Chris Squire 1948 – 2015

chris-squire-yesOn Monday morning, 29th June, when I heard the sad news of the passing of YES bass guitarist Chris Squire, having been diagnosed with Acute Erythroid Leukemia, I bawled my eyes out, me, a grown man. The loss of Chris Squire touched me deeply, as if I had lost a family member, a musical family member in this case. I thought I was starting to get over it but every time I read a fresh tribute, like the one from Billy Sherwood, the tears came flooding back. Cringeworthy some may say. I sat there, realizing the significance of it all being that the so-called classic YES line-up would never get together for one more album. He was the only remaining founder member in the current incarnation of the band, the only member of YES to have played on all their albums and in every one of their concerts, having never missed a tour. They had scheduled an August 2015 North American joint tour with Toto  yet despite the news regarding Squire’s illness, the tour would proceed without the legendary bass guitarist. It would have been the first time since the band formed in 1968 that they will have appeared live without him. Chris Squire passed away a month after his illness was made public. Chris Squire. Gone. Forever.

Chris Squire and the triple-neck, during Awaken.

Chris Squire playing the triple-neck during Awaken (Peter Groves).

I have adored YES music passionately for the best part of 40-odd years. I remember when I was just in high school in Cape Town, South Africa and walked into a record bar one day in my local town.  The owner put a vinyl record on the turntable: “I’ve got a new release you’ve got to listen to. I think you’ll like it”, she exclaimed excitedly.  The song was “Roundabout”, the first on the album “Fragile”. The band was YES. The song started with the reverse tape effect of a single minor chord played on a grand piano, following by some gentle acoustic guitar before launching into the first verse of the song, featuring the subtle interplay between jazz-like drums and rumbling bass guitar underpinning the angelic vocals.

That trebly, metallic bass guitar sound emanated from Chris Squire’s 1964 Rickenbacker, a trademark sound that was to become a cornerstone of YES’s music and single out Chris Squire from any other bass guitarist at the time, although it wasn’t the only feature of his distinctive bass style. In the mix were Rick Wakeman’s keyboards, Steve Howe’s “noodly” guitar bits as well as Jon Anderson’s alto voice and strange lyrics. The album was a powerful creative blend of rock, jazz and classical influences. I was blown away from that moment on. Through the medium of vinyl alone I grew to love YES all the way through to the release of “Relayer” or thereabouts, which was probably when I first acquired a compact disc player. The love affair continued as I re-acquired the band’s catalogue on the newer format. It wasn’t the only thing I was listening to at the time. I was into jazz fusion– Return To Forever, Weather Report, Brand X, as well as the chamber-style ECM jazz  however YES was the thing for me.
Chris-Squire-1From this point on in my musical development, I devoured any YES-related articles and news I could find in magazines, hoping that one day I would realize the dream of seeing them live. The closest I came, apart from seeing a South African YES tribute band who were pretty good, was when Rick Wakeman controversially played  in the country in a solo capacity and later with the English Rock Ensemble. I started a YES scrapbook.  I even wrote about the band in my school magazine when “Close To The Edge”, arguably the greatest Prog album ever made, was released. I remember the day I had some school friends around, one a budding young guitarist of note. I played “Tales From Topographic Oceans” on my parent’s old stereo hi-fi system. The family joke to this day, during one of Rick’s monophonic moog synth solos on “The Revealing Science Of God”, was my brother calling out from his bedroom for me “to get my foot off the cat’s tail”.

For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to see YES live until the mid-1990’s, during the “Open Your Eyes” tour, in the UK, when the band had changed, not for the first time in its history. The most notable difference in the 70’s was the replacement of drummer Bill Bruford by Allan White. Significantly, and this is the key point, the power of the music alone had sustained itself for all those years and touched me time and time again. Having never seen the band live up to this point, it was excitement and deep love for the music that had kept the interest alive. Every time I play YES music, I get goosebumps, even to this day.

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Chris Squire at the Royal Albert Hall 2014 (Peter Groves)

On that Monday morning, I received an e-mail from an ex-colleague of Iranian descent, now based in South Korea. We had not corresponded for some time. He had stumbled upon a blog post of mine documenting my customary ritualistic practice, whenever my favourite band is in town, that being to attend several concerts on any given tour, 2014 being the last occasion for such hedonistic excess: Newcastle, Birmingham, London and Bratislava.

I was preparing a reply when I stumbled upon the devastating news of Chris’s sudden departure. I had just booked for the band’s next European tour in 2016 and had wondered if Chris would have made a full recovery by then. It is true I had been less than enamoured by the band’s most recent studio offering “Heaven and Earth”, an album which promised so much and yet delivered so little. In the knowledge that these guys won’t be around forever however, I still wanted to attend whatever live shows I could, yet I I continued to long for the return of Jon and Rick to the fold, for the classic line-up to return to the studio to create one final masterpiece. Chris’s sudden demise has put paid to that.

Chris on Stage, Hammersmith, 009 (Peter Groves)

Chris on stage with YES, Hammersmith, 2009 (Peter Groves)

Yes, he has left a tremendous musical legacy and his musical spirit will live on. He has influenced a generation of musicians, as Rick Wakeman put it: “We have now lost, who for me, are the two greatest bass players classic rock has ever known. John Entwistle and now Chris,” Wakeman wrote. “There can hardly be a bass player worth his salt who hasn’t been influenced by one or both of these great players.”. It remains to be seen what transpires with the band, whether the very capable Billy Sherwood (arguably Chris’s protégé) will assume a more permanent role, however there is the nagging thought….of what might have been.

Much has been written about the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame’s reluctance to recognize 70’s prog bands, including YES.  In the face of such bias, it has demonstrated that it is not representative of rock musical culture if it chooses to embrace all forms of musical expression. It therefore renders itself as a body with a meaningless, subjective and largely irrelevant opinion, with no bearing on the world of rock music. Who cares whether they have a problem with 70’s Prog? The music itself has value and whether a band is inducted or not does not enhance or diminish the contribution to the world of music or reputation of any artist whatsoever. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was created by Atlantic Records founder and chairman, the late Ahmet Ertugan, himself a huge fan of YES. He will be turning in his grave.

ChrisSquireChris wasn’t known for his bass guitar alone. He was a great songwriter. He had a fine voice too, his ability to harmonize honed from his days as a young choirboy. He was a significant part of the YES musical tapestry. Not to diminish his solo work or collaborations with other artists, it’s been said that “YES has always been larger than the sum of its parts. As a founder member of this great band through the ever-changing line-up, Chris Squire was the glue, the linchpin that kept the band together during its most fractious periods. His physical presence as he strutted the stage during live performances notwithstanding, notably during the bass/ drum Whitefish solos, Chris’s stature as de facto band leader has left a huge hole in YES, as well as in rock musical history, one which will be difficult to fill.

Gone. Forever. R.I.P. Chris Squire. 1948-2015.

