ESTELLE SINKINS reviews That’s All Folk, at the Hexagon Dive Theatre, University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg campus.
‘COME writers and critics who prophesise with your pen, and keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again…’
These words taken from Nobel laureate, Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit The Times They Are A-Changin’ could quite easily describe the lyrical work of most of the best known British and North American folk singers.
The era of contemporary folk music emerged in the mid 20th century through singers-songwriters like Woody Guthrie, who sang traditional songs in the 1930s and 1940s, British musician, Donovan, who achieved prominence in the 1960s, Canadians Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, and Americans Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.
Many of these singers used their music to reflect the huge political and lifestyle changes of the mid-sixties. Among the many songs released was Teach Your Children by Graham Nash, which appears on the 1970 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu.
Nash, a photographer and collector of photographs, said his inspiration for the song came from a photograph by Diane Arbus, ‘Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park’. The image, which depicts a child with an angry expression holding the toy weapon, prompted him to reflect on the societal implications of messages given to children about war and other issues.
You get that message strong and proud in Peter Mitchell’s show, That’s All Folk, for which he equips his cast with voice and guitars – and in one memorable moment with a triangle – to deliver an evening of stripped down songs.
Listening to ‘Maritzburg singers, Sandra Styles, Ryan and Tammy Calder, Daniel Rossouw and Katherine McClelland, perform some of the most iconic songs of all time, you are irresistibly reminded of the power which words can have.
The show opened with a melody featuring Peter, Paul and Mary’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone and 500 Miles, This Land Is My Land, and the gospel anthem, We Shall Overcome, which has strong associations with the Civil Rights Movement.
Next up a number of classics from Dylan, including The Times They Are A-Changin’ , Mr Tambourine Man and Blowin’ In The Wind’ and Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust, said to be a portrait of her one-time lover, Dylan.
There is also plenty of fascinating information about the folk scene and artists who are less familiar to modern audiences, among them Thomas Richard Paxton, who penned The Last Thing on My Mind and Ramblin’ Boy, during a career which has spanned more than fifty years.
Rossouw, who will be familiar to fans of Pan Latino, delivers a fabulous version of the former and a simply sublime cover of Cat Steven’s My Lady D’Arbanville. He also teams up with Ryan Calder for a memorable version of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer and with Styles for The Sound of Silence.
McClleland’s voice is showcased beautifully in Cat Steven’s Wild World and Donovan’s Catch The Wind, while Styles’ versions of Show Me and Dylan’s Forever Young are goosebump-inducing.
Tammy Calder delivers big time on Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi and she and husband, Ryan, have fun with Pete Seeger’s What Did You Learn In School?, a song about how the American school system is not teaching pupils about reality.
Other highlights in this feast of song were the group performances of California Dream’, Puff The Magic Dragon and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
That’s All Folk is a fun show and packed full of great songs, so, do yourself a favour and book a seat for it the next time it’s on. I guarantee that you won’t regret it.
That’s All Folk will be staged at the Hexagon Dive Theatre from August 8 to 11, following its sold-out run last week. Shows are Thursday and Friday at 7 pm for 7.30 pm. Tickets: R100. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org The show is a picnic-style evening, so bring your food, but no drinks. There is a cash bar. Tables seat 10.