Okay, I admit it. I'm an old deadhead. I danced myself into a frenzy at Grateful Dead concerts from coast to U.S. coast for about a year before I settled outside Detroit and slowed down to a sway for the melodic rhythm and blues of its jazz greats and the strains wafting from coffee shops of acoustic guitarists who are now household names.
Okay, I admit it. I'm an old deadhead. I danced myself into a frenzy at Grateful Dead concerts from coast to U.S. coast for about a year before I settled outside Detroit and slowed down to a sway for the melodic rhythm and blues of its jazz greats and the strains wafting from coffee shops of acoustic guitarists who are now household names. I've planted my feet for now, however, in the Eastern Cape, where they once again shuffle and jive to what seems to be an impossible blend of music that encompasses all my incarnations: SunshiP.
I was there when the nameless band played one Sunday afternoon in 2008 on a farm outside of town. Although they began as a classic rock trio comprising Larry Strelitz (guitar, vocals, blues harp and maestro of slide), Strato Copteros (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Anton Brink on bass guitar, on that occasion local saxophonist Rick van Heerden improvised tunes that slid up and down the spine and infected the feet. I have been following them ever since, from the Bathhurst Arms to the Lowlander and now the Champs, and heard them joined by finger pickin' greats like Steve Newman and Greg Georgiades when they are in town.
But what gives the band its home-grown shape are the original lyrics, poems by oft-published Eastern Cape poet Robert Berold, with whom Strelitz has collaborated since the 1980s. Strelitz brought the poems written for a solo singer/folk guitarist into the band, where they've been radically transformed and rearranged into, well, SunshiP music: blues-rock with an Eastern Cape bite. Their style reflects the passions the members bring to the band. Strelitz's Delta blues sounds go back to the '30s, his US rock and Chicago blues to the '60s – all tinged with acoustic folk. Brink's tastes run the gamut from classical music to industrial/grunge, while Copteros plays American combined with Greek, African rhythms and a dash of Pink Floyd.
And they draw crowds of all ages and walks of life, from Bathhurst hippies to Rhodes students and lecturers… and the odd illegal teenager, often jamming with visiting musicians during the National Arts Festival to the wee hours of the morn!
Many of the songs make direct references to Grahamstown and the Eastern Cape — Local truths with universal resonance. “Grahamstown … the leaves frown … turn brown … fall down,” Their mate Josh sings, “Grahamstown, James Brown.” But Berold's lyrics continue, “Excuse me while I answer a beggar at my door. She’s permanently angry. She’s permanently poor. And me I’m angry also. I just watched the evening news. All that silence about violence. I’ve got the East Cape Blues.” Played at a tempo and a groove that has the dance floor gyrating like a nest of worms.
But SunshiP as we know it is moving on, with the departure of Brink who will spend a year in the land of bagpipers while his wife studies at St. Margeret's University in Edinburgh. Their last for now concert is tomorrow (Saturday) at 9pm at Champs, their new favourite venue. Although Berold's lyrics thankfully comprise the majority of their sets, expect to hear everything from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters, Peter Green’s Fleetwod Mac and Southern spirituals and, of course, the Grateful Dead. Their play list has grown in these few short years to include 70 songs. A live recording will be made of the session, and a limited edition released, Copteros said.
Although I can’t help but conjure up melodies of the Dead without Phillip Lesh, Strelitz said that the band will continue, although he's not sure in what form.
So, excuse me if I mix up my lyrics, but put your red shoes on 'cuz were gonna be Truckin' tomorrow night.