Related links:

Yesworld – Tributes from family, colleagues, friends and fans

Chris Squire, bass guitarist – obituary (The Telegraph) & Chris Squire obituary (The Guardian)

Chris Squire Tribute & Chris Squire RIP Yes Bassist Dead (YouTube compilations)

Fish Out Of Water & Chris Squire – Inside “Fish Out of Water”

Chris Squire of Yes – Meeting Jimi Hendrix

Chris Squire – Great Rickenbacker Bass Sounds (Whitefish solo)

Yes – Heart of the Sunrise (Live, 2015)

YES – Roundabout (Live, acoustic)

YES- Long Distance Runaround (Live, acoustic)

Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir

Squackett – Can’t Stop the Rain

Chris Squire Alan White – Run With the Fox

 

 

 

The FIFA debacle is more about a power struggle than it is about corruption.

I strongly believe that the vitriolic hounding of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, particularly by opponents, has more to do with a power struggle between the European bloc (essentially UEFA) and the African/Asian bloc and less to do with corruption. That does not discount the fact that alleged corruption probably does exist within the ranks of FIFA. With so much at stake, is it at all surprising? Is football unique in this aspect? After all, it manifests itself in other areas of our society, in business and in politics. Furthermore, under a different FIFA president, would anything be different?   Just look at the list of potential candidates.

seppblatterOne of Blatter’s strongest critics has been Michel Platini, president of European body UEFA, who  had called for Blatter’s resignation last week before the vote. It would not surprise me if he made himself available for the FIFA presidency. Ironically, it was Platini who supported the Qatar bid, not Blatter. So if corruption secured Qatar’s bid, was Blatter accountable in this case?  Responding to the assertion of Blatter, that the Qatar 2022 World Cup was a “political” choice by European voters, the UEFA president, Michel Platini, confirmed in 2013 that “political and economic influences” were a factor. He admitted voting for Qatar and lobbying for the move to winter, insisting that a much scrutinised meeting with the then French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the now Emir of Qatar and the Qatar prime minister did not result in pressure being put on him, despite the fact that he (Platini) knew Sarkozy wanted the people from Qatar to buy French club Paris-Saint Germain.

Under Blatter’s rule since 1998, investment in football in developing countries has undoubtedly grown, and rightly so, which has only served to peeve the wealthier, more powerful European bloc. Sepp Blatter is a champion of world football, as this article states. Since 2011, according to FIFA, Chad, as an example, has benefited from 26 projects undertaken by the world governing body. I’d wager a bet that, if FIFA’s power were vested in the  Europeans, we would have been less likely to have witnessed World Cup tournaments in South Korea/Japan, South Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. Michel_Platini_2010Blatter’s contribution to football in Africa and Asia through FIFA is barely given credit by European lobbyists and the media focussed in bringing him down. Essentially, the Europeans want that power base back again. If they were able to achieve that, it would deepen the divide within the football world between the haves and have nots.

It saddens me that South Africa’s bid is tarnished by an alleged payment by FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke of $10 million into a bank account controlled by Jack Warner, as President of CONCACAF. No-one doubts that in 2010 Africa’s time to stage the World Cup had indeed arrived. No one could pretend that the World Cup would solve the economic or political problems of South Africa. In fact, I was highly critical at the time of the fact that FIFA did not invest more. Again, it was the sceptic Europeans who lambasted the awarding of the event to South Africa, claiming in advance that its organisation would be a disaster. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Scenes of the nation’s and indeed Africa’s euphoria will live long in the memory, not to mention the involvement the father of South Africa’s democracy, Nelson Mandela.  Giving the proverbial two-finger salute to the arrogant Europeans couldn’t have been sweeter.  Having said that, I admit that, for a variety of reasons ranging from human rights issues to the practicality of staging the World Cup there, I am less than enthusiastic about Qatar’s bid.

Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, has returned a £16,000 watchOn BBC news the day Blatter announced his resignation, politicians waded in, transformed to ‘authorities on the subject’ overnight. In all of this, there’s FA Chairman Greg Dyke. On radio this morning someone suggested he wakes up in the morning with Blatter on his mind and in the evening, it’s the last thing he probably thinks of. He has a lot to say about Blatter. But then cast your mind back to when Dyke was given one of a limited edition of Parmigiani watches by the Brazilian FA during a FIFA congress meeting in São Paulo during the World Cup. When the watches were recalled, Dyke initially refused to hand his back having promised to donate it to the FA’s official charity partner. A straight talker, he strikes me as someone who would be quite adept as a used-car salesman. But then would I buy a used car from him?  I think not.

Following the YES rock ‘n roll circus – a trilogy of UK concerts.

Yes_LogoI was probably about 14 years old when I walked into Melody Inn record store in Parow, a suburb of Cape Town where I grew up. Though the town was tainted with a certain social stigma, to some extent it sowed the seeds of my cultural roots, as it was here in this store where, as a teenager,  I later sold guitars on a Saturday morning to earn some pocket-money and where I heard the opening acoustic guitar riff of YES’s Roundabout, the first track on their newly-released album Fragile, my introduction to a band that has evolved into something of a love affair ever since. It was the first album featuring classically trained keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman.

Rick Wakeman, then aged 32, performs Journey to the Centre of the Earth in Durban, South Africa, in 1981.

Rick Wakeman, then aged 32, performs Journey to the Centre of the Earth in Durban, South Africa, in 1981.

 A year or so later, I got to write a review of the album Close to the Edge in our high school magazine called Chatman , which in those days was still being printed by hand on a rotating drum. 

On July 11th, 1981, I was in the audience at the Durban City Hall in South Africa (having flown up from Cape Town) to see the 32-year old Rick perform his Journey to the Centre of the Earth epic with a local orchestra. Yet here I found myself, over 3 decades later, in the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), London, to experience the live recreation, for possibly the last time, of the extended version of the classic work, re-recorded in the studio just a year earlier.

The original live recording at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1974 was cut in length by 20 minutes and 2 songs, so that the 40-odd minutes of music could fit onto vinyl. The decision to record it live was taken because Rick apparently couldn’t afford the cost of recording the original album in a studio, given that it was to feature the London Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Choir.

Meet & Greet with Rick at a charity event in Braintree, Essex in 2003.

Meet & Greet with Rick at a charity event in Braintree, Essex in 2003.

It was also somewhat ironic therefore, that the staging of Rick’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth in London would be followed just a short week later by YES, in the 46th year of the band’s existence, playing three of their classic albums (The Yes Album, Close to the Edge and Going for the One) in their entirety, at the very same venue, sadly, without their legendary keyboardist at the helm.  Rick’s role in the band has for some time been filled by Geoff Downes, also of Asia. Also missing from the YES  line-up would be founder member vocalist Jon Anderson, now replaced by American singer Jon Davison for the soon-to-be-released Heaven and Earth album. 

Meet & Greet with Rick and the gang.

Meet & Greet with Rick and the gang.

