Black Ho­tels in rare city gig

Some­thing of a cu­rios­ity, their unique style honed by mu­si­cal democ­racy should be a treat for more cere­bral fans this week­end

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODMUSIC -

THE THINK­ING per­son’s rock­ers – The Black Ho­tels – play a rare Cape Town show in the wake of Films For The Next Cen­tury, their first full-length al­bum – and af­ter im­press­ing at the re­cent Op­pikoppi fes­ti­val.

The Black Ho­tels com­prise vo­cal­ist, song­writer and gui­tarist John Boyd, bassist and vo­cal­ist Lisa Camp­bell, lead gui­tarist Neil White, pro­ducer, key­board-player and glock­en­spiel mae­stro Matthew Fink and drum­mer War­wick Poult­ney.

They are some­thing of a cu­rios­ity – they leapt to promi­nence within a few short months of their for­ma­tion in mid-2006 and gar­nered fans as much as they im­pressed crit­ics.

What’s more, they did so with a sound rooted in alt-coun­try and in­tro­spec­tive rock (think R.E.M., In­ter­pol and Vel­vet Un­der­ground), rather than the cur­rently fash­ion­able in­die-rock sound. Many read­ers will have heard Natalie and Beau­ti­ful Morn­ings off the band’s five-song début EP ( Beau­ti­ful Morn­ings, Oc­to­ber 2007) which re­ceived rel­a­tively wide­spread air­play.

Songs off the new, full-length al­bum are less well-known. Over and above the clear in­dict­ment of South African ra­dio sta­tions and their cyn­i­cal ap­proach to­wards the lo­cal con­tent quo­tas – bulk­ing up al­lot­ted air­time with gig-guides and in­ter­views rather than proac­tively em­brac­ing lo­cal tal­ent – this is some­thing the band were braced for.

“We recorded the EP quite quickly as the band got to­gether,” ex­plains Boyd. “It was very spon­ta­neous – there wasn’t a lot of time to think. Those were the ideas we had and the songs we had writ­ten, and we put them down. It got quite a bit of ra­dio play, and then sud­denly there was the pres­sure to do the full al­bum, and get ra­dio play, but it wasn’t as though there was a for­mula to how we got that ra­dio play.

“We looked at that, ask­ing how we did that. A year and a half on, I wouldn’t say we had gone through an iden­tity thing, but we had been fig­ur­ing out who we were as a band, and once we got comfortable with that, we could an­swer the ques­tions. Of course, we would love to be on ra­dio, but we re­alised that we can’t write specif­i­cally for ra­dio.

“We recorded 18 songs and we mixed 14, but only 10 made it onto the fi­nal mix.”

The de­ci­sion to leave off cer­tain ma­te­rial was one taken fairly eas­ily – and demo­crat­i­cally. “We’ve al­ways kind of felt that we like the short and punchy ap­proach,” says Boyd. “The EP was short and punchy; we like our shows to be short and punchy and when we lis­tened to the songs, those 10 fit­ted nicely to­gether. There is no need to put other songs onto the record if they are not as strong. It’s quite a per­sonal thing, putting out a record, and dif­fer­ent peo­ple do it for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, but we are a band of a cer­tain na­ture and we wanted to put out our best work.

“The first thing with us as a band,” he con­tin­ues, “is that we get on re­ally well so­cially. We are mu­si­cians and mu­sic lovers and friends, first and fore­most. If we weren’t in the band, we would prob­a­bly still hang out to­gether and, with that, we are able to voice things when we need to; when we are not see­ing eye to eye.

“We all bring our spe­cial­i­ties to the ta­ble. I have an abil­ity to put songs to­gether in a ba­sic form, lyri­cally with some melody or some chords. But then War­wick will bring in his drum­ming style, or Matthew will add some key­boards. Or Lisa will write some of the song and we put our ideas to­gether and build on them, build around them.

“We def­i­nitely are a unit and we are a democ­racy – de­ci­sions are all made as group de­ci­sions. If one of us re­ally doesn’t think some­thing is a good song, then we can say that without it hurt­ing any­one’s feel­ings. You get to that over a pe­riod of years; be­ing able to speak bluntly for the good of the mu­sic.”

The Black Ho­tels re­cently im­pressed the crowds at the Op­pikoppi mu­sic fes­ti­val, where they stood out with a more ma­ture sound, per­haps, than some of the other bands on the largely in­die and hardrock in­clined stage. “We loved it,” smiles Boyd.

“We played to a great au­di­ence and they seemed to en­joy it, and then we were able to stay for the week­end and get to see other bands, like the Cape Town bands that we don’t get to see of­ten, or haven’t seen at all.

“The great thing about our South African artists is that, for the most part, there are no egos. Ev­ery­body gets on well. There’s no kind of line be­tween the artists and the peo­ple be­cause every­one is there for the same rea­son: to cel­e­brate com­mu­nity and to cel­e­brate the mu­sic.”

What, then, can Mother City audiences ex­pect from The Black Ho­tels?

“Well, we bring our­selves – we’re bring­ing our mu­sic to the stage, live, and our live shows are some­times quite dif­fer­ent from the CD – we work the ar­range­ments out dif­fer­ently,” says Boyd.

He adds with al­most a shrug: “Maybe it’s be­cause we’re a bit older – all in our 30s or al­most out of them, but none of us is re­ally comfortable ‘rock­ing out’.

“We’re all a bit self-con­scious about what peo­ple ex­pect from the band: Some­times, we wish we could of­fer more of a spec­ta­cle. Also, we are al­ways writ­ing new stuff. So, we have at least four new songs – and a taste of the di­rec­tion of the new record.”

The Black Ho­tels play with Ash­tray Elec­tric and garage rock­ers Reve­la­tors, also fea­tur­ing Bo’jan­glers and DJ Sideshow (tonight, As­sem­bly, 61 Har­ring­ton St, District Six, 021 426 4552, R40).

CHECK­ING IN: The Black Ho­tels will of­fer glimpses of their new ma­te­rial when they per­form in the city tonight.

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