnership with singer/songwriter Matthew van der Want before going solo. Brendan Jury formed an electronic band called Trans.Sky with former Kalahari Surfer, Warwick Sony, before doing a stint with the Springbok Nude Girls. But now fans can look forward to these festival favourites reuniting with drummer Ross Campbell and bassist Diedier Noblia to celebrate Oppikoppi's 20th anniversary in August.
Also featured in this episode of Tune Me What? are the Anti Retro Vinyls, the Boyoyo Boys, Danny De Wet and the Lowveld Garage Band, Errol Dyers, Miriam Makeba, the Otis Waygood Blues Band, Third Ear Experience and Vusi Mahlasela.
Tune Me What? is a podcast and blog by Brett Lock and Leon Lazarus that highlights South African music and artists at home and around the world. For more information, visit tunemewhat.com or facebook.com/TuneMeWhat.