For the 2014 version of Journey, I had purchased a Meet & Greet ticket, the latest money-making racket in the music industry, entitling me to sit in on the sound-check and meet Rick and the band personally before the show. I find these meetings uncomfortable, though, to be honest,  I was wholly unprepared, this being an opportunity of hauling and dusting off all the old memorabilia out of the closet,  for the maestro to autograph. The event did however result in a chance meeting with a fellow fan and genuinely nice bloke by the name of Erich Zahn, from Aachen, who had flown over that morning from Germany. It was nice to get the rundown on April’s Cruise to the Edge extravaganza, a cruise from Miami via Honduras and Mexico, over 5 days, featuring an assortment of prog’s elite, headlined by YES. A ship laden with dope-smoking rock ‘n roll fans doesn’t necessarily go down well with all and can ruffle a few feathers in the process (see article).

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At the pre-show soundcheck for Journey to the Centre of the Earth, RAH, London (taken from mobile).

A show split into two halves, with the Journey concert proper taking up the second half,  it was a polished production overall and thrilling musically, though it lacked a bit of visual stimulation perhaps, most notably the farting dinosaurs. The visuals projected onto the two large screens barely inspired. The Orion Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Choir, however, were simply fantastic – conductor Guy Protheroe deserves full credit for this. Rick was also backed by the competent English Rock Ensemble, despite their roles being restricted largely by the score.

I loved the way Dance of a Thousand Lights (from Return to the Centre of the Earth) was skilfully fused into the original version of Journey itself. Vocals featured the sassy young Hayley Sanderson (also providing some visual stimulation) and Rick’s mate on many of his earlier recordings, including the original Journey, Ashley Holt. A fine singer, he worries me, despite the fact that I do like his voice. Fidgeting constantly might be construed as a sign of nervous energy but when he’s not singing, he paces the stage incessantly, which can be quite distracting.

Rick and guitarist Dave Colquhoun prog it up! (photo courtesy of Erich Zahn)

Rick and guitarist Dave Colquhoun prog it up! (photo courtesy of Erich Zahn)

HayleySanderson

Hayley Sanderson

His behaviour is  akin to a hyperactive schoolboy, at times bordering on the unpredictable.  You almost expect him to do something really daft. Leaving the stage momentarily at the end of a vocal section, Holt’s hand motioned towards a tuning machine of Matt Pegg’s bass guitar as he passed him. The young bassist’s initial reaction was to pull back but the look on his face said it all and I doubt he was amused. Yet it was the singer’s somewhat inappropriate movement of his nether regions, as he stood behind his co-singer during Ride of your Life (which formed part of the encore) that really astonished me.

Despite London being in the midst of a Tube strike,  I had got to the venue without a hitch on the Victoria & Central lines (albeit whilst running a limited service) however it was at the show’s conclusion that I almost didn’t make it home. Despite missing a step and taking a tumble whilst hastily attempting to board a bus, I managed to make it to Kings Cross 4 minutes before the last Cambridge train departure.

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As the weekend approached, my attention turned to YES. On a whim I had bought an unused ticket from a fellow YES fan who travels the globe to see the band. This was to see them for Saturday’s 3-album concert at the City Hall, Newcastle, a splendid, charming, old-world venue, having already booked for Sunday’s performance at Birmingham Symphony Hall (BSH). I hastily arranged my budget accommodation and train journeys for what amounted to a triangular traverse across the United Kingdom over a Bank Holiday weekend.

YES in fine fettle at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

YES in fine fettle at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Arriving early to pick up my ticket, I had to wait for the box office to open around seven. Despite having all the required documentation, arrangements were complicated by the fact that the ticket had in fact been mailed to the original purchaser in Australia. In the interim, I had a rather interesting conversation with Alan, from Las Vegas, in charge of YES’s European Meet and Greet arrangements, who, given the circumstances, insisted on referring to me as “Anne”. “You’re both good looking”, he added.  Let’s not go there, I suggested. One thing was clear – there was no way Anne’s pint-sized complementary T-shirt was going to fit me!

YESRoyalAlbertHallLondon2014-38tngamSSteve Howe was in cracking form. What an ace guitarist! I had never seen him play his acoustic solo piece ‘Clap’ with such gusto and ferocity. As to new lead singer Jon Davison? He has an amazing voice however I don’t view him as a replacement for the irreplaceable Jon Anderson, who has been such a major creative force for YES for so many years. Yes, he can hit the high notes but Davison’s voice tone and inflections are quite different to those of Anderson, not to mention their differing on-stage personalities. Having said that, the amicable Davison probably got the biggest cheer at the end of the evening.

They’re all having fun and it shows. A couple of glitches, like Steve having problems with his pedal. This presented Chris Squire with the opportunity of relating Rick’s famous curry story he claimed happened at that same venue many years ago. Rick apparently  ordered a curry on-stage mid-concert via one of the roadies during the Tales from Topographic Oceans tour. I do miss Rick on keyboards though. Geoff is good but doesn’t quite have the same charisma and incisiveness, one example being the synth solo during Parallels. Perhaps it was down to my vantage point however to my ear, he wasn’t quite able to reproduce some of the keyboard sounds one might be familiar with on the original recordings.

Chris Squire

Chris Squire

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I hopped on a bus immediately after the show and made my way to my pre-booked accommodation at Newcastle Rooms, about 2.8 miles from the city centre. The bus driver was exceptionally kind in pointing me in the right direction upon alighting, after initially heading the wrong way in a state of disorientation. The old ramshackle establishment falls way short of your average B&B standards, summed up by some late-night revellers yelling in the corridor in the early hours, however at least I had a comfortable bed for the night. On the Sunday morning, I milled around exploring the Newcastle town centre as well as the food and flea markets along the Tyneside Waterfront towards Gateshead till the early afternoon, before making my way south courtesy of Cross Country rail.

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Newcastle town centre

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The train journey from the north-east to the English Midlands was marked by throngs of students furiously finishing their assignments, whilst simultaneously playing musical chairs, having boarded without reservations, only to be moved on by passengers who had. I was impressed by the train conductor, who competently dealt with a young couple with broad Yorkshire accents who initially boarded the train at York accompanied by a dog, without even having as much as a ticket, despite claiming to have booked one on-line.

Geoff Downes

Geoff Downes

Here’s a tall story, I thought, taking one look at them. He being cocky and a tad too confident, tattoo-adorned, with a certain gift of the gab, I wondered how they were going to wriggle their way out of this one. They managed to keep the entire coach in suspense as the saga unfolded. Much to my surprise and contrary to what first impressions might have led one to believe, they finally managed to retrieve their booking, though not shy to enlist the help of a student onboard, who happened to be online on her laptop.

I thought it likely that I would form a different impression of the show in the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, a fine venue with brilliant acoustics but quite different to Newcastle. A modern building in itself reflecting the huge transformation the city is undergoing, it was packed to the rafters with the die-hard YES faithful. It’s quite extraordinary what a difference one’s position in an auditorium can make. Whereas I had been seated about 5 rows in front of Steve Howe the night before and way over to the left, the sound in the Symphony Hall was more balanced and clear, given m vantage point. At least I could hear more of Geoff on this occasion.

