Koos Kombuis tracks down SA music legends for Rolling Stone in the series 'Wish You Were Here'. In this edition, former Lancaster Band and Z-Astaire band member, surfer and solo recording artist Robin Auld.
One of my best recollections of performing live music ever was a gig I did a few years ago in a dingy, smokey little bar in Grahamstown with the legendary Robin Auld. He was a better guitarist than I'd ever hope to be, but hell, we cooked that night! And he even taught me some of his songs!
Years later, I was wondering what this guy had been up to, so I tracked him down to the UK and fired him some questions by e-mail:
Hi, Robin! What have you been up to? Are you a serious musician nowadays or are you still just a pretty face? I remember you from years ago, in your Z-Astaire days, when you used to hang out at places like Le Petit Paris on the Greenmarket Square, always surrounded by gorgeous girls and interesting-looking people! How have your lifestyle and music changed since then?
I was always mainly interested in music and the guitar, so that's what's kept me going. The recordings that were radio hits in South Africa in the 1980's didn't really have much in common with my musical outlook, then or now. Other people were deciding the sound and image. The beach poster-boy thing was a joke to me...I was surfing all day back then anyway, so it wasn't a stretch. I didn't take any of it seriously enough to fight about it. I signed horrendous contracts because I had to drive through to town and was missing the tide.
Your latest album, "Fingers in my Pockets", features some comments on the economic woes facing people nowadays. Is this an issue to you personally?
I realised real early that the key to longevity is learning how to cook on a small fire. I wouldn't call the roots circuit in the UK lucrative...and it's real tough. You're competing with okes from Austin and Sydney and Dublin who all have long CV's, were on major labels and are seasoned pros. It's like...so you've released 20 albums? That's great...take a number and sit down, pal!
Your style of music has been described as Celtic, Calypso, African, Blues, and I heard you also occasionally play with an electric three-piece band. Which of these styles will feature most in your future work, or is it too early to say?
The styles that I'm having the most fun with currently are blues and African, so the mix between those is probably what's going to feature. Having said that, if I got the chance (ie budget) I'd love to record an orchestral pop record... and then there's an ambient trance guitar record that I've got some ideas for...
What is your take on new developments in local pop music, such as the Afrikaans hip-hop thing done by Jack Parow? Any other comments on local trends? And, by the way, who do you consider the best guitarist ever on the SA scene? There has been some debate on this recently. (So far, I only got one vote, by the way.)
I've been enjoying from afar the emergence of Jack Parow, the Kalahari Boere Orkes, Die Antwoord and so on. More often than not, innovations in the South African scene come from Afrikaans artists. The mainstream English speaking market doesn't have a culture, it has a collective psychosis. First rule of SA entertainment: If English South Africans think you're the best thing since sliced bread, you're definitely fucked for anywhere else. I think the SA scene has progressed tremendously in terms of the independent market... roots venues springing up, industry diversifying, all good. Pity SA radio doesn't want to come to the party....
Regarding the best guitarist, I'd have to say Albert Frost is currently on fire. I have to, otherwise his sister will moer me. But seriously... the oke is cooking.
According to rumours, you are now a happy family man and also a father. And, even more impressive, you have apparently married into the illustrious Frost family. Any plans to start a new Auld dynasty (like the Jacksons)? Any sign of emerging music talent in your offspring so far?
My eldest daughter is a very good sometime singer, but she's too busy having fun to get serious about it. My son is 17 and playing metal guitar. He learns from these strange things he gets from the internet...they're called tabs. No, I have no idea. My middle girl, Alex, doesn't play but has a wonderful voice and the laat lammetjie, Honey Magda, sings very loudly and plays the pots and pans with gravy spoons. We have written our first song together, a Tom Waits type tune called "I don't like black pudding". So my children all seem to have some musical inclinations, but too early to say what will stick.
Both Koos Kombuis and Robin Auld form part of the the 2011/2012 Backsberg Picnic Concert Series.
Listen to Robin Auld's new tracks on his website www.robinauld.co.za