But we were a bunch of alien outcasts in a grey conformist world that sneered at our black clothes, obscure lyrics and tiny, specialist record stores.
Then, as a teen, I discovered a certain Barney Simon on what was then called Radio 5. He would come back from Street Records on a Saturday afternoon and play 13 songs in a row just cos he was so damn excited about all this new music. He played local music; he introduced me to No Friends OF Harry and the Psycho Reptiles. And then finally, he gave me the biggest career break anyone could ever hope for: he put ME on air.
When I was 17, living in PE and feeling the pain of being one of the only weirdos in town, Barney read a shout out from me on air which led me to meeting one of my longest standing friends. Yeah Val, you. Julian and I used to sit around all Saturday evening listening to the Shadow Show, drinking illicit beer before we went to some party or school disco. I hoovered it all up.
Especially when Barney began to conspicuously support local music and play all these emerging weird, South African bands. Man I wanted to be in a band just so I could be on the show. And eventually I did. In 1991 when I joined The General Woodheads as a bass player, Barney played our demo tape, ‘Simon.’ Sheesh, what a rush! We were sitting around the pool at my then girlfriend’s house, drinking beer, waiting to hear if we would get played. It was the first time I ever heard anything I had done on radio.
We met soon after that. A guy I met while I was in the army ended up playing with Mike Seale from the Psycho Reptiles and I got to meet Barney and all the crew from NFOH and the Psycho’s. But it wasn’t til I went to try out UK life in 1994 that anything really came of that meeting. When I left, I told Barney I had this plan to try and help SA bands when they landed in the UK. Nothing ever came of that plan. So he asked me what else I was doing. What I was doing was living on rice and lentils and spending every penny I earned on c0ncert tickets and beer!
I got to see Siouxie, Madness, The Buzzcocks, Ian Drury and The Blockheads, Carter USM, PWEI, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, Radio Head, REM, The Stranglers, Anti Nowhere League, Blur, Oasis, The Damned, Skunk Anansie, Offspring, Teenage Fanclub, Hole, SLF, Beck, Therapy?, Deus, Sleeper, Elastica, Jesus and Mary Chain, Frank Black… sheesh, I can’t even remember the list anymore! This was like nearly 20 years ago!
Anyway, so Barney is all casual like, “Tell you what, I’ll call you tomorrow night at 10pm SA time and you can tell us about the last few shows on air, OK?” So I say yes. I mean, why not? I was gobsmacked. I hate to think what that first crossing was like, but Barney liked it. “Let’s do it again in 2 weeks” he said. And after that, it was every Tuesday night for 18 months. That’s how I got to be ‘that guy’ in London on the UK/USA slot on Barney Simon’s week night show.
Then when I returned to SA at the end of’96, he said he was starting a specialist SA music show and would I host that for him? Of course I said yes again. The SA Music Explosion he called it. THAT request made me. I was the voice, the content collector and editor, the music selector, the start and the end of it. Barney and I would chat but he left me to do it all. He would sit there for 30 minutes each Thursday and push the buttons to make it work and let me make mistakes, quietly advise and guide me, pass me leads and work and just let me learn and grow.
Suddenly everyone in SA rock knew who I was. Or wanted to know. It opened doors for me to write for magazines and newspapers. Suddenly I was MC-ing gigs and DJ-ing, writing, managing bands, promoting shows. I was 25.
So when I hear people bad mouthing Barney (cos they do, it’s a small scene) I hold that up against the sheer generosity… no, the madness! Of the opportunity he gave to me and I think, ‘Nah!’
Thank you Barney Simon. Without your support I am not sure I would have been able to do most of the things I did in SA music. There would be no 1,2,1,2 book that is for sure. So much of that book is based around the brutal lessons I learned to my financial cost in those first 5 years when I started my own business with no experience, no training but plenty of Blind Faith!
I am not a trained journalist, publicist, musician, actor or voice artist. I have always just been a guy who loved music. I was given an opportunity and I took it with both hands and feet and run with it like someone possessed. It was all I wanted to be, all I wanted to do and I ran and I ran and I ran. Along the way I broke some hearts, pissed off more than just a few musicians, made some incredible friends, lost a large beer truck of money, had my heart broken a few times, drank several beer trucks of beer and a few cacti of tequila. I changed from being a bookish, thoughtful person into a rock n roll tearaway and back again. I got tattoos and stayed up all night exchanging music notes. I dipped further into the well of music than I thought there was to go. I experienced highs that no drug can ever give you and lows so low that I still don’t understand how they didn’t kill me.
First as a DJ, later as a colleague and as a friend, Barney Simon showed me that I wasn’t a lone freak in a square, grey world. And he gave me the means to make a living out of being whatever the hell it is that I am. Barney, I never got to say this to your face, for which I am sorry. When I am back in SA I will.