When I tell people I am travelling to Smithfield, I get interrupted with “Where is that?”. When I continue to tell them why I’m going to Smithfield, I get interrupted with “Why?”. Eventually I get the words out: “I’m going to Smithfield to watch the Radio Rats”.
“No, The Radio Rats”
I remember hearing “ZX Dan” for the first time. It’s one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard. I’ll chuck it in the same box as “Starman”, “Fool’s Gold” and “Velouria” without flinching. I’m not comparing it to any other song, but my box is a treasure chest of musical genius, and the album “Into the night we slide” is gold. The decision to drive 500km to watch and listen to a band that originated at the same time, roughly, as the Sex Pistols was an easy one. I partnered it up with a project I have called “Every Royal Hotel”, but the real reason is to hear Dave Davies’ voice in real life, and do a little jig to “Welcome to my car”. The Rats arrived as a threesome (in the least perverted way) in the late afternoon. The sinking sun, tired of watching me down beer, sets the tone as the Rats plugged in their mics, tuned their guitar, scattered flip-files with lyrics and chords, scored some drinks, and then, by their own admission, started practicing for the rest of their tour, on us. We, the audience, cheered, laughed and drank our way through the set list. Dave could hardly find the set list, but that’s because Jonathan kept changing it. Dave seemed surprised when we clapped after each song. Really, really surprised. He actually thanked us for not booing. Are you kidding? There is nothing the Rats could have done to disappoint me. Except of course if they decided to sing Christmas carols. Or if they threw stuff at me. That would be a bit shit. And disappointing. Instead, they played “Welcome to my car”, “ZX Dan”, “Rocking”, “Crazy Caroline” and I felt part of a very special gathering. My own Spike Island.
Leading up to the Rado Rats were two very talented artists: Stéfan Burger and Shotgun Tori.
Stéfan Burger was first up. A singer/songwriter with a charming disposition, smooth vocals and relatable lyrics. Sitting in the scorching sun, with an ice cold beer, this was the perfect way to ease into the afternoon. After his gig, we chatted about the old days in the mid to late 90s hanging around dingy bars in Potch, friends we have in common, music, travelling and anything in between. I regret not buying the CD he had on sale, but it is available online, and it’s lekker to listen to. It’s called “Vir…” and it’s reminiscent of Koos Kombuis or David Kramer, except its not. It’s just Stéfan.
Shotgun Tori is a powerful singer. She’s not afraid to belt out the most heart wrenching stories of tragedy, love and her understanding of humankind in a rasping, bluesy, folksy jazzed up style that is hard to find a comparison to. (For reference purposes. I wouldn’t compare her to anyone.) She tells stories, which turn into song, which could so easily turn into tears. Tori speaks so beautifully of the Free State air, and how it feels “different” singing in Smithfield. I can relate to that. The air is different.
Greg May, the owner of the Lazy Likkewaan, hosted the event at his colourful residence/art gallery in the heart of the arty town. Raising funds in the name of his late wife, for an organisation which offers support to cancer patients needing transport to medical centers, as well as a group of bikers who call their charity “Riding for a limb”. This in support of amputees needing prosthetic limbs. Gerda du Toit, who manages the NPO, is a double amputee biker, and I think she’s amazing.
To the people of the southern Free State towns: Thank you for having me. I’m in love with your soulful platteland, and I’ll probably be back sooner than you think.