Steve Howe

Steve Howe

Man, Mr Davison has one helluva voice, once again delivering a fine vocal performance, not to mention a commendable attempt at tackling Jon Anderson’s repeating harp loop (on keyboards) midway through the epic Awaken. As it gradually builds momentum, he is accompanied by Geoff’s church organ sounding arpeggios. They absolutely nailed Wonderous Stories and Awaken.  Indeed, another cracking performance from the band. Rumour had it Bristol’s Hippodrome performance was to be filmed for a DVD.

Boarding a bus at the other end of the town after the show, I descended into the murky depths of Birmingham’s suburbs. I was grateful for the help from a fellow concert-goer, as I hadn’t a clue where I was. Further advice was to head indoors as soon as I got off the bus. Oh golly, my accommodation for the night at the Prime Lodge undoubtedly turned out to be even more creepy. I rang the bell, entered and checked in. I was then told that breakfast would be ready at a quarter past seven, the woman in attendance emphasized.

Jon Davison

Jon Davison

The cheap linen, dirty shower, broken bathroom tiles, a smoke detector hanging from its own exposed wiring and not least, two solitary teabags on a bedside table saucer which might conceivably have been lying there for an age, made for a rather unfulfilling experience.

Breakfast was an even more bizarre experience. I was still in the shower when a heard a knock at the door and a voice from nowhere at…………a quarter past seven. I walked into the dining-room to discover a cooked breakfast already waiting for me. I got the inkling I might well have been the only client. A notice at the reception desk read: “Leave the key here”.

I stepped out into the Birmingham morning sunshine. It’s extraordinary how a bit of sunshine can brighten up even the worst of places. To be fair, the neighbourhood didn’t look all that bad.  I had a bit of time to kill on a Bank Holiday Monday before catching the cross-country train home via Cambridge, so I wandered along New Street towards the City Hall. A preponderance of the odd burka-clad figure in the city centre gave some idea as to the city’s rich ethnic mix.

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Birmingham City Hall

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Having had the privilege of attending the gig in the Birmingham Symphony Hall on Sunday night, it finally dawned on me how bad the acoustics in Royal Albert Hall truly are. I was seated 7 rows from the front dead-centre however the comparative and distinct lack of clarity was quite marked, given they weren’t playing at particularly high volumes either. What the venue lacks in sound quality, it makes up for as one of nostalgia. It was such a privilege to see the band that close up, grey hair and wrinkles notwithstanding (apart from Jon, of course).

Jon Davison on lead vocals.

Jon Davison on lead vocals.

Once more a full house packed to the rafters, terrific atmosphere, the audience only really seemed to wake up after interval, during The Yes Album. I appreciated Geoff’s contribution much more, so I’ll ease back on comments I made previously – he was superb. His staccato piano solo during A Venture, a track I’ve never heard YES play live, proved to be a breath of fresh air. I managed to get my camera out for a couple of shots between the intervening, bobbing heads, despite the proximity of the venue’s stewards.

Chris produced a triple-neck bass during Awaken though not the original one used on Going for the One, which now hangs proudly in a Hard Rock Cafe. He’d had a new copy made.  The original owner of the triple-neck bass was none other than Rick Wakeman!  It was apparently conceived during prog’s notable era of excess because Genesis was using a double neck, so they thought hell, why not do a triple.  Jon Anderson has always been derided for his fairly obscure lyrics over the years, generally viewed more for their sound value and the use of the voice as another instrument rather than having any particular meaning but Jon Davison’s animated gestures seemed to convince us all that maybe he had discovered their inner meaning. 

Steve Howe and his trademark Gibson ES175D.

Steve Howe and his trademark Gibson ES175D.

On the title track of the album, Jon (Anderson) permits himself a moment of self-parody:  “Now the verses I’ve sang Don’t add much weight To the story in my head So I’m thinking I should go and write a punchline But they’re so hard to find In my cosmic mind So I think I’ll take A look out of the window”. They may once have been prone to the excesses that the prog world is notorious for but there is no doubting the sheer strength of YES’s compositions and their individual as well as collective musical ability.

Chris Squire and the triple-neck, during Awaken.

Chris Squire and the triple-neck, during Awaken.

I couldn’t help but notice the demeanour and body-language of the person sitting to the left of me, who seemed pretty unanimated throughout. At interval I risked asking him what he thought of the performance. Bad move!  It transpired that despite having seen YES many times before, he had precious little in the way of anything positive to say for this performance, disappointed that the arrangements sounded too close to the original recordings. Hello, I thought that was the point of doing the 3-album tour with the tracks played in the original sequence in the first place?  In one breath, he started moaning about Chris’s and Geoff’s portly appearance with an air of disgust, then only to lambast the Rabin-era YES in another. He struck me as someone with a penchant for complaining, so I merely brushed aside his remarks at that point.

YESRoyalAlbertHallLondon2014-49tngamSJust to the left him two morons, die-hards though they might have been, decided that all and sundry should be afforded the privilege of being aurally assaulted by their insufferable, tuneless vocal accompaniment. You can’t always escape them at gigs.

The final word goes to British transport once more. The London Tube strike last week on the night of Rick Wakeman’s Journey gig almost left me stranded in London for the night.  It was perhaps wishful thinking to hope that my journey home on this occasion would be rendered trouble-free. As luck would have it, trains were no longer operating beyond Hitchin station due to maintenance, so we were treated to the customary but slower bus-replacement service. No matter, the strains of YES’s anthems were still swirling around my brain.

YES website

Rick Wakeman website

Journey to the Centre of the Earth concert review

Cruise to the Edge – website

Review of YES at the Hippodrome, Bristol

Cruise to The Edge – the official review…..not

Jon Anderson interview

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Padkos, a new album from South African guitar maestro Tony Cox.

TonyCoxImageBW-1Padkos (meaning ‘food for the road’), the title of Tony Cox’s latest solo offering, is an album for which the legendary South African finger-style guitarist has picked a number of South African musical song classics, interpreting them in his own inimitable style.  The record is named as such because it is just the sort of music you’d want to listen to whilst travelling on some long journey along some dusty, unforgiving road, to put you in the right frame of mind. Having released numerous albums incorporating his own musical compositions over the years, some with his guitar buddy and life-long friend Steve Newman, this is partly a collection of covers, which by and large, includes songs originally written and performed some of South Africa’s musical greats such as Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse,  Bright Blue, Edi Niederlander, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masakela and Nico Cartens.

PadkosCover-tn-1There are some new tracks from Tony though and for the first time that I can remember, vocals from the man himself, surprising, considering that I have generally known the modest Tony to be self-deprecating of his abilities in this department. His voice, satisfyingly appealing, is not too dissimilar to that of Greg Lake in tone (particularly on ‘Ancient Dust’) and really works, I feel.

