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Whistler South African Style Rum smokey cocktail

Whistling through the country


By Toast Coetzer

I’m on tour with my band, The Buckfever Underground. We start off in Cape Town, where I first pick up drummer, Stephen Timm, and then we head two suburbs over to guitarist Michael Currin’s house. Our PA system is in, Stephen’s stripped-down drumkit is in, our ten bottles of Whistler rum is in – but where in the Subaru Forester will we find space for Michael, his two guitars, an amp, his enormous suitcase (does he plan to emigrate?) and several small bags holding everything from padkos to guitar pedals. Half an hour later we’re off, Michael sitting with a speaker on his lap, a guitar case nudging his head and the rest of what’s loaded in the back threatening to landslide onto him at any moment.

This is the way we roll, though, and the packing situation will get better as the tour goes on. We meet up with our support act, Willem Samuel (aka SkreeAlleen) in Stellenbosch. At least we could load all our merch into his car – T-shirts, CDs, books, you name it – and now we can spread the load a little.

The Buckfever Underground is not your usual kind of band. We’ve been doing what we do, with stops and starts, for 21 years. It’s a spoken-word band – I do the “talking”, and as the obscure and deliberately “underground” name suggests, we never had riches and fame in mind when we started the band. “We” were me and my old friend Gil Hockman, who now lives abroad and can’t play in the band anymore. But in essence, Gil is always in the band, because his spirit is built into The Buckfever Underground. We were students when we started the band, and that spirit is there too. We roll with things as they come, and plough on through to the other side. No singer in the band? Well, let’s try that. What do you mean you don’t do songs with choruses? Yes, and if you have a problem with that, go listen to another band. You mean, you read poetry at your shows? Yes, and why don’t more bands do that?

This tour – which we’re calling the Laaste Dae-toer after our new album, Last Days Of Beautiful – is in true Buckfever spirit too. We’re mostly playing at friends’ or fans’ houses, the occasional bar or small theatre suited to our needs, but we’re even playing a couple of farm stalls (in exchange for a pie and coffee, or roosterkoek and ginger beer), and old platteland hotels, a historic jail, a bowling club and the spectacularly named Karoo Tech Hub (which is everything its name promises).

Small crowds are what we’ll get, 20 people are good, 50 people and we’re putting up the full house sign. In Knysna, last night, we played to eight, including our biggest (or only) fans in town, a sea horse researcher and her pharmacist husband. We’ll share our bottles of Whistler with them, and kick around a few stories and ask each other questions like where are you from – no, where are you really from? (it’s OK if the answer is Sasolburg, we can work with that…) – and what are your full names, and soon we’ll get to know one another, and the evening will be more than a show in someone’s lounge – it will become a celebration of what it is to be South African.

There are no hotel rooms or room service on this tour. We sleep where we play, and a band member might end up on the couch, or in a teenager’s hastily cleared room, or in the hamster room (the hamster barricaded elsewhere for the night). The Laaste Dae-toer relies heavily on good old South African gasvryheid. We’ll be in your space for half a day, play a show for you, but also drink your coffee, eat your eggs, play with your dog and then say our goodbyes just as you head off to take your child to school. We’re handy though, and we’ll help offload that heavy wrought iron fire-place from your bakkie before we go.

In Stellenbosch we played in the valley leading to Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, there were four big dogs and our artist host, a big pot of chicken stew and guys from town who pulled in with bongo drums. Up on Bainskloof Pass we played at McBains, run by an old varsity friend of mine, Justin Nurse and his partner Ma’ayan Hamilton. Justin’s got the spirit too, yes he does. We’ve designed T-shirts together (his company still makes our band T-shirts), gone on comedy tours together, run out of petrol together. This time, we’ll reverse the Subaru into a pole outside McBains and lose our cool for a moment, but the fresh air will make us re-gather it, and we’ll play our show to a big room full of people chilling on couches, and kids who might be seeing a band for the first time ever, and the South African flag behind us, and lots of books on bookshelves, and the mountains outside, massive and present, jutting up into the stars, clear now that the mist has gone.

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