Highs and lows of a year in music

The microphone was slowly crowd-surfing towards me at the back of the room and I had my question ready and rehearsed.

“Leonard, I’ve got a message from my vet – rather, my dog’s vet.” Cue laughter from my fellow hacks from 30 countries and a lopsided smile from the saintly Leonard Cohen. “He’s a Canadian and also went to McGill University – I took my dog to him last week and he asked me to ask you if and when you’re coming to play in South Africa.”

The weirdo from Sony Music in South Africa, Duncan Shelwell – he’s weird because he actually loves, knows and cares about music in an industry mostly populated by clueless moneygrubbers – had organised that I could ask a question in September last year at the Cohen-presented listening session for his new album Popular Problems, at the Canadian High Commission in London.

And then: “You can’t record this!”

It was a crewcut Canadian tapping my shoulder, literally from left-field.


“Fuck off!” I growled under my voice as I pulled my iPhone away from him. Around me other journos were openly recording the press briefing.

The hushed altercation continued long enough for me to hear the facilitator announcing from the front: “Thanks folks, that was the last question.”

Crewcut apologised afterwards for his “misunderstanding”, but it was too late and the diminutive Cohen was gone.

That was the musical lowlight and highlight for me in 2014: it is not every day you encounter a hero of several decades, one who makes 80 look like the new 40, and then still don’t find out if he is ever going to perform in South Africa.

So, ja, just like every year, 2014 has had its musical highs and lows.

The highs:

  • DJ-ing again for my Rasta friends in Vosloorus – it always makes me believe in South Africa and the healing power of reggae.
  • Ditto about DJ-ing at Kitchener’s in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, and a vinyl session at a sleazy pink-lit strip-club in Jeppestown, sans the strippers though.
  • The launch of The Orbit jazz club in Johannesburg – pure class, world class.
  • Bless the internet, for enabling me to listen to the superb BBC 6 Music – the highlight was the thinking person’s punk, Iggy Pop, brilliantly delivering the John Peel lecture on Free Music in a Capitalist Society. It is still available online and a must listen!

The lows:

  • The fools who were first to whine “freedom of expression” but who were trying to smother Dookoom.
  • Then their mate, Steve Hofmeyr, singing Die Stem at every opportunity. Word groot, boet! [Grow up, pal!]
  • Sneaky U2 trying to make us all listen to their bombastic music on iTunes.

On balance, though, there were more highs than lows in 2014 and I hope 2015 follows suit.

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Charles Leonard
Charles Leonard is a journalist, editor, broadcaster, DJ and record collector. For more than 30 years, he has edited and written for a variety of South African publications and broadcasters, including the Mail & Guardian, Business Day, SABC, Vrye Weekblad and the Sunday Times, as well as Channel Four News in the UK.

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