This was, in a manner of speaking, an album that was waiting to be made and is up there with his other recordings, as a work of real quality. It put a smile on my face listening to the tracks because they carry the stamp of Tony Cox, if you are familiar with that unmistakable guitar picking style, as I am.  I met the very approachable Tony personally whilst he was on a musical sabbatical in United Kingdom a few years back and got to know him as a man dedicated to his craft, with an infinite love for the guitar. This is so clearly and admirably demonstrated with his ongoing series of summer and winter international guitar night concerts organised over the last year or two in Cape Town and elsewhere, to which he has invited and performed with the cream of the world’s finger-style guitarists.

TonyCoxPadkosHis immense talent as a musician notwithstanding, his live shows, in small venues generally, where he feels most comfortable, are thoroughly entertaining and engaging, leaving you mesmerized and transfixed. Not only does he play a mean guitar, but tells a good yarn too, often leaving his audience in stitches.  It’s his larger than life warmth and personality that puts a stamp on and shines through on this particular album, which varies in tempo and mood throughout, adding a freshness to the songs he has reworked, making them all the more interesting to listen to. On a few of his renditions Tony is accompanied by the rich warm tones of bassist Victor Masondo and the cool percussion of David Klassen, which complement rather than overwhelm the sound of the guitar. On the recording Tony uses his Takamine PS95 and Ian Corr baritone guitars.

He ends off the album with an absolute gem of a melody that will captivate and move you to tears the way it did me, as he performs Bright Blue’s composition ‘Weeping’ accompanied by the sounds of a string quartet, with utter beauty and sensitivity, leaving you wanting more.  I do hope there is to be a sequel, if Tony chooses to do one, given the vast amount of material to call upon, Abdullah Ibrahim’s Mannenberg being one piece I’d love to hear him play. Now wouldn’t that be food for thought!

Do yourself a favour and check out some clips from Padkos and lots of other stuff, video too, on Tony Cox’s website: www.tonycox.co.za/musicvideo.html. Buy the album here http://www.tonycox.co.za/purchase.html – you won’t be disappointed!

Travels to the Mother City – Part 2: At the starting gun for Cape to Rio Yacht Race – January, 2013

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Full Google+ photo album 2014 Cape To Rio Yacht Race – The Start

It was Sir Francis Drake, who wrote in his journal “This cape is the most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth”, on seeing the Cape for the first time. It’s an apt description and one that I believe he would have made having viewed the Mother City of South Africa, as it has become known, from the vantage point of a sailing vessel out at sea off Table Bay Harbour, a view that offers a full perspective of the majestic Table Mountain, which, on November 11, 2011, was named among the New7Wonders of Nature. In October 2011, at the International Design Alliance (IDA) Congress, the city itself was designated World Design Capital 2014. Further accolades have followed, with Cape Town more recently being selected by The New York Times as No 1 of 52 Places To Go in 2014. These recognitions aside, Cape Town remains the city of my birth and one I still call home.

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Table Bay V&A Waterfront Marina

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Statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace prize laureates – Tutu, de Klerk, Luthuli & Mandela at V&A Waterfront.

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Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront serves as both a working harbour and tourist attraction.

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New Year fireworks, Table Bay

There is probably no better way to view Table Mountain than aboard a yacht in the waters of Table Bay. My eldest brother Edward and his wife were in town and so I was invited for New Year’s Eve dinner at their apartment at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront Marina, along with some of their friends. At around 10 in the evening, we headed off on the yacht belonging to Solly Heyns, a business friend from Johannesburg, to see out the old year and herald in 2014 in a unique and novel way, anchored off Granger Bay near the Cape Town football stadium, with an illuminated Table Mountain providing a spectacular backdrop.

Some silence and tranquility might have enhanced the surreal experience, instead we had to endure the cacophony of insufferable techno music emanating from a multitude of New Year’s Eve party venues dotted along the shoreline. No complaints though regarding the spectacular fireworks display at midnight from the harbour breakwater.  Owing to the number of party revellers at the V&A Waterfront until the early hours, quayside drawbridge opening times for boats were further limited, thus restricting access to the marina’s moorings and delaying our return.

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Ed and Solly

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The V&A Waterfront’s famous clock-tower, Victoria Basin.

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I was in for a another treat however when I heard that Ed & Solly were planning to follow the yachts at the the start of the 2014 Cape To Rio Yacht Race, annual event in the sailing calendar.  Thirty seven yachts were expected on the starting line with entries from Angola, Seychelles, Australia, America, Brazil and the United Kingdom. The day dawned with overcast skies but the cloud cover over the bay cleared as temperatures rose. Once we had motored past the Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower in Victoria Basin, constructed in 1882, which served as the original Port Captain’s Office and out beyond Table Bay Harbour breakwater, the bay was a hive of activity on the ocean as well as skywards, with a few helicopters occupying the airspace.

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Maserati, eventual Cape To Rio 2014 winner.

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Scarlett Runner finished second overall.

It was quite fitting from my personal perspective and interest that we should be tracking a yacht named Rocket/Stop Rhino Poaching. The slaughter of this animal is an emotive issue close to my heart. An acquaintance of the boat’s skipper or one of the crewmen was aboard Solly’s boat at his invitation, so we followed the Rio-bound vessel all the way down the coastline to Blouberg and after it had tacked, across towards Robben Island, where the swell was, well, nauseating. On one occasion prior to them setting the spinnaker, as we lay side by side in close proximity, the crew of Rocket/Stop Rhino Poaching waved at us, which in turn was reciprocated by yells of delight and encouragement from all on board.

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Rocket/Stop Rhino Poaching

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Table Bay, a hive of activity on race day.

The fact that I was actively taking photos probably provided a welcome distraction from the way my stomach was feeling. I wasn’t alone. The views of Table Mountain capped by fluffy white clouds were breathtaking. Solly considered rounding Robben Island however the sight of waves breaking further out at sea offered a cautionary warning. After about four to five hours at sea we returned to Table Bay Harbour. Sadly, the day ended on a downer. Severe tidal swells made entry to the V&A Waterfront marina really tricky, causing Solly’s boat to drift off course as we navigated via the bridge adjacent to the historic V&A Waterfront clock tower. Solly reversed engines and we made it through at the second attempt. As catamaran Salty Dog attempted to navigate through the narrow channel just behind us at the drawbridge near the Cape Grace Hotel, one of the shrouds (pieces of standing rigging which hold the mast up from side to side on either side of a boat) caught on one of the raised drawbridges, causing the tensioned metal cable to snap with a loud bang, resulting in the huge mast toppling over, crashing onto the deck of the yacht. One couldn’t help but feel empathy for the skipper of Salty Dog.

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Rocket/Stop Rhino Poaching set the spinnaker ….. and they’re off!

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View of Table Mountain from Solly’s yacht.

Further Cape To Rio drama was to unfold out at sea later that evening, when the Cape To Rio fleet ran into winds of up to 50 knots, with swells of 8 metres, about 100 nautical miles off the Cape coast. This led to a total of 10 yachts being knocked out of the race and returning to port. Angolan yacht Bavaria 54 Bille suffered a fatality when their yacht had dismasted. Rocket/Stop Rhino Poaching, the yacht we had been tracking at the start, survived the ordeal and continued on to Rio however a smaller race entry, Black Cat, whose skipper is known to Solly, were also towed back to port after their rudder sheered off, despite effecting makeshift repairs, as described in this  revealing video.

