Striking a Chord

7 October 2010: 4 years 1 month on …


If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

(from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, 1602)

Orsino is asking for more music because he is frustrated in his courtship of Countess Olivia. He muses that an excess of music might cure his obsession with love, in the way that eating too much removes one’s appetite for food.

Music plays an important part in Shakespeare’s plays and is often used to carry the plot. It’s reasonable to surmise that he did believe it to be ‘the food of love’.

In my own life, I have found music to be the food for my soul. In my darkest moments, it is music that brings the light; in my saddest moments, it is music that brings a smile, when I am feeling down, it is music that raises me up.

Yesterday, on our AlgoaFM radio programme, ED is in wED, I played the well-known song of Simon and Garfunkel Bridge over Troubled Water.

The song has special significance for me:

In 1985, on the Grey UK cricket tour, I saw, for the first time (and bought), a CD player in London. I also bought three CD’s: Simon and Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen and Wham. It must have been the first CD player in Port Elizabeth. But, at that time, CD’s were unobtainable here, and so, until Michaels, off Main Street, started selling them (at almost R200 a shot!) all we had to listen to were those three titles.

The Philips CD player was a novelty in the boarding house at Grey where I lived at the time, but the 3 CD’s almost wore through! Bridge over Troubled Water played time and time again!

I still have the player and the three CD’s! (However, the player cannot play CD’s with more than 10 tracks!) And, anyway, CD players are now also obsolete!

Gary Hemmings, an ex-pupil of mine at Grey, is now the owner of CENTRESTAGE PRODUCTIONS ( They specialize in entertainment in the Eastern Cape and regularly bring us musical shows in Port Elizabeth and East London.

Presently, the show produced is Striking a Chord – memories of Simon and Garfunkel and CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

The two lead singers are Rodger Gilson and Neil Thomson.

Rodger is my pharmacist and supplies me monthly with my “pot-of-gold” – the white container that contains my little yellow Carbolev tablets. Six of these tablets provide me with my daily fix of dopamine, the chemical that the brain requires to send its messages to the muscles and to maintain movement in the body. For some unknown reason, my brain no longer produces sufficient dopamine, and that is why my body is becoming paralyzed. It’s something like running out of petrol in your car – when there’s no more and the tank is empty, everything just grinds to a halt and stops!

Rodger is the lead singer of Bridge over Troubled Water in the show which I saw last night.

Accompanying him is Neil (Tommo) Thomson.

I first saw and heard Neil when I was at Stellenbosch University in the late seventies. He was a teacher who had taken time off to sing professionally with a band called Leather Bone. I often listened to him singing at De Akker, a pub well-known to successive generations of Maties (Stellenbosch students). 

When I started teaching at Grey High in Port Elizabeth, Neil was on the staff. He is currently the longest serving teacher on that staff (together with his wife, Pam, and their son, Gregory. Lynn, their daughter, is currently acting in Johannesburg in the production EVITA -which is the show that the 1985 Cricket Touring Party went to see in London – to the dismay of some of the reluctant theatre-goers!).

In those years, Neil did many gigs around Port Elizabeth – the most remembered of which must be the Sunday nights at El Cid Restaurant in Parliament Street. Pam worked the till at the door, and Neil sang. And we, his colleagues, together with Port Elizabethans from near and far, dined and wined at the steakhouse on most Sunday evenings (usually after a lazy Sunday spent at the Old Grey Club in Lennox Street!) We never did work out whether Sunday evenings were the last day of the previous week or the first day of the new week! Whichever way, Monday mornings were frequently a problem in the classroom and “private reading” by pupils was often a good option (as were hamburgers from the Hamburger Hut in Russell Road delivered at first break to the staff room!)

And Pam and Neil’s home in Prospect Road was the scene of many a party, some planned and some impromptu. The Tiger’s Arms worked overtime on many an occasion!

There are many memories that many people have from those special days. Amongst so many others, I remember the semi-formal farewell to David Capel, an erstwhile professional cricket coach at Grey, the pre-launch 1985 UK Cricket Tour party, my very own bachelor’s party (not too much remembered other than the venue!) and Dickie and Colleen Ogilvie’s farewell party when they moved to the Karoo in 1987. Grace was always said with everyone under the tables!

Neil also played into the wee hours of the morning at our wedding reception at St Alban’s prison in January 1990, and last year, this time, at Pera’s 50th birthday party at Dexter’s Den at Grey Junior School.

In fact, there will be few Port Elizabeth families who have not had or heard Neil (some say PE’s John Denver!) play at a function. Whether at a formal function or at home, the guitar is usually nearby (sometime he needs to be persuaded and sometimes he just will not play and sing!) But, more often than not, you will hear Neil sing Southern Cross – always a favourite of the now late Peter Brown.

He sang it again last night at the Centrestage production which was a fundraiser for Collegiate High’s 2011 European hockey tour.

When you see the Southern Cross
For the first time
You understand now
Why you came this way
‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from
Is so small.
But it’s as big as the promise
The promise of a comin’ day.
So I’m sailing for tomorrow

The words reminded me of yet another friend, Jan Hoogendyk, from George. He has now become a famous, yet still ever so humble, personality known as Elvis Blue in the South African music scene as a result of his participation in the SA IDOLS show on MNET TV.

It was back in June that I played his song Lately on our radio show. He was then interviewed by Lance du Plessis and sang unplugged in the studio for the listeners of the Eastern Cape. (you can hear this on my blog site: Elvis in Studio)

This Sunday evening, he will be reaching for the stars again – his Southern Cross. He will be sailing for tomorrow, the promise of a comin’ day, as he sings for a place in the top spot of the competition. And guess what he will be singing? – none other than Bridge over Troubled Water! Good luck, Elvis!

When you’re weary 
Feeling small 
When tears are in your eyes 
I will dry them all 

I’m on your side 
When times get rough 
And friends just can’t be found 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 

When you’re down and out 
When you’re on the street 
When evening falls so hard 
I will comfort you 

I’ll take your part 
When darkness comes 
And pain is all around 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 

Sail on Silver Girl, 
Sail on by 
Your time has come to shine 
All your dreams are on their way 

See how they shine 
If you need a friend 
I’m sailing right behind 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will ease your mind 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will ease your mind

This blog is dedicated to all people who, today, are weary, feeling small and have tears in their eyes – know that you will be comforted and your mind will be eased!

3 comments on “Striking a Chord

  1. You are so right Ed, music is a wonderfully emotional language!

    I am looking forward to hearing Jan/Elvis’ version of such a magical message 🙂

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