It probably came as no surprise that race favourite, Maserati, reached Rio de Janeiro more than four days ahead of second-placed yacht, Scarlet Runner, simultaneously shattering the course record, which has stood for 14 years. Completing the 3,300 mile course in 10 days, 11 hours, 29 minutes and 57 seconds. Maserati beat the previous record by over two days. The yacht Rocket/Stop Rhino Poaching finished in 21 days 1 hour 57 minutes 22 and seconds in dramatic fashion in Rio, forced to tack 6 times against strong outgoing currents.

Whilst enjoying the sunshine of the Fairest Cape, back in County Clare (where I work in the week) winter storms were battering the Irish coastline early in the New Year, particularly a little coastal town called Lahinch, which lies not far from Doolin, The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, where I had walked [link] in the summer (see report and video).

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Ciao Bella

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Three in a row: Ciao Bella, Rocket/Stop Rhino Poaching & Black Cat

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Rocket/Stop Rhino Poaching

I was keen not to miss out on doing a spot of cycling whilst out on holiday, particularly somewhere along the Cape Peninsula. One of my brothers, John, arranged a road bicycle for my use and so two days before the start of the Cape To Rio, with my friend Ralph a more than willing participant, we drove out to Muizenberg early in the morning, pedalling off at an hour when the roads were still relatively devoid of holiday traffic. It was an exhilarating ride bringing back memories of the times when I had last taken part in the Cape Argus Cycle Tour some 13 years ago, an annual event in Cape Town that usually attracts more than 30,000 competitors. We were in no hurry whatsoever and stopped off in Simonstown for breakfast. Continuing on the approach of Smitswinkel near Cape Point, the gears and chain began playing up on inclines. My saddle then collapsed, requiring adjustment after stopping.

Still no traffic to speak of as we pressed on past through Scarborough and Misty Cliffs, one of my favourite stretches of Cape coastline, at Kommetjie, after navigating up an incline above Slangkop Lighthouse, we stopped to see if my cousins, Lorna and Giovanni, whom I had not seen in years, were home. Lorna can talk a hind leg off a donkey but with such an effervescent personality, this is easily forgiven, as she is also one of the kindest people I know. What a coincidence that my eldest brother, Edward, arrived to pick up a consignment of crayfish (lobster) from the cousins, an annual ritual performed whenever he is in Cape Town, as he is besotted with the stuff. The tiny seaside village is renowned for it. Away from the coastline, the cycle back through Ocean View to Fish Hoek proved far less interesting however. With the onset of the lunch hour, Ralph had developed renewed hunger pangs and seemed fixated on having a Spur burger. It has been years since I had last been inside one of these restaurant outlets. On the short journey back to Muizenberg, the roads were by now jam-packed with holidaymakers on the move.

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Salty Dog after the damage

Personally, a visit to Cape Town is not complete without a walk up the path to Elephant’s Eye in the Tokai Arboretum followed by a visit to my dear friends and backside neighbours Ian and Lily (as my Tokai home is located in the street behind theirs), however it was a slog up Platteklip Gorge, a virtual stairway leading up the face of Table Mountain, the start located along Tafelberg Road. I had just completed four days walking in the Cederberg, yet I somehow found myself devoid of all strength, stamina and energy. Prior to following the jeep track from where I’d left my car at the turn-off off Kloof Nek Road, I met some out-of-towners including two gorgeous leggy Ukranian blondes in shorts, who were unsure of the route to the start of the climb. Sadly, even the thought of trailing behind them for a  few hours could not motivate me sufficiently to keep up. I never saw them again.

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Breakfast in Simonstown

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Misty Cliffs

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Kommetjie, where my cousins live

The plan  (on this occasion) has always been to take the cableway down, which involved standing in a queue for about an hour. This I did not mind but I took exception to the sheer arrogance group of locals, as I located the rear of the queue. With my having just joined the line behind a youngster, a good few minutes later, they appeared out of nowhere, proceeding to push in front of me, all eight of them, without any word of apology, purely on the basis that, as they happened to know the young lad, it was their inalienable right to do so. I spent an inordinate amount of time fuming, whilst been drawn into a moment of cognitive bias, convinced that these moegoes (stupid people) were either Transvaalers from the bad side of town or arguably, residents of Kraaifontein, a middle-class suburb of Cape Town.  Having said that, I was had a girlfriend from Kraaifontein and I was rather fond of her!

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Table Mountain Cableway

Amidst all this physical activity, I ensured I spent quality time with my three elder brothers, whilst lazing around my boet Gordon’s pool sipping Savanna, a deliciously more-ish, dry South African cider, joyfully watching the visiting Indian Test cricket team leaving our shores with their tails between their legs, having paid the price for arrogantly attempting to dictate the tour agenda, not only by refusing to play the four planned Tests in  South Africa, but by also insisting on the actual venues for the only two Test matches that were eventually played. That South Africa won the series and retain its position as the number 1 test side in the world, seemed a just reward. If the first Test at a deserted Wanderers saw South Africa chicken out of setting a world record for a run-chase score in a cricket Test, the second game at a predictably rain-affected Kingsmead in Durban proved to be the swansong of arguably South Africa’s greatest cricketer, Jacques Kallis.

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After dwelling on the issue for some while, with so many potential choices, I finally came to a decision to make a donation to OSCAP (Outraged South Africans Against Poaching), having been connected on Facebook to the organisation’s director, Alison Thomson. The rhino poaching stats for 2014, already at 65 slaughtered, bear witness to the crises that prevails. My feeling is that we as South Africans don’t take it seriously enough. We stand to lose a vital asset that contributes much to the country’s tourism and heritage.

My visit coincided not only with the funeral of Nelson Mandela but also with several incidents characterizing the ineptitude of the incumbent president, Jacob Zuma.  Not only did he endure the humility of being roundly jeered at the memorial service to Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium but has another scandal to deal with, not that he seems too bothered about it.  Nkandlagate, as I call it, is the prevailing controversy surrounding the R200-million of South African taxpayer funds being spent on his private residence in Kwazulu in Natal.  Over the Xmas period, newspaper reports had a field day, eagerly suggesting design flaws exist in the supposed chimney on the roof of one of the main structures of the compound is, in short, too short. Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille has stressed the need for South Africans to register and vote (see video clip).  South Africans abroad have now for the first time been able to register for elections, due to take place in 2014. The registration process will close on 7 February 2014 at 17h00.

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Brothers Gordon, John and Ed

There is a view that South Africans who emigrated around the time of political transition to democracy are now returning in numbers. An estimated 359 000 high-skilled South Africans who have returned since 2008 and have been absorbed into the labour force, it is claimed (see article).  Each year that I return to the fairest Cape, it becomes harder to leave. The “three musketeers” I care about very much came to see me off at Cape Town Airport, not without emotion, naturally.  Perhaps the time has come for me to return for good. Perhaps I have become too soft and idealistic in my existence abroad and that the reality of every-day life in South Africa will,  in time, harden me (see this excellent blog) however to borrow an old cliché, originally coined for use in a derogatory context, you can take a South African out of the bush but you can’t take the bush out of a South African. I believe there’s another positive spin when interpreting the phrase; my spell in the Cederberg illustrated this. Once you’ve slept under an African sky at night out in the open in God’s country, gazing at the stars, it leaves an idelible mark. In truth, the African bush never leaves you. It’s ingrained in the soul.

Links:

New7Wonders of Nature

World Design Capital 2014

52 Places To Go in 2014

2014 Cape To Rio Yacht Race

Cape To Rio Yacht Race – Facebook

Cape2Rio Rocket/ Stop Rhino Poaching 55 Blogspot

Fatality in cape To Rio – report

Black Cat tell their story – video

 Irish storms – report

Irish storms – video

Cape Argus Cycle Tour

Platteklip Gorge

How and where to vote

A message from Helen Zille

Nkandla’s weakest link is its chimney

There’s more to Nkandla than meets the eye

Nkandla task team vs Madonsela’s report

Expats on the back foot return home

 Full Google+ photo album 2014 Cape To Rio Yacht Race – The Start

 

Travels to the Mother City – Part 1: A hike to Wolfsberg Arch, Cederberg – December, 2013

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Full Cederberg Wolfsberg Arch Hike photo album on Google+

The year spent working in Ireland had flown by and an annual trip to my home town and Mother City, Cape Town, was fast approaching. Sadly, a week before my departure on 12th December, a frail Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, to whom all South Africans have owed so much, breathed his last and passed on from his earthly existence. The state funeral was scheduled for the first Sunday after my arrival in the village of Qunu, where he grew up however with my hiking buddy Ralph having arranged and booked a hiking trip to the Cederberg, some 2 to 3 hours drive from Cape Town, I would be missing all coverage of the event.

CedarbergHikeDec2013_DSC_3955Having had keyhole surgery performed on my left knee towards the end of October in Galway, to repair torned cartilage, I was somewhat doubtful as to whether it was the sensible thing to do to attempt a fairly strenuous hike only 6 weeks after the operation, however my fears were allayed on the advice of Dr Paraic Murray, who was of the opinion that such activity would hasten recovery rather impede it.  Having extended ourselves physically and mentally on the now well-documented, legendary cycle trip  a year before in searing temperatures at times exceeding 40 degrees Celsius, I was hoping that such gratuitous torture would not be repeated. Deciding that this year’s experience should be shared with a wider group, Ralph arranged for a few of his acquaintances in the Cape Mountain Club, namely Kevin, his wife Yolanda and Santie Gouws, to put us through our paces.

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It never ceases to astonish me what a small world we live in. Upon learning of Santie’s occupation as a concrete engineer on the drive up from Stellenbosch via Ceres to Op-die-Berg, gateway to both the central and eastern Cederberg, I was astounded to learn that she was acquainted with a one Reinhold Amtsbüchler, Austrian by birth and one of South Africa’s leading concrete experts, having received an award as concrete achiever of the year for 2013.

CedarbergHikeDec2013_DSC_3980CedarbergHikeDec2013_DSC_3982Married to one of my second cousins, I had last spoken to them an estimated twenty-odd years ago after they had moved to Johannesburg. Whilst spending 3 months working as a student at Siemens in Erlangen, then West Germany, in the European winter of 1979-1980, I made my way to Vienna to be with them for Xmas, at a time when they were still based in Europe. I therefore resolved to make it my mission now to re-establish contact with them – the key was that Santie had Reinhold’s all-important contact details, having spoken to him recently around the time of his retirement.

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As a wilderness area, the primary Cederberg activity is eco-tourism, including camping, rock climbing and hiking. The main campsite, Algeria, is operated by CapeNature, while others such as Sanddrif, Driehoek, Jamaka and Kromrivier are privately operated. There are several notable mountains in the range, including Sneeuberg at 2026 metres and Tafelberg at 1969 m. The area is home to numerous day and overnight hikes including the popular and spectacular Wolfberg Arch, Wolfberg Cracks and the Maltese Cross. My last hikes in this particular section of the Cederberg had been to Crystal Pools, accessible from Algeria Base Camp and a scorching walk with Ralph in 40+ degree temperatures from the the old Moravian mission station of Wupperthal to Algeria (known to the two of us as The Hike of Warm Beers).

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The dominating characteristic of the area is sharply defined sandstone rock formations, often reddish in colour. In caves and overhangs throughout the area, San rock art can be found, evidence of the earliest human inhabitants. Indeed, I had explored some of the rock art in the eastern Cederberg with my close friends Ian and Lily, members of the Eastern Cederberg Rock Art Group [reference], otherwise known as eCrag. European settlement brought forestry and some agriculture, and led to massive destruction of the local cedar trees, large numbers having been felled as the wood was in great demand for construction – some 7 200 trees were used as telephone poles between Piketberg and Calvinia.  Fires added to this destruction and the cedar tree is now on the brink of extinction. Some years ago I took part in a weekend activity In 2004 the Cederberg Wilderness received World Heritage Site status as part of the Cape Floristic Region. In October 1997, the Cederberg Conservancy was constituted as a voluntary agreement between landowners to manage the environment in a sustainable manner.

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On the dirt road heading all the way to Cederberg-Algeria, we stopped off for lunch at Cederberg Oasis, a backpacker, camping and caravanning stopover in the Cederberg Conservancy. The off-the-beaten-track eccentric architecture and decor, along with the substantial collection of caps  hanging up in the bar area, was perfectly matched by the somewhat unconventional management team. We were handed a menu offering a variety of lunches, though in reality, the only dish available was hamburger and chips. The padded seats seemed familiar, suggesting that the owner had once been connected to the Spur Restaurant franchise, where he had possibly honed his skills as a chef.

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The target was Driehoek, where we would leave our vehicle parked under the trees at the old Welbedacht Forest Station, before attempting the relatively short walk up along a Welbedachtkloof (gorge) to Welbedacht Cave, where we would be spending the night. Plenty of fresh drinking water was to be found from the mountain stream. Having spent several hiking trips in the company of Kelson, Ralph had jacked up in his repertoire of culinary skills somewhat, now supplementing pasta meals with sliced dried tomato fried in olive oil. Old habits die hard though and condensed milk in tea remains an essential necessity. Unfortunately, he seemed to have overlooked the basics by forgetting to pack in a ground mattress, so the wife (despite not being there to defend herself) got it in the ear for interfering with his packing routine, much to our amusement. Bats paid us an early visit after nightfall however for all intents and purposes, I got in a reasonable night’s sleep.

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Day 2’s target was Wolfberg Arch, which lay beyond the narrow shale band that is locally referred to as “Die Trap” or in English “The Step”, because of its characteristic manner in which it weathers. Millennia of wind rain hail and ice have transformed and weathered the sandstone into the most fantastic sculptural shapes so characteristic of the Cederberg.  Following the path until it intersected a jeep track that runs along a shale band past Tafelberg, a smaller version of the mountain located in the Mother City similarly referred to for its flatness, until it reaches a plantation of ceder trees, we stopped for lunch. Despite being quite warm, a breeze made the journey bearable. Water was available in abundance at two distinct points along the jeep track. From here, the meandering ascent of Gabriel’s Pass takes one onto the higher terrain beyond. With Santie setting a mean pace, we reached the arch a couple of hours later. It’s a truly spectacular sight, no more so than at dusk and dawn, when bathed in the light of the setting sun. Stepping through the arch onto a precipice, the landscape to the north-east drops away towards Trekkloof. Adjacent to the arch lies a huge rock monolith that resembled a Hindu temple. Kevin was itching to climb up on top of the arch, however Yolanda was having none of it (he might want to view someone here who has done it).

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With most of the afternoon ahead, we set up camp and then headed out for water, after Santie had done an initial reccie off the path heading to the Wolfberg Cracks. The narrow stream running through a gully offered an opportunity for a rinse and to relax and soak up the sun. Several other groups of people showed up at the arch but none were overnighting. Ralph and I had taken a risk in leaving tents behind, as rain had been forecast. As the sun set upon us, the wind factor chilled the air significantly, so after dinner, Yolanda, Kevin and Santie found shelter behind the arch, warming the innards courtesy of their secret stash of alcoholic beverage. I did not have much in the way of warm clothing, so Kevin graciously lent me a spare jacket for the night. An almost full moon rose across the night sky as I tucked into my sleeping bag. I was awoken in the middle of the night by Ralph taking pictures of the arch with the aid of a flash.

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The following morning, Ralph summoned me before sunrise, so that we could capture Wolfsberg Arch in camera from the other (northern) side, which offers more in terms of shooting angles and opportunities, whilst the landscape itself below the arch, with its multitude of rock formations, is certainly worth exploring. After a light breakfast, we headed back the same way, down Gabriel’s Pass. Ralph and the others had planned an ascent of Tafelberg on day 3, where they would spend the night however with my knee taking a bit of strain after the recent operation some 6-8 weeks earlier, I opted to return to Welbedacht Cave on my own.

It’s not difficult to imagine why people go mad when they find themselves isolated in a wilderness such as the Cederberg. The terrain is prone to playing tricks on one’s imagination.  Despite hearing baboons across the valley, I was unlikely to bothered by anything predatory. I still had a good deal of the day to while away, which was part of the problem, as I didn’t fancy the prospect of having to have a conversation with myself. Santie had lent me her gas stove to cook dinner however I was dying for a cup of tea – only problem was, Ralph had all the tea bags. I managed a wash in the nearby stream and dozed off for a bit. I even contemplated rejoining the others up Tafelberg. Sunset provided a renewed photographic opportunity, before settling in for the night. A pair of field mice scurried across the cave floor in their hunt for food. One buried itself inside an empty pasta packet I’d left out, pushing it along the stone surface in the process. Magical pulses of light emanated from the fireflies in flight. Soon a full moon rose from behind Tafelberg, bathing the entire landscape and much of the cave in eerie light, serving only to enhance its wonder and mystery.

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I awoke early and left in the shadow of the surrounding mountains. I didn’t have any milk on me, so breakfast was going to have to wait until I had reached Ralph’s vehicle. It was a slow, ponderous amble down yet I was in no hurry. It’s a sumptuous valley, lush in its fynbos vegetation, the sound of rushing water deep in the undergrowth now more evident. As the terrain leveled out, I crossed a gorgeous stream, tempted to immerse myself fully, yet I knew that another crossing awaited me not far from where the vehicle was parked. The icy cold stream proved exhilarating yet chilled my body to the point of aching. The others arrived two hours later and similarly indulged themselves in nature’s pleasure, a fitting way to end any hike. Lunch at Cederberg Oasis beckoned, though we were left in no doubt whatsoever that hamburger and chips was not an option, but a certainty, downed with an ice-cold beer or cider.

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It was on our way back to Cape Town via Ceres that, upon stopping off at the Cederberg Private Wine Cellar at Dwarsrivier, a wine estate that has witnessed tremendous growth and development, that I happened to open the glove compartment of Ralph’s vehicle to find a small wrist-held Garmin GPS, similar to one I had misplaced on my last visit to South Africa a year ago and identical to the one Ralph was also using. Since Ralph had just used his on the hike and therefore seemed equally bemused at the revelation, the great mystery of the elusive GPS had finally been resolved, after I had searched high and low for the damn thing, in the interim having purchased a new Garmin GPSMAP 62S. A positive way to end a hike in the company of a really decent bunch of people.

geocaching-2I stumbled upon a really neat website that refers to what a amounts to a real-world treasure hunt called Geocaching, essentially an outdoor recreational activity, in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device (see geocache phone apps) and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook where the geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their established code name. One of the purposes of the activity is to provide people with an incentive to go see places they haven’t been before and perhaps, for non-regular walkers, to make a walk more interesting!

CedarbergHikeDec2013_DSC_4078X1Out of curiosity, I did a search on the geochache website for Cederberg and a number of geocache spots came up. The webpage page here then referred to a geocache at Cedercracks, more popularly known as Wolfberg Cracks, not far away from the arch.  Another location specified was Driehoek, where we left our vehicles when setting out on the hike and the Maltese Cross, across the valley near Sneeukop. It I had only known about this before we did the trip!

Links:

Full Cederberg Wolfsberg Arch Hike photo album on Google+

Cederberg Conservancy websiteCederberg Oasis

Cederberg (rough map)

Cederberg Oasis website

Slingsby Cederberg Hiking Maps

Cape Nature website (permits)

Cederberg wiki

Cederberg Private Wine Cellar website

Geocaching website

Cape Town-based John’s Garden Nursery website just launched!

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A Cape Town based independent nursery which operates as a home-based nursery has just launched its website.

It offers the following services & products.

LANDSCAPING

“Through personal expertise and experience gained over the years and skills acquired in tackling a number of projects, I provide a garden layout and landscaping service of the highest quality, thus enabling me to offer sound advice with regard to the refurbishment of existing gardens or the layout of new gardens, supplemented with plants, trees and shrubs cultivated via my home-based nursery, as shown below.”

PLANTS

Garden plants, shrubs, succulents & cacti

“Having acquired experience in the cultivation of new plants via seeds and cuttings in my home-based nursery, I am now able to provide an exciting range of garden plant options, available for sale from my home-based nursery.”

Potted plants

“In addition, I have an attractive range of long-lasting indoor succulents, stylishly potted, which may serve as an attractive decorative feature within your home.”

The nursery’s contact details are as follows:  johnsgardennursery@gmail.com

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